I heard a minister recently talking about the rapture and trying to make the point that every prophecy necessary to the return of Christ has already been fulfilled. One of his points was that the Gospel has already been preached in all the world according to the promise of Jesus in Matt 24:14 (And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.), “Now” he said, “We’re just waiting for Jesus to come back.”
If you are one of those standing in line waiting for the rapture like a ride at Disney World, consider these statistics on world evangelism that I have collected from a variety of sources. As you read these keep in mind that in the United States there is 1 ordained minister for every 200 people. Yet…
– For every million unreached Muslims there are less than 3 missionaries.
– In Afghanistan there are 17 million people, 48,000 mosques…but not a single church.
– In Turkey there are 44 million people, but less then 200 Christians
– In India alone 500 million people have yet to hear the Gospel
– 30% of the world’s population (more than 2 billion people) have had virtually no exposure to the Gospel.
– The New Testament has been translated into the mother tongue of over 80% of the world’s population. However the remaining approximately 20% will require over 5,500 new translations.
Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). The word, “Nations” is “Ethne” in the Greek meaning ethnic people groups. Yet…
– There are an estimated 6,700 unreached or nearly unreached people groups.
– The countries with the most unreached people groups in descending order; India, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh.
– 98% of all unreached people groups are located in the “10/40 Window”.
THE GREAT COMMISSION IS STILL UNFULFILLED! Oswald Smith said, “We talk of the Second Coming; but half the world has never heard of the first.” Regardless if you are “pre-trib”, “post-trib”, “mid-trib” or some other “trib”, we must all confess that there is something desperately wrong with this type of doctrinal philosophy that makes us happy to escape with our own hides while the world burns and billions of people are lost. Where is the heart of Jesus in that? “…that none would perish, but that all would come to repentance.”
Here’s some food for thought; Jesus died more then 2,000 years ago. If it was God’s ultimate goal to rapture us all out of this “old god-forsaken world”, then why are we still here? What are we still waiting for? One person told me, “Jesus is building my mansion in heaven.” Really? It took him 6 days to create the entire cosmos, yet he’s been hung up with your “mansion” for 2,000 years? Not likely.
Heb. 10:12, 13 says, “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.” Since we are his hands and feet, then He must be waiting for…us. If He is waiting for us, and we are waiting for him, it would seem we are at an impasse. This is why Jesus told his disciples, “GO” into all the world and preach the Gospel. No more waiting and debating…just Go and PREACH.
“In the vast plain to the north I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been” — Robert Moffat
Daniel Kolenda is an evangelist with Christ For All Nations working alongside Reinhard Bonnke, learn more at his website www.danielkolenda.com.
Posted in Evangelism & Missions, Featured Articles Tagged with: Daniel Kolenda, evangelism, gospel, missions, Muslims, New Testament, sacrifice, statistics, unreached people groups
Editor’s Note: Originally published on TownHall.com, used with permission. Frank Turek is a speaker and author, and a leading Christian apologist. Learn more at his website www.CrossExamined.org
Do the New Testament documents tell the truth about what really happened in the first century? As I wrote in my last column, authors claiming to write history are unlikely to invent embarrassing details about themselves or their heroes. Since the New Testament documents are filled with embarrassing details, we can be reasonably certain that they are telling the truth.
Notice that the disciples frequently depict themselves as dimwits. They fail to understand what Jesus is saying several times, and don’t understand what his mission is about until after the resurrection. Their thick-headedness even earns their leader, Peter, the sternest rebuke from Jesus: “Get behind me Satan!” (What great press the disciples provided for their leader and first Pope! Contrary to popular opinion, it seems the church really didn’t have editorial control of the scriptures after all.)
After Jesus asks them to stay up and pray with him during his greatest hour of need, the disciples fall asleep on Jesus not once, but twice! Then, after pledging to be faithful to the end, Peter denies Christ three times, and all but one of them run away.
The scared, scattered, skeptical disciples make no effort to give Jesus a proper burial. Instead they say a member of the Jewish ruling body that sentenced Jesus to die is the noble one—Joseph of Arimathea buries Jesus in a Jewish tomb (which would have been easy for the Jews to refute if it wasn’t true). Two days later, while the men are still hiding, the women go down and discover the empty tomb and the risen Jesus.
Who wrote all that down? Men—some of the men who were characters in the story. Now if you were part of a group of men trying to pass off a false resurrection story as the truth, would you depict yourselves as dimwitted, bumbling, rebuked, lazy, skeptical sissies, who ran away at the first sign of trouble, while the women were the brave ones who discovered the empty tomb and the risen Jesus?
If men were inventing the resurrection story, it would go more like this:
Jesus came to save the world, and he needed our help. That’s why we were there for him every step of the way. When he was in need, we prayed with him. When he wept, we wept with him (and told him to toughen up!). When he fell, we carried his cross. The gates of Hell could not prevent us from seeing his mission through!
So when that turncoat Judas brought the Romans by (we always suspected Judas), and they began to nail Jesus to the cross, we laughed at them. “He’s God you idiots! The grave will never keep him! You think you’re solving a problem, but you’re really creating a much bigger one!”
While we assured the women that everything would turn out all right, they couldn’t handle the crucifixion. Squeamish and afraid, they ran to their homes screaming and hid behind locked doors.
But we men stood steadfast at the foot of the cross, praying for hours until the very end. When Jesus finally took his last breath and the Roman Centurion confessed that Jesus was God, Peter blasted him, “That’s what we told you before you nailed him up there!” (Through this whole thing, the Romans and the Jews just wouldn’t listen!)
Never doubting that Jesus would rise on the third day, Peter announced to the Centurion, “We’ll bury him and be back on Sunday. Now go tell Pilate to put some of your ‘elite’ Roman guards at the tomb to see if you can prevent him from rising from the dead!” We all laughed and began to dream about Sunday.
That Sunday morning we marched right down to the tomb and tossed those elite Roman guards aside. Then the stone (that took eleven us to roll into place) rolled away by itself. A glowing Jesus emerged from tomb, and said, “I knew you’d come! My mission is accomplished.” He praised Peter for his brave leadership and congratulated us on our great faith. Then we went home and comforted the trembling women.
There are other events in the New Testament documents concerning Jesus that are also unlikely to be made up. For example, Jesus:
• Is considered “out of his mind” by his own family who come to seize him to take him home (Mk 3:21,31).
• Is deserted by many of his followers after he says that followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood. (John 6:66).
• Is not believed by his own brothers (John 7:5). (Disbelief turned to belief after the resurrection—ancient historians reveal that Jesus’ brother James died a martyr as the leader of the church in Jerusalem in A.D. 62).
• Is thought to be a deceiver (John 7:12).
• Turns off Jewish believers to the point that they want to stone him (John 8:30-59).
• Is called a “madman” (John 10:20).
• Is called a “drunkard” (Mt. 11:19).
• Is called “demon-possessed” (Mk 3:22, Jn 7:20, 8:48).
• Has his feet wiped with hair of a prostitute which easily could have been seen as a sexual advance (Lk 7:36-39).
• Is crucified despite the fact that “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut 21:23).
If you’re inventing a Messiah to the Jews, you don’t say such things about him. You also don’t admit that some of you “still doubted” Jesus had really risen from the dead, especially while he’s standing right in front of you giving the great commission (Mt. 28:17-19).
Finally, anyone trying to pass off a false resurrection story as the truth would never say the women were the first witnesses at the tomb. In the first century, a woman’s testimony was not considered on par with that of a man. An invented story would say that the men—the brave men—had discovered the empty tomb. Yet all four gospels say the women were the first witnesses – all this while the sissy-pants men had their doors locked for fear of the Jews. (After I made this point during a presentation, a lady told me that she knew why Jesus appeared to the women first. “Why?” I asked. She said, “Because he wanted to get the story out!”)
