Loading...
Menu

Second Chance Solution

[SECOND
CHANCE
SOLUTION][]

grace | repentance | divine justice

 

Shane Wesley Varcoe[]

 

[* *]

[* *]

The New Living Translation (NLT) © 1996 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. All rights reserved. Database © 1997 NavPress Software.

The New King James Version (NKJV) © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All Rights Reserved. NKJV Database © 1990 by WORDworks Software Architects.

The King James Version (KJV) © 1977 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All Rights Reserved. KJV Database.

[*The Living Bible (TLB) *]© 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation[]

[*The Message Bible (MSG) *]© 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson[]

[* *]

 

Copyright © 2010 Shane W Varcoe and Disciplesplanet

2nd Edition Revised and updated © 2016

 

 

Cataloguing-in-publication

Creator: Varcoe, Shane W., author.

Title: Second chance solution : grace | repentance | divine justice /

Shane Wesley Varcoe.

Edition: Second revised edition.

ISBN: 9780646966397 (paperback)

Subjects: Grace (Theology)

Repentance.

Regeneration (Theology)

Justice—Biblical teaching.

[* *]

 

 

 

ENDORSEMENTS

 

In a world where Christians seem confused about where grace begins and how it all works, this book is brilliant… I think every Christian should read this commentary and the rarely preached Bible passages it refers us to. As somebody who has worked with Church youth for many years I wish this book was around twenty years ago. I have read many books on the grace and love of God but Second Chance Solution had me captivated many hours after I finished reading it. I encourage all readers to open their Bibles and check out what Shane is saying in this work. Its message is seldom heard in the Churches these days but it’s what this generation needs to know more than any other message.

Ps. Don Cameron — Cornerstone Community Ministries.

Shane takes a fresh look at a long standing, but sadly undervalued topic, the foundation of repentance and grace. I enjoyed this work tremendously. It is written (as usual for Shane) with a hard hitting, honest ‘Aussie’ approach. He does not pull any punches. I was refreshed and challenged by this work, and would recommend it to preacher and pew warmer alike.

Dr Robert I Holmes, Th.D., M.Th.

Shane Varcoe writes out of deep convictions and clear commitment to the wisdom and relevance of Scripture for life in every generation. Issues addressed in this work, Second Chance Solution, challenge the reader and are dealt with vigorously and with directness honed by his years of effective engagement with contemporary young people, in his various roles as Youth Worker, Evangelist and Educator where Christian values are not only defended but effectively advocated. As in his direct contact with youth so in his writing, the author is passionate, fluent and stimulating, if not provocative. His is a voice to be heard.

Rev. Dr Jim Ridgway, Ph.D., M.A., M.Div. D.D.

 

 

 

 

FOREWORD

 

I like Shane Varcoe, but that’s not the reason I wrote this foreword for his most recent book! I like Shane’s passion, his depth, his faith, his engagement with contemporary issues, his love for God and for his desire to see the extension of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

After reading Shane’s book I immediately thought of the German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic work, The Cost of Discipleship (which interestingly enough Shane has never read). It was Bonhoeffer who first coined the phrase ‘cheap grace.’ ‘Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves, the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.’ Bonhoeffer later contrasts cheap grace with costly grace. ‘Such grace is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man his only true life.’ Shane’s book echoes a similar message in the current environment of an Australian suburban Christian expression that is so often tepid, attenuated, consumer driven and emptied of its content and demands.

Shane’s book is the foundation of an ongoing series of studies titled[_, Foundations for Discipleship _]and takes seriously our Lord’s command and great commission to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that he commanded us.’ Shane is weary of so much that goes with contemporary Church life and so called discipleship. He bemoans the trivialisation and loss of a sense of sin in the Christian community and describes the aim of his book as a radical ‘recalibration of the soul.’ He is not afraid to jump into the hard and uncomfortable areas of repentance, divine justice, costly discipleship and the reality of judgment and hell.

The depth of engagement with Scripture, significant Christian writers, thinkers and practitioners is refreshing and at times stretching. There is theological depth and a density that leaves you pondering and reflecting at length at what has been written.

This book though is not just about personal reflection and edification. It is designed to be used in small groups (older youth and older) and has well-presented sections called ‘keys’ around the themes of grace, repentance, obedience, maintaining discipline and focus over the long haul and the warning in the Scriptures to those who neglect or ignore such a great salvation. Each section includes questions and discussion starters called ‘head space’ that are designed to grapple with the themes with others and apply them to your life.

As Shane has said, ‘There are many exits down from holiness. Tragically the one so often used is grace. Using grace as an “exit” is a failed attempt to “devalue” the sin conundrum and completely misses God’s paramount intent for grace — which is the conforming of you and me to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Conversely, grace is one of the most potent and simple steps up into holiness, but it seems in our western first world culture, so rarely utilised for this Divine end.’

I encourage you to read this book, engage with its challenging message and use it to disciple Christian men and women so that we might honour the one who ‘died for all, that we who live shall no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died for us and was raised again.’

Rev. David Fuller

Anglican Minister, Evangelist, Life Member — God’s Squad CMC

[* *]

 

Dedication

For my dear and departed brother,
Pastor Don Cameron.

Man of God — Man for the least, the last and the lost — My Friend!

Home too soon!

 

 

Thank You

A very special thanks to Ms Rosslyn Oliver for her outstanding and patient work in editing the manuscript. Your thoroughness and skill are outstanding and deeply appreciated.

 

 

My Darling and incredibly patient wife, and our three precious gifts from God;
Jay, Bec and Mitch — Thank you always, for your love and support.

[* *]

[* *]

 

Contents

 

 

Background: Context Is Everything

A ‘Heads Up’!

Openers

Key I: Reconciliation And The Law’s Failure

Key II: Lowering The Bar? I Don’t Think So!

Key III: Black And White, There Is No Grey … Only Grace

Key IV: God’s Change Of Mind?

Key V: Access Grace And Use It Well

Key VI: A Commodity: Precious Or Not?

Key VII: Cliff Divers And Ambulance Drivers

Key VIII: The Garment Of Grace

Key IX: Not To Be Tread Upon!

Key X: Doors

Key XI: So What Is Repentance?

Key XII: From Slaves Of Sin To Slaves Of What?

Key XIII: Bearing Fruit That Befits Repentance!

Key XIV: Obedience Is Not A Dirty Word

Key XV: The Heart Of The Prodigal

Key XVI: Plank-Eye Perception

Key XVII: Beyond Jonah

Key XVIII: Finishing Well

Key XIX: That Four Letter Word

Key XX: Back To Basics!

Key XXI: Definitions Of Hell

Key XXII: So Why Must Hell Exist?

Key XXIII: Sin, Darkness And Why Destruction Is Endless

Key XXIV: The Ambassadors’ Response

Key XXV: God’s Passion

Appendix

References

 

[* *]

 

 

[BACKGROUND:
CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING]

 

 

I have no doubt that many reading this have heard the phrase, ‘Our God is the God of the second chance — even the third and fourth.’ It is a one-liner that speaks volumes to us, and it is ostensibly true. God’s grace, through the finished work of Calvary and Jesus Christ’s intercession for us, affords us this incredible reality. However, left as an unqualified stand-alone statement, what can it mean? If you talk to Christians from different denominational or doctrinal flavours, you’ll get varying responses, everything from the idea that God is a big grandpa who overlooks your mistakes and will forgive you even if you don’t say sorry or don’t even really care — to the ‘sin boldly, repent at will’ ideology. Or to the other extreme, if you repeat an error, you aren’t really sorry and are therefore likely to be abusing grace.

So which one is accurate? I know the ones I prefer! The first example above is particularly appealing to me. Yet, if I study the manner in which our Creator has dispensed grace from Genesis to Revelation, the picture certainly looks nothing like the ‘I can’t help, but wink at sin Grandpa’ image that many love to embrace.

In every recorded scenario our Father in heaven ensures grace is always — and I do mean always — exercised, but how that grace is exercised is determined by what appears to be both internal and external divine factors. God is passionate about grace as a gift, resource and empowering agent. He is just as passionate about the way it is engaged by His created, you and me. By the latter I mean that God has expectations that his precious transcendent virtue will produce something in us that is both eternally beneficial, and relationship-imbuing. When this is not realised, measures — divine loving measures — must be taken.

In this work I want us to visit many of the issues surrounding the key components that make up what I have called THE SECOND CHANCE SOLUTION, and they are, in essence, grace, repentance and divine justice. However, before we go there, I want to share something of my experience of a wonderful Lord and His instructions on these priceless components.

Besides the fact that I live and move and have my being by God’s goodness, looking back I see that my first acknowledgment of God’s grace was being born into a time when most people still had church as a priority. It wasn’t a high priority, but it was in there. More than that, I was born into a family that had a fairly high degree of active involvement in the local church, due in part to my father’s own upbringing and later spiritual encounters. Like many of the kids my age I went to Sunday school and heard a great deal about God, the Bible and what Jesus had done. At one point I can recall the Scriptures were read at meal times in our home.

Again, looking back remembering my behaviour and also listening to harrowing tales my mother told of my preschool antics, also present clear evidence of undeserved favour. I wasn’t a ‘wild child’ in the sense of naughty, but more strong willed, adventurous and gratuitously independent… after all I was two years old! This combination proved to be more than a handful for my mother. One of my regular activities was escape artistry. Now I’ve always been a great exponent of one exercising their gifts … and to me this was just that, a gift. Well at least to me, but to my mother, a curse. I got so good at it, that it would take but minutes for me to disappear. I’d end up at my father’s school and of course on a very regular basis, at the kindergarten. I really wanted to be there, I knew I had two years to go, but hey, there were kids everywhere.

One of my particularly favourite escape destinations was ‘Plummy’s Dump’. Now this was a large old scrap metal collection point and a veritable gold mine for this intrepid little explorer. Old cars, storage tanks, trucks and huge indefinable metal objects that one could get merrily engrossed in for hours. What was even better about this world of adventure was that it was conveniently located just over our 1.8 metre high back fence. 6 feet — that was nothing to this determined and reckless child! Once I had embarked on one of these adventures, there was no regard for life, limb or property. Hey! I’d fallen down more times than I could remember and, yes it hurt, but I was still mobile and there was so much to see! Clothing was the least of my concerns, much to my low income family’s dismay. If I’d get my jumper/sweater caught on a nail, I’d simply wriggle out of it and leave it on the fence. In fact it often helped me descend heights with less of a THUD! Shoes! Ha! Many pairs were orphaned, and the list of clothing casualties goes on.

I can vividly recall one day having ventured the deepest I’d been into Plummy’s Dump. I discovered that which seemed enormous to me as a very small two year old, a big shed with wire mesh all around it. I was later to know this structure as a chicken coop. Inside, as I peered through the wire, to my gleeful surprise there were some ‘pretty birdies’. I wanted to pat these — as I saw them — pretty birdies, so I found my way in and headed toward them … They were very big birdies, much taller than me, but they didn’t want much to do with me and kept backing up until there was no more room to back. I wanted to cuddle one of these birds, but they kept hissing at me.

Yes, you guessed it; I had bailed up a gaggle of geese! Blissfully ignorant, I stepped even closer. Then God’s grace arrived in the form of my dad — and just in the nick of time, as God’s grace often is. Now you are realising this short list of near misses all happened before I even got to preschool. Trust me, it gets scarier — climbing sheer rock faces with no rope, net or harness, running and crawling up and down storm water drains, even getting stuck under a very narrow road gutter. I could spend two chapters on my pre-adolescent antics alone, but I’ll spare you.

In later years, the toys got bigger and the thrills faster — motor vehicle incidents for both car and motorcycle are a whole other deal; travelling at 230 kilometres per hour in a car with all the horsepower, yet very and I do mean very, ordinary suspension. Racing a station wagon perilously close to sheer cliff drops (so close and so fast that young adult males were nearly in tears with fear and threatened to physically harm me if I did not stop). On my motorcycle, hit by cars on three occasions (never coming off the bike once which is remarkable in itself), run off the road at speed, nearly over a precipice twice and the list goes on. The less savoury events I’ll spare you; suffice it to say I have experienced more than any sceptic could call ‘luck’. I know, in hindsight, it has been one of the components of God’s great grace — what the Calvinists’ referred to as ‘common grace’. The grace granted all God’s creation to live, move and have our being.

However, it is in this ‘common’ grace arena that the utterly remarkable cultural architect Rev John Wesley had a more profound insight into the nature of this grace. It was Wesley who posited the notion of ‘prevenient grace’ — the grace that is not simply ‘general’, but the grace that goes before, enabling or giving us the capacity, if we so chose, to turn to God. Howard Snyder in his work The Radical Wesley — the Patterns and Practices of a Movement Maker, wrote

[_‘Wesley saw the will as essential to the image of God. God had given women and men a will, either to serve him or to rebel. Now, because of sin, the will was under bondage. People chose to do evil rather than good. Salvation, therefore, meant restoring the image of God and freeing the will to do God’s will…By contrast, Wesley saw prevenient grace as the first step in God’s redeeming work, even though people could (and most would) reject this grace. He saw God’s grace as “preventing [or coming before], accompanying, and following” every person. Thus God is sovereign and man and women are free. In Colin William’s words, with the doctrine of prevenient grace Wesley “broke the chain of logical necessity by which the Calvinist doctrine of predestination seems to flow from the doctrine of original sin.” _](more on this later)[]

Anyway, the point, I think, is clear — I have basked in God’s unmerited favour throughout my life and for the most part have not given it a second thought. I’m sure many would call the above record of testimony mere luck, but there is so much more to this than meets the eye.

As I mentioned earlier, my Christian heritage, particularly on my paternal side was strong, with even preachers in the family line. Much prayer was given for me by my paternal Grandmother, who though being brought up in a Christian home, wasn’t saved until mid-life at the Salvation Army. My wonderful parents also prayed for me. As appreciative of some of my heritage as I am, that is not the most significant factor.

Though I was brought up in a fairly conservative home, a personal relationship (as I now understand it) with our Father in heaven and His Son Jesus was not yet evident. However, things were stirring. I recall in my mid primary school years, picking up the habit of saying … ‘Oh my God!’ It seemed all the kids at school used it all the time and it was like some kind of sanitised swearing. In short, it was cool! I remember being in the car with the folks and dropping this new found radical phrase. What happened next was one of those ‘awakenings’. My parents quietly, but firmly chastised me, which of itself was not unexpected. It was what they said that really
impacted me!

They said I was taking the Lord’s name in vain, a kind of a blasphemy. Surprisingly, having a religious cultural context had not enabled me to realise that, but having it pointed out shook me a bit and I simply stopped saying it.

In my estimation the second most profound and life-changing encounter with God’s great grace was in the summer of early 1973. (I’ll explain why it is the second, a little later on.) I was at yet another kids’ church camp. During my primary (grade) school years I had attended a number of camps up in the mountains of our state in cabins. They were good fun and were comprised of a bunch of wild and exciting activities with some ‘churchy stuff’ thrown in … at least that’s how I and the vast majority of church and non-church kids viewed them. However, this year’s camp was going to transform my life like nothing ever before or since. It was the last year of primary school for me; I was eleven years old and going on twelve in the New Year. When I came back from the summer break starting in the February of 1973, I would be a secondary school (junior high) student.

The camp had gone like most had on previous occasions — fun, food and frenetic activities. Toward the close of this week away, something remarkable and supernatural happened. It was one of the few church meetings we had in the actual church building. We were in a tiny and very old Methodist Church. We had sung many of the familiar kids’ camp songs that we knew and it was a little ‘ho-hum’ because I wasn’t good at or inclined to sing. The Rev. Eric Gronow (Camp ‘Dad’ and a kind old gent) did a bit of a preach, then it happened … what he said I can’t recall except that it was about what this God, Jesus did for me. Jesus had to die for my sins because I was a sinner and if I was going to truly know God, not merely be known by Him, I needed to repent.

God loved me so much that He was willing to do this. From my perspective, this was by no means a forceful or well-orated presentation. Rev. Gronow, as I mentioned, was a kind and
gentle man.

This message was certainly not foreign to me; I had heard it before … but this time I believe grace — saving grace, caused it to pierce my heart! Though my memory is a little taxed some thirty plus years on, I can still quite vividly recall a sense of something gentle and warm, yet powerful and firm enveloping the room. It seemed to me as if I was the only one in the room, yet the church had well over a hundred people crammed into it. This ‘sense’ was soon going to become an all-pervading presence.

The service concluded. I sat up the back and didn’t move, I couldn’t move, not because I was physically unable, but because I was engaged, captivated and held by a strange wave or wonder, fear and awe. At the same time, I had an uncanny sense that I was totally secure yet not necessarily safe.

To be honest, I am struggling to describe this. I’m really not doing this encounter justice at all. Then in a still, small, yet crystal-clear voice, I heard an invitation, one that was very difficult to decline. ‘I want you to give your life to me!’

Was the voice internal or external? That was indefinable because, by now, I was the only one left in the building. The service had concluded and it was like our Lord was waiting for my solitude before He spoke. It was difficult to define the origin of this voice, because everything had changed. I knew exactly where I was, but it wasn’t there — weird? Not really, for when God’s presence is about (not merely His anointing) dimensions seem to suspend, rather than change. It’s like an interface — closest I can imagine would be the ‘transfiguration on the mount’ when the Father presented Himself with Jesus.

Of course I am speculating, but as I intimated previously, I have trouble defining a theophany (both empirically and from what I understand). As I’ve penned, the congregation of campers had left. I was beckoned by this invitation to go to the front of the church to the altar rail and step. I didn’t have a clue what to do except to give my life to Jesus. I knelt down and I believe it was the Lord who led me to pray.

He literally and simultaneously convicted me of my need of Him, what repentance was, and what I must say and do. It wasn’t complicated, but it was profound and intricate. Here I am, a boisterous, strong-willed, moral ‘churchified’ prepubescent, who had seen or done little that was immoral in my life, on my knees, sobbing uncontrollably and confessing to an endless list of what seemed to be the most minute issues.

As time and process would reveal, it wasn’t really those things at issue, it was their origin. I was utterly unclean outside of Christ and more than that, quite desperately lost, but from what? Was I horrified? No, but grieved, oh the grief! I saw, felt and understood just what Jesus had done, but more importantly, I saw why! I was so desperately in need of this love, and to quote the apostle Paul … ‘I was bought with a price, I was now no longer my own.’ Now I understood, that is exactly how I had been living; as if I were
my own.

My Lord led me through a journey of words, illuminations and revelation. I confessed sin — not merely actions, but rather attitudes and assumptions, including indifferences and ignorance. (I can articulate that now, but as a young pre-teen this was difficult). With the tears, confession and repentance and all the renouncing, recanting and relinquishing, I could feel weights, burdens and encumbrances leave me. I was incredibly, indescribably free! No, it wasn’t the emotional release of a good crying session, nothing like it (I’ve had many since). This was phenomenal! I was, quite literally, afloat. Whether I actually left the ground or not I cannot testify to with complete accuracy, but believe me, this was supernatural. Time seemed to stand still. It was as if, in God’s presence and with this process of grace meeting broken sinner and repentance released, there was all the time in the world. This transaction had eternal ramifications, and it could not — must not — be rushed (stark contrast to what we see these days). God was not in a hurry! This was
saving grace!

As I left the church and gleefully, peacefully ascended the hill to the campsite, I continued to experience being ‘born-again’ into the zoë life — the God kind of life. As I met with leaders they would quite literally step back and flinch and say, ‘Wow, what’s happened to you? You are glowing!’ This euphoria, this transcendent state, was physical, not just emotional and it didn’t dissipate. It grew and it was like someone had lit a fire. This is not all that began to grow. I had a ravenous hunger to know and teach the Word of God. That’s right, eleven years old and passionate to teach others, letting them know of this wonderful Jesus. I started to disciple (as I knew it) my siblings nine, seven and five years old respectively. I witnessed to all and everyone at school. I wore my ‘ONE WAY’ t-shirt and received some stinging abuse, even to the point of being belittled in front of my classmates by a teacher, mocking my new found relationship.

However, as powerful an experience of God’s grace that this was, it is not, in my personal estimate, His most significant investment in my life. Despite my powerful conversion and initial years of fire and fervour, there were deficiencies in my spiritual life — in hindsight, unforgivable deficiencies. I was not discipled in any definable or deliberate manner. My consistent missional attitude brought persecution and I had little peer fellowship or mentoring input. This, along with the onset of puberty and rejection by my secular peers over the years, spelt demise to the fervour and fire in my life. Believe it or not, as inconceivable as what I am about to disclose is, after about five years I drifted away from God and ‘back-slid’. Though acknowledging God’s existence and even activity, I was essentially ‘out of the game’, so to speak. Having tasted of the heavenly gift at such a level, it could not be possible to depart, could it? If departed, it would certainly be impossible to restore such a one to relationship, wouldn’t it? I could dedicate a number of chapters to explain how and why this departing from the Way occurred! (In fact I have written a number of papers and studies on the imperative of discipleship). But it would be an unnecessary digression in this context.

What I do want to do is share a little of the immense, unfathomable grace extended to me as God the Father reached out to a sheep, who knew Heaven’s fold intimately, yet wandered away.

What did our Lord do? How did He facilitate the journey back? The process was convoluted and very personal. My heavenly Father knew my weaknesses and vulnerabilities (and so did the enemy of my soul). My sense of self was in ruin. Yet through my insecurity, confusion and self-doubt, God drew me back. I had drifted into the world’s ways of adolescent culture and sought peer approval via a number of inappropriate means, which only added to my psycho-spiritual malaise. In very colloquial and simple terms — I messed up using the wrong stuff, in the wrong setting, with an unhelpful bunch of people.

To cut a very long story short, I experienced rejection and I chose to be rejected: a choice made due to limited options but my choice nonetheless. I had no self-confidence and all the insecurities and hypersensitivity that go with that. I sunk into a very low and depressing place, a seemingly hopeless place, a pig sty kind of place. Yet in the background people had been praying for me (none more so than my wonderful parents). During this time there were some remarkable spiritual transactions taking place, but due to my disconnected state, I was oblivious to them.

The first step that I can now identify in this wonderful second chance redemptive grace, was the prayers of God’s servants. God had engaged faithful people to pray for me! Then came the connection with godly patient people, who embraced a broken one who was trying to find his way back. Tragically there were many who were indifferent to my attempts to come home, but it only took a couple of genuine people who saw past the façade to reach out and help me up.

All this enabled me to glimpse another dimension of my heavenly Father’s heart of grace, but the issue of greatest significance was yet to come. I was again sensing a belonging, an acceptance that had long left me. I felt confidence returning and much of what I knew and understood about God and His ways sparked again, although slowly. As I really began to seek out fellowship, things began to move more quickly. No, I didn’t rush to a church; I felt (rightly or wrongly) they had let me down in some way because they didn’t understand the serious and necessary process of Biblical discipleship. So I went to where I knew I’d find this kind of community. I sought out a home/small group. This in time led me to attend church services once a week, usually a night service, always in the back row (nothing much has changed).

As grand as this all was, the second part of the solution had not yet been birthed. As all of the previously-mentioned was taking place, a growing reality was happening in me. The next step was for me to deliberately and wilfully seek God. As I set myself to do this, a new aspect was manifest. I began to realise with soul-shaking sobriety what I had done, where I had been and how far God had reached to retrieve me — and I became sick with regret, sorrow and anguish. Was this cruel and tormenting? Strangely no, but it was piercing, rending and inescapable. I was so deeply sorry for having left the faith. I was shattered by regret that this had even been possible, wishing that I had never walked away.

This was not an ‘Oh, I got caught, had a bad day, hope I can avoid punishment’ kind of response. I was cut to the core! All I could do was cry out, ‘I am an unworthy sinner!’ This lasted for weeks and at certain levels, months. Repentance was happening in my heart. I never wanted this waywardness ever to happen again. Was I crippled and despairing in these powerful experiences? No, I was growing in them; growing in very healthy ways, as time would reveal. I did not want this to happen again to me, but far more, I never wanted any other individual to experience this falling away either. No false or cheap conversions — not mine nor anyone else’s. The salvation Christ offers is way too precious to be treated with such disdain, such passivity, indifference or slick salesmanship.

I recall on a number of occasions people asking me to testify about my journey, but I wanted no part of it. I did not want to boast (as I saw it) about my abuse of God’s great gift of grace. I was so grieved that any recollection of my past could see the value of grace lessened. I hated the thought that my past demonstrated the abuse of God’s saving grace and dreaded it possibly being used by others as an excuse or licence to rebel. I wanted no part of such a process. Such was the disgust I felt about my actions.

Now there will be some reading this that will overlay my words with their own hermeneutical matrix, and consider this response and process as unhealthy or unhelpful. Some might perceive my experience as condemnation, such is the fear we have these days of making people feel bad about themselves. Well, rest assured, this was no condemnation. Yes, I felt emotionally and spiritually all that I have written, but this conviction, unlike condemnation, brought a powerful awakening: an awakening which must never drift to sleep again. I believe our heavenly Father was allowing me to see a little more of the two extreme passions He has.

The first of these passions is His absolute hatred and loathing of sin and all the havoc it wreaks. Then there is His paramount passion, His desperate, overwhelming love for us, the sinners. The more you are engaged by these passions, the more you encounter this heart, the deeper the grief, the deeper the shame and sorrow you encounter. Conversely, however, the greater the joy, the more profound and ecstatic the gratitude, and consequently the greater the longing to cling to the One who afforded such an incomprehensible option — the second chance for the one who can only be described in the above light as wretched.

Over the years I have ebbed and flowed with this understanding. As a result I have drifted toward the drowsiness that dulls the full awareness of this immense gift called saving grace, and the price paid to give it. I too have been led by His Spirit to challenge people on this issue, and on occasion this has resulted in accusations of my being legalistic and judgmental.

I recall one particular individual whom I had the privilege to pastor some years ago. She was a middle-aged woman who espoused a spirit-filled walk with the Lord, yet among other emerging issues, over recent years her marriage had become a sham. Her husband had moved into a passive state of denial in trying to appease her increasing flirtatious attitude. This woman had found herself in the arms and then in the bed, of another man — a problem, yes, but it got worse. To cut a long story short, this event led to a promiscuous lifestyle. She would sleep with lonely middle-aged Christian men, particularly nominal or ‘new’ Christians. There was no repulsion at this, but a staggering belief that it wasn’t really a sin, and that a simple sorry was enough to put it all right again — well at least until the next misdemeanour.

One of her casual partners came to me and confided in me that, after a sexual liaison, she suggested that they go to the home of an acquaintance and pray that they get ‘baptised in the Holy Ghost’, because it was fun watching it happen. If that wasn’t disturbing enough, it gets worse! Her husband, aware of many of these activities, coped by drinking (a lot), but to my knowledge remained faithful, wanting the marriage to be renewed. After much time and a number of partners, this wayward lady decided to work on the marriage. It was suggested she speak to me and fess-up, clear the slate and have a go at getting the marriage back on track.

Now, if you have encountered the tide of fascinating ‘pop-theology’ passing for new revelation that I’ve seen evolving regarding grace, forgiveness and repentance, then what comes next is merely a product of it. In a matter of fact way, she confessed what we already knew and asked me to pray for her so she could ‘move on’. It was almost like a cavalier approach to a Roman Catholic confession, less the rosary. Well, it is that easy, isn’t it? That’s the message I hear from many a pulpit; just admit you’ve done the wrong thing, say ‘sorry’ and off you go! Although it may be understandable in this context, it is still inexcusable from any Biblical perspective.

Now, I fully agree that we can all develop our own theosophical perspective and peddle them as ‘God’s’ counsel, but what came next was what I believe needed to happen. My experience and doctrine on these issues caused me to respond differently to what she expected.

I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to confront her recent past. I will not give you the transcript of words, rather an overview of events. I confronted her, not so much on her actions and sin, but on what they represented — a reprobate (the best word for it — look it up) and rebellious soul. As we talked gently and lovingly, yet uncompromisingly and firmly, the Holy Spirit began to awaken her to what she truly was. As grief and a loathing began to come upon her the, ‘I know how this all works, I’ll feel better about myself in a moment’ attitude left her. Now I could see in her the beginnings of remorse, but that was not enough. Remorse can often simply be a sorrow for being caught and a grieving over the loss of stability in one’s self-defence, self-assurance and spurious self-preservation. No, our dear Heavenly Father had to show her a significant portion of how grieved heaven was by her sin and how much His love wanted to set her free.

A wave enveloped her, a wave of realisation — the awakening had begun. Her countenance changed, the passive smug look morphed to a rather grey disturbed expression; she began to weep. Yet still, this was only the beginning. I assured her of God’s great love for her, but that this love insisted she be delivered, and it was conviction and repentance that would bring this about. I cautioned her that for some time this would go deeper and that her distress would grow as the Heavenly Father delivered her. We prayed and I gave her counsel and Scripture to follow through on. It’s important to note here, that at no time did I accuse, berate or make any disparaging remarks to her. (This woman would not have stood for it anyway.) I kept it to God’s Word and allowed the Holy Spirit to convict. Remember it is the Holy Spirit’s primary function (although not primary role) to convict of sin and if He is permitted and invited, He will do this
imperative work.

Later that day, if I recall correctly, her husband rang me quite agitated — ‘What have you done to my wife?’ he angrily demanded. I gently informed him of all that transpired and not only what God was doing, but what he could expect before breakthrough. He conceded then that this was necessary. A week later he confided that he nearly rang me at 12:30 am one morning, because his wife was so distressed and low, that he was very distressed at her demeanour. I advised him that this was part of the enemy’s plan to divert the conviction to condemnation, because the soul squatters were being given notice. We had prayed and breakthrough came. Total repentance was birthed: a disavowing, a renouncing, and a repudiating of not only actions, but also attitude and suppositions. This was a 180-degree turn. Her husband confided that he could not believe the changes he was witnessing in her, and the joy and peace she was experiencing (Acts 3:19). Yes, this experience of saving grace, this awakening, had produced the repentance that would be difficult to anaesthetise. This life had been recalibrated and would not be soon distracted — victory had been won.

This example represents scores of similar encounters and is what should be part of every Christian experience at some point in the journey. However, when viewed against the current background of ‘esteem rescue ideology’, their purported severe nature can prove very difficult to embrace. In my experience, these testimonies, when viewed by many current practitioners, are seen at best as God’s extreme version of tough love, and consequently dismissed
as exceptions.

At worst, they are often viewed as legalistic, almost heretical, in our current climate of neo-agnostic niceness — and as a result denigrated and/or avoided. The journey you are about to embark on has an audacious aim, and that is to recalibrate the soul. As you read, always pray for the Heavenly Father’s conviction.

Do not be afraid of what you might see or feel; only know your loving Heavenly Father, His interceding Son and gentle, but firm Holy Spirit want you to know freedom and refreshing that only correct yielding to His grace will bring.

 

 

 

A ‘HEADS UP’!

 

 

In his book Into the Depths of God, Theologian and church commentator Professor Calvin Miller makes, what I believe, a very important observation about what it means for us to know (not about, but intimately connect with) God — to cross that divide of intimacy, diminishing separation that has existed between man and God since Adam’s fateful choice and man’s continued rebellion. Miller puts it like this:

We often learn that faith in Christ is a bridge, a two-pier suspension bridge. One pier is in this world, the other pier is in God’s world. One pier is fixed in our sinful, messy lives, the other is firmly planted in God’s mercy. We’re able to meet God in the very centre of this wonderful bridge of relationship. But if we don’t trust the two piers, we won’t walk out on the bridge, and then no relationship is possible at all.1

This observation can be true of any bridge. If we do not trust the design or components we will not venture out on to it and consequently will not reach the other side. When it comes to the design, components and construction of this most important of all bridges, we really do need to fully and unflinchingly trust the components. We seem to have no difficulty with at least one pier of Miller’s analogous bridge, and that is that one pier is in God’s merciful world, but there seems to be a growing doubt about the other pier and where it is planted.

There is some robust, and not unwarranted, dialogue in neo-Pentecostal theology around the hermeneutic of ‘saint and sinner’.

I believe it was the remarkable and Divinely gifted John Wimber who became a very vocal advocate of the ‘no longer sinner, but saint’ paradigm. It essentially goes; ‘We are no longer sinners saved by grace and therefore prone to sin, rather we are saints who occasionally sin.’ Our new title is what needs to be focused on. Our new title, according to the new hermeneutic is what must now, not only label, but define us — the title is ‘saint’. I know I’ve had long and position changing conversations around this and time will not permit that full discourse, suffice to say my avoidance of the term saint no longer exists. I believe the term and title should be embraced, but how we understand and live in this term is what requires serious contemplation. The following is some thoughts and reflections for you to ponder.

As mentioned after much debate, I did concede that the term ‘saint’ is indeed the new and correctly used Biblical label for those saved from their sin thought the finished work of Jesus Christ, and the repentance of those coming to faith. In this new space, to refer to oneself as a ‘sinner’, even in the context of being saved by grace, is on the surface not warranted. As a ‘saint’ I can still sin — Romans 7 makes crystal clear Saint Paul’s dilemma with the battle of sin and flesh even in his mature walk — Yet we must go beyond labels and semantics if we are going to carefully and deliberately engage in this wonderful new journey of ‘denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus’ (Matthew 16:24)

Unfortunately in my experience the context in which I hear this phrase ‘saint’ being used is that of almost being above reproach (and in one sense that is true in that we have bestowed on us God’s righteousness when we have truly repented — more on this later). If not above reproach, then a self-placating sense of actually being ‘ok just as we are’, which to our limited, and to use Paul’s terms in Romans 7, ‘carnal’ minds then equates to ‘good’. But what does ‘good’ and ‘ok’ really mean, and by whose reckoning are we such? Yet while this would appear a noble sounding, if not gracious sentiment (and certainly soul appeasing) it raises some concerning questions. One of my dear friends would tell me those questions are not warranted, as the title has been settled, we are now saints!

Author and counsellor Chuck Missler declared, ‘God did not come to make bad men good, but dead men alive!’ I believe this insight, echoed by many and rooted in Scripture gives us a little more insight into our real predicament outside of Christ. Is ‘good’ something we can conjure up? If alive, then to what? I would like to contend that it is nothing less than the glory and nature of God and who they, as children of God, were always purposed to be in and with Christ.

There is at least one surety when we refer to ourselves as being sinners, saved by grace, and that is we are, using Miller’s analogy, trusting both piers and ‘meet God in the centre of this bridge of relationship’. In this place we remain mindful of our brokenness (albeit being incrementally and/or progressively repaired state) and subsequent propensity for error, and therefore have ever before us, not a reminder of guilt, but a clear prompt that we need to remain ‘in Christ Jesus’ and always reliant on God’s transforming, not self-placating Grace. In this space we are much more likely to keep watch that the Saviour’s nature and not the sinner’s ego are manifest — and in trusting of the two piers, we remain on the bridge of communion in proximity to His governance and nature. Of course, some of my colleagues would content that using the saint tag would not diminish this need. Whilst I completely agree, again, it is this label birthed in the new era of audience appeasing ‘license’ (not true saving Grace) deployment that partners with the easily embraced (but not necessarily lived out) term ‘saint’, not to generate a higher call and function to holiness, but an apparent disregard for it — again, more on this later.

