Thursday, September 30, 2010

Without Law There Is No Sin

In my last post, I went over the idea that "We are not saved by law, we are saved by grace through the shed blood of the Messiah." I focused on what was left unsaid. I see that the reasoning in this idea is perfect, but it's not really the true belief of Armstrongism.
This time I would like to move forward and hit on repentance, from the Armstrongist perspective.

"When we are repentant we are then baptised, have hands laid on us, and the Holy Spirit is granted to us from the Father."

Here is something that I want to point out. The phrase "when we are repentant" is here (and I'm not in disagreement with repentance) but do you notice anything missing? Where is faith?? "When we are repentant" is absolutely, positively worthless and incomplete without faith.

Notice something... what was the baptism of John? A baptism to repentance (MAR. 1: 4). Was it sufficient? No. It was not the baptism of the Holy Spirit (MAT. 3: 11; ACT. 11: 16).

(ACT. 19: 1-6) 1 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

It is possible to have repentance preached to you, and not even hear of the Holy Spirit. What I'm getting at is, it is possible to conjure up a feeling of repentance that is not from God. Granted, that isn't what the line of reasoning that I'm dealing with today is saying. But I think this fact is still important and relevant because it's not what is said that matters but what is actually practiced.

The quote states the Holy Spirit will come after baptism and laying on of hands. But it does stipulate that baptism comes after repentance. I agree that it looks like baptism really should include some repentance, laying on of hands, and the Holy Spirit being imparted. This is not a hard and fast rule. Cornelius and his entire family received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. But at any rate, we can see that, just like in the last post, on the surface the claim is pretty sound.
But what does Paul say in verse 4? Baptism comes after faith in Jesus Christ.
And it is faith that is left out of the Armstrong equation, because in Herbert Armstrong's equation of repentance, there is only room for law.

It isn't the faithful that are baptized in Armstrongism, it is the "repentant." What does that mean? Repentant from what? Sin. Repentant to what? Law-keeping. (And by that I mean "the law" as defined by Herbert Armstrong.)

In the Armstrongist system, "sin" is breaking this list of requirements that defines sin ("the law"), and "repentance" is the intent to adhere to the list of requirements that defined sin ("the law"). Let's look at where Herbert Armstrong justifies his definition of sin:

(I JON. 3: 4) [KJV] Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

Notice that I had to use the KJV to get this wording. The focal point is "sin is the transgression of the law." So, we were always told, "sin is breaking the law." Of course, we never asked, "what law?" We simply assumed "Old Covenant law" was meant, and went with that.

One might say to me, "You're wrong. The definition of 'sin' isn't the transgression of the law, the definition of 'sin' is 'missing the mark.' The law is the mark we're aiming at, and transgressing the law is just an example of missing the mark."
Actually, perfection is the mark, but let's not split hairs. Let's talk about missing the mark, then.

When any Armstrongist speaks of "repentance," inherent in that word is the idea of keeping a certain cherry-picked list of Old Covenant laws. Not all 613, mind you, more like an estimated 0.2% of the 613 Old Covenant laws. Is there anyone who would say 0.2% is scoring a bulls eye? But Armstrongism doesn't require all 613 laws; most of those were declared to be "ceremonial" and then they were dismissed. Oh, we still quoted Matthew 5: 18 with clockwork regularity though.
But even the laws that we aimed at are not actually kept. Unfortunately, in that, we condemned ourselves!! By our own definitions of sin and repentance, none of us ever truly hit the target, because none of us ever kept the laws we said were mandatory. I'm not referring to how we all regularly stumbled (which is missing the mark). I'm not talking about getting better at law-keeping over a lifetime of law-keeping. No, no! I mean we never began to keep the law that we claimed was required.

