[From the new book: JESUS: Revealing The Body Of Christ In A Modern World]

The good news is that when we restore ourselves from following after a legal identity of church that is opened and closed by prayers on Sunday morning, something wonderful begins to happen in our lives. We start focusing on who Jesus really is, and what impact we will allow Him to have on our hearts. His incarnational journey into and out of this world, with a cross as a center of reference, has a tendency to humble us to the point of transforming our lives in order to be identified with Him. At least this is what happened in the first century long before “church” was institutionalized into a corporate body of adherents with registered membership cards who localized their worship to temples, and then formalized the same through legalized ceremonies.

As the church, the early disciples lived Jesus to the point that they were the signal to the world that Jesus was alive. Their faith moved them to be different from the religions of the world. When we discover their true identity as the church, it is then that we begin to understand that “church” is not a set of rules and rituals that must be legally performed, which rules and rituals become a fake identity of the body of Christ. On the contrary, “church” is a family of people who have sought to the best of their ability to identify with the incarnate Son of God, and thus, be identified with Him as King of kings and Lord of lords. And as the members emulate their King in their hearts, something wonderful happens.


Grace Versus Law

    Whatever understanding the Jews had of grace while living under the Sinai law, grace was eventually viewed through meritorious law-keeping. This belief and behavior was specifically identified also by their keeping of all the traditions that they produced over the years that surrounded the Sabbath. To many Jews at the time of Jesus, therefore, grace was activated in one’s life, not only by keeping the Sinai law in reference to the Sabbath, but also by keeping all the traditions of the fathers that surrounded the Sabbath. If one sinned against any of the attached “laws,” which all Jews knew they did, then atoning good works could be offered in order to sanctify oneself of his violations of the law. In view of sin, and in order to keep the law perfectly, the religious leaders thus instituted their own assortment of laws (traditions) in order to make sure that the Sinai law, including the Sabbath, was obeyed.

The self-righteous Jews were motivated by meritorious obedience to earn the grace of God, not realizing that God already had pleasure in them because of His loving grace. Unfortunately, they sought to live as the returning prodigal son in order that the father allow him to be counted only as one of the servants in the field (Lk 15:18,19). The prodigal had simply forgotten that by grace he was already an heir because he was a son of the father. He could not work himself back into his father’s grace because he was already there. He could not work for that which he already had as a son of his father. The same is true of us as God’s children, “and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rm 8:17). How much better can it get!

  • Once one obeys the gospel, he or she becomes a child of God, and thus lives within the realm of God’s grace.
    Jesus stated, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). This statement was made in the context of what Jesus and His disciples did on the Sabbath in reference to picking and eating the grain of a field through which they had just walked (Mk 2:23). In reference to what Jesus and His disciples did with the grain of the field, the Pharisees accused Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath” (Mk 2:24). They were nit-picking religious leaders in reference to their own restrictions concerning the Sabbath. They were so, not because of some violation of the Sinai Sabbath law, but because they were making judgments that were based on their “attached laws” to the Sabbath law (See Rm 2:1-4).

What the disciples were doing in reference to eating grain was lawful according to the Sinai law. If one were on a journey, and according to the Sinai law, he had a right to eat the grain of a field as he passed through the field, though he could not put a sickle to the crop. But this act is not what motivated the Pharisees to make an accusation against the disciples. The Pharisees accused Jesus and the disciples of doing the simple “work” of picking out the grain so they could eat it. Unfortunately, the nit-picking Pharisees interpreted this to be work on the Sabbath. But it was not.

The Pharisees viewed their relationship with God through the strict obedience of their interpretations of the law, not through grace. Since they had elevated their interpretations of the law to the same authority as God’s law, if one disobeyed their interpretations, then it was the same as disobedience to God’s law. And in the case of the disciples extracting grain in order to eat it, according to the religious leaders at the time, such “work” was “not lawful on the Sabbath.”

  • If one elevates the religious traditions and ceremonies of man that are not a part of the law, to be obeyed as the law of God, then he has added to the law of God.

So in the immediate context of the situation, Jesus reminded the religious leaders of the example of King David when he, in his flight from the murderous hand of Saul, was at the point of starvation. David subsequently went into the tabernacle of God and ate the showbread, which bread under the Sinai law, was to be eaten only by the priests (Lv 24:5-9; 1 Sm 21:6; Mk 2:26). But because David was under grace at the time, he did not sin by doing that which was not lawful. On the contrary, as the future king of Israel, his life was to be preserved. The higher law that he survive released him from the law that only the priests could eat the showbread. It was the case that a higher law stood above a written lower law of God.

But if we view David not sinning on this occasion against law—which thing even the Pharisees believed—then Jesus’ lesson is that law must be viewed through grace. However, if we reverse this order in reference to our understanding of grace, and view grace through law, then David sinned. We are thus susceptible to keep adding to God’s laws one statute after another, precept upon precept, in order that God’s law be obeyed perfectly (See Is 28:10). If we get involved in this statute-adding religiosity, one day we will wake up and find ourselves in a religion that has no room for grace. When a group of people bring themselves into conforming to a legal system of religious laws they have collected together over the years into a catechism of law, they have brought themselves into the bondage of law-keeping (traditions).

