Saturday, May 16, 2015

Just What Do They Mean "Born Again"?

Over the past months, we've considered some of the problems with Herbert W Armstrong's teachings on "born again," and how the modern-day Churches of God have carried his fallacies forward. Today, I'd like to close this series by explaining what we "deceived" Christians believe about regeneration, or being "born again."

I know, you think you already understand. I always thought I did. After all, COG literature is replete with critiques of "so-called Christian" doctrines.  The problem is, HWA and those who followed him have created a "Christian" straw man, assigned it highly shallow, flimsy beliefs, then knocked it down. And why would we have any reason to doubt them? Most COG members are disenchanted Protestants and Catholic, as well as their children, who have never darkened the door of a non-COG church outside of weddings and funerals.

These factors, combined with Armstrong's dogmatism and authoritarianism, created a feedback loop that keeps us in the dark about what "deceived" Christians believe. Plus, Google wasn't a factor until relatively recently.

Most of today's COGs are less authoritarian, but they continue HWA's tradition of taking swipes at these supposedly monolithic, shallow beliefs:

"The theological concept of regeneration was considered an instantaneous result of one's commitment to Christ without repentance or change of conduct." United Church of God, Study Paper on "Born Again," p. 7.

"'Born again' should not be relegated to merely a catchy phrase or slogan. It is meant to convey a message much deeper than a phrase some associate with a mostly emotional experience." (UCG, Study Paper on "Born Again", p. 18)

"Many believe conversion is just accepting Jesus into your heart or professing Jesus with your mouth or giving your heart to the Lord. If you say the word “Jesus,” does that mean that from then on you are a born again Christian?" (Arnold Hampton, Christian Conversion, Church of God, a Worldwide Association,

These authors are continuing their mentor's time-honored tradition of misunderstanding, misinterpreting and slandering their "so-called Christian" neighbors. Want an example?  Well, Armstrong asserted that Catholics believe they have entered the Kingdom of God once they embrace the Catholic faith, with no mention of an earthly kingdom. Never mind the fact that the Nicene Creed is recited at each Catholic mass - a creed which discusses Jesus' return in glory to judge the living and dead and His never-ending Kingdom.

Further, HWA taught his followers that Protestants largely inherited this "error" from Catholicism, except for those who are even more foolish, believing the Kingdom of God is something ethereal, something 'set up in men's hearts." (HWA, Just what do you mean born again, p. 35). I'm not sure where HWA became so familiar with Protestant doctrine (as if there is one monolithic set of beliefs). But I can say with 100 percent certainty that there are Protestant churches that teach that Jesus will literally return to earth and establish His kingdom, because the one that I attend does. And it's not small denomination, either. There are millions of members, which means that millions of your deceived, false Christian neighbors believe Jesus will literally return and set up His Kingdom on earth. And that's just ONE denomination. I know that not all denominations believe in a literal return, but it's a total fabrication to say that the churches of God are the only ones who do.

So, with all that being said, are you sure know what your "so-called Christian" neighbors believe about being "born again"?

That's what I thought. So I'll get to the point.

Most traditional Christians believe that regeneration, or what some call being "born again", is an act in which God imparts new spiritual life through the Holy Spirit (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 699). When this regeneration takes place, humans who were once spiritually dead in their sins, dead to God (Ephesians 2:1) are made spiritually alive (Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13, Romans 8:10).

In HWA's model, Christians are begotten of God at baptism and "born again" at the resurrection, at Christ's return. Human effort factors into whether we "make it" from conception to birth, or whether we become an abortion (HWA, Just What Do You Mean Born Again, p. 45).

In contrast, traditional Christians believe humans play an active role in other steps of the redemption process, but we play no active role in regeneration. Just as we did not choose to be made physically alive, we do not choose to be spiritually born, either (James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:3). Analogies like Ezekiel 36:26-27 seem to indicate man is entirely passive in regeneration. It is entirely an act of God. It is not something that occurs at baptism, as the United Church of God explains in its 2002 study paper on "Born Again." (p. 7). The "washing of regeneration" mentioned in Titus 3:4-5 does not indicate a literal washing, but a cleansing performed by the spirit. Consider Ezekiel 36:25-26, which foreshadows such a time:

"Ezekiel is prophesying that God will give an internal cleansing from the pollution of sin in the heart at the same time as he awakens new spiritual life within his people." (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 702, footnote 7).

So when Jesus discusses being born of water and spirit in John 3, He is most likely talking about a spiritual cleansing from sin, not baptism. Baptism and other physical rites are not being discussed in this passage, and Christian baptism did not start until Pentecost. This series is not intended to explore the issue of baptism at length, but suffice it to say that many scriptures contradict UCG's teachings about so-called "baptismal regeneration" based on Titus 3:4-5. Baptism is a positive rite of Christianity,  but is not absolutely necessary for salvation. Consider Acts 16:14, which tells us that the Lord opened Lydia's heart to understand Paul's teachings, and THEN she was baptized. Salvation comes through faith, not through physical actions. UCG's teachings on baptism foreshadow the church's greater misunderstanding of the human condition and the need for regeneration.

Different schools of theology debate exactly when regeneration happens - immediately before, simultaneously or immediately after a Christian responds to effective calling by repenting and placing their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. It seems  appear these appeared almost simultaneously in Acts 10:44, when the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and others listening to Peter while he was still speaking. Regardless of the exact sequence of events, traditional Christians are regenerated or "born-again" at the outset of their Christian walk, not at its culmination. We are new creations now.

(2 Corinthians 5:17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."

We don't know exactly how God regenerates us. The change is internal and invisible, as Jesus alluded to Nicodemus in John 3:8. The wind is invisible and moves secretly, but we see can see its effects in objects around us - blowing leaves, tree limbs and flags. Similarly, humans who have been regenerated will show evidence of new spiritual life through patterns of behavior and desires that are pleasing to God (Systematic Theology, 702). Traditional Christianity calls this process "sanctification," and see it is as evidence of regeneration, not the process through which we secure our "rebirth."

