"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Truth Will Set You Free

I have many Arminian friends. Truth be known, I have more Arminian friends than Reformed friends. However, I read recently where Dr. Roger Olson, author of Against Calvinism, made a convincing argument that the word "Reformed" has been wrongly claimed by Calvinists. Dr. Olson,  one of the leading evangelical Arminian scholars in America, believes the word "Reformed" does not historically define one's soteriology, since many  Arminian churches and denominations have used the word Reformed in their names. After reflection,  I agree with Dr. Olson. In my opinion, the word Reformed identifies a church with a particular view of ecclesiology. In simpler language, Reformed churches, whether they are Calvinistic or Arminian, seem to have specific beliefs about how a church should operate. For example, a Reformed church will usually have  (1). A clear separation between clergy and laity;  (2) A strong belief that the kingdom of God and the church are synonymous, and (3). Reformed churches will have leaders who emphasize their spiritual authority over God's people. In short, Reformed churches have much in common with Roman Catholic ecclesiology and little in common with Roman Catholic soteriology. That's an observation, not a criticism.

My Reformed friends dislike that I refuse to emphasize any law but Christ's Royal Law of love (see James 2:8) and that I resist any recognition of spiritual authority in the life of a believer other than Christ's authority. A few of my Reformed pastor friends seem to want to force service to God and the institutional church through exerting their perceived spiritual authority. As a result, you wind up with people who feel obligated to do what they do. I am not Reformed. I believe when the Holy Spirit motivates and empowers His people, Christians will serve freely, cheerfully, and generously with nothing expected in return from God. The Spirit doesn't need me to motivate God's people through guilt, and God's people will only truly be motivated by a comprehension of God's love, not fear. Christ does a good job of building His kingdom, and He came to set His people free from bondage. But it seems Christians finding freedom fosters fear in Reformed people like water fosters fear in cats.

The one thing all Reformed churches and people seem to have in common is an emphasis on law. Reformed leaders feel it necessary to keep their people obedient to a set of laws. Though the laws change from church to church, many Reformed leaders make the mistake of confusing their institutional desires with God's desires. Therefore, giving to the church becomes giving to God's kingdom; serving the church becomes serving God's kingdom; questioning the pastor becomes questioning God's king on earth, etc...

Why is there so much emphasis by Reformed people on the law? I believe one of the reasons is due to a longstanding misinterpretation of New Testament passages that seem to speak of God 'judging the works' of every individual, including Christians. For example, Romans 2:5-8 (NAS) says:
(5) Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, (6) who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: (7) to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, (He will give) eternal life; (8) but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey righteousness, (He will give) wrath and indignation.
Most Reformed leaders (Arminian and Calvinistic) believe the above passage teaches:

(1). Every person, including Christians, will be judged for the deeds done in this life.
(2). Those who do good will be rewarded by God with honor, glory and eternal life.
(3). Those who have been selfish and disobedient will be given wrath and indignation.
(4). Therefore, it is important for those in spiritual authority to keep people obedient.

This interpretation of Romans 2:5-8 is full of error in my opinion, and I'm not the only one who thinks this way. For example, the great New Testament scholar Henry Alford (1810-1871) writes in his brilliant commentary on Romans that "the Apostle is speaking of the general system of God in governing the world--punishing the evil, rewarding the righteous--but no question at present arises as to how this righteousness is to be obtained."

I believe Romans 2 is addressing sinners in general. I don't for a moment believe that Romans 2 is referring to judgment for sinners who are in Christ by grace through faith. God deems those in Christ perfectly righteous (see II Corinthians 5:21).

In Romans 2 Paul is slowly and methodically building an argument that the good and loving Creator measures a human being's works in this life for the purpose of reward or just punishment. Even those without the Law of Moses know by nature that they are to love their Creator and other people and that they are to do good. God gives reward for persistent, continual good works that are done with right motives (life eternal), but He gives a holy sentence of impartial judgment for a life of selfish disobedience. The final judgment before God is a judgment of one's works in this life. In the very next chapter, Romans 3, Paul draws his argument to a conclusion:

There is no one who is righteous - See Romans 3:10

There is no one who is obedient - see Romans 3:11.

There is no one who is good - see Romans 3:12.

