Among the numerous animals for which my father attended on a Kansas farm in central America, were sheep. He always had between 400 to 500 of these wool-bearing creatures. Because sheep demanded so much maintenance, none of us three brothers, once grown, ever wanted to posses another sheep. It is not that they are not lovely little creations, but that they require some serious maintenance. But this may be why the Great One created them. He needed to give us an animal that would teach us how to care for others as He cares for us.

My once close relationship with sheep taught me to be a care giver, as well as a loyal follower. It all started in my younger years with a particular orphan. During the time of year when the mama sheep were at the end of baking in the oven new baby sheep, there were cute little miniature sheep—lambs—popping out in the dangerous world everywhere in the pasture.

There can be nothing more innocent than a cute little newly born lamb. But at the same time, there is nothing more dependent than these little balls of fluffy wool who constantly wiggle their tails as they sumptuously drain milk from their mamas. Unfortunately, sometimes either by coyotes, or the untimely death of some mother sheep, an orphaned lamb must be rescued by humans. It is then that the real adventure of sheep farming springs into life.

I must have been no more than shoulder high to a mama sheep when a particular mama sheep orphaned her cuddly offspring into the care of humans. This was my first experience with raising orphaned lambs. At the time, I thought it a thrilling opportunity to have a lamb as a pet? So I adopted and named, and thus, Woolie became my adopted friend. But before you consign yourself to running a lamb orphanage, there are a few facts of life—not human life, but lamb life—that you should know. I speak as a seasoned lamb/sheep whisper who experienced the adventures that these little innocent critters can unload on those who are so brave as to accept the responsibility of becoming the mama to a lamb.

So into my youthful arms came Woolie. He was a cute little critter from the time when his mother met her demise one fateful night when the coyotes roamed the Kansas prairie. It was in the early morning hours when my father heard the baying cries of an orphan who had lost his mother to the dangers of life. My father subsequently rescued little Woolie and brought him safely to the comfort and care of the farm house.

It was indeed exciting to nurture from a bottle this little “pet.” We warmed the milk, poured it into a Coke bottle, put a nipple on it, and then little Woolie went to work sumptuously draining every drop. At the time, it seemed that I had become the “duck mother” to an orphan of another species. Little Woolie took no concern for this difference, knowing only that I was a warm body who held the bottle that satisfied his relentless hunger. From his lambhood, therefore, he would not leave my side, always hoping for a Coke bottle full of nourishment.

When Woolie was just a little staggering lamb, all went well. But when the Coke bottle feeding gave way to the regular sustenance of abundant hay, then things began to change.

Cute little Woolie became this obnoxious big sheep who could not stay away from his adopted human herd of people. Whenever we were working on the machinery of the farm, there was that obnoxious sheep right there in our midst, nosing his way here and there in order to intrude into our business. After all, Woolie surely thought that there was a Coke bottle or bundle of hay to be discovered among the gears and bearings of the machinery.

Sometimes when we opened the door of the truck, he, as the dogs, would just jump into the cab. If dogs were welcome to do such, Woolie reasoned that he too should be accepted just as some flee-ridden dog. But after a few harsh words and an unpleasant tug on an ear, Woolie was extracted from the cab of the truck and left bewildered as we would drive away, leaving him standing there forlorned as to why he too could not go with the humans as the dogs. He surely could not understand why his devotion to follow was crushed as the truck disappeared down the road and out of sight.

If you have grown up among sheep, you know this story. Once a sheep has relinquished himself or herself to you, you cannot drive them away, and you cannot drive away from them. They are so innocent in this way. You have become the adopted mother and the bonded herd of their fellowship in this world. Where you lead, they will go. Where you are, they want to be. And so was Woolie. He was as God made him.

In about a year after I adopted Woolie, my body had advanced in growth to place my head not far above the tall shoulders of Woolie. Throughout his growth, and our encounters with one another, Woolie was able to take me through countless adventures. One of these adventures was indelibly imprinted on my conscious memory even to these sixty-five years after the experience. If my mother were still alive, she too would bear witness that what I experienced on one eventful day with Woolie, or caused to happen, became the subject of many stories she would tell throughout her years. She wrote a regular column in a local newspaper. On one occasion, she wrote of this eventful day, which if I had the original column, I would simply repeat it here verbatim.

The occasion was on a calm summer morning at our farm house in central Kansas. My mother had previously invited numerous farm wives together for her regular weekly Bible fellowship, which she commenced to teach on the day of the extravaganza. So you can picture all these refined women calmly sitting in all their made-over refinery in the living room of our old farm house. This was always a special day for the area wives to experience an occasion of social finesse. They were all there with their Bibles open, totally focused on receiving as much nourishment as possible from the Bread of Life.

But then, there was an invasion of the animal kind. The whole episode originated from my own hunger. Unfortunately, the relief to my physical duress was in the kitchen. But between me and relief was this crowd of focused women in the entire living room of the house. So I quietly came up to the front door of the house, and took a cautious peek through the cracked door. There I discovered a calm gathering of women who were seated in a circle in great solitude and concentration. But I was dreadfully hungry. I thought that I could just stealthily walk unnoticed through the midst of the multitude who were so engrossed in the subject of the hour. They would not notice me at all. If I were quite, they would not be disturbed. At the moment, hunger was in control of my stomach, and food had become an obsession that distorted my plans of invasion. Therefore, I reasoned, what would be the harm of me just quietly sneaking through their midst on my way to find sustenance in the kitchen? So hunger won out over being a shy farm boy. I quietly opened the screen door of the house. I then shuffled as quietly and unnoticed as possible through the gathering of refined society.

