The Problem Stated

Very early on in my Christian experience, having accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour as a child, followed by water baptism in my teens, I became painfully aware of a separation or gulf between God and myself. As much as I understood, I had done what was required to attain salvation but peace with God just plain eluded me. The collective effect of observing other Christians, listening to sermons and teachings and trying to be a good Christian, left me with a deep sense of alienation towards God because I just could not imagine being acceptable to Him. I knew the un-Christian kind of life I lived when not being watched as well as the impure thoughts and imaginations that constantly plagued my mind. Quite frankly there were a lot of things in the world that attracted me more than the charade of Christianity that I was involved in. Eventually I just became angry with God and told Him I wanted nothing more to do with Him. It was not that I wanted to go and be evil. I just wanted Him to simply leave me alone and let me live out my life.

Well I did my part in the world very well from what I can remember but God must not have heard me because He never seemed to really leave me alone. While others seemed to be able to have a good time in the world, my good times were always tainted by a vague awareness of His presence. I also must give Him credit as I am well aware of the many times during those dark days when He saved me from serious life-threatening disaster.

Eventually in my early to mid-thirties I was reconciled to God, like the prodigal returning home. As joyous as that time was, it was not long before I was again feeling like a square peg in a round hole, reminding me of that early Christian experience that caused me to turn my back on God in the first place. The difference this time was that I had no desire to abandon God again.

In His mercy the Spirit began to deliver my thinking from those thoughts and impressions of what it meant to be a Christian which were really keeping me from truly understanding Christianity. You see, the only understanding I had ever had of Christianity was essentially legalistic, notwithstanding that salvation was a free gift. I had accepted the free gift but from there on I understood my relationship to God in terms of my performance. If I did well, He was pleased with me and if I did not do well, He was not so much pleased with me. In other words, my relationship with God was always dependent on actions which “I” initiated to which He responded one way or another. Needless to say, I had good days and I had bad days, and more bad days.

Eventually the Spirit opened up my understanding to God’s grace towards me in a way that I understood. He had done all that was required and nothing more was required on my part to gain His approval. I can still remember that experience very clearly. However it was not clear sailing from then on as my mind, despite being enlightened about God’s grace, was still largely unrenewed. While I had a certain understanding of grace, I was still haunted by a sense that there was something fundamentally wrong with me . Regardless of how much I understood, I was not experiencing God with an attitude of expectancy.

By the grace of God, those days have largely passed, but it took time. First God had to miraculously reveal to me that there was nothing wrong in me that could or would ever end our relationship. Then He also revealed to me that since becoming His child, the separation from Him that I felt was directly related to believing certain untruths originating from an erroneous understanding of certain key Bible passages – passages that to this day are largely interpreted by the enemy of our souls in a way totally inconsistent with the Gospel or Good News of what Jesus Christ, our Saviour has accomplished on the Cross for us. The enemy of our souls will stop at nothing to keep believers from experiencing the fullness of Christ as their life as Paul expressed in Galatians:

“I no longer live, but the Messiah lives in me, and the life that I am now living in this body I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20 ISV)

There are three passages in particular that I believe the enemy has used successfully to keep scores of believers in bondage to sin when they should be walking in freedom, experiencing the fullness of the indwelling life of Jesus Christ . They are Romans 7, Galatians 5 and 1 John. We will tackle each one of these (and maybe some others) in the following writings. As always, keep in mind that we believers can only proclaim and explain. It is the Spirit only who gives understanding and separates the wheat from the chaff.

God bless!

Posted in Problem Passages | Leave a comment

Challenging Names

I can still remember the frustration I felt when the Lord started telling me that whenever I had a problem with someone, it was really I who had the problem. It meant that every stinkin’ time someone made me miserable, through no fault of my own (seriously), I WAS THE PROBLEM! Is there no justice I wondered?

Since that initial realization there have been many “challenges with names” and the Lord keeps increasing my understanding. When I need more understanding another challenge with a name shows up. Can’t seem to avoid them but I do try hard…

Christianity is not a difficult concept to grasp. It is simply loving others as Christ loved me. But easier said than done. In fact, quite impossible. Without God I am a self-serving creature with no idea of what it means to love. Even as a believer the thing seems to elude me so much of the time.

There is a very good picture of what love is in the sacrifice of Jesus for me. I see how He was treated and how He reacted and what became of Him and it scares me. I instinctively know that it WILL cost me my life. I am not eager for this.

I am faced with a dilemma because I want to love but am not willing to be sacrificed. I can solve this dilemma quite creatively through a variety of Christian beliefs and activity that serve to prove to others and myself that I am okay with God. I think it’s called carnal Christianity (Christianity without love). Isn’t that what Paul was addressing when he wrote:

“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.”