In light of these embarrassing details—along with the fact that the New Testament documents contain early, eyewitness testimony for which the writers gave their lives—it takes more faith to believe that the New Testament writers were not telling the truth.
Posted in Philosophy & Science Tagged with: apologetics, atheism, atheist, bible, christianity, Frank Turek, New Testament
Editor’s Note: Originally published on TownHall.com, used with permission. Frank Turek is a speaker and author, and a leading Christian apologist. Learn more at his website www.CrossExamined.org
What are your most embarrassing moments? You don’t want to admit them. And if you do admit them, you certainly won’t add to your shame by inventing embarrassing moments about yourself to make you look even worse. Who’s going to lie to make himself look bad? People will lie to make themselves look good (especially politicians), but no one will lie to make himself look bad.
That’s why when historical accounts contain events embarrassing to the authors (or heroes of the authors) those events are probably true. Historians call this the principle of embarrassment, and it’s one reason why I think the writers of the Bible are telling the truth. There are far too many embarrassing details about the supposed heroes of the faith to be invented.
Just take a look at the Old Testament storyline. There’s little chance the Jews would have invented it. A story invented by Hebrews would more likely depict the Israelites as a noble and upright people. But the Old Testament writers don’t say this. Instead they depict their own people as sinful and fickle slaves who, time after time, are miraculously rescued by God, but who abandon him every chance they get. For example, after witnessing miracle after miracle that frees them from slavery in Egypt, they can’t resist worshiping the Golden Calf when Moses spends a few extra nights on the mountain. Talk about ungrateful folks with short memories! (We seem to suffer from this in America too).
The Old Testament writers record a Hebrew history filled with bone-headed disobedience, distrust, and selfishness. Their leaders are all world-class sinners, including Moses (a murderer), Saul (a paranoid egomaniac), David (an adulterer, liar, and murderer), and Solomon (a serial polygamist). These are supposed to be the “chosen people”—the ones through which God brings the Savior of the world? Yes, and the Old Testament writers admit that the ancestors of this Messiah include deeply sinful characters such as David and Solomon and even a non-Hebrew prostitute named Rahab. This is clearly not an invented storyline!
While the Old Testament tells of one embarrassing gaffe after another, most other ancient historians avoid even mentioning unflattering historical events. For example, there’s been nothing found in the records of Egypt about the Exodus, leading some critics to suggest the event never occurred. But what do the critics expect? Peter Fineman imagines what a press release from Pharaoh might say:
“A spokesman for Rameses the great, Pharaoh of Pharaohs, supreme ruler of Egypt, son of Ra, before whom all tremble in awe blinded by his brilliance, today announced that the man Moses had kicked his royal butt for all the world to see, thus proving that God is Yahweh and the 2,000-year-old-culture of Egypt is a lie. Film at 11:00.”
Of course no press secretary for Pharaoh would admit such an event if he wanted to keep his head! The Egyptian silence on the Exodus is understandable.
By contrast, when the Egyptians scored a military victory, they went to press and exaggerated greatly. This is apparent from the oldest known reference to Israel outside the Bible. It comes from a granite monument found in the funerary temple of Pharaoh Merneptah in Thebes. The monument boasts about the military victory of the Pharaoh in the highlands of Canaan, claiming that “Israel is laid waste, his seed is not.” Historians date the battle to 1207 B.C., which confirms that Israel was in the land by that time. We know this account is exaggerated because, as history attests, Israel was not laid waste. Its seed lived on and sprouted into a great empire under David 200 years later. And its seed lives on to this day more than 3,200 years later.
How does the New Testament measure up to the principle of embarrassment? While embarrassing testimony is alone not enough to ensure historical reliability—early, eyewitness testimony is also necessary (which the New Testament has)—the principle of embarrassment is even more pronounced in the New Testament. The people who wrote down much of the New Testament are characters (or friends of characters) in the story, and they often depict themselves in an extremely unflattering light. Their claims are not likely to be invented.
Let’s put it this way: If you and your manly friends were concocting a story that you wanted to pass off as the truth, would you make yourselves look like dim-witted, uncaring, rebuked, doubting cowards who ran away at the first sign of trouble while the women were the brave ones who remained faithful? No way! But that’s exactly what we find in the New Testament. That’s one reason why I don’t have enough faith to believe that the New Testament tells an invented story.
I’ll highlight some of the New Testament’s more embarrassing details in the next column—even a few details that some could interpret as embarrassing to Jesus. In the meantime, you can find a cumulative case for God and Christianity in the book from which this column is adapted: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.
Posted in Philosophy & Science Tagged with: apologetics, atheism, atheist, bible, christianity, Frank Turek, New Testament
It is a great tragedy that so much of the modern Church in the West has neglected the essential role of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, we read about a Church that was completely dependant upon and full of the Holy Spirit. His power and guidance was evident everywhere. The Church was born in Pentecostal fire and the concept of a church without the all-pervading presence of the Holy Spirit would have been totally unimaginable and foreign to them.
In Acts 6:1-5 we read that the early Christians noticed that there was a weakness in their administrative system (some of the widows were being overlooked in the daily ministration). Sensing the obvious, that it would not be right for the apostles to wait on tables, they looked for lay-workers who could attend to the day-to-day business of the congregation.
I want you to notice what the leadership was looking for in these table-waiters; in addition to having integrity and wisdom, they were required to be full of the HOLY GHOST! This does not mean that they could say “Shouldaboughtahonda” a few times. Look at what it says about one of these waiters that, “Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Now THAT is being full of the Holy Ghost! “But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you…” (Acts 1:8)
Often the gifts and miracles have been thought of as being intended only for a small group of elite Christians with big ministries and full-time preaching careers. But in the early Church, even the ushers were walking in this power! Why? Because they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. Power was part in parcel of the Christian experience. It was for the layman, for the businessman, for the blue-collar and white-collar workers. It was for everyone! The power of the Holy Spirit was not considered something extraordinary, but something normal and expected. Today the unfortunate reality is that many people think it is a rare gift if their pastor has integrity and wisdom…forget being full of faith and demonstrating miracles.
How is it possible that so many have taken the model given in Scripture and devolved into something so foreign? The power and fullness of the Holy Spirit is so basic to Christianity. It is the foundation, the DNA and the premise of all that follows. Stephen was not an apostle. He was only a waiter. But even Stephen was full of faith and power. Even Stephen demonstrated great wonders and miracles among the people. Even Stephen needed this power…to serve tables. May this thought convict every pastor, every evangelist, every full-time minister as well as every “lay” church member. If even Stephen needed the power of the Holy Spirit…so do we!
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: apostle, evangelist, Holy Spirit, miracles, New Testament, Scripture, stephen, the church
The debate between Dr. Brown and Dr. Ehrman, entitled “Does the Bible Provide an Adequate Answer to the Problem of Suffering?”, will be at Ohio State University on April 15th and will be broadcast live over the web. Click here for more information. Ehrman is a leading New Testament critic and has written extensively on the subject, authoring “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer.” Pray that the truth of the hope of the gospel would be proclaimed clearly to a generation that desperately needs it!
Dr. Brown recently gave a lecture at CharlotteOne on this topic entitled “God and the Problem of Suffering.” You can listen below, or download it by clicking here.
Posted in News, Philosophy & Science Tagged with: Bart Ehrman, Dr. Michael Brown, hope, New Testament, suffering
“I have made a covenant with my eyes;
How then could I gaze at a virgin?
