So in order to make an emphatic statement about what the Holy Spirit sought to remind all of us in the New Testament, the Spirit emphasized the power of the gospel as the central motivating factor to Christian living. There can be no politics in our total commitment to live the gospel. If we marginalize the gospel, we marginalize its power to transform our lives. We marginalize the cross and the sacrifice of the One who was nailed there.
• The truth of the gospel means that the gospel is true: In the three letters that Paul wrote to the two evangelists, Timothy and Titus, the fact of the gospel was made strikingly clear in his use of the phrase “the truth.” Before the letters were written, both evangelists had been with Paul for several years in his efforts to preach the gospel. These two former companions in the ministry of the gospel believed that the gospel was true. For this reason, Paul used the abbreviated form of the phrase “the truth of the gospel” in reference to all the gospel events and their significance throughout his letters to the two former fellow workers. He did not have to use the entire phrase. Because Timothy and Titus had preached the truth of the gospel with Paul for years, Paul needed only to remind the two evangelists of the message they had preached by using the abbreviated phrase, “the truth.”
Therefore, when we go on a journey with Paul through his three letters to Timothy and Titus, something becomes clear in reference to the power of the gospel and our necessity to continue to respond to the report (the New Testament) of the events that revealed the good news of God’s grace. If the reader has previously been schooled that the phrase “the truth” is a reference to some system of theology by which we can self-justify ourselves before God, then the following exercise of reading quotations throughout 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus will be quite helpful, if not revealing. If nothing would change one’s thinking from making “the truth” some self-justifying system of doctrine, to the historical events of the incarnational offering, resurrection, ascension and present kingdom reign of the Son of God that inspires godly living, then one is stuck in religion. He or she has denied the faith. He or she has severed themselves from Christ. Therefore, the following is a reading of the texts of Paul’s letters, with the phrase “of the gospel” added when Paul used the phrase “the truth”:
• 1 Timothy 2:4: God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth [of the gospel].” It is absolutely necessary to know the gospel before one can obey the gospel. However, knowing the gospel is not a matter of better understanding codes of doctrine. Neither is meritorious law-keeping the truth of the gospel. When we better understand the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God, it is then that we are motivated to begin living the gospel by first obeying it in baptism (Rm 6:3-6). It is this that God desires all men know. In order for the gospel to be known, it must first be preached.
• 1 Timothy 2:7: “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I speak the truth [of the gospel] in Christ.” Paul announced the true events of the good news. It was not an announcement of doctrinal matters of law-keeping that he preached to the world. It was the truth concerning the gospel journey of the incarnate Son of God. He was personally chosen by Jesus to preach this good news to the world.
• 1 Timothy 3:15: “But if I tarry long, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth [of the gospel].” We, the church, are the medium through which the events of the gospel are made known to the world. God will not send angels to preach the crucifixion and resurrection. We are the pillar and ground of the gospel simply because the world will never know the gospel unless we live and preach it.
• 1 Timothy 4:1,3: “Now the Spirit clearly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith [Jd 3], … forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from foods that God has created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth [of the gospel.” Religionists will devise all sorts of religious rites, rituals and ceremonies in reference to religious behavior. These performances are preached in order to draw people to favorite religious groups. But those who have obeyed the gospel will always receive with thanksgiving those things that have been created by God. They do so because they believe what Jesus did for them. Their motivation is the good news about the incarnational sacrifice of the Son of God and the fact that He is now reigning over all things.
• 1 Timothy 6:3-5: Some are “obsessed with controversy and disputes about words, from which come … perverse disputings between men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth [of the gospel], supposing that godliness is a means to gain.” If there is no believe in the truth that Jesus is the resurrected King, then there is no impetus (power) in the gospel to motivated change in our lives. Men can dispute about certain points on an outline of doctrine, but there can be absolutely no debate about the events of the gospel journey of Jesus.
• 2 Timothy 2:17,18: “And their word will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymanaeus and Philetus, who concerning the truth [of the gospel] have strayed, saying that the resurrection is already past. And they overthrow the faith of some.” If indeed Jesus was not raised from the dead, then there is no reason to live righteously before God. Those who do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus have sucked the power of the gospel. Their faith has been overthrown, and as those who presume to be followers of Jesus, they wreck the faith of others.
• 2 Timothy 2:24,25: “And the servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves, if God perhaps will grant them repentance leading to a full knowledge of the truth [of the gospel].” In other words, one cannot understand the good news of the incarnate Son of God if he does not live a repentant life. We repent in changing our lives to conform to the life that was illustrated by Jesus during His earthly ministry. Repentance in the New Testament is not in reference to changing doctrinal beliefs, though one must change beliefs if he or she believes that the gospel events truly occurred. We believe what Jesus said because we believe He was raised from the dead. But we must first believe in the events of the gospel before we change our beliefs, and most important, change our lives.
• 2 Timothy 3:6,7: “For of these are those who creep into houses and lead captive gullible women weighed down with sins, let away with various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth [of the gospel].” If one would fully understand that the Son of God was crucified for our sins, then the desire to sin would be suppressed. But some, because of their desire to live unrighteously, never want to understand the love of God for them that was revealed through the incarnation and crucifixion of His Son. Those who do not want to transform their lives in order to spiritually align with Jesus will never understand who Jesus really was and is (See Rm 12:1,2).
• 2 Timothy 3:8: “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth [of the gospel]—men of corrupt minds, rejected concerning the faith.” Those who are corrupted in their thinking have no desire to come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and His sacrificial offering for their sins. Those who are rebellious against authority will always resist the authority that has been given to King Jesus (Mt 28:18; Ep 1:19-23; Hb 1:3).
• 2 Timothy 4:3,4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching [about the gospel]. But to suit their itching ears, they will surround themselves with those who will agree with their own desires. And they will turn away their ears from the truth [of the gospel], and will be turned to fables.” Some religions are created after the desires of those who want to live immoral lives. For example, many today seek to live in fornication (adultery, lesbianism, homosexuality) because they seek to follow after the lusts of the flesh. Some religions are fabricated around the desires of those who have thus gone astray morally. It is for this reason that they do not desire any knowledge of a resurrected King Jesus before whom we all must eventually give account (See Hb 4:13; 9:27).
• Titus 1:2: “Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth [of the gospel] that is according to godliness.” The gospel is according to godliness because those who believe that the gospel is true seek to live a repentant live in conformity to the instructions of their Father.
