Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Experience in Revivalism

Dearest L-----,

Thank you for sharing your heart with us and your concern over what we are teaching about grace. Your concern has definitely been heeded and respected. We greatly value your fellowship in the faith and love you too. I am so blessed to know you!

I'd like to share with you my thoughts on David's blog post, as well as a bit more about my background. It is important that you know where I come from.

I grew up in a home that I would describe as conservative Pentecostal, that is, both my parents speak in tongues, sing and dance in the Lord with great joy, engage in spiritual warfare, but yet never fell trap to any of the extreme Pentecostal trappings that many Pentecostals often do (as in the experience which you shared with us the other night). My memories of home are wonderful, and I thank God for my upbringing. My parents have always been steadfast and joyful examples of faith in God for me and my siblings. So that is the environment I grew up in.

When I became passionate to serve God in my late teens, my parents gave to me a book by Leonard Ravenhill which had a profound influence on my life. In Ravenhill's characteristic way, he chastised the modern church for its laziness and sinfulness and contrasted it with the Book of Acts and other people throughout church history who lived radical lives for God. I was stirred. That is what I had been feeling about the church, questioning why there was such a difference between it and the church I read about in the Book of Acts. I did a search for Ravenhill online and that led me to Sermonindex. I was amazed at the teaching and sermons on that site, and daily took in as much as I could. Sermonindex was the site I spent the most time on for several years. I loved listening to men speak with passion about knowing God intimately and serving Christ boldly. I had never heard preaching like that in the church that I grew up in. I was also blown away by the accounts of revivals in various places (Hebrides, Wales...). I wanted to see revival happen in my own hometown and took up these men's challenge to pray and to labor for it. I started boldly preaching on the streets and challenging others to live their lives for God.

I was invited by Greg Gordon to visit him in Toronto in 2006 (he got to know me through Sermonindex as well as through my blog where I would write posts about revival and Christianity and share about what I was doing on the streets). We bonded, and ever since then he and I have had a pretty close relationship, involving traveling together and living together. I count Greg as a very dear friend whom I love very much. I helped Greg (in a small way) organize and run the first and second Revival Conferences in Canton, Ohio, and Greenock, Scotland. We also lived together in Victoria, BC, for a summer, just he and I, and spent lots of time witnessing on the streets. Greg lived for a while in New Brunswick, Canada, in my hometown, spending time with my family. I saw him when I would visit home. He has even visited me in Logan and hopes to do so again sometime. I'm telling you this just so that you know how deeply involved I have been with Sermonindex and Greg's ministry. If you look, you'll even find that I am a speaker on Sermonindex (see under Audio Sermons by Speakers, Other Speakers A-F). I met David Ravenhill and his wife at a wedding which he was conducting for one of my friends. I visited Leonard Ravenhill's grave in Garden Valley, Texas, in reverent awe. I read most of his books and others that he recommended (in fact, most of my earlier library was filled with books somehow related to Ravenhill). I considered him a standard. You can go to the earliest posts on my blog and learn about me from those early days. You'll see how much I was influenced and involved in revivalism.

I'd like to tell you what was going on with me on the inside during that time. Through the revival teachings of Sermonindex I became a person who outwardly looked very good, but who inwardly was very ugly. Inside I was full of pride, selfish ambition and envy. But on the outside I was angelic, appearing very humble and giving all glory to God. I was also full of lust and had no self-control. But outwardly I passed as someone who was a hard-liner against sin and who was passionate about holiness. I was judgmental towards other people, both Christian and non-Christian, thinking that I was better somehow because I knew the truth and was working to be part of the solution. I prayed much, and the more I prayed the more I felt that I was closer to God than others. I remember saying lots of critical things about the idea of grace and about people who believed in it. To me, they just wanted to sin and didn't want to carry the rugged cross of holiness. Of course, I wasn't carrying it myself, but at least I wanted to, and at least I was preaching it, right? I really thought that I was doing God's will and that God was on my side. I remember thinking one day at a church service where people were rejoicing in the love of God: "Why are they so happy? I'm the one who's doing all the work. These people don't even do what I do." I also felt competitive with other young people who were zealous for God. I would read on Sermonindex what they had been doing and felt that I needed to do something like that too. I liked posting my exploits for others to see; but all the while I was doing it under the sincere conviction that I was godly and was really serving God. I cannot emphasis enough how spiritual I looked on the outside. My best friend Miles, when I told him a few years ago that I wasn't a Christian during those days, was amazed. He said that he had sincerely thought that I was "one of the most spiritual people that he had ever met." I had fooled myself as well.