…. for that would be a fire that consumes….
and it would burn to the root all my increase.” -Job 31.1, 12
I understand that many would brand my faith antique and my convictions archaic for approaching this subject, but that is a minuscule risk for me to take. God is too glorious, His Gospel too precious, and the fate of our sons and daughters too much at stake for me to worry about the consequences that these themes bring. I am convinced that we have woefully underestimated the damage that is done to the world and to the Church, particularly with regard to the issue of so-called entertainment.
The Church is largely bored with the Scriptures, unwilling to sacrifice for eternal things, unacquainted with the Spirit of prayer, and is harboring such distorted views of God that it is often difficult to tell if the One she is proclaiming is the same Lord that the apostles and prophets set forth. There may be a litany of reasons for this decrease of majesty, but I believe that one of the greatest of these is that Hollywood has a stranglehold on the hearts and imaginations of God’s children.
The pornography epidemic could be driven home here, and to sound the trumpet against that demonic system will require the emergence of a true prophetic voice indeed. Almost 40% of American pastors admit to a current struggle with internet porn, and the numbers are even greater amongst men within our congregations. This is beyond tragic, and we are in need of a massive overhaul of repentance and mercy. Now more than ever are we in need of awakening, and if you are in this category there is deliverance and freedom from this deathtrap. The Gospel of Jesus sets us free “from all sin,” and He will give you grace to slam the door once and for all on this terribly besetting sin, when you repent and turn to Him with a whole heart, clinging to the Son of God.
Yet as horrific as the pornography phenomenon is, that is not the primary burden of my heart in this writing.
I am convinced that the Church of America, as a majority, has been removed from, or has never known, the kind of trepidation and tenderness of heart that Job was expressing when he declared, “I have made a covenant with my eyes….”
It was part and parcel with the faith of all the saints of old, that what they allowed to pass through the eye-gate, and what they permitted willingly to go into their ears, would taint their souls at best, and find residence in their lives at the worst. I am suspicious of modern “prophetic” men who commonly cite movies and shows that contain illicit sex, profane lingo and themes, glorified violence, immoral innuendo, or other defiling examples as points in their messages. The only reason these points hit home with so many church members is that they themselves are given over to the same powers and influences.
Our hearts are too taken up with this world, saints, and there has never been a generation wherein the spirit of this age strikes the soul with such color, such special effects, and such mesmerizing power as the one we find ourselves in. Yet we are called to an ultimate holiness nonetheless, and it may be said that one of the distinguishing factors between those who will bear the testimony of Jesus at the end of the age and those who will take the mark of the beast during tribulational times will be this radical consecration of the eyes to God Himself.
In Eph. 5, Paul declares that there should not even be a “hint of immorality” in the lives of God’s people. Dear believer, I ask you pointedly, what constitutes a hint? How many of Hollywood’s characters, themes and plots can we drink in without receiving a “hint” of darkness?
There is something sleazy about many of our lives, charismatic or not, and while it might not be overtly recognized, I believe there is a residue of immorality resting upon those who have freely given themselves to morally compromised entertainment. There is something flimsy about our religion, and the bright burning of holiness that marked John the Baptist, the prophets of old, and Jesus Himself is conspicuously absent in the sanctuary, where His name is declared “holy” in verbal exercise, but the sense of His holiness has become foreign.
“…. it would burn to the root of all my increase.”
While we have boasted in “liberty,” and spoken poetically of our spiritual interpretations of Hollywood flicks (interpretations that Hollywood would largely reject and ridicule), we have too often condoned the spiritual pollution of our hearts.
Would the porn epidemic be so far-reaching and deeply-rooted if the Church hadn’t dropped the ball in areas of more subtle compromise? We have become arrogant in our boasting. And we wonder why our kids are prayerless and numb to eternal reality, buying into agnosticism and atheism when they graduate high-school and make it to their respective Universities. We wonder why thousands of “evangelical” teens are converting to Islam or diving headlong into the “party” life when they get out from under the wing of a youth group, and into the reality of college life. This may not be the only issue, but it is much more prevalent than we know. It’s a battle of ideologies, and hell has no greater method than to slowly dull our hearts to the God of righteousness through cute, subtle, and entertaining displays of hellish ideas. As a friend of mine so rightly wrote:
We have so saturated our minds and imaginations with man-created images that we are bound to those images and therefore subject to the agenda of the men creating them.
It has burned to the root of our “increase” in Christ. It has dulled and blurred the “inner-man” of the Church. We have lost the hunger and thirst for righteousness that Jesus encouraged, for we have given our hearts, minds, and pocketbooks to the broken cisterns of carnal entertainment.
It’s staggering to me that when the subject is raised to most believers, the tag of legalism is immediately raised. While there are legalistic souls who lack an understanding of mercy, and who often place heavy yokes upon others, the vehemence and rage of those who dish out accusations that men like myself are “legalistic” is far more widespread, at least in my own experience. I’ve never heard more warnings against “the religious spirit,” “self-righteousness,” and “legalism” than I have in the last few years.
In the area of entertainment they say, “Paul said we had liberty in Christ, and we’re walking in that freedom.” But these modern examples are usually employed in a context that is far different from the situation with the Judaizers in the churches of Galatia. There is not an iota of Scripture that would encourage me to set my eyes, ears and emotions on themes that make light of sin.
The apostles, quite contrary to the liberal ideas of today, addressed issues of righteousness with remarkable frequency and intensity in the New Testament, and I believe they would weep over the Church in our day, that we would be delivered from the murky waters that have tainted and dulled our spirits in the realm of entertainment. Gospel liberty is not license, but rather freedom from the death grip of this dying age. It is a liberty to come into the wonderful reality of communion with the Living God, and to taste of the “powers of the age to come.”
This is not about judging our movies based on their ratings. A thousand “PG” movies could be just as detrimental as one “R” movie. Addictions to political news or social networking must also be challenged if they burn up our time and keep us from the place of prayer and worship, diminish our passion for the Scriptures, and fog our awareness of the lostness of humanity. This is about a total consecration of our eyes and hearts unto Him, that we might gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, tremble before His majesty, remain in the loving counsel of His voice, and set Him forth in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
Our eyes have been too opened to the lying glimmers of this age. The time is here for an ultimate consecration of the eyes to the Lord, that we would see the increase of Christ Himself in our lives. We haven’t got room even for a “hint,” friends.
Let us return to Him with weeping and mourning, that so many of us have preferred the fading lights of this age to the glorious light of God Himself. We need not buy into the lie any longer. He longs to pour out mercy upon us, to purify us down to the marrow of our bones, to make us a tender-hearted people, enjoying deep communion with Him, and walking in meekness and holiness unto the day of His return.
Oh God, cleanse and purify our hearts with the fire of Your holiness and love. Catch us up in the Spirit of prayer and the glory of worship, quicken our souls to love the Scriptures, awaken us from fantasy and bring us into eternal reality. For Jesus’ sake.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: holiness, Hollywood, John the Baptist, New Testament, pornography, prayer, prophets, purity
Appalling grace, how bleak the sound, that teased a wretch like me.
I still am lost, though almost found, am bound and still not free.
I was moved to pen these lines after reading Mark Galli’s recent article, “The Scandal of the Public Evangelical: What we really have to have to offer the world,” published July 2, 2009, in Christianity Today online. (Galli is the Senior Managing Editor for Christianity Today.)
Galli begins his article by noting that, “It’s been a tough couple of months for evangelical public figures,” pointing to the discovery of nude photos of Carrie Prejean, former Miss California, the adulterous affair of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, and the impending divorce of reality TV stars Jon and Kate Gosselin. He rightly observes that, “It’s discouraging to see Christians who could have been models of our faith become merely examples of what G. K. Chesterton called the one doctrine subject to empirical proof: original sin.”
