What About the “Redeemed Guy” (thief) on the Cross?

I am sometimes virtually dumbfounded at how far people will sometimes go to reinterpret a passage of scripture, or an event in Bible history, in order to maintain their doctrine. For example, concerning Luke’s account of the thief on the cross, Abrams (2006) says:

One passage the baptismal regeneration [an errant term he uses to describe us] people have never really correctly understood is Luke 23:42-43 and the fact the thief on the cross was saved as Jesus declared, and was never baptized. They try to skirt the matter by saying this was before the Church Age when baptism was initiated. They state that Romans 10:9-10 requires that to be saved a person must believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. The thief could not have believed that because Christ had not yet arisen. The problem with that idea is that it does not take into account how were people in the Old Testament saved? Old Testament saints were saved by faith, through the grace of God as Hebrews 11 explains. This chapter is the Bible’s Hall of Faith and states repeatedly how from Abel on men believed the revelation they were given by God and were saved. Abraham never heard the name of Jesus Christ or of His death, burial and resurrection, but he was certainly saved…. (para. 5)

The Bible teaches that no one in the Old or New Testament who was saved, merited or earned it in any way. The thief died in the Old Testament dispensation during the time the Mosaic Law was in force. He expressed saving faith while hanging on a cross and had no time to keep any law therefore the keeping of any part of the law was certainly not a part of his salvation. Jesus declared that the repentant thief (malefactor) would be with Him that day in Paradise because the thief believed in Jesus Christ and nothing more… (para. 7)

As seen in this text, Mr. Abrams (2006) is very good a telling us what the Bible teaches—in light of his own theological positions. However, even a casual reading of Hebrews 11 reveals that the theme of the whole chapter is “faith in action”; demonstrating for us in example after example how that authentic “faith” is much more than mere “belief”; and how that it consists not only of a conviction within our hearts but the physical expression of that conviction, as well. In the section above, Abrams (2006) speaks of Abel, of whom the book of Hebrews says he “offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (verse 4). Does that sound like “faith” is only “believing” to you? Abrams also mentions Abraham, of whom the book of Hebrews says heobeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (verse 8). I’m thinking Abrams’ Old Testament appeals to faith being nothing more than a mental acquiescence to, or belief in, something is not doing him any favors.

But, back to the thief on the cross. I am amazed, startled even, at how quickly those of Calvinists heritage run to this particular illustration to try to prove their point concerning baptism not being a part of God’s plan for receiving the forgiveness of sin. They inevitably say, “Well, what about the thief on the cross, he wasn’t baptized and Jesus saved him?” To this point we must point out that:

First, if it’s just “baptism” we’re talking about, how does Mr. Abrams (2006) know that the thief on the cross had not been baptized with the baptism of John? He very well may have been. According to the Bible, “When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John” (Luke 7:29-30). Perhaps, at one time or another, the thief on the cross had, indeed, been among those people who were baptized by John, or one of his disciples. Just because he had sinned, and was now hanging on a cross beside Jesus, does not mean that he was totally disobedient to the will of God. It was the religious leaders—lawyers and Pharisees—who, like Abrams and company, “rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John” (verse 30). Why is it always the religious leaders who, seemingly, cannot see what the common people so easily see? But whether or not the thief on the cross had ever been baptized with the baptism of John is a moot point because, it’s Jesus’ baptism, commanded after His death, burial, and resurrection, that we have in view here, not John’s baptism.

Second—and, really, of greater importance—despite Abrams (2006) claims to the contrary, it remains important to the discussion to remember that the thief on the cross lived and died prior to Jesus’ commands concerning baptism. When Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) and, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16), He made these statements after His death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism, as taught in the New Testament, is an expression of saving faith symbolizing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—as we die to self and to sin (Romans 6:6), are “buried with Him through baptism into death” and raised up to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). How could the thief on the cross have be expected to have done any of that when Jesus had not yet died, nor had He issued His commandment regarding baptism? The whole appeal to the thief on the cross—with regard to Christian baptism, or any other New Covenant expression of saving faith—is a moot point!

If the Biblical account of the thief on the cross has anything whatsoever so say about our own salvation, it is not with specific regard to baptism or any other expression of the faith to which we are called in accordance with the terms of the New Covenant. Rather, much to the chagrin of the “legalists” on both sides of all such issues, it speaks to the beautiful, compassionate, ever gracious character of a wild and passionate God who will not be tamed or constrained by any man’s theology. I have had both conservative legalists and liberal legalist (and, yes, there are legalists—people who base their salvation, and that of others, on how well they adhere to particular tenets and practices of some religious doctrine or another—on both sides of every issue) tell me that, if God makes a single exception for any individual with regard to what He requires for salvation, then He must make that same exception for every person. Such legalistic thinking, however, does not take into account that God looks deeply into our heart—individually, person-by-person—and deals with us accordingly.

The thief on the cross is a first class example of God’s personal attention to, and intimate dealings with, the individual human heart. As the thief hung there beside Jesus, suspended between heaven and earth, and between two covenants—the Old Covenant with its Law of Moses, which was obsolete and passing away (Hebrews 8:13), and the New Covenant, which was about to be inaugurated with Christ’s own blood (Hebrews 9:15-16)—he was, to be sure, in a unique position. Whatever faith and obedience he had demonstrated in accordance with the Law of Moses, or even with regard to the prophetic authority of John the Baptizer, was now all behind him and there was nothing more he could ever do to show his penitence. He could do nothing to make restitution in accordance with the old law. He could offer no animal sacrifice for himself down at the temple. If he had not submitted to John’s prophetic authority, it was too late now. No one was going to take him down from that cross and over to the Pool of Siloam for baptism. Everything pertaining to the Old Covenant dispensation was behind him and irretrievable. Likewise, whatever expressions of faith and love required by our Lord in accordance with the terms of the New Covenant in Christ were beyond him and out of his reach. He had no knowledge or comprehension of some future baptism that Christ had not yet even commanded, or of what such an act of surrender might mean with regard to becoming a New Covenant child of God.

All he had to offer God in that moment was a living faith in Jesus as the Christ; a saving faith that prompted him to, well, do something—so he opened his mouth and rebuked the other criminal, then confessed his own sin and guilt, and then, finally, confessed Jesus as His Lord and King as he entreated Him to remember him. It was not exactly in keeping with the Law of Moses under which, technically, he lived and died. It was not exactly what John the baptizer had been preaching earlier. It was also not even entirely in keeping with what Jesus Himself, and the apostles and prophets of the New Testament, would later command, following the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. But it was all that he had to offer in that moment; and, by faith, he offered what he had.

I think it incredulous for the Calvinists among us, or anybody else, to run to the thief on the cross and so tritely use him as some kind of rhetorical devise to justify their own theological positions; and especially to use him to negate something that Jesus Himself would later command following His own death, burial, and resurrection. I think it must break the thief’s heart—and I hate continually referring to him as “the thief,” must he continue to wear that label for eternity? Furthermore, I know it breaks our Lord’s heart for such a beautiful example of intimacy and compassion to be used in such a legalistic way. I also can’t help but think that, given the kind of heart that that man who was redeemed by Christ’s love on the cross reveals to us as he hung there beside Jesus, had he somehow miraculously survived that whole ordeal, and upon hearing his risen Savior say, “he who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), that man would have been among the first in line to surrender his heart and life to Christ in baptism.

What I learn from the account of the redeemed man on the cross—thief no longer—is that God will forgive whoever He chooses, whether such forgiveness conforms to human expectations or not. And nobody’s doctrine or dogma—Christian, Calvinist (and, yes, I make that distinction) or otherwise—can get in the way of that! As the Apostle Paul records it, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Romans 9:18). But God does not harden good and honest hearts. I know this because Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8) and, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). If a person is actively seeking God, like that merchant who was constantly in pursuit of the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46), or even if a person simply has an open heart and, like the man who accidently found the hidden treasure buried in a field (Matthew 13:44), is willing to do anything to be a part of God’s eternal kingdom once they have discovered it, then God will surely give that person every opportunity to know the truth, to respond in living faith, and to be saved by the blood of Christ. But there is a huge difference between that kind of person—one like the man who was redeemed by Christ’s love on the cross—and someone who, being more devoted to their religion than they are the Lord, continues to walk contrary to the teachings of God’s word.

I was asked one time, by a liberal legalist, if I thought that someone killed in a tragic accident on their way to be baptized would still go to heaven. I answered, “In view of the thief on the cross, I believe that, yes, of course they would.” “But,” I continued, “I don’t think someone who is running in the opposite direction, away from the waters of baptism, will be saved.” When he asked me to explain that further, I simply said, “Well, as we learn from the account of the thief on the cross, it’s all about what is going on in our hearts. A surrendered heart seeking the Lord’s will is one thing, but a rebellious heart seeking its own will, or willing to put some theological concept ahead of the expressed will of God, is quite another.”

