Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Thank You For The Response

There was a good response during the 5 days the book "Bible Prophecy - God's Agenda and Your Part In It" was available free on Amazon. Books downloaded all over the plane; besides the USA, some went to the UK, Germany and India etc. I couldn't be more pleased. ABD writers don't write to get anything other than a sense of being of some help to some one. So I can legitimately say thank you to those who read ABD articles or take a free e-book. When my wife first started this blog, I had never intended to write anything for public consumption, but she asked me to help her and I couldn't say no. There are readers from every continent, and not too infrequently from non-Christian nations. 
With what is now occurring in Israel, it is time for people everywhere to make themselves aware of where we are in prophecy, as well as get right with God by joining in with Christ in the New Covenant. No we can't know when the hour of Christ's return is, but we can know the season. It's interesting how the person who reviewed my book got the idea that I set dates. I appreciated the review, but I stated clearly that various future schedules are speculative. I'd just like to make that point clear. It's the setting of dates (and other such nonsense) that precipitated the creation of ABD in the first place. We are surely in the season, but the purveyor  alarm fatigue have been very successful in dulling receptivity to prophecy. My hope is that we all resist this and do similarly to what the Jewish people did for so many centuries and say: "next year with Christ Jesus in his kingdom."

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bible Prophecy – God's Agenda and Your Part in It – is again free

Bible Prophecy – God's Agenda and Your Part in It – is again free on Amazon for five days, from July 9, 2014 to July 13, 2014, Bible Prophecy-God's Agenda And Your Part In It.

This book began as an article on ABD but kept getting bigger to where it made more sense to put it on Amazon as a unit. This meant I couldn't use my pen name, in case the "Glen Paul Erickson" instead of 'Luc" on the cover pic is confusing.

2Tim 4:8 says: "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." This makes it clear that we aren't to forget about the coming of Christ as is so often the case.

The Jewish people ended their Passover Seder (and said among themselves at other occasions) “next year in Jerusalem.” This was a hope built on a promise. And though it seemed like it would never happen, it did. The Jewish nation was reborn, however impossible the world said it was. Interestingly, they never let the hope interfere with their normal activities and responsibilities. Those who believe in Jesus as Lord and messiah have a similar promise: Luk 21:28When these things” (Jesus had been describing) “begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."  Christians, to the largest extent, seem not to consider this important. Not that I blame them. I told my wife's eldest daughter about what my book was about and she said that she and her family were no longer interested in such things. She was kept informed about the whole Ron Weinland charade of prophet-hood and was told to expect the Lord with urgent appeals for her recognition of the man as legitimate. Now she doesn't want to hear such “nonsense.”
I wrote an article at the time to make the point that such deception, as Weinland was trying to lure people into, had just the above described effect. I compared it to the dropping of loads of aluminum foil by the allies during WW2 to confuse German radar. The Christian's radars have indeed been confused. The season has arrived for the bride to gather her maidens and become vigilant for the arrival of the bridegroom. The deceivers have won a victory. Many like Ron Weinland have won a victory for the enemy, rather intended or not. Some no longer say: next year with Christ, and a relative few appear interested in prophecy. It has, to so large an extent, become the sphere of the mentally ill and paranoid; at least this is how popular media presents people who pursue such interests.

I never bought what Ron Weinland was selling because of having studied and pondered the prophetic writings for 40 years. Because I didn't arrive at my eschatological conclusions based on any accepted line of reasoning, most of which have been highly influenced by the paradigm of the reformation period which sought to demonize the Catholic Church.  I do see things differently. For example: I see the prophecy of twenty-three hundred evenings and mornings as specifying the exact date of the Jewish regaining of the Temple mount in 1967 because the word translated 'reconsicrated' in Dan 8:14  merely means to make something right; (He said to me, "It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated."). The word translated 'reconsecrated' is H6663  tsadaq  tsaw-dak'a primitive root; to be (causatively, make) right (in a moral or forensic sense). The word sanctuary actually means holy place: H6944  qodesh  ko'-desh from H6942; sacred place or thing; rarely abstract, sanctity. Out of 168 times the word is used in scripture, it only refers to the “sanctuary' 4 times; 98 time it simply means “holiness,” 

The timeline of 2,300 evenings and mornings begins in 333 BC when Alexander the Great defeated the Persians, and if the symbolic increment of time is intended to mean years, all we have to do to test this is to do some addition and see if the results are biblically significant. So add 1967 to 333 (1967 + 333 = 1967), and the result is the year the Jews regained the Holy Mount. Something was made right at the holy place, but not completely. The book I offer has this and numerous other observations with more background and detail to make the case. The book ends with a look at the Jewish marriage customs as they relate to the words of Jesus and the resurrected body, which is the “Your Part in It” aspect the books title refers to.

