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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Are Not Saved By Law

Today I want to start a short series of posts that look more closely at a very common line of reasoning that I hear quite regularly in conversations with Armstrongists. I am going to break the whole reasoning into parts and deal with the parts one by one. It starts like this:

"We are not saved by law, we are saved by grace through the shed blood of the Messiah."

In every way, this sentence, taken alone, is directly in agreement with mainstream Christianity. It is absolutely a true statement. Unfortunately, this sentence cannot be taken alone because of what is left unsaid.

See, most Armstrongists have a great understanding of what parts of the law they keep, not so great an understanding of the law they don't keep, and little understanding of what it means to be saved. The differences between justification, salvation, and glorification were never once discussed in all my years in the organization. In fact, most think they are not saved... yet. 

"Saved" and "forgiven" are very much confused one for the other. To put this first part of the reasoning into understandable words so that most mainstream Christians could understand what the thinking really is, we would have to change it to this: "We are not forgiven by law, we are forgiven by grace through the shed blood of the Messiah,"
It's an accurate statement, but why would we have to change it like that? Because, as I said, most Armstrongists do not believe they are saved at this time. They do not believe anyone is saved until they have lived a full life in this age and died, then Jesus will return and resurrect the faithful. That is the time when they will know if they are saved or not. If they find themselves resurrected to glory, then they were saved. If not, then not. Right now they just believe they are temporarily forgiven, and live under terms of a flimsy sort of law-based grace.

Armstrongists believe that Jesus came to die to forgive us for past sins, and now we live under a sort of on-again-off-again grace where our present sins will be forgiven if we ask, but God's grace is not permanent! It only lasts until the next sin. After the next sin, there is no sacrifice of Christ for you until you repent once again and ask God for forgiveness. (Better ask quickly!)

No one in this system is ever truly certain that they have received forgiveness, however, because the forgiveness is contingent upon performance. Adherence to the law is the very essence of repentance. An attempt to keep portions of the law must be made to prove to God that one is repentant, then God will forgive only after He sees this effort. But if forgiveness is contingent upon performance, and here you are asking for forgiveness for your poor performance, then how can you ever be certain you've received forgiveness?
Why would lack of confidence in works-based forgiveness surprise the reader, seeing as though this system believes salvation itself will be a surprise when Jesus returns? Can forgiveness truly be less of a surprise than salvation? If you believe that you are not saved at this time, how can you know if you are truly forgiven at this time?

I take exception to this whole notion. Forgiveness is not earned. No one needs forgiveness because we keep a law, but because we've broken it. No one received forgiveness because we have kept a law, but because a merciful God knows we have not. 

The forgiveness is not like the law-keeping - temporary and partial and begrudging. The forgiveness is permanent and true and freely given, undeservedly. The sins are removed as far as the east is from the west, and what was red as scarlet is now white as snow. Permanently!

The astute observer would say, "What is being described by the Armstrongist system isn't grace at all. It's legalism. It's earning forgiveness by works!" And that would be absolutely correct!
The system is legalistic to its core. Only those who keep a certain list of laws will be saved, and all who do not will be condemned. All Herbert Armstrong did was try to fit that round peg of Old Covenant legalism into the square hole of New Covenant grace. He justified sitting on a fence between the two Covenants, fulfilling neither. 
BUT none of this applies inside the mind of the adherent of this system. You see, the adherent holds two opposing views at the same time. This is a condition known as "cognitive dissonance." At one and the same time they do not believe their law-keeping is earning anything, while they also believe law-keeping must be done or Jesus won't forgive. It's more or less semantics. The word "earn" is tossed out in favor of "prove." "We aren't earning," they might say, "we are proving our repentance." But it still misses the point entirely.

I need to compare and contrast a few things, or I feel this idea could be missed. The point of the Gospel is that salvation and forgiveness cannot be earned or proved by our own means, thus God stepped in and did what we cannot do. The "good news" is that these things were completed. The ransom is paid and the breach is healed. This is the foundational Christian message.
Just look at the concept of proving anything to God. God already knows what is in our hearts. Even so, who proves? You do! Where is the focus, then? On you, and your efforts! The idea of needing to perform works of law to prove something to God literally un-does the underlying point of the Gospel.