I often hear well-meaning Christians say that at the final judgment, God will judge whether or not people received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They are wrong. The final judgment is about one's works in this life. Does a person live persistently and continually in an unselfish manner and do good for others with the motive of bringing glory to God. If so, they are rewarded with eternal life. But who does that? Answer: Nobody. What are the consequences for not living this kind of good life? Everybody receives a righteous and impartial sentence of judgment from a Creator who purposed that the people He created were to live a life of goodness and love.

Every single person is without excuse.

I often hear well-meaning Christians say, "But what about that person who never hears about Jesus? How can God judge them? They didn't have a chance?"

When I hear Christians say the above, I immediately know they haven't spent a great deal of time thinking through biblically what it is that God judges in people. God is a good, kind, gracious and loving God. He treats people with kindness and love. He created us in His image. We are to be as unselfish, as loving, and as kind to other people as God is to us. Yet, everyone of us is selfish. Everyone of us is disobedient to God's royal law of love. Everyone of us violates our own conscience  of what is right and we do the very thing we know to be wrong. We make excuses, but deep down we know we are guilty. It is our sin that God judges. It is our rebellion that God measures. Our sin and rebellion is not God's fault, it is our fault.

At the judgment, it will be proven there is no one good but God.

The good news is that the Creator God came to earth and lived life as one of us--and He lived His life the way life was supposed to be lived--but He died in darkness and isolation the death each rebel deserves to die because of his or her personal sin and selfishness. But, incredibly, after Jesus rose from the dead He promised broken and heavy-laden sinners some good news. I call it the Great Exchange. He said to broken sinners: I have taken your sins upon Me and I have given to you My perfect righteousness. You are delivered from judgment. You are free from the curse of sin. You are My people. Paul puts it like this:

"But now apart from law the righteousness of God has been manifested... even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:21-22).  "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). And then he says, "For this reason righteousness is by faith, in order that righteousness may be in accordance with grace" (Romans 4:16), and "Therefore, being justified by grace through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

This is the gospel. This is the good news. God makes His love for broken sinners so captivating, so alluring, so charming, so dazzling, so enthralling, so mesmerizing, so spellbinding (gospel comes from "good spell"), so magnetizing, so enrapturing, so gripping, so compelling, so hypnotizing, and so absolutely "sweep me off my feet" enamoring that God's people cannot, will not, must not -- and indeed do not refuse to be transformed by His love.

Those sinners who believe in Christ will never stand before God in judgment. Believers in Christ will never have their works measured by God. Believers in Christ have been given perfect righteousness (i.e. "His righteousness") as a gift of His grace. Believers in Christ are at peace with God because of this righteousness, a righteousness that is granted to them by God Himself. Believers have been freed from sin and delivered from the consequences of their sins. Christ has set us free, and whom He sets free are free indeed. Of course, when this freedom begins to be taught, people who are oriented to law will ask, "What! Are you kidding me? If I believed that, I would just go on sinning, because no matter how much I sin, grace for me increases all the more!"

Sound familiar? That is exactly the objection Paul anticipates in Romans 6 and he answers it by saying that when we are "freed (there's that word freedom) from sin" we derive benefit from Christ, even our sanctification! In other words, the same amazing love that transformed our hearts will begin to be shed from our hearts into the lives of others. We become Christians - little Christs--and begin to love others as He has loved us. We can't help us. His love is that transforming. As our Savior from our sin and our selfishness has declared, "By your love will everyone know you are mine" (John 13:35).

Remember, the judgment of God for sinners revolves around works in this life and the ultimate determination that nobody is good.

On the other hand, the grace of God revolves around the works of His Son,  Who alone is good. Those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life never stand in judgment.

As ancient hymn says:

"Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea
A great high Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me

My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart."
 
If a "no-good person" is concerned that a good-news God might choose to bypass him with His amazing grace, I would encourage that no-good person to get on his or her knees and ask the gracious Creator to "be merciful to me a sinner." We might even join you in singing one of the old classics that described our hearts when we awakened to our no-good nature, "Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior."

Jesus Christ always stops when He hears a humble cry--because it was His love that drew from us that good and wonderful cry in the first place. For by grace have we been delivered from our selfishness and sin.

And now, we are free.

25 comments:

Sheep75 said...

Quote: 'I often hear well-meaning Christians say, "But what about that person who never hears about Jesus? How can God judge them? They didn't have a chance?'

So, what about all these people who have never heard about Jesus?

You continue to write about "Christian sinners". Does that mean that sinners who have never even heard of Jesus will be judged by their deeds - and fail miserably, just because the Church hasn't taken the Great Commission as seriously as we should have?

