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

Did God Allow Many Wives in the Old Testament?


Several prominent men in the Old Testament were polygamists. Abraham (Genesis 25:1), Jacob (Genesis 30:14-15), David (2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Chronicles 3:1-9),  Solomon (1 Kings 11:3), and others all took for themselves many wives. King Solomon,  the man the Bible calls "wiser than all men" (I Kings 4:31), took for himself "700 wives and 300 concubines." His son Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines.

Invariably during a Bible study of a book from the Old Testament, someone will ask me a question about polygamy. Any casual reading of  Old Testament Scriptures (Genesis through Malachi) seems to leave the impression that a man taking multiple wives and concubines for himself was not an act God prohibited or censored, and it even seems to be something God allowed.  

What are we to make of these instances of polygamy in the Old Testament? Why did God allow many wives and concubines in the Old Testament? If it was a sin, why didn't God condemn people like Abraham, who had three wives, instead of the Bible calling Abraham "faithful" and "a friend of God" (James 2:23). 

Some Christians pretend that although the men of God in the Old Testament had multiple wives, they only "slept" with one wife. The other wives and concubines, these Christian moralists argue, were more like "housemaids" and "household servants." 

Yet the Bible teaches just the opposite. For example, in Genesis 30:14-16, Rachel and Leah, two of Jacob's wives, got into an argument over who will "sleep with Jacob" that night. Rachel grants Leah the privilege of "sleeping with Jacob" in exchange for Leah giving to Rachel the "mandrakes" that Leah's son Reuben had harvested in the fields. 

Mandrakes (Heb. dudraim ) are mentioned in ( Genesis 30:14-16)) and in Song of Solomon 7:13. The mandrake is a Mediterranean plant from the potato family that grows low like lettuce. Its leaves are dark green, and its flowers are purple. The root is usually forked, and when the mandrake bears fruit when ripe (early in May), the fruit is about the size of a small apple, fragrant, yellow in color and quite flavorful to the palate. Orientals and Arabs call it "the devils apple" because when mandrakes are eaten, they give sexual energy to the person who eats them. A book written in 1881 by Dr. Richardson, called Lectures on Alcohol, reveals that experiments with wine made of the root of mandrake produce a narcotic, causing deep sleep. The ancients used it as an anesthetic. However, a mandrake digested in small quantities acts like opium, exciting the nerves and acts as a sexual stimulant.

Rachel let her rival wife Leah sleep with their mutual husband Jacob "for the mandrakes" that Leah gave her. Try teaching that story to your 4th grade Sunday School class.

Cultural Morality and Modern Christianity

During Old Testament days, the accepted cultural norm for all the nations was "many wives and concubines." Was multiple wives the ideal for a man during Old Testament days? No. 

God revealed the ideal in the Mosaic Law, saying that Israel's king "...must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold for himself" (Deuteronomy 17:17). 

Yet King Solomon "took 700 wives." That didn't prevent the Bible from calling Solomon "the wisest man among all men" (I Kings 4:31) when he was King of Israel. The Bible also tells us  Solomon's attraction to "many wives" contributed to his downfall. 
"For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father" (I Kings 11:4). 
The above verse (I Kings 11:4) is a very interesting verse. Before anyone waxes eloquent on David's qualifications for Kingdom service because "his heart was right with God," and before anyone condemns Solomon and affirms his disqualification from Kingdom service because "his heart was far from God," everyone needs to ponder how to answer a very specific question. Solomon had 700 wives, David had 8 wives. Solomon's heart turned away from the Lord, but David's heart "was wholly true to the Lord his God." So here's the question for your consideration. "At what number of wives - between 8 and 700 - does a man's heart turn away from God?"

You say, "That's a silly question! A man must have just one wife, and only one wife. That's how we know a man's heart is true to God. Any more than one wife, then that man's heart is not right with God."

No. That's not what the Bible says.

David's heart was "true to God" with eight wives.

The culture in David's day deemed 8 wives healthy, but 700 wives excessive.

Here's my point.

Be very, very, very, very, very, careful before you "discount" or "disqualify" someone from service in the Kingdom of Christ because they violate your cultural preferences for external morality.

Those of us Christians who grew up in a "church culture" may be responsible for losing a generation of kids whose lives are being saved by God's grace because we force them to "check off" a morality standard that fits our particular church culture, and we disqualify them if they don't.

For example, we often won't even talk to a couple about becoming "church greeters " if they are "living together." We dare not invite a young man to lead a small group who drinks alcohol. We roll our eyes or resist the appointment of a young woman with tattoos to help take the offering. We turn up our noses and turn away our faces from a divorced man or woman when they lead in worship or teach a Sunday School class. It seems we have a cultural morality standard that disqualifies people from Kingdom service if they don't meet it.

God doesn't do what we do.

God deems His people righteous because they  have "kissed the Son (Psalm 2:12)." The righteousness that counts in the courtroom of heaven is a righteousness that is not the peoples' own righteousness, but a righteousness that "comes from God and is found by faith in Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:7-11).

People will ask me what I think about the leaders of Israel in the Old Testament having "many wives and concubines." They are bothered by it, so they say,  "Pastor Wade, why  does God seem to allow men with moral issues to lead His people?"

Here's how I answer:  "Every time I read of 'many wives and concubines' I just realize that God measures qualification for service in His Kingdom by 'the heart.' Every one of us must be very cautious that we don't exclusively set the standard for Kingdom service by an external moral code. Sure, Solomon's wives caused him problems. He had 700 wives. But David, "whose heart was true to God," had just eight wives. In our day, people like David (people who've been divorced and remarried) are often not allowed to lead God's people. Why? Because we are more interested in people checking off that they look good externally (or at least, 'like us') than we are examining the condition of their heart (e.g. "Do they live selflessly, loving others, relate to one another in kindness, and are not easily provoked?)."

So in my way of thinking....

Divorced people, remarried people, people in blended families, couples living together, and people from non-traditional family situations who express their love for Jesus Christ should be accepted as people of God capable of serving His Kingdom because their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is demonstrated by their loving, selfless hearts.

Where does one draw the line?

Good question. And a question with answers that may vary from time-period to time-period, from culture to culture, from church to church.

It's about the heart.

And we'd all be better off if we stopped judging each other by the externals.