Amazon won’t allow me to make the book free with the exception of a few days every 90 days, but I set the price at the lowest possible. I extend my thanks to those who purchased the book as that paid Amazon for their services. Graphics from the book don’t show up well on small screens so have been posted here

Remember the words of Paul 2Ti 4:8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Antinomianism and Motivation of Heart

Antinomianism has become more of an accusation; a perjorative aimed at those who prescribe to the belief that salvation is a matter of faith only where religious “moral” law is of no consequence when it comes to salvation.

Critics, while often agreeing with the basic “salvation through faith only” rationalize that one cannot be a murderer, adulterer, idolater, (and even sabbath breaker) without compromising salvation. It sounds rational. However, it begs the question, does a person, who is in receipt of the Holy Spirit, continue in a custom of sin, or does a person abandon a former lifestyle of sin? Both sides of the debate would agree. Where the divergence occurs is in the definition of “sin” and a person's motivation.

Legalists, with a heavy emphasis on sabbatarians, insist on defining sin as translated in the KJV, found at I John 3:4, sin being translated as: “the transgression of the law”. This translation is found in the earlier Geneva Bible, borrowed in whole by the KJV translators. The problem is, this is not what the Greek says or means, but rather is an extrapolation or interpretation that goes beyond translation. Another example is how the same translators translated “Passover” into “Easter”-- an Anglicized interpretation.

The transliteration states that sin is “anomia” ('a' – against 'nomia' law) What is important to understand when translating languages is to seek and understand how a particular word was used in the time and place it is found. In the first century AD, “anomia” was the word one used to convey the concept of iniquity. Therefore, sin is iniquity, and iniquity is sin.

Legalists prefer the KJV translation, flawed as it is, simply because it fits in so nicely with their theological model. What they shut their minds to are the examples that demonstrate the translation to be untrue. David ate the show-bread that was unlawful for him and those with him to eat, yet he was blameless, according to the Words of Christ.

One could even be iniquitous without actually breaking a law in the letter. Hatred is the spirit of murder. A person could hate another person, yet refrain from murdering them, yet Jesus points out that one is just as guilty of murder should they hate another just as much as someone who actually commits a murder. The same with lusting after someone sexually in regards to the prohibition against adultery.

The result of holding to the mistranslation of sin is that much of what Christ said and taught is relegated to the theological trash heap in favor of a pet flawed belief. Judging righteous judgment as contrasted to judging according to appearance genders lip service only. Jesus is actually re-created in the legalist's image, and attributed with teaching law, even as the prophets of old did. Jesus taught the law alright, but not in the way the legalist insists. Jesus' examples regarding the law demonstrated the utter impossibility of anyone truly keeping the law, telling people to go to drastic measures, such a plucking out eyes, or cutting off hands in an attempt to avoid the clutches of hell. Yet, even without eyes to see, a person can still find themselves thinking about lusting sexually.

There are two most likely scenarios that play out in relation to the law; the first is the realization that a person can never truly live up to that standard and be judged free of sin, thereby hopefully driving the person to Christ and His mercy and salvation based on faith. The other extreme is an act of denial, believing that the self can indeed keep the law, with the help of God of course, but keep the law nonetheless. There is a “faith” in Christ in that He will enable them to keep the law. Salvation ends up being a partnership deal of sorts. Jesus paid the penalty for sin, so that, should the “believer” sin due to human weakness and lack of spiritual growth/maturity, it is forgiven and this striving to overcome continues. As long as one is actively engaged in overcoming sin by keeping the “law”, all is well. It also sounds reasonable. The problem is, there is no real biblical support for this entire concept. Even ancient Israel suffered from this blindness when it came to the law, as attested to in Psalms chapter 44. Israel collectively cries out to God over their being punished, claiming all the while that they are in compliance with the law, keeping the law. God however was judging their hearts. Their hearts condemned them. God declared that their works were evil, even from their youth. Evil works come from evil intent of mind.

