Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The True Way to Life

   In the introduction of a newly published work, The Church, by Jeffrey D. Johnson (published by MediaGratiae, © 2020), Johnson begins with the general perception of modern evangelicals with regard to salvation. This perception influences people’s convictions about discipleship and church commitment. There are two camps: one is those who have a low view of God and a high view of man, teaching “easy believism,” which ignores repentance and holds salvation to a simple decision of “accepting Jesus into one’s heart,” whatever that is. The other camp holds to a high view of God and low view of man. These teach “Lordship salvation,” the kind Jesus held when in response to the rich young ruler’s inquiry about eternal life, He advised him to “sell all” he had, “distribute to the poor,” and to “follow” Him (Luke 18:22). It is the kind of commitment specified in Christ’s cost-of-discipleship message (Luke 14:25–43). Jesus saves people to make them disciples—Christ followers, people who leave all to love and serve Jesus and His kingdom. Jesus does not save people in hopes that one day they can be persuaded to follow Him.

Because many have a low view of God, the concept of church is adjusted to suit the goal of encouraging to people to merely support the church with their attendance, giving, and service in some capacity. Thus, leaders must preserve the church by pleasing the people, entertaining them, adjusting the message so as to not offend them, and compromising the Scriptures to placate them. It is this kind of ministry that Jesus labeled a wide gate and an easy way (Matthew 7:13). This way is filled with travelers but leads to destruction.

Thus, Jesus admonished kingdom citizens to “enter by the narrow gate.” That gate guards the way to life, but, sadly, “those who find it are few.” When Jesus was teaching on His way to Jerusalem, some asked, “‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able’” (Luke 13:23, 24). The reason for the difficulty is clearly addressed. When they knock at the door, the Master rejects them, “I do not know where you come from” (v. 25). The fact that is lost to many in reading the text is their presumption of their having the right to enter (“We ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets” v. 26). The master, however, identifies them as “workers of iniquity.” The Greek term for iniquity describes those who are dishonest and unrighteous in heart and life. They actually confessed that they followed Jesus for what they might gain from Him. This reasoning is similar to that in the sermon before us (7:21–23). In the latter case, the presumption of right was due to service for Christ’s kingdom (preaching, exorcisms, and miracle working). No sinner has the right to enter Christ’s kingdom for any reason.

The basic issue is the same in both cases—the prideful insistence that one deserves entrance. This prideful self-focus makes both entry and progress in Christ’s way of life impossible because the gate is narrow (stenos, an adjective that is based on the verb for standing straight and found only here and Luke 13:24). The picture is of its restrictive nature. The rich young ruler’s wealth prevented his entry. (Do not misunderstand, his wealth was not the issue; his love of his wealth was [Matthew 6:24].) Contrast this with what is found in Matthew 4:20, “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Thus, “Any one of you who does not renounce [forsake] all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). This is what makes the way to life hard. One cannot follow Christ and be encumbered with the things of this world.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Golden Rule

        Our Lord closed His previous point (asking, seeking, and knocking) by stating, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (v. 11). This observation is necessary because verse 12 opens with “therefore” or “so” (ESV): “So [oun, consequently] whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (v. 12). In other words, we must treat others with same consideration that we expect from our Heavenly Father. This is how Jesus applies the Golden Rule. Since the Father gives good things to those who ask Him, Jesus’ followers are also to take care to imitate the Father in their spheres of influence.

This section relates back to the key verse of the sermon: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). Those seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness (6:33) must be held to God’s standard, which is perfect righteousness (5:48). That is why I believe that all the verses (12–14) form one unit. Ephesians 5:1 supports this interpretation: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

The issue that confronts us is developed through the whole passage. It is the root of all hypocrisy. Why does a person seek to impose corrective measures onto the lives of others when they have their own issues that have not been corrected? The issue is the flesh (self). Grace must be secured to correct one’s own life so that a true and meaningful ministry of loving correction can avail in the lives of others. That is where ask, seek, and knock (vv. 7–10) come in. We need grace that only God can give to put flesh to death. The Lord appeals to the inherent desire of parents, even those controlled by self (evil) to give good gifts to their children (v. 9). God, who is perfect in goodness, also gives good gifts. Consequently, whatever you wish that God should do for you, do for others. That is the argument, and it destroys the shallow reading of those who misquote Jesus' “Judge not” (7:1).