The New Covenant children of God understand that, while “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17), still, we do not put our faith in our works, or even in our faith. We are not saved because we have faith, or because we have works, or because we have a faith that works. We are saved because Jesus died for us on the cross! A living, active, working faith merely grants us access to what Jesus has done for us; but we are wholly dependent on God’s grace—His intimate and compassionate knowledge and handling of our heart—for our salvation.

I love that “redeemed guy on the cross,” for his heart, for his faith, for his faith in action, don’t you?

See you in paradise!

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

References

Abrams, C. (2006). Does the Bible say baptism is necessary for salvation? A Biblical explanation of the question and the verses used that supposedly teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. Retrieved from http://bible-truth.org/BaptismNotNecessary.html

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

It’s Written in My Heart

I know that, despite popular opinion among some of my more “conservative” brethren, God’s law in it’s entirety is not found in the pages of the Holy Scripture. I know this fact from the Holy Scriptures themselves. For the writer of the book of Hebrews restates for us an ancient prophecy handed down to us from Jeremiah stating:

Behold, days are coming, says the Lord,
When I will effect a new covenant
With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;
Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers
On the day when I took them by the hand
To lead them out of the land of Egypt;
For they did not continue in My covenant,
And I did not care for them, says the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
After those days, says the Lord:

I will put My laws into their minds,
And I will write them on their hearts.

And I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.
And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen,
And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
For all will know Me,
From the least to the greatest of them.
For I will be merciful to their iniquities,
And I will remember their sins no more.”

(Hebrews 8:8-12, NASB)

Too many confused people try to equate the New Covenant with the Old Covenant. They try to make “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2, NASB) similar to, if not precisely like, the Old Testament Law of Moses. In other words, they go looking for a “thus sayeth the Lord” along with book, chapter, and verse to “authorize” everything they do, or don’t do, when it comes to matters of faith and Christian living. This tendency to want to turn the writings of the New Testament into something akin to the book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy often causes people to imitate the spirit of the Pharisees who were so devoted to the Law of Moses that they missed the very One of whom the entire Law prophesied. I remember Jesus one time saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40, NASB). I wonder if some people haven’t fallen into exactly that same trap when they study their Bibles looking for every command, example, or inference that may authorize, or not authorize, a particular religious practice, but then seem to miss Jesus!

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I believe with all my heart and soul that the Bible is God’s revealed word in written form; that it is holy and inspired, and that it contains God’s will for our lives. I hang my hat on what Jesus said when He told His disciples, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32, NASB). The writings and teachings of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament are His word.

But anyone who has actually READ the New Testament knows that it does not read like the Law of Moses. Anyone who has followed the Apostle Paul’s instruction to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB), knows that God made the apostles and prophets of the New Testament “adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6, NASB). Anyone who has studied their New Testament through the lens of a “student of the word” — honestly wanting to discern truth and not simply justify a position — knows that there are many areas of one’s personal faith that are solely dependent upon how God is dealing with one’s heart. Paul said:

One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:2-5, NASB)

He then when on to say,

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:22-23, NASB)

Note that the Apostle Paul did not give them a “thus sayeth the Lord” for establishing a policy on eating vegetables or meat. He did not provide them with book, chapter, and verse regarding the observance of holy days. Rather, He simply cautioned them against judging one another and then pointed to their hearts saying, “the faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God!” Why is that not enough for some people? Let’s face it folks, there are a plethora of theological issues, moral issues, social issues, and personal issues for which we will not find book, chapter, and verse. But does that mean that God has not spoken to us regarding these issues?

The prophet, Jeremiah, says:

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

I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.

(Jeremiah 17:9-10, NASB)

While there are many who lift this verse out of context and run amuck with it, saying we can never, under any circumstances, trust the content of our heart to any appreciable degree, I do not go along with that line of thinking. I believe, in light of New Covenant teaching, that we can trust our hearts to the extent that our hearts are truly surrendered to the will of God. But the point that the Lord is making here is that I must be careful about trusting my heart solely, or trusting it too far. I can easily deceive myself into thinking that I don’t need to pay attention to scripture because I know something “in my heart!” Or, I can easily fool myself into thinking that, because I do have “scriptural authority” — book, chapter, verse — for something, I am therefore free to practice it regardless of the effect it may have on others around me.

On the one hand, the legalist says, “If there is no ‘law’ permitting it, then it’s wrong to practice it!” On the other hand, the liberal says, “If there is no ‘law’ forbidding it, then I am free to practice it!” In my view — and I can already see the stones flying at me from both directions — both of these positions are wrong! They are both legalistic to the core. They are both incredibly inconsistent in practice. They both depend on the “letter of the law,” not “the Spirit of life in Christ”! And, they both have moved the discussion out of the realm of faith and love, and under the jurisdiction of law! “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4, NASB). This verse applies equally to both the legalist and the liberal; each deceived by their own heart and seeking to justify themselves by some law, or lack thereof.

Can I, or anyone, understand or comprehend my deceitful heart? Yes, God, through Jeremiah, says, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind!” Wow! My heart may fool me, but it will never fool God. He knows me inside and out. And note how the prophet says that God does that testing; He gives to each man “according to his ways,” “according to the results of his deeds!” The heart will always reveal itself in action. I may convince myself that I “feel” a certain way, or even “believe” a certain way, but my “ways” and my “deeds” with reveal the actual content of my heart. Furthermore, I may be able to trust my heart when it is fully surrendered to the will of God, but only to the extent that my words and my deeds are consistent with the word of God. Jesus said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man…” (Matthew 15:18-20, NASB).

And yet, it is precisely there — RIGHT THERE — in the midst of my sick and deceitful heart, that God has chosen to write His law. And this is what makes the New Covenant superior to the Old Covenant. The Ten Commandments were engraved upon stone. The Law of Moses was imprinted with ink on scrolls of parchment and vellum. But, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is written upon human hearts by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. He uses Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and others to do that. He also uses wisdom poured forth within our hearts by the power of the Spirit to do that (James 1:5). He speaks to our surrendered hearts in a myriad of ways through scripture, through prayer and meditation, through life and experiences, through fellow spiritual sojourners. But, regardless of the tools He chooses to use to put His laws into our minds and write them upon our hearts, Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27, NASB). Authentic disciples of Christ will know, and will seek to follow, God’s desire for their lives.

God is in it for my heart, deceitful though it may be at times. He wants me to love Him and serve Him from my heart. The Old Covenant controlled people by rules and regulations inculcated from without, by the letter of the law. But God’s New Covenant children are controlled by a heart surrendered to the will of God in all things. As the Apostle Paul said, “For the love of Christ controls us…” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NASB).

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Your Hermeneutic Can Get You Killed!

Dateline — Middlesboro, KY and today’s headline reads: “Snake Handling Pastor Refuses Care, Dies From Bite.” Now how could I, a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not take the bait and bite into a story like that? Basically, the brief blurb simply reported how that, “Jamie Coots, a snake-handling pastor who appeared on the TV reality show ‘Snake Salvation,’ refused treatment after being bitten and was later found dead” (Associated, 2014).

I have to admit, the sinister side of my evil nature rejoiced as I read and thought to myself, “Right on! The dude got what he deserved. If people don’t care enough to honestly seek out the truth of God’s word, maybe they’ll listen to a rattlesnake! And if not, well, at least there’s one more crazy nut dead and gone and no longer around to lead people astray with his false teaching!” Meanwhile, my kinder, gentler, Spirit-led nature was saddened by the tragic loss of yet another misguided soul — one for whom Christ died — who at least had a faith and the courage to stand by his convictions.

But the bigger picture here, as I see it, has to do with our “hermeneutics” – a highfalutin, theological term for how we interpret the scriptures. We all have one, you know — a “hermeneutic,” that is. We all have our “method or principle of interpretation” (Webster, 2014). The problem is, some people’s hermeneutic isn’t very sound — case in point! Not too long ago, I had a very intelligent, sincere, well-educated, professional educator and school administrator sit in my office and tell me, “Well, I believe everything that’s in the Bible. If it’s in the Bible, then I believe it, just the way it is in the Bible.” She was talking about the laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, and other Pentecostal Holiness stuff (another word comes to mind, but I won’t use it here) like that! I’m like, “Ms. So-in-so, don’t you understand that the Bible wasn’t written in a vacuum? It’s a book of history. A lot of things written in the Bible were meant for specific people, living in specific times and places, and dealing with specific issues and circumstances. Not everything written in the Bible is meant to be practiced by us today!” She just looked at me with rather vacant, glossed over eyes.

