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Sunday, August 24, 2014

156.  IS THE CHURCH TODAY “OF NOBLE CHARACTER?”

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11

Hasn’t this passage been held up as an ideal for us to emulate in our study of the Bible?  Don’t we want to be of “noble character?”  Of course!  Once I was prideful because of my faithfulness in exercising the discipline of this passage.  When I heard someone else’s doctrinal views, I received that message with great suspicion, and I re-examined the Scriptures to be sure that my different interpretations was still true.  I would pray, “Lord, give me an open mind.”  And, over and over again, I proved the truth of my geocentric view of God and His revelation through creation and the Word – always confirming to myself the correctness of my preconceived interpretations.  I knew that those sorts of errors in doctrine happened –because that’s what those other stubborn people did. 

The Bereans were receiving new revelation from Paul about the foreordained plan of God, which completed and gave meaning to the Old Testament scriptures and prophecies of things to come.  They did not crouch, growl, and protect their previous doctrines from the Old Covenant, but they received the new message of salvation with great eagerness and anticipation.  It was out of this eagerness that they searched the Scriptures - probably more with a sense of joy and expectation than suspicion and protection of preconceived interpretations.  The Bereans were of more noble character because they did not place themselves in the center of their own thinking.  The Bereans saw an opportunity to get beyond themselves and their established preconceptions handed down from the Old Testament.  The Bereans did not examine the Old Testament to find something wrong with Paul’s message and to protect their institutionalized doctrinal beliefs, so they wouldn’t have to change.

Our situation is a little different from the Bereans. 

In the Western Christian part of the world, we have the completed revelation of God - it has been given, taught, written down, translated, printed, widely published, distributed, and readily available.  We don’t have to hear this revelation for the first time and update our understanding of the Old Law.  We can start with the completed revelation and then see how the Old Testament and everything else in creation fit into that.  But, how noble a character do we display in doing that?   Do we search the Scriptures to see if our preconceived interpretations are true under the scrutiny of discovery, knowledge, and thinking - being led into all truth by the Holy Spirit?  Or, do we form and protect doctrines insulating our traditional teachings of patented methods to get to the truth and be saved? 

Could we have so much doctrinal pride and institutional history at risk that we would never admit that things like the following could fall far short of the mark of the glory of God revealed to us in Christ Jesus? 

How about ....
..condemning those who haven’t been appropriately water baptized according to a specifically approved protocol,
..structuring “God-ordained” higher authority of some humans over others,
..using the doctrine of the Fall of Man to set up salvation by Jesus “or else you fry,”
..setting up the “have’s and have-not’s” by divine predestination and “once in locked in,”
..clinging to an insistence - unsupportable by science or scripture - that God zapped the world into existence over a 6day x 24hr continuous period in 4004 BC, 

..insisting on certain approved external manifestations of the Spirit to prove one's worthiness of salvation,
..or a bizillion other human interpretations?

Can’t Christians see that the plan of God, made before the creation of the world and predestined for our glory, absolutely and totally precludes all of these human constructions?  It is God’s foreordained will that we should be transformed into His likeness in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24) – into the image of the Creator (Col. 3:10).  Everything must point to that goal; if something does not, then it is a distraction and an idol.

How can we afford to stop, camp, circle the wagons, and protect our doctrinal baggage instead of keeping on the narrow path upward toward God?  The Holy Spirit will guide into all truth (John 16:13), but we have to do the searching and asking for it to be opened to us.  Ask, seek, knock (Matt. 7:7-8).  No need to seek for answers if you don’t have any questions.  If we already have all the answers, let’s just arrogantly inform the Holy Spirit of what the truth is!  How noble of character is that?  Sure, God’s revelation is complete, but that doesn’t mean our understanding of it is complete.

Could the Holy Spirit say that the Bereans of the 1st century were of more noble character than the church of the 21st century, because the Bereans eagerly searched the Scriptures to learn of the revelation of God, whereas the 21st century Christians divided up into competing tribal groups who couldn’t bring themselves to be in unity and fellowship because those other groups didn’t hold to the same human traditional interpretations of Scripture? 

The Bereans made a choice, just like the Thessalonians made a choice, and just like we make a choice.  The Bereans were of noble character because of the Godly choice they made – what type of character does today’s divided church proclaim by the choices it is making?

...that all of them might be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  John 17:21

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

155.  PEERING INTO THE LOOKING GLASS -- IT'S TIME TO GET REAL

The church must get real and stop seeing a reflection created from what it wants to see instead of what the world sees (and what God sees).

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the most spiritual of them all?"

"Oh, you already know the answer, church -- it's you, just like always.  Just gaze upon thyself ... property owners, big buildings, multi-campuses, good credit ratings, big debt, no debt; brand names of posted propriety, publicized positions of pompousity, postulated propensity for prosperity, published pundits of grandiosity; the bigot never be, nor the hypocrite in thee; for thou shalt rise to e-e-ter-nit-e-e, in the lofty spires of thy humble abode."

Hmmm.  That's a bit over the top, isn't it?  Maybe, maybe not.  How could we know?  What is the image of Jesus Christ that the church thinks it is proclaiming to the world?  What is the image the church has of itself?  Consider that the church expresses its own self-image in sermons that are preached, in what is written, by what is proclaimed in the media (that Christians control) ... essentially, this painted image represents the confession of the Lord Jesus Christ -- this is what Jesus looks like to the church.  And when the church peers into the looking glass to see the reflection of itself, this image is what is "seen" (or, perceived).  That's another way of saying when the church sees itself, it sees an illusion that has been self-created.
  
How would one describe the reflected image?  Is it an image of a set of moral standards?  What does the church hold as the high standard for Christians to meet?  Is it complete?  Can't require too much -- if the standard is too high, some cafeteria-style Christians may go to a more seeker-friendly establishment to choose their dietary milky doctrine. 

There's the old joke -- He said, "The church is full of hypocrites."  She said, "Yeah, that's right.  So, why don't you join us - you'd fit right in."  While that little cutie comeback may be true, it doesn't address the observation.  Could the church be operating below the glory of God, so that it is falling short of God's purpose, while believing the lie of self-congratulatory denial that comes from the flesh and not the Spirit?  It would seem from the "joke" that the church admits to a certain level of mediocrity.  The church is supposed to be full of people being transformed into the likeness of God and putting hypocrisy and other forms of fleshly conduct behind them.  The church wouldn't have to be concerned with answering name-callers if the church were being renewed and transformed to the max.  Names wouldn't stick because those former ways have been left behind -- out of date, no longer relevant. (1 Pet. 3:16)

Does the church have a transparent ceiling of expectation for itself that limits goals to only those that are incomplete, lacking and just plain wimpy?  What is the picture of Jesus (and of the church's concept of itself) that is painted in Bible study materials? (This is used just as a source of a description of how the church sees itself, not as a format to criticize Bible materials.)  What is the image of Jesus that the church holds up for itself?  It is the same image that the church sees when it looks into the mirror using rose-colored glasses.  This is the Jesus that the body of Christ so graciously allows to be called its "head."  (You heard that right).

The image portrayed is one of a theoretical Jesus, a theological concept of Jesus, an intellectual concept about Jesus, a historical Jesus.

As mentioned above, the church provides its own evidence that it fulfills its missional goals by holding up an intellectual description of a perfect, powerful, historical Jesus -- born into the world, sacrificed for us while perfect and holy, resurrected in power, ascended to God having all authority.  Yes! -- preach it, brother, proclaim it, celebrate it!  That's easy to say.  Now what?  Now, let us stand and be dismissed and go home.  

An example (and, again, for illustrative purposes only):

Sending Bible materials home for family study is a good thing, but does the message conveyed by the materials rise up out of the confines of a box of self-created images of Jesus and the self-view of the church?

The following paragraphs contain actual quotes extracted from one week of a daily study devotional guide published as part of an integrated curriculum.  The source isn't given, because this is not intended as a criticism of this publication or of the writer.  That is not the point -- this material is only used as a representation of current, good conservative Christian thinking. 
"The devotions for this week point us to the truth about Jesus, the Light of the World."  

Monday.  "People have often tried to demand a sign from God."  "God is real and He is all-powerful, but He doesn't usually respond to the demand for a sign."  "God has already given us a sign of absolute proof.  Jesus' resurrection is the ultimate sign that God is real and that He is all-powerful (Matt. 12:40).  How does the resurrection of Jesus give you certainty about who God is and why you should serve him?"
Fact:  Jesus is the ultimate sign from God.
 
Tuesday.  "Christianity unashamedly claims that forgiveness of sin and eternal life are found in Jesus alone; all other religions are imposters, little more than distortions of God's truth."  "Jesus was clear that faith in Him makes all the difference.  What did Jesus say is the result of believing or not believing in Him (John 5:24).  How would you respond to someone who says that all religions are equally true?"
Fact:  Jesus alone gives eternal life.

Wednesday. "Was Jesus just a good man?  No.  Jesus was not just a good man and He didn't leave that as an option for us."  "The only other option is that what He said was true, and everything in His life backs up His claim.  As you pray today, praise Jesus for His greatness."
Fact:  Jesus is Lord!

Thursday.  "How can two people read the same article and come to such different conclusions?  It's because they have radically different worldviews."  "How could you help someone understand why you see the world the way you do?"
Fact:  The Bible is the lens through which we see the world.