Verses like 1 John 2:29 and 1 John 5:3-4 are in keeping with this line of thought, not indicators that Christians must achieve sinless perfection. Those who are born again will not continue in a pattern of sin - God has given them the ability to overcome the pressures and temptations that would otherwise keep us from obedience. Through our faith in Christ, we can overcome. (link to previous post).

John emphasizes that things like obedience and brotherly love will be the necessarily results in the lives of those who have been born again. Similarly, in Galatians 5:22-23, Paul writes about the traits that the Holy Spirit will produce in Christians' lives over time. If there is true regeneration, these elements will become more and more evident in one's life.

"Neither Jesus nor Paul nor John point to activity in the church or miracles as evidence of regeneration. They rather point to character traits in life." (Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 705-706.)

(Of course this begs the question of whether traditional Christians believe those who have been "born again" can lose their salvation. Some teach that God is so powerful that He is able to prevent believers from falling away; thus one who turns from God must never have been truly regenerated. Others argue that Scripture demonstrates one can lose his salvation. Even those who teach this believe it can only happen through deliberate, willful rejection of Jesus and renunciation of faith, not through failing to achieve a particular level of spiritual growth.)

According to Matthew 7:22, prophecy, exorcisms, miracles and other mighty works in Jesus' name do not indicate a person has been born again. Years of intensive church activity do not indicate a person has been born again. Apparently all these things can be produced when a natural man or woman "plays church" on his or her own strength.

"But genuine love for God and his people, heartfelt obedience to his commands, and the Christ-like character traits that Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit, demonstrated consistently over a period of time in a person's life, simply cannot be produced by the natural man or woman working in his or her own strength. These can only come about by the spirit of God working within and giving us new life." (Systematic Theology, p. 706).

The kind of transformation traditional Christianity associates with being "born again" isn't as flashy or exciting as HWA's description. But it's certainly not vague, meaningless or namby-pamby. It's even more important because it allows a transformation of man's real problem - his heart.

Armstrong taught that humans are born morally neutral, and that negative traits like self-centeredness, anger, jealousy, lust and greed are acquired from the devil or the environment. They are not an inherent part of the human heart. Satan, the Prince of the Power of the air, broadcasts his attitude to the world like radio signals, and that the human spirit is tuned in to his wavelength (HWA, The Incredible Human Potential, pp. 146-152). Almost all the COGs still teach this theory of tabula rasa (Latin for "blank slate") today.

The problem is, the idea originated with Aristotle, not the Bible. Scripture paints a much different view of the human heart - according to verses like Psalm 51:5, Job 14:4 and Psalm 58:3. Jeremiah 17:9 puts it best:

"The heart is desperately wicked, who can know it?"

Our hearts are more than just tuned in to the wrong channel. Consider your own words, your own thoughts. You could duct-tape your mouth shut, but the thoughts would still be there. The real problem is the heart from which your words and thoughts spring.  As Jesus said, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).

And really, this is why the whole issue matters. If our sin-slate is wiped clean at baptism, and we can simply "change the channel" to God's frequency using the Holy Spirit as a power tool, then all is well in the COGs. The fact that your church teaches your eternal destiny depends on whether you can change enough to avoid spiritual abortion shouldn't be an issue. But if the problem with your heart is deeper than a matter of will, well, that's a different story.

So do you have the spiritual sniffles, or is your heart desperately ill? Are you making good progress at overcoming your sin? Is the antibiotic of the Holy Spirit giving you an extra boost to fight the sin in your life? Or are you in need of something stronger? Do you love your neighbor as yourself, even when it's inconvenient? Do you struggle with faith, even though God has come through for you every time before? Do you struggle to contain your angry reactions when your pride is hurt? Do you bite your tongue, only to have the bitter words burn in your throat? You know, all the duct tape in the world won't keep the hateful feelings from bubbling up inside of you. And even more importantly, do you believe your Creator, who sees all your reactions and knows all your thoughts, thinks you have changed enough to qualify for eternal life?

Let's face it. You don't need a spiritual vitamin. You need a total heart transplant - a complete regeneration . The job is too big for you, but it's not too much for the Great Physician. Jesus came to heal those who know they are sinners, not those who think they are righteous (Mark 2:17, NASB). Step into the New Covenant and accept the true healing that only comes by grace through faith in the shed blood of the Christ alone.

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Loose Ends on "Born Again"

After taking a break for the spring days, today, we'd like to tie up some loose ends from our analysis of Herbert Armstrong's Booklet, Just What Do You Mean Born Again.

You're probably thinking, "Finally!" We know the feeling. Though this study is meant to address the major doctrinal flaws in the booklet, we know it does not address each and every page. Still, we think we've covered enough ground to at least establish reasonable doubt of Armstrong's take on "born again."

Maybe you're still wondering why, in 2015, we would rehash a publication last updated in 1972. Well, the booklet may be more than 40 years old, but many of its false conclusions are alive and well in today's Churches of God. The Living Church of God; Church of God, a Worldwide Association; United Church of God; Philadelphia Church of God; Church of God, an International Community and many others still teach Armstrong's basic doctrines about salvation based on his reproduction analogy. (Incidentally, UCG still affirms HWA's teachings on "born again" out of one side of their mouth, while the other side quietly whispered he was wrong in their 2002 study paper on "Born Again.")

In fact, the only group we know of in the Church of God community that has rejected this false teaching is John Ritenbaugh's Church of the Great God. Ritenbaugh is the church's founder and pastor, and has taken considerable effort to refute HWA's traditional teachings on regeneration in his series, "Born Again or Begotten?".  Last time, Ritenbaugh helped us debunk HWA's interpretation of John 3:8. Today, he'll help us address Armstrong's misinterpretations of 1 John 3, which HWA supported through his faulty interpretation of John 3:8.

First John 3:2 describes Christians as children of God, but also states that our final form has not yet been revealed. Armstrong points out that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50), and the rest of the passage (verses 42-54) tells us that glorified humans will resemble "the image of the heavenly Man." (verse 49). What is that image? Armstrong directs our attention to the description in Revelation 1:14-15, which he snidely notes does not fit today's so-called "born again" Christian.