Booths are not built at the Feast of Booths. Travel is done on only one of the three Holy Days which require travel. The weekly Sabbath is not restful, but food is cooked for pot-lucks and many a waiter and waitress are made to serve food on the Sabbath. According to the tithe laws, tithing is of orchard, garden, field, and flock only, yet our tithes were of money from any income (try sending in a tenth of your tomatoes to church headquarters this year and see if they accept that). A shofar or a trumpet is never blown on the Feast of Trumpets. Some splinter groups still mandate three tithes, but that third tithe - which was supposed to go to the needy - has almost never gone to the needy. I'm supposed to believe this is hitting the mark?
And every time we at ABD are confronted with this notion, we respond, "Then why don't you keep the law?" So, if sin is "missing the mark," then none of us ever stopped "sinning." None of us "repented."

Never the less, in Armstrongism, breaking the law is the very essence of sin. This kind of legal hypocrisy is soundly condemned in James 2. I contend that, given the evidence before us, none of us should have been baptized. We didn't meet our own standards!

In baptismal counselling there was a whole series of material to read and interviews to go through. Proof had to be given that one had been regularly following the church's traditions and the full desire was to continue in that. This is "repentance."

Now, think about something --
What is the order in the reasoning? First is "repentance" (into law-keeping), then comes baptism, next comes laying on of Hands, and finally we receive the Holy Spirit.
BUT we also taught that the problem with the Old Covenant was that no one could keep the law without the Holy Spirit, and that is why Jesus died. We were taught that Jesus died so He could forgive us and send the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost specifically for the purpose of helping us to keep the law. In fact, we were regularly told that the reason the rest of the world was not in the church, and didn't know the law, was because they didn't have the Holy Spirit.
So I ask you -- how, then, can anyone repent before they have the Holy Spirit?

According to Armstrong's teachings, mankind is supposed to be utterly unable to comprehend and understand that the law needs to be kept without the influence of the Holy Spirit. So how can anyone repent before they receive the Holy Spirit? By this reasoning, they cannot. It was our teaching that it is utterly impossible for mankind to keep the law without the Holy Spirit, yet keeping the law is required to receive the Holy Spirit. Circular reasoning? You betcha!

And what's more, how could we justify condemning anyone over it?

I have some other questions as well because there are problems that need to be brought to light. Specifically, how could anyone repent before receiving the Holy Spirit at baptism, and also how could anyone continue to sin after receiving the Holy Spirit at baptism? People have attempted to solve these problems in certain ways. I want to look that.

So sin was supposedly breaking the law, and repentance was supposedly keeping the law. But, as we saw earlier, none of us kept the law. One potential answer to this dilemma has been that actually keeping the law was not necessary. So long as we tried to keep the law, Jesus would forgive us our failures.
So  we see now that the definition of repentance must be watered down away from actual law-keeping and into the intent to keep the law. This is somewhat of a "virtual law-keeping." But this still doesn't solve the dilemma.

What had people been doing before they were baptized? People don't just walk off the street and get baptized in the Church of God. There are no alter-calls. The unbaptized were expected to keep all the same traditions in the very same way as everyone else in the church, and for a good long time at that. Most of those things that were prerequisites for baptism were required to even so much as attend services, let alone be baptized. Baptism was often described as "a commitment to keep doing what you were already doing." There is no apparent difference between someone before baptism and one after. Same requrements. Same understanding. Same sins. That means that people were "keeping the law" without the Holy Spirit. Where does the Holy Spirit enter in, then? We would talk about the prime importance of the Holy Spirit, but when the rubber meets the road what did the Holy Spirit actually do?

Why did a teenager who had been in the church their entire life do the exact same things as the people who had been baptized for 40 years? Why was a drunk required to quit drinking or a smoker required to quit smoking before baptism? That means they did it on their own - without God. Do we not see how the focus is on the self and our efforts, and not on God and His efforts in us? (What is being taught and what is actually happening are two different things.)
The only real difference I ever saw in the older members was that they had more knowledge of the teachings; in other words, they had more ability to debate the minutae. Are we to conclude that the actual job of the Holy Spirit was to impart knowledge of the details of Armstrongism to us? Then what about the hidden things, like Herbert Armstrong's false prophecies and such? The Holy Spirit didn't impart knowledge to us about those things!