So far so good. It is the conclusion Galli draws from this sorry state of affairs that transforms (or should I say deforms?) God’s amazing grace into what could only be called appalling grace – if not a monstrous grace.
According to Galli, “There is something in the evangelical psyche that denies this reality [namely, of the failed lives of so many Christians]. Yes, we’re a movement that preaches repentance and confession of sin as a chief means of grace. But after conversion, our holiness heritage kicks in,” as if there is something wrong with having a “holiness heritage,” as if the Scriptures do not plainly state that “without holiness no will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14), as if Jesus himself did not teach that it is the “pure in heart” who “will see God” (Matt 5:8), as if the promises of God did not move us to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Cor, 7:1, in light of 2 Cor 6:16b-17), as if the coming new heavens and new earth, which are the home of righteousness, did not beckon us to “to live holy and godly lives” here and now (2 Pet 3:11), as if we had not been chosen “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1:4), as if “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thes 4:7).
“But after conversion, our holiness heritage kicks in.” This is something negative? This is not a wonderful heritage in the Lord? Without a doubt, there is a rich, biblical foundation for this supposedly regrettable holiness heritage: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Pet 1:15-16)
This, however, is only the beginning of Galli’s article. After claiming that, “We’re deathly afraid of cheap grace,” and that, “We assume that with sufficient exhortation and moral effort, our sins will become smaller than a widow’s mite and our righteousness larger than life,” Galli makes reference to “the long-standing evangelical myth that there should be something different about the Christian” (his emphasis).
Did you catch that? The idea “that there should be something different about the Christian” is nothing more than a “long-standing evangelical myth.” How remarkable! One of the fundamental truths of the New Testament, that salvation in Jesus transforms our lives, now becomes a “long-standing evangelical myth” – and this according to a senior editor of evangelicalism’s flagship publication.
So then, rather than recognizing that the current moral crisis in the evangelical church is absolutely tragic, a cause for mourning and repentance and self-examination before the Lord, Galli points to these failures as proof that real change for the believer – the type that the world will notice – is unattainable. What a poor conclusion to draw – and what an unbiblical conclusion at that. It is the fact that Jesus truly transforms sinners – that salvation really saves! – which empowers us to witness to the world, and it is a transformation that we are called to live out. (As I recall, Rom 12:2 does not say “be conformed to this world” but “do not be conformed to this world.”)
Galli describes the things we imagine will mark us out from the world. “A look. An attitude. A lifestyle. Something noticeable, something that causes the unbeliever to pause and wonder, ‘What does that person have?’” Yet he rues the fact that the reality seems to be other than this, and that, “we find, more days than not, that there’s not much to that something. We drop our coffee and blurt out a four-letter word, or we drink too much at the office party, or we fail to enquire about the welfare of a neighbor who just discovered she has cancer. Most days, we seem to be no different from the rest of humanity.”
But we are supposed to be different, by the grace and power of God. Consider Paul’s words to the Philippians: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life . . .” (Phil 2:14-16). This is expected of us today!
Consider Peter’s exhortation to his readers, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet 2:11-12). The unbelievers are supposed “to pause and wonder, ‘What does that person have?’”
We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world – a city set on a hill! – and our light is to “shine before men, that they may see [our] good deeds and praise [our] Father in heaven” (Matt 5:13-16; as explained by R. V. Tasker, as the salt of the earth, believers are “called to be a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing, or non- existent … they can discharge this function only if they themselves retain their virtue.”)
James wrote that, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). This has not changed, and we should we be distinguished both by our acts of mercy and by our lives of separation. “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2 Cor 6:17). Has this somehow been edited out of our Bibles?
Paul was fully aware that in the society at large, there would be people practicing all kinds of defiling sins. But among God’s people, it was supposed to be different: “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’” (1 Cor 5:9-13)
What would the evangelical church of America look like if we practiced this today? How many of us would be left?
I fully understand that, even on our very best days, we are all in need of God’s mercy, and that in ourselves, we are infinitely distant from God’s holiness. But that does not diminish the fact that the Son really does set us free, that, in Jesus, although we used to be objects of wrath fulfilling the desires of the flesh and the mind, we have been born from above and are new creations in Christ – meaning that our lives are truly changed.
Paul expressed this so well: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” That is who we used to be. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).
Like the Corinthians, some of us were ungodly, unholy, immoral, greedy, idolatrous people. Yes, “that is what some of you were” – not are. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). All this speaks of real change.
According to the consistent and abundant witness of the New Testament Scriptures, through the new birth we are translated from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God (Col 1:13), from darkness to light (Eph 5:8, with the exhortation to “live as children of light”), from death to life (Eph 2:1-5), from slavery to sin to slavery to righteousness (Rom 6:1-23).
That’s why obedience to God’s commands is the hallmark of the believer: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. . . . Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. . . . No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. . . .” (1 John 2:3-4, 6; 3:6). Succinctly stated, “in this world we are like him” (1 John 4:17).
Are we falling short of this mark in a very serious way as American evangelicals? Without a doubt, which is why we need to reexamine the message we preach to the world and to the church and humble ourselves before our God, acknowledging that something is terribly amiss. Could it be that our substandard message is producing substandard believers? Could it be that our conspicuous departure from the preaching of the cross and the preaching of repentance and the preaching of holiness and the preaching of the empowering presence of the Spirit has produced disastrous consequences? There are many, including me, who say it has.
And what of our fascination with celebrity Christianity, be it the latest superstar preacher on Christian TV or the latest “born-again” reality star on secular TV? The very fact that we could make a beauty queen who poses in lingerie and bikinis into a national voice for morality, however sincere she might be, should be pause enough for thought.
Long ago Alexander Maclaren wrote, “I am quite sure that nine-tenths of all the heresies that have ever afflicted the Christian Church, and are the cause of the weakness of so much popular Christianity, is none other than the failure adequately to recognize the universality, and the gravity of the transgression. If a word comes to you, calls itself God’s message, and does not start with man’s sin, nor put in the forefront of its utterances the way by which the dominion of that sin can be broken in your own heart, and the penalties of that sin in your present and future life can be swept way, it is condemned – ipso facto – as not a gospel from God, or fit for me.”
As Oswald Chambers explained, “Jesus Christ came to make the great laws of God incarnate in human life, that is the miracle of God’s grace. We are to be written epistles, ‘known and read of all men.’ There is no allowance whatever in the New Testament for the man who says he is saved by grace but who does not produce the graceful goods. Jesus Christ by His Redemption can make our actual life in keeping with our religious profession.”
In keeping with this mindset, New Testament elders were expected to be “above reproach” and to have “a good reputation with outsiders” (1 Tim 3:2, 7), while it was shameful for any believer to suffer “as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” In contrast, it was our glory to suffer because of our identification with Jesus (1 Pet 4:12-16).
Galli notes that, “It is God’s utter acceptance of us that allows us to look at our miserable sinfulness and not flinch. If that’s not the final step in sanctification, it is certainly a prerequisite to any other step.” Agreed! But he continues, “And it’s about all most of us will experience in this life,” to which we must reply, “That is appalling grace, not amazing grace!”
There are a legion of scriptures that speak of our calling to make clear and definite spiritual progress in this life, including passages such as 2 Peter 1:3-9, which proclaim that God’s “divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Peter explains that is through God’s promises, which flow from his glory and goodness, that we “may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Because of this, we are called to “make every effort to add to [our] faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” Growth in grace is expected and called for (see also 2 Pet 3:18).
That’s why Paul, after exhorting the Colossians to put the death the deeds of the flesh, writes, “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col 3:1-14). This is certainly attainable, and it certainly distinguishes us from the world.
