Saturday, July 30, 2005
Some of the sweetest times in the Body of Christ that my wife and I ever had were back in the early 80's with a bunch of Plymouth Brethren rejects who gathered in an elementary school basement (about 25 to 35 of us, including kids).
We arranged some hard-as-a-rock steel chairs in a series of semi-circles with a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine in the center. Our goal was to be led by the Spirit. Let me say that again: our goal was to be led by the Spirit. Nothing "spooky", but we reminded each other of our goal regularly.
We would sing a song "randomly" called out by someone in the group, then maybe another, then someone would pray "as led", then maybe another song, then some exhortation or a request for prayer, then we'd sing again, etc., etc. The kids were included, so we sang "If You're Happy and You Know It", complete with hand clapping and stomping, along with "Majesty", often with tears.
When it "seemed right", one of the men would take the bread and wine (a common cup with a wiping cloth) and pass it around, with a brief word regarding the remembrance of the One who gave His body and shed His blood.
Then we took a 15-20 min. break, with chatting . . . sometimes d-e-e-p theology, sometimes small talk . . . coffee and maybe cake or donuts . . . and hugs.
Then we re-assembled (minus the kids, who were babysat or taught in another room), and one of the men would teach from a scripture passage. Pretty much always expository, but always with open comments from whomever.
Total time: 2-3 hours.
What's amazing, as I look back, is that there was quite a broad spectrum of theological beliefs, broader than I would be inclined to "tolerate" now, rightly or wrongly. Yet, we really were one in Christ, and full of love for one another and for Jesus.
We've never recaptured that, though we've since been in many churches around the country.
But we've never forgotten it, either.
Listen to "Grace For Life" Radio Program.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Yes, the Gospel is in the Gospels, but there is a clear shift in the meaning of "Gospel" as we progress from the "Gospels" (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), to the epistles, particularly those written by Paul the Apostle.
The word "gospel" is used several times throughout Matthew, Mark and Luke (not in John). It essentially means "good tidings", or "good news", and usually refers to the good news that the Messiah has come, the Savior, the King and His Kingdom in some sense. And it certainly was Good News.
But there is much about the Gospel, as it is presented in the epistles, that is lacking in the Gospels. Why? Primarily because Jesus Himself lived on earth under the Old Covenant. Much of what He taught, He taught to Jews who were still under the Law of the Old Covenant. He was in a transition time, to be sure. He was beginning to herald something glorious beyond the Law. But He still had to live under the Law, in order to fulfill it, and be qualified as the perfect Lamb of God.
There were seeds of grace in His ministry. But those seeds had been planted even in Genesis, with the promise of the crushing of the head of the serpent. And in Jeremiah Chapter 31, where the New Covenant was promised.
The Gospel of the New Covenant, as it was expounded by Paul, for example, included not only a general faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, but faith in a complete Messiah and His work on the cross, and His resurrection. Even John wrote, "but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31) And this was in the only Gospel that didn't contain the word "gospel". But it lifts Him up, the Lord Jesus Christ, and calls us to believe in Him as Lord, and Savior.
Probably the clearest factual presentation of the Gospel content is in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, where it says,
"Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..."
There is a principle of hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) that says that, all things being equal, Scripture tends to progressively shed more light on a given subject as we progress through the Bible. And sure enough, the gospel is really explained in all its glory in the epistles, not in the Gospels.
In fact, much of what Jesus taught seems to smack of legalism. And why not? He was teaching under the Old Covenant, which later was to become "obsolete" (Hebrews 8). There was some legalism, but it was righteous legalism, true and Biblical legalism.
My point is this. It is a mistake to go back to the Gospels to explain that Gospel of Grace which is so exalted in Romans and Galatians. It is a mistake, and leads to confusion, to proclaim "The Gospel According To Jesus". We are not saved under the New Covenant by "give all that you are for all that He is". First, that would be salvation by works as a reward, and second, it's a good thing that giving "all that you are" is not the condition for salvation, since I'm confident that no one has ever given all that he is. We are not saved under the New Covenant by "deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24). That "follow me" is in the present tense, and involves the linear action of a whole life of discipleship. But the Gospel of Grace says that "he who has the Son has life" now (1 John 5:12).
And out of that new life springs fruit. But the fruit comes from the life, not vice versa.
Listen to "Grace For Life" Radio Program.
People must "do" two things to be saved, though actually they may be considered one thing, part and parcel. The Scripture says it in various ways, but simply put, people must "repent" and "believe".
The essence of repentence is to change one's mind, or one's "beliefs", in this case regarding our sin and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Changing one's mind includes at least some change in actions as well. One must believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord, or Master, and believe that He is alive, risen from the dead. And if one believes in Jesus Christ as their Master, they will at least to some extent live differently, as they follow Him. And believing in Him as Savior will ideally wipe away all faith in oneself as Savior, recognizing Him as the one who paid for sin, and said, "It is finished", then giving the righteousness of God to them as a gift.
So far, so good. But there is one little problem...
...People are born "dead in their sins and trespasses" (Ephesians 2:1). That means dead spiritually, and therefore they are unable to "repent and believe". Along comes Grace, in the form of the Holy Spirit, who "regenerates" some, gives them Life, gives them a new heart, gives them "the new birth", and they are "born again". Read John 3, where Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about this new birth, and one thing is clear. The Spirit, like the wind, blows where He chooses to blow (John 3:8).
And the newly "born again" ones are "new creations" (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are now "alive to God" (Romans 6:11), and with this new life, something amazing happens...
...They "repent" and "believe". They can't help it! It's been revealed, by revelation, and though they were blind, now they see! Their repentence and faith didn't even produce their regeneration, let alone merit it. Too often the cart has been put before the horse. Regeneration must come first. Jesus said that unless a man is "born again", he cannot even see(!) the kingdom of God [let alone believe in the King].
That's true Grace. All of Grace. All of God. The New Covenant, that glorious unilateral covenant in which God the Son becomes the sacrifice Lamb, then short-circuits any form of "works" salvation by giving new life to His children before they can do any "works". And they now believe in the One Who has been revealed to them. And as His new creation, the believer has all their sins forgiven, forever! So the Grace Goes On. And On.
Keep this Primacy of Regeneration in mind, and you will see many Scriptures opened up to your understanding like never before, I promise you.
Listen to "Grace For Life" Radio Program.