But then, for some reason, all chaos spontaneously generated among the multitudes. I can still remember the exact location in the living room in which I stood when the horrors of the moment broke into pandemonium. High octave shrikes from exasperated female voices penetrated my ears. Commotion turned into chaos everywhere behind me. The multitude of excited females were uncontrollably jumping up here and there, spilling cups of coffee and tea on delicate dresses and carpets. Tables were overturned and papers of class notes went flying. Clutched Bibles were turned into shields against flying debris. Pens and pencils became projectiles that were launched at the invading monster. It was as if a Kansas tornado had just entered the house behind me. Since my face was focused toward the food in the kitchen, I could not figure out why my supposedly quiet slither through the multitudes would cause such a fiasco. I was at first puzzled.

And then what was transpiring behind me was sternly announced to me by my mother. She screamed out, “Roger Dickson, get that sheep out of here!” I said, “What sheep?” “That sheep,” to which she angrily directed her stiffened index finger. When I turned around, there was my faithful disciple, Woolie, right on my heals.

Unfortunately in the midst of the social chaos of the moment, Woolie was also caught up in a moment of ecstasy. And as all sheep do when they get excited, wide-eyed and terrified Woolie now began releasing little brown pellets from his posterior. He just could not help himself. Surrounded with all the female hysteria in the room, it was only for him to have an involuntary natural response. Subsequently, smashed pellets by churchgoing shoes only intensified the hysteria of the chaos.

What had happened was that before the door had closed behind me, Woolie was right there edging his nose in before the door closed. He then instinctively followed his master. Regardless of the chaotic social environment that was transpiring, Woolie was dead focused on following where I lead. He was focused on following the one who nourished him all his life into a fully grown sheep who was somewhat fat at the time because of all the nourishment we had given him from the day he was orphaned. He was now extremely obese Woolie. He was a full grown monster of a sheep who had dared to go where no sheep had gone before, just to stay close to his master. He never grew out of his desire to follow me wherever I went, regardless of the hostiles through which he had to traverse in order to stay close.

I would do the same to traverse through the hostilities of this world to stay close to my Master and Savior, Jesus.