So what do I do? Well since God IS love it might be an idea to seek to know Him. But don’t I know Him? Well John wrote: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

There does not seem to be any wiggle room in all this. So I ask God “to cause” me to love others. Doesn’t happen. How about loving others through me…while I attend to other things. Doesn’t happen. What does keep happening are those “challenging names”! Where do they come from?

They come from God to the end that I might know Him and they will keep coming until HIS love is perfected in me. Again from John: “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”

This ability to love others is really the litmus test of my spirituality. It doesn’t matter how much I “know” or how long I have been a believer. “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”

In fact, loving others should be the natural outflow of my life in Christ. Not loving just some others but all others especially the challenging ones! The only thing I know in my life that will block this loving is carnality. That is, those attitudes in my mind which are not yet renewed. Paul calls them strongholds or fortresses:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”

Carnality is my insistence on living among these fortresses. I have an enemy that prefers that I live among them because they are the only places where he can overwhelm me. He continually tries to lure me there because as long as I’m there I cannot experience God and His love for me and for others. So this is a serious business with the enemy and I need to be aware of his schemes.

What makes this even more challenging is that for a long, long time I called theses fortresses home. And there’s no place like home! It is where I feel most comfortable. To ask me to move out of them for the unknown, no matter how glorious, is akin to my death. We’re talking about my mind here and with out it I am dead!!! Indeed it is here that “I” exist and am the centre of my universe.

I have realized that I am not alone in this struggle to leave these fortresses behind as there seem to be many forms of Christianity that have been crafted with the intent of allowing believers to remain among them. Even exchanged life union life teachings are robbed of their effectiveness when I make the choice to remain among the fortresses.

Fortunately it is not hard for me to recognize when I am experiencing God’s love for another. Paul writes that I will be patient with them, that I will be kind to them, that I won’t brag or be arrogant with them, that I won’t be indecent with them, that I won’t put my own interests first, that I won’t be provoked by them and that I won’t keep a record of the wrongs they do against me.

But none of this will occur when I insist on living among the fortresses. Instead I will live as the centre of my world and measure all things as they relate to me. Were my feelings hurt? Was I taken advantage of? Was I slighted? Was I ignored? Were my rights violated? Was my self-righteousness condemned or approved of? Do I now feel better about myself? Or worse? And all the while we are trying to answer these questions our friendly adversary sympathizes with me and gives me many more reasons to justify how I am feeling. Yech!

I realized that when I dwell on the land of carnality, refusing to deny myself, refusing to take up my cross and move on that although I can teach grace, I couldn’t know it! Although I can speak of the wonders of union life, I can’t experience it. And worst of all…I am not knowing God.

Carnality is a world unto itself and I must choose where I am going to live, whether there or in God’s love. Choosing God’s love means that I no longer have the option to wander among the fortresses if I expect to grow up in the faith.

Paul writes: “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”

And a little further on “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do 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.”

Yesterday I needed to make a purchase in a store that can be intimidating to me. Well guess who served me. That’s right, a challenging name (no-name in this case). I made my purchase and left mumbling to myself about this guy. I get home and have second thoughts about my purchase and decided I might have to exchange it. Of course, I hoped “that guy” wouldn’t be in! Anyway I fretted about this somewhat until this morning until I realized that I was moving about fortresses again. I started to pray, giving that fortress of “needing others approval” up to God. I asked not because I wanted to feel at ease but because I wanted this guy, if the opportunity arose, to know the love of God. Just like that the Lord lifted me out from the fortresses into His love that casts out all fear (intimidation). I was free again.

What a liberating thought to know that people are not my problem and that I am free to speak the truth to them in love and to do all things out of love.

Posted in Autobiographical | Leave a comment

The Bondage of Romans 7

Romans 7 is one of the most debated passages in our Bible, especially verses 14-25. Some say that these verses describe the experience of an unregenerate soul, perhaps even one under conviction just prior to salvation, but not necessarily so. Others believe they describe the struggle of a new believer not yet free from the effects of the law. One author I read recently insists this is the experience of the mature believer who is most sensitive to the sin in his life.

Then there are those who say that whether the passage describes the unregenerate or regenerate is not really the point. The passage is simple describing anyone trying to live under the law be it the regenerate or unregenerate. This probably comes closer to the truth but I do not think it is the answer either.

While this writing is not going to end the debates that have gone on for centuries, I do believe that this passage is one that has kept many, many believers in bondage to sin because of an inadequate understanding of why Paul wrote in such away. Perhaps in what follows some will find a greater measure of freedom in the same way I did when the scales were removed from my eyes.