Are we to conclude that the Holy Spirit is active in a person's life before baptism and the laying on of hands? What of the process, then? Is it now: Holy Spirit, then repentence, then baptism, then laying on of hands? No one taught that!

And after baptism we all still sinned and failed to hit the mark. Not a one of us actually followed the law before or after baptism. Sure, we said we did, and we deeply believed we did, but as you can see from what I said previously it is clear that in all reality none of us honestly did. So, what did the Holy Spirit actually do? The Holy Spirit was to help us to keep the law - but all of us broke the law -- and none of us were ever actually keeping the law as written. What did the Holy Spirit actually do, then? You'd think we would be perfect - or at least a whole heck of a lot better - at keeping the law if God was involved like that.

Are we to conclude that the Holy Spirit was active in a person's life before baptism and laying on of hands, but not very much afterwards? Again, what of the process? Is it now: Holy Spirit, then repentence, then baptism, then laying on of hands, then the Holy Spirit goes on vacation and Jesus' forgiveness takes over? No one taught that either!

What on earth are we to conclude, then? Is the Holy Spirit of God impotent? God forbid! If the Holy Spirit was imparted to help us keep the law, which we never kept, are we to believe that it is God's fault that we sinned? God forbid!!

What's more, we were also told that we are just embryos in this life, and the Holy Spirit starts small in us and grows over a lifetime, and we will never be perfect in this life. But if no one can expect to hit the mark of law-keeping in this lifetime, even with a great amount of the Holy Spirit, then how could we possibly ever be expected to repent before we had the Holy Spirit in the first place? Is it the intent to repent leading to the intent to keep the law that matters??

What's even more, we were told God wanted us to keep the law to prove that He could trust us with eternity and Godhood. We would prooftext verses like Deuteronomy 8: 2 to support this claim. But that doesn't answer anything because if God was in us, and indeed in us for the very stated purpose of helping us to keep the law, then why did He require that we prove anything, let alone prove what He was supposedly doing in us? Shouldn't He already know what He was doing in us?
I'm still a bit confused about what is proved out by a lifetime of failing to keep the law.

Was He not in us? Did He not know us already?? In John 1: 47, Jesus saw Nathaniel coming and it was clear that Jesus knew every detail of his whole life. Same with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Did God not know Pharaoh's heart - both in Abraham's day and in Moses' day? Are we to believe that He is inside of us, living inside of us, and doesn't know us? He knows the secrets of all men, but He doesn't know His own temple? It makes no sense that God needs a lifetime of failed attempts at keeping a fraction of the law to prove that He knows our hearts and can trust us.
So I am expected to believe that God desires -- nay, NEEDS - to see me try and try and try to do something I can't possibly do in this lifetime in order to prove to Him that I'm worthy of eternal life? And that's not "earning" something because......? Why not have me try to do something I can do, then? Like, oh, I donno... love, or feed the poor, or have faith in Him?

What's more still, and this is the biggest issue for me personally, why did we condemn others who were sinners just like we were??
Here is a quote: "No-one even realizes that he is committing sin against God until he or she becomes aware of the fact that there is an existing law that defines sin." Oh? Then how are they still condemned by us? Mainstream Christians weren't keeping the same laws we weren't keeping. Yet we condemned them and gave ourselves a pass because, "We are forgiven when we sin because at leas twe try to keep the law."
And there we really have what I was getting at. It was never about God's effort in us, it was about our own effort. Works-based salvation. The law wasn't a measure of our sin, it was our measure of other people's sins. With our mouths we praised grace, but with everything else we denied it.

We were only ever condemning ourselves (ROM. 2: 1). How we could condemn so many and expect to not be condemned is beyond me. How we could measure out so unfairly and expect to be measured back any differently is beyond my capacity. But hey! At least we didn't have a Christmas tree, right?