Can God command things to be done, which things when obeyed, can become the identity of religion? For the sake of clarity, we need to ask this question from another perspective. Are there some things that God has commanded in the past, which if obeyed today, we would be considered religionists?
Certainly! If one has a difficult time answering, or understanding the preceding questions, then the problem may be that one is having difficulty separating the Sinai law that was given to the nation of Israel, from the law of faith and grace under which Christians now live. In fact, if one does not understand this, then he or she could be preaching the “other gospel” about which Paul warned the Christians in Galatia (See Gl 1:6-9).
Therefore, a few examples are in order. If we bind on ourselves and others that which God considers void, even though He initially commanded such to be done, then we are religionists if we practice these things today. In doing such, we have brought into our faith and grace a system of meritorious law-keeping that is contrary to the gospel of grace.
Consider the rite of circumcision. Circumcision was commanded both to Abraham and Israel as a nation (See Gn 17; Ex 12:44,48). Circumcision was a command of the Sinai law, and thus, when one was born of a Jewish family under the Sinai law, he was to be circumcised the eighth day after birth. But the law that required circumcision was nailed to the cross (Rm 7:1-4; Cl 2:14). Christians today are not required to be circumcised in order to conform to the law of circumcision. In their obedience to the gospel, they were made dead to the Sinai law.
Some Jewish Christians in the first century did not understand this. They sought to bind the rite of circumcision on the Gentile disciples in order that the Gentiles be saved. In fact, they taught that “except you [Gentiles] are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (At 15:1). These Jewish teachers became religionists when they bound on the disciples something that was a part of the Sinai law that was at the time void. They were binding a religious code on those who had been made dead to the law of circumcision through their obedience to the gospel. Therefore, the Holy Spirit stated that those who were preaching the law of circumcision were preaching another gospel (Gl 1:8). Paul comforted the Gentile Christians of Galatia by writing, “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gl 1:9).
These are serious words. In fact, by the time Paul arrived at revelation from the Spirit in Galatians 5, the Spirit directed his hand to write, “You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace” (Gl 5:4). In other words, if one would bind on Christians today that which is not bound by God, then that person is severed from Christ.
Religion is defined as a system of rites and ceremonies that are required to be performed by any religious establishment in order to be saved. Even if the rite or ceremony were once a requirement of the law of God, when that law of God was made void, so also were the precepts of that law. Once void, any rite or ceremony of the law becomes a religious ordinance if bound on Christians. To bind such on those who are now under the law of faith and grace would be turning the people into a religious sect. Therefore, those Jewish Christians in the first century who bound circumcision on Gentile Christians as a rite to be saved had fallen back into the bondage of the Jews’ religion from which they had been set free by their obedience to the gospel. They were subsequently changing the gospel of freedom into the bondage of religion (See Gl 5:1).
This brings us to another illustration that should make us cautious about becoming religionists by binding that which may have initially come from God, but was made void when it was supplanted by God’s revelation of the truth of the gospel.
When Paul came through Ephesus on a mission journey, he encountered about twelve disciples who were meeting in someone’s home in the urban area of Ephesus (At 19:1). Upon his initial contact with these disciples, he asked them concerning matters of the Holy Spirit. They replied, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit” (At 19:2). Paul’s obvious reply was, “Into what then were you baptized?” (At 19:3). They responded, “Into John’s baptism” (At 19:3).
The baptism of John was certainly from God. In fact, “John came in the wilderness baptizing and preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mk 1:4). But between the time of John’s ministry to introduce the Son of God into the world, and about twenty-five years later when Paul encountered the disciples in Ephesus, John’s baptism became a religious rite if people were so baptized after the cross. John’s baptism was supplanted by baptism in the name of Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30. If it was bound as a religious rite after Pentecost, then it would make those who obeyed it disciples of a religion, but not Christians.
Luke recorded in Acts that there were about twelve disciples whom Paul encountered on the Ephesus visit. We could assume that one or two of the group had initially encountered John years before on a visit to Judea, or possibly were baptized by Apollos who initially knew only the baptism of John. Apollos then possibly left them, and rushed on to Corinth (At 18:27; 19:1.
Apollos had been teaching the baptism of John, but was corrected by two tentmakers in Ephesus (See At 18:24-28). He may have left the disciples that Paul encountered when he went on to Corinth. This may have been a possibility, but we feel that it was not in the nature of Apollos to leave the twelve walking in what had become at the time only a religious rite. Apollos had been preaching a religious rite out of ignorance because the baptism of John had been supplanted by baptism in the name of Jesus on Pentecost about twenty-five years before. Nevertheless, his ignorance of what was required by God after Pentecost was no excuse to change what he believed and preached at the time he arrived in Ephesus.
The twelve Ephesian disciples were sincere when they heard that they must be baptized with John’s baptism in order to receive remission of sins. They were sincere religionists. Whether they heard this message from one or two of their number who had encountered John the Baptist many years before, or from Apollos, John’s baptism had been supplanted with baptism in the name of Jesus.
By the time the twelve disciples heard of John’s baptism, it had become a religious rite, a rite that had originally come from God. But at the time God revealed this baptism to John, it was not a religious rite. It was a commandment of God that had to be obeyed if one wanted to receive remission of sins, and thus, fulfill all righteousness (Mt 3:15). But by the time Paul encouraged the twelve disciples, John’s baptism, as circumcision, were only religious rites. If one obeyed either with the belief that both were necessary for salvation, then he or she obeyed another gospel. (Those who teach tithing according to the Sinai law, as opposed to gospel-inspired giving under Christ, need to seriously consider this point.)
Only baptism in the name of Jesus is valid today. We know of a great number of people who have made their own self-declaration that they were saved, thus supposedly receiving remission of sins upon the basis of their own claim. They then made baptism a religious rite to be obeyed in order to conform meritoriously to a system of the faith that is promoted by a particular religious group into which they were initiated through baptism. Instead of knowingly being baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins (At 2:38), they had declared their own remission of sins, and thus, assumed their salvation before any baptism for the remission of sins in the name (authority) of Jesus. After their self-declaration of remission of sins took place, they were then baptized as a religious rite of the church to which they presently belong.
We must ask ourselves that if we make baptism a religious rite we perform following our own self-declaration that we are saved, then is this baptism for the remission of sins? If we have remission of sins upon the fact of our self-declaration of salvation, then why would we be baptized? If we were baptized, then were we not baptized as a religious work of merit?
Some have been baptized as a meritorious work of law. If we made our own self-declaration of salvation by “receiving Jesus,” “bringing Jesus into our lives,” saying some “sinner’s prayer,” and then were baptized, then we may have made our own baptism a religious rite, or simply a work of law. If we did, then we are religionists who made a self-declaration in reference to our salvation. Our obedience to the gospel in baptism was not in response to the gospel of the incarnate Son of God who declares the remission of our sins upon our response to the gospel in baptism.
We must not forget that baptism is not a meritorious work of law. It is a submissive response of gratitude because of one’s understanding of the incarnate sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross. This is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote, “You are not under law [of baptism], but under [the gospel] of grace” (Rm 6:14). “And if by grace [you are saved], then it is no more by works [of merit or law], otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rm 11:6). “For by grace you are saved through faith [in the gospel of God’s grace]” (Ep 2:8).
We are not saved because we have been legally immersed in water. The action of immersion is not a work of merit by which we can put God in debt to save us. If it were, then no apostate Christian would ever be lost. He would be saved on the merit of his baptism.
Paul rebaptized those in Ephesus who had obeyed John’s baptism, which baptism was relegated to a religious rite when the gospel was first preached twenty-five years before on the day of Pentecost (At 19:5). We would suggest that anyone do the same if they feel that they made baptism a religious rite because they had before their baptism declared their own remission of sins. They were baptized under the authority (name) of the wrong person, and thus, not in response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They became their own self-declared authority for the remission of their own sins. But it is God who declares our remission of sins, and subsequent salvation when we are baptized into and under the authority of Christ (At 22:16; Rm 6:3-6; Gl 3:26-29).
Each person must be his or her own judge of this matter. It is not our place to judge the hearts of people. We can only read what is stated in the New Testament in reference to the purpose of baptism in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins. If one does have questions concerning his or her motives for being baptized many years ago, then it would certainly be wise to be baptized again for the right motives in order to have a good conscience toward God. You be your own judge. At least when the Ephesians recognized that they did the wrong thing, in their sincerity, they corrected the matter.
When we speak of baby baptism, a whole new set of problems are uncovered. But it is appropriate in the context of the Ephesian situation to remember that the Ephesians individually heard and were baptized as adults into John’s baptism. Then they individually heard and responded to Paul’s teaching that they be baptized in the name of Jesus. No parents made any decisions or declarations for them. No parents baptized them with John’s baptism. No parents immersed their babies in the name of Jesus.
If one cannot get the point on this matter, then certainly one cannot understand that baby baptism is nowhere in the New Testament. But if one was “baptized” as a baby, and gets the point of the Ephesians’ freedom to choose concerning their salvation, then he or she, if baptized as a baby, should find someone, and head to the water in order to be truly baptized in the name of Jesus. Just keep in mind that your parents out of their ignorance were practicing a man-made religious rite and ceremony. When they handed you over as a baby to be sprinkled or immersed, that was not your voluntary decision. It was theirs. It was theirs in order that they conform to the religion of their fathers. Baptism in the name of Jesus must be your decision. We would urge people to be like the Ephesians. When you learn something new, just do it.

Defiant Dreamers

The New Testament letters are just as alive and relevant today as they were when first written two thousand years ago. In order to discover and appreciate these documents, it is necessary to understand them in the historical context of the first recipients. When we understand that the initial recipients were ordinary people who lived in situations that were similar to our situations today, then the letters that the Holy Spirit penned to the early Christians come alive for us today. We are ordinary people who thirst for encouragement when we go through trying times. Letters as James and Jude come to life in our own lives when we understand that the message of encouragement that was written two thousand years ago to recipients who were going through trying times, are also messages of encouragement for us today.