What goes unperceived by the legalist is that God Himself set up the conditions as they are, with that law, knowing full well that the egocentric nature of people would attract them to the law and the self-righteousness they would seek through the law. A proud person wants to demonstrate he or she is better than others, and what better way than to comply with a law set others “give up on”? So the proud and boastful set off on their journey on self-improvement, as taught also by the false religions of the world. Some seek nirvana, through their own efforts. Some seek enlightenment, through their own efforts. All false religions are based on improving the self through whatever personal means. True Christianity is about what God/Christ has done for us, due to our sinful nature that we come to realize we cannot alter on our own. A gorilla may aspire to be a human, and mimic a human and human behavior, but at the end of the day, he is still a gorilla. At the end of the day, a son of Adam is still a son of Adam. A person MUST be born again, of the Spirit. Whatever alteration is necessary, God will perform it through the workings of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture is full of traps waiting to snare the unwary; those who are careless with the written Word of God. Scripture “weeds out” the proud and arrogant. The law is one of those traps. On the surface, it appears attractive and as something to impart wisdom and understanding, which it can, up to a point. But, its fruit is still death. For to transgress in even one point of the “whole” law is to be guilty of the entirety.

You can spend all day long, extolling the virtues of the law, but in the end, the law ends up condemning the law breaker, and rightly so.

God wants no more Satans. Satan thought to himself that he could be like God. He took his faith off of God, and placed his faith on himself. The legalist also declares that he too can be like God, and he is going to prove it by keeping that law. The legalist cannot and will not believe that he is abandoning total faith and reliance on Christ in favor of striving to keep the law, so much so that he believes God will actually help him keep that law whose purpose was to bring all under sin. Some however refuse to admit defeat.

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. – Romans 3:19

The legalist points to the law and states it is a sin to murder; that no murderer shall abide in the kingdom of Heaven. The one walking in faith will point out that the Spirit of God that now dwells within him motivates him to have love for even an enemy, and to do good to an enemy, and not evil. One is motivated by law; the other is motivated by the Spirit. One is motivated by the law not to do evil. The other is motivated to “do” good.
Which then demonstrates the greater morality? The one who insists on being led by the law, or the one being led by the Spirit?

Which is a demonstration of righteousness? The one who refrains from murder, or the one who has love for others, including his enemies?

The written “moral” law would be better described and defined as the “immoral” law, seeing as those points of law deal with man's immorality instead of man's morality. It is immoral to murder. Do not commit an act of immorality. Does refraining from murder demonstrate a man to be moral therefore? No, for a man can still harbor hatred while refraining from murder. The law proves no one righteous; the law proves men to be unrighteous and immoral. The “righteousness” of the law indeed is self-righteousness, where one merely believes himself to be morally upright, despite the heart that God describes that we are all born with:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? – Jeremiah 17:9

The real problem is not law versus “antinomianism”. The problem is the heart. You need a new one. You cannot develop it yourself, by your own actions and deeds. God must place it in you. It is an action that only He can do, and He will only do it for those who have surrendered themselves to Christ, confessing themselves to be sinful by nature and in need of His intervention in their lives, taking hold of Christ in faith.
If you believe you have to keep the law for the sake of salvation, you missed the point here. The law is not there to prove you worthy, or keep you worthy. The law was designed to prove men sinners and sinful so as to drive you to Christ and the salvation found in Him ONLY. You don't get to participate in your salvation beyond surrendering to Him. You don't get to brag or stroke your own ego. You are the clay; He is the potter, and He will make of you what He wants.

If you are of those who insist on keeping the law and sabbath, then you get that veil before the eyes Paul wrote of in II Corinthians chapter 3 regarding those who hold to the law, regardless of how you define it. You will continue to be held in darkness until such time you finally come to realize that you cannot keep even a fraction of the law (the ten commandments) and that God is not going to help you do so. I have challenged you people time and again to step forward and proclaim to me and others how God has enabled you to now keep the law, perfectly, as He required, so that you are now without sin. You never have a lustful thought. You never have a thought of hatred. You even keep the sabbath perfectly as prescribed in Scripture, preparing your meals the day before, and not performing “any” work on that day. You are now without sin.

God did not dumb down the law for you. Christ magnified the law, showing that the heart you were born with ultimately condemns you as a sinner, for God judges the heart. He said that if your eye offended you; made you sin by what you saw and by the thoughts of lust that followed, to pluck it out rather than find yourself cast into hell as a result of the lust of the eyes. If your hand made you to sin, to cut it off also. Let's take the idea and concept one step further. If your heart of stone causes you to stumble; if you find yourself thinking evil thoughts of lust and hatred, then maybe you need to rip out your heart in a last ditch effort to overcome sin.
Through mistranslation and misinterpretation, you have chosen a “path” you cannot walk down. You cannot keep the law, perfectly, as was required. You will always stumble and fall on that path.
You have chosen the wrong tree; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that represents the law. The law taught one sin and evil. The law teaches good and wisdom. But its fruit is still death.

