Romans 1:1, Paul a slave of Christ Jesus

Transformed Into His Image

Rom 1:1 A slave has no identity of his own, no right to assert himself, no rights to his own body, no rights to any possessions that he may call his own.  He may not protest if his master abuses him – since he has no rights in any case.  He can be marked or branded as the property of another and is so understood by anyone who passes by and sees him.  A slave may have a will, but he has no choices – he must do the will of his master.  In the early slave censuses of the United States, slaves were not listed by name, but only by the name of their master, and then listed as twenty year old male, fifteen year old female, etc.  Any identity part from their master was ignored or obliterated, and even the names they were called were given by their…

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The Bema Seat of Christ – Part 1 (You Mean We Get a Reward Too!)

“According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1Co 3:10-15)

Recently I was asked to read the above passage after expressing to someone that I do not differentiate between something being of my flesh and something being of the Spirit, as I live in union with Christ moment by moment. Of course, I was thinking in terms of Romans 8:9 where Paul writes: However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you…” or when he writes in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; and 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 up for me.” I have the confidence that “it is God who is at work in me, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” Philippians 2:13. Nevertheless I was cautioned that I should differentiate whether my works be of the Spirit or of my flesh as this will have a definite impact on what rewards I receive or lose on “the day” when we all stand before “the bema seat of Christ”.

Having heard this kind of talk before (there are about 35 reward type passages in the New Testament), I must confess that I have not thought of these passages in terms of rewards apart from Jesus Christ Himself. After all, are not all the promises of God “yes” in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20)? Yet aapparently after spending thirty or so years continually learning to get off the performance treadmill, learning to trust Jesus Christ as my life, it is now being suggested that Paul is teaching that I need to get back on that treadmill to earn rewards. After all, “what else could this passage from 1 Corinthians 3 mean”? It is this “what else could it mean” that I would like to give some thoughts on.

Going back to the first verse of Genesis 15:1 we read:

“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.”” (Gen 15:1 NASB)

BUT in the MKJV version it reads:

After these things the Word of Jehovah came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I am your shield and your exceeding great reward.(Gen 15:1 MKJV)

Which is it? This verse reads two completely different ways due to the ambiguity of the Hebrew text for which I must take the word of a translator given my Hebrew skills are only on par with those of my non-existent Greek and Aramaic skills. Even looking at the context within which we read these verses is not conclusive (unless of course your context is the Gospel message in its entirety). For example, if you want to believe the first translation of “your reward shall be very great”, you simply read the immediately following verse:

“Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”” (Gen 15:2 NASB)

It seems clear that Abram was thinking in terms of God giving him a reward. But what about if we look at the passage preceding the reward verse, do you not get the idea that God is “his exceeding great reward”? Abram has just rescued Lot in Genesis 14 when the King of Salem arrives on the scene.

“Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all. The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ “I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.””

(Gen 14:17-24 NASB)

With Melchizedek being a type of Christ and the bread and wine being a type of the shared life of Christ, we see Abram accepting this and Jesus confirms that Abe knew the significance of Melchizedek:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” (Joh 8:56 NASB)

When it came to earthly rewards, Abram refused the worldly riches offered by the King of Sodom to not take way from God’s glory.

It is kind of like when Peter spoke with Jesus:

“Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.” Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. “But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”” (Mar 10:28-31 NASB)

Notice that Jesus promises much in this life albeit with persecutions and but for the age to come “Eternal Life”!

“And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (1Jn 5:11 NASB)

When Paul wrote the Corinthians, he wrote having to address their carnal or fleshly way of thinking

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1Co 3:1-3 NASB)

It seems that instead of seeing the “natural” illustrations of the Bible for what they are, pictures God uses to explain Kingdom realities to us, we miss the realities of God’s Kingdom and simply make the illustrations fit OUR natural way of understanding things.

