Thoughts about faith

Author Archive

Where Does Our Hope Come From?

What concerns me is the degree to which American Christians have become involved in politics and in so doing are compromising their faith to back the “lesser of two evils.” In the NT, we see no mention of politics whatsoever except the command to “obey the governing authorities.” When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into either supporting Rome or disobeying Rome, He turned their question back on them telling them to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Israel, at the time of Jesus and the Apostles, was a Roman province under the rule of a Roman governor and the Roman army. Israel’s laws were pre-empted by Roman law. Despite Roman injustice, neither Jesus nor the Apostles spoke out against Roman rule. While Paul made many missionary journeys and even spent time under house arrest in Rome, his message never turned political. The focus of Jesus and the Apostles was to spread the Good News. Physical freedom meant nothing if one were in slavery to sin.

Yet in our time American Christians have become obsessed with politics. We put more time and energy into politics than we do into evangelism. We think that by involving ourselves in politics we can slow the decay of society and maybe even bring about revival rather than realizing this world is not our home and our job is to preach the Gospel no matter the times in which we live. Surely, we know we can’t legislate morality or salvation. We have become mired in America’s two-party system equating Republicanism with Christianity and the Democratic Party with secular humanism. The reality is that secular humanism has infected both parties and there is no such thing as a Christian party. While the Republican Party is pro-life in its platform, many other policies of the party put financial gain as the highest good despite the Bible’s teaching that money is the root of all sorts of evil. We bend over backwards to excuse the many sins of President Trump believing he is a “baby Christian” and thus we must not expect him to be perfect. Yet the free pass we give to his behavior and lying is making Christians look hypocritical to the world. When we fail to exhort and admonish the President we fail to live up to what the Scriptures teach us. We are not going to our brother in sin and calling him to repentance. We assume his spiritual advisors are taking care of such things despite the lack of evidence of change. We think because Trump is pro-life and pro-Christian everything else, he does can be excused.

No president will ever be perfect. We can’t expect Trump to be. That is not a fair standard but remaining silent on his sins is also not acceptable for those sins committed in the public realm as he executes his office. His private sins are another matter. If as president, he lies, he breaks the law, he is a poor witness, then an unqualified endorsement does not seem proper to me even if the alternative is an even worse candidate. Our witness demands we be consistent. If we are going to attack another candidate for unchristian views, we cannot turn a blind eye to president Trump.

When I discuss president Trump with fellow Christians, I often encounter a lot of white-washing of his conduct. Rather than truly analyzing his actions, I too often hear back the press briefing talking points. I’m not encountering much critical thinking.

I know to some Christians, questioning Trump is near heresy. I’m treated as if questioning Trump is “going over to the enemy.” It’s back to the binary politics we’ve accepted in this country. I feel we have to be consistent. We need to fight corruption and lying and not give free passes to public officials even if they are Christians. Otherwise we are perceived by the world as being just as corrupt.

The government is not our savior. We need to reach individual hearts not political parties. A Christian president is not going to fix this broken land. It is well and good to promote Christian values and vote for good candidates but our hope is in Christ, not politicians.


Proof Texting

Non-Christians often quote Scripture to make a point but in doing so they are guilty of proof texting. What is proof texting? It is when a single verse is pulled from the Bible in support of a particular belief or doctrine. The problem is that you cannot properly understand the Bible by pulling verses out of their context in a stand-alone fashion. Verses must be understood in their Biblical context understanding who wrote it, what historic or grammatical understanding is involved, what the rest of Scripture have to say on the subject, etc. Many verses in the Bible can be made to say all kinds of things if not understood in their proper context. Sometimes people are quoted “out of context” and when accused of saying something offensive, will protest that their words were taken out of context. We all understand that context is key to understanding words. Depending on the context, the same words can mean different, sometimes even contradictory things.

I recently ran across an example of this in a blog. It was a counseling blog and followed a question/answer format. The question came from a woman who was wrestling over feelings of shame over her sexual feelings. She was in her 30’s and was raised in a religious household and felt the teachings of her parents have led to this sense of shame.

In her response, the licensed psychotherapist responded to the writer having called herself a “child of God.” She stated that sex and sexuality are integral and an intimate part of a person’s very being and is the very opposite of shame. She then quoted Ephesians 5:29 (which she misattributed to Ephesians 5:20). She wrote:

You write that you are a “child of God.” I don’t know how you express your spirituality, but I wonder if you have come across this quotation from Ephesians 5:20: “For no one has ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, as the Messiah does the church.” In short, take care of yourself, body and soul, with complete love. (Somerstein, n.d.)

She then asked the writer a rhetorical question regarding her self-care and suggested counseling to deal with her negative emotions. I cite this as an example of proof texting because in context the verse does not teach anything about loving yourself. When you read the passage, the Apostle Paul was giving teaching on marriage. He specifically was addressing husbands and instructing them to love their wives like they love their own bodies. He adds that “no one has ever hated his own body.” In other words, Paul assumes we all love ourselves and take care of ourselves and so as a husband loves his own body, so should he love his wife. As he would nourish and cherish his own body, he should nourish and cherish his wife. Paul gives and even greater example, Jesus’ love for the church. As Jesus loves the church, so a husband should love his wife.

The psychotherapist is implying the verse teaches that the Bible teaches that we are to love and care for our own bodies and that since (in her opinion) expressing your sexuality is a loving thing, the Bible therefore would encourage such thoughts and not be a source of shame.

The verse actually assumes we love our own bodies. It also gives no teaching on what proper self-love entails. It is also not at all given in the context of sexuality and its context is marriage which is not the state the writer was in. What the Bible teaches on self-love and sexuality are found in other passages. Using this verse as a proof text for what the Bible teaches about self-love and sexual shame is totally taking the verse out of context. To conclude it teaches you should “take care of yourself, body and soul, with complete love” is reading a meaning into the passage that it’s author never intended. Theologically we call that isogesis (reading into). Proper understanding of the Bible comes from exegesis where you read the meaning from the text taking into consideration the context, the grammar, the history, etc.

While the earliest comments left on the article date back to late 2016, not a single commenter pointed out the psychotherapist referenced the wrong verse leading me to conclude none of them looked up and read that verse for themselves. One commenter called it a “beautiful verse” but no doubt took it with the meaning the psychotherapist gave it.

Proof texting happens all the time. Often secular writers employ it to try and suggest the Bible teaches something different than what Christians take it to teach. In many cases I suspect they got the verse from another’s writings and did not read it for themselves. One person’s proof texting gets multiplied many times over each reuse assuming they understand the verse. Sadly, the recipients of this proof texting never look up such verses for themselves and thus continue propagating the misrepresentation.

We will never be able to prevent the use of proof texting. Sometimes it is intentional but often the result of sloppy research. The author has a belief or bias and thinks they see a Bible verse that supports that belief or bias and builds an argument around it. Satisfied they have the proper understanding; they never bother to read the verse in context for themselves. All we can do in such cases is to gently correct and point out the misuse of the verse.

Non-Christians often make assumptions about what Christians believe or what the Bible teaches. In doing so they are often guilty of proof texting.

Works Cited

Somerstein, L. (n.d.). https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/dear-gt/how-do-i-overcome-shame-of-sex?unapproved=721820&moderation-hash=e6f028786c1f6ea8629b6609263eb5e7#comment-721820. Retrieved from GoodTherapy.


The Olivet Discourse

One of the greatest passages in Scripture concerning the End of Times (or the End Times) is found in Mathew 24. In this passage, Jesus responds to a question asked in private by His disciples. Before answering, he moves them to the Mount of Olives and thus His answer has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse.

Just before this, as recorded in Mathew 24, Jesus is speaking about the End of Times which prompts His disciples to ask him:

24 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

Before we can examine Jesus’ answer, we first need to understand the Jewish, Old Testament expectations regarding the coming of the Messiah. To the Jewish minds of the time, they expected that when their Messiah came, He would at that time overcome His enemies, free the Jews, and set up His kingdom on earth. Despite the OT prophesizing two comings of the Messiah, once to die and resurrect and once to bring about the End of the Times, they saw those events as all happening in a short period of time with no major interlude. The did not understand the prophecies about the church age nor the Rapture. They only understood one event left to happen. That was the mindset of the disciples.

We know, with the further clarification of the NT, that Jesus is going to return two more times. First, He will return secretly in an event we call the Rapture. Secret in the sense that while the whole world will see the effects of the Rapture, they won’t see Jesus. He will await His children in the clouds and take them to heaven leaving those on earth confused and bewildered wondering how so many people suddenly disappeared. The Rapture is not what Scripture calls the Second Coming.

The Second Coming occurs at the end of the seven-year Tribulation period. This is when Christ returns triumphantly and tramples His enemies and sets up His Millennial Kingdom. This is the coming of the Messiah the Jews expected but without understanding of the Rapture and the Tribulation. If Jesus was the Messiah, then they expected Him to overthrown the Romans and all Israel’s enemies and reign from Jerusalem. It was with this expectation that the disciples asked Jesus what would be the signs of His Second Coming.

That the Messiah first had to suffer and die at the hands of sinners, was foretold by the OT prophets but was missed by the Jews. They could not imagine their Messiah being killed by the like of Roman soldiers. They did not understand that their sacrifices in the Temple could never pay the price for their sin. A perfect sacrifice had to be made and only the Messiah, the Son of God, could make it. They were also blinded by their pride. They were God’s people! The nation of Israel. God’s elect. They looked down upon all others as Gentiles who had no part in the plans of the Messiah. Again, the OT foretold that God had other people who He would also call His children and that there would be a Church Age in which God gathered His children from among the Gentiles and some Jews. The height of the Jews expectations for Jesus occurred during His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem just one week before His death. They lined the roads and threw down their cloaks and palm branches celebrating their Messiah. When Jesus did not, at that time overcome Israel’s enemies, they bitterly rejected Jesus as just another false Messiah. A pretender who must be in league with Satan to have performed the miracles He did. As great as their joy had been in seeing Him as their Messiah, so great was their subsequent hatred for Him when He did not fulfill their expectations.

If we were to look at a timeline it might look like this:

3 BC  30 AD   Rapture  Tribulation  Second Coming  Mill. Kingdom  New HE

  |——–|————-X————-|———————–|——————–|—————–|

3 BC – the birth of Christ. We think 0 AD, but due to flaws in the calendars back then it was likely more like 3 BC

30 AD – death of Jesus

X – where we are now prophetically though not implying, we are half way to the Rapture

Rapture – when Jesus comes secretly for His church

Tribulation – a 7-year period of events following the Rapture and leading up to the Second Coming

Mill. Kingdom – a 1000-year reign of Christ on earth known as the Millennial Kingdom

New HE – the new heavens and the new earth after God destroys the old in intense heat

NOTE: The distances on the timeline are not to scale.

On our timeline, the events described in the Olivet Discourse occur during the 7-year Tribulation period. There are parallel events found in Revelation that go into more details about the events of the Tribulation.

One thing that has been greatly misunderstood is Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 24:32-35:

32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that [e]it is near—at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

Jesus made clear to His disciples that “no one knows the hour or the day (Matthew 24:35)” of His Second coming. In these verses Jesus says that we can see the signs of His return approaching even though we won’t know the hour or the day.

I believe these verses are misunderstood because many Christians think Jesus is talking about the Rapture here or the Rapture and all that follows. I don’t believe that is the case. The wars, the rumors of war, the famines and earthquakes, are all things taking place during the Tribulation. These are not events occurring before the Rapture. I have seen lists Christians have created showing how the number of major earthquakes per year has been on the rise. The same with famines and they see these as signs that the Lord’s return is approaching. While there have always been earthquakes, famines, and wars, Jesus is talking about a very specific set of those events taking place in a very specific context.

For one thing, mankind has only been keeping records of these things for a couple of hundred years. We have no idea how these events over the past two hundred years compares to the preceding thousands of years. For all we know, history might be full of periods of increase followed by periods of decrease. We cannot assume that any uptick in modern times is unprecedented. Secondly, we don’t know to what degree these things will increase leading up to the Lord’s Second Coming. For all we know, what Jesus is describing is daily major earthquakes in different parts of the world. We are seeing nothing like that today.

Jesus is describing cataclysmic events unparalleled in human history. Apocalyptic events. The recent upward trend in earthquakes we are seeing are nowhere near that scale.

Jesus describes these events like birth pangs (Matthew 24:8). A woman normally does not know when labor is going to begin.  If her water breaks or labor is induced, she will have some idea. As she approaches her due date, she knows it will happen soon but she does not know the hour or the day. One minute she might feel fine and the next contractions have started. Once started they can progress steadily, start and stop, or progress rapidly. At some point they progress rapidly culminating in the birth of the baby. Jesus’ analogy of these apocalyptic events to a woman’s labor is describing the rapid progression that immediately precedes birth. Once those contractions start, a woman knows the time is short. So it will be during the Tribulation. The wars and famines and earthquakes will come on suddenly and fearfully. The inhabitants of the earth will feel like the earth is being rent in two under them. The earth will seem to be rapidly dying in a cataclysmic way. That is a level of natural disasters humanity has never seen.

By contrast, Scripture describes the Rapture peacefully.

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep [k]in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive [l]and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a [m]shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive [n]and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Theologians hold to the doctrine of Imminence. This means that there remains NO events that need to take place before the Rapture. Christ could come at any moment. There does not need to be an increase in earthquakes or famines or civil unrest. Life on earth can appear to be perfectly normal. Sometimes contemporary Christians make assumptions based on technological progress. I can recall hearing “experts” talk about the ability to put electric chips in people over 30 years ago. At that time, many believers were convinced a microchip would be the Mark of the Beast described in Revelation. It seemed like a natural fit. If such technology exists, they reason, it’s use as the Mark of the Beast must be fast approaching and before that can occur, the Rapture must occur. According to the doctrine of Imminency, Christ’s return for the Rapture could have taken place anytime from 33 AD to today. Microchips have existed for less than a century. The Rapture has not been waiting until technology invents a way to make distributing and recognizing the Mark an easy thing. Scripture does not tell us what form the mark will take. Just something on the forehead or back of the hand. That could just as easily be a tattoo as a microchip. For us to think the Rapture must be approaching because we have implantable microchips, or microdots, and a global pandemic to provide a perfect opportunity to distribute the Mark, does not mean the Rapture is approaching! The conditions for the inauguration of the Mark of the Beast have existed since 33 AD. Scripture also never teaches that technology will be used or that the first time such technology exists it will be used. Tattoos could have been used as the Mark of the Beast and tattoos have been around for thousands of years. The fact that we have such technology and have a world-wide pandemic tells us absolutely nothing about the timing of the Rapture. That is man reading things into Scripture and making assumptions that cannot be supported from the text.