"We shall appear like him at the second coming to earth.  What will he be like? Like the glorified Christ - his eyes blaze like fire, feet like burnished brass, face shines like the sun," Armstrong said. "And that is the way you and I shall look, if and when we are finally born of God! These deceived people who talk about having had a "born-again" experience certainly don't look like THAT!" (Just What Do You Mean Born Again, p. 40).

Voila! Your Methodist neighbor clearly doesn't look like that now. That settles it. Believers are literally "born again" into the Kingdom of God at Christ's return. Game over. Or maybe not.

But Paul, the author of 1 Corinthians, never mentions being "born again" in the context of a resurrection, in 1 Corinthians or anywhere else, Ritenbaugh points out. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 5:8, Paul uses the word "born" in terms of his calling. Throughout the Bible, the final step of the process is consistently described in terms of glorification, change or transformation through resurrection, not a birth (1 Corinthians 15:51-54, Philippians 3:21, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). And Romans 1:4, another scripture HWA used to "prove" Christ was born again at His resurrection, in reality, indicates the resurrection proved Christ was who He said He was. In other words, the resurrection was the evidence - the reason - that we have faith in Christ. Not the thing that made Him the Christ.

He Cannot Sin

The final argument from the booklet I'd like to address is from I John 3:9:

"Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God."

Armstrong juxtaposed this verse with 1 John 1:8, which tells us that we deceive ourselves if we think we have no sin. Do the two verses contradict one another, or is there another explanation, HWA mused.  Naturally, he has an explanation. First John 1:8-9 plainly tells us that converted Christians do sin, though not habitually, deliberately or willfully.

So what about 1 John 3:9, which tells us it's impossible for Christians to sin? It must mean that those who have been born of God cannot sin. Do you still sin? Then you are not born of God yet, HWA argues, and won't be until the resurrection.

Other theologians agree that 1 John 1:8 and 1 John 3:9 do not contradict one another, but for another reason. The latter verse uses the Greek perfect tense, indicating an ongoing lifestyle, not an individual occurrence, according to evangelical theologian, professor and author Wayne Grudem. Grudem explains that John means that the Holy Spirit will keep the regenerated man for living a sinful lifestyle, not prevent him from individual lapses (Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 704).

Even if you don't like that explanation, HWA's reasoning contradicts itself within the context verse 9 in isolation (not to mention the entire passage).

(I John 3:9) Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

Suppose this verse really does discuss Christians who have been resurrected, or "literally born" into God's Kingdom. Then why would God's "seed" remain in one who has been born? According to HWA's analogy, we are no longer talking about someone who's only "begotten"  at this point. But seed indicates a conceptual, fetal, incomplete status.

If that's not enough, the whole passage is exhorting and instructing brethren to show love to one another in this life. Explaining that love is evidence of true Christianity. Why would John fast-forward to the resurrection in verse 9, when the context of the passage indicates he is talking about current conduct?

UCG's 2002 study paper on "born again" even takes this position:

"The context of I John chapter 3 is unmistakably referring to the present Christian life. It is not referring to the future life in the resurrection." (Born Again, p. 18)

While we plan to spend one more post explaining what "so-called Christians" believe about this topic, we'd like to close with a few statements from Ritenbaugh's and UCG's writings on "born again". Our comments are in bold.

"In the end, the begotten-again analogy is found completely lacking in describing what happens to begin our spiritual life. What has not changed in the least is its practical application to Christian life. However, what has been clarified should impress upon us even more forcefully is that, because our names are already entered into the Book of Life, we are already in God's Family Kingdom with our citizenship already issued, and there is every reason we should make it to the end. Therefore, we should be all the more responsible and urgent to bring glory to our God." (Ritenbaugh, Born Again or Begotten, Part 3)  The analogy is completely lacking, but still has practical application in our lives? Hmmmm...

"The analogy of being begotten and in the womb of the church is not only scripturally wrong, it is totally inadequate when God commands us to do practical activities normal to Christian life" (such as pray, fast, sacrifice, repent, forgive, show mercy and many others)." (Ritenbaugh, Born Again or Begotten, Part 3). Again, it is scripturally wrong and totally inadequate, but it still applies to us how?

"The individual is not literally reborn at the time of conversion. On the other hand, a significant chance takes place in this life - so significant that it can be considered the beginning of a new life." (UCG, Born Again, p. 6) Um.  The beginning of a new life usually is called a birth. 

"Therefore, while the fetal analogy is not found specifically in the Bible as an application to Christians, it is helpful to understanding the salvation process." (UCG, Born Again, p. 30). Why cling to an analogy that is not found in the Bible to explain a Biblical process? Especially when there is a perfectly good biblical analogy several New Testament writer used to explain the process. Which, again, many within the COG community admit is biblically sound. 

"This (the fetal analogy) is a good analogy and it is theologically sound." (UCG, Born Again, p. 28). Wait. They just said this analogy is not found in the Bible. How can it be theologically sound?  

"It may be difficult to distinguish from the context between that which takes place at conversion and that which takes place at the time of the resurrection. But why should we attempt to do so if both apply?" (UCG, Born Again, p. 16). Because the man who founded your church ridiculed "so-called Christians" who accepted this conclusion as false brethren; and because you continue to do so today. Because your church makes it a litmus test for true Christians. It is disingenuous to straddle the fence now to try to simultaneously attempt to preserve your tithe base and save face, theologically speaking.  

After reading these statements, one must infer that UCG and the many former UCG ministers who lead other COG organizations today hold onto their teaching largely because allegiance to Armstrong's ideas and writings are at least as dear to them than the ideas and writings of John, Peter and Paul. How about you? Is your allegiance to a man's extra-biblical teachings or to the Word of 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, April 10, 2015

Bread and Wine

So how did you do?

Oh, come on, you know what I'm talking about. Where did you find leavening this week?

Today was the last Day of Unleavened Bread for those of you in the Churches of God. Traditionally, at services today, you swapped anecdotes about the most unlikely place you found leavening this week. A sandwich in the glove compartment of your car. Cracker crumbs that fell from the pages of that book you pulled off the shelf. Maybe that hand vacuum cleaner bin you forgot to empty.

