All posts by Dr. Dickson

The Right To Happiness (3)

D.  Happy people are incurably optimistic.

Angelo Siciliano was a ninety-seven pound (44 kilogram) runt at the age of sixteen. He was bullied around by classmates, pushed around by friend and foe alike. As any physically weak and small teenager, life was not the best. However, one day he saw the statues of Apollo and Hercules in the Brooklyn Museum in New York. These images of two Greek gods formed an image in his own mind as to what he wanted to be. He immediately bought a newspaper and started exercising according to an exercise program that was printed in the newspaper. He eventually developed his own exercise program. He took control of his destiny through exercise. A few years later, his dreams were realized. We know him today as Charles Atlas.

Pessimism and unhappiness are twins. Numerous surveys have been conducted concerning the mental state of those who are successful in the business world. Every survey concludes that optimistic, cheerful business people who always look on the bright side of things are more successful than pessimistic business people. Successful people are optimistic about the future. On the other hand, pessimism produces unhappiness and unhappiness produces dis – ease, or better, disease.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz once wrote of a businessman who told him, “I have just lost $200,000 on the stock market. I am ruined and disgraced.” Maltz then said to the man. “It is a fact that you lost $200,000. It is your opinion that you are ruined and disgraced.”

Happy people never add their opinion to the circumstances. They are simply optimistic about the future. The great inventor Thomas Edison once lost a multimillion dollar laboratory in a fire.   Someone asked him immediately after the fire, “What will you do now?” Mr. Edison replied, “We will start rebuilding tomorrow morning.”   When things look bad, focus on good things to come. Truly happy people are incurably optimistic about the future. They always look on the bright side of things. And by looking on the bright side of things, things that are good are happening in their lives.

E.  Happy people allow the Lord to be their God.

Last and most important of all, the road to genuine happiness begins with faith that God is here. There is no truly happy atheist. A truly happy atheist is an oxymoron. No atheist can rejoicefully say, “Thank God I’m an atheist.”

 Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Ps 144:15). It’s true. “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Ps 146:5). “… whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he” (Pv 16:20). When God is our Lord, we have laid the foundation for true happiness. It is for this reason that the materialist never reaches for that which he or she strives. Someone once said, “Be poor and sleep well. Be rich and sleep restlessly.” If we make riches our god, this god will not bring the serendipity of a good night’s rest. If God is our Lord, we will have the peace of mind that passes all understanding.

Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Ph 4:6,7). Those who trust in God have One to whom they can go for help. Just knowing that all things are working together for good brings an unexplainable sense of tranquility. And this we know: “… we know that all things work together for good to those who love God …” (Rm 8:28). Only those who truly believe in God can reap the emotional peace of mind that comes from statements as Jesus to His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me” (Jn 14:1). Believers can come to Jesus for peace of mind. They will answer His plea. “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28,29).

Happy people believe in God. They are thus obedient to His will. Their obedience brings peace of mind. And in peace of mind there is true happiness. Solomon was right. “… happy is he who keeps the law” (Pv 29:18). It is as Jesus said. “Happy are they that hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28 – TEV). It is true, therefore, that the happiest people in the world are those people who believe in God and submit to His will. Their happiness is founded on what is yet to come, not what is only in this life. If you would be happy in the truest sense, you must focus on God and what He has prepared for those who love Him. And what He has prepared for the righteous is an eternal home of glory in His presence. This is the hope and happiness of the righteous sons of God.   Always remember the following words that are from God to encourage each of us:

The Lord bless you and keep you;

The Lord make His face shine upon you,

And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,

And give you peace.

(Nm 6:24-26).

The Right To Happiness (2)

B.  Happy people live to serve others.

On the eve of His encounter with the cross, and in the presence of disciples who anxiously shuffled in His midst, Jesus took a towel, stooped to the floor, and washed twenty-four dirty feet, 240 grimy toes.   He knew that when the disciples finally got the point after His resurrection, they would understand what He meant in John 13:17. “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” “These things” refers to His humble service to others, even washing dirty feet, and finally dirty souls. It is only through servitude that we discover the secret to happiness. To feel good you must do good.

Why is it that on our way to the hospital to visit a friend we argue with God? We reason that we have other important things that we could be doing. However, once there, and after a prayer and simple chatter, on our way from the hospital we feel a sense of happiness? We grumble in service but we rejoice when the service is accomplished. Rejoicing after an act of service should enlighten us to the way we are wonderfully made by God. Service brings happiness, a sense of “well done.” Only when we put our hands to work will we be able to raise our hands in rejoicing. This is the way God created us.   You do good and you will feel good.

Solomon was right. “He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he (Pv 14:21). Christians can rejoice in the Lord always because they are always in service to others. Galatians 6:10 was not written as a simple legal act to accomplish a supposed meritorious salvation. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” This statement was written in order to reflect the nature of true Christianity and in order to exemplify in the lives of Christians what Jesus said, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them (Jn 13:17).   Christians are happy, not because they are commanded to be so, but because of what they do. The serendipity of service is always happiness.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote in his best selling book, Psychocybernetics, that people must focus on others in order to be happy within themselves. “One of the most pleasant thoughts to any human being is the thought that he is needed, that he is important enough and competent enough to help and add to the happiness of some other human being.” This truth is reflected in the words of Paul to the Ephesian elders, “I have showed you all things, that by laboring as this you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (At 20:35). It is more blessed to give simply because one receives the inner satisfaction of happiness when giving things rather than receiving things. I understand from this principle of Jesus that receiving or acquiring things is less blessed than giving things to others.   If you would be truly happy, therefore, you must be a giver. The more you give, the happier you are.

C.  Happy people focus on good.

In McGuffey’s Stories for children, there is the story of the Old Clock. The Old Clock ticked away until one day it started thinking about all the ticks it had to do for an entire year, a total of 31,560,000 ticks. As he concentrated on that tremendous number of ticks, discouragement set in, and finally, he ceased ticking. After some silence, the Old Clock thought for a moment. “How much effort is there in making only one tick?”   He then proceeded to make one tick.   “Not so bad.” Then two ticks were made in succession. Then three. Then one hundred. And finally, the Old Clock was back to ticking, thinking on only one tick at a time.

Some poet inscribed,

Don’t you trouble trouble;

Till trouble troubles you.

Don’t you look for trouble;

Let trouble look for you.

The problem with life is that we often look for trouble. We go to too many pity parties.   But it would be good to remember what the Holy Spirit wrote in Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think on these things.”