The focus is not on the redemptive work of God and His Holy Spirit changing the heart by His holy presence in us by faith, but on our own rote repetition of an external code that can never truly change the heart. The focus is not on God's presence making holy, but on our efforts making holy through law-keeping. The focus is not on grace by faith alone (both grace and faith being gifts of God). The focus is not on the light of Christ. The focus is not on the fruits of the Spirit being shared with the needy, but adherence to some law to save our own hides. The focus is not on God's perfection, but our imperfection and our frustrated incapacity to be perfect. The focus is not on love, it's on fear. The focus is not on the desire of God to heal and save a hopeless world that He so loves that He sent His only Son, no, it's on some unreasonable need to pay penance and placate an angry God.
Indeed the thrust of the whole teaching is on the idea that you've been given a reprieve from death, so you'd better be very thankful and not mess up again... but if you do, you'd better be plenty fearful and appease God by demonstrations of false piety through partial-lawkeeping, because He's going to come and destroy all who don't. The truth is that again and again we would hear the word "qualify" spoken from the pulpit in tandem with this fearful version of salvation. But we never knew if we had qualified or not. And in the light of this reality, we can see that we were indeed attempting to earn something with God!

Now that we have a better idea on what is meant when the word "salvation" is used, and that the idea is grossly flawed and uncertain, we need to consider what true salvation entails. Let us start by asking, "Just what do you mean, 'saved'?" 
Does salvation mean:

a) "Ehhhh, kinda less out of trouble than before, but still on some cosmic hit-list"?
b) "Safe for the moment, but as soon as I stumble again, all my sins are again in the spotlight and I am un-saved"?
c) "God has done what He said and totally taken all my sin on Himself in order to redeem me even though I deserve none of it; I have really, genuinely been granted salvation"?

Despite what is said in this first part of the reasoning, what goes on in the deepest heart of an adherent to the Armstrongist view of salvation can be summed up in one word: "IF". And that word, if we are completely honest with ourselves, will always lead an Armstrongist to answer that question with b).
Where is the Rock? Where is the Sure Foundation?? The words "if" and "qualify" are a house on sand! Of course Jesus Christ is a sure foundation, but knowing that He is a sure foundation, important as it is, does nothing if we're not building on that foundation. We can recognize the sure foundation and yet insist on building our house on the shifting sand. We can cry "Lord, Lord" and miss out on salvation because we refuse to do what He says. And He says to build on the sure foundation. He says to have faith! The pivotal idea is that the foundation is sure for us now! If we're not sure, then something is wrong -- and that something is called "lacking faith." In other words, if we're that uncertain then we don't really trust Jesus, do we?

Inherent in the very idea of salvation is the concept of permanence. When we are saved, we are saved! We are not maybe saved in the future at some uncertain time, we are saved because of our faith in what Jesus did 2,000 years ago. Jesus did what He said He would do. He said "It is finished." He did it! There is nothing tenuous about this. There is nothing unreliable or uncertain or unsteady. To simplify the idea with an example, let's compare this to a kitten in a tree. If you save a cat from a tree, then that cat is saved from the tree. End of story. There is no exception that stipulates the cat must never climb again or it will be left there forever. The cat was unconditionally brought down. It was brought down, not because it deserved it, but despite the fact that it could not deserve it. It was not brought down because it showed a desire to get down on its own, but because it could not make it down on its own. The cat was not required to climb half way down to earn being brought the rest of the way. The cat was saved. Period. If anything, all the cat had to do was not kill itself or climb away from your reach. The cat is saved, and the same conditions apply even if the cat goes up the same tree again (hopefully it has learned its lesson). But the cat did not get itself stuck willfully, nor does it climb up again out of spite. It does what cats do. And humans sin because by nature we are imperfect. God knows this.