It is here, that I am reminded of the words recorded by the prophet Jeremiah. Words that could only be spoken of the all-knowing, all-understanding God of Creation … ‘The heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked above all things’ (Jeremiah 17:9). Not a lot of ‘wriggle room’ here for interpretative nuances is there? Yet, what appears to be argued in this new hermeneutic from our New Testament view, is that this wicked heart or from a transliteration, ‘the polluted and incurably feeble, crooked and woeful heart’, vanishes instantaneously at confession and we should, to avoid all perceived negativity, refer to ourselves now as saints. Yet this divinely sourced estimation of the human heart was not just an Old Covenant rant that had now been, somehow magically, erased by the appearing of The Christ. Paul in his remarkable letter to the Romans highlights the same heart condition …

[_For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. _](Romans 7:18 NKJV)

Now, remember, this declaration is from the born-again, filled with the Holy Ghost, miracle-working servant of God, writing toward the end of his itinerant mission, and in essence he is saying … in his godless humanity there is absolutely nothing eternally beneficial, (as the subtext in transliteration indicates). Now, some may say that in emphasising this, that I am echoing some old esoteric dichotomy paradigm. This was the notion that proto-Gnostics would use to decry the value of our creaturely nature. It was believed that the body and all its fleshly aspects were evil and to be denied, denigrated or dispatched. Paul is not saying that and makes clear elsewhere in his writings that abusing the flesh does not accomplish anything.

Note I used the words ‘godless humanity’. So what do I mean by that phrase? If we take the agreed upon notion that we (humanity) are all God’s children, created in his image, prepared for the fullness of His glory, then how can we be godless? By this I mean that without the dominion and rule of God in our lives, we are dead to that potential.

The account of Cain’s failed sacrifice is the first recorded incidence of this. We can, like Cain, start to believe that our God given talents and resources can be used without His governance, grace and guidance to produce something of Godlike worth. Cain was unable to see — in his apparent self-assured state — that his efforts were never going to be good enough. This too, is where a subtle but insidious form of idolatry can enter, as Calvin Miller also notes, ‘Idols are always ego gods … Idols are personal portraits of self-interest, they exist to assure worshippers they can have their own way.’ This is the delusion. This is the pride of life the apostle John spoke of. This is the ‘nothing’ that Jesus spoke of in the Gospel of John Chapter 15, when he declared, ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing!’ — nothing of eternal Godlike value.

The flesh, the ungoverned human unit, may produce many useful and even note-worthy things, but cannot produce the ‘Glory of God’ outside that intimate connection with the Creator — and Paul knew it. In fact the more revelation Paul received, the more potent his ministry, the more transcendent the manifestations, the deeper became his realisation that the ungoverned man — Paul — was just no good! This, at least to me, is why Jesus’ discourse on priorities as outlined in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 6 is so important. Jesus, our Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit, wants us back in the fullness of the community — the family that is the Godhead posture and mode — and this was always His intention from the very beginning. In verse 33 our Lord exhorts us (and I believe, passionately) to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness’.

Now, remember, this is the author and finisher of our faith setting a priority and we must take note of that. Jesus is saying in essence, ‘make it your chief desire — first endeavour — to acquire my dominion, my rule and sphere of influence in your life. Tantamount to that, (and only because of that rule) can you then pursue my standard of equity which can bring justification alone.’

Jesus knows that it is when we hunger for these ‘divine first order’ things that God’s glory and the fullness of His Kingdom can be revealed in and through us. However, in our flesh and our vain unsubmitted egocentricity, we are not only without permission, but also without ability to do this.

Getting back to Miller’s bridge, if we inappropriately (in self-preserving carnality) insist on sainthood, then in doing so we are at great risk of not remaining on that bridge of relationship. Having quickly embraced our new standing in Christ, we can be deluded into believing that this is our new state too.

In this self-adopted mindset we will rarely, if ever, second guess ourselves, our motives, words or intents, as we will believe them not to be predisposed to selfishness, pride and vanity, but rather always heavenly ways — after all, we are now ‘saints’. What concerns me though is that Jesus Christ Himself reiterated the sentiments of Jeremiah and pre-empted Paul as recorded in The Gospel of Mark …

 

And He said, ‘What comes out of a man; that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.’ (Mark 7:20-23 NKJV)

This is the state heaven wants to transform, so that we can be conformed to the image of heaven’s KING.

This is where the misuse of self-proclaimed sainthood, left unattended, can lead to even worse perceptions; even to the notion that we deserve better in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, and in thinking such, begin to justify any means to that end. It is here, in this disturbing place of entitlement, that we find our greatest justification for fault-finding, accusation, posturing, manipulation, squabbling, abuse and retaliation — For after all we are, at our core, not in error. Of course in our minds, being saints and children of the Kingdom, we deserve better. In the absence of that better, we seek justice for us and retribution on those who may have been party to robbing us of our rights as saints — an attitude the disciples manifested on more than one occasion, because they ‘didn’t know what Spirit they were of’. (An understanding I have too often forgotten myself).

It has been asked of me, that if we are not changed from sinner to saint at Calvary, then what was the purpose of the Cross? My initial response to that question is to certainly declare what it is not. Amongst the many staggering consequences of the Cross, sainthood barely makes the bottom of the list of consequences that matter — unless by the term saint you use the definition posited by Donald Grey Barnhouse who said; ‘Saints are a group of displaced persons, uprooted from their natural home, and on their way to an extra-terrestrial destination, not of this planet, neither in its roots or in its ideals.’ If this is our meaning then I think ‘saint’ as a title is reasonable as the following may affirm. However, this definition is far from the one I hear embraced in the emerging esteem-rescuing theologies of the self-seeking first world church.

In the profound, if not prophetic work Humility produced by respected author Andrew Murray we see a different perspective …

We have only to look at a man like the Apostle Paul, to see how, through his life as a ransomed and a holy man, the deep consciousness of having been a sinner lives inextinguishably. We all know the passages in which he refers to his life as a persecutor and blasphemer. ‘I am the least of the apostles, that am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me’ (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach to the heathen (Ephesians 3:8).

[_I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy) because I did it ignorantly in unbelief Christ Jesus came unto the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:13-15). _]

God’s grace had saved Paul; God remembered his sins no more forever; but never, ever could he forget how terribly he had sinned. The more he rejoiced in God’s salvation, and the more his experience of God’s grace filled him with joy unspeakable, the clearer was his consciousness that he was a saved sinner, and that salvation had no meaning or sweetness except as the sense of his being a sinner made it precious and real to him. Never for a moment could he forget that it was a sinner God had taken up in His arms and crowned with His love.2

Often 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 is presented in evidence for holding the position of this ill-defined and easily assumed sainthood and this also generates some concern in me.[_ _]

‘Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’

We seem quick and ready to claim our righteousness in Christ, yet do not, in my mind, really comprehend the passage, because to claim that position as complete and total in an instant sense, then we cannot refute that Christ’s transformation must have been likewise. In other words, when Christ ‘became sin for us’, was he therefore a sinner? If so, is His sacrifice void? Of course not! Jesus’ standing may have changed at Calvary, but his state did not. So why then do we think that our state automatically, instantly and completely changes to that of a saint, by simply confessing the error that heaven was already fully aware of? No! It may be that our standing can change to that of righteous, but our state has only begun to change. In Christ Jesus, we are to be aligned with the state of Christ. The writer of Corinthians clearly pens that,[_ ‘we might become the righteousness of God.’ _]Calvary has given us the opportunity and Christ’s finished work, the potential, yet it is imperative that we continue to walk relationally — in faith, and the humility and obedience that this will generate.

‘I have been saved from the penalty of sin — justified. I am being saved from the power of sin — sanctified. I will be saved from the presence of sin — glorified.’

Relationship and the change of state

It is clear that our standing changes at the point of justification. It is complete because of Jesus Christ’s remarkable intercession; the guilty verdict was taken by Him. This incredible consequence is staggering, yet in our clamour for ‘sainthood’, so quickly lost. So when we come to Christ, admit our sin and desperate need of forgiveness, then submit to His Lordship — we come under His covering and are given right standing before God. However, our state needs to be progressively transformed, and can now only be so because of the divine injunction taking the penalty of guilt that made it previously impossible to be transformed.

The debate about our state transformation being gradual and cooperative has its detractors. Our entire salvation is contingent on God and his work and resource, and nothing we do can add to that. I think this is a given. However, when it comes to the transforming work of sanctification, some seem to be arguing that any activity and willed participation in cooperating with the divine passion for relationship, and the holiness, humility, submission and investment this induces on our part, is somehow ‘working for our salvation’. They therefore shift reliance somehow, back on to us to achieve this, but is that so?

In this vein, Dr Donald Metz stated in regard to sanctification … ‘A person cannot grow clean, they must be washed clean.’ I, as with most, again concede that the entire salvation process is empowered, resourced and orchestrated by our gracious and loving Redeemer. However the divine construct of loving, willed relationship and the creation of free moral agency, whilst not demanding, still requires a voluntary and willed response by the recipients of this salvation, and therefore cooperation with the process. The fear of some theologians that the idea of humanity having some influence in the outcome of sanctification takes away from God’s sovereignty is, I think in this light, not only unfounded, but antithetical the very design of intimate relationship.

The major flaw of comparing being washed clean with growing clean is in the nature of the comparison. One is an event, the other an act of process. To help me explain this I want to go to 2 Peter 2:20-22 where we read the following:

 

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’ (2 Peter 2:20-22 NKJV)

The great apostle in this unambiguous admonition gives us clear instructions about our responsibilities of our participation in (not performance for) the Divine relationship. The tacit disclosure in this passage is that having been awakened to, and then coming before God, three revelations present:

i) I am filthy — I am utterly unclean, which it would appear was not evident until I am juxtaposed with the pure divine nature, then;

ii) I therefore need to be washed clean as I am unable to cleanse this deep stain by my own means, and finally;

iii) I begin to see it is not merely my activities and behaviours, but ultimately my very nature that predisposes me to get dirty.

Now here is where the shift of nature (state) must take place, to bring us to the place where we see, not only what makes us dirty and therefore put that down, but more so, what draws us into places where I do not have to get dirty that helps me grow.

Again, I agree I cannot grow clean. But I must grow up so that behaviour that leads me into wallowing in dirt again will be changed and/or removed. Of course this is not about earning purity, it is, however, about transforming in Christ and embracing that which maintains purity. Not for performance but rather for fullness’ sake, so that ALL that God desires in and for our relationship with Him can be mutually entered into.

This sentiment of the progressively transformed state is also borne out in a passionate plea in the following excerpt from the Ephesian letter:

With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.. (Ephesians 4:17-24 NLT) []

Paul is using strong proscriptive terms here, like ‘no longer live as the ungodly’ (I must sarcastically ask… ‘How could one live ungodly if one has been washed clean?’) because you are no longer hopeless or confused like those who really don’t know God and as a result they do not care about right or wrong. However the implication is clear for those who claim to have a relationship with God. They do now know what is right and wrong and are able in Christ to choose the right. In verse 20 we see another conforming statement and it is in the form of being taught. Again, the explicit implication is that we need to be taught, shown, demonstrated to; a new and better way of living, a way that denies/rejects impurity and greed.

More than that, we (not God) are to throw off the old evil nature which is ‘rotten through and through — full of lust and deception.’ So the obvious question comes to Metz’s claim that we cannot grow clean is: Why do we need to throw off that which is thoroughly changed and washed clean already?

Wow! There is no wriggle room here for justifying poor conduct or missing the reality that we need to continually be transformed to conform with the image of His Son. It is also clear that washing will cleanse us, but it will not keep us clean if we do not throw off the old and ‘seek renewal of thoughts and attitudes’. We must grow up and leave behind that which will lead us into becoming dirty again! In so doing we are signalling to God that we choose to grow closer in our relationship with Him, not merely treat Christ’s finished work on the Cross as a ticket to heaven! []

[* *]

Defining Sin

It is important for us to at least look briefly, yet carefully at the idea of sin near the commencement of our journey. Sin, (if the word is ever used) or more colloquially wrong doing is most often defined by the context in which it is framed. The context of moral, legal or ethical codes that may exist give us some ideas of definition.

However, it is important for our discussion to move away from subjective definitions/interpretations and determine the most authoritative source on the subject. If we hold that Christianity is the truth and the God of Christianity is the one true God, then it would follow that His commands, precepts, prescriptions, proscriptions, and laws are what would constitute the standard for right and good conduct and behaviour — not just for individuals but for humanity as a race, culture, tribe, community or clan. Subsequently the breach of either the letter or spirit of these prescriptions and precepts would be what constitutes sin.

In this light it is important to get at least a working Biblical definition of sin. Dr Donald S. Metz in his prominent academic work Studies in Biblical Holiness gives us a very good working definition of Biblical sin:

Sin may be defined as a voluntary transgression of a known law of God by a morally responsible agent, or as any state or attitude which is contrary to Christian love.

Metz states further that:

From a study of the terminology of sin it has been shown that the word ‘sin’ means two things 1) external acts which fail to conform to a given standard, and 2) a subjective state contrary to love. It is possible to test this definition according to the rules and principles of definition generally accepted, as follows: defining sin as both act and as state presents fully the essence of sin. To regard sin as voluntary act and as subjective state, both of which are contrary to God’s revealed and known will, is to clearly define the essence of sin … It is an affirmative proposition involving direct activity or realistic self-awareness … it is expressed in understandable terms rather than vague, abstract language … it is anthropologically oriented, in that it is directed to the understanding, needs, and ideals of man. Because of its concerns for the needs of man, the definition incorporates the essential human aspects of freedom, love and justice … The definition is Biblical. It contains the basic idea of sin as revealed in a study of Old Testament terminology. It also reflects the fundamental idea of sin which is expressed in New Testament terminology.3

Metz goes on to posit that only when we have a clear and accurate definition of sin is it then possible to discuss and investigate the nature of sin, and these key processes are imperative for us in our journey in discovering our desperate need for salvation — including the origin, definition and nature of sin and the remedy for such.

You will note that the Biblical rendition of sin, as previously read, includes significantly broader context than simply personal breaches. Yes, we are individually accountable, but it is more important to note that individuals were not the key focus of the divine tenants; it was the family (by this I mean God’s family in the broadest sense of humanity itself) that these statutes were intended to help discover God’s best for all, not just the individual.

Is this idea of sin understood by the average church attendant, let alone the secular culture? Is the need to talk about, let alone address this most prominent and prolific of eternal issues even considered in current first world culture?

Ronald Snider in his timely exposé The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience brings into sharp focus how the compartmentalising, redefining and ultimate ignoring of the ‘sin’ issue has created problems for both church and society.

A couple of decades ago it was a reasonably accurate generalisation to say that Evangelicals condemned personal sin and mainline Protestants denounced social sin. (By personal sin, I mean activities like lying, stealing and committing adultery, and by social sin, I mean participating in unjust systems like slavery, apartheid, and economic injustice.) Increasingly, however, pastors of every sort talk less and less about sin.

[_ _]

Growing relativism, a fear of sounding ‘judgmental’, a desire to be ‘seeker friendly’, and the psychologising of sin all work against a clear Biblical articulation of sin. As Cornelius Plantinga Jr. says, ‘Where sin is concerned, people mumble now.’

 

No one puts this more pointedly than the secular sociologist Alan Wolfe. Wolfe is an outside observer, an agnostic, whose recent book, ‘The Transformation of American Religion’, contains a brilliant analysis of contemporary American religion. Wolfe thinks the widespread abandonment of the doctrine of sin is especially striking among evangelicals! He writes, ‘In no other area of religious practice … is the gap between the religion as it is supposed to be, and religion as it actually is, as great as it is in the area of sin’. Even more striking, this self-confessed non-believer laments this retreat from sin.&4&[]

What needs to be understood is that sin is not just a behavioural by-product, it is also a posture and state that actively works within the fallen context — fallen from what — an ideal code of conduct — or something far more profound? We have looked at various components of sin and even aspects that help us define sin. However, I want to us to contemplate the following question: What might be the single most significant issue that, if put right, would not only encapsulate the very heart of the problem, but present its solution? []

Let me commence with a premise: true identity, true spirituality and true intimacy can only be truly and completely found in ultimate and absolute meaning. If that assumption has weight and may in fact be true, then our current generation is in serious trouble. If we subscribe to the popular, if not misguided template of postmodern stance, then we are in dire straits. Why? Because the fundamental postmodern premise is a heavily culled neo-agnosticism, which boldly declares that nothing can be ultimate, absolute or certain. In this faith-eroding space, one will not be able to discover true identity — identity that can only be fully actualised in our Creator, who gave us not only our identity, but the context for it.

The Hebrew word for this perfect, harmonious interdependence among all parts of creation is called shalom … the Hebrew word means much more than [absence of trouble or hostility]. It means absolute wholeness — full, harmonious, joyful, flourishing life. The devastating loss of shalom through sin is described in Genesis ch.3. We are told that as soon as we determined to serve ourselves instead of God — as soon as we abandoned living for and enjoy God as our highest good — the entire created world became broken … we have lost God’s shalom — physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart.5

Let’s, for the moment, accept that this is true. It does not mean that our yearning to discover identity ceases. We must seek it out. However, if my premise is correct, our parameters for pursuit are limited to our personal context and consequently we end up simply drawing our definitions back into ourselves. If our identity is geared to that which we think we create, we control, we produce or we connect to, then it follows that when those things fail or no longer sustain us, we have what is commonly referred to as an existential crisis! Timothy Keller, commenting on Ernest Becker’s statement that ‘every person is seeking cosmic significance’ surmises, ‘Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially deify.

When we are disconnected from the ultimate source of spirituality and identity, we must find it elsewhere. In so doing we must bear the burden of re-determining our identity — the who and the why we are, that make us significant. It is in our attempting to find, hold or adjust this place that generates the conduct and behaviour that inevitably hurt ourselves and others.

Of course in this subjective deification processes we do not see our conduct as errant, rather as necessary, even good and right for what we are desperately defining, defending or determining. In the absence of ultimate and absolute standards, values and source for identity, we are continually at the whim of fears, insecurities, sense of deprivation, failed ambitions, guilt and conflict. That’s before we even look at what we may justify doing to others in defence of our identity source.

Perhaps it is in this context of duress, that Fr Richard Rohr’s comments may make sense …

[_Jesus didn’t ferret out the sinner, he went seeking the suffering … He didn’t put them through some loyalty test or purity code before he ministered to them … These things are always about superiority and self-congratulating egos — ‘I’m better than you!’ _]

When we consider Jesus’ own words to the Pharisees who accused him of the almost unforgivable compromise of hanging out with tax collectors and other religiously unclean people, we get a glimpse of how heaven views the sin malady: ‘When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance”.’ (Mark 2:17)

Jesus here in this context is making a clear declaration that sin is as an illness, requiring a physician to heal, not a judge to condemn. Now, of course this is the key to the incarnation. Our Creator God knows that our soul is sick because we are disconnected from the true source of meaning and identity, and the cure for this illness is reunion with Him.

However, this reunion is more than a mere acknowledgment again of the source — God; rather, it is a complete yielding and abandoning to Him that will see transformation.

Let’s go even further back into the Old Testament. The first and greatest commandment given by Jehovah Himself through Moses was simply, ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’

This gives us a strong hint as to the new priority that must be, and in the previously mentioned context we see clearly this commandment is not about a divine ego-trip or capricious call to subservience … no, first and foremost it is a call to healing. We are not God. We cannot successfully wield this formative power without collateral damage. Finding our intimacy, identity, purpose, and meaning in the only true source brings a restoration like no other. A restoration of our true selves means that we can then truly ‘love our neighbour’, because in our new abode of significance — an abode with an easy and light yoke — we place no ungodly demands, yield no fears, and enact no defence of our identity and worth to those around us. This is due to the new reality that we have not only peace and joy, but now the divinely resourced wherewithal to love others … Now this is the GREAT news!

Yet, it doesn’t end there does it? Sadly our penchant for self-governance often leads us to glean worth, intimacy and identity from our performance, possessions or personal priorities, and we drift again to places of conduct that do not reflect the divine nature. When we choose to ignore, forget or wilfully wander from the centrality of God in our lives, then our conduct will damage not only ourselves, but others. It is in this place that we no longer need a physician, but a parental coach — a loving, caring parent who will instruct us through reproof, rebuke and edification to bring us back to the divine health previously established by our yielding to Christ’s governance in our lives.

If we fail to again yield, if we choose to push God away and in essence rebel, then we are at real risk of taking all the divine resources and using them for our own end, perhaps even forging an effigy of divine identity and purpose without the relationship needed to sustain it. So again we find ourselves drifting into not a sickness, but a self-governed condition of half-baked meaning, identity and purpose; one for which we will be required to not only sustain, nurture, promote and develop, but one for which we will have to give an account!

When it is all distilled down, sin is failing to fulfil the first and greatest commandment — making God and Lord our only source and yielding our control to His wise and loving benevolence. As the noted Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard succinctly put it, ‘Sin is not simply doing bad things, it is putting good things in the place of God!’ This is the foundation problem behind all sin.

This all becomes a little clearer when we look at our Heavenly Father’s rebuke to Cain in the very first attempt of humanity to self-validate through personal effort. Cain’s efforts were not up to scratch and his interim purpose-formed identity was in need of a defence he couldn’t give. As a consequence of this attempt to put good things in place of God and find identity and purpose outside the God prescription, sin was given opportunity as was disclosed in God’s statement to Cain in Genesis 4:7, ‘Sin was crouched at the door, and its desire is to master you.’ It is important to note here too that these words from the heavenly Father’s mouth were uttered before the law was even available to allow sin to accuse us. This is because the source of all sin is ultimately not loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and then from that resource place, loving our neighbour as ourselves.

Understand that sin’s posture has not changed and our nature, outside of transforming grace and yieldedness to God’s Lordship, collaborates with sin’s intent and we give into it.

However in Christ Jesus we can master sin with great ease. If you like, outside of Christ’s finished work and Lordship, we could easily become captive to sin, a prisoner of war. Now, in Christ, we are no longer captive to it, but are ever equipped and armed as soldiers to combat and overcome its influence in our lives. Sin has not changed and our fallen nature has not yet fully changed — rather through sanctification, consecration and understanding the only true source of our secure identity and meaning is redeemed because of the blood of Christ, the finished work of Calvary. It is then up to us as free moral agents to repent, trust and obey all constituting relationship with the divine — this will see us become the ‘complete righteousness of God.’

As we can see from this brief foray into a vast and concerning topic, sin is not some simple ‘whoops, I did a booboo’ kind of thing that can be smiled at and overlooked. Even though the culture manipulators of the secular West may erase the word ‘sin’ from the dictionary it remains a serious malaise that mars not only the creation, but the most precious and longed for aspect of the creation — humanity!

Please understand, it is not the sin that now becomes the central issue in God’s dealing with humanity, as some commentators have bemoaned, making God’s attention not only reactionary, but negatively focused. What is central to our Triune God is His longing for and pro-active pursuit of the restoration of our true identity and the intimate communion that deeply motivates the Creator God. In that passionate pursuit, impediments to that divine potential are what are addressed, the chief of those being that which denies or diminishes that communion, including the very real problem of sin.

To continue to marginalise this issue or worse, ignore it, is only going to plunge our world into deeper and deeper despair and a SOLUTION must be found to this most devastating of eternal catastrophes.

 

CONSTRUCT A:

 

[‘WOW, THANKS!
*I REALLY *
DON’T DESERVE
THAT!’
**]

 

 

OPENERS

 

 

At this point and before we start this next phase, I want to inundate you with some key collaborative scriptures to draw you into a reflective Biblical mode. Please don’t just read, but ruminate on the following;

 

But the free gift is not like the offence. For if by the one man’s offence many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offence resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offences resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offence death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as through one man’s offence judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:15-21 NKJV)

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God, while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing what is right. (Titus 2:11-14 NLT)

[_Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God’s anger just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favour that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms ­ all because we are one with Christ Jesus. And so God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favour and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus. God saved you by his special favour when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. _](Ephesians 2:1-10 NLT)

[_Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received a full knowledge of the truth, there is no other sacrifice that will cover these sins. There will be nothing to look forward to but the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. Anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Think how much more terrible the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God and have treated the blood of the covenant as if it were common and unholy. Such people have insulted and enraged the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to his people. For we know the one who said, ‘I will take vengeance. I will repay those who deserve it.’ He also said, ‘The Lord will judge his own people. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ _](Hebrews 10:26-31 NLT)

 

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness. (Ephesians 6:14 NKJV)

 

[_You therefore, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. _](2 Timothy. 2:1 NKJV)

 

As I have already asserted, this is very much what happens when we are awakened to what our Creator has done through Jesus Christ. When we begin to see how much this wonderful and Holy God loves us (He loved us so much that He gave His only Son to be sacrificed for our sins). When we begin to understand this sacrifice and at the same time understand how contrary we are to this loving and perfectly pure God, who gave His life for our broken impure lives — when we see that, our knees go a bit ‘wobbly’. The heart begins to race and a deep sadness, mingled with a profound joy, born of deep conviction are awakened. We touch a profound awe when we begin to comprehend the price that was paid to clear my insurmountable debt. Then in this ecstatic moment you utter with amazement… ‘Wow! Thanks! I really don’t deserve that!’

Benjamin Franklin said,

To the generous mind the heaviest debt is that of gratitude, when it is not in our power to repay it. That is what I am talking about, a debt that cannot be repaid even by the most generous. But though it is a debt, it is the only debt one can owe that gives one a sense of fulfilment. A gentle pressure applied to a strained muscle can actually hurt, although it brings relief. Physiotherapists will call that a ‘sweet pain’. A debt of gratitude is somewhat like that — something that reminds you of your need, and someone who is able to meet that need for you.1

It has been said on one level of grace that … ‘If grace is getting what you don’t deserve then mercy is not getting what you do deserve!’ I think we have made a bad habit of interchanging these two very precious components of His Kingdom. This is not just a matter of semantics. By the interchanging of the words grace and mercy, I believe we have inadvertently devalued the nature of saving and sanctifying grace and this has led us to a great misuse of this culture of heaven.

Let’s try to clarify the two. Mercy to my mind is always a ‘post-event’ process — it is in essence damage control. The effectiveness of its impact is totally in the domain of God in the sense that He does not require our participation in it. By that I mean involvement is not a participation or even engagement, at best it is a request for it. There are two options for a just, holy and loving God to act when we commit an act that was incongruent with His perfect will and standard. God can dispense justice — the appropriate punitive consequences for a breach of that which maintains the good, or He can dispense mercy. Both can be an endeavour to restore that which was, right action and relationship. However, mercy, in this context, is much more a condescending gesture, rather than a pro-active resource.

On the other hand, grace is a resource that empowers us to become. It enables us. It is the construct in which the New Covenant is able to produce its fruit of righteousness. Everything God wants to enact, fulfil and perform is done on this platform — faith, fruit, power, relationship, miracles and vision all find their eternally efficacious release in the medium of divine saving and sanctifying grace.

The definition of grace has been the subject of significant exposition. I understand that definition to be in the simplest terms, unmerited favour– meaning that we have extended to us privilege that is not, nor ever could be, due on our own merits. However, the same energy has not been given to understanding its application. Grasping this wonderful gift, even in part, can only send the soul reeling in awe.

When we begin to consider God’s unfathomable purity and truly understand our own (by divine comparison) reprobate state, then this gift of grace begins to sharpen in focus. The saving and sanctifying grace that chooses to see beyond the broken state to possibility and potential, not punishment, and extends to us yet another opportunity for the divine future our Father always intended. This is indeed a gift of immeasurable worth!

 

p={color:#000;}.
KEY I:

 

[RECONCILIATION
AND THE LAW’S
FAILURE]

 

Head Space — Contemplate and discuss what you believe was the purpose of the law. Read Psalm 19: 4-7 and Romans 3.19-20.

 

When the Psalmist says the law is ‘perfect, converting the soul’, is he saying that a set of rules is going to make us perfect? Well if we interpret the word law as simply a set of ‘do’s and do nots’ then I think we’d quickly arrive at the conclusion that this wonderful conversion would most likely not eventuate. What we need to understand is that the law referred to not only here, but consistently throughout the Old Testament, means considerably more than a set of regulations.

When the Biblical writers used this term law it was most often in reference to the Torah. This can also be referred to as the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) and is in essence the inventory of directions, guidelines and patterns that were understood as the ‘way of living’. It was designed to be a codified outline of principles designed to help Israel as a nation experience something of God’s ways for life. However, it also can refer to the some 613 specific rules/laws/regulations that are outlined in this superseded (but not worthless) ‘old’ Covenant.

However, what I think is important in understanding a little more about this law is to look at the context in which it was initially intended and how and where God purposed it to be given. As you read the account of this significant event outlined in Exodus 20:1-21, you will notice that it was not delivered in a vacuum, but in a very important context — the context of relationship. This codification was only meant to be an assistance to the core intent of the covenant process, which was the very real and active way in which God and man were to commune with each other. In fact, when God wanted to give these guidelines for how to live, He wanted to speak directly to the children of Israel, but the presence of God frightened them so much that they ran away and insisted on a mediator — Moses — to commune with God and relay the information to them.

I want us to take particular note of this rejection of communion, exercised by the children. Admittedly this direct contact with the Almighty God would have been frightening, especially to those bereft of any comparison or experience of this Transcendent One, but that wasn’t the case with Israel. If you are familiar with the exodus of Israel from Egypt, then you will know that they experienced God’s intervention at the Red Sea and they had had a pillar of cloud and pillar of fire guiding them, so they were not strangers to phenomena. In fact it would appear they seemed familiar and even comfortable with this evidence of the Divine. But God wanted to take the relationship beyond ‘signs and wonders’ into a connection that gave them greater access to the very Person of God, not merely His extensions and manifestations.

As outlined in the Exodus account, this level of relationship was, as I’ve stated, beyond mere evidences to a place of communion. Yes, it was initially in the form of proximity and in awe, but it was direct communion with God. Yet the children of Israel ran from this option.

It is also interesting to note what they were running from. God wanted the people close to his presence because the awe they would experience would be a key element in preventing them from breaking the covenant (sinning) God was trying to forge, but it would appear that for the sake of comfort, they stayed away. It was really only Moses who drew near. Consequently, only Moses availed himself of this opportunity for intimacy with God. Only Moses was prepared to lay aside comfort, lay himself bare to the soul and heart-piercing purity of God.Consequently, only Moses was remarkably transformed and only Moses had the privilege of experiencing the intent that the law — embraced in communion with God — could facilitate.

Now, let’s just pause for a minute and consider that scenario! God was yearning to communicate directly with His children, but wanted to give some guidelines, as a nation to help keep them from conduct and problems that would diminish this communion and would help maintain the awe they needed. However, they chose to embrace the rule but baulk at the relationship.

I would like to suggest that in the end a guideline can be easier to get around than a personal relationship with an all-knowing God. Let’s keep this is mind as we proceed.

As we proceed into the New Covenant (Testament) we see further additions to the above. If we take Paul’s statements in Romans 3:21 (echoed in essence, in verse 31) we get a good look at one of the other key reasons why the law did not accomplish its end … ‘For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ I think it was F.F. Bruce who drew attention to the fact that it was God’s glory we fell short of, no less. As I see it, the indictment is not that we fell short of exemplary moral standard, or religious excellence, but we did not make the grade in regard to God’s glory.

The glory granted us from creation and the glory only found in God. The glory God wanted to reveal again to His people on Mt Sinai, as previously mentioned. In brief, the law was now to act as a catalyst on two levels:

1) To assist us in a pragmatic sense to discover some of the way of living communally in God’s kingdom that, in conjunction with an open communion with God, would have transformed lives. But in the absence of the latter (the presence of God) the law is now impotent and redundant for the masses, but

2) To reveal and remind us of our need of an intervention, something we are completely unable to facilitate ourselves … ‘There is a perversion in us that the law highlights … the law eliminates any way for man to rationalise away his sin nature.’2

This pro-active component was to act as a starting point — a pointer — for access to the glory of God that could, in communion with God, bring change.

While few understood this, a study of the rare individuals in the Old Testament who did, makes a clear indicator of how profound this glory was for those who availed themselves of this higher agenda — Samuel, Isaiah, David and Moses.

Such was Moses’ use of the agenda of this vehicle that he experienced the glory of God like none other, to the point where people could not look upon him. Ah, but so few and so far between were those who embraced this intent. If the law was treated as merely a moral or religious exercise in an attempt, outside any meaningful relationship, to acquire this glory — this ‘standard of God’ — then it was an inevitable failure, because the critical component of communion with God was absent. []

The law didn’t fail because it was faulty (suggesting God has poor quality control), but because it was misinterpreted and consequentially misapplied. Subsequent misuse of this vehicle spelt death, because the prescribed intent of glory in His presence — in communion — was not realised. Yet God did not preclude candidates on this failing alone (although He could rightly do so) for this became the benchmark. Rather, He persevered, I believe through grace, to see others who at least tried for relationship to experience a degree of it, i.e. the children of Israel. In this light the law was the key factor implemented for reconciliation; an attempt to reveal to us (if only in part) some of the standard of God, and what was required of us to attain that standard so as to at least connect with God.

It is a set of specifications which, if adhered to, affords opportunity to achieve a relational posture (although poor) that was in some way compatible with some of God’s standards and to allow a form of connection to exist through some covenant clause, such as sacrifice for the covering of sins. If we could possibly manage to adhere to the entire law (and we can’t) then at the end of our life we would have discovered that God’s intent was His glory, and that crowning glory was communion with the Godhead in His fullness. We would have also discovered that the mechanism of the law in fact showed us how impossible that is, without God’s presence and His sanctifying grace.

Now we know that this was proved more than difficult, essentially it is impossible, especially when we consider the words written in Deuteronomy 27:26 ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.’ In part, the law was also a mechanism God utilised to instruct us in ordering conduct and relationships, all attempting to address and minimise that which had caused the breach, namely: sin. But it didn’t work, for the very reason just outlined. No one could obey it flawlessly, and that is why much of ‘Rabbinical’ teaching would attempt to interpret God’s intent in the law as a points/merit system. In other words, if you did more good than bad in this life (according to God’s laws) then when you get to the judgment seat, you may just pass inspection. So with the law you started from negative and attempted to move toward the positive.

 

Again please understand, the law’s inability to achieve the ultimate intent of heaven was not a result of its design, nor of God’s ability to perceive our shortcomings, remember, ‘The law is perfect, converting the soul’. In other words, the law brings the realisation that you cannot produce this standard on your own. When you seek to follow the law’s intent and passion with a heart to know, yield to and honour God, it can be used as a vehicle at least to find a way toward God and away from error. However, it is also the posture in which we must draw near, that posture is of submission to His governance and dominion, and it is only in this context that the law has some potential to incrementally convert our soul to that which is righteous. However, because our heavenly Father so desperately wanted us to fellowship with Him, not merely attain a standard, God altered not just the covenant type but also its terms.

It is imperative — absolutely vital — that we note what God did here. Remember in Exodus 20 God wanted communion in proximity and awe, so He initiated the law as a guide to community. But that seemed too much for the children of Israel. So God, in a remarkable act of condescending grace, makes Himself even more available. God sends His Son in a very accessible form and now seeks an even more profound level of relationship, but this time through interdependency and intimacy. This is staggering. Jesus lives with us and then the third person of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit) can dwell in us. What incalculable lengths have been enacted by our benevolent Creator to open up communion with His children.

It appears however that this may have created a new set of problems, this time for God more than for us. Judson Cornwall said … ‘Jesus is God in available form, but God nonetheless.’ Jesus is the same God in the Old Testament, the same Deity, the same author of covenant, but now so tenderly appearing. This new problem appears to be familiarity, which sadly often even leads to contempt. In the Old Testament grace permitted the people to know God through awe and respect. Now in the New Covenant He manifests this grace through vulnerability and loving incursion. This time the people did not run from Him, they put Him on a cross.

The two primary failings were not in the design and intent of the Giver, rather in approach and application of the recipient. The increase in the revelation of the depth of sin that the law revealed and what was necessary for righteousness to be realised, was now clearly a human impossibility outside authentic and intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity.