New Covenant kingdom citizens are priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Old Testament priests taught the law of God (2 Chronicles 15:3), and, thus, Jesus instructs that selfless service to others, fulfills the law and the prophets (v. 12; review 5:17–20). If these kingdom priests are to obtain the grace and enablement to obey the Golden Rule, they must enter the narrow gate and hard way (vv. 13, 14). Self cannot and will not do this. The way is hard that leads to lifeconstricted, not difficult (Matthew 11:29, 30)—which is contrasted with the easy way, that is, spacious and broad, a way that leads to destruction.  

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Dogs and Pigs

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6). These words form the seventh but shortest section of the sermon. This admonition follows the previous “judge not” admonition. As noted, the Lord warned against hypocritical efforts to correct others while ignoring one’s own issues. Jesus did not forbid loving efforts to correct a brother’s failings. To cite Paul in Galatians 6:1, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” This is immediately followed by a warning: “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
The verse before us addresses those individuals in the church who will not be corrected because they are like dogs and pigs, unholy and unclean. Unregenerate professors boast of divine life but do not possess it. Their unsanctified “self” tends to be critical of others but are overly defensive. Like dogs, the unspiritual “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15). Thus, the body of Christ suffers because true saints, out of fear of criticism and retribution, neglect their spiritual gifts, withdraw, and remain silent. Cultural confusion of “political correctness” further exacerbates that fear.” As a result, the loving watch-care much needed in the church is sorely neglected. Oh, that God would grant His people a reviving of the biblical atmosphere spoken of in Ephesians 4:12 and 13.
Jesus’ audience had no problem understanding His words but imagine these descriptives used in modern pulpits. How dare one call another a dog. Yet, Jesus replied to a Gentile woman, “It is not right to take the children’s [Jews] bread and throw it to the dogs [Gentiles](Matthew 15:26). He was testing her faith, but it is texts like this that require modern Christians to know the Old Testament to properly understand. Sadly, the Jews also failing on this point, becoming what they condemned because they did not understand how they, too, profaned the holy.
Mosaic instruction to the Levites was that “they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23). Yet, under the old economy, the Lord complained, “Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common” (Ezekiel 22:26). However, the Lord promised that in the new age, “Once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (Malachi 3:18).
Dogs and pigs symbolize people who claim to be God’s people but are unholy and unclean, even idolatrous. Thus, we read in Revelation concerning the New Jerusalem, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (22:15). Sorely lacking in churches today is saints who “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and are “filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:18, 19).