Galli does believe that moral exhortations are useful, but he argues that “we must never believe that ‘then and only then’ will we Christians have something ‘to offer the world.’ What we offer the world is not ourselves or our moral example or our spiritual integrity. What we offer the world is our broken lives, saying, ‘We are sinners saved by grace.’ What we offer the world is Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Really? We tell the drunkard, “I too am a drunkard, hopeless enslaved by alcohol, but let me tell you how wonderful Jesus is and how He forgave my sins.” We tell the child abuser, “I too am a pedophile, but let me tell you how glorious God’s grace is and how he removed my guilt.” We tell the drug addict, “I too am bound by drugs, but you can join me in my brokenness and we can experience the power of the cross together.” What an utter travesty!
For Galli, however, this is the strength of our message: “Make no mistake, this is not cheap grace. Not cheap at all—it’s free. And it’s the most precious thing we have to offer the world.”
It may be free, but it is virtually worthless; and it is counterfeit grace more than it is cheap grace.
We do well to remember Dietrich Bonheoffer’s words: “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin….
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
That is not God’s grace at all. God’s grace transforms us. It forgives us and frees us; it deals with the penalty and the power of sin; it finishes what it starts. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).
I do not deny for a moment that we stand by God’s mercy and not by our goodness, that all of us are works in progress, that all of us are in the ongoing process of sanctification, and that we can tell others about Jesus even while we remain far from perfect. I also do not deny for a moment that by the blood of Jesus and the Word of God and the Spirit of God we can be profoundly different than we used to be – and that means profoundly different than the world. The fact that we are all too often not different than the world is not a justification for accepting a lower, unbiblical standard but rather a clarion call to turn back to God and receive His transforming grace afresh.
Galli virtually claims that our ongoing sinful state highlights God’s grace, which is perilously close to a dangerous notion that Paul was quick to refute: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:1-4). Through grace we do live a new life.
“Appalling grace, how bleak the sound, that teased a wretch like me. I still am lost, though almost found, am bound and still not free.”
Some may prefer this new, diluted version, but I much prefer the original: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
For one whole generation (if not more), the evangelical ship has been taking on water. Mark Galli points to this sorry state as proof that sinking is to be expected. It would be far better – and wiser – to assess the damage, plug the leaks, bail out the water, and repair (or replace!) the ship. Only then can we fully preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. After all, our lives speak more loudly than our words.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: amazing grace, Christianity Today, evangelicals, grace, Mark Galli, New Testament
Editor’s Note: Cross-posted as this week’s Ask Dr. Brown question.
Holiness is beautiful; legalism is binding; holiness brings life; legalism brings death. They are as different as night and day, and yet at first glance, they can seem similar, because they both stand against sinful behavior and call for holy living. How can we distinguish between the two? Let me first present some thoughts on holiness before defining legalism and its dangers.
According to Samuel Logan Brengle, holiness is “pure love.” According to Samuel Lucas, “The essence of true holiness consists in conformity to the nature and will of God.” Stated another way, holiness is becoming like Jesus in thought, word, and deed, in heart, mind, and conduct. Holiness is something beautiful and wonderful!
God is holy, and so His very being reflects the perfection of righteousness and goodness and purity and wholesomeness and compassion and mercy and justice. As expressed by Ralph Finlayson, “The sum of all God’s attributes, the outshining of all that God is, is holiness” – and we are called to emulate that holiness. As is it written in 1 Pet 1:15 (quoting Lev 19:2), “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
To be holy is to be separated from sin and to be separated to God, which means to be separated from that which is bad and destructive and evil and unclean and polluting and to be separated to that which is like the Lord. Sin is spiritual poison; holiness is spiritual health. As William Jenkyn explained, “There is nothing destroyed by sanctification but that which would destroy us.” In short, everything holy is good; nothing unholy is good. Everything unholy is bad; nothing holy is bad.
And yet there’s more: Holiness is our goal, our destiny, our portion. It expresses the very essence of the nature and character of God and describes the highest level of spirituality attainable by man. Listen to the testimony of the Word:
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1:4). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah loved the congregation [or, church] and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant congregation [or, church], without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:25-27).
That’s why Joseph Caryl could say, “Perfect holiness is the aim of the saints on earth, and it is the reward of the saints in heaven.” Or, as expressed by John Whitlock, “. . . the Christian’s . . . way is holiness, his end happiness.” Oswald Chambers understood this too, stating that “God has one destined end for mankind – holiness! His one aim is the production of saints. God is not an eternal blessing-machine for men. He did not come to save men out of pity. He came to save men because He had created them to be holy.”
William Gurnall was therefore entirely right when he wrote, “Say not that thou hast royal blood in thy veins, and art born of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by daring to be holy.” (You might want to stop for a moment and read that again. What a godly challenge!)
Why then do many believers resist holiness? One major reason is that many of them have been hurt by legalism, and so they immediately associate holiness with legalism.
What then is legalism? Legalism is rules without relationship, emphasizing standards more than the Savior and laws more than love. It is a system based on fear and characterized by joyless judgmentalism, producing futility instead of freedom.
To an unsaved person the legalist preaches justification by works, saying, “You’re a wicked sinner and you need to get rid of all your filthy habits if you want the Lord to accept you.” There is no grace in this message, no exalting of the life-changing, sin-cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, no clear proclamation of mercy.
The declaration of God’s love expressed through the cross is muffled – if it is even heard at all. Consequently, the proof of the new birth is seen almost entirely in what someone no longer does, and this continues to be the pattern for believers within the church: They are judged almost entirely by a few external standards (which, in many cases, are not even expressly mentioned in the Word) and they are monitored by conformity to the particular group’s code of conduct. And the result is external conformity rather than inward transformation – and that means either self-righteousness of self-condemnation (or both!).
Of course, it is absolutely true that God has very high standards, and for anyone honestly reading the Word, there can be no doubt that He calls us to live by very high standards – in our thoughts, words, and deeds; in our attitudes; in our sexuality; in our families; in our relationships; and much, much more. Passages like this are common in the New Testament:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph 5:1-6).
Tragically, legalists, despite their best intentions, get things tragically wrong. First, they try to change a person from the outside in (whereas God deals with us from the inside out); second, they fail to present a balanced picture of the Lord, putting too little stress on His mercy and too much emphasis on His wrath; third, they do not point the struggling sinner (or believer) to the Lord’s supernatural empowerment, making holiness a matter of human effort alone; and fourth, they add laws, standards, commandments, customs, and traditions that are not found in the Word, making those things even more important than the biblical commandments themselves.
In contrast, true, scriptural holiness begins with the heart and flows from an encounter with God and His Word. It calls for repentance in response to the Lord’s gracious offer of salvation and it offers a way to be holy – the blood of Jesus and the Spirit of God. Biblical holiness is free, although it requires discipline and perseverance. For the legalist, nothing is free. Everything must be earned! That’s why legalism leads to bondage and holiness leads to liberty.
As Ralph Cudworth explained many years ago, “I do not mean by holiness the mere performance of outward duties of religion, coldly acted over, as a task; not our habitual prayings, hearings, fastings, multiplied one upon another (though these be all good, as subservient to a higher end); but I mean an inward soul and principle of divine life (Romans 8:1-5), that spiriteth all these.”
It is that inward spiritual principle that must be cultivated, the principle of intimacy with Jesus, the principle of being renewed in our minds by His Word and Spirit, the principle of being conformed to His image and character, hating what He hates and loving what He loves. As Dr. Kent Hughes expressed in his book Disciplines of a Godly Man, “There is a universe of difference between the motivations behind legalism and discipline. Legalism says, ‘I will do this thing to gain merit with God,’ while discipline says, “I will do this because I love God and want to please him.’ Legalism is man-centered; discipline is God-centered.”