  • Any religious tradition or ceremony that is not established on the authority of the word of God brings those who keep such into bondage.

[Next in series: Articles 9,10]

Grace Versus Law

    If we seek to earn grace through law-keeping, and thus guarantee payment by God through our added performances of rites, ceremonies and good works, then we are spiritually dead in the water. Paul wrote, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested … even the righteousness of God that is by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Rm 3:21,22). This of necessity is true because “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rm 3:10). We are all continual sinners, regardless of our superficial self-righteousness in the performance of law. It seems that some have forgotten what the Holy Spirit said through Paul in Romans 4:4: “Now to him who works [in order to earn his salvation], the reward is not credited according to grace, but according to debt.”

In our frustration to live perfectly in reference to law, all honest people will confess as Paul,

Therefore, has that which is good [law] become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might be manifested to be sin [through law], was working death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful (Rm 7:13).

So Paul concluded, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold into bondage to sin” (Rm 7:14).

The more we come to the reality that we are forever doomed to the bondage of sin without grace, the more we are driven to grace. Therefore, recognition that the law of God reveals sin in our lives drives us to grace. If we were honest with ourselves, then we would understand that law is indirectly a driving force to grace because we realize, as Paul, that we are all lawbreakers, and thus, held in the bondage of sin. We are held in bondage because we cannot keep law perfectly in order to deliver ourselves. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “For without law, I was once alive. But when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rm 7:9).

  • Law reveals that we must be saved by grace because we cannot keep any law perfectly in order to save ourselves.

In the context of this point we might conclude that if law reveals sin in our lives, then it would be good to live without law. But Paul wrote, “I would not have known sin except through law” (Rm 7:7). It may seem to be a glorious theology to believe that we are not under law. Or, we might be as the antinomian who believes that we are saved by faith alone, regardless of any obedience to moral or social laws of God.

But the theology of antinomianism (faith only) actually leads one into bondage. Though we might believe that there is no law by which we should live, our sense of religiosity would still drive us to create our own scriptures of “law.” We would invent laws to guarantee that we were not under law. The curse of those who believe that we are not under God’s law is that in maintaining some identity of their faith, they must establish for themselves religious codes and catechisms that would identify their faith.

Of course, such thinking is quite hypocritical, and thus contradictory. The fact is still true that God’s law brings freedom. It frees us from bringing ourselves into the bondage of our own self-imposed laws, while deceiving ourselves into believing that we are right with God on the basis of our own religious inventions. Therefore, as a charter statement of freedom, Paul wrote, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rm 7:12).

  • God’s law is holy, just and good because it delivers us from the bondage of establishing our own religious laws.
    As all religious leaders who impose obedience to human religious rites and ceremonies, the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day had reversed the order of obedience, and thus contradicted the very purpose of the Sinai law on the Sabbath. They made the Sabbath, and the keeping of their assortment of attached laws associated with it, the means by which one would be judged a faithful “Sabbath keeper.”

Instead of a day of rest for the people, the Sabbath, with the added assortment of over one hundred rites that the Jews surrounded the Sabbath, was relegated to a show of religiosity. Keeping the Sabbath, therefore, became an attempted means of self-justification before God. When the Sabbath was combined with all the invented religious rites that surrounded the Sabbath, then one could boast that he was a faithful Sabbath-keeper.

The same takes place in the religious world today with those who have little or no knowledge of the word of Christ. This is often the reason why assembly-defined “Christianity” has become so popular. However, when we identity the church by the performance of fulfilled religious rites and ceremonies on Sunday morning, between an opening and closing prayer, then we have a flawed definition of God’s people.

All such performed assembly rites and ceremonies are often promoted by religious leaders who view grace through their obedience to their legal assembly ceremonies. Theirs is thus a distorted message that is no different than the Sabbath-keeping zealots who confronted Jesus about His violations of their Sabbath rites and ceremonies.

  • Our definition of church by obedience to prescribed assembly rites and rituals on Sunday morning relegates the members’ faith to an empty, and often spiritually sterile, if not emotionless, legal performance of assembly rules during the supposed “hour of worship.”

[Next in series: Articles 7,8]

Grace Versus Law

  1. The origin of religion:
    It was true that the Sinai covenant was continued active in Israel through the Israelites’ obedience to the Sinai law. However, and as all those who become ignorant of the law, the urge for self-justification became a part of the Jews’ religiosity once they set aside the purpose for which the Sinai law was originally given.

The Jews’ religious traditions, therefore, became absolutely necessary when they forgot the original purpose of the Sinai law, and often, the very statutes of the law. What statutes they did remember were surrounded with traditional orders of behavior in order that there be a guaranteed adherence to the Sinai law.

