The Problem with the “Deeds, Not Creeds” Mentality Is Its Anti-Intellectualism

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“Christianity is a life, not a doctrine” –Walter Rauschenbusch.

This idea has captured liberal congregations in the past, and today is the rallying cry for many who claim to be Christian conservatives. One reason that Christians often shy away from defending Scripture is because cool-shaming is a reality, especially among some of the university-age set.

Full article by Alex Wilgus here.

Fact and Faith

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“The grand distinction between Christianity and all systems of philosophy, and all other religions, so called, consists in this, that it is not a mere system of notions, but a series of facts. Its first promulgators could all adopt, as their own, the words of John: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you” (1 John 1:1–3). It is this that makes it everlasting; for deeds once done can never be altered: it is this that makes it universal; for duly accredited facts fall within the reach of those also who could not follow a chain of abstract reasoning: it is this that makes it so mighty; for simple facts are stronger than the most elaborate arguments. That a thorough investigation of these facts is a duty, may be taught us by Luke; but their reality being once ascertained, it results, from his words to Theophilus, that the ἀσφάλεια of the faith can no longer be called in question. Would that they who, in reading the Gospel narratives, have continually in their mouths the words, myth, tradition, legend, might enter into the spirit of Luke’s prologue, and, after due research, might feel and experience that here, if anywhere, they are treading on the firm ground of the most unquestionable reality!”

J. P. Lange, 1802-1884

John Peter Lange and J. J. van Oosterzee, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Luke, trans. Philip Schaff and Charles C. Starbuck (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 13.

When Grace Ceases to be Grace

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“Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit.… Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human demerit.… [Grace] is treating a person without the slightest reference to demerit whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purpose of God.”

Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2008), 35, quoting C. Samuel Storms.

Blameless In Your Lifetime

Luke describes the parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah and Elizabeth, as “righteous before God, walking blamelessly (ἄμεμπτος) in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” (Luke 1:6)

Paul, describing himself before his conversion, describes himself likewise: “as to righteousness under the law, blameless (ἄμεμπτος) (Philippians 3:6).
Prior to the cross, that is, before Christ’s death and resurrection, Zechariah and Elizabeth are commended for their righteousness.
After the cross (the historical death and resurrection of Christ), but yet before he is converted, Paul’s blamelessness under the law serves as a foundation, a reason, for his rejecting Christ and for his persecution of the church.
Then, after his conversion, Paul counts it all as loss:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11).
Before a man is converted to Christ, his blamelessness under the Law is fuel for his hatred of the church; following the cross, his blamelessness under the Law is understood as an impossibility, and a loss.
Following his conversion to Christ, a man in Christ knows his blamelessness before God has a different foundation.
Paul still claims that to be blameless is a Christian’s virtue (Philippians 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 3:13).
It is expected that the Christian will be “blameless,” but not under the Law. No one alive today can, be in Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s position. If we are to be blameless, it is by grace, and not by Law.
The Law will show us what righteousness looks like, but, because of our weakness, cannot get us there. Only God’s grace can:
Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh

 

We are still accountable and expected to be blameless. Are you? How are you?

Christ is King

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What was Adam’s task in the garden (see Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-17)? Adam’s purpose was not only to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man’s purpose was (and is) to have dominion over creation.

By sin, Adam failed in that task, but the dominion mandate has not been rescinded. With the “sweat of his brow,” man must exercise dominion (notice the parallel between Genesis 2:15 and 3:17-19. The work remains, but it is with much difficulty). The covenant peoples, the Israelites first, and now, in this age, those in Christ, have been great culture-builders. Taking the command to heart, great civilizations have arisen from within Israel and Christendom. Seeing what great accomplishments of dominion has brought while under sin, it is an even more amazing to contemplate what may have been accomplished had sin not entered.

But praise be to God, what the first Adam failed to do, the Second Adam does. Christ, the Second Adam, completely fulfills what was lacking in the first; Christ is the king that Adam refused to be.

25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” 1 Corinthians 15:25 (ESV)

“Must reign” is present tense, active mood, indicating not a future reign only, but a present and active reign. It isn’t spiritual only, or only “in our hearts.” Christ is king today, and always has been. Every human government and ruler is subject and answerable to Him. Because of the resurrection, Christ reigns now. When those who are “in Christ” build cultures, they do their work as co-regents with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 20:4).