The letter of Jude is a good example of how historical Bible study illustrates how the New Testament letters are as relevant today as they were when first written. Jude wrote in the historical context of the turmoil of national Israel to which Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24. The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24 (Lk 21) concerning the consummation of national Israel in A.D. 70 was less than five years away when the Holy Spirit directed the hand of Jude to write a brief document to alert Jewish Christians throughout the Roman Empire. At the same time, the Holy Spirit through James wrote to the Jews a more lengthy letter with similar thoughts. James’ inscriptions were also directed to Jewish Christians who were scattered throughout the Empire (Js 1:1).

Both James and Jude were preparing the Jewish Christians for the onslaught of Rome to settle the “Jewish problem” of the Empire. It was a problem of radical Judaism that had been building over many decades. These radical insurrectionists wanted to throw off the oppression of Rome in order to enjoy their own national independence. They hated Caesar and they hated Roman oppression.

However, regardless of the efforts of the zealot insurrectionists, the Romans continued throughout the years to execute would-be messiahs who called the Jews to unite in national rebellion against Rome. Many years before Jude wrote, some Romans believed that a Jew from the city of Nazareth was asserting Himself to be a “king of the Jews.” Some of His disciples also believed that this Nazarene was the Messiah who would reign on earth in order to restore national Israel. For this reason, some during His ministry attempted to make Him a king against His will (See Jn 6:15). The Romans, therefore, nailed this self-proclaimed Messiah to a cross outside Jerusalem about thirty-five years before both James and Jude wrote their letters. In the middle 60s, therefore, James and Jude wrote in order to remind all Jewish Christians that the coming of the Lord in judgment on national Israel was at hand (Js 5:7,8).

Both James and Jude, who were the earthly brothers of Jesus by Joseph and Mary, were called specifically by the Holy Spirit to warn the followers of their older crucified brother. The two brothers wanted to remind their readers that Jesus had indeed prophesied thirty-five years before what was about to transpire in the lives of His disciples. They had accepted their older brother as the Messiah and Son of God. And now, the two brothers wanted to exhort the disciples of their older brother that nothing was out of control as they transitioned through the social chaos that all of them were about to experience.

Before the days of impending chaos, one messiah after another was subsequently chased down by the Romans, and eventually killed in battle, or caught and crucified on a cross (See At 21:38). But at the time the two brothers, James and Jude wrote, things had heated up to a social breaking point. Rome thus made a determined decision to solve the problem of Jewish radicalism once and for all. So the Roman army organized and started a march toward Jerusalem. When the signs of the end were in view, James and Jude immediately sat down in some quiet place and allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal a message to all Jews, specially Jewish Christians. It was the worst of times for national Israel, but the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24.

But this is not our primary point. We must historically infuse ourselves into the social and political chaos of those times in order to understand the behavior of those who would rise up against the civil authorities of the day, specifically the government of the Roman Empire. We must assume that the Holy Spirit wrote through James and Jude a message that would identify those who would set themselves against the rule of law. In our application of this message to our own selves today, this helps us to identify those in a democratic society who are taking their nations in the way of ruin by twisting the application of both moral and constitutional law.

Every government goes through those times in which there is a chaotic movement within society that thirsts so much for power and change that proponents of the movement are willing to go to extreme measures in order to gain control of the government. This is the inherent social “disorder” of all democracies. In a democracy there is a constant struggle for the power of the government in order that a particular political party might impose the party’s social and economic agenda on the populous as a whole. There is thus a perpetual confrontation within democratic societies that lends itself to producing levels of conflict as one party seeks to gain power over all other parties.

In those monarchies of the past that were led by some king, the resistance simply assassinated the presiding king, and then a new king took over. But in a democratic society, the entire society will divide itself into political parties who launch endless attacks against one another in order to gain power. In our “modern” societies there is usually no assassination of kings by guns and swords. However, there are constant assassinations with the lies that one party would launch against another. The lies are issued in order to discredit the leaders of each party. Fake news subsequently flourishes throughout the media of the society. So it was in reference to the execution of Jesus. Lest the executed, and supposed King of the Jews, become a martyr of another sect of Jewish rebels, there was fake news spread abroad about the missing body of the supposed national King Jesus (See Mt 28:11-15).

This is where the Holy Spirit, specifically through Jude, would have something to say. Those Christians who live in democratic societies today need to listen up while the Holy Spirit moved the pen of Jude across a parcel of papyrus in order to forewarn the Jewish Christians of those unbelieving Jewish zealots within the society who were recruiting all Jews, as well as Jewish Christians, to join the resistance against Rome. The Holy Spirit wrote a stern document in order that the Jewish Christians identify the heart and behavior of those who were seeking to rebel against the rule of the law of Rome. We can identity some of the very same characteristics in the politicians of your own country.

Jude began with a series of pronouncements by which the faithful could identify the leaders of the arrogant resistance: “I want to remind you, though you once knew this” (Jd 5). Since the word “knew” is in the past tense, it seems that Jude’s readers had forgotten what his older brother had prophesied in Matthew 24, as well as God’s harsh judgment that He brought upon insurrectionists. Some Jewish Christians may have been caught up in the emotion of the radical resistance to the point that they simply forgot that being a disciple of Jesus meant that one must submit to the authority of the government in which he lives (See Rm 13:1-7). But in the context of the statement, the Jewish Christians forgot to read their Old Testament Bibles. So Jude reminded them of three examples of those who resisted the authority of God.

Jude first reminded his readers of the example of the arrogant resistance of those who acted against the God-ordained authority of Moses. This case happened immediately after Israel was delivered from Egyptian captivity. In this case, the resistance could not accept the authority of one man over Israel. Before the establishment of “constitutional law” for Israel at Mount Sinai, there was a rebellion against the authority of the one who would be the example of another authority who would eventually rise up in Israel centuries later (See Dt 18:15,18,19; At 3:22,23). But in the rebellion at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Lord “destroyed those who did not believe [obey]” (Jd 5). In order to cleanse the newly established Israelite nation, Korah and his cohorts, with their following, had to be purged from the society of Israel (Nm 16).

