Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Looking at Galatians 2:16 thru 21 and James 2:12-24

Galatians 2:16-21  knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.  (17)  "But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!  (18)  For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.  (19)  For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  (20)  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  (21)  I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."

James 2:12-24  So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.  (13)  For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.  (14)  What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  (15)  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,  (16)  and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  (17)  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  (18)  But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  (19)  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!  (20)  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  (21)  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  (22)  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  (23)  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS ACCOUNTED TO HIM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS." And he was called the friend of God.  (24)  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

One of the main causes of confusion about law and grace within evangelical Christianity is the contrast between Paul and James about faith and works. It caused Calvin to write and say that “people are saved by faith alone, but, faith that saves is never alone.” This comment alone is responsible for much of the erroneous attitude about law and grace. Likewise, this apparent controversy is responsible for much of the schizophrenic attitude surrounding law and grace. Here are the facts as they relate to these two passages. Check them out in context and see if I am speaking correctly. Paul is speaking of works of the law and James is speaking of works of love.

When James says that faith without works is dead being alone he is speaking of very narrow works. He is not saying that one who has faith will obey the law. He is saying that one who has faith will have the law written on their hearts and will be loving toward their fellowman, and that means feeding them if they are hungry, clothing them if they need it, and giving them shelter if they are homeless. Let me repeat… James is not saying what the standard evangelical party line is. The standard evangelical understanding of James 2:17 is that the works that demonstrate true faith is obeying all the laws of the Old and New Testaments. This is absolutely false and is evident by reading the passages in context.

James uses a vignette of Abraham’s life as an example. He finds Abraham on the mountain willing to sacrifice Isaac. This is very close to the end of Abraham’s life. God had demonstrated his faithfulness to Abraham over and over again. Abraham’s faithful work was the result of a life witnessing God’s faithfulness. In Romans chapter four Paul uses the same argument that he used in the above passage from Galatians.  Both James and Paul quote Genesis 15:6 (“And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”) Paul uses the vignette that shows Abraham in Gen 15:1 so it is at the beginning of Abraham’s faith walk. This was before God had proven himself faithful over and over again. In this picture it is simply belief. It is important to remember here how the Amplified Bible treats the word faith. The Amplified Bible always includes with faith the definition (trusts in, relies on, and clings too.) Therefore real faith, real belief is more than a mere assent to facts. One must trust in, rely on and cling to the facts in order to demonstrate proper and true faith. When you read Gen 15:6 in the Amplified Bible believed is defined by (trusted in, relied on, and remained steadfast to.)

Therefore, James and Paul are discussing a different aspect of faith. Paul is referencing the initial act of faith and James is referencing the lifelong faith. A person who lives their life completely trusting in, relying on and clinging too a committed belief in God’s unconditional mercy, love and grace will over time develop the ability to love God beyond measure and thereby obey. Jesus showed in Matthew 25:31-46 that Christians would be judged by how they treated the unfortunate. Did they… would they… feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless? This is precisely why James makes these works the works that demonstrates true faith.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The gospel of grace, the leaven of the Pharisees, and the strong delusion

Why should evangelicals embrace a paradigm shift from a strong emphasis on self-righteousness to a total reliance on the grace, mercy and the love of God? Could it be that current evangelical dogma and doctrine is a mixture of “the leaven of the Pharisees (Matt 16:6&12”) and the “strong delusion” of 2Thess 2? Actually, I believe that it is very likely that the above mentioned prophecies are directly responsible for the impossible mixture of law and grace, and the preaching that always puts law and obedience above grace.

There are many breaking away from this over the last few years. One might even suggest that there is a spiritual movement to embrace God’s love and grace, and to renew the gospel of grace to a prime place of importance that is gaining impetus among Christians. Basically, this movement creates a division in the body of Christ between those who emphasize scripture passages that promotes grace and those that emphasize scripture passages that appears to promote law and obedience.

Two passages that appear to conflict and contradict each other are Galatians 2:16-21 and James 2:12-26. I would ask you to read both to yourself… out loud and slow, and try to get the context of what each author is writing to. What exactly are they saying? Here is what you will find in my view. Paul is speaking of works of the law or law obedience, and James is speaking of works of love or good works. There is a big difference between the works that Paul writes about and the ones that James addresses. James agrees with Paul about works of the law or law righteousness. Read James 2:12 & 13 carefully. James speaks of the perfect law of liberty and insists that mercy always triumphs over judgment. Paul is speaking of legalistic obedience to the law and James is speaking about works that will be the result of completely believing the gospel message… works that are motivated by love for God resulting from God’s unconditional love and grace.

