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My mother, Wanda Dickson, was a pollster, as we called them back in those days, and still do. These were patriotic volunteers who sat for a day at a designated polling (voting) station across America while people in each community came in to cast their votes for a particular candidate. They carried out their duty with grave seriousness, knowing that any democracy depended on the integrity of a nation’s voting system.
I was only hip-high to a jack rabbit in those days, maybe ten or eleven years old. It was over sixty years ago, back in 1950s. And let me add to her story that she was a Democrat. Now saying that she was a Democrat then certainly assumes a definition that is far different than what a Democrat is today. The same goes for Republicans too. Those were different political parties in those days because the people were different. Nevertheless, there is always some political confusion in all political parties throughout history.
Now to add to this political confusion, my grandmother, who was, according to my mother’s thinking, “one of those Republicans.” Now I have no idea where, when or why my mother jumped ship to a different party than her mother, but she did. But please keep in mind that when I say “Democrat” or “Republican,” the definition of these two political parties back then was far different than they are today. If you are over sixty years age, then you will understand this difference. The only thing that has survived to this day that has any similarity with the parties of the past are the names of the parties. But what makes the vast difference between then and now are the people.
Nevertheless, my mother and grandmother back in those days had their differences. However, when grandmother was over for a stay on the farm, I confess that I never heard the two discuss or argue any politics. Both of them were first determined patriots of America, regardless of any political differences they might have had. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the president at the time, had led America to win the war for freedom from the Nazis, and that was far more important than any political positions of either the Democrats or Republicans. It was an era when patriotism to country stood far above any political parties, for everyone had lost some friend or family member in that war in order to restore the right to democratic vote for European countries.
I can vaguely remember once when in my presence my mother said to my grandmother something that had any political connotations. I think it was something like, “That’s what a Republican would do.” My grandmother simply replied, “Ah, fooy.” And that was the end of that conversation, if indeed it could be considered a conversation. After this minor diversion in the real discussion at the time, they both returned to talking about canning corn or whatever few events transpired out there on that isolated Kansas farm.
When it came to some election day, however, my mother truly revealed who she was as an American patriot. All of us children at the time were quite awed at her total and complete reverence to the responsibility for which she had volunteered. She drove three miles east to Neola—the local village of two families where the township voters would come to vote. Neola had been designated the polling station for York Township. It was there that she would sit all day alone, waiting for voters to come in and cast their votes. No one was allowed to be with her at the voting station, and so it was a time to read one’s Bible. No political literature or placards or whatever was allowed within sight of the voting station. As children, we once bought her a “democratic watch” with the picture of an elephant on the face of the watch. But when she went to perform her patriotic duty at the polling station, the watch was always left behind.
This was a farming community with only a handful of farmers in the region. I remember that we once asked her one day how many people came in to vote. She was quite reluctant to give an answer, but finally confessed that seven people had come to vote—like I said, it was a small voting district.
But what impressed us children at the time was how seriously and honestly she considered this patriotic responsibility to serve her country by preserving the integrity of the voting system. When one of the seven voters came in to vote, she was not allowed in any way to watch them when they voted. (“Watching over” was mandated only at the counting station where two sets of eyes always counted each vote.)
At her small polling station the votes had to be folded, sealed in an envelope, and then placed carefully in a secured box that was covered. Late in the afternoon when it was time to terminate all the voting at a designated hour, she said that all the sealed-enveloped votes had to be then sealed in the ballot box. “Under no circumstances whatsoever,” she reminded us children, “could anyone be allowed to touch that box except myself.” We were all enthralled at how seriously she sought to preserve the integrity of the democratic system of voting.
On the very day that voting had been concluded, the box of ballots would then have to be immediately transported to the county voting center, where she signed off the delivery. Under no circumstances was she allowed to take the box of ballots home that night and turn them in the next day. The sealed ballot box had to be turned in on the same day of voting. All she knew about the votes in the box was that seven people had voted. We asked, but she would not even tell us who the voters were. She handled the entire matter as if there had been seven hundred thousand voters who showed up to vote, instead of just seven.
She followed the written voting requirements for a pollster as if she were in obedience to Holy Scripture. To her, it was all a matter of integrity and honesty to preserve the democracy of a free America. She once reminded us that in two wars hundreds of thousands of young Americans had given their lives to restore the right to vote in Europe. Because they gave their lives to fight for such, voting was not something to be taken lightly. The integrity of a democratic nation depended entirely on how the people conducted their system of voting.
Our mother also once said to her children that if she violated either her honesty or integrity she would have to dismiss herself from being a pollster because such would have violated her moral standards as a Bible-believing Christian.
All of us children were simply impressed that on this day of her life her integrity as a human being and Christian were truly revealed. Under no circumstances could there be any violation of the written requirements for being a pollster, in which thing she took great pride, even though there were only seven voters in the township. Subsequently, her children were very proud of her because she, as a patriotic American, never messed around when it came to pollster responsibilities. She took her Christian moral values right into that Neola polling station.
As I write these words about those days when there was certainly another paradigm of society in American history, there is a certain sadness about the present and future of America. In that social paradigm of yesteryear the moral standards of the time dictated honesty, integrity and true patriotism to a country in a free world, which world had only a decade before slaughtered over fifty-two million people in a world war. That was the greatest American generation that fought for freedom and integrity in which voting was a guarantee of freedom. It was a generation that knew the cost of freedom, but sadly it was a generation that is now fast fading away from American history. And since it is fading, it will never again exist because the majority of the citizens of the new America have long given up on the moral standards that are taught in the Bible.
Since many of the American society today have turned away from God, they have turned away from the moral standards that preserve human civilizations. When even the pollsters of a society are allowed to lose their moral compass, then we know that the candidates for whom votes are cast, have already lost their compass, and thus, a God-focused moral foundation for society is fading away. If my mother were alive today, I wonder what she would think of the scandalous polling shenanigans that in an American society that has lost its moral way?