It's funny, a week and a half ago you found those crumbs so vile that some of you baptized your toaster and scrubbed your pantry shelves with a toothbrush. No judging here. I was in the habit of "deleavening" my sock drawer, even though I have never, even once, eaten cake in my bedroom with socks on my hands, and then put them back in the drawer.  Anyway, where you were frenzied last week, today you chuckled, clucked your tongue and said, well, "God doesn't expect us to be perfect."

What does God have to say about those crumbs, or the sin you believe it symbolizes? Even the stuff way back in the dark corners of your life?

(James 2:10) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

Or should I say, whoever keeps the Days of Unleavened Bread, and yet finds one cracker, he is guilty of violating the whole thing.

(Revelation 3:5) He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels.

Maybe it should be, he who overcomes, who gets rid of all his sin, shall be clothed in white garments. In his pockets no crumbs shall be found.

Hmmmm... this is where the classic COG cognitive dissonance comes in. On the one hand, we believe that God doesn't expect us to be perfect, and that our works do not earn us salvation. On the other hand, we believe that our efforts, in both moral matters and in cherry-picked rites from the Sinai Covenant, help maintain our salvation.

So how much leavening, er, sin, do you need to get out to properly "keep" the Days of Unleavened Bread? Better than me, who didn't participate? Better than your wife, who drives a van full of children who sustain themselves on goldfish crackers 51 weeks a year? Better than your minister? What threshhold is good enough? (Please click here for more information what was being discussed in 1 Corinthians 5 regarding the Days of Unleavened Bread)

It's easy to see why the Days of Unleavened Bread were a shadow intended to point Israel to Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). No matter how hard they tried, sin remained, sin returned. They repeated the ritual for decades. Each year, they tried. Each year, they failed. They could never clean out all the crumbs, all the stains of sin. They needed Jesus to do what they could never do themselves - reconcile them to God and clothe them in garments of righteousness. Where the Light is, the shadows flee. They are no longer needed. Once we have learned the lesson, we no longer need the tutor (Galatians 3:24-25).

Many of us the COGs think we have embraced Christ, yet we place much of their faith in our effors to follow the tutor. We know Jesus died for our sins, and that we cannot be justified through our works. But our misunderstandings about salvation lead us to accept false teachings like "maintaining" our justification through our track record of sin and repentance. Unable to shake the cognitive dissonance, we hang our head in shame, and pray that God shows us mercy, or that He looks on the heart and determines we have been "good enough." Is this outlook the peace that surpasses all understanding? The spirit of joy, and of a sound mind?

Since the Days of Unleavened Bread are just about over, maybe it's time to switch to a different metaphor. Let's turn to John 2, the miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Historically, the COGs have missed the point of this lesson. They make it all about how Jesus produced high-quality wine. About the richness and abundance of God's Kingdom.

Christ's miracles often revealed deeper spiritual truths. He gave sight to the blind, signifying His ability to give spiritual sight and discernment to those who place their faith in Him. Those who rejected Him remained spiritually blind. (John 9:40-41). He raised a dead man to life. This demonstrated both His power over death and the new life available through faith in Him. He cursed the fig tree (Mark 11), showing His qualification to pronounce final judgment on fruitless humans (Matthew 7:19).

So is it likely that the miracle at Cana, Jesus' first miracle, was really just about top-shelf wine? Or is there a deeper spiritual truth that the COGs miss in their misunderstandings about salvation?

(John 2:6) Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water."  And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast." And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!".

These waterpots were used for ceremonial washing for the Jews, who were expected to wash their hands both before and after eating in order to be considered clean. These pots were not exactly the sterilized drinking glasses that come out of our dishwasher. They had held a lot of dirty water from a lot of grubby hands. They were not unlike the cup Jesus described in Matthew 23:25-26. But how do we clean the cup from the inside, as Christ instructed?

Jesus took these dirty, common vessels, filled them, and transformed the contents into a totally different substance. This is a picture of what Jesus does with each Christian. We come to Him as dirty clay vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are helpless to clean ourselves. God fills us, then transforms us. We are already a creation in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). Just as they miss the message of transformation in the miracle at Cana, the COGs miss the message of 2 Corinthians 5 because they're too busy trying to clean and transform themselves. With the "help" of their Holy Spirit power tool. It is not getting rid of the spiritual crumbs that ensures salvation. We will naturally have fewer crumbs because of our salvation. It is an effect, not a cause.

We, of course, must be submissive to this process, to God's will. We can't be filled, can't be transformed, if we are not in proximity to the source. This may require effort, active striving, resisting sin. As well as engaging in spiritual disciplines like worship, prayer, Bible study, fasting and the like.
And we should be bearing fruit and demonstrate good works, as James said. But that fruit is the evidence of our faith, evidence of our justification, not the thing that brings it about.

At the end of the day, scripture commands us to be filled with the Spirit, not to fill ourselves (Ephesians 5:18). Like those waterpots, which held 160 pounds of water at the very least, we are unable to move ourselves. We like Paul, need someone to save us from ourselves. Who is that? That someone is Jesus. Our primary responsibility is to place faith in Christ, not ourselves. We will bear much fruit when we are thusly connected to the Vine.

(John 6:28-29) Then they said to Him, "what shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said unto them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."

Beloved children of God, you already believe the blood of Jesus covers your sins. Scripture tells you that you are already unleavened. You can choose to remain in the shadows of Sinai, trying to sweep out crumbs from the corners. Or you can trust Jesus to do what you cannot - clean you from the inside and transform you into something new. Stop putting new wine into old wineskins. Step fully into the New Covenant and place your full faith - not just part of it - in Jesus' finished work on the cross.

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, April 3, 2015

Should Christians Celebrate the "Night to Be Much Observed"?

"Should Christians celebrate Easter?" the pastel-colored magazine in my mailbox pointedly asks. "Nowhere does the Bible tell Christians to celebrate this holiday!"

I'd like to turn a similar question back to the well-intentioned Church of God ministers who have so graciously flooded my mailbox in recent weeks.

Should Christians celebrate the Night to be Much Observed? Nowhere does the Bible tell Christians to observe this occasion.

WHAT?!?!?!? How on earth can I say that? It's a Night. To. Be. Much. Observed. The Bible clearly tells us to remember it. It's in the name, for crying out loud.