Here is where I will get complaints about promoting "once saved always saved." Armstrongism is vehemently contrary to Calvinism. I am not arguing here for Five Point Calvinism, or any other system for that matter. All I am saying is that even those who come to grace and stipulate that we always have the option of wilfully walking away from God and knowingly turning to evil and purposefully losing our salvation have still come to grace, and still stand unwaveringly firm in that grace. Of course they think it absurd that anyone who has tasted grace would make such a ludicrous decision to intentionally walk away from it. But the Armstrongist system barely even tastes grace, never completely trusts, and clearly has no sense of permanence in their view of salvation.
To most mainstream Christians, this view of "salvation" appears wholly unsavory. Why would anyone choose to follow this system? We at ABD have speculated on that for some time now, and all we can conclude is fear and pride. There was deceit, of course, deceit which counts on our Biblical and historical ignorance, but the deceit feeds on fear and pride. The fear ropes people into the system, and the pride prevents them from leaving it. There is fear of death, fear of disappointing God, fear of prophetic Tribulation that is never more then "three to four years away", fear of being part of an erroneous religious system, and a host of other fears. The pride is the real kicker. The pride comes in when we were told over and over that we were the "one true church" and "the elect" - a group of hand-selected representatives of the correct system of worshipping the true God, which system had been hidden from the world by Satan and only now in the last days was being revealed to the elect by God's Apostles, and all we had to do was cling to this system of laws until we die and the world would worship us because we were going to become Gods as God Himself is God. Whether born into the system or roped in, we were all of us governed by fear and pride.
However that system turns out to be a cherry-picked selection of Old Covenant laws that violates the true Gospel of grace by faith and leads to little else than false pride and frustrated failure. Pride is perhaps the greatest challenge to this site; how do we get through to people who believe they are already as correct as anyone can be and who abhor the very idea that "Maybe I am wrong."

To round out this post, I would like to mention the Rich, Young Ruler of Matthew 19.
It never ceases to amaze me that every time I go over this topic, someone turns to Matthew 19 and makes this claim:
"When the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19 asked Jesus what he had to do to be saved, Jesus replied '...if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments' (v. 17). Then Jesus lists specific commandments to verify that He was referring to the 10 Commandments. So we have to keep the 10 Commandments in order to enter into life."

On the surface, that would be a fine idea. We at ABD have nothing deeply against keeping the 10 Commandments, even a seventh-day Sabbath. It's when we use the 10 Commandments as a weapon to judge and condemn others (or themselves) that the problem comes in.
But let's look at these verses more closely, because this quote didn't happen in a vacuum. Let's be certain we are not proof-texting, because if it were so simple as "keep the Ten Commandments" then why did Jesus have to come and die for our sins? Why weren't the Jews saved from Sinai? The Pharisees were exceedingly strict about law-keeping, why weren't they saved? Why is the COG7 and the SDA churches not also saved? For that matter, why aren't the Seventh Day Baptists saved? They all keep the 10 Commandments. And why did the conversation between Jesus and this young man continue?

The young man replied to Jesus, "All these things I have kept from my youth" (v. 20).
If it were so simple as "keep the Ten Commandments" then we would be done right here. Salvation achieved. Right? He kept them, did he not? Is that not precisely the argument Armstrongists are arguing when they claim "So we have to keep the 10 Commandments in order to enter into life"?

Of course it's not. What's left unsaid is more important than what was said. It's never just the Ten Commandments. The list always grows and grows. Armstrongism also teaches three tithes, seven Holy Days, seven Holy Day Offerings, adherence to clean/unclean meats laws, and various other regulations and laws, and then there had to be the right name for the church, and then the right Apostle. The legalistic requirements grow and grow! To which we always ask "If these laws are so vital to salvation, then why don't you keep the law?"

And Jesus continued "sell all you have and give to the poor" (v. 21). And how did the man react? He went away (v. 22).
Clearly the idea is nowhere near as simple as "keep the Ten Commandments."
But let's not overlook the incredibly important point that all of this happened before Jesus died, and He is speaking in terms of the Old Covenant, toward the people of the Old Covenant, during the period of the Old Covenant. The New Covenant had not come in yet. We have gone over the concept of the Covenants several times on ABD, and I won't do it again here. Look in the FAQ or the Categories page for more info on this. Suffice it to say that Armstrongism is an attempt to blend the Covenants. No one can place New wine into Old wineskins, or put an unshrunk patch on Old cloth (MAT. 9: 16-17). It ruins both!

