Monday, April 14, 2014

154. YOUR INNER JESUS

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."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

151. OF MOUNTAINS AND MOLEHILLS:  [1] Making a Molehill into a Stumbling Block 

In a series of posts on this web site (#147 and #149), we have taken the somewhat unorthodox approach that the gospel is about God's fulfillment of His foreordained plan, made before the creation of the world, that we could be transformed into His likeness in true righteousness and holiness.  Justification, Redemption, Propitiation, Atonement, Reconciliation, etc. are actions out of the love of God through Jesus Christ which make it possible for humans to receive the Holy Spirit, the spiritual genes of God and the power to express their code into the character of Jesus Christ. This is Renewal, Transformation, Sanctification and Glorification -- all progressive salvation -- the spiritual evolution in this physical life to be completed in the next eternal life.  

Christians have confidently determined how the eternal plan of God is supposed to work and have called that accepted thinking -"the gospel."  But we should consider how our thinking, interpretations, and doctrines need to be constantly adjusted toward the centrality of the foreordained purpose of God and away from our anthropomorphic humanifications (okay, made it up) of how we perceive ourselves in our Western Christian culture.  We have developed dogmas that are thought to implement the plan of God that are based more on 15th century doctrine of the Catholic Church, or on Reformation Movement corrective reactions to that doctrine, than they are on the true revelation through Christ found in the New Testament. 

Missing the mark when interpreting the message of Romans

In another series of blogs, we have talked specifically about the "customarily accepted" interpretation of the book of Romans, which analyzes the book by dividing it up into sections that are then conceptually organized by naming the different sections.  It has been accepted for centuries to consider that the different sections are somewhat complete in themselves -- Rom. 1-8 the Great Doctrines of Salvation; Rom. 9-11, Israel; Rom. 12-16 Rules for Living a Holy Life.  Classically, "the Gospel" or the "good news" has been -- you may be lost and condemned now (no "may" about it; you are!), but God still loves you anyway, and if you will just accept Jesus and do the other things we tell you to do, you can be redeemed and saved like we are.  Sound unkind to say it like that?   Not really, because it's also not the "good news."  You see, using the first 6 chapters of Romans as the basis for evangelism is about as much the "good news" as the Law was in the Old Testament.  Why do we think we have to first preach the message of condemnation?  If the "good news" is Jesus Saves, then the "best news" is why He did it -- so that we could be transformed into the righteousness and holiness of God.  Now, that is the gospel.  The gospel is seen in the life of the church as the body is being transformed into the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:12-16). Without the evidence of transformation, the formula becomes:  Words - Deeds = Hypocrisy.  Read more details in "verily-my-page runneth-over" type abundance on the intheimageofthecreator web site.  

All this is introductory material to set up an illustration that appeared in the "The Oklahoman" newspaper, on Saturday, February 8, 2014, Section D, pages 1D & 3D.

"It's all Him."

On page 1D, the article title is, "Kevin Durant's humility, faith shine in NBA spotlight."  Devin Durant plays the forward position with the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team and is one of, if not the, best player(s) in the NBA right now.  He is a youthful player who is only getting better, and he is a "I'm not ashamed of the gospel" Christian.  In an interview following the Thunder's second win over the Miami Heat (last year's NBA champions) on January 29.  The interview following the game between Durant and ESPN reporter Doris Burke went like this:  

Burke: "What goes into a streak like this to get you to the level that you've been at these last 12 games:?  What does into that, Kevin?"
Durant:  "God --that's all I can say.  Jesus Christ."
Burke:  (laughter)  "OK, thank you -- and you didn't have nothing to do with it?"
Durant:  "Nothing.  It's all Him."

Using the social media, a lot of people took righteous offense (as if on Kevin's behalf) over Burke's response to Kevin's declaration of faith and criticized Burke for her words and demeanor.  Durant chose the high road when asked about Burke's reaction, "Nothing at all. Nothing, really.  I really have nothing to say."  Later, Durant attributed his response to Burke's question to his growth as a believer.  "Life's about evolution, and I think I'm growing as a man and growing spiritually, of course. Just figuring things out a little bit more.  That's all it is -- just growing as a man and giving credit where it's due.  It's not about me."

Can we rephrase these statements into theological jargonese?  Kevin Durant said he was being transformed into the likeness of God (Rom. 12:2, Eph. 4:24, Col. 3:10, 2 Cor. 3:18), and the character of Jesus Christ was being shown in his behavior more and more.  And he praises God for that.  

Hey, can we get a big "A-men" on that?  That's the gospel message!

Pastors in some Oklahoma churches commented similarly.  "...he's growing in his relationship with Christ. It's evident in how he carries himself. You just see that, definitely, God is all over KD." (Scott Williams).  "As followers of Jesus Christ, we're called to honor and glorify Him in every area of our life.  Kevin Durant has been given a tremendous platform to do that. I just think he's been a tremendous ambassador for Christ." (Richard Stillwell).