Death Is Normal but Immortality Is a Gift from God

Is it natural for plants to die? Is it part of the normal life-cycle of God's creation for animals to die as well? What about humans? Does the "circle of life" mean death is the natural and expected end for everything God creates?

Christians like Martin Luther and N.T. Wright have taught that the Biblical answers to the above questions are "Yes." All life, they would say, is like a circle that goes around in a constant loop. Plants, animals, and people are constantly being born and are all ultimately experiencing death. That's natural; it's nature. Plants die, giving life to new plants. Stars die, giving life to new stars. People are born; people die. Death is a part of nature because all of God's creation is mortal.

However, there is a caveat when it comes to death for human beings. Every single human being has the potential for immortality. This immortality - or life that never ends - is not inherent to human existence. It is the reward from God for a particular kind of human existence.

Immortality is God's reward for a person who lives life with full, perfect, and sustained obedience to Him. 

Humans are the only creatures fashioned in the image of God. The Creator expects us to live our lives as He would live life. Look to Jesus for the example as to the kind of life God expects a human being to live. God promises that if you never deviate, never hesitate, never contemplate anything but loving Him and other people selflessly and sacrificially, then He will grant you immortality as the reward.

There's enough knowledge of God in every human mind to know how one ought to live (see Romans 1:18-25). Plants and animals don't have this knowledge of their Creator. That's why they don't have a dynamic and personal relationship with Him. You never see a dog bow its head in prayer before eating its food. Nor will you hear a plant praise its Creator.

But human beings can and do relate to God and their fellow human beings who are created in the image of God. So, the reward for living life the way God intends a human life to be lived is immortality.

Let me show you.

The Bible tells us that at the final judgment, God will reward people who have lived a life of full, consistent, and persistence obedience toward Him with immortal life. Paul says it like this in Romans 2:6-9:
"God will render (at the judgment) to each one according to his deeds: immortal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek."
God alone is inherently immortal (I Timothy 6:16). This is the clear teaching of Scripture, and to deny it is to deny the Word of God.

Every person, plant, creature, star, planet, and living organism that God creates is inherently mortal. Mortality is normal to all life because all life is mortal.

However, God created mankind alone with the potential for immortality. The Bible tells us that human beings are the only forms of life "created in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27).  Immortality is not inherent to our existence. Immortality is a potential for our existence. It is dependent upon our full, complete, sustained and joyful obedience to the Father who made us.

So who among us has lived the kind of life that deserves immortality as a reward from God?

Answer: None of us.  Paul takes his readers to this same conclusion. "As it is written, there is no one righteous or as he ought to be, no not one" (Romans 3:10).

Since deathlessness (e.g. immortality) is promised by God as the potential reward for the human life perfectly lived, then we who are human must consider death as our enemy. Socrates welcomed death as a friend, but the Savior fought death as an enemy. Those with little or no understanding of death and eternal life will often welcome death as a friend. But those who are acquainted with God's promise to mankind of potential immortality will fight death as their enemy.  And that is exactly what the Bible calls the death of any human being - the enemy (see I Corinthians 15:26).

Even more importantly, because "the wages of sin is death" then sin must also be the enemy of man since it is sin that brings death to those with the potential for immortality. It's really sad when mankind celebrates what God calls sin. He who welcomes his enemy as his friend will eventually find the light of his life turned into the darkness of his death.

God made the first man (Adam) and every person who descends from Adam (e.g. the human race) with the potential to be immortal. Adam's potential immortality was predicated on Adam's full, consistent, and persistent obedience to his Creator. But Adam failed in his obedience to God. 

When Adam failed, every one of his descendants (e.g. that means you and me) did not lose the potential for immortality, what we lost was the power to meet the standard which has immortality as the reward.

The seed that the first Adam implanted within each of us is the disposition toward rebellion against God. We are all the children of the first Adam. We will all die because of our inherent sin nature as well as our individual sin performance. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). 

Perfect, complete, persistent, sustained, joyful obedience to God is still the standard for immortal life, but because Adam sinned, we received from him a nature to sin. We hopelessly and consistently fall short of that standard which God intends us to live (Romans 3:23). Again, if you want to see the standard clearly, look at the life of Jesus Christ. He met it. Nobody else is.

Each of us is similar to a track and field athlete who stands 5-foot tall trying to get over an 8-foot high jump bar. It's impossible. The standard is too high because of the athlete's shortcomings. The standard God set for Adam (man) in the beginning wasn't too high (full obedience to the Creator), and His standard hasn't changed over time. Mankind continues to spiritually shrink, infected with a disposition and tendency toward sin and rebellion against God. Instead of loving Him and others He creates, we love ourselves. 

None of us likes to think we are in this pickle of death because of the actions of another person, so very few people accept that we're sinners because of the actions of that first Adam. So why don't you take Adam out of the equation in terms of our lives and in relation to God's promise of immortal life? Each of us is still promised by God the gift of immortal life as a reward for fully, consistently and persistently obeying Him during our lifetimes.

God's promise of immortality, conditioned upon us living our lives like Christ lived His, seems impossible. In my experience, it is impossible. I've already failed. 

However, for a sinful human being - like each of us is - death is not necessarily the end of one's life altogether. Here comes the Good News. Immortality remains a possibility for sinners.

Jesus Christ, the unique God/Man, has done for human beings what we seemingly cannot do for ourselves. He has "fulfilled the law" of sin and death, and obtained for sinners the rewards of full obedience, which includes immortality (e.g. eternal life), for sinners.

Thus, eternal life is gifted by God to sinners who "embrace the Son" (Psalm 2:12). That's right. Eternal life (e.g. immortality) comes as a gift (not a reward) to sinners. That life eternal begins the moment Christ is embraced. Along the sinner's journey of faith in Christ during this life, many enemies will be faced (e.g. sin and death, Romans 8:2)). Christ empowers the sinner to conquer his enemies, including the last enemy of physical death (I Corinthians 15:26).

Christ will resurrect every sinner from the grave. That's right, there is coming a general resurrection of all human beings who have died. The Creator will raise people from death. After this resurrection, those who have embraced Him will be gifted with immortality.