C’mon people! Do your homework! How about a little research, a little contextualization, a little common sense. Maybe I don’t have as great of faith as some of you out there — I’ll admit I’m a work in progress — but it doesn’t take the brains God gave a turkey to understand that if you mess with a rattlesnake and it bites you, you might just, ummmmmmm, like, DIE?!?!?

Now, there are several passages of scripture that tell us about the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. For example, the prophet, Mark, records Jesus saying:

These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18, NASB)

Mark then goes on to state the purpose for these miraculous gifts, saying:

So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. (Mark 16:19-20, NASB)

The purpose for the miraculous gifts of the 1st century was to “confirm the word.” Years later, the writer of Hebrews would assert this same truth, saying:

…how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:3-4, NASB)

Note that, the purpose of the miraculous gifts was NOT to convince people to believe — a common fallacy held by many today. There have always been unbelievers and people often choose not to believe, despite miracles and regardless of any amount of confirmation. However, the purpose for the miraculous gifts was not to make people believe but, rather, to provide sufficient grounds for belief by confirming the word of God as it was first proclaimed among the people of the 1st century. This is why the Apostle John would later tell us, “It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth” (I John 5:6, NASB).

The “Apostles” were the original ambassadors of Christianity, men chosen by the Lord and recognized by the “ekklesia” in the 1st century A.D. as having the direct empowering of the Holy Spirit, which they had received on the day of Pentecost (See: Acts 2:1-12). They alone had the “authority” to pass along the empowering—including all the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit—to others. This fact is set forth in the book of Acts wherein we learn about the preaching of the Gospel in the region of Samaria:

Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! (Acts 8:14-20, NASB)

When we look carefully at this passage, we note that Philip the evangelist—not the Apostle Philip—was preaching the gospel in Samaria and baptizing people in the name of the Lord Jesus. Remember, the Apostle Peter said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, NASB). So we know that these people in Samaria were receiving the Holy Spirit as a gift; that is, they were indwelled by “the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32, NASB). The Holy Spirit had taken up residence within them, as He does every child of God at the moment of their baptism, and their bodies had become, as the Apostle Paul says, “a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God” (I Corinthians 6:19, NASB).

However, although they had been “indwelled” by the Holy Spirit as a gift, they had not yet received any miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit; that is, He had not yet “fallen upon” or “empowered” any of them. As students of God’s word, we must make that distinction—between the “indwelling” and the “empowering”—if we are to be consistent in our understanding of scripture.

We note, furthermore, that Philip was unable to grant these new Samarian Christians any miraculous gifts of the Spirit. While he may very well have had miraculous powers himself, he could not pass them on to others. So, when the apostles in Jerusalem heard about the new disciples being baptized Samaria, they sent two of their own, two apostles, Peter and John, to them. When the apostles arrive, they prayed and began laying their hands on the new Christians so that they, too, would be granted miraculous gifts from the Spirit. It is important that we note two phrases in particular: first, “the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles hands” (verse 18); and then Simon’s statement, “give me this authority as well” (verse 19).

From this important passage we learn that one might be indirectly empowered by the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, but that did not mean that he or she could pass that empowering along to others; only an apostle had the authority to do that.

The “prophets” were men and women who were indirectly empowered by the Holy Spirit “through the laying on of the apostles hands” and through whom God’s word was made known during the first century; prior to the completion of the New Testament. It is important to remember that there are no longer “apostles” or “prophets” in the world today because, when the Apostle John—the last of the apostles—died, the empowering could no longer be passed along to others. Thus, gifts of prophecy, and all the other miraculous gifts of the “Apostalic Age”—the 1st century—ceased.

This fact is confirmed for us in scripture when the Apostle Paul reminded the “ekklesia” living in the city of Corinth that:

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect [teleion] comes, the partial [merous] will be done away. (I Corinthians 13:8-10, NASB)

Note that the word “perfect” in this passages is the Greek word, “teleion” – from “teleios”: a gender neuter noun meaning, “complete, mature, finished, brought to its end, wanting nothing necessary to completeness” (Teleios, 2013). In interpreting what this word is referring to, we need to keep in mind the context of the passage. In context, the “perfect” is the completion, or the fulfillment, or the totality of the “partial.” The word “partial” in this passage is the Greek word “merous” – meaning, “a part, a part due or assigned to one, one of the constituent parts of a whole” (Merous, 2013). The “partial”, then, is all the bits and pieces of the “perfect.” Both the “perfect” and the “partial” relate to the same thing, but in different forms. Paul says that the “partial” are those miraculous gifts that “will be done away,”—prophecy, tongues, knowledge—all of which, in this passage, relate to “truth” and knowing the “truth.” So, whatever the “perfect”—the complete, fulfilled, finished—is, it must correlate with the “partial” and also relate to “truth” and the disciples ability to fully know the “truth.”

I don’t believe it is just an accident of history that the final book of our New Testament—Revelation—was written by the Apostle John shortly before his death; and that, when John died, the empowering of the Holy Spirit could no longer be passed along to others because, as we have seen, only the apostles had the authority to do that. So what we have here is an “intersection” of history and prophecy. Paul said the “partial”—miraculously inspired bits and pieces of truth—would cease when the “perfect”—finished and complete revelation of truth—had come. John, the last remaining apostle capable of laying his hands on others and passing along the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, completed the final, inspired revelation; then laid aside his pen and scrolls, and soon passed away. Thus, the “partial” ceased at the precise moment in history that the “perfect” had come—all according to prophecy.

So don’t be picking up any fiery serpents, dear child of God, or drinking any deadly poison thinking that you will not be harmed — that promise was for those people to whom Jesus was speaking at the time and who lived during, what we’ve come to know as, the “Apostolic Age.” The poor, late Pastor Coots didn’t seem to understand much of any of this and his shallow hermeneutics — “well, if it’s in the Bible then I believe it” — got him killed! Not only did it get him killed, but it sure didn’t help our Christian testimony to the world very much, did it? Rather, it sends a terribly misguided and ignorant message to the world — a message that MSN was all too quick to pick up on and publish — that, “You see, those ‘Christians’ are just a bunch of crazies!”

If Pastor Coots was so hermeneutically mixed up that he got himself killed by a rattler, I wonder what all else he was thoroughly mixed up on — his eternal salvation, perhaps? Hummmmmmm… ever wonder what your lil ole “pastor” is a more than a little mixed up about!

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

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

References

Associated Press. (2014, February 16). Snake handling pastor refuses care, dies from bite. MSN News. Retrieved from http://news.msn.com/us/snake-handling-pastor-refuses-care-dies-from-bite

Hermeneutic. (2014). In Mirriam-Webster’s online dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hermeneutic

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

When I Need Forgiveness

As a disciple of the Lord Jesus, I’m learning to open my heart to the seasons of life and to surrender to that which He desires to teach me with each new season. Having battled cancer over the past year and a half — a life-changer for sure — I feel Him calling me now to transition from a season of militancy, strife, and vying for mortal existence, to a season of calm renewal, of openness and vulnerability, and of contemplation of lessons learned.

Looking back over my life from the perspective of a cancer survivor, I see too much rage and ruin. I see too many broken hearts and shattered dreams — people who should have been loved by me, but who were hurt by me; people who should have been fueled with a greater spiritual fire through their acquaintance with me, but who were, instead, left sidetracked and discouraged.

One can, of course, in light of lessons learned and growth experienced, determine to do better in the future; to take greater responsibility for the emotional, spiritual, and even physical welfare of the precious hearts that God permits into our lives. But, I think, it would be cold and irresponsible to simply forget about those people who I’ve hurt along the way; and to just move on without any thought or concern for their continued well being. Genuine penitence requires more of me than that, I think. And, it’s not just their continued well being that this season of reflection brings under review, by my own as well. My heart, I feel, is that much more empty, and my soul is lacking, to the degree that I persist in refusing to take responsibility for, or do anything about, the people I love — and who once loved me — but who have been hurt by me somehow, somewhere, along the way.

I tell my students, when they sometimes come to me with hurting hearts because they feel as though they’ve let God down by sinning and falling short of His glory, that repentance is not just a one time thing, but a daily walk of life. I try to reassure them with Jesus’ words, when He said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4, NASB). If Jesus would tell His disciples something like that, don’t you know that God is ready, willing, and capable of forgiving us over and over and over again as He watches us struggle with the sin in our lives. But, I am also quick to point out to them that a trite, haphazard “I repent,” with no real intention of surrendering to the will of God in the matter, is an abuse of God’s grace; and the Bible warns us against those who “turn the grace of God into licentiousness” (Jude 1:4, NASB).