The same is true today in reference to the law of Christ. Many people today are as the Jews of old. In many cases, people today have also given up a knowledge of the word of God (See Hs 4:6). Since many people today have given up a knowledge of the New Testament word of Christ, but at the same time seek to remain religious, they have constructed all sorts of religious behavior in order to feel justified before God. Whether the Jews in the first century or Christians today, at least one very important lesson is learned from all this religious confusion. No matter what century in which we live, there are always those who have convinced themselves that they are right with God on the basis of performing their own religious traditions. Jesus saw this coming (Read Mt 7:21-23).

Many religious leaders today are no different than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. For example, the religious leaders of the Jews sought to guarantee the keeping of the Sabbath law by surrounding the original Sabbath law with numerous amendments of the law. In order to honor the Sabbath, therefore, the Jewish religionists of the day imposed on the people their own self-justifying Sabbath behavior in order to guarantee that the Sabbath was strictly honored. For example, the “Sabbath-day journey,” which journey is found nowhere in the original Sinai law, was an imposed “law” that was to be obeyed in order to guarantee that one obeyed the Sabbath.

Today, the same is true in reference to the religiosity of many people. In order to be considered faithful, religious performances, especially surrounding the assemblies of each particular group, are orchestrated in order that all attendees walk away from the assembly feeling good, thinking that now after the “closing prayer,” they are justified before God.

  • When the assembly of any group becomes the identity of the group, then the adherents should realize that they have established a religion that is identified by assemblies, not by their obedience and behavior of the gospel.
  • 4. Attaching law to law:
    The Jews of Jesus’ time were no different than ourselves in attaching self-imposed laws (religious rites and ceremonies) to the original law. However, the religious leaders of the Jews forgot, in reference to the Sabbath, that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). Those who use law as a means of self-justification always view law as an avenue through which one can stand just before God. In other words, some Jews kept the Sabbath in order to maintain a salvational relationship with God. The keeping of the Sabbath, however, was meant to be a sign of their covenant with God, not a means by which they would justify themselves from sin (See Ex 31:13). The Sabbath was set aside as a day of rest for the people, not as a day of worship.

The self-righteous always view justification through law-keeping. In reference to ourselves today, many Christians keep certain rites and ceremonies on Sunday morning in order to be justified before God. We thus preach grace from the pulpits, but bring ourselves into the bondage of our own self-justification through obedience to a prescribed order of religious ceremonies. We must simply remember that we are already justified by grace before we show up on Sunday morning. In fact, we show up at the assembly because we are justified, not in order to be justified.

It is the same with the assortment of religious traditions that we witness today among so many religious groups throughout the world. It is supposed that obedience to all the religious rites and ceremonies of each particular religious group will deem the adherents justified before God. The rites and ceremonies are thus perpetuated in order to make the adherents feel that they are justified before God on the basis of their perfect obedience of the rites and ceremonies.

However, we must never forget that self-imposed human religious rites and ceremonies, even the keeping of God’s laws, can never profit as a means of self-justification. Law cannot be the answer for a consistent relationship with God simply because we are all law breakers (Rm 3:9-11). Though law is just, good and holy, it still reveals sin in our lives for which there is no human solution (Rm 7:12-14).

When we consider our particular religious rites and ceremonies, who will stand forth and be the judge as to which are right and which are questionable, if not contrary to the established identity of church. In the first century, the Jews had a religious police force of scribes and Pharisees whose job it was to maintain the legal order of religious behavior among the people. Today, it is certain that we have the same who “come out of Jerusalem” in order to make judgments concerning the teaching of John the Baptist.

  • It is by God’s grace that we can live free of guilt because we know that we cannot keep His law perfectly.

Keeping all our religious rites and ceremonies may present before others a facade of religiosity, or even lead us into deceiving ourselves that we are righteous in obedience to law. Therefore, our religiosity in itself is of no benefit in reference to our justification. This is true simply because the Holy Spirit said it was true: “For by works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gl 2:16).

[Next in series: Articles 5,6]

Grace Versus Law

Since God is love, then of necessity He must be a God of grace. God the Holy Spirit thus wrote through the guided hand of an apostle, “For sin will not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). This statement, as well as others that are married to this theme of the book of Romans, is always perplexing for those, who through meritorious law-keeping, still have an urge to justify themselves before this God of love on the basis of perfect keeping of law.

But this is not how it works with a God who is identified by love. This was the mental and behavioral challenge that faced the early Jewish Christians. Salvation by faith in the grace of God was at first a glorious reality in the hearts of most in their relationship with their Creator. But a decade or two after the initial rejoicing, there was creeping into the thinking of some disciples a theology that would destroy the very foundation upon which the early Christians initially stood. The Holy Spirit saw the threat, and subsequently delivered Romans and Galatians to the church in order to save the church from going into the oblivion of just another religion.

  1. Saving grace:
    In order to apply the above principle of Romans 6:14 to our relationship with God through law, it must first be noted that in the Greek text of the verse the Greek article “the” does not appear before the word “law.” Some translators, unfortunately, have placed the article in the text. However, it was not placed in the Greek text by the Holy Spirit just in case some might conclude that Paul was speaking specifically about “the law,” that is, the Sinai law. In order that some not come to this erroneous conclusion, he wanted to emphasize the fact that there is no law under which we could live by which we could save ourselves.