The resurrection of the dead is the unique doctrine of Christianity, taught by Jesus and His Apostles, and it is clearly articulated in both the Old and New Testaments. Other religions refute the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. For example, spiritualists speak of spirits leaving the body and continuing to live even after people die, denying the necessity of personal resurrection. Some religionists refer to the reincarnation of life forms into various and sundry other life forms after death, so that a person today may be a tree tomorrow. Atheists believe in nothingness after death.

But Jesus Christ teaches the resurrection from the dead of individual human beings. 

Resurrection is the apex of Christian doctrine. Resurrection is the future of every human being, whether or not they know of Jesus Christ. Resurrection is at the very heart of Christian teaching.
"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ is not raised from the dead, our preaching is worthless and so is your faith." (I Corinthians 15:13, 14). 
Scripture teaches us that at the return of Christ every person who has died will be raised up. The Old Testament clearly speaks of it in Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2. The New Testament contains more abundant proof of it, John 5:25-29; 6:39, 40, 44; 11:24, 25; I Corinthians 15; I Thessalonians 4:13-17; Revelation 20:13

The Bible's focus on human resurrection from the dead leads right into the Bible's teaching of the final judgment of human beings:
  1. The Judge will be Jesus Christ (see Matthew 25:31-32; John 5:27; Acts 10:42; Philippians 2:10).
  2. Those who will be judged by Christ are those who are not "in Christ" or whose names are not found in "The Book of Life" (see Revelation 20:12). In other words, those who are not in union with Christ, a union that is evidenced by their faith in Him and/or the Spirit's work within them while alive on earth (see Matthew 12:36-37; Revelation 20:12), will be judged by Christ from the record He keeps of what they have done in this life. Those in Christ are not part of this final judgment, having been rescued from "this coming wrath" by Jesus (I Thessalonians 1:9-10). When you read the word "wrath" in the Bible in relation to Christ's judgment, don't think of your drunk uncle at a family reunion. Christ's wrath is holy, just and warranted; it's as much a part of His Person as His love, and both are good attributes. You want a Judge who is angry with evil, not a judge who laughs at it.
  3. This final judgment occurs after the resurrection of the dead, a resurrection that encompasses every human being (see John 5:28; Revelation 20:12-13).
  4. Christ judges those who are not "in Him" according to their deeds on earth. His judgment will be just, and the punishment Christ dispenses for selfish, harmful, and unloving acts on earth will be personal and proportional (see Matthew 10:15). The final end every person judged by Jesus Christ at the final judgment will be "the second death" (see Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:6, 14; Revelation 21:8) where there is no hope of resurrection or immortal life.
  5. The gift for those who die "in Christ" is immortal life through the obedience of Jesus Christ and our faith in Him (Romans 6:23).
The Good News of Jesus Christ is that He came to meet the standard of immortality for sinners. He came to live the life that has immortality as the reward. In Him was no implanted sin of the original Adam, for He was born of a virgin. In Him was no outward sin, because He lived His life in perfect obedience to the Father. The Bible says of the Messiah:
"He was tempted in all ways just like we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). 
Yet without sin. Amazing. The wages of sin is death, but Jesus never sinned. Yet He died. Why? He died fulfilling the law regarding sin. He died in the place of sinners. That's what is called "Christ's passive obedience on the cross." But it's through His life that we obtain deliverance from death, that is immortality. The reward for Christ's perfect obedience as a human being is immortal life. This is what is called Christ's active obedience.  eJesus lived His life on earth perfectly for us. Amazing.

This is Good News.

When a human being who falls short of God's standard in this life trusts in Jesus Christ - the One who actively and perfectly fulfilled the Father's will in the very areas I've failed in mine - then the "perfect righteousness" of Jesus Christ is "credited to my account" by God (Romans 4:20-24). I am gifted with eternal life that Christ has earned for me..
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). 
Christ has obtained for me what I could not attain for myself.

He is my righteousness. He is my reward. He is my salvation. He is my sanctification. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

I want to know Christ.
"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:7-11).
Application for the Christian:

1. Christ is my life, both now and forever.
2. This life of mine will soon become immortal, a gift for Christ's obedience.
3. The last enemy I will face in this life is death.
4. I will rise from the dead at the time of Christ's coming unless I'm alive when He comes.
5. From the perspective of those who have died, the resurrection is immediate at death.
6. From the perspective of those still living, the resurrection is still coming and blessed hope.
7. The resurrection of the wicked should be a source of dread for there is "the wrath to come" which is Christ's holy and just punishment for a person's sins in this life.
8. Since no person is inherently immortal, after the appropriate and proportional punishment given to the wicked for their sins, Christ will turn them over to "the lake of fire" to experience the second death. The wicked are not given the gift of immortal life.
9. A person who is in Christ should never boast about his or her personal holiness because "our righteousness" is like filthy rags. If we are going to boast, let us boast in Christ (II Corinthians 10:17).
10. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have immortal life" (John 3:16).


The Torah of Sinai Is a Law Never Intended for Us

I recently came across one of the best explanations for why Jesus followers are under a New Covenant, and why our lives are never ruled by Old Testament law (e.g. The Torah). 

Ironically, this explanation came from a Jewish believer in Jesus Christ. Eitan Bar is the Director of Media and Evangelism for One for Israel, the largest Israeli Messianic Jewish ministry in the world. 

Eitan and the staff at One for Israel are often asked the questions: "Are Christians under the Sinai Law? What should be the Christian's stance regarding the Torah?" (e.g. "the books of Moses," or the first five books of the Old Testament). To answer that question, One for Israel published an e-book called The Torah's Goal. Below are the 10 major points of that e-book. Again, these ten short points are probably the best explanation I'ver read for why the Torah is never to be considered the law for believers.

The sentences below in bold are the points I wish to emphasize. 

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1. There are about 350,000 Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) in the world today. Probably no more than 2-3% consider themselves “Torah Observant.”