Let's turn to Exodus 12, the passage the COGs claim discusses this supposedly ancient celebration.

(EXODUS 12:6-7) "Now you shall keep it (the lamb) until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it."

(EXODUS 12:13-13) "Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt So this day shall be to you a memorial, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance."

(EXODUS 12:24-27) "And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord has given you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. And it shall be, when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?' that you shall say, 'It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households."

(EXODUS 12:41-42) "And it came to pass that at the end of the four hundred and thirty years - on that very same day - it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night of solemn observance to the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is that night of the Lord, a solemn observance for all the children of Israel throughout their generations."

Verse 43 launches back into regulations for keeping the Passover. So we have discussion of the Passover from Exodus 12:1 through verse 51, the end of the chapter. The entire context is Passover. What event changed Pharaoh's heart? What did God use to win their freedom? The death of the firstborn, on Passover. When did Pharaoh call for Moses and tell the Israelites to leave? While it was still dark, on Passover. Passover is the night of importance, the solemn observance, the night to be remembered. There is nothing that indicates a second observance. We can debate the fourteenth versus fifteenth, we can rehash the Quartodeciman Controversy, but we can't debate the fact that the event this passage discusses remembering is Passover.

Verse 42, the scripture the COGs use to establish this fabricated celebration, tells us the observance in question is to be solemn. The Passover is unarguably solemn, because of what occurred that night - the slaughter of a lamb, and thousands of firstborns, and even moreso because of what it foreshadowed - the death of the Savior. This tone of the COG Passover service seems much more in line with what verse 42 describes than the alleged Night to Be Much Observed. It doesn't appear that the Israelites celebrated their deliverance until Exodus 15, after Pharaoh's army was drowned in the sea. Humanly speaking, this makes sense to me. Would I have been pleased the morning after the Passover, to learn we were leaving? Absolutely. But I can see myself a little shell shocked. Grieved at the deaths of so many Egyptians. A little post traumatic stress disorder from the plagues. And then there was the matter of the Egyptian army pursuing them. All in all, I suspect the day after the Passover was not a big party for the children of Israel.

And really, it's not exactly a reason to party for Christians today, either. The COGs tell us that this supposed Night to Be pictures Israel's deliverance from Egypt and our deliverance from sin through Christ's death. It is a night to prepare an elaborate meal, gather with brethren and rejoice. The tone of this tradition is tragically incongruent with what the evening allegedly marks.

What do the COGs tell us we are celebrating? Christ's victory over sin, achieved by His death. Is the end result of the story something to celebrate? Absolutely. But is His actual death something to celebrate? I think not. Do you start planning an elaborate party when a close relative passes? "Hey guys, Aunt Edna is dead, would you please pass the prime rib? And did you SEE the dessert table?".

Even we "deceived", "so-called Christians" get this point. Arguments about the timing of the crucifixion aside, have you ever been to a Good Friday service? It's solemn, bordering on somber. We know how the story ends, we know we have the victory, and we plan to celebrate it just days later. But still, there is sadness in the fact that our Savior suffered and died for our sins. It's a little harsh to celebrate while His body was still in the grave.

How did Christ's original disciples spend the night after the Passover? Were they celebrating the night of this alleged observance, while their teacher's body lay in the garden tomb?  It seems unlikely. There is no mention of a celebration that night, and John 20:11 tells us that Mary Magdalene was still weeping when she went to the tomb. The disciples appeared to be visibly upset when Christ met them on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:17. Lavish food was the furthest thing from their minds.

I know, we can't just go on emotion.  It's all about the commanded timing. Well, if the correct timing is so important, why do the gospels differ on as whether the crucifixion happened on the first Day of Unleavened Bread or the day before? There are many exceptions in Jewish law that could explain why Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover early, if they truly did. And what they observed obviously was the Passover. That's what Jesus called it, and He would know. But the larger point is, if taking the bread and wine on the self-same day as the Hebrew Passover were a matter of Christian obedience or salvation, the timeline in the synoptic gospels and John's gospel probably should match. There is no wiggle room when it comes to salvation. Perhaps this is one clue that the exact date one takes the bread and the wine doesn't matter, as long as we obey and do it in the reverent manner the New Testament proscribes.

Paul's use of the Greek word hosakis, an adverb that indicates multiplicity, in 1 Corinthians 11:25 is another indication that taking the bread and the wine wasn't a once-a-year thing. Spiros Zodhiates' Complete Word Study of the New Testament tells us the word can also be rendered "as many times as you do this." One must at least admit this isn't iron-clad evidence that the bread and wine were to be eaten annually, only on the Passover date. Christian recommitment and examination are more effective when they take place on a more frequent basis. I don't know about you, but I can't even remember what I ate for dinner on this day last week. Remembering my struggles and failures from 11 months ago is not a particularly effective assignment.

In short, the case for celebrating Herbert W Armstrong's Night to Be Much Observed is flimsy at best. Christians who honestly consider its alleged timing and symbolism may find it a tad distasteful. The COGs have us celebrate Christ's victory when His body was barely cold in the grave, yet they ignore the miracle of His resurrection. If were commanded to keep it, that would be one thing. But we aren't. It isn't even in the Bible.

I'm sorry, guys. I'm really not trying to be spiteful. I know some of you have Night to Be traditions that you find rich and meaningful. I know some find it a great time to fellowship. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of those things. But if we're going to be honest, if we're going to believe our Bibles rather than men, well, the Night to Be isn't in the Bible. If it's wrong for man to create his own religious traditions, well, then, the Night to Be has to go. So does the opening night service at the Feast of Tabernacles. So do Purim and Hanukkah, the latter of which we have evidence Jesus observed. But that's another story for another day.

Wait! I have a great idea.  I'll stop now and promise not to further criticize your man-made Night to Be celebration if you promise not to criticize my man-made celebration of the Resurrection on Sunday. Do we have a deal?

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, March 31, 2015

Gardening with God, or Growing Spiritual Fruit

Winter is officially over, and I'm getting ready for one of my favorite spring traditions. Late at night, after the kids are asleep, I like to grab a lawn chair and park it underneath one of the fruit trees in my yard. If I'm really quiet, I can hear the sound of the branches grunting as they push out new fruit.