Friday.  "When Jesus warned about false teachers, He called them wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt. 7:15).  "Part of their ruse is trying to sound like believers."  "This means that just because someone says he or she is preaching Jesus doesn't mean that person is actually preaching the truth about Jesus.  What truths about the biblical Jesus are found in Col. 1:15-20?"  "What difference does it make what one believes about Jesus?  Do you need to adjust your view of Jesus?"
Fact:  True teachers teach the true Jesus
What's wrong with what is said above?  Basically, nothing.  The message is based on scripture; it is sound teaching; it teaches about Jesus, the Light, the Resurrection, and the Truth.  It is good, conservative, Biblical teaching that is representative of Christians who hold the Bible as the inspired word of God and Jesus as the Son of God and our Lord and Savior.  It is mainstream Christianity; it is core teaching; it is conventionally accepted.  And that is regrettable, because that infinitely amplifies the problem.

The problem is so subtle that it is easy to miss.  It is easy to miss what is not said.  It's easier to analyze something that is "there" than detect what is "not there."

The church today, and Christians within the church, particularly in the Western cultures, maintain an intellectual concept of Jesus instead of an experiential one.  However, if it is not the real and complete Jesus, then it is a partial and incomplete substitute for the real Jesus.  That is an idol.

When the church describes a vision, such as in the above-referenced published devotional,  it is all "about" Jesus -- it is a conceptual framework of a historical Jesus.  "About who God is" and "about Jesus." J.I. Packer made this point decades ago in the book, "Knowing God."  "Knowing God" is not the same as just "knowing about God."  Just going through all the Sunday school materials and memorizing the scriptures and knowing all the facts and being the master of the "Bible Bowl" is still an intellectual "knowing about Jesus" unless a life proclaims that truth.  The world isn't seeking the intellect of the Christian; most non-believers don't hold that in high regard, anyway.  The world needs to experience Jesus. 

"Jesus' resurrection is the ultimate sign that God is real ...."  Ultimate sign to whom?  To a small closed community of people who are for the most part selected because they believe the resurrection in the first place?  Or, is it a sign to the world who the people of this community are supposed to convert to Christ?  Try to convert an unbeliever or atheist about the human recorded evidence of Jesus' resurrection.  Go ahead and wear your pages out turning to all the passages in the Bible about the resurrection.  Remind them that the Bible is inspired -- like they care about that?  This is having a debate about an intellectual concept.  The church is the translator of God's revelation.  The church's job is to live the revelation; it doesn't just preach it from a pulpit or in front of a TV camera.  The non-believer says, "What has Jesus' resurrection done for you?  I don't see any difference, so why should I listen to your intellectual argument about a historical person?"

The "ultimate sign" for the Christian is not the resurrection -- it is what happened because of the resurrection.  Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, we have received the Holy Spirit, the down-payment of our eternal salvation and the final delivery of the promise of God (Eph. 1:13-14).  Faith in the resurrection gives life in the Spirit.  (Romans 8 links the resurrection of Jesus with the Holy Spirit's work in us). The work of the Holy Spirit is the ultimate sign both to the Christian and to the world -- and that includes the resurrection both of Jesus as well as our own (Eph. 1:19-20).  

"What did Jesus say is the result of believing or not believing in Him (John 5:24)."  If we don't show Jesus to the world by the way we live, we then have to resort to preaching condemnation without Jesus - in order to set up Jesus as Redeemer.  If Christians really believed that Jesus was the Redeemer, there wouldn't be any need to preach about condemnation -- there would only be glorification to be seen in the life of the church -- and an welcoming invitation to come be a part of this. 

"Praise Jesus for His goodness."  Okay, and then what?  Go home and watch football?  If we really praised Jesus for His goodness, the world wouldn't have to wonder about what the value is of the church. 
 
"The Bible is the lens through which we see the world."  That's rather "us-centered."  How about, "The church is the lens through which the world sees Jesus."  Sees Jesus, not just hears about Jesus.  How's that one been working for us?  Because of poor exegesis of the epistle to the Romans, the church too often looks at the world through a lens of condemnation, and that is not the job of the church.  There's the church's self-image of a historical Jesus showing again.

"What difference does it make what one believes about Jesus?  Do you need to adjust your view of Jesus?"  Believe "about Jesus?"  Doesn't that give it away?  We need to adjust the communication channels between our intellect (about Jesus) and our heart (becoming Jesus).  How many times can Christians can go through the liturgy and a feel-good message and sing and lift hands to Jesus and leave and go about their real business. "From the heart" means more than sincerely thinking about it really intently for at least 2 minutes.  (Go ahead, check your watch).

The church is too much about a casual representation of an intellectual, historical Jesus that can be kept at arm's length for an hour each week.  Let's talk about resurrection; talk about light; talk about what Jesus did -- that's nice, but the world doesn't speak that language.  The world understands Jesus when lives are being transformed because of Him.  "Seeing is believing?"  Let's practice that. 

This involves much, much more than a responsibility of each Christian on an individual basis.  That is the usual application, when there is any application made.  Showing transformation is the responsibility of the church, the sum of the individuals, or, more accurately, the "product" of the individuals, because the Holy Spirit power is multiplied with unity.

Why do we go the "intellectual route" about Jesus when we know full well that God did not create humans to learn in that manner?  Even human knowledge could tell us that -- be it from human psychology, evolutionary science, human sociology, the neuroscience of brain function -- whatever.  We like to think we are such objective and reasoning and conceptualizing people, but we are primarily driven by emotion and experience.  In making a decision or exercising an opinion or judgment about something or someone, about 90% of the judgment occurs in a split-second based on past experience.  That's the way the brain is designed.  What about the other 10%?  The "intellect part" of the brain is busy figuring out all the reasons why the judgment of the "emotional brain" is correct.  And, at least "in the natural," the intellectual part will go to ridiculous ends to justify the judgment that has already been made (from Jonathan Heidt, "The Righteous Mind.")

We say that we have our minds under the control of the Spirit.  If that's really the case, then why can't the church see itself in a more discerning manner?  We are transformed into a living Jesus -- alive through the continuous power of His resurrection -- not into a doctrinal description of a historical image formed though the eyes of traditional thinking.

Knowing the way the brain works, why do we think presenting an intellectual concept of a historical Jesus convinces anyone of anything?  What are we, ourselves, doing with the historical Jesus?  The world can say, "If this doesn't do anything more for you than what I can see, I don't find much value in your historical Jesus."

The world cannot be convinced that Jesus is the answer unless the world can see Jesus in the church.  Arguments about Jesus and sermons preached to the choir about needing Jesus can be easily ignored by the world, because the world can see how irrevelant all this is in lives of Christians. 

Let's get even more pointed.  Why should the world listen to arguments about a historical resurrection from a church in which division and competition is clearly of greater value?  How can there be one resurrection, yet many bodies?  How could anyone claim that Jesus is Lord unless there is unity in the body of Christ?  Don't give the "it's all their fault" routine.  That immature dribble isn't going to stand up to the discipline of God in the present age or the wrath of God in the age to come.  Just don't even go there.  God has no partiality or discrimination between people on human standards, and if anyone does, then they are not being like God.  If the church is in division through discrimination and elevation of doctrine above Christ, then the church is not being like God.  Anyone who thinks differently can go to John 17:20 and argue with the intellectual, historical recording of the prayer of the same Jesus who lives today, and the same Jesus who will come again to claim His own and to whom we will give an answer about why His body has been fragmented.

A historical conceptual Jesus is easier to divide over than a living Jesus standing beside you looking you in the eye.  If the church really "lived Jesus Christ," the church couldn't bring itself to divide.  The chaos and factions within the body of Christ are enough evidence that Jesus is not Lord of the church.

Talking about Jesus instead of becoming like Jesus only creates problems, because that is coming out of the flesh more than the Spirit.  It's not Jesus who creates disagreement and division, it is the opinions about Jesus -- it is the human interpretations from their hemeneutic that separates.  That is like the human interpretation being the emotional experience part of the church and the hermeneutic being the logical, rational part.  The theological hermeneutic is used as a way to justify those human traditional interpretations that need to be protected like copyrighted brand names.  Hermeneutic is like the 10% to justify the 90% interpretation.  Don't be fooled.

So, if Christians don't divide because of Jesus, what causes the divisions?  It is the different approaches to Jesus.  "You can only get to Jesus our way."  "To get to Jesus, you have to believe this, say that, do this in the exactly right way, or else -- you miss Jesus."  "We have the right aim to Jesus -- they don't."  When the approach to Jesus of different groups is so important that the church divides, then human opinion is being elevated over Jesus.  What is that other than idolatry?  But that sequence is made easier with a historical Jesus.  With a historical Jesus, one has to look through their telescope across two millennia to see Him; but with a Jesus living in a transforming life and church, one doesn't need a telescope.  We are the telescope, and not our exclusionary doctrine.