Jude then went on to the fallen angels who rebelled against the authority of the archangel Michael who was God’s ordained authority over the angels. Because of their thirst for power, some angels, led by Satan, rebelled against the established authority of the day (See Rv 12). These rebellious angels sought to “impeach” the established God-ordained order of authority in order that they might seize control of the order of angels. But their thirst for power resulted in their being cast down to “everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jd 6).

And then Jude advanced into the moral behavior of those who seek to deliver themselves from any restrictions of moral behavior. These were “ungodly men who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jd 4).

Jude spoke of those whom we would define as “liberals,” or the far left. Liberals seek to establish their own moral codes on the populous. In the example of Sodom and Gomorrah, the citizens of the cities gave themselves over to all sorts of sexual dysfunctions (Jd 7). It is simply the moral philosophy of the liberal to reject any moral standards by which the people should conduct themselves in their social relationships. Their rebellion against authority reveals itself in their desire to live a life of unrestricted moral behavior. They will elect to office in their democratic society those who live contrary to the moral codes of God. The constituents will, as Sodom and Gomorrah, elect those who live according to their own dysfunctional codes of morality.

When societies change in reference to their conservative moral codes of the past, the society as a whole rejects any standard of moral codes. This change is often reflected in the attitude of the majority of the society who vote against the traditional standards of law that were handed down by the fathers. As the moral behavior of the society changes, the society seeks to change the leaders who would promote their own moral behavior. In this way, constitutions must be revised as a nation “progresses” throughout the decades. The populous must change from conservative moral values that are defined by Divine standards. This is why the liberals of a society are referred to as “progressives.” They want to progress beyond the restrictions of any standards of morality.

In a constitutional society of law, the morally dysfunctional will seek to change the “constitution” of their government in order to justify the means by which they would resist the existing government. In the case of the American society, many of the people would even consider electing for president someone who lives in a same-sex “marriage” relationship. This is a relationship that is contrary to the moral code of the fathers of the nation who defined marriage to be between a male and female. “Marriage” is now redefine, and thus, civil law must be changed in order to establish the new moral order. We must now vote into office those who reflect our definition of the new marriage order. In reference to abortion, murder is defined as “abortion” of individuals who are physically aborted, but can be murdered (left on a table to die) after the abortion.

Jude then goes on to identify the behavior of those who were “progressives” in rebelling against the authority of Rome. His description of those who have given themselves over to resist rule by law, whether moral or civil, is fitting for all those of all time who would put themselves in such a situation. If anyone has reflected on the present moral digression in the American society, it is easy to identify the behavior that the Holy Spirit revealed through Jude’s hand in reference to those who were against the God-ordained authority of Roman government.

Notice how the Holy Spirit identified those who were “progressives,” specifically against the authority of civil law. These progressives were identified by three specific characteristics in belief and behavior in reference to law: (1) They are dreamers who “defile the flesh.” (2) They “despise dominion” (authority). (3) They “speak evil of dignitaries” (the officials) (Jd 8).

When a society is morally and socially imploding, the preceding three behavioral principles characterize the society. If the society is a democracy, then the people will reflect their beliefs and behavior in the politicians they elect into office. Those who despise authority in their own lives, find it easy to recruit and rail against the ruling establishment of the country, specifically the king or president. In their personal lives, their rebellion against authority is revealed in their rebellion against the moral codes of the past.

These are as those who lived before the day when God purged the earth with the flood of Noah’s day. There were those during those days who professed to be wise, but in their arrogance, Paul said that they became fools (Rm 1:22). Paul explained: “Because even though they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful. But they became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rm 1:21). David said that the fool has said that there is no God (Ps 14:1). But in the historical context of Noah’s day, the fool is the one who says that there is a God, but has no fear of living an ungodly life.

Those of Noah’s generation carried on with the foolishness of their common behavior in order to promote their twisted religiosity. They professed a false humility, while at the same time, they despised the established dignitaries of the day. They were religious hypocrites in their presumptuous religiosity. They thus reaped the judgment of God: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rm 1:18).

When people reach the moral low of despising the rule of law, whether moral or civil, it is then that God will give them over to uncleanness “through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies among themselves” (Rm 1:24). We seem to forget that the identity of a society that has no respect for the authorities of the day is first revealed in the immoral behavior of the people within the society. As in the days of Noah before the flood, and Jude before the destruction of Jerusalem, moral digression proceeded the eventual judgment of God.

Jude wanted the Jewish Christians of his day not to be deceived by those who professed a zealous religiosity for national Judaism in order to recruit others to join in their rebellion against Roman authority. He wanted his fellow Jews to know that the recruiters to Jewish nationalism “speak evil of those things that they do not know” (Jd 10). In their hearts, the Jewish insurrectionists were as brute beasts who promote corrupt interpretations of the Sinai law in order to prove their rebellion against Rome. Jude wanted to exhort the faithful disciples concerning the behavior of these radical “progressives” in their midst. They must not be deceived by the radicals’ supposed adherence to the Sinai law, which in this case was their manufactured interpretations of the law.

Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain [assassinations] and have run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward [greed], and perished in the rebellion of Korah [who rebelled against the God-ordained authority of Moses] (Jd 11).

These rebellious Jewish radicals had actually come into the fellowship of the disciples. They sat right there in the love feasts (Jd 12). They were “feeding themselves without fear” while they spoke of rebellion against the law of the state (Jd 12). They exalted themselves with their great promises of an independent freedom from the oppression of the evil Nero who was Caesar of Rome at the time. They were clouds who promised rain, but were without any fulfillment of what they presumed. It is as a radical liberal in government who makes endless promises of free everything at the expense of the rich. They are those who make vain promises in order to deceive the hearts of the populous in order to gain their vote.

But Jude described these deceptive political and religious charlatans with the following words:

They are raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering starts for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever (Jd 13).