To quote Oswald Chambers again, “A bird flies persistently and easily because the air is its domain and its world. A legal Christian is one who is trying to live in a rarer world than is natural to him. Our Lord said, ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed,’ i.e., free from the inside, born from above, lifted into another world where there is no strenuous effort to live in a world not natural to us, but where we can soar continually higher and higher because we are in the natural domain of spiritual life.”
Unfortunately, the moment you preach biblical holiness, many Christians put their hands over their ears and say, “That’s legalism! That’s condemnation! That’s manmade religion! That’s the dead letter of the law! You won’t put me in bondage! I won’t listen to stuff like that!” As Robert Brimstead observed, “The idea of living strictly by what the Bible says has been branded as legalism.”
And so, these Christians run from the dangerous clutches of legalism and fall into the deadly grasp of license, that self-deceived state of fleshly liberty, catering to their carnality rather than crucifying it. What a terrible error!
Whatever comes naturally to these “liberated” believers is accepted as normal (and “understood,” of course, by the Lord), while biblical commandments are brought down to the level of their own experience, and anything that brings any kind of spiritual pressure to bear on them is rejected as not being the easy yoke and light burden of Jesus. And when the Holy Spirit brings conviction on people like this, they rebuke the devil for trying to condemn them – ultimately at the expense of their own souls.
To quote Oswald Chambers yet again, “The only liberty a saint has is the liberty not to use his liberty. . . . Liberty means ability not to violate the law; license means personal insistence on doing what I like. . . . To be free from the law means that I am the living law of God, there is no independence of God in my make-up. License is rebellion against all law. If my heart does not become the centre of Divine love, it may become the center of diabolical license.”
What then is the antidote? Flee from legalism, stay far away from license, and run to holiness; reject humanly birthed, external religion, give no place to false teaching that excuses carnality, and instead embrace new covenant, heart transformation — and in the power of the Spirit, supernaturally enabled by God’s grace, deal ruthlessly with sin in your life. That is the path to freedom!
Sin is so utterly awful that only the blood of Jesus could pay for it (1 Pet 1:16-19). We dare not trivialize sin in our lives.
In closing, let me bathe you with the truth of God’s liberating Word. (Yes, I know that this has been a long article, but I think you’ll agree that the subject is quite important – really, the difference between life and death.) Listen to the Word of the Lord!
“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God” (Rom 6:12-13, NLT).
“Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (Rom 13:13-14, NLT).
“Because we have these promises [of being sons and daughters of God], dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God” (2 Cor 7:1, NLT).
“For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. . . . God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thes 4:2, 7-8, NLT).
“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Ps 24:3-5, ESV).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matt 5:29-30, ESV)
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14, ESV).
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21, ESV).
What a wonderful Savior!
For more information on holiness and legalism, see Dr. Brown’s mp3 series Go and Sin No More, available at the AskDrBrown Online Bookstore by clicking here.
Go and Sin No More
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: change, discipline, holiness, judgmentalism, legalism, liberty, New Testament, Oswald Chambers, purity, Ralph Cudworth, Samuel Lucas, sanctification, sin
Note from the Author: I have taken it upon myself to share with you a part of a booklet I put together entitled ‘Jesus Ministry’. It was written especially for young people, who have perhaps been going through the motions of church life without knowing ‘the reason for existence’ and the reality of the Kingdom of God. This is not a ‘plug’ for the book, rather it is an appeal to you, in as much as it has been God’s appeal to me in recent years. Whether young or old, God wants all of you; a Divine possession that will not only consume your life, but manifest His life through you in an unprecedented way!
Malachi 3 (NAB)
17 And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my own special possession, on the day I take action. And I will have compassion on them, as a man has compassion on his son who serves him.
1 Peter 2 (1890 Darby Bible)
9 But ye are a chosen race, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a people for a possession, that ye might set forth the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness to his wonderful light…
The term ‘possessed’ brings up all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts in our minds, especially when we read in the Scripture of those who were ‘possessed’ by evil spirits. In the Old Testament we read that the Spirit clothed Himself with Gideon. We do not hear enough today of the reason Christ died and shed His blood for us; that is the gift of His Spirit, poured out upon those who repent and believe. For this reason our God did this – that the Spirit may clothe Himself with a people! This is why Christ came into this world… to get for Himself a people for His own possession!
All New Testament teaching has its basis ultimately in the mission and message of Jesus – the focus being on Jesus – the Messiah and Son of God, who through His death and resurrection brought about salvation for God’s New Testament people. They would comprise of Jew and Gentile to form a last days community of disciples, living in the present time by the Spirit, as they awaited the final triumph of that salvation in the return of Christ. The first followers of Christ knew that the time of the Kingdom had been fulfilled and would be completed when Jesus returned. These men and women lived like all the issues of Jesus Christ dominated their very being. They were consumed with Him… possessed by Him and His realities. They knew that they existed as God’s people for that time – chosen, redeemed, possessed by God – as His end time people. There are a few things the early church lived out and are of vital importance to the present day disciple:
Though our bodies still await that awesome time when Christ will return to perfect His work concerning us and make us like Him, our spirits have already been, and continue to be transformed (transfigured) toward perfection in Jesus. (Romans 8: 11). God is working His life into us today!
God’s people are to live in the sense that the glory of the future is already at work within them, both for the transformation of the person and for the preparing of the whole people of God. Heavenly eternity has been set in their hearts by the Spirit.
Ephesians 1 (NAS)
13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, 14 which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.
Listen to these words of revelation from Matthew Henry:
All who are designed for heaven hereafter are wrought or prepared for heaven while they are here; the stones of that spiritual building and temple above are squared and fashioned here below. And he that hath wrought us for this is God, because nothing less than a divine power can make a soul partaker of a divine nature; no hand less than the hand of God can work us for this thing. A great deal is to be done to prepare our souls for heaven, and that preparation of the heart is from the Lord.
So then, what does this have to do with me, I hear you ask. Well, this generation has no sense of ownership and being. It has been said by one man that the present generation of young people in Europe are living in a vacuum, and that they are waiting for something or someone to come along and fill that vacuum. Young people want a cause with which they can align themselves (and give themselves to.) All we have to do is watch the present situation on the news to see that young men are giving themselves to false ideals and putting their hope and identity in a god who always demands yet never communes, who hides and never reveals himself.
When we, the emerging generation in the Church catch a glimpse of, and take a look into what Christ has done and is working in us, then we will begin to understand that we are His, and His for a purpose. That purpose is to call others to obedience to the Gospel and to being a part of His people, His own possession. It is to see those who are possessed by anything other than Him, come to know of the freedom that comes by the possession of His Kingdom as it enters their hearts. That’s true identity, that’s true fellowship and that’s freedom!
There is an inner heart, there is an inner being, that can reach out, and you not only see the Lord Jesus but you feel the Lord Jesus… and you are one with Christ in an indissoluble union… you are part of Jesus Christ… you are one in Christ and with Him heirs of God.
Hugh Black – Scotland.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: God, Jesus, Jesus Ministry, New Testament, Old Testament, Scripture, the church, VOR Series: Divine Possession
Acts 7: 37 – 45 (Stephen’s address)
This is that Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.’ He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us.
But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:
‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of Molech
and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.’
Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them.
To begin with in this article, I am going to make a controversial statement: ‘The Western Church today is struggling in many areas of its ministry because it does not understand its Jewish roots!’
You may wonder how I can make such a statement, especially against statistics of unprecedented Church growth in the last 100 years or so. (Which even if it is the case, doesn’t validate or invalidate everything we do.) And what do I mean by Jewish roots? I do not mean becoming Jewish per se, or taking on another culture when you are not of Jewish decent. Rather, I mean the ways of God revealed to those key men and women of faith in Israel in Biblical history, of whom Jesus is the pinnacle in every way.