Do we think the man's reaction came as a surprise to Jesus? Absolutely not! Jesus knew this man's life story before he opened his mouth. Jesus knew he had kept the 10 Commandments. Jesus knew he would go away before he introduced himself. This story only exists to glorify God, not to promote law-keeping (much less partial law-keeping). We need to read on and see what the point of this conversation was. You see, Jesus was teaching His disciples a lesson, not this young man.

(MAT. 19: 25-26) 25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Jesus didn't say, "With men it is possible, somewhat." Jesus didn't say, "With men it can become possible if you keep trying long enough." Jesus didn't say, "With men it is possible if only they keep the Ten Commandments." No, he said, "With men it is impossible." In other words, the rich, young man was about as cream of the crop as there was, and even with him it was impossible. The Ten Commandments were never going to save him. All of the law-keeping in the world cannot save a one of us. The rich and powerful? Forget it. This astounded the disciples. "Who then can be saved?" they exclaimed!

No one by any effort of their own can add one ounce of salvation to themselves, or add one iota to what Jesus did for us. It is absolutely correct to claim "We are not saved by law, we are saved by grace through the shed blood of the Messiah." If only people believed that! If only people trusted that!

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

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, September 21, 2010

Dealing with Stress? Choose Peace of Mind.

It is considered as fact that a large percentage of disease is the direct result of stress. Add to stress, nutritional deficiency and lack of exercise, and disease is pretty much a certainty. Health starts in the mind, but the condition of our minds are so often out of our control. Before, or at least concurrently with changing to a healthy diet and starting an exercise program, ways, means and techniques for relief of stress, need to be taken into serious consideration.
While listening to a session of people talk about their past weeks emotional difficulties, I observed that most of it had to do with conflicting with other people. It seemed to me that most of the conflicts were entirely unnecessary expressions of pridefulness; people taking offense at real or presumed derogation of self and their response after shifting into “I take no crap from anyone” mode, or “you hurt me and you had no right to do that” mode. Standing up for one's rights so as not to be a doormat is not necessarily unhealthy, but how many conflicts are such that turning the other cheek would result in any real loss. The conflict unsuccessfully avoided will certainly result in a tangible loss when the accumulated affect results in disease, or loss of interest in doing anything worthwhile.
Because of the time lag, cognizance of the direct relationship between cause and effect is frequently muddled and perhaps simply unrecognized. The old saying that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” is most certainly untrue. The question is, can we learn to not allow words to hurt us.
We can't control the words others may hurl at us, but when we allow the negativity of other peoples language to make us upset and angry, we have been controlled. How does that defend out rights or dignity? This can only be considered a successful theft of our peace of mind. In these cases, putting more value on someone's negative opinion than our own internal peace allows the thief entry into our inner mental sanctuary.
Is it possible to smile and simply refuse to participate in a conflict? Not always, but learning to stay in charge of our emotions by staying focused on the greater value of our internal peace will always be the better alternative. When the angry and upset emotions get the upper hand, it's time to clear the mind, break the narrow focus on the cause of the disturbance as you would move a magnifying glass in the sun away from that that smoking point of intense heat to where the light is diffused allowing cooling to take place. Like the magnifying glass, move your awareness out to diffuse into the world and the universe so as to regain perspective. One persons opinion at some given moment fades into insignificance when we have achieved that broader awareness.
What else can we do? How about making use of forgiveness for others so that they loose power over you. People who want to see themselves as tough and as persons who refuse to be walked over frequently see being forgiving as a weakness. The truth is that the very opposite is true. This may not be so easy, meaning that strength is required to go against one's emotions, how can this be considered weakness?
This one may be even harder. How about forgiving your self so you neutralize your own emotional autoimmune activity? That is to say that you quit killing yourself for something that you can't do anything about. You can't change the past, so maintaining self condemnation is self destruction, and just a slow form of suicide.
All the forms and sources of stress are so varied and often complex that it's a given that there is no magic bullet; but keeping a cool head and finding others with cool heads for support and aid in thinking through problems is always a good plan.
If all preventative measures fail and you're left with a high dose of adrenalin and cortisol, it would be a good time to consume it with a good physical workout, perhaps to some high energy music. It would be a shame to waste all that energy on some pathogenic, neuron corroding stewing. It sounds like I'm stating the obvious, but I'm thinking of a person in the aforementioned discussion who said that he'd go to bed after getting riled up by a conflict.
It's certain that demanding respect, and living all the drama that this entails, is profitless. Perhaps it is possible to stay in charge and let everyone who wants their drama take it elsewhere so we can concentrate on doing worthwhile things; like changing that diet, getting a good exercise program going, finding people to share in this endeavor to form a mutual support and encouragement group, and getting a body that feels good to live in.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Penalty of the Law