Instead of being constrained by the Love of God, being created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph 2:10 NASB) and that being enough, in unbelief we look to rewards as needed to get believers on about the business of the Kingdom. If constrained by the Love of God, if it is the Spirit doing God’s work through His willing vessels, what place could rewards possibly have? If the Love that has been shed abroad in our hearts flows first to our God and then to our neighbour, always flowing out away from us, why would we turn inward to see how we are doing with respect to rewards? Our reward is Life in Christ. What could possibly be added to that? In promoting rewards are we turning our faith in Christ to mere religion?

It has been said that the key difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world is that Christianity is not a religion!  Religions are about human attempts to make our lives right with God, through our good works, sacrifices, rituals, and money. However, Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is about God entering human history to graciously save men and women through His Son Jesus Christ. In simple terms: Christianity is what God does for us while religion, even Christian religion, is about what man does for God to gain, keep or add to His approval of man, and in the case of this passage, the attainment of rewards.

Of course, proponents of the Christian reward theology would counter that our salvation is totally by grace and that it is only our post-conversion works that are eligible for rewards. Is that not worldly thinking? Isn’t living the Christian life a continual eating from The Tree of Life expressed as an attitude of continual trust in Jesus Christ, whereas religion is eating from The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil expressed in an attitude of independence or trust in oneself, even if motivated by rewards? That is exactly what happens when we pass judgement on our works or anyone else’s with respect to rewards – we eat from the wrong tree! That is why Paul exhorts us not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” Romans 12:2 and to see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Col 2:8)

Someone has rightly said that even if there were rewards, it is not those who are looking for them who would get them but rather those not expecting them! Such is the heart of the Gospel.

It seems that no matter how well versed we are in the Gospel of Grace that has once for all set us free from “religious performance”, it continually tries to find a way back into our thinking. Religion twists the meaning of Romans 7 so that we think of ourselves as both flesh and spirit (also in Galatians 5), it keeps us focused on our sin by using 1 John 1:9 as justification for keeping short accounts with God, and I believe it also keeps us focused on our performance through the erroneous understanding of rewards or loss.

If you read the entirety of chapter 3 in 1 Corinthians, it becomes clear that what Paul is addressing is the building of Christ’s church, the Temple of God (us!). He writes that he planted, and Apollos watered but that God caused the growth. He writes that neither he nor Apollos are anything because only God causes the growth. Paul talks about laying a foundation which can only be Jesus Christ and that no man can lay any other foundation. He addresses building on this foundation:

“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.” (1Co 3:12-13) – in the building of the temple!


“If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1Co 3:14-15)

These two verses are not encouraging believers to work to earn rewards or avoid loss of such, but instead are a promise that when the day of judgement comes we will be freed from anything that is not of God! That is all Paul is saying. We forget that our reward is not a thing but a Person and in this Person, we have everything. He is the reward we all receive without measure! Only He can produce good works through us. We are nothing as Paul says in this chapter of 1 Corinthians:

“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” (1Co 3:5-7)

It is not reward that we will suffer loss of but rather our works done in the energy of the unrenewed, independent, mindset apart from Christ. We are told that whatever is not from faith is sin” in Romans 14:23. I find that very comforting. Paul when speaking of his ministry, writes:

“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2Co 5:14-15)

Paul’s focus was on the Life of Christ in him. Even when he writes: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, he immediately qualifies his statement with: “yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” (1Co 15:10)

And when it came to self-examination Paul wrote:

“But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.” (1Co 4:3-4)

It seems to me that this focus on rewards that has gripped some expressions of Christianity is nothing more than a tactic to get our eyes off Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, and onto ourselves and our performance – a tactic of the enemy to move us from our freedom in Christ to an attitude of religious self-examination. Even the “bema seat of Christ” has been called upon to support this diversion which will be addressed in the next article.

Finally, acknowledging with James that “we all stumble in many ways”, we live out our days being confident that “it is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” and being “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. There is a book with the wonderful title “Jesus Changes Everything”. May I add to that thought that “Jesus IS Everything!”


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Christian Phantasm…

…something that exists only in a Christian’s mind that is an illusion, a figment of the imagination. It is the boogeyman we call the flesh – that part of us we think is continually at war with the Spirit. At worst it is inherently evil and at best it is the home of indwelling sin. It is the Christian bugbear – at least in most of North American Christianity.