– A Short Story –
What is unfortunate about losing moral standards in a society is that the society as a whole does not realize the loss of the standards one by one throughout its decades of existence. But on the other hand, sometimes events occur in a society that remind us of the loss of those essential moral codes that are necessary in order to preserve a healthy society. When we recognize the loss of a particular moral code, it is almost impossible to restore it because society as a whole has moved on.
In 1994 the country of South Africa could have imploded into a blood bath of civil war. If it were not for one personal moral code of one man in reference to his thinking and behavior, the 1994 first all-racial election of the country could have gone terribly wrong. But because of a specific godly moral principle of this one man, a country was spared a civil war, and a people marched into a peaceful transition of power.
Before we speak of the preserving moral principle of this one man that saved South Africa from tragedy, we must first review a brief history of this man. History determines who we are, and thus history had made this man who he was for the right time in history. Nelson Mandela was the first all-race elected president of South Africa in 1994. He had spent almost twenty-seven years in prison, and then as “fate” would have it, he came forth from behind the closed bars of a prison cell in order to transition a divided country into a new and exciting future.
About two years after his historical election, and before his moral principle had time to graft itself into some of the more radical groups of his political party, the rumor went out one day that Mandela had died. Because Mandela’s moral principles were such a stabilizing factor in the transition of power to a different political party, those of the former dominant and ruling party went into hysteria. In fact, some of the farmers (Boers) had formerly organized themselves that if Mandela were to die, they would assemble armed groups at designated farms in order to mount, not a resistance, but a defense for their wives and children.
These same people, the Afrikaners, had about one hundred years before had a bad experience during the Anglo/Boer (farmer) War. In order to bring that war to an end, the newly appointed British Commander Kitchener rounded up the wives and children of the Boer soldiers and interned them in “concentration camps.”
In these camps at least 25,000 women and children perished from diseases because of the lack of sanitation. When news of the “concentration camps” of Kitchener eventually filtered back to the people of England, the British people were horrified. The British people then went into action for the people of South Africa. Through pressure that was brought on British politicians in England, the British army general Kitchener was told to negotiate peace with the Boers. The feeling of resentment that this tragedy produced lingered on for a century in South Africa among Afrikaners. (We are reminded that the atrocities of war do not easily fade away in the memories of the people after the signing of peace accords.)
So you can imagine that as soon as the rumor was spread throughout the country that Mandela had supposedly died, many of the “Boer brigade” went into action in order to resist retaliation that they had supposed would be launched against them for their own sins of the past. They had erroneously projected their oppressive government behavior of the past on to the future government of the African National Congress (ANC). They believe—and probably correctly so—that the stabilizing character of Mandela would preserve the country.
At the time, we remember that fear was in the air. Guns were secured, and loyalists to the former government organized at designated farms in order to fight off any attempts to make war against them as the former government. It was a time for serious protectionism against any imagined retaliation because some of the now ruling party still harbored a spirit of retaliation against the loyalists to the former Nationalist Party government that had implemented apartheid (separation) policies against the new ruling party.
But the retaliation never had an opportunity to happen. Within a couple days after the supposed death of Mandela was rumored here and there throughout the country, it was immediately squashed. Realizing the sensitivity of the moment, Mandela immediately appeared alive and well on national radio and television. Everyone subsequently took a deep breath, and the armed brigades who sought to defend and protect their families went back home to their tractors and plows.
They did so because everyone knew that if the one godly characteristic of Nelson Mandela did not prevail, and eventually make its way into the culture of the new South Africa, a nation would not be spared national tragedy. At the time, we were all awe struck to first realizing that the smooth transition from the past into the future depended on the character of just one man. And because it did, a new South Africa was born.
This personal characteristic of Mandela that was so crucial to the preservation of a nation that was in traumatic transition was vividly portrayed in a Clint Eastwood produced Hollywood film in 2009 entitled Invictus. The script writers knew that the film, staring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, had to portray accurately on screen this historical transition that depended on the principle character of Mandela. The film was about the election and transition of power from the former Nationalist Party government to the newly elected ANC government. Of all the scenes of the film that beautifully portrayed the election and transition of power, one significant scene was embedded in all our minds. It was a scene that would serve well for all government officials throughout the world who would seek a smooth transition of power after any elections in their countries.
In a particular setting, the script writers brilliantly brought forth the character of Mandela. The descriptive scene in the movie took place only a few weeks after the election. The newly elected president, Mandela walked into the administration offices in Pretoria, the capital, where sat all the staff of the former Nationalist Party government of President F. W. de Klerk. There was total silence in the room as every eye was transfixed on Mandela’s humble, but commanding presence. A dropped hair could have echoed throughout the chambers. As all eyes were fixed on the giant stature of Nelson Mandela, he made a panoramic glance around the room. While sensing the tension, he essentially said to everyone, “Though I am the newly elected president of the country, we need your help. I want to invite everyone in this room to please stay on and help us transition this nation into a new future.”
No one was to be fired. No one was to be replaced by any favorites of the ANC Party as a repayment for those who were loyal to the former government. Mandela was wise enough to know that the powerful economic status of the past must be preserved for the sake of the future. We remember that one woman of the former government, Zelda la Grange, did stay on and remained Mandela’s personal assistant unto his death.
The script writers of Invictus revealed the character of Mandela. It was a character that saved a nation in order to work toward the building of the new and better “rainbow nation.” This single godly character of forgiveness that made it possible to spare South Africa from a blood bath in the transition of power is identified throughout the Bible, and in particular, in a New Testament quotation of an Old Testament statement: “Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Hb 10:17; see Jr 31:34). Mandela imposed on himself the godly principle of forgiveness. He refused to react in retaliation against the sins of the past government, He moved on with a spirit of forgiveness.