Remember too that the “signs” of the season Jesus spoke of only apply to His Second Coming NOT to the Rapture. There are no signs required before the Rapture can occur. God does not require a gradual increase in earthquakes to then really cause terror and panic. Like the contractions of labor, they can come on in a hurry when the time appointed for them is reached. In the beginning of the Tribulation, the world will think their problems have been solved. They will look to the Antichrist as a savior. They will rejoice in peace and safety. It is only after the Abomination of Desolation occurs that the Antichrist shows his true colors and the world suddenly realizes it is in the grip of a Satanic leader.

What might lead the world to look to the Antichrist to begin with? We aren’t told except that he will initially appear to be a dynamic world leader who can unite humanity and solve the world’s problems. With the church having been raptured and the restraint of the Holy Spirit removed, the Antichrist will be able to easily deceive the world. While speculation on my part, I can envision that a world-wide Rapture would throw the world into chaos. Imagine millions (maybe a billion or more) people suddenly and for no obvious reason disappearing. Imagine cars crashing without drivers, planes suddenly without pilots, teachers, bankers, and all manner of humanity gone in an instant. That would be more than enough to throw the world into overnight panic and bewilderment. What just happened??? Where did these people go? Was this an alien abduction or some secret world-wide government kidnapping? How could people just disappear into thin air? No arrests or rounding up of people. Just vanishing. People will be in shock and panic. What better circumstances for a charismatic world leader who has the answers? What bigger crisis could there be from which the world will willingly submit to such a man’s leadership. It’s not going to be just explaining what happened but replacing or reorganizing society to do without the leadership and efforts of so many of the earth’s citizens.

In my opinion, this misunderstanding of the unfolding of the End Times has led to endless speculation by many attempting to fit together world events like pieces in a puzzle thinking they can anticipate the Rapture. We can’t. The signs of the season, so to speak, only apply to the Second Coming. Some will say that it’s important for us to know so we can warn others before it’s too late. Has not that been our job since Jesus gave the Great Commission before He returned to heaven? Since the Rapture could have occurred any time after that, the concern that time is running out has always been there or should have been. Why is it suddenly important to think you know the Rapture is approaching? The church, the body of Christ, should always be preaching the Good News and warning the world that the time of judgment is approaching. Not only might the Rapture happen tonight but you could have a heart attack or an aneurism and die tonight. The best time to believe is always now! We are not promised tomorrow. We don’t need to see the “signs of the season” with respect to the Rapture for us to feel a sense of urgency as the people we are witnessing to could have their opportunity ended at any moment. Those signs were given of Christ’s Second Coming which will occur after the Rapture. Scripture teaches that there will be believers saved during the Tribulation. The descriptions of those events are given for their encouragement not ours. We won’t be here.

Rather than scouring current world events to try and fit more pieces into the puzzle, we should be doing God’s work and fulfilling the Great Commission. The world needs Christ and without Him our warnings of the End approaching will fall on deaf ears. You might suppose that while those words won’t be headed now, they might come back to them later after they are saved. Perhaps. Trust God to encourage and enlighten them after they believe should they believe after the Rapture. God knows how to keep His own. If you believe as I do that you cannot lose your salvation (providing you truly have it) then no post-Rapture saint is going to lose their salvation if they don’t know everything there is to know about the events of the Tribulation. God will keep them. Our job today is to bear witness to them and pray for them asking God to add them to His Kingdom. We can get so caught up in speculations about the fulfillment of prophecy. It is of little profit.

We tend to treat the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Second Coming of the Lord as one blob. Granted, they all happen over a 7-year period so time-wise they are closely related however if you are a saint today your vision of prophecy approaching may not extend beyond the Rapture. The rest of the picture won’t be in view until after the Rapture occurs in which case you will be watching events unfold from heaven. Those alive but unbelieving before the Rapture (but who will live past it) wont’ comprehend these events or put stock in them. Our fixation on the events of the Tribulation and the Second Coming seems misplaced. Not that God would have us be ignorant of them but I don’t see evidence of the Apostle’s spending much time warning non-believers about the events of the Tribulation. Their focus was not on politics or End Times prophecy but simply the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


What Must I Do to Be Saved?

There is a tendency as humans to want to feel that we must do something to secure our salvation. God may have done the lion’s share of the work, but we have to do our part and without our part salvation would not have been possible. This enables us to pat ourselves on the back and take some credit. We, in partnership with God, earned our salvation and became righteous.

Is this what the Bible teaches? If we contributed in any way to our salvation then we first must have sought God. If you don’t seek God how can you know God and know what to do to be saved? Yet the Bible says:

“There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” (Romans 3:11)

Well that doesn’t sound very good but maybe that was part of God’s contribution. Surely our good works counted for something, right? That must have been our part. I mean, we had to believe and we’re not all bad so surely the good in our life must count for something in God’s eyes? The Bible says salvation is:

“not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:9)

“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

What? Are you telling me God did it all and I had no part?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)

You see, man has two problems. The first is that God hates sin. God cannot sin and will not allow sin to dwell in His presence. Why is that a problem? Because we are sinners! We can’t go one day without sinning much less a lifetime. Well, what if we don’t sin too much? First, if we could see our lives through God’s eyes, we would realize we sin a LOT more than we think. Remember, sins are not just things you do or say but includes your thoughts, your motives, your desires. God can see all that. How many sins does it take to be a sinner? ONE. That’s it, just one. Raise your hand if you have never sinned? No hands. Didn’t think so. So, by definition you ARE A SINNER. What did we say about God and sin? He hates it and won’t allow it to dwell in His presence.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Is God going to be in heaven? I know, dumb question. So, if God hates sin, and God won’t allow sin in His presence, and God is in heaven, how can we, sinners, go to heaven? Well that’s only in God’s presence. God must have a fancy throne room in a fancy building in heaven and so long as we don’t go in there, we are free to enjoy the rest of heaven. Oh really? Does God have a body? No. Jesus does but not God the Father, not the Holy Spirit. Can God be contained in just one location? No. God is omnipresent which means He is everywhere all at once. There is no place you can go where God is not. Since God is everywhere at all times, I think that includes heaven! So, no sin in heaven.

“Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:24)

Well I can’t live a perfect life, and I have sinned, so I guess I can’t go to heaven? You can! Because

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

You see when Jesus went to the cross, for a moment the sin of all the world for all time was put on Him. Even though Jesus had never sinned, He suddenly became sin. But Jesus was righteous. Jesus had never sinned. Jesus was the Son of God. His blood is sufficient to wash away all our sins. Just one drop. God demanded the death of the sinner. Look back at Romans 6:23 I quoted earlier. What are the wages of sin? Death! Are wages gifts? No. You earn your wages. They are due you. You have sinned against God and you have earned the wages of death. Not physical death, though that will happen, by spiritual death which means eternal separation from God!

 Jesus took our place and He died for us. God’s justice was satisfied. The sin problem was dealt with. It was literally nailed to the cross. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. He went there to take on our sin and die for it. It’s like you committed a capital offense, were found guilty, and sentenced to death but then Jesus came and sat in that electric chair for you. Because He died, you don’t have to. Jesus gave His life for yours. It was a free gift.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)

We call that mercy which means unmerited favor. Unmerited means you didn’t do anything to deserve it. Jesus didn’t die for your sins because you’re a nice guy and He felt sorry for you. No, there was nothing special about you that caused Jesus to die for you. He did it out of love and now is offering you the free gift of His death and His blood to pay the penalty for your sins and to wash them away in His blood. It’s a gift. Can you earn a gift? No. If you earn it then it’s not a gift. Gifts are freely given by the giver. Don’t let our modern holiday and birthday gifting taint your view of gifts. You might give a gift in certain circumstances because you feel it’s expected. You would rather not give it but you feel you have no choice. We might call that a gift but if you feel obligated to give it then it’s not a gift. Not really. True gifts are given because YOU want to give them. You don’t have to, you’re not obligated to, you simply want to. Jesus wants to give you His gift. He loves you. He really wants you to have it. To get a gift though you have to receive it. The gift is not yours until you receive it. How do you receive Jesus’ gift then? We’ll get to that.

You said there were two problems? What’s the other one? Glad you asked. God has another requirement to enter heaven. It’s not enough that you have no sin. You have to also be perfectly righteous. Ah, that’s where our good works come in right? Wrong. You cannot do enough good works to be perfectly righteous. Plus, do you think a sinner is perfectly righteous? Well maybe once God washes us in the blood of Christ, and removes all our sin, then we are perfectly righteous? Nope. That’s kind of like someone paying off all your bills and so you owe no one anything but you have zero dollars in your bank account. Do you get a perfect credit score of 800 if you have zero dollars but no debt? No. Even if after you are saved, you go on to do lots of good works through the Holy Spirit you still haven’t done enough to be perfectly righteous. Well then, it’s impossible!

Every heard of imputation? Impu-what? Imputation. No. Fancy word but to have something imputed to you means to have something not of you credited to you. It’s like having that zero-bank account and less than 800 credit and someone with a perfect credit score gives that score to you and the credit bureaus now view you as having a perfect credit rating. You didn’t earn that credit score. You did absolutely nothing to get it. That’s imputation. When it comes to salvation, God takes Christ’s (Jesus’) perfect righteousness and imputes it (credits it) to us. Now in God’s eyes we are perfectly righteous. We weren’t but we were made righteous by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

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

So, if we except Jesus’ gift we can have our sins forgiven and washed away? Yes. Good news. What? Jesus really has two gifts for you. The first is His shed blood and death for you. The second is the imputation of His righteousness. So use the money analogy, you started out in terrible debt and facing a death sentence. Jesus came along and paid off your debts and took your place on the electric chair and died for you. You are so thankful because you know you were in terrible debt and that was your own fault. You also know you deserved to die. All you had to do was say yes and all this happened for you!

“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.” (John 3:16)

That’s probably the best-known verse in the Bible. Ever see the guy in the background at football games or other TV events and he’s holding a sign that says “John 3:16?” This is the verse. What did God do according to this verse? He gave his only begotten Son (Jesus). Note God gave us Jesus. That’s a gift. Why did God offer us this gift? Because “God so loved the world.” God did it out of love. How do we receive the gift? “whoever believes in Him.” You have to believe. Is believing a work? No. It takes place in your mind and in your soul. What results from the gift? “[you] shall not perish, but have eternal life.” God offers you a gift out of love. The gift is His Son Jesus who died for your sins and offers you His righteousness. If you believe, you are no longer deserving death and God gives you eternal life!

What’s the catch? I mean, this sounds too good to be true and usually things that are too good to be true come with a catch so what’s the catch? There’s no catch. No hidden clauses. However, in accepting these gifts you have to acknowledge the giver of the gift. Jesus isn’t just some guy. He’s God. He’s sinless and perfectly righteous. He created time and space and everything in it. He is Lord. He is above all kings, all rulers, all countries, all armies, all royalty. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. You have to know that and believe that. You can’t just say Jesus was a good man, or a prophet, or a guru, or some great philosopher or teacher. If Jesus were any of those things or all of those things that still wouldn’t have made Him perfectly righteous and no amount of His blood could have washed away your sins. It’s because He is God that He is perfectly righteous because only God can be perfectly righteous. It’s because He is God that His death could satisfy God perfect justice. We sinned against God and it’s God we have to answer to and our own death would not be enough to pay the price for our sins. Only Jesus’ death could do that. If you believe Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords then what should you do? What did regular people always do in the presence of their king? They got down on their knees and prostrated themselves before their king. They also pledged their allegiance to him and promised to do all he commanded. In return he protected them and provided for them. We don’t bow to Jesus to earn salvation. We bow in recognition of who He is. We humble ourselves and bow before our God and Savior.

If you have any other concept of who Jesus is then believing in that Jesus will not save you. There are a lot of counterfeit Jesus’ out there and lots of groups who claim they’ve got the real Jesus or they claim it’s doesn’t matter who or what you believe in just that you believe. They are wrong. You have to bow your knee and accept the free gift from the one and only true Son of God. He is the only one who can save you. You don’t need to know everything about Him when you ask for His forgiveness. You just need to acknowledge He is God. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and that your sinned against Him and need His forgiveness and His righteousness. Do that and He will give you His gifts and welcome you into His family.

How can you know more about Jesus? Read his book. It’s called the Bible and is the number one best seller of all time even today. He’ll help you to understand it too even though it’s not hard to understand. He will give you the Holy Spirit to live inside you and guide you. He will always be with you. Don’t buy the lie that God has other books. Just the Bible.

Jesus did it all and He offers all of us the free gift of salvation. Don’t make the mistake though of thinking your earned it nor the mistake of thinking you have to add to it. You can’t accept His gift and think you earned it at the same time. You have to acknowledge that you sinned and became unrighteous and that you could not save yourself or contribute anything to your salvation. It’s all Him. Our pride might not like that. We want to think we had some part to play. If we think that then we have no idea how bad our sin is and how useless we are in contributing to our salvation. You have to come to Jesus humbly acknowledging that your only hope for salvation is found in His death and His righteousness. If you believe it was me + Jesus, then you got the wrong gospel and you have not been forgiven. It’s not me plus Jesus. It’s just Jesus.

Once we’ve been forgiven then we begin a new life. Now we have the Holy Spirit of God within us. When we obey God and do good works, it’s not to earn our salvation or maintain it. Jesus did it all. It’s done. Past tense. We do good works now because we love God and want to do His will.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Notice we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus. Who did the work? Not us. God did it. What did he also do? He created good works for us, beforehand, so that we would walk in them. God has big plans for you. We aren’t doing good works to get right with God. We are doing good works to please God, to obey Him, and because we love Him.

One more thing. Ever heard of an “Indian giver?” Thankfully that saying is out of style. It means someone who gives you a gift and then changes his mind and wants it back. That’s not what the Indians did. The term came from a cultural misunderstanding in the 1700’s. In Indian culture when a gift was given, something of equal value was expected back. If you did not want to give something back then the Indian might be offended and take his gift back. Hence the term.

We already established that you didn’t do anything to earn your salvation and that you didn’t do anything to receive except to believe. We also learned that God offered us salvation out of love. God doesn’t care if you’re wealthy or poor, young or old, have light skin, dark skin, or any other shade of skin, if you’re from America or Russia, you’re a man or a woman. God’s gift is for everyone. God does not play favorites. Once you receive God’s gift, you have eternal life. You can’t lose it, have it taken away from you, or stolen from God.

“and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28)

Some people teach that once you are saved you have to keep doing good works or you could lose your salvation. That’s not what the Bible teaches. We read the verse earlier that God prepared “beforehand” good works for us to do. He prepared these for us to do after we received His gift of salvation. We just read that we can’t lose our salvation so there is nothing more we need to do after receiving God’s gift.  These people think that you have to keep your salvation by adding good works. They get this idea from something James wrote:

“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14)

If you read what James wrote, all of it, you see he’s trying to make a point here. An important point. Anyone can go around claiming to be a Christian; claiming to have saving faith. We have some expressions, talk is cheap. The proof is in the pudding. Put your money where your mouth is. Actions speak louder than words. We all know what those expressions mean. Walk your talk.