I sometimes tremble at Jesus’ statement concerning those very “religious” people who will stand before Him on that great and glorious final day and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” But He will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22-23, NASB). Cloaking our selfishness and rebellion in the garbs of religious fervor and Christian service does not fool God. The Lord knows those who are His. On the other hand, it is not just sin, in and of itself, that condemns any person. The Apostle John reminds us that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10, NASB). There is never a moment when any one of us can claim to have no sin. The Bible teaches that “… all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB).

And so, we need to live in a perpetual state of repentance and with the mindset of continual confession of our need for forgiveness, God’s grace — the blood of Christ to cleanse us, the righteousness of Christ to clothe us. And we are assured of that grace; for we are told that, “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7, NASB).

But it is not just God’s forgiveness that my heart craves — although I want and need that most of all — but also the forgiveness of others; those who I have hurt along the way. My heart often aches for the renewal of relationship, for the rekindling of love’s fire, with certain people who were once so much a part of my life, but who have been lost to me — yet remain precious to me. Even in our sophisticated, high-tech, globally connected world today, just finding someone who seems to have vanished from our radar sometimes seems an insurmountable task; let alone actually contacting them and begging their forgiveness. And, you know, I wouldn’t blame them or hold it against them if that “forgiveness” was long in coming. I know I don’t deserve it! And, I guess, I may have to be prepared to, somehow, move on without it — accepting that as the consequences of my own foolish behavior. But, I simply must attempt to seek it. My heart will allow for nothing less.

Of course, I must also keep in mind that, not only do I need forgiveness from others, I must also be ready to give it. I remember Jesus’ teaching concerning this matter when He taught us to pray, “… forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mathew 6:12, NASB). Furthermore, the Apostle Paul reminds me that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (I Corinthians 13:5, NASB). And the Bible warns, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13, NASB).

Don’t you know that it pleases God and makes Him smile when His children are good to one another; when they take care of one another. In essence, this is what it means to, as Jesus said, “love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34, NASB). Or, as the Apostle John says, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him” … “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (I John 3:18,23, NASB). I think of Jesus story of the prodigal son, and how his father so rejoiced at the homecoming of his long-lost boy. When two hearts that have been estranged, or even just separated by time and distance, find one another again, and “forgiveness” is truly sought and authentically given, love is rekindled in the beauty, power, and holiness of the Lord; what a time of rejoicing — and God smiles upon His children!

Forgive me for hurting you,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

“You are the Light of the World” – ummm, really?!?

Coming to terms with the “theology of the cross,” and the fact that Jesus calls every disciple to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NASB), means coming to terms with authentic Christian living in everyday life. Discipleship is not so much about studying the word as it is living the word as we learn it. Discipleship is not so much about spending time in daily prayer as it is making our lives a perpetual and continual prayer unto God. Discipleship has little to do with how many times we “gather with the saints at the river,” but with our willingness to love and serve a lost and dying world. In fact, it grieves me, sometimes, that “church” has so commandeered our time, energy, and allegiance that people are too busy doing “churchy” stuff to connect with the world around them in authentic and meaningful ways.

Have you heard that old, kinda “worn out” adage that says: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one, any day!” Well, I guess, some old saying should be well remembered because Jesus says pretty much the same thing when He talks about our being “light” in this world of darkness. He said:

“Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (Luke 8:16-18, NASB)

In this passage, Jesus is reminding us that authentic faith ultimately gets down to what people “see” in us. It’s all about “living” our faith in the eyes of the world; not just singing about it during the Sunday gathering. And, if you look closely at Jesus statement above, you’ll notice that people have an uncanny knack for seeing through the surface of things into who and what we really are. Yes, we all wear masks at times. We all try to create a façade and manipulate people’s thinking concerning who we are and what we’re all about. But that never really works, does it? I mean, we all know that, eventually, the masks fall away and the façades disseminate in the light of daily living, don’t they? We may fool a few people for a little while but, ultimately, the people who matter most in life, and the people who need us the most in life, are going to come to know us as we really are.

Jesus’ comments, above, remind me of the parable of the talents wherein we learn that those who hoard their gifts unto themselves, rather than investing them in life, love, relationships, and the mission our Lord has set before us, will ultimately loose them altogether. How are we “living” our faith?

In what we’ve come to call, “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus initiated His earthly ministry with this very same concept, saying:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

When we put a little salt on our taters, we expect it to make a difference. We would consider it “worthless” if it didn’t. What good is salt that doesn’t enhance the taste of our food, preserve our pork, or help freeze our homemade ice-cream? What good is a so-called “Christian” who hasn’t denied himself and taken up his cross; or who is not in hot pursuit of Jesus? When it comes down to daily living, authentic faith can’t help be become evident in our lives. People will see our faith, if what we have is a living faith, because it will be seen in our works — how we love, how we serve, how we seek to make a difference in this world and in the hearts and lives of others! As James said, “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works'” (James 2:18, NASB).

I hasten to add that a living faith should never be equated with dogmatic self-righteousness. People who interprete faith as “holiness” in the eyes of men, or as achieving some high level of “perfection” in our performance, have allowed our old Adversary to sidetrack, if not completely derail, them. Faith is not acting like that self-righteous Pharisee who, when he came to pray, said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12, NASB). Rather, faith is becoming like that tax collector, standing some distance away, who was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (verse 13). Faith is acknowledging that we’re all in the same boat, that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NASB) because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verse 23). Authentic faith is agreeing with heaven’s judgment, that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10, NASB).

And, perhaps, this is the greatest testimony of the children of light; and the very thing that people need most to see in us. They don’t need to hear our doctrine, so much, as they need to see our humility. They don’t need us to slam dunk them with our righteousness — as though we were somehow better than them — so much as they need us to lay aside our masks, quit with our façades, and confess our weaknesses, our faults, our failures, and our need for Jesus. While we seek to love them, while we seek to serve them, while we seek to go out of our way to make this world a better place by leading people to faith in Christ, people need to see these actions coming from broken and contrite hearts painfully aware of our own shortcomings, but all the more in love with Jesus for His sacrifice of grace and mercy. This is the “theology of the cross.” This is authentic Christian living. This is real faith. This is being the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world!” This is letting our light shine before men “in such a way” that they see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

That they may see HIM in us,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

How Do I “Test the Spirits”?

The Apostle Peter, knowing that the “ekklesia”—the “called out” children of God—were already, and would forever be, beset by many varieties of false prophets and deceiving spirits, exhorts us with these words:

Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen! (2 Peter 3:14-18, NASB)

So what can we do to heed Peter’s warning? Going back to the Apostle John’s admonition, we must be able and willing to, test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (I John 4:1, NASB). While we cannot possibly imagine or prepare for every false doctrine that might assail us, and the Bible does not succinctly set forth a specific outline for testing the spirits, we can employ our working knowledge of the scripture to help us arrive at some legitimate ways to accomplish this goal.

Please remember, as we consider each of the following points concerning how to “test the spirits,” that we are not in the business of judging or condemning “people.” The Apostle Paul makes this clear when he says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB). Our very motivation for even engaging in this spiritual warfare to which we’ve been called is our love for people. Yes, there are a lot of ungodly, immoral, hateful, mean, rude, and even violent people out there. But, ultimately, people are not the problem; people are the victims. We are in a battle for hearts and minds, and for the eternal destiny of precious souls for whom Christ died.

So, for this reason, I choose not to focus on the “false teachers” or “false prophets” themselves, but rather, on the “false spirits”—ideologies, philosophies, doctrines, traditions, attitudes, mindsets—under whose influence they have fallen. I encourage you, dear child of God, to try to do the same; to look beyond the surface, beyond the person, and to see what it is that is controlling people and compelling them to believe and behave the way they do. Here is a brief outline to help us “test the spirits.”

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1.) The Scripture Test: The ability to “test the spirits” requires that we have a working knowledge of God’s inspired written word. We can only achieve this by being “diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB). We need to ask, “Is this particular ‘spirit’—idea, doctrine, teaching, interpretation, or application—consistent with the plain teaching of the scriptures?” Remember those noble minded Bereans who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11, NASB).

2.) The Jesus Test: We need to question the position of the “spirit,” or teaching, relative to the identity of Jesus. Remember, John says, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (I John 4:3, NASB). Does the “spirit,” or idea, exalt Jesus as the incarnate Word—God in the flesh? Does the “spirit,” or interpretation, acknowledge and confirm His righteousness, the “One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NASB)? Does the “spirit,” or philosophy, acknowledge and confirm the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Christ on our behalf; who, in accordance with “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23, NASB), “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6, NASB)? And does the “spirit,” or teaching, acknowledge and confirm the ascension and glorification of Christ; that “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, NASB)?