As a believer, is our flesh our enemy? Is that really the message of the scriptures, even sometimes? We live in an era that exalts the concept of the individual over that of community. It was not always so nor is it always so in all cultures of the world today. Historically our emphasis on the individual is a relatively new concept having its roots in the early days of the republic we know as the United States. Of course, Canada mirrors the emphasis on individualism even if to a lesser extent. So it is important to remember and be aware of the fact that in times past and even in other parts of the world today, the individual was and is not recognized by their individuality as much as by the family, tribe, religion or country in which they live. For those, identity is found within their group and not within themselves. We are we and not me!

We here in the west, and not just me, naturally default to thinking of ourselves as individuals, first and foremost being concerned with our personal identity, rights and freedoms. Even when we read statements intended for groups our first instinct is to look for what they mean to us personally. A perfect example of this would be when Paul writes in Galatians:

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Galatians 5:17 NASB)

Thinking from an individualistic perspective, it is no wonder that as far back as I can remember I have assumed that this verse was referring to an internal struggle within “me”! In the last few years this understanding has been challenged because it simply is not consistent with the entire theme and purpose of the letter to the Galatians. In fact, reading that verse the way we do as an internal duality does not really make any sense. From an upcoming article on this verse, I wrote:

“Even before looking at Galatians 5:17 within its context in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, viewing the verse as an internal struggle seems odd because it is basically saying that because of this struggle between the Spirit and flesh, the believer may not do the things that they please! What things does the believer please to do? If the believer’s desires are to do good, then this verse is saying that for some reason the flesh is winning out over the Spirit. If on the other hand, the believer’s desires are to do are evil, then it is the Spirit who is winning out over the flesh. Good heavens, even the wretched man of Romans 7 desired to do good!”

However, if this verse is read within the context of Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians, it is not that difficult to see that he is thinking in terms of groups of people – those of the Spirit and those of the flesh. Nevertheless due to years of being taught that this verse is referring to the internal struggle of the believer, it is difficult at times not to see the Christian bugbear – my nasty old flesh. Experientially to side with a truth that is being revealed can involve a time of discomfort as deep-seated strongholds are being rooted out and fully replaced with the revelation experience of the Spirit of Truth (cf. Romans 12:2).

No longer do I believe that Paul or any other New Testament writer, when referring to the Spirit/flesh conflict, are ever referring to an internal struggle within the believer. Before the objection is made that I am either denying the reality of sin or promoting some doctrine of sinless perfection, I want to make it clear that I do believe that believers can sin. I just do not believe that it is necessary for a believer to sin and I do not believe that the reason a believer can or does sin is the result of the Spirit being defeated by the flesh. Ironically if we believe our flesh can defeat the working of the Spirit in our walk with Christ, that belief alone can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”” (Genesis 6:3 NASB)

Here is the first time that the Spirit is spoken of as being in conflict with the flesh, that is, mankind. Of this mankind “of the flesh” it is written:

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” (Genesis 6:5-6 NASB)

What if “flesh” is not an existential internal reality, but rather a mode of existence? What if those “in the flesh” are those in their human frailty under the dominion of sin WITHOUT God’s Spirit. What if they are those who, despite knowing the right thing to do, are unable to do it due to their slavery to sin?

Perhaps you have noticed that often when the flesh is talked about in opposition to the Spirit, the law is involved, whether it be the Mosaic Law given to Israel or the conscience given to the Gentile cf. Romans 2:12-16. Why is that? It is because:

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;” (1 Corinthians 15:56 NASB)

Those of the flesh are powerfully enslaved to sin by trying to live under law or by some ethical performance. The experience is like a Chinese finger puzzle – the harder you try to live under the law the more tightly bound in sin you become. Those of the flesh are those who attempt to obtain righteousness through the works of law (performance). They are those attempting to find acceptance with God through performance (works of law).

