The Good & The Bad (A)

With some trepidation we would set forth some of the good, bad and ugly things that are being revealed in the current social calamity that has befallen many people throughout the world today in reference to the pandemic. As we survey through these blessings and cursings, we must never forget that there is nothing new under heaven. Whether as individuals, or as a society of individuals, history is filled with all that might transpire in the present and future. As the people of God endured the past, so they will do the same today as we transition at different places in the world into new paradigms.

• Revelation of demigods: Remember the following statement when King Jesus said to John at the beginning of His revelation of traumatic social chaos that was about to come upon the Jews, “Do not fear. I am the first and the last” (Rv 1:17). We must never forget this. And then again Jesus said to those in Smyrna, “Do not fear those things that you will suffer” (Rv 2:10).

We are sure that Jesus did not give a command that could not be obeyed by His disciples. We must not think, therefore, that He asked those disciples to do something that they could not do, that is, proceed fearlessly into the future. Our assurance that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords should calm our spirits, no matter what social chaos that might prevail at any one time in history. Paul reassured his readers, “The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Ph 4:7). Therefore, “Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say, rejoice!” (Ph 4:4).

Those who are fearful are easily subjected to those who would reign over them. Demigod rulers seize the opportunity when the people of a society are brought into a state of fear. Fear can be produced by the authorities of the state, or brought on by some natural calamity. Regardless of the origin, fear within a society is fertile soil for those who would seek to rule by mandates that they would bind on the people. In these times the world has been brought under fear by those who worship the god of science. And since the world is in fear, then the kings and lords of this world often take the opportunity to subjugate the people to their control. Demigods always feel good when people are under their control. Control gives them a sense of power.

We see such in some of the present rulers of the nations that have issued some lockdown measures because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some governors in America are behaving as demigods over the people of the states of which they were democratically elected. Without the permission of the people, and sometimes the votes of their own state legislators, they have issued mandates to the public that often do more harm to the social economics of the society than the virus of pandemic.

We have also witnessed that these lords would become self-righteous judges of other nations that cannot enforce lockdown measures. We must keep in mind that “lockdown” is a Western concept, which thing cannot be implement in most developing world environments where people live in mass in shanty villages and towns. And besides this, we have also witnessed that those lords who are quick to bring restrictions on others in their own cities often feel that they themselves are free from adherence to such restrictions. It is always the inability of a lord to live consistently in reference to those things that he or she would bind on others.

The worldwide pandemic has often been the opportunity of some to reveal their thirst to reign over people. There is lordship leadership in every potential lord. Sometimes the fear within a society becomes the opportunity for those with a hidden desire to reign to have the opportunity to lord over others. Nevertheless, Christians must never be subjected to fear, either by governments or natural calamities. Those who are brought into fear are brought into bondage. It is truly the fearless who live in freedom. And since Jesus sought to set us free, our freedom is not only from sin, but from any calamity that this world would deliver.

In reference to America, who would ever have thought that there would be governors of certain states who would ignore the first amendment of the US Constitution? Those who fled religious persecution in Europe and immigrated to America, did so in order to find freedom in the New World. Those forefathers could never have conceived that when they wrote the Bill of Rights that there would arise over two hundred years later their descendants who would not honor the constitutional amendment that there would be a separation between church and state. They would never have dreamed of the day when in the “land of the free,” they would hear from the state, “Your rights to assemble as Christians have been suspended.” Liquor stores and abortion clinics may remain open, but church assemblies will be shut down.

In the lockdown times in America church assemblies were closed down because of fear. Some church members were fined even when they sought to stay in their vehicles and drive to an open-air assembly where the preacher stood outside and preached to everyone who remained in their vehicles. Civil liberties were being ignored for the purpose of “keeping the people safe from the virus.” This does not mean, however, that the people should ignore safe behavior. However, it is the right of the people to make this choice. The choice should not be made by a lord of the state, and then imposed on the people. The people should be educated concerning behavior that is safe for the people, and then, the people should be able to implement such safety measures without the fear of the state.

We must always remember that when we are in fear, we often lose our sense of rationality, and sometimes our freedom for which many died in conflict to preserve. Sometimes we lose sight of the very foundation upon which a nation was built. Therefore, we must not forget that fearful people are easily brought into the bondage of those who thirst to be demigods. We do not move into the future, therefore, under a shroud of fear, but caution. Since Christians are not to fear, then they move forward with caution.

The last thing that should bring fear in our hearts is fear of anything in our environment. So we go forward with the following words of the Holy Spirit clearly in our minds: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rm 8:31,32). The Spirit continued, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will it be tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril [as pandemics], or sword?” (Rm 8:35).

[Next in series: Sept. 28]

Ours Is The Victory

The true personality of an individual is often revealed when he or she is thrown into an environment of hard times. During normal times, the person we seek to present to the public is often hidden under the cloak of a smile or soft tone of speech. Hard times, however, usually remove all the masks and people see us for who we are.

Sometimes it is through smooth and fair speech that some seek to conceal their true character or ambitions. At least this was in the mind of Paul when he wrote in Romans 16:18, “For they who are such serve not our Lord Christ but their own belly, and by appealing words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the innocent.”

Times of social chaos brought on by war or pandemics in society often bring out our true character, whether good or bad. It is during such times that the true character, or aspirations, of an individual are revealed. When a society is in social turmoil, the flaws that are embedded within a particular society as a whole are likewise brought to light. When discussing times of social chaos that afflict humanity at different times throughout history, it would be good to identify some of the character skeletons that are now coming out of the closet in these times of pandemic fear and lockdown. It is very interesting to see the true character of some societies during these times of social chaos. It is often quite unnerving to witness the social imperfections that rise to the top and present themselves through political ugliness and street riots.

On the other hand, there are some good things that are being revealed during these times when trials, both natural and political, are cast upon us as members of our society. We must not forget, therefore, that pandemics (hard times) reveal the best that is in people, but sometimes the ugly. Nevertheless, we often notice more the negative social behavioral traits that are revealed, while at the same time, we overlook those good things that also arise to the occasion.

When the Holy Spirit said, “All things work together for good to those who love God,” He was encouraging us to be optimistic (Rm 8:28). We must always look for the good that is emerging out of any worldwide calamity that may befall us during any time of social chaos. After all, trials that we face in times of social chaos are an opportunity to do as Jesus said we should do: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16). This is exactly what Peter admonished his Jewish readers to do when God would eventually visit (judge) national Israel in A.D. 70:

“Keep your behavior honest among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers [as supposed Jewish insurrectionists], they may, because of your good works that they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation [or, judgment in A.D. 70](1 Pt 2:12).

We must always keep in mind that social chaos, whether triggered by wars, natural disasters or pandemics, is an opportunity for society to sort through the old order in order to formulate a new. Revolution in a particular society reveals that the people are seeking to discard the old order to find something new. Revolution is often the social mechanism for change within a society.

Though those who are involved in the immediate social chaos (revolution) may not know what new paradigm will come out of the social chaos, at least the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:28 encouraged Christians to be incurable optimists during such times. Hope must never be lost, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The beautiful thing about being on the side of Jesus is that we will always transition through whatever new normal that may arise out of any social chaos. We will victoriously transition because our minds are focused on those things that are above and not on those things that are on earth (See Cl 3:1,2). This is the foundation upon which John wrote in the theme verse of Revelation:

“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” (Rv 17:14).

When we view the present social chaos from the heavenly viewpoint of God, it is then that we can do as James, who at the time of writing, addressed his epistle to an audience of predominantly Jewish Christians who were about to enter into a decade of extreme social chaos. The social chaos of their time would produce a total meltdown of the Jewish society in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Therefore, when reading what James wrote, we understand that he was not writing to those who were in some comfort zone. He was writing to those who were in the consummation of a national heritage that had existed for over two thousand years. So James wrote to his fellow Jewish readers, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (Js 1:2). Our present social order may come to an end, as it did with the Jewish heritage of James and his immediate readers. But during the transition from the old to the new, King Jesus would still be leading victorious saints through all the social chaos of the transition.

The trials about which James wrote were more than individual hard times. Those to whom James wrote were at the beginning of the end of national Israel. The lives of the Jews would never be the same after they transitioned through the destruction of national Israel. It was a time, therefore, when the two millennia old Jewish heritage was going to be transformed, if not in many ways come to an end. Nevertheless, because their minds were focused on the unchanging reign of King Jesus, Jewish Christians had nothing to fear. On the contrary, they had everything about which to rejoice because Jesus could never be unseated from His throne by any social chaos that would transpire on the earth.

Christians today can likewise have all hope and joy because they know that during times of social chaos Jesus is still King of kings. He is still Lord of lords. He is still on His throne with authority over all things (Hb 1:3). Regardless of what social paradigm in which Christians may find themselves at any time in history, they can count their trials with all joy because their faith is their victory (1 Jn 5:4). They can do so because they know the final outcome of all things. Therefore, times of social chaos are an opportunity for each one of us to remember who is still the King of the universe.

“Please Take Me!”

So in thoughtful preparation for an anticipated journey to do some filming for a dynamic new series concerning our spiritual connection with King Jesus, I delicately lifted my Canon camera out of its carrying case in order to recharge the battery and check the memory card. As usual in my office, there was this faithful fluffy creature looking with a forlorn stare at me from the floor. Because of previous unfortunate experiences on his part, he was evidently anticipating that something was up. And what was up was him being left home alone. Nevertheless, ignoring the forlorn stare of our critter, Marmalade, I briefly stepped outside the office for a moment in order to place the battery in the charger.