2. We are aware of the growing number of gentile-Christians who call themselves “Hebrew Roots Movement” and consider themselves to be “Torah Observant.” Most in the Torah-observant circles are not Jewish. Thought should be given as to why non-Jews are so eager to observe a law never intended for them. One is given the impression that, far more than they emphasize faithfulness to the Messiah, the Torah observant/Hebraic roots groups emphasize Torah-observance as their distinctive, and in fact imply that they are being more obedient to God, or have a deeper spirituality, than other believers in Jesus. Perhaps they would argue their obedience to the Torah is faithfulness to Christ, but there is a distinct imbalance in their approach. Inadvertently, perhaps, they have created a two-tier system of believers: the more spiritual ones who observe the Law and the less spiritual ones who do not. This is not only unbiblical, but it also separates these groups from the rest of the Body of Christ in an unhealthy way, causing many of them to be prideful, judgmental, patronizing and arrogant of other believers. That is, in our opinion, exactly opposite to the essence of the Gospel of grace and love.

3. Perhaps without their realizing it, Torah-observant groups must either depend on rabbinic tradition, which is distinctly post-biblical, or construct their own traditions. For instance, members of such groups do not send their men to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem, as required in the Law of Moses, nor do they offer sacrifices. So there can be no question of this being an authentic, first-century way of observance. The irony being that if a gentile wants to really celebrate the festivals according to the Law, they first need to circumcise their household: “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it.” (Exodus 12:48).

4. We believe the Sinai covenant was for the nation of Israel, and was made 1) to show us our sinful nature; 2) to separate Israel from the nations; 3) as a temporary system until the Messiah comes: “Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come…Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” (Galatians 3:19-25)

5. We believe that the core system of the Sinai covenant included the sacrifices, the priesthood and the temple (which no longer exist) – the commandments were tied to it and were an outflow of it. For example:
1) For the main biblical festivals one had to go up to the temple in Jerusalem in order to celebrate God’s feasts. (Deuteronomy 16:16)
2) For celebrating the Shabbat a sacrifice had to be made. (Numbers 28:9)
Therefore, attempting to observe the commandments without a temple is like eating mustard without a sandwich.

6. Kosher laws were connected to the temple and were temporary:They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order” (Hebrews 9:10). Keeping the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 is an essential component of what people mean when they speak of “Torah observance” today. What people often fail to see, however, and what the writer of Hebrews has so perceptively observed, is the connection between the dietary laws and the tabernacle. Leviticus 11 is part of a larger section in Leviticus (Lev 11–15) called the Laws of Purity, all of which are tied to the purity of the tabernacle (Lev 16). For example, if one would catch sickness by eating an unclean animal, he might bring his sickness into the temple and defile it. This is no longer relevant for today. (See 1 Timothy 4:1-4).

7. We believe God promised a New Covenant (not a renewed covenant) that would replace the old one: “…I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31-32). And “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13). We believe that even Prophet Ezekiel’s temple prophecies the end of the Sinai covenant, as his description of a future temple contradicts the temple of the Torah.

8. Although our ministry members observe the Shabbat on Saturdays, and not on Sundays, we do not make a big deal out of it – as it’s no longer one day a week that we dedicate to God, but our rest in Yeshua is every day: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col 2:16–17). Also, while we call the Messiah “ישוע”(Yeshua), we have prayed “in Jesus’ name” before, and it seems to work just as well. 
He knows when we talk to Him, regardless of which name we use.

9. We believe that Rabbinical Judaism falsely teaches that the Messiah’s role will be to point us to the Law in order to teach us how to better observe the commandments and has erroneously influenced Torah observant groups. While we hold to Paul’s teaching that the Law points us to the Messiah and that the Torah’s goal is the Messiah Himself.

10. We believe that lasting change comes only through Yeshua. Yeshua’s commandments deal not only with the external: they go deep into our hearts and cause us to change from the inside, through the empowerment of the Spirit. With Yeshua, murder is not limited to a physical killing; adultery is not limited to a physical union. The standards are now much higher! Yeshua calls and empowers us through His Spirit to control our anger, shun lust, and love our enemies. You see, while following traditions or concentrating on what and how to do (or not to do) external things, we only become bitter with those around us and turn venomous toward those who do not agree with us. Yeshua’s goal is to deal with the inside, deep in our hearts—teaching us to love God and therefore to love all of His creation, everywhere, all of the time. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8).

_______

Well said, Eiten Bar. Well said.

Old Covenant Thinking Drives You Away from God

Today I received an email from a high power attorney in another state, who belongs to a large Southern Baptist Church. He is reading Radically New, and he emailed me the following:
"I have been transformed by reading your writings concerning New Covenant thinking.
At my former church, I felt guilty over not tithing. Now I feel freed to give freely without guilt. 
In fact, I have given more than I have ever given.

In my former church, 2 Chronicles 7:14 and other "If... then" verses were quoted to get us to do things for God. In my opinion, Old Covenant thinking causes bitterness among Christians. 

A few weeks ago a terrible tragedy came to the family of an old classmate of mine who also attended my former church. He told me he was "mad at God" because "our family went to church, we tithed, we did everything right."

I just wonder if Old Covenant thinking still permeates SBC churches and if this thinking actually drives people away from God when their lives go awry?"

The answer to my friend's question in the last sentence is, "Yes." Southern Baptist churches are infected with Old Covenant thinking, and it drives people away from God when bad things happen.

But it's not just SBC churches. Many evangelical churches and pastors have no idea how to motivate people to live for Christ without using "If...then" verses of the Old Covenant.

We must become captivated by the wonderful grace of God for sinners in Christ Jesus and realize He is enough.

When we come to know the Truth, He sets us free indeed!

A Personal Reflection on the Significance of July 4

Our daughter Charis Downey is in labor. Depending on how long her labor endures, she could give birth to our third grandson, Henry Hribko Downey sometime today, July 4, 2017.

Allow me a 4th of July reflection on the significance of this day, in terms of both my family and our nation.

Henry's middle name will be Hribko. It is an unusual name. When I asked about it, Charis and her husband, Travis Downey, told me that Travis' father, Rodney, was Rodney Hribko as a child. However, Rodney's father, Andrew Hribko Jr., died when Rodney was only six years old. Rodney and his younger sister Sue Hribko would eventually be adopted by Mr. Downey, a wonderful man who married their widowed mother. Rodney's surname was changed to Downey.

Travis and Charis Downey are honoring the Hribko family by giving Hribko as the middle name of their soon-to-be-born son. 

However, Travis and Charis didn't know much about their Hribko heritage, so a few weeks ago, they asked their hopelessly historical father (me) to do some research.

What I found out about the Hribko family deepens my appreciation for this great nation we call America.