The Church can continue to be used by God, because His heart is gracious and wanting ALL to come to repentance. But His plan of salvation is more than access to heaven. It is about becoming a Kingdom people. That is why Christ came. There is a text, which demonstrates something of the difference between seeing God’s power, as opposed to those that go deeper to see His ways as well as His power.
Psalm 103: 7 – He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
This for me is an interesting Scripture. God’s people can know His power without knowing His ways. It takes a unique person to find out God’s ways. Moses was such a man. He not only found out what God could do for the people of Israel, but what God wanted to do for them in terms of purpose and strategy. How we could benefit from doing such a thing!
It is my firm belief that with every reformation, revival, renewal and outpouring of any kind comes not only an intensifying of God’s power and presence, but a revelation of God’s ways. The same Lord who came to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob; the One who visited Moses at the Bush & Sinai; the One who led the people of God into the land of promise; the One who revealed Himself to David, Daniel and all the other prophets and kings – this God came in flesh and met with humanity. In particular, this God met with a people, and revealed His Son according to the flesh through and to a Jewish people, that through His death and resurrection Israel might reveal His Kingdom to men of every Nation. This was Israel’s unique call and destiny! This is why 12 uneducated men saw themselves as the beginning of that fulfillment. From them, and other early disciples, the people of ‘the Way’ continued to minister Jesus Christ according to a unique understanding. They saw themselves as an ‘eschatological people.’ They were a newly formed people of the age to come, foreseen in OT prophecy, living in the present and carrying the Kingdom because of the visitation of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God. Yet they knew that it was not yet all consummated as the prophets had also foretold. Israel as a nation had not yet fully turned (many had rejected Jesus) and all the nations had yet to experience the Gospel of this inaugurated Kingdom. These things would have been central to the early Jewish believers and their mission. So was their understanding of the gospel and the Kingdom of God on the earth, which was steeped in Jewish history and Scriptures, even if Christ came to redefine what some of that would look like. It was a very Jewish thing to be a follower of King Jesus.
So when the same Spirit of God of the early Church visits today by outpourings of various kinds, He comes to restore the NT faith as prescribed by Jesus and then the 12. This can often be startling, even offensive, and bring a great shock to the system if God’s people today do not allow His Spirit to enlarge their spirit during such a season of visitation. You see, we westerners have put the faith into a mold and we view it through a certain western shade. Hence, Church history has known its fair share of turmoil. Yes, there have been splits due to the division of the enemy, or the spirit of rebellion in a people, or even an abuse by a key leader. But not all schism has come because of this. Some have come, because God has revealed who He really is, and a return to the NT faith & practice is required, and reformation has had to come as a return to His ways – it’s the only wineskin that will hold the new wine!
The theme of Jewish roots is a big subject and thus I will not have time to even scratch the surface of it. So with the above issues in mind, I would like to look at one particular theme, which I believe is absolutely crucial in the ongoing purpose of the Church. I believe if the Western Church grasps this in the near future (as I believe the Chinese Church has), we could be hearing of powerful transformation coming to people, houses, communities and nations. It is what I call the New Testament Exodus.
Recently, I wrote these words in a booklet I put together:
I am convinced that to understand the true meaning of the Gospel disclosed by the New Testament writers, we have to get a grasp and revelation of the account of Israel’s Exodus. Even more so, I believe the Exodus will have special spiritual significance in the life of the Church in these early years of this new millennium. Perhaps the Exodus is the key moment in all of Israel’s history. It is central to their existence and understanding of the one true God and their role as His chosen people. I am a deep believer that it was with the Exodus in mind, the Gospel writers understood the emergence of Christ and His powerful victory on earth. In fact on the mount where He was transfigured and the disciples saw His glory, it is recorded that He spoke with Moses and Elijah regarding His ‘departure’ or ‘exodus.’
I believe that there are vital revelations deeply ingrained in the Exodus for the New Testament people of God. And to add to that, they will bear special significance and power in the imminent move of God that is about to break into the Western nations.
Getting back to the basics.
You see, we have to believe that when Jesus came to this earth, and when the early Jewish disciples ministered before and after His resurrection / ascension, they saw everything in a particular light. All their words, actions and perception, were deeply grounded in the revelation of God and His Kingdom, progressively promised in the prophets, shown in glimpses through types and shadows, revealed and fulfilled in Jesus! Matthew really seems eager to lay hold of this theme. In chapter 2: 15 in quoting Hosea, Matthew says:
‘Out of Egypt I called My Son…’
Already here Jesus is being described in ways pertaining to Israel as a whole. Even as Israel, as a son, was called out of Egypt into the Land of Promise, Jesus – the Son fulfills and embodies Israel and fulfills her destiny. (Even Isaiah’s prophecies use the terms ‘son’ & ‘servant’ and they hold double meaning in the light of the NT.)
Then to add to that Jesus is baptized in Matthew 3. Why did the Pharisees get offended at such a thing? Because ‘washings’ were an important part of Jewish practice. To receive the ceremonial washings in Israel was to identify with the Nation; and even Gentiles, if wanting to become a part of the Nation, had to go through such strict washings. Yet Jesus, identifies not with the traditions of men but rather John the Baptist’s baptism, and with all those of a humble heart – sinners, poor, weak and those without hope. Luke records in his Gospel narrative that Jesus was baptized, ‘…when all the people were being baptized…’ What a gracious & merciful Master!
He goes through a true baptism, not one of hypocrisy. He does it to fulfill righteousness. And what’s more, he is identifying with the people of God and the Exodus of the OT, and He is introducing a new Exodus. Paul, a Jew of Jews, in 1 Corinthians 10: 1 & 2 says:
‘For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.’
And later in verse 11:
‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.’
So, even in the act of Baptism Jesus is identifying with a people, ‘called out of Egypt’, and going through the waters, which signifies the cutting off of the old life, and entering to the new as a fulfillment people. Jesus really is making big statements even with His actions! How many times do we perceive in the West today, Baptism as just symbolic of an inward change? When whilst it carries that symbolism, it also has deeper significance in terms of our identifying with this glorious God-man Jesus and His end-time people. So then this was a very Jewish thing and an understanding of the early Jewish ‘Jesus -sect’ (as some would have called them) would have added a weightier meaning to this important act in response to faith. We as a NT people joined in union by Jesus, our Sacrificial Lamb, Deliverer and Apostle, have left Egypt (the world and its hold) and have become heirs of the promise – the Kingdom now and to come.
Now add to this Exodus viewpoint, there is also this thought coming through: Jesus is being baptized in the river Jordan, quite a dirty river, and indeed forbidden as a place of purification by early rabbinic tradition. Jordan was the second major body of water that the children of Israel crossed by miraculous intervention. After their crossing into the Land, 12 men were chosen to take 12 stones from the river and place them as a memorial for the 12 tribes of Israel. (Joshua 4: 1 – 9) The Gospel’s closely link the choosing of the 12 disciples / apostles in their narrative shortly after the Baptism & wilderness accounts. God is speaking in a significant way!
Now regarding the wilderness account in Matthew 4, Matthew then carries the Exodus theme further with these words:
‘Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights…’
Recorded here is how the Spirit leads the Lord into the wilderness (a place of significance for Israel.) There He is tried and tested, yet triumphs in weakness. He is there for a symbolic number of 40 days, without food, in comparison to the children of Israel who complained for lack of food. So the fulfillment of Israel’s existence and role is now starting to really take shape. Where a generation of the children of Israel under Moses did not go into promise because of unbelief and disobedience in the wilderness, this glorious Leader is different: He defeats the testing of satan in that wilderness and comes out filled with power of the Spirit! He has demonstrated that ‘man will not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ He did this in the power of God, and is making up for Israel’s unbelief in the God of their fathers. Israel’s glory and victory is in this glorious Man!