Paul’s Gospel solution to this problem:

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14 NASB)

“For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” (Romans 7:5 NASB)

Here is the thing – apart from the Spirit, the man of flesh is left to his own devices to find his way in this world whether that means finding acceptance with God, or even finding acceptance with oneself for those who have decided that they do not need acceptance with God i.e. the new atheists. In either case, collectively these are the race the flesh. They are those bound up in this present evil age. They are those dead in their trespasses and sins, walking according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience, living and indulging in the lusts of their flesh and mind – by nature children of wrath (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3).

Of those in the flesh or Spirit Paul writes:

“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8 NASB)

And to make it clear that Paul is writing of two modes of existence or races of men, he writes:

“However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:9 NASB)

Those of the Spirit are no longer in the flesh! We have been rescued from this present evil age!

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.” (Galatians 1:3-5 NASB)

Now there are many places in the New Testament that speak to our new humanity in Christ. To list a few:

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7 NASB)

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22 NASB)

“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.” (1 Peter 2:9-10 NASB)

And my favorite:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB)

“The old things have passed away!” Yet we want to qualify the above passages and many more by following them with “ah, but the flesh!” As a friend used to say many times: “We live in what comes after the “but”. In other words, as we strive to embrace the Truth of our salvation, the Truth of who we are in Christ, we at the same time negate it all with “but the flesh!” Why is this?

Watchman Nee once put out a little booklet called: “Fact, Faith, Experience”. The gist of it was simple: we start with the fact of what God says, then side with that truth and watch for our experience to come on board. Instead it seems that many of us reverse the order, starting with faith in our experience followed by a contortion of God’s truth to fit our experience. Faith in itself is really nothing. What counts is the object of our faith and for too many of us that object is not God’s Truth but our experience! Unfortunately if our faith is built on our experience, we will never be lifted out of the experience of this kingdom of darkness into the marvellous Light of God’s truth (cf. Colossians 1:13).

Is it really important how we understand the Spirit/flesh antithesis in the New Testament? I think so. Let me tell you about Maxwell Maltz. Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon who wrote a book in 1960 entitled Psycho-Cybernetics. The premise of the book was that you could change someone’s personality, behavior and even talents or abilities by changing their self-image. Dr. Maltz had noticed through his years of practicing plastic surgery that in changing a person’s appearance you were likely to change the person’s self-image. He also observed that in some cases a person’s self-image did not change. And in some of those cases the patient not only experienced no change in their self-image but could not even see the change in their physical appearance!

The last observation is most interesting as it describes a class of individuals who, despite having plastic surgery to correct what they deemed to be a defect in their appearance, were so strongly locked into a self-image that they were not even able to see the desired improvement in their appearance – an improvement that was noticeable to everyone around them except themselves. They continued to act just as if they had never had the plastic surgery! In other words, these individuals were unable to see anything that was inconsistent with the self-image they already held.

In the same way, we who have experienced the miracle of God’s salvation in the work of Jesus Christ either come into a new self-image in accordance with the truth, simply remain stuck in our old self-image through lack of revelation or worst of all, cannot even begin to comprehend anything other than what our immediate experience tells us irrespective of the Truth of what the Scriptures say about us.

Too often we find it unimaginable to think that we could possibly be anything other than what we once were. We dare not set the bar too high lest we fail (performance thinking). So we content ourselves with pithy sayings like “I’m just a sinner saved by grace” or “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” or “I am a work in progress, God is not done with me yet!” While there is an element of truth to each of those statements, what stands out most is the self-consciousness of believers who hope in Christ while at the same time adding a caveat to explain their perceived failings. This illustrates two things: first an unhealthy focus on self and second, an unbelief in what God says is true of them leading to a corresponding free expression of Christ to others (as opposed to self) who are in need.

Jacque Ellul said that faith without doubt is not true faith. So while I can confidently assert that I do not have a flesh that is inherently evil or a flesh in which sin indwells, I confess at the same time that sometimes I am hounded by the thought of that Christian bugbear! In future articles I hope to address why it is that we sometimes struggle with sin, why Galatians 5:17 taken in context is not saying what we are tempted to think it is and other passages which we erroneously read through the filter of an internal Spirit/flesh struggle.