You need to fully grasp the other tree; that tree of life that is Christ. You either follow Christ and serve Him, or you follow and serve the law; no man can serve two masters.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Faith Versus Law -- The Example of Naaman

II Kings chapter 5 gives the story of Naaman the Syrian; a high ranking officer in the Syrian army who was a leper. His wife's servant girl, captured in a raid into Israel, related how there was a prophet of God in Israel who could heal Naaman of his leprosy.

This claim is related to the king of Syria, who in turn sends Naaman to Israel in order to be healed should the claim be true as related by the Israelite girl. There was some political intrigue also attached to the situation, but that is not the focus here. The king of Israel sees the act of sending Naaman to him as a provocation, but the prophet of God hears about it and instructs the king to send Naaman to him.

Naaman shows up at Elisha's door, and Elisha does not even so much as come out to face him. Elisha sends his servant out to inform Naaman to go and dip himself 7 times in the Jordan and he will be clean.
Naaman is outraged. He expected at the very least the prophet to come out and perform some ritual and incantation along with the attendant hand waving and all. His expectation was that he would have to pay a hefty price for his healing, hence the silver and gold he brought, along with expensive attire. Another expectation was to be required to perform some mighty deed or deeds in order to secure his healing.

All he was required to do was something simple, and easily accomplished: Go soak your head in the Jordan and wash away some of that ego.

Naaman relents, does the simple task that went against the grain of ego and pride, and was healed. He tries to pay for his healing, only to be refused. Naaman then makes an interesting declaration:
And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD. – 2 Kings 5:17

Naaman put the pieces together. This God of Israel is the One to serve and believe in. What a contrast to the false gods of Syria, who demand much, and give nothing.

Now the curios twist in the plot:

In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing. – 2 Kings 5:18

Naaman was expected to attend his king when his king went in to pay homage to this false god Rimmon. Naaman now knew this god was nothing, but he was duty bound to attend his king, and go through the motions.

This action on the part of Naaman was a case of directly violating the commands found in the ten commandments!

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:3-5
Poof! Naaman's leprosy returns to him, seeing as he violated one the the most important commands in the Bible, which, according to some, applies universally to all mankind for all time.

Not quite.

God showed mercy to him, despite the fact he let it be known he would be violating this law, whether he knew about this law or not. According to this command, his actions would be seen by God as iniquity.

What then was Elisha's response to Naaman?

And he said unto him, Go in peace. – 2 Kings 5:19a

You would think that the prophet would have informed Naaman not only was he to not bow down to a false god, he was responsible for keeping all of the ten commandments, including the sabbath, seeing as they are universal in application; the eternal, moral precepts of God.

Nope. Didn't happen. Quite the opposite.

The servant of Elisha figured Naaman got off cheap for his healing. He felt Naaman should have surrendered something in return for his healing, and so ran off after Naaman in order to extract something of value from him.

But God required nothing of substance from Naaman. It was a lesson in faith, with no real strings attached. What was “required” of him was to humble himself; an act of humility.

Jesus weighed in on this story to the Jews of His time, pointing out that there were many lepers in Israel when Naaman was healed, yet none of those lepers in Israel, who had the law, were healed. The Jews responded to Jesus' observation by trying to kill him. His words were an affront to them and the law.

So, we have the example of Naaman, an enemy of Israel, who intentionally let it be known he was going to violate the ten commandments, healed by God as an act of, and example of faith, as contrasted to Israelites who had the ten commandments/law and were trying to live by them, yet deemed faithless by Christ.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Monday, June 23, 2014

Just What Do You Mean... JUSTIFIED?

In my last post, I discussed some of the weaknesses with the COGs' doctrines on attaining eternal life. Their teachings on salvation look good on paper, but when you carry their doctrines to their logical conclusion, there is no exit strategy besides achieving perfection. Overcoming sin - all of our sin - is our only option.

What would it be like to stand before God and answer for your righteousness, on trial for your eternal life? With your salvation at stake, and no appeals? We know our accuser brings our sins before God night and day (Revelation 12:10). Can you imagine watching hours of your most shameful moments on the HD screen seated at the witness stand between God and Satan? As you check out that video from your rebellious teenage years, you blush a little. But really, it's not THAT bad, you think. Everyone's reckless when they're young. Then a clip pops up from last week. Oops.

As he wraps up his accusations, Satan turns and asks if you think you've achieved a level of righteousness sufficient for salvation. It's obviously a rhetorical question - you just sat through a feature presentation of all your failures. Despite some areas of growth, there is no way anyone could describe you as making significant progress toward "overcoming" sin.