Before tackling this passage directly it is necessary to look at what Paul wrote before and after it. Consider the following passage:

“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

This passage from Romans is quite clear in stating that just as sin reigned in death so now grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. That is, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. The interesting thing about this passage is that it is actually the end of Romans 5 (5:17-21 NASB) followed immediately by the beginning of Romans 8 (8:1-4 NASB). Actually if you read from Romans 4:4 through Romans 5 followed by all of Romans 8 (see Appendix) you will quickly see that there is a natural flow in explaining the way of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ while leaving out chapters 6 and 7.

Of course, the immediate question then arises – why chapters 6 and 7? Many have seen in these chapters, including chapter 8, an experiential sequence of growth in the believer. After identifying with his co-crucifixion with Christ, he must pass through the frustrating experience of Romans 7 before entering into the victory of Romans 8. This has been the traditional teaching of much of Christendom since the time of Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries. Without going much into Augustine’s influence on Western Christianity, it will suffice to point out that he strongly put forth the Platonic/Gnostic idea that the flesh or humanity of man was essential sinful before AND after conversion.

Because of Augustine’s understanding, it was not difficult for believers, new and old alike to identify the struggle of Romans 7 as normal Christian experience. Further support to this idea was found in Galatians 5 where it states: 

“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.” (Gal 5:17 NASB)

In another writing we will address this major misunderstanding of Galatians 5. We only mention it here to acknowledge its complicity in perpetuating the idea that our flesh is inherently sinful and continually at odds with the Spirit.

Again, what about Romans 6 and 7? In effect, these two passages are parenthetical to Paul’s major point, addressing two issues that Paul knew would be on his reader’s mind, that of sin and that of the law. The first half of Romans 6 deals with the sin question. The fact that Paul was indeed anticipating a question by his readers is evident in the first verse of Romans 6 where he writes:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Rom 6:1 NASB)

His immediate reply assumes that his readers should already know the answer to this when he writes:

“May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Rom 6:2-3 NASB)

He is really saying that if his readers really knew the Gospel message, they would not ask such a question. He then goes on to explain our co-crucifixion with Christ and resulting freedom from sin.

In verse 14 Paul gives another reason why we are free from sin. He writes:

“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (Rom 6:14-15 NASB)

Paul has emphasised our freedom from sin as a result of our crucifixion with Christ. Now he says that it is also because we are not under law but under grace! This theme is carried on in Romans 7 which starts:

“Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?” (Rom 7:1 NASB)

Here he connects our co-crucifixion with Christ as not only a death to sin but as a death to the law. This is significant because “the power of sin is the law” (1Co 15:56b)! The power of sin is the law and believers have died to both! Something else is very significant in this verse and it is the parenthesis. He writes …brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law). He is speaking to his Jewish brethren which undoubtedly included Gentile proselytes to the Jewish faith. This is to be expected as Gentile believers were never under the law!

So having written that we are free from sin because we are under grace and not under law, Paul takes a few moments to further explain to his Jewish brethren the purpose and importance of the law:

“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 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. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.” (Rom 7:4-13 NASB)

Let this soak in because it is on the heels of this passage that the contentious verses follow and in these verses Paul identifies with his Jewish brethren in describing their struggle under the law and what it ultimately revealed. We must remember that the Old Testament is full of examples of believers who sought to do good even though the gift of the Spirit had not yet been given and union with Christ was yet an unfulfilled promise. Abraham looked forward to the promise of the Spirit. David delighted in the law of God all through the Psalms yet committed some of the most horrendous crimes a man can commit. It is of these that Paul writes:

“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” (Rom 7:14-25 NASB)

Right off it must be noticed the wording: “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin”. This is the man being described. It is not the man of Romans 6 for “for he who has died is freed from sin” and it cannot be the man of Romans 8 for he is “not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in him”!

For further emphasis let’s quote a few verses from Romans 6 (2, 6, 11, 12, 14, 18) and Romans 8 (1,2) followed by several from Romans 7 (14, 18, 19, 24).

May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? … knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts… For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. …and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Compare that with these verses in Romans 7:

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

Does it not seem significant in that the central character in Romans 7:14-25 is “I”. There is no help of the Spirit here and the whole thing harkens back to the lie first believed in the Garden of Eden that man could be an independent being in knowing good and evil for himself. Paul does not argue that point but is frustrated at his inability to do the good he knows and avoid the evil. In fact he finds out in retrospect that the reason he was powerless was because he was not that self-determining individual he imagined himself to be but rather that there was another living in him thwarting his good intentions – SIN!

Really, can it be that Paul is describing his or anyone else’s Christian experience? Was Paul the believer, in bondage to sin? Was he continually practising sin? Is this the same Paul who made the following statements:

“I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,” (2Ti 1:3 NASB) 

“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” (Php 3:17 NASB) 

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1Co 10:13 NASB) 

“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 NASB) 

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1Co 6:12 NASB)

Even Peter and John never speak of this struggle as normal Christian experience. Peter writes:

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2Pe 1:2-3 NASB)

John writes:

“No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” (1Jn 3:6 NASB)

Finally, how can Romans 7:18 be reconciled with Philippians 2:12, 13?