3.) The Salvation Test: We need to ascertain whether or not the “spirit”—idea, theory, philosophy, doctrine—is in agreement with God’s calling us into a covenant relationship with Him. Does it agree that “both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one,’ for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:9-10 & 23), and therefore, “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB)? And, while declaring the fact that we cannot put our faith in our works because, inevitably, our works “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB), does it, at the same time, acknowledge that “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17, NASB). And, with that in mind, does it, therefore, agree with Jesus when He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NASB)? Does it agree with Jesus’ teaching concerning confessing Him as Lord and repenting from sin when He said, “everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32, NASB) and that, repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:7, NASB). Does it agree with and advocate Jesus’ teaching concerning the “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) when He said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16, NASB); and with the Apostle Peter’s teaching when he said, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh [not a legalistic work of law] but an appeal to God for a good conscience [an internal act of faith]—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21, NASB)?

4.) The Unity Test: In what name or names does the “spirit”—philosophy, doctrine, teaching—come to us; and who or what does it seek to exalt and glorify? Jesus said, “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (John 5:43-44, NASB). We need to clarify whether or not the “spirit”—idea, philosophy, doctrine, or teaching—is a divisive or unifying influence. Is it promoting divisive dogma and the traditions of men, or does it seek to promote the unity for which Jesus prayed? Remember, we are called to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Any true and godly spirit will advocate for the one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-5, NASB).

5.) The Character Test: We need to remember to look at the lifestyle and standard of morality that the “spirit”—philosophy, interpretation, concept, doctrine, attitude, or mindset—promotes. Does it promote the pursuit of “the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, NASB)? Is the “spirit,” or teaching, motivated by love for God, love for truth, love for every child of God, and love for the lost who need to know God’s love? Is the “ekklesia” strengthened or weakened by the “spirit,”—thinking, teaching, influence, philosophy, or theology—that is being espoused? Jesus said:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20, NASB).

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One thing is for sure, God’s covenant children need to be able to question, study, research, explore, discover, discuss, collaborate, and think for themselves. Furthermore, we must continually ask God for the wisdom He promises and “gives to all generously and without reproach” (James 1:5, NASB). Our faith is far too important, and the stakes way too high, for us to take the easy road by simply running out and joining up with some church and allowing the minister, pastor, priest, or whoever to tell us what we are to believe and practice; especially when many of those religious leaders really “don’t have a clue” beyond their own narrow denominational blinders. Perhaps some of their ignorance can be forgiven, but remembering Jesus’ teaching, sometimes we have no choice but to just, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14, NASB).

For the hearts and minds of precious people for whom Christ died,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Modern Christianity and the Ekklesia

While modern Christianity sometimes seems to only remotely resemble that which we read about in the scripture, we must remember that, when it comes to the area of human opinion and reasoning, “All things are lawful” (I Corinthians 6:12, 10:23, NASB). In other words, we need to keep in mind that, due to the “freedom of the new covenant,” the “ekklesia” is not prohibited from adapting to contemporary culture in order to remain relevant throughout the ages and to expedite the mission to which Christ has called us. We need to remember that any practice is permissible; so long as it does not invalidate the word of God or circumvent God’s expressed will for our lives. As long as a given practice or tradition does not endorse, permit, promote, or advocate that which God, through His divinely inspired written word—the Bible—says is sinful, the practice is permissible. Likewise, so long as the practice or tradition does not hinder, invalidate, repudiate, circumvent, or disavow a specific commandment of God—that which the written word of God has expressly enjoined upon us—the practice is permissible. And, so long as the practice or teaching is not inculcating the personal opinions, beliefs, traditions, interpretations, or doctrines of men as though they were the word of God, and then binding those practices or teachings upon others and holding them accountable, as though their personal relationship with God or fellowship with the body of Christ depended on it, the practice is permissible.

For example, if the “ekklesia” in a given location decides that it really is in their best interest that they organize, incorporate, open a bank account, purchase land, build a building, and engage in corporate programs, projects, ministries, worship activities, and all the other trappings that seem to define a modern “church” in today’s world, the terms of the new covenant do not condemn such activity because “all things are lawful”; even though God’s people in Bible days did not do these things and there is nothing in scripture that specifically “authorizes” any of these actions.

By the same token, if the “ekklesia” living in various locations determine that they want to cooperate with one another and work together to provide some structure beyond the local community level in order to accomplish foreign mission work, or to build hospitals and clinics, or to found schools and orphanages, or other goods works, the freedom of the new covenant allows for these activities because “all things are lawful”; even though we have no specific commands or examples in the Bible that would specifically “authorize” such cooperation.

If however, some men among the “ekklesia” began to assume ecclesiastical authority over others, resulting in a separate clergy or priesthood, as some “churches” have done—locally, regionally, globally—this would certainly amount to a violation of the expressed intent of the new covenant because it circumvents what the scriptures specifically teach in regard to the priesthood of all believers (See: I Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6, 5:10).

When we look at the “ekklesia” back in the Bible days, we see a beautiful example of the simplicity and elegance of Christianity played out in the context of local, community fellowship—just people loving God, living for Him, meeting in their homes, sharing life and love, and trying to make some eternal difference in this world. Those of us who are, perhaps, a little more fundamental in our outlook may ask, “Why can’t we engage in that kind of local Christian community today; free from all the corporate structure and organization of the modern era? Why can’t we just get together with a few other Christians in our homes for study, prayer, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper; and laugh, and sing, and enjoy one another’s fellowship, and just live life together to His glory?” And the fact is, there is no reason whatsoever why we cannot, or should not, do that. In fact, authentic Christianity begins right there—not with “joining a church,” or “attending church,” but with simply determining in our own hearts and minds that we will “be the church”; that is, that we ARE the “ekklesia”—the “called out” children of God—and that we are going to submit to Bible teaching and continually “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1, NBSB).

While I enjoy occasionally getting together with large groups of Christians for special events and activities, and usually find such experiences stimulating, I know that personal faith cannot be long sustained by those kinds of big events. We need the power of intimate fellowship on an ongoing basis if we are to experience “the priesthood of all believers” and truly minister to one another on a meaningful level. We need people in our lives who are more than “brothers” and “sisters” in an ecclesiastical sense. Rather, we need people who know us well and love us anyway; people who are really our “friends.”

I, for one, am a bit skeptical of the large, corporate structure. As a matter of personal preference, I would much rather see dozens of small community fellowships scattered all across town and meeting together in one another’s homes, perhaps under the shared stewardship of an area-wide eldership, than to have a single mega-church routinely meeting in some big fancy barn down at the corner of Broadway and Main. But that’s just me. However, if you, dear child of God, find yourself compelled to join rank and file with one of those big “mega-churches”—you know, one with, oh say, fifty or more members—please make sure that you go out of your way to find therein the intimate fellowship that you need, and to which God calls you. Remember, it’s not about simply “attending services” once or twice a week. Don’t wait for the professional church ministerial staff to facilitate some “program” and “assign” you to a small group. Rather, pray that God will lead you into meaningful relationships with people who need you in their lives; people with whom you can go places and do things and share life and love; people who will not only minister to you, but alongside you as, together, you seek to make a meaningful difference for the cause of Christ in this world—to God’s eternal glory.

In HIS love and by HIS grace,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

United in Christ – Destroying Denominationalism!

In his letter to the Christians living in the city of Ephesus, Paul exhorts us to:

… walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-5, NASB)

If the kingdom of Christ, God’s eternal family, the “ekklesia,” has the faith, the love, and the humility to agree on these seven essentials of the Christian faith, we can have the unity that God’s people experienced back in Bible times; prior to the wholesale division [denominationalism] that plagues Christianity today. These seven essentials serve as a foundation for cultivating community within and among the “ekklesia” and for identifying the people with whom we are called to share our Christian walk:

One body – the “ekklesia,” the saved body of Christ: Jesus said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16, NASB). Later He prayed, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:22-23, NASB). Due to the influences of Western capitalism, we live in a world today that pulses to the beat of trademarks and branding of every kind. However, when it comes to authentic Christianity, these things ought not to exist. Those who practice and advocate for division [denominationalism]—separate and distinct religious organizations, each with their self-identifying labels and practices around which they rally—are not adhering to the concept of the “one body,” and are working against Jesus’ prayer for unity.