Wade Burleson said...

Sheep 75

Great question for two reasons:

(1). You understand the premise of the post, and
(2). You have a heart for the lost.

Your question, "Does that mean that sinners who have never heard of Jesus will be judged by their deeds?"

Answer: Yes.

Your second question, "...Sinners are judged by their deeds... because the Church hasn't taken the Great Commission as seriously as we should have?"

Answer: No.

Sinners are judged by their deeds because the light of nature, the light of knowledge, and in some cases the light of special revelation (the Bible) has been ignored and sinners live selfish, disobedient and unloving lives. Had they lived the way their Creator created them to live, they would never be judged.

I love your concern for the lost, but I am reminded that Jesus told the Pharisees (who wanted Jesus' disciples to be told to 'shut up and be quiet') that "If they are quiet, the very rocks will rise up and cry out."

An innumerable company of sinners from every nation, every tribe, every tongue and every family (i.e. "the world") will come to Jesus because the good news will reach them because God is just as faithful to produce the means of the gospel (the delivery) as He is the end of the gospel (the deliverance).

Maybe an illustration will help.

We were drilling water in Africa with one of our missionaries we support on the field. Yacouba is a native Nigerian, and we have invested much time and money helping him establish hospitals, schools, prison ministries, churches, etc...-- but most of all, water wells in poor villages in need of water.

A few months ago we were in country drilling for water. Yacouba came back to the camp with our team, but he told his driver he needed to go back to the village we had just come from. The driver took him (an hour trip), but just outside the village, Yacouba told the driver to stop. He would walk into the village. Later, Yacouba told the group he felt impressed by the Spirit to do all this. As he walked into the village, a native man from Niger was sitting on a rock. He stood as Yacouba approached and asked, "Are you the one that can tell me about the One True and Living God." Yacouba said, "Yes." The man explained that he had a vision where an angel told him to go outside the village and sit on a rock and the One True and Living God would bring a messenger to tell him the Way. Yacouba led this man to faith in Christ.

A second story will help illustrate my point. We have constructed the only radio station in Niger that has a religious broadcasting license. Even Muslims don't have such a license from the government. In the capital city of Niger last fall we had several hundred Muslims outside our radio station - some quite incensed. After a while our mission team was able to gather enough information to discover the source of the Muslims' concerns. It seems that somehow, someway, every call to prayer tower in every Muslim mosque in Niger's capital had picked up the radio signal from our station and instead of the call to prayer being broadcast, the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the True and Living God, was played throughout the city -- on the public speakers of Muslim mosques.

God has a way of providing His messengers to those whom He is seeking.

We, like you, never want rocks to have to do what is such a joy for us to do in obedience to our King. But our King is not dependent on us to save His people.

If someone does not hear the good news, their judgment is just, righteous, appropriate, and based upon their lack of love and their lack of goodness.

Their rebellion toward their loving and good Creator is their fault, not Gods.

Victorious said...

Jesus Christ always stops when He hears a humble cry.

Amen! Thank you, Wade, for this post full of wisdom and insight!

Just as God has a way of providing His messengers to those He is seeking, likewise He has a way of providing excellent teachers to the faithful who He wants to mature.

Steve Miller said...

Amen Wade!! Thanks for a clear, crisp, and concise presentation of the love of God for us. "We love because He first loved us," is so important to remember in our daily walk. Would you agree that the depth to which we understand His love for us is equal to our love expressed to Him? His transforming love for and in us, compels us to love Him deeper expressed in gratitude not just works and also is reflected in how we touch those we face each day. This is a love we should never leave. Also, Bob Cleveland, thank you for the spot on comment of being what the world needs to see.

Steve Miller

Rex Ray said...

Wade,
You quoted Sheep 75 question but broke it into TWO questions and omitted the most important part: “- and fail miserably, “.

To me, “fail miserably” indicated they were going to hell. Why did you skip that part?

Yes, God can give a vision to anyone as in your example, but how many is the question.

For an illustration ONLY, let’s suppose Muhammad is the savior of the world and not Jesus. How many Christians do you think just before they died would call on Muhammad to save them?

Wade Burleson said...

Rex,

You seem to be of the opinion that God is dependent upon Christians who "fail miserably" in fulfilling the Great Commission to save His people.