• Titus 1:13,14: “This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply so that they may be sound in the faith [Jd 3], not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth [of the gospel].” When religious people start believing in fables and the religious authority of the commandments of men, they turn away from the power of the gospel. Therefore, it is inherent in religion itself to be opposed to the true events of the incarnational journey of the Son of God.
• Falling from a life-style: Obedience in response to the gospel means that one is motivated to live within the parameters of the instructions of the One who loved us through the offering of His Son. Therefore, our lives must reveal that Jesus Christ is our Lord. Our submission to the lordship of Jesus must be revealed in the life of every disciple of Jesus. If one would fall away from the gospel, therefore, he falls away because his life is no longer motivated and controlled by the lordship of King Jesus. In the first century, such falling away was happening among many of the Jewish Christians prior to the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. This was a falling away that was addressed by the Hebrew writer about thirty years after the event of the gospel in Jerusalem. It was a falling away unto destruction (Hb 10:38,39).
James, John and Jude wrote at about the same time as the Hebrew writer, sometime in the decade before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A. D. 70. It is not incidental, therefore, that all four writers referred to “the truth” of the gospel events in their letters. Their use of the phrase “the truth” was a reference to the motivation that encouraged a life-style that would keep one in fellowship with God (See 1 Jn 1:3). It was not that people were falling away from a catechism of doctrine, but from the power that encouraged one to continue in the faith. The following statements, therefore, must be understood in the context of what the gospel of God’s grace must cause in the life of those who believe that Jesus Christ is the incarnate, resurrected and reigning Son of God:
• Hebrews 10:26: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth [of the gospel], there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” This is not a reference to receive an outline of law, but receiving a knowledge that Jesus was the Messiah and offering of God for the sins of the world. If we would turn away from this truth, then the offering of Jesus for our sins no longer continues in our lives.
• James 5:19,20: “Brethren, if any of you strays from the truth [of the gospel], and one brings him back, let him know that he who converts the sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” The error is in straying from our belief that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God who was offered for our sins. We are saved by the gospel as long as we continue to believe in the salvational events of the gospel (See 1 Co 15:1,2).
• 1 John 1:6: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth [of the gospel].” Reference here is not to performing the points on an outline of doctrine, but to living in thanksgiving of our Savior Jesus who offered Himself for us. The power of the gospel, therefore, is beyond salvational matters in reference to baptism for remission of sins. The power of the gospel continues in the lives of baptized believers in order that they are transformed into the image of the One who died for them (Rm 12:1,2). When lives are transformed, then people are living the gospel that they obeyed in baptism.
• 1 John 1:8: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth [of the gospel] is not in us.” It is true that we continue to sin when in Christ. However, if we say that we are not sinners in Christ, then the gospel of Jesus’ redemption is invalidated by our desire to live in sin. When we continue to allow the mind of the Son of God to influence our behavior, it is then that the transforming power of His gospel journey changes and guides our lives (See Ph 2:5-11).
• 1 John 2:4: “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar. And the truth [of the gospel] is not in him.” Those who are disobedient to the will of God cease allowing the grace of God to cause thanksgiving in their lives. Since the gospel of God’s grace must motivate us to be obedient to the will of our Father, if we say that we are living by the gospel while willfully sinning, then we are liars. One’s faith in the truth of the gospel motivates one to live in response to the gospel.
• 1 John 2:21: “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth [of the gospel], but because you now it, and because no lie is of the truth [of the gospel].” We accept the letters of the New Testament because we have not grown dull of hearing (Hb 5:11). We believe what is written about the gospel because we believe the gospel.
• 1 John 3:19: “And by this we will know that we are of the truth [of the gospel], and will assure our heart before Him.” We will know that we are living after the gospel when we live in gratitude of what the Son of God did for us at the cross. When we are motivated by this faith, then we are of the gospel. When we are motivated by the same love by which God loved us, then we know that we are of Him (1 Jn 4:9,19).
• 1 John 5:6: “This is He who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by the water and the blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is [bears witness to] the truth [of the gospel].” The Holy Spirit bears witness to the gospel through the New Testament letters that were written in order to explain the gospel, as well as reveal the effect the gospel had on the lives of thousands of people in the first century. The Holy Spirit is the revelation of the event of the gospel (See 1 Co 15:1-4).
• 2 John 1,2: “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, for the sake of the truth [of the gospel] that dwells in us and will be with us forever.” God and His Son dwell in us as we live in response to the redemptive work of the Son. His sacrificial redemptive work will take us into eternity.
• 3 John 8: “Therefore, we ought to show hospitality to such men [evangelists] so that we might be fellow workers for the truth [of the gospel].” Jesus commissioned His first disciples to preach the gospel to the world (Mk 16:15,16). When Christians, as Gaius, financially support those who go forth and preach the gospel, then they are partnering with those evangelists they support. Supporting evangelists thus makes one a fellow worker to preach the gospel to the world.
• 3 John 3,4: “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth [of the gospel] that is in you, just as you walk in truth [of the gospel]. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth [of the gospel].” John’s reference to “walking” was a metaphor that explained the life-style of Gaius to whom he wrote. It was not that Gaius was living according to the subpoints of an outline on Christian living. He was walking in response to the fact that he believed that the gospel was true. In this way he lived in response to the gospel, and thus, the gospel was in him. We can know, therefore, that one believes the gospel by the manner of his or her behavior in response to the gospel.
• 3 John 12: “Demetrius has a good report from all, and of the truth [of the gospel] itself.” If one walks in response to the grace of the gospel, then his walk reveals that he lives in response to the gospel. Our lives, therefore, should manifest to the world that King Jesus is our Lord.
[End of series. Look for the book.]
JESUS IS “THE TRUTH”
Paul reminded Timothy that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4). When Paul used the phrase “the truth” in the context of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, he was using it as an abbreviated form of the complete phrase, “the truth of the gospel” that he used in the letter to the Galatians (Gl 2:14). Therefore, when Paul made the preceding statement, he wanted all men to come to a knowledge of the historical event of the Son of God coming into the world for the salvation of all people. The meaning of “the truth” was not in reference to learning a theological outline of scriptures in reference to some doctrinal system of law. Paul wanted the world to come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and His redemptive offering for the sins of the world (See Rm 9:1-3; 10:1).