Wade, Travis, Charis, and Rachelle
After our daughter's son is born, they will one day be able to tell him that the name Hribko honors his paternal great-great-grandfather, Andrew Nicolas Hribko. On Christmas Day, 1912, at the tender age of 16, Andrew Hribko left his home in White Russia (Belarus) and immigrated to the United States. 

At the time, White Russia was in the middle of a violent political revolution. The Hribkos, a farming family who planted and harvested crops from the river bottomlands south of Minsk, had personally witnessed many of their Jewish friends rounded up and executed. The Hribkos themselves had helped hide Jews at their farmhouse, preventing many Jews from facing certain death.

On Christmas Day 1912, Andrew Hribko's father told him the greatest gift he could give his 16-year-old son was liberty. He handed Andrew some money that he'd saved for the occasion, and instructed his son to leave White Russia and "go to America."

Andrew Hribko headed to the United States in late 1912 by himself. He was 16. He spoke no English. He sailed from White Russia to Scotland, and then from Scotland to New York aboard the U.S.S. California.

Ellis Island
Andrew Hribko entered New York Harbor in the spring of 1913, sailing past the Statue of Liberty. The U.S.S. California docked at Ellis Island. It was there that Andrew Nicolas Hribko registered as an immigrant from White Russia.

Lonely, scared, and in need of a job, he found work at a lumber mill with other Russians. After a year, Andrew Hribko made his way to Youngstown, Ohio where he would work several odd jobs and eventually meet and marry a young Polish girl named Walenza Sarna.

The Hribkos soon became citizens of the United States. They also started a family.

Their son, Andrew Nicolas Hribko, Jr. would fight for the United States during World War II, but die suddenly at the age of 34, leaving behind his six-year-old son (Rodney) and his two-year-old daughter (Sue). That son, Rodney Hribko, is our son-in-law's biological father.  Rodney and his sister Sue would eventually be adopted by Mr. Downey and have their surnames changed from Hribko to Downey.

So of course, our son-in-law Travis Downey grew up as a part of the Downey family and knew very little about his Hribko heritage. In fact, Travis and Charis didn't know any of the Hribko story that I've written for this July 4th reflection. They've said my research has added meaning to the naming of their son, Henry Hribko Downey, and they've given me permission to share it with you.

I will also one day be able to share with Henry how the Cherry side of his family immigrated to America from London in the 1830's, the Burleson side of his family immigrated to America from Ireland in the early 1700's, and the Mock side from Germany in the late 1700's.  We Americans are a blend of people from many countries.

My grandson Henry Hribko Downey and our national holiday, July 4, will always be a reminder to me that we who have the privilege of being citizens of the United States are all - every one of us - descendants of immigrants. 

And we are all Americans.
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."
Happy 4th of July!



Pondering More than a Moment on the Atonement

The Atonement in the Christian faith is defined as the reconciliation of a God with sinful people through the death of Jesus Christ. In biblical language, the Atonement means Christ died for our sins (I Corinthians 15:3). 

One's view of the Atonement determines one's conceptions of God. Both attraction to and repulsion of Christianity centers around the cross on which Jesus died.

One either appreciates a loving God as the source of Christ's death or one abhors the idea that a loving God had anything to do with Jesus' death. The point of controversy in modern Christianity centers on how one views the cross of Jesus Christ. 

It is for this reason we all need to ponder the atonement for more than a moment. The atonement is Christianity in brief. The Apostle Paul stated, "I resolve to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).  If the crucifixion of Jesus is that important to Paul, then we better figure out why.

In our day, antagonism toward the Atonement often originates from the minds of those who wish to protect their image of a loving God from the charge He put His Son to death. "How," we are asked, "Can a loving God be a child abuser, putting his own Son to a cruel death on a Roman cross?" 

We respond that the Atonement of Christ is best understood through the Scriptures. God forgives sins, the Scriptures tell us, but this His free forgiveness comes at great cost to Himself and to the Son of His love. "Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22). In fulfilling this eternal Law, Jesus Christ died for our sins that we might be forgiven, and resting in that full and complete forgiveness, live our lives now more abundantly (John 10:10).   

There are those who say, "But because God is love, He can forgive our sins without the death of His Son." That's not what God says. God established His Law, and His Law states, "the one that sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). Sinners die. But God made Jesus the Messiah "who knew no sin, to become sin for us" (II Corinthians 5:21). So "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). In other words, Jesus fulfilled the Law by living the life sinners should have lived and dying the death sinners deserve to die (separated from the mercy of a just and righteous God).  Christ's resurrection from the dead is the "seal of approval" that God accepts the sacrifice of His Son in the stead of sinners (see Romans 1:4). 

This is the Atonement.

Problems with the Atonement form in the minds of people today because our culture expunges, extinguishes or explains away any consciousness of sin. When this happens, there is no need for Atonement. To tell people that Jesus died for sinners when nobody feels sinful makes the Atonement as fanciful as Goldilocks or the Fairy Princess. 

Of course, it is impossible for us to convince people of sin. That is the Holy Spirit's job (John 16:8). When we yell and scream at the culture around us in order to convince people of the sin within us, all we do is try to do the job that only the Holy Spirit is equipped to do. In fact, I'll go further. The more you seek to convince of sin, the more the world will ignore their sin. It is the love of God shown to sinners through you to sinners hat leads sinners to repentance.

In other words, when the love of God is magnified and bursts forth in your heart through the apprehension and the appreciation of Christ's death for your sins, then you will die to yourself in order to love sinners in the same manner Jesus has loved you (John 13:34-35). 

This is the value of the Atonement.

During the Fall of 2017 I am preparing a 12 week series on the Atonement entitled "Why the Cross?" and hope to show the great power of understanding the substitutionary, penal death of Jesus Christ for sinners. 

I've already been blessed in the preparation of the series. It will be available via podcast beginning on August 17, 2017.

The Normal Practices of a New Covenant Church

Many "reformed" churches are dying. The authoritarian male elders have no idea why. They think it is "because most people today don't accept the clear teaching of Scripture." The reality is those church elders are stuck in a Hebrew Old Covenant rule of law. The vapor of death descends from the law-oriented lips of leaders who believe they have "spiritual authority" over people.  Their demand for obedience from God's people is the natural outgrowth of their false belief that they are God's appointed vicars to His church.