It is not natural to remember bad experiences.   Think for a moment. Our minds naturally remember good things that happened to us in the past. We remember great experiences with people, events that brought us happiness and joy.   Our minds naturally suppress bad experiences, but focus on good experiences. Yes, we do forget the bad of the past. This is the way God made us. It is only natural to think on that which is good. So if it is natural to think on the good, then that is exactly what we must do. Our present happiness must not be determined by our past library of bad experiences.   Our minds naturally do not want us to determine our present state of mind by our past experiences. You cannot build a happy present state of mind over guilt of things in the past. Just do what Paul said, “I count not myself to have laid hold. But one thing I do, foregetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are before” (Ph 3:13).

Neither should our present happiness be determined by our present environment or circumstances. Unfortunate circumstances should not determine our inward state of mind. Dr. Matthew N. Chappel wrote, “Happiness is purely internal. It is produced, not by objects, but by ideas, thoughts and attitudes which can be developed and constructed by the individual’s own activities, irrespective of the environment.” True happiness is internally developed, not externally controlled.

Focusing on that which is good destroys worry about tomorrow. Matthew 6:34 is more than an exhortation. It involves a promise that changes our present mental behavior. “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” If we mentally forecast bad times to come, we will unconsciously work toward our forecast. The opposite is also true.   If we anticipate that things will be better, sure enough, they will be better. So why ask for trouble when we do not have to be delivered a bag of troubled goods?

We must not be a member of a television audience where the program director holds up a card that says, “Laugh”, or “Applause.”   We do not have to allow life to dictate to us our mental state of mind. We can choose to be happy. We can choose by focusing on good in order to determine our emotional destiny. Our present state of mind is our choice.   Neither the environment or people with whom we work can determine our happiness.

[Continued]

 

 

The Right To Happiness (1)

An amendment of the United States constitution enthrones freedom which includes an article that each citizen has the “right to pursue happiness.” Not only is this the right of American citizens, it should be the right of every citizen of the world. It is what is inborn within every individual. It is what we want. It is our inner most craving. We want to be happy. Unfortunately, happiness is what everyone wants, but few know where to find it.
 
A little girl was once sitting at the breakfast table with her mother when the sun made its presence known by rising over the distant horizon. As its morning light beamed through the cottage window and on to the spoon of the child who was sitting with her mother at the breakfast table, she responded with joy to her mother, “Mama, I have a spoonful of sunshine!” Solomon was right, “A merry heart does good, like medicine” (Pv 17:22). Every morning we need a big dose of sunshine medicine to brighten our day. We should arise every morning with the declaration, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24). Upon making this declaration, we must make a decision that each day of our lives will be a day of happiness.
 
It is not totally true what Menchken said, “The only really happy folk are married women and single men.” Nor is it totally true what another proverb stated, “Happiness comes by filling a child’s stomach, a woman’s wardrobe, and a man’s wallet.” And again, happiness is not really acquired as a frustrated younger brother said, “Happiness is having a sister with laryngitis and a TV with only one channel.” True happiness does not revolve around material things nor pleasurable events. It is almost as someone once said, “Happiness has a habit of pursuing the person who feels grateful to his God, comfortable with his conscience, in favor with his friends, in love with his labors, and in balance with his banker.” But someone correctly stated, “The secret of happiness is learning to accept the impossible, do without the indispensable, and bear the intolerable.”
 
In a secular and materialistic world, true happiness is elusive. The secular person unfortunately looks to events and activities that will entertain, but will not bring longlasting peace. He forgets that happiness is not something you experience. The materialist always looks for the right possessions, forgetting that happiness is not something that can be bought or owned. Happiness is not yearning for the things that we feel will make us happy. Money cannot buy us happiness. It only prolongs our search in the wrong direction.
 
Why do people struggle to find that which seems to be so elusive. Too many people find only momentary happiness in things and activities, and subsequently deceive themselves into thinking that they have acquired their goal. When things become old and activities no longer satisfy our thirst for inner happiness, we often add to our collection of possessions or change to performing other activities in order to get another “happiness fix.” It is too often too late after a lifetime of such misguided searching that we come to the realization of Solomon’s wisdom, “Vanities of vanity, all is vanity” (Ec 1:2).
 
An activity oriented culture is always afraid of being bored. The inhabitants of such frenzied cultures have concluded that their happiness is found in their ability to keep themselves involved in a host of events and activities. They are fearful of not having enough to do lest they discover that there is an emptiness inside that cannot be filled with possessions or an assortment of activities. True happiness is an elusive dream to the one who keeps himself busy with earthly diversions. The secularist must remember that happiness is not discovered in the things we want. Seneca wrote, “If you would make a man happy, do not add to his possessions but subtract from his desires.”
 
Contrary to a secular and materialistic world that would drive us to seek happiness in the wrong places, I would suggest the following to begin one’s road to a happy disposition of life. These simple keys will at least point one in the right direction to what is often an elusive goal for too many people, the goal of being happy.
 
A. Happy people develop a happiness habit.
 
Ninety-five percent of our behavior is simply habit. We subconsciously do that which we have always done. Since this is true, we must develop a habit of simply being happy. We need a happy habit. Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “The happiness habit is developed by simply practicing happy thinking. Make a mental list of happy thoughts and pass them through your mind several times every day.”
 
The desire to be happy is the first step to becoming happy. Former President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” You must first make up your mind to be happy, and then set yourself to the task of accomplishing your desire for happiness. Sound too simple? It’s not.
 
I once found a recipe for happiness. I do not know the source, but I am sure the one who wrote it knew the key to happiness.
Take …
… 2 heaping cups of patience,
… 1 heart full of love,
… 3 hands full of generosity,
… a dash of laughter,
… 1 head full of understanding, …
… sprinkle generously with kindness; add plenty of faith, and mix well. Spread over a period of a lifetime, and serve everyone you meet.
 
Not bad advice. This is certainly what Paul meant when he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say, rejoice!” (Ph 4:4). Solomon was again right when he said, “He who is of a merry heart has a continual feast” (Pv 15:15).
 
Most people can be happy in times when everything seems to be going right, or going their way. But this surface happiness is tried in the balance of life and found wanting when things go wrong. In the brochure, Attitudes Unlimited, which was written for executives of corporations in Dallas, Texas, it was stated, “Most anyone can smile when everything goes along smoothly … but the valiant one is that person who can still smile when adversities beset him from all directions.”
 