The beauty and the irony of this, is that our grace-focused God-initiated faith is unable to embrace sin or the law, only the Christ. It is this pursuit and connection that heaven always desired. Paul writes again in Romans 4:16: ‘Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham …’

Unlike the law, where we start to move from the negative to the positive, under grace we start with Christ’s righteousness, our standing changes at the start, not the end (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Yet there is still another concern, and that is God’s wrath. The wrath of a Just God occurs because not only a law, but perfect standard exists, and relationship does not, as Paul pens in Romans 4:15: ‘Where there is no law there’s no transgression.’ In other words, with relationship gone, we don’t have a mirror to show us what we really look like. The law then becomes that mirror. But if the law does not exist either, then there is no awareness of sin, which is the very element keeping us from knowing and walking with God, so we remain ignorantly separated from God and completely unaware of why we are separated.

With both of these factors preventing us from experiencing real relationship: along with faith and repentance (these components were always necessary in law centred relational governance), saving grace needed to be added to the mix.

Having looked at all this, is it then possible having commenced in the positive, to then move to the negative … well, NO, is the cry of many! Let us look and see what God’s Word has to say about this.

The Tutor

Often, because of an emerging new hermeneutic of cheap grace, when it comes to the law, many Christians tend to throw the baby out with the bath water. Galatians 3:19-25 tells us that the law reveals our sin and our need of a Saviour, and that is a good thing! Even though the law was introduced 430 years after the ‘promise’ — that promise was for those of faith. Those of faith are children of Abraham, in the sense that they are heirs of that promise. Sin, however, marred that promise and management was required to help bring people back to the original covenant — the covenant of faith unto salvation (wholeness, health and glory only found in the bosom of the Father). ‘Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.’ (Galatians 3:24). When and only when, faith in saving grace is activated, which is the doing and not just the hearing (James 1:22-25 & Romans 2:13), the law becomes obsolete for assessment and for adjusting conduct — ‘But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.’ (Galatians 3:25)

It is interesting to note that the God faith unto salvation described in Ephesians 2:8 is activate by God and is the faith that ‘God has dealt to each one’ (Romans 12:3). Faith that is unto and in God is activated in us via repentance. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come to convict the world of sin so they can believe (John 16:8). In other words the conviction of our error ignites the belief in our need of a saviour, not just for rescue, but relationship. This enables us to move away from the myopia of our own deceptive self-government, to a trust in the goodness, wisdom and power of the only omni-benevolent Theocrat — The KING OF KINGS.

What is also important to grasp is that God does not want our faith activated outside of relationship with Him, as it is when Jesus is not Lord. That relationship, the active intimacy of deep communion (not merely the ‘collective of God’s created’ that seemingly makes us related), can only commence with the repentance and forgiveness that conviction of sin facilitates.

If we exercise faith (using the God given faculty to ‘cling to, adhere to an rely on’) outside of relationship then the scenario of Matthew 7:21-23 will be our portion: having cast out demons, healed the sick and performed miracles in Jesus’ name, we will yet be disqualified for our iniquity (which literally means breach of Torah — the law, which intent was to always facilitate reconnection of real communion) because Jesus ‘never knew them’. We must grasp this — Jesus never knew them. Faith that does not lead to a growing relational intimacy with the Triune God, but rather simply ends up a mechanism of engagement for a specific outcome, completely misses the mark of Heaven’s intent and creates ‘strangers’ of those who claim Kingdom status!

Hey, but hang on! Aren’t we all God’s children and isn’t He omniscient, so how can He say He did not ‘know us’? The implications of this statement are worthy of a further serious investigation. In essence, Jesus — God incarnate — is saying of those in this predicament that they were never known: the original language reads like ‘never perceived as fully understood and surely known’. It is this dimension of intimate relationship that Jesus came to restore, and it is this communion under Lordship that sees God’s power used to reveal His glory. Jesus Christ Himself further laboured this point in (arguably) His final parable of the10 Virgins, (Matt 25:1-13) Those five unprepared key wedding party attendants manifested a disregard for not only the Bride groom but also His bride (the Church) and consequently elicited a response of disgusted disbelief. To paraphrase Rev Terry Johnson “Who are you, I thought I knew you, and believed you were totally on my side, but clearly I was utterly mistaken, I cannot have you here!”

God does not like His power and resources used via formula, outside Christ’s relational governance. This is one of the very real failings of the law; it inadvertently enabled people to access resources outside of relationship. To get a blessing whilst ignoring communion is the same as being affiliated but not associated. Our heavenly Father wants to be in intimate communion and from that place bless us, because, as we read with the parable of the 10 Virgins, it is about with and together, not by or from. What we really need to be careful of, is that grace does not get used in this same egocentric fashion, as heaven is greatly displeased, again, as indicated by Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21- 23.

If we are unable to exercise faith in maturity then reverting to the tutor for reference is reasonable. Following the guidelines and parameters of the law, in the context of relationship with God as He always intended, is a great instructor in what is right to perform.

However, let me make it perfectly clear — the law must never be relied on for salvation or righteousness. Performing the law to achieve righteousness or worse, to impress God, will leave you wanting. On the other hand, using the law to direct you toward knowing God and develop dependency on relationship with His Son for salvation and righteousness will bring the correct fruit.

[* *]

As we have read, king David understood the intent of the law: to precipitate relationship and consequently, he used it to this divine end, not merely as a system to avoid punishment and collect blessing, rather to know and commune more completely with His God, as the following verses indicate:

 

The law is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. (Psalm 19:7-8)

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful: but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates (ponders by talking to himself) day and night. He shall be alike a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Great peace have those who love your law, they have no stumbling block. (Psalm 119:165)

Although righteousness is now revealed in Christ, to bring us back to faith (in the context of relationship) the law is no longer necessary. However, whilst the law may be redundant in regard to righteousness, it can still instruct us. On its very base level it reveals our need for the law from the least mature perspective, as Paul writes, ‘Therefore the law is holy and the commandment holy and just and good.’ (Romans 7:12)

Again, as Paul writes in Romans 3:21, ‘But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.’ Take note that the word witnessed here literally means: to give testimony to; bring a good report. Like any good tutor, it declares that this is now (if you like), the grown-up way, and the law — not being the lesson, but directing to it — was always intended to lead to this point, never be the point itself.

 

Here is another one of Paul’s references to the law that can easily be read over as incidental:

 

Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that! If you love your neighbour, you will fulfil all the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments against adultery and murder and stealing and coveting — and any other commandment — are all summed up in this one commandment: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to anyone, so love satisfies all of God’s requirements. (Romans 13:8-10 NLT)

Paul, fascinatingly enough, echoes the inferences of Jesus and a real insight into what I think was always God’s intent for the law. He refers to ‘loving one another’ and that those who do so have fulfilled the law. If you spin this about, it could be put … ‘He who does all the law will (by so doing) demonstrate love to his neighbour’. Again Paul reveals his understanding of the intrinsic nature of God’s eternal plan. Through covenant, He wants to have relationship with His created; and for us all to experience the communion we were created for from the beginning of time!

What is of greater significance is the emphasis our Saviour placed on the law; Jesus made it abundantly clear that God did not make a mistake by introducing the defective law, rather that heaven was — in Christ — going to honour the law, even though superseding it, through the Christ of God.

This is evidenced in Jesus’ remarks written in Matthew 5:17-20:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

It is important to also note the dialogue the Messiah has in Matthew 22:37-40. The inference here is inescapable. Remember, I contest that the law’s intent was always to be about relationship. Here the two great commandments are reiterated — ‘To love the Lord your God with all you have and to love your neighbour as yourself, ON THESE TWO HANG ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS!’ Jesus is saying; if you fulfil these two relational precepts the law will be fulfilled. Again, ipso-facto, if one does all the law as heaven intended (for relationship sake) the result will be the fulfilling of these two commandments! The reverse formula was obviously unachievable thus the finished work of Christ, relationship with Him and our yielding to it is required for us to Love God and our neighbour, heaven’s way.

 

The new process to atonement still had as its primary objective the reconciliation of humankind to God and the rekindling of the genuine intimacy once enjoyed in Eden’s confines. However, injected into it was a level of care, patience, empowerment and commitment that cost the Godhead their quintessence — the Son. That injection was saving and sanctifying grace. Now it is here that a problem arises, and the answer to the problem demonstrates the lengths to which the Creator would go in order for us to have that familial communion with Him.

We are to blame!

What exactly is this new found and wonderful resource of saving grace for? It would appear that some have interpreted grace as being that which leads people to a place where they no longer have to be concerned about sin. But if grace results in our becoming comfortable with sin, or at ease with our failure to conform to the divine purpose and image, then does it remain a mechanism of reconciliation (making us compatible with God and not the other way around)? Or does it actually become an impediment to that process?

One of the side-effects of this emerging hermeneutic on saving and sanctifying grace is the increasing leaning toward universalism and reductionism. This has brought with it the concept that not only laws, but God’s counsel itself is relative — relative to any emotional, relational or personal need requiring me to make God’s laws more flexible for my social situation, especially if they are making me ‘feel bad’. This can, if not lead to, then at least imply that grace can then be selfishly manipulated to suit our personal demands rather than gratefully appropriated for God’s best to be worked in us.

The objective nature of God’s saving and sanctifying grace will always seek to extend favour in its attempt to usher in His will and purpose — which is for compatibility with Him and reconciliation with us. However, if grace does not produce this, but is engaged instead toward perpetuating the allowance of sin, then God will insist on intervention. An interim measure will be employed by our loving Father in order to prevent an ultimate disaster.

One of the remarkable consequences of receiving saving grace is the negating of guilt’s penalty. However, often the misinterpretation of grace in today’s culture has redefined it as the removal of blame. However this is not the intent of grace. We are to blame for our actions — in fact God insists that we be. Why, so we can feel bad? (And of course that is one thing our postmodern culture works hard to avoid.) No, far from it!

For starters, one of the realities of externalising blame is that it actually prevents us from being responsible for our actions and so we don’t see ourselves in need of forgiveness, but rather of pity and consolation. This phenomenon goes back to the beginning of human history. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was convinced that God may not know best and she ate of the tree God had forbidden. What happened next was tragic; Adam was presented with the same opportunity to ignore God’s counsel — counsel he was lovingly given, knew well and had choice over. He took the fruit and ate it and the rest, as they say, is history. When questioned by God on what had happened, Adam’s new found knowledge leads him not to honesty, integrity and responsibility, rather straight to externalising blame …

‘Yes,’ Adam admitted, ‘but it was the woman you gave me who brought me the fruit, and I ate it.’ (Genesis 3:12 NLT) Wow!

Not only does Adam deflect to his wife, but he actually blames God for the whole thing. Like Adam, when we divert blame, we not only deny responsibility but step into an arrogant space where we can then begin to believe that we don’t need forgiveness, but rather deserve heaven’s consolation and assuaging balm for the discomfort and pain we suffer because of our own broken humanity with all its selfishness. God again, in a round-about way, gets lumped with the responsibility.

Another disturbing consequence of avoiding blame is that we, quite tragically, diminish the potential for our willed participation in the powerful redemptive process of sanctifying grace. The grace that can only be released when we yield to God through confession — agreeing with God that we are in error and need Him to restore us. In a paradoxical twist, it is admitting first that we have messed up and asking God to forgive and transform us, that does not diminish us, it in fact enlarges us.

Last but not least from a salvation perspective, if in our own eyes we are not to blame, then we can consequently believe that we do not need to confess and repent (lay down the old and take up the new)! If we do not repent we cannot experience forgiveness! Without forgiveness we have no salvation! Without salvation we cannot be free to truly know and commune with God and are lost to Him both now and for eternity!

 

 

 

KEY II:

 

[*LOWERING THE BAR? *
I DON’T THINK SO!]

[* *]

 

[*Head Space — Is grace reactive or pro-active? *]

Discuss these thoughts, particularly in light of Romans 5:21

 

In the individualistic consumer-focused culture in which we find ourselves immersed, it is easy to customise the gospel of the Kingdom of God (as Jesus referred to it) especially if that customising trims the uncomfortable aspects the full counsel of God may generate. Yes, it is right that we personalise the divine truth and work of Christ and make it our own. However, in so doing we must never permit our culture to mould that truth to fit our own circumstances, expectations, needs or self. The gospel must mould us to fit heaven’s desires.

One of the key elements in crossing the line from personalising to customising is found in a process called ‘Christian Reductionism’. In simple terms (pardon the ironic pun) it is a process that instils the idea that a complex whole can be easily understood by simply breaking it down into small sections. Now that may assist in understanding some elements better, if it does not impugn the whole by the misrepresenting of a smaller component. If we do not see the whole and understand it through both the components and the whole, then we will most likely embrace only the aspects of the gospel that suit us, which will eventually lead to an error and in turn, the passing on of that same error. Again, personalising must never be customising!

I have been concerned for many years now that there is a growing influence of customising in the pre-conversion journey.

The quality of the ‘gestation and birthing’ process of a new disciple most often determines whether heaven is able to adopt them and take charge in their lives. Again, in my experience, one of the greater problem areas has been what I call ‘Lowering the Bar’ — the lessening of heaven’s standards. When we operate in a reductionism space you can see how easily, though inadvertently, this may happen. The reductionism mentality attempts to break the gospel down into supposedly easy-to-understand, bite-sized portions of palatable ideas. We can lose sight of the greater holistic counsel and some of the stronger expectations that only come through when we have an understanding of the whole. These things are lost in the précised versions of gospel presentation.

A classic example of reductionism can be seen in presenting John 3:16 without reading verses 17 through to 21 or even just verse 18. We say ‘God so loved the world’ but forget the ‘whosoever believes’ and omit even more quickly the ‘whosoever does not believe is condemned already’. When we make the gospel into a customised ‘join the dots, one, two, three, now you’re free’ process, we inadvertently fail to tell the whole truth of the gospel. We either lose sight of, or worse, fail to present what Christ expects of those who choose to become His disciples. These expectations are not onerous tasks we must perform for acceptance, rather understood revelations that lead us to submitting to correct divine processes that set us free to connect again in the previously lost divine communion.

It is around this issue of ‘précised pop-gospel’ that I want to unpack The Saviours — The Author of Salvation’s Words, in Matthew Chapter 7:13-14

‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’ (NASB)

First thing worthy of note is the narrative context in which this (what we will soon discover) seminal statement is made. The Author of our faith has been telling His listeners in verses 7 through11 of their heavenly Fathers utter readiness to generously answer their prayers and encouraging the hearers to persistently pursue God in expectant requests.

Then the Matthew record sees the unveiling of what Christendom has come to know as the ‘Golden Rule’. This new proactive commission transcended the now superseded and reciprocating mode of ‘in kind’ response. This new space was about taking the initiative and always with the intent to find ‘best practice’ (according to God’s Economy) for engagement with your ‘neighbour’! In fact, it is a reflection, although by comparison poor one, of Father God’s proactivity in engaging His Prodigal creation — loving us first, so that we could then love Him.

It’s now here that The Christ drops these seemingly austere words. Is this random in its context? Is there a juxtapose to be examined, or merely ‘oral shorthand’ at its efficient best?

This writer contends that this exhortation is very much part of the [Theological architecture _]for the New Covenant that is coming into play. You see the very next verses 15-20 speaks to the vital need to beware of false prophets who will be ‘disguised’ — take note of this! Jesus is warning that you’ll need to have more than a skin deep understanding of the Kingdom and this New Covenant if you are going to discern that which is not only inadequate, superficial or palatable, but well-crafted falsehood. However, it is what ensues this warning that is tantamount in our need to ‘get this’! In verses 21-23 Jesus boldly warns that many who declare Jesus as Lord will _*not* enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who, in deliberate relational communion, do the Father’s will and do not transgress God’s new dispensation — this New Covenant. It is only those understanding, yielding too and following the Christ, who will enter His Kingdom.

To top it all off, our Lord then tells the indispensable parable of ensuring that those ‘building’ in this new Kingdom do so, on immovable bedrock. (v 24-27) Only those building on this Foundation will weather the interim and eternal storms. You see in the end it is not about what you build — capacities can vary and ‘man’ has the God given capacity to produce/construct and even create remarkable things — no, in the end it is that on which it is built that determines ultimate worth. The messaging in all this discourse is at the very least crystal clear in its sobriety and simplicity — But are we listening? Do we actually hear what the Author and Finisher of our faith is laying out before us?

Ok, back to verse 13 and 14, listen, if you can, to these utterly profound and unique words. In fact it is in this passage, and by the Incarnate God, that we hear the only time the word ‘narrow’ is used in the entire New Testament. There is an exhortation, as I’ve indicated in some of the previous paragraphs, I believe there is a pleading here, that can easily be overlooked. Jesus starts with a call to enter the narrow gate, firstly because the wide and easy broad gate leads to utter ruin and He wants none in His creation to traverse that road, that ‘path of least resistance’. Then in the pleading there is a second call, ‘enter through the narrow gate …’ This word is rich with intense meaning including nuances of ‘very straight, confined and in an intrusive thronged’ sense. It is a radical juxtapose and contrast to the ‘easy path’. The intent is to draw focus to this path as the only option and it is so for all the exact reasons I outlined earlier. Jesus wants us all to not only find real Zoe — Life and success, and most importantly communion with Him, but also to be the Ambassadors of Discipleship that He Himself modelled for us all to copy.

Then spill the words that we can so quickly brush past, ‘and there are few who find it!’ Are you getting this? Few! This outcome seems utterly incongruent with the very nature and intent of the incarnation — the ‘new flood’ that is Jesus death and resurrection, which intent was to give mankind its Second Chance! Not only is there profundity in this matchless work, but the intent and declarations behind and from it … ‘[whosoever believes’, ‘come all who are weary and heavy laden’, ‘I’ve come to give life and life abundantly’, _]even the final words [‘go into all the world and make disciples of nations’;_] speak to vast and immense catchments, not an elitist few.

Well, I contend, it is our Lord, not in contradiction, but in critical paradox that is declaring something that should not be. Jesus Christ is not establishing a pre-selection fait accompli, as some theological frameworks would interpret; rather a forecast indictment on those who are not, will not, prepare for and understand what it means to enter this Kingdom. This is why I believe, Jesus labours the points I submitted earlier. We need to fully comprehend that the call to enter is a very serious call and cannot be left to a good ‘fire insurance’ or life enriching product placement pitch! Yes, entering into this new Kingdom and Covenant is utterly remarkable and supernatural, but it is and must be, an act of free agency which understands both Who and What is being presented and why.

Much like the last two recorded Parables Jesus used at the end of His public ministry of the Virgins and Talents; accountability for that which was ‘given’ in the first place. The generous and enabling Father God gives us what we need to effectively engage with Him and His Kingdom. However, it is on the understanding (in relationship) of the walk and work together, it is important to continually reiterate that the Triune God has set discipleship in community for mission to be the mode of operation, not simply a decision for Christ. He not only looks for, but more importantly resources and enables, in all His work to create a renewed mind disciple, following in trusting communion. In fact it was Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who boldly declared, [_‘…Christianity without Discipleship is always Christianity without Christ!’ _]

Further, I contend that this seemingly austere caveat is not dissimilar in nature/mode to the statement Jesus made about the poor in Mark 14:7, ‘for you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them’

Jesus was not referring to an inevitable state for a percentage of any population, as if it were designed that way, no! Jesus was referring to the fact that God has known the reason why the poor continue in the land, it is because God’s people failed to implement and fulfil his relational commandments around ministering to the needy. If the Levitical law had been properly implemented with Jubilee caveats and the like fully enacted, then poverty would be all but eliminated. But, alas, not all the people obey all the time and the part we may be called to play in the relational covenants is not fulfilled…God, in his loving and free will relational wisdom, subjects Himself and His ‘vineyard’ to that management failure — but only until He returns.

I present to you that Jesus is saying here in Matthew 7 that the reason why few people ‘find the narrow way’ is because those who were meant to show the way by model, mission, method, mentorship and manifestation failed to do so. Their mode instead may have been the cheap grace or the soft sell pitch I’ve alluded to earlier. People are lead to accept, not salvation from their sins; the translation from darkness to the Kingdom of His Dear Son; a surrender of allegiance; rather perhaps, again, an ‘insurance policy’ or a self-improvement course? Consequently they ‘buy a map’ that fails to equip them to find and walk onto and along ‘narrow way’.

Following Christ is an ability imparted, not merely permission granted. Again, Jesus makes clear in Matthew 16:24 that before you can ‘follow Him’ you must take up your cross, but to do that you must first deny yourself. You see, you will not have the ability to follow on the narrow way, unless you have first denied self, then taken up the cross … it is these engagements that not merely permit, but enable you to enter and journey. It is these realities and empowerments that Jesus instructions were set in play for all
to achieve.

I have to ask myself, and the Church at large, this question: has what we have presented as the Gospel enabled those to whom we speak, to find the ‘NARROW GATE’ or has it done the contrary — I wonder?

[* *]

**************

Another difficulty in this area is what I refer to as terms and definitions. We can create all sorts of perceptions. If we are careless (as I think we have been) we can convey messages that are at best illegitimate and at worst outright counterfeit. In our attempt to sell Jesus rather than to live and tell Jesus, we have generated a ‘pop-Christianity’ which is perpetuated by now gimmicky terms, some of which are acceptable, while others are left wide open for misinterpretation.

In an unthinking culture which tends to listen to the loudest and most palatable and perception distorting voices, we can manufacture a new consensus if we speak terms loud enough and for long enough. Meme’s begin to emerge, of which nature is to take on a self-promoting life of its own. In time, and without deliberate engagement, these terms can become the benchmark for our theological language — right or wrong! Expressions like ‘born-again’ are coined and with fair reason; Christ used it to denote an event of reconnecting with the Father. (Note He only said it once, but said Follow Me many multiple times, highlighting the need not only for event, but also process). However this term has been hijacked by other religious groups and has itself now become in many religious quarters the totality of salvation, rather than simply indicating a starting point of the redemptive journey of salvation and the path of discipleship!

Let us take for example the seemingly harmless phrase, ‘Jesus accepts you just as you are.’ Now I, like you, understand this as meaning you simply come as you are, you don’t have to make yourself right, just come and yield. I have absolutely no problem with that, and according to the Father’s heart as revealed in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, it is the coming home that God longs for. However, if this understanding is hijacked, as a growing number of my experiences have indicated, then this wonderful access can be taken into a disturbing place. If by acceptance we mean, God is fine with the way we are, and it follows that this evaluation of ‘fine’ means not needing adjustment, then we have a major problem.

As mentioned at the commencement of this book, our standing may change automatically, but it is our state that needs to be transformed. So, if the soul coming to Christ embraces the former definitions and simply believes that they are fine the way they are, they will not take kindly to God wanting to mess with their agenda and persona. It will become more of a, ‘Wait a minute! I thought I was OK as I was, I just wanted to go to heaven and not hell, and have God in my corner to help with my plans, but live my life my way without interference, thanks all the same.’

In Clive Lewis’ work, The Silver Chair, we have not a dissimilar scenario presented to us when one of the children in this famous classic, Jill, finds herself extremely dehydrated, desperate for a drink from a stream she has finally discovered, but between her and the stream is Aslan, the Great Lion. The following dialogue takes place:

Though her thirst is overpowering, she stops in her tracks, too fearful to advance or to run. ‘If you are thirsty, you may drink,’ says the Lion. The terrified Jill wants assurance that she will not be eaten. ‘Will you promise not to do anything to me, if I do come?’ she asks. ‘I make no such promise,’ the lion answers. ‘I dare not come and drink,’ Jill replies. ‘Then you will die of thirst,’ the Lion tells her. When Jill says she will go and look for another stream, the Lion responds, ‘There is no other stream.’3

For me the analogy is almost breathtakingly clear, Jill wanting to come to this blessed resource is confronted by the One guarding and governing the resource. She, though fully acknowledging her quite desperate need, is still requiring assurances that the Lion will do nothing to her. From my perspective Jill is saying, and in so doing echoing our very own words … ‘I want to come and partake, but I do not want you to interfere with me. I want to be left to use this resource for my own agenda and devices, and be safe in doing so.’

For those not familiar with the allegory of the Chronicles of Narnia of which the book Silver Chair is a part, Aslan the Lion represents Jesus Christ, the King of creation and all that it holds. For me, Jill represents those who want to come as they are and partake, but do not want to be aligned to His will or transformed to conform to the image of God’s dear Son — Jesus, therefore not trusting in and yielding to the intention of divine saving and sanctifying grace.

The previous scenario can also lend itself to the confusing, if not (when misused) disturbing phrase ‘unconditional love’. What a wonderful catch cry. What a moving slogan! Particularly when the desperately lonely, disenfranchised, passive or even self-determining hear it. They sigh with relief or grin with self-indulgent gratification. But where does this term come from? What does it really mean? It is almost a Christian ‘meme’ (a phrase or term coined and perpetuated without anyone knowing what it really meant initially) but is it Biblical? It is generally conceded that the phrase is extra-biblical, but the sentiment is completely Biblical — well at least that is what the consensus keeps promoting.

Challenge it sometime, as I often do, and see what sort of response you get! I will often say, ‘There’s no such thing as unconditional love!’ and in response, I get reactions ranging from perplexed looks to somewhat indignant howls of ‘Hang on! That is not right!’ Ask people to show you in the Bible where it says that God loves you unconditionally. They can’t. Then ask them where it is inferred. It is here that you begin to sort out a definition of this term.

The word unconditional and the word love can have almost as many meanings as people in a room (further evidence of customising). I have heard the word unconditional defined as ‘always, without exception, no expectations, limitless exemptions’ and these descriptions do indeed reflect the tenor of God’s love. That is fine, but do these words accurately define the term unconditional? No, they don’t! According to the Collins Concise Dictionary unconditional means, ‘without conditions or limitations’. While we may concede Christ’s love is limitless, we cannot easily say the same of its conditions.

My next question is simple. Does God’s love have conditions? The answer is an unequivocal, yes it does! Is everyone going to be with Him in glory? No, only those who comply with the divine prescriptions and yield to the Lordship of Heaven’s King! Is everyone forgiven? No! Whilst available to absolutely everyone, only those who seek with a repentant heart will be forgiven! Does grace have limits? Yes indeed (as we will discover) but not due to the lack or extent of God’s grace, but in relation to our embrace of it. We must understand that our choices determine how far God’s grace can go! These limitations have nothing to do with God’s inability, inadequacy of diminished sovereignty, but everything to do with the choice we, as free moral agents, are permitted to make because of that wonderful divine love so lavishly afforded us.

It is just as important for us to define love. Again, the ‘customising compartmentalist’ will define love in human terms, particularly their own. They will see love through their filter of experience, damage, deficit or desire. However, God has a definition of love that is quite external to our myopic and egocentric perspectives. You see, when we are immersed in this self-defined love, based on our often self-focused felt needs, then our perspective shifts into a frightening place. Why frightening? Because the Scripture teaches us that God is LOVE, (not love is god) but now in the new space of our personal definition of love, we end up with a customised God effigy that resembles the love we have concocted, crafted or collated. Tragically though, this process can conclude that this newly crafted ‘god of love’ must act in compliance with our definition — He, She, It must, because it is my definition of love that frames, shapes and defines god! So that means, at least from my experience of people’s new-found definition — God must be ‘nice, permissive, unquestioningly kind and generous, inoffensive, accepting of all things, and most of all non-interfering.’ But, is this limited inventory of our customized perception of the omnipotent and immutable God and His love complete or even accurate?

Of course, the process I have just described here is what is called in ancient terms idolatry — worshipping or worse, manipulating something other and less than the truth that is the God of the Bible.

I thank God that His love is not based on these appalling and one dimensional reflections. It is based on His wisdom, omniscience and His eternal desire for us. His love is also not geared toward our performance but is facilitated for our potential. In that context, His love is very conditional — it is according to His conditions. It is true that you cannot earn God’s love, but you must respond to it. Its presence and offer is without condition. However, your response to it determines conditions and consequences.

As Thomas Williams so poignantly writes…[]

Kindness gives in and cuts us some slack while love holds our feet to the fire until it accomplishes what is best for our ultimate well-being. Kindness removes obstacles to our contentment while love remakes us into what we are intended to be. This remaking is far from comfortable. It often requires tearing out walls and scraping away mould and rot before rebuilding. But this is what God does. He loves us so much that he will cut out the cancer or pull the tooth in spite of our pain. He wants so much for us to share eternal life with him that he is determined to burn out of our souls everything that is not eternal, even if we are painfully scorched in the process.4

If God’s love were geared to our perception of it, then our definition of unconditional would also be subject to our capricious emotions. In this place God would become our personal genie. Prayer would be the ‘rub of the lamp’ and out God would pop, granting us any whim we may have and complying with our will. He would do this without offering advice or opinion, and most certainly without any interference in our lives! Of course, unconditional love means everyone will be automatically forgiven and all must be in heaven, because there are no grounds for rejection or exclusion because no conditions apply!

Now, I don’t think most people really mean all that I have penned when they use the term unconditional love, but we must be careful what, how and why we use these terms. We need to convey truth in love, not pop-religion advertisements that tickle ears. You see, love that neglects or worse, dismisses truth, ultimately denies justice and mercy, and is in that place not love at all. I’ll end this line of thinking with the following quote for you to ponder, from Ravi Zacharias … [_‘There is no such thing as free love; love is the most costly expression in the world. But the wonderful thing is that it has already been _
paid for.’]

All this leads me to address what it means to lower the bar of divine expectation. One of the greatest disservices we can do someone is to tell them to ignore the Old Covenant (which I have heard countless folk do and have no doubt done myself). If you have no idea of the contract that stood between man and God for so long, you cannot appreciate what grace, mercy and other resources have been afforded to us in the New Covenant (New Testament). I don’t want to spend a lot of time here, but I want to encourage you to read Leviticus and Deuteronomy and ask yourself how big a farm of animals you would personally need to kill, just to cover just one season of your mistakes, and after serious reflection on it, begin to revel in gratitude for the new construct of saving and restoring grace.

The law was given for the ultimate end of helping people connect with their Creator God, our Heavenly Father. As we have already touched on, and in very simple terms, it was a set of expectations that, if followed, would keep you out of enough junk to enable you and God, through the mediation of priests, to get along and hopefully to move toward building a worshipful and Holy Communion. God understood our frailty and in His mercy He instituted contingencies for human failure. These expectations to comply were reasonable — albeit somewhat cumbersome (from our perspective anyway). In short if you made a mistake then faith, sacrifice and repentance would rectify things. Well at least that was the hope.

But what can happen, and did all too often, was that the laws, rituals and processes became the focus of energy rather than their intent. The intent and motivation in this law-based covenant process was relationship with and transformation from God. But people started to play what I call the ‘system of law’ where fulfilling the ritual was intended to keep God’s wrath at bay and maintain some form of blessing. They began to be careless about the law, even indifferent to compliance with it, because they knew they could (in very simplistic terms) kill a cow or give a lamb over to a priest and all would be forgiven. They could, at least in their minds, live as they pleased.

As you can imagine, or may even know, this was unacceptable to God. ‘In as much as My people honour Me with their lips and draw near with their mouths, their hearts are far from Me.’ They were giving lip service. In other words, God may be communicating… ‘The only reason they act out a form of respect for Me is because they have been told to by the traditions of men’. (Isaiah 29:13)

In Isaiah 1:10-20 God speaks again and says to effect, (I am paraphrasing of course), ‘you have played the religious ceremonial/ ritual game, but your hearts are not here and you really don’t care that you have sinned. You think that if you go by the book then that would suffice. But no, I want you to have a different heart and to really seek to relate to and commune with Me, and to understand to do that, you must be holy. That is why I have resourced you in the law to understand some of that acceptable standard.’ Well, as you can imagine, the law with its onerous, yet well-intended ways, was not achieving the desired result. God had to enact a better way. []

I want you to imagine for a moment the community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit having a conversation in heaven about 2,000 years ago (It was probably long before that — I know it’s a stretch … humour me). The Father says, ‘What else can we do. I have tried to tell these people how to live so we can have fellowship. I have sent prophets, kings, scribes, judges, signs and wonders, judgments and blessings, to try to educate and enlighten them how to get it right. However, for the most part it has not had the desired effect. Should we lower the bar?’ Jesus may have replied, ‘Hang on. We do not lower the standard. How about I go and show them our intent and resource them to attain the standard in a new way to bring them back to intimacy again.’

Jesus still lifted high the holiness, purity and awesomeness of God, yet displaying the grace, mercy and intimacy that in Him were the interface between the Creator and the created. Jesus came and modelled, demonstrated and resourced the disciples how to live in relationship. The disciples and Christ showed us. We, in Christ (with the Holy Spirit) in turn, show others — well, so the call insists.

 

 

KEY III:

 

BLACK AND WHITE, THERE IS NO GREYONLY GRACE

 

We must understand one thing very clearly — God did not throw away the idea of covenants when it came to His relationship with humanity. What He did do was re-establish a new covenant that gave us much more assistance to enter into the divine communion and meet our end of the relationship arrangement. God has not lowered, and will not ever, lower the bar. What He has done however is to empower us to get over the bar. Some people baulk at this terminology, but the same will employ the reference to standards in many other parts of life that involve contracts/covenants including marriage and business, so why not in this most important of relationships.

Let us be clear …

[*• To tell people the standard of God and then refuse to help them (in Christ) to get over the bar is legalism. *]

[*• To lower the standard (which I believe is what is happening in our culture) to the point where there is next to no discernible difference between those who are supposed to be ‘following Jesus’ and those who aren’t, is licence. *]

[*• To assist people to get over the bar with Christ, through *
Holy Spirit led and grace empowered discipleship is love.
**]

 

Another way I would like to express it is as follows…

[* *]

  • {color:#000;}•Law without love is legalism.
  • {color:#000;}•Love without law is licence.
  • {color:#000;}•Love guided by the grace-governed prescriptions of the absolute truth, is LIFE.

So what am I saying? For those still not sure, it is essentially that we must embrace ALL of what God has prescribed, not just what suits us. For example, let us look at what we are called to do in Christ’s Great Commission, we are to ‘Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations and teach them to observe all He has commanded.’ All means all. Jesus did not baulk at or play down the seemingly difficult aspects of following Him. In fact, He often went to great pains to promote these because He wanted people to be under no illusions, so they are without doubt as to what is right, good and needed.

Again this is not for performance, but for potential’s sake.

The big difference was that Jesus Christ came and demonstrated total commitment to helping people get over the bar, via modelling, manifestation, method and most of all, means.

I believe this is another reason we lean toward lowering the bar, it gives us (those who are called to make disciples) an easier out! It means not having to be anywhere near as committed or responsible in the precious commission of disciple-making. Not only do we have His model and commission, I believe we have been given two Paracletes (advocates or ones who come alongside to help). The first and most important is the Holy Spirit — the third Person of the Godhead. Then with our faith, yieldedness and obedience, Jesus takes up residence in our lives and fills us with His strength and power. We also have the second paraclete — the disciple-maker, the Christian who walks with us and teaches, admonishes, encourages, models and holds us accountable. But wait … (and at the risk of sounding like a TV commercial) there is still more!

We have this wonderful resource of saving and sanctifying grace — undeserved favour. The grace that is a stooping down to help, and the grace that is a safety net when we do not quite get over the bar. We fall and it catches us and instead of crashing into guilt-ridden failure, it enables us to go again to clear the bar — not performing or achieving, rather becoming!

However, be careful — very careful — that grace does not become just another system to manipulate, as the law often did. If that becomes the case, instead of enabling us to get up and leap again, grace becomes a hammock in which we recline and never again allow those divine resources to take us over the bar into new levels of intimacy, transformation and effectiveness in Christ. We can become much like the ritual enveloped children of Israel — going through the religious motions but with our hearts far from God. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

I’ll conclude here with a clever insight by Joan Chittister, a modern Benedictine Prioress, taken from A little strictness in order to amend faults and safe guard love, by St. Benedict. I think it is a worthy parallel for the sentiment I have posited here. The notion she uses is that the law (much like the Rule of Benedict) can be used to steady our climb of loving relationship when we stumble in the dark seasons. When our egocentric agendas begin to dictate our walk and communion, grace becomes an unwitting accomplice to the preservation of our vanity and selfishness.