I was not gone for a couple minutes before I returned. When I entered the office, I found sight of a beggar about which numerous imaginable captions could been inscribed. You can scribble your own about the above pathetic photograph I had to click off with the camera. The picture could assume countless thoughts that were going through Marmalade’s pleading cat mind. Maybe he thought, “Please, don’t leave me again.” “See, you have room for me. I can fit anywhere” “If you leave me, I will have to stay home with mother, and that can be quite boring.” “See! See! I will take up no room at all, so please don’t leave me behind.”

Ever since I took that photo I have assumed my own captions. It did stimulate a flashback to my youth when I was about five or six years old on a Kansas farm. My brother was almost two years older than me at the time. Our father was farming some fields that were about a forty-five minute drive west of the farm house. He would load up the truck early in the morning, hitch up the trailer with needed farm equipment, and then my brother and I, after we realized that it was time for adventure, started our individual routine of begging to go.

“Please don’t leave me,” each one of us pled until our father eventually relinquished to the pleas of only one of us. For safety reasons and space in the cab of the truck, he could take only one of us. And besides this, when he returned at the end of the day, it would be far into the night hours. Nevertheless, to this day I can remember how despondent I was when I was not the chosen one, and thus, had to be left behind.

When my father returned home far into the night, I had long gone to bed. But I remember that those were boring days when I simply wandered around looking for something to do. And picking vegetables out of the garden all day long with your mother was not that exciting. Those were the days before X-Box and video games. And without a television, it was difficult dreaming up something to do by one’s self all day long.

As small children, we have this inborn urge to always be taken, never left behind. Sometimes we just want our Father to reach down, pick us up, and take us wherever, regardless. Maybe I have become somewhat sentimental in my old age … or senile—Martha keeps reminding me it is probably more of the latter.

For some reason, I also remember when I was four years old, and having just visited Longwood’s Clinic on a side street of Stafford, Kansas, my father, mother and I were walking from the clinic on East Main street. We were walking toward the main intersection of the small “town” (village) of about 2,700 people. As we approached the bank on the corner, I look up at my father as a four-year-old and pleaded, “Can you carry me?” My father looked down and said, “Can’t you walk?” But with four-year-old pleading eyes I looked up and lamented, “Yes, but I’m tired.” So without further ado, I was picked up and into his arms. I was taken up into his arms and felt reassured that there was strength present who could carry me in my time of need.

After the apostle John had written a lengthy revelation concerning the horrendous times that were about to come upon his readers in a few years, he was personally exhausted about what had just been revealed to him through visions. He was exhausted. So he subsequently fell down before King Jesus after he had dotted the last thoughts of an extremely prophetic dissertation of tribulations through which the early disciples were about to go. John scribbled the last revealed words of King Jesus to all humanity on earth: “He who testified these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly’” (Rv 22:20).

The King wanted to reassure the now exhausted scribe, but also remind His disciples for ages to come, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places … I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself [in my arms], so that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn 14:2,3). John’s response to the King at the end of the book of Revelation was sublimely inspirational. His recording of what he cried out in reference to the presence of King Jesus was inspired to be written for our encouragement in times of social turmoil. After seeing all the graphic visions of judgment, John simply burst out on the isle of Patmos with a statement that has reverberated down through the centuries unto this very day: “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rv 22:20). That response should be continually on our lips in prayer.

In the desperation of our times, we feel the same as John. If the sin and sickness of this world is the way it is going to be until King Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels (2 Th 1:6-9), then we too cry out in prayer, “Come now, Lord Jesus.” Take us up into your arms and take us home to another land. Don’t leave us in a world that is infected with so much sin and sickness. And surely, in due time, this will transpire … better sooner than later. We know that “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God” in order to take us up into His arms for eternal residence in a place that has been prepared just for us (2 Th 4:16). We all, therefore, would respond in chorus with John, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” Don’t leave us behind! I agree with Goldsmith who wrote, “For here forlorn and lost I tread.”

Law of Liberty (1)

LAW OF LIBERTY (1)

It is for the preceding reasons of the previous chapter that the Holy Spirit introduced a new concept into our biblical vocabulary when He spoke of law in reference to Christians. He introduced this new concept when He directed the hand of James to write specifically to some Jewish Christians who were making an effort to justify themselves legally according to their former religiosity under the Jew’s religion. The Spirit wrote: “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues to abide in it, not being a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in his deed” (Js 1:25).

Notice carefully that the Spirit said “doer of the work,” not doer of the law. In another statement He reminded Christians that they were “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ep 2:10). Christians were not created in Christ by works of law in order to continue to justify themselves through good works. It is for this reason that we must take a closer look at the purpose of the “law of Christ” in the life of the Christian. The Christian’s relationship with law is somewhat different than the Jew’s relationship with the Sinai covenant.

When we consider the law, or commandments, John reminds us, “By this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 Jn 2:3). “Whatever we ask, we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 Jn 3:22). “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 Jn 5:3).

Some may assert that there is a contradiction on this matter between Paul, John and then James in reference to the law of liberty. On the contrary, if we do not forget what the Holy Spirit wrote through Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:15, then there is no contradiction. Christians are obedient to the commandments of God because they walk in thanksgiving of the grace of God that was poured out on them through Jesus Christ. Christians are obedient because they are saved by grace, not in order to become saved. If they were to keep the commandments in order to be saved, then they would be seeking an impossibly, for no one can keep the commandments perfectly in order to be saved.

Knowing this is understanding the difference between religion and Christianity. Religionists are seeking to justify themselves before God through the legal and meritorious keeping of the commandments of God. On the other hand, grace-motived disciples of Christ are working Christians because they are responding to the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. Maybe this could be better understood by what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12,13:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed [the commandments of God], not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

The Philippian Christians obeyed because it was God working in them through the power of the gospel of grace. This simply means that the grace of God motivated (“caused”) them to obey the commandments of God. It was not their desire to meritoriously obey in order to earn the right to be Christians. They were already Christians. Because they were already saved by the grace of God, they continued to work in response to the grace that God had poured out upon them through the Lord Jesus. They were doers of the work because Jesus had worked for them at the cross.

When we connect the dots between Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12,13 with what he said in Ephesians 2:10, then everything is clearly understood: “For we are His worksmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” The Philippians were already in Christ because they had been baptized into Christ (Rm 6:3-6; Gl 3:23-26). They had obeyed the gospel in response to the gospel of God’s grace. The same motive for their obedience of the gospel continued to work their lives to obey the commandments of God. John’s point, therefore, is that we manifest our love of God through our obedient response to His grace.

There was nothing meritorious in John’s mind when he wrote concerning obedience to the commandments of God. He simply stated the matter in a different way than how Paul expressed the same thing. If we love God for loving us, then we will respond to all that He would communicate to us concerning how we must conduct our lives. There is nothing meritorious about such obedience. We work because we are saved, not in order to be saved. It was for this reason that John began the very letter from which we have quoted, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). John says that we manifest our love for God by keeping His commandments, but at the same time, we cannot keep the commandments perfectly. This is exactly Paul’s point in writing the books of Romans and Galatians. We are all “cleansed sinners” by God’s grace because we continue to walk in response to His grace. John so said this in the following statement: “If we [Christians] walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).

• Bible authority assumes grace: If this one point is understood, then one can understand the vast difference between the Sinai law that Josiah sought to restore, and the law of liberty that God has established with each Christian through Jesus. Josiah sought to restore a legal obedience to those commandments of the covenant that led to the continued identity of the nation of Israel, as well as Israel’s continued covenant relationship with God as a nation. In order to be preserved as a covenanted nation with God, Israel’s obedience to the Sinai law was mandatory. By reinstituting the commandments of the Sinai covenant, therefore, Josiah restored the nation of Israel to a covenant relationship with God for the remainder of his short life.

But it is different with the law of liberty by which we live as Christians in a covenant with God. Our covenant with God today is individual, not national. When the grace of God was revealed at the cross, “the righteousness of God” was revealed “from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The just will live by faith’” (Rm 1:17). We individually walk by faith, whereas the nation of Israel had to walk by a national commitment to keep the law of their covenant with God. Individual Jews could sin, but their individual sins would not make void the national covenant that they had with God. However, if the nation as a whole sinned, then they were in trouble. Josiah sought to restore the nation from national sin, not necessarily individual sin.

The Holy Spirit used the national sin of Israel to illustrate our individual covenant relationship with God that is based on our faithful walk in response to His righteousness. We see this in Paul’s following statement: “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 Josiah initiated a restoration in Israel, he realized that God was about to unleash judgment on the nation because the people had suppressed the truth in their willingness to follow after their own unrighteousness. The same judgment will occur in our lives individually if we seek to follow after our own unrighteousness in order to live an ungodly life. Israel’s judgment came in time, but ours will occur at the end of time.

We must not forget that ungodly behavior on the part of any individual can never find atonement in our supposed meritorious performance of law, “for all have sinned [individually] and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm 3:23). Therefore, the Holy Spirit asks, “You who make your boast of law [keeping], do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (Rm 2:23). If one would seek to keep the law of God in order to boast in his law-keeping, then he dishonors God who says all have sinned. There is no such thing as establishing ourselves to be righteous before God on the basis of our perfect keeping of God’s law.

No one can keep law perfectly in order to be justified before God through the obedience of any system of law. Christians are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rm 3:24). Therefore, “by [His] grace you are saved through [your] faith, and that not of yourselves [through perfect law-keeping], it is the gift of God” (Ep 2:8). We are simply not justified by “works, lest anyone should boast” (Ep 2:9).