What did Ephesians 2:10 said God did? It said he prepared good works for us to do. Salvation is about more than making us right with God. God loves you so much that He wants you to be like Jesus. He gives you the Holy Spirit to aid you in living your new life of faith. Those good works you do, that God prepared beforehand, that are the “proof in the pudding.” They are the evidence of the salvation you already possess. That’s what James was arguing. If you say your saved and have faith but your life is not showing any evidence of it, then maybe your faith was not true faith. Maybe you didn’t really mean it. Maybe you talked yourself into saying the words but in your heart they were not true. If that’s your “faith” then that faith cannot save you. You are saved by faith alone but your faith does not leave you alone. You change. God begins working on you. Some things might change quickly while other things might change more gradually. You don’t become perfect. Not this side of heaven. We still have that old habit of sin hanging around that we have to resist. But you do change. If you live a long life after your claim faith and nothing ever changes, then you ought to question if your faith was genuine.

The Apostle Paul, in writing to the believers at the church in Corinth, said:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test?” (2nd Corinthians 13:5)

Paul was warning them against complacency and false faith. It is always a good thing to take a good hard look at your life and ask yourself the hard questions. If you see some answers you don’t like, then you know what to work on. A changed life and evidence of a relationship with Jesus is a good test. Was your salvation a one-time event in your life and after that you just went back to your old life and never spent time with God? You never changed, you never sought God in prayer, you never read His Word (the Bible), you never sought the company of other believers. That’s what Paul means by testing. He’s not saying you can lose your salvation but maybe you’ve stopped walking in those good works or maybe you never had saving faith.

So, no you don’t need good works to be saved. You just need faith. That faith is a seed from which a new life will sprout and grow and produce good fruit. That is the outworking and evidence of our faith.

If you have never asked God’s forgiveness, do so now. Ask Jesus to forgive you. Ask for His blood to wash away your sins and His righteousness to be imputed to you. Tell Him He’s your Lord and you will strive, with His assistance, to lead a fruitful life out of love and obedience to Him. There are no special words. You don’t have to be in a church when you pray this prayer. Prayer is just talking to God. He can hear you. No matter where you are. He loves you no matter what you’ve done. More than you know. He will make you beautiful in His eyes. No matter who you are, what you’ve done He loves you. You think God could never love you because you’ve done so many bad things? You’re wrong. God’s love is unconditional. He loves you despite who you are and what you’ve done. He has seen it all. No one is beyond God’s reach. You can’t be too bad for God. Don’t believe Satan’s lie that you’ve cross a line, are too far gone, and God could never forgive you. God can and will even when you are not ready to forgive yourself. Maybe you’ve never experienced that kind of love and forgiveness and it’s totally foreign to you. That’s ok. God understands. Trust Him. I promise you will never regret it.


Will the Church Go Through the Tribulation?

The Doctrine of Imminency
The return of Christ has been expected by the Church since the time of Christ. This expectation that His return could happen at any time with no preconditions is known as the Doctrine of Imminency. The Church is told to “watch” and to “look” for his return. In the description of the Rapture of the Church, we see believers going about their daily lives working in the fields and doing other normal activities. Suddenly some are taken while others are left behind. To me this suggests they were not aware the Lord was about to return (other than knowing it could happen at any time. If any of the events described as occurring in the Tribulation had to occur before the Rapture, then Christ’s return would not be imminent. We would have recognizable events we would expect to see first. This contradicts all the Scriptures that depict His return as imminent and without warning.


The Church in the Tribulation?
In John 14:1-3, in connection with the promise of Christ, “I will come again,” the purpose of His coming is revealed to be to take believers to “my Father’s house,” by which term He describes heaven. After He meets the church in the air, He will take them to the place prepared. In contrast, at His coming to establish the millennial kingdom, all believers remain in the earthly scene. In 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10, believers are assured that they are children of light, not children of darkness. They are comforted with the promise that the day of wrath will not overtake them as a thief, as it will the world. They are promised, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 our hope is stated: “To wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” If believers are delivered “from the wrath to come,” why inflict upon them a day of wrath designed for the ungodly? Are not believers assured: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Rom. 5:9)? In Revelation 3:10 the godly church at Philadelphia is promised: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” In a word, they are promised that they will be kept “from” the period of tribulation ahead. That is different from being kept “through” this time. (https://bible.org/seriespage/6-will-church-go-through-tribulation)

We see in Scripture two programs of God. First, God established the nation of Israel and revealed Himself to them. There were many faithful Jews who responded to God’s revelation and faith in the future-coming Messiah. Not all did, however. Many strayed and by the time of Christ’s first coming faith among the Jews was waning. They thought themselves righteous by virtue of lineage and thinking they were keeping the law. While much of Jesus’ ministry was to Jews, not all of it was. He spoke of “other children” and in the Book of Acts we see the Gospel going to the Gentiles which had been God’s plan all along. While some Jews came to accept Jesus as their Messiah, the majority have not. In 70 A.D. Roman soldiers sacked the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple putting to an end the sacrificial system of Judaism. Jesus’ death on the cross had already rendered that system of no further value. It was to point to the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus. Once Jesus died, there was no longer a need to sacrifice in the Temple (see Hebrews 10.) Most of the Jews rejected Jesus and continued in their useless ceremonies until the Romans destroyed their Temple and dispersed them.

In the over 2000 years that have followed, we have been in the Church age where God’s focus has turned to the Church though He has not forgotten Israel. The Church age will culminate with the return of Christ and the Rapture where His church will join Him in heaven to dwell with Him forever. That is not the end though. As God always saved a faithful remnant of Jews in the OT, He will also save a remnant during The Tribulation. God’s gaze now returns to Israel and the fulfillment of His plan for them. Some Jews and some Gentiles will come to believe during the Tribulation. They are who are in view in Revelation 13:7. They will suffer for their faith but spend eternity with God. At the end of the seven year Tribulation, Christ will return again with His angels and end the reign of the Antichrist and bound up Satan and the demons and the 1000 year Millennial Kingdom will begin.


Romans 13: Obey the Governing Authorities

Anyone living in the United States today knows we are in a political mess. Our nation is more polarized than it has been since perhaps the run up to the Civil War. We have two parties diametrically opposed . If one says black the other says white. They seem obsessed with opposing each other. Both parties was the “Holy Grail” of having the Presidency, the House, and the Senate under their control. Then they can push through all their legislative priorities.

Of course it rarely happens that all three line up under the same party and even when it does, the next time the other party has control they attempt to undo whatever the first party accomplished. The two parties are so gridlocked that increasingly our Presidents are resorting to executive orders to accomplish their goals. Rather than debate budget priorities, now the solution seems to be giving both sides whatever they want resulting in huge deficits.

Each party automatically opposes anything the other party proposes. At the very least they must find some fault with it they can correct and thus take partial credit. Politicians live for re-election and parties live to gain control. It now takes millions of dollars to get elected President requiring huge political organizations. Without the backing of a one of the two major parties, getting elected is nearly impossible. Unless you are a very rich person capable of funding your own campaign, it’s impossible. It takes more than money though. You need media consultants, political consultants, grass root workers, speech writers, and on and on. The two major parties have such people and tend to use them regularly so there are not a lot of people like that waiting to be employed. So while we have more than two parties, for all practical purposes we have just two.

Consider also that in Congress the majority leader of each legislative party gets to be the leader of that body. They are voted on by their own party. A minority leadership position is given to the minority party. What about members from other parties like independents? Bernie Sanders, while an Independent, still aligned himself with the Democratic Party each time he ran for President. He know as an Independent he could never fund and run a successful campaign. Our two-party system also results in each party nominating their most popular candidate to run in the general election. There is no chance for the public to choose among multiple Republicans or Democrats.

Countless hours and millions of dollars are wasted in each party opposing the other. Instead of accepting their have different visions and compromising to get things done, they dig their heels in and refuse to compromise except on minor issues or when forced to. Agreement between the parties seems like a pipe dream and the national debt just keeps piling up.

What should we do as Christians? Romans 13 tells us:

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

Some Christians have thrown themselves into politics and made it a personal crusade to support whomever they feel is most conducive to the Biblical worldview. While this is the right and privilege of every citizen we should remember Jeremiah 17:9 tells us:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?

Sinful hearts will never lead to perfect government. Until Christ reigns on earth, there will be corruption, strife, and disorder. While we should strive for good government we have to understand the limitations of human nature. Unless redeemed by God, man is foolish, willful, prideful, and corrupt. Yet we are still told to submit to the governing authorities as they are instituted by God.

The Pharisees tried to draw Jesus into politics hoping to trap him between the people and Rome. When asked about paying taxes, Jesus answered that they should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s. They had hoped if he told them taxes were unjust they could get him in trouble with the Roman authorities. If he told them to pay taxes they hoped the people would turn on him for being a “Roman lover.” Yet his answer disarmed them. As oppressive as Rome was on her subjects, Jesus never spoke out against Rome. Neither did the Apostle Paul who was in chains due to Roman justice. Their focus was always on saving souls not saving governments. Only by changing hearts could society change. Laws will never what the Spirit of God can.

The Supreme Court may change it’s make up and reverse former rulings but they do not determine truth. The Constitution was written over two decades ago and applying portions of it to today’s world leads to different interpretations. As justices retire, who replaces them is largely up to the President. The balance of power between conservative and liberal is ongoing. Justices are not ruling based on God’s Word.

We can’t and shouldn’t expect our government to save us. Nor should not despair if our government is corrupt. Our missions remains unchanged. We are to love the Lord our God, which all our heat, soul and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. We are then to fulfill the Great Commission taking the gospel to the world. As citizens of this country, we should be informed and participate but not get distracted so much by politics that we forget our mission. We should not fear government but rather fear God who can throw both body and soul into everlasting fire. Rome did not last forever. Kings and rulers come and go. Only God is everlasting. Live not in fear and despair but in joyful expectation of the return of our Lord.


The Times We Live In


Church History

Church History

Let’s look a bit at the development of the church as seen in Scripture and history. Jesus died around 30 A.D. Starting about 30 years later, the Apostles and a few authors directly associated with them began writing what we know of as the New Testament. Their writings were circulated among the many fledgling churches scattered throughout the Mediterranean area. Copies were made. The early church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, largely met in people’s homes. A few got to use the facilities of Synagogues but Cathedrals and modern style church buildings were still centuries away. Scripture does not give us a blueprint for their gatherings. It only tells us what the major elements were. They sang hymns and spiritual songs, they prayed and worshipped, they were instructed from those early writings and the teaching of men who either were Apostles or trained by them. They also broke bread and remembered the Lord’s death and resurrection through communion.

There were no priests, choirs, mentions of incense, robes, specific prayers, the order of affairs, etc. No liturgy. Anything that was later added by churches as the “proper way to do things” was not described for us in the Bible. They are manmade traditions we’ve added and like all things must be judged by Scripture.

Scripture (the Bible) is the Word of God. It alone is God’s perfect revelation to man. While it was written by men, those men told us they were moved by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote. It wasn’t something cultic like automatic writing but the Holy Spirit, using their vocabulary and writing style, guided them in writing each and every word. It’s true the formal declaration of what constituted the canon of Scripture (i.e. the official books) did not happen until much later, history tells us that the books chosen were universally recognized as meeting some important criteria. They had to be written by an Apostle or someone closely associated with an Apostle (e.g. Luke who traveled extensively with Paul). There had to be evidence they were widely accepted and changed lives. Through these and a few other criteria, it was obvious what belonged. This became the New Testament. Together with the Old Testament, It is our only source of revelation from God. It was understood that these writings were unique as were the men who wrote them. Future writings would have to be judged by these writings. They set the once and forever standard. No future writings or teachings could be added to them.

As the early church grew and spread, it continued to be guided by these early writings and Apostolic teaching. We have recorded one time when the Apostles met as a group with Paul to discuss a few matters Paul brought to them. Otherwise, the Apostles themselves eventually left Jerusalem and ministered in different places. There was no ongoing Apostolic council. There was no hierarchy, no single leader. The NT speaks of teachers, elders, and deacons. No mention is made of priests, bishops, cardinals, or a pope. No nuns or monks. No presbyteries, church committees, or denominations. There was no central authority except that of the Scriptures.

In the mid-300’s A.D., the Roman Emperor Charlemagne converted to Christianity. After centuries of persecution, Christianity finally had a patron in a position of power. The Emperor. This is when we start to see some formal organization beginning. Being Emperor of the vast Roman Empire required much delegation and organization. Charlemagne expected the same of the church. He wanted someone in Rome who could be his appointed head of the church so he had someone in a position of power to deal with. Thus was born the office of the Bishop of Rome. Prior to this, there were some learned teachers who were called Bishops in recognition of their gifts but not yet part of any larger organizational structure. It was more a title of honor.

We have some writings of these early church leaders that have survived. They are often collectively referred to as the Church Fathers. None of these men were Apostles or alive during the time of Christ. The earliest or their writings are from time after the Apostles were all gone. Much of their writings come hundreds of years later. While their writings are of great historical value to us, their writings are still the writings of men and not Scripture. Their writings were not chosen to be part of the NT. Jesus lived in an age where there were no recording devices. Spoken words had to be written down then copied. That is one of the reasons a criterion for writing to be part of the NT is that it had to be written by an Apostle or someone in direct contact with an Apostle. Any writing outside of that could not be trusted and had to be judged by those writings. Even today, with all our technology, we don’t have perfect or complete information about things that happened 100 – 200 years ago. There are elements of the story of the founding of the United States that are rumor and not verified fact. The Church Fathers were not writing Scripture. Their letters and other writings were their own thoughts and must be compared to Scripture. We are not free to consider their teachings on par with Scripture. Nothing is on par with Scripture. No subsequent teachings or writings. The Scriptures are the only revelation given by God for our instruction. All teachings must be based on them.

Over the centuries after Charlemagne this new Roman Church, led by the Bishop of Rome, began to expand its power and influence added many traditions and teachings not found in Scripture. While some were consistent with Scripture and allowable, others weren’t. Worse, some of these teachings and traditions were treated as equal to Scripture. Certain decisions and declarations made by this new Roman Church were considered church canon and carried the weight of the Scriptures. All the major teachings of the Roman Catholic church came into being after Charlemagne. Things like the mass, the office of the Pope, Papal infallibility, Mariology, etc. The seeds of some of these traditions may have existed earlier but were not practiced by the early church. Over centuries the Roman Catholic church claimed the authority to establish these things and declared them on par with Scripture but by what authority? They could not claim the authority of Scripture as they were adding to it. Their attempts to find support in Scripture have been contested by many and often are misinterpretations or insufficient. The fact that Peter made the summary statement when the Apostles met with Paul in Jerusalem is often cited as proof he was the early head of the church and thus the first Pope. Some claim Peter was the original organizer of the church in Jerusalem. Even if he was, that does not establish the office of the Pope. As the church scattered, some Apostles stayed primarily in Jerusalem while others made extensive missionary journeys. Naturally, they took on different roles. Paul was the leading missionary of the Apostles whereas Peter ministered more extensively in Jerusalem. Neither one was over the other. In fact, Paul later publicly called out Peter for his hypocritical behavior as recorded in Scripture. They were equals. The Apostles as a group were unique and never repeated but among them, there was no hierarchy. Scholars agree that for centuries the church had no overarching organization of leadership. No Pope can be found. It wasn’t for centuries that the Roman Catholic church sought to establish the office of the Pope and then tried to look back through history and claim a line of succession starting from Peter. Based on what? How good were their records to really know these men they were declaring Popes centuries later? Why is there no record of these men acting as some universal head of the church in their time?