If we did not have Jude’s document around for two thousand years, we would certainly assume that he wrote these words about many chaotic situations in societies throughout the world today. We would assume that he had some modern-day politicians in mind when he concluded with the following statement:

These [politicians] are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts. And their mouth speaks great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage [of votes]” (Jd 16).

If we could add an interpretive statement to what Jude said here, it would be that we can sometimes identify our leaders by the dogs nipping at their heals.

Incredible Mystery

You will probably not find another book that deals primarily with the theme of this short book. Sometimes we need to stand back from the Scriptures and immerse ourselves in the historical context of the times in which the early Jews lived when the Son of God was eventually incarnate in the flesh of man. We need to place ourselves in their world in order to understand their hopes and expectations as a culturally rich people who had been deprived of their freedom that the Israelites once enjoyed during the days of David and Solomon. The Jews who lived previous to A.D. 30 yearned for the past as they stood every synagogue while the rabbi read the Scriptures of their glorious days of yesteryear. They were able to endure their present indignity under the oppression of the Romans because they believed that God would eventually send them Someone who would deliver them. They hoped for the Messiah who would save them from their national oppression. But their hopes were askew and the Savior would not ride into town on a white hours. On the contrary, the Romans would nail Him to a cross. Hopes would be dashed! Despondency would set in! The immediate disciples just went on a fishing trip on the Sea of Galilee.


This is the book to share with those who cannot get past the man Jesus, in order to comprehend the gospel of the incarnate Son of God and His mission into and out of this world.

Life-Style Faith

L. We must restore life-style faith as opposed to assembly-oriented identity.

In the midst of the present decline of assemblies in Western societies there has often been futile efforts on the part of religionists to revive the assemblies of endangered churches. The focus on changing assembly identify has revealed a serious problem. The problem is that religion digresses to a “worship hour” assembly that is commenced with an “opening prayer.” The adherents are ushered through a series of ceremonies that are signed off after completion with a “closing prayer.” Religion is thus defined by the performance of both personalities and ceremonies that are boxed into an official assembly of the membership during the “hour of worship.” Contrary to life-style faith, the assemblies of the saints have become the highlight of the “Christian life.” The primary problem with this system of religion is that in the New Testament our faith is not defined by how we perform in an assembly. It is identified by how we focus our behavior on things that are above this world (See Cl 3).

Because the institutional religion of the day has identified itself by the rites and ceremonies of a performance-oriented assembly, there is a decline in “religion” (assemblies) in the American church. There is a decline because people have enough sense to understand that a faith that does not take them throughout seven days of victorious living during the week is not worth having. People thirst for a faith that is with them 24-7 throughout the week, not a faith that is active only during the “hour of worship” on Sunday morning.

Because of the assembly identity of religion today, there have been some frantic pseudo remedies introduced into the assemblies of many churches in order to stem the tide of the decline in the attendance at the religious theater. For example, some sort of entertainment has been brought in to excite the audience in order that everyone go away with some sense of emotional relief, or exhortation. Speakers have become “feel good” psychologists who can present messages that any good professional psychologist can present on a couch in an office.

One of the interesting complaints that we have witnessed is that in order for an assembly of religionists to be contemporary, women must have some public part in the theatrical performance. Regardless of what we might feel is the role of women in the large religious assemblies of the modern church, the placement of women in some role of notice in such assemblies seems to betray the fact that we have digressed into a norm of assembly behavior that was foreign to the New Testament disciples. For this reason, we are using a functional system of assembly today in order to read into the historical context of the early church some participation of women.

But we forget that in the first century, except on rare occasions, all the regular assemblies of the saints were conducted in the homes of the members. During these house assemblies nothing changed in the relationship between the husband and wife that was normal in the common day to day household behavior of both parties. The relationship between husbands and wives did not change whether there were visitors in one’s home on Sunday morning or evening. The husband remained the head, and the wife retained her submissive relationship with her husband (See Ep 5:22-33). This did not mean that the wife had to assume silence when a neighbor came over Sunday morning for worship.

Regardless of whether the neighbors came over to one’s home for praise and worship together as a household, the host husband and wife of the home carried on as usual. The role of the wife in her relationship with her husband remained the same in the home assembly on Sunday. But in the modern large assembly environment it seems that people are resorting to politics in religious institutional assemblies that were foreign to that which existed in the early church. It is necessary, therefore, that we take another look at those passages that deal with women in general in reference to the fellowship of the saints. It may be that we are missing something, or at least, using some passages out of their historical context.

M. We must restore the present gospel reign of King Jesus over all things.

When people feel that they are outside the realm of the reign of King Jesus when the assembly is terminated with a “closing prayer,” then there is little emphasis on maintaining a submissive spirit in every aspect of one’s efforts to live the gospel throughout the week. Add to this the present theological obsession that everyone is waiting for the rapture in order that King Jesus come and reign on this earth for one thousand years. During this supposed period of reign it is assumed that believers will have some carnal authority by which they can reign over others in the carnal kingdom reign on earth. If the supposed earthly kingdom is yet to come, then there is a twisted understanding of the present gospel reign of Jesus.

If we do not instill in others the present gospel reign of King Jesus over all that now exists, then there is little impetus to be submissive to a reigning King who has limited authority and power. We cannot put off the kingdom reign of Jesus to some time in the future. Though we do not see everything to be in subjection to Him at this time, we must not be fooled. He is still reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tm 6:15). If we think we can put off our submission until the one thousand years, then there is little urgency to live the submitted life today.