When we speak of the authority of the word of God, therefore, we cannot be referring to a legal justification of ourselves through law keeping. No one can be justified before God on the basis of keeping law perfectly. We are saved by the gospel of God’s grace in spite of our efforts to keep his commandments. “And if by grace,” Paul concluded, “then it is no more by works [of law], otherwise grace is no more grace. [But if is by works, it is no longer grace, otherwise work is no longer work]” (Rm 11:6).

We must be careful, therefore, when we speak concerning the authority of the word of God. The reference to doing things “biblically” can often in the minds of some mean something totally different that what the New Testament explains when one is walking in the word of the Lord. In fact, when some people say they are “biblical” in their obedience, they are possibly working contrary to the grace of God, if not working against the grace of God.

The authority of the word of God does not mean keeping law legally in a perfect manner in order to justify oneself before God. If we come to this conclusion in our relationship with the word of God, then we set aside the grace of God. If we are perfect in obedience, what need do we have of grace? We have become self-righteous, basing our salvation on our supposed perfect obedience to a system of law. Therefore, the affirmation to have Bible authority in all matters of faith cannot mean to legally keep law perfectly in order to justify oneself before God. If we believe such, then we have set aside the gospel of God’s grace. We have become self-righteous in our assertion to be able to keep law in a manner by which we can proclaim our own salvation before God and others.

[Next in series: Sept. 20]

Law of Liberty (2)

• Silence of the Scriptures means freedom: We must be clear concerning what we mean when we seek Bible authority in all matters of faith. Some have misunderstood the following statement concerning this theme: “Speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent.” If one sets aside grace, and subsequently views his relationship with God to be legally established, then he will not understand the meaning of this statement. Neither will he understand that we are saved by grace through faith (Ep 2:8). On the contrary, some will be thinking that we are saved by law through grace, and our faith (trust) in our own meritorious obedience to law.

It is true that we should speak when the Bible says this or that about the will of God. By faith, we seek to obediently follow His instructions. However, when the Bible says nothing about a particular matter, then there is freedom. We thus keep our silence in judging others concerning their unique choices to carry out the will of God in their lives. We keep silence in the matter of choice that each person us has in reference to carrying out the intent of the instructions of God. We are not judges of one another in areas where the Bible gives no instructions.

For example, it is a clear mandate of the word of God to take care of orphans and widows. This is indeed a matter of the will of God in our lives (Js 1:27). This is where the Bible clearly speaks. When Christians care for orphans and widows, therefore, they are implementing in their lives a ministry that has the authority of the word of God. They are walking by faith in the instructions of the word of God to care for orphans and widows. We usually have no problem in understanding this point.

However, how each Christian would fulfill the mandate concerning orphans and widows of the law of liberty is a matter of choice. There is silence concerning how to implement our individual care of orphans and widows. Some Christians may want to take orphans and widows into their own homes. Others may want to support a married couple who is gifted in the ministry of caring for either orphans or widows. How we individually fulfill the mandate to care for orphans and widows is a matter of freedom. The law is to take care of the orphans and widows. The liberty is in how each one of us fulfills this law in our lives. If we are caring for orphans in a certain manner of our own choice, then we cannot make judgments concerning how others may fulfill the same law. In the area of silent, there is freedom. We must always strive to guard one another’s freedom to implement the law of God in our lives.

Having authority in matters of faith, therefore, does not mean that we must have a law for each method of how we carry out in our individual lives that which is required by a clear mandate of the word of God. If we concluded that we must have a scripture (law) for each method of how we carry out in our lives that which is required by a specific law, then we run into problems, if not hypocrisy. For example, suppose one seeks to obey the commandment, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mk 16:15). This is a clear mandate of the word of God. When we go and preach the gospel, we have Mark 16:15 as the authority behind our efforts to carry out our responsibility to preach the gospel.

Now how each one of us goes into all the world is a matter of freedom. Some may go personally, by acquiring a “missionary visa,” boarding a boat or airplane, and then going to a specific country. Others may turn on a computer and go into all the world through the internet. Others may pick up a phone and make a simple phone call to someone with whom they are trying to preach the gospel. We know of one woman who baked bread, and then went to the neighbors in her village, knocked on the doors, and then asked the occupant, “Can I talk to you about the Bread of Life?” When there are no specifics given in reference to accomplishing a Bible command, then there is freedom. Each disciple has the freedom to determine how he or she would go into all the world.*

When we examine some examples in the New Testament, many people become quite confused concerning biblical authority. In fact, some become very inconsistent in their understanding of the word of God. As an example to illustrate the point, there was a time in the first century when there arose a great need among some of the disciples in Jerusalem, especially among those who had traveled to Jerusalem in order to sit at the apostles’ feet to be taught (See At 2:41). Fortunately, these visiting disciples came into an environment where the grace of God had caused a great deal of thanksgiving (2 Co 4:15).

“Now the multitude of those [in Jerusalem] who believed were of one heart and one soul. And no one said that any of the things that he possessed was his own. But they had all things in common” (At 4:32). This was the character of those disciples in Jerusalem who sought to be as Jesus who gave up heaven and came into this world. “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation” (Ph 2:5-7). This is the principle that defines the character of a disciple of Jesus. This is the foundation upon which each Christian carries out the word of Christ in his or her life.

When Jesus saw our spiritual need, He gave up heaven. He gave up being on an equality with God. We must now return to Jerusalem to those who responded to this gospel mission of the Son of God. Luke, the historian, wrote of the Jerusalem disciples, “And great grace was upon them all” (At 4:33). When grace is upon us, marvelous things will happen. This grace will cause us to do those things that are not natural according to the worldly life. In fact, the disciples of Macedonia, “in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality” to contribute to the saints who were afflicted with a famine in Judea a few years after the incident about which we are discussing in Acts 4 (See 2 Co 8:2). The extremity of the grace of God that worked in their hearts was magnified when Paul wrote of the Macedonian disciples: “For I testify that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Co 8:3).

So in Jerusalem in reference to the needy, Luke recorded, “Nor was there any among them who lacked, for as many as were owners of land or houses [in Jerusalem] sold them and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostles’ feet” (At 4:33,34). This is what these disciples did in reference to fulfilling the needs of the needy. This is where the Jerusalem disciples worked in the area of silence, for there are no commands in the New Testament that one must sell his or her house. And if one would sell his house for Jesus, there is no mention of real estate brokers who would sell one’s house. The silence of the Scriptures on how the house is to be sold is in the realm of freedom.

This is an example of how the Jerusalem disciples allowed the grace of God to cause thanksgiving in their hearts. But would this example by which they fulfilled the needs of others be binding on all Christians for all time in reference to giving? Must we all sell our houses because of this example? Add to this what John stated: “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him?” (1 Jn 3:17). Those disciples in Jerusalem saw their brothers in need, and thus they were so loving that they sold their lands and houses in order to carry out their love to take care of those in need. As the Philippian disciples, they worked in the area of the silence of the Scriptures in order to accomplish the principle of loving their brethren.

But we need to go deeper into this point in order to possibly see some of our hypocrisy in reference to how we apply “Bible authority.” For example, we say that we love our brother. However, some will say they cannot give because they have no money. But they will go home to a house that they own. If we seek to have Bible authority in all matters of faith (love), then certainly we should follow the example to sell our houses and lands in order to take care of those brothers we love, but are in need. Before one starts proclaiming an arbitrary principle of “Bible authority,” then he or she should reconsider some of the examples of the New Testament. Simply because we read in our New Testaments how the early Christians decided how they would carry out the principles of commandments of God does not mean that we should respond in the same way. Their examples, therefore, did not become laws for the church. The examples of obedience by the church in the first century did not establish laws for the church throughout the centuries. If this were true, then the church has as much authority to establish law as the word of God. This is exactly what happened to the Jews by the time Jesus came into this world. “The fathers” had established law that the people had to obey (See Mk 7:1-9). Of this situation, Jesus said, “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mk 7:7). We must think about this for a moment.

The preceding thoughts should have by now brought us to a better understanding that the examples of the early Christians only give us illustrations as to how we can respond to the commands of God. The examples in themselves do not constitute any laws. Though the example of the disciples’ selling their houses and lands in Jerusalem in order that they carry out the principle to love one’s brother, such does not become “authority” that we do the same today in order to respond to the law of God according to “biblical authority.” We can do the same, but the example of the early disciples on that particular occasion never became a commandment that should be bound on the church throughout the world.

We must keep in mind that the historical incident of Acts 4 probably took place about three or four years after the events of Acts 2 when many of the disciples first obeyed the gospel. By the time of the need arose in Acts 4, they still owned their houses and lands. Therefore, becoming a Christian did not mean that one had to automatically sell his house or land. There was something behind the selling that is not discussed in Luke’s historical account of the matter. We would also assume that no one sold his house out from under his family, and then began living on the streets as a homeless family.

We would assume, therefore, that those disciples who sold their houses and lands in Acts 4 did so out of choice, not mandate. They had the freedom to sell or keep. Biblical authority in matters of faith, therefore, does not mean to bind where God has not bound, even though an example to carry out a principle of the law of liberty is recorded in the New Testament. If one does not understand this, then he will end up being a hypocrite if he does not sell his own house or lands.

Maybe we need to add some specific examples to illustrate further the preceding. On more than one occasion, we have had people argue that only a Christian can baptize a person into Christ. Since we have examples of only Christians baptizing people in the New Testament, then we assume that we have “authority” for Christians only to baptize people into Christ. But such a position (“doctrine”) is not only “unbiblical,” but also quite impractical. And, maintaining such a belief assumes an erroneous doctrine.

