There is a difference between believing in the resurrection as just another doctrinal point on a legal outline of doctrine, and living the resurrection as the gospel of our lives. If we base our faith only on accepting the fact of the resurrection, but can never get it off the pages of our legal outline and into our behavior, then our hearts go untouched and our lives unchanged. It is our challenge as students of the word of God to lift our knowledge of the resurrection off the pages of the Bible and translate it into our hearts. It is only then that our behavior will be transformed into the image of the incarnate Son of God.
It is here that those who approach the Bible from a legal point of view of knowledge only will have some difficulty. However, the experientialist too has the same difficulty in allowing the gospel to be a life-changing experience. Both the religious legalist and experientialist often minimize the work of the gospel in our lives.
The experientialist assumes that religion is about him. Having emotional experiences are to be enjoyed for the purpose of receiving some satisfaction from one’s faith, or validating one’s relationship with God. But in all our experientialism, the gospel is minimized as the heart of our faith, and thus, the impetus for godly behavior. In other words, as experientialists, we seek to generate an emotional experience for the purpose of validating our faith. And if our faith is validated solely by emotional experiences, then there is little need for the historical gospel as the foundation for our faith. Gospel, therefore, as a life-controlling revelation of the heart of God becomes a side issue.
As the preacher seeks to validate his existence through legal biblicism and speaking skills, the experientialist is doing the same in reference to his existence as a believer. The biblicist goes to Bible school in order to learn precisely his “combat manual” (the Bible) in order that his answers for his faith are validated with a “book-chapter-verse.” The experientialist goes to the assembly every week in order to validate his faith through an out-of-control experience that he assumes comes from the Holy Spirit. His hope is that the Holy Spirit shows up at the same time on Sunday morning as he does in order to validate his faith.
The biblicist is self-oriented because he seeks to win the arguments. The experientialist is self-oriented because he seeks an emotional experience that seemingly proves that his faith is valid. Unfortunately, both the biblicist and the experientialist are missing the power of the heart of God that is unleashed in our lives through the gospel. Their motivation for religious behavior is self-centered, not gospel centered. If it were gospel centered, then it would be first and totally focused on Jesus. This is why those who would emotionally cry out “Lord, Lord” (“Jesus, Jesus”) often miss the power of the gospel that is manifested in one’s life through obedience to the commandments of God (See Mt 7:21).
A good example to better understand where one is in thinking in reference this point is how contributions (giving) are generated in one’s life. The legalistic biblicist will quote scripture after scripture, precept upon precept, that one must give his money to God. The audience responds with tokens in contribution in order to feel that they have legally complied with the commandments to give. The contributors, therefore, give on the basis that they will sanctify themselves holy if they would only release their money into the collection plate. Since their money is the security of their lives, they are cautious about relinquishing too much of their security.
This helps us understand why legalistic churches view 1 Corinthians 16:1,2 as a legality for contributions every Sunday, and why the gospel starved Corinthians were having problems in this area. In the New Testament, contributions were always for special needs, though often collected conveniently on the first day of the week. Even the contribution of Sunday in 1 Corinthians 16 was for a special need. But the legalist has a difficult time understanding what Paul said in verse 2, “… so that there be no contributions when I come.”
While Paul was in Corinth for Sundays after writing 1 Corinthians 16:1,2, there were to be no contributions made on the “first day of the week” while he was there. Since the legalist has made a law out of Sunday morning contributions, with 1 Corinthians 16:1,2 being the prooftext, he has moved free-will sacrificial offerings that are given out of the motivation of the gospel in our lives. The Sunday morning contribution is convenient, but one should not feel guilty because he or she has nothing to put into the collection tray when it passes by. Law would produce guilt in such a situation, but grace would produce peace of mind.