More than a few church elders today seek to "rule over" Christ's people in the manner Moses and the Hebrew priests and prophets ruled over Israel. Even worse, these men actually believe God wants them to rule over His people. The biblical truth that the Old Covenant system of worship, including authoritarian elders, has become obsolete to God (Hebrews 8:13) is a foreign language to them. 

For those men who wish to rule like Old Covenant leaders in Israel, I have a simple question. 

In I Kings 1, King David of Israel is dying. He already has four wives (including Bathsheeba, Deborah and Haggith), and many concubines. As King David lies on his death bed, the elders of Israel search the country far and wide for a "beautiful young woman" to "lie with the king" and "keep him warm" (v. 2). The cultural custom of Old Covenant Israel was that the kings of Israel could have many wives and many concubines. Kings of nations in Old Testament times must be virile and able reproduce many sons. 

Here is my question: When a Christian pastor is sick and lying on his death bed, do the church elders call for "a young, beautiful woman to strip and lie beside him in bed to keep him warm?" If not, why not? This practice was as much a part of Old Covenant Israel as worship on the Sabbath, paying tithes to the Temple, etc.... Why do church elders today pick and choose which laws and practices of the Old Covenant Scriptures they will follow? 

Not one Hebraic civil, ceremonial or moral law is binding on a Christian. Every one of the Old Covenant practices of Israel pointed to the coming Messiah but is now obsolete when it comes to the people of God.

Jesus Christ has come. 

The revelation of God in "the law of Israel" has progressed to the full and final revelation of truth in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the law. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. All the ceremonies, civil ordinances and legal commands of the Old Covenant way of life have now been made obsolete. The righteousness that sinners need must be received as a gift from God through faith in Who Jesus is and what the Christ has done (Philippians 3:9). 

So what "law" do we believers in Christ have over us?

Only one. It's called the Royal Law of love.
"A new commandment I give you: Love one another as I have loved you. In this manner, you must love one another. By this love will all know that you are My disciples."   (John 13:34-35).
Think about this for a moment. Are you truly loving someone else as Jesus loves you? That means are you thinking selflessly, serving sacrificially, doing what you do for the ultimate good of the one being loved, without regard for your own welfare, benefit or reputation? If you can answer that question with "Yes, I am!" then do what you are doing, and don't worry what others say. If not, then stop doing what you are doing. It's that simple.

That's how sin is defined for the Christian. We don't need any other law. For example, you can't take another woman as your own and truly love your wife the way Jesus loves you. You only need one law to understand what sin is, and that is the Royal Law of love.

Of course, we all fail the Royal Law. But when that happens we own our sin rather than point our finger at someone else. We humbly seek forgiveness for not loving as we are loved by Jesus. We quickly and easily seek forgiveness of others because we've learned to rest in the forgiveness we have from Him who loves us. We don't draw our identity from our failure. We are who we are because of His victory.

That's New Covenant living.

Jesus told us that "heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall never pass away" (Matthew 24:35). In Biblical language, "heaven and earth" is Old Covenant Israel. The law of Israel has passed away. Any Christian church which bases its governmental structure and principles of operation along the same lines Hebrew leaders governed and led Old Covenant Israel is missing the Spirit of God and will die a legal death.



So what should be the normal practices of a New Covenant Church?

I will list them:

New Covenant Primacy

On top of the Mount of Transfiguration, the mountain shook, the glory of God descended, and Moses (the Old Covenant Lawgiver) and Elijah (the Old Covenant Prophet) disappeared, and only the transfigured Jesus remained. Then the voice of God proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, acouete auton (hear Him!).” Any church that emphasizes to followers of Jesus instructions on how to live from the Old Testament Law and/or Prophets will be a church that teaches, “if you will…THEN GOD will.” Indeed, the Old Covenant is conditional. But Jesus is “the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets,” all the blessings and promises of God are “yes and amen in Christ" (II Corinthians 1:20). Therefore, our desire this side of the cross should be “to know Him, and the power of His resurrection” and to “rest in His righteousness, and not my own that comes from my obedience to any law” (Philippians 3:7-11). In other words, we are to get our identity, and our marching orders,  from Jesus Christ, who told us, “By this will everyone know that you are mine, if you love one another as I love you.” (John 13:35). For more information read Radically New (2016).

Limited Pastoral Authority

Contrary to the Old Testament, leadership in the New Covenant is based on a person’s giftings by the Holy Spirit. I believe the New Testament teaches there is no inherent spiritual authority in church position or office. Jesus Christ has all spiritual authority and those who know Him serve one another in the power and grace of His Spirit within us. Old Covenant style leadership fights for control; New Covenant style leadership serves in love. In a modern culture where governments grant tax exemption and legal requirements for churches, pastors may have legal authority, but the notion there is a position of spiritual authority over anyone is not a practice Jesus taught (see Matthew 20:25-26). For more information read Fraudulent Authority (2017)

Broad Evangelical Unity

In my experience, very little good is done when we evangelicals make it a priority to tell others what we are against. The Gospel is Good News. Gospel preachers are neither moralizers nor motivators. We are called to proclaim as broadcasters the Good News in the highways and hedges of life. We in the church are to only report the Good News, we are not called to make it (see John 17:23). I’d rather the world and culture know me for what I’m for (the person and work of Jesus Christ) than for what I’m against. For more information read Hardball Religion (2010).

Full Gender Equality

In the New Covenant Church, men and women are equals. What distinguishes us from one another is our giftedness. Jesus Christ is the sole authority over His church, for “there is Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, for you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28).  We are the collective body of Christ; He alone is our Head. In a New Covenant Church, servant leadership is determined by giftings, not gender. For more information read What’s with Paul and Women (2014).

Shared Grace Theology

Those whose lives have been changed by the Gospel will tell you the most transformative truth is “The Gospel message of God's grace in Jesus Christ." This also should be the message of every Christian teacher. It should be the theme of every Christian church. It should be the philosophy of every Christian ministry. Christians must know grace to know Christ. Therefore, if you want to get a feel for whether or not a church shares the grace theology of the New Testament, ask yourself how many prisoners, down-and-out, homeless and helpless, invalid and disabled, needy persons the Christians who gather at that building are reaching in the community - not only on Sundays but throughout the week. The message of grace first transforms what a person thinks and feels; then it will transform how a person lives and loves. For more information see Happiness Doesn’t Just Happen (2002). 