James idea of good works is very narrow in scope and limited to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing shelter to the homeless which is consistent with Matthew 25:31-46 and Isaiah 58:5-8. The good works that allows our light to shine before men is lovingly caring for the less fortunate. These are the works that the church should be busy with and are the works that show that faith is alive.

Here is proof that current evangelical doctrine is off the mark. Their idea of doing good works is based on being obedient to the law in a fleshly manner… in other words, having a read and do mentality, or a legal constitutional reading of scripture. This is not what either Paul or James was advocating. So then, if this was not what Paul and James meant and it is clear that it was not then, is this not just another proof that current evangelical belief is in error? If it is in error… then shouldn’t it be the goal of all evangelicals to search out and find a doctrine that lines up better with what the scripture actually says?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

You cannot rightly divide what you cannot rightly define; 2 Timothy 2:15

You constantly hear people referring to 2Tim 2:15. Usually, the reference is to rightly dividing the scripture. But, is that really what Paul meant? We shall see in this blog post that it is not what he meant. Before we define the word of truth as Paul did it would be beneficial to understand what rightly divide means. The Greek word is othotomeo... It means to dissect correctly, make a straight cut. Most other versions of the bible translate it “correctly handle,” so Paul meant that one should correctly handle, dissect correctly the word of truth. But, what is the word of truth?

Both Paul and James define the word of truth, and neither of them define it as the scripture per se. It is more nuanced than that. Let’s look at some passage of scripture where the phrase word of truth is defined.

Eph 1:13  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” In this passage Paul defines it as the gospel of salvation. Therefore, the word of truth is synonymous with the gospel.

Jas 1:18  Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” What were they brought forth by? The answer is the gospel of Jesus and Jesus the living gospel. They were not brought forth by the scripture per se.

So, we see that the proper definition of the word of truth is the gospel. This makes 2Tim 2:15 urge that one study or be diligent to correctly handle, or rightly divide the gospel. How does one do that? The simple answer is with the cross. The death burial and resurrection becomes the critical changing point for the gospel. It is also the dividing point of the Old and New Covenants. It represents a radical shift in what God is doing in the earth and how He is doing it. It is the symbol of his grace and mercy.

If you define the word of truth as the scripture as so many do it becomes nebulous and difficult to understand what rightly dividing or correctly handling really is. That is why so many theologians and ministers that completely disagree in doctrine claim that they rightly divide the word of truth. How many times have you heard someone say that they were rightly dividing the word of truth? Well, they CANNOT rightly divide what they CANNOT rightly define.

Here again is yet another place where the redemptive focus of scripture becomes paramount. If rightly dividing the word of truth means rightly dividing the gospel message, and correctly handling it, then this makes the gospel decidedly much more important than any other message. In fact, Paul told the Corinthian believers that he had decided, or determined to know NOTHING among them except for Jesus Christ and Him crucified… in other words, the gospel (1Cor 2:2.)

Why do so many preachers today, i.e., followers of Jesus and proclaimers of the gospel claim to know and teach about everything except the gospel? They too, should determine to know nothing except Jesus Christ crucified!

Link to Part 2

Friday, December 14, 2012

Seven reasons Christians must read the bible in a solely redemptive way; eliminating the legal constitutional reading of scripture

Several times I have suggested that Christians stop the legal constitutional reading of scripture. In this blog post I will present seven sound biblical reasons. In fact, in this post I beseech evangelicals to cease and desist from using a legal constitutional reading of scripture and replace it with a solely redemptive view. This would in no way diminish the value of the scripture, and it would completely eliminate the schizophrenic Christianity that presents an illogical and impossible mixture of law and grace

First, Jesus and his immediate followers changed the focus to a solely redemptive hermeneutic. Jesus stated in John 5:39-40 that the Jews were improperly using the scripture. They erroneously thought that they could find eternal life in the scriptures and the fact was that eternal life was only found in Jesus. So then, to use the scriptures for another purpose then finding Jesus and life is an incorrect use.

Second, Jesus and his immediate followers redefined the phrases word of God and word of truth from Torah to the gospel, and Jesus the living gospel. First of all, Jesus always referred to the scriptures as the scripture (writings) or the Law and Prophets and never referred to them as the word of God. He did use the word scripture often, you will find it forty-six times in the gospels and Acts. Finally, I challenge you to go to an exhaustive concordance and look up the phrase “the word of God.” Then insert the words scripture/s in place of it, and it will not make sense in context, however, if you insert the word gospel or Jesus depending on the immediate passage-context it will make perfect sense each and every time.