The gospel is not an outline of true points of a church catechism. “The truth of the gospel” is not some systematic theology that is assembled together through the organization of favorite proof texts. The abbreviated statement of this phrase, “the truth,” is not a reference to doctrine, though doctrine of the New Testament is true and important. But in reference to “the truth” as the phrase is connected with the word “gospel,” it is truth in reference to a Divine being and action in reference to the salvation of the world. Jesus explained, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus said that He was “the truth.” This is person, not doctrine.
Though the religionists to whom Jesus spoke on the occasion of the preceding statement in John 14 were seeking some systematic theology of traditions or doctrinal mandates from Jesus, at the time, they, as well as the disciples who stood with Jesus on the occasion, still could not understand that He was the incarnate “Word of God.” He was “the truth” that was revealed from God. He was God’s Word through which redemption came to mankind.
Now consider this point in reference to Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, who stood before Pilate. Jesus said to Pilate, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this cause I came into he world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (Jn 18:37). But Jesus’ statement so befuddled Pilate that he responded to Jesus, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38). What Pilate did not understand is that the “what” was the “who” who was standing before him. Jesus was “the truth” to whom John the Baptist gave witness (Jn 5:33). Jesus was the incarnate Word who was sent to mankind. This truth was far outside the understanding of Pilate at the time. The King who was before him was “the truth,” the incarnate Word who had come into the world (Jn 1:1,2,14). This was “the truth” to whom the Father had given witness through the works that Jesus did in the midst of the people (Jn 5:36).
Nevertheless, regardless of Pilate’s limited understanding of these spiritual matters, he was certainly not asking from Jesus some doctrinal manifest that would explain a systematic theology that Jesus was promoting, specifically in reference to the existence of Jewish insurrections who were scattered through the Roman Empire. At the time, Pilate was frustrated, seeing Jesus only as a man whom the Jews sought to have eliminated. But he could find no fault in His behavior that would warrant His execution (Jn 18:38).
Our understanding that Jesus is “the truth” is brought out in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In the same context of those who would not walk according to the gospel in Jerusalem, Paul wrote, “To whom [the legalistic Jewish religionists] we did not yield in subjection even for an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Gl 2:5). These were those who “were not straighforward about the truth of the gospel” (Gl 2:14). Jesus was the good news that was revealed to the Galatians. He is the truth to which all people must gravitate. It is as Jesus said during His earthly ministry, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Me” (Jn 12:32).
When the apostles first went forth to preach the gospel, people heard “the word of the truth of the gospel” (Cl 1:5). There is a difference between the medium of the preached word by which the gospel of Jesus is communicated to the world, and the gospel itself (See 1 Co 15:1-4). The gospel is good news about the truth of Jesus’ incarnation, sacrificial offering, resurrection, ascension and reign at the right hand of God. We use words to communicate this salvational journey of the Son of God into and out of this world. These are the truthful events that must be preached to the world in order that all those who desire to hear might “come to the knowledge of the truth [of the gospel]” (1 Tm 2:4). It is knowledge of this Jesus to which all men must come.
When one ceases to believe the word by which “the truth” of Jesus is communicated, then he begins to turn from the truth of who Jesus is. His doubt assumes that he no longer believes any of the events of the gospel, and thus begins to doubt whether Jesus is the Son of God. There are those who enter into the body of Christ who were initially convicted by the truth of the gospel. But later they began to doubt the historical events of the gospel, and thus they eroded Jesus Christ as the foundation upon which their faith was built (1 Co 3:11).
When belief in Jesus as the Christ and Son of God is preached, church happens, because people believe that He is our resurrected Savior (See Mt 16:18,19). The church in turn becomes the medium through which the truth of the gospel is preached to the world (1 Tm 3:15). Nevertheless, there are those in the church who become “destitute of the truth [of the gospel]” (1 Tm 6:5). They are as Hymanaeus and Philetus, “who concerning the truth [of the gospel] have strayed” (2 Tm 2:18). In the case of these two brethren, they denied the gospel of the resurrection. And by making such a denial, “they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tm 2:18).
God desires that we continue to grow in our knowledge of the gospel. The textbook of the New Testament must be devoured lest we ourselves be devoured by Satan. For this reason, the early evangelists returned to Christians who had initially responded to the gospel. They returned to teach again the gospel in order that they might come to “a full knowledge of the truth [of the gospel]” (2 Tm 2:26). Some wrote to encourage the disciples to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Pt 3:18). On one occasion, this was the reason why Paul wanted to make a trip to Rome. He wanted to go to the disciples in Rome in order that he might bear fruit among them through his continued teaching of the gospel (See Rm 1:13-16). He knew that some are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth [of the gospel]” (2 Tm 3:7). Therefore, Christians must take every opportunity to study and discuss matters concerning the truth of the gospel.
In view of the fact that there are always present among the disciples “men of corrupt minds” (2 Tm 3:8), it is the work of every evangelist to continue to teach the gospel in order that the members of the body might come to a full knowledge of the gospel. This is necessary because there are always those in the fellowship of the church who “will turn away their ears from the truth [of the gospel] and will be turned to fables” (2 Tm 4:4). In the first century, these were those who gave “heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth [of the gospel]” (Ti 1:14). Such people need to remember the final warning of the Hebrew writer in reference to some Jewish Christians who were returning to the religion of the Jews: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth [of the gospel], there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hb 10:26).
[Next in series: Jan. 12]
• Supposed self-justification: In the context of worship we have led ourselves to believe that we can be justified through our meritorious law-keeping of “the truth” in reference to a systematic performance of worship rules. Therefore, we have difficulty understanding the following statement: “For sin will not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). Those who have constructed a legal system of “true worship” will have difficulty understanding that in this statement Paul wanted to bring the Roman disciples back under grace, and out of their efforts to self-justify themselves through perfect law-keeping. The books of Romans and Galatians are dictionaries on this matter. These two letters were written in order to remind all of us that we are saved by grace, not by the perfect law-keeping of a five point outline on acts of worship. Therefore, our worship is inspired by grace, not by law. Maybe Romans 11:6 will help: “And if by grace [we are saved and worship], then it is no more by works [of law], otherwise grace is no more grace.” True worshipers worship God out of their heart response to the grace of God, not according to some legal system of law whereby they can affirm that they have meritoriously performed legally and correctly certain acts of worship between an opening and closing prayer.
An older disciple can sit quietly in a rocking chair, with a tear slowly flowing down from a closed eye, and be worshiping God in spirit and truth. A younger, more energetic person might be somewhat more animated and expressive with bodily movements in his or her worship. But the worship of both is true and from the heart, and we have no right to be “worship judges” in reference to either.