We would do well at this juncture to remember what the “church” is. The church began on the day of Pentecost. Simply put, the church is the collection of believers across the world and throughout history. It is all those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus as their Lord in Savior. The church is not a building, an organization, or those who hold to certain interpretations of Scripture. While Charlemagne was establishing the Bishop of Rome (the forerunner to the Pope and one of the many titles for the Pope) the church already existed and had since the day of Pentecost. What we know as Roman Catholicism is a manmade institution created over time by those claiming authority and thereafter establishing their rule of what correct doctrine and practice should be. There has always been those outside of the Roman Catholic church that were still a part of the church. One did not have to come under the authority and practice of the Roman Catholic church to be a part of God’s church. Eventually, there was a great schism in the Roman Catholic church in 1054 which lead to the east-west split. Later, in the 15th century, the Protestant Reformation caused another schism. So which tradition is right? Is there an overall leader of the church? The answer is found in the Scriptures as it should be.

The church is all those who belong to Jesus. It is not a function of what local church or denomination they belong to. They are subject to no Pope or other ecclesiastical authority. Scripture only defines accountability to one another and to local elders. The Roman Catholic Church has priests leading their local churches across the world. Yet Biblically, Priests were unique to the OT and the Temple. They belonged to an era, pre-Christ, when man still needed representation before God in certain functions. The Book of Hebrews teaches that in Jesus the entire OT religious structure, including priests and the Temple, were done away with. Jesus became our new high priest. Scripture declares that there is now no intercessor between God and man except Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic function of the priest came about in the 2nd century when some churches began to formalize communion feeling it ought to be administered by those holding a priestly office. This is not found in Scripture. As Paul established churches, he appointed elders who were put in charge of the church but did not give any teaching as to how communion was to be celebrated. The early church met in people’s homes. There were no priests presiding over these meetings or the celebration of communion. If only a priest can preside over communion (later called by the Roman Catholic church the Eucharist) then was the early church’s practice of celebration communion invalid? Over time, the role of the priest expanded to hearing confessions and granting absolution. After Christ freed us from the need for representation, man was reinstituting it. When Jesus died on the cross, Scripture tells us the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. This was a very thick curtain made from sewing many layers of material together. Tearing such a curtain in half would be like trying to tear a phone book in half a feat very few can do. It happened in an instant and not by the hand of man. Scripture tells us that the renting of that curtain represented the removal of the veil between God and man. We no longer need sacrifices, a Temple, or priests. We have direct access to God through Jesus. We can confess our sins to Him in prayer. Why do we want to go back to the OT and have to have others ministering on our behalf when we have been given the great freedom and blessing to go directly to God! The Jews were afraid to even say the name of God. They took the vowels out of Yahweh and abbreviated it so they would not speak His name. God was always approached very formally. Yet in the NT we are told we can call God “Abba” which means father or more intimately, daddy. We have been given a great privilege, why do we reject it and feel we have to go through others? We are trying to overlay OT ritual over the NT freedom we have in Christ. Jesus described the OT law as a yoke too hard to bear. He’s freed us from that yoke! Why do we want to put it back on?

If you want to see the church that began on the day of Pentecost, read the Book of Acts but keep in mind that for the birth of the church age, God gave signs and wonders and appointed Apostles. We see them planting churches, spreading the Good News, appointment elders and deacons to carry on the work, performing signs and wonders to give testimony to the Gospel and to their unique office, and then they fade from history except through their writings. As they left us so did the signs and wonders that accompanied them and so did the office of Apostle. Their work complete, they joined their Lord in heaven. Their writings became the NT and their pattern of evangelism and church planting was left for us to carry on.

Centuries later men started to add to the church things that are not found in Scripture claiming an authority only the Apostles had. They claimed their teachings were equal to those of the Apostles. This is nothing but the work of man claiming to be the work of God. This is why our faith and our worship must be grounded on Scripture. Many have come forward in the centuries since claiming new revelations from God. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed to have received revelation from God to restore the “gospel.” With no proof the Gospel was ever lost, he preceded to offer new teaching that was not in agreement with Scripture. He set himself up as a prophet and claimed new revelations. Sadly, he deceived many and continues to today although the deception is from Satan with Joseph Smith only being Satan’s tool. Countless cults have come and gone some in bloody endings. The Roman Catholic church continues on yet has been racked in recent years with terrible revelations of child abuse often hidden by the very church that claims to be God’s true church on earth.
The church is not an organization, a denomination, a building, or a local gathering. The church is all who have put their faith in trust in Jesus Christ and who worship in spirit and in truth. It is built upon the Word of God and the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God who died for our sins and rose on the third day and will come again to judge the living and the dead. We have direct access to the Throne of Grace through Jesus Christ. We don’t need priests or prophets or those claiming special anointings. We are called the children of God and saints. Not saints as invented by the Roman Catholic church but true saints – disciples of Jesus.

Jesus had barely returned to heaven when false teachers arose. Paul wrote extensively about the Judaizers and Gnostics and other false teachers. Satan loves to counterfeit the things of God to mislead us. Church history is full of such counterfeits. Scripture must be our rock, our foundation against which all things are tested and judged. Any human organization that claims to be the true church or is headed by someone claiming to be God’s representative speaks falsehood. If we build on anything but the solid rock of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Scriptures, we build on shifting sand and what we build will not last.


Parable of the 10 Virgins

TenVirgins


Are the Sign Gifts for Today?

gifts


5G, Coronavirus, and the Antichrist. Oh my!

5G


What Comes Next?

Jesus Christ Second Coming N2 image in Vector cliparts category at pixy.org


What Christmas Means to Me

That’s What Christmas Means to Me

I don’t have decorations or a tree,
They’re not what Christmas means to me.

No stockings or cookies or gifts to see,
That’s not what Christmas means to me.

No holiday parties, no cards or carols.
You must think I’m the Grinch,
With no heart and no Christmas apparel.

It’s actually a birthday, I hope you can see.
A savior was born amid the debris,
Soon there were wise men, down on their knees.

He put aside His crown,
For the earth to come down.
He lived His life to die for you and me,
That’s what Christmas means to me.

Jesus is the reason I celebrate the day,
He was God’s gift as He lay in the hay.
So as you gaze upon the star atop your tree,
Remember that first Christmas and who was born for thee!
His love is a gift, no cost it’s free.
You just have to ask Him down on your knees.

Then next Christmas you will say indeed,
Jesus is the reason, that’s Christmas for me.


Problems with Darwinism

Darwin3

A key thing for me was their challenging the historic notion that given “enough time” an elaborate and lengthy set of conditions could come together by pure chance. Darwin’s analogy that given enough time a group of monkey’s sitting at type writers could eventually produce the collective works of Shakespeare. Just bang on those keys long enough and eventually the works of Shakespeare will appear.

Think about that analogy. Not all the keys on a type writer are letters that can begin a word. Some are not even found in words. So first the monkey has to randomly pick an appropriate key. Now that has to be followed by another random key strike that will produce the exact letter needed to follow that first letter. If that key strike is invalid, that page will never be part of the collective writings of Shakespeare. Ok, so the monkey tears that piece of paper away and tries again. Eventually he’ll get the second letter right but that assumes he first gets the first letter right. Since the monkey has no idea what he’s typing, he never knows when he’s right. It’s all “right” to him. He just types until he’s done with that sheet of paper then puts in the next. If he types a percent sign as the first letter on the page, everything he types after that is wasted because you can’t begin a sentence with a percent sign or have a standalone percent sign.

So we think it’s just a matter of time though until this group of monkeys gets it right. That analogy, though, is way too simplistic. It’s assuming they monkeys don’t break the typewriters before they write the collective works of Shakespeare. It assumes they don’t run out of paper or ribbon. It assumes they know how to load a sheet of paper into the typewriter and later take it out. It’s not just a matter of randomly hitting the correct keys. I assume his analogy included 100 monkeys because 100 could do it faster than 1. As soon as  you have more than 1 monkey though, you introduce the problem of collation. Somehow this group of monkeys all have to hit the exact right sequence of keys, change paper, and all produce the exact pages needed to create the collective works of Shakespeare. When do they start over? After how many hours of typing do you say, “those pages are no good”, throw them out, and start anew? Who decides when their done? How do they even know when to stop typing? What about the billions or trillions of bad pages they produced? What happened to all of them? Let’s assume the collective works of Shakespeare would take up 5000 typed pages. Just a guess but let’s assume that. For 100 monkeys, with infinite time, to randomly produce the exact 5000 typed pages needed they would likely have produced trillions of wasted pages. Let’s say they eventually produced the 5000 needed then died. This all took place in a giant cave. Some future humans discover the cave and we’ll assume the pages have not decayed. How are they going to discover the 5000 pages that make up the collective works of Shakespeare out of those trillions of pages? Imagine the time that would take?

Well if you have infinite time one could say you will eventually do all these things. If we were to make some reasonable estimates about how quickly a monkey can type, eject pages, load new paper, and so on then we can begin to put some framework of time around this. We can also calculate probabilities. If there are X keys on a typewriter but only Y of them are legal letters then we can calculate the probability of a monkey hitting a correct key each time (not necessarily the needed key but at least an allowable character). Oh but we need to add in some probability around how many times the monkey hits 2 or 3 keys at once and not just one. One could easily imagine that for a single monkey to correctly type one page of Shakespeare might take tens of thousands of years. Now consider you need 5000 correctly typed pages. You can start to put some time boundaries on this experiment. If the analogy is that the collective works of Shakespeare correlates to a single living organism then you need all that time just to get the first single celled organism. That is still a drop in the bucket compared to all the complex organism that make up our world. That is like moving on from producing the collective works of Shakespeare to all the works in the Library of Congress. It gets worse. Even that first organism needed those amino acids to exist, in the right temperature range, etc, etc. That presupposes a planet in the right proximity to a star with those amino acids and all of that is the product of random chance. If that is not enough to exhaust your mind, let’s ask two more questions.

If the letters on the page represent amino acids combining in an attempt to create a protein how did those amino acids know to combine and form something? How did the matter, from which the universe was formed, know to behave? How did matter learn to do anything useful? How did matter learn to form stars and planets? How did matter know when to stop forming one thing and not just keep going past the point where something useful then became useless?

Secondly, where did matter come from? Where did the monkeys get the typewriters, paper, and ribbon from?

Back to our analogy again. We can imagine this would all take a very, very, very, very, very long time. How long is long enough? What are the odds that all this could take place in the 18.5 billion years we estimate the universe is old? We will assume there were failed attempts before the present working universe existed. We won’t count those against our 18.5 billion years. We’ll say the clock started ticking with the big bang that started the present universe. Then given all the trillions of things that had to happen after that moment in the exact right sequence (this is all by chance) that 18.5 billion years later we arrive at the universe we know today, is that even close to enough time? Back to our monkeys, if the monkey has say 40 keys on the typewriter (making a number up here) and only 30 of them are usable characters in English, his got a 3 out of 4 chance of hitting a legal character each time. Not bad odds. Now what are his odds of hitting the first letter of the first character in the first work of Shakespeare? He’s got a 1 out of 26 chance of picking the correct first letter but 1 out of 4 times he’s going to hit an illegal character so the odds are less than 1 out of 26. Now with each subsequent letter the odds get worse because not only does the monkey have to hit a key representing a legal character, but it has to be the exact character that comes next in that word in that sentence of that work. It’s one thing for a monkey to randomly strike keys and type “I” and “am.” He also has to get the order right. If the Shakespearean sentence is “I am” and the monkey types “am I” he has failed. Shakespeare had quite a command of the English language and many of his words were much longer than simple words like “I” and “am.” As the words get longer, the odds of randomly typing the right keys in order, get smaller and smaller. As the sentences get longer, the odds go down and down. Now multiply that times all the pages needed. Without calculating actual probabilities, one could imagine the odds of doing this with 100 monkeys is infinitesimally small. For all that to take place in 18.5 billion years, these monkeys are going to have to randomly do the right thing early on in each sequence of key strokes. In other words, to finish in 18.5 billion years, these monkey are going to have to be incredibly lucky. I mean so lucky that it defies credulity. Now you might say it’s possible to win the lottery on the very first ticket you ever buy even if the odds of winning are 1 in 1,000,000. So it’s possible someone could do it. What if I said a group of 100 people all had to win 10,000 lotteries one single ticket purchases in 1 week. We’ll assume there were that many lotteries to play. Now you would laugh at me. You would say that’s not possible. They would need more time than a week to each win 10,000 times! You can only physically walk into so many stores and buy tickets in a week. Beyond that you have to win! You would tell me it’s impossible. No human being could do that in a week.

That’s one of the problems with Darwinism. For pure chance to have produced this universe in 18.5 billion years is just not possible. The odds are so infinitesimally small as to  be impossible. like to hide behind that ridiculous notion that somehow it all could just be correct on the first try of every of the trillion things that have to happen. Sure mathematically it’s possible but math is not always reality. In real life it is completely unreasonable to think that could all happen in 18.5 billion years even though that sounds like an awfully long time. Not when you start to grasp the number of things that have to happen, in the exact correct order, all by chance. To grab on to that belief, and treat it as fact, is insane.

We could all exist in a Matrix-like existence and our Matrix could be a dream of one person in another Matrix who is the dream of one person in another Matrix and so on. Sounds like a good movie but do you really think that is the case? Would you put any money on that in a bet (assuming we had a way to settle the bet?) If after the bet is made, the truth will be reveled, and if you bet wrong you will be killed, would you bet on that explanation? I don’t think so. So why are so many betting on Darwinism and a universe created by chance? Why are so many people completely close-minded to even considering any other explanation? Yeah, it’s insane yet that is precisely the state of our world today. We have to move beyond the real of pure theory and probability, into the rational world of reality. Just because something is theoretically possible does not make it probable. If these odds are so low that a trillion years would not be enough time, would you bet on 18.5 billion years? At what point would you say, “ok, that’s just not enough time?” At what point would you say, “that can’t be right?”

If you believe we all got here by chance, then apparently you are willing to wait for eternity before concluding that is just not the answer.

At some point, the rational mind must say, “this is not rational” and reject it.