Today I would like to focus on the oft-repeated argument from Herbert Armstrong that "Jesus freed us from the penalty of the law." I was reading a fine post by J from Shadows titled "In Paul's Words." I wish more people would understand what J is saying. But it got me thinking again about the phrase "penalty of the law."

Here is the reasoning from Armstrongism (and indeed all Adventism, and what's more all Sabbatarianism, and still more all legalism as well):
Upon being justified, a Christian is, "not to repeat the crimes that brought him to the prison in the first place [in Armstrongism's case this means breaking the Old Covenant law]! His previous crimes have been paid for, and he is set free. While he is set free, it doesn’t give him licence to go back and repeat his previous crimes again."
It is likened to a man in a boat. The boat is the law. By violating the Old Covenant law, the man falls out of the boat. Nothing he did could get him back into the boat. Jesus came and died to pay the penalty and now the man is back in the boat. He must not repeat his mistake and fall once again out of the boat.

On the surface this is a fine-sounding bit of reasoning. Certainly, Jesus did not die to give us license to sin. But there is more than meets the eye here. Let's take this line of reasoning, think it through to its logical conclusions, and look at what we get.


Paul's pleading with Peter in Galatians 2 hearkens all the way back to Acts 10 and 11 and centers around the separation of Jew and Gentile, which wall of separation was broken down at Christ's death, and which wall of separation Peter was attempting to build back again. In Acts 10 Peter admits this wall existed and that it was broken down by God Himself.
The Torah law separated Jew from Gentile in many ways: geographically, maritally, by circumcision, according to diet, according to religious practice, etc. This is the law. Every one of these partitions were broken down by Jesus on the cross.
With that in mind, let's quickly review the Armstrongist definition of sin - lawbreaking.
With that definition we can conclude that if "sin" is "transgressing the [Old Covenant] law," and that very law separated Jew from Gentile, then bringing Jew and Gentile together is a sin. If Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, and now expects us by our own effort to keep the law better than ever, then Jew and Gentile are separated more firmly than ever.
Jew must strive not to break the law by mingling with Gentile. Gentile must not mix with Jew and cause him to sin. This is the law, and this is the true nature of that which the legalists demand be kept without flaw. Certain Armstrongists perpetuate this idea with their own twist by declaring it a punishable offense to mingle with non-Armstrongists, or Armstrongists of a different corporate organization, even if they are your own flesh and blood!

This idea contradicts the Gospel!
The Jewish converts at first thought the separation between Jew and Gentile was in force. Acts 11: 19 shows us that the Gospel only went out to the Jews. It wasn't until God made it plain to Peter that the wall of separation was demolished that the Holy Spirit came to the Gentiles.
Can't we see that if Armstrong was right, the Gospel would never have gone out to the Gentiles!
At best, if it were true as HWA taught, then the Gentiles would by absolute necessity have been required to be circumcised and keep the law. But this is precisely what the enemies of the Gospel were saying, not the Apostles.

The very idea makes Jesus a minister of sin since He tore down the wall of separation in clear violation of the law, and taught both Peter and Paul to act in violation of the law. This is precisely what Paul was saying to Peter in Galatians 2!
Peter had fallen for the legalist arguments without thinking it all the way through. "Keep the law" sounds great, until we see what the ramifications of that actually are. (Please read the Plain Truth About Peter's Hypocrisy for more detail on that.)