I don't know how much clearer I can make it, but God is not dependent upon Rex or any other Christian to save His people. If Rex "fails miserably" in fulfilling the Great Commission, God will raise up another Rex, and when He runs out of Rex's, He will raise up rocks.

Those who are judged by God are judged for ignoring their conscience and doing what they know to be wrong, ignoring nature and nature's God and living life selfishly, and refusing to love people.

You act as if the guilty are innocent and God is needy. Neither is the case.

Aussie John said...

Wade,

Certainly a word in season! Pride still elicits in the heart of mankind to claim, at least, some credit, even in matters of the work of the Holy Spirit in sinners.

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

You’ve heard—“Don’t fear those who argue but those who dodge.”

Sheep 75 said: “Does that mean that sinners who have never even heard of Jesus will be judged by their deeds - and fail miserably, just because the Church hasn't taken the Great Commission as seriously as we should have?”

“Judged…and fail” go together.

But you twisted it to “Christians who fail miserably”.

“He will raise up rocks” is out of context.

“Those who are judged by God are judged for ignoring their conscience and doing what they know to be wrong, ignoring nature and nature's God and living life selfishly, and refusing to love people.”

HUH? This is going to Heaven by works.

Christiane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christiane said...

Hi WADE,

You wrote, this:
"I often hear well-meaning Christians say, "But what about that person who never hears about Jesus? How can God judge them? They didn't have a chance?""

The belief in my own Church is that the way of salvation ALWAYS passes through Christ . . . through what we call 'The Paschal Mystery'

We also believe that, for those who through no fault of their own do not know Christ and are not recognized as Christians,
the Divine Plan has provided a way of salvation.
"God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel" to the faith necessary for salvation. Certainly, the condition "inculpable ignorance" cannot be verified nor weighed by human evaluation, but must be left to the Divine judgment alone,
. . . that in the heart of every man of good will, "grace works in an unseen way.... The Holy Spirit, in a manner known only to God, offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery".

in short, we let God be God . . . we know that the mission of the Church is to present Christ to the world,
but we are limited in reaching all people of good will who seek God and obey their consciences,
but the Holy Spirit goes 'where He will' and God saves 'whom He will save',
. . . we cannot know HOW He accomplishes what He sets out to do, we just know He will do it.

There are things we may not know in this life, and only God knows the heart of another man,
and I think there will be MANY who say 'Lord, Lord' who will not be invited into the Kingdom,
and I think there will many admitted who knew and cared for Our Lord when they loved others in this life in the ways described in St. Matthew's Gospel, ch. 25.

the 'sheep' know the 'Shepherd', and those who love live in God and He lives in them,

and the great mystery of salvation is beyond our ability to comprehend fully,
so 'our hope' is always anchored beyond ourselves and our limited understanding.
And because it IS anchored in Christ, we can trust that all shall be done as it should be done in the Kingdom of Our Lord.

some thoughts from an older tradition :)

Wade Burleson said...

“Those who are judged by God are judged for ignoring their conscience and doing what they know to be wrong, ignoring nature and nature's God and living life selfishly, and refusing to love people.”


Rex, you respond: "HUH? This is going to Heaven by works."

Answer: No, Rex. It is being judged by God for your works. That's what Romans 2 says happens to every sinner and the point of my post.

Wade Burleson said...

"We also believe that, for those who through no fault of their own do not know Christ and are not recognized as Christians,
the Divine Plan has provided a way of salvation."

Christiane, I agree. Where we may disagree is on "the Divine plan." Love God and love people with all your heart seems to be the plan for being right with God apart. This is where people fail and because of conscience, nature and the invisible qualities of God's nature of love and goodness, people who selfishly live in rebellion to nature and Nature's good (every person) deserves the just and holy sentence of a righteous God for their disobedience.

Thanks for the discussion!

Wade Burleson said...

Rex,

Just a thought.

If a person loved God and his fellow man with all his heart and lived an unselfish life, yes, that person would be one with God (as you say "he would be in heaven"). That's the point of what is being said. Nobody does this, and for this reason they are rightly judged by God.

Sheep75 said...

Thank you Wade (and others who participate in the discussion, especially Rex and Christiane) for your reply. I'm still chewing on what has been said.

Shannon said...

Wade: "Every single person is without excuse."

John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

"But what about that person who never hears about Jesus? How can God judge them? They didn't have a chance?"