Nelson Mandela has subsequently gone down in history as a forgiving person. During those years, there seemed to be no end to his willingness to forgive the sins of others in the past. Though he had previously spent years in the prison of the former government for his political views and actions against an oppressive government, to him there was no justification for resentment and retaliation. Forgiveness, not retaliation, was deep in the recesses of his soul. That moral virtue saved a nation.
Mandela’s spirit of forgiveness was a good example for others who would seek to implement a paradigm shift in a government that represents two vastly different societies within one nation. Mandela spoke for all Africans on the continent in reference to this particular personality principle of forgiveness. And in order to reveal his lack of thirst for retaliation through power, he set the example for a nation to go forth for the people. Those politicians who have suffered the ordeal of losing an election would do themselves a favor by researching the character and behavior of the late South African President Nelson Mandela.
One thing that Mandela did in order to emphasize the point that elections should not be about power, was that he made a decision to be in office for only one five-year term. And during this term, he asked the former president of the Nationalist Party he had defeated in the election, F. W. de Klerk, to co-president the country with him through the transition, which thing de Klerk did for two years. After two years, however, de Klerk moved on to rebuild the Nationalist Party. Mandela later said that he wished that de Klerk would have stayed with him longer as co-president.
Mandela did not want to endanger in any way the strong economy that the previous Nationalist Party had built over the last several decades. Neither was it his desire to presumptuously make any claim for the existing strong South African economy—he was in prison during those years of nation building. He was wise enough to know that if the country was to go successfully into the future, then the new ANC government had to preserve the economic strength of the past government.
De Klerk later stated, and correctly, that any healthy democracy cannot survive as a one-party state. There must always be a vibrant opposition to any ruling party if a nation is to survive as a democracy. Otherwise, the one-party state becomes dictatorial and oppressive to the people. The politicians of one-party states are only fooling the people if they assert that they are a democracy, but at the same time, do not allow a two-party state to exist.
Mandela was a forgiving president for the people, by the people, and of the people. His legacy was his spirit of forgiveness. He lived long enough for many in the country, who did seek retaliation, to have the opportunity to calm down, grow up, and move on in building a new South Africa. This spirit of forgiveness was expressed by one of the ANC party members—a brother in Christ—who had been locked up in jail for three months by the former government during the campaign of 1993. He was never given a reason why he was jailed.
A few years after the 1994 election, he was once touring the South in America. He took a tour through one of the museums that staged the relics of the former years of America in the South, particularly during the years of the marginalization of African Americans. The curator of the museum was giving his normal presentation of all the injustices against African Americans before they too were given the right to vote. After the curator had carried on for some time, our former jailed ANC party member innocently raised his hand and asked, “When did all this discrimination carry on in America?” The curator replied, “This all took place in America during and before the 1950s.”
Our ANC brother was somewhat taken back. So he politely responded to the curator, “We suffered all these injustices in our country up until the release of Mandela from prison and the 1994 election that was only couple years ago. But we have all forgiven all that systematic discrimination and moved on.” The spirit of Mandela had prevailed, and the curator had little to say in response.
As we have said before in other documents, we would not have wanted to live in any other country of the world during the transition before and after the 1994 election than in South Africa. It was indeed a thrilling time to experience the birth of a new nation that will carry on into the future. When the virtue of forgiveness prevails, any society that may have lost that cultural trait can upon restoration experience a beautiful metamorphosis into a new world.
Those days were indeed times to witness national forgiveness in action. There was no time for a spirit of retaliation to be revealed through post-election marches and building burning. It was a time to burn divisions, build cultural bridges, and march for national forgiveness and reconciliation. If a people cannot forgive the sins of the past, then certainly they can no longer claim to be a “Christian nation.” They have forgotten the number one moral standard that defines those who would walk after the character of the God in whom we believe.
You can now understand why we use the word “godly” in reference to this reconciliatory character of a leader who took his nation into a new world order for the people. Leaders who do not have this reconciliatory spirit are not fit for leadership. If their thirst for power, respite and retaliation compels them to spew out hatred and revenge on those of the past government, then they have lost their moral compass, if indeed they had a godlike spirit before their election into power. Likewise, if the old outgoing leadership portrays a spirit of unforgiveness after being voted out of power, then they should never have been in power in the first place.
We are of those after the One who set the character for all those who claim to be Christian. The last words of our “President” (King) who was voted out of a office on earth by the “political religionists” of the Jews of His day set the moral standard for our character forever: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). This defined the character of the early disciples. As Stephen laid down his head in sleep from thrown stones of retaliation from the “political” opposition, he cried out, “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge” (At 7:60). We know that we have morphed into a godly moral paradigm when we say this in reference to those who have or will oppose us. If we would claim to be of Christ (Christian) in any way, then we must be known for being those of a forgiving spirit.
Godly means that we live after the behavior of God. And in reference to the behavior of God, it is by grace that we receive an unlimited measure of His forgiveness. We will never forget that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). “For if you forgive men their trespasses,” our Lord Jesus said, “your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Mt 6:14). Paul emulated for all of us the character that should be typical of every person who would claim to be a disciple of the Son of God:
“To whom you forgive anything, I forgive also. For indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven in the presence of Christ for your sakes” (2 Co 2:10).
TIME TO REVEAL WHO HE IS BY WHO WE ARE There are often times in history during social chaos when Christians have an opportunity to reveal their heavenly Father. In your country, this may be one of those times. Our heavenly Father is love because of His demonstration of grace through the offering of His Son. This is the nature and action of grace, and this is the scope of this rewritten and released book. Thousands of PDF copies of this book have now gone out worldwide. It is a great read if you are seeking to understand who we are because of who He is. If you want to share a “dictionary” that defines Christianity, then this is the book. Feel free to download and share.