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.” (Rom 7:18 NASB)

or:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Php 2:12-13 NASB)

It seems to me that Paul everywhere makes it abundantly clear that he does not expect this Romans 7 experience in the life of a believer. He is simply describing the life of trying to do good under the law. But he is describing it from the perspective of a mature Christian. He sees that it is indwelling sin empowered by the law that is our source of grief before coming to Christ. “For the Gentile without the law they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” (Rom 2:15).

This being the case, why then do so many believers accept this as normal Christian experience. First and foremost they have been taught that such is the case. Secondly, their experience seems to confirm it in their struggle to resist sin. But the truth is that for the believer “whatever is not of faith is sin.” We sin because of unbelief NOT because we are still slaves to sin. This is an important distinction because if we accept Romans 7 as the reason we sin, we will have no recourse but to plead with God to deliver us – something He has already done and is not about to do again for that would be to crucify Christ anew. Instead freedom from sin eludes us because we refuse to believe God’s way of deliverance in our death, burial and resurrection with Christ.

If we accept Romans 7 as normal Christian experience, then we will experience that imagined struggle for the rest of our lives as it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are in effect denying the truth of the Gospel and will struggle with sin because of unbelief in a way not known by those who turn to Christ and accept in faith their death to sin and resurrection to righteousness. Consequently it is our unbelief that confirms Romans 7 as our normal experience and we will function accordingly.

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

A quote from Paul Anderson-Walsh is a fitting way to begin to draw this writing to a close:

“In reversing the Apostle Paul’s statement in Romans 7:18-20 …we… can say, “For I know that nothing evil dwells in me, that is, in my spirit. For I have the desire to do what is wrong, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the evil I want, but the good I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but Christ that dwells within me.””

The point is this: that we no longer have to fear ourselves as we are safe in our Saviour. We only stumble when we look at ourselves like a toddler trying to walk while watching her feet! But as we keep our eyes on Christ we will walk in freedom. Let’s not bind other believers by affirming the struggle of a sinner as their normal Christian life!

Appendix – Romans 4, 5 & 8 

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. “BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.” Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, “A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.” Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Rom 4:4-25 NASB)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned– for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5)

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 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. 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. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8)

Posted in Problem Passages | 1 Comment

Miss Olive Green

Olive Green was a woman I met over twenty years ago. I met her as part of the visitation program of the church we were attending at the time. Olive did not attend that church but had phoned in requesting a visit which was “assigned” to me.

I met Olive in a nursing home. She was a frumpy, elderly, single woman confined to bed because she could no longer walk. One of the first things she asked me was if I believed James 5:14-15: “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” I don’t remember what I answered at the time but ironically I myself was ill with what was eventually diagnosed as CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).

Olive let it be known from the start that a bunch of useless ministers had visited her over the last few months, none of whom had the faith of James! I think she was a little more tolerant of me because I wasn’t the official clergy, so I got to know her a bit before she passed on.

Olive was a spinster and had spent most of her adult life in Toronto working as a nanny. She had “sat under the teaching of Oswald J Smith” of The People’s Church in Toronto. She had become a bitter woman who could not understand why God did not heal her after “all her years of faithful service.”

In the course of our visits, I suggested to her that maybe God had wanted her in this particular nursing home as a help and testimony to others who were hurting. She would have nothing of that and remained cantankerous with staff and residents alike. I once commented to her that she was being rather hard on a nurse who was doing her best to make Olive more comfortable, to which she replied that it was the nurse’s job and she was getting paid for it! Ironically Olive too expected her pay or reward from God!

During this period I was just starting to understand God’s grace in our lives and as best I could from my limited understanding, I tried to explain to her that all we have is from God and that He was never obligated to bestow mercy or blessing on any of us. She did not receive that well, commenting that all I was telling her was the same thing “that other girl” who came to visit her was telling her! I never knew who that other girl was but it seemed to me that God was presenting the Gospel to this woman who, in her thinking, could not get past focusing on what she felt God owed her for her years of service.

Finally out of exasperation I asked her why she had accepted Christ as her Savior in the first place and I will never forget her answer. She looked at me and without hesitation stated: “Because I had the good sense to!”

Shortly after that she called our house one night and I was not able to take the call. She passed away a few hours later and I’ve often wondered what it was that she had called about. I expect to find out one day, because despite her struggles, I believe she trusted Christ as her Saviour as best she could and “no one who puts their hope in the Lord will be put to shame.”