Then your Defender, Jesus Christ steps forward (1 John 2:1, Hebrews 7:25). He announces that He has only one question for you - have you put your faith in Him for salvation? Not just as insurance in case you're not "good enough" by the end of your life, but as the very means by which you can be saved from the punishment you rightly deserve?

"Yes," you answer, humble and broken. After viewing the montage of your sins, what other path could you possibly take?

There is silence. Then, from behind the bench, the Father swings His gavel and renders His verdict: righteous.

You are stunned. After seeing all that, how could He possibly declare YOU righteous? Believe it or not, this is exactly what God promises to do the moment someone repents and puts his or her faith in Jesus Christ. This is what evangelical Christians call the Doctrine of Justification.

In the Churches of God, we know that sin entered the world through Adam and that salvation is possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But when it comes to explaining the mechanics of that salvation, things get a little muddy. Our ministers quote scripture and emphasize our vital need to grow and overcome. And these things should be happening in our lives, although the process the COGs teach puts the cart before the horse. But anyway, what percentage of our sin do we need to overcome before we die to qualify for eternal life? Is it 80 percent? 95 percent? Remember, violating just one point of law makes us 100 percent guilty (James 2:10). The law is like a plate glass window -if we hit it one corner, we shatter the whole thing. So we are talking about an all-or-nothing proposition here.

From the foundation of the world, God saw that He couldn't make our salvation dependent on our own limited capacity to obey Him. We would either become self-righteous and boast in our own performance (Ephesians 2:9) or drown in despair over our failures (Romans 7:18-25). So He offers salvation through a means that forces us to place our trust in something outside ourselves: the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Justification: Our Legal Standing

When most in the evangelical Christian world discuss "justification," they are talking about an instantaneous legal act of God, in which He (a) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ's righteousness as belonging to us, and (b) declares us to be righteous in His sight (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 723).

The apostle Paul demonstrates this concept through the example of Abraham: (Romans 4:1-5) "What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness,' Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace, but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness."

By comparison, in its booklet, The New Covenant: Does it Abolish God's Law?, the United Church of God defines justification (on page 90) as being "made just, right or righteous. Literally, it means being made straight - perfectly lined up (with God)."

UCG's definition hints at a typesetting analogy, but the Living Church of God fleshes out the traditional COG explanation further: "One easy way to understand justification is to see how it is used in word processing. The margins on this page, for example, are lined up on both the right and left sides. This is called full justification. In the theological sense, justification involves being 'lined up' with God." ( "The Greatest Love." Living Church of God.)

Sounds plausible, except for the fact that the typesetting term originated in the 1500s, a few decades after the printing press was invented. Now, it's reasonable to assume the Renaissance-era meaning has some roots in the first-century etymology. But it's problematic to use a relatively modern metaphor to determine the meaning of a term that originated more than a thousand years earlier. Plus, the typesetting term came from a phrase meaning, "to make exact," not "to line up.", according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. But the end product doesn't sound too far off, so I'll let it go. For now.

Oh wait. There's more. On page 91 of its booklet on the New Covenant, UCG adds that Christians must maintain their justification through their deeds, a concept they believe is supported by scriptures such as James 2:24. "Ongoing justification - through Christ-empowered obedience and Christ's atoning sacrifice when we fall short - corresponds to the current process of "being saved."

In its extended definition, UCG erroneously combines two separate steps in the process of human redemption - justification and sanctification. Sanctification, which follows justification, is the progressive work of God (and man, to some extent) in our hearts that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our everyday lives (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 746). James 2:24 is a great example of a scripture discussing sanctification that the COGs misread to support their explanation of justification. Evangelical Christianity believes this passage warns that a lack of works and the fruit of the Spirit in our lives could indicate that a true conversion - and therefore our justification - might never have occurred in the first place.

Massaging scriptural terms to fit their doctrines is where the COGs typically go awry. Herbert W. Armstrong had a long history of this, and his disciples carry on his legacy. Consider that within the same page of text, UCG defines justification as both being in a state of alignment with God and AND the process of repeatedly becoming reconciled to God when one falls out of alignment. Logic says it cannot be both. Let's stop playing word games with matters of salvation.

I'm not just picking on UCG; their literature on the topic is just more detailed and readily available. A quick website check shows LCG and COGWA both teach ongoing justification. COG-AIC and PCOG hold their literature too close to the chest for me to check. But the first article on PCOG's "The Virtuous Life" subsection is titled "Achieve Spiritual Perfection," which paints a pretty clear picture. As do decades of sermons warning us that we won't "make it" if we don't get our act together. Works undeniably play a pivotal role in justification in the COGs, and Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly contradicts this flawed doctrine.