Nowhere in the New Testament is the doctrine of “baptismal authority” taught. If it were, then think of all the confusion, if not questioning this would cause among all those who have been baptized into Christ for the past two thousand years. Think of all the background checking that would have to be made in order to validate those who baptize others, for if one was not himself baptized by a Christian, then his supposed “baptismal authority” would be invalid. If the one who was baptized, was baptized by one who had not been baptized by someone who had not been baptized by a Christian, then his own baptism would not be valid. Anyone whom we would baptize would also be baptized with an invalid baptism, for our baptism was not performed by one who had been baptized by one who had “baptismal authority.” If the one who baptized us, was baptized by someone back in history who was not baptized by a Christian, then we could assume that there would be no valid baptisms today, for everyone who has been baptized throughout history had no idea that the one who baptized our forefathers had been baptized by a Christian. Does this all sound senseless? It does. And so the doctrine of “baptismal authority” is senseless.

We can certainly take this sensible reasoning into another area in reference to baptism in order to emphasize the point that some are quite inconsistent in reference to their understanding of Bible authority. We were recently asked if a woman could baptize someone. Again, many would resort to the fact that we have no example of women baptizing in the New Testament. Nevertheless, some are quick to extend the doctrine of “baptismal authority” to “male baptismal authority.”

We have already stated that if there were an example on these matters, then the example does not establish a law. And because there are no examples on who has the right to baptize another, does not mean that we can make a law where God made no laws. We are under the law of liberty. This means that we have freedom where there is silence on this matter.

Some seem to forget that in obedience to the gospel (baptism), the emphasis in the New Testament is on the one who is baptized, not on the one who does the baptizing. Legalists always get confused on these matters. Their zeal to establish a law in order to have biblical authority moves them into violating that about which Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty [freedom] by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” There are those who seem to be agents of entanglement in many matters where there is silence. In order to satisfy their desire to set aside the grace of God through law-keeping, they are willing to use the silence of the Scriptures in order to bring the disciples into the bondage of their own imagined laws. Where there are examples and silence, they seek to insert law in order that they might boast about being “biblical.” And by inventing a supposed law, they arrogantly claim to have biblical authority in all matters of faith.

Unfortunately, such people are often full of hypocrisy in reference to their legal system of religion. They will bind on the consciences of the disciples their presumptuous “laws,” but will at the same time print and distribute Bibles for which they have no biblical authority. They will board an airplane to go into all the world to preach the gospel, but have no biblical authority for traveling by airplane. They will print and distribute literature for which they have no biblical authority, but at the same time make a judgment concerning one who wants to obey the gospel by a woman doing the baptizing. The truth is always axiomatic that a legalist can never be consistent in reference to his legal religiosity. Legal bondage always blinds. Grace always frees.

So we are reminded again of what the Holy Spirit wrote, “You are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). We are not under law keeping in order to save ourselves. This simply means that we are not looking for some law whereby we can say that we are “biblical.” We are looking for the principles of the law of liberty, knowing that we cannot keep law perfectly in order to save ourselves. The legalist is on a search for law in all matters of obedience, and for this reason, it is difficult for him to understand how he is under grace. Because he is so strict to discover some law in order to self-justify himself before God, he has forgotten that our obedience is a response to the grace of God. For this reason, our obedience is not confined to carrying out a specific law, but gives authority to all that we do in response to the grace of God.

Being under grace means that the silence of the Scriptures on how we implement our response to grace in our lives is a matter of choice. Grace opens the door to freedom in order that we may make our individual choices as to how we would respond to Jesus. It opens the door concerning a multitude of ways and means by which every disciple can express his or her faith. Those who walk by faith are not restricted by law-keeping, but are set free to express their thanksgiving to God for what He did for them through the cross. It is for this reason that grace is good news because it sets us free from the restrictions of our own religious inventions. We have the freedom to sell our houses and lands if we are in the position to do so in order to express our love for our brothers. We have the freedom to keep our houses and bring needy brothers and sisters into our homes. We have the freedom to preach gospel meetings, though such is nowhere found in the New Testament. We have the freedom to print and distribute Bibles, though such is nowhere found in the New Testament. We have the freedom to even build a place of assembly, though such is found nowhere in the New Testament. We have the freedom to have Sunday schools for our children, and Vacation Bible Schools for the community children, though such is found nowhere in the New Testament. We have freedom to have song books, though such is found nowhere in the New Testament. Grace simply results in our freedom to serve God according to all our talents.

If we feel that we must have biblical authority for everything that we do in responding to the grace of God, then we are quite hypocritical when we judge others who do not walk according to our own self-imposed rules. Therefore, our exhortation is that one must be very honest with his or her own beliefs and behavior in reference to these matters. We must always keep in mind that if we seek to approach the gospel as a legal system of law, then we will end of with a religion. And religious people have endless debates with one another as to which group has the most correct systematic theology. Because religious people end up debating one another in reference to all their rules, there is little sense of contentment among strick religionists. We must never forget what someone correctly stated, “Religion pacifies, but never satisfies.”

[End of series.]

Gospel Freedom

What was commendable about Josiah and his restoration was his determination “to walk after the Lord, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book” (2 Kg 23:3). This should be the desire of every disciple of Jesus in reference to restoring simple Christianity. Those who simply want to do what Jesus wants them to do are sincere in their efforts. It is always right to seek a restoration of the commandments of God. However, those who seek restorations are sometimes doing so in the wrong manner, or possibly with the wrong intentions. Their objective is sometimes misleading. Nevertheless, with a Bible in our hands, and the love of God in our hearts, we must always strive to bring ourselves and the people closer to an obedient relationship with God.

Restoration of our lives to the will of Christ is simply Christian in every sense of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This purpose of discipleship was embedded in Paul’s words to the Colossians: “If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above” (Cl 3:1). “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Cl 3:2). Religion originates from this world because it is based on the meritorious performances of man. But if we seek those things that are above, our minds are focused on what information we can receive from God through His inspired word. And if the obsession of our lives is to seek God, then we can be assured that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (Js 1:7). Therefore, when considering the gift of the word of God that has come down to us from the Father of lights, we must “let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak” (Js 1:19). It is the nature of being a disciple of Jesus to listen to the word of God. In other words, discipleship is first about Bible study, for it is only through the Bible we learn about the One we would follow.

• The rise of religion: Whether one is swift to hear the Lord Jesus depends on the religiosity from which he was delivered by the grace of God. We must first understand that all religion is legal oriented. In other words, religions exist because the adherents of each religion give their allegiance through the legal obedience of rites, rituals and ceremonies that define each particular religion. The result of this often sincere legal obedience to that which identifies a person’s particular religion, inherently denominates people from one another. Denominationalism exists, therefore, because religious people adhere to the unique religious doctrines or characteristics that define a particular denomination. It is for this reason that religion is earthly, and in some cases, sensual. In the city of Corinth in the first century, the temple in Corinth was a place of fornication. It was a place to which religious people went to commit fornication in the name of the idol god in which they believed.

In order for each particular adherent to identify the religion of his or her choice, a unique name is often legally assigned to the religious denomination. In order to locate the assembly of each unique denominated religion, buildings are often built and religious ceremonies legally performed within the buildings. Religious performances are carried out within the assembly so that each worshiper has a sense of identity by fulfilling his or her respective duties as a faithful member. When all the acts of performance are completed during an “official” assembly, the assembly is concluded with a “closing prayer” and the adherents go on their way with a sense of satisfaction that they have worshiped God. This is the nature of legal-oriented religion. It is religion that is contrary to the grace of God that was revealed through our Lord Jesus Christ.

If one is the product of such a legal-oriented religion (denomination), then it is often natural for him to bring this view of religious behavior into Christ, wherein he was baptized. This was the problem with some of the early Jewish Christians in the first century. Judaism was a strict legal-oriented religion. Paul referred to this religion as Judaism, or “the Jew’s religion” (Gl 1:14). By the addition of their religious rites, rituals and ceremonies, the scribes and Pharisees had hijacked the faith of the Jews, and thus assumed control of the peoples’ religiosity. But when thousands of Jews were obedient to the gospel of God’s grace, there was an attempt on the part of some Jews to bring their previously legal-oriented religiosity into the fellowship of disciples who had been set free from the bondage of both sin and religion.

This problem in the first century was so prevalent in the early church that the Holy Spirit deemed it necessary to write two letters to the church, which letters would throughout posterity become the constitutions against turning the grace of God into a backslidden religiosity (See Rm & Gl). In fact, when Paul wrote to the Galatians, he said, “I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel” (Gl 1:6). And in reference to morality, there were “ungodly men who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jd 4).

Legal-oriented religious thinking and behavior in the first century was corrupting the true gospel, and thus creating another gospel, which “gospel” was simply another religion. In his final conclusion concerning this matter in his letter to the Galatians, Paul pronounced that those who would turn a gospel response to the grace of God into a meritorious religion had separated themselves from Christ: “You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law [keeping]. You have fallen from grace” (Gl 4:4).

• From law to grace to freedom: Because Paul was formerly so steeped in legal religion, he was the natural choice of the Holy Spirit to write concerning the error of legal religiosity. Paul knew the mentality of being legal oriented in reference to one’s faith. After he obeyed the gospel, however, it took him some time to readjust his thinking. After his baptism in Damascus, he subsequently went into Arabia, back to Damascus, and then after three years he went to his home country (Gl 1:17). For five to seven years he worked himself out of the error of his past legal-oriented religious thinking and behavior. It was this amount of time before his first call to preach the gospel to the world eventually came. After he had made the transition from law to grace, it was time for the Holy Spirit to use him to preach the gospel of grace to the Jews throughout the ancient world.