Indeed, and in reference to his specific argument against the meritorious keeping of the Sinai law, our inability to keep law perfectly was true in reference to the Jews who lived under the Sinai law. It is likewise true in reference to Christians who are now living under grace. Unfortunately, the Jews’ legal adherence to the ordinances of the Sinai law in order to justify themselves before God was futile. It was this theology that was finding its way into the first century church.

  • It is impossible for one to save himself through perfect obedience of law simply because no one can keep law perfectly.

Paul’s specific proposition by his intentional use of the word “law” without the article in the text of Romans 6:14 was to reveal that before God no one can save himself solely through obedience of law. His point was that Christians in general, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles, are not under any system of law by which they can, through law alone, justify themselves before God through perfect law-keeping.

(This argument is brought out in another verse to which we will later refer. We must be cautious, therefore, with those translations that insert in the text the definite article “the,” when reference, both in Romans and Galatians, is simply to “law” in general. However, sometimes the article is used, but it is used in those cases where the context is an argument against salvation through law-keeping, specifically to any ordinance of the Sinai law. But when the article is dropped, the argument is that there can never be any self-justification before God on the basis of perfect law-keeping.)

  1. Struggling with grace:
    By the time God’s grace was revealed through the incarnate Son of God two thousand years ago, the Jews had for centuries before lived under the bondage of their own self-imposed religiosity. Some supposed that acceptance by God was based on the foundation of how well they performed the statutes of the Sinai law, as well as their added religious rites and ceremonies, which eventually they observed to the exclusion of the Sinai law itself (See Mk 7:1-9). Therefore, when the gospel of the grace of God was finally revealed through the Lord Jesus Christ, most Jews, who sought to justify themselves before God through their own self-imposed traditions, found it very difficult to comprehend the concept of grace. They simply could not shift the responsibility for their salvation from themselves to someone who was crucified with thieves on a cross outside Jerusalem.

The same is true today in a religious world where every imaginable religious order has been constructed in order for faithful adherents to self-justify themselves before God. And in the religious world of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism where Jesus Christ plays no part in the theology of millions of adherents, obedience to religious rites, rituals and ceremonies is the norm. In fact, such non-Christian religions are often identified by the outward performance of their unique religious rites, rituals and ceremonies.

  • A cult is defined by the adherents’ strict observance of all the catechisms that define the cult.

By the time the incarnate Son of God was revealed in Bethlehem, the Jewish religious leaders of the day had “re-scriptured” their own relationship with God. Their relationship with God was based on their meritorious obedience to the Sinai law, as well as the numerous religious traditions that they had elevated to the status of law. They subsequently promoted their religiosity of self-justification through their twisted interpretations of the Sinai law, which interpretations were combined with an assortment of religious traditions to which they strictly adhered.

Judaism, or the Jews’ religion, subsequently became a quagmire of religious traditions by the time Jesus arrived on the scene (See Gl 1:13,14). Subsequently, self-righteous Jews deceived themselves into believing that they had a supposed salvational relationship with God that was based solely on their performance of the Sinai law. Strict adherence to their religious traditions that they had elevated to the status of law, was supposedly a guarantee of their justification before God. They were thus somewhat arrogant about their religiosity in law-keeping, taking every opportunity to criticize Jesus for breaking their religious traditions.

  • We know that religious traditions have been elevated to the status of law when those, who set themselves forth as policemen of the traditions in a particular religion, judge others for not keeping the traditions of the religion.

[Next in series: Articles 3,4]

Dickson on Twitter

It took a South African, Elon Musk, to convince me to go Twitter. But each morning I get up with some thoughts in mind, and need to get them out before they are lost in my old age. So the early morning thoughts go on Twitter before old age steals them away. And too, Twitter is a good way to advertise new book and bookito releases. You can now go to Twitter and check out my early morning thoughts.


Victorious Living

It was an eventful August of 1980 when my family and I stepped into our small single-engine Piper Comanche airplane for an adventure into our destiny. As the pilot of the flying machine, I seated myself in the cockpit, followed by five reluctant passengers who uneasily seated themselves beside and behind me. The apprehensive passengers were Martha, my wife, and clinging to her were four faithful offspring (8 to 14 years of age). All were somewhat oblivious about following this adventurous father pilot into a Twilight Zone where none of them had before ventured.

We were all destined by faith out of Opa Locka Airport in Miami, Florida in order to make our way to our new home in Antigua, a place to which Martha had never before ventured, though she had previously tasted the West Indies in Barbados and Grenada on our return from Brazil in 1978. But once the landing gear was safely tucked under the wings, the compass headed us due southeast out over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. We were on our way.

As I signed off with Opa Locka Air Traffic Control, and while crossing Miami Beach on a heading into the Bermuda Triangle, I remember that all we could see before us was water … water forever. We could see nothing but the glaring sheen of the early eastern sun off the water that morning as we stretched our faith to do God’s work in the West Indies. It was indeed a flight plan of faith, for all of us were doing what faith and mission would demand of us.