One Spirit – the Holy Spirit of God: “that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:17, NASB). The Holy Spirit is given as a gift when we are baptized (Acts 2:38). He dwells in us (I Corinthians 6:19, Romans 8:11) to help us “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:12-14, NASB), to “help our weakness” and “intercede for us” in prayer (Romans 8:26-27, NASB), and to help us grow in all the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB). He is the guiding source of inspiration behind all scripture: “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (I Peter 1:21, NASB).

One hope of your calling – eternal, life-giving, personal relationship with God: that for which we live, and the means by which we are able to attain it, can be summed up in Jesus’ words: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3, NASB). People may seek to put their eternal hope in the many and various belief systems and religious teachings of men. Some say, it doesn’t really matter what one chooses to believe, that “there are many avenues to God”; or that “regardless of the road we’re on, we’re all going to the same place anyway!” But Jesus said, “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5, NASB). The “ekklesia,” the new covenant children of God, those who hear the voice of their Shepherd, know that there is only one hope for all humanity. For Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6, NASB).

One Lord – Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the only true and living God: The Apostle Peter stated it well when he said, in his first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36, NASB). Later, the Apostle Paul would say, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, NASB).

One faith – as presented in the “good news” (gospel) message of Jesus Christ: The apostle Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17, NASB). Writing to the people at Corinth, he said, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2, NASB); and later, he wrote to them, saying, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:1-4, NASB).

One baptism – the baptism commanded by Jesus when He said: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16, NASB). It is the baptism exemplified by the Ethiopian eunuch when, after hearing the Gospel, he cried out, “‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ … and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38, NASB). It is baptism “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, NASB) in that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3, NASB). It is baptism of, by, and into the Holy Spirit, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13, NASB). It the baptism that “now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21, NASB). It is not some outward, legalistic work of law or religious regulation; but rather an expression of our personal faith in that we were, “buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12, NASB). It is the outward manifestation of our new birth into the family of God; as Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, NASB).

One God and Father – the only true and living God, creator of heaven and earth, giver and sustainer of life, Who: “… after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2, NASB); “and without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, NASB). The Apostle Paul said, “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him” (I Corinthians 8:5-6, NASB).

That we may all be united in Him,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Matters of the Heart

How to deal with human traditions and matters of opinion, and keep them in proper perspective when it comes to matters of the Christian faith, has always been a challenge for the children of God. In writing to the “ekklesia” in Corinth, the Apostle Paul said, All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (I Corinthians 6:12, NASB). Again he told them, All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (I Corinthians 10:23, NASB).

In stating that “all things are lawful,” Paul is not endorsing or permitting those things that are specifically and explicitly condemned in scripture – such as: “…immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Ephesians 5:19-21, NASB)

Nor is the Apostle Paul giving people license to set aside and not practice those things specifically and explicitly taught in scripture – such as: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NASB), or “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, NASB), or be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NASB).

Far from permitting what is explicitly condemned, or setting aside what has been specifically commanded, when the Apostle Paul says, “All things are lawful,” he is referring to that vast area of human endeavor that falls within the scope of human judgment and opinion. He is speaking with regard to the “ekklesia” determining what is relevant and expedient as we seek to live our lives to God’s glory day-by-day and carry out the work, the mission, and the ministry to which Christ has called us.

Because we do not want to become a catalyst for further division [denominationalism] within the body of Christ, and because we do not want to “bind” where God has not “bound” by pushing our personal opinions on others and holding them accountable to our own expectations as though they were the will of God, we need to give serious consideration to some concepts presented in scripture concerning the area of human opinion, cultural relevancy, and our use of Christian liberty. The Apostle Paul said:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1-4, NASB)

The Apostle Paul also shared this concept with the “ekklesia” living in Corinth as he described for them how he conducted his own daily life and ministry in various cultural settings, saying:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (I Corinthians 9:19-22, NASB)

Paul did not sit up on his “high horse” judging and condemning people because they did not look, act, or think like him. He did not insist that everybody come around to his personal way of thinking before he could have fellowship with them. Instead, because he knew that “all things are lawful,” Paul exercised his freedom in Christ to get out of himself and his own world and into the hearts and lives of others. To the greatest extent possible, without violating his allegiance to Christ, he became like those people he sought to reach and teach. He utilized “all means” available to him in his effort to “save some.”

These Biblical concepts encompass the very epitome of the freedom of the New Covenant. While some people take the position that “whatever is not specifically commanded in the New Testament is strictly forbidden”—often erring in the area of “binding” where God, through His inspired word, has not bound—others take the position that “whatever is not specifically forbidden in the New Testament is permitted”—often erring in the area of “loosing” where God, through His inspired word, has not loosed. Both of these positions originate in the mind of man, are fraught with inconsistency, and fall short of what the scriptures actually teach.

The main reason these types of philosophies fail us is because both positions are entirely legalistic—they move the discussion out of the realm of faith and into the arena of law. In other words, both positions stem from the mindset of looking at the New Testament as though it were a book of law—much the way the Old Testament children of Israel might look at the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Many people don’t seem to comprehend the fact that, unlike the Ten Commandments—which were engraved on tablets of stone—and all the rest of the Law of Moses—contained in the written scrolls of antiquity—the terms of the New Covenant are written on our hearts and in our minds. Remember, God said, concerning the New Covenant in Christ, “I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16, NASB).

God’s holy and inspired written word—the Bible and in particular, the New Testament—is certainly essential to that process. In fact, we are told, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2, NASB). However, the gospels, the histories, the letters, and the prophecies that comprise our New Testament in no way read like a book of law; and to treat them that way leads only to what Jesus warned His disciples about when He said, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6, NASB). Like the people of Jesus’ day who were spiritually enslaved to the Pharisees, treating the New Testament as though it were a book of law places us in the precarious position of being controlled by the would be “scholars” and alleged “theologians” of our day; many of whom far too gleefully and voraciously adhere to that role.

Taking a rather “legalistic” view of God’s written word and Christianity in general, the modern-day Pharisees—religious leaders—of our day love to argue and debate over what they believe is “authorized” in scripture. This kind of legalism reduces the teachings of the New Testament to “the letter of the law,” rather than elevating them to “matters of the heart.” It takes love for God and for others completely out of the picture when it comes to making decisions about how we will chose to live our lives.

Does the new covenant child of God really need a “thus sayeth the Lord”—with book, chapter, and verse—to “authorize” absolutely everything we say and do; and, if there is no specific command or example, are we, then, prohibited from doing it? If so, then a lot of “churches” are in trouble because they have incorporated themselves, established business accounts, purchased property, built buildings, incorporated mechanical instruments of music in worship, appointed worship directors, song leaders, church secretaries, and a host of other “ministerial staff,” and have established orphanages, hospitals, and schools, all while engaging in a plethora of “ministry” activities that were unheard of in Bible days.

By the same token, does the new covenant child of God really need a specific prohibition spelled out in the “letter of the law” to know that something is not pleasing to God and that they shouldn’t engage in some possibly destructive activity? Because there is no specific command prohibiting some activity, does that mean one should feel free to participate in it even if, by doing so, we take advantage of others or hurt them in some way? We can all probably think of many examples wherein these kinds of legalistic “rules” appear absurd.

Is not my heart, when surrendered to the will of God, sufficient to convict me with regard to these and all other spiritual matters? God thinks that it is, for the Bible says:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16, NASB)

We must be very careful with this concept, however, because it is, after all, our hearts that God is after. The scripture makes it clear that, even if something does, indeed, fall under the category of “all things are lawful”—belonging to the realm of human opinion—if I believe in my heart that it is sinful then, for me, it is sinful. The Apostle Paul says:

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean … It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:14 & 21-23, NASB)

The concept that “whatever is not from faith is sin” is an incredible truth. On the one hand, if I consider something to be a sin, or even if I simply “doubt” that it has God’s approval, and yet I choose to engage in the activity anyway, what does that say about the condition of my heart; am I not, internally if not outwardly, walking in rebellion against God? On the other hand, James says, “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17, NASB). So again, if I refuse to do what I believe the Lord wants me to do, am I not, internally, walking in rebellion? It matters not whether the issue is specifically addressed in the written word of God because it is my heart that convicts me; and it is my heart with which my Lord is most concerned.

From my heart to yours,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Sound Doctrine or Self-Made Religion?

Building on concepts shared in previous posts, remember that Jesus told His apostles, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19, NASB). As we have noted, there are always people who want to “bind” where God has not “bound” by inventing rules and regulations not explicitly set forth in God’s word and forbidding others to participate in activities that God has not specifically forbidden. Likewise, there are always people who want to “loose” where God has not “loosed” by negating the importance or relevance of those things that God has specifically commanded, or by permitting, encouraging, and even advocating for sinful things that are, indeed, explicitly forbidden in God’s word.