This rule of Benedict is seen as a ‘guidepost’ or ‘railing’, something to hang on to in the dark, something that leads in a given direction, something that gives us support as we climb. The Rule of Benedict, in other words, is more wisdom than law. The Rule of Benedict is not a list of directives. The Rule of Benedict is a way of life. The key to understanding this Rule is to know it isn’t one!

[_ _]

 

 

 

KEY IV: []

GOD’S CHANGE OF MIND?

 

 

 

[*Head Space — Read Romans Chapter 11. No really, go and read *
it please!]

[* *]

[*That’s it, open it up! Fantastic! When examining the ‘Romans 11 principle’, it could be suggested that Paul appears to imply that the atonement is an election of grace, whereby if you were not elected you were consigned to judgment. This seems to give the impression that at least under the law everyone was equal, whereas under grace it is a process of being elected — picked by God. It would appear that God arbitrarily selects who is acceptable and who is not. Let us pretend that is the correct interpretation for a moment and ask … What qualities do you think the elected few might have, if any, and how did you arrive at that criteria? *]

[* *]

Now here’s the question I believe we need to look at: [_‘Is predestination about people or about a process?’ _]Now read and discuss Ephesians 1:1-12 noting verses four and five, ‘He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world … adopted as children by Jesus Christ’. Could that mean that God had purposed before human history that for redemption to take place, it could only be done via the election of those who respond to the grace afforded by the Christ through Calvary and abide in Him? Who is it that can respond to this saving grace? Clearly it is ‘whosoever’. Discuss

 

In Ephesians Chapter One, Paul seems to speak of predestination — an election of souls for heaven that took place before time — rather than suggesting that there were some elected to grace (therefore others not). It is my contention that the writer is actually communicating that God predestined process, not people. That means that God determined from creation that ‘whosoever’ responded to the grace afforded to all through Christ Jesus, would then be elected as fit for heaven.

Instead of this grace bringing clarity, the impression I get from some people is that for them God has become obsequious, or is suffering from ambivalence. We can begin to believe that as sin increases, God is compelled by the emerging amoral consensus to increase His tolerance of it — be rest assured God is not subject to entropy. God does not act by our default, and His standard is not dictated by our refusal to embrace it!

Romans 5:20 declares, ‘Where sin abounds grace all the more so’. This is not simply a declaration of a defensive posture. As sin advances does God shift the line of judgment back? If so, grace is merely a reactive position not a pro-active resource. If reactive, then retreat will be inevitable. The more unable we are to get it right, the lower the bar gets — but no, His benevolence is not geared to the carnal consensus which simply allows and accommodates. Rather, grace is pro-active and as such it empowers and enables, even in spite of the growing sin. Grace’s power to transform is not diminished, it is only fortified!

It is grace which stays sentence (it does not allow us to think God is soft and let us get away with our sin, but shows patience to help us get it right). It is grace that provides a second chance to do it right and not to continue to do wrong. It is grace that provides a vehicle to escape the shame of inexorable habitually. It is grace that maintains the virtue and standard of God yet affords humanity the opportunity and the means to meet that standard. It is grace that empowers us to order and control the involuntary in our lives. It is grace that is not meant to be used as a hammock, rather as a safety net. It is grace that says, ‘I love you too much to leave you where you are.’ []

More importantly, it is grace that reigns through righteousness, ‘So that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Romans 5:21 NKJV) I would like to suggest that where righteousness is produced as fruit then grace reigns — is sovereign and governs. Where Jesus Christ prevails there is righteousness. However, if lawlessness/ licentiousness are produced, then it is sin which reigns and death is its end. This is not and never has been God’s intent for grace.

 

KEY V:

[*ACCESS GRACE AND *
USE IT WELL]

 

Don’t simply declare war on principalities and powers! Declare war on sin! Yes, there is power in the authority of the believer. There is awesome authority in the power of a Christ-governed and consecrated life!

The atonement empowers us to know God and in turn to realise the potential He has for us. The framework of the atonement is grace. But if the atonement is to succeed, this grace must not have its strength compromised in accomplishing its chief end — the reconciliation of us to our Creator. If we misuse grace, we will be unable to stand against sin, which clearly we are exhorted to do, and the atonement’s strength will be seriously compromised in our lives. ‘Use every piece of God’s armour to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm.’ (Ephesians 6:13 NLT)

Ease of access to God comes through obedience. Though obedience may be a simple process, it is not necessarily easy. The ability to obey increases with character and it is trial that develops our faith and perseverance so that we can become more complete in our obedience.

The vital keys to declaring war on sin are conviction of sin (John 16:8) and our conscious and willed repentance (Acts 3:19).

Satan has introduced a subtle agenda which has resulted in a thing called ‘therapy of sin’. A fundamental premise of the neo-pagan movement is that much of our society’s psycho-social problems issue from the Judeo-Christian ethic and what they perceive to be its guilt-inducing ideology. Their premise is that those ethics have bound us up in religious laws that are contrary to the laws of nature (basic instincts and urges) thus bringing conflict in our psyche and what is needed to remove that conflict is to ignore any divine counsel and trust your inner voice and feelings. Of course, to sustain this ideological driver one can never ask of any individual… “So what or who has influenced that ‘inner voice’?’ What relationships, experiences, ideas and/or practices have shaped the very vulnerable and fragile psyche of the emerging human being? Are those influencers ‘best practice’? Who says? Of course the list of questions can go on.

The idea of God’s divine law was not to create guilt, fear and bondage, but to not only keep us from activities that will usher in those things, but more so to assist the Image Bearer (you and I) to find the Creators best practice for the best life — and not merely for you, but your neighbour too!

Shame

[
_‘What we need is a good dose of shame to prevent a big bout of guilt!’ _]Who said that? What spiritually abusive bully made such a religionist and grossly inappropriate statement? Well, that can be the very real reaction to my previous statement from some quarters, so let me qualify it!

The first Biblical manifestation of shame was in the garden of Eden. It was the awakening to the knowledge of good and evil that ushered in such response. Shame, although having some tenuous link to guilt, is significantly different. Let me explain.

Guilt is a standing of perdition, not merely a state of error. It is a sentence waiting to be passed. Primarily it is a response to the awareness of one’s accountability for having broken the rules, and when our actions are compared with the legal code we are found to be wrong. These events and processes may facilitate shame, but they have more to do with external measures rather than internal responses. Shame on the other hand can be another matter.

In Eden no law was yet in place. There was only a single prohibition delivered, in a relational context, by a loving Father, not a legal injunction imposed by a judge. There was no context for comparison in this place, no precedent had been set, no sets of moral or social consequences that could be wheeled out or experienced due to previous acts that marred society. Instead we had a complete innocence positioned between naiveté and the absence of error.

Even the eating of the fruit was not an act of evil or blatant error; what it did do, however, was open their eyes to a new option — will God be the final authority or man? Now with the new option and choice came the awakening of evil and this bought shame — the painful emotion of both falling short of the best (God’s glory) and the humiliating disgrace of something to be regretted. This is exactly what Adam and Eve experienced, even before their Father had come into their presence. No code had to be cited. No retinue of negative consequences or victim impact statements had to be presented. The innate response was exactly what one would experience if they had chosen less than the best, having of course experienced the best in the first place.

If we begin with the notion that God’s intent is always to have relationship with us and for us to know His glory, it is reasonable to posit that the law was then given to protect us and provide for us. In this safe place we can avoid the destructive ways of living and even lay down the good. This enables us to experience the best in our progressive intimacy with the One who created us. How exceedingly more is Grace designed to enable us to experience this ultimate and superior end.

When we experience the divine relationship and taste of the heavenly agenda, then we sense shame when we realise we have damaged or denied that blessed state. Shame is a healthy response geared to a grief that we have wounded another and lost fellowship. A little shame can prevent a great deal of guilt. Guilt is the sentenced passed. It is now no longer a state of error but rather standing of perdition.

 

 

KEY VI:

[* *]

[A COMMODITY:
PRECIOUS OR NOT?]

 

 

[*Head Space — Discuss what you think it is that may make grace a *
precious commodity?]

[* *]

I would like to suggest that grace is a precious commodity, and commencing with that premise, I wish to present an illustration. Imagine if you would, that grace is like a large bag of rare gold coins. (Now at the commencement of this picture, I do acknowledge that grace is more than a limited bag of coins; however, it is limited. The writer of Hebrews warns us in Chapter 12:15 to [_‘look out lest anyone fall short of the grace of God.’ _]If one can fall short, then one can deduce that it is limited. It does have a boundary; in fact love insists on this, as we’ll see later.)

Our benevolent Creator gives us this bag and states, ‘these are precious; take great care with how you use them.’ (Again remember what was written at the start, the difference between the law and grace is that with the law, you have to earn the coins; with grace, they are given to you, much like the talents in the parable Jesus taught in Matthew 25). We can take these precious ‘coins’, this resource and either invest this grace in growth, wisdom, stature and understanding, or part with a coin each time we contravene God’s counsel.

In this context, the question comes — which expenditure is more profitable or beneficial? Then we ask, was the sin worth the price? That would depend greatly on our understanding and appreciation of the value of grace, and whether or not the sin was involuntary, wilful or habitual. I realise this analogy may have many negative connotations, but for our purpose here I think you get the point!

You see, our use of grace will be commensurate with our perception of it and our understanding of sanctification — both its work and
its worth.

To draw another comparison, let us pretend that sin is like ultraviolet rays from the sun. We all play outside in the sun and initially nothing seems to happen to us. However, the longer we play the more exposure we are subjecting ourselves to. Before we know it we are burnt and in pain, sick, dizzy and partially immobilised. Most of us have a tendency to live this way in regard to sin and only then, when we are suffering due to our own carelessness, do we then tend to apply grace as a healing, restoring agent. Yet, saving grace in this context is primarily what I call an SPF (Sin Protection Factor) 1,000%. If applied properly, it will stop you from getting burnt in the first place. Remember we are in the world, but not of it; we are around sin, but do not have to participate in it. When saving grace is utilised in this context it can produce a significant witness to others.

God wants to protect us from sin with His saving grace by teaching us obedience rather than using it to soothe guilt, pain or failure which are all the consequences of sin.

There is one reality we must acknowledge in our fallen world and that is, there are many exits down from holiness. Tragically the one so often used is grace. Using grace as an exit is a failed attempt to devalue the sin conundrum and completely misses God’s paramount intent for grace — which is the conforming of you and me to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Conversely, grace is one of the most potent and simple steps up into holiness, but it seems so rarely utilised for this divine end in our western, first-world culture.

 

 

KEY VII:

CLIFF DIVERS AND AMBULANCE DRIVERS

 

 

 

‘He who rebukes a man will find more favour afterward than he who flatters with the tongue.’ Proverbs 28:23

The ‘Carnal Comparative Compliance’ Clause

Have you ever challenged a fellow Christian’s activity, attitude or allegiances as being ungodly, unbiblical, or just plain unwise? Ever had the guts or stupidity (depending on how you handle reactions) actually to go there? You certainly get some interesting responses. If the one you challenge has a quiet personality, says little and reacts rarely, you may get a raised eyebrow and silence or be ignored, but that is rare in my experience.

What I usually encounter and where I have often been rebuffed, is one of the following retorts:

  • {color:#000;}•What about your own issues (or someone else’s)?
  • {color:#000;}•That’s your hang-up, not mine!
  • {color:#000;}•Who are you to judge me?
  • {color:#000;}•Don’t be so judgemental, that’s so un-Christian!’
  • {color:#000;}•Legalist!

Or maybe there’s a combination of them all, or a woeful attempt at an analogy to somehow make my challenge look ridiculous or poorly thought through when it clearly wasn’t.

To give you an example, I was at a Christian workers’ retreat with an organisation where many of the workers imbibe (drink alcohol) and with some gusto I might add. Of course one is hard pressed to insist on a prohibition of alcohol, but both Biblical warnings and current cultural practices would at least insist on wise and careful consideration about not merely the amount, but timing, location and motivation for consuming such. That aside, the conversation was not about whether it was legitimate for one to have a drink or not, it was about my concern regarding the celebration of alcohol and being a good example to those outside the Kingdom. (By the term ‘celebrate’ I mean alcohol is evident in conduct and often in conversation — what I tasted, how often, can’t wait for the next bottle, visit to the winery, to even stories of inebriation.) In contrast, conversations with as much weight about the Christ, His Kingdom, service and the lost were very hard to find in the midst of this celebratory discourse on grog.

My challenge was met by one dissenter who thought he could trump my flag of caution and clear disappointment with the prevailing attitude (particularly at a retreat) using the comparison of him having sex with his wife. His argument went something like this — In kind, it’s like saying it is wrong to celebrate sex with my wife. I love her and enjoy the experience, and you’re saying God frowns on this?

I didn’t even dignify that with a response, other than to ask if he was serious. If he had stopped just for a minute and thought about that statement, he never would have said it. However, when we are in a reactionary space like self-defence, we want to do two things quickly … a) make the challenge we have been presented seem trivial, boorish and unjustified and b) discredit it by any means we can grasp in a shortest span of time possible. The quicker the comeback, we think, the quicker the dismissal of the challenge and the challenger. Therefore the one being challenged believes they no longer have to consider the claims, concerns or charges. I too have been guilty of these responses more often than I care to remember.

Why was the analogy poor? OK, both sex and alcohol can make me feel good (they release dopamine), so if feeling good is bad, sex and alcohol are bad? The premises of the assertion are faulty, the terms and definitions (especially the word ‘good’) are specious and therefore the conclusions are spurious at best.

Firstly, God created sex and its context and expression. It is a beautiful culmination of a God-given covenant relationship that is supposed to be celebrated under His Lordship. Secondly, alcohol is a substance created by man and a substance ingested, not created, by the body. It is given only poor press by Scripture and subsequently given clear boundaries and regulations for management. And in no place in the Biblical context is alcohol celebrated. At best, it appears only to be tolerated.

If this example is a little too ambiguous, I have many others, but the following may make things a little clearer. A colleague in a Christian organisation I worked for had been a smoker for some time and came to (as far as I knew) a self-resolution to give up smoking. All good, no problems, but one day I happened to bump into him prior to a meeting some weeks into his ‘quit’ endeavour and he proceeded to light up a cigarette. Being neither here nor there to me, and having no personal aversion to smoking or viewing it as a sin, I simply said to the effect … ‘Hey bro, I thought you were giving those things up!’

I was quite taken back by his terse response. With a very nasty look and tone he said; ‘When YOU are perfect, then come and talk to me about what I should or shouldn’t do!’ and he proceeded to storm off! Now nicotine withdrawal aside, I felt compelled to challenge that statement. I said, ‘Buddy, are you saying that for you to take any notice of what may be good or right, I must be perfect? In fact you are using my assumed error as an excuse for you to indulge in yours? Wow! That’s pretty sad!’ Now, I wasn’t trying to trump him with a cheeky self-righteous response. I was just quite taken back by the well-rehearsed, but very poor self-justification, and sadly one that is becoming common in a culture where ‘tasting the world’ is seen as a legitimate missional requirement!

Let us imagine that my motives and intentions were malicious and I am in error and even a greater sinner (if you like) than he. This should not mean that I am to be dismissed. In fact this process can still be useful, even as improbable as that sounds to a grace-misappropriating saint.

Viktor Frankl, the prominent secular psycho-therapist, stated in his remarkable work Man’s Search for Meaning that … ‘One can derive from guilt the opportunity to make one’s self better.’5

What is remarkable to me is that this secular mental health practitioner gets it, well at least in part. The desire and intent to improve my humanity and not simply look for excuses to remain lesser or diminished. How much more is God desirous of us to grow, not so we can be more lovable, but so our relationship can deepen with our Father in heaven and our communion reveal, manifest and release even more of His kingdom to a world desperate for that which is authentic in both its purity and divinity.

Back to my smoking friend; Suffice it to say the conversation ended, though the atmosphere remained uncomfortably cool, and that’s the very thing we seem to want to avoid — discomfort. It goes something like this … ‘You mind your business and I’ll mind mine, especially if your input makes me feel “bad” about myself. However, if your conduct can be used to justify mine, then your business is useful to me!’ Well, that is what appears to present time and time again!

So, if we are challenged, what is to be our response? Let’s concede that the person challenging us may have hang-ups, may even be a legalist in the worst sense of the word. However, does this make their challenge wrong? The dismissing of a charge or challenge cannot be based on a mere ‘ad hominem’ response, otherwise the one being challenged can say ‘your attitude is bad, wrong or unbalanced and until you have corrected all your issues, I don’t even have to listen to you, let alone consider your claims.’

In at least one very real sense, you can appreciate this dismissal. One of the greatest hindrances to truth is hypocrisy. But as one old sage said, ‘To hide behind something you must be smaller than it.’ To hide behind hypocrisy you must be smaller than a hypocrite. In all of this, it is not the origin of the challenge alone that should be what determines our response. When we do this we are tacitly admitting that because an individual does not do the right thing or have the right attitude, then we can keep doing the wrong thing! In this way one can end up justifying our own poor conduct by using another’s poor conduct and in so doing we are at a very real risk of ignoring error, or worse, making it our benchmark for considering behaviour!

What scares me most (from my own experience of people I meet) is that almost unilaterally a Christian’s first response to an accusation or challenge to our behaviour/attitude is one of self-defence. Rarely, if ever, do we respond with self-examination. We want to justify a possibly poor, if not wrong act or attitude, rather than first considering how we may grow, change and consecrate.

Our primary response should not be based on whether we are right or wrong. You have seen before[* *]that it is usually our emotional response that triggers our diatribe. I feel uncomfortable, annoyed and my culturally-created comfort has been challenged; I need to stabilise that as quickly as possible, so I feel better about ‘me’. There is a Greek word, apoluo, which says, ‘Don’t watchdog anybody else’s sin.’ This essentially means, don’t inspect anybody else’s morality and guilt in the attempt to feel better about yours. If you want to have real joy, you can’t gain it by comparing yourself with those whom you believe sin more than you do. Trying to congratulate yourself into grace is unavailing. Glory in the Cross, exalt His saving work, and come clean.6

I love the challenge in this dissection. In no way are we saying do not ‘provoke one another to good works’ or love one another in discipline, no indeed. Our Lord and Saviour gave very clear instructions as recorded by Luke in Chapter 17 and verse 3 “Pay attention and always be on guard [looking out for one another]! If your brother sins and disregards God’s precepts, solemnly warn him; and if he repents and changes, forgive him.” (Amplified)

What I am taking to task is the idea that scrutinising another’s error for self-preservation is ok — it is not. It ends up simply being a failed attempt at cover-up and will not be tolerated. The idea that we might need to change is often the first casualty of the exercise, the second is almost always our consideration of the needs of the person challenging our attitude, action or allegiance. We often go into the mode of saying, ‘This person’s issues aren’t going to impede, or disquiet my life — NO!’ Yet it is this response that is often the very essence of that self-serving carnality.

The Apostle Paul’s letters are replete with wisdom that focuses on putting others first. For example 1 Corinthians Chapters 6-8 gives us a great example of not only the liberty that Christ gives us to do, be and act, but more so how to use that liberty. In God’s agenda it was never first about you, rather we are instructed to use this freedom for others. Paul gives us a very personal example. He is even willing to go to the point of not ever eating meat offered to idols if he truly knows that this act or even the report of that act could genuinely cause a weaker saint to fall away.

His letter to the Romans repeats this theme:

We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’ For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:1-6 NKJV)

Then there’s this crystal clear exhortation to the Galatians:

 

For you brethren have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13 NJKV)

Remember, this is all coming from a position of spiritual and Biblical righteousness. Paul is not even wanting to justify even a legitimate behaviour (let alone questionable behaviour) if that justification can be used to enslave rather than enlighten another. This is the way of love!

For me, sadly, and for many of us, our justifications aren’t in this holy league. Ours are, for the most part, self-preserving and self-serving. Again, drawing from Miller’s work Into the Depths of God:

God never denies us what we want in an attempt to be mean to us. He withholds what we don’t need so that what He wants will become possible for us. And what does He want? Our conformity to the image of His Son.7

The carnal comparative compliance clause will only bring one of two outcomes — a) the dismissal of the need to change and grow; or worse b) a further stepping away from conformity of Jesus — a step down from holiness!

If we change one word in our ‘Carnal Comparative Compliance’ clause, we can see this entire formula process become a positive transforming process, rather than an error justifying one — and that word is a title; CHRIST. When the Christ and not the carnal becomes our centre and the ‘Me’ is dethroned, then carnality is replaced by His Son and our comparison and compliance are with His standards.

There are two verses that should be inseparable, but almost always the first is only quoted. Remember the Kingdom is not about YOU, it’s not even about US, it is about all of ‘the OTHERS’ …

 

[_And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. _](Romans 8:28-29 NKJV)

Yet, is this our greatest passion or has it become something far less? Christians in the post-modern world have become almost paranoid about what they prohibit. I regularly hear statements like: ‘I don’t want to be known by what I don’t do,’ as if that was a problem. I can see how that can be a problem if one is anxious about a) being ‘kill joy’ or, b) being seen as uptight or legalistic. However, to me at least, these responses smack of the fear of a lack of approval from the world or not being listened to by the world. The rationale often goes something like this: ‘Wait a minute! I want the world to listen to my message, so I have to get them to feel at least comfortable around me, or at least not feeling “bad”.’

What is of real concern is that this whole posture is completely defensive. If we are honest with ourselves, then in reality this is a concession of failure! Why failure, you may ask? Because we believe we aren’t ‘consumable’ to the secular society and in a market-driven culture, that is the criteria for acceptance, isn’t it? But who is it that is determining relevance and palatability, and what criteria are
they using?

From my perspective it is now the audience (in our first-world Western culture) who is in complete control of God’s perceived interaction with the world. Jesus, the author of life and faith, is not being considered, unless He helps me please the audience. The outcome of this thinking is that every culturally palatable element of Jesus is promoted and engaged, and that which is culturally perceived as unpalatable is ignored, discounted or even discarded.

Let’s stop and reflect on this for a minute. What does that really mean? Since when did the audience, who according to Jesus Himself are lost, broken, in sin and out of fellowship, have a clue about what is good for them? Some argue that we are to meet their felt needs and all eternal things will follow. The reality is that their felt needs are most often merely egocentric by-products of cultural influences and barely an echo of their real predicament. So manipulated are they by the sensual and sensate consumer culture they are unable to define, let alone articulate, their real need. They are exhausting all these sensate resources for self-fulfilment, actualisation and preservation, but it is not working. Everyone is so busy ‘grabbing for’, that they are unable to ‘let go’.

Instead of being preoccupied with the impressions that we may or may not leave, Christians should be busying ourselves with actual consecration rather than with mere abstinence. Abstinence will imprison your soul, but consecration will set it free to the best. When we are setting ourselves (not trying to earn or produce, rather pursuing) to God’s best we find it easier to put down the bad or even second best. In this place of being set apart, what we put down doesn’t define us. Rather it actually points to what does define us. It is in this place that the world begins to see that Christians aren’t so much against this or that, rather Christians have discovered and are ‘for’ something higher and better — they are not to be discounted, they need to be asked, ‘what is this that you are and do?’ This is salt! This is the savour they long for in a saccharin satiated culture.

For years I was a ‘spiritual ambulance driver’. I used to watch Christians dive off the metaphorical cliffs of rebellion and wilful ignorance. (I was well able to recognise when this was happening because I had once made it a pastime of my own).

What I began to discover was that there were many people who believed grace is actually a parachute. What I mean by that is that they would wilfully jump or (most often due to carelessness) accidentally fall off the ‘narrow way’ and just pull the rip-cord of presumption, hoping that the ‘parachute of grace’ would ease them down to the bottom of the precipice they had just leapt from. Of course, the chute doesn’t open and they will hit the deck and get hurt. Then I come along with my pastoral ‘ambulance of mercy’, like a spiritual Florence Nightingale and pick them up, repair them and drive them back up to the narrow way where they would utter great words of appreciation and toddle off again, carelessly and unsupervised, back along the narrow path that leads to life.

The more I understood saving grace in my own life and God’s chief design for it, the more I changed my position. I stopped driving metaphorical ambulances full-time many years ago and became a fence builder instead. Needless to say, my popularity declined — and often severely. Whilst I was an ambulance driver I was a good guy — you know, I was always there to clean up the mess and nurse people back to health.

However, when you start building fences, perceptions change. You are primarily perceived as someone who is now ‘getting in the way’. You can often be seen as someone who is stifling personal freedom! A.H. Glasgow once said, ‘A good friend never gets in your way … unless you are on the way down.’ But just you try it, particularly when you are not a friend, rather a spiritually concerned disciple-maker or pastor, or even a Godly stranger.

Try this, get in the way of someone who wants to jump off the metaphorical cliff and see if their first response is appreciation! You can draw fire from the candidate for spiritual suicide, and face declarations and accusations that we mentioned earlier, such as being a legalist, mind your own business, who made you God?, don’t judge me, I know what I’m doing, and this little beauty … ‘God told me’! Now at these moments of often-spiteful rejection of your good intentions, it is simply easier to get out of their way. Just take your metaphorical ambulance to the bottom of the cliff and wait there for the earth-shattering thud and groans of help, then ‘neee-aww, neee-awww’ your way over to the mess. You will look like a knight in shining armour. The casualties think to themselves, ‘They tried to tell me and I didn’t listen, but they are still here for me. Oh, how wonderful they are.’ See! Now you are back in the good books. But will this happen again? You would hope not, but painful lessons aren’t well received in the melting pot of ‘cheap grace’!

 

I’ll reiterate: Much of the gospel presentation these days gives prospective candidates the idea that following Jesus is an easy Sunday stroll. Consequently, when people come to the ‘narrow way’ with a ‘broad road’ walking style or mind-set, they have little chance to traverse this narrow path without putting themselves in serious danger. The question here is … whose fault is this? No prizes for the obvious answer.

 

If any of you have done this for a long time, you begin to think that it is all pretty futile, especially when they do it again and again. (Remember ‘they’ are not the unsaved, these are people who purport to be disciples of Jesus.) That feeling of futility may not be simply ‘love growing cold’. It may be God trying to show you that there is a better way. Don’t simply stop being an ambulance driver. Be pro-active — become a fence builder. Remember Jesus Christ is the greatest ‘fence builder’ in history and the Cross of Calvary the most significant fence!

I build fences now, much more than drive ambulances. Fences of protection and prevention (not prohibition and prison) and find people charge at them, dig under them and try to go around them. They even place a ladder against the fence and try to go over the top. I have been led to even put razor wire on the top! If they get past that, instead of stopping, then they really know all about it. No! It’s not the barbs of my disappointment or disapproval, nor is it the retraction of my care and support — love cannot function in that manner. It is however the clear and uncompromised declaration of admonition and reproof preoccupied only with God’s best for that precious individual. We must understand that Jesus was first and foremost a ‘fence builder’, and that grace insists on it! Disciple-makers are fence builders. It is divine love at its best. It is God at His most pro-active!

 

 

 

 

KEY VIII:

 

THE GARMENT OF GRACE

 

 

Read Matthew 22:1-14. In fact, read it twice! I am only going to briefly unpack this parable here, but it does not only warrant a more thorough investigation, it demands it.

This is a parable of access to the Great Wedding Feast known as heaven. The parable commences with an interesting scenario — the reminder of an invitation previously sent. A royal invitation had been issued to a select group of people by a King. From the cultural context, such an invitation would have incredible worth and be so significant that one would never consider declining. It was an invitation to none other than the wedding of the heir apparent.

The parable contains a setting from the normal culture: the follow-up to an invitation. Due to time limitations in communication and the amount of preparation that goes into such a royal wedding feast, the King’s servants are sent out to remind the guests that the feast is now ready and their presence eagerly awaited.

Yet, on receiving the reminder, the guests for all intents and purposes ignore it — they just don’t seem to care. As outrageous as this may seem, the King doesn’t give up. In verse four we see yet another delegation sent beseeching them to come to this amazing, sumptuous and privileged celebration. What happens next is at the very least disturbing! Some of the guests make what can only be understood as pathetic excuses. Remember this is no casual event; it is no less than an invitation to the King’s palace and for a kingdom’s most significant event, the wedding of the King’s Son! What’s even more inconceivable is that other invitees actually beat and even killed the emissaries of the King!

How could this be? How could such a spectacular opportunity be not only ignored but also abused? How could such grace be discounted and trod upon? Of course the story goes on to reveal that justice is brought to bear on the perpetrators of such abuses and the invitations rescinded.

Yet this gracious and generous King takes what is culturally an unprecedented step. He doesn’t just open up the invitation to the common people, but he insists they be compelled to come. He goes to the extraordinary lengths of insisting the poor, the outcast and as stated in verse ten, ‘the good and bad’ also be invited. By ‘bad’ it refers to those who by cultural standards were way beneath the event they were being invited to. This would, in relation to any cultural protocol, never happen!

As staggering as these events are, there is still another shocking event to unfold. Let’s take a closer look at the story as it unfolds in verses 11-14. We see the convener of the wedding enter the feast (the parallel of heaven is clear here) and in greeting His guests He finds a man without a wedding garment. The King questions the man on his inappropriate attire in a manner that suggests that there was no reason for this deficiency (thus the guest’s speechlessness). There was, for all intents and purposes, no excuse that could be tendered! As one commentator mused …

 

[* *]

[*The invitation maybe without cost, but not without standard! *]

You see, not only had an incredible invitation been given, but also provision had been made and resources granted to fulfil the requirements for the invitation. This is the extent of not only the grace, but the generosity of this King. However, to this individual it had seemed to be discounted, ignored or lightly esteemed. As with all parables, the cultural context must be understood if we are to fully appreciate what is unfolding in this disturbing scenario. It is important to note here that it can be a custom in Jewish weddings for the host to provide the guests with a garment. This was considered a great honour. But an even greater honour was bestowed if the garment presented to you to wear had at one time been worn by the host himself. This was a publicly demonstrated manifestation to all that you were greatly valued by the host. From a cultural perspective the guest would, in turn, respond in a manner that reflected the appreciation worthy of such a significant act — in gratitude and celebration, they would respectfully wear this garment.

The incredible tragedy of the parable is that this particular guest, one of the ‘bad’, having made it to the feast and been provided with a garment, had apparently placed no value on the remarkable gift provided for him and is consequently cast out into darkness.

What is this garment?

The following verses may give us at least a snap shot …

Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.’ (Zechariah 3:4 NKJV)

Dearly loved friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the truth of the Good News. God gave this unchanging truth once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some godless people have wormed their way in among you, saying that God’s forgiveness allows us to live immoral lives. The fate of such people was determined long ago, for they have turned against our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:3-4 NLT)

Could it be the garment of righteousness? Righteousness is the progeny of the correct response to and use of God’s restorative and saving grace! If grace produces licentiousness or, in other words, is seen as a licence to get away with sin, then righteousness is not its fruit. But if it produces a repentant and obedient heart, then the garment of righteousness is profoundly valued and consequently maintained and cared for.

I would like to suggest that the guest at the feast had on ‘filthy rags’, which is the evidence of one of two things. Firstly, he may have believed in his own righteousness, (choosing to wear his own garment) trying to achieve acceptance via his own efforts to fulfil the law, ‘We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away.’ (Isaiah 64:6 NLT)

However, according to Jesus’ teaching, this would not even get you in the door. Alternatively and more likely, I wish to submit that after accepting not only the invitation, but also the wonderful gift of the ‘King’s garment’, he may have then squandered the precious and unparalleled commodity of saving grace via a licentious lifestyle, consequently weaving for himself a garment of iniquity from sin, or making rags of the precious garment of righteousness that grace had afforded him.

Either action is a heinous misuse of such a priceless resource; one that cannot go unpunished because of the immeasurable price paid to afford that grace to all. The ransom was so great that unrepentant misuse of it warrants an appropriate response. (Please note, impenitent misuse denotes an unrelenting contempt for grace and the forgiveness it offers, but if one stops abusing grace and repents, then heaven can fully restore this one!)

 

 

Head Space — Remember the parable of the talents (Matt 25). Was it austere of God to judge in a seemingly hard fashion or was it a fair response to the squandering of a valuable resource? (Remember that the talent was a gift in the first place — not one of the candidates had earned it). Discuss.

 

 

KEY IX: []

NOT TO BE TREAD UPON!

 

[_So come on, let’s leave the preschool finger painting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place; turning your back on ‘salvation by self-help’ and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us we will stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it! Once people have seen the light, gotten a taste of heaven and been part of the work of the Holy Spirit, once they have personally experienced the sheer goodness of God’s Word and the powers breaking in on us — if then they turn their back on it, washing their hands of the whole thing, well, they can’t start over as if nothing happened. That’s impossible. Why, they’ve re-crucified Jesus! They’ve repudiated Him in public! Parched ground that soaks up the rain and then produces a bunch of new carrots and corn for its gardener gets God’s ‘Well done’! But if it produces weeds and thistles, it is more likely to be cursed out. Fields like that are burned, not harvested. _
__](Hebrews 6:1-8 The Message)

The great scientist Louis Pasteur had an interesting saying …

‘Chance favours the prepared mind.’ I like to borrow the concept and say, ‘Grace favours the prepared heart.’ As we have looked at a little here, grace is pro-active and the Father’s design for this is to really enable us to know him intimately and fruitfully serve HIM.

I believe Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower, as outlined in Luke 8:11-15 (NKJV), gives us another little glimpse into what this ‘prepared heart’ might look like. Jesus said that the seed that would multiply was from those who would hear the word with a good and noble heart. Who is it amongst the lost that would have a good and noble heart? Are they born that way? Scripture, culture and history would suggest not. It is my contention that those with a good and noble heart are those who have recognized they are in darkness and don’t covet such to hide their sin, but would rather be able to see to find what is best. I believe they have looked beyond the veil, have taken stock of creation and allowed the imprint of the Creator in them to be uncovered (this is in all of us even as Romans Chapter One declares).

However, it is also those who have been exposed to the full gospel of the Kingdom of heaven, the good news of love, truth, holiness and peace and consequently are convicted of their fundamental need of a Saviour; it is they whom grace works with, to see not merely transition into the Kingdom and even participating in the Kingdom, but ultimately becoming the Kingdom.

It is possible to view the perspective on grace presented here with either pessimism or optimism. The pessimist may read that any error will incur God’s wrath, yet that is not what is inferred at all. If one starts in the righteousness bestowed by Christ and then squanders it, then yes, an account will be required. Remember how, under the law we had to attempt to work our way to righteousness, and this was virtually impossible. Yet under grace we started with His righteousness. How blessed, how wonderful to have this, and how tragic and worthy of condemnation are those who wilfully
squander it.

On the other hand, the optimist may see the initial dynamic act of grace of Calvary, which is no less than the standard of commitment God has to the reconciliation process. (In fact He can do no more). The optimist will see the pro-activity of grace, and the empowering potential it has, and will commit to its fruit being manifest in their life, for both their own, but more so His kingdom’s sake.

God’s wrath can only fall on those who have contempt for this precious gift, both in the person Jesus and in the process (atonement). Our precious King wants nothing less than for all His creation to be reconciled to Him, and He has made the way not necessarily easy, but uncomplicated and abundantly clear in its simplicity. More than that, He promises not only to walk with you, but to never, ever leave you on that narrow way.

 

 

CONSTRUCT B:

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHOICE?

YES, YOU

ACTUALLY GET ONE!’

