Restoraton Essentials

During times of trial that come upon us, we must always focus on the positive. During these times wherein we are greatly restricted from one another in our common assemblies as the church, there are some serendipitous results that have come into our lives. These are blessings on which we must focus in order to understand that Satan cannot win in our lives. He will have his brief victories, but in all things that seem to be hopeless, we must never forget that there are blessings that keep our hope alive. It is for this reason that Paul wrote that all things work together for good to those who love God (Rm 8:28). We must view all times of trial, therefore, as a refreshing time of restoration to spiritual matters in our lives.

• Restoration of personal Bible study: One of the greatest blessing about being locked in one’s home for a period of time, is that one has the opportunity to find his or her Bible, dust it off, and once again study God’s word. Instead of depending on the Bible study of a hired professional, the average member has in lockdown the opportunity to take ownership of his or her own Bible study.

It is now like it was back in those days a century ago when people were cut off from the biblically educated world. Each brother had to take his turn to preach on Sunday. As in some places in the West Indies where we worked, if one was a baptized male member of the body, then he had to take his turn to preach. One of these young men related to us that he was twelve years old when he was baptized. When he came out of the water, someone gave him a towel to dry off. Another brother said, “You preach next Sunday.” He told us that he preached that which he had to know before he went down into that water.

Professionalism is not a part of Christianity. Professionalism strikes a blow at the very heart of each member taking ownership of his or her responsibilities to be a disciple of Jesus. If one needs an answer to a Bible question, there were no professionals in the first century to which to go in order to have a Bible answer given. Professionals have made gaining Bible knowledge cheap for the members, at least cheap in the amount of time one should spend in Bible study. All one has to do is show up in a class and the professional will teach all that he or she needs to know. This steals away the opportunity for each disciple to give all diligence to present oneself approved unto God through diligent personal Bible study (2 Tm 2:15). In those days when the professionals are limited in their context with the members, it is an opportunity for the members to once again study the Bible for themselves.

Unfortunately, the discussion that is now common among all local assemblies of disciples is that many of the members have vanished. Many churches have started restricted assemblies in a pandemic environment, but some members are not coming back to the assembly. These members became so disconnected from the people during the lockdown that they have decided to stay away from the assembly. It may be that these members are not coming back to the assembly because they were never really there in spirit in the first place.

Those who do come back to the assembly are reaffirmed in their relationships with one another because they have been friends for too long to stay away from one another. In their return to the assembly they discovered the purpose of the assembly, that is, a weekly opportunity to renew friendships. If one were never connected into the making friends with the members of the body of Christ, then this is one who will disappear.

• Restoration of personal spiritual growth: Once one is locked away from those on whom he or she relies for spiritual strength, then one has to dig deep inside in order to discover the spiritual strength that is needed to survive. One must take ownership of his or her own spiritual growth.

We need not depend on professionals to be the foundation of our faith. Only Jesus can be in that position. The purpose of an assembly of disciples is that we can take the opportunity to regularly renew our friendships with one another (Hb 10:24,25). But when this opportunity is taken away, it is then that we learn to be somewhat self-reliant in reference to our spiritual growth and relationship with Jesus. We cannot depend on the “pastor” in such social restrictions. We must depend on Jesus alone in our home. It is as the rural Israelites were on their farms that were scattered throughout the land of Palestine. These farmers were not in close contact with one another. Nevertheless, they survived with their families alone in their homes, with an occasional visit from a roaming Levi.

• Restoration to stronger families: One of the greatest blessings of the pandemic is that families have been forced to be together. This was certainly difficult for the older children of the family. Nevertheless, lockdown forced the teenagers to be at home with the family.

During the lockdown weeks families were forced to learn how to play games together. They could have family Bible studies together. They could pray together as a family. And, fathers and mothers could get more sleep on Friday and Saturday nights when before they had to wait up until their teenage children came home before curfew.

When we were young and living on a farm, we were in “lockdown” every day. In the evenings, all of us learned to play games with one another. We were a family unit and never felt as if we were deprived from social activities with others. In those days, families learned how to be dependent on one another. Unfortunately, the fear of most urban families today is the possibility of being bored out of their minds. They are bored if the mother is not rushing the children around for all sorts of school and sports activities. But this is only a recent, if not only an urban, cultural behavior. No farmer is resistent to lookdowns since that is often his normal behavior of life.