I would love for you to read Ephesians 2: 11-22, but for the sake of time and space I will focus on verses 14-16:

(EPH. 2: 14-16) 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

Can't we see that if the law is in force, and Jesus died to remove the death penalty only, then we tear to bits the body of Christ Himself! So it cannot be right. It cannot be what Jesus wants.

For emphasis, let's see another example of where the idea leads.

(COL. 2: 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.

In order to make sense of this verse according to our doctrine, we were taught that the "handwriting of requirements" meant "penalty of the law," because what was required was our death. The consequence of that is the rest of the chapter needs to be reinterpreted to the point that it loses its meaning. Verse 17 now becomes meaningless and worthless. The shadow is embraced and the reality is left out in the cold. We loved the Sabbath shadow, and we misunderstood the justification Christ died to bring us.
Can't we see that we made a god of the law, in violation of the law we idolized!


Let us take that idea one step farther and ask where do we get this phrase "penalty of the law" anyhow?

It is nowhere to be found in the Bible.
Even the word "penalty" alone, apart from the phrase, is to be found zero times if we check the KJV. "Penalty" appears seven times in the NKJV, but every instance in the Old Testament is either in the introduction notes or italicized to indicate that it was added for readability. The word translated "penalty" in the NKJV New Testament is from the Greek word "antimisthia." "Antimisthia" appears only twice in the Greek New Testament, once in Romans 1: 27 and once in II Corinthians 6: 13. Neither place carries even the idea of "Jesus freed us from the penalty of the law." It's not there. So the idea had to have been gotten from somewhere - that somewhere just isn't the direct words of the Bible.

Why would I bother researching this? Simple. Because I have often heard arguments like "the word 'Trinity' isn't in the Bible," so the argument "the phrase 'penalty of the law' is not in the Bible," admittedly sophomoric as that may be, is fair since this is a classic Herbert Armstrong-style argument.

Again and again the New Testament shows that we are not under the law (ROM. 6: 14-15; 7: 6; 9: 31-32; GAL. 2: 19; 5: 18). Not once does it say we are "not under the penalty of the law." No. That is nowhere to be found. It says we are not under the law. Period.
So the argument is an addition to the Bible, adding to, and it brings it's own heavy penalty.


The argument, as best as I can tell, came from a misreading of Galatians 3: 13, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law...". That's "curse," not "penalty." HUGE difference there.
Let's look at the context and we'll get a better view of what we're dealing with.

(GAL. 3: 10-14) 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Does that sound like a bit of text that upholds legalism? It sure doesn't sound like it to me!
Putting it into my own words, it says that anyone who sets out to keep the law is cursed, because keeping the law means keeping it perfectly and without the slightest interruption in that perfection. No human [but One] can or has done that. Since we are cursed by the law due to our inability to keep the law, Jesus took that curse upon Himself so that we may now receive the promises made to Abraham. Now, everything is by faith rather than by law.

What was the main failure of the Old Covenant people? Why didn't they obtain what they sought? Because they did everything as if it were a requirement of law, and not by faith (ROM. 9: 32). And this agrees with Paul's statement in Romans 14: 23 "...for whatever is not from faith is sin." Which brings us back to Galatians 3: 12 which says, "Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them.'"
I am not trying to say that the law is sin or commands us to sin (ROM. 7: 7), I am trying to say that righteousness by law is not what God wants from us (ROM. 10: 4; GAL. 2: 21; PHP. 3: 9), however if that's what you insist upon, you must keep the law on its terms (GAL. 5: 3; JAS. 2: 10).