 

 

 

 

KEY X:

DOORS

 

 

Jim Morrison, of the rock group The Doors, once coined the following statement … ‘There is the known and the unknown, and in between there are the DOORS!’ I’m sure, for many, this statement is about a professed ability of this group to contact the other side. Necromancy (so-called talking to the dead) is an age-old and condemned practice because of the dangers and deceit that accompanies it. I don’t want to address this here, but I do want to look at the statement from the perspective of choice.

In every human experience, at any given time, there is what we believe we understand or have, that which is known; and there is that which is outside our understanding, knowledge or possession, and this is the unknown. Of course the unknown to many of us can mean different things. Every time we are confronted with the need to make decisions we begin to open doors. These doors are choices, and for the most part, even with a certain amount of information, they lead to the unknown. It is the choice we make that is the door — Once we have gone through, that which was unknown will become known, whether good or bad, beneficial or detrimental.

Decisions and choices can be easier when we have more information. Of course the less the information and knowledge, the less the understanding and guarantees (and the greater the perceived risk). For the most part, choices are made with an element of risk. If we don’t know what’s coming next, we get anxious and that anxiety, which is based on our lack of knowledge, can create indecisiveness and inaction. We need all the help we can get when making the right choices in attempting to do life right. We need more than the right information, we need expert advice, wisdom and proper resources. So where do we get it?

Permit me an example: If we buy a new BMW (we wish), then it comes with a guarantee. Generally it goes something like this: if you follow the manufacturer’s specifications and guidelines for vehicle use and treatment, then you can expect to have trouble-free motoring guaranteed. If by chance, even when doing the right thing, something does go wrong (the people factor), you don’t go and buy a ‘General Motors’ manual and consult the local butcher for advice on repair (even if he is a tinkerer). NO! You go to the BMW manual and consult the manufacturer, who has all the resources, advice and parts to make the BMW perform as it should.

Well, life is not a lot different, except that we get fed a lot of misinformation and, yes, lies. Everyone’s an expert, and you don’t need a manual (the results of this mantra are evident in our current spiritual, moral and psychological crisis). However:

There is a creator — El Shaddai — JEHOVAHGOD Almighty;

There is a manual — THE BIBLE;

 

There is an option, and that option is ‘The DOOR’– JESUS CHRIST, THE ONLY SON OF GOD!

 

Jesus said, ‘I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.’ (John 10:9)

 

This section of the journey will hopefully help you understand that there is a choice. More than that, it will help you to understand what you need to do to make that choice, and that is to Repent. When you truly repent, ‘do it God’s way’, then there are guarantees and resources that GOD will release to you.

 

 

KEY XI:

[
SO WHAT IS
REPENTANCE?]

 

 

In the 19th century, one of America’s prominent Christian evangelists and social activists, the reformer Charles Finney, made the following statement: ‘The first thing one must understand when one comes to God is, that God is absolutely right and we are absolutely wrong!’ After reading that statement, we could imagine there would be a reluctance to accept it (especially when it refers to one not yet known). We do live in a society that has taken on the credo of ‘Government of self, for self, by self,’ with a very strong ‘I’m OK’, or at the very least ‘I’m not as bad as …’ attitude. What is vital to remember here, is that this is the Creator of the heavens and the earth that we are talking about! This is the one true almighty God, who is utterly perfect, indescribably pure and irrefutably wise!

In fact in Matthew 19 we have a record of an encounter between Jesus and a very prominent and socially acceptable person known to us as the rich young ruler who, by cultural standards, was considered a ‘good’ person. He actually approaches Jesus with a seemingly humble and willing-to-listen heart. His opening statement to Jesus was, ‘Good teacher …’ Now Jesus’ immediate response isn’t, ‘Why thank you, you’re correct!’ No, Jesus replies … [_‘You call me good, there is no one good but God alone!’ _]Now this is a double-edged statement. The most obvious aspect of this statement is that Jesus is setting the benchmark for good, and that benchmark is nothing less than God Himself. This clearly puts the young man in a predicament from the outset of the conversation. The gentleman has nowhere to go. If only God is good, then he, the young man, is clearly not … so much for cultural and social relative validation.

However, it is the other edge of this statement that can be easily missed. Jesus is also tacitly asking him … ‘Only God is good, and you have called me good, so are you acknowledging me as God, or are you just using flattery to get me to pat you on the back? If you are acknowledging me as God, then you are going to have to lay down your idea of good and bow before me and yield your life!’ Now if this is the case then things become really tricky, as the record reveals. The rich young ruler walked away from Jesus because he was not willing to put Jesus first and foremost in his life, but wanted to still have something else as highest and foremost in his life!

You see, Jesus knew this man’s heart, as He does ours! He knew this one had an idea of the right and wrong and was able to answer in the positive when Jesus asked him if he had followed certain commandments. Yet this young man had a problem, the same problem self-governing man has, the problem of Idolatry.

After passing the test of the lesser commandments, Jesus confronted him with the greatest of the commandments. Jesus did this not by saying, ‘do you love God with all your heart?’ so giving the rich young Ruler an easy verbal response that he actually may have believed in his heart. No, Jesus challenges him to act and in that action prove that he really wanted to do all of the Commandments. Jesus simply asked him to give away all he had and follow. Jesus knew it wasn’t wealth that was the issue with this lad, rather it was the place it held in his life — it was ‘god’, it was the idol in his world!

 

This is probably one of the most critical sticking points for today’s culture: recognising we are completely wrong and God is completely right. Our pride and self-determination refuse to let us bend our knee and confess the need to yield authority to another ‘ruler’ or authority other than ourselves!

Please try to consider the opening statement objectively. Remember, this statement has not been made in reference to a man or a woman, but someone immeasurably greater. Someone who has been challenged, investigated, criticised, lied about, and misrepresented, yet still stands unequalled in human history in His claims, call and credibility.

It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character which, through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments and conditions; has been not only the highest pattern of virtue, but the strongest incentive to its practice … The simple record of these three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind, than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists. 1[]

Repentance

A common definition of repentance is: ‘A 180 degree U-turn, stop going the way you are, and go in the opposite direction.’

This is in fact a very good illustration of what repentance is, as the Greek words used in the Bible to describe repentance mean the following:

 

1) To change your mind;

2) To change your direction.

Change your mind

 

To have our minds changed, it would be reasonable to suggest that we be confronted with something that is better than that which we now have. Something that is:

a) Stronger, clearer, more consistent and reliable.

John 10:10 ‘The thief comes only to kill, steal and destroy. I have come that you may have life — and life in all its fullness.’ (c.f. John 14:6, Jude 24-25).

 

b) Reasonable and achievable.

Philippians 1:6 TLB ‘And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the day of Christ Jesus.’ (c.f. Matthew 11: 28-30)

c) Sensible and simple (though not necessarily easy).

1 Corinthians 1:26-30 ‘… God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful…’

d) Constant/Permanent.

Matthew 28:20 ‘Remember I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.’ (c.f. James 1:17, Revelation 1:8.)

e) True.

John 8:32-36 ‘…you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.’* *[]

John 18:37 NKJV ‘Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”’* *[]

Okay, having encountered this something better and having compared it with that which we may or may not already have, it would then (depending on how it fared) become the new reference point, our new bottom line. We all need a bottom line, a point at which we say ‘that’s it, no further’. It is obvious to all who care to look that it is the lack of the bottom line that creates much of society’s problems. As one 18th century minister said, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,’ (and falling we are at the feet of the absurd, ephemeral and foundationless).

When we have our minds cleared of the seemingly ever-present clatter and clamour of the superficial, and we begin to understand who Jesus is, and the claims He makes, then it follows that we will have our minds changed about who we are, what we are doing and, ultimately, where we are going. This change must come first. Without a change of mind, or at least an ‘awakening’ (having our hearts and minds opened), we will not know what directions are available to us or how to embark upon them.

Upon receiving the gospel (not just hearing it), we are presented with a genuine and, ultimately, the best option: THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Access to it is made available by the finished work of Jesus on the Cross and your repentance.

[Change your direction!
**]

This changing of direction is the manifestation of true repentance. Legendary Christian commentator Oswald Chambers stated:

Repentance is the bedrock (strong deep foundation) of Christianity. We must be consciously repentant and unconsciously Holy, not the other way around.

With that in mind we must understand that repentance is active, willed, deliberate and conscious; without the first priority of repentance with faith (inseparable in gospel presentation), we are never able to follow Jesus. And that is a concern for it is the call not only to ‘come’ but much more to follow that we must yield to, and not just a casual meander, but with a cross. The Scriptural priority given to repentance is very clear:

1. John the Baptist’s first recorded message was,

‘Turn from your sins and turn to God, because the Kingdom of heaven is near.’ Matthew 3:2 NLT)

2. Jesus’ first directives and instructions:

[_… and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’ _](Mark 1:15 NKJV) []

[_When Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’ _](Mark 2:17 NKJV) ‘

[_And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff — no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts — but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics. Also He said to them, ‘In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place. And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!’ So they went out and preached that people should repent. _](Mark 6:7-12 NKJV)

3. Peter’s first sermon (recorded in Acts 2)

‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 2:36-38 NKJV)

4. Paul’s initial vision and mandate (recorded in Acts 26:12-20)

[_‘Who are you, sir?’ I asked. And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now stand up! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and my witness. You are to tell the world about this experience and about other times I will appear to you. And I will protect you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am going to send you to the Gentiles, to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’ _](Acts 26:15-18 NLT)

It is a priority which cannot be overstated, for in the second phase of repentance (changing your direction) comes the knowing of real release — freedom. Freedom is, of course, not merely being able to do what you want, for often what we want is, for the most part, based on limited information and an abandonment to self-gratifying urges. (The Christian social commentator Martin Robinson in his work, ‘The faith of the unbeliever’, wrote… “Freedom, in and of its self is not what bestows dignity, as freedom can be used to demean and enslave people. However, freedom and the ability to choose what is good is what bestows dignity!”) This enslavement has been incompatible with God’s life strategies to wholeness, not merely comfort. NO! Freedom is the option and ability to choose what is best. When one has had at least a glimpse of the best, then yielding to it will be considerably easier.

When we change our direction, we are now walking on the narrow way. The writer of Hebrews in Chapter 12 gives us some simple yet astounding advice about recalibrating through changing your direction. After the author writes about God’s discipline, and our perception of how unsavoury we think this may be, he goes on to tell us the reason for and benefits of this. As a result of this loving discipline and admonition, verse 12 and 13 tells us something incredible … ‘Therefore strengthen the hands that hang down and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather healed.’

Now I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling weak and frail and basically unable, the last thing I believe I can do is strengthen myself. However this is exactly what happens when we yield to the discipline of the Lord and repent. By repenting, changing our mind, we can then change our direction. The change of direction ensures we start walking on the straight paths.

It is like physiotherapy for the soul, it has the ability to make us strong. If your knees are weak and prone to dislocation, then when you walk on an uneven and rocky surface, littered with obstacles, you only increase your potential for dislocation. This is the way of sin and selfishness. However, if you walk on the straight, even and clear path of righteousness via repentance, the dislocated is put back and the lame is strengthened and healed. You not only benefit from the outcome, you also, more importantly, understand the process, and trust grows. This aspect of repentance, changing your direction, is exactly what we need to ensure we do not bend at the knees and fold again when temptation and sin present themselves …

 

 

 

KEY XII:

 

FROM SLAVES OF SIN TO SLAVES OF WHAT?

 

 

Bob Dylan (songwriter/poet) wrote an interesting song in the late 70s called You’ve Got to Serve Somebody. For those not familiar with the song, it simply points out that no matter what position you hold, possessions you have, or attitude you foster, you will be serving someone; ultimately either Satan and sin or Jesus Christ. Notice I did not say ‘self’? There are only two authorities in the cosmos, and whilst you are an independent entity and have complete reign over the choice process in your life, you are not an authority. Ultimately you are submitting to one authority or the other. The Creator of the universe, loving, perfect Father God has ultimate and final authority, but when it comes to us, He chooses to exercise that via relationship — a willed desire for us to know and yield to Him in a wonderful intimacy. However, the other authority, the evil one, will use his authority by any means, foul or fickle, to manipulate you, including the very real idea that you have ultimate authority and jurisdiction over your own life.

Outside of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the evil one can exercise his authority over you at any stage, but in Christ, that manipulative authority is dealt with. However, this is only so when we admit our specious attempt at self-government is faulty. We are wrong and God is right. We can yield to Him and allow His authority to take over. You see, there cannot be two Lords, only one. God will not take Lordship, but wants us to yield to His.

In Genesis 32 we have a fascinating and almost unimaginable incident, where Jacob, a man, wrestles with ‘the Angel of the Lord’. The wrestle goes on for some time, giving the impression that an Angel couldn’t defeat a mere mortal; however, this incident is not about a battle of strength, but something more. This is a battle to reveal a state and condition and ultimately an understanding of whose authority was needed and why.

Jacob’s name was a ‘handle’, it was a declaration of whom and what he was … a supplanter and deceiver. It was his nature to be manipulative and conniving, to control things his way, for his purposes. That sounds a lot like most of us in our first world Western culture. Jacob believed he was ostensibly the final authority in his world. But our wonderful, wise and loving Father in heaven had much better plans for Jacob (and for us). His love cannot leave us in the ‘lesser’ place. So God actually engaged in a very personal wrestle with Jacob to reveal his need so Jacob could change to be all that God had created him to be. Of course, God’s agenda for all His created ones is no different.

Dutch Sheets in his book Intercessory Prayer gives us a summary of that encounter, as follows …

Notice what, on the surface, seemed like a ridiculous question the angel asked Jacob. ‘What is your name?’ Does it not seem strange to you that in the midst of this wrestling match they began to have a nice little conversation trying to get acquainted? That is not really what was happening. God was trying to get Jacob to acknowledge the truth about his nature, which was described by his name. The Amplified Translation of the Bible demonstrates this clearly: ‘[The man] asked him, What is your name?’ And [in shock of realisation, whispering] he said, ‘Jacob [supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler]’ (Genesis 32:27). That’s all the Lord needed: revelation and confession. Immediately grace was released and a nature change occurred. His name was also changed to Israel. A study of Jacob from this point on shows the great difference in his nature. ‘But Jacob prevailed,’ some might say; only by losing. The only way to win a wrestling match with God is to lose. If you win, you lose; if you lose, you win. The only way to win our lives is to lose them … Jacob lost Jacob and found Israel. Such sweet defeat!2

This is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith. It seems to be upside down. However, when we allow God’s authority to govern in our lives and we dismount the throne ourselves, then the other authority in the universe is defeated. The evil one can try to use his power over us, but under Christ’s Lordship, he no longer has any authority. The only time that this can happen is if we give him permission. You are going to be under some authority — you are going to serve somebody, who will it be?

Interestingly enough, you’ll find it is easy to do the wrong thing … It takes no effort to follow what some would call ‘basic instincts’ (especially when it’s validated by crowd consensus; you know, the ‘everybody’s doing it’ mob). Although we are image bearers and we all have divine deposits within, we also have a despoiled spiritual DNA. Being creatures of learned responses, born into sin, it’s against our nature to not be selfish. So we are self-oriented, self-preserving, self-promoting, and self-gratifying. Now many would say, ‘This is the way we like it’; what we like is normal; what is normal is good; what is good is right and what is right should be law! But again, history tells us that all that selfishness and basic instincts have produced are destruction, disease and death. These tragic realities aside, what is of greater concern is that this disobedience becomes master, and as much as we declare our self-rule, in reality we
are slaves.[]

Don’t you realise that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master? You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you have obeyed with all your heart the new teaching God has given you. Now you are free from sin, your old master, and you have become slaves to your new master, righteousness. I speak this way, using the illustration of slaves and masters, because it is easy to understand. Before, you let yourselves be slaves of impurity and lawlessness. Now you must choose to be slaves of righteousness so that you will become holy. In those days, when you were slaves of sin, you weren’t concerned with doing what was right. And what was the result? It was not good, since now you are ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:16-23 NLT)

I recall once being on a motorcycle run with the Prophets Motorcycle Club to Wilsons Promontory (a holiday destination in Victoria, Australia). We had pulled into a hotel for an alcohol-free counter lunch, the primary reason for that was we had an under-age member riding with us. One of our many non-Christian adherents insisted on having a beer, I mean really insisted. We were opposed to the idea for a number of reasons (one of which I just mentioned), but the issue was pressed. Then came the statement from him, ‘What are you so hung up about, it won’t hurt to have one beer! You’re all hung up.’ I simply responded to our disgruntled friend, ‘I’m totally free to have a beer, and I’m totally free not to have a beer. How about you?’

Our friend became flustered, glanced about uneasily and could not reply. Because his desire for a beer was so strong, he was unable see another option or, if he could, he was not able to exercise it. Who was free? (By the way, he was not an alcoholic).

The point is, we can easily become slaves to things when left to our own devices, and we will then succumb to their dictates. We will do what our habits and urges demand unless we have a choice. Remember, freedom is not simply choosing what you want, but having the option, ability and opportunity to choose what is best. Again, that’s with the understanding that we are at least presented with the best. There is only one source of that … the author of life: the Creator God!

Not wanting to be slaves of sin is one significant step, but unless we submit to the authority of something better, we will revert to the old. We were created for relationship. That’s why we are not as pre-programmed as other creatures. We are supposed to learn from the One who made us. But because we have the God-given gift of free will and free moral agency (and are also subject to our fallen natures), we almost always choose something less.

If we are compelled to be a slave under authority (and we are), then it’s only good sense to be a slave to the benevolent author of life who seeks only His BEST for YOU. In short, if it isn’t Jesus we are slaves to, then it will be something or someone else!

 

 

KEY XIII:

[*BEARING FRUIT *
THAT BEFITS
REPENTANCE!]

 

[_ _]

People came to him from Jerusalem, from the whole province of Judea, and from all over the country near the Jordan River. They confessed their sins, and he baptised them in the Jordan. When John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him to be baptised, he said to them; ‘You snakes — who told you that you could escape from the punishment God is about to send? Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins, And don’t think you can escape punishment by saying that Abraham is your ancestor. I tell you that God can take these rocks and make descendants from Abraham! The axe is ready to cut down the trees at the roots: every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire. I baptise you with water to show that you have repented, but the one who will come after me will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He is much greater than I am; and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals. He has his winnowing shovel with him to thresh out all the grain. He will gather his wheat into this barn, but he will burn the chaff in a fire that never goes out.’ (Matthew 3:5-12 TLB)

For even if that letter of mine made you sad, I am not sorry I wrote it. I could have been sorry when I saw that it made you sad for a while. But now I am happy — not because I made you sad, but because your sadness made you change your ways. That sadness was used by God, and so we caused you no harm. For the sadness that is used by God brings a change of heart that leads to salvation — and there is no regret in that! But sadness that is merely human causes death. See what God did with this sadness of yours; how earnest it has made you, how eager to prove your innocence! Such indignation, such alarm, such feelings, such devotion, such readiness to punish wrong doing! You have shown yourselves to be without fault in the whole matter. (2 Corinthians 7:8-12 TLB).

I want to draw your attention to the clear distinction between remorse: the false repentance, and real sorrow for sin: true repentance.

[_Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light. _](Matthew 11: 28-30 TLB)

In these words of Jesus I want you to take particular note of the word ‘learn’, and in what setting we are to learn.

When we turn away from something, we must then turn to something else. When it comes to life, living and eternity, we must turn to Jesus, to His nature, character, will, purpose and standard. Jesus was also called Immanuel, which means God with us. He came to show us who God is and how we are to live. His example, then, becomes our practical, workable and immovable reference point.

 

I want to take some time here to help us understand a little better what repentance looks like, as if it were under a microscope. I know there will be some reading who will say, ‘There you go — complicating things!’ No, not at all, it is just that I think when it comes to this vital process of repentance, we have tried to make this step easy and in so doing have ignored God’s standards. Be rest assured, whilst repentance is apparently simple, it is NOT easy. Having your life completely recalibrated and renovated can generate a great deal of reluctance and even resistance. If it were easy then many multitudes of people would be actually following Jesus.

Repentance is simple in that it is a small step compared to God’s immeasurable leap toward us, and when it is done God’s way, the majority of problems of the past are dealt with. Our error has been that we have negotiated repentance down to a simple statement of sorry for our perceived misdemeanours rather than being overwhelmed by an attitude of sorrow regarding our predisposition for selfish rebellion, and we wonder why years of counselling and/or affliction continue after our so-called repenting.

I want to attempt to show what I believe makes up Biblical repentance, thus in turn prompting a walk through the steps to freedom. I have experienced both and will no doubt continue to as I yield myself daily to heaven’s loving scrutiny.

[*WE MUST: *](Sooner or later)[]

Step 1. Recognise

‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23) This might seem a bit obvious but I reckon most folk miss it and if they do, the next steps are not going to be effective for them. You must understand that when you come to God you are a sinner in need of a Saviour. We all must understand that we are not sinners because we sin; rather we sin because we are sinners. We must understand that we are fundamentally broken, flawed and, yes, rotten compared to a holy God and His glory. Remember it is the glory of God which we have fallen short of, and it is our sinful nature that diminishes that glory. ‘Christian practitioners’ do not usually go into this because it is not socially palatable to the current spiritual consensus, but it remains irrevocably true and necessary to acknowledge. Once this is recognised, the next step can be fruitful.

Step 2. Repudiate

[_‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ _](Luke 18:13) Once you have seen who God is; what Christ has done and your own desperate need of Him, then you want to disavow the past. Reject the way you have been living and the direction you may have been taking — ‘I don’t want to go the way I’ve been going any more.’

I heard a definition of ‘decide’ once in which it was likened to homi-cide and sui-cide. As these refer to the taking of a life, to de-cide is to ‘put to death the alternative’. The cry for mercy in the above verse is not a seeking of pity, rather change. It’s like saying, ‘I now see this life I have for what it really is, because I see how great and good you are, Jesus, and my motivation is I want nothing to do with what has been.’

Step 3. Relinquish

[_‘I’ve been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’ _](Galatians 2:20) Now we can begin to more deliberately and wilfully let go of control to God. ‘I can see He is for me and that His ways are higher than mine. I can trust His plans and directions. I can begin to let go control to Him and allow Him to govern, not merely consult.’ This is often incremental, but each step is a great consolidation of freedom.

Step 4. Re-evaluate

‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’ (Romans 12:1-2) Now with a new superior ‘reference point’, you can start to look at your priorities in the light of the Kingdom of Heaven’s priorities as they are revealed to you. You begin to want to recalibrate your life to God’s values and Christ’s life. You now have a new and better reference point for decision-making. The old things of the world system and the flesh that used to dictate your values and limit your options, are now no longer in control. You are free to make choices God’s way.

Step 5. Restitution

‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ (Luke 19:8) It is here that, if God so prompts, we can look at making right some things that we have the power to fix, or to pay back what we may have wrongfully taken. Firstly, this process, is not ‘buying back your soul with good deeds’. It has, instead, everything to do with breaking strongholds. This process is powerful in breaking bondages that can have the power to hold you in habitual practices, or prevent you from becoming dismissive, mitigating or equivocating about your error. You are not only agreeing that it was a mistake, you are tacitly acknowledging it by reparation. Not all mistakes need to have their power broken this way, but some do. By so doing it will dismiss any legal grounds for the devil to try you on.

This leads us to the final liberating aspect …

Step 6. Respond

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:29,30)

All that has gone before in repentance (and continues to work in your life) enables you to respond to life and people in the way of the Kingdom of heaven. Until now, you have been putting down. It is here through restitution and response that you begin to take up. Jesus said, ‘Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me …’

It is very important that you lay down the sin, burden and old way of living, but of greater importance is what you now take up. If we do not take up the yoke of the Kingdom with Christ, we will, being creatures of habit, go back to what we know, we will take up the old yoke of the old ways again. When we take up His yoke, we become carriers of the Kingdom and its resources, values and power. It is now, in and with Christ, that we can give those things away. It is here that we can begin to offer the same love, grace and forgiveness we have received to set others free. It is only when sin has been identified and the above steps taken with Jesus, and in His discipleship, that release will come.

 

I remember in 1987, after preaching one night at a church, having a young man want to ‘give his life to Christ’, get saved (be born-again). On sharing a little with him, it quickly became apparent that his conviction was the result of remorse rather than repentance. These feelings of guilt had been brought about by some recent inappropriate adolescent recreation.

After some probing he confessed that he had broken into a school building and vandalised it. He was concerned about being caught and the possible consequences. I shared not only God’s love and forgiveness, but also the need to confront the Principal, to confess and make restitution. Though he willingly declared his commitment to this task, I distinctly recall sharing with him that his present agreement to the process of restitution, would soon give way to the little voice of pride, fear and indifference which would say: ‘Hey! Don’t worry! Forget about it! No one knows; you’ll get away with it. Why bring it up?’ I said to the young man, ‘When that happens, you ring me and we’ll talk.’ Sure enough two days later (after the atmosphere and anointing had worn off and subsequent conviction had subsided), he rang me and said, ‘It’s happening. The voice — it’s there, I can’t do it.’

So I assured him of my support and suggested we both make an appointment with the Principal to sort it out. He initially agreed but, needless to say, the longer it was left, the harder it became until it seemed, to his dulled conscience, to no longer be an issue. I remember sitting and sharing with him that if he did not follow through, it would cause him grief in the future and he may incur unnecessary damage to himself and others. Of course I let him know of my continued support and friendship.

His initial new found spiritual fervour lasted some months, but as time progressed, so did his backsliding. He separated himself from the youth group, and even the close friend who brought him along. He went and hung out with his old mates and didn’t respond to contact or outreach. For the next three years or so he participated in a lifestyle that had criminal activities considerably worse than petty vandalism; burglary, theft, drugs, etc. However during the entire time he knew who Jesus was, and that he was still loved by Him. (That is the faithfulness of the Father).

At about 18 years of age, through insistent prompting from the Holy Spirit and the realisation that his lifestyle had become not only futile, but destructive, he came and re-submitted his life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There was rejoicing, release and peace. Guess what? Jesus brought him back to the same place he left, the place of neglected restitution. Our Lord did not and had never neglected or rejected him, and now reassured him of His love and forgiveness. But it was vital for the young man’s growth and relationship with God to complete the process of restitution.

Of course it was now no longer one case of school vandalism, it had become a string of crimes affecting not merely faceless institutions, but individuals and families. This time, not with remorse (fear of consequence) but with conviction (desire to please God), the young man went to home and shop owners and confessed to theft and damage. The response was amazing; people were overwhelmed, or were happy to hear the apology, and didn’t hold any grudges or bitterness.

The real point here is that God added tremendously to this young man. His faith, boldness and confidence grew exponentially. Of course, the downside of this initial neglect is that much of his backsliding — waste and pain — could have been avoided if he had simply made restitution in the first place. God knows best, and a little pain in the present can help to avoid much pain later.

In positive contrast to that scenario, in 1992, a young woman in her early 20s, who had been a Christian for some years, had been coerced by negative peer pressure to participate in a theft from a school. In her bid to be accepted by these other spurious Christians (one was a pastor’s daughter), she reluctantly agreed to assist in the theft of equipment from the property. The event went off without a hitch. There were no witnesses; clean except for the nagging pangs of a guilty conscience. Trying to avoid it was seemingly useless. Finally, she came and confided in me what had happened, and asked what she should do since she had possession of the stolen property. My advice was simple. As soon as possible, return to the school, seek out the personnel in charge of that area, return the equipment, confess to the crime and submit to the consequences. I related the previous story to her and we prayed.

On this occasion the young lady did return to the school and God graciously orchestrated a wonderful outcome. She found the person in charge, confessed to the theft and gave over the equipment. She reported to me that the person was a little surprised at hearing her apology, and was impressed with her prompt action. He saw the equipment was returned undamaged and allowed her to go without any further repercussions. I remember the relief and release she related to me and I know that the spiritual dynamics, as well as the natural, had altered for the better. The only sad downside of this event was that the chief perpetrator of the theft was very unimpressed with her actions. He verbally abused her, and decided to disassociate himself from her (small price for freedom).

Repent then so your sins can be forgiven and times of strength and refreshing can come from the Lord. (Acts 3:19)

The spiritual reality is that God’s principle, when adhered to, brings peace, restoration and refreshing.

 

[] 

KEY XIV:

 

[*OBEDIENCE IS NOT A *
DIRTY WORD]

 

 

One can write volumes on this subject, but I want us to look briefly at some important basics. God, who is not only awesome, powerful and vast, but very loving, caring and gracious, desires much for and of us. But He also knows our weaknesses, and so, only requires one key thing from us. That one foundational element is obedience. Why obedience? ‘All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way…’ (Isaiah 53:6)

[_People consult idols and fortune-tellers, but the answers they get are lies and nonsense. Some interpret dreams, but only mislead you; the comfort they give is useless. So the people wander about like lost sheep. They are in trouble because they have no leader. _](Zechariah 10:2)

That, simply put, means that we are all prone to wander off and follow each other in getting lost or into trouble. That is what happens when an entity that really doesn’t have authority tries to exercise it. God knows that is exactly what we would be like. Our Creator wants to shepherd us and to keep us in good pastures and from danger
and harm.

The first thing we have to realise is that we really do not know where we are going (which is evident in history). In an unsure society that is trying to assert individual control and a sense of being able to determine one’s own road alone, this can be more than challenging, but that’s one of the key reasons why humanity has this incessant need to search for truth.

God sets guidelines and boundaries. These are often in the guise of rules or commandments. Many of these rules seem to have what the world would call a negative spin on them: ‘they stop me from doing what I want.’ Most times ‘want’ is an insisting urge or basic instinct; the urges that come from a sinful nature (a nature that is corrupt, selfish and without control). This is because we are born into sin and trouble, and our environments are full of either mistakes or the product of them. But, rules aren’t always negative. Author and apologist Josh McDowell stated rightly: ‘For every seemingly negative commandment God gives, there are two positive principles. 1) To protect you and 2) To provide for you.’

God has a panoramic view, and is the architect of what life should be like. Seeing our damaged lives being far from that perfect design causes Him to put in place things that will lead us from that which is less than what He purposed, into His best.

Obedience is the basis and foundation for holiness. Holiness is the state of being set apart to the utmost purity and having a hatred of wrong. But, it can only come about by following the guidelines that will lead you on the correct path to God’s best. Obedience will help maintain your repentant state (remember Oswald Chamber’s statement that, ‘We must be consciously repentant and unconsciously Holy.’) But more, it enables you to exercise your faith and demonstrate your love for God.

 

Look at the following scriptures to shed some light on what that faith is and how it finds its expression.

 

Because we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1 TLB)

 

[_For it is not by hearing the law that people are put right with God, but by doing what the law commands. _](Romans 2:13 TLB)

Faith is an action, not an idea — faith is an act produced by a confident reliance and obedience.

 

[_Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions … Can’t you see? Abraham’s faith and his actions worked together; this faith was made perfect through his actions _]… (James 2:14-24 TLB)

Obedience is the demonstration of your faith. Basically it is like saying ‘Don’t tell me you trust God, show me, by taking up His ways.’ If you believe God’s Word, His ways and principles, then you’ll desire them so God’s best can be revealed. Again, obedience is what allows God to work His best in our lives. Don’t panic! Jesus knows we are recalibrating and His grace will assist us to obey, trust and ultimately lean totally on Him.

Obedience is also a practical way of showing our love for God. It is often easy (as I’m sure you have experienced) to say the words of love. Showing it can be a very different thing. Our statements and actions can be often based on emotions. But it is in continually coming to God, reading His Word, worshipping Him and being accountable to and supported by other Christians doing the same, that will draw you closer to Him. This will bring about the change, and find His best way in, through, over and around the difficulties of life and Satan’s snares.

It is also important to remember that God does not so much reward obedience (as if we deserved a prize for simply doing what is best). However, He does resource it. Heaven’s resources are attracted to an obedient vessel, much like iron to a magnet. Heaven is able to invest in obedience, as much as obedience collaborates with heaven. ‘The true love of God is this; that we obey His commandments and do so joyously.’ (1 John 5:3)

 

 

 

[]

KEY XV:[]

 

THE HEART OF THE PRODIGAL

 

[_ _]

[_Jesus told them this story: A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money on wild living. _](Luke 15:11-13 NLT)

The first thing we need to understand about this parable is that from a Jewish cultural perspective in the first century, it was socially, ethically and morally a virtual impossibility for this scenario to eventuate. The key character in this drama, displayed disturbing disregard for many issues by even just contemplating, let alone carrying out, his cultural and familial travesty.

In short (as there is a great deal to this scenario) the prodigal son was asking the culturally impossible and morally reprehensible question, ‘Can I have my half of the estate?’ There are some profound reasons why this request would not be conceded to;

1) For starters, in most scenarios the inheritance was not generally equally distributed to all children. Rather the bulk of the inheritance would go to the oldest son. So this rebellious child is in reality presuming to take what is not rightfully his to have!

2) It is highly risky proposition as it can break with cultural tradition and relational protocols, generating a great deal of both family and societal angst.

3) To split the estate while the father is alive was in no way a smart move and it would put the ‘entire’ estate at serious risk of being able to survive.

4) This request is tantamount to the boy saying, ‘I want what is not yet mine and I wish you were dead so I could have it.’ With the exception of one legal caveat and that highly unlikely, the following would be the likely community response to this prodigal’s demands:

a) A curse from the father;

b) Ejection from the home;

c) Sentencing and stoning by the town elders and if not that;

d) No possibility of restoration or reconciliation.

However, this level of impossibility is the very message Jesus (God incarnate) was endeavouring to convey. What God has created, owns and has given breath to cannot rebel, covet, unjustly claim, and then leave to do whatever he/she wants with resources that are not rightfully theirs — but it happens. However, there is a much bigger picture being painted. Yes, this parable reveals the utter carelessness of this prodigal one, yet it also portrays a level of grace and mercy that can only be described as ‘omni-benevolence’ from the father who has been, in raw terms, robbed, cursed and betrayed.

This parable invokes powerful imagery that we cannot, and must not diminish or minimalise.

One of the things the prodigal son experienced was selfish restlessness. Restlessness induces something in us that makes us act inappropriately — even as Christians; somehow we have got to make God move; somehow we have got to get leverage in God; somehow we have got to shift Him off His throne to make things happen the way we deem they should happen, we must be in control!

I have been guilty of attempting such myself! I have rushed in where angels fear to tread and suffered the consequences for my rash actions.

As I mentioned, the story commences with what is culturally both a remarkable and disturbing request. One of the two sons of a prominent land owner presents himself to his father with a request for his share of the inheritance. Why is this remarkable and disturbing? As I have already mentioned, it is as if the son is saying to his father, ‘I wish you were dead so I can get on and do what I want!’ To add to that, if the son had a rebellious nature and is predisposed to antisocial conduct and to likely to live a hedonistic and wasteful lifestyle (which certainly the rest of the parable reveals was probably the case) then the following would unfold.

The boy’s request would most likely have been met with swift indignation, judgment and execution in line with the Torah’s instruction, as the following reveals;

 

[_If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear. _](Deuteronomy 21:18-21 NKJV)

So, if these conclusions are correct, this parable is, again, denoting impossibility! A rebellious child cannot exact from a righteous father, what will be squandered on self-indulgence … but it happens! Jesus is painting an unambiguous picture of not only the reprehensible deeds of His created, but something almost inexplicably more. He is highlighting the culturally incongruent response of the Father in the story. God allows (not permits) the child, the free moral agent, to act in utter rebellion and destroy fellowship — rend communion and all, it would seem, without a punitive response of retribution! Ah, but not without consequences, as the story will reveal.