We eventually made our way across endless waters to a small speck of an island named Grand Cayman, where I refueled the airplane, as well as gave the now half-airsick passengers a taste of sweet mother earth. From there our registered flight plan and faith directed us on to our new home on the small island of Antigua in the Leeward Islands of the West Indies. At the time of our departure from Grand Cayman, Antigua was still only a small dot on my flight chart. It still is.

What drove us to this daring—some have used the word “delirious”—adventure was the fact that God had better things for us to do just over the horizon. Our incurable optimistic faith had brought us to a point of launching out over the deep while we hung tightly to the hand of Jesus. We had no other options. We could do nothing less.

Yes indeed, you must take a leap of faith in order to grow your faith. This is simply the way . . . [Continued in the complete bookito, VICTORIOUS FAITH. Message for the PDF copy.]

Wolf Protection

Whenever the Holy Spirit speaks specifically concerning the leadership of the church, it is time to “listen up.” This was true in the first century because of the twisted leadership that prevailed among Jewish leaders in the promotion of their religion (See Gl 1:13,14). Because the leadership of the Jews during the ministry of Jesus held the people captive by their misguided religious ceremonialism and traditions (See Mk 7:1-9), as well as their lust for power over the people, their self-righteous thinking and behavior eventually led to the crucifixion of the Son of God.

We are not over-reactive, therefore, when we are cautious concerning those who would step forward and seek to lead the flock of God. In fact, the Holy Spirit even had Scripture written to alert us to the seriousness by which we should consider this subject: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers [leaders], knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (Js 3:1).

It was for this reason that Paul issued a stern warning to the Ephesian elders upon his departure from Mellitus. He warned these leaders that wolves would eventually enter in among the flock in order to draw away the disciples after themselves. The reason why such wolves would come in among the sheep is quite disturbing in view of the mind of Christ that should be characteristic of every member of the body, especially our leaders (See Ph 2:5-8).

Nevertheless, if there arises among us, or one comes in among us, who is unchecked by the gospel of the incarnate Son of God, then the humble behavior of a gospel-responsive body can become the opportunity for lords to arise and dominate. The body, therefore, must always be on guard in these matters.

A. Living among wolves:
In the religious world in which we live today, lordship leadership plays itself out as some leaders (wolves) seek to take advantage of humble faith-driven people. Self-promoting, political-minded wolves, therefore, become opportunists who seek to lord over a flock of innocent sheep. Peter mentioned this very behavior when he addressed some who were elders (See 1 Pt 5:1-3). Therefore, if such behavior existed among some elders of the church in the first century when Peter wrote, then certainly we are not over cautious to assume that such behavior in leadership can also exist among us today.

In the Mellitus meeting, Paul warned elders about the coming wolves (At 20:29-30). And sure enough, only a few years after his warning, Peter wrote that the lords (wolves) had already showed up among the sheep in the behavior of some elders. Diotrephes was around when the apostle John wrote concerning these matters. Diotrephes was a wolf who had already taken captive some sheep (See 3 Jn 9,10).

There are always a few who behave as Diotrephes who love to be first among the body of members (3 Jn 9,10). One may be this way as a young disciple, but he must spiritually grow up in Christ in order to reflect the aroma of the incarnate Son of God (See 2 Co 2:14-16). And the only way one can grow out of the worldly desire for lordship is to understand and follow the Son of God on His incarnational journey into this world, and eventually to the humiliation of the cross. The Son of God lowered Himself for us. If we would follow His example—having the mind of Christ—then we must lower ourselves for others. If we reverse this order by exalting ourselves, then we have become a wolf.

B. In the presence of opportunists:
In the first century, Diotrephes took advantage of some gospel-responsive disciples to whom John wrote in his latter years. Just as then, there are Diotrephes-minded people today who are out there looking around for a body of humble gospel-driven disciples that they can likewise invade and dominate. For this reason, Paul prepared the leaders of the church in Ephesus, as well as ourselves, with the following warning:

“I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from your own selves will men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore, watch …” (At 20:29-31).

Unfortunately, we have often misunderstood what Paul meant in this warning. We have commonly taught that he was discussing false teachers; those who would teach something contrary to the truth. Indeed, the belief and behavior of wolves is contrary to gospel behavior. This thought is indeed inherent in the warning, but such an exclusive interpretation misses the main point of why Paul gave the warning. The key to understanding that to which Paul was specifically referring is in the phrase, “to draw away the disciples after themselves.”

Wolves can teach the truth of the gospel. But they are not living the gospel by the very fact that they are wolves. This is the thrust of what Paul warned the elders of Ephesus. From among themselves lords (wolves) would arise in order to lead the sheep away after themselves. This is what lords do. Paul’s focus, therefore, was on those who had no idea of how to allow the mind of the Son of God to be in them, and thus behave accordingly. They are wolves, therefore, and thus lords who would arise to produce a following; they would steal the sheep of Jesus through their desire to rule and dominate. This is why Paul labeled these wolves as “grievous.”