Christians must remember that they were not baptized in vinegar. Nor should they look as if they have been eating out of a milk churn. A long face does not come with age. Truly happy people have learned that happiness originates from that which is within, not from that which affects one from without. Once happy habits are developed from within, then our environment has little effect on our true inner emotional or mental state of being. It is for this reason that the happiness habit must come from our inside work, regardless of our past or our present circumstances.
 
[The above is from Book 21, than can be downloaded from the link below:
http://africainternational.org/files/Book%2021.pdf

The Gospel Connection

Something happened on that memorial Pentecost of A.D. 30 that separates religion from gospel. After the Holy Spirit had connected all the dots in the minds of the apostles through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they were ready for the world (At 2:1-4). Even after Jesus had graduated them from His final “school of prophecy,” the Spirit had to connect the eternal incarnation of the Son, to the eternal offering, resurrection, ascension, and reign of the Son of God to the right hand of God. It was then that they were ready to stand up and go to work before the multitudes (At 2:14).

It may have been about midday when Peter finally stood up with the eleven and unpacked the gospel with only a few words.   He first revealed that all the rushing “wind storm” that had transpired at the beginning of the day was actually prophesied (At 2:14-21). And then he got down to gospel business in the reign of Jesus who was now both Lord and Christ.

Jesus of Nazareth was miraculously proved to be the One sent from God. He was miraculously validated to be the Christ of Israel. However, the confirming miracles that validated His Messiahship were not the gospel (At 2:22; Jn 3:2). Neither was the gospel the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at the beginning of the day, for it was the mission of the Spirit to glorify the Son, not Himself (Jn 16:14).

Those who exalt miracles and the Holy Spirit invariably minimize the power of the gospel. Their obsession with miracles and the Spirit diverts their attention away from the power of the incarnational gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.   Instead of exhaling and focusing on the resurrectional ascension and reign of the incarnate Son of God, many obsess over those beliefs or ministries that are important, but not primary. Instead of focusing on the power of the gospel, they are searching for some power in the Holy Spirit to somehow confirm their own faith. We must never forget that the power to both save and transform lives is in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It takes no diploma in theology to know enough about the work of the Holy Spirit to conclude that in His work in our lives, He would never seek to displace or minimize the transforming power of the gospel of the Son of God. If He did, then He would fail in His work to glorify Jesus (Jn 16:14). Gospel-living Christians must always keep in mind that the Holy Spirit will do His work regardless of our understanding thereof.   Though we may not understand all of the Spirit’s ministry for the saints, one thing is definitely clear: The Holy Spirit would never do anything to divert our attention away from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we would claim that the Spirit must insert in our lives more power than the gospel, then we have asserted that the power of the gospel to transform lives is limited. It was never Jesus’ intention to send the Spirit in order to subsidize the power of the life-transforming gospel.

The personal ministries that later came into the organic function of the church was not the message of the apostles on Pentecost.   Later discussions in the epistles that emphasized corrections in dysfunctional behavior between the disciples was not the message. When churches become sectarian, and thus competitive for members, they often use their uniqueness as a message to “convert” others to their particular sect.   But the uniqueness that later characterized many autonomous groups of Christianity was not the message of Peter and the apostles. That which cuts religious people of faith to the heart was the message of the gospel of King Jesus. This was the apostles’ message to the Pentecost audience.

We cannot overemphasize this point for many have used the epistles to construct a systematic theology that has become their identity, and subsequently, their evangelistic message. Their supposed doctrinal purity is used to approach other religious people in order to convert them to one’s own particular sect. A theological message has thus replaced gospel preaching.

The crucifixion of God’s gospel Messenger in the flesh was not a subpoint of the apostles’ message. Because the cross was in the eternal plan of God, it was the core of the gospel message (At 2:23). “But God raised Him up,” was the confirming proof that Jesus Christ was the One about whom the prophets had spoken. And not only the resurrection, but there was an ascension to the throne of David in fulfillment of promises to David that One would reign upon his throne of authority (At 2:25-32). And then Peter revealed more: “This Jesus God has raised up, … being exalted at the right hand of God” (At 2:32,33). “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (At 2:36).

We must keep in mind the spiritual situation of those who heard this first announcement of the gospel. These were the “elite” of the representatives of the Jews’ religion. They knew their Old Testaments better than most people today. But when Peter was making these statements about the Man whom God had miraculously proved to be the One who fulfilled over three hundred Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah/Christ of Israel, they were overwhelmed. They were stunned.

Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and a host of other prophecies concerning the Suffering Servant of Isaiah became reality. They did not need to return to their synagogues after Pentecost in order that a Rabbi read again to them the picture that God had painted for Israel throughout 1,400 years of history. They could quote all the prophecies by memory, for they were all as the two men on the road to Emmaus. The One that God said He would send was beyond the misguided hope of a restoration of national Israel. He was the One who “was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And with His stripes we are healed(Is 53:5).

The Jews’ murderous tragedy was turned to grief because they realize that they had become servants of Satan to lay the stripes on the back of the Suffering Servant by delivering Him over to the Romans for crucifixion. There were certainly tears of grief as they mourned over their participation of laying the stripes on the One who was sent to restore them again to an eternal fellowship with the God they had worshiped since before the days of Abraham.

“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart (At 2:37).

This is the emotional impact that the gospel should have on every sincere heart. If it does not, then one either does not understand the gospel, or he understands, but with a hardened heart, walks away. In walking away he has judged himself unfit for eternal dwelling in the presence of the loving God who gave His Son for them. He does not, therefore, know God.

[Chapter from the forthcoming book, RESTORING THE LOST LOVE.]

 

 

Gospel 1

The Holy Spirit knew that there would eventually come the skepticism of the Gnostics the latter part of the first century, which theology would be formalized gnosticism in the second century.   Since God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, the Gnostics erroneously assumed that the revelation of God through Jesus Christ meant that Jesus Christ was only a phantom. There could be no such thing as an incarnation because God could have no contact with evil flesh. Those who would teach such would be of those about whom John later wrote: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh (2 Jn 7). They would not confess that Jesus Christ is now what He was after the incarnational resurrection.

Jesus’ final coming in the flesh of man is foundational in defining the gospel. There could have been no cross if He had not first come in the flesh. The Gnostics, therefore, denied the gospel by denying the eternal incarnational sacrifice of the Son of God. The Gnostic’s denial encourages us to reaffirm the prerequisite for the truth of the gospel. There could have been no gospel if there were truly no incarnation, which incarnation was in some way eternal, for He is coming in the flesh, into which flesh we will become like He now is (1 Jn 3:2).