I suspect that unless I succumb to dementia or worse, I will always remember Olive Green as the sad example of that form of Christianity that believes that our receipt of blessings from the Lord depends on us first doing our part in serving the Lord – i.e. if we tithe we will prosper financially or conversely if are sick or poor we must not be pleasing to God.

In Luke we read: “The tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” God help us from being like the “Pharisee who stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” What do we do that makes us better in God’s eyes and more deserving of blessing than others?

As for God “what is it that God needs from us that He cannot do Himself?” Does He need us in order to save others? Does He need us to worship Him? Does He need our financial support? Really, what does He need that He cannot provide for Himself? Perhaps we think too highly of ourselves!!!

Friends, brothers and sisters, the blessing is, and only is, Jesus Christ! It is not health or wealth or any of the many things the world judges as worthwhile. The blessing is Jesus Christ and He is enough! We experience all the promises of God IN union with Christ. It WAS GOD in His mercy who placed us in Christ!

Yes God engages us in His work of saving and blessing others but let us not ever think that we are doing something “for” Him. In all things HE is doing something for us in His kingdom. We are His family by His mercy, and being His family He graciously includes us in HIS endeavours! We are blessed beyond measure.

As many of you know, the CFS of twenty years ago morphed into what my neurologist diagnosed as “chronic debilitating migraine”. Of course there have been those that attribute this to a lack of faith on my part or to persistent sin. And yes, I have asked God why He doesn’t heal me -have I really crossed the line that bad!

Paul wrote an interesting bit in Colossians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”

This passage had always caused me pause because I wondered how Christ’s sufferings could be lacking! But I do not think that is what the passage is talking about. It is talking about what is lacking in OUR lives to conform US to the sufferings of Christ!

My dear spouse reminded me after I had written the first draft of this story, that back in the day, I would leave to visit Olive hardly able to move or function but would come home excited, exclaiming to her how I had experienced the very strength and wisdom of God! By the time I returned home the grace for the journey was no longer required and I was back to experiencing the normal weakened state. But to have witnessed and experienced His Life in such a real practical way was beyond anything I had imagined up to that time!

“He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” HE has rescued us!!! It is time we quit working for God as if He will be beholden to us and instead humbly thank Him for our cooperation IN HIS PURPOSE! It is time for us to stop thinking that He can ONLY accomplish His purpose with us! Instead let us be overwhelmed with the thought and love of God, who embraces us and works through us, making us part of the expansion and building of His Kingdom, the Kingdom that He conceived in eternity past, long before there was even a you and I.

In the past few weeks we have witnessed among our friends, God’s dynamic interference with the normal course of their lives, and have been encouraged and hopeful that we are experiencing His moulding discipline, further conforming us to the image of HIS Christ. A few are noticing that the experiences are not without a little pain.

I experienced a bit of an emotional meltdown this past weekend that originated in a migraine taking hold Thursday which as of today, Sunday, has yet to fully release its grip -they usually cycle a little more rapidly. Joy and I even contemplated ending, at least “my” part, of our business this very weekend. For those of you who are wondering how I’m even writing this letter, I can only mention that deep in the heart of the Amazon there exists a rare herb… What God purposes He enables!

Part of what prompted this writing was the sad witnessing of two types of believers in our field of vision. First are lowly ones, those who see themselves forever as “sinners saved by grace”, forever hoping to be at least of some acceptance and use to God, but at the same time not really expecting much. Then there are those, being strong in the faith, who are determined to storm the gates and get “their” blessing. They are strong in the word, strong in prayer and strong in worship. They fully expect, even demand that God bless them and chide us weak believers for our lack of faith and even choice.

For the first group there is good news! He has done it all, continues to do it all and will finish it. We walk in His Kingdom, saints, co-heirs with Christ and we share in all that HE is. For the second group, I’m not sure, not having been there. I suspect they must join hands with the first group!!!

Can I conclude for now by saying that God through Jesus Christ has been, is and will continue to build His ekklesia, His kingdom, and will include each of us in the way He has determined best suited for us in ways limited only by His creativity. The “big picture” is very exciting.

Posted in Anecdotal | Leave a comment

The Toggle Switch

(Being Transformed into His Image)

It came to me one day that we have a toggle switch in our mind that determines how we view and appraise the world around us, how we relate to others and most importantly – how we relate to God. If we toggle it down our working mindset will be natural (carnal – fleshly). If we toggle it up, it will be Spiritual. How this switch is set – whether up or down – has a decided effect on how we live out our Christianity. Unfortunately for all of us the initial default position is down (natural) and for too many of us that never changes! We experience moments when the switch is up (Spiritual) and we see clearly for a time but eventually the switch defaults back to the down position. I am speaking of believers here as the unbeliever’s toggle switch is locked in the down position.