Justification by grace through faith in Christ alone - which was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation - is its own distinct step in the process of human redemption. Blurring the lines between justification and sanctification opens the door for the distortion of the core gospel message - that we are all sinners, that we can be justified and receive the gift of righteousness by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

This distortion usually ends up manifesting itself in a situation where the "free" gift God promises depends on certain obligations of obedience we must meet to maintain that gift. In Romans 4:4 Paul calls this obedience "works," which incurs a "debt" that must be paid as wages are paid to a laborer. This is the opposite of grace, which is a free gift that does not depend on the merit or work of the recipient.

The distinction between justification and sanctification is not trivial, says John Piper, a prominent theologian and Chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. In his book, Counted Righteous in Christ, Piper explains "Our only hope of progress in gradual sanctification (growing in likeness to Jesus) is that we already have a right standing with God by faith alone. By this justification we are accepted into God's favor and enjoy a reconciled position. This right standing establishes the very relationship in which we find the help and power to make progress in love."

There is scant Biblical support for the concept of ongoing justification. The Greek word dikaiosis and its variations, dikaioma and dikaioo - (from which the English words justification, justify and justified are derived) do not appear to include an ongoing individual component, according to Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. UCG interprets Romans 3:24 to mean that individual Christians are being justified on an ongoing basis throughout their lives (on page 90 of the New Covenant booklet). But evangelical commentators explain that the word is used in the present continuous tense, which means that God is in a constant state of justifying a succession of individuals.

Likewise, when the King James Version renders verbiage in Romans 5:1 as "being justified," it is in the aorist tense, meaning it refers to individual Christians being justified on an ongoing basis, according to Vine's. In other words, one man was justified at this moment, another was justified at 3:52 p.m. last Tuesday, and a third was justified three Mondays ago at noon. All were justified at specific points in time, not at multiple points in time throughout their individual lives as the UCG and many other COGs teach.

Several Old Testament examples demonstrate that justifying someone changes their legal status at a point in time, not their internal moral condition. Consider Deuteronomy 25:1-2, which details laws governing disputes between Israelites:

"If there is any dispute between men, and they come to court, that the judges may judge them, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, then it shall be the wicked man deserves to be beaten...". These judges are charged with justifying the just party in a disagreement and punishing the one in the wrong. Neither action determines the internal state of the parties' character.

Proverbs 17:15 makes it even more clear."He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord." If justifying an evil man meant improving his character, it would not be an abomination to God! It would be great!

Isaiah 5:23 pronounces woe on he who would justify the wicked for a bribe. This too indicates a legal declaration in a specific incident.

Now that we have established what justification does and doesn't mean, in my next post, we will examine how the Bible tells us we can become justified before God.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Friday, June 13, 2014

Salvation is not a Sticker Chart

When you become a mother, your eyes are miraculously reprogrammed to notice brightly-colored objects in any level of light. I believe this is a self-preservation mechanism to prevent you from stepping on Legos in the middle of the night. Anyway, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed a couple weeks ago when my eyes were drawn to a colorful picture a friend had posted.

But wait, this wasn't a kindergarten art project. It was a sticker chart labeled "Good Behavior," and UCG was using it to illustrate an article titled "Chart Your Way on the Road to Eternal Life."

To be honest, I have never been a sticker chart kind of mom. Mostly because I already have enough things to keep up with, and we already have stickers affixed to almost every flat surface in the house. But I have friends who say they've worked wonders with their kids. I have nothing against them. Except when you use them to make sure you marked everything off your daily sainthood checklist.

No, really. That's exactly what the author of the article said: "The saints are those who check off their chart daily."

To be fair, the writer's stated goal was to encourage readers to reinforce daily spiritual habits like Bible study and prayer, or to quantify progress on a spiritual goal like cleaning up one's language. She suggested that a visual goal or tangible reward could help readers establish regular routines. I'm not here to criticize that. I'm highly visual myself, and am pretty distractible. I get it. If buying a new pen gets you in the Word daily, go for it. And celebrating our spiritual victories with friends - another suggestion of hers - is totally biblical.

The problem is, like most COG articles, the helpful suggestions are the bookends around a collection of doctrinal misunderstandings supporting the notion that we are in the driver's seat when it comes to overcoming our sin and inheriting eternal life. As usual, the author gives God a mention in the process - after all, He gives us the Holy Spirit, "a spirit of power, love and self-discipline," to help us. But this attitude comes across loud and clear in her follow-up statement, and resonates through the rest of the article: "He wants us to learn to regulate our behaviors on our own."