• Restoration of preaching outside four walls: One of the blessings of the pandemic lockdown is that Bible teachers were forced to reach out to the world by live streaming their Bible lessons. Some preachers did this before the lockdown. However, the practice has accelerated during the lockdown. We see this as a good thing, and pray that it will continue in the future. Live streaming one’s studies through the internet is simply being a better steward of one’s Bible study and lesson preparation. One can reach out to more than those who are seated before him in a church house on Sunday morning.

We could add here that those writers who are somewhat lazy in their efforts to write good materials can now focus on the world through the internet. The opportunity to use the internet for writing has always been there. But few preachers and Bible teachers have used this opportunity to reach out to a greater audience than what shows up in a classroom on Sunday morning. Writing is very difficult, but it is a ministry that must be used in order to reach this world. In fact, in the days of the lockdown, other than live streaming one’s message, writing reaches those who would seek to download information for their own personal Bible study.

• Restoration of our thirst to be together: There is nothing like understanding how much we need one another by being barred from seeing one another. We are social beings. It is the way God created us. This is especially true in reference to the assemblies of the members of the church. But when Christians are locked away from one another, then they begin to understand why God encouraged us to be with one another.

We have learned that the assembly of the church is not a legal religious ceremony. It is an opportunity to connect spiritually with one another in Christ. We cherish our friends when we are separated from them. As any Christian would confess, being forced to socially distance from one another is not fun. It is not natural. What is natural is a hug and a hand shake. Those who bow down to the science god must understand that humanity cannot live forever without human contact.

[Next in series: Oct. 2]

New Book Release

We ask that everyone help us with the distribution of this particular book. I want to insert it here so that you can download and share it with others. This is one way that we can work together in order to reach out to the world, even though many are still in a lockdown situation in their particular countries.

The Good & The Bad (B)

• Revelation of profiteers: One of the good things that has come out of the pandemic is the fall of the profiteers in the religious world. The good sense of those who came to mass assemblies judged that continuing to do such would not be safe for those who attended. Many assemblies around the world, therefore, have been curtailed in order to guard the health of all those who would attend. But there has been a serendipity to closing down some assemblies. Profiteering false prophets have been deprived of an innocent audience from which they can extract contributions.

We say this knowing that many good preachers of the gospel have also suffered. When assemblies were curtailed around the world, many preachers whose livelihoods depended on the weekly contribution also lost much of their support. Nevertheless, those profiteering faith-healing preachers who roamed among the churches were shut out. These religious marketers had no opportunity to generate hypnotic audiences from which they could extract contributions. Those countries in Africa who barred some of these profiteering prophets from coming to their country needed no longer worry. Shutdown airlines have stopped many of these religious charlatans from boarding airplanes, and traveling throughout the continent. If they did arrive in some country, the people have been barred from attending their miracle-working assemblies.

Must we remind the religious world that the profiteering prophets missed a great opportunity in 2019? If they were true prophets, then why did we not hear from them in 2019 in reference to the coming Covid pandemic in 2020? Those who are thinking should now be able to make a judgment concerning such self-proclaimed false prophets. They were not there in 2019, and neither should they be among us today.

• Revelation of narcissistic preachers: Those preachers who built churches around themselves are now in trouble. Some have used the faith of the people as an opportunity to build a support base of people within a community. On the continent on which we live, this is a very common practice. Now that this support base has been greatly diminished, it is often quite difficult for those prophets who depended on the people for support to be financially secure. There are those preachers who are worthy of support, but we are not discussing these faithful servants. We are focusing on those whose purpose for building an assembly had ulterior motives. These were unworthy motives for financial gain.

In Achaia there were those who were extracting support from the church because they had established themselves to be somewhat among the brethren (2 Co 11:12-15). There were those who were using the church as an opportunity for gain (See 2 Co 11:19,20). If such happened in the church of the first century, then certainly we would assume that such would also happen today. There will always be those who seize the opportunity to take advantage of the innocence of the sheep in order to get gain.