RETHINKING THE ORGANIC FUNCTION OF THE BODY
Sometimes in history global events transpire that drive us to rethink our theology, and in particular, our understanding of how we view certain concepts in reference to the church. The axiomatic principle that familiar passages must always be reexamined is especially true in times of social chaos during wars and global pandemics. In the global pandemic days that began in 2020, which days will continue until an effective vaccine is discovered for the Covid-19 virus, it seems that the relentless virus will be with us far into the future, as is the inflictions of AIDS, tuberculosis and influenza. What has already begun on the part of many is to rethink the New Testament teaching concerning the identity and behavior of the church.
What has transpired in these pandemic days has motivated us to rethink our faith, specifically our identity as the children of God. Because health departments around the world have taken aim at what had become the identity of many religious groups—the assembly—we have now been forced into reconsidering what defines our relationship with God, and in particular, our relationships with one another. Because of restrictions that have been placed on Christians in reference to their assemblies, what faithful Christian has not reconsidered his or her relationship with God? Is it possible to feel as close to God in one’s closet as we do when in the midst of fellow congregates?
Since many people formerly identified their faith by their assemblies, I thought it very appropriate to republish a revision of this book in order to rethink this subject. The original publication struck at the heart of the theology that Christianity is somehow identified by the assembly of the saints, particularly in reference to what the saints commonly perform on Sunday morning. But this misguided identity of the church produced a dichotomy in Christian behavior that has misled not only ourselves, but also made it difficult for unbelievers to understand the nature of true Christianity.
It seems that the unbelieving world has understood “Christians” according to their performance of religious ceremonies that take place in church buildings around the world, and not according to their behavior throughout the week. This understanding of Christianity has often led the world to harbor a distorted understanding of who Christians are and what “church” means. The pandemic may have helped in correcting this misunderstanding. When assemblies of Christians are greatly restricted, or even shut down completely during lockdowns, Christians began to reevaluate their own personal identity as Christians. The world has also started viewing Christians from a different perspective. As for Christians, these are certainly the times in which everyone must take another look in their Bibles and come to a different understanding of the Christian faith.
This book is more relevant today because readers are forced into rethinking who they are in their relationship with God. Since we had formerly been misguided to think that our faith depended on whether we were discovered in some assembly on Sunday morning, we are now home alone wondering if the Holy Spirit functions outside a church assembly. Possibly more important is the belief that we had convinced ourselves that unless we meritoriously wandered through a certain criteria of acts of worship with fellow disciples in an assembly, we were not worshiping God. And even worse, we went so far as to convince ourselves that our identity as the church was established by the performance of our acts of worship on Sunday morning during the “hour of worship.”
So now we are home alone, wondering if the church can even exist when all the members are socially distanced from one another and alone in their homes. We must take this opportunity to make sure that we have a Bible-defined understanding of the church. Our worship must be extracted from the confines of performing rites, rituals and ceremonies in public assemblies. It must now be rediscovered in the confines of our homes. For many, closets have been cleaned of cobwebs and dusted in order to restore again silence with God in prayer. Gone are all the orchestras, and guitars lie quietly in cases stacked away in the corner of attics. These are certainly times for reconsideration of what we may have fabricated over time that in itself was a drift away from a close relationship with our Father. What we defined as “worship” may have been an invention for ourselves with less focus on God, and more on our own emotional needs.
In the midst of our social distancing and isolation from one another, it may be time to again challenge the doctrine of “church autonomy.” For years this misguided teaching separated groups of Christians into independent church-house shelters where the denominated tried to validate themselves with their worship performances on Sunday morning. But the pandemic has driven us to rethink this misguided theology that we could socially distance ourselves as a group, and then think that we would all be together as one in heaven. The irony of the matter lies in the fact that the autonomous are now autonomously home alone, craving to be with any brother or sister who might happen to come their way. Maybe the good that will come out of the Covid pandemic, as in the case of wars, is that we are forced into a social environment wherein we can better understand our inconsistencies in reference to church autonomy. Such beliefs now seem so senseless since we are forced into individual autonomy, or at least greatly limited to house assemblies around the world.
It is in times as these, therefore, that we need to refresh our studies of the nature of the church, particularly our relationship with one another and God. Sometimes God must move us into extremes in order that we might come to a better knowledge of the truth. At least in the past history of the nation of Israel He did such through their captivity. The Israelites came back from that captivity a changed people, never again to wander off into self-righteous Baal religion that was so common among them before the confinement of captivity. Maybe we too must be moved so far away from one another into the captivity of our own homes before we can restore a craving for God and for one another. But more important, maybe we need to be moved away from one another in order that we might renew our one-on-one relationship with our Father, who in our former religiosity had become only an afterthought during our self-righteous ceremonies we performed on Sunday morning for our own entertainment. Once we rediscover that our salvation is totally dependent on His grace through His Son, then we can find some comfort in the fact that we are saved without all the self-righteous rites, rituals and meritorious ceremonies that we performed in mega-assemblies around the world. It is now that the world has the opportunity to understand us apart from what they observed us doing during a Sunday morning performance.
Isolation always drives us to understand that church is not defined by assemblies. Church is defined by love-driven individuals throughout the world who have been baptized into Christ Jesus in response to the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. When we come to this realization, it is then that we will find confidence in our home alone relationship with Him, regardless of where everyone else is in their homes, who are also alone.