The resurrection provides the logic for the kingship of Jesus: Jesus is the first-fruit of those risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). Verses 21 and 22 indicates that Jesus, the Second Adam brings life where Adam brought death. Jesus completes Adam’s mission, the dominion (cultural) mandate. This is the meaning of His reign–to do what Adam did not do.

Every king and ruler, every government, faces death. History proves that every ruler is someday a footnote to history; and this holds true of empires as well. Mortality swallows them all. Now the greatest threat any government can use against its enemies and its people, is the same weapon that will destroy themselves: death. Beyond physical death, man can do nothing (Matthew 10:28). By destroying the power of death, both physical and eternal (1 Corinthians 15:54-57), Jesus is firmly established as the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Revelation 17:14). There is nothing that the rulers of this world, or kings of the earth, can hold against a Christ.

So where does this leave the Christian, the one who is “in Christ?” Where He reigns, we reign.[i]

“The gates of hell” [Matthew 16:18] cannot prevail against an advancing church. Satan is in retreat, not the people of God. Rather than giving up cultural ground to the enemy, which has been the refrain among Christians at least since Darby and Scofield, the church is to take cultural ground, creating and defining it. The much-maligned (by Christians and pagans alike) Christendom, when Christian thought and God’s Law prevailed, was the church’s greatest era.

[i] Consider the passages which speak of being “in Christ” or “in Him” (referring to Christ):

Jn 1:4; 6:56; 15:5; Ac 10:43; Ro 3:24; 6:11, 23; 8:2, 39; 12:5; 16:3, 7; 1 Co 1:2, 5, 30; 15:22; 2 Co 1:19, 20; 2:14; 5:17, 19, 21; 13:4; Ga 1:22; 2:4, 17; 3:14, 26, 28; 5:6; Eph 1:3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 20; 2:6, 7, 10, 13, 22; 3:6, 11, 12, 21; 4:21, 32; Php 1:1; 2:1, 5; 3:3, 9, 14; 4:7, 19; Col 1:2, 17, 19, 24; 2:6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 15; 1 Th 4:16; 2 Th 1:12; 2 Ti 1:1, 9; 2:10; 3:12; Phm 8; Heb 3:14; 1 Pe 3:16; 5:10, 14; 1 Jn 2:5, 6, 27, 28; 3:6, 17, 24; 4:13, 15, 16; 5:20

 

The Cure for Legalism is not Antinomianism.

I respond to a tweet from Richard Rohr, OFM, whose take on the Law fails to maintain its proper use. His full article here.

I appreciate the sentiments in this article, and I agree that legalism is a problem for many. To be a legalist, though, is not to affirm the moral truth of the Law. Legalism is not the careful keeping of God’s Law. What legalism is, is to rely upon the Law a means to salvation. The problem with this article is that Rohr treats the Law as the problem, rather than sin (breaking the Law) as the problem. His concern over legalism leads him to deny the proper place of the Law. Rohr says that the Law is only “. . . to get you seriously engaged with the need for grace and mercy; they were never an end in themselves (read Romans 7:7ff).” This is missing the point of the Law.

First off, Rohr creates a straw man argument in saying that “they (the Law’s rules and regulations) were never an end in themselves.” The Bible never says the Law is an end to itself  (Psalm 19:7; 37:31; 40:8 and many other places); rather, one important purpose of the Law is to reflect the holiness of God, and how His people may please Him.

Secondly, Rohr seems to want to cut off any use of the Law as a way to know the character of God. He seems to limit the purpose of the Law to “getting us seriously engaged,” and not as a means to keeping us seriously engaged. But the moral character of God did not change at the cross, and the cross does not take away the moral requirements of the Law. The Law cannot  (because of our weakness) save; but the saved seek to grow in sanctification, which is at the least, to keep His Law.

Rohr’s first two Bible passages do not at all say what he says they do:

Rohr says that Paul said this: “ ‘Cursed be the law,’ Paul even says (Galatians 3:13)”

But Paul really said this:

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”— Galatians 3:13 (ESV)

Failure to keep and obey the Law brings a curse, but that curse is not the Law itself. Paul never uses this language to describe the Law. Rather, reliance upon the Law brings a curse. This is an important distinction, because Rohr’s approach denies the Law its rightful place as a rule of life for the Christian, and sure and true guidance for the Christian who desires to please God (John 14:15, 21, 15:10).

The curse comes not because of anything at fault wi-th the Law, but with us. That is why Christ became a curse for us. That’s grace.

Rohr: “But it seems Christianity has paid little heed to Paul’s revolutionary message, or even to Jesus who says six times in a row, ‘The law says, but I say!’(Matthew 5:21-45).”