Paul was pointing this out when he wrote of the unbeliever: 

“So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;” (Eph 4:17-18 NASB)

Of the believer, Paul wrote:

“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)

He wrote too about the importance of keeping the switch up:

“And do 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. (Rom 12:2 NASB)”

The natural mind can be traced back to the Garden of Eden when mankind asserted himself and took it upon himself to reason according to his own independent knowledge of good and evil. We often think that the choice for Adam and Eve was that of good or evil. If they obeyed God that would be good – if they disobeyed that would be evil! But that was not the real choice that confronted them. The choice was between living in relationship to God or living independent of Him. Living according to the knowledge of good and evil was the consequence of the choice to live “as god” in independence! Ironically, ever since then man has been frantically trying to deal with the fallout of that fateful choice – trying to fix a world founded on independent reasoning by reasoning independently!

Living according to “our” understanding of good and evil is the underlying basis of all that we think apart from God. It is foundational. Whatever we receive in thought or sensory impression is constantly being sifted through and fitted to our filter of understanding. This process starts from day one and our filter is constantly adjusted as we experience life. As we mature, this filter becomes more and more set until we are pretty much settled into our personal fixed view of the world, of others and of God.

It does not take much by the way of observation to realize that there is great variety in the filters among the people around us. Some people seem to be extremely well adjusted to living in this world while many others just do not fit in from the socially awkward all the way to the hardened criminals. Yet even within this diversity there is one common element that we are generally do not acknowledge. That common element is that we are all born enslaved to sin.

Being enslaved to sin has the effect of tainting the good we try to attain to as unbelievers with the impurity of self-interest. While much of the good that mankind accomplishes without God is welcomed, the fact remains that for the doer of the good there is no righteousness before God because of the self-interest of the doer. His “righteousness is as filthy rags” (cf. Isa 64:6).

“So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;” (Eph 4:17-18 NASB)

It might be said then that all our judgements and perceptions made with the toggle switch in the down position are made in the dark. That is, they are made in complete ignorance of the truth which cannot be seen. Unfortunately much that is taught and believed within Christianity originates in a “natural” understanding of the things of the Spirit.

The antidote to darkness is light and the more time we spend with the toggle switch up (Light), the more quickly we will recognize when the switch has slipped into the down position. As long as we walk in this world the rulers, the powers, the world forces of this darkness and the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (cf. Eph 6:12) will continue to try to turn off the light in the children of Light (cf. Eph 5:8).

What is this light? Well it is not enlightenment in the sense of being able to think and reason according to Christian precepts. No, for us the light is a Person! It is seeing all things through the person of Jesus Christ.

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (Joh 8:12 NASB)

Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom
and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Eph 1:17 NASB)

And:

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1Co 2:12-14 NASB)

So we can see that “being transformed by the renewing of the mind” is the same as beholding of the Person of Jesus Christ!

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2Co 3:18 NASB) 

 

Posted in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Old Testament Christianity

While “Old Testament Christianity” should be easily recognized as an oxymoron, the sad truth is that for many believers it is the reality of their experience. Although the Bible is the record of God’s relationship with man throughout history, there is a failure to differentiate that relationship before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It changed! Today much is being taught and believed that indiscriminately draws from both the Old and New Testaments, failing to acknowledge the differences. The Gospel message begins historically at the time of the finished work of Christ on the Cross. Christianity simply did not exist before this!

Even though Christianity does not exist in the Old Testament, this is not the same as saying that the Old Testament is of no value to the believer. Paul wrote, before there was a New Testament:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2Ti 3:16-17 NASB)

But in that same letter he also wrote:

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2Ti 2:15 NASB)

No doubt many of us were initially exposed to a Gospel message of salvation that offered us the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of Heaven when we die through the grace or unmerited favour of God in sending His Son to shed His blood on the Cross for us. This limited view of salvation falls far short of the heart of the Good News (Gospel) of our salvation. It leaves a gap in our experience from when our sins were forgiven to when we finally get to Heaven. It is in that gap that Old Testament Christianity comes to the rescue, offering all the do’s and don’ts that are guaranteed to complete our wonderful salvation experience. However, the real Good News is that salvation is only found in our union with Christ as we “are saved by His LIFE” (cf Romans 5:10). We are in Christ Jesus, who has become to us righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (cf 1Co 1:30). In Him there is no gap and in Him our salvation experience is complete.

The Old Testament saints could only look forward to the promise of a Saviour. With reference to these Old Testament saints, the writer of Hebrews says:

“And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” (Heb 11:39-40 NASB)

The essential difference between New Testament saints and Old Testament saints is the heart of our relationship with God. For New Testament believers, the indwelling Life of Christ is our relationship to God. For the saints of old, their relationship with God was conditional on their conduct. They related to God from a distance as best they could. They had the prophets and the law. Their relationship to God was conditional on their obedience and faithfulness. The New Testament believer’s relationship to God is unconditionally centred in expressing the indwelling Life of Christ rather than in their own obedience or faithfulness.