We read in our history books of wars and pandemics that have occurred throughout the centuries. We can even read again John’s prophecy of what would happen when government would eventually come crashing down on Christians for a century and a half in the first two centuries two millennia ago. We must remember that all those Christians survived those chaotic years. We are here today because they did. There were no cellphones, no internet, no television and no newspapers during their years of persecution. And yet, those Christians who emerged from persecution, pandemics and global wars survived. They did so because their faith was not, as ours often is, centered around Sunday assembly performances, or church function that was centered around church-buildings, organization committees, fancy robes and reversed collars. Christians then were faithful in godly behavior that was born out of their living response to the grace of God. They never cease to believe that they would survive in the darkness of a catacomb, or huddled in fear in a bombed out building. They simply survived, and the darkness and fear made them better. So much better that their faith transitioned through those harsh times in order to captivate our hearts today when we read about their strength.
It is my prayer, therefore, that this book will motivate readers around the world to rethink their concept of “church.” I send the book forth in order to challenge your thinking on this matter, and in doing so, to possibly restore a faith that will permeate all trials through which we must go in this sin-infested world. In the midst of so many trails we need to remember always what the Holy Spirit said to some who stayed with Jesus about two thousand years ago when they too were to suffer through heard times:
“These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings. And those who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).
[Preface from a forthcoming book entitled: THE ORGANIC FUNCTION OF THE BODY OF CHRIST]
Acts 12 is a good example of what happened in Jerusalem surrounding Herod’s efforts “to harass some of the church [ekklesia]” (At 12:1). What this effort on the part of Herod did for us is that it gave the historian Luke the opportunity to observe the early disciples’ function as the one organic body of Christ in a particular city.
At this time in the city of Jerusalem—about ten to twelve years after the events of Acts 2—the number of members of the church in Jerusalem could have been from 25,000 to 30,000, some historian estimate more. Since there was no place of common assembly for this number of members, the members met in the houses of the members that were scattered throughout the city.
Now notice carefully how Luke detailed Herod’s ambitions. Herod’s goal was not to harass some of the “churches” (plural), but some of the entire body of believers, the church. There was no such thing as approximately 1,000 autonomous “churches” throughout the city—assuming about twenty-five members meeting in one house assembly. There was only one church, but hundreds of assemblies. This is significant in reference to the organic function of the universal body of Christ. In this case, Luke’s account of this matter details that there was always only one church in any particular city that is mentioned in the book of Acts. There was no such thing as individual autonomous “churches” in the cities that are mentioned in the New Testament.
In order to accomplish his sinister deed, Herod arrested Peter. On this occasion, the whole church, that is every member in the city of Jerusalem went into prayer action. “So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was earnestly made to God for him by the church” (At 12:5). Again, reference was not to autonomous “churches” throughout the city of Jerusalem. Emphasis was on the one body, the one church in Jerusalem, though at the time the members were assembling in an estimated one thousand homes throughout the city.
The prayers were made, and God subsequently answered the prayers by sending an angel to fetch Peter out of jail (At 12:6-11). Once out of jail, Peter then went to only one house where there were disciples meeting in prayer for him (At 12:12). After some persistent knocking in order to be allowed to enter, Peter eventually explained all that had happened, and now he was free. But after encouraging the disciples who were meeting in that specific house, the house of Mary, Peter then said, “Go tell these things to James and to the brethren” (At 12:17).
There were other brethren of the church in Jerusalem who were not praying in the house of Mary. “The brethren” were scattered to houses throughout the city. Even after meeting in the house of Mary, Luke wanted to emphasize this point by recording, “Then he [Peter] departed [from the house of Mary] and went to another place [house]” (At 12:17).
At the time, the members of the church in Jerusalem (singular) were meeting in the homes of members throughout the city. All the members in many houses were offering up prayers as one organic body on behalf of Peter. Not all the members in the city of Jerusalem could assemble in the house of Mary. Nevertheless, it was still the church in the entire city that Herod set himself to harass. In this case, it was the one church functioning as one organic body in prayer. There was no such thing as autonomous church groups assembling throughout the city of Jerusalem. There was only one church in the city, and the members of this one church functioned as one body in offering up prayers for Peter to receive a “get out of jail free card,” which thing the angel became.
[I will republish a forthcoming book on this subject in a few weeks.]
If one would seek a brief New Testament explanation of salvation by grace through faith, then the context of Ephesians 2 would be one of the most definitive commentaries on the subject. In this context, Paul truly gave the road map into the grace of God, and once there, what is required of the obedient to remain there. For a moment, therefore, we need to journey with the Ephesians from their “nature” in sin before their obedience to the gospel, into the revealed saving grace of God in which they stood at the time Paul wrote.
A. Dead in trespasses and sins:
Paul began his definition of grace by reviewing the state of the Ephesians before they were baptized into Christ. As sinners outside Christ, he reminded them, “You were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ep 2:1). They were in a state of condemnation wherein they lived because they, as religious people, were outside the realm of God’s grace. Therefore, he reminded them that in such a state “you walked according to the ways of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ep 2:2).
In the preceding text, notice the pronoun “you.” They were personally responsible for their sinful walk. Their sin had nothing to do with the sin of Adam that some say was supposedly handed down to them as “original sin” from Adam. Neither were they born with a “sinful nature” wherein they were inclined to sin against their own will. Paul clearly wrote that they were individually responsible for their sinful walk of life before they obeyed the gospel.
The Ephesians could not blame Adam. They could not blame God for giving them some “sinful nature.” They could not even blame the devil for supposedly making them sin. They could only blame themselves. They were personally and individually dead in sin because they chose to behave sinfully. Unless one takes ownership of his own sinful behavior, he will not repent. He will not be moved to respond to the grace of God.
We cannot escape our personal responsibility for sin by blaming Adam for some “original sin” that was supposedly passed down to us through birth as a “sinful nature” by which God supposedly cursed our souls. We must stop blaming God for this supposed “sinful nature,” and the Devil for supposedly making us sin. Some theologians have given sinners almost every excuse for not taking ownership of their own sins. Even society does the same by calling some sins—alcoholism—a disease, and thus assuming that the individual does not need, or cannot, take ownership for his or her own “sinful” disease. But Paul never let the Ephesians off the hook in reference to their past life in sin. They were personally responsible for their own culture of sinful behavior. And because they willingly created their own culture of sin, they had to take ownership for their sin before they would willingly respond to the grace of God .