The Holy Spirit sent Barnabas to Tarsus in order to fetch Paul for the great ministry of preaching gospel of freedom to all those who were in the bondage of legal religiosity (See At 11:25,26). Once Peter brought Paul (Saul) to Antioch in order to enjoy the fellowship of Gentile brethren who were uncircumcised, it was time for the Holy Spirit to send Paul on a mission from synagogue to synagogue to preach the gospel that the Jews were no longer in the bondage of legally working for their salvation. It was time to proclaim that they no longer needed to offer meritorious sacrifices for their sins. They needed only to give themselves over to the sacrificed Lamb of God who had offered Himself once and for all time for the sins of the world (Hb 7:26,27).

• Deliverance from perfect law-keeping: It was the Holy Spirit, through Paul, who wrote the profound statement,By works of law no flesh will be justified in His sight (Rm 3:20). This liberating statement was made in reference to being set free from meritorious law keeping in an attempt to save oneself. It is a statement that is totally contrary to religion.

There is a significant difference between what Josiah reinstituted and that under which Christians are now called to live today. Josiah sought to reinstitute legal obedience to the commandments of God in order to preserve the heritage of national Israel. His motivation was not a response to grace, but a realization that obedience to the commandments of the covenant would bring the Israelites back into honoring the covenant that God had established with them at Mount Sinai.

The times of refreshing that now come from the present of the Lord is a restoration to the gospel of God’s grace (At 3:19). Our covenant with God does not depend on our perfect obedience to a system of commandments. It is founded on the grace of God. Unless we understand this difference between the restoration of Josiah and the grace of God under which we now live, we will continue to change the law of the covenant under which we now live into a legal religion of obedience to statutes. We will change the law of Christ into a meritorious system of obedience by which we will seek to justify ourselves before God. And, we will not be able to understand what the Holy Spirit said in Romans 3:20.

Once the early Jewish disciples saw the difference between meritorious law keeping and grace, they in mass were obedient to the gospel in order to come into the new covenant. They realized that it was by the grace of God that Jesus was lifted up on the cross, and thus it was only natural for them to respond to this grace (See Jn 3:14). In fact, the formerly Jewish Peter and Paul were even drawn out of their legal system of religion when they discovered the difference between meritorious law keeping and grace. Paul later said to Peter,

“Knowing that a man is not justified by [meritorious] works of law [specifically, the Sinai law], but by the faith of Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by [the meritorious] works of law, for by [meritorious] works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gl 2:16).

2 Corinthians 4:15 was written on the background of the preceding truth of what inspired both Paul and Peter to leave the law-keeping religion of Judaism in order to respond to grace: “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.”

There is no difficultly in understanding the personal testimony that Paul wrote to the Galatians, and the legal restoration of the law of the covenant that Josiah sought to restore. The difference between Josiah’s restoration and our call for restoration today from legal religiosity, is that our call is based on grace. If we understand that one cannot keep any law perfectly in order to save himself, then grace abounds. The fact is that no one can keep perfectly any commandment that God may enjoin on us today as His people. This is true because our obedience is always imperfect. As under the Sinai law, so it is true today. “For we have,” wrote Paul, “proved that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin” (Rm 3:9). The reason for this is that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rm 3:10). If we seek to live by a supposed perfect keeping of law, then the law becomes our signature FOR death. Therefore, we must remember that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death” (Rm 8:2). Grace has freed us from the death that comes when we break the law (Rm 6:23).

[Next in series: Sept. 16]

Radical Restoration (3)

RADICAL RESTORATION (3)

• We must put away those things that remind us of past religious rites, rituals and ceremonies that led us astray. Josiah commanded the religious leaders “to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the Asherah, and for all the hosts of heaven” (2 Kg 23:4). These idolatrous articles were taken outside Jerusalem and burned in the fields of the Kidron Valley. Josiah knew that if there were to be a true and lasting restoration, then everything that reminded the people of their former religious ways had to be destroyed.

This is exactly what Paul did in putting away all the ways of Judaism out of his life in order to be a Christian only (See Gl 1:13). It was difficult for some of the first Jewish Christians to do this in reference to the rite of circumcision. They had the right to continue with circumcision as a matter of social custom. But it could no longer be bound as a religious law on the Gentiles as it was under the Sinai covenant. Unfortunately, some of the Jewish Christians continued to make this religious rite a condition for salvation (See At 15:1). They thus sought to bring the Gentile disciples into the bondage of being circumcised (See Gl 5:1). But when such was attempted in the presence of Paul, he refused to allow this religious rite of the past to be bound as a matter of salvation on those Gentiles who were in his company (Gl 2:3).

There were other religious customs of the times that were often bound on the early Christians. But Paul wrote a sweeping indictment against all such religious rites, rituals and ceremonies being bound on the consciences of the early disciples:

“Therefore, let no one judge you in food or in drink, or in respect to a festival, or of a new moon, or of sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come. But the body is of Christ. Let no man disqualify you of your reward by delighting in false humility and the worship of angels, intruding into those things that he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (Cl 2:16-18).

In reference to the eating of certain meats as a religious rite, Paul warned the new disciples in Rome, “Do not let him who eats [meat with a religious sentiment] despise him who does not eat. And do not let him who does not eat [meat with a religious sentiment] judge him who eats, for God has received him” (Rm 14:3). In writing this mandate to both Jews and Gentiles, all connotations concerning the eating of certain foods religiously must be “taken outside the city and burned,” just as Josiah took all the idols with religious connotations outside Jerusalem and burned. Jesus said, “Do you not understand that whatever thing from outside that enters into the man, it cannot defile him, because it does not enter into his heart, but into the stomach, and is eliminated? (Jesus thus declared all foods clean)” (Mk 7:18,19).

• Dismiss those religious leaders who refuse to submit to the authority of the word of God. Josiah “then put down the idolatrous priests” (2 Kg 23:5). Not all the priests accepted the invitation for the general restoration meeting in Jerusalem. These were those religious leaders in the community who led the people to burn incense to Baal. These included astrologers who burned incense “to the sun and to the moon and to the planets, and to all the hosts of heaven” (2 Kg 23:5). These religious leaders refused to attend Josiah’s meeting and call for a restoration to the authority of the word of God.

Regardless of their refusal to join in the restoration movement, Josiah brought the Asherah idol out of the temple and “burned it at the Brook Kidron and beat it into powder” (2 Kg 23:6). He broke down the houses wherein sexual immorality was performed as a religious act (2 Kg 23:7). He brought the leaders of this backslidden religiosity out of the cities of Judah, and then defiled the places wherein and whereupon they practiced their religion (2 Kg 23:8).

Regardless of his zealous efforts, not all the idolatrous priests showed up in Jerusalem for the general call for restoration. On the contrary, some remained in their “high places” and continued to rebel against any efforts to restore Israel to the authority of the word of God (2 Kg 23:9). It would be these religious leaders who would eventually lead the people back into worshiping Baal and the Asherah after Josiah died. Nevertheless, a call must be made to them to join in the effort to restore the authority of the word of God. Even if they do not show up, the movement must be continued by those who seek to preach the word of God.

Josiah continued his campaign for restoration throughout the land of Palestine regardless of the opposition of some of the backslidden prophets and priests who prized their positions more than the word of God (See 2 Kg 23:10-14). However, anything that reminded the people of their wayward religiosity, Josiah destroyed. Any article that they used to practice their idolatrous religiosity, was destroyed.

In order to implement a restoration, all those things that would encourage one to return to his or her former religiosity must be put away. What Josiah knew, and what we must understand, is that religious people often attach religious significance to material things of this world. In order to implement a true repentance from the religious ways of the past, therefore, these things must be put away. Any idolized article that would discourage us from totally focusing on God and His word, must be taken out of our lives.

• Disfellowship those leaders who are not committed to the restoration of the people to the authority of the word of God. We can be thankful that we do not live under the Sinai law that instructed Israel to stone those prophets who stood up and preached contrary to the word of God. Josiah had read in the discovered “book,” “You will not hearken to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams” (Dt 13:3). In fact, for the education of the people concerning the mandates of the law, he continued to read unto Deuteronomy 18: “But the prophet who will presume to speak a word in My name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who will speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet will die” (Dt 18:20).

Josiah “killed all the priests of the high places who were there on the altars” (2 Kg 23:20). Josiah obeyed to “the letter of the law” that which was necessary in order to implement a restoration to the commandments of the Lord. Those priests and prophets who were leading the people with their own words that were contrary to the revealed word of God, had to go.

It was a common practice of some who were condemned to death to plead for life while clinging to the altar. But those priests who did not show up in Jerusalem at the initial call of the king, were condemned to death because of their refusal to restore obedience to the Sinai law. They had clung to their own altars of Baal in order to be spared. But the king sent the executioners to their cities while they held on to the altars to Baal that they had build. As Elijah had initiated a restoration by putting to death the Baal and Asherah prophets, so Josiah did likewise. He burned their bones, and then returned to Jerusalem (2 Kg 23:20).

Christians have no authority to do such today simply because the new covenant we have with God is far different than the covenant that God established with the nation of Israel. Israel’s covenant with God, and our covenant we have with Him through our obedience to the gospel, were established for different purposes.

Israel was called out of the nations of the world through Abraham in order to preserve a segment of society for the coming of the Savior of the world. God instilled within the law of the Sinai covenant that He made with Israel some unique laws that would preserve the identity of Israel until the Messiah came into the world. Some of these laws, as the execution of those who worked against the preserving commandments of the covenant, were embedded in the Sinai law for the purpose of preserving the identity of Israel. Josiah and Elijah’s execution of the Baal and Asherah prophets was for the purpose of preserving the identity and faith of Israel until the coming of the Blessing that was promised to Abraham (See Gn 12:1-3). If no identity of the seed of Abraham could be made at the time the Blessing came into the world, then we could not know if the promise of God to Abraham had been fulfilled (See Gn 12:1-3).