I recently heard that a group of church elders read my above statements regarding "The Normal Practices of a New Covenant Church,"  and responded, "That's so opposite of the way we practice things at our church."

I'm glad that my writing was clear and understandable to the point they could see the differences. Their lack of implementing New Covenant principles, as well as their emphasis on Old Covenant authoritarian leadership, may be a couple reasons their church will continue to decline in Kingdom influence. 

"Always" by Irving Berlin: A Wonderful Love Story

Irving Berlin and his wife Ellen (1926)
Today I had the pleasure of listening to Douglas Newell, director of the Enid Symphony Orchestra, and his wife speak and sing at the Enid Rotary Club. Doug told a fascinating story about  Irving Berlin .

Many of us know the composer Irving Berlin for his famous compositions like God Bless America or White Christmas. But there is a lesser-known song that Berlin composed in 1926 called Always. The back story of the composition of that song is what Doug Newell shared at Rotary.

It seems that Berlin's first wife died of typhoid after contracting the disease on their honeymoon. Berlin remained a widower until he fell in love with a young heiress named Ellin Mackay, the daughter of Clarence Mackay, who was the prominent head of the Postal Telegraph Cable Company. Because Berlin was a pauper musician and Ellin a very prominent socialite, their lives were followed in every possible detail by the press, which found the romance of the poor immigrant from the Lower East Side and the young heiress a good story.

Ellin's father opposed the match from the start. He went so far as to send his daughter off to Europe to find other suitors and "to forget Mr. Berlin." However, Irving Berlin continued to woo Ellin. He eventually won her heart

Ellin's father vowed that their marriage "would only happen 'over my dead body.'" There was no way his prosperous daughter would ever be married to this "poor pauper of a musician." 

Irving and Ellin chose to elope. 

On the morning of their wedding, Irving Berlin wrote the song Always. He put the sheet of music and lyrics in a gift box which he handed to his soon-to-be wife, with a note that said, "All the royalties of this song will be yours."

The words of the song are as follows:

Everything went wrong,
And the whole day long
I'd feel so blue.
For the longest while
I'd forget to smile,
Then I met you.
Now that my blue days have passed,
Now that I've found you at last -

I'll be loving you always
With a love that's true always.
When the things you've planned
Need a helping hand,
I will understand always.

Always.

Days may not be fair always,
That's when I'll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

I'll be loving you, oh always
With a love that's true always.
When the things you've planned
Need a helping hand,
I will understand always.

Always.

Days may not be fair always,
That's when I'll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

By the time of Ellin Berlin's death, she had earned millions from the royalties of Always.

Douglas Newell said that as a boy he would often listen to his father sing this song to his mother on their way home from church on Sunday nights in South Carolina.  It forever made an impression on him.

What a great story. 

And what a great song. 

Can One Be a Christian and a Political Progressive?

The person best suited to answer the question "Can one be a Christian and a political progressive?" is one of the leaders of the Liberal Democrat Party in the United Kingdom. Some believed he was destined to become the next unrivaled leader of the Liberal Democrat Party.

His name is Tim Farron.

Yesterday, June 14, 2017, Tim Farron shockingly resigned from the Liberal Democratic party.

In his resignation speech, Tim said,  "To be a political leader...especially of a progressive liberal party in 2017... and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching... has felt impossible to me." 

Let me tell you a little about Tim Farron. He's a remarkably astute liberal politician, with a passion for classical liberal government, and a love for the people of England.

And, he is a committed Christian.

In the fall of 2013, I went to London, England with my friend Senator Norman Lamb for a WW II heritage tour of England and France. We stopped by U.K's Parliament to visit with one of England's most powerful politicians, a Liberal Democrat leader also named Norman Lamb.

It was while researching the United Kingdom's Norman Lamb that I first became aware of this young, up-and-coming Liberal Democrat politician named Tim Farron. Tim has long been a rival to Norman Lamb from the same Liberal Democrat party. I began following Tim Farron from a distance because of what I learned about his Christian convictions.

Tim Farron has never hidden his evangelical Christian faith. He's a committed follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ. After being excoriated by the press for his views that "gay sex is a sin," Tim responded with a biblical axiom, "the Christian teaching is that we are all sinners."

But soon Tim Farron realized that the press and fellow liberal politicians were far more interested in what Tim privately believed about sin than they were about what Tim publicly declared about poverty. It wasn't enough that he was a classical political liberal and believed that religion had no place in the public realm. The liberal progressives of 2017 increasingly have made known their position that they want no one in government who privately believes differently than they.

That's intolerance, not liberty.

The scary part in Tim's resignation speech makes it clear that liberal progressives in 2017 are the most intolerant people of all.
I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and Who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society."
Progressive liberals, in both the United States and England, are creating a religious litmus test over whether or not one can serve in government. Liberal Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders said last week Christians are not the "type of people" that should be in government.

The world is changing. Hostility toward the Christian faith is increasing.

It used to be persecution against Christians was something you read about in history books. Now it's something you read about in the newspaper. Persecution of Christians used to occurr in third-world countries ruled by totalitarian dictators. Now it seems persecution is occurring in Western Civilization within countries ruled by liberal progressives.

Give me old fashioned liberalism.

Give me liberty.

2017 progressive political liberalism is totalitarian governmental fascism in disguise.

Get ready America.

Soon, to be a follower of Jesus Christ might very well cost you.

On the bright side, true revival is the flower formed from the seed of suffering.

In the end, more people will know the love of Christ and love other people the way Jesus loves sinners because Christianity is the only answer to man's private sinful dilemma.

Click here to read the full text of Tim Farron's resignation speech.

The Southern Baptist International Mission Board, Restrictions on Women, and Eternal Subordination

Recently a letter was sent from International Mission Board headquarters in Richmond to all missionary leaders regarding a paper under review regarding the official position of the IMB regarding women in ministry, women on the mission field, and a woman's subjection to men.

The paper makes official the "complementarian" view of the International Mission Board.

For those of you unfamiliar with the meaning of the word complementarianism, I would encourage you to read this article entitled Complementarianism as a Movement.