More evidence of a historical Jesus

There is even more evidence that the church maintains a historical Jesus on the shelf.  What is the significance that virtually all church groups place on the observance of the Lord's Supper?  Does the Lord's Supper mean the same thing today as it did when Paul wrote to the Corinthians to stop mishandling it (1 Cor 11)?  Are we supposed to recreate the Lord's Supper of the Corinthian church 2000 years later during which time the Spirit has guided into all truth?  When we do so, we create a historical Jesus, and the Lord's Supper becomes a sanctimonious liturgical ceremony to remember certain things 2000 years ago.  That's not bad in itself, but most the purpose of the Lord's Supper is thwarted unless Christians portray the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in their lives of transformation.  The historical Jesus can be left at the church building along with the trays of unleavened bread and grape juice.  How is that "discerning the body?"

How much easier it is to remember a historical Jesus who finished a work for us that we can read about and be thankful for and go about our lives than it is to submit to the Lordship of a living Jesus into Whom we are becoming  -- actively and purposefully?  Jesus said to "Do this in remembrance of me," but did Jesus ask that we remember Him as a historical figure hanging on the cross?  Or, did He say, "I have washed your feet, now you go and do likewise"?  Or, did He say, "And you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you"?   "Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven." 

A historical Jesus is also celebrated at Christmas, or what is left of it after being shredded by commercialism.  What happened to celebrating the coming of Jesus anew in our hearts every day as we are being transformed by taking off the old nature and putting on the new?

A historical Jesus is celebrated at Easter.  "Well at least it gets people to church one of the two times a year.  That's better than nothing."  That rhetoric may have some truth, but it also falls short of the glory of God.  It is easier to detach a historical Jesus from the control of my behavior than it is a Jesus who is Lord of my life.  A historical Jesus imposes control more by guilt.  "Remember what Jesus did for you?  You owe it back to do this...and this....and this...or else shame on you because you don't live Jesus."  We condemn ourselves.  How much better to identify with the Jesus who endured the cross "for the joy set before him"?  Do we not have joy set before us when we can look forward to an eternal fellowship with God?

Who does the church see in the mirror?

So, what does the church see in the looking glass?  If one peers into a glass darkly, they may not see much that deters them from making up their own reflective image.  Like looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking, "Well, I don't look too bad."  Yeah, but then look at a picture of yourself - that will help you get real.   

What does it take?  1 Cor 13:10-12 says that when perfection (maturity) comes, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face."  We have been declared righteous - the church has been declared righteous - because of the blood of Jesus, but that doesn't mean we actually are.  That declaration is to free us to become like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph.4:24) and for the body to grow into the full knowledge of Christ (Eph.4:12-16).  Does the church look into the mirror and see a reflection of a perfect historical Jesus -- a view that somehow authenticates whatever doctrine or behavior the church wants to adopt - including that of the world, including the right to divide itself into competing pieces? If so, then the church is kidding itself.  That's not what the world sees -- the world sees the real thing in the now and not the historical real thing (i.e., the description of Jesus in the New Testament).  The world sees a bunch of people in the unreality of denial about themselves.

Can we just describe a historical Jesus, thinking that is what has been assigned to the church by grace -- as if the church has already "arrived" at perfection because Jesus is perfect and the word (the canon) is the "perfect that has come" (1 Cor. 13:10)?  Jesus came and did it for us and gave it to the church, so now what we have to do is to "defend the faith."  Is that what the church is about?  Once the body of Christ ascribes to itself this perfect righteousness, the church can do no wrong.   The body can divide, compete, and war within itself and even embrace and welcome the world's influence.  Just put God's representative in charge, like the Pope, or the President of the 12 Apostles, or the chief TV evangelist who hears from God for everybody else -- and the church places itself on the same pedestal beside the historical Jesus.  Then the responsibility for transformation is just up to individuals -- that's certainly how the sermon applications are made -- "go ye out and do it."  Just about every Christian group does this to some extent.  This is a major self-deception of pride that institutionalized Christianity has bought into.  This doesn't hold spiritual weight.  The cracks in the foundation are becoming visible.

Guess where this behavioral characteristic comes from -- this tendency to define one's group as perfect and to gather around and protect its belief system.  Hint: it doesn't come from studying the Bible.  It is a survival tactic traced back to early ancestors in human evolution (Jonathan Heidt, "The Righteous Mind") -- meaning we can be totally operating out of the flesh while exhibiting this "defense by offense" behavior against one another.

Does the church think that there isn't much difference between itself and the historical, perfect Jesus -- the Jesus whom the church preaches about?  The church seems to define itself at = or >95% perfect and maintaining, so the image in the looking glass is pretty good.  But it's like a 2-way glass, reflective only on one side and transparent on the other.  The church sees a reflection of the perfect Jesus that it preaches, but does not live, whereas the world sees through the glass and see the church for real, and not what it claims to be.  What is just a little 5% miss in the reflection of the church to itself is 100% of the picture the world sees.  No wonder there is a communication problem.

Yes, the world also has a distorted and inaccurate view of the church.  But, to a large extent, that view is a reaction to the church's prideful presentation of itself in the wonderfulness of its own perfection.

The goal of the church should be the same as stated by Paul, "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.  To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me." (Col. 1:28-29).  The goal is transformation into the likeness of God, according to His plan made before the creation of the world.  The church is to show this wisdom of God to the world and to the heavenly realms (Eph. 3:10).  It is not God's energy that works powerfully in the church to create division.  However, using the energy of the prideful flesh, different groups can divide over methods of archeologically excavating a historical image of Jesus, mummified by years of human universal thinking and galvanistic doctrine.  

The evidence is plain - the church likes a historical, statuary Jesus.  This attitude is displayed in the church's own sermons, literature, and traditions, but this display seems transparent to those within the church -- like reading your own paper and continuing to miss the typo's.  Maybe no one wants to see it -- maybe they've invested too much to get where they are in the liturgical halls of theocracy, academia, comfortism, or commercialism.  The world reads the church's papers and hears the messages and gives their editorial feedback, which the church doesn't appreciate.  Therefore, those so-deemed "attacks of Satan" are placed in the condemnation basket when it is passed around.

So, which is it to be -- is it an all out pedal-to-the-metal drive on "the way" to the living Lord and Creator of this universe by the renewal and transformation of the Holy Spirit into the righteousness and holiness of God and the full knowledge of Christ?  Or, is it a protection of a sedentary, stationary image of Jesus, carefully maintained in a case filled with argon, and described in writings explaining the ancient history of what this person once did?  Pick up a booklet in the gift shop ... only $13.99 in paperback or save and buy the $15.99 Kindle version -- and find out what we are about.  Collector's copy, $99.99.  Plus tax.

Transformation requires eyes to be on Jesus, not a dust-him-off-when-you-need-him historical Jesus painted in theoretical conceptual terms, but a Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2).  A get-real Jesus -- maybe like the Son of Man Stephen saw standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56).  

If the institutionalized church can become unified in Christ instead of divided in human doctrine, maybe we can see the glorified Jesus in our transformation process, rather than when we are being martyred. 

So, what is being missed by the church?   Oh, not much, just the unifying field theory, the reason the universe was created, that which is held together by Christ (Col. 3:17), that which the whole creation groans in anticipation to be revealed  (Rom. 8:22-23).  Just the ordained plan of God made before the creation of energy, matter, and time.  Just the reason for our existence and the role of the church (Eph.3:10).  Not much.  Just the most important thing ever in the physical realm - the entire creation. 

If the church understood the plan of God, there wouldn't be time for selfish competition or division -- there would only be transformation into the likeness of God with ever increasing glory, in preparation for eternal fellowship with God.

2 Cor. 5 [16] So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.  [21] God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


Let us no longer regard Jesus just historically -- that is a worldly perspective -- like a war hero with a list of sacrificial accomplishments that are celebrated on Memorial Day.  We are grateful for the mercy of God extended through all that which Jesus did historically.  But, Jesus did this so we could be free of sin that the presence, the very spiritual DNA of God, could abide in us, so that we can become like God in true righteousness and holiness.  That is the foreordained plan of God for us.  

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor 3:18).

The reflection in the looking glass?  It is the glorified One whom we are becoming.

Monday, April 14, 2014

154. YOUR INNER JESUS

(Contrasted To "Your Inner Fish") 


It's a lot more detailed than searching on Ancestry.com.  Your records are not buried under a granite mountain in Utah.  No, your ancestry is buried everywhere.  You now have an opportunity to explore your ancestry with a PBS special series called "Your Inner Fish."  Yes, paleontologist Neil Shubin would like to introduce you to your family tree -- that's the really big tree that traces ancestry back more than 3 billion years. In this three-part PBS series that began April 9, 2014, the evolutionary history of the composition of our human body is traced on the screen before you.  Indeed, buried in our anatomy, chemistry, embryology, and genetics is the evolutionary history of physical life on earth.  The series will compress billions of years of history into three episodes -- "Your Inner Fish," "Your Inner Reptile," and "Your Inner Monkey."  
A check of the video previews of the episodes will reveal that this presentation is extremely well-done.  "Special effects" in movies were rewarded in the past with Oscars; but, now it seems more like animation graphics are becoming "regular effects."  These episodes work the animation graphics into the story and make the prehistoric creatures seem more real than in Jurassic Park.  The images morph from fossils into creatures that can run around on a desk like a mouse (meaning the real live rodent, not the computer variety).  The parts of our bodies, such as our brains that reflect evolutionary classifications of major types of animals -- fish, reptiles, primates, are visually traced forward with graphics so that evolutionary development seems to occur before your eyes.  It uses teaching methods to a capital "T" in making a clear explanation of evolutionary biology.  It is not the purpose of the series to "teach evolution" -- that's just assumed to be correct as far as the producers are concerned.  The purpose is to explain how humans physically came about -- the origin of homo sapiens

This series is a highly recommended resource to view.