As one sits quietly in a chair at home during the pandemic restrictions of the Covid lockdown, he or she can be assured that his or her heartfelt worship is pleasing to God. We can be assured without all the presumed concert performances of a theatrical assembly and supposed ritualistic ceremonies that we have convinced ourselves constitute “true worship.” One of the great advantages of the Covid pandemic is that people of God around the world have been forced into isolated situations wherein they must take another look at the subject of what is considered true worship.
• Worship out of gratitude: Christians are motivated in true worship by their gratitude for the grace of God. This can take place both publicly and in the privacy of one’s own home. Worship is not defined by a public performance of a number of legal statutes that we have orchestrated from a series of proof texts on an outline. Worship is spontaneous from the heart. This is true worship that is motivated by the gospel. This is exactly what Paul meant when he urged the Romans to present their bodies as living sacrifices to God, which thing “is your reasonable service” (Rm 12:1). Some translations read, “spiritual worship.”
If we satisfy ourselves with our perfect keeping of some legal system of worship that we have formulated as a systematic theology of public worship, and which we refer to as “true worship,” then we have marginalized the motivating power of the grace of God. Paul said that we are not under such a system of law-keeping, which system we would assume to include our worship. On the contrary, we are under grace that generates worship from a heart that has responded to the gospel journey of the incarnate Son of God. We thus worship out of our gratitude for His love to make such a journey on our behalf.
Grateful hearts need no systematic set of rules to worship. They need no “place of worship.” Temples, churches houses and cathedrals are not necessary. This means that we do not need some ceremonial system of law that prescribes how we are to worship at some location.
Obedience to rules of law stimulates limited worship. We are motivated only in the fact that we have obeyed law. But response to the revelation of the Son of God moves us in worship beyond the calculated measures of keeping some legal acts of worship in some designated “place of worship.” In contrast to being subject to a legal system of worship laws, we are subject to the true fact of Jesus’ incarnational journey on our behalf. It is our understanding of this truth that causes thanksgiving in our hearts (See 2 Co 4:15). The more we understand the grace of God that was revealed through His Son, the more intense our worship becomes. If we would increase the sincerity of our worship, therefore, then we must “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18).
Again, one of the advantages of the Covid pandemic was that the lockdowns forced believers not to depend on the crutches of meeting houses in order to worship God. We were all forced into digging deep into our own hearts in order to worship God without all the surrounding stimuli that we thought was so necessary in order to generate worship. And the beautiful thing about it all is that we have learned that we can worship, even in the confines of our own closets.
• Meritorious law-keeping severs one from Christ: The Holy Spirit was serious about this matter. Through Paul He warned the Christians in Galatia, “You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace” (Gl 5:4). If one feels self-righteous because he has performed a certain system of acts in worship, then he has convinced himself that no grace is needed. After all, when one has satisfied himself with his legal performance of his legalized “true worship,” then he can feel confident in his supposed self-justification through the performance of a ceremony of worship acts. If one feels self-sanctified in his worship after the “closing prayer,” then he needs no sanctification from the cross.
We have found it most interesting that in our worship alone in the lockdowns of the Covid pandemic, the opening and closing prayers have all vanished away. We can now better understand what the Holy Spirit meant when He instructed that we “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). When we are not locked into an institutional performance of worship on Sunday morning, we now better understand that worship is a daily offering of our lives to the Father, with occasional moments throughout the day when we offer prayer to Him in reference to something in which we are immediately engaged.
We must translate our understanding of worship into the context of the theme of both Romans and Galatians. In order to be clear, what the Spirit said in the statement of Galatians 5:4 is that those of us who would seek to be justified by our laws of worship (“acts of worship”) have actually endangered our relationship with King Jesus because we have convinced ourselves that we no longer need His grace that was revealed through the cross. We have caused ourselves to have fallen from grace because we have convinced ourselves that it is possible to be justified before God on the basis of our meritorious obedience to “the truth” in reference to our orchestrated performances of worship. Therefore, if we would assume that “the truth” in reference to worship is some system of meritorious law, then we are in trouble. We have denied “the truth of the gospel” by relegating the gospel of the Son of God to a legal system of worship and behavior. But this is not the gospel (See 1 Co 15:1-4). This is another gospel (Gl 1:6-9).
We must not forget that whenever we discuss worship, we are talking about ourselves. Whenever we are establishing law, we are talking about ourselves in reference to our obedience to the law. But when we talk about gospel, we are talking about Jesus Christ. It is simply for this reason that “the truth” can never be a reference to a system of law. It is always in the New Testament stated to be, “the truth of the gospel.” The focus is on the truth of King Jesus, not on ourselves.
If we are honest with ourselves, then we know that we cannot keep any law perfectly in order to demand our salvation, or to certify our worship as true before God. Therefore, if “the truth” is a code of law, then we are doomed, for we would have to obey “the truth” perfectly in order to be saved. But we know that we cannot do this. We know this while we are sitting there in an assembly with our minds wandering here and there about the things of this world. We then realize that we have sinned according to our definition of “true worship.” Therefore, we need to take another look at what the New Testament states in reference to “the truth,” especially “the truth of the gospel.” If we do not, then we will as some in Galatia be teaching “another gospel,” and thus reap what the Holy Spirit declared in Galatians 1:9: “As we said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
[Next in series: Jan. 10]
• “The truth” in reference to worship: A good example of our misunderstanding of “the truth” is when this phrase is used in reference to worship. Throughout the years we have heard the common and misleading use of “the truth” in order to lay a foundation for a self-righteous system of law-keeping in reference to worship. This system of truth is often based on a misunderstanding of what Jesus said in John 4:23,24:
“But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.”
We sincerely want to be “true worshipers.” However, in our zeal to worship God “in truth” we have established a meritorious system of worship that is contrary to the entire theme of both Romans and Galatians, and thus, contrary to the gospel. For example, in order to identify ourselves as “true worshipers,” we often establish a legal system of “true worship” that can be identified by the performance of certain “acts of worship.” In other words, if the acts of this true worship are meritoriously performed every Sunday, then we assure ourselves that we have worshiped God in “truth.” We are even so arrogant to say that those who do not worship according to our legally defined “truth” of systematic acts of worship are not true worshipers.