Ok, not really. I'm just having a little fun. Fruit development is a natural process that happens when a branch is attached to a plant, not something any old branch can work up on its own. I know you thought I was nuts the moment I wrote about branches straining to pop out fruit. But do you miss that point in the many Biblical passages that discuss spiritual fruit?

I know, few people think they fall into that category. But at this time of year, that message is easy to miss in the Churches of God. I know I did, for years. We work ourselves into such a frenzy scrubbing and vacuuming and examining and analyzing that we can lose sight of the bigger picture. And no, I don't mean overdoing the physical preparation at the expense of the spiritual. I mean the fact that God, not man, plays the lead role in removing sin and producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

First, let me give credit where credit is due. The COGs do focus on eliminating sin to a greater extent than some liberal mainstream Christian denominations. Abstention from sin is a good thing - it's a biblical command (though we at As Bereans Did might disagree with the COGs on what is commanded of Christians and what qualifies as sin).

However, the COG focus is likely the result of their collective misunderstandings about salvation, not necessarily moral or doctrinal superiority. Herbert W Armstrong, who founded the modern-day COG movement, taught that a Christian's rate of spiritual growth factored into whether he would receive eternal life.

"And unless we do continue to grow in spiritual character development, more and more like God, we become like the unborn babe that miscarries - or like an abortion!" (Herbert W Armstrong, Just What Do You Mean Born Again, p. 45). 

Don't get me wrong, striving against sin is necessary. It's commanded. We should be actively, aggressively pursuing holiness in our lives. But there are two problems with the salvation theory that HWA taught. First of all, it causes us to live in fear. I'm not talking about a healthy fear - or respect - for God, but fear that any slip, any personal shortcoming, any sin we have yet to overcome will land us in the Lake of Fire.

The second, which I want to address today, is that HWA's model puts man in the driver's seat of a process of which we are not even qualified to be co-pilots. I know that different COG splinters emphasize man's responsibility toward rooting out his own sin and transforming himself to varying degrees. Still, nearly all depict the Holy Spirit as a power tool man wields to clean up his own sin, rather than God Himself changing us from the inside out. The problem is, the Bible describes us as instruments in God's hands, not vice versa. HWA's teaching simultaneously demotes God and elevates man to support a burden he cannot bear.

In reality, we are subordinate in the process of sanctification (mainstream Christianity defines "sanctification" as the process of becoming more like Christ. Though we must play an active role, we do not have equal roles. God leads and we follow. Scripture indicates that we have responsibilities, but we are not in charge.

(1 Thessalonians 5:23) "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." God, not man, is responsible for our complete sanctification. He is responsible for state of righteousness.

(Philippians 2:12-13) "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."  We have work to do, but at the end of the day, God works His will in our lives will accomplish His purposes.  We will discuss this verse in more detail later on in this post.

(Hebrews 12:7-11) "If you endure chastening, God deals with you as sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of the spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it". In this word picture, God is the parent - the one in charge, and we are the child - the one who is being corrected. He corrects us for our own good, and when we yield to this correction, it produces the fruit of righteousness in our lives.

(Hebrews 13:20-21) "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." God, not man, will make Christians complete, to do His will. He works in us to make us pleasing to Himself.

John 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." As shown in the opening example, we bear fruit through our relationship with Christ. Branches bear fruit when then are nourished by their connection to the tree. They do not push out apples in a vacuum. Likewise, we cannot work up love, joy, peace and the other fruit of the Spirit on our own. It is a fruit of the Spirit dwelling in us.

Once we recognize that God leads us in the process of sanctification, we can truly learn to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14, Galatians 5:16). How does the Holy Spirit lead us? Christian theologian and author Wayne Grudem elaborates.  The Holy Spirit teaches us (John 14:26), renews our desires and our minds (Ephesians 4:17-24). The Holy Spirit can give us specific commands to obey (Acts 8:29; 10:19-20; 11:12; 13:12). Grudem sums it up well when he contrasts these dramatic commands from the Spirit with submission to the Holy Spirit's daily guidance in the life of a Christian.

"But in the vast majority of cases the leading and guiding by the Holy Spirit is not nearly as dramatic as this. Scripture talks rather about a day-to-day guidance by the Holy Spirit - being 'led' by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14, Galatians 5:18), and walking according to the Spirit (Romans 8:4, Galatians 5:16). Now it is possible to understand Paul here to be referring only to obedience to the moral commands of Scripture, but this interpretation seems quite unlikely, especially since the entire context is dealing with emotions and desires which we perceive in a more subjective way, and because Paul here (in Galatians 5:16-26) contrasts being led by the Spirit with following the desires of the flesh or the sinful nature." (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 642). 
With this context in mind, we can now accurately consider our role in sanctification. Because we do have a role, an active one - we must strive to obey God and take steps to increase our sanctification, Grudem says. We must grow in both our passive trust in God to sanctify us and in our active striving for greater obedience and holiness.

"Unfortunately today, this 'passive' role in sanctification, this idea of yielding to God and trusting Him to work in us 'to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13), is sometimes so strongly emphasized that it is the only thing people are told about the path of sanctification. Sometimes the popular phrase 'let go and let God' is given as a summary of how to live the Christian life," Grudem says. "But this is a tragic distortion of the doctrine of sanctification, for it only speaks of one half of the part we must play, and, by itself, will lead Christians to become lazy and neglect the active role that Scripture commands them to play in their own sanctification." (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 754)

Verses like 1 Corinthians 6:8, 1 Corinthians 7:1, 2 Peter 1:5 and many others indicate our role in sanctification is active. Let's visit some of the more compelling examples.

(Colossians 3:8-10) "But now you yourselves are to put of all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him." We have put off the old man and put on Christ, so we should reflect His characteristics, not carnal characteristics like lying, anger, filthy language, etc.

(Hebrews 12:14) "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord." Pursuit indicates vigorous, intentional action.

(1 Thessalonians 4:3-5) For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how  to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God. This is a clear, direct command for Christians to abstain from sexual immorality. It requires active obedience on our part.