C. Gospel-based protection:
We must also consider another understanding of Paul’s preceding warning in reference to the truth of the gospel. If a gospel preacher comes into a religious group that has long forgotten the truth of the gospel, or even been ignorant of the gospel, then he is not drawing away disciples after himself by preaching the gospel. On the contrary, when Paul went from synagogue to synagogue, he preached the gospel (At 17:1,2). People responded to the gospel that Paul preached, not to the person of Paul. He did not, therefore, draw away the people after himself. The people were drawn away to Jesus. But in reference to wolves, they draw away disciples to themselves. A wolf is always made known by that, or to whom, he seeks to draw the sheep.

We must not misunderstand this very important point. We must know that lords draw away people of faith by dominating their consciences with the bondage of religious traditions and ceremonies, just as the scribes and Pharisees did during the ministry of Jesus. In contrast to this, those who are preaching the gospel are drawing people away from such religiosity in order that the people obey and follow the Son of God. Jesus said something about this during His earthly ministry: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Me (Jn 12:32). The drawing power of the “lifted up” Son of God is that He brings freedom from the bondage of sin and religion (See Gl 5:1).

In view of the fact that there are wolves out there in the religious world drawing away sincere disciples after themselves is enough for us to take seriously the incarnational discipleship that Jesus lived and left with us in order that we be drawn to Him. Therefore, we must not be unaware of the fact that there are wolves standing at church house doors, seeking to draw people away after themselves. But these lords must never forget that when they draw people away after themselves, they are drawing people of faith away from the one Lord to whom we must give our total allegiance. Wolves always stand in competition with King Jesus.

D. Wolves fighting among themselves:
Since the time Paul warned the Ephesian elders, there have always been wolves roaming around seeking an opportunity to capture innocent sheep. But according to Peter, we must not become a wolf in order to keep the wolves (lords) out of the flock of God (1 Pt 5:2,3). On the contrary, we must live after the mind of Christ. The power to keep the lords out is to fully understand the nature of the servanthood that was taught and lived by Jesus, and refined by the instruction letters that were written by the Holy Spirit.

In the ominous presence of wolves (lords), we must caution ourselves, as well as those we would seek to lead. It is certainly easy to keep the wolves out by becoming lords ourselves over the flock. But this is not a gospel response to the presence of wolves, nor is such behavior living the mind of Christ. Before even considering oneself as a spiritual leader of the flock, he must first make his way to the foot of the cross. It is there that one discovers the significance of the power of leading with the mind of Christ who submitted to the needs of the people. It is in this manner that leaders lead in order to protect the sheep. If we become a wolf in order to keep other wolves away from the flock, then chaotic debate rages. Each seemingly autonomous pack of wolves thinks they are the “saviors” of the church, when in reality it is always the innocent sheep who suffer when two wolf packs engage.

If we are incarnational in our own behavior, then it will be easy to find and identify others who are also at the foot of the cross. Incarnational leaders live with the blessing of the continual flow of blood from the cross of Jesus. Therefore, those who would be pompous wolves among us should be careful about finding some robe to dress themselves before an audience, and thus set themselves apart from or exalt, therefore, over the sheep. In contrast to such behavior, incarnational leaders lead with the burden of the needs of the people on their backs. It is this example that the sheep crave to follow.

E. An incarnational leader:
The flock must be led by the example of incarnational behavior (See 1 Pt 5:3). This all involves an incarnational repentance before we come forth from the waters of baptism. It took Saul (Paul) three days to go through the process of incarnational repentance before he responded to the mandate to be baptized for remission of his sins (At 9:1-19; 22:16). And after his baptism, it took him at least five years before he was ready to lead new disciples in wolf protection. It is for this reason that when the church designates leaders, they must follow the mandate of the Holy Spirit: “Lay hands hastily on no man” (1 Tm 5:22).

Unfortunately, lordship leaders are so common among many religious groups today that these leaders find it quite difficult to think and behave outside the paradigm of lording over a particular church or religious organization. However, in such a religious environment today, we do not blame entirely the leaders themselves. The religious groups among which some labor as leaders often pressure the leaders into being the center of reference for all work and decisions. This is especially a problem in smaller churches. Since leaders are often very energetic people who seek to serve the Lord with all their hearts, the local members sometimes become somewhat indifferent, if not lazy. As a result, the members lay back and urge the preacher on to do everything, and thus, make decisions about everything. In this way, unfortunately, local churches often push their preachers into being lords over the flock.

Nevertheless, taking advantage of such situations as leaders is often based squarely on our lack of understanding of the incarnate Son of God. Those who understand the gospel journey of the Son of God are cautious about becoming lords over the flock, even though the members do little to take ownership of their responsibility to work together as an organic body under the lordship of Jesus.

Add to the preceding scenario the fact that we now live in a religious world of corporate nonprofit religious organizations, with controlling presidents, chairmen, and governing bodies of board members. This system of religious function seems to be the norm of the day in many places of the world in order to carry out the mission that should be the business of the church. Since there is rank and file organization within these religious corporate nonprofit bodies that are controlled by government laws, then we can assume that the same organizational thinking can sometimes find its way into the organic function of the body of Christ.