As the Holy Spirit previously pronounced through Paul that no one can be justified before God through law-keeping, the same principle applies to our worship. But on this matter we have contradicted the Spirit by establishing what we consider to be “the truth” (a system of law) in reference to true worship. If any of the points of this “true worship” are violated or omitted, then it is supposed that one’s worship is not true. We are also quick to judge those who would be so presumptuous as to add to our legally defined system of “true worship.” In believing and behaving in this manner, we have established our own self-righteous worship, and thus have unknowingly denied the grace of God. We forgot that Christians are under grace, not meritorious law-keeping (Rm 6:14).
We have also forgotten that worship pours forth from a heart of thanksgiving and gratitude (2 Co 4:15). When we worship around the Lord’s Supper, remembering God’s love for us spurs us on to love: “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge that if one died for all, then all died” (2 Co 5:14). John was so strikingly clear on this matter that he proclaimed, “And by this [our love for one another] we will know that we are of the truth [of the gospel], and will assure our heart before Him” (1 Jn 3:19).
When we speak of true worship, it is not a matter of how, but why. We must focus on why we worship before we ask how. If we feel that we have sorted out the “how,” but ignored the “why,” then our worship is empty, void, and often vain. We find ourselves going through worship rituals, and thus feel empty after the “closing prayer.”
• The rise of judges: Unfortunately, our systematic theology on what is considered a legal system of “true worship” has encouraged us to be judges of others in reference to their worship. If others do not worship according to our legally-defined “true worship,” then they are worshiping God in vain. Even on the surface, with a novice study of the grace of God, we can perceive that there is something very wrong with this reasoning.
If one worships God from the heart, then what gives us the right to judge the hearts of others in reference to their worship? The problem is that we have established a systematic legal performance of supposed actions of worship that are fabricated from an arrangement of selected scriptures. Our “true worship” is thus according to our formulated legal statutes of law, and not according to a heart of gratitude in response to the grace of God. In other words, the fact that we have become judges of the worship of others is evidence that we have establish a self-righteous legal system of worship by which we judge the worship of others. We judge the worship of others according to our improvised standard of laws that we have outlined as a definition of “the truth” in reference to worship. We have forgotten that true worship can never be the performance of a set of rules. Cults do this, but not Christians who live in gratitude of the grace of God.
Our legal systematic acts of worship, therefore, encourage us to be judges of the worship of others. But James would shock us into some reality on this matter. He asks every “worship judge,” “There is one lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (Js 4:12). If our legal system of “truth” in reference to worship inspires us to be judges of others in their worship, then our “truth” has made us lawgivers by which we would judge others. If we are honest with ourselves, we will conclude that there is no standard of law that we can use to judge the hearts of people in reference to worship. We can be only fruit inspectors, for by their fruits we will know them (See Mt 7:16,17).
This does not mean, however, that we should not allow the word of God to guard us from following after the doctrines of demons in reference to worship. The word of God is our guard against vain worship. True worship is governed by the word of God. We know God only through His word, and thus we know how He would be worshiped according to His word. Those who have no knowledge of the word of God will fabricate man-made systems of worship. What we are trying to do is to guard ourselves from using the word of God to fabricate a legal system of law that we presume to be the identity of a system of worship that is considered true. But it is simply true that worship cannot be legislated by law.
[Next in series: Jan. 8]
We must not believe that we are guarded from teaching another gospel simply because we teach the truth of Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and kingdom reign. The problem is that we tag on to these gospel truths our own traditional teachings, methods, or heritage that we confuse with the simplicity of the gospel. In doing this we lead ourselves to believe that our add-ons are also necessary to believe and obey in order to be justified before God. This is particularly true in reference to a legalized ceremony of worship.
What we must keep in mind is that any obsession about obedience to our add-ons in an effort to self-justify or self-sanctify ourselves is an attack against the grace of God that was revealed at the cross. Because most religious people today understand little about the gospel, or at least focus little on the complete gospel, their worship of God has moved into a self-sanctifying experience of emotional experientialism. In other words, the more emotional one becomes during an assigned period of worship, the more sincere the worship is surely to be. This is particularly true in reference to the obsession with “speaking in tongues.” As we explained in Book 44, Experiential Religion vs Word-Based Faith, the modern-day phenomenon is real, but it is not the work of the Holy Spirit (See Biblical Research library, africainternational.org). It is the work of our own spirit when in a state of emotional upheaval. And in some cases, it is a self-sanctifying exercise on the part of the speaker.
Others, on the other hand, have gone to the extreme to create a legalized ceremonial assembly during which prescribed performances are carried out as “acts of worship.” It is believed that when the performances of these acts are all completed, then the supposed worshipers of “true worship” after a “closing prayer,” and then can go on their way, satisfied that they have worshiped God “in spirit and truth.” They have supposedly sanctified themselves for the week, and thus, will return next Sunday in order to renew their to perform another series of self-sanctifying ceremonies before God. Both of the preceding extremes, whether experiential emotionalism or legal orthodoxy, are attacks against the grace of God. Each focuses on the individual “worshiper,” and less on God.
• An inherent denial of grace: In his confrontation with Peter in Antioch, who along with some Jewish Christians who were also not walking straightforward according to the truth of the gospel (Gl 2:14), Paul embedded a principle that must always be kept in mind in reference to our salvation, and particularly our worship. We must remember the following lest we too bring into the body of Christ the law of sin and death, even in the manner by which we worship God:
“Knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Christ Jesus, even we [Paul and Peter] have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law, for by works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gl 2:16).
There are two very important points in the above statement that reveal our relationship with God. First, the King James Version reads, “Knowing that a man is … justified … by the faith of Jesus Christ.” The Greek word that is translated “by” is dia. This Greek word is commonly translated “through.” This is the translation that is brought out in the American Standard Version: “… through faith in Jesus Christ.” The New King James Version gives a similar rendition, the meaning of which is found in Acts 13:39: “By Him [Jesus Christ] all who believe are justified from all things.” The meaning of all these readings is that the incarnate Son of God, through His commitment (faith) to go to the cross, was the means by which all will be saved who believe in His sacrificial offering. In other words, the measure of His justification through the cross is not determined by our measure of faith in His work of redemption. On the contrary, in reference to our justification all our faith must be placed in Him, not in our own faith. We must believe that the gospel of His atoning sacrifice was true and sincere on His part. Our faith must not be meritorious, and thus cancel His faith to do the will of the Father for us in going to the cross (Lk 22:42).