(Philippians 2:12-13) Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as much in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Some point to verse 12, saying it indicates we are responsible for maintaining our right standing with God once initially reconciled to Him through Jesus. This interpretation certainly would result in a life of fear and trembling! It is, however, incongruent with many other passages that describe the Christian attitude as at peace and filled with joy. And it glosses over verse 13, which tells us it is God Himself who works us in us to accomplish His will. The words used in verse 12 could easily be translated as "respect," "awe" and "reverence."

The Expositor's Bible Commentary offers helpful context for this verse - Paul is not rebuking the Philippians, whom this passage indicates have a track record of obedience. He is exhorting them to pursue their Christian progress without undue dependence on his presence. Earlier in the book (Philippians 1:27) he also encourages them to be as diligent in his absence as they were when he was present.

"The Philippians had always obeyed the commands of God implicit in the gospel. This response had occurred first when Paul originally evangelized them, and had been witnessed by him on all of his subsequent visits. But there must be just as careful attention given this matter while Paul was away and especially if his circumstances should prevent a return, for they owed their obedience not merely to him but to their Lord. " (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Exposition of Philippians). 

And just what did Paul mean by "working out your own salvation?

"Hence, working out salvation does not mean "working for" salvation, but making salvation operational. Justification must be followed by the experiential aspects of sanctification, by which the new life in Christ is consciously appropriated and demonstrated. The emphasis on 'your' salvation ('your own,' KJV) may reflect the circumstance that Paul wished to visit Philippi to advance them spiritually. In the event that he could not, they must not depend on him but must work out their spiritual progress, because the same Lord who would work through Paul also worked in them." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Exposition of Philippians).

"'With fear and trembling' is no contradiction of the joyful spirit permeating this letter. Christian joy is the experience of every believer in God's will, but holy fear of God that trembles at the thought of sin is also the attitude of the careful Christian." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Exposition of Philippians)

Hopefully you see that not all Christian denominations are shallow social clubs that tell followers they can live any way they want after they are "saved, contrary to the picture the COGs paint of anything outside of Armstrongism. Christian should exhibit fruit and works, but as the evidence that a believer has salvation, not the thing that brings him salvation, or maintains his "saved" status.

The Days of Unleavened Bread are the very picture of working for salvation. In fact, that was likely the lesson that God had in mind for Israel when He instituted the festival. Cleaning out leavening - like eliminating our own sin - is an impossible task. That is how the Days of Unleavened Bread were a shadow that pointed to Jesus (Colossians 2:16-17). But do the COGs move beyond the tutelage that Sinai provided (Galatians 3:24) and embrace the substance of the freedom available in Christ?

No, they continue to live in the shadows, heavily focusing on ritual and human effort. Paul understood that the brethren at Corinth were already unleavened (1 Corinthians 5:6); how is it that we miss this detail today? (For more context on what Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians 5, please read Were gentiles in Corinth observing the Feast of Unleavened bread?)

Instead, they insist you must perform an impossible physical ritual, which symbolizes an even more impossible spiritual activity. If you don't do both, to an unspecified percentage of completion, your salvation is in danger. How much is enough? Well, of course God doesn't expect you to be perfect. You just have to try, and bear some fruit. How hard, and how much fruit? How much is enough to be sure? There is only one sure thing - that you will sit dejected at Passover, feeling like you should have done more.

The truth is, you would always need to do more, if your "doing" was what gave you right standing with God, or even maintained it once Jesus' blood covered your past sins, as the COGs teach. You could never do enough. That was the lesson the practices of the Sinai Covenant were intended to teach. And then there's the sizable list of commands Jesus and His apostles gave Christians. Careful self-examination according to that list shouldn't leave us calculating our spiritual batting average. It should humble us to realize there is nothing except the shed blood of Jesus that can save us.

Beloved child of God, do not place a yoke upon yourself that you were never meant to carry.  Jesus has taken your heavy burden. The yoke He offers is easy, and the burden is light.  Quit living in the shadows and step fully into the New Covenant.

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, March 24, 2015

Scrubbing from the Wrong Side

Do you hate cleaning windows as much as I do? It's got to be one of the top five worst household chores ever. You usually start off with glass cleaner and a paper towel, only to discover you're leaving tiny shreds of paper all over the pane. Then you try a rag, and the results are a little better. Still, when you take a step back, you still see random streaks. And a big smudge right in the middle. You spray and scrub several more times. No good. Somehow, this magical smudge is impervious to any cleaning product ever formulated.

Finally it dawns on you. The smudge is on the other side of the window. You've been cleaning the wrong side all along. Rolling your eyes, you head outside.

This technique works fine if we're talking about windows. But what if we're talking about cleaning something in a place where you can't just step to the other side?

Many of you in the Churches of God are in the midst of your annual Passover preparation. You'll take stock of your spiritual condition since the last Passover. You'll determine how much progress you're making in overcoming sin. How is that going for you? Are you making good progress? How much sin have you cleared out of your life in the past year?

Celebrating the Days of Unleavened Bread is a great framework to explore the problem of sin in our lives. Let's consider the teachings of Herbert W Armstrong on this matter. (Herbert Armstrong founded the Worldwide Church of God, which has since splintered into many smaller groups, including the Living Church of God; United Church of God; Philadelphia Church of God; Church of God, a Worldwide Association; Church of God, an International Community and many others. Most of these groups hold fast to Armstrong's teachings on sin and salvation).