To end with the words of Jesus:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6 NASB)

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No True Faith Without Doubt

“Trust without any hint of existential distrust regularly devolves into presumption, faith without doubt into credulity, hope without despair into doctrinaire optimism, joy without sorrow into smugness of spirit.”

 Douglas John Hall

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One People of God

(My Reluctant Departure from Dispensational Thinking)

When I recently told someone I was not a Dispensationalist it was immediately pointed out that I must believe in something called Replacement Theology. That was news to me. A few days later I heard a television preacher speak of this “heresy” called Replacement Theology, even going so far as to say that those who believe in such a thing are in danger of missing out on Eternity. Again this was news to me. So with Eternity at stake I thought it best to find out how much of a pickle I might be in by finding out what Replacement Theology was all about. It was not that I had not heard the term before, it is just that I had thought it was just another name for those who are adherents to Reformed or Covenant theology – theology rooted in the Protestant Reformation.

A bit of research revealed that “Replacement Theology” is the idea that the “Church” has replaced Israel and that God has no further use for the Israel of the Old Testament. Or put another way, the Church is now Israel. While perhaps there are those who believe such a thing, I cannot say that I have ever seen that in Reformed writings. What I have been exposed to in Reformed writings is the idea that the Church is now included in Israel as opposed to replacing it, something that the Dispensational system has a problem with.

It might be appropriate to review my personal history with Dispensationalism. For much of my Christian experience I was unknowingly Dispensational in my understanding. I thought Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” was just the way it was – the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Battle of Armageddon over in the Middle East and then the Millennium. Then about twenty-five years ago (I am old according to my grand-daughter) I read an actual theological book outlining the major tenants of Dispensationalism, putting a name to some of what I had believed all along. It was an exciting time because I thought I had come across the Holy Grail of bible interpretation! I lived with this “enlightened” understanding for some years before cracks in the system started to appear.

The biggest crack I was conflicted with in Dispensational thinking was the idea of two people of God being spoken of in the scriptures – Israel and the church – with Israel being destined for an earthly kingdom and the Church for a heavenly one. I was just not seeing this as I increasingly understood that everything we have and are as believers is found only in Christ. It also became apparent that Dispensationalism as a system of theology quickly falls apart if there are not two people of God.

While there are many ways to show from the Scriptures that there has always only been one people of God and that they exist only in Christ, Romans chapters 9 to 11 seems to be the clearest illustration of this. Here Paul speaks of how he understands the relationship between Israel and the church and to illustrate his understanding he uses the olive tree analogy:

“If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Rom 11:16-25 ESV)

The olive tree represents the one people of God. In chapter 9 of Romans Paul has explained that the Israel of God are not those who are of physical descent alone but only those who have faith also. Those of faith are the children of promise and the elect of God. They are the natural branches that remain on the olive tree whose root is Christ. The natural branches (Israel) that were broken off were broken off because of their unbelief. The wild branches (the Gentiles) grafted in were grafted in because of their faith. One faith for all and one olive tree. These chapters also indicate something very encouraging! Paul writes: “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” This is saying that there will yet be a harvest among the Jews.

In Galatians 3, when Paul writes that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” he is not just referring to the Church because right after that he writes “and if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

While not necessarily proving anything, which is not the point of this writing anyway, there is a beautiful passage in Romans that really puts words to what the heart is saying:

“For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”” (Rom 10:11-13 ESV)

Does it really matter if we think of one people of God instead of two? Aside from the fact that Truth matters, how we understand the entirety of God’s message in the scriptures affects how we understand God and Jesus Christ, how we understand ourselves and others and how we see the world. The Jews originally missed King Jesus because they looked for a Messiah who would set up an earthly kingdom. They missed Him because He came to introduce a Kingdom not of this world and they missed it because their expectations were wrong even though their own Scriptures pointed to their fulfillment in Christ.