What I want to tell you is that I wholeheartedly followed Leonard Ravenhill and the other revivalist's advice about getting down to business with God, and I had born the sour fruit of that teaching. Those ugly things were inside me, but they were fruit. I truly wanted to serve God... I really believed in Him - but the course I took was not grace but works. Paul warned us that the way of flesh produces the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), and I experienced it. I didn't want to sin and be proud, but I couldn't help it, because it was all about my works for God. "The church is a mess because Christians are lazy. Who will rise up and get with it?" "God wants to bless you with the Spirit and revival, but you have to pray and deal with your sins." Revivalist teaching is not about grace. The cross of Christ has very little place in it except to bid us come and die. All the sermons, while they can be beautifully delivered and can shine up the attributes of God, always ultimately end up being about you and what you need to do. While humility and holiness is always held up and highly sought, there is very little of it at all to be found among those who preach and listen to revivalism (though there is a lot of appearance of humility). Revival messages are all about how "if God's people, who are called by His name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways, then God will hear from heaven and forgive their sins, and heal their land" one way or another. However, that is not the gospel. While revivalists sincerely want to see God move and to have intimacy with Him, they fail to realize that in Christ God has moved in the most marvelous way which will never be repeated, and that it is the glorified Savior that draws people to God for intimacy, because intimacy with God is based upon faith in the Son who reveals the Father, and not in our own works and mystical experiences.

I have been there and done that. I know what it is to be on either side. I know what it is to be seeking revival, and I know what it is to be glorying in Christ. Today, I don't feel like there's a big difference anymore between what I believe and experience and what the church in the Book of Acts believed and experienced. I find myself relating to them more and more, rather than just always pointing out the chasm. They understood the gospel and were excited about it. I have come to understand it too, and it is far more exciting and beautiful than anything I ever knew. I'm not interested in a mystical experience in order to "know God personally", because I now know God personally through faith in Jesus Christ. He loved me and gave Himself for me! God does not need to validate His love for me in constant religious experiences because He "demonstrates His love for me in this, that while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me." (Rom. 5:8) This is the verse that granted me peace when I was in dread and despair in 2007 because of my hypocrisy and sin. The truth set me free. I at last came to rest from my own works and found joy and peace in His grace.

Grace is really what the Bible is all about. Of course, grace is a loaded word, and it carries with it all the glorious truths of righteousness and the incomprehensible love of God. Christianity is not about having a relationship with God that has to do with working in order to be on God's good side in whatever way. It is about believing that His favor has been given undeservedly in Christ, and enjoying it, finding all of our strength in the peace and joy that He has provided. I can honestly say that things changed in my life, both inwardly and outwardly, since I put away the revivalists teaching and turned to the teaching of God. The fruit has changed. I no longer feel like a hypocrite. While we all sin when we take our eyes off of the blessed truth of Christ, I am no longer enslaved to sin like I used to be. That judgmental, selfishly ambitious, lustful and ugly person that I used to be is gone. It is the power of God's good news that has changed me, not my willpower and my efforts like it used to be about (though I used to say that it was all about God's power in those days). How blind I was, but now I see!

I disagree with David Ravenhill's blog post. It was to give us freedom that Christ died, but in David's scheme there is no freedom, because a little leaven leavens the whole lump. If I am not free from the condemnation of all my sins, past, present and future, then I am not free. What else did Christ die for? What other freedom could it have been? It wasn't political or physical, but moral. I am no longer under the responsibility to pay for my sins, and that is the truth. But this truth does not lead me to sin, as Ravenhill is suggesting. The gospel truth is not simply that I am free from condemnation, but that I am loved by God who has manifested His love by freeing me from condemnation. My freedom is a manifestation of His love. In this light my freedom becomes a powerful motivation to serve God, because "we love Him for loving us first." (1 John 4:19) There can be no true service towards God unless it is from the source of love for God, but there can be no love for God without the love of God; and there is no love of God that the New Testament knows apart from the love of God that frees us from the condemnation of all our sins. "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10) Paul found his whole motivation for the Christian life here: "The life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness comes by the law, Christ is dead in vain." (Gal. 2:20-21) It is not good when Christians seek holiness in order to be in the right condition with God to obtain His blessings rather than for the sake of holiness itself, which is simply love for God and man. This love can only be in our hearts by the gospel.