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Judge Not

This section of the Sermon on the Mount deals with unlawful judgment (Matthew 7:1–5).  Here is a text that is frequently quoted by those who understand it least. Sadly, many have erred in following the mere sound of words and “Judge not” is often taken unconditionally. It becomes the response of those wholly unwilling to receive the loving rebuke of those who long for another’s greater good. Thus, one must be careful in interpreting and applying the words of this section. To understand this admonition properly, the first duty of kingdom citizens must be to learn and practice righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees (5:20). As previously noted, three terms describe the righteous kingdom condition in the gospel age: unity, purity, and verity. Jesus would have kingdom citizens to weigh all things according to light and truth with understanding and spiritual discernment.
The word translated “judge” means to consider and evaluate the evidence, and form a verdict based on the facts presented. It has a variety of applications in Scripture; for example, Paul addressed the Corinthian believers, warning that participating in pagan practices may leave them guilty of idolatry. Thus, he challenged them, “I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say” (I Cor. 10:15)—form your opinion after hearing me out. Paul invited them to judge his opinion. In Acts 16:15, Lydia invited the apostle and his entourage to stay in her home on the condition that they “judge” or consider her “to be faithful to the Lord.” Lydia invited the apostle to judge her profession of faith by evaluating her public response to Christ. However, in Romans 14:5, to “judge” someone means to despise them in a matter of personal liberty. In this case, the evaluation is forbidden.
With the above in mind, observe what Christ actually condemns. Jesus warned against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ righteousness, which was legend. They were quick to condemn the actions of others while ignoring their own greater sins. For example, in Luke 18:9, Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.” The sin of a censorious spirit is that of one who invades the office of the Judge of all the earth. Blind to his own guilt, this hypocrite despised the poor publican. He said in prayer to God, “I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). There is a great tendency to self-deception regarding one’s own standing before God. The prideful sense of self-evaluation that concludes one as self-righteous is but a mask for a critical spirit. It is dangerous both to one’s own spiritual life and to that of the whole body, being extremely contagious.
Kingdom righteousness demands unsparing self-examination in light of the truth of Scripture before the throne of grace while utterly rejecting temptation to sit on God’s judgment seat evaluating the failings of others. For this admonition, one must seek the Lord in earnest prayer, asking for the Spirit to search his heart that he may rigorously evaluate the context of his interaction. Let us pray like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24).

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Begotten of God

The goal of God is to establish a righteous kingdom on earth. Realization of this goal requires a righteous people to populate the kingdom. To accomplish this goal, He is creating a new race through His second Adam, Jesus Christ. The first Adam was created in the image of God; the last Adam was begotten in the image of God. The first Adam was tested and found faulty, succumbing to the temptation of Satan. Thus, the offspring of the first Adam are condemned to eternal punishment. The last Adam was tested and found worthy to be eternally installed upon God’s holy hill, Zion, as King.
The self-evident problem presented is, where will the King find the citizens over whom He will reign?The answer is found in the term begotten (Hebrew, yalad, to beget or give birth; Psalm 2:7). First, Psalm 2:7 describes an eternal decree, and the word “today” can refer to a particular day or to a period of time. There is a twofold fulfillment of the decree. First, in its eternal sense, the decree defines the Son in His relationship to the Father in the Trinity. Second, in its temporal sense, the decree describes the Son in His entrance to the human race. The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream: “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20, 21).
Psalm 2 is primarily a declaration of judgment against rebellious nations assembled to rage against the Lord and His Anointed (mashiyach, Christ, Messiah). The Lord laughs because He has already determined how He will deal with this rebellion. He has set His King in Zion who will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (v. 9). Thus, the Lord warns them, “Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled” (v. 12). All judgment has been committed to the Son.
Nevertheless, there is also a whisper of hope. “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage” (v. 8). Christ, through His death, owns the world. He bought it with His blood. This is the message of Revelation 5 and 6 with the scroll (the title deed of the earth) and the Lamb worthy to open it. He is the seed of the woman promised to end Satan’s usurping the kingdom on earth (Genesis 3:15). Jesus suffered Adam’s penalty to free some of Adam’s seed in order for them to experience a divine begetting that they might become the children of God. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1–3).  
Listen carefully to Genesis 3:16; “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth [yalad, beget] children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Here is a prophetic word concerning the church. These words were spoken of the wife of the first Adam. They are also spoken of the bride of the second Adam. Jim Elliff eloquently spoke of this: Out of the sleep of the first Adam came the woman; out of the death of the last Adam came the church.”