Is this a problem for the Christian? For the Bible? For belief in God? For Young-Earth Creationism (YEC)?

 
It should not be a problem for the first three; but, it will be a problem for YEC -- a problem that will only get worse. When it comes to communicating an idea, high quality broadcast videos of cutting-edge computer graphics will convey the message much more effectively than Ken Ham's static creation amusement park. The story of the evolution of humankind commands probably 99.99% of the published and accepted scientific data, so the likelihood that the earth was created in 6x24 hour days in 4004BC is infinitely small. That's just the way it is - the lopsidedness of the data is only getting greater as research continues, as will the problem for Christian youth who are led to believe that YEC is of faith and evolutionary biology is of the devil -- young students who are going to continue to run into a brick wall. People have to be able to understand the real scientific facts separately from the rhetorical opinions that are published with the data. Truth about the creation does not contradict God, but people do, because God gave them that right, even though they are also part of the creation.

In terms of data presentation, real-appearing holographic images in motion are around the corner. In fact, they are already here, but so expensive that, at this time, they are only used in high income generating environments, like making a holographic image of Amy Winehouse doing a show (which isn't going to happen, not because the technology isn't available, but her dad said "no.") How about when kids will go to a museum of natural history featuring moving holographic images of animals morphing into "higher" species, with a background of information about how it all happened. Instead of a "petting zoo," how about a "pet the prehistoric animals" setting? Move over Star Trek. Compare those images with some motorized stuffed dinosaurs making grinding sounds supposedly representing what occurred in a 24 hour period 6000 years ago. Which one would be more likely to draw a crowd? How about an evolutionary Wii game in which the player has to battle the competitors to be able to survive among the fittest? These inventions could be made to be so visually and interactively intense that surely what they represent must be assumed to be right. That type of technology is already here. It is just waiting for someone to decide there is enough money in producing these types of graphics of evolutionary morphology.

The ideas of creationism are going to fold under the tide of increasing scientific evidence. It would be much better for Christians to figure out beforehand that evolution is more consistent with the whole of scripture than is a 6x24 hour creation mechanism -- especially when one looks from the perspective of the eternal plan of God. Surveys continue to indicate that a substantial number of young people abandon their Biblical teachings when they go to college after being confronted with the overwhelming data supporting natural evolution. This information is not new -- the loss of youth from the church has been going on for generations; but, it is only getting worse, and will continue to worsen, as more and more data accumulate supporting evolutionary science. The prospect for improvement isn't good when only 1% youth pastors/workers have even addressed a science topic in the previous year. Students hear the data supporting evolution, but they also hear a godless interpretation -- and even more, they hear a God-disparaging interpretation which extends beyond the data into personal interpretation. But since it is all new, it is difficult to discern it separately, so evolutionary data and lack of faith run together in the same channel. It's not the fault of the data -- the data testify of God -- the church has difficulty in recognizing that testimony by separating results of natural discovery from expressed opinion filtered through human preconception.

What to do?

So, is this another area where the church needs to change its theology because of the pressures of criticism and ridicule from the world? "First it's this and then it's that and now it's creation itself. When is this going to end?" The answer is -- this human-generated conflict is going to end when the church and Christians begin to do what God designed and predestined to happen before the beginning of the universe. But, that will not happen until Christians stop focusing their attention on preserving some traditional human doctrine against alien contamination and defending their ill-conceived interpretations of the scripture -- such as done with Young Earth Creationism. Christians are supposed to understand that the battle is not in the physical (flesh and blood) realm but in the spiritual realm. The battle is not against error; the battle is for truth.
 

So, go ahead and watch the you-tube videos, like "Our Fishy Brains" and "How Do We Know When Our Ancestors Lost Their Tales?" and "The 500-Million Year History Of The Human Brain."  Learn from where human emotions and habits are derived.  Learn how some people can act more like apes than humans.  Learn where intrinsic human social behavior comes from.  The evolution of the brain is the formation of the natural substrate upon which God eventually placed the responsibility of becoming in His image.   

It's important for history to be discovered, and anything that occurred in the past is history -- fossils, ancient tools and buildings, old forms of manuscript recordings, drawings on a cave wall. The study of evolutionary history is as important as is political and social history. The study of history as recorded in the Old Testament is also important. But history is history and the future is the future. Sounds redundant, but Christians act as though they still haven't figured out the difference between history and future-- when they have to preserve their view of history as though their very salvation in the future depended on it.

In natural history, we may have actions and reactions that can be accounted for by evolutionary changes over many millions of years. That may explain a lot about human behavior, which is helpful in understanding the present, but it helps little in understanding the future. Christians are humans physically, just like Jesus Christ was fully human, but Christians have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit at the spiritual birth of the new creation. This gift is the same DNA of God that Jesus had, and this spiritual DNA gives them a different evolutionary standard -- a different behavior -- a different role model -- a different future. The problem is, too many Christians don't comprehend that, and they set their eyes, and their futures, on other people and on human standards.

Your Inner Jesus

Okay, so, let's say that humans have "Your Inner Fish" in the natural sense; but Christians have "Your Inner Jesus" in their hearts and minds and futures.

So, if anyone wants to only have an "inner fish" for their future, go ahead. But whoever has an "inner Jesus" is being transformed into the ever increasing glory of God in their future. In the natural, we are the product of our past -- from literally our own lifetime or from ancient evolutionary development. In the spiritual, however, we are growing into what will be the product of our future -- the fruit of the Holy Spirit -- because we have been created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). God has poured His love into our hearts by His Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), by which we have the genes of God -- to be expressed into the behavior modeled to perfection by Jesus Christ on Earth. It is by spiritual evolution that we overcome our physically-limited background. Spiritual evolution (sanctification, transformation, renewal) does not compete with physical or social evolution -- spiritual evolution completes the sequence. The human race by itself faces a de-evolutionary process because of the energy drain of entropy.

Transformation has been occurring in one form or another for 16.3 billion years -- ever since God provided the spark of the Big Bang, and energy, matter, and time were formed. All transformation (physical, social, spiritual) has been gradual and progressive and in accordance with the foreordained plan of God -- predestined to be carried out by the will of God. The development of creation before mankind didn't have a choice about whether or not to evolve until humans came into being, as represented by Adam and Eve. Humans were placed in authority over the rest of the earth, but they were given a choice whether or not to subject themselves to the God of their creation. We still have that choice -- we can spiritually evolve by the Holy Spirit expressing the genes of God as we grow beyond our human constraints into the image of God, or we can choose to remain as we are. Just because one has received Jesus as Savior doesn't mean they have chosen to place themselves under the Lordship of Christ so that they will be transformed into the likeness of God. Man was given the responsibility to model for the creation the submission to God and the transformation into His likeness. This was completed in the coming of Christ, who modeled for us exactly how this is to be done as He submitted to the Father. God gave us the model, and God gave us His DNA. The whole creation groans for the sons of God to be revealed (Rom. 8:22-25) -- waiting for us to express our inner Jesus. Are we waiting for something else to happen, or what? We are that something.

The church does what?

So, what is the church's role in all of this? The church's directive is to make known the manifold wisdom of God expressed in the formation of this plan. How does the church to that? By arguing about evolution? By insisting on an indefensible interpretation of Genesis 1-3 as if it were the tenet of faith? By trying to debate atheists? All of this is fish vs. fish. Go ahead and express your inner fish. But God has a better plan. We are to show the world and those in the heavenly realms the wisdom of God by becoming like Him. That's the proof of the plan -- show that the plan works by doing it! Express your inner Jesus.

...the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.  10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Eph. 3:9-11)
The PBS series may be able to use computer animation to show the evolution of the "inner fish," but the church is supposed to use real lives in real time in real situations to show the spiritual transformation of the "inner Jesus" into the likeness of God.  Christians who watch "Your Inner Fish" and get upset over their perceptions of a Godless presentation had better be careful, because they could end up expressing their own "inner fish" in their choice of behavior.  And it is a choice, because we choose whether we are going to express the genes of Adam (so to speak) or the genes of God -- to be controlled out of the flesh or controlled out of the Spirit.  Paul said the two gene strands war for control - actually it is a battlefield of war that is staged in our minds; the question is - which side is winning (Rom. 7:7-25)?  Are we going to choose to continue the foreordained plan of God into spiritual evolution - transformation (renewal, sanctification) - or will we choose to reject God's offer and continue with the evolution that is an extension of the natural fish.  Jesus died so that we could put away the control by the natural desires and rise above that into the realm of spiritual transformation. 

PBS does its job by presenting the derivation of the natural physical substrate -- over which God overlaid the social and finally the spiritual evolution phases. It is the church that is supposed to be presenting the final program sequence -- what it looks like when people are together being transformed into the likeness of God. PBS does their thing regarding physical evolution, and Christians should do their thing involving spiritual evolution. We don't waste time being against everything; we spend our time becoming like God. Surely no one specifically intends to grow into the likeness of fish. That is just what happens when we spiritually miss God. We either grow into the likeness of God by the power of the Spirit, or we can revert into the likeness of fish by the default law of entropy. It's our choice, and God made it that way.