From the earliest days of what we have come to call the “Restoration Movement” in America, many modern churches of Christ have paid lip-service to the mantra said to have originated with Thomas Campbell (1763-1864) that states: “We speak where the Bible speaks, and we are silent where the Bible is silent” (Mitchell, 2013). While that is a perfectly good goal to pursue, and motto to live by, the problem has been that people tend not only to “speak where the Bible speaks” but, where the Bible is silent, they go ahead and “speak” anyway; and then bind their personal opinions and interpretations upon others as if it were the law of God. There seems to be no end to the human tendency to want to supplant Christ’s authority with one’s own by insisting that “my way is the only right way and is, therefore, God’s will for everybody.”

Instead of heeding the scripture that says, not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other” (I Corinthians 4:6, NASB), human beings are notoriously adept at continually exceeding “what is written” in their pursuit of “the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion” (Colossians 2:23, NASB). The result is division. Modern “Christianity” has been separated into many different divisions [denominations] based on particular doctrines and traditions of men around which they rally and by which they identify themselves. So persuasive and rampant is this human tendency to take matters into our own hands that even some of God’s new covenant children are tempted to denominationalize the “ekklesia” with particular names, doctrines, and traditions over which they draw lines of fellowship, but that have no direct bearing on one’s salvation or relationship with God.

We find an example of this very problem in the earliest days of Christianity when the Apostle Paul had to scold the family of God in Corinth, saying:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. (I Corinthians 1:10-15, NASB)

As the passage above reveals, human beings have always been prone to wanting to have things their own way, even if it is not necessarily God’s way. The Apostle Paul warned the young evangelist, Timothy, that he would encounter this human tendency, saying, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4, NASB). I have to admit that, in times past, whenever I encountered this passage, I always had in view those rank “liberals” among us who viewed God’s holy expectations as too restrictive and burdensome, wanting to revel in their freedom more than celebrating God’s love. I always compared it to the passage in the Psalms that says, “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’” (Psalm 2:1-3, NASB).

But over the years, I’ve come to realize that Paul’s warning to Timothy extends equally to those self-proclaimed “conservatives” among us who, like their “liberal” counterparts, have long since parted company with scriptural authority in favor of their beloved traditions. And if the definition of “liberal” means one who does not recognize or adhere to Bible authority but, rather, buys into some other religious authority, or seeks to establish his or her own authority for what they believe and practice, then, ironically, these so-called “conservatives” turn out to be really nothing more than rank liberals in disguise. Chew on that thought for a little bit!

These people, I think, even more than their alleged liberal opposites — and they’re really just two sides of the same legalistic coin — love to “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Timothy 2:3, NASB). While I am no fan of giving a platform to any false spirit, I marvel at how so many churches and parachurch organizations and activities — workshops, lectureships, encampments, etc. — seem to cringe in fear at the very prospect of inviting or listening to anyone who may, in any way, dare to challenge the status quo; even if what someone has to say is firmly rooted in Biblical teaching. And so, I’ve come to recognize that there are people of both the “liberal” and “conservative” persuasion — and, oh, how I hate having to use such “labels” — who simply don’t seem capable of recognizing, let alone appreciating, “truth” when they encounter it.

That being said, faithful children of covenant, it is with great joy that I “give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you” (I Thessalonians 1:2-4, NASB). There are still many I love who have not thrown in the towel and climbed up on anybody’s bandwagon, except their Lord’s.

Be strong in the Lord,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

References

Mitchell, C. (2013). Silence in the restoration movement. SearchforBiblicalTruth website. Retrieved from: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=10&cad=rja&ved=0CFkQFjAJ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.searchforbiblicaltruth.com%2Flibrary%2Ftext%2Fcarl%2FSilenceInTheRestorationMovement.pdf&ei=KUoyUuilA8S5iwLzjIHYDg&usg=AFQjCNHBCHJxG7dPP_oRbiuMdrXTtGU9Gw

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Christianity – Not a Belief System, but a Walk of Life!

The challenge every covenant child of God now faces is to, as Jesus stated, “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NASB). Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, “I die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31, NASB). At the heart of this “lifestyle of death” lies the recognition of our own unworthiness, the acknowledgment of our dependency on God’s grace, and our desire to continually surrender our will to His will. It is impossible to carry one’s cross while walking in rebellion to the expressed will of God. The Apostle John reminds us of that fact when he says:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:6-10, NASB)

Now, obviously, to “walk in the light” does not mean to walk perfectly, or without any sin whatsoever. If it did, the text would not say that “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses [present, continual action] us from all sin” because we would have no need for such cleansing. Also, if to “walk in the light” meant to live without ever sinning, we would have no need to “confess our sins.” So then, just what does it mean to “walk in the light?” A clue is given in the preceding verse wherein we are told that, if we “walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Remember, Jesus told His disciples:

For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light. (John 12:35-36, NASB)

You may remember that, early in his gospel, the Apostle John described Jesus as “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9, NASB) and saying, “we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NASB). Truth and enlightenment are descriptors the “the light,” and both are essential to comprehending the grace of God poured out for us through the sacrifice of His Son. John said, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” and “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:5 & 11, NASB). Though their Messiah was standing right in front of them, the Jewish scholars and theologians simply could not wrap their heads around just who Jesus was. “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness” (I Corinthians 1:22-23, NASB). However, as John also points out, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB).

So, to “walk in the light” is to walk with enlightenment, comprehending the truth of the gospel, acknowledging Jesus as God’s own Son, our Savior. It is to bring our hearts into subjection to the will of God and our lives into conformity with the truth of Jesus’ teachings. The Old Testament prophet said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, NASB). Jesus said it this way: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32, NASB).

The Bible makes it clear that we cannot “walk in the darkness”—ignorance and rebellion—and still consider ourselves disciples of Christ. If we do that, the Apostle John says, “we lie and do not practice the truth” (I John 1:6, NASB). Contrary to what many believe, authentic Christianity is not simply a belief system, it is a walk of life.

Thus, the Hebrew writer admonishes us, saying: “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification [holiness] without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, NASB). Wow — now that’s a pretty direct and challenging thought; and one to which we would do well to sit up and take notice! The word “sanctification” in this passage is the Greek word ἁγιασμόν – “agiasmon”— a form of the word “hagiázō” meaning: “to make holy, consecrate, sanctify; to dedicate, separate” (Hagiazo, 2013). To “pursue” this sanctification is to make every effort to distinguish ourselves as children of God, not only by what we believe, but by the way we choose to live. It is to bring our lives into conformity with the will of God; to seek to please Him rather than ourselves. As the Apostle Paul said to the “ekklesia” in Corinth, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9, NASB).

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Speaking the TRUTH in LOVE

Why is this, seemingly, so hard to do? The Apostle Paul says, “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, NASB).

I was really disappointed when a video clip was posted recently on one of my social networking sites in which certain churches were likened unto Hitler and his evil den of miscreants. I guess it was supposed to be funny; you know, making fun of the ultra-conservatives, or those who some think of as the “legalists” among us. But I was more than a little taken back, in fact, I found myself rather aghast at the idea that ANYBODY calling themselves Christians would compare ANYONE calling themselves Christians to Hitler—of all people!

What scares me so much about it is simply that there must be a great deal of hurt, bitterness, and, dare I say, even a certain amount of hatred in people’s hearts in order for them to find pleasure in creating, sharing, or laughing at such a negative piece of work. I mean, yeah, the people at whom they are poking fun—those who seek to bind their legalistic tendencies on others—surely need to be challenged and rebuked, and in some cases, perhaps, we just need to keep our distance. The Bible does say, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:17-18, NASB). That’s a pretty stern warning and it uses some pretty tough language. But, I believe, there are ways we can do that, we must do that, that don’t play right into our enemies hands and make us, for all practical purposes, just like them. There must be ways we can do that and still, “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB).

Legalism is no laughing matter because souls are at stake. The Apostle Paul warns us saying, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4, NASB). And when the ancient legalists—we sometimes refer to them as Judaizers because they compelled all first century Christians to live like Jews (See: Galatians 2:14)—came to up to Asia Minor, advocating for their brand of Christianity, Paul referred to them as “false brethren” and said, “we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour” (Galatians 2:4-5, NASB). But, while Paul did not hesitate to reveal them for what they were, still, He did not mock them, make fun of them, or take any pleasure in denouncing their activities. I think of the passage in the little epistle of Jude wherein it says, “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 1:9, NASB).