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (Joh 5:39-40 ESV)

I wonder if Dispensationalists are unwittingly encouraging ethnic Israel to continue looking for an earthly kingdom, the very thing they were doing when they missed King Jesus the first time! They seem to have an incomplete understanding of who Jesus is and what He accomplished for His Father and for us.

The point of this writing is not to present an exhaustive critique of Dispensational thinking but rather to give a brief explanation of why I had to let it go.

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:4-6 ESV)”

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2Co 1:20 ESV)

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A.B. Simpson

Something to ponder today:

A.B. Simpson had no time for the niceties of any closed theological system but drew from the wellsprings of the Scripture, the truth that Christ is all and in all.

The sum of his doctrinal  system was that the believer is in Christ and Christ is in the believer, and from that union comes all spiritual reality.

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Cultural Christianity

“While it is important to remember that all human forms of thought are situated and embedded in social contexts, it is also important to resist the temptation of promoting a form of cultural Christianity that simply mirrors and affirms the norms of the surrounding society.”

John R. Franke

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Off I Went to Church Today

It was 1991 or so when we walked out of the morning service of the charismatic church we called home, knowing that our relationship with this church and the organized church was over. For some time our growing understanding of God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus was increasingly in conflict with what we hearing and experiencing in the church experience.

Before going on, I should clarify that for us, teaching is an important and indispensable part of any church experience. That should go without saying but with so many conflicting opinions coming out from under the banner of Christianity, attitudes have developed that what is taught really does not matter as long as we all call upon the name of Jesus as our Saviour. Yet ultimately doctrine has to do with knowing the One we call Saviour. Jehovah’s Witnesses, to use the extreme, call upon Jesus as their Saviour too, but according to their teaching, He bears little resemblance to the One we call upon. When talking about the qualifications of those overseeing the church, Paul wrote to Titus:

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Titus 1:9

Of course, the reality is that we, as the church, are never going to be completely in agreement concerning what we understand to be the truth of Christianity, yet even in this Paul expected that we would press on towards that goal. Again he wrote:

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph 4:11-14 ESV)

A lot has transpired since those days some twenty-two years ago. We have never regretted following the only path that seemed open to us, even though at times – especially in the early years – it was often a lonely journey. The journey itself might be a story to be told someday but today’s story is about the visit I made to an organized church this morning, why I chose to attend and what I found.

As I have begun writing this, I have recalled a couple of times a few years ago when we did attend a church to hear a particular speaker. As well, we did attend a church for a couple of months because we had heard that the teaching there was consistent with what we had been learning up to that point. We did not last long as the organizational structure of the church still seemed to be working against the Truth they were proclaiming. Other than that, I do not recall attending any other churches.

For the most part we have fellowshipped with small groups over the years with an emphasis on the essentials of the Gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ. The focus has always been “relation based on Truth” – relational with our God and Saviour and relational with each other with the broad view of sharing the fruits of that fellowship with the needy in the world looking for a Saviour.

Most recently we had spent three or four years with a precious group going through the basics of the Gospel of Grace and watching the positive effect it was having on those who had been searching. But for a number of reasons the time came, for me at least, to move on.

Last summer I became aware of church in a nearby town that devoted much of its resources to helping the needy and lonely of the city through meal programs, financial assistance and so on. I visited that venue a number of times and the heart of this church towards the folks of the city core reminded me of the Spirit of what James wrote:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (Jas 1:27 ESV)

So having “moved on” from our last fellowship, I am quite honestly wondering what to do next. I have been entertaining the idea of getting involved with an organized church once again, mostly for the fellowship. But quite frankly I am not sure I can do the organized church thing again. So this morning’s visit was a bit like sticking my toe in the water to feel the temperature. In any case, because it is not located in our city, it would not be a place we would visit weekly, so it seemed like a safe experiment.

So off I went alone this morning (Joy is nursing a cold) and it was an interesting experience. First off, when I got there, it seemed that everyone was eager to make me feel welcome and show me around. They do a neat thing in that coffee and water is made available before, during and after the service. The people there were of all ages, social status and so on. The only uniformity I noticed among the attendees was their evident love for Jesus and their benevolence towards one another. The songs were a mixture of old and new. Then there was the sermon which deserves its own paragraph, given my emphasis on the importance of what is taught.