We must conclude that the gospel (good news) was first revealed through the incarnation of the transcendent God who came into the physical world of our existence:

  • An unending incarnational existence: Now we have come to a necessity that explains the superlative, “God so love the world” (Jn 3:16). The gospel revelation began on earth with an unending incarnational birth in Bethlehem that will extend to the final coming of Jesus in the flesh of a glorious body. The incarnation would continue even into eternity wherein Jesus will dwell among His brethren in the presence of God. The gospel necessitates the incarnation of the One who was originally in eternity in the form of God (Jn 1:1,2,14). If Jesus were only a man, then there is no such thing as the gospel.   If there were no incarnation, then there would have been no offering. His sacrificial offering demanded His incarnation in the flesh of man.   So, the Gnostics were wrong.
  • Eternal (sufficient) atoning sacrifice: Since it was not logical or possible that created animals could possibly atone for sins against the eternal God (Hb 10:1-4), then there had to be a volunteer from God to repair the damage our sin created in our fellowship with God. That which was in the form of God, the Son, had to make the eternal gospel journey from the presence of God to the our presence on earth, and eventually to a sacrificial cross (See Ph 2:5-8). There was no other way.

We must conclude that the incarnation of the Son of God moves our understanding of the gospel beyond the cross alone. The fact that God the Son gave up being in the form of God in the spirit assumes the suffering that all of us in the flesh confront throughout our own lives. His suffering in the flesh began in a manger in Bethlehem and extended to the first driven nails through His flesh on the cross. When we speak of the incarnation, therefore, we understand that the sacrifice was more than the cross. This explains what John meant when he identified the deceiver as the one who denied the incarnation. We thus understand that the gospel sacrifice of the incarnation went far beyond His few hours on the cross.

His was an extreme love for us in that He was willing to be eternally incarnate in the flesh in order to transition us from our present flesh into that gloriously transformed flesh in which He now exists (See Ph 3:21; 1 Jn 3:2). (For more research on this subject, consult Book 73, chapters 1-3, The Gospel of God’s Heart, Biblical Research Library, www.africainternational.org.)

Comprehending the incarnational journey of the Son of God from the form of God in the spirit to the flesh of man is most difficult to comprehend (Ph 2:5-11). In fact, from a human perspective it is incomprehensible, for we are not God.   But the more we understand our sin, and our inability to live without sin, the more we begin to catch a small glimmer of hope in understanding the awesome love of God.

Understanding that the eternal God who existed in spirit would contemplate venturing out of eternal, spirit dwelling into our sin infested world is stunning. It is overwhelming. It is humbling. It knocks all pretentiousness out of our souls. It moves our hearts to the declarative question, “Wretched man that I am!   Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rm 7:24).

In the preceding question, it was as if Paul—the self-confessed chief of sinners—could now understand the revelation of the Spirit that poured forth from the tip of his fingers on a quill while he scribbled the inspired words of the Romans manuscript. We assume that his hands were quivering in thanksgiving as he inscribed these thoughts. A tear may have smudged the ink as he followed with an outburst of gratitude: I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rm 7:25).

The heart that is not emotionally overwhelmed by the eternal incarnational coming of the Son of God into the flesh of man is certainly a heart that is beyond submission. It is a heart that has disqualified itself from dwelling in the eternal presence of the God of sacrificial love. It is a heart that does not know God.

  • The resurrectional ascension and reign: The resurrection of Jesus was necessary to validate the purpose of the cross. The cross would have no power if there were no hope of eternal living for all those who would fall prostrate before the incarnational offering of the Son of God. The resurrection proved Jesus to be the Son of God (Rm 1:4,5). It also proved that those who obey the gospel will have life eternal as a result of their obedience to the gospel for the remission of sins (At 2:38).

The ascension was necessary in order to prove that the supposed resuscitated Jesus did not wander off into obscurity and die, as some Gnostics of the second century claimed. Reigning at the right hand of God, precluded ascension, and ascension precluded true resurrection from the dead. All of this is good news. It is gospel.

The cross alone would be meaningless if it were not for the resurrection. The resurrection could be questioned without the ascension. And the ascension would be meaningless without somewhere for Jesus to be in reference to our existence in the midst of Satan here on earth.   This is all gospel, for the sacrifice of the incarnate Son of God solved our reconciliation with God for eternity.   His resurrection solved our fatalism in believing that this world is all there is. The ascension solved our wonder as to where He went. And His reign solves our anxiety problem that no matter what transpires in this life, Jesus is still King of kings and Lord of lords with authority over all things (Mt 28:18; 1 Tm 6:15). This is great news! This is gospel!

[From a forthcoming book, by Roger E. Dickson, on the gospel of the incarnate God.]

 

Attacking The Gospel

If a Christian forsakes, or distorts in any way any part of the gospel, then he has delivered a death blow to the very heart of the existence of Christianity. If he remains religious in his attack, then he has turned away from being Christian to being a self-sanctifying religionists. If any part of the gospel message is either questioned, or denied, or disobeyed, then one leaves or distorts the very purpose for which the Son of God came into the world to reveal the gospel—to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10). If such attacks are made against the heart of the gospel, then one will lose his way as a disciple of the Son of God. In fact, he will simply cease being a disciple of the One who revealed the gospel to the world.
 
The Holy Spirit knew that such an apostasy would happen among some Christians in various areas of the world throughout history. He thus prepared some specific recorded cases in the New Testament where there were attacks made against the heart of the gospel. He recorded why and how some would lose their way, and thus cease to be witnesses in their communities that Jesus was the Christ and Son of the living God (See Mt 16:16-18).
 
While the apostles were still alive, there were some Christians who cut away part of the core of the gospel message. They were “saying that the resurrection is already past” (2 Tm 2:18). And by promoting this teaching, “they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tm 2:18). The denial of the resurrection was one reason why Paul was on his way to Corinth. He was headed to Corinth in order to cut out of the fellowship of the church of God those who became arrogant and who attacked the gospel by denying the resurrection (See 2 Co 1:23; 10:1-18; 13:2,10).
 
There were those among the Corinthians who believed that the dead would not be resurrected. But if this were true, then why, Paul argues, would we ever be baptized in order to put to bury the old dead man of sin (1 Co 15:29)? Why would one be baptized to bury the old man of sin, if we in the future will not be raised to join Christ in eternal life (See Rm 6:3-6).
 
It was not coincidental, therefore, that Paul began 1 Corinthians 15—the New Testament chapter on the resurrection—with a brief definition of the heart of the gospel:
 
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Co 15:3,4).
 
In obedience to the gospel, we connect with the atoning blood of Jesus when we are crucified with Him in repentance before being buried with Him in the waters of baptism (Rm 6:4). We are subsequently raised with Him in order to walk in newness of life (Rm 6:4). Therefore, “if we have been united together in the likeness of His [Christ’s] death [in baptism], we will also be in the likeness of His resurrection” when He comes again (Rm 6:5). We connect with the future resurrection when Jesus comes again when we are raised with Christ from the waters of baptism.
 
If one denies the resurrection in the end, then he has denied the reason we are buried and raised with Christ in the present. If one denies this part in our obedience to the gospel, then he has denied the totality of the gospel! Why would the Son of God ever leave the comforts of eternity in heaven in order to die on an “old rugged cross” for our sins if there were no resurrection in the future? Why would one even be raised from the grave of water with Jesus if there were no such thing as a resurrection from the dead?
 
One is a Christian because he or she has followed Jesus to the cross, and from a grave of water, to the promise of a bodily resurrection in the future by being raised with Jesus from the waters of baptism. In this response to the gospel of Jesus, one has obeyed the gospel. It is for this reason that Christians are encouraged, motivated and compelled to both obey and preach the gospel to others (See 1 Pt 4:17).
 
When we bring into doubt any part of the message of the gospel, or response to it, then we deny the reality of the gospel. We have left the motivation of our first love, and thus, our motivation to seek and save the lost! Any doubt or denial of the resurrection of both Jesus, and ourselves in the future, cuts the heart out of the gospel. Christians are believers to be pitied for their faith if there is no resurrection of the body when Jesus comes again (1 Co 15:19). If there is no resurrection coming when Jesus comes, then we lose our motivation to take the message of the gospel into all the world (See Mk 16:15,16).
 
We thus preach and obey the “connection” (baptism) with the gospel of Jesus as necessary in order to enjoy the coming resurrection from the dead. We are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus’ atoning death and bodily resurrection (Rm 1:16). Neither are we ashamed of proclaiming the mandate of the Holy Scriptures that one must connect with the gospel of Jesus through immersion into Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. If we would be ashamed of this connection, then we would reveal to the world that we actually have little faith in the power of Jesus’ atoning death and bodily resurrection.
 
We must never lead ourselves to believe that the power unto salvation is simply in our own belief in the gospel. Neither is our salvation in a legal action of baptism in water. The power unto salvation is the gospel of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and resurrection. When we are responsive to the gospel by baptism into Christ, then we connect with the atoning death of Jesus in order that our sins be washed away (At 22:16). It is through this obedient connection that we are raised with Him in anticipation of the resurrection of the dead when He comes again (See Jn 5:28,29). In order to connect with the power of the gospel, therefore, one must go to the cross, grave and resurrection with Jesus in baptism.
 
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Gospel Relationships

There is a vast difference between the relational fellowship of the saints of God and those of a religious social club. The revelation of this difference lies at the heart of 1 John 1:3:

That which [the incarnational Son of God] we have seen and heard we declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

This is the biblical definition of our relationship with God and with one another. John prefaced this statement with the declaration of the incarnational Word: “For the life was manifested and we have seen and bear witness and show to you that eternal life that was with the Father and was manifested to us” (1 Jn 1:2). John wanted to focus the attention of His readers on the “incarnational Word” with which he had commenced his epistle:

That which was from the beginning, that we have heard, that we have seen with our eyes, that we have looked [Gr., gazed] upon and our hands have handled, we proclaim concerning the Word of Life (1 Jn 1:1).

A more clear statement in any language could not have been made that explains the fellowship (relationship) of the saints with God and one another. The saints’ relationship with one another is a fellowship that is based on the gospel fact that “in the beginning was the Word … and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:1,14). And since all the saints have obeyed the gospel of this incarnate Word, then He, not ourselves, is always the foundation of our relationships with one another.   There can be no other foundation for true Christian relationships.

Christians are drawn together because of their common obedience to the incarnational offering of the Word on the cross, His burial for our hope, resurrection, and His present reign over all things.   Connection (fellowship) with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through our common obedience to this gospel is what establishes our relationship with God and one another. Our obedience to the gospel of the incarnational Son of God is the impetus, the foundation, the eternal bond of fellowship that we have with the eternal Word of Life, and thus, the guarantee of living forever.   The Christians’ relationships with one another is far beyond the relationship of friendship.

We hear a great deal today about relationships in the religious world. Religions throughout the world have invented every possible stimulus to produce relationships among the members of their respective churches. We have heard on numerous occasions the statement that “Christianity is about relationships.” And, it is. However, are the relationships of religion truly based on the incarnational and resurrected Word of Life that the members have obeyed in their burial and resurrection with the Word of Life? Or, are they manufactured relationships through relational encounters of the members with one another in order to enhance friendships?

If our relationship with one another is not first based on our obedience to the gospel of the Word of Life, then we will become a religious social club when we come together in assembly as friends.   If our relationships are simply fabricated and maintained by the art of human relational mechanisms of psychology, then the gospel soon passes from being the primary purpose for which we come together in assembly. We must remember that the relationships that gospel-obedient Christians have with one another goes far beyond friendships. There is something much deeper in the relationships of gospel-obedient disciples than having “good buddies,” or being faithful in attendance at the local church social club.

The bond of the relationships that gospel-obedient disciples have with one another is not initially based on their friendships with one another. John clarified that we have a relationship (fellowship) with one another because of our common obedience to the gospel of the Word of Life. Paul explained that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Co 12:13). And because baptized disciples are one body, they organically function as a body of relational disciples (See 1 Co 12:15-27).

Cult members have strong relationships with one another. They are driven together because of their great respect for, or fear of, the leader of the cult.   Religions often lean toward cultism in the sense that the “pastor” is the attraction of the hour of assembly and center of reference for the faith of the members. Assemblies that are generated and maintained around a dynamic personality can never be the relational fellowship that is so natural with gospel-obedient saints. Gospel-obedient saints are drawn to one another because of their common obedience of the gospel of the Word of Life. They are relational before they show up at any assembly that is designed to promote relationships. In other words, the relationships that Christians have with one another are divinely generated, not humanly manufactured. If one simply wants to be a co-religionist with other religionists, then he can simply “join the church of his choice.” But when one joins himself to Jesus through obedience to the gospel, he is added by God to a family of gospel-obedient disciples (At 2:47).

Religionists assemble in order to experience either a relational or experiential event that would enhance their relationships with one another. But gospel-obedient saints come together in assembly because they have established a relationship (fellowship) with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through their obedience to the gospel.   They were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit into a covenant relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19). Their motivation for assembly, therefore, is not to establish a greater relationship (fellowship) with one another and God, but to celebrate the fact that they already have a gospel-obedient relationship with one another and God because they have been baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Their individual addition to the body of members has brought them into a relationship of a gospel-obedient family of disciples.

It is for this reason that we question the assembly of those who have come together with little desire to celebrate the gospel through the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. By this we mean that those who assemble on the first day of the week and fail to partake of the communal (fellowship) Supper of the incarnational Word of Life, have either forgotten, or never established the purpose for which the saints assemble in the first place. If we assemble without the Supper, then we are simply renewing our friendships with one another. Our assembly has become no different than the assembly of the local “Rotary Club.”   If our purpose is simply to come together with the saints in order to reestablish our relationships, then we have become a religious social club that can cerebrate nothing greater than our friendship with one another. If we have come together to fulfill our narcissistic desire to enjoy a Sunday-morning entertainment event, then we have failed to come together for the purpose of honoring the incarnational Son who came in the flesh in order to establish our covenant relationship with Him.

Saints who come together simply to reestablishing relationships, experience an emotional event (speaking in tongues, or concerts), or simply out of obedience to law, have not yet understood the purpose for the saints’ assembly. If they have lost their way in this matter, then they are not drawn in attendance to the Table of the Lord. Their assembly simply becomes an attendance to a Hollywood experience. If Jesus does not take center stage for our assemblies, then our assemblies have become narcissistic productions in order that we “get something out of the Sunday morning event.” Those who fail to show up at the Table of the gospel have identified themselves to have lost their motivation by the gospel of Jesus.

The early disciples came together in a relational manner in order to experience together the celebration of the Word of Life.   It was this Word that the early apostles handled, touched and gazed upon. Because of their relationship (fellowship) with the Father through the incarnational Son, the saints came together to remember and celebrate the incarnational sacrifice and risen Word who came down out of heaven into this world in order to take us out of this world. The saints in Ephesus remembered and celebrated this gospel event every first day of the week in a fellowship meal that surrounded the Supper of the Lord (At 20:7).

The “breaking of bread” among the early disciples was a fellowship meal that they enjoyed with one another in their remembrance of the blood and body of the Lord. The Holy Spirit reminded the Corinthian saints that their participation in the feast was a relational (fellowship) experience.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, it is not the fellowship of the body of Christ? (1 Co 10:16).

The Corinthians started to marginalize, or corrupt the Lord’s Supper during this love feast. They turned the “breaking of bread” into a drunken occasion where they revealed their inconsiderate relationships for one another. Because their assemblies digressed into pleasing themselves (narcissism), they were not able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper that should have revealed their fellowship with the Lord and one another (See 1 Co 11:20,21). In other words, their dysfunctional relationships with one another in assembly revealed that they had a dysfunctional relationship with the One who should always be the center of attraction for every assembly. They had lost their way for coming together for a love feast that should have been an expression of their love for one another (See 1 Co 11-14).

When we produce attractions to stimulate attendance, then our assemblies move away from a clear focus on the gospel. When people are not motivated in life by the gospel of Life, something other than the gospel must be the stimulus for them to attend the religious assemblies.

Gospel-obedient saints come together in assembly in order to celebrate the reason why they have a common bond with one another. It is because they have fellowship with one another through their common obedience to the gospel that they come together in assembly. Every Christian has a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit because of his or her obedience to the gospel (Rm 6:3-6). And because this relationship has been established by obedience to the gospel, they have a relationship with one another before and after any assemblies.

Christians can come together because they are good friends. But their relationships with one another in friendship never has priority over their friendship with Jesus through their obedience to the gospel. In fact, the friendship (relationship) of Christians is based on Jesus, not simply on a relational friendship they might have with one another as neighbors in a community.

Those religious groups that minimized the observance of the Lord’s Supper in their assemblies have lost their way, if indeed they ever knew the way to a gospel covenant relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through baptism into Christ. Because they have not focused on obedience to the gospel, their assemblies have often become narcissistic Hollywood productions, religious parties as some in Corinth, or simply the observance of ceremonial rituals that bring some comfort to those who are ridden with guilt.

Unless the gospel is preached and obeyed, assemblies will always be religious ceremonial exercises or concert experiences.   Unless the gospel of the incarnational Son of God is restored as the center of reference for assembly, the attendees will never realize the worshipful experience that results from an assembly that is focused totally on the resurrected and reigning Son of God who first brought them together in their common obedience to the gospel.

“Family Idolatry”

Matthew, a Jew in writing to Jews who greatly valued their families, mentioned that one of Jesus’ early disciples asked of Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father(Mt 8:21). In societies as the Jews that greatly valued the family, what Jesus said to this son would seem almost inexcusably harsh: Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead(Mt 8:22).

We believe that Jesus assumed that the disciple should have understood that the “spiritually dead” must bury their own “spiritually dead.” But still, it was the young man’s own father. Does discipleship at times call on us to commit to Jesus more than burying one’s own father?

The historical context of the above incident could have been that the father was not yet dead. The son simply wanted to hang around home close to his father until the aged father died. Matthew stated that the son was a disciple. But even at this time in the ministry of Jesus, the young disciple realized that the gospel message that Jesus was introducing would eventually demand of him as a disciple to go far beyond Judea, Samaria, but into the uttermost parts of the world. Peter, James, John and the other disciples had made this commitment to allow Jesus to move them beyond their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, even their own lands, which to the Jews was a sacred heritage (Consider At 4:32-37).   Even if one could not go into all the world, he or she could, as Gaius, financially support those who could (See 3 Jn 5-7). One is a disciple of Jesus by either going personally to preach the gospel, or going through the sending of others (See Rm 10:14,15). One is not truly a disciple if he or she is doing neither.

Many years ago we were in the coastal city of Malindi, Kenya. We were about to teach a seminar for area religious leaders.   Before the meeting began, one young leader showed up just before the seminar started. While he was introducing himself, he said to all of us, “My wife and I were on our way to the burial of a relative and I heard about the seminar on the way.”

The committed disciple then informed us, “I said to my wife to go on to the burial of the relative. The seminar on Bible study was more important. I will go to the seminar.”

If a possible conflict arises that calls for a decision to be made between Jesus and funerals, does Jesus really call on us to commit to Him above the burial of relatives?

On the occasion of the introductory incident during the ministry of Jesus, Jesus was passing through the area of the young disciple. The opportunity to follow Jesus was brief. Our preceding Kenyan friend knew that the seminar was only for two days. The opportunity would pass by the time he returned from the burial of his relative in a far village.   He made a decision, and that decision was to seek first kingdom business. He seized the opportunity to follow when the opportunity presented itself.   He obeyed that command of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 4:27: “Do not give opportunity to the devil.”

Jesus was not teaching that everyone must forsake their families in order to be His disciple. But it does mean that we must have our priorities correct in reference to putting Him first before all human relationships of this world.

We never cease to be amazed at the cleverness of Satan. If Christians could only be as clever as Satan in reference to committing themselves to preaching the gospel, then we would have long ago preached the gospel to the entire world, and then called on Jesus to come and end it all.   But Satan is clever. He would convince good-hearted Christians to consume all their financial resources on good things, but things that do not involve the saving of the lost.

We recently heard a new phrase that expressed a thought that we had read in our Bibles and preached for over a half century. But we had never heard the teaching expressed so specifically. We heard the phrase at a local restaurant while enjoying a great cup of coffee with a religious leader of a local fellowship with whom we had recently encountered.

During the conversation, the husband and wife team said, “We have trouble with ‘family idolatry.’”

Did that ever ring a bell of reality in a culture where family, as in the Jewish culture, is often prized above faith. When relatives are in town, faith and God’s family is forsaken for family in the flesh.

These two committed disciples further explained that family relations and earthly considerations in their area of work were almost always considered more important than God’s work. Paying for private education, bigger houses, and new cars were always more important than contributing to the preaching of the gospel to the world.

They explained that when relatives were visiting one of the members of their group, the members would shut down their association with the family of God in order to be with the visiting relatives. There was sin beneath the good. The sin to forsake the family of God seemed justified by “burying the dead” of visiting relatives. This is nothing new in Satan’s bag of clever tricks to divert the attention of Christians from the prime objective of our Founder who said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness …” (Mt 6:33). “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:10).

It is certainly right to bury one’s father. But when Jesus called a disciple from burying his own father in order to go into all the world, there would have been sin beneath the good if the disciple had forsaken Jesus for a funeral service. Was Jesus simply teaching a hyperbole of discipleship? Or, was He teaching a principle that family, lands and things, should never be exalted over commitment to preach His gospel message to the world?

I remember that in my world ministry of preaching the gospel, I personally never had the opportunity to bury my own father or mother who at the time lived on the other side of the world. I was somewhere in the world when both passed away. Fellow brothers and sisters at home who had partnered with me in world evangelism carried out the burial necessities without my presence.   If I had left my mission to bury either father or mother, my faithful mother would have “rolled over in her grave” if I dared leave the mission of preaching the gospel in order to throw dirt on her grave. She understood precisely what Jesus meant when He called His disciples to exalt Him above family. Our memory of her commitment to Jesus throughout her life echoed in our hearts to stay the course of preaching the gospel of Jesus to the world. While she was living, both of us were willing to exchange “good bye’s” for “hello’s” in heaven. Both my wife and I determined long ago not to involve ourselves in “family idolatry.”

Jesus calls for total commitment, the level of commitment that calls on us to refrain from making our families the god of our lives. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me (Mt 10:37). According to the meaning of this statement, those who are involved in “family idolatry” have judged themselves to be unworthy of Jesus. Jesus continued, “And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Mt 10:37).

We know fathers and mothers, sons and daughters who would consider family business above kingdom business. Peter, and the other eleven disciples of Jesus, were willing to make the sacrifice of family for faith.

“Then Peter began to say to Him [Jesus], “Behold, we have left all and have followed You.” And Jesus answered and said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My sake and the gospel’s, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life(Mk 10:28,29).

Peter and the other disciples were not “family idolaters.” Peter was a good husband and providing son (See Mt 8:14,15). The Holy Spirit instructed that one must provide food and shelter for his own family, though he does not need to stay at home in order to do this (1 Tm 5:8). When providing beyond food and shelter, one must be careful not to forsake his or her commitment as a disciple of Jesus by focusing on things of this world that will pass away. Seeking first the kingdom of God may involve allowing someone else to bury our fathers.

“Serpent Christians”

“Unlike Jesus, I don’t need a silly cross to save my people. I believe I’m the messiah of our time, I’m gonna save this nation like Jesus saved Christians. Except, I’ll be able to save you without some silly cross.”

 So said the leader of one the prominent political parties here in South Africa.   Such blasphemous statements remind us of the circumstances surrounding Herod when he allowed the people to say of him, “The voice of a god and not a man” (At 12:22). And then the Holy Spirit reported on the result of Herod’s arrogant behavior: “And immediately an angel of the Lord smote him because he did not give God the glory. And he was eaten by worms and died” (At 12:23).

In response to the preceding statement of the South African politician, Dr. Jan Venter wrote in the Farmer’s Weekly, the century-old weekly publication of South Africa, “Leaders who claim godlike qualities often face disastrous ends” (FW, April 13, 2018). Such a disastrous end came upon Herod. We have witnessed throughout history the same end of similar self-proclaimed demagogues.

God established governing authorities for the sake of the people of a nation.   Therefore, “let every soul [of a nation] be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God. The authorities that exist are ordained by God” (Rm 13:1). God ordained government, not specific government officials.

When some authorities called the apostles Peter and John into their council chambers and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, the apostles responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard(At 4:19,20). If ever our religious leaders of a country move into the political wings of government, and make statements as that which was voiced by the preceding opportunistic South African politician or Herod, then it is time to take a stand for truth.

Satan does not idly lurk quietly in a dim street alley awaiting for some unsuspecting innocent to wander where lions roar. He more often covertly rises in the ranks of the legislators of government who enact antichrist laws that reflect their unbelief. Before indifferent Christians finally realize that the “governing authorities” are commanding us “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus,” it is sometimes too late. Before the indifferent realize it, they have lost their freedom. When Islam swept across North Africa in the seventh century, this antichrist faith swept Christianity off that part of the continent. When the atheistic communist regime of Mao se Tung rose to power in China, he too did house cleaning and sought to sweep Christianity out of China. It is not the work of Satan that is the problem. He is only doing his business. The problem is inert and inactive and indifferent Christians.

In one of our neighboring countries to the north of us, some secular politicians have begun to affect the churches of the nation. One example was the banning of land to be sold to religious groups for the construction of church buildings in the capital city. Another example would be in our country of residence. When anyone buys food from any of the major food suppliers, he or she unknowingly pays the Halaal price to a Muslim imam who must bless the food. This is a violation of any constitution that guarantees freedom of religion.   Christians in South Africa are not free from this ransom price that must be paid to the Muslim faith when they purchase food at any of the large food stores. The problem is ignorance on the part of the general public who mostly no nothing of this practice by the Muslim community. The rest of the citizenship of the country keep themselves in darkness by their own indifference.

Satan often works himself in by way of the back door. Those Christians who are indifferent—which indifference they pass off as being forbearing and patient—will always find themselves at the mercy of the devices of Satan. Christianity is a “militant” faith, but not by guns and suicide bombers. It is through a persistent stand for truth that enables Christians to be the preservative of society.

When Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” He did not mean “indifferent as serpents,” and “idle as doves” (Mt 10:16). Those metaphors would make no sense. We must not forget that Jesus used the metaphor “wise as serpents,” not “wise as Solomon.” Serpents have a bite, and that bite has venom. A serpent will certainly be patient. He will not strike unless threatened. But if threatened, he will strike with a venomous bite.

It is quite interesting that Jesus would use the behavior of a serpent in reference to those who follow Him. Unfortunately, many of Jesus’ disciples today forget what Jesus said to His immediate followers: “Do no think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Mt 10:34). We never hear the subject of “Christian serpents” preached. We feel that most indifferent Christians have no desire to bite back with the truth when threatened … ever. But when the truth of the gospel is threatened, Christians must be reminded that it is time to sling the sword of the Spirit in standing up for the truth. When political “messiahs” arrogantly blaspheme the cross by which we are saved, it is time to bite back with the venom of the truth of God.

Gospel Freedom (19)

GOSPEL SEEKS LAW

We must understand that Jesus’ ministry was to a religious people who were led by legalistic religious leaders. The early disciples were established first among the Jews who were the product of these leaders. In order to understand the purpose for which much of the New Testament was written, one must understand the nature of traditional legalistic religion.

We must not misunderstand what Paul is saying concerning legalism in many of his writings. Too often critics accuse Paul of believing that obedience to law was not necessary concerning one’s salvation. In fact, some in Rome believed that because we are saved by grace, we are not obligated to direct our lives by the law of God. Paul rebuked some Roman Christians, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rm 6:1). In other words, if grace saves to the uttermost, then in order to have an abounding grace of God in one’s life, we can live as we please.   In doing this, Jude stated that some “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jd 4). Some felt free to live as they wished because of an erroneous belief that grace would cover all sin. This is the Christian who believes he can get by with all sorts of sin because we are under grace. This is also the Christian who feels he has no obligations because we are supposedly saved by grace alone.

One must not deceive himself into believing he can sow to the flesh and reap the fruit of the Spirit of God (Gl 6:6,7).   One must not believe that he or she has no obligations toward his or her brother or sister, for we must “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gl 6:2). One must not believe that he can idly sit by and do nothing, for in Christ our faith must be working through love (Gl 5:6).   If one is doing nothing, then it is evident that he has no gratitude for the gospel of Jesus.

We must not misunderstand grace. Grace frees one from salvation by meritorious law-keeping. It does not free one to do his own thing, and thus, live after the flesh. We must always remember that when the Scriptures discuss faith, faith in response to the gospel is assumed. If our faith in the gospel produces no good works, then we are dead (Js 2:17). The truth of the gospel is so axiomatic in the lives of those who live by faith, that obedience is simply assumed.

When one understands salvation by grace, he understands that he is not saved by the traditions of men. He is freed from human religious traditions. For this reason, those who preach the gospel of grace have the greatest message in the world to a religious world that is in the bondage of their own religiosity. In a world that struggles to maintain the religious traditions of the fathers, the freedom of the grace of God comes as a message of deliverance.

When one understands salvation by grace, then the law of God is established in his life by faith. Paul wrote, “Do we then make void the law through faith?   Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law (Rm 3:31).   When one through faith recognizes and trusts in the grace of God, he cries out, “Abba, Father.” He seeks to obey the Father as an obedient child of faith.   In gratitude to the Father, therefore, he seeks to obey the Father. His life under grace is thus more abundant than a life of self-sanctifying law-keeping.   Paul wrote of his own life,

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (1 Co 15:10).

While a legalistic Jew, Paul was known for being a diligent laborer for God. However, when he discovered the grace of God that was revealed through Jesus, he labored more abundantly. Therefore, when one discovers the gospel of grace, he labors more abundantly for God than when he sought God through meritorious obedience. Legalistic theology puts limits on the obedience of an individual. However, the gospel frees one to spiritually grow without limits. Legalism limits; gospel causes growth.

As we venture into the marvelous letters of the New Testament, we discover the nature of God’s heart of grace that sets men free. Jesus came to set men free.   Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:32). “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn 8:36). Jesus came to set the captives free (Is 61:1; Ep 4:8,9). The captives are not free from law, but they are free from themselves in reference to meritorious performance of law. They are free from religion through the gospel of Jesus.   They are set free in order to obey God rather than man.

In a religious sense, legalism is religious humanism. Secular humanism makes people the center of reference to life. It is believed that the power of existence centers around the ability of the individual to control his own destiny. The secular humanist discards God for the sake of trusting his own egocentric ability to be his own person.

The religious humanist maintains belief in God.   In the Galatian and Roman context, the religious humanist believed in the gospel of grace on the cross.   However, he also trusted in himself by emphasizing his ability to perform law or do meritorious deeds in order to sanctify himself. The legalist, therefore, becomes the center of reference for his own religion that he has created after his own system of religious self-sanctification.

However, all such beliefs enslave one to himself.   The legalist usually does not have a conscience that is free of guilt. If it is free of guilt, it is arrogant, for he assumes that he has performed law sufficiently in order to save himself. Such a one is self-centered. In his or her self-centered religious egotism, dependence on the gospel fades into a distant past as one arrogantly assumes pride in oneself to self-sanctify oneself through the performance of religious rites.

The more we understand the true mentality of legalism, the better we will understand why Holy Spirit was so stern against its invasion into the Galatian and Roman churches. The better we understand Spirit’s argument against legalism, the better we will appreciate the tremendous grace of God in our lives to save us from ourselves.

It is through this grace that we receive the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. It is because of this grace that the Christian can have confidence in his salvation. He can have confidence, not because of meritorious good works, or his ability to keep law perfectly. His confidence is in the grace of the gospel regardless of human imperfections.   Therefore, because of His grace toward us at the cross of Christ, we live out thanksgiving to Him for the revelation of the gospel.

(End of series)