• Celebrate the restoration. After all the efforts to cleanse the land and people of idolatry, Josiah then called for a celebration: “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God as it is written in the book of this covenant” (2 Kg 23:21). And “surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah” (2 Kg 23:22).

Christians today have the opportunity to celebrate the times of refreshing that have come from the Lord. They can do so every first day of the week as they surround the Lord’s Supper. As the Passover was reinstituted by Josiah to celebrate the restoration of the commandments of the Sinai covenant, so also Christians gather around the Supper to celebrate their deliverance from the religious deceptions of their past. They have been delivered from the bondage of their past religiosity (See Gl 5:1). They have been set free in Christ. When Christians eat and drink in the Supper, they are celebrating their freedom from religion that was made possible by the cross and their obedience to the gospel.

[The final chapter is coming.]

Radical Restoration (2)

• Reaffirm the authority of the word of God. King Josiah then “read in the ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of Lord” (2 Kg 23:2). When Paul had called the Ephesian church leaders together, he reminded them, “I kept nothing back that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house” (At 20:20). He reminded the elders that he had taught them “all the counsel of God” (At 20:27). When a restoration to the word of God is to be implemented in order to lead people out of religion and into a word-based faith, then the center focus of the restoration must be on the word of God. A restoration will never occur when people seek to hang on to those traditions of the past that cause division within the restoration.

When Josiah had gathered the people together, he took a great deal of time reading the “Bible” to the people concerning the covenant that God had established with Israel. Therefore, the first point on the agenda of the meeting was the word of God, not the opinions and speculations of the religious leaders. It was not a time for heartwarming sermons from the mouths of feel-good preachers. It was a time for restoration of the word of God, and in order to initiate such a restoration, total focus had to be on the word of God.

Once focus has been placed on the word of God, then it is a time for exhortations. It is a time “to exhort and refute those who contradict” the word of God (Ti 1:9). This can be done only when it is pointed out clearly in the word of God where some have contradicted the word. And generally, those who contradict are those who seek to bind traditions, beliefs and religious customs on the people of God that are not bound in His word. This was the case in reference to the apostate Israel whom Josiah sought to restore. The Baal prophets had bound on the people those things that had no authority in the word of God. They had brought the people into the bondage of beliefs and behavior that were based on their own speculations and opinions.

• Leaders must make a personal covenant (commitment) to obey the word of God and to initiate a restoration. “Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord to walk after the Lord, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book” (2 Kg 23:3). This was a phenomenal commitment that was made by the young king. There had to be a total commitment on the part of those who would lead in the restoration. Josiah was willing to make that commitment first.

But if a radical restoration is to be accomplished, it cannot be the plan of one or two dedicated individuals. The people as a whole must take ownership of the effort. Since it is the people who must turn from their backslidden ways, then it is the people who must make a decision to commit to restoring the word of God as the center of our focus for building faith.

Josiah took the lead by committing himself to the restoration of the authority of the word of God. This meant that his leadership in restoration could be validated only insofar as he himself dedicated himself to be obedient. This meant that all his former obedience to the religious rites, rituals and ceremonies of the past had to be sacrificed for obedience to the law of the book that was discovered in the temple. The people must have an example of obedience, and Josiah was willing to giver that example. These were the instructions that were given by Peter to those elders he exhorted to lead by example (1 Pt 5:3). This was the mandate that Jesus commissioned His disciples to live: “And you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk 12:30).

When the early disciples were obedient to the gospel, their obedience meant that they had to walk away from their former religious traditions and heritage. If there is no commitment to study the word of God anew without the prejudice of our former religious traditions, then we will never arrive at a restoration to the authority of God in matters of faith. If the word of God is to be the foundation of our faith, then all religious traditions that would hinder our total commitment to the authority of the word of God must be sacrificed. Radical restoraton often calls on one to walk away from the religious heritage of his fathers.

At one time during His ministry, some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day complained to Jesus, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” (Mt 15:2). By this time in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples had learned enough from Jesus, that they knew the difference between the religious traditions of the established religion of the day and the authority of Jesus in their lives. Therefore, if the leaders do not take the lead in committing themselves to the authority of the word of Christ as did Jesus’ disciples, then they will continually complain against those who would initiate a radical restoration. It was for this reason that Josiah first called together the elders and read in their ears the law of God. He knew that if he could not get the elders to join in the restoration, then those who would personally go on a mission to restore the word of God would continually be hindered by the religious leaders in the community.

Since it is usually the elders of the religious community who are often stuck in maintaining the traditions of the fathers, then it is they who are often the last to realize that they have no Bible authority for their religious traditions. These are often those who need the exhortation that Jesus gave to those religious leaders who came to Him with a complaint concerning the disciples’ failure to obey the religious traditions of the fathers. “But in vain do they worship Me,” Jesus judged these religious leaders, for they are “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mt 15:9). This statement reminds us of the exhortation that Paul wrote to the Colossian disciples: “Beware lest anyone take you captive through philosophy and vain deceive according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Cl 2:8). When Jesus came into the world of Judaism, He came into a religious environment that had been taken captive by the scribes and Pharisees. These were those religious leaders who had backslidden from the authority of the word of God in order to promote the doctrines and commandments of the fathers.

What is so outstanding about the apostle Paul in these matters is the fact that he was willing to walk away from his former obedience to the traditions of his forefathers in order to obey and preach the gospel. He wrote an informative reminder to the Galatian disciples who were being tempted to fall back under the legal religiosity of Judaism which he left: “I advanced in Judaism above many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Gl 1:14). Though he was so zealous in his former Jewish religiosity, he walked away from power, pomp, purse and pride in order to be a humble servant of Jesus Christ. He wrote in reference to his commitment, “I have been crucified with Christ. And it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gl 2:20). Sometimes one must demonstrate that Christ lives in him by his walk away from the religious heritage of his fathers.

If one is not willing to sacrifice the religious traditions of his former religion, then he or she will find it very difficult to initiate in his or her personal life a restoration to the word of God. Josiah and Paul were willing to make the commitment and sacrifice. If one would lead in a restoration, therefore, he or she must stand before the people and be willing to commitment to the authority of the word of God in all matters of faith. This will often mean that the religious traditions that were handed down from our fathers must fall by the wayside in order that the gospel be the focus of our lives, and that in all matters of faith the word of God our final authority in matters of faith. This was the choice that Paul made in his life. In fact, he stated to those in Galatia who were trying to hold on to their past religious way of life, “For if I still pleased men, I would not be the bondservant of Christ” (Gl 1:10). In other words, if Paul tried to continue in the backslidden religion of Judaism in which he enjoyed great position and pomp, then he would not be following Christ.

• The people must make a personal covenant (commitment) to initiate a restoration. At the beginning of Josiah’s restoration, not only did he as the king make a personal commitment to follow after the word of God, but also all the people had to be “committed to the covenant” (2 Kg 23:3). If there is no commitment on the part of all the people to establish the word of God as the foundation of their faith, then the people will continue to be religious, but there will be no restoration. Their religiosity will conintue to be based on the traditions of the fathers and the pronouncements of the preachers who seek to sustain the accepted religious traditions for their own benefit. There will be a continual conflict between those who are commited to a restoration and those who seek to continue the heritage of the religion.

A restoration movement is such because the majority of the people have committed themselves to the authority of the word of God. There can be no restoration when only certain leaders commit themselves to the effort. The people must also follow. This was what happened in the first century. After the mass Pentecost conversion of A.D. 30 in Jerusalem, not too long afterwards Peter addressed a community of Jews in the same city by exhorting, “Repent and be converted so that your sins may be blotted out, in order that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (At 3:19). Peter made this statement to those who were very religious. But he called on these very religious people to repent. If there is no repentance on the part of religious people as a whole, then there will be no times of restoration.

This is true because religious people have a heart for God. However, they are misguided in their religion by following after the religious traditions of their fathers. Their faith, therefore, is vain because it is not based on the word of Christ. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17). If our faith has not come to us by our study of the word of Christ, then it is a religiously vain faith. Muslims and Hindus have a strong faith, but their faith is vain because it does not find its origin in the word of Christ.

We must repent of our “religious faithfulness” in order that God “may send Christ Jesus, who was before appointed” to deliver us from our own misguided religiosity (At 3:20). Peter urged his religiously faithful Jews to repent in view of “the times of restoration of all things that God” had “spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets” (At 3:21).

The gospel was the message of the apostles. This was the power through which God drew all people unto Him in order that a new covenant be established between the repentant and God. “Jesus made a guarantee of a better covenant” through His atoning sacrifice on the cross (Hb 7:23). For this reason, He will be our high priest forever (Hb 7:26-28). It is because of this that all people who would seek a refreshing relationship with God today must submit to the call and obedience of the gospel. This is the good news about which all the prophets spoke that was revealed in the generation of the Jews to which the apostles first preached (See 1 Pt 1:10-12).