Third, Christ Jesus was the end or goal or purpose of the Law. Paul is especially clear on this point with statements like “if righteousness comes from the Law then Christ died for nothing,” or “by the works of the law no person will be justified.” It is clearly summed up in passages like Romans 10:1-4:  “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.  (2)  For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  (3)  For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.  (4)  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” It could not possibly be made more clear than that.

Fourth, God made Jesus enemies his footstool when he destroyed the temple and Jerusalem. Who were Jesus enemies? Of course the answer is the unbelieving Jews. They were the ones who enticed the Romans to crucify him. They were the ones that persecuted the church. So then, the first step in making Jesus’ enemies his footstool was the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. It did not stop there because ultimately Rome was made his footstool also. Ultimately however, death was put under his feet with the destruction of the temple because the Old Covenant, Paul called it the ministry of death, was rendered completely irrelevant with the destruction of the temple.

Fifth, Jesus was the lamb that opened the scroll and brought proper understanding of the scripture. Revelation 5:5 says it all: “ And one of the elders said to me, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." Prior to Jesus and his resurrection the scripture was hidden and the mystery of the gospel was not revealed. Jesus did that Luke 24:27, 43-45.

Sixth, The new covenant demands it. Jer 31:31-34  "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  (32)  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.  (33)  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (34)  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." The underline portion of the above passage completely eliminates the legal constitutional reading of scripture.

Seventh, A legal constitutional way of reading the scripture renders the redemptive decrees as not true. Last but certainly not least the new testament is full of what I call redemptive decrees. Here is an example of what I am writing about: Rom 10:9-11  “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  (10)  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  (11)  For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." If one can be unsaved by not doing something then this statement by Paul is simply a lie. Therefore, the Christian walk admonitions, (I like to call them reasonable service requests), cannot negate the declared promise for then, the scripture is absolutely of no value at all. There are many others throughout the pages of the scripture. The most famous one that Jesus stated is John 3:16, almost everyone is familiar with that declaration.

The evidence I have presented is overwhelming… what are you going to do with it?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Enemies of the cross not believing the true gospel

Ted Haggard recently wrote a very poignant blog post over on the Ted Haggard Blog. Here is a quote from the article that I especially appreciated.

“Sadly, it seems many churches have become toxic. We have too many poisonous churches with pastors who don’t know how to apply the Gospel, who teach certain behaviors prove salvation, that we should hide our weaknesses, and that we should appear contented.” (Ted Haggard, Ted Haggard Blog)

This is so very true because evangelical Christianity has developed a different gospel than the one that Paul preached. It is an unholy mixture of Old and New Covenant that ultimately elevates self-righteousness to a virtue, and reduces the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus to a onetime point of entrance that may or may not be efficacious. It only becomes effective in view of current evangelical doctrine if the person begins to live the law showing the fruit of a changed life.

What did Paul say in Philippians? In chapter three he said that when it came to law righteousness he was blameless. He went on to say however that he would count it all dung to be found in Christ Jesus, having the righteousness of God rather than his own righteousness from the law. It is very clear what Paul meant in this passage. He called those who were Judaizing dogs and evil doers. Finally he stated the following: Php 3:18  For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” This can be equally true for the way that the evangelical church views and teaches about righteousness today. In essence they have become enemies of the cross.

But it is more than that, in reality they become unbelievers. They are not willing to believe the true gospel of God’s grace. When one demands law obedience to prove salvation they in effect make the cross ineffective and present a different gospel. What is the gospel you ask? I think that it can be summed up quite nicely in this passage from Second Corinthians: (2Co 5:18-21)  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  (19)  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  (20)  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  (21)  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The underlined portion is a clear concise statement of the gospel. Verses 19 & 21 become the statement of the gospel.

This is especially pointed at those who are self-proclaimed judges of others and experts on the truth. The fact is that they have missed the truth completely as they are devoid of the love and mercy of God.

The true gospel will allow people to rest in the finished work of Jesus on Calvary. Once they truly believe and are completely resting in Jesus… real love for God and Jesus will be an automatic result, and this real love for God will produce a transformation into a loving being that desires to please God. If the church would teach the true gospel then, in community, others could walk along side and encourage each other to good works and the obedience of faith out of love. Anything short of resting in Jesus is really unbelief.

Why the gospel is important in the transformation process

Rom 8:6  "For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace," A very misunderstood passag...