B. Life according to the world:
In their former behavior as sinners, the Ephesians individually chose to walk according to the desires of their father, the devil. Jesus explained the state of some in His Jewish audience when He said, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” (Jn 8:44). When Jesus made this statement, He was speaking to very religious Jews. In the context of Ephesians 2, Paul was likewise speaking to formerly religious Gentiles. Nevertheless, they too were of their father the devil because they “behaved in times past in the lusts of your flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ep 2:3). The Ephesians lived according to the sensual sins of gratifying the desires of the flesh, filling their minds with all wicked thoughts. They followed after a life-style of pride, envy, covetousness and lusts of the mind as idolaters.
They were “by nature” in the habit of behaving after a lustful life-style. It was not that they were born with a sinful nature. The context of what Paul said in Ephesians 2 is entirely against this conclusion. The Ephesians had made a free-moral decision to live according to the lusts of the eyes, flesh and pride of life.
The Greek word that is used here for “nature” refers to a life-style that has been formed after the habit of doing something over a long period of time. The Ephesians, therefore, were “dead in trespasses and sins” because they had adopted a life-style of living according to that which was contrary to the will of God. Their conscience was seared because they had no feelings of guilt that their sinful living was wrong. They were thus judged to be dead in trespasses and sins because there was no hope of eternal life in their state of behavior in their past idolatry. They were separated from God because of their state of condemnation, and thus they could have no hope of eternal life.
The lost state of the Ephesians before their obedience to the gospel confirms the fact that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus was not universally appropriated to all people without obedience. They were good religious idolaters, but they were dead in the sin of their own religiosity. We do not assume that the Ephesians were previously atheists, and thus a nonreligious people. Too often Bible interpreters make this mistake concerning their understanding of the religious world into which the gospel was revealed. On the contrary, the Romans and Greeks were religious. However, the religion was idolatry. They possessed a faith in Zeus and the other Roman and Greek gods that were created after the imagination of very religious people. In fact, when Paul walked into Athens, he complemented the people on their religiosity: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious” (At 17:22).
But religion can save no one. The Ephesians were very religious people, but by nature they were dead in their trespasses and sins (Ep 2:3). They were by nature dead in their relationship with God. We must not be fooled, therefore, with the belief that if one is simply religious and good, he is saved. Without being born again through baptism into the grace of God, one is dead in trespasses and sins.
By the time Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians in A.D. 61,62, the Ephesians had been delivered from their life of sin in their religious idolatry. But before the gospel came to them through the preaching of Paul, they were without hope. If Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross were unconditional, and thus universal, then they would not have been dead in their trespasses and sins before the coming of Paul and the preaching of the gospel. The biblical interpreter must therefore be careful about assuming that the redemption of the cross applies to all people regardless of their knowledge of God’s grace and conditions that He requires for one to make in order to step into His realm of grace.
C. The announcement and response to grace:
And now the glorious news. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ep 2:4,5). Paul’s continued commentary of this outpouring of grace was stated in Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It could be nothing else with grace. The outpouring of grace must be nothing short of an outpouring because of mercy, regardless of the state of those to whom it is offered.
Grace was unconditionally offered to humanity, but it is not unconditionally appropriated, or applied to the saving of individual sinners. We must keep in mind that the Ephesians became Christians long after the initial outpouring of grace on the cross in A.D. 30. They were still in a state of condemnation at the time Paul, Aquila and Priscilla came to Ephesus in Acts 18. It was through the ministry of these and others who “came and preached peace to you [Ephesians] who were far off and to those who were near” (Ep 2:17). The offer of grace was preached to the Ephesians while they were dead in trespasses and sins. They responded. And subsequently, Paul could make the statement, “By grace you have been saved” (Ep 2:5). They could be saved by grace only when they heard about the grace of God that was revealed on the cross (Ti 2:11). Grace was appropriated in their lives only when they heard and obeyed the gospel (See At 19). Grace is neither universally appropriated, nor unconditionally received.
We must keep in mind that those to whom Paul was writing the letter of Ephesians were dead in sin after the cross and before they heard the gospel. They did not become alive until they heard and obeyed the gospel. Therefore, they had not been individually elected and predestined to heaven before the creation of the world. If they had been so elected and predestined, then why did Paul say that they were all dead in sin before they obeyed the gospel?
D. Salvation by grace through faith:
“So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17). When the Ephesians heard the word of Christ (Ep 2:17), their faith in Him was brought to life. The words of Jesus would be appropriate here. “He who believes and is baptized, will be saved” (Mk 16:16). The Ephesians were not unconditionally dead in their trespasses and sins. They voluntarily chose a sinful way of life. They adopted such as their culture. Therefore, they could not blame Adam for their sinful behavior as some have supposed. As they were voluntarily and personally accountable for their previous sinful nature, grace came to them voluntarily and personally. Each one who heard the preached gospel, voluntarily and individually responded to the conditions God required to receive the offered gift of His grace. As they voluntarily sinned after their own lusts, they had to respond voluntarily to the preached grace of God. As they individually chose to lead a sinful life, they had to choose individually to respond to the grace of God. Their response to grace, therefore, had to be an obedience of their faith (See Rm 1:5; 16:26).
We must not misunderstand Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:8,9. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.” The grace of God was offered years before while the Ephesians were in a state of condemnation in their trespasses and sins. It was God’s free gift to offer to all men a way of escape from a sinful predicament from which one could not deliver himself. The gift, therefore, had to be free.