But in reference to leadership in the church, we would conclude that corporate organizationalism is foreign to the very definition of the incarnational leadership by which the church is to be led. The church is not a government legal organization that is controlled by presidents, chairmen and government laws. It is an organic body that functions directly under the authority of King Jesus (Mt 28:18). On earth, the members follow those who have given themselves as examples of humble service just as the Son of God gave Himself in service to us in reference to our sin problem. Leadership among the disciples, therefore, is by the example of sacrificial servanthood, just as Jesus left us an example of leaving ourselves in order to serve others (See 1 Pt 5:3).

F. The “hidden Pharisee”:
A lordship leader often seeks to be somebody in his religious behavior in reference to others. Because we all have a desire to be recognized, maybe there is a little Pharisee hidden within each of us that we fail to recognize, and subsequently, we fail to bury in the tomb of water from which we came in baptism. Regardless, if we finally discover this hidden Pharisee in our spiritual character after the water, then it is time to crucify him (Gl 2:20).

And then, the case may be that in our obedience to the gospel, we simply succumbed to a legal obedience of law without experiencing a truly repentant response to the incarnate Son of God with whom we assigned our allegiance. The curse of legalism is that we outwardly obey law, while at the same time we leave our hearts unchanged, that is, unchecked by the gospel.

When it comes to incarnational living, we must certainly obey the commandments. But just as important is our response to the heart of God that was revealed through the incarnate Son of God. Obedience to law with an unrepentant heart is the definition of hypocrisy. Therefore, we must dig out of our souls the “little Pharisee” who is in us, and crucify him on a cross.

It is in response to the heart of God that was revealed through His Son that our hearts and behavior are transformed. Obedience to law, “getting baptized,” may bring a sense of accomplishment, but baptism must be more than obedience to legal commands. Baptism is an outward immersion to reveal an inward cleansing of our souls by the incarnate blood of Jesus.

Unfortunately, we do not hear enough lessons preached or taught today on the subject of the gospel of the incarnation. If the subject were preached and taught regularly, the people would be better prepared to be sacrificial slaves of Jesus who live with characters that are continuously checked by the gospel. Not only would they prevent themselves from becoming a wolf, they would also be better prepared to check for possible wolves in our midst. We must never forget that wolves flee from crosses.

King Jesus

(Extract from the new bookito.)

We must keep in mind that no matter what happens in our world today, or whatever incorrect prophetic interpretations may come forth from theologically fertile minds, one thing will always be true. Jesus Christ, as the resurrected and ascended Son of God, still reigns over all things. This is just as it was prophesied in the Old Testament. This is exactly what He promised His disciples during His earthly ministry. And this is exactly what we believe. Jesus is now in control of all the physical world and all the worlds throughout the universe. This truth is at the heart of Old Testament prophecies concerning King Jesus and His present kingdom reign.

The universe is under the galactic sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even Satan and demons are within His realm of authority. Regardless of what may happen on earth, or things in the spiritual world, we can be assured that Jesus reigns as the supreme authority over all things in the heavens and on earth.

Now this short bookito contains some exciting facts about this present reign of King Jesus that are revealed in Old Testament prophecies. Among the approximately three hundred Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah (Greek, “Christ”), the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7 refer specifically to the present kingdom reign of King Jesus and the time in history when this reign began. These two fundamental prophecies are sufficient in reference to understanding the present kingdom and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ.

[Go to my facebook page in order to receive directions to download the complete bookito.]

The Transformed

We were once watching the late news on TV one evening when a televised report was made of a meeting of religious leaders in South Africa who were called together by the government. The political-oriented religious leaders who came together represented some of the largest institutional churches of the country. These were the pastors, bishops, and leading pundits of churches from which the government wanted some opinions on matters that affected the people.

From where the reporter stationed his camera for some interviews, the focus of the camera was pointed down on the herd of competing religious leaders who scrambled for front role recognition. Once the camera was positioned, the TV news reporter then stepped into the hoard of shoulder-shoving competitors in order to interview some chosen representative of the religious world for the nightly news.

This was certainly a curious sight to behold. These religious leaders were pushing and shoving one another in order to get to the reporter. It was as if all dignity was thrown aside in order that the lucky pastor or bishop could have the camera focused exclusively on him for a nationwide interview that would be broadcast on the evening news.

It was indeed an incredible sight. The pomp and self-promotion of some of the more politically oriented religious leaders of South Africa was clearly revealed. These particular leaders, and the churches they led, had allowed a century of political struggle for the right to vote in a free and fair election, to influence their behavior as supposed leaders of the people of faith of the nation. Fortunately, there are presently a host of humble church leaders who simply stayed home in order not to be a part of such self-promotion. These dedicated religious leaders desired to continue on with their dedicated ministry to help the struggling souls of their communities.

If Saul of Tarsus were here today, and at such a meeting, he too would assume that as a “Pharisee of Pharisees,” he would have been right there in the midst of all those religious leaders. That was the world in which he lived as a young Jewish leader. He had all the pomp and prestige of the religious establishment of the day behind him. He could even have ushered in his Jewish miliary police and orchestrated some order out of the chaos in order that he should be the televised religious leader who was interviewed for the “late night news of Jerusalem.”