If unbelieving people are not willing to submit to the present reign of King Jesus, then there is no hope to bring them into the realm of His present gospel reign. Guaranteeing the submission of present unbelievers in a supposed kingdom to come is useless in giving hope to people who are now seeking in this life a hope that will take them beyond this world. If a church of religionists believe that they are preaching the gospel by approaching the unbeliever with a message that they do not have to submit to King Jesus in this present life, then they have lost the motivation to humble themselves in the sight of God. If people are taught that King Jesus only has limited power over all things at this time, then power has been extracted from His gospel reign. It is this power that motivates peace of mind in a trouble world. The present gospel reign of Jesus as head over all things, King of kings and Lord of lords brings peace of mind to those who live in a world of social turmoil. Therefore, the doors of those churches that are not preaching the present gospel reign of King Jesus need to close. These churches do not represent the King of kings. They do not have a message that brings peace of mind.

[End of series.]

Gospel Identity

I. We must restore our gospel identity with the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the past, we have often identified ourselves, and our common fellowship, with a specific name. Some were very inventive with their names, glorifying either specific doctrines, special men in the history of their particular religious group, or a specific day of the week, or even a Jewish feast day. People today, however, turn away from unique names of identity.

As in the New Testament, there were no specific names given to the disciples of Christ, especially names in reference to assemblies. The early disciples identified with the risen Christ. As in the first century, many folks today simply want to be identified with Christ, and thus not form a lump of disciples in the worldwide leaven of the Bread of Life. They seek to be Christians only in a world of believers, without having been labelled with a particular name in order to be in membership with a unique religious group.

We must remember that unique names cause flight, whereas gospel draws people unto Christ alone. Christians must be Christ drawn, not name drawn. If the first Christians could be Christians only outside the identity of a unique group that meets at a specific location, then it is assumed that the same can exist today. Being tied to a particular institution of authority with a membership card is not in the thinking of those who simply want to be Christians only. Christians seek to be identified, through their obedience to the gospel, with Christ alone.

J. We must restore a positive mental attitude about preaching the gospel to the world.

In order to do this, we must not allow the knockers, knit pickers and no-no birds to run the organic function of the body. Among our leaders, it can never be “my way, or the highway.” When critics want to shoot the body full of negativity holes, we must ignore them and move on. Gospel is positive. And it is the nature of the good news to be told to others in a positive manner.

If we are not compelled to preach the gospel to the world, then we have not fully understood the nature of the gospel. If one is willing to let his “behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” then he must repent and seek to preach the gospel to the world (Ph 1:27). We must be gospel motivated to the extent that each one of us will, as Paul, do the following: “So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also who are at Rome” (Rm 1:15). Inherent in the gospel is a positive mental attitude, for it is good news. Those who are negative in their faith do not have the spirit of the gospel within them.

K. We must restore self-initiative among those who seek to live the gospel.

If one has to ask for permission to do that which he or she must do in daily gospel living—that is, serving others and preaching the gospel—then he or she is stuck in an institution that is run by those who seek to lord over the flock of God.

Jesus said that lords of authority would not exist among His gospel-driven people (See Mk 10:35-45). So if one finds himself asking for permission to serve others, then he can conclude that he is not among the gospel-driven people of God. He is stuck in a religious institution that is under the control of lords. Some of these are those religious institutions that are closing their doors because people no longer seek to be confined to the service of lords, but to their only Lord Jesus Christ. Just remember that if you must ask for permission from some religious head, then your only head in reference to faith is not the Lord Jesus. If you have to ask permission to preach the Lord Jesus, then you have one too many lords in your life (See Ep 4:4-6).

[Next in series: Jan. 23]

Incarnational Living

G. We must restore incarnational living as a witness of the gospel to the world.

When Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in our that was also in Christ Jesus,” he was not promoting a narcissistic system of religion (Ph 2:5). He was reminding the Philippians that the One whom they claimed to follow “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation” (Ph 2:6,7). Incarnational living after the mind of Christ is about giving up, not getting something for our own pleasure.

A narcissist thinks everything is about him. When narcissism is brought into the family of God, the assembly often becomes an opportunity to show one’s self to the public. The preacher seeks to perform, and subsequently, receive all the compliments in the foyer at the end of the assembly. Those who have sought to draw people to a band, seek to perform in the band in order to make a theatrical performance before an audience. The instrumentalists in the band are often so narcissistic that they will turn up the speakers of their instruments in order to drown out those who are singing. They seek to be seen for their much playing on their instruments, regardless of the performance of the singers. A narcissistic audience goes to the assembly to get something out of the assembly. Many assemblies today have turned into an opportunity for performers to make their performances, not an occasion for worship together. Unfortunately, in too many cases worship has turned into entertainment session for performers and the opportunity for the audience to be mesmerized by cheerleading speakers.

We must not forget that narcissism in a society moves one into focusing on his or her feelings. As the far left liberalism of a society extracts any restrictions of law, feelings become the norm by which something is judged appealing, or right. Those churches that focus on the feelings of the people are growing. But those churches that focus on the “law” of the traditions of their religious heritage are dying away. Likewise, those churches that consider the word of God to be the final norm by which any faith should be judged are also giving way to those who want their feelings and less Bible. The result is that churches become social clubs where people go to feel good about the bad situation in which they live. The assembly becomes a momentary opportunity to forget one’s woes in the midst of a theatrical concert.

We must remember that whenever a group of people focus on themselves, they are not focusing on the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit said this in the following words: “If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God” (Cl 3:1). This is the only cure for a narcissistic emotional disorder in church assemblies. The preacher who can lift the hearts of the people with the gospel into the throne room of King Jesus is right on track.

The problem with any traits of narcissism are against the mental attitude about which Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ” (Ph 2:5). When one’s mind is filled with self, then gospel cannot penetrate one’s heart. The mind of Christ is about humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God as the Son of God humbled Himself to come in our flesh in order to go to the cross (1 Pt 5:6). If our narcissistic religiosity is all that takes us to an assembly of saints, then we will be enabled to continue after the “closing prayer” with the same dysfunctional mind we had before the “opening prayer.” It is only the gospel mind of Christ that will deliver us from this fretful world in which we live. It is only the gospel that will give us the opportunity to count it with all joy when we must endure great trials (Js 1:2). Therefore, when the gospel of Jesus Christ is the center of attraction around the Lord’s Supper in our assembly, it is then that we walk away with a deeper sense of gratitude. It is then that we have discovered the cause and reason for our worship.