However, the reception of the gift came with conditions. Simply because the gift is free does not mean there are no conditions for receiving the gift. Titus 2:11 states, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” The free gift appeared and was announced to the world through preaching. But its application came with conditions on the part of those who heard the message of the gospel. If there were no conditions, then salvation would be universal. If the Ephesians were still dead in their trespasses and sins after the grace of God was revealed through Jesus on the cross, then grace was not universal. Reception and application of the effect of grace is based on the condition of our faith. Since our faith is in the gospel, salvation is by grace through our faith in the gospel.
Salvation by grace through faith is not of ourselves. In other words, no salvational schemes of men will work. If we could be saved through our own systems of salvation, then our salvation would be meritorious. And since religion is always the meritorious performance of rites, rituals and ceremonies, salvation can never come as a result of one being very religious. This is true because by works of law or religious traditions no one can be saved (See Rm 3:20; Gl 2:16). Salvation is by our faith in the Christ of the gospel, not in the performance of our own religiosity.
When Peter said to the thousands on the day of Pentecost to “save yourselves from this perverse generation” (At 2:40), he did not mean that everyone should construct for himself some system of religion by which one could save himself. What he meant was that the people must take the initiative to do what God commanded in order to access His grace in order to save themselves from their own religiosity. And in order to do this, one must “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (At 2:38). It was through this obedience that the Ephesians responded to the gospel (See At 19:1-18).
E. Faithfulness through works of thanksgiving:
Paul wanted the Ephesians to know that their initial coming to Christ was not the result of any meritorious efforts on their part, lest they boast to one another concerning their obedience. Their salvation was not by meritorious works, but through an obedient faith in response to the grace of God. Nevertheless, as Christians, their faith had to be perfected through a work of love in response to the grace by which they were saved. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we should walk in them” (Ep 2:10). If one would want a commentary on this statement, then Paul gives such in 2 Corinthians 4:15: “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.” It was this grace that reached the people of Ephesus, and thus, it was this grace that moved them to respond to the love of God through Jesus. It was this love that compelled them to obey the gospel (2 Co 5:14).
Paul had told the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Ph 2:12). The Ephesians had been baptized into Christ (Gl 3:26,27). Now it was time that they perfect their faith through their works of faith. “You see that faith was working with his [Abraham] works, and by works was faith made perfect” (Js 2:22). We are God’s “workmanship” when our faith is made perfect through obedience. When our faith works in response to the salvation that we have in Christ, then it is perfected. His grace causes works of thanksgiving. All that God did through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of His Son was for our sakes, “so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15). It is an obedient faith in response to the revealed grace of God that brings one into Christ. This faith is perfected when the obedient continue to work out their salvation in thanksgiving for the grace by which they are saved.
[End of the blog series. The remainder of the lectures will be in a forthcoming book. Be sure and download and distribute the book if you have appreciated this very important subject that defines the core of our Christian beliefs.]
The fact that we are saved by grace through faith is not the question. This is a fact. However, the question is how are we saved by grace is what must be determined. Grace through faith means there is a Divine side (grace) and a human side (faith) of God’s plan to deliver us into His eternal arms. What was required on the Divine side (the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and kingdom reign) was revealed to man without any obligation on the part of man. This was the gospel work of God. It was all an action of grace on the part of God.
While mankind was in the curse of sin, God demonstrated His love for mankind through the revelation of the gospel (Rm 5:8; Ph 2:5-11; Ti 2:11). The revelation of God’s grace was not based on the meritorious righteousness of man that put God in debt. The gospel was not God’s effort to settle a debt with humanity (See Rm 4:4). Grace was a free gift. Nevertheless, it was a free gift that demanded requirements on the part of those who desired the benefits of grace (our salvation). The free gift was given on the condition that the recipients comply with the conditions that were necessary in order to benefit from the blessing of the gift.
The case of the cleansing (healing) of Naaman of his leprosy in 2 Kings 5 is a good commentary on how God works through His grace that is offered to the world. Naaman’s case illustrates the offer of the gift, but also the conditions that are placed on those who would enjoy the rewards of the offered gift.
A. By grace God offered Naaman healing.
Elisha sent a messenger to Naaman to tell him, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh will come again to you and you will be clean” (2 Kg 5:10). Naaman’s initial reaction to the instructions for his healing was fury (2 Kg 5:11). He was furious because he did not agree with, or initially understand, God’s condition for his healing. He possibly thought that there should be no conditions to receive the blessing. He possibly thought that if he could be healed, then surely God could simply pronounce him healed. So he complained, “Behold, I thought he [Elisha] will surely come out to me and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God and strike his hand over the place and cure the leprosy” (2 Kg 5:11).
Thousands of people around the world today believe that they can either self-proclaim their own salvation, or have someone pronounce it for them. But this is not what God requires in order to be blessed with His grace. Both systems of proclamation are deceptive. We cannot self-proclaim our own salvation because such is a subjective pronouncement. If we would make such an arrogant self-proclamation, then it is subject to how we feel at the time we claim ourselves to be saved. Likewise, others cannot proclaim our salvation for us because we would be depending on the pronouncement of another person in order to have confidence in our salvation. Our salvation must be objectively proclaimed, that is, the pronouncement of our salvation must come directly from an objective reading of such in God’s word. Only God can proclaim our salvation. And this can be done only when we obey what He requires of us in order to be saved.
Naaman’s pride moved him to reason that there should be no conditions for the free gift of healing. Elijah could supposedly just proclaim himself to be healed. From what he said, Naaman wanted to establish his own conditions, which is the mistake many make in reference to God’s offer of grace today. They want the blessing of the grace without following the conditions for the reception of the gift. Some even think they can call on the preacher to call on God for their spiritual healing. But God’s grace is not appropriated in this manner.