Justification

justificationWhole books have been written on justification and imputation. I am not going to attempt to replicate them or give as full of a treatment. My purpose here is only to give an overview.

Let’s start with the term impute or imputation. It comes from Latin and is an accounting term that means “to apply to one’s account.” In finances, expenses are debited and income is credited. So, if something is imputed to you, it is credited to you or your account. The Reformer’s chose this term to differentiate it from the term the Roman Catholic church used which is infuse or infusion. When something is infused it is added to and mixed in with what is already there.  Some people have health conditions that require them to receive infused medication. Instead of receiving a pill or a shot, they spend hours hooked up to an IV that drips and infuses the medication into their blood. An example of this is chemotherapy. Theologically, the term double imputation is used. Consider 2 Cor. 5:21:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This verse (though not only this verse) shows us double imputation. The first imputation is that of ours sins being imputed to Christ: “for our sake he made him to be sin.” Our sins were not infused into Christ’s as He “knew no sin.” No, our sins were imputed to Christ. Though He had never sinned he took upon Himself all our sins. God did this so that Christ’s death could atone for our sins. Jesus had no sins of His own to atone for but by imputation, he had our sins to atone for. The second imputation is that His righteousness was imputed to us: “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The righteousness of God is a righteousness that only God can have. We can never, on our own, posses such righteousness. We become “the righteousness of God” through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Infusion says Christ’s righteousness is added to ours and it is this mixed righteousness that becomes our righteousness before God. What can we add to the righteousness of God? Since God’s righteousness is perfect and complete there is nothing we can add to it. Can you add more time to eternity? Can you add more numbers past infinity? If you have the righteousness of God then you have perfect and complete righteousness. The very righteousness of God Himself! That is what this verse teaches us. Christ took on our sin and atoned for it so that we could take on His righteousness and be saved. One theologian said that two of the most beautiful words in the Bible are for us. Jesus lived, died, and resurrected for us. For us, He took our sins upon Himself and shed His blood to atone for them and gave us His righteousness.

Underlining has been added for emphasis:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Romans 1:17)

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. (Romans 4:13)

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith (Romans 9:30)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction (Romans 3:21-22)

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:30)

Note here we become “righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Sanctification is listed as separate from righteousness and after it.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4)

“In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 23:6)

“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.” (Romans 5:17)

Note that righteousness is a gift. If it was something, even in part, we earned it would not be a gift.

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:5)

Here we see the world credited which is the same concept as imputation. This verse expressly says faith is “credited as righteousness” to “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly.” God justifies “the ungodly.” That does not sound like someone who has had Christ’s righteousness infused into his own. Were that the case, he would not be ungodly. What is credited to him as righteousness? His faith. It is his faith, not his works that are credited as righteousness.

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

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 (Romans 5:19)

for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26)

Who does God justify? The “one who has faith in Jesus.” Faith, not works.

and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil 3:9)

Again, our righteousness is not derived from the Law (works) but “through faith in Christ.” That righteousness “comes from God on the basis of faith.”

I hope these verses show that we are justified on the basis of having been imputed the righteousness of Christ on the basis of our faith in Him, itself a gift of God.

As I have previously written, sanctification necessarily follows justification. Sanctification is an ongoing and progressive work in our lives as we gradually become more and more like Jesus Christ:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6)

Sanctification is that ongoing work that God has begun and will one day perfect.

One misconception I find about salvation by faith alone, is that it becomes a license to sin. Since you are “saved by faith alone” then you can sin all you want once you express faith. Paul addressed this and wrote “May it never be!” Here is the fallacy in that. First, you can express faith but not possess faith. In other words, no expression of faith saves you unless you truly possess faith. You can say all the right words but if in your heart you don’t truly believe what you are saying then that is a counterfeit faith. Ever heard the term, “foxhole faith?” It’s been said “there are no atheists in foxholes.” In times of crisis men will sometimes cry out to God for protection or deliverance. Such faith may not be genuine. It may be just a “hail mary” (i.e. just in case God exists I will ask for his help). That’s not to say deathbed faith or foxhole faith is never genuine. God, who alone sees the heart, knows. True faith, while it can be born in a crisis, remains even when the crisis has passed. In His parable of the seed, Jesus talks about how some of the seed sown gets choked out by weeks or never grows. There are those who respond to an invitation of faith, but we see over time that their faith was not genuine. The thief on the cross, one might say, was a “foxhole believer” yet Jesus said he would be with Him that day in Paradise. While his faith might have been expressed under extreme crisis, He possessed true saving faith.

I wrote previously, that God saves us to “walk in good works He prepared beforehand for us.” If you truly possess saving faith it will produce fruit in your life. When God declares you just on the basis of Christ’s righteousness through your faith, He doesn’t just change your status from sinner to saint and then leave you alone. That is a misconception! That is not what salvation by faith alone teaches! When God saves you, He changes you. You are given a new nature. That new nature cannot help but produce faith. Thus, a changed man will not have an attitude of  “I can sin all I want because I am saved by faith alone.”

When we realize how sinful our sin is, and how Christ took our sin upon Him, how can we not want to please and obey Him? If someone saves your life, would you not be grateful to them? If we would be grateful to someone who saved our physical life, would we not be much more grateful to someone who saves our spiritual life and thus our eternal soul?

Sometimes, to try and question salvation by faith alone, people will put hypothetical questions to you like “Could you murder someone, feel no remorse, and still be saved?” My answer would be no! It’s possible a saved person could murder someone (though unlikely) but not without remorse. The Holy Spirit would convict their conscience of their sin. Usually these hypothetical questions presuppose situations that would never occur with a truly saved person. However, if you answer (even with qualification) that yes that person would still be saved, they say “Aha! See, you don’t think how someone lives matters at all. You can say you believe, live like the devil, but still be saved.” If someone is “living like the devil”, and never repents, then I would seriously question their possession of saving faith. I would suspect they never had saving faith and thus are not saved. It is exactly this time of “easy believism” that James and other NT authors write against. Their writings do not teach that we need works to be saved, but that without works we weren’t saved. God does not wait to see those works before He saves us. He saves us when we possess no good works, but transforms us such that good works necessarily follow.

I believe the key to all this, is to understand that saving faith is a gift. God choses who receives this gift. The possession and expression of saving faith is a work of God through us. Without that gift, we can express faith but it is an empty faith and not from God. We should not confuse the two. If you merely express faith without possessing it, you might “live like hell” or have an attitude that you can sin all you want because you are saved by grace, but you will be mistaken and find yourself on Judgment Day hearing “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)


James 2:24 – Faith vs Works

Hebrews111In examining the difference between the Catholic understanding of James 2:24, and the Protestant understanding, I am going to begin by asserting that the Scriptures contain no true contradictions. We may see apparent contradictions (which atheists love to point out without sharing how those apparent contradictions are resolved), but if God is the author of Scripture (which both Protestants and Catholics affirm), then God does not contradict himself. If we think there is a contradiction, then the error is with us, not God. We also must admit that all of Scripture must be considered and we cannot pull one verse out and have it stand on its own. We must consider not only the immediate context but the context of all of Scripture.

Some people think they see a contradiction between Paul’s teachings and James’. They say Paul teaches salvation by faith alone whereas James says saving faith requires works. Who’s right? If we begin with our earlier assumption, that Scripture contains no contradictions, then we must dig deeper if we are to resolve this apparent contraction.

In Ephesians, Paul writes:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB emphasis added)

Here, Paul clearly states that we are “saved through faith”, and to further clarify salvation is by faith alone, Paul adds “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” His words are very clear as is his meaning. Salvation is by faith alone. Yet, in verse 10, Paul concludes that we (those saved) are God’s workmanship “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Why does Paul add this right on the heels of saying salvation is by faith alone? Why mention works at all? Paul does so to show that good works are something God “prepared beforehand” so that we would “walk in them.” In other words, God has prepared good works for us to do once we are saved. God does not save us and then leave us as we were. He gives us a new heart, a new nature, no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness.

Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18)

As the saying goes, salvation is by faith alone but faith is never alone. In order for us to walk in those good works God prepared beforehand for us, we must first be saved and changed. God must swap our old heart dead in sin, for a new heart that is a slave to righteousness. Then, and only then, can we walk in those good works prepared beforehand for us.

In Romans, Paul spends a lot of time contrasting the Jewish understanding of salvation with true salvation. The Jews thought that works made them righteous. God gave them the law and they thought by keeping the law they would make themselves righteous. Yet none of them (or us) could perfectly keep the law. James writes:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

You don’t have to break every law. If you break even one, you are guilty of breaking all. It’s interesting that James (who some think is arguing for works salvation) would say this. If our works are necessary for salvation, what happens when we stumble on one point? We become guilty of breaking all the Law. Since none of us (save Christ) can keep the whole Law perfectly, how can we hope to be righteous on our own when even one failure makes us guilty of breaking the entire Law? Obviously, we can’t be righteous on our own.

Back in Romans, Paul anticipates the person who heard his words thinks that if salvation is by faith alone, by God’s grace, then why not go on sinning? After all, our sins are forgiven and covered by God’s grace! Paul answers that thought with an emphatic negative when he writes:

Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Romans 6:15)

So, we are saved by faith, not works, and we are now slaves to righteousness but if we stumble in even one point of the Law, we are guilty of breaking the whole Law. Thankfully, Paul adds that we are now under grace and no longer under the Law. Therefore, we do not have to keep the whole Law perfectly. Does that mean the Law was pointless and of no importance? Paul answers this:

So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12)

The problem, Paul writes, is not the Law but rather sin which dwells in us. The Law itself is holy and righteous and good. Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus perfectly kept the Law and thus fulfilled it. When we believe, we receive the righteousness of Christ. We are justified. It is “just as if” we never sinned.

We already saw that Paul says that once we are saved, we are no longer slaves to sin. We are slaves to righteousness instead. He goes on to say:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22)

After having been freed from sin (a result of salvation) we derive a benefit namely sanctification (that change and the walking in the good works God prepared beforehand). The ultimate outcome is eternal life.

Given that, how are we to understand Jame’s writing?

If we return to our assumption that Scripture does not contradict itself, then there is only one possible way to understand James. He is writing to warn us, that true saving faith will produce good works. This should not surprise us, as early we read that we were to walk in the good works prepared beforehand for us by God. So works are a necessary and guaranteed outcome of saving faith. Only God can see the heart. Anyone can claim to have been saved based on a confession of faith. Faith though is not just a matter of saying certain words. You have to mean what you say and truly put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savoir.

People have all kinds of mistaken ideas about salvation. They think if you were baptized or if you attend church or if you “lead a good life” you will go to heaven. Other ideas abound. Yet none of these things save you. In multiple places in the NT, we are told to test or examine ourselves to see if our faith is genuine. There could be nothing worse than thinking you are saved when in fact you are not. Scripture does not give a list of required characteristics of someone who is saved, but by studying Scripture you can arrive at a pretty good idea of the kinds of that ought to be true of a believer, and if you see these things in your life, and you’ve put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, you can know you are saved.

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. ” (2 Peter 1:10-11)

Much of what James writes is about those marks of a true believer. James contrasts for us the true believer from the false believer. To quote John MacArthur “The error James assails is faith without works; justification without sanctification; salvation without new life.” (https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA81/does-james-2-contradict-romans-4)

Someone who thinks they are saved because they prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, or did some other religious act, will have to examine themselves by James’ words. They say they are saved. James said, show me your salvation by your works. James point is that faith without works is a dead faith because true saving faith will always produce good works as we saw earlier. God has prepared “beforehand” good works for the believer to walk in. If we are not walking in good works, then we have a problem and better be questioning our faith to make sure we have not deluded ourselves into thinking we are saved when we aren’t.

The issue between Protestants and Catholics is that Catholics say salvation requires sanctification and thus is not by faith alone. Yet if we make sanctification a requirement for salvation then salvation requires works and Paul clearly wrote that salvation is a free gift of God based on faith alone (not on works that no man should boast…). At times I almost think Protestants and Catholics are saying the same thing but differently. Protestants affirm a saved person will show the fruit of sanctification by good works. If not, they presumably were not ever saved. The exception, of course, would be someone whose salvation happened immediately before death or some severe health crisis (a coma for example) and thus is not able to show the fruit of sanctification. Such a person is still saved. The thief on the cross is the classic example given. Thus, from the Protestant perspective, a saved person will be sanctified. It’s just that sanctification is a process that begins after salvation. Catholics say you have to have sanctification in order to be saved. They allow the exception of the thief on the cross saying he lacked the opportunity to become sanctified (sounds like he was saved by faith alone…). For them, sanctification must happen before salvation. So both say faith is required for salvation. Both say sanctification is a mark of a believer. The difference is when sanctification occurs. Does it come after salvation (Protestant view), or before (and a requirement for) salvation?

If Scripture contains no contradictions, then the answer must be after salvation or Paul’s statement that salvation is by faith alone, not by works, could not be true. To take the Catholic view, you must conclude Paul is wrong in saying salvation is by faith alone.

I don’t know why the Catholic church wants to add sanctification to faith (presumably their understanding of Scripture though to my mind it requires the belief in a contradiction in Scripture). I can see some human reasons why someone might want to add sanctification. One reason is that salvation by faith alone leaves man out of the equation. Since we are told that our faith is a gift of God, then man has nothing to boast about. He can’t say “I did my part.” He can’t say “my salvation is 99% God and 1% me.” No it’s 100% God. Human pride wants to believe we played some part in our salvation. In the Catholic view, you get this. Even though they say faith is from God and sanctification is from God, yet they believe that a single “mortal” sin is sufficient to completely kill all of the grace you possess and send you to hell. They believe you have free will to choose whether or not to commit a mortal sin so in the end, you could always say “I chose not to commit a mortal sin” and therefore I played a small part in my salvation.

I also think we like the idea because we want a way to measure ourselves. We want to make examining ourselves easier.  If we can say, I’ve done good works and never committed a mortal sin, then we can feel good about ourselves. From the church’s perspective, it is a good way to keep the faithful in line. If you feel like you better have good works and need to avoid mortal sins, then you’ll tend to do as you’re told. Fear can be a powerful motive. That’s one thing I found sad about my Catholic mother and other Catholics I have known. While they all felt they would go to heaven, they were never totally sure. There was that fear that after leading a good and faithful life they might lose it all with a mortal sin or get to heaven and find out they did not have enough good works. The Apostle John wrote:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:15-18)

Notice John says that “we may have confidence in the day of judgment.”  He also says that perfect love casts out fear. We don’t need to be fearful about our eternal state. Or, as Paul puts it:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

The word translated “know”, is in the perfect tense in Greek. That means it speaks of a permanent knowledge and the Greek word means to know with absolute certainty without a doubt. Therefore, if we can know with a permanent, absolute knowledge that we are saved, then there is no reason to fear and no chance we can lose that salvation which is an issue for the Catholic belief in a class of sins known as mortal sins.