Second, Paul was abundantly clear as he pressed hard with his feather-pen to paper in order to write, “For by works of law no flesh will be justified.” He made this statement twice in this one verse as if he knew we would have a difficult time understanding the concept. And we do. Nevertheless, taken at face value, no one can be meritoriously justified by perfect law-keeping simply because of what the Holy Spirit stated in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We kept on sinning against law even after we have been baptized into Christ.
Galatians 2:16 is thus clear. Jesus performed perfectly on the cross in order to justify our lack of performance. We must have absolute faith in His performance in order not to try adding our own performance of either good works, or a supposed perfect keeping of law, in order to subsidize His total and complete performance for our redemption. We must not even be so presumptuous as to offer legal worship to God in order to “please Him.” In doing so, we will actually displease Him because we are marginalizing the offering of His Son whom He gave for our justification. If we seek to justify ourselves through worship law-keeping, then are trying to either add to or subsidize His justification through the performance of our legal acts of worship.
Lest we make the mistake of interpreting Paul’s use of the word “law” in Galatians 2:16 to refer to the Sinai law, he purposely did not use the definite article “the” with the word “law.” It was not “the Sinai law.” It was any law that we might establish as a meritorious system of obedience in order to justify ourselves before God. We could even make the “law of Christ” to be “another gospel” if we construct a systematic doctrine of “the truth” (acts of worship) we must perform meritoriously and perfectly in order to save ourselves. We must keep this in mind when we try to construct some system of “true worship” that is supposedly based on a ceremonial performance of our fabrication of “acts of worship.”
If we deceive ourselves into believing that we can obey perfectly any law we consider to be “the truth,” then we have introduced among ourselves the law of sin and death. We have forgotten that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death” (Rm 8:2). The point is that we cannot keep perfectly any law, whether the law of Christ, or our own fabrications of law, in order to justify ourselves before God. Therefore, the Holy Spirit had some hard words for those who would introduce sin and death into the church: “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gl 1:9).
Thankfully, however, our sins in Christ are cleansed by the washing of Jesus’ blood that continues to flow from Calvary (1 Jn 1:7). This is the continuation of grace in our lives. As with Peter, we must walk by faith in this grace and trust that God will save us from ourselves. Our faith is in the grace of God, not in our presumptuous claim that we can keep any system of law perfectly by which we can save ourselves.
Though we would quote Galatians 2:16 to affirm that one cannot establish any legal system of law by which he would justify himself before God, we have done just that in making “the truth” a legal system of law. We have establish a legal system of law that we call “the truth,” and then we are so arrogant as to claim that we have justified ourselves before God because we have obeyed perfectly our legal system of “the truth.” In this way we have inadvertently switch around the phrase “the truth of the gospel.” We now consider it to read “the gospel of the truth.” We have assumed that “the truth” is the good news of a new set of laws that we suppose God would bind on us in order that we justify ourselves before Him. So we have forgotten what the Holy Spirit said: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death” (Rm 8:2).
We sometimes assume that we are justified by our own meritorious performance of what we have fabricated to be “the truth.” We then assume that we can self-justify ourselves when we are satisfied that we have correctly performed our fabrication. This problem leads us to becoming somewhat self-righteous religionists by throwing away everyone who does not measure up to our fabricated religion of “true worship.”
In our zeal to please God, we become as the Jews who established their own systematic theology of “the truth,” “but not according to knowledge [of the word of God]” (Rm 10:2). The problem with the Jews’ system of religiosity was explained by the Holy Spirit: “For they [the Jews] being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rm 10:3). In our own zeal, we also do as the Jews by establishing a system of “the truth” in order to affirm that we are righteousness before God when we meritoriously perform all the statutes of our improvised system of worship laws. We are often so zealous to keep our legal system of our “truth” that we will, as the Jews, lay aside the commandments of God (Mk 7:8).
[Next in series: Jan. 5]
• Obedient response to grace: We can be assured that we are not alone in our struggle to maintain our commitment to Jesus in the midst of a religious world that has become very religious, but not according to the word of God. Even one of Jesus’ apostles fell into this religious quagmire by falling back into the security of his Jewish heritage. While in Antioch, the apostle Peter was intimidated by some legal religionists who came from Jerusalem with their “Jewish Christianity” (Gl 2:11-13). This entire incident should remind all of us that it is easy to be diverted from the power of the gospel. If Peter could be momentarily led astray, then certainly we ourselves can do the same.
For our benefit, the unfortunate lapse in gospel behavior on the part of the apostle was recorded for posterity in order to remind all of us that we too can slip back into the security of legal religiosity, and thus, forsake the power of the truth of the gospel. This same apostasy on a large scale was occurring in Galatia. Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, many Jewish Christians en masse were turning back to the Sinai law and the security of their Jewish religious heritage. The entire book of Hebrews was written in order to terminate this flow away from the truth of the gospel. In some ways, too many today find it reassuring to accept everyone as “Christian,” and thus everyone is supposedly accepted by God in the performance of their religiosity. Therefore, we need to take another look at the actions of Peter.
We must reverently read what Paul wrote concerning his encounter with Peter that took place in Antioch: “But when I saw that they [Peter and the other Antioch Jews] were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles, and not as the Jews, why do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews?’” (Gl 2:14). In behaving as he did, Paul said that Peter “stood condemned” (Gl 2:11). This is thus a serious matter because our religious behavior can in fact judge us condemned when we live contrary to the truth of the gospel.
Behavior that is not according to the gospel of grace is simply hypocritical behavior (Gl 2:13). It is hypocritical because one reveals his lack of inner commitment in reference to his faith. He may believe the right things in his head, as Peter who knew the truth of the gospel, but behaved contrary to what grace teaches (See Ti 2:11,14). In reference to his behavior at Antioch, Peter knew better than to behave contrary to what he knew. We would say that in separating himself from the Gentiles because he was intimidated by some Jewish religionists who came from Jerusalem, he was “not straighforward about the truth of the gospel.” He behaved contrary to the nature of the gospel of grace. He thus stood condemned.
In this context, the Holy Spirit introduced the phrase, “the truth of the gospel” in the statement of Galatians 2:16. However, throughout the New Testament, the Spirit commonly used the abbreviated phrase “the truth” to refer to the truth of the gospel. This is significant in reference to understanding the phrase “the truth” as it is used in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit was consistent. He did not change the meaning of “the truth of the gospel” in Galatians when He used the abbreviated term, “the truth,” in other New Testament texts. “The truth,” when read in the epistles, therefore, must first be understood as a reference to “the truth of the gospel,” not to some legal system of religious rules that one would seek to keep in order to self-justify oneself before God.