In his fury, Naaman then offered an alternative to dipping in the muddy Jordan River. He complained to Elisha, “Are not Abanah and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” (2 Kg 5:12). Naaman’s mistake was to think that his cleansing was in the power of the water. He thus tried to change the water and still receive the blessing. But his healing would be given by the grace of God when he obeyed all the conditions for his healing, and not by any supposed power in the water of a convenient river. And if his healing were to be received, then he had to follow the required instructions to use the right water. The water was necessary, but the instructions concerning what water had to be followed.
When God gives the instructions concerning the reception of His blessing, then we do not have the right to change any of the conditions. God will allow no substitutions. If Naaman had been cleansed by dipping in the “better” waters of the Abanah and Pharpar, then we would assume that we too have the right to substitute the conditions upon which we can receive God’s blessing of grace.
We would also assume that there is some power in the water, as long as it is water. But when Naaman finally dipped in the right water in the right way, according to the instructions of God, it was then that he knew that God means what He says and says what He means in reference to receiving His blessings.
B. Naaman was cleansed by grace through faith.
The cleansing of Naaman was strictly by the grace of God. There was no possible way for Naaman to cleanse himself from leprosy. It was not within his power to bless himself with his own healing. The actual cleansing, therefore, was only by God’s grace. It was a free offer from God. However, Naaman’s faith had to move him to do that which God required of him to receive the free gift of cleansing. His healing only came by the power of God, who only can heal. His healing did not annul the necessity that he had to follow all of God’s instructions to access the gift. We must not forget this point.
No one would conclude that Naaman was healed by meritorious works when God told him to go dip seven times in the Jordan River. Neither would we say that he was healed by “faith and works.” Rather, he was healed by faith that worked to fulfill the instructions of God that were necessary in order for him to receive the blessing (See Gl 5:6). He did not receive the blessing of cleansing until he followed all the instructions (2 Kg 5:14). So until he followed all the instructions, he did not receive the blessing of God’s grace.
When Naaman’s faith eventually moved him to follow the instructions of God, then the free gift of cleansing was realized. He was thus healed “by grace through faith.” His dipping seven times in the Jordan was the expression of his obedient faith in order that he be blessed with the grace of being healed. This is exactly what James meant in James 2:22: “You see that [Naaman’s] faith was working with his works, and by works [to dip in the Jordan River] was faith made perfect.” In this way “a man is justified by works and not by faith only” (Js 2:24).
C. Naaman’s faith went to work.
Salvation is by grace through faith once faith goes to work in obedience to God’s instructions. The free gift of our cleansing of sin by God’s grace is not appropriated to our benefit until there is an expression of faith on our part. God’s cleansing through grace is His work on our behalf for our salvation. However, in order for His work through grace to have effect in reference to our salvation, it must be brought into effect in our lives through an expression of faith by following God’s conditions. Whatever condition God would give for the appropriation of grace to the salvation of the soul of the sinner must be followed in order for the work of God through grace to be applied. Following God-required conditions is not meritorious obedience. It is an expression of faith.
Now we must consider when Naaman’s faith brought the healing of his leprosy. Naaman’s faith in receiving the healing that would come from the grace of God first manifested itself when he heard that there was someone in Samaria who could possibly heal him (2 Kg 5:3). When he heard of the possibility of healing, he took ten talents of silver, 6,000 pieces of gold, and ten changes of clothing, and headed for Samaria. He wrongly assumed that he could purchase a free gift.
Naaman had faith that there was healing in Samaria, but his faith alone did not heal him. His faith did not “save” him from his leprosy until it was connected with what God required of him in obedience. His faith brought him to a knowledge of what would be required of him to receive the grace of healing. The power of the healing was not in his faith, but in the grace of God to heal. Therefore, his faith would have accomplished nothing toward his healing if he had not obeyed all the instructions that were necessary for his healing. Until there was an “obedience of faith” (Rm 1:5; 16:26), there could be no grace appropriated to the healing of his leprosy.
Since our salvation is by grace through faith, then our faith is of no consequence until it moves us to do all that God requires of us to receive the blessing of His grace. We cannot add to the conditions that God requires, neither can we subtract from them. Our faith must be expressed, demonstrated and manifested through our obedience to the conditions that God requires.
As previously stated, the above is the conclusion that we would derive from the context of James 2:14-26. James’ argument is not in reference to salvation by meritorious works. No one can meritoriously work in order to be saved, for no amount of good works can atone for a single sin. And for sure, no one can obey law perfectly in order to save himself. What James is discussing is that we cannot be saved by a faith that does not work. No unexpressed faith is acceptable to God. It is not acceptable because unexpressed faith repudiates the instructions of God concerning what one must do in order to be saved. Any conclusion in reference to our salvation by grace through faith that does not honor the will of God, will not move one to obey the instructions of God as to how one must access His grace.
James said, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and by works was faith made perfect” (Js 2:21,22). Paul added, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something about which to boast, but not before God” (Rm 4:2). Did James and Paul contradict one another? Certainly not! The proposition of Paul was that he was arguing against meritorious works of law, whereas James was arguing for obedient works that are an expression of faith. Paul’s argument against the Jews who sought to work meritoriously to save themselves would put God in debt to save. James’ works of faith express our thanksgiving for our salvation (See 2 Co 4:15). There is a difference between works that express faith and works that seek to merit salvation. Because many have not recognized this difference, they have had great difficultly in understanding Paul’s letter to the Romans and what James revealed in James 2.
In the context of Naaman’s healing, when Naaman’s faith moved him to do exactly what God told him to do, without any additions, substitutions or subtractions, then his healing by the grace of God was realized. The same principle applies to us today. God offers His grace, but until we comply with all instructions that He requires, we cannot access His saving grace. If He instructs us to “dip” in the waters of baptism, then that is exactly what we must do in order to be cleansed of our sin (See At 22:16). We must be dipped in the water, the water cannot be dipped over us.
[Next in series: Oct. 28]