So, if you're going to teach the law, it is imperative that you also keep the law perfectly. Not in fits and starts. No stumbling. No gaps. No interruptions in perfection. That is the law. There is no room in the law for messing up. You know you can't do it. You've tried and you've tried, but you always eventually fail. You know you need forgiveness, but forgiveness is not of the law. That's when we all turn to grace, hoping Jesus really does forgive us - the whole time wondering if we've sinned "willfully" this time -- wondering if we'll be in God's Kingdom or not. But if you're going to go about saying that Jesus only forgave your past sins, then you really have nowhere to turn. As soon as you are in the boat, you inevitably leap right back out again, but this time there's no one to save you. Regardless, this whole process made Christ of no effect!
Can't we see that this has destroyed our trust in Christ!


Paul made the point several times that those who teach law keeping aren't keeping the law (ROM. 2: 23, 25; GAL. 6: 13). That should end this debate right there!

Truth is, there is not one Armstrongist that I have ever, ever met (including myself when I was part of that organization) who doesn't firmly believe they are keeping the law. We thought of ourselves as "God's elect" and we were elect because we kept the law. The bitter pill is, that is entirely and demonstrably not true!

Not only did every last one of us mess up and break the law from time to time, thus becoming guilty by our own standard, but never, not for even a moment, did Herbert Armstrong teach the whole law. Not a single soul in the history of Armstrongism (and I would wager the whole history of Sabbatarianism since the 1500's) even began to keep the whole law. I am not even referring to keeping all 613 Torah laws either, I am referring to the laws that HWA taught - Sabbath, Holy Days, tithing, clean and unclean meats, etc - the whole law regarding these issues was never taught and therefore never kept. There is a whole section in the FAQ about this, I highly recommend you take a moment and read it.
The damage this demonstrable fact does is that it makes the claim "While he is set free, it doesn’t give him licence to go back and repeat his previous crimes again" and aims it squarely at the one who is making the claim. A finer example of "self-defeating" you would be hard-pressed to find.

Paul's point was that if you go around claiming that the law must be kept, then you are indebted to perfectly keep the whole law - as written. Yet the law Armstrong taught is not the law as written. It's a partial, cherry-picked version of the law, which satisfies neither Covenant.


Just look at the very meaning of the phrase "Jesus freed us from the penalty of the law." If Jesus indeed freed us from the penalty of the law then there is no penalty in the law. If the law has no penalty, then it is as if there is no law.

(I COR. 15: 56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.

Take away the penalty and the law is toothless! So violating the law has no penalty; breaking it brings the same result as keeping it. What is the functional difference between saying "there is no penalty" and saying "there is no law"? How then can anyone claim a toothless and empty law is so very much required of us? It is senseless to make this claim!
The only way this claim can mean anything at all is if we say, "Jesus freed us from the penalty of the law one time only, if you break the Old Covenant law again after that then there is no more sacrifice for your sin." And this adulteration of Hebrews 10: 26 is precisely what is being claimed by many people. Is it any wonder Paul exclaimed:

(GAL. 5: 2-4)  2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

Ask yourself, when did Christ pay for our sin and pronounce "It is finished" (JON. 19: 30)? Was it not nearly 2,000 years before you were born? He paid that penalty and exclaimed "it is finished" before your ancient ancestors sinned their first sin. It was "finished" before you started. All you have to do is trust in that!
How, then, can anyone say "if you break the Old Covenant law again after that then there is no more sacrifice for your sin"? The first time any of us violated the law, it was "after that." So that would mean we are born without sacrifice!
Perhaps someone could argue that what I just said takes it too far. They might say that, "A person has to come to faith first for the sacrifice of Christ to apply, only violations of the Old Covenant law after that have no sacrifice. Only the previous crimes are paid for. His previous crimes have been paid for, and he is set free." Fair enough. But then we have to look at the second half of the argument, which is, "While he is set free, it doesn’t give him licence to go back and repeat his previous crimes again," and then we have to revisit the idea once more that there is not one legalist on Earth who keeps the law.


Legalists like to have it both ways - to demand the law while they do not keep the law. But that's par for the course.
I remind you, dear reader, of that which you already know - every Armstrongist worth their salt will use Matthew 5 to claim that the law is inviolate and unchanging until the destruction of the Earth.