• The gospel is based on true historical events: In order to be clear we must understand that in Galatians 2:16 “the truth” is defined by the phrase “of the gospel.” Therefore, our understanding of what the gospel is determines our understanding of what the abbreviated phrase “the truth” means in reference to the gospel. And herein many have gone wrong by making the gospel an analytical system of self-justifying religious law. However, in the Galatians context reference was to how Peter behaved, not to what he believed.
Our behavior as a Christian is motivated by our belief that the events of the gospel are true. When in Antioch, Peter had a lapse in behavior, not because he changed his beliefs in reference to the gospel, or that he forgot the historical events of the gospel. It was that his behavior for a moment was not according to what he knew in reference to the truth of Jesus’ incarnational offering, resurrection and kingdom reign. He had not forgotten what he preached on Sunday morning on Pentecost many years before (See At 2:14-36).
In missing this point in reference to Peter’s behavior, some have subsequently brought law in as a definition of the gospel, and thus, brought into the church the law of sin and death. They have forgotten that “the truth” is not our meritorious relationship with some system of law, but a reference to Christ Jesus and the good news of His coming into this world. It is the gospel of Christ Jesus and what He did in this world that delivers us from the law of sin and death. Since this is true, then the phrase “the truth of the gospel” must be believed in order to motivate gospel behavior. Peter for a moment simply fell from the power of the gospel of grace to motivate correct behavior.
If we believe that the gospel is true, then we will act on our belief. This is what Paul wanted to remind the Corinthians. They would remain saved by the gospel on the condition that they continued to “hold fast to that word [by which the gospel was communicated to them] which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” (1 Co 15:2). If we stop believing that Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and ascended to reign at the right hand of God, then we will lose the motivational power of the gospel.
The gospel can never be a system of law, because law only brings death. It brings spiritual death because no one can keep law perfectly in order to save himself. Law, therefore, can never bring good news, for in the presence of law, we sin. It is then as Paul wrote, “For without law, I was once alive. But when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rm 7:9). Therefore, if we make the gospel a system of law-keeping, then we have introduced sin and death into the body of Christ because we all continue to sin (1 Jn 1:8). This is the other gospel that Paul mentioned was being brought in among the Galatian disciples. It was already in the fellowship of the disciples in Rome (See Gl 1:6-9).
Therefore, we must be careful not to reverse the order of the phrase, “the truth of the gospel.” It is not “the gospel of the truth.” If we believe that the gospel is some system of self-justifying religious law-keeping, then we would be correct to say that it is “the gospel of the truth.” But this is totally contrary to what Jesus said to the Jews in the following statement: “You will know the truth [Me], and the truth [about Me] will make you free” (Jn 8:32). A new legal system of law would not make them free from sin. He would. Therefore Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). In these two statements Jesus used the phrase “the truth” to refer to Himself and His salvational work as the incarnate Son of God who was going to the cross. The so-called “five steps” to salvation—hear, believe, repent, confess, baptism—are not the gospel. These are simply the responses of those in the book of Acts who believed the work of God through the incarnational journey of His Son from heaven, to earth, to the cross, and then back to His right hand to function as our only mediator between God and man (1 Tm 2:5). We must not confuse the response with the gospel journey of Jesus to which we must respond.
Jesus is the good news about our problem of sin. And thus, the phrase will always read, “the truth of the gospel.” There is no other good news in reference to our salvation. There is no good news in more laws to which we would supposedly conform in a meritorious effort to justify ourselves. On the contrary, the good news is about Jesus and the grace that was revealed through the true events of the incarnational journey of Jesus. He is the good news because through Him the grace of God was revealed. He did not instituted a new law system that was supposedly meant to be our road map to self-justification.
We must not assume that the “other-gospel” teachers in Galatia had forgotten to teach Jesus. They did teach the gospel of Jesus. Unfortunately, they also added self-justifying obedience to certain religious laws to which they assumed one must also conform in order to be saved (See At 15:1). Their teaching of the gospel of the Son of God thus became another gospel because of their addition of meritorious obedience to other religious rites, rituals and ceremonies that they deemed necessary to perform in order for one to be justified before God. And because they made these additions, they brought into the church a law of sin and spiritual death. No one could keep all the laws perfectly, and thus all spiritually died before God who assumed that they were self-justified because of their meritorious law-keeping, or tradition-keeping. They severed themselves from Christ by establishing their own religious system of righteousness (See Rm 10:1-3).
[Next in series: Jan. 2]
• The truth of the gospel: It is difficult for those who want to walk according to their manufactured system of religion to restore motivation in behavior that is based on the gospel. Sometimes people are more zealous to defend their religious heritage, than the gospel of God’s grace. This is true because it is sometimes easier to fall back on our religious heritage, and the laws or traditions that define such, than to defend our behavior in response to the grace of God. This is especially true when one is doing nothing in his or her life other than sitting on a church pew every Sunday morning. Grace will simply not allow one to be content while settled into the comfort of some church house.
When the early modern-day missionaries went forth to people who were less educated, they often found it easier to prescribe obedience to some simple system of law. In prescribing obedience to an outline of law, it was a simple matter of teaching an outline of what was supposedly necessary to be an obedient child of God. In reference to salvation, and since there were five fingers on one hand—then the “gospel” that was preached was “hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized.” There were a host of proof texts under each point. And since there were five fingers on the other hand, in order for one to remain faithful to God by worshiping in truth, then all the novice Christians had to do every Sunday morning between an opening and closing prayer was to “sing, preach, pray, serve the Lord Supper, and not forget the contribution.”
All the above supposedly composed “true worship” if legally performed every Sunday. By teaching his five-plus-five religious identity of the church, the church was supposedly established by the obedience of those who were cloned after the “gospel of law-keeping.” Reports were subsequently written back to supporters that there was a new “church” established in the village. There were members of this church who were carrying out the “five-by-five” identifying “marks of the church.” The growth of the church was then determined by how many cloned assemblies were meeting at different locations as autonomous groups.
At the time we were imposing this “form of teaching” on the people, we paid little attention to the incarnation of the Son of God. We forgot to teach the cornerstone concept of what Paul reminded the Philippians, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus . . . “ (You can read the rest in Ph 2:5-8). Paul then carried on with the incarnational journey of the Son of God. Nevertheless, in teaching the subject of the gospel, we spoke of the sacrificial offering of the cross, but we often forgot to focus on the implications of Hebrews 10:5: “A body You have prepared for Me.” At the beginning of the incarnational journey of the Son of God, the Father had to prepare a body on earth in order that the events of the gospel occur (See Jn 1:1,2,14). If we would be disciples of this incarnate Deity, then we too must go through a transformation. We cannot incarnate into flesh and bones, for we are already there. However, we can be transformed in mind (Rm 12:1,2).