Even if we take a broader cultural view of this episode and place it, not merely in a Jewish setting, but in a broader middle-eastern cultural framework, we will still see a concerning process, as the following commentary reveals;

It has been an immemorial custom in the east for sons to demand and receive their portion of the inheritance during their father’s lifetime; and the parent, however aware of the dissipated inclinations of the child, could not legally refuse to comply with the application. It appears indeed that the spirit of this law was to provide for the child in case of ill treatment by the father: yet the demand must first be acceded to, before the matter could be legally inquired into; and then, if it was found that the father was irreproachable in his character, and had given no just cause for the son to separate from him, in that case, the civil magistrate fined the son in two hundred puns of cowries.3

This too may also explain why the son left so quickly. His intention was always to thoroughly abuse the good gifts and resources of his father, and having also unjustly impugned the integrity of his father would suffer the correct application of the law — which is justice.

As this story continues we find that our rebellious icon fell on extremely hard times (understand … God will not be mocked, whatever a man sows, that also will he reap). It was so tough that he fell as far as he possibly could to rock bottom — a Jewish boy, dead broke, on the edge of starvation, feeding pigs! This destitute and pitiless place can evoke all kinds of despair and — without an echo of hope — can see the ending of a life. However, the echo was there, the deposit of hope had left a watermark on the soul, and only now, in this stripped bare and desolate place, could he recognise it again!

Jesus goes on with the parable and in verse 17 states …

He came to himself and said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants had bread enough to spare and I perish with hunger? I will rise and go to my father and I will say to Him “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and I know I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants.”’

There is much said about the heart of the Father in this parable, but here I want to talk a little about the heart of the prodigal in a discipleship context. This self-governing entity finally hit the wall and hit it hard. Remember he squandered everything: resources, reputation and relationship — until there was not a remnant left of what he thought defined him — except in the heart of his father. In his heart there was a picture of a preferred future and a voice of a loving reason, but from a cultural nuance there was no trace of the lad — anywhere else he had become a non-entity! Yet, this echo, this ‘watermark’ on the soul presents an possibility in the midst of impossibility! This is divine hope and as a result of it, he is able to contemplate the impossible — to go back to his father.

I want you to notice his heart this time. He is a broken man now. And when we are broken, we actually start to see shadows of that divinely inspired preferred future. We begin to hear the whisper of divine loving reason, and then he is prepared to look to the father for reparation. He (and we) are prepared to go back to ‘get fixed’ — restored, renewed and revived. Now, he thinks of himself as one of the servants, no longer a son. He’s a slave. Contrition has set into his life and this is a key to reconciliation.

First there must be the revelation, the awakening — I tried the world’s system and it failed. I ran the world’s system ragged, I treated it with the same relentless misuse as I did with my Father’s resources, but away from the Father’s source and supervision, it evaporated — and I have got nothing! I took control and I did it my way, a self-made man. Look at me, I am in the gutter! But, I am self-made!

The young man did not come to his senses immediately. The idea that he could have gone home straight away did not register, there’s too much pride, too much self, too much of himself left! He thinks to himself, ‘I’ll feed pigs, I’ll dig my way out, I can make it happen, I’m not going back!’ Then all of a sudden, the lights came on, the realisation hit him, ‘I’m a fool’ — we are fools!

That’s when contrition hits the young man; a brokenness of spirit. This is a place we need to not only come to from time to time, but abide in permanently. He no longer considers pride, or even fears retribution. He is not even attempting to mitigate, equivocate or externalise blame, the prodigal cares nothing for these. All he sees is a hope of again being in the Father’s house, and to be there as a slave is an option he now entertains with joy. For us it is a yieldedness, a vulnerability, a transparency before God, to say, ‘Yes I am weak. I am a fractured person living in a fallen world and without you I am nothing!’

That’s the heart of the prodigal. At his own hand, he’s finally humbled, he’s finally broken and he determines to go home, but not as a son. This time he determines to go home as a servant. He left with all his rights and now, he’s going home only with responsibility. His dilemma: ‘I’m broken, spent and worthless!’ His decision: ‘I’ll go back and be a servant.’ His declaration: ‘I am not worthy to be your son.’ His deed: bow his knee, submit and to continue in that contrite state. Then an even more incredible thing happens when he gets to his father’s house, ‘He arose and came to his father, but when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell at his neck and kissed him.’ (vs 19)

His father is waiting — patiently, actively, prayerfully, for him. His father never chased him into the world system, never pursued him into the place of degradation. His father knew that his son would return because he, his father, had planted in him some profound and good things. He showed him some of his glory, the provision that he had, the place, purpose and position that he had. It would appear that the son did not want to learn it at home, he had to leave — but his father waited. The rebel comes back a broken and contrite man, not with rights on his mind, but responsibility in his heart. ‘I don’t deserve to be anything but your servant. That’s all I deserve. That’s all I have any right to.’

This is a new man, but how did the father know? The fact that the boy came home was evidence of that. In the culture, there was nothing to come back to but scorn and judgment. However, this boy, in this broken place, saw more than the system of law, he saw the fullness of the father’s heart of love and yearning for communion. This is evidenced by the way the father ran to meet him, fell on his neck and kissed him! And the son said to him,

 

‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it and let us eat and be merry for this, my son was dead, but now he is alive. He was lost and now he is found’. (vs 21)

 

When the contrition of man that produces repentance and the compassion of the grace of God connect, a type of resurrection takes place! That which was dead becomes alive. That which was lost is found — there is no greater miracle than that!

Not only did this profligate son do all his intentions predicted he would, he became completely destitute and then, in the utter squalor and ultimate revelation of the consequences of his own self-government, he remembers home. However now he can see what he had abandoned. It was not the position, power, privilege and portion — it was true and complete intimacy; loving, wholesome and lavish. This was now the deep visceral motivator for return and the push for repentance. How do we know he was repentant, was it simply his wanting to return? Yes, but it was in the act of returning that made manifest what was the key. The key was in his changed heart and attitude toward relationship; he went home with the heart of a servant. He went home with an attitude that he was no longer worthy to be a son, even though he was. It is this servant heart that took him into the space where he could see relationship is love and love is about the other.

In a manner only worthy of Jesus, does the parable reinforce this relational component and the fullness of its meaning in the image He portrays of the father in this story. The father is not waiting with judgment in his heart, but with open arms declaring that his son’s return was akin to resurrection. (And of course in any real cultural sense the boy was dead).[_ _]‘He was dead, but now he is alive, he was lost, but now he is found!’ (Luke 15: 32)

In other words, for this son, in this cultural context, to actually come home, it means he has reached the realisation. The realisation that to love in truth you must be in all the father’s will for relationship which includes preferring and serving others above yourself and not in self-promoting, preserving or pleasing. It is not a performing, rather a participation in a deep trusting interdependency, which brings light and liberty and makes manifest the true and unsurpassable worth of the loving Divine family. The family birthed by the Trinitarian God.

[*One thing is abundantly clear — if the prodigal son did not return home, no restoration, reconciliation or revival was possible. *
*We must repent, we must go home, we must surrender *
and we must abide!]

 

[* *]

KEY XVI:

[* *]

PLANK-EYE PERCEPTION

[* *]

 

Pause and read — Matthew 6:25-34 and 7:7-12

We had just sat down at the conference table for our morning staff prayer meeting. One of our highly valued volunteers arrived at our gathering, but this day he was very quiet and sombre. We asked if he was OK. He said he was quite sad, and with an un-customary openness and a deep sense of hurt he proceeded to tell us of recent family events. He disclosed that his daughter suffered from post-natal depression and was seeing a counsellor. As concerning as that may be, that was not the issue. The upshot of this counselling was that our distressed volunteer and his wife got a letter from their daughter telling them everything they did wrong as parents and that most of her current post-natal struggles were a result of their poor parenting.

This incident really agitated me for a couple of reasons, not the least being that our grieving father, though not perfect, was a man who had been a caring, loving and supportive father to the best of his ability. He was not violent, abusive, neglectful or even unavailable. This example, as disappointing as it is, was not the major issue, it was an example of a bigger problem. This was not an isolated incident either. The blaming of others and the abdication of responsibility for one’s own actions was becoming standard fare. The trend I’m seeing in our ‘me’ oriented culture, is that when something goes wrong we are quick to assign blame, but not to ourselves … we’re always blaming someone else.

Around the same time I was talking to a friend and reflecting on his remarkable journey in the Lord. He was a wonderful trophy of grace, and though his journey was not smooth, the Lord really used him.

Over a number of years he was able to lead most of his family to Christ, including his mum and dad. Sadly his father passed away within a year of his conversion and his parting left my friend in a new situation. Due to his cultural background, as the eldest single male, he became his mother’s ‘port of call’ for all and every circumstance. Consequently, every little nuance of her life and all her foibles were now, because of the proximity and intensity, fully amplified in his world and they became, over time, a constant bug-bear for him. This in turn led him to start avoiding his mother as much as he could.

My friend also had one other prevailing and quite debilitating issue in his life and that was anxiety and panic attacks, particularly around flying. I had been with him when such an attack came upon him. It can only be described as disturbing to see an intelligent, witty, urban businessman reduced to child-like irrationality and fear.

The reason I mention this is that, due to the intense rekindling of the relationship with his mother, my friend began to join the dots. He came to a realisation (at least in his thinking) that the vast majority of anxiety issues in his life were exactly the same as his mother. He also came to what he believes was a logical conclusion — the anxieties came from her. So to prevent this stain from growing in him any more, his answer was to avoid his mother and disconnect from her completely. Take particular note of this: my friend gets radically delivered and saved, but the anxiety lingered, and has done so for ten years after his conversion. Restoration and the healing of scars can take time. Yet diversions over this time had been growing, and he was developing a victim mind-set. This victim mind-set has a couple of key components …

a) Foremost is the ‘me’ factor — characterised by thoughts like, ‘What about me; that’s not fair on me; if only that had not happened to me; and I deserve better than that.’ This, of course, is a key strategy of the enemy of our souls to keep us bound and broken. This fuels the pursuit of seeking ‘just us’ rather than justice.

b) In addition to that, in our first world West we’ve concocted a modified ‘gospel’ — the gospel of personal success and personal prosperity; the gospel of ‘God for me’. It in essence promotes the idea that God is a genie, prayer is the rub of the lamp, and out God ‘pops’ to grant you your self-actualising wishes. This perspective in turn demands blessings on our terms and only feeds the victim appetite if those demands are not met.

Let’s return to our opening Scriptures. When reading we often love to jump over passages or ideas we don’t like. This is frequently done too with our passage here when we skip from Matthew 6:34 to 7:7. Let’s remedy that and focus our attention to Matthew 7:1-6 NLT

 

Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. For others will treat you as you treat them. Whatever measure you use in judging others, it will be used to measure how you are judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Don’t give what is holy to unholy people. Don’t give pearls to swine! They* *will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

It is important to note, the word judgment here speaks of condemnation or the passing of sentence on someone. However, it has nothing to do with prohibiting the challenging of poor conduct, or holding someone accountable for contradictions, compromise and carnality. To judge in this context is to have the faculty of being able to make critical distinctions — to bring about a balanced view point. This is not only good, it is necessary for anyone calling themselves a disciple of Christ.

However, the key is that we apply such scrutiny to ourselves first. Jesus was not saying, as I hear so many interpret, ‘You cannot challenge anyone’s behaviour unless you are perfect, so shut up and mind your own business.’ I see this passage as a very real call to every single person to be seeking purity, not for acceptance sake, rather relationship sake. In fact, the subtext of this verse is not the prohibiting of challenge, but a call to ensure we help each other get it right, not condemn others so we look better.

What is also important to note about this passage is the timing of this statement from Jesus. It is just after His discourse on the possible joys and priorities of the Kingdom, and just before the how-to-seek and ask! This is not an accident, it is an important segue to help us keep focused on the fact that these things are inseparable in our walk with God.

I attended a suicide prevention course some years back and the Christian presenter Ray Oldman (a serving police officer and counsellor with a state police force) made this statement: ‘Psychology/psychiatry can attempt to deal with the victim in you, but what will deal with the perpetrator in you?’

Now that is a very important question. Are we stuck? Have we fallen foul of the devil’s manipulation and our own egocentricity? I believe we have. It isn’t the devil’s fault; even though our victim mind would have him to take the blame. No! He only works with what we give him. And that’s the kicker; the victim gives much control away by externalising blame and refusing to take responsibility for their reactions, responses and attitudes and face the reality of the consequences.

Angle Grinders vs Arm Guards

Let me spin you a metaphor! What do you prefer, an Angle Grinder or an Arm Guard? I certainly know which one I would prefer — the one that creates the least pain! For the purpose of this word picture I define Angle Grinders as conviction, truth and repentance and the Arm Guard as grace, mercy and patience.

From my observations, as self-preserving creatures we tend to apply Arm Guards quite liberally to ourselves, but readily use Angle Grinders on others. Now both these tools are important, but it is how and where we should use these tools that needs to be understood.

1. Understanding one — You are a fractured and frail person living in a fallen world; the single greatest indicator of this is that you are breathing — get my drift?

[*2. Understanding two — *]Fractured people have ‘sharp bits’ — often very sharp.

[* *]

[*3. Understanding three — *]When these sharp bits encounter each other in a careless fashion, they hurt and at times cause harm.

[]

[4. Understanding four — *]You are first a perpetrator, not a victim. ‘There is not a single person in all the earth who is always good and never sins.’ (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT) Martin Luther said, ‘The first duty of the preacher is to show God’s laws and reveal the nature of sin.’ The great reformer John Wesley stated, ‘The law takes away the fig leaves and leaves us naked, wretched and lame.’ That means first and foremost, we must deal with our sharp bits! If we start with the premise that we are fundamentally good people, this can be problematic. Why would a good person mitigate and equivocate and externalise blame: ‘I am like this because they did this to me or were like that.’[ *]

Jesus put to bed the issue of people being ‘good’ with the rich young ruler in Mark 10:18. Only One is good — God alone. One of the disturbing emerging nuances in current church culture is that we honestly believe we need everything from God except forgiveness. The sequential logic of this thinking can lead us to believe that the omniscient God saw all these outcomes and that it would happen. Therefore He was somehow responsible for letting it happen. So He is, in our mind, partly to blame and should make it right. This mentality on our behalf seriously diminishes God’s love and power getting through.

[*5. Understanding five — *]We are all sinners and have fallen short of God’s GLORY, not just his standard, His glory, and that is, as we continue to reiterate, one of the big issues! (see Romans 3:23)[]

[* *]

[*6. Understanding six — *]If we acknowledge our sinfulness by ourselves, and make our preoccupation repentance and forgiveness, then something amazing happens.

[* *]

[*7. Understanding seven — *]As grace grows, our eyes are readjusted, the log in our eye is removed and amazingly the speck in others’ lives disappears. []

This is good news — Jesus’ death and resurrection can set us free from this trap. We are free to bless, heal, restore and impart life. This invariably includes the recognition and acknowledgment of that which diminishes and blocks these blessings (that’s why we need each other). First we must die to self so the angle grinder doesn’t harm, it only removes that which does harm.

 

Understand that repentance and forgiveness are what facilitate this. In this process of confessing that we are broken and sinful, and humbling ourselves to pursue God’s forgiveness, we are led to the glorious realisation that, ‘I have been a fool! I am to blame and I need my sharp and broken pieces dealt with!’

Now just imagine if we all started to live this out — each having a preoccupation with being arm guards of grace and submitted to being de-prickled. Have you ever fully recognised that you are a sinner? Is there is anything in your life that fits what we have looked at and makes you see your need of forgiveness? Or is your plank so large all you see is the speck in others?

 

 

 

KEY XVII:

BEYOND JONAH

 

 

think the story of Jonah is one of my favourite narratives in Bible history. From a literary perspective it has a poetic flavour, from an historical perspective it is one of the oldest pieces of literature in God’s Word, as well as being a unique snapshot of culture and of course from a theo­centric perspective, it is a wonderful profile of saving grace in the old covenant context.

All of us who have been around church circles as children are familiar with Jonah. Not for the profound offering of rescue and grace, but for the big fish part of the story. Of course, as with many Bible accounts reviewed by a modernist culture with little or no concept of the omnipotence of the supernatural God, the account of Jonah is often relegated to, if not fiction, metaphor!

I still recall a news article that actually made the six o’clock news in the early to mid-1990s about a Japanese whaler who had fallen overboard and was remarkably swallowed by a large whale. The whaling ship chased down the whale, caught it and after several hours had it aboard and dissected. To their surprise the whaler was still alive inside this great mammal! Whilst an overemphasis on the great fish account may lead us into unnecessary debate, the record has credibility as Jesus himself referred to Jonah’s internment in a great fish as a type of His pending death and resurrection. Anyway, I digress, back to the subject at hand.

What you are about to read is only a synoptic look at a reasonably extensive theological topic. I would invite you to take the time to delve into the prophets I will mention here.

Jonah was a devout man and one called of God to do a very, very difficult task. How do we know he was a devout man of God? Firstly he was one to whom God spoke. Jonah was considered a prophetic vessel for God. However, God was going to place another significant mantle on him, that of evangelist. Our heavenly Father in His wisdom can engage His people in many and varied ways. Not only to bring about change in the world, but also change in us — Jonah was a classic example of this methodology.

The Call

In the very opening verse of this prophetic book we have a direct and unambiguous instruction from God to Jonah … ‘The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh! Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”’ (Jonah 1:1-2 NLT)

I want us to notice the content of the mandate given to Jonah. It wasn’t … ‘Hey Jonah, can you do me a quick favour and go and have a quiet kind word to the people of Nineveh, I want them to know that I really love them, and that I’d like them to rethink some of their actions.’ Far from it, this is a prophetic and evangelistic foray into seriously hostile territory! God is asking Jonah to tell these people, the Ninevites, the centre and epitome of what the Assyrians stand for, that they are so bad, their conduct so shocking, so insidious (in that it wrought exceedingly great harm), that it has come to God’s specific attention.

More than that, Jehovah was so disturbed that He was preparing to bring divine justice on their reprobate world and wanted to give them a heads up to that fact, so that they may discover there was a better way to live than their current conduct was demonstrating. Therefore God would not have to bring the ultimate expression of His justice — the passing of sentence and retribution, but instead, the promotion of mercy for readjustment sake.

What is Jonah’s response? As the account reveals, it was to go, without hesitation, in the other direction. In fact Jonah was attempting to run away from the all-knowing and omnipresent God! Now, what would drive a man to actually attempt this impossibility? It is interesting to note that some revisionist Biblical commentators I have encountered teach that this response from Jonah was evidence of his ethnocentricity — even racism! I don’t think that was motivating him!

This emerging teaching promotes the idea that Jonah had embraced the supposed cultural elitism that had become the Jewish religion. It was the idea that being part of God’s chosen race, somehow made them better than others. Being selected by God had nothing to do with their efforts. Instead, this most insignificant of all peoples were to use this blessed privilege of grace to become agents of the benevolent God to an ignorant world. God was going to prove that He was God by choosing a bunch of nobodies and rejects to be His representatives. Instead, they kept God to themselves and if anyone wanted part of the great YHWH they had to come to Israel (on Israel’s terms and do things Israel’s way). Now, while this ideology may or may not have become systemic in later centuries, this was not the motivator for Jonah’s refusal. No, his refusal was not driven by pride or arrogance; it was driven by total fear and deep resentment!

How do we deduce that? Imagine, you are of the office of an Israelite prophet. You understand not only the given counsel of God — the Torah, but are also privy to some of the deeper esoteric mysteries of the divine. You know more than most the might, power and sheer unimaginable awe of God. Even more than that, this God actually speaks directly to you. Yet being aware of all this, when God Almighty gives you a charge, your response is not merely ignore — but to refuse His command! It is my contention that Jonah knew the awesome side of the divine, but more, he also knew enough of God’s patience to actually think he could get away with this refusal. Well, after all, God was sending him to the arch-enemies of the Jews — the Assyrians. Not to destroy them but to warn them. So, Jonah may have concluded (as his suspicions were to be borne out) if God was going to let the Assyrians off the hook, maybe Jonah’s misdemeanour would also be overlooked, and God would leave Jonah out of the most uncomfortable aspects of His redemptive plan.

But let us not be too hard on Jonah, for he sounds all too often like me. I am happy to do for the King, that which is easy or rewarding, but ready to run from that which may cause me pain, discomfort, or costs me something!

One thing we must understand from the outset is that the Assyrians were indescribably wicked and barbaric. There are only a few accounts in Scripture where a group of people gets God’s special attention in regard to bad conduct (Sodom and Gomorrah being the other stand-out). But how do we know they were so bad? At least four Old Testament prophets remarked in some manner on the way this nation acted and particularly their brutality toward the Jewish people — Isaiah, Zephaniah, Nahum and of course Jonah.

 

The Problem

We also need to realise it is not just the Old Testament that discloses an inventory of atrocities, that may lead some to conclude it wasn’t only a Jewish experience. There is a great deal of historical evidence that bears out the somewhat tame Biblical evaluation of this nation.

Assyrians were great warriors. Most nations at that time period were looters, building their state by robbing other nations. Assyria was the most ferocious of them all. Their very name became a byword for cruelty and atrocity. They skinned their prisoners alive, and cut off various body parts to inspire terror in their enemies. There are records of Assyrian officials pulling out tongues and displaying mounds of human skulls all to bring about stark horror and wealthy tribute from surrounding nations. Nowhere are the pages of history more ‘bloody’ than in the records of their wars.4

This assessment is also confirmed by direct inscriptions by King Asshurizirpal (883 BC) taken from monuments in ancient Assyrian ruins, who wrote … ‘Their men, young and old, I took as prisoners. Of some I cut off the feet and hands; of others I cut off the noses, ears, and lips; of the young men’s ears I made a heap; of the old men’s heads I built a minaret.’5

We must understand that Jonah was not a bigoted racist. He was a man first in fear, and second in deep resentment (perhaps arguably even hatred!) Jonah, like his people, had a fearful loathing of these barbarians and would like nothing more than to have them wiped off the face of the earth! Yet this is not God’s immediate response. Instead, His first act is to reach out with a ‘second chance’ to this pernicious people! As we read on in Jonah, we see that after much coercion from the Lord, including a storm, a virtual shipwreck, being cast into the sea, being swallowed by a giant fish and vomited up on a beach, Jonah complies and proclaims boldly the pending judgment of God.

Jonah proclaims to the Ninevites that if they do not repent — that is, they do not stop their evil ways, change their minds and their direction and follow God’s prescriptions for them — then God’s wrath will be upon them. As we know, the leaders and then the people of Nineveh did just that. They humbled themselves before the God of creation. He spared them the punishment they so richly deserved! Wow! That’s amazing grace and remarkable mercy!

Then it was Jonah’s turn to be changed! Whilst in the end he obeyed God and did his duty, that was not enough, the task was not yet complete. Nineveh had been saved but Jonah was in need of rescue too! Jonah needed to be set free from his narrow worldview, (in some way that did happen). He needed to see that God, the Creator of all, is the Father of all, and wants ALL humanity to know and walk again with Him. As important as that was, it was the next lesson that was most imperative … God really does not want to punish and destroy. He wants to heal, reform and renew and we must not let resentment, bitterness and hatred dictate our sense of justice. Jonah had to see a more complete image of God. Yes, God hates, loathes and detests sin and the destructive elements it conjures up, but more than that, God loves people and wants to rescue them. He even wants to rescue people who are, by any objective standards, incredibly bad.

For Jonah to be the messenger of God he needed to understand this entire dynamic. It is no different for us. If we are to be God’s messengers of grace, we too must completely comprehend the fullness of God’s grace, mercy and His justice.

Justice brought to bear

Wait just one minute! This account of God’s dealings with the Assyrians does not end here, as so many commentators want it to. No! It continues on and tragically to a very different conclusion approximately 100 years later! As previously stated, there are no fewer than four prophets who speak into the Assyrian problem. As we saw in Jonah, God’s second chance produced an initial repentance, but not a following and conforming!

In time, the Assyrians reverted to their old ways, and for the most part, due to a reversion to their old authorities. As we have seen in our journey so far, repentance is not a simple word game and soul adjustment for personal gain or pain aversion. It is a complete repositioning of mind, heart and will, all in allegiance to a new authority — an authority that is not YOU! The Assyrians reverted to the vanity of perceived cultural superiority, personal power and territory expansion all under the governance of other gods!

God is indescribably wise and He certainly will not be mocked! Several generations had passed since Jonah’s mission was completed. Grace, in the form of substantial time, did not see a revisiting of repentance, but growing of licence. With the staying of judgment and lack of consequence for their sin, the initially penitent Ninevites reverted to their old ways. Remember it is not what you put down that counts the most, it is then what you take up that is imperative. After extending mercy (not giving them what they deserved) and then allowing grace (giving them what they did not deserve) to be squandered, the just and holy God was compelled to act once they reverted to their old evil ways. This time a prophet (Nahum) came with a message, not dissimilar to the one delivered by Jonah. But this time it was to a people who knew better. The Assyrians had been awakened to the truth. They had experienced the call of hope to salvation but squandered it, not unlike the shocked guest in the parable of the great wedding feast, that Jesus related in Matthew Chapter 22. There were no excuses, no equivocations or mitigations — mercy was forgotten, grace was ignored, justice must now be served!

[_This message concerning Nineveh came as a vision to Nahum, who lived in Elkosh. ‘The Lord is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and wrath. He takes revenge on all who oppose him and furiously destroys his enemies! The Lord is slow to get angry, but His power is great, and he never lets the guilty go unpunished …’ _](Nahum 1:1-3 NLT)

I want us to pay particular attention to the word ‘furiously’ used in the Godinspired prophetic diatribe. It literally means: hot displeasure and a poisonous rage! Wow! Only the perfect and holy God, who knew not only the extremes of the crimes committed but also the lavish mercy granted, could understand those states within the framework of impeccable divine judgment.

Nahum’s long, scathing assessment of the Ninevites and their pending judgment goes even further. The God who sent a mercy mission of rescue a century earlier — displaying breathtaking grace to a pernicious people at the expense of the national pride and sensibility and arguably the humanity of his chosen people the Jews — now comes in a different tenor. At first God came as benevolent arbiter and merciful, loving ambassador. Now, however, He comes in the same love, but in a different role as a righteous and just Judge-King! In this new juxtapose, God can only be described from the Assyrians’ position as an enemy.

The New Living Translation puts it like this;

‘I am your enemy!’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Your chariots will soon go up in smoke. The finest of your youth will be killed in battle. Never again will you bring back plunder from conquered nations. Never again will the voices of your proud messengers be heard.’ (Nahum 2:13)

The prophet Nahum goes on to say in the next chapter;
…‘How terrible it will be for Nineveh, the city of murder and lies! She is crammed with wealth to be plundered.’

Here this indictment is going even deeper. In the century that had passed since Jonah’s message of grace and mission of mercy, the Ninevites had not only reverted to their malevolence, they had increased their wealth and resources too. In other words, they have taken the grace given and used it for selfish and godless gain, and at the expense of others! Justice must be done! God’s wisdom and holiness demands it!

We must be very, very careful about our customising of the ‘God image’. We must never look only for the images, echoes and nuances that suit our culturally concocted sense of the divine. We have a record of how the God of creation, the God above all gods, works in history and even the future, and that record is our plumb line — the Word of God! Again, we cannot simply selectively read Scripture to our own liking. We must not read only John 3:16 and not verse 18. We must not revel in the letter to the Romans and dismiss the letter to the Hebrews. We must not read the Gospel of John and discount the Revelation. We should not embrace the message in Jonah and ignore the message in Nahum.

God, our loving God and the Father of all humanity, loves His creation dearly, passionately and sacrificially and wants all his precious children in communion with Him once again. We must respond to this beckoning back home, this call to intimate community. God’s long-suffering grace was granted for this end, so that the Ninevites would repent. But it was ignored, and brought retribution.

How much more will Gods loving and right judgment, be brought to bear on, ‘those who trample the blood of Jesus underfoot?’ This blood is holy and sacred. It was given so that again God’s wayward children — you and I — could return to intimacy with the Father. God intended intimacy because it is necessary for the restoration of fellowship with the divine community — the triune God.

 

 

 

KEY XVIII:

FINISHING WELL

 

 

The book of Romans has been considered by the historic reformer Martin Luther, as the fifth and most complete gospel — espousing not only the what and why of the Christ and His salvation, but how it works and much on how it must be implemented. Luther penned many centuries ago the following statement about Romans: ‘This epistle is the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel … it can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with, the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.’

Samuel Taylor Coleridge went as far as to say, ‘Romans is the most profound book in existence.’

What has all this to do with our ponderings in this theological foray? Much, as it is Romans that most systematically outlines our nature (sin), what is necessary to change our standing and then to change our state, and ultimately what fruit should be evident to those eagerly watching the disciples of Christ. Yes, the Letter to the Romans does reveal the law’s inadequacy. As a result, it is also very often the work that can be poorly exegeted, especially if this letter is not framed correctly. We must understand every context in which it must be set; i.e. the words of Christ and other epistles, particularly the ones to the Ephesians and Hebrews. It also reveals much of the response that an understanding of both law and grace can produce, as seen in the responses of Paul.

Dr Henrietta C. Mears in the best-selling work What the Bible is All About isolated some of the passions Paul penned and as a consequence asked some poignant and confronting questions.

Paul declares in Romans 1:1 that he is ‘set apart’ for the gospel. In verse nine he is ‘serving’ in the gospel; verse 16 ‘saved’ by the gospel. As Dr Mears observes these responses from Paul, she then asks us … ‘Is the gospel of Christ gripping you this way? Are you saved by it, set apart for it, and serving in it?’6[]

Where does much of this passion and zeal in Paul come from? The statements in Romans 1:14-16 give us a strong indication. Paul declares himself a debtor, and that this debtor, this one who owes, is eager to fulfil not an obligation alone, rather an act of gratitude; and here’s the paradox, he is shameless about the whole process. Why shameless? Because Paul has experienced the power of the gospel and, as Dr Mears succinctly puts it — ‘realised that by nothing short of the power of God could one become a Christian!’ How is this power manifest, from where does it come? It finds its release when a sinful heart (touched by grace) encounters a loving God (revealed by grace). It is released when a repentant heart (empowered by grace) says ‘Yes’ to trusting, following and obeying the one who dispensed such a gift.

This is not a burden of guilt or owing, but rather a celebration of gratitude. However, it is the clarity of understanding — a sober realisation of what we really are under the judgment of the law and outside of Christ. We see our denuded, prideful nature and consequently what heaven has done to recalibrate us and make us whole. This understanding should perpetually revive our gratitude. We understand that not even the efforts of a thousand lifetimes would suffice to make us right. (There goes reincarnation as an option to perfection). Nor is it a blanket act of God that automatically exempts us from accountability.

To quote Calvin Miller,[_ ‘Few know the utter inadequacy of words more than the truly grateful.’_]

Clearly though, it is a cooperative journey, geared solely to relationship, trust and obedience. A partnership of intimacy heavily stacked in our favour, that does not help us earn God’s approval, rather aids us immeasurably in finding God’s most fruitful and blessed path to His destiny for us and ultimately the only way to a most blessed eternity.

God’s great grace, and the true repentance that this should birth, enable us to have what the law never did, a walk not only to God, but with Him.

It all adds up!

We have looked, in brief, at what many have tried to copy. It would seem that repentance is maybe a very difficult and time-consuming thing. It can be, depending on our willingness to trust, submit and respond obediently. Some would argue that they themselves have the self-control and internal ability to follow this process, or part of it, and bring about the desired response in us, outside of God’s plan and empowerment.

Whatever our perception, in it all is one all-pervading factor — that factor is not only the why, but the how — it is JESUS CHRIST. Without submitting to His Lordship and allowing the Holy Spirit to come into your life and give you not only the reason but, more importantly, the strength and resources to change, it will never happen.

You see, systems mould us and attempt to get us to conform by placing pressure on us externally. But the Christ within transforms us through a metamorphosis — a changing, rather than a casting and this, as for the butterfly, makes the real difference.

I hope this has shed a little more light on things for you and I want to encourage you to seek the truth with all your heart. For it was said of old by the Creator that ‘they who seek God with all their heart will be found of Him’. Remember, only the informed decisions are the best decisions. []

Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life. No man comes to the Creator — Father and finds his ultimate except through me and the ground rules I have set.’ EVT (Expanded Varcoe Translation).

It all starts with God’s immense grace, Christ’s finished work on the Cross and your repentance.

 

[*However, what if we ignore these matchless gifts *
and unparalleled resources?
**
What must the perfect and Holy God do?]

[* *]

 

CONSTRUCT C:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IN “HELL”

ARE YOU TALKING

ABOUT?’

 

 

 

OPENERS

Headlines that outraged a nation and shocked the world …

A judge in Australia was facing calls to step down today after she failed to jail a group of nine males who admitted gang-raping a 10-year-old girl in an Aboriginal community, saying the young victim ‘probably agreed’ to have sex with them.

Instead of jailing the three adults, aged 17 to 26, one of whom was a repeat sex offender, and giving custodial sentences to the six juveniles aged 14 to 16, Queensland District Court Judge Sarah Bradley handed out suspended sentences and probation orders.

[_ _]

The lenient sentencing was greeted with outrage and disbelief across Australia, which has been wrestling with the problem of child sex abuse in indigenous communities after a report, Little Children Are Sacred, released earlier this year, described the problem as widespread and endemic.

[_ _]

The newly-elected Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said he was ‘appalled and disgusted’ by the details of the case while Queensland’s attorney-general, Kerry Shine, said he would appeal the judge’s decision. Indigenous leaders said it sent a terrible message to vulnerable girls and women living in fear in their communities. 1

The Prime Minister’s response was indicative of a general community consensus — outrage. So disgusted were many indigenous and non-indigenous Australians that the Judge involved received tirades of abuse and even death threats. Of course, any sane reasonable person with an inkling of a clue about justice would respond no differently, with perhaps the exception of the death threats … or would they? It depends on whether or not this heinous is in fact a reprobate act, or whether or not this thing had happened to them? In our new progressive secular relativist space, what does pass for ‘heinous’? Who says?

One of the reasons the average functional person is so incensed by this episode is that it is the record of a barbaric self-gratifying act perpetrated at the expense of what is supposed to be the pure and innocent — a child. This brutal violation, this insidious crime is more than wrong, it is evil and it cannot and must not be allowed! If such a disturbing act has been committed, it is then that justice must be dealt swiftly and without compromise. Any delay or diminishing of this process of justice would see calls (as it did above) for the judge to be removed as unfit to be in that position!

You see, in the end we want the judges, those with the power, position, proper priorities and purity, to exercise their authority to make right and good judgments and bring justice to bear.

After convincing ourselves (particularly in the new relativist West) that God is redundant (because we have grown up into His role); we mere mortals now believe we have the absolute moral objectivity and perfect wisdom to arbitrate well, all and every individual taste, mood, urge and conduct in the individualist culture with its individualist rights. We now have actually convinced ourselves that we are quite adept at making right and good judgments, especially when it comes to incidences like the one we have just read. We are passionate, bold and forthright in our justice claims and think, somehow, we have the ultimate vantage point on what is pure and just — but do we really have any clue? By what benchmark or plumbline do you measure that? If the self-governing and subjective society measures itself, by itself, when will it know it is off course? (That is a discussion, perhaps for an entirely different book at another time.)

When it comes to the nature and perfection of God I wonder if we have any idea at all of how pure, transcendent and perfect God is. Do we know how that perfection translates into the life of Jesus Christ? I wonder if we really understand how perfect and unmarred God’s creation was before the first sin? (Some would rightly ask; How could we?) I wonder if we really have any idea at all of how incredibly, incalculably disparate is the holy Creator from our brokenness and error? I wonder if we realise how far short of God’s glory we fall and how much our guilt cries out for divine justice from the Perfect Judge?

I wonder if our cries for justice would be so vehement if it was we who were being judged?