[Next in series: Sept. 10]

Radical Restoration (1)

Josiah sought to initiate a religious paradigm shift in the society of Israel. Unfortunately, the backslidden religiosity of the people was so embedded in the culture of the people that it was not possible from him to change their God-ordained destiny. After all his efforts to turn the people from their destiny that was pronounced in the book that was discovered in the repairs of the temple, God had already consigned Judah to captivity. After all his efforts to shift the religious paradigm of Israel, “the Lord said, ‘I will remove Judah also out of My sight as I have removed Israel [the northern kingdom]’ (2 Kg 23:27). Therefore, regardless of Josiah’s radical restoration, “the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger was kindled against Judah” (2 Kg 23:26). Their captivity was God’s answer to their continual backsliding: “Your own wickedness will correct you and your backslidings will reprove you” (Jr 2:19; see Jr 3:6,8,11; 5:6).

We learn a great deal from Josiah’s efforts to initiate a religious paradigm shift in Judah. Sometimes religious paradigm shifts are impossible to accomplish because the wayward religious beliefs and behavior of the people are so embedded in the culture hat it is impossible to accomplishing any long-lasting restoration to the authority of the word of God. This indeed can be a discouraging lesson. However, it is necessary to understand this point lest we are discouraged by our own efforts to change the religious culture of a people who have moved so far away from the authority of the word of God that the people cannot, because they will not, turn to the Lord. When a religious people forsake the Bible as the foundation of their faith, it is not possible to restore them to the authority of the Bible.

Our hearts and desires may be as Josiah: “Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses. Neither after him arose there any like him” (2 Kg 23:25). This may be the faithful character of a gospel preacher who has set his heart to restore the people to the word of God. Since we are to learn from the things that are recorded in the Old Testament (Rm 15:4; 1 Co 10:11), then it would be beneficial that we learn from Josiah’s restoration efforts to bring the people back to the commandments of the Sinai covenant. At least we must understand the radical measures that were necessary for him to take in order to restore his generation to the authority of the word of God.

The statement “there was no king like him” was made of him because he carried out radical measures in order to at least prolong Israel a few more years. After his death, however, the people of God would suffer their assigned captivity for their backsliding. The following measures that Josiah took, therefore, give us some guidelines concerning what is necessary to at least turn the religious behavior of the people of our generation again to the authority of the word of God:

• Call together the religious leaders. “Then the king sent and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Kg 23:1). In order to initiate a restoration to the authority of the word of God, Josiah started at the top. He gathered together those whose responsibility it was to spiritually lead the people. When the apostle Paul made his last appeal to the churches of Asia, he did something that was similar. “So from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the presbyters [elders] of the church” (At 20:17). He reminded them, “I have not shunned to declare to you all the counsel of God” (At 20:27). And then he admonished them, “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock” (At 20:28). He warned, “For I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock” (At 20:29). Paul knew that backsliding was coming. Therefore, he took the opportunity to forewarn the elders of the church to always be on the lookout for wayward people and their teaching. In order to give the elders this warning, he called them together in Miletus.

God has always instituted shepherds (elders) among His people, which shepherds are to do the work to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Pt 5:2). When the flock goes astray, therefore, it is the fault of shepherds who did not assume their responsibility to teach the word of God. Every shepherd must hold “fast the faithful word as he has been taught, so that he may be able by sound teaching both to exhort and refute those who contradict” (Ti 1:9). The reason that elders must be admonished to carry out their responsibility of teaching the word of God is to guard against apostasy. “For there are many rebellious and idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped” (Ti 1:10,11).

Therefore, in order to initiate a restoration to the authority of the word of God, those who have the responsibility to lead the people spiritually through the teaching of the world of God must first be reminded of this responsibility. This is not a meeting specifically of the preachers. It is a meeting of the elders whose specific responsibility it is to teach the people the word of God. Preachers who are not elders may be in such a meeting, but they are not the primary focus of the meeting.

Unfortunately, too many calls for restoration have been initiated by calling together those whose financial well-being depends on their salaries from the backslidden people. Add to this the prestige of the preachers, whose prestige and positions could be endangered if a radical restoration were initiated. If restorations are sought to be initiated by the preachers, then a call for the preachers to come together reveals that the church has backslidden from the leadership of the elders. The church has gone astray by shifting the primary responsibility for teaching the word of God from the elders to the preachers. It is of concern to notice how Josiah dealt with this matter in the radical restoration of 2 Kings 23.

• Call a general meeting of all the people. “The king [Josiah] … and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem … the priest and the prophets and all the people” went to a specific location for a meeting (2 Kg 23:2). When there was to be a discussion concerning spiritual matters in the early church, not only were the elders of the church called together, but also the apostles, elders and the whole church. At the time, it was determined that Paul, Barnabas, and other members of the church “should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning” the problem of Jewish legalism (At 15:2).

Meetings, therefore, should be called beyond the meeting of the elders. Everyone must be informed that a radical restoration must be initiated among all the people. The people must be informed that it is time to return to the word of God as the center of reference of our faith.

“Now when they came to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and elders” (At 20:3). After much discussion concerning the prevailing problem that was discussed, “It pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church” to send representatives out among the greater assembly of the disciples throughout the Roman world in order to inform the members concerning matters that were discussed in Jerusalem (At 15:22). This meeting of the church started with a meeting with the elders and apostles, but it was eventually extended to the whole church. Meetings that are called in order to initiate restorations to the authority of the word of God must first be called by those whose responsibility it is the teach the word of God to the people. But eventually, all the people must be called in order to take ownership of the restoration.

It is significant to note that the preachers were called for the initial Jerusalem meeting, but they were called only as a part of “the whole church.” There was no mention of them as a special group who came together to make arbitrary decisions for the church. The preachers had no authority to decide for the church those things that were matters of faith. All authority for such matters rests only in the word of God. In the call of the Jerusalem meeting, this specific group would be the apostles and elders. The preachers, or evangelists, were only included in the phrase, “the whole church.”

Whenever preachers are elevated to be a specific group of authorities who are separate from the “whole church,” then they have been elevated to a position above the church. This exaltation of preachers is nowhere found in the New Testament. When the preachers are so exalted, it is often these who are the problem, which was the case in the restoration that Josiah initiated. This was the leading group—the Baal prophets—whom Elijah had to eradicate from Israel during his restoration movement (See 1 Kg 18:17-46).

[Next in series: Sept. 7]

The Futile Restoration

Until those gates of Jerusalem were eventually crashed open by the invading army of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., we need to go back a few years to witness one of God’s last efforts to preserve a remnant of His people. Solomon began to build the temple 480 years after the children of Israel came out of Egyptian captivity (1 Kg 6:1). He built the temple in Jerusalem in the first part of his forty-year reign. Since he died in 930 B.C., we can calculate that the temple was completed around 963 B.C., since it took him seven years to complete (1 Kg 6:38).

One can read all the construction matters concerning both the house of Solomon and the temple in 1 Kings 6 & 7. But one thing that is not said in all the description of the construction is what some dedicated priest, or priests, did in reference to written copies of the law of God. We might assume that the deed of these priests was not made known to others. However, it could have been made known to others, but after all those who had built the temple eventually died, the deed of these dedicated priests was long forgotten.

The priests of Solomon’s era knew the Israelites. They knew how stubborn and stiffnecked they were in reference to their beliefs. What inspired these priests was that they believed all that Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 27 over five centuries before. Moses had written concerning the curses that God would bring on Israel if the people forgot His word. In the construction of the temple, therefore, these priests buried a “time capsule” somewhere in the structure of the temple.

A time capsule is made up of documents and artifacts that are placed in a container. The container is then buried for future generations to discover. In this case, the unknown priest, or priests, put a copy of the law of Moses in a time capsule for future generations to discover. They then buried the capsule somewhere in the structure of the temple where it could possibly be discovered by someone far in the future. In this case, it was discovered over 300 years later during the reign of King Josiah (See 2 Kg 22).

It occurred in the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah that the king commissioned that repairs should be made to the house of the Lord (2 Kg 22:3-7). But during these repairs, Hilkiah, the high priest at the time, said, “I have found the book [scroll] of the law in the house of the Lord” (2 Kg 22:8). The discovered book was subsequently delivered to King Josiah. Shaphan the scribe then read the curses of the book that would come upon Israel if they turned from the law of the Lord—he surely read the text of Deuteronomy 27. What happened next reveals the sincerity of a young king who sought to be obedient to the word of the Lord: “Now it came to pass when the king had heard the words of the book of the law that he tore his clothes” (2 Kg 22:11). And from that time, Josiah initiated a great restoration throughout all Judah. Josiah immediately commanded,

“Go. Inquire of the Lord for Me and for the people and for all Judah concerning the words of this book that is found, for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us because our fathers have not harkened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Kg 22:13).

When people who truly fear God discover that which is the revealed truth of God, they will respond with fear and repentance. Those religionists who are satisfied with their man-made religiosity will offer excuses, or simply dismiss what they learn through Bible study by exalting their religious heritage above the word of God. Some will even do as Jehudi who cut the “Bible” in pieces once it was read to him (Jr 36:23). He even threw the “Bible” in a fire and burned it.

For the sincere heart of Josiah, however, what the book said was a terrifying message. Though Josiah was a good king, and tried to do the best he could with what he knew, it was not good enough when he read the book. Though he was doing the best he could with what he believed, he still realized that he had fallen far short of what God intended for him and all Israel to be. What they were doing religiously was not authorized by “the words of this book.” They were religiously performing and living outside the authority of the word of God.

The problem with their faith was that they had first lost the “Bible,” and then their fathers had not “harkened [obeyed] to the words of this book.” And since the fathers lived outside the authority of the word of God, they passed on to their children a religious heritage that found no validation in the law of God. The same is true of millions today. Many have a form of “Christianity,” but if they are functioning outside the authority of the written word of God, then they are doomed.