So, back to the article. Those who want to chart their progress on the road to eternal life should be as the saints in Revelation 14:12, the author tells us. They should keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Aha! God has given us our chart - the 10 Commandments! With God's own road map in hand, how can we fail?

After all, we know what he requires of us, the author says - "do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him while learning to keep his Commandments in righteousness and truth." Interestingly, the author attributes her list to Micah 6:8, but that verse makes no mention of the Commandments. Traditionally, when one cites a scripture word-for-word, one doesn't add words after the point where the verse has a period. I heard that before somewhere. Something about adding to the Word of God... but I digress. I'm not going to argue about the 10 Commandments today, or tell you that showing mercy isn't a good thing. Let's get back to our map.

For argument's sake, I'll agree with the author that if we are on the road to eternal life, like these saints, we will be doing the things Micah 6:8 says to do PLUS the stuff she inserted into the verse. Elsewhere in Revelation - and in many verses throughout the the Bible - the saints are described as wearing things like white robes, clean linen, spotless garments. This is commonly understood to be a symbol for a sinless state, someone who is perfectly righteous. It would appear that their race is over and they have done what was required of them.

Does this symbolism have any implications for us today? After all, we are being evaluated in this life, on our daily behavior, the author reminds us. The chart we compare ourselves against is the 10 Commandments - both the physical and spiritual intent. That might seem like a tall order, but if these are the objectives God has set for us, "then they must be attainable," she reminds us. Okay. What level of sinlessness does He require us to reach in this life? Not the level God would ideally like us to attain, or the percentage we're striving for. What actually gets us eternal life? Let's once again consider the saints' pure white garments.

Tell me, at what age do you expect you'll achieve spotlessness? In other words, what happens when your sticker chart isn't complete at the end of your life? Because it won't be. When I picture my hypothetical conversation with Jesus based on COG doctrines about salvation, it goes a lot like the one we see in Mark 10:17-27.

"Wow, I finally made it!" I exclaim.

"Made what?" Jesus asks me.

"To Your Kingdom! I kept your commandments and met the conditions for salvation!"

"You did? Show me," He says.

"Right here!" I pull out my 8x10 sticker chart. "Oh right, there's a spot right there. I came to the Feast late that one time in 2001. I had a biology test I couldn't miss. But I have all my Feast attendance stickers after that!"

I rush to fill the awkward silence. "Oh right, that empty spot over there. I didn't quite make it out of work by sunset that particular Friday. But the Sabbath comes really early at that time of year."

Jesus reaches over and takes my chart out of my hands. He unfolds a portion that was hidden from sight. The first three rows are titled "mercy," "faith," and "self-control." Each row contains a handful of stickers.

I blush. "I didn't see those rows," I stammered. "Well, maybe I did. Sometimes. But, well...".

Jesus reaches into a drawer with a knowing smile, then tells me, "I wouldn't worry about that too much. You weren't using the right chart anyway." Then he unfurls a chart as long as a city block.

You see, in the COGs, we have created our own chart measuring righteousness. I think this is why we are so tempted to fall into a performance mentality. We attach our stickers each Sabbath and Holy Day, when we respond to someone's anger with kindness, or when we tell the truth, even if it hurts. Don't get me wrong, even tackling the COG sticker chart for righteousness is daunting. Still, the checklist we've designed for righteousness is the size of an envelope, while God's checklist of standards for righteousness is the size of a cruise ship.

Even having the right chart alone doesn't address the bigger issue, which is our hearts. In Matthew 15:11, Jesus tells us that it's what comes out of a man's mouth - not what goes in - that defiles him. What comes out of our mouths is a good barometer for what's in our hearts, and our hearts are naturally desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). I can try to keep - or even duct tape - my mouth shut, but that doesn't silence my inner voice.

You see, the COGs teach that humans are born with neutral - with blank slates - and that we were corrupted by Satan's broadcasts and living in the world. The underlying premise is that we can change our hearts back - using the Holy Spirit as tool, of course. HWA discussed this concept much more than the modern COGs do, particularly in his book, The Incredible Human Potential.When I asked one COG minister about this doctrine, he told me point blank that it sounded like one of HWA's pet teachings that clearly contradicted scriptures like Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 51:5 and Job 14:4. But it's still there in almost every group's literature, and it logically underpins their teachings on salvation.

I don't disagree with the author's suggestions that we should focus our minds on what is good (Philippians 4:8) and use our bodies for good works (2 Timothy 2:21) instead of thinking evil thoughts and committing sin. But how? Aside from just trying harder.