The problem with what David is saying is that he is divorcing the freedom from the love, and then criticizing the freedom. Yes, people will sin when they think in terms of freedom without the love of God. But what then is the solution to their sin problem? Take away the freedom? No! Preach the love of God! The revivalists are correct in that they point out that there is a problem in the church today. They rightly see that the church today doesn't look like the Book of Acts. But they wrongly diagnose and thus they administer a false solution. They think the problem is grace, and their solution is legalism (put bluntly, for they wouldn't say it like this). However, the problem is not grace, but counterfeit grace. The problem is "grace" divorced from Christ, which is not grace at all. Guilt-tripping and working harder for God is not the answer. The answer is seeing Christ in all His glory and grace. That is where the power to save and transform lies.

I don't believe the devil is like he is describing. That's just not the picture we get of him in the Bible. He preaches "righteousness" (2 Cor. 11:15). He blinds men from seeing the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). He stands opposed to Jesus by the spirit of legalism (see the Pharisees). He deceives men into doubting the loving character of God (that's what the serpent in the Garden of Eden did). Remember that the Pharisees, who were the children of the devil, believed in losing one's salvation by sinning, and taught people not to get drunk and not to fornicate. I found David's teaching to be typical of revival teaching, shallow and missing the deeper thing: the gospel.

While I am sorry that it took me so long to understand the gospel of grace, and that I undoubtedly hurt myself and other people along the way, I am thankful to God for the experience that I had in revivalism, because it has made me far more sensitive to these issues and has also freed me from the attraction of the impressive. If there is anything about the revivalist preachers, it is that they are impressive. Their preaching is impressive, their praying is impressive, and their zeal is impressive. But so much of that is of man; man impressing man, and zeal without knowledge is deadly. I have since learned that nothing that I do is of any spiritual value before God to get His blessings, but that only Christ is valuable. In Christ I am blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3), and in Christ all the promises of God are "yes" and "amen" (2 Cor. 1:20). "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness that is of God by faith." (Phil. 3:7-9) If righteousness brings life, then in Christ I have life. The necessity of the times is to see that Jesus Christ is sufficient.

May God bless you, L-----, with this vision. Thank you again, sister.
Your brother,

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The True Nature of the Law

Dear J-----, 

I read your email to R----- with interest, and would like to say a few words, which I hope you will consider with patience. I found your point of view to be lacking clarity in what I believe is the critical issue: the true nature of the law.

You have argued eloquently that obedience to the law is the missing element in much of what passes for Christianity, and you have said that the Church's failure to honor and obey the law stems from a perverse reading of the apostle Paul. I have a severe criticism of your position. You failed to mention that obedience to the law, by the very nature of the law, must be total and complete obedience - that is, perfection. There is a little word that has often been overlooked by many: that word is "all". God did not merely say "love the Lord your God", but "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength." The focus of this command is on how you must love God, and the point is: that manner must be total. If we haven't loved God with "all" our heart, soul and strength, then we have not obeyed this first and great commandment. Likewise with the second great commandment, as Jesus taught us, God does not merely say "love your neighbor", but "love your neighbor as you love yourself". Once again, the focus is on how you are to love your neighbor, so that if you haven't loved your neighbor in this total manner, you have not obeyed this commandment at all. Since all the law hangs on these two commands, failure to obey them is failure to the obey the law.

The law everywhere is about perfection and total obedience. It is not a loose collection of moral sayings that we can attend to as we wish, like at a cafeteria; it is a complete moral whole, and it demands perfect and total obedience. It everywhere commands us to observe "all" of it.

"If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee." (Ex. 15:26)

"And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD." (Ex. 19:8)

"And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words." (Ex. 24:7-8)

"Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God." (Num. 15:38-40)

"And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us." (Deut. 6:25)

"All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers." (Deut. 8:1)

"What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." (Deut. 12:32)

"Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God." (Deut. 18:13)

This is the true nature of the law, and self-righteous people cannot bear such a law in their self-righteous systems. Therefore they ignore this truth about the law, and talk great swelling words about the law, without actually talking about the true law at all. This was the problem with the Pharisees in Jesus' day. They honored the law with their lips, but their hearts were far from God because they did not embrace the law as God had spoken it.

"Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." (Is. 5:24-25)

It was because Israel despised the law of the Lord that God's anger was kindled and His hand was stretched out against them. He smote them by the Babylonians, but afterward was His anger turned away? Was His hand stretched out still? The Lord again smote Israel by the Romans in 70 AD, because His anger was not turned away; His hand was stretched out still. Why? Because they continued to "cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despise the word of the Holy One of Israel." The Pharisees would have been indignant to hear this: from their perspective, they were different than their predecessors; they were honoring and obeying the law. But what did Jesus say? "Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophecy of you, saying, 'This people draws near unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matt. 15:7-9) Notice the connection between their heart and their teaching. But what does this indictment mean? Does it mean that the Pharisees did not teach the various points of the law, but that they only taught their traditions? No. The Pharisees were scrupulous about teaching the various points of the law. To this question, the Sermon on the Mount gives us the answer.