• Revelation of worship without an audience: Instrumentalists often seek an audience. It is quite rare to find a group of instrumentalists playing for themselves. They may do so in order to practice their concert presentation. However, their goal is to play before an audience. It is believed that worshipers are inspired as they pluck away on a guitar, or beat on a drum. They forget that though they may individually pour out their hearts by playing an instrument, at the same time they make all those who cannot join in with an instrument, the audience. All those who do not play an instrument become spectators. Though spectators can be mesmerized by the skill of those who play, being mesmerized through our ears is not worship from our hearts.

Now that the many audience have been taken from the instrumentalists, the worshipers have discovered that they can just as well worship God in their homes without all the distractions of the noise. Worshipers have discovered that they can express their worship on their knees in the quietness of their living rooms without all the distractions of an instrumental concert. People of faith are learning that worship is not in being a mesmerized spectator, but individual outpouring of one’s heart.

• Revelation of ritual-free worship: Related to the preceding point, worshipers have also discovered that they can worship at home without the priest or preacher taking them through some religious rites, rituals or ceremonies. It has been discovered that religious acts of worship are not necessary in order for one to pour out his heart to God with his family at home.

By going home, the worshipers of the world are now discovering the simplicity of worship apart from all the formal presentations of curtains and colored windows in church buildings and temples. Meritorious performances during assembled religionists have been taken away in order that we can discover again the simplicity of worship. We can now go back to our closets in secret and pray to our Father who is in secret.

• Revelation of stymied evangelism: One of the greatest detriments to the pandemic is the shutdown of many evangelistic outreaches worldwide. Travel has been greatly hindered. Public assemblies have been banned in many countries of the world. Some missionaries have returned home, and many hundreds of local evangelists have lost their support. It is indeed a dark day in reference to evangelistic outreach around the world.

If it were not for the internet, we would imagine that the disciples’ outreach with the gospel would be almost brought to a close. We personally do not believe that God will allow this to continue. If evangelism ceases, then the purpose for this world has ceased. If we are to populate heaven by reaching out to the lost, then if the lost can no longer be reached, then there is no purpose for this world.

It is difficult preaching the gospel of love through a mask that conceals one’s face. “Faceless evangelism” has minimal results. We can try to smile with our eyes, but unless people see teeth, we are as expressionless zombies in a disconnected, if not distanced world. This is not the social environment for evangelism. If there are those countries that require a face mask in all social environments, then we are headed into a faceless world. And evangelism without a face, is greatly hindered. We suppose that Satan is tremendously excited about these times.

We can understand why there are marches in different countries against the law to wear a face mask in all public situations. We admired the Germans who were the first to have such a march in Berlin. If one does not know the history of Germany during the reign of the Third Reich, then he or she will have difficulty in understanding why the German people were on the streets marching against a state-imposed law to wear a mask. The Germans were traumatized by Hitler and his henchmen for over a decade seventy-five years ago. They were eventually freed by the Allied Forces in WW II. They now have a phobia about any indications of being brought again into the oppression of any dictator. Those who would seek to lord over the people with laws that work against the human nature should think twice before they work against the consent of the people.

[Next in series: Sept. 30]

The Good & The Bad (A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Next in series: Sept. 28]

Ours Is The Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings. And those who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (Rv 17:14).

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

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

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

“Please Take Me!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Law of Liberty (1)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy Spirit used the national sin of Israel to illustrate our individual covenant relationship with God that is based on our faithful walk in response to His righteousness. We see this in Paul’s following statement: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rm 1:18). When Josiah initiated a restoration in Israel, he realized that God was about to unleash judgment on the nation because the people had suppressed the truth in their willingness to follow after their own unrighteousness. The same judgment will occur in our lives individually if we seek to follow after our own unrighteousness in order to live an ungodly life. Israel’s judgment came in time, but ours will occur at the end of time.

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

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

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

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

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

[Next in series: Sept. 20]

Law of Liberty (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[End of series.]

Gospel Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 4:15 was written on the background of the preceding truth of what inspired both Paul and Peter to leave the law-keeping religion of Judaism in order to respond to grace: “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.”

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

[Next in series: Sept. 16]

Radical Restoration (3)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The final chapter is coming.]