(MAT. 5: 17-18) 17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

A Sabbatarian legalist will concentrate on the first part of verse 18 and claim not one jot or tittle will pass from the law. The word "commandments" in verse 19 is interpreted as referring to the 10 Commandments. Thus they build a case for Sabbath-keeping.
Armstrong, as we show over and over again on AsBereansDid, does not teach all of the Sabbath law. The Sabbath law included restrictions against cooking, but we regularly had pot-lucks. The Sabbath law included restrictions on having anyone work for you, but we regularly went out to eat. The Sabbath law includes no regulation commanding people to "go to church," but we made that almost the sole issue in Sabbath-keeping. It was about when we "go to church." Thus we removed what was there, and added what was not there. If the law is so very inviolable and unalterable until the Earth passes away, how, then, were we anything besides the very law-breakers we spoke against?

Remember earlier when we reviewed how the law separated Jew from Gentile? The law also separated man from God. Not such a nice idea, eh?
The law clearly showed that man was separated from God. The High Priest alone went once each year on the Day of Atonement into the Holy of Holies to represent Israel before the throne of God. At Jesus' death, the veil that blocked the way to the Holy of Holies was torn in two and we are now free to "come boldly to the throne of grace" (HEB. 4: 16). This is a violation of the law so egregious that should that ever happen in the Old Covenant it would certainly mean death. It is said the priests would tie a rope to the High Priest's leg in case he performed his duties incorrectly and they had to pull his corpse out again.
The Armstrongist, who very much requires we observe (some form of) the Day of Atonement, will say, "Well, the Levitical Priesthood was removed and that law was changed."
So which is it? Inviolate, or changed? We can't have both!
But do they think the Levitical Priesthood is gone? The Armstrongist ministry, when they wanted to collect tithes but knew tithes could only be collected by Levitical Priests according to the law, claimed to be "the modern Levites."
So, which is it? Gone or remains? We can't have both!
And as we can plainly see, we now have access to God by Jesus' death and resurrection. That's a whole lot more than just being freed from the penalty of the law.
So, which is it? Penalty only, or more than just the penalty? We can't have both!

Rightly they say the law was changed, because if it weren't changed then Jesus is not our High Priest and we are still dead in our sins (HEB. 7: 12). So the argument that "one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law" must be seen as it was intended, because the idea continues, "...till all is fulfilled." And Jesus fulfilled all.


The purpose of the law was to reveal to us the hopeless depth of our sin:

(ROM. 3: 20) Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. ...
(ROM. 5: 20a) Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound...
(GAL. 3: 19a) What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions...
(GAL. 3: 22a) But the Scripture has confined all under sin...
(COL. 2: 16) So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths...

In doing so, the law showed us our desperate need for a savior:

(ROM. 3: 21) ... But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets
(ROM. 5: 20b-21) ...But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(GAL. 3: 19b) ...till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made
(GAL. 3: 22b) ... that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
(COL. 2: 17) ...which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

The law leads us to Christ.
In each of these examples where Paul describes the law, here the Armstrongists stop to build their doctrine of the law - but Paul does not stop. In each of these examples where Paul describes the law, he finishes off with Christ. Paul's conclusion is clear - once we have Christ, we are no longer under the tutelage of the law.
The law leads us to Christ.

(GAL. 3: 24-25) 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

The purpose of the law is now come. The law reminded us constantly of our sin (HEB. 10: 3) but the gift of God is not like the law, and no longer keeps a record of our sins (HEB. 8: 12). There is no fear in God's love (I JON. 4: 18). To say that the law no longer shows us the desperation of our sin is a deeply fundamental change to the law. I thought that not one jot or tittle was changed!
It is the curse and the tutelage of the law that Jesus Christ removed, not the penalty. Christ bore the full penalty Himself.
If the penalty of the law only were removed, and the need for law remains, then Paul had no reason to write Galatians or to warn about falling from grace. It really is that simple.

Loved by God and treasured, you who labor under this heavy, burdensome teaching, listen... Do you feel like you chase and chase and chase after Jesus, but the moment you feel He is close, your sins weigh you down and He races ahead again? You can be free from the penalty of the law AND obtain the righteousness that comes by faith. Simply step into the New Covenant! You will never have to chase after Him again.