A good example of this is a verse that most of us have heard somewhere along the way applied to Christians:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” (Mal 3:8 NASB)

Nowhere in the New Testament is tithing mentioned in connection with the Christian life yet believers are told that God’s material blessing is conditional on tithing. Jesus made an unconditional promise when He said:

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mat 6:31-33 NASB)

The Old Testament Christian constantly takes the promises of God and makes them conditional on our performance. In the above passage they would make God’s provision conditional on us “seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness!” But in speaking of seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, Jesus was simply promising those who would become believers that the Father would take care of them in this world. The New Testament says of our salvation that the Father has “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13, 14) and that:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Co 5:21 NASB)

We have also heard these Old Testament verses applied to believers:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9 NASB) 

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psa 51:10 NASB)

These were the legitimate conscious concerns of the Old Testament saints but believers, under a new and better covenant, (cf. Hebrews) have had their hearts cleansed. Quoting from Jeremiah 31 on the new covenant the author of Hebrews writes:

“For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,” He then says, “AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.”” (Heb 10:14-17 NASB)

Jesus said:

“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (Joh 15:3 NASB)

More could be said and will be, about “abiding”, “backsliding”, “recommitting or rededicating,” “obedience” but for now I will end with this: The Old Testament Christian is forever taking God’s promises to us in Christ Jesus and making them conditional on our actions and performance. In doing so they take our eyes off of Jesus who is our only Life for:

“We have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer we who live, but Christ lives in us; and the life which we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself up for us.” (cf Gal 2:20)

Posted in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

The Trouble with I John 1:9 (Part 1)

(Reinstating Sacrifices for Believers)

Ever since our Lord Jesus Christ set us free from sin and death through His work on the Cross there has been a concerted effort by the enemies of our soul to keep us from experiencing the freedom He procured for us. The traditional explanation of 1 John 1:9 has been for many a hindrance to their growth in freedom in Christ. 1 John 1:9 reads: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Most teaching on this promotes one of two ideas, both which put the onus on the believer to practice a legalistic ritual in order to stay right with God. One pastor puts the first idea this way: “One is to keep short accounts in asking forgiveness. Sin separates us from God. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”” In other words, it is our continual confession of sins that maintains our forgiveness with God. Someone has commented that instead of having to confess our sins to a priest for absolution as in the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestants have just eliminated the middle man. Now we can confess directly to God to obtain forgiveness. Before addressing how this kind of thinking is a denial of the finished work of Christ on the Cross the second idea promoted in traditional teaching on 1 John 1:9 should be addressed.

Many traditional teachings acknowledge the faulty logic of needing to continually confess our sins for forgiveness but maintain that continual confession is necessary for us to stay in “fellowship” with God. The Believer’s Bible Commentary puts it this way:  

“In order for us to walk day by day in fellowship with God and with our fellow believers, we must confess our sins: sins of commission, sins of omission, sins of thought, sins of act, secret sins, and public sins. We must drag them out into the open before God, call them by their names, take sides with God against them, and forsake them. Yes, true confession involves forsaking of sins: “He who covers his sins will not prosper: but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Pro_28:13). 

When we do that, we can claim the promise that God is faithful and just to forgive. He is faithful in the sense that He has promised to forgive and will abide by His promise. He is just to forgive because He has found a righteous basis for forgiveness in the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus on the cross. And not only does He guarantee to forgive, but also to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

The forgiveness John speaks about here is parental, not judicial. Judicial forgiveness means forgiveness from the penalty of sins, which the sinner receives when he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is called judicial because it is granted by God acting as Judge. But what about sins which a person commits after conversion? As far as the penalty is concerned, the price has already been paid by the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. But as far as fellowship in the family of God is concerned, the sinning saint needs parental forgiveness, that is, the forgiveness of His Father. He obtains it by confessing his sin. We need judicial forgiveness only once; that takes care of the penalty of all our sins—past, present, and future. But we need parental forgiveness throughout our Christian life. 

“When we confess our sins, we must believe, on the authority of the word of God, that He forgives us. And if He forgives us, we must be willing to forgive ourselves.”

It seems that we have found a way to continue the sacrificial system under the Mosaic Law for dealing with our sins. Instead of sacrificing animals, we substitute our confession of sin for either receiving forgiveness of our sins or maintaining our fellowship with God. It is true that we are to confess our sins one to another (James 5:16) and that we are to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” but that is not what is being addressed here.