So, in conclusion, if we can know now that we have eternal life, and have no reason to fear, then our salvation is sure. We cannot lose it. We are saved by faith alone, a faith that is a gift of God. That faith is followed by a lifetime of sanctification as we walk in the good works prepared beforehand for us. There is so much more than could be said, but I will stop here.

Why is this important? Paul said if anyone gives you another gospel, other than the one he delivered, such a person should be anathema (cursed or excommunicated). If we love the truth then we cannot tolerate a lie. A salvation that includes works as a requirement, is a lie. Some Catholics will say, they do not believe in works salvation but rather faith plus sanctification. They try to say sanctification is not a work. What is sanctification then? It is a process in which we live according to our new nature and walk in good works. What Catholics are saying, is that your faith must be accompanied by a sanctified life that produces righteousness. Not as a result of salvation but as a requirement of it. That is by works. If you read the anathemas of the Catholic Council of Trent, anyone believing salvation is by faith alone is to be anathema. According to the Catholic church, this is a grievous error. If so, then we must say their misunderstanding of salvation, and teaching others the same, is also most grievous. You cannot have it both ways. You are either saved by faith alone or faith plus works. Paul answered the question for us; salvation is by faith alone.


Differences: Catholicism vs the Bible

I grew up Roman Catholic. My Mom was a devout Catholic so I did it all from infant baptism to first communion and confirmation plus catechism classes every Sunday until I graduated from high school.

There was a kid at my high school who was in my class but I did not know him well. He approached me in the spring of my freshman year and asked if he could share the “Four Spiritual Laws” with me (Campus Crusade for Christ pamphlet). I said he could but would not have time after school until track season ended. With about 2 weeks left in the school year we met in a classroom after school. I can still picture the room. He went through the booklet and asked me if I wanted to pray to receive Christ into my heart.

Now after all those years of Catholic education you would think I would have told him I already had Christ in my heart. After all I had been baptized and confirmed. I had committed no mortal sins. Yet I wanted to pray that prayer. I felt no pressure. It was just him and me and God. I didn’t care what this kid thought of me. I knew, by the grace of God, that I needed to give my life to him.  Those things I had done as a Catholic were just a matter of following the plan. You did those things because it was time and expected. I don’t recall the nuns ever saying confirmation, for example, was optional and we shouldn’t participate if we weren’t sure. I imagine my mom would have been perplexed had I announced I didn’t want to get confirmed and the nuns would have been talking to me… It’s not that I didn’t want to get confirmed when that time came but I did it because it was expected. I didn’t really feel like I was making a commitment or a decision. It wasn’t being done on my initiative. Now I was deciding on my initiative that I wanted to give my life to Christ. No one knew what was happening that afternoon except me, this boy, and God. So I prayed.

The heavens didn’t open and I felt no different, though I felt at peace. Yet what a change started in me! We had an over sized, soft covered, gold edged, Catholic Bible sitting on our coffee table at home collecting dust. My Mom had filled out the section at the front with birth dates and such but otherwise that Bible was never opened. No one told me to read the Bible. Not the kid at school, not the nuns or priests, not my parents. The Holy Spirit led me to pick that Bible up and start reading. I started in Genesis and over several months read to the end of Revelation. I became the first person in my family to read the entire Bible. Over the remaining three years of high school I read that Bible completely three more times. Not normal reading for most high school kids especially kids who went to the Catholic Church and had no one encouraging them to read the Scriptures. I learned so much. I quickly learned far more than I ever learned at church or in those Catechism classes. As I read, I encountered truths that did not agree with doctrine taught by the Catholic Church. Once you read the Bible for yourself, you realize it’s not that complicated or difficult to understand. A few things are, but not the Gospel and many, many other things. I didn’t need a priest to tell me what those passages meant. No priest or Pope could be a better teacher than the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God.

My faith was now in Christ. He was my mediator. Not a church, not a priest or Pope. In time I left the Catholic Church after sharing the Gospel with a priest at the church. He believed that people were leaving the Catholic Church because they wanted something nicely laid out for them in black and white whereas in the Catholic faith you had to think for yourself and wrestle with the gray. I will grant there are some Protestant churches that overstep Scripture and try to run people’s lives, but most just teach the Word of God and let us pray and decide how to respond to it. Scripture is usually pretty clear. In the Catholic Church everything has to be approved and blessed. Priests read everything when saying the Mass. Other then their homily (mini sermon) the rest is all scripted. Altar boys and girls hold open books for them to read their prayers from. That seems a lot more black and white to me.

I have Catholic friends and it always strikes me how they talk a lot in terms of their church. It’s the church this and the church that. When they have questions, they don’t turn to Scripture, they go ask a priest. I was talking to a Catholic lady friend the other night, and she shared how she went to her priest to ask him about sex before marriage because a friend had asked her and she wanted to know for her and her friend. At first I was shocked she didn’t know the answer. She’s in her 50’s and been a lifelong Catholic. How could she not know? Then I was sad because she’s probably never read the Bible because if she had she’d know the answer. I asked her what answer the priest gave her. This was an 89 yr old man who had been a priest since his 20’s. Not someone you would expect to hesitate to answer such a question. His answer was not an answer at all but merely an irrelevant observation. He said that people today have a lot more sex than they used to. I asked her if he said anything else and she said no. She then added that “he didn’t say it was wrong.” True, but really he didn’t say anything. Perhaps she made that remark because that’s the answer she was looking for? I can understand her thinking that he is an ordained priest charged with shepherding the faithful so he would be obligated to tell her if something was sin even if he knew that wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear. Therefore, it was (in her mind) reasonable to assume his lack of prohibition against premarital sex was implied permission. Sad that a supposed minister of God could not give a straight answer or quote a single Scripture. Maybe that is what my old priest meant when he said people liked these Protestant churches because they made everything so black and white. What he should have said, is that they use the Bible to answer questions, and if the Bible clearly addresses the issue then there’s the answer. My friend’s priest left her with a non-answer, total murky gray.

When we stand before God, the question won’t be “did you believe in the church and put your faith and trust in her?” No! It will be “did you believe in Jesus Christ and put your faith and trust in Him?” Yet millions of Catholics are trusting in their church for their salvation. They don’t know the Gospel. I never heard it in the Catholic Church. Yes there are some Catholics who have come to know the Gospel and accepted it. Praise God! Some say they have stayed in the church hoping to reform it. How did that workout for Martin Luther? They will never grow if they stay in a church that won’t teach the Word. If I were to ask my friend why she didn’t just open a Bible and find the answer I am sure she would say it was quicker to ask her priest as after-all he has already studied these things. If she is depending on her church to teach her all she needs to know for life and salvation then her faith is in her church and not in

the Lord. Church teaching is all well and good but we are called to be like the believers in Berea who did not just take the Apostle Paul’s word but searched the Scriptures to see if he was teaching the truth. Do Catholics think their priests or even the Pope is greater than the Apostles? If Paul commended them to search and check the Scriptures for themselves would he not say the same to us today?

I am so thankful, God is His grace, gave me faith and led me to read His Word. What a treasure so many miss out on. How can we hope to obey and serve God if we don’t even read His words to us?


The Church

Hallgrímskirkja

Here in the first world, we live in an interesting time in church history. I can’t drive a few miles without passing a number of churches. Even if I narrow the list to Christian churches, there are still dozens and dozens of Christian churches within a 30 minute drive of my home. These include both denominational and non-denominational churches.

Many of these churches only differ in superficial ways. Perhaps its their style of music, their informal atmosphere, or allegiance to a denomination. Some sing traditional worship music while others prefer contemporary. Yet we all preach from the same Bible and share the same fundamentals of the faith.

Having many churches is not bad. It does help keep the body sizes smaller and more intimate than having fewer larger churches. It also makes gathering together easier with less time spent driving. You might actually go to church with neighbors. Yet there are downsides to all these choices.

For one thing, there is a lot of money tied up in the many facilities of all these churches. Facilities that often sit empty and lightly used six days of the week. How many churches are in debt paying off building loans while other churches meet in school gymnasiums waiting to have enough money to buy land and build? How many pastors hold back in their preaching for fear of offending someone and seeing donations decline where the budget will no longer support the payments on the debt? One thing I will say for the Mormons (who I do not consider Christian), is their sharing of facilities. Often 3 wards, what we might call a church, share a single facility. Of course some churches have multiple services and use their facility quite a bit, but there are many small churches that have but one service per Sunday and could easily share with another church. Think of the money that could be saved and spent helping those in need or supporting missionaries?

Another downside, is the fracturing of the body. When we keep starting new churches around some non-essential doctrine or preference, it can lead to a judgmental attitude and a lack of unity among Christians. I know of churches, for example, who are opposed to age segregated classes. Parents keep their children with them in the service. After awhile it is tempting for families in such a church to think that their way is THE way and age segregation is anti-family and anti-Biblical. I’ve seen churches that will only sing Psalms and Hymns and only allow a piano or organ. I’ve heard comments like “That church sings contemporary music!” as though that marks them as a carnal church. Our distinctives start to become essentials of the faith. We become fractured and often look down upon Christians who worship in a different way than ourselves.

One thing that concerns me about the modern church is what I consider a confusion about it’s mission. A saying I heard many years ago sums up my feelings nicely:

The purpose of the church gathered, is to worship God and edify the saints.
The purpose of the church scattered, is to seek and save the lost.

In other words, the local body meets to worship and equip. It is our time to gather as a community of believers for worship, equipping, and to love and serve each other. The rest of the week, when the church is scattered, we are to be evangelists to our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. We still worship privately and we still seek edification but we are no longer surrounded by our church family. We are being living witnesses in our jobs, our schooling, in our neighborhoods, at soccer games and Little League. We are all called to be evangelists in both word and deed.

Yet we live in a post-Christian society with declining church attendance. To combat this, many churches have tried to be more “seeker sensitive” and break away from what they see as traditional church to something more contemporary and relevant. The thought is that most people today don’t want that traditional, stuffy, boring, old time Christianity. They want something contemporary, alive, relevant, exciting… So we serve coffee, inject our services with drama, video clips, and large worship teams. We try to keep the preaching upbeat and practical. We want the unchurched (be they non-believers or those who gave up on church) to come.

I have one problem with that. While I agree the church should strive to be “all things to all men”, and adapt to the culture where Biblically permissible, it should not lose sight of it’s mission which when gathered is to “worship God and edify the saints.” Too often such churches serve only milk (i.e. elementary teaching) and never serve meat. The body never grows beyond adolescence. In seeking to keep the teaching upbeat and relevant, the pastor(s) pick and choose topics and never preach the “whole counsel of God.” Topics that might be taken negatively are passed over. Nothing potentially controversial or convicting is spoken of. Yet is not “all scripture” valuable for edification and reproof (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? Some such churches will explain that they have small weekday groups where more meaty topics can be discussed yet Sunday is the one day most people can attend and the number one teaching opportunity of the church. If we gear our messages to the unbelievers attending, we fail to equip the saints.

Everyone should be welcome and made to feel welcome yet the goal is to worship and edify from the whole counsel of God. That is why I personally prefer teaching that is verse-by-verse, and book-by-book. It is the only way to ensure you preach the whole counsel of God. It also has the added benefit of teaching everything in context as God’s Word was given to us as books and letters and not topically arranged. Such teaching helps you to understand the author, his audience, and the context of the passages. Such teaching though is difficult to find anymore. Topical teaching has all but taken over and having catchy titles for topical series is all the rage now. I’ve even seen churches advertise a series with a title like “How to have great sex!” The series was actually about how to have a good and loving marriage which in turn is the best recipe for great sex, but the title was chosen to be eye grabbing and elicit curiosity. Whose eyes are they trying to catch? I would think the saints would not need such eye glitter which is clearly aimed at those outside the church.

This also leads to the abdication of evangelism to the “professionals.” Many modern Christians think evangelism is inviting someone to church where the professionals can take over. Granted, it’s a lot easier to invite someone to church than share the gospel with them. Yet many will not come to church with you until and unless they see something different in your life that attracts them. Your actions and your words might be the greatest chance for them to believe. There is nothing wrong with altar calls or other forms of invitation at church services, but the primary purpose of our services should be corporate worship and edification, not evangelism. If we get to the point where everything about our church is catering to non-believers, we have missed the mark.

We’ve become too preoccupied with church growth as the measure of success. I would suggest that the true measure of success is the maturing of the body and that growth will be a natural outcome of such maturing. As the saints deepen in their faith, holiness, and are fully equipped, they will be busy seeking and saving the lost and we will see growth. Even if we don’t, that does not mean we are doing something wrong. If we are truly living in the End Times, as some believe, we may not see growth. We live in a post-Christian society that is growing increasingly secular. Our job is to find those whom the Lord has gifted with faith to bring into the fold knowing that the number may be dwindling. If we measure success by the maturing of the body, the numbers will not matter. If there is no turnover and the body just keeps aging, then we should re-examine that maturity and make sure the body is sharing it’s faith.

For me there is rest in the sovereignty of God. If we are doing our jobs and sharing our faith, and watering it with our prayers, then God will bring the harvest but according to His plan and will. We cannot make anyone believe. We can only share the Good News and pray. If growth comes, praise God! If growth is small, praise God! As long as we are being faithful we need not worry over numbers.

My fear is that many of these seek-sensitive churches are full of baby believers and non-believers. There is little maturing going on. We’ve made it so comfortable to be there and not change that there is little reason to change and little opportunity to do so. I appreciate those times I walk away from a sermon deeply convicted, even remorseful. I know the Holy Spirit is working on me. Churches that try to keep everything upbeat and positive and fail to teach the convicting things, are not doing their jobs.

We live in an age where opportunities to share the Gospel are like never before in human history. We have churches on every street corner, the Internet, TV, radio, books, magazines, … Yet I see a weakening church with members with little grounding. Christianity has become too easy, too comfortable at least here. There are places in the world where being a Christian costs a lot. Just to be able to gather to worship is huge in some places. Worrying about the style of music or age segregated classes are not even concerns. Perhaps we could learn from them.


The Great Secularization of America

Christmas is always a touchy time of year. It’s America’s favorite holiday but also fraught with political correctness. Afraid of offending customers, retailers long ago changed the season’s greetings from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.” Nativities and other public displays of the Christian celebration of Christmas were banned from public display. The holiday tunes played in the background at stores were cleansed to remove the more religious ones.

Christmas in America is big business. Estimates put annual retail sales during the Christmas season at 30%. That is almost one third of annual sales done in a little over a month. We have Black Friday and Cyber Monday and a plethora of sales and daily specials. No parent wants their children to wake up Christmas morning to a tree not laden with presents. We go into debt and run around like chickens with their heads cutoff looking for presents, buying wrapping paper, getting holiday meal fixings, and whatever else needed to fulfill the expectations of the holidays. It is a month plus dance that is over all too quickly as children rip through unopened presents. What took hours to shop for an wrap are opened in a matter of seconds.
I read an interesting article in USA Today by Tom Krattenmaker. The title of his article is “Jesus doesn’t need Christianity. His example is powerful without any religion at all.” The crux of his article is that Jesus is a great moral example and if we just separate him from the religious beliefs about him, then we have something honorable we can all celebrate. Just separate Jesus from his claim to be the divine Son of God and view him as a philosopher and teacher and bingo – problem solved.

