Holy Nonsense?

Have you ever thought about some of the nonsensical things we say as believers? For instance, what is “a born-again Christian”? Using that term logically implies the possibility of (1) being a person who is born again, but who is not a Christian or (2) being a person who is a Christian, but who is not born again. Both are impossible according to the Bible. So, to say you are a born again Christian is just like saying you are a human man or a human woman; you literally saying the same thing twice!
Or how about: “He’s an on-time God!” I know the meaning is that God’s deliverance is just in time. But often we forget God is eternal! That means God is not restricted by the human construct of time. So whenever God shows up in our situation, even when we think God’s too late; God is on time! By the way, when we say God is on time, we are imposing our finite time constraints on God. Secondly, God can never really be early or late because God doesn’t have to go where God already is!
How about this one? We tell people that in order to be saved, they must accept Jesus as their Personal Savior! Where did we get that from? Certainly not from Scripture! Seems like its the same idea as having a ‘personal body-guard! Although we may have a personal and intimate relationship with him, our relationship with Him is not personal in the sense that it is exclusive of all other Christians!The Bible says that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved! Jesus is not just a Savior who saves; Jesus is the Lord who saves those who submit to His Lordship!
Well, that’s enough! I’m just thinking out loud!

Jesus: The Only Way?

Jesus made a statement, recorded in John 14:6, that puts all who would seek to sincerely believe in and follow him in a precarious position with the world! He said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) Now sometimes, when we read the Bible, the various other translations have variations of the text that leave room for different interpretations, but that is not the case with this text! Sometimes, a difference, such as a definite article used in one language as opposed to an indefinite article used in another language might leave room for a slightly different interpretation, but that is not the case with this text! With this verse; all of the English translations and versions agree with the various Greek texts, as to what Jesus said! He didn’t stutter! Jesus said he was, not ‘a’ way, but ‘the’ way! Jesus said he was, not ‘a’ truth, but ‘the’ truth! Jesus said, he was not ‘a’ life, but ‘the’ life! Jesus said, the only way to come to the Father (God) was through him! Oh! What a bold and audacious statement! Now, there are only three legitimate responses to what Jesus said! There are only three ways we can process what he said and only three conclusions we can reach:

We could conclude that Jesus was mentally unstable and that he was a mad-man! Now before you label me as a heretic for even raising such a possibility; it has been raised before! In the Gospel account recorded by Mark, we read: “Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (Mark 3:20-22 ESV) At one point, his own family thought he was crazy and his religious opponents accused him of being possessed by the devil! So this idea of Jesus being insane is not a new concept! Now, if Jesus was indeed mad, then we have nothing but the rambling statements of a deranged lunatic and we can dismiss all of his statements as ludicrous! But, there was too much that he said and did that made sense for us to dismiss him as crazy because of the things he said and did that did not make sense to us!

The second possibility is that Jesus was a deceiver or an imposter! This was the position of the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the established religious order of his day. In the Gospel recorded by Matthew, we read: “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, ‘Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.’ Pilate said unto them, ‘Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.’ So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matthew 27:62-66 KJV) Now, the ironic thing about that whole situation is that the very ones who accused Jesus of being a deceiver were, in fact, deceivers themselves! The very guards they posted at the grave, witnessed the resurrection, but they paid those guards to lie about what they had seen! The fact that they paid the guard to lie is a proof of the resurrection because if the resurrection didn’t happen, why lie about an event that didn’t happen? (See Matthew 28:11-15) From all accounts, Jesus was certainly not a deceiver! In fact, he was so upfront and honest that he discouraged people from following him. (See Matthew 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62) He told potential followers upfront the hardships they would have to endure and the price they would have to be prepared to pay to follow him! He wasn’t like so many of us, who tell all of the benefits first and reluctantly share the drawbacks, only if asked!

Now, before I share the third possibility, let’s look at some of the implications if Jesus was indeed a lunatic or a fraud and if Jesus is not ‘the,’ but merely ‘a way,’ ‘a truth,’ and ‘a life.’ Let’s look at the implications if there are indeed ‘other ways’ to the Father, other than Jesus. If that was indeed the case, then, Jesus came and died for nothing! And if that were true and Jesus came and died for nothing, then he was indeed a lunatic! It makes no earthly or heavenly sense to go through all that Jesus went through if there was another way! And surely, if there was another way, he would have taken it! He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 ESV) Jesus was asking the Father, if it were possible, to provide another way so that it would not be necessary for him to go to the cross! Do you see that? Those who reject the claims of Jesus say there are other ways; well in the garden, Jesus wished there were other ways also! So don’t you think if there were other ways, he would have taken them? He would have been a fool and a lunatic if he didn’t! But, there were no other ways; that’s why he went to the cross, to secure the only way! So, when people say or suggest there are other ways, they are in a sense, saying that Jesus was a lunatic, because it would have been the epitome of stupidity and insanity to go to the cross if there were other options! So, if there were and are other ways; Jesus was crazy and those who follow him are crazy also!