Our answer, of course, would depend on our perspective; do we compare ourselves with the rapists in our opening article and believe ourselves good (by comparison). Or do we compare ourselves with the holiness of the perfect Creator and quake with fear because of the revelation of our utter depravity that juxtapose might conjure up?

 

 

 

KEY XIX:

 

THAT FOUR LETTER WORD

 

 

 

‘Man, what a hell of a day!’ — ‘That was absolute hell!’ —
‘It’s hotter than hell in here!’

 

Have you ever said any of these? I was raised a good boy so I don’t say ‘hell’, I say ‘heck’. Jokes aside, it is surprising how much this word hell comes up in our everyday language. If my experience has anything to do with what passes for normal, then the context of this ‘four letter word’ is usually in relation to a bad, tiring or frustrating experience. What usually precipitates the use of this word in the more disparaging manner can be the net result of a series of small frustrating/annoying events and/or people. What’s more, if people bug us enough we can unceremoniously suggest they actually ‘go to hell!’

But, again, what do we really mean when we use this term? Is it simply a colloquial expression we engage when we want to be direct in our evaluation of that which we feel was less than ordinary? Or is there more? It is of particular interest to watch and listen to the responses of people who are describing the shocking crime of an individual they feel abhorrent and what they hope will happen, (i.e. our previously mentioned event or acts of a paedophile) and the resulting furious cries for justice that insist such perpetrators actually ‘rot in hell’.

In this context, well as least in my viewing of it, the cry for justice, particularly if the victim be viewed as pure and innocent, is that the best place for the perpetrator is hell! So, what do people really mean or even hope by this concept of hell? I have seen, as I’m sure you have, people so angry, so incensed at a barbaric act (perceived or real) that they, if they actually could, would consign the target of their disgust straight to hell. Yet, the same people would never consider for a moment that they too may be a candidate for this destination. Why would they? After all, they aren’t ‘that bad’.

Dr Ravi Zacharias recalls a social gathering that highlights the exemption we all so easily grant ourselves. He was meeting with a very wealthy and successful businessman who had some form of objection to either the existence or nature of God and repeatedly protested in his derision … ‘but what about all the evil in the world?’ The conversation continued in this vein until an associate sitting with the group interrupted with a very pertinent question: ‘I hear you constantly expressing a desire to see a solution to the problem of evil around you. Are you as troubled by the problem of evil within you?’2

That’s it, isn’t it? We really are totally blindsided to how pervasive evil is and how unaware we are of our blindness to the potential of evil in us, and of our need of rescuing. The plank-eye perception is debilitating!

 

Head Space — Do you see yourself as a victim first and foremost, or as a perpetrator? Discuss as a group how you reconcile the problem of ‘evil’ in you.

 

In the following section I want to investigate some of the origins and understanding of the judgment of evil and this concept of hell, using sources and references that have held the most consistent authority on this very important and often misrepresented subject.

 

KEY XX:

 

BACK TO BASICS!

 

 

Let’s look at Hebrews 6:1-8 (NKJV).

 

[_Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. _]

Understandably these verses are, for the most part, viewed purely as a rebuke or admonition concerning immaturity in the audience the author was addressing. If we are not careful we can simply breeze through some of the seeming incidental verses here, especially when one is looking at the serious concerns raised from verse four onwards. Yet it is verses two and three that I want us to pay attention to here. The writer of Hebrews goes to pains to outline six fundamentals (non-negotiable and inextricable elements) that are foundational to anyone calling themselves Christian. The writer’s concern here is that the Hebrew Christians are struggling to mature, grow up if you like, in their walk with Christ. Consequently the basics were again having to be revisited. This remedial exercise is disapproved of by the author because, as it would appear in the tone of the passage, these ‘would-be saints’ had not got the foundations right. Consequently they were at risk of falling short of God’s grace.

Dr John Stott’s The Bible Speaks Today commentary gives us further insight into the concerns of the writer of Hebrews;

Ignorance leads to immaturity. First, we must establish ourselves in the ‘elementary doctrines of Christ and then acquire an appetite for the more solid food of other aspects of Christian teaching. We must go on to maturity. The solid foundation of Christian truth is of immense importance but, once that is well and truly laid, there is no need to go on repeating that process, laying again a further foundation. Six basic aspects of Christian teaching are enumerated here. They may well have been regarded … as the essential features of catechetical instruction for young converts.3 []

The commentator is making an assertion about what contributes to people failing to get these elementary things. There are six elements mentioned:

  • {color:#000;}•repentance from dead works;
  • {color:#000;}•faith toward God;
  • {color:#000;}•doctrine of baptisms;
  • {color:#000;}•laying on of hands;
  • {color:#000;}•resurrection from the dead; and
  • {color:#000;}•eternal judgment.

These are all found inherent in Jewish teachings and the majority of hearers (being Jews) would have had little difficulty recognising them or even embracing them because of cultural familiarity. But something was happening, something was muddying the water.

This new ‘way’ called Christianity was no longer solely for the Jew, it was a new way of living and understanding that was available to ALL peoples. The cultural aspects of this Jewish-birthed religion were exposed to many new converts from the prominent Greek-influenced philosophical world view. Commentators and historians have noticed some of the difficulty this Hellenised perspective brought to the embrace of these basic faith essentials, in fact it is the last two on the list that seemed to bring embarrassment to people so influenced by the Greek philosophical perspective.

Note the word ‘embarrassed’ used in the historical record. Note too, the target of such embarrassment — resurrection and eternal judgment! If I may take a little licence and extrapolate … ‘Clever, sophisticated, informed and at least pseudo-intellectual people cannot subscribe to these fantastic and incongruent claims; “Resurrection!” Preposterous! And, what! An eternal judgment of everlasting punishment, unimaginable, considering our concept of how we see this Christ and His teaching being worked out?’

Two thousand years on and I still hear the same ‘neo-Greek’ influence at work. People are still making statements out of embarrassment: ‘Judgment and punishment cannot be eternal, my God wouldn’t permit that!’ The arrogance of human-centred and man-governed ideologies have always attempted to construct things in their own image, or reconcile by rearrangement, relegation or reassignment, those things incongruent with my perception of how things should be. Rather than aligning with and submitting to the divine declarations, we seek to make them fit our perception and use. In appealing to only a single aspect of the divine love and using emotive human relationship concepts to evoke some response, entire doctrines of Scripture are supposedly collapsed or repositioned to suit, including truth, justice, grace and as tacitly revealed in following, the Trinity itself;

A heaven of infinite bliss and a hell of infinite torment is an impossible contradiction. The kind of people who would qualify for heaven would not be in bliss knowing that there were a lot of people in suffering with no chance whatever for change — the have-nots, the under privileged. Those suitable for heaven would want to go to hell to be alongside them in their needs. Jesus, as shown by the reports of His ministry on earth, would be there alongside them too. God in His heaven would find Himself lonely and might well join everybody there — or change the whole scheme.4

Now if your experience is like mine and has anything in relationship with the consensus, then when the issues of Hell and Judgement have reared their ugly heads, you have encountered anything from howls of derision at your bigotry, to eye rolling and quiet sniggers of disbelief at your theosophical naivety and inappropriateness. Have you found that, or haven’t you been brave enough to go there — to talk about hell and judgment that is? Now the responses I’ve mentioned for the most part issue from those who aren’t Christian at all. But I am seeing an alarming increase in like responses from people who claim Christ as Saviour, or at least as their friend.

The responses are not usually as overt as some I’ve mentioned, although I have heard some voiced. However what concerns me are the subtle responses that endeavour to sanitise this perceived culturally unpalatable reality, or even avoidance of the subject. The old adage rings true: ‘silence implies consent.’

The avoidance of the topic is often a passive attempt not to put off the precious souls (who may just be marching to eternal punishment). It has also meant a huge investment in marketing even to the point of customising the gospel, creating a gospel devoid of any reference to judgment or hell.

So heavily culled is the gospel in some settings that the entire gospel is in jeopardy. In our desire to avoid unpleasant confrontations on subjects like hell, destruction, judgment and punishment, we begin to recalibrate our presentation to align with the emerging negative perception. No longer are we required to speak truth in love, we now often market a sub-cultural ethos with enthusiasm and positive projection. As we have seen, if we start customising here, we must understand that the customising cannot stop. Why? As I outlined in our opening passages of this section, if we do not get a correct handle on this most basic of foundations then what we build from there is not on sure footing. Again, we have the same predicament as the author of Hebrews was challenging in our opening verses, immature people having to be fed again on milk (basic teaching) instead of growing up to mature discipleship.

I just want to add here (perhaps the obvious observation) that the Adversary and his agents are key players in this re-emerging consensus. It is almost Edenesque in the manipulative dialogue. A question asked with a cynical tone, aimed at impugning God’s authority and character, as well as emboldening the muscle flexing of the humanist mindset; ‘Has God really said?’ The Devil has always wanted creation to be destroyed and has worked tirelessly on this plan to achieve his goals. Having disenfranchised this issue, the Enemy now works in the very core foundations of true spiritual maturity.

The strategy continues — by failing to fully understand and accept the Biblical reasons for hell and the justice processes involved, you consequentially fail to fully grasp what had to be done to intervene and prevent this eternal catastrophe from taking place.

Understand this, when you marginalise, you minimise. By marginalising hell and divine judgment, you minimise the perceived need for and work of Christ at Calvary. This is the ultimate goal of the enemy of all man’s souls. It is our S.I.N (selfishness, ignorance and nihilism), pride, rebellion and fallen nature that separated us from the communion God created us for and made us candidates for destruction because a perfect, pure and holy God cannot look upon, let alone, cohabit with sin.

 

[_Listen! The Lord is not too weak to save you, and he is not becoming deaf. He can hear you when you call. But there is a problem — your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen any more. Your hands are the hands of murderers, and your fingers are filthy with sin. Your mouth is full of lies, and your lips are tainted with corruption. _](Isaiah 59:1-3 NLT)

 

Some further passages to ponder …

 

[_For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness … _](Romans 1:18 NKJV)

 

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:6 NKJV)

[_Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience … _](Colossians 3:6 NKJV)

_For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. _
(1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 NKJV)

Who is the ‘us’ being referred to in this passage? Well certainly the ‘us’ is the recipients of the letter, the Thessalonian church. But in a broader context, it is those who have believed in Jesus Christ. We are all admonished by God to ‘obtain salvation’ to avoid wrath.

 

[_But no, you won’t listen. So you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself because of your stubbornness in refusing to turn from your sin. For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honour and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on sinning — for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. _](Romans 2:5-9 TLB)

[_And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven — Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment. _](1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT)

 

 

KEY XXI:

 

DEFINITIONS OF HELL

 

 

The following are some dry, but clinical definitions and understandings of how hell may be understood from theological definitions.

The word hell is derived from the Saxon word helan meaning: to cover; hence the covered or the invisible place. In Scripture there are three words so rendered:

1.[* Sheol*]

This word occurs in the Old Testament sixty-five times. Sheol is derived from a root-word meaning to ask or demand; hence insatiableness (Proverbs 30:15-16). It is rendered grave thirty-one times (Genesis 37:35; Genesis 42:38; Genesis 44:29, 31; 1 Samuel 2:6, etc.). The revisers retained this rendering in the historical books with the original word in the margin, while in the poetical books they have reversed this rule.

 

In thirty-one cases in the Authorised Version this word is rendered hell, the place of disembodied spirits. The inhabitants of sheol are ‘the congregation of the dead’ (Proverbs 21:16). It is the abode of the wicked (Numbers 16:33; Job 24:19; Psalm 9:17; Psalm 31:17, etc.); and the abode of the good (Psalm 16:10; Psalm 30:3; Psalm 49:15; Psalm 86:13, etc.). Sheol is described as deep (Job 11:8), dark (Job 10:21-22), with bars (Job 17:16). The dead ‘go down’ to it (Numbers 16:30, 33; Ezekiel 31:15-17).

2.[* Hades*]

The Greek word hades of the New Testament has the same scope of signification as sheol of the Old Testament. It is a prison (1 Peter 3:19), with gates and bars and locks (Matthew 16:18; Rev. 1:18), and it is downward (Matthew 11:23; Luke 10:15). The righteous and the wicked are separated. The blessed dead are in that part of hades called paradise (Luke 23:43). They are also said to be in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22).

3.[* Gehenna*]

In most of its occurrences in the Greek New Testament, it designates the place of the lost (Matthew 23:33). The fearful nature of their condition there is described in various figurative expressions (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30; Luke 16:24, etc.)5

Hell (see Sheol; Hades; Gehenna)

[_ _]

1. The King James Version

The English word, from a Teutonic root meaning ‘to hide’ or ‘cover’, had originally the significance of the world of the dead generally, and in this sense is used by Chaucer, Spenser, etc., and in the Creed (‘He descended into hell’); compare the English Revised Version Preface. Now the word has come to mean almost exclusively the place of punishment of the lost or finally impenitent; the place of torment of the wicked.

In the King James Version of the Scriptures, it is the rendering adopted in many places in the Old Testament for the Hebrew word sheol (in 31 out of 65 occurrences of that word it is so translated), and in all places, save one (1 Corinthians 15:55) in the New Testament, for the Greek word Hades. (This word occurs 11 times; in 10 of these it is translated ‘hell’; 1 Corinthians 15:55 reads ‘grave’, with ‘hell’ in the margin). In these cases the word has its older general meaning, though in Luke 16:23 (parable of Rich Man and Lazarus) it is specially connected with a place of ‘torment’, in contrast with ‘Abraham’s bosom’ to which Lazarus is taken (Luke 16:22).

2. The Revised Version

In the above cases the Revised Version (British and American) has introduced changes, replacing hell with sheol in the passages in the Old Testament (the English Revised Version retains hell in Isaiah 14:9, 15; the American Standard Revised Version makes no exception), and by hades in the passages in the New Testament.

3. Gehenna

Besides the above uses, and more in accordance with the modern meaning, the word hell is used in the New Testament in the King James Version as the equivalent of gehenna (12 times in passages such as Matthew 5:22, 29; Matthew 10:28, etc.). The Revised Version (British and American) in these cases puts gehenna in the margin. Originally the Valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem, gehenna became (among the Jews) a synonym for the place of torment in the future life (the ‘gehenna of fire’, Matthew 5:22, etc.)

4. Tartarus

In yet one other passage in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:4), ‘to cast down to hell’ is used (in the King James Version and the Revised Version) to represent the Greek[_ tartaroñoô_], (‘to send into Tartarus’). Here it stands for the place of punishment of the fallen angels: ‘spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits (or chains) of darkness’ (compare Jude 1:6; but also Matthew 25:41). Similar ideas are found in certain of the Jewish apocalyptic books (Book of Enoch, Book of Jubilees, Apocrypha Baruch, with apparent reference to Genesis 6:1-4; compare with the Eschatology of the Old Testament).6

The understanding of hell is not confusing as some would have us believe. As we have seen in the previous outlines, hell has two essential arenas. There is the interim accommodation of both the fallen and the housing of souls who have died having rejected Christ’s finished work. This place, (in the Greek tartarus and similarly sheol/hades) is a dark and dank place of restraint and isolation … But this is a far cry from the hell of the final judgment; [_Gehenna _]… the eternal lake of fire, the unquenchable and insatiable arena of grief and anguish, reserved for the ‘end of the age’, the winding up of all matters pertaining to life as we now know it.

Whilst we have only had a synoptic look at the definitions of hell, we see some disturbing ideas and images that would, or at least should, strike a chord of deep angst in us. But that’s not what happens, is it? If you are like me, basking in my comfortable first world theological perspective, I have to admit it barely raises an eyebrow, let alone a concern.

Head Space — Discuss with the group what, if anything, makes you uncomfortable about the idea of ‘hell’ and ‘eternal judgment’, and what do you think has shaped that discomfort?

 

In our post-modern (and now post-Christian) era the idea of hell is now relegated (at its worst) to separation from God eternally — as if that meant anything. If I may play a word game here; people outside of Christ are already ‘separated from God’ (and according to many, doing very nicely, thank you). Why then would eternal separation from God invoke a cry of despair or repentance, when a temporary one only seems to reinforce the idea that God’s absence makes no difference to an individual’s agendas and ability to ‘self-actualise’? Furthermore, evidence suggests that God’s presence might interfere with a person’s life, so eternal separation sounds like a good deal to me. So one might conclude … ‘if it’s all the same to you (and our current theology suggests it is) then I’ll stay comfortably separated.’

I want to table a few thoughts here to get us thinking about some reasons why the world can’t believe in hell and why the Church often follows suit …

1. Atheistic/Anti-Theistic position

The truly atheistic position simply does not consider any concept of judgment, because for this group, there is no Divine Judge. There is no point considering the product/outcome of a theistic entity’s expectations, when in genuine a-theistic fashion, there is nothing to consider. Of course the anti-theistic position can be infuriated by the idea of a deity that could possibly pass judgment on humans. In their mind humanity is the highest order and controls its own destiny, and any ‘entity’ that would assert otherwise is ridiculed and dismissed, or tackled as the ultimate ‘cosmic terrorist’ to humanity’s self-government. Of course God being seen as such is subject to all assaults, fickle and foul. The idea of hell is one such target for abuse and ridicule.

2. Pantheistic position

According to the [_Encylopedia Britannica _]… ‘Pantheism is the doctrine that the universe conceived of as a whole is god and, conversely, that there is no god but the combined substance, forces, and laws that are manifested in the existing universe. The cognate doctrine of panentheism asserts that God includes the universe as a part though not the whole of its being.’7

So the cosmic nature of this world view (strangely enough this view is intrinsic in Greek Philosophy, Chinese Tao and Evolutionary Cosmology) is that the universe does not judge nor punish, but is an impersonal force, that works in its own fashion, without consideration for the human condition or conduct — again no reason for accountability, thus no reason for evaluation, nor evaluator. No judgment, no guilt, no consequences, no punishment.

3. Customised versions of God

We can make God in our own image or idea. We start with our feelings, thoughts and/or perceptions, and then develop concepts and definitions we apply to God. So how we perceive things like truth, error, pain, justice, holiness, purity, fairness, and even (as we have already looked at) love, all create our perception of how we think God should tick. For example, ‘Nice Grandpa God = no hell; Mean task-master God = hell … of sorts!’ The latter does not fit our new culturally informed version of grace and so we are left with option one — the Grandpa God.

4. Ignorance

We may be ignorant of the true nature of God’s omni-benevolence and that divine wrath is very much consistent with God’s perfect love. Wrath or anger, as pertaining to God, is very much about His desire for his wayward creation than some egocentric displeasure. The seemingly greater emphasis on this righteous and Just anger in the Old Testament is more consistently manifest because of the nature of the narrative around engagement with a consistently recalcitrant people group who were given unprecedented and unparalleled access to the El Elchod — The One God; El Elyon — The Most High God; El Hakadosh — The Holy God! This ‘chosen’ people were the very epitome of what was consider rejected and loathsome. So, the seminal processes for the spiritual, cultural and missional recalibration of this people saw the effective vehicle of God’s wrath used to shape them for not only posture, but position and prominence in the world.

By contrast the New Covenant magnifies the grace and love of God more than, his wrath, because the new framework had the legal requirements dealt with by the Covenant Creator — a covenant that went way beyond the demographics of a single people group. At the very least love is amplified in the revelation and teaching of Christ and His apostles, and its prominence doesn’t diminish His Holy Wrath, rather it puts it into perspective of the ever eternal desire to have humanity in the sin free wholeness and bliss it was created for. Nevertheless, it must not be thought that the element of wrath, as a quality of the divine nature, is by any means overlooked in the New Testament because of the prominent place given there to the saving grace informed love.

If anything, the wrath of God is somewhat intensified because of the more wonderful manifestation of His grace, mercy and love in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ, as the Saviour of the world. God is LOVE and consequently, He must also be utterly righteous, a righteousness that transcends even our most imagined form of moral and ethical purity and excellence. It is in this facet of love that…‘Our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29); ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10:31). No effeminate, sentimental view of the Fatherhood of God or of His mercy and loving-kindness can exclude the manifestation of His just, righteous and holy anger against the sin that marred and poisoned His created — but most disturbingly put the Second Person of the Holy Trinity on a Cross in our place. That anger too rests on the sinner because of their unrepentant transgressions — their adding to the weight of destructive brokenness and error (1 Peter 1:17; Hebrews 10:29).

One thing only can save the sinner (all of us) from the outpouring of God’s righteous anger against sin in the day of visitation, namely, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the divinely-appointed redeemer of the world (John 3:36; Romans 1:16-18; Romans 5:9). Nor should the sinner think that the postponement or the seeming omission of the visitation of God’s wrath against sin in the present, means the total abolition of it in the future. Postponement is not abolition; indeed, the sinner, who continually rejects Jesus Christ and the salvation which God has provided in Him, is simply storing up wrath for himself ‘in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who (one day) will render to every man according to his works: … to them that … obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, … wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil.’ (Romans 2:5-9; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 6:16-17; Rev. 16:19; Rev. 19:15)8

5. Lacking understanding of God

A failure either to identify or comprehend God’s two greatest passions; 1) God is enamoured with and has complete longing for His highest creation — Humanity; 2) God has an indescribable loathing of sin and its impact on His creation. Our single biggest perceived difficulty at this point in human history is that we really do not see ourselves as sinners in need of a Saviour and therefore cannot (in this most often, wilfully ignorant and deluded state) see why God would or could be so angry at us: sin-accommodating, holiness-rejecting, love-ignoring, blood of Christ trampling souls.

As the hubris of the so-called progressive humanist movement moves into ever more breathtaking arenas, we can (and are) see ourselves, at worst, as underprivileged and in need of a ‘fair go’. In this space we no longer view God’s love as an unmerited act totally initiated by Him to rescue us from our rebellious, broken, disconnected and/or impoverished state; rather God’s love is a tool we take advantage of to maximise our right for a fair go. Somehow this love is owed us, rather than us simply being recipients of compassion grace and mercy. Of course, for those who care to give a second look at spiritual issues, all the above mentioned perception merely generates a poor eschatological view.

The view is that it would be at best unreasonable, and at worst, barbaric for God to be ‘so angry at us and judge us’ for simply being ignorant or ‘naughty wayward kiddies’. Consequently, we either view God as a huge cosmic meanie who is best ignored for the bully He is, or He really is a big supernatural softie who will overlook all our misdemeanours and embrace us in eternity … either way, the concept of hell has no place in this spiritual world view.

 

[* *]

[] 

KEY XXII

 

SO WHY MUST HELL EXIST?

 

 

There are a number of things we must at least ponder, if not investigate, to understand something of the dynamic of the divinely ordered spiritual realm. We have been granted insight into many of these principles in God’s revealed truth, His Word — the Holy Bible, and from these we can begin to understand more of what is and is not probable according to the divine prescriptions. The following are some of the reasons why hell must be;

1) The Devil and his angels need somewhere to be consigned to in eternity. ‘Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his demons!”’ (Matthew 25:41 NLT) This destination, this cosmic receptacle was set up to consign the inextinguishable principalities and powers — the enemies of God. It was never, by design, purposed for any of God’s children — humanity to go there. However, souls, like spirits are inextinguishable. They, by design, are eternal and will not and cannot be extinguished. Keep this in mind as you continue.

2) All impurity and that which is eternally stained must be removed and isolated for purity, perfection and wholeness to be maintained. Aberrations from the given divine order cannot be allowed a share of perfection or they would bring blemish, i.e. liars, paedophiles, rapists, homosexuals, murderers, the unsafe, destructive, wilful, selfish, vain, bigoted, adulterous etc. (that covers pretty much all of us). Any stain brings imperfection, heaven is spotless, therefore spotless = access, and stain = lockout.

3) God hates sin. It put His Son to death on a cruel Cross and it destroyed His precious Creation. It must be banished and that which clings to it will, simply by willed attachment, be banished likewise, including impenitent souls.

4) There is a penalty for those who ignore Calvary (Christ’s death on the Cross) and its requirements on us. The assumptions are that we:

  • {color:#000;}•Do not need the Cross, we believe we are good enough on our own merit.
  • {color:#000;}•Believe that simply being objects of His love we have no need to respond to the pathway to reconnection that love opened through Calvary.
  • {color:#000;}•Believe in redemption via spiritual experience alone, without repentance and forgiveness.
  • {color:#000;}•See Calvary as merely an empowerment for self-actualisation, and not first and foremost an indispensable vehicle for rescue and redemption.

5) A greater judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah!

 

Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment than for that city! (Matthew 10:11-15)

 

The words of Jesus we just read give His disciples both instructions and consequences. Jesus here unambiguously pronounces the incredible importance of both the message and how it is responded to. So important is this message and the need to respond to it positively, that failing to do so will in reality see a curse come to bear. Dust being shaken from feet was an evidence of total rejection, similar to when strict Jews would walk through pagan territory, they would not want the dust on them. One rabbinical blessing would be ‘May you be covered with the dust of your rabbi’, literally meaning you are so close that everywhere he has been is on you. Obviously in a negative context one does not want the dust of pagan credo or conduct on them.

What is of greater importance is that Jesus tells His ambassadors (you and me) that those rejecting this gospel of the Kingdom will find themselves in a frightening predicament on judgment day — very frightening indeed! The end for those wilfully rejecting this message will be far worse than that which was dispensed on Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities were judged, found wanting and condemned for their godless and reprobate behaviour. In fact these cities became the epitome of all that is evil. As heinous as this was, Sodom’s activities of iniquity are not judged as severely by God, as people who wilfully refuse the message of grace — the free gift of salvation.

Why? This moment is yet another glimpse of how incredibly serious the predicament of mankind is and what is at stake. I must reiterate; it is such a predicament, so dire a situation that it took nothing less than God having to substitute Himself for man. No other Meta-narrative, no other deistic philosophy portrays divine entity in this manner, it is both utterly unique and breathtakingly profound. That message of hope, love, life, redemption and eternity with God is incalculable in its worth. To disregard the message and the gift is to disregard the God who lived and died the message and gave the gift.

So what greater judgement could there be than raining fire and brimstone to destroy all? Could a greater judgement be an eternity of fire and brimstone? I merely pose the question, as we consider the following…

The Valley of Hinnom

Jesus’ teaching on judgement and hell leaves little room for manoeuvring when it comes to cooling down the intensity of His revelations:

[_For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.’ Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent Him. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.’ _](John 5:24-30)

[_You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye — even if it is your good eye — causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand — even if it is your stronger hand — causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. _](Matthew 5:27-30)

But if anyone causes one of these little ones who trusts in me to lose faith, it would be better for that person to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around the neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter heaven with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter heaven with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It is better to enter the Kingdom of God half blind than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, ‘where the worm never dies and the fire never goes out’. (Mark 9:42-48)

If the annihilationists (those who believe the condemned soul simply ceases to be in eternity) are correct, and much in our fallen nature would love them to be, then these passages carry little weight by way of aversion. Jesus is couching a need to avoid offences (sin) in some of the strongest terms available. Some could argue that this insistence was merely analogous in its nature, rather than comparative and therefore endeavouring to highlight the shocking nature of sin/offence via metaphor. However, the previous example Jesus gave to set this context was to take a literal child and place him/her in their midst. The example demonstrates the extreme value God gives not only to children, but also to childlike responses to Him, and that any damage to such a precious and pure thing would incur God’s extreme wrath.

Yet, Jesus takes it even further. Offence against children is like an offence against the very nature of the Kingdom that the child represents. This Kingdom’s purity and its soon-coming reality are so important, that a person really understanding this beauty and purity would then understand the destination of all who would pervert and damage this. They would realise that the only response would be to unflinchingly dispatch whatever it was to avoid:

 

  1. {color:#000;}1.the damage of this precious thing; and
  2. {color:#000;}2.the eternal consequence of this breach.

If hell is not eternal and its fire only temporary, or simply figurative, then there is no real understanding of God’s incalculable value on this purity and grace. Nor would we understand His grievous and perpetually resonating disgust over the abuse or misuse of it. Hell and its eternal nature must be real, because the eternal nature of what is good and pure is real — (Matt 25:41-46 — everlasting fire).

Ravi Zacharias (renowned Christian academic and lecturer) draws an interesting parallel on the nature of hell.

Any time evil becomes organised, its ferocity breathes the air of hell. There is nothing that can quench that fury. It cannot be stopped until it has accomplished its purpose. That is why hell is never ending. Its nature is to burn on the inside, and no outward consolation or influence can change wickedness once inflamed.9

The words of Jesus on the issue of eternal punishment as recorded by the gospel writer Mark give us an unambiguous picture of hell. As a parallel for the human context, this is an excellent visual of what the final judgement would look like. Most commentators agree with the following insights into Mark’s imagery.

As we have read the Greek word geenna (gehenna is translated hell) is transliterated from two Hebrew words meaning Valley of Hinnom, a place south of Jerusalem where children were once sacrificed to the pagan god Molech (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 19:5- 6; 32:35). Later, during the reforms of Josiah (2 Kings 23:10) the site became Jerusalem’s refuse dump where fires burned continually to consume regular deposits of worm-infested garbage. In Jewish thought, the imagery of fire and worms vividly portrayed the place of future eternal punishment for the wicked (cf. the apocryphal Judith 16:17 and Ecclesiasticus 7:17). What is remarkable is that of the (arguably) 12 times the word gehenna (lake of fire — hell) is used, it was Jesus himself who used 11 of them!

Where the fire never goes out is probably Mark’s explanation of gehenna for his Roman readers. The worm (internal torment) and the unquenchable fire (external torment) (quoted from the LXX of Isaiah 66:24) vividly portray the unending, conscious punishment that awaits all who refuse God’s salvation by choosing to cling to the elements or entities that God had purposed to discard there. Again, remember Hell was never created to receive humanity, only the rubbish of the universe . Consequently, the necessity of this ‘cosmic dump’ means hell is not only eternal exclusion from His presence but also unending torment.

 

 

 

KEY XXIII:

 

SIN, DARKNESS AND WHY DESTRUCTION IS ENDLESS

 

 

I want you to consider the following hypothesis, along with the other unambiguous data I have raised thus far. Please ponder and pray about it.

As I have laboured to convey, sin is not the innocuous, easily remedied or inconsequential thing that many in our first world, self-deifying and placating west would believe it to be. Again, this work is replete with the notion that sin is incredibly serious and yes, very much a core issue in the dealings of God with humanity. It is our sin, yours and mine, that stained, marred and destroyed God’s perfect creation. It is sin that separates us from a full and intimate relationship with our Creator. It is sin upon which God’s wrath abides. Ultimately, it is sin that meant God, not mere man, but God Himself, had to be sacrificed in our place. It was the only remedy, as extreme and unfathomable as it was, for this devastating condition.

What is almost incomprehensible to me is that many Christians do not want to believe that sin is an important concern in God’s dealing with humanity. We think that this is a negative spin on the gospel, and we would be better to put ‘our version of love’ spin on it instead (as if it was an either/or situation anyway). By doing this we think we are going to paint a more attractive picture for people to peruse, but is this really the result? By focusing predominantly on virtue at the expense of context, we really do God’s love a great disservice. It is only when we understand how unlovable sin can make us, and how undeserving we are of His love, that when we receive it, we see how absolutely incredible it really is.

So dire was our predicament, so controlling this thing called sin that our creator God called it for what it was. From the very outset this was the greatest rescue mission in history. It was so impacting that the first Title recorded for Jesus Christ in the New Testament text was in regard to this sin-destroying mission.

In Matthew 1:21, we have the introduction of the greatest figure in human history. It announces His divinity, royalty and bravery that is unequalled and unsurpassed. The angel delivering this message tells us the name of this remarkable one, His name is Jesus — for one prominent reason. He will save His people from their sin! Notice it is ‘His people’ — not referring to an elite group, but ‘His own’ — Humanity, from the outset of this mission, was not seen as excluded from connection to the divine. Rather, we are seen as excluded from the intimacy and communion that had been ruined by this thing called sin!

The very first announcement of incarnation about this God of love is what He is sent, first and foremost, to do. He was sent to deal with this horrendous impediment thing called sin; the thing that is destroying this creation and diminishing our true relationship with the Creator. Sin created the need and broke the communion.

However, it was love (not sin) that motivated, actioned and completed the rescue. What is of further significance is that Jesus’ first public address as recorded in Matthew 4:17, wasn’t ‘I love you, please come home,’ rather it was ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!’ Repent from what? Sin! Why? because God wants us to experience all that His love (that was always on offer, never withheld) can give us once we are free and beyond this crippling bondage. God the Creator and our heavenly Father hates, no, loathes and detests, this thing called sin because of what it did to the family he had created. He has gone to all measures to ensure its eradication.

Yet while it is in God’s final control how sin will be evaluated and dealt with in eternity, it is within our jurisdiction right now what we choose to do with the measures God has put in place to deal with this insidious thing.

In an endeavour to draw some kind of parallel to sin I want to juxtapose it with some of the more pernicious diseases we experience in today’s world. While the comparison is clear it is, at best, pitifully feeble when considering the true nature of sin and its impact, but I shall try;

Sin may be likened to an incurable and aggressive cancer. These shocking biological mutations eat away at the victim and destroy all semblance of life in them until the inevitable is realised, the death of that body. However — cancer as vicious and often relentless as it is — is not communicable in any easy fashion at all. Its influence and impact is solely on the agent that carries it and the destructive influence is confined to that body. However, sin is much, much worse. The following analogy, again, will not do justice to the true nature of sin, but gives us a small glimpse of the devastating nature of this eternal life killer, and eternal death bringer.

The HIV/AIDS virus (unchecked) is in all ways as destructive as cancer, but takes it another shocking step further. There is no cure for this ailment and it will (if left unaddressed) kill you. Yet, it is in its capacity to spread that its horrors are multiplied. This hideous virus, and the torment and horror it puts its victims through, is devastating. Yet probably of all its crippling elements, the one most crushing is the prohibition it places on the freedom of the most intimate of human connections — love-making. (When we read the Song of Songs, we see a shadow of this intimacy and the depth of the connection God wants with His creation. When that is not permitted the relationship is not consummated and communion diminished.)

For those afflicted with such a disease, any form of this intimacy will put others at risk. No longer are you merely a soul that is sick and dying, but now a carrier that can and will infect others. Please keep in mind this is a grossly inadequate analogy. Sin, unlike HIV/AIDS, will always infect with monotonous and unfailing consistency. Now, let us look at the words of the apostle Paul in his widely circulated and generic epistle commonly called the Ephesian Letter, which touches on the very real predicament of the human soul trapped in sin;

[_For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. _](Ephesians 5:8 NKJV)

Further to that …

This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19 KJV)

 

The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So don’t live in darkness. Get rid of your evil deeds. Shed them like dirty clothes. Clothe yourselves with the armour of right living, as those who live in the light. (Romans 13:12 NLT)

 

We were not merely in darkness; rather we, outside Christ, have become darkness. This is just another rarely discussed and frightening aspect of unrepentant and rebellious sin. The candidate is no longer under the influence of darkness, they are now inexorably and indistinguishably part of the substance of the darkness (and the perpetuation of its existence). I’m reminded in this instance of the challenging words of Jesus in Matthew 12:30 when He said, ‘He who is not for me is against me. He who does not gather with me, scatters.’ It would appear there is no or little middle ground, you are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem.

Sin contributes not only to the existence, but propagation of darkness. This is the predicament that gets heaven’s highest attention — for it is in this place that we are not merely subject to destruction, but are part of perpetrating and promulgating it. We see this nuance more clearly outlined in Romans 5:12:

[_When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. _](NLT)

The text in the original language talks about not only how sin entered, but why and how its impact spread. Adam, by his willed disobedience, let sin in. To use a metaphor, he opened the main entrance of the house of humanity, but that was only a permission not a permeation. It was humanity, who by choice, continued to participate in this sin. We caused it to spread like a toxic gas throughout the entire house — that’s right, the text clearly demonstrates that we by our sinful acts spread the toxin of death.