Of all the world’s major religions, Jesus is unique. He alone claimed to be God. Mohammed only claimed to be a prophet. Confucius and Buddha were teachers not gods. None of these men predicated their own death and resurrection and rose from the dead. If you take the divinity from Jesus and he’s just another holy man, guru, sage, with insights we can benefit from. To quote Krattenmaker,

“If secular people can focus on the values and teachings of Jesus without getting tripped up by the religious context — which comes naturally for some, not so easily for others — they might find a surprisingly relevant source of guidance and uplift.”

Does that sound much different than this description of Buddha by Barbara O’Brien?

“The Buddha who lived 2,600 years ago was not a god. He was an ordinary person, named Siddhartha Gautama, whose profound insights inspired the world.”
You could almost rewrite her description of Buddha so it reads:

“The Christ who lived 2018 years ago was not a god. He was an ordinary person, named Jesus of Nazareth, whose profound insights inspired the world.”
For years secularists and atheists have sought to eliminate Jesus but failed. Atheistic dictators from Stalin and the communists in China have sought to eliminate all religion including Christianity yet underground churches have sprung up all over their lands. Since that strategy has failed, “if you can’t beat ’em, redefine them.” The problem isn’t Jesus, it’s relgion and the religious beliefs about him. That’s what causes division and offense. So simple. Secularize Jesus and focus on his moral teachings and now you have a Jesus we can all celebrate. As Krattenmaker put it:

“Just as the person of Jesus came before Christianity, so might the figure of Jesus — philosopher, teacher, moral exemplar — outlast American Christendom.”
Of course Kratternmaker is wrong. Jesus IS Christianity. He did not come before it. God’s plan of redemption and sacrifice began long before Jesus’ advent in the life of the nation of Israel. Jesus’ incarnation was the continuation and culmination of God’s plan of redemption. To say Jesus came before Christianity is like saying Martin Luther King Jr came before Civil Rights. Christianity was not founded by the followers of Jesus after his death. Jesus discipled them to carry on and spread the faith after his resurrection. Christianity is not a man-made religion started after Jesus’ death. Jesus started Christianity.

It’s true America is in it’s post-Christian era. While belief in “God” is still prevalent, what “God” means to people is all over the map. A century ago when people said “God” they meant the Judeo-Christian God. Not “God” can mean anything and everything. Even among church goers faith is down. Many attend out of a sense of tradition more than a sense of conviction.
Christian author Josh McDowell wrote a classic book titled “Evidence That Demands a Verdict.” In it he says you have three choices when it comes to Jesus: He is either Lord, liar, or lunatic. Jesus claimed to be God, a claim which caused the Jewish leaders to label him a blasphemer and seek his death. They did not view him as a harmless moral teacher. They viewed him as a liar who blasphemed by claiming to be God. To the Romans he was a harmless lunatic crucified ultimately because the Roman governor Pilate feared unrest and how it would affect his career even though he believed Jesus to be innocent of anything deserving death. His disciples and millions or billions since viewed him as Lord. God incarnated. You cannot reduce Jesus to a mere man who had inspiring insights. If he is not God then he is either a liar or a lunatic. Are liars and lunatics the source of inspiring insights?

There may be a post-Christian place for Jesus in America but if so it will be the latest chapter in the great secularization of America. We’ve tried to eliminate Jesus, marginalize Jesus, but those efforts have failed. So now we will embrace him but not the real Jesus but a homogenized Jesus who gives no offense. We are seeking harmony by blending the moral teachings of the world’s religions to something we can all embrace. Religion is being replaced by philosophy and personal truth. Absolute truth is strictly forbidden. Embrace the moral teachings of Jesus and that’s okay. To claim, as Jesus did, that he is “the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through {him} me” and now you are offensive and intolerant.
I do agree with a sentiment expressed by James S. Robbins, in another USA Today op-ed piece. He writes:

“Americans have a right to celebrate holidays in whatever manner they wish, and not to be shamed and bullied by the PC police. People are only driven further apart when they are forced to walk on eggshells out of fear that some sullen victim-in-waiting will take exaggerated offense at their innocent, heartfelt expressions of good cheer.”
He goes on to say:

“People should say Merry Christmas — or Happy Hanukkah, Happy Diwali, Eid Mubarak, or any other holiday greeting proudly and happily, and hope others will take it in the festive spirit it is offered. Americans can — and should — be kind and joyful for each other, no matter what they believe.”

Isn’t that true diversity? We preach the value of diversity and how our differences make us stronger yet when it comes to Christianity that is one diversity we don’t see as worthy of inclusion. We celebrate some types of diversity while attempting to homogenize others. Sadly some Christians will seek the path of least resistance and embrace this watered down, homogenized Christianity. The true followers of Jesus will not hesitate to say Merry Christmas and celebrate a risen Lord rather than an easter bunny. This is the wake up call the church in America has needed. Too long now American Christianity has been easy. It has not cost us much. It’s when our faith comes at a price that we find out how real it is.
Without Jesus there is no Christendom. Strip Him of his divinity and you are left with a liar or a lunatic. America turns her back on God to her own peril. While humanity possesses more knowledge than ever before in history. our knowledge has proven to be foolishness as we are rejecting our Creator. As the Bible says, “There is a way that seems right unto man, but in the end leads to destruction.”


The Foolishness of Humanity

When I think about all the bright minds in the world and the things we’ve discovered and created, it makes me sad that so much thought and money has gone into things that either do not benefit mankind or that benefit for a profit when a less profitable but perhaps better or more lasting solution might exist.

Take the military for example. We have 5th generation fighters and bombers that can reduce their radar signature to that of thimble making them virtually invisible. We have jets that through various thrust nozzles can literally stand on end and “walk” across the sky. We have smart bombs that can fly through an open window and destroy a building with amazing precision. Now the 6th generation is upon us where operator less drones will fight in future wars. Some voices even warn that AI (artificial intelligence) will one day be the downfall of humanity. You need only watch the movie series The Matrix to see such a scenario.

Men have orbited the earth, walked on the moon, sent unmanned spacecraft across the Solar System and beyond. Talk of putting humanity on Mars is not that far fetched or far off. Time does not permit for me to mention our advances in medicine and computers and so much more. Yet for all these accomplishments we still have people starving, children dying, and families living outdoors exposed to the elements. We see women preyed upon and sold as sex slaves and all manner of evil existing upon this earth. For all our brilliance humanity has done little to solve the same basic problems that has plagued us from the beginning. Some will blame it on population growth or communism or greed. There are a million reasons but they mostly boil down to one fundamental truth that God gave us thousands of years ago. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said that sin starts within. It is in the wickedness of our hearts that sin is conceived. We lust for what we don’t have. We steal, we attack, we torture to get what we want. Did Hitler start a world war to benefit humankind? Did Stalin really care for his countrymen as he imprisoned and put to death millions of them? Can you even begin to understand the evil in someone’s heart who could lure a young woman into their control then put her on drugs and sell her body to whoever will pay? The problem for most of us is that we don’t live close enough to see these evils with our own eyes. Yet its not “out there” far away, it is all around us and in us. Some of us might be just as wicked were our circumstances different.

We collectively spend trillions of dollars on our militaries to fight or deter wars yet think of what all that money could do if spent on more worthwhile endeavors like curing cancer or providing enough food and clean water and medicine to everyone in the world. What if all those brilliant minds that spent their days figuring out how to kill with weapons more efficiently were instead retasked with solving age-old problems like hunger and sickness? It comes down to priorities.  The United States has never won a World Cup. We are a rich nation of approximately 300 million and have many great athletes yet the focus here has never been on soccer. Nations much, much smaller than the US regularly field teams that are much better than the best we have. I’ve often thought that if we didn’t have football (American football that is) and all of that talent was funneled into other sports just how much better at soccer might we be? Not all football players would excel at soccer but surely some would. Those speedy wide receivers, cornerbacks, and running backs might be awfully good if they grew up playing soccer and never went into football. Other nations best us at soccer because they live and breath it and every child in their country grows up idolizing their soccer stars and their nations take great pride in the success of their national teams. While all but a few lacks the resources of the US their focus enables them to exceed us in this one sport. Now imagine if humanity’s focus was on solving world hunger or sex trafficking or pollution? Imagine what could be accomplished? Instead we are like American and soccer. Oh we like it a little and we’ve had some success but we still lack the sheer passion and popularity to rival those nations that dominate the sport. For our great love of American football we get little return on that investment in the international sports because outside of North America football is simply not played. The rest of the world doesn’t care. No harm, no foul because football is a sport and it hardly matters whether or not the US has a competitive soccer team. US soccer fans might beg to differ but part of what makes this world so interesting is that we are not all clones. We have major sports played all over the world but also have more regional or country specific sports that are still greatly enjoyed. I don’t know if Australian Rules Football is played outside of Australia but I am sure the people there love it. We don’t have to all be equally passionate about the same sports. Yet some things should have a shared passion. Who among us is ok with starving? Who wants to be sick and have no access to medical care? Who wants to be forced into slavery? I think we can all agree to those things. Yet our wickedness forces us to spend trillions on weapons and soldiers to fight wars we hope we never have to fight. We spend billions on creating and maintaining a nuclear arsenal in the hopes its very existence will prevent it from ever being used. While I understand the rationale and won’t deny it has worked, if you step back for a moment and really think about it you realize how incredible insane that is! We have people dying of hunger, women or young girls forced into being sex slaves, we are polluting our earth, and we terrorize each other and these problems must wait because we need to spend billions on weapons we pray we never will use. Just ponder that for a moment.

Can we solve all the world’s problems with money? No. Can all the brightest minds solve all the world’s problems? No. There are no easy or sure answers to many of these issues but wouldn’t you just love to see what we could come up with if we did put our focus on those and other problems? We may not cure cancer but what if we could make it so cancer no longer was a death sentence? What if everyone could get good and affordable healthcare and life saving drugs didn’t have to consume your life savings?  Imagine that?

I am not the first to imagine that and a famous songwriter and musician had his own thoughts on the problem. His name was John Lennon. He wrote the song “Imagine.” While he imagined a way in which all these problems could be solved his solution would never work. Why? Because he did not consider that the heart of man is desperately wicked. In his imagination there were no countries so no need to fight over borders or resources. He imagined no possessions so we all shared and shared alike. No religion so nothing to live or die for. Somehow this produced a “brotherhood of man” in his imagination. His solution to the problem was to take away all those things are wicked hearts lust for so we would no longer have them to fight over. Yet only pure hearts would live without possessions, could live without borders, could be a true brotherhood. The fundamental truth is: unless you change the heart of man you cannot change the actions of man.

We know this but we lack the means to pursue it. We know instinctively that incarcerating a criminal will not necessarily take the criminal nature away. Once freed many former prisoners return to a life of crime. In prison you removed them from society so they could not practice crime. Once back in society their nature was to be criminals again. Thus, in some corners we seek to reform criminals. If we can get them to see the error of their ways and learn a new way then perhaps they can return to society and no longer be criminals. Free a criminal and he will return to his criminal ways. Rehabilitate a criminal and he will become a productive member of society. So why is it not that simple? Aside from resource limitations it comes down to unchanged hearts. Rehabilitation can work and sometimes does and is certainly better than strict incarceration but its success rate is nowhere near 100%. You see ONLY GOD can fix the wicked hearts of humanity. If we continue to seek solutions apart from God, we will continue to live apart from the life God created us for. There is only one answer. JESUS.

Oh, but how we HATE simple solutions! We’d rather pay thousands for some drug with a million side effects than pay nothing and change the way we eat or get out and get some exercise. We’d rather lose tens of thousands of dollars (or more) to get a divorce then learn to love each other. We want the quick fix not the real fix. This highlights the other problem. We want to sit on the throne of our life and the second anyone tells us what we need to do we bristle at that! We are so desperate to hold onto control that we reject the loving guidance of the very ONE who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves. The very ONE who loves us so much He sent his Son to DIE for us. We are forced to accept that we are controlled by governments and employers but we cling for all we’ve got to our free will and we will not submit it to God. God sent us the solution in the person of Jesus Christ and what did humanity do? They crucified him. That was a big fat NO THANK YOU GOD! We not only don’t want your solution but we are going to kill your only son just to really let you know how we feel.

No can you imagine having incurable cancer and a doctor comes to your door with a treatment that will cure you of your cancer but you’re going to have to make some lifestyle changes you’d rather not make. So, you not only decline his treatment but you shoot him in the head to send a message to those who sent him that you want NO PART OF THEIR TREATMENT. Apparently, you’d rather die than give up control of your life! You might say that’s ridiculous and no one would ever do that yet how many people have died from lung cancer who could have simply given up cigarettes and never contracted it? Lung cancer from smoking cigarettes is 100% preventable! Not a single person needs ever die that way. According to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, 80% of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarette smoking resulting in the deaths of more than 7 million people globally each year. Sad isn’t it? Yet these people suffer from a terrible addiction that can be very hard to break. In the name of free choice corporations exist that make millions of dollars of profit from selling the cigarettes that kill these people. You see even when we know the way to prevent our death we still often fail to do so. Without God’s help we are powerless to do the very things we know we need to do. John Lennon’s solution sounds good on paper but without God changing hearts it will never work. I will agree with him on having “no religion” but only if we accept the definition that religion is man’s attempt to know God whereas Christianity is God’s revelation of truth to man. Lies divide but the truth unifies. It is not by having “nothing to live or die for” that we find true freedom. Jesus said “the truth shall set you free.” Freedom comes from knowing God through his Son Jesus Christ. In that truth is the power to not only know what you need to do but the power to do it.

That’s good news! Maybe that’s why they call it the “Good News” 😉 You’ve heard the expression “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. Which do you want first?” The bad news is that we are sinners clinging to our thrones and unless we accept God gracious offer of forgiveness and love we will die in our sins eternally separated from God. He won’t force it on us. We can choose to continue to sit on our thrones and suffer. We can go to our graves separated from Christ singing “I did it my way.” We can then spend eternity separated from Him because we rejected Him. God not only won’t force Himself upon you now but He won’t force Himself upon after you die either. The time to believe is now! It really is pretty simple. Just get off the throne and give it to God. Kind of like giving up cigarettes and never contracting lung cancer. Why do 80% of the people who die from lung cancer contract it from smoking cigarettes? Because they are addicted and lack the willpower to quit and not restart. My point here is NOT to belittle those who struggle with smoking addiction. I have never smoked but I sure am addicted to diet soda which I know is not good for me. Worse I was born addicted to sin. In heaven God will give me a new body so the mess this life has made of this one won’t matter then (but it’s in my best interests now to take better care of it) but my chance to break the addiction to sin only comes in this life. I’m glad I let Jesus break me of that addiction. I still sin but I am no longer a slave to sin. I am free now. You can be too.