If we approach 1 Corinthians 16:1,2 from a legal perspective in order to identify an “act of worship,” then we will have difficulty understanding that giving must come from the heart, not from a legal compliance to law. In fact, the “grudging giver” that Paul identifies in his second letter to the Corinthians, is actually the one who would be giving out of obligation in order to keep law (See 2 Co 9:5). The result is that he has the desire to hold back as much as possible in order to protect his financial security.
Legalists are always grudging givers. They are cheerful givers only when they have calculated that they can give a certain amount of their security, while holding back enough for security reasons (See At 5:1-4). If one gives out of this motivation, then he will not understand why the poor widow during Jesus’ ministry gave her last two coins (See Lk 21:1-4). The legalistic giver simply feels legally compliant and guilt free by flipping in the collection tray only a coin, or possibly a great deal of money in comparison to the poor. However, the one who has been touched in the heart by the heart of a giving God will put in his or her last two coins.
On the other hand, the experiential preacher generates hysteria in the audience, and then proclaims that the people are all “robbing God.” The people then emotionally respond out of guilt because they do not want to be “God robbers.” The focus of their giving, as the legal biblicist, is also focused on themselves, and thus, his giving is also from a motive of self-sanctification.
Add to the self-sanctifying motives that are generated by both the legal biblicist and experientialist, the self-enrichment theology that “God will bless you if you give to Him.” This theology is not only carnal and self-oriented, it is totally contrary to the gospel living that was behaved throughout the ministry of the incarnate Son of God. Those self-oriented religionists who teach that giving is some sort of “investment plan” need to take another look at the foundation upon which they have established their religion. We see none of this in the lives of those in the first century who responded to and lived the gospel.
What the legal biblicist and experientialist have done is generate legal, guilt-ridden, and selfish reasons for relinquishing their security, that is, their money. But suppose for a moment that the people were touched by the heart of the One who became poor in all things on our behalf (See Ph 2:5-9). This poverty stricken incarnate Son lived without His own house throughout His earthly ministry. He had no money to buy food, and thus all food had to be given to Him during His ministry. He had no closet full of robes and shoes. He had only one robe, and laid his head down for sleep at night in numerous beds that were not his own. He traveled around in Palestine, not on a “Mercedes” camel, but with feet on which were worn out sandals.
Having been born in a barn, He went out of this world in death in a borrowed tomb. In all this poverty, He gave; He gave the totality of His incarnate life for us who claim to be His disciples. And when we consider the eternal incarnation of His sacrifice, His giving was far beyond what we could possibly do in repayment. He was the revealed heart of God who asks only that we respond to His eternally sacrificed body that was viewed on a wooden cross outside Jerusalem.
And now we understand why it was said of those first respondents on the A.D. 30 Pentecost, “Now all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they sold their possessions and goods and divided them to all, as anyone had need” (At 2:44,45). And now we know that after being Christians for only a few days (At 16:12), the Philippian disciples lived the gospel by sending support to Paul: “For even in Thessalonica you [Philippians] sent once and again for my needs” (Ph 4:16; see 4:15,16). We understand why these new disciples impoverished themselves for the sake of others who were in need. Read the legacy below about those Macedonian Christians—including the Philippians—who lived the gospel for the sake of others:
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia, that in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Co 8:1-3).
When the gospel (grace) of the heart of God penetrates the heart of a disciple of Jesus, as it did the Macedonians, there is no need to beg for contributions. Giving is simply the natural response of those who realized that so much has been given to them through the gospel. When we live the gospel, we do as God did for us through the incarnational offering of His Son. Those who hold up on their giving because of a fear of losing their financial security, have not yet given themselves fully over to the security of the gospel. They are not yet standing on the gospel which they have received (1 Co 15:1).
We would conclude this thought with a statement that is probably a sarcasm by which the Holy Spirit sought to embarrass some rich Jewish Christians. First consider the dictionary definition of a sarcasm: “A taunting, sneering, cutting, or caustic remark; a gibe or jeer, generally ironical.”