But, what if he was right? What if, he indeed paid the price and God indeed validated his claim by raising him from the dead? If that is the case (and I believe with everything within me that it is; in fact, I am staking my eternal destiny on it!), then that means we owe him our gratitude, loyalty and ultimate allegiance! People today do not want to accept the fact of Hell and punishment because they say that God is a God of love. Well, God is a God of love! That’s why he sent Jesus! John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV) God is also a Holy God and a God of justice, that is also why God sent Jesus! The Apostle Paul declared: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 KJV) John, the Elder, declared: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 KJV)

Now, there may be some who might read this and dismiss my claims because I use the Bible as my source. They do not think an ancient book of doctrines is valid in a modern world. What an absurd proposition! The Bible is even more valid than today’s newspaper! Besides that, aren’t we, in America, governed by a set of laws taken from an old document called the Constitution? And by the way, most of the precepts and ideas within the Constitution came directly from the Bible, as did most of the legal codes for all nations!

Jesus claimed exclusivity! “No one comes to the Father except by me!” He said! So, the ones who follow him are not being arrogant, intolerant, or trying to be more than others when they make that claim; they are just merely repeating what Jesus said and claimed! And just as Jesus was rejected and ridiculed then, his sincere followers will be rejected and ridiculed now! So, thanks Jesus! Thank you for the pickle you’ve put us in! But, those of us who sincerely believe in you and love you are more than willing to go to you outside the camp (of political correctness and social esteem) and bear the abuse that you endured! (Hebrews 13:13)

Ministry Is No Substitute

Doing great works in ministry is no substitute for a personal relationship with the Lord. In Matthew 7:22-23, we read: “On judgment day, many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’  But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.” (NLT)

When we look at this text in the Greek, it appears that these ‘many’ will come before the Lord fully expecting their great works of ministry to garner the Lord’s approval. But much to their surprise, the Lord will reject them! The interesting thing is that the Lord will not dispute their claims to have done many might works in his name! Now this raises an interesting possibility: Could it be that it is possible to be successful in ministry and yet be ultimately rejected by the Lord? Many people today take ministerial success as a sign of God’s approval, ‘anointing’ and blessing, but according to this text, these people will have had all of that! They will do great things and actually perform many miracles in ministry, but in the end, they will still be rejected! The Lord will not deny the fact that they actually did mighty works; but he will deny them! Why?

The answer is found in the Lord’s reply. He will say: “I never knew you!” In the Bible, the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as “know” and “knew” are often used as euphemisms to denote close, intimate, and sometimes sexual relationships. It first shows up in Genesis 4:1, where it says: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” (ESV) In that verse, the term “knew” is used to indicate the fact that Adam had sexual intercourse with Eve. So, in Matthew 7:23, the term “knew” does not just indicate intellectual or cognitive knowledge, but also suggests intimate and personal relationship. The Lord will say to the many; “Yes! It’s true, you did all of those things, but you did not have a personal relationship with me! And because you did all of those things without a personal relationship with me; all of those things you did were illegitimate or illegal works! You didn’t do them according to my law! My law is this: The ministry is no substitute for a relationship with me, but rather the ministry evolves, develops and is done as a result of the relationship with me! You substituted the ministry for the relationship, but the relationship is the basis of the ministry! It is the relationship that makes the ministry valid and legitimate!

All too often today, we get so busy with ‘doing’ that we forget to be! We were not created as “human doings,” we were created as human beings! Doing is no substitute for being! We don’t “do” to be; whatever we do is ultimately because of who we are.

Now, here’s another scary thought about this text! All these ‘many’ will die believing they were saved, to discover only after death; they weren’t! That is a terrifying thought! There are some who teach that you should never doubt your salvation. That’s good teaching if you are really saved in the first place! But I’m afraid there are many people in church today, who are saved; only in their own minds! Their salvation is based on their feelings or the word of some preacher who told them they were saved just because they walked down the aisle and repeated a simple prayer! But real salvation is based on the word of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures and the Apostle Peter advised his readers to be diligent to make their calling and election sure! (2 Peter 1:10) Your salvation is too important! Your eternal destiny is too critical to leave in the hands of some preacher or pastor! You’d better make sure of it yourself! It would be such a tragedy to die, convinced of your salvation, only to hear the Lord say in the end: “’I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoer!