It starts with humility. We have to admit to ourselves and to God that we have sinned and turned our backs on him. We have to admit that we can’t fix the problem and we need Him. We have to get off the throne and let Him take over. You might say “that’s too hard…I can’t do it.” Kind of like giving up cigarettes is too hard. Yet God loves you so much he will give you the strength to do what you cannot do. Supernaturally He will supply everything you need. All you have to do is ask Him. Don’t worry that it might be hard or that you don’t feel you have the strength. Just ask Him. You can do it anytime, anywhere. You don’t have to be in a church, or on your knees (though humbling ourselves before God is a good thing), or clean your act up first. God will take you as you are, right here, right now. There is not a single thing you need to do before you ask Him. There is nothing you could do that will prevent Him from coming into your life once you do ask Him to. So, what are you waiting for? Why would you wait another minute? I don’t say that to pressure you. Take all the time you want. God is patient. I say that because usually things that are “too good to be true” aren’t but this one is. Why not start living that life of freedom now? I only pray you ask Him before this life is over for you because once it is that invitation goes away. You might say it’s a limited time offer. God wants you to ask him today. Why doesn’t God’s offer go on for all eternity? If you know the truth and won’t accept His offer in this life then you never will. God gives you enough time in this life to see the truth. If we don’t then God will leave us in our sin and give us what we want which is to have nothing to do with Him. That’s what Hell is. It’s where everyone ends up that want nothing to do with God. Unlike the songs and movies though, Hell is not the fun place where all the parties are. We don’t realize it but whether you love God, hate God, or think He doesn’t exist, you still benefit from God’s grace in this life. You haven’t even had a taste of what existence would be without God’s presence. In Hell God will totally withdraw His presence. Evil will have full reign. God’s restraining power will be withheld and evil will consume everyone who rejected God’s forgiveness. This world is full of evil but it’s not all evil. There is good too. Imagine though if all the good left and only the evil remained. Is that where you’d want to spend the rest of eternity? I guarantee you that you are not even capable of imagining how horrible that will be. We can’t because we’ve never experienced it. Yet that doesn’t have to be your future. Say yes to God and experience true life. In this life God won’t solve all your problems or take away all your pain. He will use it to grown you and mature you and make you more Christ-like. Some of it He will take away or lessen but no matter what you go through He will go through it with you. In heaven though He promised us there will be “no more sorry and no more tears.” We will no longer get sick or go hungry. Evil will be gone. Just as we cannot imagine an existence without good and only evil so we cannot imagine an existence where there is only good and NO evil. That is why Paul, who briefly visited heaven, wrote to us:

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

In other words, heaven is going to blow our minds! I don’t know about you but I find that amazingly exciting and I am not one to get easily excited.

I love how a favorite song by an artist named Phillip Sandifer put it. “What its all been said and it’s all been done, did you go my way child, did you know my son.”

Do you know God’s son? Do you want to know him? If so, cry out to Jesus and you will know Him!


Thoughts on Pride Month

Pride Month_Hero_withText_final

This month is Pride Month and all around me I see rainbow colors. At the office I see signs saying “Pride” and there are various events around promoting “the positive stance against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to promote their self-affirmation, dignity, equality rights, increase their visibility as a social group, build community, and celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance. Pride, as opposed to shame and social stigma, is the predominant outlook that bolsters most LGBT rightsmovements throughout the world.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_pride)

Now the term “queer” can be used as a term for non-heterosexual orientations. As a Christian I cannot support Pride Month. Let me explain. What I am NOT saying is that I support discrimination (with some caveats), violence, public shaming, etc, against the queer community. The caveats I have in mind is that I am opposed to non-heterosexual marriage or forcing faith-based organizations to employ those who oppose their faith. As Christians we are to “hate the sin but not the sinner.” Opposing homosexual behavior does not require hating, shaming, or discriminating against those who practice it. We should be like Jesus who, when left alone with the woman caught in adultery, told her he did not condemn her but to “go and sin no more.” He did not ignore her sin. He did not shame her in front of the small crowd of people. He did not yell at her or strike her. He showed grace but still instructed her to “sin no more.” I’m not suggesting that every time a Christian encounters a homosexual he/she should tell them to “go and sin no more” but if asked if homosexuality is a sin we should not shrink from saying what the Bible clearly declares.

I see no dignity in flaunting rebellion against God nor do I believe we are free to redefine marriage since God created and defined it. I definitely cannot celebrate sexual diversity as God only defined one type of sexuality. So I cannot celebrate Pride Month.

The queer community want the world to accept them as normal and as morally good. I can’t any more than I can accept adultery as morally good even if it involves a man and a woman. Sin is sin whether it involves heterosexuals or homosexuals. I cannot join in taking pride in sin. Not mine or anyone else’s.

Believe it or not I have friend’s who are homosexual and I work with people who are homosexual. Most have no idea how I feel. I don’t go out of my way to make my feelings known. Unless they asked they would probably never know. One good homosexual friend does know how I feel but we remain friends. My gay/lesbian co-workers like me and see me as nice and friendly. I treat them no differently than I do anyone else. However, I don’t condone their behavior or support their “right” to marry. I am not one to attend marches or rallies so they aren’t likely to see me at one.

What bothers me is how both sides tend to use unnecessarily negative language about the other side. Calling anyone who disapproves of homosexuality “homophobic” is not only wrong but a misuse of the English language. My opposition of homosexuality is based on my faith not a phobia. I don’t fear it. No one has called me adulteryphobic. The use of that term is just an attempt to cast those who oppose homosexuality for any reason in a negative light. Besides, phobias are usually irrational fears and my beliefs are neither irrational or fear based. If we ever hope to get along we have to avoid such terms. I try to be respectful in my language. I was very hesitant to use the term “queer” because for much of my life it was considered a derogatory term and it took a lot of convincing for me to accept it was now ok to use. I had no desire to use an offensive term although I know I can’t always avoid offending because sometimes simply disagreeing offends someone.

No amount of celebrations, special months, parades, influence in Hollywood or with the press, will change God’s truth nor my beliefs. Getting along does not mean we have to accept and support beliefs we believe to be wrong. We can “hate the sin but not the sinner.” We can stand up for the truth. Trust me I have been told I am a fool for being a Christian. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or accept me. For the queer community to expect nothing but support is not living in reality neither should society expect no one to ever disagree with anything. If find it ironic that at the annual White House Press Corps Event, any dig on the President, no matter how mean, is celebrated and defended as freedom of speech. Say one word of opposition to homosexuality and you could loose your job at many companies. If you are in a public position look out. It might even be called hate speech even if there was nothing hateful about it. Plenty of people hate President Trump (I am no fan) and are protected by free speech no matter how vicious their attacks on the President are. Why the double standard?


Single Point of Focus

Image result for point of focus images

I recently took a photography class from one of the best fine art and commercial photographers in the world. The number one concept he shared with us is having a single point of focus in our photos. The idea is that every photo should have a single point of focus you guide the viewer’s eyes to. Through the use of focus, lighting, lines, and other elements, you direct them to what he termed “the payoff.” You don’t want to direct their eyes to nothing but to something. They should leave viewing your photo having found that point of focus (just one).

I thought later about how our lives should have a single point of focus. As followers of Jesus Christ, He should be that single point of focus.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2) emphasis added

Notice we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus. If we are to run “with endurance the race that is set before us” then we are to fix our eyes on Jesus. Long distance, open-water swimmers, always pick a point on the opposite shore of horizon to use as their single point of focus. Every few strokes they glance up and check their location relative to that single point of focus. If they are a little off, they correct course. For that to work that single point of focus has to be fixed, constant, unchanging. It does no good to pick a point that might move because if it does you will move off course following it.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hewbrews 13:8)

Talk about a fixed point! Jesus never changes. He is the one point we can fix our eyes on with perfect confidence.

17Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:17-19) emphasis added

This verse goes on to say how Jesus has gone into the inner sanctuary for us. Our hope in Him is an “anchor for the soul.” Again, we see the idea of having a single point of focus or an anchor. Things that fix us to one location.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, keeps us on course, but as we follow Jesus our lives become an element in God’s “picture” to lead others to Christ. We might be a guiding element in the “photo” of someone else’s life.

1And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

We should strive to be like Paul, who urged his followers to imitate him as he imitated Christ. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we become imitators of Christ. As such we can point others to Christ.

What then is the focus of your life? Does it have a single focus?

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:5-8) emphasis added

Notice what happens when we have more than one point of focus. We become double-minded and Scripture says such a person is “unstable in all they do.” Hardly seems like a good recipe for life. We need to be single-minded. We need to have a single point of focus.

Just as a good picture should have a single point of focus, so should a godly life.


More on Gnosticim

Gnosticism

Gnosticism has been around since sometime after Plato and well before the time of Christ. The Jews considered it heretical as did the early Christians.

The Gnostics considered the spirit good but the body evil. The incarnation, or God becoming a man, presented a problem for them. How could the good spirit of God be corrupted by flesh? Some Gnostics held that Jesus’ body was just an illusion. Therefore, God did not taint himself by becoming flesh. This thinking requires a total disregard of Scripture. According to the Bible, our sins could only be paid for by the shedding of blood. It had to be the blood of the Messiah who was fully God and fully man. Jesus was called the “second Adam” who, like the first Adam, was a representative of all mankind. In Adam, all mankind fell into sin. In Jesus we have salvation as he is the second Adam. If his body was an illusion then we are still in our sins. No blood (only the illusion of blood) was spilled. Jesus only appeared to die on the cross.

The second solution was the belief that God created a slightly lesser spirit into which he put his “divine spark.” That spirit in turn created another lesser spirit. This process continued countless times until somewhere along the line a man was created with the remnants of this divine spark. This succession of beings is called emanations.  By having Jesus be a distant, distant, distant emanation from God it gets them around the problem of the good, spirit God, being tainted by flesh. Once again this contradicts the Bible which teaches that the Holy Spirit caused Mary to be pregnant with Jesus. No emanations. Such a distant emanation would not be fully God and fully man as the Bible teaches. Once again, we would be left in our sins.

These teachings were argued against in the New Testament and denied by the early church. The Gnostics formed communities away from mainstream Christianity. They created their own writings and tried to pass them off as being written by Biblical figures. Collectively they are referred to as “The Lost Books of the Bible.” One such book is the Gospel of Mary supposedly written by Mary Magdalene (the book refers to a Mary but does not say Mary Magdalene). A good portion of the book was lost but the Gnostics claim Jesus had a relationship with Mary and left her in charge of the church but patristic Peter (male chauvinist) silenced her and made sure no one knew of Jesus’ intentions. Thus, they had to preserve this truth. This “gospel”, though, dates to the late second century or early third century. Once again it contradicts the Bible. There is no Biblical account of Jesus having a special relationship with Mary (or any woman) or of his putting her in charge of the church. Instead he left the Apostles to lead the embryotic church. Why would Jesus appoint 12 men to be the disciples if he planned to put a woman in charge? Why not have a group of Apostles formed from both men and women? What evidence do they have that Peter was anti-women? Why would Peter disobey his Lord (in a major way) then go on an die as a martyr for him? Signaling out Peter to be the anti-Mary almost seems like something anti-Catholic as Protestants do not see Peter as having more authority than the other Apostles.

These books were never accepted by the early church nor written about. It is unreasonable to think Peter, or anyone, could so suppress the truth. Surely copies of the true Scriptures would have survived to testify to their failed efforts to silence the truth. Its fanciful story telling to try and support beliefs that are false. People have different reasons for accepting these teachings. Some see in them support for women pastors or priests. Some see access to “hidden knowledge” with a feeling of excitement at being among of small group of people who know the truth. Regardless of their reasons they are believing a lie which is leading them away from the truth.


Gnosticism and the “Lost Books of the Bible”

lostbooks

Gnosticism, from the Greek word gnostikos (having knowledge), is a modern term used for a variety of ancient religious ideas and systems dating back to the first and second century AD. These beliefs share the idea that the material world is evil and thus could not have been created directly from God. Therefore, there were a serious of emanations from the highest God, which trapped the “Divine Spark” within the human body. Many emanations from the highest God was the God who created the universe. This Divine Spark could be liberated by gnosis.

Gnosis refers to knowledge based on personal experience or perception. In a religious context, gnosis is mystical or esoteric knowledge based on direct participation with the divine. In most Gnostic systems, the sufficient cause of salvation is this “knowledge of” (“acquaintance with”) the divine. It is an inward “knowing,” comparable to that encouraged by Plotinus (neoplatonism), and differs from Christian proto-orthodox views.[1] Gnostics are “those who are oriented toward knowledge and understanding — or perception and learning — as a particular modality for living.”[2][1]

Gnosticism has two main tenants. The first is its believe that matter is inherently evil whereas spirit is good. Some believe that Jesus only had the appearance of a physical body because he could not have been good and physical in nature. Gnosticism teaches that anything done in the body has no meaning because real life exists in the spirit realm only. The second tenant is their claim to possess an elevated knowledge, or “higher truth”, known only to a chosen few. They claim higher knowledge, based not on the Bible, but from a mystical higher plane of existence. Thus they see themselves as a privileged class, elevated by their higher knowledge.

Their proponents usually defend them by claiming they were hidden or surprised by the early church because their teachings were not what the church wanted (if true why wouldn’t the church want them?)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism

The Gospel of Mary

Among the Gnostics are those who hold to a theory that Jesus had a romantic relationship with Mary of Magdalene and that he appointed her as leader of the Christian church. This theory is held despite no evidence to support it. In 1896, the gospel of Mary, was discovered in the Akhmim Codex in Cairo, Egypt. It was not published until 1955. Ten pages are missing including the first six. Written in Greek and Coptic, the gospel of Mary codex is dated to the 3rd (Greek) and 5th (Coptic) centuries A.D.

Who the Mary of the text is, is not made clear. In the New Testament six women are named Mary including Mary, Jesus’ mother; Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany. It is assumed by proponents of this theory that it was written by Mary of Magdalene. According to the theory, “true” Christianity is exemplified by Mary whereas patriarchal Christianity is exemplified by Peter. No such teaching is found in the Bible and this writing dates to the late 2nd century at the earliest.  Like the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Philip, and the gospel of Judas, the gospel of Mary is a Gnostic forgery, using the name of a Biblical character to give validity to its heretical teaching.

These Gnostic gospels contain teachings that are contrary to the Bible and hold different views of Jesus Christ, salvation, and virtually every other major Christian doctrine. Their teachings have no support from the early church fathers and the teachings of the Apostles. They were written by a heretical sect to support their teachings. Their only support comes from those sympathetic to their views.