The gospel journey of the incarnate Son of God demonstrated God’s love for us (Rm 5:8). Through this journey to the cross, the Son of God demonstrated grace. It is this love and grace that motivates worship (See 2 Cor 4:15; 5:14; 1 Jn 4:19). We can start our journey with Jesus by having love and grace in our own minds and hearts.
But we must be cautioned that we too can become as those to whom the Hebrew writer wrote. We can become dull of hearing (Hb 5:11). We can even be enticed to forsake our commitment by those religionists who surround and satisfy us with their theatrical concerts that excite experiential religiosity. We must not forget that experiential religiosity turns our focus from King Jesus to ourselves. Emotional subjectivism is a powerful motivation, and thus a powerful diversion from the power of the gospel.
[Next in series: Dec. 30]
• A strike at the heart of the gospel: By establishing a legal system of theology by which some sought to meritoriously justify them through the keeping of law, an inherent problem arose among some of the disciples of the first century. This problem struck right at the heart of the gospel of grace. In fact, it was a denial of the gospel. It nullified the effect of the cross to transform lives. And in nullifying the effect of the gospel, some severed themselves from Christ.
At the time, the problem was so severe that the Holy Spirit had to inspire two documents (Romans and Galatians) to be written in order to deal with this matter, lest the church vanish into the maze of just some religion of the day that was based on theology.
Stated briefly, the two dissertations of Paul from the Holy Spirit were based on the inability of any person to live righteously according to law in a way whereby one could successfully justify himself before God through perfect keeping of law. Therefore, when a legal system of “the truth” (law) is developed to which one must conform perfectly in order to be self-justified, then grace is replaced with meritorious law-keeping, and thus, the justification of the cross is nullified. Those who were seeking to self-justify themselves through a theology of perfect law-keeping snubbed the justification that came from the incarnational offering of the Son of God on the cross.
In dealing with this problem that actually denied the grace of God and marginalized the cross, Paul eventually had to state clearly, “You are not under [meritorious keeping of] law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). We must understand exactly what he meant in this statement in order to discover that “the truth” is not a systematic theology of self-justification or worship. On the contrary, it is the good news about the incarnational offering of the Lord Jesus Christ, His resurrection, ascension and present reign as King of kings (See 1 Co 15:1-4). “The truth” is about Him and what He did for us, not about what we do for Him through a certified system of self-justification. All this theology—all of which is only an organizational system of meritorious rites, rituals and ceremonies—is misleading. Such leads one from focusing exclusively on the cross and the imputed righteousness of God that is projected to everyone who obeys the gospel.
[Next in series: Dec. 27]
When Christians fail to do that which Peter, in his final words, admonished his readers to do—grow in our knowledge of the grace of God—we inadvertently set ourselves up for trouble (2 Pt 3:18). We must not forget that our faith is based on our belief that the gospel is historically true. The Son of God was incarnate into the flesh of man. This is true. He offered His incarnate body on a cross. This is rue. He was resurrected. This is true. He ascended into heaven. This is true. He is presently reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords. This is also true. This is the truth of the gospel.
But when we begin to forget these sacred truths, then we are in trouble. We forget by not understanding the truth of the gospel as we become infatuated with our own religiosity. And in order to protect our religiosity, there is only one thing that can be done. We must write some type of creed or catechism by which we begin to judge the faithfulness of the adherents to our favorite religion. In all this quagmire of religion, it is often difficult to restore a knowledge of the truth.
When everyone speaks the same thing, then everyone stops thinking. This is the curse of cults and religions. It is the fatal error of the social philosophy of Marxism. It is also the problem with the legalist who turns the New Testament into a catechism of self-justification through meritorious law-keeping. For the legalist, once all the statutes have been determined that must be obeyed, then everyone must stop thinking about any new statutes. Neither should anyone question those statutes that have been established to define are particular religious heritage. Unfortunately, in doing such we have not identified the church. We have defined a meritorious system of law-keeping that is contrary to the grace by which the church is saved. Again we have forgotten what the Holy Spirit declared: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves” through any meritorious law-keeping (Ep 2:8). And again, “For you are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14).
This is particularly true in reference to how we understand “the truth” of the gospel. Unfortunately, we sometimes define “the truth” to be a legal system of statutes by which we can justify ourselves as righteous before God, and thus be classified as those who are “of the truth.” We convince ourselves that after we have obediently performed “the truth” of our established statutes of meritorious law-keeping, we are then justified before God. By believing this, we have relegated ourselves to cultic religious behavior and actually submitted ourselves to a theology that is contrary to the gospel. We have stopped thinking, and subsequently, we have stopped studying our Bibles.
In our submission to “the truth,” we have failed to understand that the New Testament is not a document on law by which we would measure ourselves justified before God. It is a road map of instructions from a Father who seeks to prepare our hearts for heaven in our response to His Son. Contrary to “the truth” being a system of self-justifying laws, it is the gospel of the sacrificial offering, resurrection and reign of the incarnate Son of God. These historical events are true, and thus they are “the truth of the gospel.”
In the New Testament, “the truth” refers to the obedience of the incarnate Son of God on our behalf, not to something that we would be so presumptuous to do in order to put God in debt to save us (Rm 4:4). It is truth that He obediently performed on our behalf: “For it was fitting for Him [the Son of God], for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hb 2:10). “And having been made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him” (Hb 5:9).
Nevertheless, we have discovered over the years that many have established a legal system of religious behavior that is actually contrary to the truth of Jesus’ obedient behavior to go to the cross for our salvation. We have turned this gospel journey of Jesus into a legal system of laws that must be obeyed. Our legal response to His obedient sacrifice may arise out of a sincere desire “to do the will of God.” However, as we study through this matter in the New Testament, and when we come specifically to the document of Galatians, our legal response is actually “another gospel,” or as Paul reminded the Roman disciples, the establishment of a law of “sin and death.” In other words, if “the truth” is a meritorious system of law-keeping, and obedient self-justification thereof is necessary, then we have made “the truth” to stand in contrast to the gospel of grace that sets us free from meritorious law-keeping.
[Next in series: Dec. 24]