H. We must restore gospel definitions to our dictionary of biblical references.

For example, the word “preach” is used in the New Testament to refer to those who announce the good news to unbelievers. We preach the gospel to the lost, but we teach one another as the body of Christ. Believers have teachers before them, whereas unbelievers need preachers of the gospel to stand before them. “Discipleship” often infers that it is all about us, whereas being a disciple of Jesus means it is all about Him and others. A narcissistic generation likes the word “discipleship” because the word can be twisted to refer to our own needs. We seek classes on discipleship in order to better relate with one another. But this is not the focus in reference to being a disciple of Jesus. Being a disciple of Jesus means that we must let the mind of Christ be in us. And the mind of Christ can be summed up in one statement that was made by Jesus: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:10). Seeking the lost as a disciple (follower) of Christ means that we must be focused on others, especially the lost.

We too often use the word “fellowship” in reference to a food party. But New Testament fellowship is a reference to the common organic function of a body of believers who have all obeyed the gospel. We seek “relationships,” but this word that is not used in the New Testament should be defined with a gospel definition. Too often “relationships” are inwardly focused, but those living the gospel are outwardly focused on the lost. It is easy for social-club Christians to turn inward, forgetting that their responsibility as disciples of Jesus is to continue the commission of Jesus to go into all the world with the gospel (Mk 16:15,16).

[Next in series: Jan. 21]

Gospel Stand

E. We must restore the stable foundation of the gospel in our lives.

We must remember that when the Holy Spirit spoke in reference to the gospel, it was a message “in which you stand” (1 Co 15:1). “Stand” is a metaphor in this statement for something that brings emotional stability to one’s life. As one stands on a firm foundation, so the gospel is a mentally firm foundation upon which we emotionally stand.

Now we must not be confused in reference to the stabilizing psychology of the gospel. This is not a foundation of supposedly pure doctrinal correctness. It is a foundation of pure gospel. It is a foundation of faith in the gospel reign of the incarnate Son of God. It is a committed faith in King Jesus that He at this time has all things under control. It is a “mind of Christ” that we have brought into our psyche in order to stabilize all our emotional responses to the trials of life. It is an inner peace that allows us to do what James stated: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (Js 1:2; see Ph 2:5-7). It is thus a spirit of mind and heart that is totally focused on King Jesus, His gospel reign, and the good news that He is coming again to deliver us from this world. This is gospel psychology, not doctrinal purity. If one would seek to this grow in gospel psychology, then the gospel according to Hebrews is a good textbook to absorb.

We live in a world today that is filled with social instability. When we turn on our international news media of events around the world, there are people marching everywhere for some particular change that will bring social stability. As the far left political wave that engulfs society becomes more dominant, societies will become more unstable. It is the central identity of political liberalism to extract laws that have built stable societies. But when law is extracted, then instability in society results.

What is now being witnessed in the American political scene is an example of how political liberalism seeks to destroy the social norms of the past. Inherent in liberal political socialism is the destruction of that which brought a particular society to its present social stability. In order for liberal socialism to be implemented, however, the social structures that brought a particular society to its present stability must be destroyed. Unfortunately, the socialist has nothing to offer to sustain the moral stability of either the financial structures of a society, or the moral norms upon which people can stand with reassurance. We have found that socialists who march in the streets rarely think beyond the demands that are written on their placards.

When a society is in social chaos, it is the gospel of the unchanging King Jesus that brings stability to our lives. Though individual citizens may not be able to control the social and financial chaos around them, they can stand within the power of the gospel that brings peace within. Though the world may seem like it is coming apart, we must never forget that it is our King who upholds all things by the word of His power (Hb 1:3). Unless church leaders understand this inherent nature of the gospel reign of King Jesus, people will not be drawn to the cross that we preach. Preaching religion will never bring an inner peace of God that goes beyond human understanding (See Ph 4:7). But gospel will. Religion, especially culturally linked religion, usually adds to the problem of instability, rather than offering a safe haven for those who are in the midst of social chaos.

F. We must restore the gospel as the motivation for abundant living.

Gospel-driven people must offer hope to those who are struggling in the midst of social and political chaos. Gospel-driven people do not allow the environment in which they live to influence the emotional state of their lives. They realize that He who lives in them is far more powerful than he who is in this world (1 Jn 4:4).

If a church of members has moved away from understanding how the members must live according to the gospel, then it has no gospel power to offer to those who are living in social and political chaos. If the preachers do not know how to preach gospel living to the people, then they will often preach religion, which theme perpetuates division and instability. Some will even make an effort to preach “sound doctrine” in hopes of comforting the people with the hope that if they believe what is right doctrinally, they will be right emotionally. But at the time same, the hearts of the people are in turmoil because of the chaotic circumstances in which they find themselves. Their “abundant living” is based only in what they consider to be “sound doctrine.” Unfortunately, legalists rarely have the peace of mind that surpasses all understanding.

“Sound doctrine” will not calm an emotionally disturbed heart. One can be totally disturbed in heart while his head is filled with correct doctrine. But gospel is not according to doctrinal purity, though it is based on the truth of the incarnate Son of God and truth of His present gospel reign. A correct system of religiosity may supposedly be intellectually pure, but it is a particular problem in reference to religion in general, and legalistic religion in particular. One may be faithful to the faith of the fathers, but still this does not bring the peace that passes all understanding.

Religion is that form of faith that people are fleeing because it brings no inner peace of mind. Religionists do not understand that the gospel makes the body of believers a rescue center for the downheartened in the community. It does so because gospel deals with the heart, whereas religion and doctrine deal with the head. The “church of your choice” no longer appeals to those who feel that they are without any choices in a chaotic world of religion and politics. Therefore, it is only the gospel that will bring the abundant life to those who seek comfort and stability in a world that seems to have gone wrong, which it has because of sin.

[Next in series: Jan. 19]

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