And where is Jesus' finished work on the cross during all of this? Nowhere to be found. De-emphasized!

If by this point you don't see that I'm chasing this in a circle (because it is circular) then perhaps I should stop beating around the bush and come right out and say that the entire definition of sin and repentance, as Herbert Armstrong defined them, doesn't work in the New Covenant. Can a person who holds such a definition of sin and repentance truly accept what I'm getting at?

Let's look at one more related verse that throws up a roadblock to understanding. This is a verse that is regularly used to claim that sin cannot exist without law:

(ROM. 5: 13b) ...but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

OK. You got me. Partial verse! That's only the last half of the verse. Let's add in the whole thing.

(ROM. 5: 13) For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Isn't that odd, now? The meaning of the verse is radically altered when we read it all. Context!

It clearly states that before the law sin was in the world, only that sin was not imputed. I thought sin couldn't exist without law. I thought the very definition of sin was breaking the Old Covenant law. It would appear that entire idea is, well, un-Biblical.

But what does that mean for I John 3: 4?
Well, strangely, there are really only a couple translations that read anything like the KJV for I John 3: 4. Let's look at one of the different translations; let's look at one that represents the majority view:

(I JON. 3: 4) [NKJV] Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.

Let's break this verse down.
"Whoever commits sin" carries with it the connotation of habitually committing sin. "Also commits lawlessness" or rather "also commits iniquity" [DRB] is not at all in reference to Old Covenant law, but is in contrast to Christ's righteousness. John has started this section by describing Jesus' purity (v. 3), and his intent here is to make it clear that continuing a life of habitual impurity is not acceptable for a Christian. Righteousness, in New Covenant terms, is not from the law anyhow (ROM. 3: 21; GAL. 2: 21; PHP. 3: 9). Do we require the Old Covenant to tell us what impurity is? Do the Apostles not many times tell us about the "lusts of the flesh" and "works of the flesh" (GAL. 5: 19; I PET. 4: 2; I JON. 2: 16)? Whoever is habitually led by the flesh and not by the Spirit is committing wickedness (the definition of iniquity) and is not growing into the image of Christ. "For sin is lawlessness" or "sin is iniquity"; in other words sin is wickedness and not purity.
So, this verse is not at all trying to convey the idea that the definition of sin is to violate the Old Covenant law. That flawed definition goes against too many other verses in the New Testament; especially where the Gentile converts were concerned since we know none other than the Holy Spirit made it abundantly clear that the Gentiles were under no obligation to the Old law (ACT. 15: 24-29). Certain Jewish converts felt a zeal for the law (ACT. 21: 20), but that was not incumbent upon Gentile converts (ACT. 21: 25). Plus, above all of these things, it ignores the precise method which both Paul and James told us is a complete fulfillment of every law: love (ROM. 13: 8, 10; GAL. 5: 14; JAS. 2: 8). The shadowy, weekly physical rest in the weekly Sabbath is not love, nor does it fulfill the whole law. However any righteous requirement that the law may have had is fulfilled in love. Even John himself, in this very chapter, never points to the Old law, but points us to love:

(I JON. 3: 11) For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another
(I JON. 3: 14) We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.

The majority of this chapter is about love. None of it is about the Old Covenant law.
Verse 4 is abused by legalists as a proof text. The context is ignored. The original Greek is ignored. Proper translations are ignored. The surrounding verses are ignored. But when we take the time to look at it all, we see what John was getting at.

To round out this post, I would like to mention faith and works in James 2.
It never ceases to amaze me that every time I go over this topic, someone turns to James 2 and makes this claim:
"Faith without works is dead faith. So we need to keep the law."