Now something quite phenomenal begins to take shape in the account of Matthew. From there he tells of Jesus going into the region of Galilee, or as quoted by Matthew from Isaiah – ‘Galilee of the Gentiles.’ In the OT, Israel when led out was given a unique mandate from heaven in Deuteronomy 7: 1 – 6, that they were to ‘drive out the nations… and burn their idols…’ and they were to then possess the land of inheritance. Jesus begins to demonstrate a whole new meaning to this. As mentioned earlier, He then gathers twelve young men to Himself (remember the symbolism.) However now, He begins to preach the Kingdom as drawing near, and it is recorded, ‘healed every disease and sickness… news spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering with pain, the demon possessed…He healed them ALL. ’
Jesus is redefining to the Jewish people what their calling really is all about. It is to be a light to nations covered in darkness. As He drives out all the affects of darkness on a poor and helpless people, so too are they called to bring Light to the Nations. As He is delivering them from idolatry, which culminates in demon possession, so are they to reveal the One true God in His Son – Jesus, and a possession of His Spirit. As He deals with the tyranny of satan, so too are they to preach release to the captive and an entrance into a new Kingdom which is not of this world. They – the people of Israel, in Jesus, are to be a people who fulfill what their ‘Moses / Joshua led ancestors’ foreshadowed – drive out the works of evil, inherit the promise of God, bless the nations, and enter the rest of God.
Later on in Matthew, Jesus teaches ‘the sermon on the mount,’ (which is itself symbolic of Moses & Israel receiving the OT law on Sinai) He comes down from the mountain and does powerful signs of the Kingdom, even to a gentile centurion with great faith. Make no mistake, Jesus really is moving and fulfilling things in an unmistakable way to the early disciples, and the nation at large.
I believe what is being portrayed is powerful and glorious. Because it is then the 12 disciples, after Jesus demonstrating to them and teaching them His law and His ways, who are then ‘sent’ or ‘apostlized’ to do the very same thing – take the Kingdom message and power, drive out demons and proclaim ‘peace’ to the house that receives them. They are embodying Israel’s rediscovered calling. Initially, they are to go only to the lost sheep of Israel for it is firstly a matter of fulfillment and significance to them as a historic covenant people. But Luke later records, that the 12 were to become a group of 70, and no such geographical or racial boundary is given at that time of sending. Thus the prophetic call to Israel as God’s son and servant is fulfilled in the Messiah – Jesus Christ, and all those who attach themselves to Him. Therefore, it is a VERY Jewish thing for a Jew to embrace this glorious God-Man; it is a very Jewish thing to be a missionary for God; in fact it is very Jewish to be Apostolic, and it is a very awesome thing for a Gentile to be accepted as part of the people and share in that calling!
As I quoted earlier from my book, in Luke 9, Jesus speaks of ‘His exodus’ later on when on the mount of transfiguration. He is to die a terrible death and become Israel’s Passover Lamb, as well as their deliverer in leading the people out of bondage. But His death is not final, rather it is a doorway. He is to go to the depths of the grave, as Psalm 68: 15 – 18 & Ephesians 4 says, and lead captivity captive. And He is to lead that formerly sinful idolatrous people, (Jews & Gentiles alike) into His rest, through death, resurrection, reigning and granting us access and peace with God, through Himself! Hebrews 3 even likens the greater ministry of Jesus to the lesser one of Moses. In fact the whole of that epistle is about this theme. It really is awesome, this New Testament Exodus!
This is another mountain experience with God, as was the Sermon on the Mount. Again, God is alluding to the Sinai experience. This time it is not only about His law entering the heart of men, but rather Jesus now being the fulfillment of the Law & Prophets. His Jewish disciples were not to see the preparatory types and shadows as an end in themselves. God thus hides the two OT figures away after Peter’s desire to build tabernacles for them. God centers His will and revelation in His Son. After this powerful experience on the mountaintop with the inner circle of Peter, James & John, (not forgetting Moses & Elijah) Jesus goes down and finds a mess. The disciples cannot cast out a demonic spirit from a boy. There is a large crowd watching. Jesus gives a startling indictment against that generation (not just the apostles) that they are ‘unbelieving and perverse!’ He subsequently casts out the demon and the people are amazed.
This carries with it tones of what Moses faced upon his coming down from the ‘mount of God’ after receiving the law. He came face to face with demonic activity in the form of worship of a golden calf. He too faced an ‘unbelieving and perverse generation.’
The difference now with Jesus, as opposed to the day of Moses, is that our Lord has not failed to deal with the powers of the darkness that affect the nations. Moses may have destroyed the golden calf, but later on he is himself disobedient and filled with unbelief over the use of the rod of God. Moses did not go in to inherit. Jesus, full of faith and the Holy Spirit has overcome! He was perfectly obedient to the Father’s will. (Phil 2: 8 / Romans 5: 19 / Hebrews 5: 8 -9) He has inherited and will possess the Nations. The decisive victory at the Cross has been accomplished! He now has entered the rest for us, and we are to know of this inheritance also, now and in the ages to come.
The book of Acts shows how seriously the early Church took the words, mission and methods of Jesus, and how they perceived them. They carried on in that pilgrim spirit, exporting and sending, dispossessing and inheriting. Jewish disciples and apostles bringing people of all tribes into Israel’s inheritance of the Kingdom, through the message of Jesus Christ. God had revealed His New Testament Exodus to His people – how could they do anything but respond!
Now because of God’s grace revealed in His Son, we have inherited a Kingdom! We must pray much and examine the early Jewish Church life and practice. Pray for the same understanding of God’s ways, grace and power to be upon us. The first Jewish disciples saw everything in this light (as well as much more), and so too must we! We are a chosen race, as Peter declares, to declare the praises of God, who called us out of darkness. That’s Exodus type language. Paul says in Ephesians 3, the Church is called to ‘make known the manifold wisdom of God to principalities and powers…’ – that’s Exodus understanding!
So then people of God, Jew and Gentile alike, through faith in Jesus Christ, let us rediscover our Jewish roots. If we do, it will affect our understanding of who we are, and where we are heading, in this age and in the age to come. I thank God for the Jews, chosen and elect of God to a unique destiny. I thank God for the early band of Jewish disciples – holy radicals for Jesus who turned the world upside down. I thank God mostly for Jesus. Who by His grace brought me – ‘an alien’ by natural birth, and adopted me as a son. So that with the faithful remnant of Jewish brothers we can see an Apostolic witness of ‘sent ones’ taking the Kingdom of God, through the message of Christ to the Nations and the Nation of Israel.
Finally, I believe that as we see the day of the Lord approaching, the Church will more and more understand her origins and identity. In that moment she will become by the Spirit, all that God has called her to be. Israel needs to witness an authentic apostolic expression of Jesus Christ today, as prescribed in the early Church of the 1st Century. Only then can a jealous Israel, like Moses, turn aside and ‘see God’ in us earthen vessels – a type of burning bush, and come closer and believe. My prayer with Paul is for ALL of Israel to be saved, and for the Nations to join with her to form a ‘Jesus-people’. When such a ‘New Man’ is formed we will see Christ’s return. May I encourage you to pray for revival in the Nations, including the Middle East. And pray for revival in Israel, for as Paul says in Romans 9: 1 – ‘…my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit…’ – it is God’s desire!
May God do it in our day! Amen & Marantha!
Posted in Scripture Tagged with: Exodus, israel, Jesus, Jewish roots of Christianity, jews, Kingdom of God, Moses, New Testament, Old Testament, the church