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6 ESV)

“Wow, Jesus! Why did you have to say those words? Now, following you puts me in a pickle! It puts me at odds with my coworkers and friends because your statement is just not politically correct or socially sensitive!” If we are to be honest with ourselves, that’s the statement that many Christians today would like to tell our Lord! In a world that insists upon moral inclusiveness and religious plurality, Jesus calls us to exclusiveness and singularity! He didn’t say he was ‘a’ way! He didn’t say he was ‘a’ truth! And he didn’t say he was ‘a’ life! The articles are not indefinite; they are definite! Jesus made the claim and if we are to truly follow him, we must echo the claim of his exclusive and unique status.

Now logically speaking, if Jesus is indeed, just a way and there are indeed other ways to get to the Father, then his suffering on the Cross was not necessary! If there are indeed, other ways, then his life, suffering, death, and resurrection were pointless! When I was young and one of my siblings would try to exercise parental authority over the rest of us, we would ask them: “Who died and left you in charge?” That’s the question the world is asking of Jesus! As the Pharisees asked him: “Who gave you this authority?” Well, the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:6-11: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (KJV) On the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter preached in Acts 2:36: “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (KJV) It’s uncomfortable and it puts us at odds with the current consciousness, but if we are to be true to our Lord, then we must be willing to, as the Hebrew writer says, “. . . go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” (Heb. 13:13 KJV) We must remember, Jesus said: “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38 KJV) If we are ashamed of him now before the world, he will be ashamed of us before the Heavenly Father.

Now there is another aspect of this statement of Jesus that I don’t think many of us have really thought about! Look at the metaphors Jesus used. First of all, he said “I am the way!” What is the way? The way is the means of access! The way is the route, road, or the pathway! The way is not the destination; the way is the means to get to the destination! Many of us have made Jesus the destination, but in his owns words, Jesus said: “I’m not the destination you’re trying to reach! I am the means. I am the access. I am the way to get you to your destination!” And what is the destination? The Father God! Jesus came, lived, died, and was resurrected so that we might have a means of access to God!  

When we really look at this, the meaning is profound! Jesus was saying to us: “Don’t stop at me! Keep going! I’m just the way! I’m just the access!” He said to his disciples in John 16:23, “In that day (the day when the Holy Spirit comes to take permanent residence within you) you will ask me nothing, but whatsoever you ask the Father in my name and He will give it to you!” Now that is profound! Jesus was saying that, through me, you have the same access to God the Father that I have!

That is, I believe, one of the greatest statements in all of Scripture! Jesus didn’t come to bring men a new religion; men already had plenty of religion! Jesus came to renew the way, the means, the access, the truth and the life that leads to the Father that had been broken and destroyed by sin at the Fall in the Garden of Eden! We look at the life of Jesus as a means of salvation; and it is! But more importantly, the life of Jesus was and is a model for us to study and imitate! Everything he did was an example for us! Most theologians and commentators say that when Jesus calmed the storm, by saying; “Peace be still,” he was using his divine power. That might have been so, but I believe that when Jesus was on earth in the flesh, he didn’t function primarily as Son of God, but rather as son of man! In other words, I believe that when Jesus was on earth, he did not use any of his Divine prerogatives or attributes, but rather functioned as a man fully empowered and led by the Holy Spirit! For if Jesus functioned on earth as Son of God, then the statement recorded in John 14:12 makes no sense. There, he said; “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” (KJV) Therefore, I believe that when Jesus calmed the stormed, he wasn’t displaying his divinity, but rather he was showing his disciples and us, through parabolic action, how to calm the storms in our lives!

The bottom line is that when Jesus made the statement: “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes unto the Father but by me.” Not only was he saying that he was the only way to the Father, he was encouraging us to see him, not as the end, but rather as the means to the end! He did not come to glorify himself; he came to glorify the Father! Therefore, by looking at and using his life as example, a model, or a blueprint and by being empowered by the same Spirit that was in him and having the mind of Christ, we can also fulfill the specific purpose for which we were created. Most people, even so-called Christians, think that life is all about them, but it’s not! Humanity was created to be the physical, visible and practical expression of the Spiritual God in the material world! Whatever God does in this world, God does it through human agency! Man was created to glorify God! And how do we glorify God? Perhaps the answer is found in high priestly prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his passion. Jesus said: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:4 ESV) We bring glory to God by completing our assignment! Our assignment is our life’s purpose; our reason for being! Jesus had a specific assignment and so do you and I and every person in the world! Whether it’s preaching the Gospel, or helping people discover their talents, gifts, and potential, or working at the bank, every work is a divine endeavor! Every work is a means by which God seeks expression through our human personality!

Yes! In the statement, Jesus was saying he was the only way to get to the Father, but he was also saying that he was the way, his teaching was the truth, and his life was the example of how we might truly live the abundant life here and now on earth!