Jesus came to save us from our sins by giving His life a ransom for many, but in order for people to receive His salvation they must have a correct understanding of the law. "Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not Thy statutes." (Ps. 119:155) Failure to understand the law means failure to embrace Christ as Savior. Therefore, one of the main things we see Jesus doing during His ministry is correcting the false views of the Pharisees. The Sermon on the Mount is where Christ challenges the Pharisaic view of the law. "It is time for Thee, O Lord, to work: for they have made void Thy law." (Ps. 119:126) The Pharisees had taught the people the law one way (a lie), and Jesus came teaching the law in truth. As you said, J-----, Christ did not come to do away with the law, but in His words, "to fulfill it." (Matt. 5:17) See how Christ magnifies the law and makes it honorable (Is. 42:21): "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:19) Anyone who talks about the law in a way other than this is not really talking about the law, they're just playing games. "For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:20) This would have come as a shock to His hearers. But what exactly does Jesus mean? How much greater must it be? What is the nature of the contrast between the righteousness that God requires and the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? Jesus goes on to explain.

"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matt. 5:21-22)

"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matt. 5:27-28)

Notice the Pharisees are teaching various commandments and not merely their own traditions. But Jesus is critical of their shallow interpretation of the commands of God. Their interpretations do not strike to the heart of the law, which is perfect love. Their standard is much lower than God's.

"And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." (Matt. 5:29-30)

What teacher teaches like this nowadays? There are many who, like the Pharisees, talk a lot about obedience to the law, but do they teach the law as it was meant to be taught, as the Son of God has shown us? If teachers do not teach God's law like this they are just playing games. This saying of Jesus cannot be explained unless we understand that the law requires absolute moral perfection. Anything less than total obedience will send you to hell. If you want to obey the law and be saved, then you had better obey it. Nothing less than perfection will do.

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:45-45)

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)

Here Jesus puts the law in its proper focus. The law requires you to be perfect. It requires you to be perfect and holy right now, just like God is perfect and holy at all times. The law is therefore the test to see whether you are as good as God. The Pharisees never taught that, for no self-righteous person ever teaches that. But Jesus taught that the law requires perfection, and by perfection He meant the highest standard possible. He meant perfect like God. Anything less than this is not the law. Any teaching of the law less than this is false teaching. This was the main contrast between Christ and the Pharisees. It was this that made the Pharisees false teachers: not because they didn't teach the various points of the law, but because they didn't teach the true nature of the law in its wholeness. Why didn't they? Because when you teach the true nature of the law, you are forced to admit with Isaiah: "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Is. 6:5) The law shows you the moral perfection of God, and by showing it, shows you your sin (Rom. 3:20). When the law is taken as a whole, we realize that we have, not some righteousness, but no righteousness. "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Is. 64:6) "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (James 2:10) Righteousness equals perfection. We are not perfect, therefore we are not righteous. We are therefore the same as everybody else: unrighteous (Rom. 3:10, contrast Luke 18:11). The law exposes everyone to be a lawbreaker. This is what the self-righteous Pharisees could not admit in their pride, and therefore would not magnify the law. "And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him." (Luke 7:29-30)

This is where the apostle Paul is coming from. This is the revelation that he received, which radically transformed the way he saw religion and life. It was a transformation in the way that Pharisee understood the law and evaluated himself. "What I once thought gain, that I now count as dung." What did he once count gain? His own righteousness. What later became his gain? Christ, and the righteousness that comes through faith in Him: "And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." (Phil. 3:9) Paul saw that "if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." (Gal. 2:21) The Messiah's death spelled death to all human righteousness and obedience to the law. Any boasting in human righteousness or obedience to the law was a pretension, and worse, an affront to the glory of God. Paul saw that men sought their own glory in legal religion, and works-based righteousness was the nullifying of the Messiah and the moral majesty of God. It was a robbing of the glory which is due Him alone. While self-righteous men profess to honor God, they actually despise Him. In their very boasting of honoring Him they despise Him. Paul's world was turned completely upside down by Jesus.

"Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law." (Rom. 3:31) This is probably one of the most important sayings of Paul, and contains a deep truth. The question in Paul's mind is: "By believing in Christ in the way I have been speaking (Romans 3:21-30 = righteousness by faith apart from obedience to the law), does this make void the law, setting it aside, making it a mere nothing? Does faith in Christ make us antinomians?" By what follows, all suspicion of Paul being an antinomian ought to be dispelled. "God forbid" he emphatically declares. But Paul's reason for saying so is seldom understood. In what way does believing in Christ for our righteousness - as laid out in 3:21-30 - establish the law? Some interpreter will say: "Because by believing in Christ we are instructed and empowered to obey the law, and this Christian obedience to the law establishes it." But that is not Paul's point. He is not saying that by believing in Christ for our righteousness we are led into some other phenomenon which establishes the law, but that by believing in Christ for our righteousness we thereby establish the law - that it is the believing that does the establishing. We establish the law through faith. But how? Based upon what has already been said the answer should be clear. By believing in Christ we are magnifying the law and making it honorable. By believing in Christ we are taking the law seriously for what it says. By believing in Christ we are confessing our sin before God and declaring that He alone is righteous. By believing in Christ the law is at last fulfilling its purpose: "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Gal. 3:24) When I believe in Christ for my justification, the law has been fulfilled. It's purpose is accomplished. It was given by God, not for righteousness and life, but for death (2 Cor. 3:6-9, Gal. 3:21). And when the law has accomplished its purpose, it has brought the sinner to the place of recognizing his utter destitution before the only Righteous one, and points him to the ransom-death of Jesus Christ, the only salvation for sinners.

Until a person has believed on Christ for justification, that person is ignoring and making void the law. That person may talk all the day long about the law, and how we ought to obey it, and even make a show of obedience, but until that person has seen the law for what it is in truth, and lose all hope of righteousness by it, turning to Christ by faith, that person is the true antinomian. The Pharisees were the true antinomians. Though that may come as a surprise (as it did then), Jesus boldly declared it. God's law must kill you, and then God's grace can make you alive through Christ. Paul uses these shocking words: "I through the law, am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." (Gal. 2:19) That's the purpose of the law: to make you die to it, so that you might live through the one who loved you and gave Himself for you. Otherwise Christ died for nothing.

So there is no place for anyone to accuse Paul of minimizing the law. He did just the opposite. In fact, the establishment of the law is the foundation of his message. Rather than cheapening the law like he did when he was a Pharisee, Paul, as a believer in Christ, magnified it to its rightful place. He saw the law clearer than any legalist ever has; he honored it more than any self-righteous person does; he embraced it for just what it is when he put his faith in Christ for His righteousness. Paul could ever-after sing Psalm 119 in truth. While millions of talking Pharisees drone on about how we need to obey the law and they never actually do it, always lowering the standard, Paul took Jesus' life teaching and bloody death to heart, and began preaching true Judaism: perfect law and righteousness through the suffering Servant. Paul became a true Jew. You could even say that he became a true Pharisee (set apart one). This way of righteousness through faith in Christ is the ancient path, the way of Abel, Noah and Abraham. If you want to see a true Jew, don't look for them based upon what they wear and eat. Look for them here: in the way of righteousness, as demonstrated in a man who once boasted of his own zeal, disdaining harlots and publicans, but who dramatically changed because of the Messiah, who wrote about the wonders of the law, the righteousness of God through faith, and who we observe after his encounter with Jesus eating with the sinners of the Gentiles.

So J-----, my questions to you are: do you keep the law? Perfectly as it requires? Do you lower the standard of the law, or teach it as Jesus did, as it is in truth?

Thank you for reading this patiently. I pray that God's people would come to realize that everything is found in Christ and nowhere else. His love is deeper and wider than we can comprehend. As Paul prayed, may we "know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that [we] might be filled with all the fulness of God." (Eph. 3:19) You just can't get more full than that.

In His righteousness,

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Look Not to Yourself, But to God

"And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me. And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them: and they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it." (Jeremiah 33:8-9)

To say that the gospel is for others but not for you because you are too sinful is not to make a statement about yourself but about God. To say such a thing is not to say that you are not good enough, but that God is not good enough. To say that God only has grace for those who deserve it, but not for those who don't deserve it, is to say that God is really not a God of grace at all. In that case, there would be nothing essentially amazing about God at all. "Sorry guys, He is not really that good."

But the truth is that God is amazingly good. God is a God of amazing grace. And God's amazing grace is for you, no matter how sinful you are. That is what His grace is all about! To trust Him for your salvation is to say, "I expect to go to heaven, not because I am good but because you, God, are good." Therefore, if you are trusting in God's grace for your salvation and don't go to heaven, it will make God look bad. He could never, in that case, be praised forever as the God of mighty amazing grace. His glory is bound up in men and women trusting in His goodness (not their own), and not being disappointed.

So don't look to yourself and say such things. Look to God, and declare His glory.

"When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun."