All About Jesus

It often requires a readjustment of thinking to learn that the Bible is not first about us. It is first about the gospel of Jesus who is the incarnational offering of God in order to bring us into His company and prepare us for eternity.   The following text turns a light on in our thinking concerning this truth:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us(Tit 2:11-14).

This one passage defines the world view of the Christian. In this statement, the word “grace” sums up the totality of all that God did on our behalf in order to accomplish His eternal plan. Grace reveals the summation for the purpose of this world. This is the gospel. This is the world view by which Christians live the gospel. And thus, Paul personifies this grace as our “instructor” concerning how we are to live in this world in preparation for that which is to come.

In the statement, it is grace (the gospel) that does the teaching. Or better, it is grace that gives us the motive to “live sensibly ….”   It is the gospel of grace that is the motive to look “for the blessed hope and glorious appearing [of Jesus] ….” It is the gospel that is deep in our hearts that controls our thinking and behavior in order that we be prepared, not just for the coming of Jesus, but also that we be morally refocused in our hearts in order to dwell in eternity in the presence of His Holiness. Only by submitting to the “instruction” of grace can all this happen when He comes again.

The gospel is the underlying motivation that gives us a reason to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” in order that we look for the coming of the incarnational and resurrected “Savior Christ Jesus.” The gospel inspires us to change our lives, and then have hope for a better environment of existence in the presence of our heavenly Father. It was this grace into which the prophets of old searched diligently to discover (1 Pt 1:10-12). We have been so fortunate that it was revealed in this last dispensation of time on earth (See Ep 3:3-5).

 “By faith Abraham … was looking for a city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hb 11:8,10). Our faith in all that the gospel of Jesus is turns our minds away from worldly lusts in order to yearn for a heavenly habitation in the presence of God. The purpose of the entire Bible, therefore, is based on defining the gospel as our motive by which we would live in the present in preparation for the future.

The Holy Spirit states this purpose in other words to the Colossians: If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above …. Set your mind on things above …” (Cl 3:1,2). The exhortation means that by faith we go down into the tomb of water with Jesus, but then we are “raised with Christ.” Paul questions why some in Colosse would be buried and resurrected with Christ if kept focusing on living the immoral life. His argument is that gospel obedience assumes gospel living.

Paul said this in a similar question that he posed to some Corinthians who believed that Christ was not raised from dead: “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” (1 Co 15:29; see Rm 6:3-6). The rational conclusion for the Corinthians was that in their recognition of being the old dead man in sin before their obedience to the gospel, why were they baptized to put away the old dead man if they discontinued believing in the resurrection?

Paul’s questions to both the Colossians and Corinthians were based on the truth of the gospel. If they responded to the gospel by being baptized into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, then why would they seek to live according to the world in which they were dead in sin?

When we were dead in trespasses and sin (Ep 2:1,2), we heard the gospel, and then believed in the good news of the resurrection.   We were then moved on to “seek those things that are above.” It is the Bible that gives us this information, and thus the purpose of the Bible is to increase our faith in the incarnational work of the Father through Jesus in order that we grow in faith, for “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17).

It is now that we understand what Peter was encouraging us to do in 2 Peter 3:18: “But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” We are encouraged to study the Bible in order to understand better the grace (gospel) of God that teaches us to live a godly life. We study the Bible in order that we may know more about “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” We thus study in order to understand His work through the gospel to bring us into His eternal presence. The more we learn about the gospel, the more the gospel (God’s grace) activates a gospel walk of gratitude. The Bible, therefore, is first about that in which we must base our motivate (heart) in order to be directed in our living the gospel.

Some of the disciples in Achaia, especially in the city of Corinth, were questioning the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.   Therefore, it is not unusual that the greatest text on the resurrection of Jesus was placed in a letter that deals with so many problems in the relationships of Christians with one another.   Problems concerning dysfunctional and ungodly attitudes and behavior permeated the Corinthian church. The reason for this was based squarely on the denial of the resurrection by some in Corinth who were attacking this fundamental motive for gospel living. They were denying the resurrection of Jesus, and thus, removing the motive for living according to the gospel. Paul frankly stated, “Now if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is vain” (1 Co 15:17). In fact, he eventually comes to the point in his rebuke of those who denied the resurrection by saying that the Christina life is useless if there is no resurrection.

 If there were no resurrection in the gospel message, then there is no impetus for godly living. It was in reference to this subject that Paul again was laboring for them as a father over an immature child. He had written similar words to the Galatians: “My little children for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you …” (Gl 4:19). The gospel of Christ had not yet been formed in the hearts of some Corinthians, and the result was dysfunctional behavior.

If there is no such thing as a resurrection of the dead, “then Christ has not been raised” (1 Co 15:16). And if Christ was not raised, “then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Co 15:18). And thus, “we are of all men most to be pitied” for a foolish belief in a resurrection (1 Co 15:19).

The foundation upon which our behavior, as disciples of Jesus is founded, is the resurrection. It was by Jesus’ resurrection that He was proved to be the Son of God (Rm 1:4), and thus, we behave in a godly manner because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God. We know that we will eventually give account for our behavior because He was raised from the dead. Therefore, 2 Corinthians 5:10 must bring us to attention:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of [the risen] Christ, so that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

 [Next lecture in series: October 1]

The Cleansing Blood

If we are feeling stained with sin, then we must be sure to make your way to the totality of the gospel.

The cross of Jesus deals with legal matters between ourselves and God. Through the gospel of grace, God dealt with the matter of our inability to legally stand just before Him. God knew this inability before He created us, and thus, He revealed at the cross His justice in creating us, for the cross happened in order “to declare at this time,” Paul wrote, His righteousness that He might be just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus (Rm 3:26).

Because we could never legally make ourselves right before Him through perfect keeping of law, sacrificial offering of Jesus had to be by grace, and grace had to be free. It could not be earned, for that would throw us back into the futility again of trying to earn our salvation through law-keeping. We would not, therefore, ever consider establishing another law system by which we would seek to justify ourselves before God. Neither would we seek to establish a religious system of church righteousness by which we would seek to earn the grace of God, or even obligate God to make the incarnational sacrifice of His Son.


God’s righteousness worked on our behalf because of the sanctification that came through the blood of the incarnate Son of God.   When we study through this subject, there is one point that must be clearly understood. Paul explained, For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gl 3:26,27).

When any biblical subject is discussed that uses the phrase “into Christ,” or “in Christ,” we must always understand that one comes into a relationship with Christ through his or her obedience to the gospel by immersion into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Too many people confuse themselves and others by ignoring how one becomes justified by the washing away of all sins (See At 22:16). We must simply keep in mind that faith without action is dead. And we have already explained that baptism can never be a meritorious work of law.   We must also remember that faith can never stand along without obedience to the will of God, especially when discussing the subject of obedience to the gospel (See 2 Th 1:6-9; 1 Pt 4:17).

In reference to sanctification, Paul addressed the letter of 1 Corinthians “to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus (1 Co 1:2). These were previously sin-stained people who lived in the bondage of sin. “Such were some of you,” Paul reminded Corinthians.But you were washed.   But you were sanctified. But you were justified …” (1 Co 6:11).   Because they were justified, and cleaned up through the blood of Jesus when they were baptized in order to wash away all their sins (At 22:16), they were now in a sanctified relationship with Christ because they had been baptized into Christ.

There is no magic in the waters of baptism.   There is no saving power in the action of immersion. All the magic and power resides in the cleansing blood of the gospel. Herein is the power of the gospel (Rm 1:16).   It is the blood of the incarnate Son of God that accomplishes the cleansing of those who come into Christ through the waters of baptism. Hebrew 10 is critical in explaining this truth. The principle upon which the Hebrew writer wrote was, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hb 10:10).

The incarnational offering that was revealed at the cross was good news. It was an offering that terminated all offerings for sin (See Hb 7:27). But even more encouraging is the verb that the Hebrew writer used to explain the results of Jesus’ sin offering for us. We “have been sanctified.” The verb is passive. We have been “acted upon” by Jesus in order to be washed clean of all sin.   At the cross, Jesus acted upon our death in sin in order that we be cleansed and made presentable to the Father at the time of our immersion into Christ. Jude’s final words are encouraging:

Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord (Jd 24,25).

The Hebrew writer continued to explain to his readers: For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Hb 10:14). Those to whom he was writing had been “acted upon” by Jesus through the cross, and thus “perfect” in Christ. The sanctifying power of the cross continued “perfecting” even to the day the Hebrew writer was inscribing these words. Every time someone is baptized for remission of sins (At 2:38), therefore, the sanctifying blood of Jesus, that was poured forth from the cross, begins to flow throughout their faithful gospel living in order to cleanse them of sin. “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light … the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7).

Now suppose we would seek to return to a religion that was similar to the legal Judaism from which Paul, Peter and the early Jews fled? When they discovered the gospel of grace, they left their efforts to justify themselves through obedience to the religion of their fathers. When they saw the justification of the cross through the sanctifying blood of Jesus, they fled from the old Jewish self-righteousness and animal sacrifices.

The Hebrew writer was inscribing his words of exhortation to some Jewish Christians who were seeking to return to a religious system of self-justification through law. And today, there are those who have unknowingly established the same for themselves through church righteousness. They assume by their obedience to “church law” that they too can be justified by faithful obedience to “the church,” thinking that “the church” saves apart from the power of the gospel. This is the same as returning, as some of the Jewish Christians, to a religious system of self-justification and sanctification through meritorious works or performances of Judaism. But notice what the Hebrew writer continued to say about such efforts:

Of how much severer punishment do you suppose will he be thought worthy who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted as a common thing the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hb 10:29).

All who would seek to establish a meritorious religious system by which they would seek to be self-justified by religious performances of the “church,” or meritorious sanctification through works of the “church,” should seriously consider this question that the Holy Spirit posed through the Hebrew writer. We might think that our obedience to the “church” is necessary in order to supplement the gospel, but in doing so, we have “trodden under foot the Son of God.” We have “counted as a common thing the blood of the covenant” by which we have been totally sanctified. We must remember that the “church” saves no one. We are saved by the gospel, not by “church.”

When the church is relegate to religion, we are making efforts to sanctify ourselves apart from the blood of the gospel.   Religion is thus a denial of the sufficiency of the gospel. Since all religion exists because of man’s efforts to choose his own way into the grace of God, one’s way to the cross is detoured through the maze of the religious performances of men to prove one’s own worth before God. If we seek to bypass the sufficiency of the cleansing blood of the gospel with our own performances of religion, then we have shamed the Holy Spirit, and counted the blood of the cross an insufficient effort on the part of God to cleanse us of our sins.

The cleansing of our sins is something that God does. God has chosen us for salvation “through sanctification of spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Th 2:13). We were sanctified by Him (1 Co 6:11). If we try to do God’s job in reference to our sanctification, then we are bypassing His work at the cross, and the continual cleansing work of the blood of His Son. Christians are the sanctified (Hb 2:11). But their cleansing was the work of God, not a debt paid to them because of their meritorious accomplishments in performed religiosity. If we seek to be self-justified through self-sanctification, then we nullify the gospel.

Through the cross, God set aside perfect law-keeping as a condition to stand just before Him. In reference to our sin problem, He washed us of sin in the blood of His Son. If we seek His justification through the efforts of self-sanctification in religious performances, then we have denied the effect of the gospel. We have trodden under foot the Son of God and counted His shed blood a common thing.

We would not, therefore, misunderstand what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:3,4:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication; that every one of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor ….”

 We do not abstain in order to be sanctified.   We abstain from the works of the flesh because we are sanctified. If we were to abstain in order to become sanctified, then we would meritoriously be seeking justification before God on the merit of what we did or did not do.   And the fact is that we can never do anything perfectly.

Our sanctification by the blood of Jesus at the cross does not mean that we will live sinless after we have been washed in His blood at the time of baptism. If we say we can live without sin, then God says we are liars (1 Jn 1:6).   But if we continue to respond positively to the grace of God in our lives by living the gospel of Jesus, then “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).   We walk the life of thanksgiving, therefore, because of the cleansing that we have received through the gospel of Jesus.

The sanctifying blood of Jesus was not held up at the cross. The cross was only the fountain that released the cleansing power the blood of Jesus upon all those throughout all history who would obey and walk in the gospel of the Son of God.

[Next lecture in series: September 30]


Law Condemns – Faith Saves

We need to remain standing beside the three thousand on the day of Pentecost in order to see ourselves condemned through law.   We must continue to listen through their ears and understand with their hearts. For once, we must extract our Western definition of the heart from the picture in order to understand why so many immediately understood the message of the gospel once all the prophecies were connected with all the events surrounding the death of Jesus and His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. It is only then when we stand in their shoes do we really comprehend the “heart nature” of the gospel that was preached and received on that day.

At least three thousand of those who attended the Pentecost of A.D. 30 understood one very important matter concerning law.   Paul revealed in two letters the principle that the three thousand immediately confessed, and consequently, stood forward to do what was needed in response to the gospel message. To the Galatians, Paul wrote as a Jew of his former conversion from law,

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

And then in another letter he wrote to the Roman Christians, “Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of law (Rm 3:28).

In order to understand the heart of God at the cross, it is imperative that we understand that with which the three thousand lived for centuries. When faithful Jews stood before the apostles on that notable day, they stood there with jaws dropped and joy in their hearts. They could not believe what they were hearing.

In the preceding Galatian statement of his own response to the gospel, Paul introduced a profound truth that was self-evident in reference to law. The Jews who were there on the day of Pentecost were not theologically ignorant.   They were the most dedicated of the world, for all of them had made a lengthy journey over hundreds of kilometers in order to be there for Passover and Pentecost. Some made the journey every year. We must not question their sincerity, nor their desire to be obedient to the law of God. But there was a self-evident problem in law that they all realized.

Notice the obvious conclusion to law-keeping that Paul made in the Galatian statement: “knowing that a man is not justified by works of law.” There was no need that this truth come to them through revelation. When Paul made this statement, he was speaking directly to Peter on behalf of all Jews and ourselves who seek to be obedient to God.   As a follow-up to this self-evident truth, Paul said to Peter, even we [faithful Jews] have believed in Christ Jesus.”

Peter was the Jew of Jews, for on the occasion of this incident he had withdrawn himself from the Gentile Christians in Antioch when the traditional Jews came up from Jerusalem. Paul himself had first persecuted Jewish Christians in Judea because he considered them apostates from Judaism. But when both Paul and Peter saw the heart of the gospel, they had to confess that their efforts all their lives to justify themselves through perfect obedience of law was a futile attempt of religiosity.   They were honest lawbreakers who knew that something was very wrong with their religion. Law was not the problem. For example, “the [Sinai] law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rm 7:12). The problem is with those to whom law is given, whether Jews or Gentiles, and now, even Christians.

All who were honest and sincere on Pentecost, realized that there was a flaw in the theology of justification by works of law and meritorious atonement through good works. In fact, Paul stated, “But that no one is justified by law in the sight of God is evident (Gl 3:11). It took no great understanding of the fallible obedience of man to come to this conclusion. This is an axiomatic truth in reference to law, a truth that is self-evident.

Those on the day of Pentecost realized for centuries that it is not within man to walk perfectly the road of righteousness that is based on man’s performance of law and good deeds. All break law. Enough good deeds could never be performed in order to atone for one sin. Therefore, the obvious conclusion was that there was never any atonement for lawbreakers through the offering of animal sacrifices or their own self-sanctification through good works (See Hb 10:1-4).

In the context of Paul’s arguments in both Romans and Galatians, it is significant to understand that the article “the” is not in the Greek text of Galatians 2:16 and Romans 3:28 in reference to “law.” It has unfortunately been added by some translators. What Paul was writing was a truth that defined human inability: A man is not justified by works of law.”

By adding the article before the word “law,” some have evidently tried to take the pressure off ourselves as dysfunctional lawbreakers. By adding the article, we might conclude that Paul’s reference was only to the Sinai law. In the case of the Jews, this was true. But Abraham was justified by faith long before the Sinai law was given on Mt. Sinai. If Paul’s reference was only to the Sinai law, then we might conclude that we can devise a “law unto ourselves,” and subsequently, be justified by our own self-made law of righteousness, as some in Colosse were attempting to do. But without the article in the text, Paul would be moving the focus of the statement beyond Israel to all people who would seek to be justified before God through law. But it is simply impossible for any man to live perfectly before God through law-keeping, regardless of the law under which one might bring himself into submission.

In his arguments leading up to the Romans statement, Paul revealed that from the creation to the cross, the Gentiles lived under law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else excusing one another” (Rm 2:15). Because Paul did not use the article in these texts in reference to law, both Jews and Gentiles must recognize the principle that man cannot be justified before God by meritorious works of law. This principle applies to everyone, not simply to the Jews who lived under the Sinai law. It applies to anyone who might devise religious rites by which to justify themselves before God. It is simply a truth of honest hearts who recognize that there is no possible way for a man to justify himself legally before God through perfect obedience to law, “for by works of law no flesh will be justified.”

The problem, as previously stated, is not with law, but with man. The Hebrew writer reminded those who were seeking to return to a covenant of law, “For if that first [Sinai] covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them …” (Hb 8:6,7). The fault was not with the Sinai covenant, but with the people. The same principle is true today. Any religion that is based on a system of meritorious religious rites or law-keeping is simply useless in reference to producing reconciliation with God. The more one religiously seeks to be right through religious rites and perfect law-keeping, the further he moves himself away from being that which he seeks to be, that is, righteous before God.

Before any person would seek to establish laws by which they would consider themselves faithful before God, he must be honest with himself and confess the obvious truth that we are all lawbreakers. The honest Jews on Pentecost knew this in their hearts. They had followed their leaders’ traditions (laws) for years, knowing deep in their hearts that such religiosity was futile in reference to standing legally justified before God.   They knew that the Sinai law could not be kept perfectly. Those who would even consider the “law of Christ” to be a legal system of justification should remember this. They should lest we run to the New Testament in order to construct a legal system of law by which we would attempt to justify ourselves before God. Those who legalize the law of Christ are seeking to change Christianity into a religion of men, for in religion one focuses on his own ability to perform law in order to be justified before God, and not on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When Paul spoke of the “law of Christ” (Gl 6:2), he was not establishing again a legal system of justification under which the Jews were confined to live since Mt. Sinai. He was not promoting a paradigm shift from the legalities of the Sinai law to the same, but different, legalities under the “law of Christ.”   If one cannot be justified by legalities under any law, even the Sinai law, then there would also be no justification by the legalities of a supposed legal system of law in Christ. What was true under the old would also be true under the new. If there was no justification by perfect law-keeping under the old, then certainly the same inability on the part of man to perform perfectly stands true under the new.

What some have forgotten, in their efforts to make the law of Christ a legal system by which we would seek to justify ourselves before God, is that the law of Christ is what James explained it to be in James 1:25. It is the “perfect law of liberty.” The law of Christ liberates us from the demands of justification through law-keeping.   If one would seek to turn the law of Christ into a system of condemnation, whereby lawbreakers would seek to justify themselves before God, then Paul has an exhortation for them. It is an exhortation that concluded his arguments against such legal law-keepers in Galatia, but an encouragement for those who seek to walk by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ: “Stand fast therefore, in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage (Gl 5:1).

Paul considered it a very serious matter to think that we could justify ourselves before God through law. He considered it so serious that he made the following statement, You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace (Gl 5:4). These words should not be taken lightly.

The reason why one’s efforts to establish any system of law by which he would attempt to justify himself before God is discovered in the fact that such an effort is a denial of the heart of the gospel.   It is thus, the “other gospel” (Gl 1:6-9). The reason such is the “other gospel” is that self-justification, or church righteousness, denies the sufficiency of the incarnational sacrifice of the Son of God.

Paul wrote to the Roman disciples, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we will be saved from wrath through Him” (Rm 5:9). We are saved from the wrath of God through the cleansing blood of Jesus, not through our efforts to justify ourselves through perfect law-keeping. If we would revert to law-keeping in order to justify ourselves, then we have denied the gospel of the cross. We have sought to substitute our own works of righteousness for the effective cleansing blood of Jesus. We have denied our faith in the sufficiency of the atoning blood of the gospel.

On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, three thousand people immediately recognized a solution for which they had struggled for generations. The Jews had proven throughout their history the futility of justification through law-keeping. They had failed so many times throughout their history that they lived in a hopeless religiosity, knowing that surely God had something better. In an effort to find some assurance in their obedience to law, their religious leaders kept adding more statutes and precepts to the Sinai law in order to guarantee strict obedience. They added tradition upon tradition, precept upon precept. But all the additions were to no avail in solving a most evident truth, that by works of law no man could be justified before God. Their additions, therefore, became subtractions. They were subtracting themselves from faith in God to a faith in their own ability to supposedly live as perfect law-keepers.

But on that wonderful day over two thousand years ago, good news finally came. By the resurrection of the Son of God, it was proven true that the message of the grace of God through the atoning blood of the Son would bring them into the arms of God. When God’s heart burst forth through the incarnational sacrifice of His Son, there was a spontaneous explosion of obedience across the ancient world. Both Jews and Gentiles of faith, who had been struggling with the futility of self-justification, realized for the first time in history that they could be accepted into the realm of God’s righteousness through grace. It was a beautiful message. It still continues today.

We would be careful, therefore, not to construct a religiosity out of works that would annul the gospel. If we do, then we would be preaching another gospel that is foreign to the gospel of grace (See Gl 1:6-9). We must never forget the following words of Paul: “Therefore, having between justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ(Rm 5:1). Therefore, “being justified by His grace” we are “made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Ti 3:7).

[Next lecture in series: September 28]

The Incarnational Sacrifice

It is our quest to discover the heart of God at the cross. Since the descendants of Abraham in A.D. 30 had a two thousand year old illustration of the obedience of Abraham, who lived before the Sinai law was given, they were prepared to respond to the revelation of the heart of God at the cross. The cross was another offering of a son, but this time the offering had eternal consequences, for the sacrifice that was offered (the Son of God), and the ones for whom the sacrifice was made would carry on into eternity.

Only when we connect all the dots between Abraham and the cross do we understand what occurred when God gave the following command to Abraham:

Take now your son, your only son Isaac whom you love, and go into the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offing upon one of the mountains that I will tell you (Gn 22:2).

What seems so incomprehensible about Abraham’s response to this command of God is what is recorded in the following verse in the Genesis 22 text: “Then Abraham rose up early in the morning and saddled his donkey” (Gn 22:3). There was no questioning by Abraham. There were no emotional arguments. No debates. There was not even a sleepless night, for the text states that he “rose up” from his bed (sleep). There was only obedience, and the obedience was without question. And for this reason, James wrote of the obedience of Abraham that he was justified by faith in the work of offering his son on the basis of his faith that God would take care of both himself and Isaac (Js 2:21).

What transpired on the occasion of the offering helps us venture into the heart of God at the cross, but also in reverse when we compare Abraham’s offering with the offering of the Father on the cross.   When Abraham raised his knife in obedience to the command of God to offer his son, God responded out of heaven with the command, “Do not lay your hand upon the lad …” (Gn 22:12).   Because God spared Abraham from carrying out the command to offer his son reveals the motive of God behind the command. God revealed His motive for the command in the following statement: Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me” (Gn 22:12).

Abraham’s obedience to offer his only son revealed his heart’s obedience to do all that God would ask of him. If we were to ask Abraham, “Is there anything that you would not do in order to be obedient to God?”, Abraham’s answer, that was validated by his obedience to offer his son, would be, “No.” In the obedience of Abraham, we understand the faith of Abraham. People of faith would not understand the reason why God made this command until two thousand years later.

For two millennia, the example of Abraham molded the hearts of those who would seek God. Those of faith would understand from Abraham that he would do all that was necessary in order to be obedient to his Father. When Paul used the example of Abraham being justified by faith, he was asking his readers to consider the faith of Abraham that moved him to be obedient to the Father in all areas of life.

The time eventually came in the history of Israel when the occasion to offer a son was reversed. The Jews understood the obedient heart of Abraham to do all that the Father asked. It was now time that they understand the “obedient” heart of God in reference to the offering of His Son on their behalf. Abraham had the heart of God because he offered his son without an explanation from God, nor a reward for doing so. In the same manner the Father “obediently” offered His Son on our behalf without conditions from us. The cross did not happen because of the requirements of law, for we could receive no law for God to demand the offering. God’s heart, therefore, was revealed at the cross unconditionally, and without His payment of some debt that He owed to those of faith who had worked meritoriously to demand the offering. The incarnation of the offering was the result of the deplorable problem of the sin of those of faith, not because those of faith had put any demands on God to make the offering.

In our sins we all cried out to our Father for redemption. The Father replied with unconditional love. He was “obedient” unto our cries. There was nothing He would not have done in order to bring us out of our deplorable condition of eternal death through sin so that we might be in His loving fellowship forever. This is the heart of God.

Did God have to act? Yes He did! He is a God of love (1 Jn 4:7). In this the love of God was manifested to us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him (1 Jn 4:9).

Abraham’s sacrifice that he was willing to offer would cost him his only begotten son. God’s sacrifice for us cost Him His only begotten Son. The difference between the two offerings was that there was no one greater than God who could hold back the cross in order that the nails of the crucifixion not be driven through the incarnate hands of the Son of God.   Because there was nothing greater to hold back God from the offering of His only begotten Son, then we begin to understand that the incarnational offering of the Son was truly the ultimate offering for our sins.

The offering of an eternal sacrifice reveals the heart of God for His creation. Offering the eternal sacrifice of His Son reveals that God, too, would do anything that was necessary in order to bring us into His eternal glory. David, a man after God’s own heart, revealed this in his offerings. Paul spoke to the rulers of the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, “Now concerning the fact that He [God] raised Him [the Son] up from the dead no more to return to decay, He said on this, ‘I will give You the sure mercies of David’” (At 13:34). The gospel was the revelation of the mercy of God that was revealed through David’s merciful behavior as the king of Israel. It was mercy that cost God the eternal sacrifice of His Son. Sufficient sacrifices for sin come with a high price.

At one time during his reign, David made a burnt offering to the Lord. What transpired during the events that led up to the offering reveals that David was truly one after God’s heart. Knowing that David wanted to make the offering, Araunah said to David, “Let my Lord the king take and offer up [free] what seems good to him” (2 Sm 24:22).   What Araunah was offering David was both the location to make his offering, as well as all free oxen that were necessary to make the sacrifice. Araunah wanted to give all the sacrifices to David for him to make his personal offering to the Lord.

David’s response to Araunah, as Abraham in the offering of Isaac, revealed that he truly understood the cost of offering an acceptable sacrifice. David responded to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy it from you at a price. Neither will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God of that which did not cost me anything (2 Sm 24:24).

And so it was when Abraham, without question, sought to offer his only begotten son. And so it was also when God offered up His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sins. As David would not offer a free sacrifice on behalf of his own sins, God would not offer for our sins a sacrifice that cost Him nothing. God’s offering at the cross was in the same sacrificial nature as what He called on Abraham to do, and which David did. There is no acceptable offering to God that does not come without expense.


This is the heart of God that was revealed through the incarnational sacrifice of the only begotten Son of God. This message of the gospel was what cut to the heart of three thousand descendants of Abraham on the day of Pentecost.   They knew of the unconditional love of Abraham to do all that God commanded. They knew through David that sacrifice costs. And now they knew that God was willing to make an unconditional eternal sacrifice that would suffice for their sins.

Peter and the apostles revealed that God’s incarnational sacrifice for the people came with a great price, and thus, they could only respond as Abraham’s faith moved him to obey in all things. The gospel message cut straight to their hearts.   When the message of the gospel is focused on the heart of man, there is an instant response in the hearts of those who seek to walk by the faith of Abraham and David.

 The gospel penetrates to the heart, and then reaches to the head. It is then that the heart is stirred into action in order to do all that God wills in our lives.

The gospel message cut the Pentecost audience to the heart because the people realized that God was not willing to hold back from paying any price necessary in order to bring those of faith into His eternal fellowship. The old song was truly correct in expressing the heart (action) of God through the incarnational sacrifice of His only begotten Son.

Gone is all my debt of sin,

A great change is bro’t within,

And to live now I begin,

Risen from the fall;

Yet the debt I did not pay

Some one died for me one day,

Sweeping all the debt away,

Jesus paid it all.

(M. S. Shaffer)

[Next lecture in series: September 26]

Futility of Church Righteousness

The gospel cancels all self-made religions and self-imposed religiosity. Unfortunately, we all have our religious ways about us, and because we do, we try to relegate Christianity to being just a religion. When Christianity is twisted into a religion through either our legal obedience of self-justification, or experiential emotionalism, then “church righteousness” is developed whereby we all seek to establish our own common righteousness as a group that is based on the performance of our respective religious associations.

This was the contextual religious environment that Paul addressed when he wrote to the Colossians. Some in Colosse were in the process of developing a church righteousness after the meritorious systems of the idolatrous religions of the Gentiles, or the legalism of Judaism (Cl 2:20-23). They were bringing into the church a meritorious system of religiosity by which they would identify the church as a religion.

In the context of any attempts to establish a church righteousness by which we would seek to save ourselves, we must again take another look at the core nature of the gospel. The gospel destroys any attempts to substitute church righteousness for God’s righteousness. Our peace of mind in reference to our relationship with God depends on conforming to His will, not to the will of the “pastor,” or the church group to which we belong. Church righteousness gives birth to a unique religious group through conformity to the religious rites of the group, whereas gospel insures allegiance only to Jesus, regardless of where one shows up on Sunday morning.

In order to gain the peace that passes all understanding in these matters (Ph 4:7), we must construct our world view of faith around Paul’s arguments in Romans 3. Paul begins with the statement, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested … even the righteousness of God that is by the faith of Jesus Christ to all those who believe …” (Rm 3:21). As earlier stated, it is significant to notice first in this statement that the article (“the”) is not in the Greek text. What Paul is establishing is the fact that God’s righteousness was not revealed through the Sinai law, nor any religious law of man. We must be cautious, therefore, not to establish a unique “church” that is based on adherence to the religious rites that a group of people might impose upon themselves in order to be a unique group.

Here is the principle: The gospel was not revealed because God was obligated by law to offer His Son. The gospel came to us apart from law, not because of law.   Jesus had no obligation to die on the cross in order to fulfill any law. God was not in debt to man to pay the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.   If the cross was according to law, then there was no grace. If our obedience to law obligated God to save us, then grace was given out of debt.

Now apply this principle to unique church religious rites that we might impose on ourselves who would be the church.   Since God did not reveal the gospel on the basis of law, then certainly we would not establish the church on the basis of law. The church of Christ is based on the gospel, not on the members

conformity to a certain list of laws or religious rites.   If we would base the church on conformity to law, then what is the difference between a law-based church and a church that bases itself on commonly agreed upon religious rites?   Simply because a law-based church might have a passage of scripture below each point of belief and behavior of their “church doctrine,” does not set aside the inability of each member to keep law perfectly in order to be identified as the “true church.”

Since the church is composed of members, and thus, if church exists because of perfect law-keeping, then the church would never exist in its perfect form simply because none of the members can keep law perfectly. As law did not obligate God to reveal the gospel, neither does law obligate us to set aside the gospel as the foundation upon which the church is built. The church is based on the gospel, not on law.   The church exists because of those who have conformed to the gospel of Christ. Those who obeyed the gospel on the A.D. 30 Pentecost, were added to the church of believers by God, not because they sought to conform to a system of law, but because they conformed to the gospel in obedience thereof (At 2:47).

Since all of us as members of the body of Christ have fallen short of self-justification through lawbreaking (Rm 3:23), then there was the necessity of free justification “by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rm 3:24). For this reason, God sent forth His incarnate Son on the cross as an eternal atoning sacrifice through His blood. He did this “in order to declare His righteousness,” not to make a payment for us for our good works, or as a reward for our flawless obedience to His will (Rm 3:25). At the cross, therefore, God declared “His righteousness that He might be just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus” (Rm 3:25).   Our faith in our Father to take care of us as prodigal children resulted in Jesus’ sin offering for us. We are the body of Christ, therefore, because through the gospel we have been redeemed into membership through His free offering.   Nothing has changed in reference to God’s relational offering of Jesus for us as we walk in the light as members of the body of Christ (1 Jn 1:7).

Since through our obedience to the gospel of the cross we are made righteous before God, then there is no room for any church righteousness about which we would boast on our own behalf. We would not boast of our performance of law in order to be the church, neither would be boast of any self-imposed church righteousness that would identify us as the correct church. We are “church” because of the gospel, not because of what we do.   There is never an occasion in which we can boast of what we do in reference to law-keeping.

So Paul asked, “Where then is boasting?”   He frankly answered, “It is excluded” (Rm 3:27). It is excluded through the law that we are justified by faith in the work of God through the cross, and not in how much “church work” we would do in a supposed effort to make ourselves continually righteous before God on the merit of how we perform as members of the body. Neither is our boasting in how well we have performed law in order to be the “true church.” This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote, You [members] who make your boast of law, do you dishonor God through the breaking of law?” (Rm 2:23). This is a penetrating question. The fact is that we do dishonor God when we boast in our law-keeping or religious rites in reference to being the church. Paul’s quotation of the prophets in reference to the lawbreaking of Israel is appropriate for all those who would claim to be the right church on the basis of their law-keeping: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rm 2:23; see Is 52:5; Ez 16:27; 36:22). As lawbreaking caused the people of God in the Old Testament to be blasphemed by the nations, so the same is true today when we claim to be the people of God on the foundation of our lawkeeping. God’s name is blasphemed because the world sees that we do not keep the law perfectly.

Must we remind ourselves here that Jesus said His people would be identified by their love for one another, as He and the Father loved them through the incarnation offering of the cross (Jn 13:34,35)? The church that Jesus built on the foundation of His Sonship is not identified by law, but by gospel loving (See Mt 16:18,19). And love inherently refuses to boast, whereas through lawkeeping we always seek an opportunity to pride ourselves on having the right name, the right acts of worship, the right works, the right church righteousness.

On the contrary, our boasting as members of the body of Christ, as Paul wrote, is in Christ (the gospel). “He who boasts,” Paul admonished, “let him boast in the Lord (1 Co 1:31). And he said it again, “But he who boasts [as a Christian], let him boast in the Lord (2 Co 10:17). “In the Lord” means to boast in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not boasting about being “in the church,” but boasting on the foundation of the gospel. It is not boasting about being “the right church,” but boasting about the right gospel. In a different statement, Paul said it thus: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Rm 1:16). Therefore, Paul boasted in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we would boast, therefore, we do as Paul who wrote, “If I have to boast, I will boast of the things that concern my weakness” (2 Co 11:30; see 2 Co 12:5). These reason for boasting in weaknesses is that in Christ we are strong. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” in Him (2 Co 12:10). And finally: “But God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Gl 6:14).

In reference to trusting in the gospel through faith, Paul continued Romans with the example of Abraham. “For if Abraham was justified by works [of law], he has something about which to boast, but not before God (Rm 4:3). Before the giving of the Sinai law, even Abraham was not justified by any law before God. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness” (Rm 4:3). Now here is the point: “Now to him who works [as a Christian], the reward is not credited according to grace, but according to debt” (Rm 4:4). If one meritoriously obeys law in order to justify himself before God, then he obligates God to keep him saved according to debt and not grace. Out of faith, Abraham worked because of his faith that God had already saved him.   He could boast before men of his works, but not before God because he continued in the favor of God through grace.   His salvation he already had because of his faith. The same is true of the “faith” member of the body of Christ.

On the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30, did the respondents feel that God owed them the cross because of their self-imposed righteous obedience to law? We would certainly concluded that three thousand people in the Jewish audience did not respond because they felt that God owed them the cross. On the contrary, they realized that their own unrighteousness was the reason why God had to save them by His free grace. It was their self-confessed unrighteousness that produced their response to what God freely offered.

If we conclude that the three thousand were indeed moved because they realized that their religious performances of Judaism was futile in reference to being justified before God, then the same should move people today when they recognize the futility of religious performances. We conclude that it would have been a mockery for the respondents on Pentecost to plead for another set of laws to obey, when their legal “doing” of the Sinai law had actually brought them to their knees before the cross. The same is true today. Church righteousness is a mockery of the grace of God if we assume that we can “do church” in order to demand the grace of God. We must not forget that gospel living is not legally doing church righteousness.

Now consider Paul’s conclusion to this matter: “But to him who does not work [to meritoriously sanctify himself], but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited for righteousness (Rm 4:5). We therefore stand right before God in His righteousness, not because of our self-righteousness, but because of the righteousness of God that comes through the cross. We are justified to be righteous before God through our faith in His grace, not by any faith in our own performance of church righteousness by which we would demand salvation.

The experientialist exhausts himself emotionally every Sunday in order to justify himself before God. But such meritorious emotionalism fails to give credit to God for His righteousness that has come to the believer through faith.   The same is true of the legalist who imposes on himself and others his own performances of church law in order to be justified before God. He has forgotten that the gospel that he obeyed brought him into Christ where he is already justified through the incarnational offering of the Son of God. He does not stay in Christ because of any perfect keeping of law, or meritorious church righteousness. He walks in the light of Christ because of what the cleansing blood of Jesus continues to do every day of his life (1 Jn 1:7).

The legalist must rejoice in remembering that he is freely justified in Christ. The experientialist must also remember that meritorious emotional performances will not put God in debt to keep one saved. We are already saved through the gospel of the cross. It is for this reason that the one “who does not work” meritoriously to save himself, but has faith in God who justifies us, is given credit for the righteousness of God (Rm 4:5).

In concluding this point we would remember a beautiful statement that Paul quoted from David: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins have been covered” (Rm 4:7; see Ps 32:1,2). Happy is the person who believes that his sins have been vanquished at the cross, and thus, does not have to labor daily in fear that he has not kept law perfectly, or performed enough good works to atone for his own sins. Since we are justified freely by God’s grace, then “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ep 2:10).

Christians thus work because they are justified, not in order to be justified. For this reason every Christian works because of his salvation, not in order to earn salvation (See Ph 2:12). His “church work” is in appreciation of all that God had done for him through the gospel.

[Next lecture in series:  September 24]

A Matter of the Heart

We remember this heartwarming revelation: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son …” (Jn 3:16). This is a statement that expresses the heart of God. It is a statement of the centrality of the gospel of grace.

Unfortunately, we often do not fully comprehend the biblical definition of the heart in reference to both God and man. We are prejudiced by our emotions. We stumble over our intellect. In response to the gospel on the day of Pentecost, the three thousand were “cut to the heart” (At 2:37). There was something that was said by the apostles that cut right to the heart of the people. It was the gospel message, but we want to understand why three thousand people in one day responded so emphatically to the gospel in a matter of hours.

We unfortunately assume that the three thousand were “cut to their emotions.” But the text says “heart,” not emotions. There are some who suppose that in response to the gospel, there were people who started jumping up and down, falling on the ground, or started speaking in tongues of gibberish. But this is reading our wrong emotional behavior into the text of what actually happened.

What happened on that glorious day was that the “John 3:16 heart” of God was first proclaimed in history. This revelation of God’s love through Jesus cut to the heart of those who heard the gospel for the first time. When they heard that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” there was an overwhelming response on their part to the offering of God on behalf of their spiritual needs in order that they have an eternal relationship with Him. It was a heart wrenching revelation that caused a “heart wrenching” response.   The gospel was more than an event, and the response was more than obedience to law or emotional chaos.

The gospel reaches right to our hearts.   There are some very important things we must understand in order to understand better how God’s revelation of His heart on the cross touched the hearts men. When Peter and the apostles proclaimed the gospel for the first time in history, they dealt with the “mind” of man. Facts and events were conveyed to the people.

But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and said to them, “You men of Judea and all you who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words(At 2:14).

Information concerning the event of the gospel was imparted to the minds of those who were present (See At 2:15-36). When the facts and events about the prophecies, incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection were concluded, Peter reminded the attentive audience, “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).

The people knew all the background that led up to this statement. They knew the all prophecies. They knew the prophecies concerning the Messiah being seated on the throne of David.   Add to this the fact that they also concluded that it was futile to seek justification before God through law.   They had also concluded that sins before God could not find atonement in animal blood. They assumed, according to what they understood from prophecy, that something, or Someone, must deal with their sin problem and separation from God (Is 59:2).

Add to this the fact that the Jews had little understanding of the resurrection. In fact, the Sadducees even denied the resurrection (At 23:8).   But in hearing the good news, and in reasoning that the body of Jesus had not been stolen away by the disciples as the religious leaders asserted (Mt 28:11-15), but was actually raised from the dead, then the people began to respond with their hearts.

The gospel of the cross and resurrection triggered their hearts because of what they already knew from centuries of studying the Law and the Prophets. At the same time, they judged themselves guilty of a lifetime of uncleansed sin.   And besides this, many of them had encouraged the crucifixion of the innocent One seven weeks before. They stood there before the apostles condemned with sin and guilt. And for this reason, the heart of God that was revealed on the cross penetrated right to their own hearts. The following statement was actually a plea for help: “Men and brethren, what will we do?” (At 2:37).

This was not a plea for another set of rules by which they might legally obey in order to rectify their sin before God.   They had tried that approach for a relationship with God for centuries, but to no avail. They knew that they were lawbreakers living in the frustration of their own fallibility.

Concerning their spiritual situation, Paul made the following statement many years later:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lust, we should live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age … (Ti 2:12,13).

This is what happened on the first memorial Sunday of this dispensation of time. The “grace of God that brings salvation” appeared on the cross and was announced on Pentecost (Ti 2:11). It was a grace that appeared while the Pentecost audience was still in sin.   They were undeserving of the only begotten Son of God. Nevertheless, “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). Herein is revealed the heart of God.

Three thousand people stood stunned in the audience when this gospel message was first announced on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30. The action of the incarnation, cross and resurrection was the heart of God that was revealed to those who had lost heart in justifying themselves before the God. And since they confessed to the futility of their own efforts to make themselves right before God, their hearts were touched by what God had done for them. The result of the message was that the three thousand relinquished to the heart of God that was revealed through the gospel.

Grace was revealed, and clearly understood.   There needed to be no delay in a response. The response of about three thousand happened in the same day. In some cases in the first century, the response happened in the same hour of the night (At 16:33).

Peter and the apostles thus communicated the events surrounding the gospel to the minds of all those who were present on the day of Pentecost. The response of the people also involved their emotions. However, in their emotional response to the revelation of the heart of God on the cross, they were not justified. If they were justified by their emotional response (belief in the gospel event), then their justification would have depended on their emotions. Again, they would have created a self-imposed religiosity that was dependent on human emotions, but short of all that which had to be done in order to restore their relationship with God.   They were burdened with sin that continued to keep them separated from God.

The effect of the gospel is not enacted solely by emotions, or belief that stirs emotions. It is obediently enacted by our emotional response to our knowledge of the action of God through the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. We must not forget that the three thousand asked what they should “do.” Belief and emotions had brought them to the brink of salvation, but their emotional response needed a God-given answer in order that they come into Christ.

In the world today this is one of the most confusing points in the religious world. It is believed that an emotional response (“believe on Jesus” or “receive Jesus”) is equated with salvation. If one would only have some emotional experience of belief in response to the heart of God that was revealed on the cross, it is supposed that one can justify himself before God. Emotional responses thus become the only condition for salvation. If this were true, then it would place us right back into the condition from which we seek to be delivered through the gospel, that is, deliverance from our own self-centered religiosity.

Emotional experiential religion falls into the same category as “self-made” religiosity by which some in Colosse and Galatia supposed they could be justified before God. Both systems of religion, however, are meritorious. The experientialist is basing his faith, and thus save himself, on the merit of an emotional experience. Likewise, the legalist bases his faith on, and thus save himself, on the meritorious obedience to an outline of laws. Both systems are legal and inadequate for the remission of sins that keep one separated from God.

The experientialist makes his emotions a legal requirement for self-justification; the legalist makes his performance of law a legal requirement for the same self-justification. Unfortunately, the adherents to both systems of religion become self-appointed judges of one another and others. The experientialist judges his fellow adherents of not being on a higher level of spirituality because he or she has not “spoken in tongues,” or had some other hysterical outburst of emotionality. The legalist judges his fellow adherent of not being “faithful” because he supposedly does not conform to a legal chart that explains steps that one must take in order to be saved.

When the experientialists and legalists divide into different sects, they become judges of one another. The experientialists judge the legalists by saying that the legalists have no emotions, and their assemblies are dead.   The legalists judge the experientialists by saying that they have no respect for the law of God.   Unfortunately, both self-made religions are wrong. And on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30, the attending Jews who were in the camp of the legalists, realized that their camp was dead wrong. Law had made them spiritually dead (See Rm 7:9).

The revelation of the heart of God reaches into the mind of the legalist, who must honestly confess that through legalities, no one can stand justified before God (See Gl 2:16). The revelation of the heart of God also reaches into the emotions of the honest experientialist who confesses that after he has exhausted all his emotions, he too feels unjustified before God. Therefore, only honest hearts can respond to the revelation of the heart of God that was revealed on the cross.

The biblical definition of our heart would include our minds (intellect) and emotions, but certainly would go beyond these two aspects of our being. The Acts 2:37 passage states that the people were “cut to the heart.” Information concerning the facts of the gospel were truly given in order to reach their minds. They reasoned that what Peter revealed was true and according to prophecy.   And because the people realized that the message of the gospel was true, they emotionally responded by being “cut to the heart.”

But their request, “What must we do,” moved them beyond their emotions and minds. It moved them into action. Their minds and emotions were the foundation upon which there was motivation in their hearts to ask Peter and the apostles where they should go from their heads and emotions to be restored to a reconciled relationship with God.   They wanted to know what to do, not what to feel and think. The heart, therefore, is the basic motivation or desire of the individual to do something in response to what is learned and felt.

Because the gospel goes deeper than our heads and emotions, it generates action. When the gospel touches our hearts, we must respond with action. It is in this way that the grace of God reaches us. It is the motive that inspires a righteous response. Grace is the impetus to flee disobedience in order to please our Father. This was the substance of what Paul wrote to the disciples in Rome: “Do we then make void law through faith [in the grace of God]? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish law (Rm 3:31).

What the responding three thousand did on the day of Pentecost was to ask the apostles, “Men and brethren, what will we do?” Once their hearts were touched by the action (heart) of God on the cross (the gospel), they were really asking, “Father, what do we now do?” Peter’s instructions were in reference to “doing” that which was relevant to people whose hearts had been touched. The “do” was simply: “Repent and be baptized” (At 2:38).

Their response in baptism, therefore, was never meant to be another legality. It was to be a heart response to the revealed heart of God. In their desire to come again into a relationship with God, the Holy Spirit revealed that they had to be crucified with Christ, buried with Christ, in order to be raised with Christ (Rm 6:3-6; Gl 2:20). All this was necessary in order that they be eternally with God (2 Th 1:6-9).

Consider for a moment one who simply believes on Jesus.   He believes the gospel to the point of responding to the cross in hope of the resurrection to come. However, he may be cut short of doing all that he knows he should do in response to the gospel.

People, unfortunately, like to use hypothetical situations in order to deny obedience to the gospel in baptism. So it is supposed, as an example, that the one believed on Jesus, and then headed for the water in order to be immersed into Christ, died on the way in an automobile accident. The question is posed, Would unbaptized believer be saved? The answer would be “Yes.” We do not believe in a God who would be so calloused to condemn such a believing disciple. However, we must keep in mind that hypothetical circumstances do not determine or change that which God has instructed in order to receive the remission of sins.

Now suppose that our particular believing disciple does not search for water. Suppose the Ethiopian eunuch had simply passed by the water when he said, “See, here is water! What hinders me from being baptized” (At 8:36). If the eunuch would have passed by the opportunity to obey the gospel that he had just heard from Philip, he would have invalidated his belief.

But Philip’s response to the eunuch’s question was, “If you believe with all your heart …” (At 8:37).   Philip had preached “Jesus,” (the gospel) to the eunuch. As those on Pentecost, the eunuch believed. Philip wanted to know if his belief had penetrated to his heart. If it had, then his belief was true. The request, “What hinders me from being baptized” is the response of one who truly believed in his heart, not just in his mind. And because he truly believed, the eunuch “came up out of the water … and went on his way rejoicing” (At 8:39). There would have been no occasion for rejoicing if the eunuch had simply passed by the water.

What if the eunuch had simply passed by the opportunity to be immersed in water to wash away his sins (See At 22:16)?   Would his belief been real and from the heart? Because those on Pentecost were cut to the heart, they asked what to do. Suppose the apostles, as well as Philip, would have failed to instruct them what to do after being cut to the heart by the gospel? The point is that if a believer simply passes by the water, or some pastor/preacher fails to preach all that is involved in preaching the gospel of Jesus, including baptism, then people are left in their sins.   The one who says believes, but does not respond from the heart to all that God instructions in order to deal with our sin problem, has invalidated his belief. One can be left as a “dead man walking” with all his past sins, either through his refusal to stop the chariot and be baptized, or by being left in ignorance by some pastor/preacher who has failed to answer completely the question of the mournful, “Men and brethren, what will we do?” (At 2:37).   The mournful often allow themselves to remain with a “dead faith” that has shown no expression (See Js 2:26).

The legalist will always have a difficult time understanding this, and the “believing” experimentalist will always assume that he can perform some emotional outburst to justify himself in response to the cross. For this reason, we must go deeper into the subject in order to deal with the religious sin beneath the sin of a response to the heart of God that falls short of what Peter and the apostles instructed the mournful to do on the day of Pentecost (At 2:38).

[Next lecture in series: September 22]

Declaration of Righteousness

Paul now brings Abraham into the picture in Romans concerning our faith. “What then will we say that Abraham, our forefather, has discovered according to the [works of the] flesh? (Rm 4:1). Notice carefully how Paul words this argument: “For if Abraham was justified by works [of merit], he has something about which to boast, but not before God (Rm 4:2).

Abraham’s performance of works did not justify him before God. Justification by meritorious works never enter into Abraham’s mind. On the contrary, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness” (Rm 4:3). Abraham believed before he made the offering of his son, and because he believed, he offered his son. He was credited righteous, therefore, not because of the offering, but because of his faith.

We sometimes forget when Abraham first exercised his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was first illustrated when God called him to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldeas and go to a land he did not know. By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place that he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed (Hb 11:8). Because of his obedience, his faith was declared. He was declared righteous before God because of his obedient faith long before God called on him to offer his son, Isaac. It is for this reason that the offering of his son was not meritorious. He had already been declared righteous before God because he obeyed to follow God’s command to leave his homeland and go to a land that his descendents would eventually receive as an inheritance.   Here is the point:

 But to him who does not work [meritoriously for his own righteousness], but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly [regardless of his inability to perform flawlessly], his faith is credited for righteousness (Rm 4:5).

Abraham, and all those of whom he is the father of faith, are the blessed “man to whom God credits righteousness without works [of merit] (Rm 4:6). Because of his obedient faith, Abraham was credited with the righteousness of God before he obeyed the command of God to offer his son.

Abraham was a Gentile, and thus as an uncircumcised Gentile, he became the father of all who would be credited righteous before God apart from law-keeping. When we obey the gospel, it is at that time that we are accredited righteous before God.   Abraham first believed, and then he obeyed to offer his son. In this way, we must first believe, and then through the offering of ourselves with Jesus on the cross we are declared righteous. We are declared righteous by God before there is any opportunity to work righteousness in our life as a Christian. As Abraham was declared righteous by the offering of his son, we are declared righteous by the offering of ourselves.

We are credited righteous as an obedient believer before we have an opportunity to do our first good work as a Christian.   This is the meaning behind what Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works …” (Ep 2:10). When our faith moves us to crucify ourselves, we are baptized into Christ in obedience to the gospel (Rm 6:3-6). It is then that we are declared righteous.

Our workmanship begins when we are already in Christ. We are not declared righteous in order to come into Christ. God worked on our behalf at the cross in order that we have the opportunity to do good works after we have obeyed the gospel. Therefore, we are not created in Christ Jesus by good works, but for good works. We are not created in Christ Jesus because of our own righteousness, but by the rightous work of God through the cross.

Because of his faith when he left Ur of the Chaldeas, Abraham was credited righteous before God, and thus was blessed to be the father of all those who would come into Christ through obedient faith.

And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith that he had while being uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are not circumcised, so that righteousness might be credited to them also (Rm 4:11).

Those who would seek to establish their own righteousness through meritorious good works have cheated themselves by working in reverse of the righteousness of God and good works that God offers. Abraham was not accredited righteous because of his obedience to the law of circumcision. He was first declared righteous before God through his faith long before the law of circumcision was given (See Gn 17). And because he was declared righteous through his demonstrated faith, he was obedient to obey also the law of circumcision.

If we seek to declare our own righteousness through meritorious works, then we have marginalized the “abundance of grace and of the gift of the righteousness” of God that we might “reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ” (Rm 5:17). We have sought to earn that which God has given as a gift. If God’s righteousness is something that it is earned, then it is no longer a gift.

Through the sin of Adam, sin was introduced into the world wherein all of us sin, and thus are spiritually separated from God (Rm 6:23). But “through the righteousness of one [Jesus Christ], the free gift came to all men to justification of life” (Rm 5:18). All men were not involuntary made sinners through the sin of Adam (Rm 5:19). If this were true, then all men would have been made involuntarily righteous through the justification of the cross.   Paul explained, “… even so through the obedience of one [Jesus] will many be made righteous” (Rm 5:19).   The passage reads “will,” not “would.”   Through the obedience of Jesus on the cross, the opportunity was made available for all those who chose to come to the Father through faith in His offer of righteousness. In order to accept the offer of the righteousness of God, therefore, we must through faith voluntarily respond to the heart of God that was nailed to the cross.

Paul wanted to make sure that his fellow Jewish Christians got the point concerning their former sinful state. In order to exemplify sin, the Sinai “law entered so that the offense might abound” (Rm 5:20). Law brought the realization of death because it exemplified the fact that we are all lawbreakers. The law was good in that it informed the Jews that they were sinners. The more the honest Jews mourned over their death in sin because they were lawbreakers, the more they hungered and thirsted after the righteousness of God that was revealed through Jesus. This explains the response of the three thousand on the A.D. 30 Pentecost.

It is in our state of mourning over our unrighteousness that we are motivated unto what Paul stated, “obedience to righteousness” (Rm 6:16). As alien sinners, we were not obedient because we were righteous. It was because we were alien sinners that we realized we were unrighteous, and by this realization we were drawn to the righteousness of God. When the alien sinner thus see the inadequacy of his own self-righteousness, he is willing to do anything that God would asked of him in order to receive His righteousness.

When one sees the righteousness of God that is offered freely at the cross, he seeks for this righteousness for which he could not attain through through his own meritorious righteousness. The revelation of the righteousness of God at the cross draws us to obedience of the gospel in baptism. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Me (Jn 12:32).   Mournful sinners are always drawn to the gospel of God’s righteousness.

When we are declared righteous because of our forgiveness of sins in baptism, this righteousness in turn becomes the impetus, or motivation, to do good works in thanksgiving to God for making us righteous before Him through the cross. When our sins are washed away in baptism, we become bondservants of righteousness (Rm 6:18). The Christian serves because of the righteousness he has received in Christ, not in order to work himself into being righteous before God. This is the difference between Christianity and religion.

Our message to the religious world that seeks to establish its own righteousness would be as Paul wrote in Romans 10:3:

For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.

[Next lecture in series: September 20]

Romans & Righteousness

In the epistle of Romans, Paul argues against those who would seek to justify themselves before God on the basis of their own righteousness, whether in reference to law-keeping or good works.   He focuses on contrasting God’s righteousness that accompanied Jesus to the cross, with our self-righteousness by which we would earn God’s favor. In the contrast, he argues that self-righteousness cannot replace or subsidize the righteousness of God.

Paul began his argument by stating, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you also who are at Rome” (Rm 1:15).   “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The just will live by faith’” (Rm 1:16,17).

Man’s righteousness (good deeds) cannot set aside or cancel the gospel of God’s righteousness that was revealed through the incarnational offering of the Son of God. God’s righteousness was revealed through the faith of Jesus who obediently went to the cross on our behalf (Hb 5:8). And because He was obedient, “He became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him” (Hb 5:9). Through obedience, Jesus made God’s righteousness available.   It is free to those who would accept it on the foundation of their obedient faith in Him. In this way, the justified “live by faith.” They are righteous in their gospel living because of their obedient faith.

In Romans 3 Paul contrasts our unrighteousness in reference to the truth of the gospel: “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rm 3:10). And for this reason, “our unrighteousness demonstrates [manifests] the righteousness of God” (Rm 3:5). While we were yet unrighteous, God revealed His righteousness through Jesus (Rm 5:8). Our dysfunctional performance reveals that our self-righteousness is actually unrighteousness. And because our self-righteousness is always unrighteousness in the eyes of God, we are in dire need of His righteousness. It is for this reason that any of our attempts to be perfect before God on the basis of our performance of either law or our own self-righteous good works, is futile. We cannot be righteous before God on the basis of our own religiosity. The more the religionist performs his own self-righteousness in order to be justified before God, the more difficult it is for him to accept the righteousness of God.

The religionist often seeks to demonstrate his or her own righteousness through religious performances of good deeds and meritorious religious rites and ceremonies. But in reference to the law of God, we are all unrighteousness, regardless of any “trumpet blowing” righteousness that we offer to God. The more we understand our own unrighteousness, the more we will appreciate the righteousness of God that was revealed through the gospel of Jesus.

The more we seek to perform our own righteousness in order to justify ourselves, the more we are attacking the very heart of the gospel. Self-justification through the performance of self-righteous good works and religious ceremonies deny the sufficiency of the gospel. However, those who honestly understand the insufficiency of their own righteousness, will hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God that comes through the gospel of God’s grace.

So what will we do in reference to our inability to perform law perfectly in order to declare our own righteousness before God?   The answer is that we cannot, and thus, should not. Paul answered, “But now the righteousness of God without law is manifested” (Rm 3:21). He encourages everyone who would live by faith to seek “the righteousness of God that is by the faith of Jesus Christ to all those who believe, for there is no difference” (Rm 3:22).

It must be noted here in the phrase the faith of Jesus Christ,” that the article “the” is not in the Greek text. Some translators, unfortunately, have taken the liberty to add the preposition “in,” thus changing the focus of faith from Jesus to ourselves. This is an unfortunate supposition and one that actually misses the emphasis of the faith of Jesus in the Father in going to the cross on our behalf. We must not forget the statement of the Hebrew writer: “Though He was a Son, He learned obedience by the things that He suffered (Hb 5:8). Through obedient faith in the Father, Jesus went to the cross.

The addition of the article to the translation of Romans 3:22 is a supposition that weakens the intensity of the sacrifice that Jesus offered in those last hours before He was crucified. Throughout His ministry He always addressed the Father in prayer with the word, “Father.” There is only one time in His incarnate state when this changed. It was when His faith in the Father was truly revealed in His cry from the cross, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt 27:46). Herein was the faith of Jesus for us revealed. When we speak of the gospel, therefore, the faith of Christ Jesus plays a central part. Through His faith He went to the cross, and by our faith we respond to the cross.

John referred to “the faith of Jesus” when he wrote of the perseverance of the saints “who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rv 14:12). The faith of Jesus in going to the cross on our behalf was a central argument of Paul in Galatians 2 when he referred to our justification before God.   Paul placed the emphasize of our justification on Christ, “knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Christ Jesus (Gl 2:16). “The faith of Christ Jesus” is the literal translation of this text, even though some translators have also here rendered the reading with the phrase “in Christ Jesus.” The preposition “in” is not in the text. In making this supposition, some translators have shifted the work of justification from Jesus to us. But the text teaches that our justification was first laid on the shoulders of Jesus, why by faith, went to the cross in order to make justification avialable to all those who would come to Him by faith. Using the word “in” would place on us the responsibility to respond to “the faith of Jesus” about which John wrote in Revelation.   We must believe “in” Jesus Christ.   However, we must not extract the faith of Jesus for enacting the gospel. We are “justified by the faith of Christ (Gl 2:16). In Christ “we have boldness and access with confidence through the faith of Him who went to the cross for us (Ep 3:12).   This is “the faith of the gospel” (Ph 1:27). Our confidence for our justification is not in ourselves, but in Him (See Ph 3:9).   The point is that our faith is in Him who justified us before the Father.

The appropriation of the righteousness of God is a spiritual partnership between Jesus and us. Through His faith in the Father, Jesus went to the cross for us.   Through our faith in Him, we accept the fact that He went there for us. “There is no difference (separation)between the faith of Jesus and our faith in reference to the availability of the righteousness of God and our salvation. Without His obedient faith, we would never have had the righteousness of God made available. Without our faith in Him, there would be no connection with the righteousness of God.

The righteousness of God in gospel living is made possible through the faith of both Jesus and ourselves. Therefore, it is a connection of faith. By His faith and our faith we are “justified freely by His [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rm 3:24). All this was for the purpose of God declaring His righteousness, not ours.   It is Jesus …

… whom God has set forth to be an atoning sacrifice by His blood through faith in order to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins in the past because of the forbearance of God (Rm 3:25).

God’s justice had to be revealed at the cross in order to declare at this time … His righteousness that He might be just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus” (Rm 3:26). For this reason, the justification (righteousness) of God was applied to all people of faith of all time, both before and after the cross. In this God was declared righteous in creating those who could not live flawlessly before Him. And in the acceptance of His righteousness through faith, we partake of His righteousness.

As it would not have been just for God to create those who could not live without sin, and thus would be condemned to hell, so it would not be just for some to be involuntarily saved without obediently responding to the gospel of God’s justification through Jesus. Therefore, God is judged righteous (just) to condemn the disobedient to hell because of His offer of justification through Jesus.   At the same time, the obedient are judged righteous in order to be saved because they have responded to God’s righteousness that was offered through the cross. Our obedience to the gospel is what brings one into the realm of God’s righteousness. Through disobedience of the gospel, the one who is dead in sin will continue unto certain condemnation (2 Th 1:6-9).

Since we are justified through the righteous deed of the Father through the Son, Paul asks, “Where then is boasting [of our own righteousness] (Rm 3:27)? The answer to the question is simple and logical: “It is excluded” (Rm 3:27). We have no occasion to boast in our own self-righteousness when the righteousness of God at the cross took care of that for which we could not do for ourselves.   The religionist must remember this very important point: Self-righteous religious rites can never be used to either proclaim one’s own righteousness, or be considered a subsidy for the righteous work of God through the cross.

[Next lecture in series: September 18]


Righteousness of God

Young people often have a difficult time with their self-esteem. We remember those days when we always thought something was wrong with how we looked, who would accept us, and if we fit in with the crowd. We were either too skinning or too fat. Our clothes were either out of style or too ragged.   It seemed that something was always wrong that made us question so many things about how we could be accepted by others. Young people often seek to have the approval of others in order to find their worth among their friends.   Their behavior is determined by how intensely they feel about being accepted by others.

What many of us have done is that we never overcame this feeling of being accepted when we grew into adulthood. As adults we often apply the same feelings to be accepted to our relationship with our heavenly Father. Our lack of self-confidence is projected into what we feel God feels toward us. Our relationship with God, therefore, becomes a daily performance on our part to gain His approval. The unfortunate mental and spiritual consequence is that we are in a continual emotional upheaval in questioning whether God has accepted our performances for Him. We unfortunately forget that when we perform in order to be approved by God, we indirectly question the justification that we have received through Jesus on the cross. In our efforts to self-sanctify ourselves, we burden ourselves with a host of meritorious religious performances.

The beautiful thing about Christianity is that it builds self-confidence. The gospel builds our confidence in God through the cross, not in our efforts to earn His approval. When we understand that God considers us precious in His sight, then we feel a great sense of worth. When we understand that He has accepted us through Jesus, then every day of our lives is not a frustrating struggle to earn His approval. Regardless of how we may feel about ourselves, or what we perceive others think of us, God considers us valuable, so valuable that He was willing to give His Son for us. And when we understand that He injects in us His righteousness upon our obedience to the gospel, it is then that all the other nonsense of the approval ratings of the world simply vanish away.

When we finally realize the unprejudiced heart of our loving God, we make a marvelous discovery. It is a discovery that transforms our total outlook on life.   This is what God seeks to do with everyone through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the gospel, and our obedience thereof, He gives us notice of His approval (righteousness). This is what Paul meant when he stated, “I declare to you the gospel … in which you stand (1 Co 15:1). This is the power of the gospel unto our salvation.

We can be assured that God has overlooked all those flaws that we thought were so important in our lives. When God examines our lives, He looks directly into our hearts in order that He might sanctify us through the blood of His Son.   Once we gain the confidence of His righteousness, we can truly feel that “we’re good” in our relationship with Him, and because of Him.

In order to start down this road of discovering the heart of the God who loves us, we must first know that we are not alone with our own spiritual inferiority complexes. Over two thousand years ago there was a great company of religious people who struggled with this very problem. And in only one day, the gospel changed their lives forever.

Jesus had prepared this audience that would first hear the gospel on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30. About three years before, during His ministry, He had spoken the following words to an audience of Jews who had been stuck in the mire of their own spiritual inferiority complexes in reference to self-seeking righteousness: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled (Mt 5:6).

Only when one comes to the spiritual reality of his own inability to be righteous before God through the futile efforts of keeping God’s law perfectly, and attempting to atone for sin with good works, will one mourn over his spiritual predicament. We might look at this from the viewpoint of our own lack of religious self-esteem. In other words, it is only when we feel bad enough about ourselves that we will seek for something, or Someone, who can make us feel better about ourselves in our relationship with God. We must mourn over our inability to be right before God through our own power. Only through our mourning will we begin to discover the power of the gospel of God’s righteousness. In fact, we would say that we cannot truly understand the power of the gospel unless we mourn over our hopeless predicament of trying to justify ourselves before God.

There is good news for the mournful. In the same context of the Sermon of the Mount in which Jesus made the preceding promise of being filled, He opened a door of hope. He promised that those who come to the point of mourning over their lack of spiritual self-esteem that they will be comforted (Mt 5:4). They could not be comforted in the performance of their own perfect law-keeping. This was what caused the problem. Neither could they be comforted by God accepting their own devised good works to atone for their flaws.   Religion failed them.

Jesus promised that those who would mourn over their own inability to be righteous (justified) before God, would be comforted by God. They would be comforted if they took the initiative to reach out for His righteousness (Rm 5:8). It would be the mournful, therefore, who would be filled with the righteousness of God. Those who feel despondent because of their lack of spiritual esteem must gaze into the gospel of the heart of God at the cross. It is there that one will discover the power of the gospel, and subsequently, discover the way to spiritual self-esteem.

We live in a world where “church” (religion) has failed to comfort the weary. Thousands have failed to find any comfort in institutional “church” religion, and thus they no longer show up at the altar. Many are simply frustrated in their efforts to find comfort for their problems in life through the ceremonial performances of “church services.” When we invite others to “come to church,” they think they are being invited to another religion, the very thing that many people have left.

But herein is the opportunity for the gospel of God’s heart to bring comfort. What “church” could not provide through ceremonial performances, the gospel can.   However, in order to bring the gospel to life in the lives of others, we must deconstruct the religion of our legalism and moralism. People have left the insufficiency of legal religion, or the moralism with which the religionist is accused of being hypocritical. When we understand the true nature of the gospel, that it is neither legalism, nor moral perfectionism, then others will begin see in us a righteousness that is not from us, but from God. This is the power of the gospel. When people start seeing in us grateful joy, it is then that they will start asking questions. And then we do as Peter stated: “… be ready always to give a defense [answer] to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you …” (1 Pt 3:15).

We must consider again the imputed righteousness of God that flows from the cross in order that our lives are a testimony to others concerning the power of the gospel. We must first understand that the word “righteousness” refers also to doing that which is right. We must not confuse this “right doing” with the righteousness that comes from God as a result of His justification that flows from the cross.

Our efforts to do right are always insufficient, but not insignificant. What God did right towards us was perfect through Christ. What we do right for Him is always imperfect in reference to our efforts to justify ourselves before Him. Only in understanding this can we understand what Jesus meant when He stated, “Therefore, you are to be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48). His immediate disciples did not comprehend this until the revelation of the righteousness of God that was revealed at the cross.

The Greek word for “righteousness” is the same root word for “justification.” The justified are righteous before God because God has made them legally perfect regardless of their insufficient righteousness through good works. We are thus righteous before God because we have been justified through the advocacy of Jesus. In being justified, we are as if we had done all things right in the eyes of God. When we compare our imperfect self-righteousness through works and law-keeping, with God’s righteousness, our righteousness is accepted and we are presented perfect before Him on the basis of His righteousness. We are thus driven to His justification (righteousness) in order that we might stand righteous before Him. This is the gospel in which we stand (1 Co 15:1).

In Matthew 6 Jesus exhorted, “Take heed that you do not do your deeds of righteousness before men, to be seen by them” (Mt 6:1). This use of the word “righteousness” in this text is in reference to “doing that which is right,” which in this case, is doing good for others. It is here that we must be cautious in reference to the place of our righteousness (works) in reference to God’s righteousness that was declared at the cross.

Jesus admonished, “When you do good deeds, do no sound a trumpet before you …” (Mt 6:2). The word “righteousness” in this text, as in other similar passages, is a reference to good deeds that we would do for others in order to earn something. In this case, the “trumpet blowers” not only sought the glory of men, but also meritorious justification before God. This is the righteousness about which Peter spoke: “But in every nation he who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (At 17:35). Peter was not stating that in doing our good deeds to others we are meritoriously justifying ourselves before God. If this were true, it would reverse our justification before God through His “good deed” for us through the cross. The problem with “trumpet blowing” righteousness is that we assume that the acceptance of our good deeds (righteousness) by others necessitates that these deeds are also accepted by God as atonement for our sins. This is a fatal assumption, and one that the honest and sincere person would never make.

Our righteous deeds to others do not supplement God’s deed for us at the cross. If we would conclude that God’s deed at the cross needed to be supplemented by our own deeds (righteousness), then we would be affirming that the atonement of the cross was insufficient, and thus, the gospel weak in reference to justifying us before God.

We must understand that God’s imputed righteousness (justification) at the cross is neither supplemented nor cancelled by our righteous deeds that we do for others in response to His righteousness in our lives. The fact is that the Christian does good deeds for others because of God’s good deed for him at the cross.   We do right things for others because He did right for us. This is what Peter meant in Acts 17:35. The those who fear God are those in every nation who have submitted to God.   Because they have submitted, they work righteousness (do good). They are not accepted because of their work of righteousness. They are accepted because they fear (obedience) of God.   This determines the difference between religion and gospel. Religionist would say, “I do righteousness (good deeds), therefore, I am accepted.”   But the one who obeys the gospel says, “I fear the Father, and therefore, I to good deeds” (Ep 2:10).

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turned His thoughts to the righteousness that comes from God: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness …” (Mt 6:33).   Jesus spoke here in order to contrast the self-seeking righteousness of the “trumpet blowing” religionists of His audience with the righteousness that God would give through the justification of the cross. This would be the righteousness that God would give through the offering of His Son to justify us before Him. It is for this righteousness, Jesus said, that we must hunger and thirst.

God seeks to have us close to His heart. We thus better understand the heart of God by confessing our own inabilities to sufficiently perform law and deeds in order to save ourselves. We cannot live flawlessly in reference to His law. We cannot atone for our flawed living through meritorious good works.   God knows all this. When we begin to mourn over our hopeless predicament, it is then that we begin to understand all that God did for us in releasing His heart to us through the eternally incarnate Son who was offered on the cross. This is the heart of God.   It is this “doing right on our behalf” (righteousness) after which we hunger and thirst.

When we in some way begin to understand how far God had to come to retrieve us out of our doomed predicament of sin, then we begin to understand the heart of God that was nailed to the cross.

[Next lecture in series: September 16]

Religious Malpractice

In reference to ourselves today, we do the same as the Jews. For example, we construct a system of theology by which we can either identify ourselves “faithful,” or the “true” church, of which we are “faithful” members.   We search through the New Testament in order to fabricate an outline of doctrinal behavior, which when obeyed, we stamp ourselves justified before God because we are not as the denominations (religions) around us.

We content ourselves that we have a prooftext for every point on our outline of systematic theology and behavior. As long as the precepts of the outline are performed, we content ourselves that we are justified before God, and sanctified of all sins by performing the Sunday morning ritual. Because we have kept ourselves from all others who do not legally perform our outline of religiosity, we have become a denomination among those we accuse of being denominational. We have denominated ourselves from others in our efforts to bind on ourselves various rites that are supposed to indicate our correct religious behavior. And the fact that we are disturbed because someone would even suggest that we have formulated our own catalog of religious rites is evidence that we have.

Unfortunately, we never consider checking the legal religiosity of what we are seeking to meritoriously perform. As the Pharisees, we have convinced ourselves that we can do that which is right, but at the same time do it legally with a spirit of self-sanctification, and still be right in our own self-justification.   Sunday assemblies, for example, have often become an occasion where we weekly check our meritorious performance chart, and once checked, we content ourselves to be satisfied with our own righteousness.

In order to determine if we are guilty of such meritorious religiosity, we should by chance change the way we as a group normally observe the Lord’s Supper on Sunday morning. The more disturbance that is caused by doing things different from the usual will give us some idea of how legal we have become in order to justify ourselves before God through the “performance” of something that could be accomplished in so many different ways.

Unfortunately, the religionist can never be consistent in his own religious rites, especially if he assumes to have a prooftext for every point of obedience. This is clearly revealed in those performances we assume are necessary in our observance of the Lord’s Supper. It would be good for a moment to consider all the variables of the memorial that have been occasions for division among those who seem to have a prooftext for their particular manner by which they observe the Supper.

Consider the time of day, which day, how often, wine, grape juice, who serves, order of service, place in the assembly, number of cups, leaven or unleavened bread, breaking the bread in the tray, loaf or crumbs, sip or drink, serving during assembly, individual services, in the morning or evening, etc. The list could go on. We become religionists when we behave as the Pharisees who did the same in reference to the Sabbath. We stack all sorts of “correctness” around the Lord’s Supper in order that we justify ourselves correct before God. As the Pharisees lost sight of the intent of the Sabbath by obsessing over their religious rites with which they surrounded the Sabbath, we often do the same in reference to the Lord’s Supper. We subsequently stumble over our traditional religious rites, but forget the intent of what Jesus wanted us to remember in partaking together of the bread and fruit of the vine.

God knows, and we know, that we cannot, through the performance of law or our own traditional religious rites, justify ourselves before Him. It is simply impossible for anyone to live perfectly according to law. All are sinners, and all continue to sin (Rm 3:23).   And when we sin, there is no good work that will atone for our sinfulness. There is no formula of religiosity that will sanctify us of our fallibility. We have often thought it amusing that those who presume to partake of the Lord’s Supper that reminds us of our justification, often do so sanctimoniously correct in order to self-sanctify themselves in their traditional ritual of observance of the Supper.

Good works can thus never be a means of sanctification. Therefore, in order for one to stand just before God, God had to take action through the cross. This is exactly what the three thousand honest Jews on the day of Pentecost saw in the message of the gospel. They had for too long futility sought to behave religiously correct in order to merit the favor of God. Subsequently, they had for a long time become frustrated with a pretense of self-sanctification before God. On Pentecost, Peter preached a message that exposed the flaws of their own religiosity. In their efforts to keep their religion pure of false teachers, they actually crucified an innocent man, the very man who would clean up their religious malpractice.

The Pentecost visitors had journeyed to Jerusalem in obedience to law in order to merit their justification before God.   But they saw in the gospel that future trips to Jerusalem for the Passover/Pentecost need never to be made again. They realized that in efforts to perfectly keep law, no one could be justified before God. And atonement for violations of law through animal sacrifices was futile (See Gl 2:16). It was great news.

The message of the gospel that they realized in a moment was what many people cannot discover today over a great period of time, for they continue to perform religious rites weekly in order to be self-sanctified. Nevertheless, the immediate response of the three thousand reveals to us today a very important point: Justification through the cross can be understood and acted upon immediately. If it is not, then there is sin beneath the sin of our obedience to our own religious rites. Our hearts are beyond being cut by the message of the gospel.

The three thousand did not respond to another system of law in order to be legally sanctified of their sins before God. It was this type of religiosity from which they fled. Peter did not hand them another outline of law in order that they again have an attempt at self-justification.   Repentance and baptism were not announced from a legal perspective as an added law. Repentance and baptism were given as the road map for those who mourned over their inability to justify themselves before God. The road map was given as a way to connect with the justification of the gospel that was freely revealed through the incarnation, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God.

In this way the mournful did not transition from one legal system of law to another. Since the gospel was justification through the cross, and the blood offering was for the sanctification of their sins, they responded to the offer of sanctification through their repentant obedience to the gospel (baptism).

Baptism was the means of connectivity. As Abraham was obedient to God to offer his son because of faith, so in baptism our faith is revealed through the offering of ourselves to be baptized. In our baptism, therefore, God says to us the same as He said to Abraham at the time he sought to obediently offer his son: “… for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me” (Gn 22:12).

We cannot move on from this point without noting the passive mood of the verbs of Romans 6:3: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” The verbs “were baptized” in reference to the phrases “into Christ Jesus,” and “into His death,” are both passive. Passive means that the subject is acted upon. What Paul revealed is that the person who was baptized into Christ was acted upon by someone else. In baptism one gives himself over to another just as Isaac gave himself over to his father in order to be offered.

When one is baptized, Jesus has already acted upon the one baptized through the blood that comes from His sacrificial offering on the cross. The justification/sanctification through the blood offering of the Son of God happened at one time in the past for the cleansing of those who connect with the blood of Jesus in baptism after the cross. It is through His own blood that He acts upon the soul of those who offer themselves to God in baptism. The result of His blood offering has continued to cleanse those who have offered themselves since the time He poured it out at the cross. In order to connect with the justification of the cross, and subsequently sanctification by the blood, one must make the offering of himself in baptism. He must be crucified with Christ.

This same passive verb was used by Paul when he said of himself, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gl 2:20).   Alfred Marshall, in his Greek-English interlinear, translated the passive verb, “I have been co-crucified.”   When we combine what Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, with what he said of himself, the incarnate Son of God acted upon him through His sacrificial crucifixion on the cross.   Though Paul, and the rest of us, have offered ourselves to be crucified with Christ years later, the effect of the blood that continues to flow from the cross continues to have a cleansing impact on all obedient (offered) individuals today.

In our obedience to the cross and resurrection (the gospel), we step into the realm of Jesus’ crucifixion for all sins for all people. This is what the three thousand saw and responded to on the day of Pentecost in response to what they had asked from the apostles. Peter’s instructions to their response was simply: “Repent and be baptized” (At 2:38).

What happened in their baptism was that they came into the realm of justification/sanctification that was made available by the sacrificial offering of Jesus. In their response, they were “co-crucified” with Jesus.   They, as Paul, subsequently led the crucified life because they had been baptized into Christ, into a realm about which John later wrote,

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses [sanctifies] us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7).

The three thousand on the day of Pentecost had been steeped in the religion of their own self-justification for centuries.   Through their obedience to the host of religious rites of Judaism, they had sought to atone for their own sins. However, when the “fullness of time” came when their hearts were opened by the futility of being unable to justify themselves before God, they were ready for the gospel.

Unfortunately, there are too many deeply religious people today who are so steeped in the religiosity of their own religion that the “fullness of time” has not come for them. This is especially true of those religious groups who are held in the bondage of their own feelings. Their effort is often an attempt to cry out “Jesus, Jesus,” “speak in tongues,” or ramble through a catalog of theatrical hysterics in a plea that God forgive their past sins. They do not realize that their emotional religiosity is a denial of that for which they plea.

A Christian is emotionally stirred by the cross of justification. His heart emotionally cries out in thanksgiving and wonder as to how God could love a sinner as himself through the incarnation and cross while he was yet dead in his sins (Rm 5:8). Christians do not cry to God for appeasement. Theirs is a cry of rejoicing.

The emotional religionist, on the other hand, will cry out for a “miracle” in order to reassure himself that he is saved.   Those who have grown in the grace and knowledge of Jesus simply open their Bibles and read of the glorious message of grace that surrounds the event of the gospel (2 Pt 3:18). It is therein that they are reaffirmed that they have been baptized into a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19).

It is indeed unfortunate when one seeks to appease his or her own heart through self-righteously, and thus, miss the heart of God at the cross. We must never forget that when we seek to sanctify ourselves through our own performance of good works, or acts of religious behavior, we are bypassing the sanctification that God freely offers through His grace. When we are earnestly trying to justify ourselves, there is no door open to step into the realm of the justification that Jesus freely offered at the cross. Too many people stumble over their religiosity in their efforts to get to the cross. Too many bypass the heart of God by focusing on pleasing their own heart.

[Next lecture in series: September 14]