So, fellow Christians, God has given us a choice -- do we want to cooperate with God's eternal plan or not? Do we want to accept the genes of God in name only by stopping at the initial phase of salvation, which we call justification, or do we want to functionally express the genes of God in the continual phase of salvation, which is called transformation or sanctification? Do we, as the church, want to fulfill our Prime Directive of showing the wisdom of God as it is evidenced in the lives of believers, or do we want to continue to be conformed to the world by trying to fight worldly issues with worldly methods? What methods? You tell me -- how does arguing about whether creation occurred in 16.3 billion years or in a period of 144 hours 6000 years ago make anyone more like God in true righteousness and holiness?

In the absence of transformation, God has to remind us as He did in the Old Testament

God had to continually remind the people in the Old Testament of who He was and of what He had done for them in the past. "I am the God who brought you out of Egypt; I am the God who saved you from your enemies" ... etc. God was on the outside of the people talking to them; the people were guilty of sin and God could not abide in the presence of sin. So, God talked to them through prophets and priests and other anointed people as representatives. God has to continually remind them over and over, but they still fell away. The Jews fell away from God into the idolatry of the people around them, until they were finally "cured" of that once and for all with the Babylonian captivity. But then they fell into the idolatry of elevating their own pride and selfishness by instituting layer upon layer of human legalistic rules on top of the Law, even as they suffered oppression from their own rebellious nature against the Romans.

What if PBS could show the first century Jews a series of graphical presentations --"Your Inner Fish!" How about "Your Inner Legalism?" -- "Your Inner Rebellious Nature." -- "Your Inner Fleshly Nature." What would those depictions look like? Read descriptions of the behavior coming from the control of the fleshly nature -- the old sinful nature -- the "fishly nature" -- Col. 3:5-9; Eph. 4:17-19, 25-31; Gal. 5:17-21; James 3:14-16; et al.

But, Jesus freed us from the control of the fishly nature. Why? So that we could build church buildings? So that we could make up human doctrines that divide the body? So that we could marry and divorce and marry some more? So that we could be free to be gay and to have gay marriage instead of what God designed? There is one thing that is similar in all of these issues, and that is -- human beings are in charge. Humans have themselves as the object of their future -- they are working out their own plan of God around themselves and their own pride and selfish desires. "Oh, sure, we know what the plan of God is. Yes, we have captured and unpacked it quite adequately in our vision statement." The plan of God is for us, but the plan is for us to submit to God for our spiritual transformation rather than the result of controlling our own destiny in the flesh.

The church is supposed to be a living PBS program of what spiritual transformation looks like. This is the continuation of the plan of God - the final phase of evolution - the highest form - and the church holds the keys to this kingdom. What are we unlocking with the keys?? Are we unlocking the revelation of the nature of God as revealed in creation, the Word, and by the Holy Spirit so that the world can see the love of God through Christ? When the people of the world are asked what the church is doing, what do they say?

So, this plan of God that the church supposedly knows about and is wisely living -- what does this plan look like to outsiders -- does it show Jesus Christ or does it appear more like a fish? Does the Spirit of God live in the spiritual construct of today's church (Eph. 2:21-22) or do the spirits of fish live in the "Church of the Aquarium?"

Do we need to be continually reminded about God's goodness like His people in the Old Testament, or do we grow past that and into the maturity of becoming like Him? Do we recycle immaturities and elementary teachings of Jesus (Heb. 6:1-3) or do we build upon these in the maturity of transformation from glory to increasing glory (1 Cor. 3:18)? It's great to sing praises to God on Sunday, but the question is - will we live praises to God in our lives the rest of the week? The people in the Old Testament needed to be externally reminded about God; God's people in the New Testament have the Holy Spirit living inside of us by the gift of God through Christ to remind us of all truth (John 16:12-16). Are we being transformed into the likeness of God by the Spirit, or do we need to be reminded by an Old Testament style sermon from the priest (pastor) on Sunday morning that we need to obey God's law?

The church of today needs help!

Is there anyone who is frustrated by the church's representation of a conflict between the "Your Inner Fish" of natural evolution and the "Your Inner Jesus" of spiritual evolution? If so, hear this -- there is no conflict. These processes do not preclude one another; each type of transformation helps explain the function of the other. One follows the other. Physical evolution was necessary to set the stage for social evolution to follow and spiritual evolution to begin after that. These evolutionary processes are harmonious because they came from the same creator. The appearance of conflict is a tool of the enemy using the human nature of people in the church. The church needs people who can understand the eternal plan of God and how the church is supposed to be carrying it out. If you can do this, the church needs you. Hey, any people who can understand science and who can see the plan of God in both nature and in the spiritual realm and who may have left organized religion frustrated by all the perception of illiteracy and hypocritical thinking -- this is a note to you: you are desperately needed -- please come back and help. 


The church must get on track with the predestined plan of God as revealed in the Bible, not as filtered through almost 2000 years of human modification. We have had the Holy Spirit guiding into all truth for 2000 years -- after all this time, is the church closer to understanding the wisdom of God as revealed in His plan or is the church drifting away?

Don't give up.

Some people have gotten so frustrated with the church following human wisdom that they have rejected both the church and God. What an abysmal witness to the plan of God to shove people from a belief in God into agnosticism or atheism. If you are one of these people, consider returning to the true God of the universe -- the God revealed in nature, the God revealed in scripture, the God revealed through Jesus Christ, the God who made the plan for our transformation into His likeness before the creation of the world. The church needs your help to get back on track. The church needs people who are willing to cut through the refuse piled up over centuries of accumulated human thinking. What did Jesus do to the money changers in the temple who represented the institutionalized religion of that day? He drove them out. But the evolved religious system still didn't listen, and what happened about 40 years later? That temple was destroyed. Contented Christians are in denial that the same can happen today. The plan of God overcomes entropy; but, if human pride builds its own plan, it opens itself to the natural law of entropy. It is the law of God put into place at creation. Natural law says that created things wind down unless energized by outside source. The energy for transformation comes from God. The divided segments of the institutionalized church of today seem to be choosing the path of entropy.

There are many good things about the church, but doctrine that divides, competition that defeats, and prideful spirits that redirect away from the plan of God are not good things. It will take people of dedication and discernment to correct that. Think of some movies about the old saloons of the West, in which a sign was posted, "Leave your guns at the door." For the church to do its God-directed job, we will all have to "leave our selfish pride at the door." 


So, what about it? We can be working for the redemption of society and of mankind in general, not because mankind is damned like in the "original sin" doctrine of Calvinism, but because we have been predestined to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 

Let us live up to our God-ordained potential -- our "inner Jesus." 



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

153. THE PLAN OF SALVATION

One might think that a discussion of this topic would not be particularly relevant because the answer was so clear. Unfortunately, not so.  As an example, a book has been recently published authored by Michael Shank, "Muscle and a Shovel," which has been analyzed in some detail on Jay Guin's "One In Jesus" site. Jay does a good job of pointing out the glaring deficiencies of doctrine and interpretation, but the material presented in the book sounds like it could have come out of a little church in the 1940's, still speaking through tin cans tied together with a string. The sad part is some of the comments to the posts. A recent post is here.

It is evident that people do not understand the real "plan of salvation."  If everyone could only understood that their particular "plan" points to human doctrine and not to Jesus.  That's why there are different answers from different groups, and that promotes division and not unity -- chaos and not peace.

What is "the plan of salvation?"
 

Obviously, salvation is quite fundamental to our Christian doctrine and is important to know about. How much more foundational to the faith could we get? How could New Testament Christianity be reestablished without knowing the answer to this question?  Ironically, those who claim they want to reestablish New Testament Christianity have virtually ensured they never will by their doctrine which they enforce as the only answer to this question.  That's the price of legalism. 
 

Surely we would agree that the answer must come only from what the Bible says, nothing more and nothing less. "Speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent." Bible names and Bible places, Bible words and Bible spaces, or faces, or however it goes. No human logic stringing together passages that have been interpreted according to preformed opinions. Not us -- that's what everyone else does.

But, don't we already know the answer?  Most would say, "Yes," but then why are many answers different, usually carrying the doctrine characteristic of the legacy of a particular organized group?  Different groups even say that they have the Biblical answer, but no else does.


The "Five Steps to Salvation"


Some still say: Hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized. That's the plan -- those five steps to salvation. Do these "and you will be saved."  There used to be tracts with a drawing of a porch with five steps, each appropriately named, leading up to a door that Jesus is holding open.  One only entered in through Jesus, so up the five steps one must go.  You go in the door through Jesus, but you get to Jesus through us.

I once believed this was the only way to be saved, it was the narrow way, and few there be who found it.  I thought, "This is tough stuff, but, oh well, that's what the Bible says."  Only later did I learn to add, "...according to my interpretation."  And later still adding, "...which is incorrect."
 

Speaking where the Bible speaks about "the plan of salvation."

First of all, where does the Bible list those five things and call them "the plan" of salvation? From where does that phrase, "the plan of salvation" come?
 