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Critic’s Self-Entrapment

Kingdom citizens (church members) have a responsibility to share in the gracious work of Christ in building and strengthening the kingdom on earth. To accomplish this work, Christ has gifted each of His people, engrafting them into the body and enabling them with His Holy Spirit. Each local assembly adds to the growth of the greater body (Eph. 4:16). The duties of each member are designed to maintain the unity of the body through personal spiritual maturity and corporate holiness. Three terms describe the kingdom condition in the gospel age: unity, purity, and verity.
Matthew 7:1 is often used to reprimand those who seek to correct others. This reaction is often expressed by one who feels the sting of the rebuke because they are guilty. Does Christ forbid what His followers are clearly encouraged to do? “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Prov. 27:5).
The Lord plainly commanded old covenant saints to live in unity, purity, and integrity: “You shall not hate [to be indifferent] your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:17, 18). This duty is not removed but amplified in the new covenant. As children of light, we are “to discern what is pleasing to the Lord [and] take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:10, 11). This calls for humility, discernment, spiritual confidence, and courage in caring for Christ and kingdom. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself” (Gal. 6:1, 2).
The term, judge, in Matthew 7:1 means to function as a judge—to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong from the bench, so to speak. It is to subject the one judged to judicial censure by one who has no right to do so. Remember, the basic argument of the Sermon on the Mount is not relaxing the commandments but fulfilling them in new-covenant power and authority. New covenant people are to practice a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:19, 20).
Nothing destroys unity in the body faster than a critical spirit. It is dangerous both to one’s spiritual life and to that of the whole body, being extremely contagious. A critical spirit sees wrong in others and reacts with an unchristian and prideful superiority. Such a spirit fails to love the offender or to seek his restoration to healthy spiritual life. Such a spirit also subjects the critic to divine discipline because he is equally guilty of sin. The critic falsely assumes a spiritual standing because he thinks he is not guilty of the offense detected in his brother. Sadly, the truth is that while the critic is aware of the splinter in another’s eye, he is oblivious to the log in his own (7:4, 5).

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Spiritual Discernment

In response to God’s revealing the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and its interpretation, Daniel offered praise to God (Daniel 2:20–23). Only the eternal God has all wisdom and might (power) because He is sovereign in all the affairs of men. Daniel understood that the end for which his sovereign Lord orchestrated all things was His glorious eternal kingdom.
Whatever happens until the kingdom is fully established must be part of God’s preparing for it. Thus, in the passage a powerful truth is revealed: God “gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” So, who is wise? They are those who fear Him: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight [the power of spiritual discernment]” (Proverbs 9:10). The Hebrew word translated “insight” is the counterpart of the Aramaic term translated “understanding” in Daniel 2:21. This term describes spiritual discernment or divine perspective that God gives to those fear Him. Through insight He reveals “deep and hidden things.” Those who fear God live wholly devoted to Him and His will; to them He gives spiritual discernment.
In 1 Corinthians 2 Paul addresses this gift, urging the troubled church to get right in order to be used of the Spirit to represent properly their risen Lord. He wrote, “Among the mature … we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (vv. 6, 7). He then cites Isaiah 64:4, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (v. 9). This is not some mystical or charismatic gift.  It is what “God has revealed to us through the Spirit” in order that “we might understand the things freely given us by God” (vv. 10, 12).
This insight and discernment enables believers to know what God is doing in the world. It is not some special revelation that overrides Scripture. It is wisdom and insight “prepared for those who love him” to discern events through Scripture by the Holy Spirit. Those who love Christ put Him above all else, fear Him, long to know Him, and obey Him. This wisdom and insight come as believers wrestle with God in earnest prayer (“strive together”—Romans 15:30).
Paul wrote these things to a very troubled church, deeply concerned to correct their shortcomings so that their “faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (v. 5). “The natural person [psuchikos, soulish person] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” A soul (psuchikos) governed by breath only (life-principle) not being born again, lives only by his sensuous nature, subjected to fleshly appetite and passion. On the other hand, “The spiritual person judges [discerns through divine wisdom] all things but is himself to be judged [discerned] by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14–16). As Daniel of old, we have access to divine wisdom and insight by His Spirit so that we might live out the will of God and represent Christ well in these difficult days.