HWA taught that the problem of human sin was primarily external, not internal. He taught that Satan broadcasts his negative attitudes through the air, much like radio signals, and humans absorb them.
"We humans start out at birth all right" (Herbert W Armstrong, The Incredible Human Potential, p. 162) but then "acquire" our evil nature from Satan's broadcasts (The Incredible Human Potential, p. 154).
"The spirit in  every human being is automatically tuned in on Satan's wavelength. You don't hear anything because he does not broadcast in words - nor in sounds, whether music or otherwise. He broadcasts in ATTITUDES. He broadcasts in attitudes of SELF-centeredness, lust, greed, vanity, jealousy, envy, resentment, competition, strife, bitterness and hate." (The Incredible Human Potential, p. 151)
"Utilizing this same principle, Satan, prince of the power of the air, stirs the spirits of humans, injecting into them attitudes, moods and impulses of selfishness, vanity, lust, and greed, attitudes of resentment against authority, of jealousy and envy, of competition and strife, of resentment and bitterness, of violence, murder and war. People do not recognize the source of these attitudes, feelings, motives and impulses." (The Incredible Human Potential, p. 152)
Many of today's COGs carry this teaching forward. In its booklet "Transforming Your Life," the United Church of God explains that children are born with a neutral nature - tabula rasa - but are quickly influenced by Satan and the world. The theory of tabula rasa (Latin for "blank slate") is believed to have originated with Aristotle, and hypothesizes that humans are born morally neutral and that their knowledge comes from experience and perception. If one of the most liberal WCG splinters holds onto Armstrong's theory - which originated in Greek philosophy, not the Bible - it's a good bet that splinters with more HWA hardliners do, too.

We here at As Bereans Did agree that Satan does influence humanity, individually and collectively. The Bible tells us so. But scripture also clearly states that man's sin problem is internal, not simply externally influenced.

Psalm 51:5 - Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.
The context here shows David isn't writing here about the son he conceived with Bathsheba, but of himself. It would appear the psalmist does not believe he was morally neutral at birth.

Job 14:4 - Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!
Here, Job laments that impure man (or technically, woman) cannot give birth to something pure. The woman produces offspring of a similar nature, and Job does not describe that nature positively.

Psalm 58:3 - The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.
David describes his enemies as liars who were separated from God  before birth. Of course, Old Testament discussion is usually framed with Israel as righteous and her oppressors as wicked. Other passages, in both the Old and New Testaments, describe both Israel and gentiles as wicked, and give us a better picture of man's true condition.

Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is heart is desperately wicked, who can know it?
Our hearts are more than just tuned in to the wrong channel. There is a deeper problem.

It might seem like we're nitpicking here. But the question of sin being internal rather than external is highly relevant, especially this time of year. Because if our hearts are simply tuned to the wrong radio station, over time, we can learn to change the channel. If we are blank slates in which Satan has drawn, then we can pull our Holy Spirit eraser out of our desk and wipe away the filth. But these strategies won't work if the problem is our heart itself.

Christians are obviously commanded to turn from sin and model their behavior after Christ. The Bible uses strong, active words like "strive" and "resist" and "fight" to describe our Christian responsibility. It's easy for us to lose sight of the fact that we are not in full control of this process, or to believe that our salvation is dependent upon how well we perform these responsibilities. This was a connection HWA drilled into the mind of his followers.
"And unless we do continue to grow in spiritual character development, more and more like God, we become like the unborn babe that miscarries - or like an abortion!" (Herbert W Armstrong, Just What Do You Mean Born Again, p. 45). 
The question is, grow to what extent? To what degree, what percentage of holy, righteous character must we grow in order to avoid being aborted, or thrown in the Lake of Fire? Such questions are unanswered because they unanswerable, and leave many COG members living their lives in fear. The fear of "what if?"

This is why confusing steps in the redemption process is so damaging, according to theologian and pastor John Piper. Our only hope for progress in gradually becoming like Christ is that we already have right standing with God by faith, Piper explains in his book Counted Righteous in Christ. This right standing establishes the very relationship in which we find the help and power to make progress. Without this assurance, the battle is uncertain and engaged in fear, not confidence. The fallout that results from this kind of spiritual warfare is not pretty.
"If the battle of sanctification is made part of our justification, as the newer challenge tends to make it, a great part of the foundation for triumphant warfare against sin is removed, and we are made to fight a battle that has already been fought for us and that we cannot win." (John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ, p. 50).
We can try to scrub all the dirt off the window, figuratively speaking, as long as we like. We can brush the dirt away all we like. We can try really hard, then try really hard some more, then keep trying hard. We can try to wield the Holy Spirit as a sponge. We may get some of the spots off. But we can't get it all. We are washing the window from the wrong side.

The Days of Unleavened Bread demonstrated this harsh reality to Israel. They might not have had all the nooks and crannies in their houses and leavened convenience foods, but still, did you ever notice Israel never seemed to be concerned with how their dough would become leavened once again? They may have been symbolically clean for a week, but the leavening always came back. Likewise, we can scrub the leavening out of every corner of our home, but our hearts will keep spewing crumbs until the day we die.

This is why the Days of Unleavened Bread were a shadow pointing Israel to Christ and permanent deliverance from sin He alone provided. But instead of learning that lesson, the COGs continue to embrace the shadow, focusing on a physical ritual we can't carry out completely, symbolizing a spiritual  action that we are even less capable of completing. Yet the COGs teach we must pursue both impossible tasks to an unspecified threshhold of completion, or else our salvation is in jeopardy. What's wrong with this picture?

There is hope. Isaiah 53, which prophesies the sacrifice of the suffering servant, tells us that we can be healed through Jesus' stripes. This does not refer to physical healing, but of the healing of our hearts available through the shed blood of Jesus. Of the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Of the justification, or right standing we can obtain through His sacrifice. Once we have right standing with God, secure in His salvation and love, then we can move on to the God-led work of sanctification, or becoming more and more like Christ.

Now that your Passover examination is almost done, tell me, do you only have a few fingerprints on the inside of your windows? Or are there dark, stubborn smudges that only a miracle could remove?  Does your heart need some fine-tuning, or are you in need of major surgery? Thankfully, we have a great Physician, a spiritual cardiologist, who is able to address our heart problems from the inside, the only place that will make an eternal difference.

(Mark 2:16-17, New Living Translation) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, "Why does He eat with such scum?" When Jesus heard this, he told them, "Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous but those who know they are sinners."

Do you think you are righteous, in need of repentance for a few inner thoughts and choice words? Or has your Passover examination brought to mind deep stains of pride, lust or envy? Quit trying to wipe out those stains by yourself. Quit placing your faith in your own efforts. Step into the New Covenant and place your full faith for salvation in Jesus' completed work on the cross. Then, and only then, can He begin the real change, from the right side of your heart.

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