While I will not get into the specifics, I thought the sermon was that mixture of truth and error that seems to plague almost all organized church teaching. That comment does not for one minute disparage the heart of the pastor who preached, as his love for the flock entrusted to him is abundantly evident. His comments also reflected a healthy attitude that his flock is part of THE flock whose Shepherd is Christ, who assured us many years ago that HE would build His church.

All in all it was a great experience for me and I hope to attend again in a month or so with Joy. However, it still leaves me with the dilemma that I may have to face again as I try out the organized church scene in our area. The dilemma is this: how do we deal with major doctrinal differences while at the same time having a heart to be with those who simply are our brothers and sisters in Christ. In part, the current house church phenomena came about as the answer to this dilemma but for two reasons that seem obvious to me, have failed. First, recognizing the natural as opposed to the Spiritual origins of the organized church, there seemed to be the impression that the answer was to simply model the church on what was perceived to be the model of a “phantom” New Testament church. I use the word phantom because the New Testament church experience was driven by the changed hearts of people born anew into the Kingdom within their culture and not the other way around. In other words, the New Testament church was a result not a cause. Secondly, not recognizing that the problem of the organized church was its natural origins because the Spiritual discipline in our life of Union in Christ was neglected, the house church movement for the most part has itself neglected this Spiritual discipline.

We are for every brother and sister, every church, every pastor and every work that looks to Jesus Christ as the answer. Where we will end up probably is wherever God gives us the opportunity to share and learn about what it means to live our lives in Union with Christ.

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He Teaches Me

And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth…..I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you….the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things….(John 14: 16-26)

How loving are the ways of our God and so infinitely personal are His ways of teaching us, for He knows us completely.

He has made Himself known to me in different ways throughout the many years that I have been His.  I am certain that His revelation to you will be the same in its outcome, yet so different in method and experience from mine.

Because He knows you.

Just as He knows me.

Many years ago, after a long period of hungering and thirsting to know and experience more of our Saviour, when the time was just right for Fred and I to learn more of Him and His Grace and His Life, Jesus didn’t set about teaching us both with the same method, although the message was the same.

At that time there weren’t any amongst the Christian family and friends that we had, who had sojourned this part of the journey before us, or who were even interested in journeying with us as the Lord lead the way.

This did not limit God from teaching us.

Fred had only read one book, in all his growing up years, from cover to cover. God chose books to speak the words that His Spirit quickened into revelation and a changed life.

As Fred struggled along with the Lord, wrestling with life’s circumstances and the baggage still carried from a life lived independent of Him, the Spirit lead him to a bookstore; puzzling since Fred did not read books, and yet that is where He took him.  As we searched the shelves, Fred picked up a book and both his spirit and mine confirmed within us that we had found the one to which God was leading him.

And then the man who could not, who simply did not read, read and read and read and Jesus was revealed in grace and truth as His Spirit made different words come alive to him: a miracle in so many ways that was repeated over and over during those years when we had no one else from whom to learn.  He truly speaks to us through His Body, whether present with each other physically, or through the blessing of words written in obedience to the Spirit.

I, on the other hand, had lived my life in books from the time I had learned to read. God did not lead me there now to teach me of new Life: He had, in fact, taken reading books away from me several years before, and had told me to lay down the writing I did as well, until one day, I would write for Him. I did not know the day He spoke this to me, but it was necessary preparation to change the world, the distorted reality in which I lived….

So, He now taught me through snippets and phrases of the Bible He made come alive for me as it had never been before.  It was a miracle of miracles that what was once closed to me became so open that one day, while dusting the table where our family bible was kept, I glanced down at it as I moved it out of the way and it fell open to words that immediately leapt into my heart.  It was as though His written word was speaking to me an unceasing revelation.

Thank you Father, for those days and months and years, and the revelation of your Life that has continued to grow and sustain us, and pour out in hope and truth shared with your body…..