However, many years later after Saul transformed into Paul, and after a life that was driven by the gospel of One who threw him off his horse on a Damascus road, Saul, now Paul, was ironically ushered out of a city in Asia for His faith in Jesus. In the midst of a hysterically stirred mob, he was stoned for his faith that he had once persecuted in his youth (At 14:19). Even later on his last trip to Jerusalem, he was again seized by religious fanatics who would have torn him asunder if it were not for a Roman commander who rescued him out of the hands of a mob (At 21:31,32). All this upheaval reveals the true nature of religious leaders who have no concept of the transformational nature of the gospel. However, in view of the extreme change from Saul to Paul, the transformational power of the gospel is also revealed. This is something to behold!

In view of his transformation from religious fanatic to gospel-driven servant, we now know why God called into servanthood a man like Saul of Tarsus. He had all the pomp and prestige in the religious organization of Judaism (Gl 1:13,14). He was a Pharisee of Pharisees—a renowned religious leader and exalted above all those fellow opportunists who would compete with him in religious leadership for an interview on the nightly news (Ph 3:4-6). He even had a ticket to imprison those who would speak out against the predominant religious establishment of Judaism of the day (At 9:1,2). He thus had position, pomp, and certainly, pride that carried him from one city to another persecuting those who had signed up with the humiliated “criminal” who was executed outside Jerusalem about seven or eight years before.

So what must one do to repent of being such an attention-seeking, lordship-craving religious leader as Saul? To what extent must such a person go in order to reveal in his own life that he has truly repented of a life that was so obsessively driven by fanatical religiosity? A humble response to the gospel can be the only motivation to accomplish such a feat in transforming one’s heart. It was certainly not easy for Saul to repent of his life-style of commanding a team of persecutors into the servant leader Paul who gave his life as a living sacrifice for the Jesus he had formerly persecuted (At 22:8).

However, it was not an instantaneous life-style transformation from Saul to Paul. From the day Saul met the Lord on the Damascus road, to the time Barnabas went many years later from Antioch to Tarsus in order to fetch Paul for the mission of proclaiming the gospel, it was at least five years (See At 11:25,26). It took that much time, including three years in an Arabian desert, for Saul to dig out of his inner soul his former misguided religiosity, and especially his lust for notoriety among religious people. He came from the extreme of religiosity in this matter because he had formerly assigned himself to be the “savior of Judaism.” And today, we are not unaware of those who step up to be some “savior of the church” (See Gl 1:13,14). Those who involve themselves in being such are forgetting that the church has only one Savior.

In Paul’s response to the gospel in Damascus, he knew that he had to radically change his heart, thinking and behavior in order to emulate the gospel of the incarnate God who appeared to him in a vision on the Damascus road. So over time, Saul transformed. He transformed into the humble Paul we all know best. He transformed so much that he certainly practiced what he preached in Romans 12:2: “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

After his years of repentant transformation in Damascus, the Arabian desert, and Troas of Cilicia, Paul was worthy and ready to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He was ready to accomplish his Christ-given mission as an evangelist of the living Jesus to the Gentiles, Kings, and the household of Israel (At 9:15). He was transformed even to the extent of willingly being humiliated for Jesus for the rest of his life, sometimes being stoned, and continuing on in his mission trips with the threat of death hanging over him as he struggled from one city to another in his mission to both live and preach the gospel. He did all this in order to preach the good news of the crucified Galilean whom he had once considered a condemned religious criminal (See At 14:19; 2 Co 11:16-29; Gl 2:20).

On one occasion, Paul essentially upbraided some disciples who were fearful of his possible murder in Jerusalem. He responded to their concerns, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (At 21:13). This is certainly the extent to which a true gospel response will take us in our thinking and living. It is as John also explained, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rv 2:10).

Since it took the Lord Jesus unto death to bring us into His realm of the redeemed, then it should be no surprise that it will take us, as Paul and John, unto death to be redeemed into eternal glory. In fact, Jesus would remind all of us of the following: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:27).

From the pomp of notoriety in a religious system that encouraged such, to poverty and death in the shadow of a cross, Paul was driven to transform. Only because he was eventually transformed to be a servant of Jesus could he have been qualified to write the following remarkable statement in reference to his transformational repentance from pompous persecuting Pharisee to a gospel-preaching suffering servant of Jesus who would die for the gospel message he preached:

“I [Paul] say the truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience also bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rm 9:1-3).

As leaders of God’s people, we must continue to pray as David: “Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins. Do not let them have dominion over me” (Ps 19:13; see Nm 15:30). We need to cease presuming to be somewhat in view of the One who emptied Himself from being God in the spirit to being Jesus in the flesh on a cross (See Ph 2:5-8). The more we grow in our knowledge of the extent to which the Son of God went in His incarnation, the more we are overwhelmingly stirred to transform ourselves into being a humble servant of our reigning King.

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