The Difference Between Peter and James

I was reading some time ago and I came across in interesting passage in Acts. In Acts 12:1-3, I read: “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)” As I read further on in the text, I discovered that although James was killed, Peter was delivered from prison in a miraculous way! It was at that point I started asking myself questions: Why was James killed and Peter delivered? Did Peter have more faith than James? Did the church pray for Peter’s deliverance and failed to pray for the deliverance of James? What was the difference between Peter and James? 

Now before I go on, I think it would be well to caution that it is usually bad hermeneutics to formulate any doctrine or principle based solely on the Book of Acts. The reason is because Acts is a record of the beginning of the church. There are things that happen in the “beginning” that don’t need to be and can’t be repeated! The doctor may have had to slap our butts to get us to breathe the first time, but after that, there was no need for a continuous butt-slapping! So, there were things that happened in Acts, at the inception of the church that have not been and really have no need to be repeated. For instance, there are some who teach today, based on Acts, that we should tarry or wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. But the reason the disciples waited, per Jesus’ instructions, in the Book of Acts for the coming of the Holy Spirit was because, prior to that time, the Holy Spirit had not come to dwell within men. In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit would come upon a person to empower them, but after the task was completed, the Holy Spirit would leave. In the Gospel of John, Jesus promised that after he had left, the Holy Spirit would come, not only to be with the disciples, but to be “in” them. So, the waiting on the Day of Pentecost was for the fulfilling of that promise. However, there is no need for the believer to “wait” anymore for something that has already happened! The Holy Spirit came to indwell within believers on the Day of Pentecost, but He did not leave! He’s still here! So, there is no need to wait for someone who is already here! The Holy Spirit is NOT the Second Blessing or some additional blessing from God for the believer. He is essential and fundamental to the believer’s relationship and standing with God. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (KJV) Having or being indwelt by the Holy Spirit is not optional or additional; it’s basic and essential! Every believer has or is indwelt by the Holy Spirit! If the Holy Spirit is not in them; they are not a believer or they are not saved at all! But, I digress, so let me get back to my point! I just brought that out to illustrate the danger of formulating doctrines or principles solely from the Book of Acts.

Was it a matter that Peter had more faith than James? I think not! I think it was just a matter of God’s sovereign will! There are those who teach today that faith can overcome any obstacle and that faith has the power to overcome any negative situation. But, faith cannot and will not, change, circumvent, or subjugate God’s sovereign will. Now, we need to understand that when it comes to the will of God, there is God’s sovereign will and there is God’s permissive will. We could look at it this way; God’s sovereign will is God’s overall and unchanging purpose. God’s permissive will is the minor flexible details of His sovereign will. God’s permissive will is subject, to a certain extent to our faith and our actions, but God’s sovereign will is steadfast, unchangeable and uninfluenced by our faith or actions.

The killing of James and the deliverance of Peter was a matter of God’s sovereign will. And in like manner, there are things that happen in our lives that are beyond the scope of our faith and actions. They are beyond our ability to influence by our faith or actions! I know there are some who teach today that people can control what happens to them by their faith, but that’s not completely true! Often those same people will use Hebrew 11 as a “proof-text” to validate their point. They cite the first thirty-five (35) verses as proof of over-coming faith. There is a summation of “over-coming” faith in Hebrew 11:33-35a, where the author wrote: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. . .” I stopped at 35a because that’s where most of the “faith-teachers” stop! But beginning at 35b, we have, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story! Beginning at 35b, the rest of the chapter reads: “. . . and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” (Heb. 11:35-40 KJV) Were the believers cited in the first 35 verses more faithful than the others cited in the last five verses? No! Not according to the text! All were faithful; but some were delivered and some weren’t!

The difference between Peter and James was that, through His sovereign will, in Acts 12, Peter was delivered like those in Hebrews 11:1-35a, but James was numbered among “the others” mentioned in Hebrews 11:35b-40. But in the end, the difference between Peter and James was not of any real ultimate importance, because (for the record) Peter was eventually killed also! By the way, whether or not we are presently delivered or healed from some affliction or disease is not of ultimate importance in the grand scheme of things (It is to us because, naturally, we want to be delivered and healed). In the end, we will all leave this world! Faith might heal us of a disease or illness presently, but faith cannot and will not cancel our eventual death! Because of his prayer, repentance and faith, God’s permissive will added fifteen years (15) to King Hezekiah’s life (1 Kings 20:1-6; Isaiah 38:1-5), but after that, Hezekiah died! What was the difference between Peter and James? James died then; Peter died later! What is the difference between believers who are healed and those who are not? It’s a matter above all of our pay-grade! It’s a matter of God’s sovereign will! From a purely human point of view, the only difference is; some die now and some die later, but eventually; we all will die!