One may feel good about his or her religion. One may come away from inspiring assemblies with a feeling of contentment because one has meritoriously fulfilled his or her desires and poured out one’s heart. But we must be honest with ourselves. If in the worship of our hearts we do not bow down to God according to His word, then our worship is vain. We are reminded of what Jesus said in John 4:23: “But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him.”

We are also reminded of the vanity of ceremonial worship acts that are performed by some in order to manifest a presumed true worship. In reference to these meritorious acts of worship, Paul warned, “Beware lest anyone take you captive through philosophy and vain deceit according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, but not according to Christ” (Cl 2:8). “All these concern things that perish with the using,” Paul continued, “after the commandments an doctrines of men” (Cl 2:22). What is so common today is that people often worship God according their own worship performances, but not according to what God desires from a repentant and thankful heart (See 2 Co 4:15). Instead of worshiping God in gratitude for the gospel of His Son, they come together to see what they can get out of worship.

The problem with the generation in which Josiah lived was that the people were worshiping Baal according to their own self-righteous inventions of worship. Paul explained precisely what their problem was: “For they [Israel] being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rm 10:3). This is about as clear as it can be stated.

When religious people become ignorant of the word of God, they will continue to worship, but they will worship according to their own inventions. They will consider themselves righteous because they have meritoriously obeyed their own religious rites, rituals and ceremonies. Some will consider themselves self-righteous because they have faithfully performed certain acts of worship on Sunday morning that they have supposedly proved to be “truth worship” by proof text of Scritpure. But such legal worship is self-righteous because the performer has led himself to believe that once all the acts of worship have been meritoriously performed, then one has worshiped God. The problem is that such worship is meritorious, and thus self-righteous. It is not worship that is caused by the grace of God (See 2 Co 4:15).

Self-righteous people usually do not worship God according to His righteousness. They usually do not worship in response to what God has done for them through the cross, but what they meritoriously perform for Him according to His supposed legal acts of worship. And then, those who are ignorant of the word of God never know if their worship is acceptable to God. Most religious people can be found in the following statement that Jesus made to some very religious people: “In vain they worship Me, teaching as [religious] doctrines the commandments of men” (Mk 7:7).

So we would link Hosea 4:6 with Romans 10:2, and thus define where Josiah was religiously before the discovery of the “book,” as well as our generation of many religionists today. Paul wrote, “For I testify to them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rm 10:2). When a religious person discards his or her study of the Scriptures, it is then that they are in trouble. They may display a zeal for the Lord on Sunday morning, or doing many wonderful works (Mt 7:22), but in their ignorance of the word of God, their worship service is not according to knowledge. Their worship is not a response to what God seeks because it is a self-righteous worship that often focuses more on the needs of the worshiper than what God desires.

We might add what Paul said to some religious people in the city of Athens: “The times of this ignorance God has overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent” (At 17:30). Those who were mandated to repent in this statement were religious people. They were idolaters, but they were religious, just as the idolatrous Israelites whom God sent into captivity. Simply because one is religious does not assume that that person is in a covenant relationship with God. When Paul made the preceding statement to the religionists in Athens, there were other religious people throughout the world. But because they had not obeyed the gospel, they were not in a covenant relationship with God.

There is something inspiring about the religious nature of Josiah that should encourage us. Josiah was only eight years old when he was anointed king of Judah (2 Kg 22:1). It is recorded of him, “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kg 22:2). Keep in mind that by the time of Josiah’s reign, there was no copy of the law throughout Judah for him to study and obey. But the text of this account continues to explain, “And he walked in all the ways of David his father and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kg 22:2). That which he did was considered right in the sight of God because he walked according to “all the ways of David,” not according to a written law that he had in his hands. He assumed that David followed the commandments of God, and thus he walked according to the religious heritage of David. The striking lesson that we learn from this is the fact that if the fathers leave no religious heritage for their descendants to follow, then civilization in the long term is doomed (See Gn 6:5).

What is interesting to note is that “King David his father” lived over 300 years before Josiah was born. When David was alive, the nation of Israel still had a copy of the law of God, which law David obediently followed. After David died, a copy of this law was made and hidden in a time capsule in the construction of the temple that was built by Solomon, David’s son. Those righteous kings who lived three centuries before Josiah had enough respect for the word of God that they took measures during the reign of Solomon to preserve a copy of the law for future generations. According to what God revealed in Deuteronomy, they knew that the kings of Israel would eventually become evil in the years to come.

And then one day some men in the reconstruction of the temple reaped the reward of those who had enough foresight to make sure that the “Bible” was preserved for their descendants. Respect for the law was the legacy of David, and this was the reason why the 2 Kings report speaks of the young King Josiah doing that which was right. Without a copy of the law, Josiah at least followed in the obedient relationship that David had with God. If religious leaders want to do that which is right today, they too need to find a copy of the Bible, tear their clothes in repentance as did Josiah, and then get to work preaching the word of God to those who would hear them and respond as Josiah.

Nevertheless, the story of Josiah and his restoration did not have a happy ending. Fortunately, because Josiah torn his clothes in repentance and cried out before God because of the sins of the people, God promised that personally he would have a happy ending: “I will gather you to your fathers and you will be gathered into your grave in peace. And your eyes will not see all the calamity that I will bring on this place” (2 Kg 22:20; see 23:25).

Unfortunately, Josiah was killed in a battle with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. The people then took Jehoahaz, a son of Josiah, who was not God-anointed, and made him the king of Judah. But Jehoahaz “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kg 23:32). Jehoahaz was subsequently taken captive by Pharaoh Neco into Egypt. The Pharaoh then anointed as king of Judah, Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah. But Jehoiakim “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kg 23:37). And then came Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to take the remaining Israelites in Palestine into captivity (2 Kg 24). This was the end of Israel’s existence as an independent people in Palestine. From this time on, Palestine would always be controlled by foreign powers.

Unfortunately, the zealous efforts to restore Israel to the authority of the word of God by Josiah did not last. His efforts were futile because the sins of the fathers had already been embedded in the social behavior of the people. Once the influence of Josiah was gone, the people reverted back to the religious heritage that was handed down to them by their backslidden fathers who did not know the law of God. Their wayward fathers had no fear of the word of God. They were as Jeremiah wrote of them: “Yet the king [Jehoiakim] and all his servants who heard all these words were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments” (Jr 36:24).

It is incumbent on those who love the word of God to make a judgment concerning the people among whom they minister the word. They must determine if the people have gone too far away from a fear of God that they are unable to tear their clothes in repentance, and return to the authority of the word of God. God does not bind on His people futile efforts to preach to those who have hardened their hearts against Him.

Nowhere in the New Testament is it bound on the people of God to keep preaching the gospel to those who have no inclination to be responsive to the gospel. Jesus forewarned His disciples of this matter before He sent them forth with the message of the gospel: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you in pieces” (Mt 7:6).

It seems that this method of evangelism is exactly what Paul practiced on different occasions on his mission to preach the gospel to the world. For example, when Paul and Barnabas came to the synagogue of the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia, there were Jews in the city who “were filled with envy. And contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed those things that were spoken by Paul” (At 13:25). But then Paul and Barnabas perceived those who were hardened against the message of the gospel, they said to the hardened, “It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (At 13:46). On another occasion when some Jews in Corinth “resisted and blasphemed,” Paul also said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads. I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (At 18:6).

The preceding reveals the efforts of God to at least give Israel one last chance to save themselves from death and captivity. In the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, Jeremiah was called to preach repentance to the last two remaining tribes in Judah (Jr 1:1,2). At the time, the end of national Israel was only a few years away. When the time of termination eventually came in 586 B.C., and while the Babylonians surrounded the city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was called to preach repentance to the enclosed Israelites in order to give them one last chance to repent. He encouraged the remaining Israelites to turn themselves over to the Babylonians because God had destined the termination of independent national Israel. If they turned themselves over to captivity, many of them would escape death. They would continue to exist as a culture of people in order that the promises to Abraham be fulfilled concerning the Blessing (Branch) that would come out of Israel for the salvation of the world (Jr 23). But as an independent nation of people in Palestine, such would be terminated.

In his call, God said to Jeremiah, “They [the resistant Jews] will fight against you. But they will not prevail against you, for I am with you” (Jr 1:19). Because of his message to the people, the people eventually threw Jeremiah in a pit (Jr 18:19,20,22,23). They slandered Jeremiah, calling him a traitor to Israel (Jr 18:18). Diotrephes likewise slandered the early evangelists (3 Jn 10). The hardened Jews stirred up animosity against Paul (At 13:50). On one occasion, they cast him out of a city and stoned him (At 14:19). Because the Jews of Paul’s day reject the gospel, God rejected them (See Rm 10:19-21). They too were consigned to being shut up in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the Romans. The ensuing war of Rome against the insurrectionist Jews led to about one million being killed in the fall of Jerusalem. A similar fate awaits all those who reject the gospel (See 2 Th 1:6-9).

When swine reject the pearl of the gospel, it is time to move on. If the religious heritage of self-righteous religionists are set in stone to the point that even a “Josiah restoration” cannot turn them from their destiny of doom, then it is time for the disciples of Jesus to remain faithful, but they too must move on. We must always remember that only eight people made it out alive during the flood of Noah’s day. Only a small remnant of the people of Israel eventually return to Palestine after being scattered throughout the world in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Only a few Jews escaped death in Jerusalem during the A.D. 70 judgment of Israel. Only a few faithful disciples will likewise escape the destruction of the world when Jesus comes again (Mt 25:41; 2 Th 1:6-9). What will determine our destiny is our reaction to the reading of the law of God. If there is no repentant “tearing of clothes,” then we know that we will not have a happy ending when our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.

[Next in series: Sept. 4]

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