Burke, who states she is a believer, herself, said she was just surprised by Kevin's answer.  All of the pastors in the article responded kindly about Burke, saying we should give her a break and find something else to get upset about.  "As Christians, we have a lot of things to have righteous anger about, and this just isn't one."

Can we note some things in this story?  

Kevin Durant didn't preach condemnation.  He didn't criticize or complain about any question or anything else.  He didn't call down or compare himself to anyone.  He just showed the character of Jesus Christ -- into Whom he is being transformed.  

The gospel doesn't start with condemnation.  If there's no condemnation in Christ, then let's don't preach condemnation.  The gospel is about transformation that people can see. 

Why the display of "righteous indignation" over Burke's response by social media-ites and not by Kevin Durant?  Is it possible that too many Christians have heard the message of condemnation so much, that response is their first reflex reaction?  Here is an opportunity to be thankful for Kevin's transforming response and to chalk up Burke's question as part of the transformation process of Doris Burke.  But, instead, by concentrating on a pre-programmed response of "gospel=condemnation," one can completely miss the power of the gospel for transformation -- in Kevin's testimony, in Burke's opportunity, in the person's own life, and, as a community, in the church.

Do we really teach condemnation as a preliminary necessity to the gospel instead of transformation being the gospel?  Has this been done so long that it has become an integral part of our preconceptions to be immediately applied to anything?  Are the youth in the church accepting the message of condemnation, or do they see hypocrisy because of the lack of transformation?  How appealing is that for a lifestyle they would choose for their future?

How has this been working for us?

A (regretfully) different type of example

It actually pains me to give the next example, but, impressively, it was on the same page as the article on Kevin Durant (page 3D) -- only a few inches away.  You just couldn't miss the contrast.

An evangelistic association of one of the most well-known and respected preachers of the past 50 years (include me in that admiration) published the answer to a question submitted by a reader.  The emphasis of this ministry has always been about the need to come to Christ for salvation.  Although non-denominational, the association's doctrinal ancestry is from a belief in The Fall and original sin -- the intrinsic rebellion and disobedience of man -- and the accompanying guilt and condemnation.  Decades ago, guilt and hell seemed to be a more convicting, response-evoking message than it is today.

The question:  "My boyfriend went to church with me the other day, and afterward he said he didn't like it very much because the preacher kept talking about our need for God's forgiveness.  He says he doesn't feel like such a terrible sinner.  How should I respond?"

The answer (abridged): You should be concerned about this because your boyfriend thinks he doesn't need God. How does he define sin -- only doing something big and terrible?  He is guilty of the sin of pride. Pray that your boyfriend will see the need for Christ.  You sure wouldn't want to marry a guy like that.  

[This is classic condemnation from the doctrine of original sin -- a condemnation which then sets up the need for escape. It's the "I know there's something wrong with you, so come clean and admit it" routine.  But, then, there was a glimmer of hope -- at the bottom of the answer paragraph, there is this sentence:]  

"Ask God also to help you be an example to him of God's love and purity and righteousness."

A-ha!  At the last!  Show him the gospel, as you are being transformed into the likeness of God, into true righteousness and holiness, and he will see the difference without some preacher having to toss a message of condemnation at his unworthy bad self.  But which is the primary message given in the above answer?  Can anyone see the difference in approach?  In one approach, the doctrine tries to convict the person of sin; in the other case, the Holy Spirit can convict the person because the Holy Spirit is working in the life of the believer for transformation and sanctification.  And, somehow, we think that it is the unbeliever who is being bad and rebellious when they balk at the "gospel" message of condemnation. 

In the title of this post, what is the mountain and what is the molehill?  The mountain is transformation - it is the "mount of transfiguration" for us to climb by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We do not stay and make camp -- three tabernacles -- to the Old Law, to condemnation by the Law, and to escape from condemnation through Christ.  These are not wrong concepts; they come from scripture.  But, without the glory of the transfiguration, they are incomplete, and compared to the mount of transfiguration, a doctrine of condemnation from original sin is like a molehill, but one that we trip over .  The escape from condemnation is not the gospel, but the resulting road of transfiguration into the likeness of God is the gospel. 

Sermons are preached about how the devil wants to steal our joy; the devil wants to take away our salvation; the devil wants to nullify our witness for Christ; the devil is sneaky and sly and works in subtle ways through the back door.  A message of condemnation goes a long way into doing just that.  My father used to say that the devil was the most regular church-goer in the world; every Sunday the devil is sitting in the pew, wanting to mess something up.  The devil sits and waits, like Judas with the other disciples in the presence of Jesus.  

The phrase is "the devil's in the details."  Is it possible that "the devil's in the doctrine?"  Yes, even the one that we teach and defend.

Think about it.