There is also a certain amount of danger inherent in stepping outside the boundaries of love and attacking people—regardless of their doctrinal positions or their other hang-ups—in a vehement manner; such as comparing them to Nazis. And that danger can be seen in the way that other people, innocent people, can be caught in the crossfire. Satan tempts us to call down fire upon those whom we perceive as the “guilty,” knowing all too well that the innocent standing not too far away are likely to be consumed in the conflagration as well. I wonder how many beautiful, vibrant, and Spirit filled churches of Christ are being harmed not so much by the legalists themselves, as by those self-proclaimed advocates of freedom who insist on taking matters into their own hands, rather than taking it to the Lord in prayer, and end up fueling Satan’s fire by taking the “fight” to perpetually higher levels. How many good and faithful people and churches will have their image tarnished and their testimony hindered, if not altogether negated, by these kinds of actions? Guilt by association!?! How many seekers of truth will be turned away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ because they happen to view the spew of somebody’s vehement heart online, or elsewhere? My prayer is “none.” My fear is “some,” or even just “one.”

There is something insidious about our global communications network and all the social media sites in the modern era; something that seems to draw out the worst in us from time-to-time. And, it’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with modern technology or the fact that we can instantly communicate with people all around the world. Twitter is not the problem! Facebook is not the problem! The problem is an ancient one. It’s a problem of the heart, not the internet. But the technology does offer an easy platform for that which the Bible describes, and condemns, as “the boastful pride of life” (I John 2:16, NASB). And I’m as guilty as anyone else! At times, when there is some political issue, or some social issue, or what I perceive to be a moral issue on the table, I get all “head up!” I jump up on my “high horse!” I tout my opinions, throw love out the window, and run ruff-shod over everyone with whom I disagree—even some of my “friends!”

You know what I need to remember? I need to remember that time in Jesus ministry when James and John—the sons of thunder—wanted to call down fire from heaven and consume the little inhospitable village of Samaria that refused to offer lodging to Jesus and His disciples simply because they were traveling toward Jerusalem? But, the Bible says, “He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of'” (Luke 9:55, NASB). Oh my! I don’t want to be of that spirit, do you?

There are times when we must confront evil with truth. It does not please the Lord when we cower in fear or when we allow people to harm other people with their deceptions or their belligerent attitudes. God says, “But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38, NASB). But, at the same time, we must “speak the truth in love” always seeking, to the greatest degree possible, the spiritual benefit and higher welfare of all parties involved. And, yes, that is sometimes hard to do! But “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22) and, if we will let Him, the Spirit will give us the power to “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:13) and “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you” (Ephesians 5:2, NASB).

May “the love of Christ control us” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NASB),

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Are Christians Today “On The Run”???

Sometimes I have to take a step back and ask, “Wow! Does the Adversary have us ‘on the run’ here, or what?” What I mean is, are we ducking and dodging, running and hiding, rather than “standing” for what God’s word teaches? Are we running away from “the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12, NASB), rather than stepping up to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3, NASB)? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no warmonger — spiritually or physically. In fact, I sometimes think my testimony and my ministry sometime suffers due to my natural aversion to controversy. But there comes a time when even the most passive among us must find the resolve step forward with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17, NASB) in hand, and squarely face the opposition.

I marvel, though, at the effectiveness of Satan’s devices. While the Apostle Paul reminds the children of God in Corinth that “we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11, NASB), it appears as if many of us today are, indeed, ignorant of his devices, or simply unable to contend with them. For example, our enemy knows just how overwhelming and pervasive culture and society can be; he has mastered the power of “group think” and is an expert “herdsman” — rounding up the sheep together with the goats and herding them all together toward the cliff of destruction. He aggressively goes after the strays who don’t want to run with the herd and reigns them back in again; chastising them for their disorderly conduct. He and his “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB) seem to know just how to prompt, prod, and goad them into compliance.

I’m thinking, now, of comments made yesterday by Kaniela Ing, a member of the Hawai’i State House Finance Committee who voted in favor of SB 1 — the Hawai’i Marriage Equality Act of 2013 — when he said: “Marriage means help. Marriage holds families together and forms a loving environment for children to be raised, so why deny more loving couples from getting married? Isn’t allowing our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters that opportunity the conservative and Christian thing to do?” (Lincoln, 2013). Satan must be laughing up his sleeve at that one. Sadly, Ing, being quite deceived, knows not the spirit with which he speaks. God, through the prophet Isaiah, gravely warned against such folly, saying: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah, 5:20, NASB).

Christians, of course, want to do the “Christian thing,” don’t they? And that means loving and accepting virtually everyone’s notion of morality, regardless of how perverse it may actually be, right? We are a kind, gentle, and peace-loving — if not always peace-making — people, aren’t we? I mean, no one wants to be thought of as narrow minded, backward, intolerant, or old fashioned. And, certainly, no one wants to be called a “bigot,” or “prejudiced,” or a “hater,” or even, heaven forbid, “homophobic.” So when these kinds of accusations start flying, and the mind-control is turned on and brought to bear, what are the children of God supposed to do, simply crumple in the face of the onslaught, allow ourselves to be reigned back in, and rejoin the herd? I thought the church was supposed to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15, NASB).

In my reading from the book of Ezekiel today, I came across a passage of scripture originally meant for ancient Israel, who had sold out their faith in order to become like the nations around them — they too wanted to fit in — but that, I think, also speaks powerfully to our society today. God, speaking through Ezekiel says to them: “But the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Are My ways not right, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not right?” (Ezekiel 18:29, NASB). People today, even some who call themselves, “Christians,” violently react to certain passages of scripture such as: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10, NASB) and they say, “The way of the Lord is not right!” The modern, en vogue, pseudo-scientific, politically correct, and socially acceptable mindset is to categorize homosexuals along with minorities, people with disabilities, and others who may be in need of special rights and protections by law. But the word of God does not make the matter a civil rights issue, but rather, a moral issue. It places them squarely in the category of those who have made a “choice” to pursue a life of unrighteousness. Again, I can hear the voice of rebellion crying out, “The way of the Lord is not right!” To which God answers, “Are My ways not right… Is it not your ways that are not right?”

The new covenant children of God need to be careful with this one. We are called to hate sin, not the sinner — “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). We need to remember that the family of God is made up of people who were once fornicators, idolaters, adulterers effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers; and “such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11, NASB). However, if our ultimate goal is truly to put the best interest of others ahead of ourselves, and help men and women, young and old, get ready to go home to be with God forever in that “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, NASB), then we need to understand that we are doing them no favors by failing to stand up and declare the truth of God’s word and call them to repentance. To those who say, “The way of the Lord is not right!” Ezekiel closes his prophecy with this dire warning:

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord God. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezekiel 18:30-32, NASB)

Furthermore, insofar as our own personal relationship with God is concerned, we need to decide who’s love and acceptance we cherish most, and where our own loyalty and true commitments lie. Perhaps we need to also remember Jesus’ call to discipleship and His warning: “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:25-26, NASB). Ashamed to Jesus? Ashamed of His words?

“… stand firm in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1, NASB).

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

References

Lincoln, M. (2013). House committees pass same-sex marriage bill, advances to floor for vote. KHNL Hawaii News Now. Retrieved from http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/23887893/watch-at-5-house-committees-pass-same-sex-marriage-bill-advances-to-floor-for-vote

Looking For A Rainbow

A Faith-Walk with Salty Through the Stormy Clouds of Cancer

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: STORM CLOUDS GATHER

1. No, This is Impossible

2. Seeking Some Perspective

3. Why I’m Writing to You

4. Coming to Terms with Mortality

5. My Birthday, Come and Gone

CHAPTER 2: BRACING FOR THE STORM

6. Givers and Takers

7. Why Me, Lord?

8. His Plan—Bigger than Me

9. Living in the Moment

10. God’s Forever Family

11. A Philosophy to Live or Die By

CHAPTER 3: THE THROES OF THE STORM

12. Eve Before Surgery

13. Is This What It’s Like to Die?

14. Wait, wait, wait… What?

15. Okay, So Let’s Fight this Thing!

16. A Trip to the FARMacy

CHAPTER 4: THE STORM INTENSIFIES

17. Pomp and Circumstance

18. Hospital Antics

19. The “Good Cancer” Bus?

20. Preparations for RAI

21. Feels Like Roulette

CHAPTER 5: IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

22. Going Froggy

23. I’m Radioactive, Radioactive

24. Sitting Here in Limbo

25. Team HOPE

26. Sharing the Love

CHAPTER 6: CALMER WATERS

27. I Think I’m a Survivor

28. The Comeback Trail

29. How Did You Know I’m Alone?

30. Have You Found Your Peace?

EPILOGUE:

31. The One Year Review

References

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