The search gets tough right away, because the phrase, "the plan of salvation," isn't found in the Bible. So, what about just, "the plan?"

The "plan" as used in Eph. 1:11 (NIV) is from the Greek word, "prothesis," which implies the working out of an idea that was conceived ahead of time. In other verses, it may be translated "purpose," meaning -- "the reason behind why something is being carried out."  So, if we were to substitute "the purpose of salvation" for "the plan of salvation," would it still make sense? No, it's not the same. The "purpose of salvation" is more "what salvation does for us" and the "plan of salvation" is "what we do to get the salvation." So far, the Scripture seems to back up only the first meaning.

"Prothesis" is also used in Rom. 8:28, Rom. 9:11, Eph. 3:11, 2 Tim.1:9. Let's examine these verses more closely.

Rom. 8:28-30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 
Rom. 9:11-12 in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls --
Eph 1:11-12 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
In Romans, "the plan" involves a call from God to those He foreknew, who were predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ. And called is being justified and glorified, which are components of salvation. All of this was according to God's purpose, not ours. This is God's plan, not ours. 

Another Greek word for "purposed" is used in the preceding verses of Eph. 1:
Eph. 1:3-10 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
The purpose (plan) of God was made before the creation of the world -- before people were made -- before water was made -- before baptisteries were made, concrete and plastic -- before church buildings were made. A plan for a relationship between God and His creation existed before the creation of the world. It was a plan for relationship, not a plan for five steps to salvation that humans can handle and "check off" quite well by themselves, thank you very much.

This was from the grace of God -- the gift of God -- for our redemption and forgiveness.

And following verse 12, above, in verses 13-14, more is in God's purpose:

Eph. 1:13-14 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
God's plan is for us to be in Christ when we would hear the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, so that we can believe and be marked with the seal of inheritance. So, what do we have -- we have the gift of God's plan, we have the gift of God's salvation, we have the gospel -- doesn't this sound like the nearest thing to a "plan of salvation" we will find in the Scripture?  It's God's plan and His alone.
Eph. 3:8-12 this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
2 Tim. 1:8-11 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.
The Greek word protithemai, translated "purpose" in Eph. 1:9, is used in Roman 3:25. It means purposed, presented, set forth, make known:
Rom. 3:21-26 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
So, when the scripture speaks of a plan or a purpose, whose plan is it, who effects the plan, what is the plan, what are the results of the plan, and when was the plan made? If we are going to "only speak what the Bible speaks," shouldn't we know the answers to these questions?

It is God's plan; it has always been God's plan; it always will be God's plan. We are included in the plan by the grace gift of God, so that we may receive the forgiveness of sin, the righteousness of God, and salvation. This plan was made before the creation of the world and time, and this plan preempts everything that came after. The plan works because of God's will and good pleasure. God's plan is under His control; God does the choosing and the electing -- we do not. We do not control God's salvation in any way, form, or fashion. Humans have no right or authority from God to devise their own so-called "steps of salvation" and call it the plan of salvation, because "the plan" it is not.

The salvation that comes from God's plan is a gift; we have faith in the plan by accepting the gift. Some say that one can place "strings" to a gift -- yeah, I'll give it to you but you have to do this first. Okay, there was a "string" to the plan -- that "string" was that Jesus Christ would come into the world and die for our sins, be raised, ascend to the Father, and pour our the Holy Spirit. Jesus did that. Read my lips: No more strings. If there are strings (conditions to be met) to salvation - you must say this, do that, wear this, sign that, donate this much, get yourself baptized by the right person saying the right words -- they are strings out of the works of the flesh that humans have, themselves, made up. These strings elevate the "necessary importance' of the person who is pulling them, but these human-made strings also bind up the very people who want to enforce them -- just like the Old Law. "No confidence in the flesh" is also "no confidence in human doctrinal rituals."

Here's a clue: Does obeying the rituals give confidence of eternal salvation? How does that compare to the confidence in God's promise and the continual sanctification by the Holy Spirit? Is it the confidence from faith in God's plan or the tentative hope that I have done everything right? The people coming from a "plan of works" are the ones who most doubt their own salvation, who just "hope" they're saved, and who think it is presumptuous to have confidence they are saved. In contrast, the people who can grow beyond that immaturity into spiritual maturity are those who have their trust in God, not from the works of a human plan.

So, does this mean that repentance and confession and water baptism are useless and of no importance? Of course not, but they are not what saves us. The plan of salvation has already been done, brought about, revealed, fulfilled.  Accept it and grow out of the elementary teachings of Christ and into maturity (Heb. 6:1-3). Grow to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. That's the plan of salvation. 


The plan of salvation is not this little 5 fingered exercise conjured up by some people a few hundred years ago.  Look, that particular "plan" of required legalistic works was tossed out by the conference in Jerusalem 2000 years ago (Acts 15).  Come on and get with the program, I thought we were going to "speak where the Bible speaks!"  God's plan of salvation was made before the creation of the world.  Let's go with the real plan, the genuine plan, the authorized plan, the plan from the Bible. the original plan, the plan created by the logos of God -- not some modern plan of some liberal theologians who have shown disrespect for the word of God by making up something like their own "steps of salvation."

When "the plan of salvation" is doctrinally morphed into "the plan to salvation," the emphasis is placed on our interpretation of the physical steps necessary and secondarily on salvation, as though we give God permission to save.  It is actually "God's plan for our salvation, made before the creation of the world."  Why would God send Jesus to die to free us from the Law and then turn around and tell us to put legalistic blocks in front of His plan for salvation?


Some people, after admitting that we don't save ourselves by our own actions (even by calling it "obedience"), are still worried about preserving the five steps -- tell me where water baptism fits in -- are you saying that's not important??  

It's important, but only in the context of understanding the plan of God is about "Who God Is" and not about "what we do."  Nothing is more important than our transformation into the glory of God.  Salvation starts with God and ends with God; for us, it is a lifetime process.  Let's get used to that first, and then the doctrinal secondaries will settle in their proper place.

Let's truly "speak where the Bible speaks," and not just flippantly toss the words around while we do something that we have made up in the wonderfulness of our very own human wisdom.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

152. OF MOUNTAINS and MOLEHILLS: [2] Climbing the Molehill instead of the Mountain
 

What is the "gospel?"
Is it "Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ has come," or
is it "Go preach it on the molehill that our doctrine is right?"

Has the "good news" changed since the first century?
During the first several centuries following Pentecost, Christians primarily had oral traditions as guidelines for determining God's will. Preachers and evangelists would teach the word and epistles would be circulated and perhaps copied, but the main source of written scripture was the Old Testament. For the first approximately 300 years, Christians proclaimed the gospel to unbelievers mainly by their lives, their behavioral conduct, and often by the way they died in martyrdom.

So, is this really the "good news" -- that you get to die early? Doesn't sound like anything very good. But people kept doing that martyr thing for some reason. There must be something to this message -- that so many people would be so dedicated to this Jesus person that they would choose to die rather than give up.

After Christianity became the accepted (state) religion of Rome, a secular "stamp of approval" was placed on the gospel. Christianity was increasingly centralized under the control of an institution embodied by men who officially interpreted what the scripture said; and, sometimes that interpretation was scholarly and sometimes it was more political. The mixture of politics and religion produced disagreements over power control and self interests, and separation of groups and governments began to occur. More and more, the gospel became less of a way of life and more of a doctrinal view of the scripture through a particular chosen interpretation. The gospel was protected from change and doled out by the organization that called itself "the church." The "good news" became more like the "good institution." The church institution retained the power of religion because it essentially controlled access to the scripture and set itself as the self-appointed conduit between God and man. This began to change with the invention of the printing press and the translations of the Bible into English and other languages, but the church institutions continued to hold onto their control as long as they could.

As folks other than church officials began to have access to the scripture, people had the opportunity to determine for themselves what constituted the "good news." But, even then, the good news was heavily influenced by traditional interpretations of passages that had been built into foundational support for certain pillars of church doctrine. When preconceptions about scriptural support for church doctrine persisted for generations, it became "it's always been this way." Preconceptions become what was accepted, and groups were built from those people who could agree about a particular doctrine. Since the groups became defined by their developed doctrine, the foundation and "reason to be" of the group was threatened by challenge or disagreement about the doctrine. The doctrine had to be protected and defended. Disagreement from the outside had to be contested; disagreement from the inside had to be purged. Thus, the groups tended to represent their particular doctrine as the "good news."

Scholars during the Reformation Movement objected to many of the immutable doctrines that had been developed through the centuries by the Roman Catholic church. Depending on the emphasis of the particular Reformer, the "good news" changed, or at least how it was presented changed. The gospel message was filtered through interpretations of scripture that were, in part, reactions to what had been considered erroneous doctrine of the Catholic Church. Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Knox, and others produced variants of interpretation of the gospel depending on their focus of objections to Catholic doctrine. There was an emphasis on salvation by grace with no works whatsoever, an emphasis on the redemption from sin through the sacrifice of Jesus, an emphasis on some individuals being foreknown and predestined by God to receive salvation and others not, an emphasis on the necessity of free will and the decision to accept God's extension of grace. The doctrine of the "Fall of Adam" and "original sin," as the "condemned default" of mankind without Christ, served as a contrast between the "good news" and the "bad news." If one could do a good enough job of letting sinners gaze into the pits of the hell they deserved, the alternative of salvation looked better by comparison. There were other variants and combinations of these doctrines of salvation, most of which still exist today in some form or another.
 