"Trying harder" sounds like a good strategy when we're in our teens and 20s. Sure, I'll obey better. I'll pray more. I'll make a chart! As long as I am completing my checklist, I'll be on the road to eternal life. But as we get further down the road, we find the checklist is not as easy as we thought. Or that there are more columns than we thought when we were 25. And more importantly, that a checklist can never change our hearts. Our hearts are inherently corrupted. Scrubbing around the edges, even using the "tool" of the Holy Spirit as a pressure washer isn't going to change that.

Striving to obey is not a condition for salvation, as the author mistakenly states in a comment below her original article. We WILL strive to obey God once we are saved, but those works areevidence of our conversion, not the cause of our conversion. Similarly, growing in the fruit of the Spirit is evidence of of the indwelling Holy Spirit sanctifying a believer. Consider that very metaphor. Have you ever gone into an orchard at night and listened to the trees grunt as they work to push out apple blossoms? We cannot work up kindness, gentleness, patience and self-control. Only God living in us can produce that fruit.

Creating a spiritual checklist, or tracking our accomplishments is dangerous because it reinforces the erroneous belief that our accomplishments have anything to do with our salvation. It either leaves us puffed up with pride because of what we've done, or wallowing in despair because of what we haven't done.

This is the whole point of Ephesians 2:8 and 9 - that we are saved by grace through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We can't add to Christ. In fact, if we try to do so, we risk negating His sacrifice. Galatians 5:2-4 tells us that believers who thought they must be circumcised in an attempt to be justified before God alienated themselves from Christ. That they are indebted to keep the WHOLE LAW. I know the COGs argue this passage is just making a point about circumcision, but it can't be. It wouldn't make any sense. Remember that circumcision was the prerequisite to joining Israel and keeping the Passover, according to Exodus 12:48. And keeping the Passover was a requirement for being a part of Israel (Numbers 9:13-14). Reading Galatians chapters 3 through 5 makes it exceedingly clear that Paul is not just referring to circumcision, or any unofficial oral traditions, or the items that the COGs put on their checklist, but to the whole Sinai Covenant. What other law could anyone be biblically indebted to keep?

And this is where the COG teachings about salvation go off the tracks. We are responsible for overcoming our own sin. We can use the Holy Spirit as a tool, but "He wants us to learn to regulate our behaviors on our own," as the author tells us. Our ministers tell us that God doesn't expect us to be perfect, but in the next breath they remind us that some of us are not going to "make it" if we don't overcome this or that sin. Not one minister can tell me what percentage of sin I need to overcome to "make it," but the booklets they write state that I need to be re-justified with God after each and every sin if I'm going to "be there." Is it even possible to realize and repent of every sin I ever commit, even if I'm just using the COG checklist? When confronted with this reality, all we can do is hang our head and hope that we were "good enough." How does that offer the joy and peace the New Testament promises believers?

God has made his checklist for righteousness through obedience pretty clear. James 2:10 tells us that if we stumble at just one point of law, we are guilty of breaking all of it. So if obedience is a condition for salvation, then we have to do it perfectly. Just "striving" to do so isn't enough. You might strive and achieve an 85, while I might eek out a 72, but both fall short of the required 100 percent. It's the doers of the law who will be justified, according to Romans 2:13. Those who actually keep the whole law, that is. Not those who try really, really hard. The Sinai Covenant is like a glass window. If you throw a rock at just one corner, the whole thing shatters, and you have broken the whole thing.

Even assuming I could "learn to regulate" my behavior "on my own," the Bible tells us that's not good enough. Jesus made it pretty clear in the Sermon on the Mount that just refraining from committing adultery isn't good enough. I'm not even supposed to think about it. Multiply this standard for every possible infraction and you can see the futility of a checklist mentality. The COG plan for salvation looks good on paper, but at the end of your life, they have no exit strategy besides achieving sinless perfection.

If you're thoroughly depressed, remember that God is good and that He works all things for good for those who love Him. That He made us and knows us better than we know ourselves. That Jesus loved you enough to die for you. Israel's failure to keep the Sinai Covenant may have angered God, but it did not surprise Him. God told Moses it would happen in Deuteronomy 31:14-18. Jesus' sacrifice was not just Plan B when Israel failed to live up to the Sinai Covenant, He was slain from the foundation of the world. The COGs might not have an exit strategy, but God does. Paul outlines that strategy in Romans 3:20-26. In the coming weeks, I will explain that exit strategy by exploring the doctrines of justification and imputed righteousness. Until then, you can put your stickers away. As we'll soon see, God's checklist for salvation only requires one.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11