Many times Romans 10:18 "But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” is overlooked. This affects the contextual understanding of the whole of the Book of Romans. The sermon transcribe entitled "The World Has Already Been Reached For Christ" by Bill Klein, Mastering The Bible, BTE Ministries has helped me in my understanding of this verse. Perhaps the Lord will use it to give others understanding as well:

http://www.masteringthebible.com/studies/transcript-romans10-18

Shannon

Aussie John said...

Wade,

As I read the comments here, some words spoken recently are brought to mind,"It is not what is done FOR God that will last, but what is done BY God".

Shannon said...

Amen Aussie John!

The false teachers are encouraging "good" works from out of the flesh, as evidence of activity of the Holy Spirit, as if the flesh can "do" anything of any value for God. Isaiah 64:6.
Does He need our help to work His will?
John 12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me;....

Romans 14:23 "..... whatever is not from faith is sin."

Who's "faith"? Galatians 5:22,23 states "faith" as being fruit of HIS Spirit.

Rex Ray said...

Wade,
I think you will agree there are two types of sinners—lost sinners and saved sinners.

The sins of saved sinners are made white as snow by the blood of Jesus. Their sins are removed as far as the East is from the West and God remembers them no more.

In Romans 2, Paul is not preaching the Gospel, but condemns Jews for believing they are going to Heaven because they are God’s chosen people.

There is only one sin that sends people to Hell—not having faith in Jesus.

Judgment Day is only for lost sinner and the degree of punishment in Hell will be based on their deeds. I forgot to say in my humble opinion. :)


Aussie John,
I thought the only thing that last is what we’ve given away.

Wade Burleson said...

Rex,

"There is only one sin that sends people to Hell—not having faith in Jesus."

I politely disagree.

What brings a person into God's judgment is living a life God never designed human beings to live - a life of selfishness and a life without love for God and others.

This is why "every person will give an account of their life" at the judgment and it will be determined that each life lived is a no-good.

Jesus delivers sinners from this impending judgment (what you call hell).

Blessings,

Wade

Anonymous said...

"...it seems Christians finding freedom fosters fear in Reformed people like water fosters fear in cats." Great quote!

"Reformed" or "free?" I like it!

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

I try to answer all questions that I’m asked, but you don’t seem to do this…you just pick out a few, one, or none. Will you answer these yes or no?

1. All are sinners.

2. At judgment Christians are determined no-good.

3. Some Christians go to hell.

4. No Christians go to hell.

5. All non-Christians go to hell.

6. Some non-Christians don’t go to hell.

7. No one goes to hell.

8. If some non-Christians don’t go to hell, their works saved them.

Anonymous said...

Wade,

I look forward to your response to Rex's last question. My initial thought was to respond with scripture for each of the questions. However, one must determine what he means by Christian and non-Christian- a couple thoughts on this, "many will say Lord, Lord" and also what about those living by conscience before the time of the Torah. So, what I initially thought could be a simple 8 verse answer, I am now leaving to you to articulate better than I could hope to do.

Wade Burleson said...

Rex,

1. All are sinners.

Yes.

2. At judgment Christians are determined no-good.

No. Those who are in Christ never stand in judgment.

3. Some Christians go to hell.

No. "Hell" is the judgment of God. No Christian stands in judgment.

4. No Christians go to hell.

Hell is the judgment of God, no Christian stands in judgment.

5. All non-Christians go to hell.

Every person not in Christ stands in judgment before God.

6. Some non-Christians don’t go to hell.

Every person not in Christ stands in judgment before God.

7. No one goes to hell.

Every person not in Christ stands in judgment before God.

8. If some non-Christians don’t go to hell, their works saved them.

It is impossible for anyone who is not in Christ to escape the judgment of God, because at the judgment, even good works will be revealed as "filthy rags."

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

Thanks for replying to all my questions.

I’m surprised I agree with all your answers—mainly that Christians do NOT stand/face judgment.

The reason I’m surprised is your comment of Mon Jun 24, 11:53:00 AM 2013: “This is why "every person will give an account of their life" at the judgment and it will be determined that each life lived is a no-good.”

I thought “every person” included Christians.

I’m still confused why you “politely disagree” with my statement: “There is only one sin that sends people to Hell—not having faith in Jesus.” (“having faith in Jesus” is my definition of being a Christian.)

Maybe I should have said, ‘There is only one sin that sends people to Hell—not being a Christian.’

Anonymous said...

This was a real blessing to read.
The Grace of God is a wonderfull thing.