We know that God doesn't change - He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. God's word doesn't change; the Bible doesn't change. God's love through Jesus Christ doesn't change. What Jesus did for us doesn't change. But it should be obvious that human perception of God, the nature of God, and what God has revealed to us does change. The Bible doesn't change, but the translation can change, the understanding of the meaning changes, and certainly the application changes depending on the circumstances and time. The gospel, the "good news," doesn't change, but our understanding of what constitutes the gospel has changed since the first century.

Today, all the different answers to the simple question, "What must I do to be saved?" could fill a bookshelf.

In view of these changes in human perspective of God through Christ, the Restoration Movement began several hundred years ago to bypass the evolution of traditional doctrines developed since the first century and go back to the authority of the Bible. "Restore New Testament Christianity" was the theme which is still heard today. The movement began with a sincere "back to the Bible" motivation, but, unfortunately over time, different traditions and interpretations developed that were not written down, but which were still enforced by newspapers, journal editors, debates, and division. The churches within that movement have since struggled to come out of a binding legalistic hermeneutic that has been based more on the letter of the law than the on Spirit. The gospel went from "good news" to "good works," which has some truth, but only when viewed from a totally different perspective than when applied to the "correct way" to initially accept Christ.

So what is the "good news?" If we take the gospel with us and make disciples as we go, in accordance with what Jesus said in Matt. 28:18-20, what message do we represent as being the gospel and from where in the Scripture does it come? Although only the first four books of the New Testament are called "the gospels," the message of "salvation from default condemnation of man" derives, not from the gospels, but mainly from the books of Acts through Revelation. Those groups with heavy emphasis on what one must do to be saved draw their "proof texts" from Acts; those groups with particular emphasis on doctrine lean significantly on the epistles, particularly the first 8 chapters of Romans, where the "Great Doctrines of Salvation" are developed in detail.

So, what's the short of this history, and why does it end up not making good sense? We have the Bible that testifies to God, the love of God, and the plan of God as it evolved throughout recorded history. There is the record of Jesus Christ, who brought the final revelation of God and of God's plan and who fulfilled everything in the past and endowed everything for the future. We have the record of how the church was established and was directed by the Holy Spirit working through inspired writers to explain the plan, how the plan had been finally revealed, what the plan involves, and how the church is supposed to be enacting the plan. Exactly how the church is supposed to testify to the world is addressed in relatively few places in the New Testament.
 

What has the church ended up doing to represent to the world the love of God through Jesus Christ, the plan of God for all of creation, and the church's role in the world? Note that the question is "What is the church doing...," not "What is the church saying.... " And, by "the church," we mean at all levels .. what is the universal church doing, what are large groups doing, what are small groups doing, what are individual congregations doing about the gospel? The church already says a lot.

WWJD? Jesus said; we do:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35

"My prayer is not for them along. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they maybe one as we are one -- I in them and you in me-- so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:20-13

"You are the light of the world..... let you light shine before men so that they may see your good deeds and praise God in heaven." Matt. 5:14-16

"...on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Matt. 16:18
Jesus came to earth, completely revealed the nature of the Father, and lived the perfect example of the Father's character. How is the church supposed to testify to the world about what Jesus did for us all? Is the church to say, "Hey everybody, we are the light of the world; we love one another; we are in unity," or is the church to do -- be light that shines, do love that serves, live unity that shows the love of the Father -- all are actions, not just words.

How is the church doing in preaching the good news by the way Christians are loving one another, maintaining the unity that was between the Son and the Father, letting the light of good deeds be seen, and overcoming the world without being overcome, itself? How attractive does the gospel look to the world through these church stained glass windows? Does the world see the church living this gospel or just talking about it?

Jesus said that "while we are going" we should be "making disciples ... teaching them to obey" everything He had commanded (Matt. 28:18-20) and for His church, as His representatives, to be His witnesses to all parts of the world (Acts 1:8).

What might this "witnessing" or "testifying" involve?

Paul said that the plan of God, made before the creation of the world and held in mystery until revealed through Christ, had been made known through the apostles -- which was then written and preserved for us in the Scripture. What is the church today supposed to do with this revelation?

The church is supposed to make known the wisdom of God in the eternal purpose that was accomplished through Christ.

Ephesians 3:7 -12 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
How is this wisdom to be made known by the church? What does the Scripture say? There are references to the church being faithful even in the face of outside persecution (1 Pet. 4:19). There are references to the church handling its own affairs instead of inviting the world in to handle them (1 Cor. 6) and not engaging in worldly activities (1 Cor. 5). Where are references to what the church should preach to the world or to what the church should be doing as a witness to the world? Actually, there are few to none. The nearest reference to the church evangelizing unbelievers is in 1 Cor. 14:24-25, when an unbeliever comes into an assembly and recognizes God is present because people are prophesying in an orderly manner.
 

But the scripture is full of commands, admonitions, encouragements and examples of how the church is to behave within itself, with unity of mind and purpose, living in peace, and expressing love to God by serving one another. This is doing the gospel. Why would anyone consider the "news" to be "good" unless people showed how the "good" was working for them and through them.

So, how is the church doing at making the manifold wisdom of God known? And the answer is? Surely we don't have to go through all the surveys to find out why more and more people are leaving organized Christianity, surveys of people who aren't particularly committed to anything religious anymore, surveys showing that more of the youth leave the church every generation? Do we have to go through the signs in society and government and argue about it based more on our special interests than on scripture? Do we have to talk about disunity and division and competition within the body of Christ? Can't we just skip all the "going into denial routine" and admit that it's not going well for the universal church?

Do Christians not understand the foreordained plan of God except when interpreted through a human institutional matrix? If the church were carrying out the plan of God and testifying to the manifold wisdom of God, it would look as described by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-16 -- 

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
The body of Christ works together in love, peace, and unity so that everyone heads toward the goal -- unity in the faith, becoming mature in the faith, attaining the full knowledge of the Son of God - the fullness of Christ, speaking the truth in love, growing up into Christ, as the body builds itself up in love. This is the prime directive for the church. Evangelism occurs when the world sees the church accomplishing its prime directive. Evangelicals are Christians obeying the prime directive. In this sense, the entire church is both evangelical and missional, because the church is showing the manifold wisdom of God in the design of His foreordained plan, made before time began.

That's preaching the good news; that's confessing "Jesus Christ is Lord." That describes a body of Christians who are, together, "growing to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" through their love for God and for one another. That is believers who are being transformed into the image of the Creator by renewal of the mind (Col. 3:10) to understand the will of God (Rom. 12:2) as set out in His predestined plan.

That's the gospel. We are growing to be like God in fellowship in the divine nature both now (2 Pet. 1:4) and throughout eternity. Why wouldn't anyone desire to be a part of that? People accepting Christ is sometimes referred to as "obeying the gospel." We have that backwards. The church is the one to obey the gospel. God accepts those who believe through His love and grace.

What other gospel is there?

Some of the Jewish Christians in the first century church had another gospel -- it was called "accept Christ and show your worthiness by keeping the Law of Moses." Perhaps they considered that Christ could be accepted as Savior only if one went through the circumcision requirement of the Old Law as they had done. Even though the Law was condemning because one could never attain righteousness, the Jews still wanted the Gentile believers to go through the route of a proselyte to Judaism. If it was "to the Jew first, then also to the Greek," let's just put the requirements of salvation in that order, too. The road to Jesus went through the Law.
 

So, the Jews set up the Law as a precedent to Jesus. Perhaps they didn't fully understand the predestined plan of God and how the enactment of that plan took precedence over everything -- over the Law, circumcision, over "that's how we've always done it," over "the unbeliever has to be obedient." No, it's none of this. All of man's opinions, interpretations, and doctrines submit to the perfect plan of the eternal God -- the creator of all things in accordance with His will -- which is the Unifying Field Law of Everything in the Universe -- that we were created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24).

So, does the church understand the plan of God? Do Christians understand the plan of God? If they did, why aren't things working better? Sometimes the world seems to understand the expectations for Christians better than Christians do, themselves. And, the world sees when the church falls short, even while much of Christianity seems to be in denial.

Marketing the gospel?

The following does not represent an "inside" view of evangelism. Whatever deficiencies in preaching the gospel to the world are almost always unintentional. The present discussion describes a perception from the "outside" -- what people see when they approach the Christian message from a different mindset and set of assumptions. Who is right - inside or outside? Maybe everyone is correct to some degree; maybe no one. But, whatever barrier of understanding there may be, doesn't it behoove the people with the mind of Christ to initiate the removal of the barrier?

If a salesman (gender neutral) were trying to convince someone that they needed to move from one place to another, the salesman would need to show the person some sort of contrast to the their present living situation. Either the new place is so much better, or else the person lives in a really bad place now -- in a much worse condition than the person realized. The salesman would be at a disadvantage if his company couldn't represent the new location very well, because the company didn't maintain that great a location, either. In fact, what if the location the salesman is trying to describe is much better than what the company maintains for itself? That compromised contrast would not be too convincing. Therefore, the salesman tries to convince the person that his present location is much worse than the person realized -- in fact, the person is living in condemned housing. "You wouldn't want to be caught dead there." Might be scary. Then again, the person might not be so convinced about his unworthy status if he found that the salesman was using outdated building codes to claim the building was condemned.