What do we want to do with such a dis-ease? Just like Cancer and HIV/AIDS want it destroyed, eradicated, annihilated, don’t we? We will employ any and all measures possible to do just that, but what of the patient? Of course, we place the highest priority on both the survival of the patient and the prevention of spread.

Now again, imagine that sin is similar to the nastiest form of HIV/AIDS but to the 100th power! God’s response is the same as ours, but to the 100th power (and by comparison that is a poor estimate). God loathes this dis-ease called sin and has incalculable mercy on the soul infected by it. However, unlike some of our natural diseases without a cure, sin has a remedy, and incredible antidote — Nothing less than the purifying and cleansing blood of Jesus The Christ.

The incredible and inexplicable tragedy in all this, is when sin-sick infectors — you and I — refuse to embrace this antidote because we really do not believe we are sick. Or worse, do not care! We not only remain infected, but our contribution to the spread of its darkness grows!

Now, considering all this, let us look at what this may mean with regard to the soul in eternity. If we die with our soul not only in darkness, but part of it, we are brought to a frightening scenario. God in His judgement of sin will confine all that has destroyed His creation to destruction, that ‘cosmic dump’ — sin, darkness, the devil and his angels are banished! It is here that our real predicament arises. Whilst the sin and darkness are temporal, the soul and spirits are not, they are eternal. The former are set to be destroyed by fire, but the soul and the spirit cannot be. The fire and worm are to consume, but that which is inconsumable is not and ergo, is subject to the destruction ad infinitum — it just keeps going and the soul remains in torment forever.

I want to conclude this section with a quote from a prominent 20th century theologian and activist, Harold O.J. Brown, who poignantly penned the following insight:

_In a strange way, hell is necessary for human significance. If no man, no matter what he did, could finally rebel against God, but all men were ultimately to be brought back into harmony with God through a kind of irresistible grace, then all the moral and spiritual struggles of men would have no more meaning, in the last analysis, than the wriggling of hamsters in a laboratory cage_.11

That’s it, isn’t it — we come back to sovereignly initiated, yet profound paradoxes of the love-initiating Christian God. A love so pure, and completely unparalleled, it must grant liberty to the focus of its love, liberty to embrace, engage, and be enveloped in this wonderful gift, or equally to rebel, reject and be reprobate with it. A love so pure it is unable to coerce the focus of its love to comply, even with its highest and best agendas. And we cannot neglect this love. For the abuse, neglect or misuse of this matchless gift will require justice so that the beauty of grace and holiness are not ruined for the perfection for which they were created.

 

 

KEY XXIV[]

THE AMBASSADORSRESPONSE

 

 

The very thought of the existence of hell should drive us, the ambassadors of God’s Kingdom, to the same compassionate selfless acts as Christ, willing to die that none should go. Yet that is a tough call, especially if you’re not ‘feeling it’ as so often our sensate generation demands before acting. Instead it can be easier to simply believe hell is the destination for those who are cruel, malevolent, sadistic or even exploitative. Or, sadly, hell is the destination of those who sinned rebelliously and revelled in it during this life, choosing to ignore or reject God’s counsel and to our minds, they probably deserve it. Or, maybe it just all seems so overwhelming to us, that we just shut our ears, eyes and hearts to this idea of divine justice and immerse ourselves in distracting service of God or seeking Him for our own agendas?

We must be careful, very careful when drifting into this tacit self-affirming state. Understand, we all deserve God’s wrath, yet rejecting the antidote to sin, rejecting the escape option, rejecting the incredible rescue attempt, rejecting the olive branch of reconciliation, will get God’s greater wrath — assuming, of course that such has been presented by Christ’s ambassadors.

 

The apostle Paul writes …

[_Dear brothers and sisters, we always thank God for you, as is right, for we are thankful that your faith is flourishing and you are all growing in love for each other. We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. But God will use this persecution to show his justice. For he will make you worthy of his Kingdom, for which you are suffering, and in his justice he will punish those who persecute you. And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power when he comes to receive glory and praise from his holy people. And you will be among those praising him on that day, for you believed what we testified about him. _](2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 NLT)

As Edward Headland and Henry B. Swete declared …

[The destruction to befall both groups is stated in this verse. They will be punished is literally ‘they will pay a penalty’ _](dikeôn tisousin[). For their rejection of God’s grace they will experience endless or everlasting ruin ](olethron aioônion).[ This is the most express statement in Paul’s Epistles of the eternity of future punishment. Further to this we have … ‘The punishment of the wicked will be neither temporary nor will it be annihilation, but it will continue throughout eternity and those being punished will be conscious. It is eternal death as opposed to eternal life.’’_] (Matthew 25:46)12

This strong tenor is also borne out as emphatic by prominent theologian and evangelist R. A. Torrey …

[It is said by those who would have us believe that there is hope in hell, that the word _]aionios[, translated ‘everlasting’, does not necessarily mean never ending … What it does mean, therefore, in any given instance must be determined by the context. In Matthew 25:46, we read, ‘These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.’ The word which is translated ‘everlasting’ in the first part of the verse is the same as the word translated ‘eternal’ in the latter part of the passage, and what it means in the last half of the verse, it must also mean in the first part of the verse. But no one doubts that in the last part of the verse it means ‘absolutely endless’, therefore, it must mean that in the first part of the verse_].13

 

If you go back to our earlier scripture in Hebrews Chapter 6 where we talked about the six foundational doctrines, you will recall that one was the understanding of eternal judgement. The word used in the original text is aionios and is derived from the root word ainos meaning perpetuity. The extension here is everlasting and forever, not simply referring to the tenure of the judgement but rather the state, condition and tense of it. In other words, everlasting judgment means that the penalty/consequences are everlasting, not just the adjudication.

Understanding this reality should not make us view God in a lesser light, rather we should view Christ in an even greater light. This eternal predicament needed intervention and nothing short of God sacrificing Himself would do and that’s why preaching on this topic is so important. As such it must not be left to manipulators or bullies, but true agents of the divine rescuing grace who carry the heart of God … ‘that none should perish.’ I believe it was Robert W. Dale who once stated, [_‘There is nobody in the world I want to hear preaching _
on hell except D. L. Moody. Because I’ve never heard Moody preach on it without breaking down in the middle and weeping.’]

However, as the afterlife becomes of lesser importance compared to the ‘great potential’ of this ever improving longevity, as we see a reckless abandonment of God and His Word; as we see the proliferation of new and old blended religions; as our fervour, our fundamental passion for the holiness and truth of Christ are seemingly assailed by pop-science, pop-culture and pop-religion, we find ourselves contemplating that hell, if it exists at all, could not be a place of torment or pain. Those holding a less austere position on eternal punishment may conclude that the idea of simple separation from the Divine in eternity would be anguish enough. At least to our comfortable minds it seems less malicious and vindictive than the former notion of eternal torment. Yet, on further contemplation, this consciousness of isolation, separation from all that is light, life and love would be as pernicious a torment as any emotional, spiritual torment could be.

Regardless of our definitions it all would be, at least in our minds, incongruent with our interpretation of a loving God.

So, what to do? The only HUMANe thing to do is annihilate the existence of the eternal soul who has, for whatever reason, capitulated to and remained in sin (along with their evil and darkness). This, some believe, would better reflect the true nature of the God whose profile we have constructed in our own humane image. We, as stated, begin to ascribe to the holy, all powerful, immutable and omniscient God mere frail human perceptions of love. The following quote by C.S. Lewis is worthy of thought:

I might, indeed, have learned, even from the poets, that Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness; that even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, ‘a lord of terrible aspect’. There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not co-terminous, and when kindness … is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object — we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are disciplined. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms; with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.14

Lewis here gives us some small, yet significant insight into the nature of love — God’s love. This love is pitted to one chief end, the maturity and perfection of the object of love — not merely the comfort, ease and happiness of it. It is in maturity and wholeness that we will truly experience the life that God wanted us to know, the life of true fulfilment, peace, joy and ecstasy. As Lewis intimated, rebuke and condemnation are part of that journey (if needed) to help us find His best, so we can be truly complete. God only has our best interest at heart. God will never regard us with contempt. (Read Hebrews Chapter 12)

This incredible love and the subsequent measures are all geared for our benefit and when we consider how wayward we are as human beings, it is unfathomable to the mere human mind how far God has gone to secure the real option for this love to be experienced and have its full outworking. I so often lose sight of the depth of this incredible gift, that consequently I also lose sight of the cost involved in securing this love and grace. I can still reject love and grace as a morally free agent.

Upon reading this, some would engage both Lewis’ statement and my comments as a launch pad for defending the third generic doctrine of the afterlife called Universalism. One early church father, Origen put forward the idea that God’s punishment was not retributive, but remedial and corrective and that this pursuit continued after death. Of course this became one of the cornerstone ideas for the Roman Catholic notion of purgatory.

Again, this notion, in its human tenor, appears merciful, but it too continues to deny the holistic endeavour of the New Testament. The entire record is the narrative of a pursuing God, intervening in the most explicit and complete, yet non-coercive form, to beckon us back to the free and open relationship He created us to experience with Him from creation’s commencement. This sovereign God who longs for a free will communion with His children cannot negate that imperative element of relationship and still continue in the divine integrity and truth He has established. If after death God takes those who have, by choice, rejected Him and subjects them to punitive exercises to get them to love Him, then, as stated, He breaches not only His model of governance, but His very nature.

If a man’s freedom is real, he is free to turn from God and persist in the direction he has chosen. If God forces himself on no one (because he respects the freedom which he has given), even those of us most aware of the love of God must concede the possibility that some will resist that love and be lost. Some devout Christians … nourish the hope that all will ultimately be saved. But … they know that, if God compelled people to accept him, he would be treating them as ‘things’ and not as persons … So let us remember that hell is not a fitting subject for jokes, nor yet to be waived airily aside on the ground that God is a ‘gentleman’ who will overlook everything at the last. He made us free; and we are free, if we choose, to be damned.15[_ _][]

When I start to lose perspective on this I go to, what is to me, one of the most powerful examples of an individual who actually understood something of both this love, but also how much it is worth. The woman described in Luke 7 understood this love primarily because she knew how far from it she was, and what Jesus Christ had done to show her His love and give her a chance to walk away from the sin and darkness she was in. Let’s read the story there:

[_One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to come to his home for a meal, so Jesus accepted the invitation and sat down to eat. A certain immoral woman heard he was there and brought a beautiful jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. When the Pharisee who was the host saw what was happening and who the woman was, he said to himself, ‘This proves that Jesus is no prophet. If God had really sent him, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!’ Then Jesus spoke up and answered his thoughts. ‘Simon,’ he said to the Pharisee, ‘I have something to say to you.’ ‘All right, Teacher,’ Simon replied, ‘Go ahead.’ Then Jesus told him this story: ‘A man loaned money to two people — five hundred pieces of silver to one and fifty pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, cancelling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ ‘That’s right,’ Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t give me a kiss of greeting, but she has kissed my feet again and again from the time I first came in. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. I tell you, her sins — and they are many — have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.’ Then Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The men at the table said among themselves, ‘Who does this man think he is, going around forgiving sins?’ And Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ _](Luke 7:36-50 NLT)

From our 21st century understanding, this woman may be to us just a ‘working girl’, but this could not be further from the truth when you understand her trade from a first century perspective, and if in fact she was/had been a prostitute. She would have been considered by most in her culture as human garbage and no self-respecting individual would even acknowledge her existence, let alone regard or have compassion on her. She was condemned! Sentence had already been passed on her by all and sundry. Even though this could also most definitely be a holy God’s prerogative, Jesus did not condemn her. He did not seek to write her off; on the contrary, He reached out even further.

She was so profoundly moved by this love — so overwhelmed by its extent and impact — that she embarked on an almost inexplicable journey. This prostitute takes a jar of expensive perfume and prepares to use it on Jesus. Many commentators believe it to be her dowry, the prize for her future husband. Perhaps it was the sum total of her saved earnings — earnings from enslaving her body to abusive men and despicable deviates. She takes this and pours it over Jesus. She takes all she has, including her future savings or superannuation and (in essence) states, ‘I don’t know how to say thank you. I cannot begin to express how deeply grateful I am for this love and liberty you have shown me. All I can do is give you everything and even that, by comparison to the gift you have given me, is poor.’

This woman had understood both extremes and having done so, ran headlong toward the light. She craved and yearned for that which God passionately desires for us: to be free of sin and translated to light. She was re-acquainted with the divine intimacy once more. But what of us? Do we see? Have we any idea of God’s standard for liberty, peace, purity, love and wholeness? Do we really have any idea of how far short we fall on His standard and purpose — His glory? Only when we see how in need we are, and then how far God has come to reach us, do we too then run headlong to Him and give everything … no negotiating, equivocating or hedging bets.

Just like the woman in our previous account, God does not want to condemn people, but He does want to set us free from the sin and darkness that keeps us away from the communion that we and heaven long for. To do that He must judge by His perfect standards. He must exercise the faculty of being able to make critical distinctions to bring about a balanced view point. The balanced view point is that we are a mess and the only ‘out’ for us is through Jesus Christ’s finished work for us. However, if we:

  1. {color:#000;}1.don’t see and understand that perfect standard; and
  2. {color:#000;}2.fail to see how far short we fall of it,we will not see God’s endeavours as remarkable love and therefore fail to respond to this love in the way we need to.

 

As Jesus Himself intimated to Simon in our previous account, ‘He who is forgiven little, loves little, he who is forgiven much, loves much.’ God wants us to understand our sin and not just so we simply feel bad and beg for mercy; that is the least of God’s priorities. God wants us to see how desperate our predicament is so we can truly acknowledge how far God has come for us and as such, see what He is willing to do to have you and me as his intimate family members. Then we see that it really is, ‘His kindness that leads us to repentance.’

This is truly amazing! When we get this, we also get what a travesty of justice it is to dismiss this work of Jesus and how God must, for His own pure justice’s sake, bring condemnation to those who wilfully ignore, abuse or neglect this priceless gift.

Be careful of terms and definitions

The annihilationist position is always aided by the re-emerging challenges to orthodoxy by universalist doctrine. When distilled right down to its essence, universalism is the notion that all humanity, regardless of their response to Christ and His Calvary, will be, by the fact that they are created by God (whoever that may be) and therefore His progeny, accepted into His arms. One idea birthed by this position is sentimental phraseology we see emerging in some quarters of Christendom. Terms, even like the new ‘pro-active’ label of ‘pre-Christian’ (now bestowed on the unsaved), inoffensive sounding yet are at a very real risk of being contrary to Scriptural definitions (which lack any ambiguity).

Scripture calls the wayward soul lost! Not lost in a location sense, but literally dying, or being destroyed. The terms lost, unsaved, sinner, unwashed and so on, are not terms derived from a position of Christian elitism or moral superiority. Rather, these terms give an unequivocal declaration of a tragic and perilous condition that must change. However, we are being dictated to again by the audience rather than led by the Author of Life. In an attempt to placate the culture, we adopt these terms for public use in a hope not to offend those away from the divine communion.

To me the term pre-Christian can connote simple inevitability, the suggestion of a mere formality and only a matter of time before they enter the Kingdom or join the church. Yet I don’t see anywhere in Scripture where people have to repent of the inevitability of ignorance? Whilst they need to be awakened to them to move forward, it is not the real issue. There is no passion or urgency about delays or adjustments. I do not need to repent of something that was merely a timing issue. I do not need to acknowledge my need of a saviour — my need to be rescued from bad timing or ignorance warrants no allegiance. Why would it? However, in our new ‘selfist’ society the investigation into Christianity’s claims and the pledging of allegiance are more along the lines of … ‘How impressive is the personal development plan and superannuation options that may just gain my support and even affiliation?’ Of course, if potential is not realised then ‘investment’ elsewhere is always an option in the smorgasbord of philosophical or religious offerings.

 

 

GOD’S PASSION

 

 

[_Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this; does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?’ _]
(Proverbs 24:11-12a NKJV)

[_Hell and destruction are before the Lord; so how much more the hearts of the sons of men. _](Proverbs 15:11 NKJV)

The creator of all things is fully and perpetually aware of our plight and we begin to see yet just another reason why the impossible had to happen. The perfect and pure had to ‘become sin for us, so we could become righteousness in God.’ So we could be the agents of light, not darkness, that heaven always purposed us to be. God has spared nothing to extricate us from this deserving outcome. Again, God never designed or purposed the soul for destruction, and hell was never meant for humanity. It is our agency of free will and choice that gives us the option of choosing light or darkness. We are, in this very real sense, masters of our own destiny. As the exceptional Christian apologist and brilliant author C.S. Lewis put it:

There are really only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Your will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Your will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it. Without this self-choice there could be no hell.16

For all of us who name the name of Jesus as our Saviour and Master — those elected not for station, but service — those called not to respite but rescue — we need to see our mandate. Our commission is truly great and must never be neglected, relegated or worse; dismissed. We must go, we must live, give, share and tell all that Christ has commanded! I leave you with a quote by one of the modern day churches’ greatest architects…

‘Not called!’ did you say? ‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonised heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world.’

General William Booth — founder of the Salvation Army17

 

 

APPENDIX

 

[* *]

The impact and influence of the first Adam and second Adam!

[* *]

[_The Scriptures tell us, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living person.’ But the last Adam — that is, Christ — is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. _](1 Corinthians 15:45-47 NLT)

As we’ve just read, the apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians is simple, yet profoundly, reveals an insight into one of the mysteries of the Divine relationship of the Creator with His created — humanity. Yet there are many people who have developed a concerning view that there is not just some comparison between the first Adam and the Second Adam — Jesus, but that the comparison has Adam coming out on top in a contest of consequences! By that I mean some views of the Biblical comparison lead some people to think the contest is around the impact and effects these two individuals have had on humanity.

For example look at what Paul writes in Romans 5:19: ‘For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.’ There is a notion that all of humanity was consigned to be sinners, but through Christ not all will be made righteous — yet even a cursory glance will reveal that this is not a comparison, but a contrast.

What is important to remember is that God has done all He can to ensure the salvation — the rescue, restoration and redemption of all humanity. What our wise and loving God has not done is negate our free will; our ability to choose — to ignore, discount, walk from and even abuse His unparalleled offer of grace unto renewed intimacy with the Holy God.

Many individual Christians, particularly in the West, see the rejection of the Christian faith as alarming (and in some respects I believe it should be). As a result they begin to ponder that if rejection of God’s grace means a ‘vote’ for eternal punishment, then it would seem the majority of the people in the West (including their family, friends and neighbours) are going to eternal destruction. This fear may even drive them to attempt to reach out and share their faith. Whilst it should be an influencing factor, it should not be the paramount motivator for reaching out and serving those who don’t know the Christ. The prominent motivator should be God’s love.

They may at first endeavour to evangelise (a word also rapidly losing popularity) with clever inoffensive cultural relevance, and then maybe upon desperate ponderings, to discard political correct niceties and instead to begin to passionately entreat them to be reconciled to God. Of course, if they then encounter a continued discounting or even mocking of their reconciling endeavours, they seem to be left with three options:

 

  • {color:#000;}•Be silent and live with an internal grief of the pending and eternal destruction of their neighbours;
  • {color:#000;}•Move to a more Christian ‘que sera sera’ space and muse that it all can’t be that ‘black and white’ and attempt to comfort themselves with the hope that God will ‘sort it all out’, and that ultimately it’s not our problem or;
  • {color:#000;}•We start to review Scripture through an emerging matrix of distress at the potential eternal destruction of so many souls and the notion that a ‘nice’ (not loving) God couldn’t allow that.

(Or we start to fully comprehend our utter inability to grasp the arena that belongs only to the omniscient God. We humbly surrender to being His light, salt and ambassador, in concert with His remarkable wisdom working in other arenas to bring salvation to all who long
for it.)

We then can often conclude, in this emerging space, that we are compelled to review, recalibrate and ultimately reinterpret God’s Word to fit what we believe is now set before us. This final conclusion can do three primary things for us;

 

  • {color:#000;}•it validates our less ‘stressful’ version of Scripture and reaffirms our developing ‘warm fuzzy’ effigy of God;
  • {color:#000;}•it solves the internal distress of countless thousands going to a lost eternity and finally;
  • {color:#000;}•it alleviates all sense of responsibility (and the pressure that can generate) for us to fulfil the Great Commission.

Just as an aside here, it is interesting to note that from an historical perspective, the followers of Jesus who had the greatest impact in seeing people convert (to be saved) in Christianity held no such self-placating ideals, but all had passionate and clear belief in a loving and just God who must, because of that loving justice, precipitate the final judgment and grant the options chosen by the self-governing soul; either eternal life or eternal destruction. These individuals didn’t just save lives; they changed neighbourhoods, cultures and even nations. Individuals such as John Wesley, Mary Slessor, George Whitefield, Amy Carmichael, William Carey, William and Kathryn Booth, C. T. Studd, Jonathan Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, Isaac Watts, Jackie Pullinger and Billy Graham to name only a few.

Of course, when we begin to recalibrate and review Scripture, as with all attempts at justification, one must try to find Bible verses or passages to give credibility to the new interpretative position. I totally understand that, it is a necessary part of any reinforcing process for a position held — I am doing it right here!

However there is a theological position that has gained renewed momentum in recent times, a theological concept I touched on earlier and commonly referred to as universalism which is very disturbing. This is a misguided Christian belief that ultimately all people will be rescued or saved by the finished work of Jesus Christ, whether they wanted to be or not. This position emerges more from sentiment than Scripture and consequently people have only a very few passages they call upon to bolster their position. The two prominent ones used are 1 Corinthians 15:22 and Romans 5:14-21. When they use these caveats, it is not so much to substantiate a claim, but more just merely to ask a question of the prevailing tenor of the New Testament text on the issues of salvation and final judgement. Whilst a very good, well thought through and difficult to answer question may be reason enough for further investigation, it should never be the sole reason for denying or worse, rejecting an entire long held and heavily evidenced position. Yet that is what seems to happen when universalists grab for validation.

In some of my encounters with those holding to this position, there is often a quiet tone of dismissive superiority in their manner. A sense that their version of God is more palatable to the masses and anyone thinking otherwise is really not with the program. However if you push and insist that their position may not be representative of the God of the Bible, then passion can be stirred. In this space their passionate pleas based on the human notion of ‘nice, kind and tolerant’ are brought to the table and leverage the dialogue with often intimidating accusation.

Accusations are railed at the non-universalist who (in their eyes) is, somehow, a vengeful hate-monger who wants people to be in hell. Labels of being heartless and unloving are spitefully levelled at those who dare believe in an orthodox eschatology. So, if in this emotive space they can then raise one doubt and couch it in vitriolic rhetoric, they think this is enough to trump any dissent. In this place one or even two doubts seem enough upon which to base an entire doctrine — and if the tsunami like current post-modern and post-Christian sentiment that continues to inform the Bride of Christ how it should act and ‘love’ continues to gain traction in the church, universal salvation for all will be trumpeted from many pulpits.

I want to look just briefly, but not dismissively, at these two previously mentioned passages (not necessarily overviews or principles of Scripture) that are often presented as the reason to embrace, if not universalism, at least a more cuddly view of certain aspects of eschatology (end-time processes). Again, they are Romans 5:14-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22.

As we have already acknowledged, the book of Romans is a remarkable document and has a great deal to say about what God has done for us. In fact the first eleven chapters are about just that, and the last five are about our response and/or reaction to that amazing work!

When Paul uses the terms Adam and the ‘second Adam’ — Jesus, it would appear he unwittingly puts the notion in our head of an easy comparison. As such, Paul accidentally puts out an image that their impact on creation was (at best) similar. Or tragically, as some have interpreted, Christ’s work was not as influential as Adam’s impact! I can actually imagine that perception if we are simply looking at it as a comparison, but that is not what Paul is intending here. In reality Paul juxtaposes these two entities to show us the almost indescribable contrast between the two.

 

The following commentary by the venerated scholar John Stott sheds some light on contrast…

[How can the Lord of glory be likened to the man of shame, the Saviour to the sinner, the giver of life to the broker of death? The correspondence is not a parallel, but an antithesis. So before returning to the solitary similarity between them (18-21), Paul elaborates their dissimilarities. ‘Adam and Christ stand there’, writes Anders Nygren, ‘as the respective heads of the two aeons. Adam is the head of the old aeon, the age of death; Christ is the head of the new aeon, the age of life.’ So the structure of each of verses 15-17 embodies a statement that Christ’s gift is either not like Adam’s trespass (15-16) or much more effective than it (15-17). The differences concern the nature of the two actions (15), their immediate results (16), and their ultimate effects (17). First, the nature of their actions was different. But the gift is not like the trespass (15a). This succinct assertion is almost a text for the rest of the paragraph. Adam’s trespass was a fall _](paraptma),[ indeed ‘the fall’, as we call it, a deviation from the path which God had clearly shown him. He insisted on going his own way. With it Paul contrasts Christ’s gift ](charisma), [_an act of self-sacrifice which bears no resemblance to Adam’s act of self-assertion. It is this enormous disparity which Paul elaborates in the rest of the verse: if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and consequent gift (presumably of eternal life, 6:23) … overflow in rich, undeserved abundance to the many!] (15b).1

This is why the work of Christ is so much more profound and impacting than the decision of Adam. For starters (and alone it would be more than enough) Jesus’ planned, deliberate and thoroughly strategic response was self-sacrificing, a far cry from the self-serving act of Adam. This incredible act transcends and exceeds the act of Adam; because the potential for redemption released as a result exceeds and supersedes the act of Adam — the fall has been defeated! The fall’s impact is negated by this superlative act!

However, we ‘first world relativists’, often being result- and numbers-focused (rather than on integrity and truth), often miss this reality and see what appears to be an outcome of failure. We see humanity put on a path into sin and darkness (not necessarily destruction) by one man, but by one man we are not automatically plunged into light and holiness. The mistake is not in viewing the perceived outcome, but the potential in the object of choice.

Understand this, a staggering and immeasurable debt was paid. The debt of not just one man’s error, but the collective error of an entire self-governing humanity and all the sin that this produced, past, present and future, has been paid! This redemptive and restorative act came at an incalculably high cost — and not a cost to man, but God Himself.

Although it was simple, it was not easy. Remember, it was for only one act that judgement came — through one man, but God immediately, without delay, engages Adam’s new choice with options for redemption, for reconnection to relationship, and He did this via sacrifice. The other great act of kindness was to lock Adam out of the Garden of Eden so he couldn’t sustain life eternal whilst separated from God, an existence unsustainable and ultimately unbearable. He allowed Adam his choice of self-government and that choice was to reign, but could only do so in death.

However, now Christ’s one act covers a countless and inexpressible multitude of sin of all humanity — the past, present and future. This is staggering in its impact, such a matchless feat cannot be added to, and now all humanity has to do is turn to Christ and yield to His government again. This is necessary so that life may again come, a life that is only through relationship with the Holy Trinity — but that is the sticking point. It is not the lack of potential or even power in the second Adam’s act. It remains our desire to retain self-governance, a choice Gods love permits us to have — will I listen to and trust God, or listen to and trust myself. No amount of power, sovereignty, control or strength can bring change to this area — it remains the choice of trust — a choice of humility, and ultimately a choice of love that God has empowered us to make. (1 John 4:19)

It is in Romans 5:17-18 that we see the key to understanding the nature of the new offer, and it is clear in the parallel in verse 18 just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.

Note the word ‘for’ or ‘to’ all men is used and not the word ‘in’ all men. With the first Adam’s error, death did reign over us and for man to ‘get out from under’ that dominion, one could attempt to work with God’s grace as it existed in the form of intervention, discipline and law, all pointing toward, but not effectively facilitating, relationship. Now the free gift is on offer, presented in the very midst of humanity, clearly demonstrated and tabled as now the new and exceedingly better option.

This option did overwhelmingly more than the option the first Adam put on humanity. This option moves us from being reigned over by death to now, in a remarkable transition, we have the potential to actually reign in life, not merely being ‘subjects’ in light! This is why the second Adam’s (Jesus) work is so immeasurably greater than the damage done.

However, this is an offer before us, not an automatic requirement upon us as verse 17 makes abundantly clear, ‘those who receive the abundance of grace’ — as is the ongoing intent with all God’s way of connecting to us, it is through willed, participating relationship that we access this. Adam chose to reject this but Jesus has given us the liberty and condemnation-free option to accept that offer of life. Yet, we can still choose to remain under our own governance. If we look at the other key scripture used in an attempt to defend a tenuous Universalist position, we see that a closer look at the verse in fact denies such a justification.

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:22:

For just as [because of their union of nature] in Adam all people die, so also [by virtue of their union of nature] shall all in Christ be made alive. (Amplified)

The key word here is ‘in’ and it has an unambiguous meaning of being a settled relational posture. In other words, the first connection with Adam was relational and the subject of choice and ongoing investment via a) continued committing of sin, b) refusing to adhere to the law, c) refusing to acknowledge the need to repent, and d) continuing to refuse God’s rule. Consequently the second relational posture must also be by choice and willed participation.

We either serve one relational process or the other, we cannot serve both — that’s the beauty of choice, that is also the beauty of love bestowed free will!

Selah.

 

REFERENCES

Introduction

1. Miller, Calvin © (p 183) Into the depths of God — Bethany House Publishers, Bloomington Minnesota.

2. Murray, Andrew © 1982 (p 60) –Humility — Whitaker House, New Kensington PA.

3. Metz, Donald S. © 1971 (pp 79-80) — Studies in Biblical Holiness — Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City, Missouri.

4. Sider, Ronald, J, 1990 (pp 73-74) — The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience — Baker Books, Grand

5. Keller, Timothy, 2008 (p 170) — The Reason for God — Hodder & Stoughton, London, UK

Construct A

1. Zacharias, Ravi © 2003; (p 87) Recapture the Wonder, Integrity Media, Brentwood, TN.

2. Missler, Chuck © 2002; (p 215) Learn the Bible in 24 hours, Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville

3. Lewis, C.S. © 1953; (pp 20-21) The Silver Chair repr 1981, Harper Collins, New York.

4. Williams, Thomas, © 2005; (p 10) The Heart of the Narnia Chronicles. W Publishing Group TN

5. Frankl, Viktor E. © 1984 (p 162) Man’s Search for Meaning, Washington Square Press, New York

6. Miller, Calvin © (p 41) Into the depths of God — Bethany House Publishers, Bloomington Minnesota.

7. Ibid (pp 185)

 

Construct B

1. Leckey, William © 1903 (pp 8,9) History of European Morals form Augustus to Charlemagne Vol 2. Appleton, NY

2. Sheets, Dutch © 1996 (p 155) Intercessory Prayer, Regal Publishing, division of Gospel Light. Ventura, California

3. Clarke, Adam, A derivative of Adam Clarke’s Commentary for the Online Bible © 1997 produced by Sulu D. Kelley Concord, NC

4. Bible History.Com http://www.bible-history.com/old-testament/ BKA2The_Assyrians.htm

5. Hawlinson’s Five Great Monarchies vol. 2, p85, note. http://www.biblehistory.

com/quotes/asshurizirpa_inscription_1.html

6. Mears. Henrietta C. © 1996 by Gospel Light Publications. All rights reserved. Manufactured in the U.S.A. Database © 1999 NavPress Software.

 

Construct C

1. McMahon, Barbara; Monday December 10, 2007 reporting in Sydney for the Guardian Newspaper © www.guardian.co.uk,

2. Zacharias, Ravi 1990 (p 136) — Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message — W Publishing Group, division of Thomas Nelson, Tennessee.

3. Brown, R 1982 (p 105); The Bible Speaks Today — The Message of the Hebrews — (Series Editor Dr John Stott) Inter-Varsity Press Leicester, England.

4. Oursler, Will 1971 (p 173) — Protestant power and the coming revolution –Doubleday and Co, Garden City.

5. Database © 1996 NavPress Software Easton’s Bible Dictionary, 1897.

6. Orr, James, M.A., D.D., (General Ed) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Word Search Corp © 1998 iExalt, Inc

7. Pantheism — Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved October 27, 2007, from Encyclopedia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.

8. Ibid

9. Zacharias, Ravi 1990 (p 154) Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message — W Publishing Group, division of Thomas Nelson, Tennessee.

10. Hatchard, 1863, (Orr, James, M.A., D.D., (General Ed) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Word Search Corp © 1998 iExalt, Inc.

11. Brown, Harold O J, © 1969 (p 110) — The Protest of a Troubled Protestant, Arlington House, NY.

12. The Bible Knowledge Commentary — Underlying source materials. © 1983, by Scripture Press Publications, Inc. Licensed by Victor Books. Database © 1997 NavPress Software.

13. Torrey, R.A. © 1911 (pp 267,268) — The Higher Criticism and the New Theology, Gospel Publishing House, NY.

14. Lewis, C.S, © C.S. Lewis Pty Ltd. 1977 (p 33) — The Problem of Pain, Fount Paperbacks imprint of Harper Collins, London.

15. Sangster, William © 1959 (pp 131-132) — Questions People Ask About Religion, Abingdon Press, Nashville.

16. Lewis, C.S, © C.S. Lewis 1946 (p 69) — The Great Divorce , The Macmillan Company, NY.

17. Booth, William General — Quote sourced from photocopy hand.out at Concern Australia Staff meeting.

 

Appendix 1

1. Stott, John R. W.: The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001, © 1994 (The Bible Speaks Today)

Other References Consulted, but not quoted

1. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Craig S. Keener © 1993 by Craig S. Keener published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved. No part may be reproduced without written permission by InterVarsity Press P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515 Database © 1997 NavPress Software References

2. Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce and Manfred T. Brauch © 1996 by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce and Manfred T. Brauch published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved. No part may be reproduced without written permission by InterVarsity Press P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515 Database © 1997 iExalt, Inc.

3. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary — Youngblood, Ronald F. (Ed) & Bruce F.F & Harrison, R.K.( Con Ed) © 1995, 1986 Thomas Nelson, Nashville.

4. The Parables of Jesus by Terry Johnson © 2007 Christian Focus Publications; Ross-Shire; Scotland; UK

 

 

This publishing is made possible by the generous support of

[* *]

Co-publishers

Mr & Mrs. B &L Murphy

Pastor and Mrs Ivan Gradev

[* *]

Donors

Mr Derek Steenholdt

The Vincent Family

Mr & Mrs D & J Varcoe

The Easton Family

The Rosenfeldt Family

Pastor Richard Warner

Mr Ray Bull

Mr John Toumbourou[]

 

OTHER BOOKS BY THE AUTHOR

 

Prayer — The Language of Relationship

This book will help you to focus your prayer life on real communion with God. It is empowering, inspiring, encouraging and workable.

This book should be in the hands of every Christian who desires to have an intimate relationship with God.

 

 

Is Your Past Bugging You? Then Stop It!

Shane writes of what is invariably necessary to deal with detrimental past issues, including Wholeness, Repentance and Forgiveness, and he does so in very challenging and thought provoking ways.

 

 

 

Online

www.disciplesplanet.net


Second Chance Solution

This book is not just about personal reflection and edification. It is designed to be used in small groups (older youth and older) and has well-presented sections called ‘keys’ around the themes of grace, repentance, obedience, maintaining discipline and focus over the long haul and the warning in the Scriptures to those who neglect or ignore such a great salvation. Each section includes questions and discussion starters cthat are designed to grapple with the themes with others and apply them to your life. Rev. David Fuller Anglican Minister, Evangelist, Life Member — God’s Squad CMC

  • ISBN: 9781370409839
  • Author: Shane Varcoe
  • Published: 2017-05-18 05:20:49
  • Words: 69206
Second Chance Solution Second Chance Solution