Now consider this definition in the context of those to whom James wrote. The rich in his audience were rebuked with the warning, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you” (Js 5:4). These were those about whom James judged to be fraudulent: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who have mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out against you” (Js 5:4). These rich had been so brazen in their fraudulent behavior that they cheated their laborers by holding back their salaries. Many of those who were the recipients of the letter of James were these fraudulent religionists.
These self-reliant religionists, who found security in their finances, claimed to be disciples of the Poor Preacher from Galilee who was buried in a borrowed tomb. Now we are in the context of James’ audience and his task to shame those who claimed to live the gospel, but persisted in basing their security on their wealth.
In order to understand James’ sarcasm that he gives in James 1:27, we must compared what those, who were first touched by the gospel, did in their relationships among themselves. As the number of the disciples was increasing in Jerusalem in the early years, it was only natural that the disciples take care of the widows among them (See At 6:1-6). Some problems developed because a group of Grecian widows were forgotten in the daily distribution of what was regularly contributed for the widows. The problem was solved, and the body of believers carried on. One of those who was chosen to administer the contribution to the widows was Stephen, a man who was “full of grace” (At 6:8). He was full of and driven by the gospel of grace, and thus, he was one whom the disciples could see in his life that he was driven by the heart of God.
Now consider the rich religionists to whom James wrote. They were not filled with the gospel of grace, and thus, they behaved fraudulently. They did not allow the grace of God to teach them anything about gospel relationships. The gospel was not the motivation of their hearts. James wanted to remind them that the gospel moves our behavior beyond religion. So James taunted them with something that even in the society of religious people who did not believe the gospel would do out of common decency. Even the religious idolaters would take care of orphans and widows. So if these self-proclaimed religionists to whom James wrote, who sought to live under the name of Jesus, simply claimed to be religious, then they would do the same. But they did not. So James possibly wrote with sarcasm the following statement,
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to take care of the orphans and windows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (Js 1:27).
James was essentially saying the same to these “faith only” rich as those about whom Paul wrote: “If anyone does not provide for his own, especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tm 5:8).
The concept of religion in all its forms in the Bible are negative. In the Old Testament religion is referred to as idolatry. The use of the word “religion” by James—the only place it is used in the New Testament—would be the same as the idolater who has created a religion after his own desires, which thing some in James’ audience were trying to do. They idolized their money (See Cl 3:5; 1 Tm 6:10). They had assumed that they were Christians, but they were not even being good religionists in their “faith only” thinking (See Js 2:14-26).
We would conclude that in the context of James’ audience, the word “religion” is used in a negative sense. James was taunting the rich. If they would at least identify themselves as religious, then certainly they would at least take care of orphans and widows. Even unbelieving idolaters do this. But the rich in James’ audience were not doing this simply because James wrote the exhortation to take care of these needy people. The rich were posing to be religious without giving even to orphans and widows.
When the gospel of the heart of God penetrates to the heart of man, we respond as the early disciples who naturally made provision for the orphans and widows among them. At least the most shallow believer would take care of orphans and widows. If one would claim any religiosity at all, it would be reflected in his or her care for orphans and widows.
Taking care of the poor is our identity with the poverty of the One who made Himself poor by giving up being on an equality with God and humbling Himself to be incarnate in the likeness of man. He willingly gave up His security in heaven, for the insecurity of this world. He asks no less of us. It is for this reason that the Bible is all about the gospel of the heart of God, for when we discover the heart of our Father in the gospel, money loses its personal security. Money becomes the instrument by which we can express the gospel in our own lives as He expressed the gospel from the cross. This is what those on the day of Pentecost discovered immediately in one day. This is what the Philippians discovered in only a few days as Christians. This is what was reflected in the lives of the Macedonians as they impoverished themselves on behalf of famine-stricken victims in Judea. We discover this gospel living when we freely give as He freely gave Himself to us. Our giving freely, therefore, is the identity of our discipleship of Him who gave all for us. Gospel living assumes that one is a giver.
[Next lecture in series: October 3]