Referring back to the first idea that in order to maintain forgiveness of sins we must continually practice confession for that purpose, Hebrews challenges that idea. In Hebrews 9 we read:

“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Heb 9:24-28 NASB)

And in Hebrews 10:

“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.” (Heb 10:1-3 NASB)

And:

“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 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. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Heb 10:10-14 NASB)

And finally:

“And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,” He then says, “AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Heb 10:15-18 NASB)

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin,” NOT EVEN OUR CONFESSION!!!

Part 2 addresses what 1 John 1:9 really about…

 

Posted in Problem Passages | 1 Comment

I John 1:9 (Part 2)

(What Is 1 John 1:9 Really About?)

Almost without exception, most of the New Testament letters were written to correct some doctrinal error that was being mingled with the Gospel message originally received and delivered by the apostles. In the case of 1 John the problem was that there were certain individuals teaching a form of Christianity known as Gnosticism. This can be easily inferred from reading the letter once there is a basic understanding of what constitutes Gnosticism. One definition reads:

“Gnosticism was (and is) a religious movement that employed the concepts of (1) dualism (consisting of two parts), the material and the spiritual and (2) syncretism (the attempted reconciliation or union of opposing principles or elements) that spread throughout the ancient Near East immediately before and after the time of Christ.”

Gnosticism taught a duality that designated the material world as evil while only the immaterial (spirit) was pure. This was a common idea among pagan philosophies. Those who practiced Gnosticism usually fell into one of two applications of this dualistic outlook. There were the ascetics who were unusually hard on the body because of its evilness. Others, believing that that immaterial was all that mattered lived a libertarian lifestyle believing that it did not matter what was done morally in the body since it was beyond redemption.

The Believer’s Bible Commentary by William MacDonald (available on E-Sword), in its introduction to 1 John, describes Gnosticism with respect to Jesus Christ as follows:

“At the time John was writing, a false sect had arisen which became known as Gnosticism (Gk. “gnosis” = knowledge). These Gnostics professed to be Christians but claimed to have “additional knowledge,” superior to what the apostles taught. They claimed that a person could not be completely fulfilled until he had been initiated into their deeper “truths.” Some taught that matter was evil, and that therefore the Man Jesus could not be God. They made a distinction between Jesus and the Christ. “The Christ” was divine emanation which came upon Jesus at His baptism and left before His death, perhaps in the Garden of Gethsemane. According to them, Jesus “did” die, but the Christ did “not” die. They insisted, as Michael Green put it, that “the heavenly Christ was too holy and spiritual to be soiled by permanent contact with human flesh.” In short, they denied the Incarnation that Jesus is the Christ and that Jesus Christ is both God and Man.”

It was to address the Gnostic influence that had infiltrated this body of believers that John wrote this letter. See if you can see how he does this from 1 John 1:1 to 2:2. John’s letter is the Gospel message written in contrast to what the Gnostics were saying. He was outlining the way of salvation for the Gnostic and reassuring those who were being confused by Gnostic teaching. The verses in bold type addressed specifically some of the things the Gnostics were saying.

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life– and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us– what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1Jn 1:1-5 NASB) 

GNOSTIC

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; (1Jn 1:6 NASB) 

but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.  (1Jn 1:7 NASB) 

The Gnostics said that they had fellowship with God while yet walking in darkness. John says this is a lie and that they are not practicing the truth – they are not Christians. But to those who do walk in the Light, there is fellowship with one another and complete cleansing from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. 

GNOSTIC

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  (1Jn 1:8 NASB) 

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (1Jn 1:9 NASB)

To the Gnostics who say they have no sin (and consequently no need of forgiveness) he says that they are deceived and the truth is not in them – they are not Christians. But to those who acknowledge their sin and need for forgiveness there is complete forgiveness and cleansing from unrighteousness.

GNOSTIC

If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.  (1Jn 1:10 NASB) 

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1Jn 2:1-2 NASB)

To the Gnostics who insisted that he had not sinned, John says that they make Jesus into a liar and that His word is not in them – they are not Christians. But to those Christians who do sin, John assures them that that we have an Advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ who is the propitiation for our sins. This is an ongoing reality in the life of a Christian who, in Christ, is always forgiven. To require ongoing confession of sin for the purpose of receiving forgiveness denies the truth of the Gospel (see 1 John 1:9 (Part 1)).

To be out of fellowship with God means to be children of darkness. Christians are children of Light despite the fact that they might sin. Our behaviour is not the determining factor of whether or not we walk in the Light or darkness.

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-14 NASB)

“Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Eph 5:7-10 NASB)

The traditional natural view of 1 John 1:9 has the unfortunate effect of keeping believers trapped in a sin-consciousness (the self-conscious fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil) instead of experiencing the transforming power of Christ-consciousness – that is, a continual looking to Jesus Christ to be the All in All of our lives.

Posted in Problem Passages | Leave a comment