"What? That sounds like deliberate misrepresentation for selfish advantage. Come on, Christians don't do that!"

Let's not be in denial and deceive ourselves. Even if totally unintentional, that is the message and the motivation as it is perceived by many people who look at Christianity from the outside. Even if the reaction is exaggerated and not totally accurate, it can't be a total fabrication. It must be based on something real within the attitude of the church that should be addressed.

If the church doesn't show the world the manifold wisdom of God in His eternal plan, if the church is not building itself up in love but is instead entering into competition and division, and if the church behaves in a way that isn't any different from the world, then the church doesn't have a very convincing testimony to give to the world. So what is the remaining alternative? Is it judging the world against a standard the church is not keeping itself and placing the world under condemnation because that is the traditional doctrine?

The "Fall"

The "Fall of Mankind," "original sin," "the sin of Adam," "born into sin and a sinner from birth," and similar doctrines of inherent condemnation are not found in Genesis, nor were they doctrines of the New Testament church. These doctrines of sin and resulting condemnation are lifted from passages in Scripture, but the doctrines are based on a tradition of thinking passed down and protected for hundreds of years. No, it's not as if this is some sort of marketing scheme developed in the back room with the goal of "how can we make people buy into the gospel." But it is largely a doctrine that was developed during the Reformation Movement in reaction to teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Scriptures were found that could be used to support that new mindset. But, these presuppositions of "original sin" and a once-perfect world, that is now fallen, continue to greatly influence thinking and doctrine in Christianity today.

Condemnation of the world provides a contrast that highlights a need for the "divine rescue." This doctrine says that the foreordained plan of God predestined that mankind would fail, fall, and flop. The creation that God said to be "very good" was, in fact, not so good -- created with a fatal flaw. Either God had to make a divine adjustment because His creation wasn't so perfect after all, or else God built failure into His divine equation, perhaps even unfairly causing Adam and Eve to sin and reap the consequences. Does God learn by making mistakes? Hasn't some human said more than once, "Well, if I were God I would have done it this better way ....." (Of course, 1 Cor 1:19-21, 1 Cor. 2:18, and many other places say otherwise.)

[People may point to God supposedly admitting to mistakes when He repented of creating man because of sin and therefore destroyed the world by flood, and when God wanted to wipe out the children of Israel but Moses, and then Joshua, talked Him out of it. But these are written from a human perspective making a anthropomorphic assignment to God. Have to discuss that in another place.]


God didn't and doesn't make mistakes; God didn't fail in the creation; God didn't make Adam and Eve mess up their nice Garden. God didn't create everything perfect, as we usually perceive perfection, so it could fouled up. It was created in accordance with His plan, because the plan predated creation. "Good" and "very good" doesn't mean perfect as in God is perfect, but rather these created things were confirmed to be a part of His divine plan. A lot of this "perfect earth before Adam's sin" type of thinking comes from Young Earth Creationism that says one day all the animals were happy and existed together just fine, and there was no death. (Maybe this worked if one assumes everything was zapped into instant existence with full stomachs, and the next species came along before the previous ones could get hungry). But shortly (how long?) after creation came the "apple" episode, and then the fallen animals were killing and devouring each other -- all because of the consequences of Adam's sin. A literal interpretations of Gen 1-3, imposing our present English-speaking Western definitions of time and space, presents a chaotic picture of a creation that was supposed to bring order.That interpretation is inconsistent with other scripture and doesn't make sense.


A better explanation

The better alternative to God making mistakes, and having to come and bail out His plan gone sour, is that the entire sequence is part of God's foreordained plan of transformation. Transformation has occurred in one form or another from the initial spark of creation until the present time. There was physical and cosmic transformation in nature from a big bang (or whatever) to humankind. There was social, relational, organization, political, and religious changes as humankind grew in numbers and further matured. When this developmental phase had reached a critical physical, intellectual, and social threshold, Jesus Christ came and completed the phase of the Old Law and brought in the new phase. This phase started on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all humankind. The spiritual genes of God that coded for the character of Jesus Christ, manifested in His life on earth, were placed in our hearts for expression by the Holy Spirit into the fruit of the Spirit. This spiritual evolution is spiritual renewal, transformation, sanctification, glorification. There has been no "fall" and recovery -- it is a smooth transition that was planned before creation.

The pinnacle of the book of Romans is transformation, not a divine escape from condemnation
 

When the church doesn't understand that transformation into the likeness of God is the foreordained plan of God, the church is left with the alternate message of condemnation setting up salvation. This is how the book of Romans has been used. However, when one discerns the message of Romans beginning from the standpoint of transformation (Rom. 12:2), there is an entirely different conclusion than when one starts with a preconception out of the doctrine of "original sin" and "the Fall."

The epistle to the Romans was written by Paul "To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints" (Rom. 1:7). As in all other epistles in the New Testament, Romans was written to Christians who made up the church in a particular location -- in this case, Rome. This point seems obvious when said, but it is apparently not so obvious when it comes to determining the exact details of the composition of "the gospel" message and how the gospel should be represented to the world. The epistles were not written as evangelistic sermons to unbelievers to convince them that they needed Christ. The epistles were written to explain to the church how it should go about living out the plan of God as a testimony to the world and to the powers in the heavenly realms. When the church lives out the plan of God, the world can see the difference for itself and ask about it, without having it pointed out to them. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts the world of sin (John 16:8). Jesus didn't even say that the world was condemned, but it is the prince of the world (John 16:11). One might say, "Yeah, but condemnation is waiting for them, and we need to tell them." But it is the Holy Spirit who also convicts the world of judgment (John 16:8). It is not the job of the church to take God's position to judge and condemn anyone under the supposition that the church knows the mind of God and the fate of the universe. This is a doctrine that the institution of the Roman Catholic Church began presuming for itself soon after becoming the "state religion." Many denominations, restoration movement churches, and other fellowship groups that have derived from these movements would deny having any Catholic doctrine , but there are some presuppositions that still exist, even in a hidden subliminal way, that the church is in the business of rescuing people from the open fire-breathing mouth of hell instead of attracting people by showing them what the kingdom of heaven looks when the church is growing into the fullness of Christ. The church has shown that it is not fruitful to preach condemnation while growing into the fullness of Christ. It's like serving two masters.

Has "the gospel" changed from that of the first century? God's plan has not changed since before the universe was created, but the understanding of the church today as to its role in presenting the plan is not the same as described by Paul and is not the same as the descriptions by Jesus of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.

In that sense, yes, we do still need to establish New Testament Christianity. But further back than that, we need to establish the church's compliance with the foreordained plan of God, made before the creation of the world. We do not need to reestablish the beliefs of the Christian Pharisees who said new converts first had to pass through the briar patch of condemnation from the Old Law and its regulations, especially circumcision, before they would be qualified for Christ (Acts 15:5). Neither do we need to toss the world under the bus of legalistic condemnation as if the baptismal waters perform some sort of exorcism during a physical act that we humans control. Christians, and collectively the church, are to show the world what life in the Spirit looks like, what it looks like to take off the old nature and put on the new, and the evidence of being transformed into the likeness of God with every increasing glory in the love, peace, and unity of the Lord. This is transformation, renewal, sanctification, glorification -- the message of Romans and the eternal plan of God. It is becoming like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24).

But there are traces of the old way of legalistic-oriented thinking just about everywhere. It's been an accepted part of the scenery for so long that we don't notice it. In fact, we promote it. Legalistic thinking is like a viral infection. A virus injects foreign genetic material into a normal cell that "takes over" the cellular control and commandeers the cell's metabolic resources to produce more virus before self-destructing, thereby releasing and spreading more virus. This insidious infection cycle occurs quickly so that the virus spreads before the body can recognize and react to the foreign material. Legalism is like that. It spreads and takes over spiritual thinking and produces works of the flesh, in people and collectively in churches. Jesus said "flesh gives birth to flesh" (John 3:6), and Paul said "a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough" (1 Cor. 5:6).

It's everywhere ...

... and it's current. The integrated study materials -- sermon, class, home, connection group -- "The Road to Redemption," is a study based on Romans, systematically going through start to finish. The material makes a transition at week 11, after 10 weeks in Romans 1-11. Week 11 starts into Romans 12. The title for the week is "Family Theme Christian Living," and the section begins with this classic sentence:

"Having presented the doctrine of salvation, Paul began to explain how Christians are to live." 
We have it backward. We have flipped God's doctrine 180 degrees. The "plan of salvation" is not limited to justification and redemption. The plan of God is not the doctrine of salvation; the doctrine of salvation brings about and allows the crux of the plan of God -- which is transformation -- to occur. Salvation is the "One whom we are becoming" because we are on the path toward being like God.

Mountaineering, not molehilleering

Transformation to be like God is the real mountain. The importance of everything else, by comparison, is a field of molehills. Molehills are real; they are important; they are based on scripture; they have a function. Molehills are part of the larger plan of God -- the mountain. But, molehills are not the mountain.


"Go tell it on the mountain -- it's Jesus Christ we become."