This idea comes from a misreading of James 2. Let's look at that, starting with verse 17:

(JAS. 2: 17) Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Where in here do we see the word "law"? The Greek word here translated "works" is "ergon", not "nomos." Nomos is law, ergon is "toil." There is no possible way to get the concept of Old Covenant law from this Greek word for toil.
James just finished giving examples of what work he had in mind in verses 15 and 16, and they are acts of love, not Sabbath keeping or any other such thing. In fact toil is the diametric opposite of a Sabbath rest.

If we had read James 2, as I touched on earlier, we would see that James is not promoting Old Covenant law-keeping, he is condemning hypocrisy. He makes the point that if you're going to require law-keeping, then keep the law as the law demands to be kept, because if you stumble in one point then you're guilty of it all. Better, then, that you seek to be judged by the law of liberty and liberally practice mercy and love!
So James moves away from legalistic hypocrisy and onto hypocrisy of faith. He is demonstrating in verse 17 that faith, if it does not have its intended effect in us, is dead faith. What is the result of faith? The in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. Armstrongists would claim that is the result of "repentance" into law-keeping, but the Bible never once even comes close to making that claim. Paul specifically states in Galatians 3: 2-3, "This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?"
No, the Spirit does not come to us by law-keeping (much less partial law-keeping); the Spirit comes by faith. It is foolish to think that the Spirit comes by law. But when the Spirit comes by faith, what comes with the Spirit? The fruits of the Spirit (GAL. 5: 23-24)! Paul agrees with James yet again in saying that if we have the Spirit in us we will put to death the passions of the flesh. Sins will be put away by the circumcision of Christ, not by law-keeping (COL. 2: 11). The Spirit will change our hearts (JER. 31: 33; HEB. 8: 10, 10: 16) and make the righteous requirements of the law part of us in a way that law-keeping can never do. This is a process called "sanctification," and it takes a lifetime. And if our heart is changed, acts of love will flow from the Spirit, sanctifying us. But it is primary to remember that it is not us, but the Spirit in us, who does these things. If the Spirit's fruit aren't there, then works do not follow. If the works and the fruits are not there, then the faith is dead faith! Because the Spirit has been quenched by habitually chasing after iniquity.

This is the opposite of the Armstrong way, which says, "You do it. Then the Spirit will come and help you do it more." No! God does it all in us (PHP. 2: 13). It is all to His glory (ROM. 11: 36). By faith from first to last (ROM. 1:17). Our task is merely to trust Him and tend the garden of our heart to make His fruit grow (for the good of others).
This is what James and John and Paul are saying! James is not talking about Old Covenant law!! It is about love which comes from the in-dwelling of the Spirit which comes by faith in Jesus Christ - the substance of the Old Covenant shadows.

(COL. 2: 11-17) 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

We can conclude, dear reader, that what the Holy Spirit determined in Acts 15 is not by any means un-done by a misreading of John's epistle or by Herbert Armstrong or by proof-texting or by anything else. The Old Covenant is gone, and its laws with it; ended by Jesus' death on the cross. And that includes the 10 Commandments which are the foundation of the Old Covenant (EXO. 34: 28; DEU. 4: 13; DEU. 9: 9; DEU. 9: 11; DEU. 9: 15)! The shadow is fulfilled by the Substance. It is finished! He did it! Hallelujah! What Good News!
Sin existed before the law, contrary to our manifold claims. So sin can exist apart from a written code. How? Because God's is love. God's righteousness is from faith and not law. Anything that is not of faith is sin (ROM. 14: 23b). So, as the authors of the New Testament all agree, love and faith are what God desires (I JON. 3: 23). If a Christian is habitually faithless and loveless, then that Christian is not conforming to the image of Christ (or the law, for that matter). But true repentance and the in-dwelling of the Spirit have nothing to do with our own efforts.

Next time I plan to continue this line of reasoning and look at the Armstrongist view of forgiveness and grace.

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

1 comment:

xHWA said...

3-8-2011 --
I re-ordered this post and rewrote a few portions because I thought it was confusing. I hope it's a bit less confusing now.