What Jesus said: “You have heard” (Matthew 5, verses 21, 27, 33, 38, 43) and “it was also said” (Matthew 5:31). Jesus was NOT saying what Rohr is claiming. Jesus is not doing away with the Law, nor is He saying that He is somehow setting it aside; actually, quite the opposite (see Matthew 5:17 and below)

Jesus is not quoting the Law in these sayings. Jesus is quoting the Rabbinical interpretation of the Law. This is evident because, when Jesus quotes Scripture, He says, “It is written . . .” (Matthew 4:4, 6, & 10). Here He does not. He says, “You have heard.” This is a reference to the oral tradition of the Rabbis. That this is a Rabbinical interpretation is also evident from the last “you have heard,” in  Matthew 5:43:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”

This is not a statement of Old Testament Law. It is a Rabbinical commentary.

Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that the Law is not abolished, by saying,  “17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 (ESV)

Fulfilment and abolishment are two entirely different things. What Jesus says is that the Law will not pass away until it is kept perfectly, that is, fulfilled, and it was done so in Christ. In fact, Christ’s “you have heard” statements reaffirm the deep and spiritual nature of the Law, not merely the outward appearance.

Legalism is a real problem, and it lays at the theological foundations of Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholicism, and every man-made religion. It is man striving to reach God.

But the cure for legalism is not antinomianism (lawlessness), but Grace. Grace is what God applies to us when we are brought to the end of our abilities by the Law. It must be kept in mind that the Law was good when I could not keep it; now, in Christ, who kept it for me, the Law is still good.

I personally believe that legalism among professed Christians is much less a problem than antinomianism, because there appears to be so little difference between Christians and non-Christians morally in our present age. If the Law, properly used as a means to show our need for Grace, but also as a perfect rule of life lived with the power of the Holy Spirit, was better taught today, the distinction between believer and unbeliever would be clearer.

Taking Up the Cause of Satan

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We are most likely familiar with the Devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The third temptation I understand as a sort of peace treaty offer from Satan. It is if he is saying, “Look, Jesus, you are here to claim ownership over the all the kingdoms of the world, and I’m willing to put an offer on the table. Jesus could rule the world with the Devil’s blessing. There could have been a truce between Jesus and the Devil on earth. But under such a truce, every human being must subsequently die in their sins and go to hell.

It is here that Jesus says, “Scram, Satan!” (ὕπαγε, σατανᾶ, hypage satana). The ESV has it right, “Be gone!” It is a strong command to “Go away!” (Matthew 4:10).

Notice though, that Jesus has to say the same thing to a disciple, a disciple who had just had something great revealed to him: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). Jesus blesses Peter by affirming that this revelation was directly from the Father in heaven, and that upon that same confession the church will be built (in the four gospels, only Matthew speaks of “the church”).

This disciple, recipient of divine-direct revelation, immediately begins to reject the mission of Jesus:
Matthew 16:21–22 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Notice Jesus’ reply:

Matthew 16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

The phrase I underlined, ὕπαγε ὀπίσω μου, σατανᾶ· (hypage Go! opiso Behind! mou, satana) has the same strong command, but with an important difference: while the Devil, as Satan was told to “go away” in Matthew 4:10, Peter, addressed as Satan, is told to “go behind.” Same stern command, but to a very different location. Peter is told to get behind Jesus.

Jesus chose Peter, but Peter was thinking as a man, and his thoughts were not on the things of God, even though he had received divine revelation as to the identity of Jesus as the Christ. Indeed, knowing that Jesus was the Christ, made it all the more urgent, in Peter’s understanding, to save His life. He was certain that he could save the Saviour.

Unlike Satan, Peter was not cast out, nor told to go away, but to get behind Jesus. Peter could only think like a man; he needed to put his thoughts behind God’s thoughts. He needed to let Jesus do the thinking. We must understand that our understanding of the will of God, our comprehension of what God is doing, must always be placed behind Jesus.
The importance of this can be driven home by comparing the motivations both of the Devil and of Peter. Satan’s motivation and Peter’s were very different. Satan sought to divert Jesus from His mission, to gain Christ’s allegiance and end His mission before the cross. Peter sought to save Jesus from the cross out of his ignorance, his imperfect and uninformed love for Him.
But regardless of motivation, the result is the same: if the will of the Devil or of Peter had prevailed, Christ would never have met the cross, and no human being could survive the wrath of God.