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Judging & Loving at the Same Time

A simple description of the believer’s history and experience is found in two easy to remember verses in the bible – both written by John. The first is familiar, John 3:16 which reads:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

And the second is by Divine coincidence 1 John 3:16 which reads:

“We know love by this that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

Jesus is quoted as saying in John 13 that we would be known by our love for one another. That is the long and short of our life together. In fact Paul wrote that without love we are nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (cf. 1 Cor 13:1)!

We live by the indwelling Life of Christ who is Love. God IS love (1 John 4). God doesn’t love because it’s what He does. God loves because Love is who He is and we love because He is our life. So why do we have so much difficulty with it – especially when it comes to certain people – those who are less than lovable! For the answer to that we need to go back to the beginning in the Garden.

“The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen 2:8-9)

“In the midst of the Garden” means “in the centre of the Garden” and this is significant as it is the centre of Adam’s world. Of this centre, God said:

“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:15-17)

At this juncture man was faced with a choice of how to live. If he chose to eat from the Tree of Life he would have come into union with God – for Christ IS the Tree of Life – and God who IS Love would have been the source and centre of Adam’s being. Adam, created in the image and likeness of God would have manifested His love to all of creation thus fulfilling his created destiny. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was of God also but was strictly reserved for Him.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1-5)

And there you have it: “You will be like God!” Adam had taken it upon himself to discern good and evil, no longer having to look to God for such discernment. Two significant things happened when Adam and Eve did this. First they experienced death, not immediate physical death, but spiritual death because they no longer had the option of the Tree of Christ from which to draw Life (cf. John 1:4) thus leaving a gnawing emptiness within them. Second, having taken it upon themselves to know good and evil, they became self-conscious for the first time.

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.” (Gen 3:7)

So with their new-found knowledge, the first thing they did was make the decision to cover themselves. Then they thought it also might be an idea to hide from God!

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” (Gen 3:8)

So Adam and Eve had set mankind on a course of forever having to find ways to deal with the fallout of their God-like knowledge of good and evil. History records just how well they have and are doing. And God in His mercy said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”. The LORD God sent him out from the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3:22-23).

And what of love? Man no longer had any hope of loving God or his neighbour because his capacity to contain the very Life of God which is Love had been replaced by a dark void. Instead, man was left having to try to fill that void as best he could out of his own knowledge of good and evil. Unlike God who wanted to share Himself as Love with man and creation, man instead had to determine how to use his fellow man and creation to satisfy the dark void within himself that in reality, only God could satisfy.

Instead of living out of Love with God as his centre, man became the centre of his world with only his knowledge of good and evil to guide him. In reality, the knowledge of good and evil is only beneficial if used in conjunction with knowing all things. In other words, it is impossible to make a right judgement using the knowledge of good and evil without first knowing all the facts and it is only God who is omniscient. That is the reason we have the saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Indeed it is but man has no choice outside of God except to work with what he has.

So we have a world with people who are incapable of loving one another yet are driven to judge one another according to each person’s own knowledge of good and evil, trying to fill the emptiness within. Having no objective benchmark of truth, in our self-consciousness we compare ourselves with one another striving to mask the pain of emptiness in order to feel good about ourselves according to whatever standards and values we live by.

Without being able to see the inside of a person we content ourselves with judging by appearances, sometimes feeling good about ourselves and sometimes feeling disappointed with ourselves. “I wish I was as slim as that person but at least I am not as fat as that person.” “He has a beautiful home but I’ll bet he has a huge mortgage! At least I’m debt free!” “I don’t see anyone else doing all the works
“I” do for God and they think they are good Christians.” And on and on and on it goes. But where is the one mark of a true believer? Where is God’s love for one another?” Again:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” (1Co 13:1-8)

Only God who is Love is able to judge another rightly because he knows what is in a man. We do not, so cannot both judge and love at the same time. For us they are mutually exclusive. Paul writes in Romans:

“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” (Rom 2:1-2)


“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom 14:1-4)


“But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” (Rom 14:10-13)

In conclusion John records Jesus as saying:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Joh 13:34-35)

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