Many Christian men and women hold to complementarianism.

However, the problem with the IMB position paper on complementarianism that is now being formulated is the same problem the IMB had ten years ago when I served as a trustee. Back then a group of men took it upon themselves to narrow the doctrinal requirements for serving as a Southern Baptist missionary. They formulated doctrinal papers on spiritual gifts and baptism which stated positions that went far beyond the Baptist Faith and Message. They then demanded applicants agree to the doctrinal positions before serving as a missionary. I objected back then when the issue was forbidding anyone with a "private prayer language" or anyone who was "baptized by immersion in a church that didn't believe in eternal security."

It took ten years but those two poor doctrinal policies were eventually reversed.

Now the issue is complementarianism.

It seems the International Mission Board is moving to prohibit anyone from serving on the field who will not agree that complementarianism is the biblical view of women within the organization structure of the IMB. In the past, women were considered "Team Leaders" as were men. However, in the new complementarian mandate, IMB leadership is going so far as considering removing the title "Team Leader" from any woman, referring instead to her as "the Team Leader's wife."

According to complementarianism, a woman is not to serve in a position of leadership because it would place her in authority "over men." Consistent with that view, it is being proposed that no woman can lead anybody at the IMB in the future. She can only support her man who leads.

What is most serious of all, the paper under formulation is using the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father as the theological basis for the subjection of all women to the authority of men within the International Mission Board.  That means, a woman is to be eternally subject to the authority and will of the man, just as Jesus is eternally subject to the authority and will of the Father.

The idea of equality in the Trinity and between men and women is anathema in the complementarian view. Nearly 10 years ago I wrote about the false doctrine of eternal subordination, a view that was gaining traction in the Southern Baptist Convention then.

I never dreamed I would see the day when it would be implemented as back-door policy at the IMB.



Bernie Sanders Is a Danger to Religious Freedom

This past Wednesday, June 7, 2017, Senator Bernie Sanders angrily shouted down Russell T. Vought, President Trump's nominee for Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. One would hope the American public could watch this horrible exchange, but for some reason, our government has chosen to remove the video from the public square.

Why was Senator Sanders so angry? It seems Sen. Sanders believed Vought was unsuitable for public office because Mr. Vought believes that mercy from God is found only through faith in Jesus Christ. Someone with that kind of religious belief, says Sanders, "is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about." 

Huh?

David French of the National Review pinpoints the trouble behind Sanders religious test for public service:
This is a disgraceful and unconstitutional line of questioning from the man who came close to being the Democratic nominee for president. He’s not only imposing a religious test for public office in direct violation of Article VI of the United States Constitution, he’s gone so far as to label this decent man — who’s seeking to serve his country in a vital role — as “not someone who this country is supposed to be about.” Vought expressed entirely orthodox Christian beliefs. There is nothing “extreme” about his statements, and they mirror the statements of faith of countless Christian churches and schools across the land. Are these believers also not fit for public office? I’ve written that Christians and Muslims don’t worship the same God. I suppose that means America’s not “about” me, either.
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford warned that Sander’s comments “dangerously close to crossing a clear constitutional line for how we evaluate qualifications for public service.”

This week I will be writing about a couple of problems we face within the Southern Baptist Convention. However, those problems pale in comparison to the outright attack against Christians, exampled by Senator Bernie Sanders.

David French rightly points out that Christians can and do believe Jesus Christ is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," and Senator Sanders job is to protect the right of orthodox Christians to believe as they see fit, without fear of punishment or exclusion from the public realm. Religious freedom,

Mr. Sanders, belongs to even those people whom you don't like.

The Good News Is About God's Goodness in Christ

Many evangelicals feel it necessary to convince a sinner of his guilt before sharing the Good News of God's grace in Jesus Christ.  The starting point for many who share Christ is man's inherent sinfulness and the danger of hell-fire judgment. This is why many pastors and leaders of evangelical churches focus on the Law and yell about sin.  The church believes the Law must condemn before the Lawgiver can save. 

This philosophy often leads preachers and soul winners to avoid proclaiming the goodness of God for sinners until sinners are worked over good with the Law.  For this reason, the message often heard in church shows more concern with convincing sinners of sin than sinners of the grace, glory, and goodness of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Some reading this blog so far might be thinking - "What's wrong with convincing sinners of sin? You can't lead a horse to water without thirst. A sinner will never know his need of God's salvation without knowledge of his condemnation and need for salvation."

Not so fast.

In our zeal to deliver sinners from judgment, we often miss the beauty and simplicity of preaching Christ. Jesus said, "I have come that you might live life more abundantly." (John 10:10). Proclaiming the goodness of God in Jesus Christ breathes life into those who don't know themselves dead. To yell and scream at a dead person with a boulder on his chest does no good in removing the boulder. Likewise, for Christians to yell and scream at sinners about their sin does no good in changing a sinner's lfie.

Gospel-preaching never requires the sinner to feel his sin before coming to Christ by faith. Only God can awaken the dead, and the evangelist's job is to simply preach Christ, not sin and the sinner condemned.

18th century Baptists held to a radical emphasis on simply preaching and proclaiming Jesus Christ--leaving the work of conviction and conversion to the Spirit. These 18th century Baptists were supremely Christocentric.They were not as concerned that the sinner knew and felt his sin as they were the sinner heard the goodness of God in the person of Jesus Christ. This is how they put it in their First London Confession of Faith (1644):

Article 25 of the 1646 London Confession of Faith

The preaching of the gospel to the conversion of sinners, is absolutely free; no way requiring as absolutely necessary, any qualifications, preparations, or terrors of the law, or preceding ministry of the law, but only and alone the naked soul, a sinner and ungodly, to receive Christ crucified, dead and buried, and risen again; who is made a prince and a Savior for such sinners as through the gospel shall be brought to believe on Him. John 3:14,15, 1:12; Isa. 55:1; John 7:37; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 4:5, 5:8; Acts 5:30,31, 2:36, 1 Cor. 1:22,24.
The starting point for these 18th Century Baptists was the goodness of God in Christ, not the sinfulness of man. The Law and the prophets in the Old Testament all pointed to Christ. The Law was never given to drive a man to be righteous in himself, but rather to drive the sinner to faith in the One who fulfilled the Law for sinners and provides a righteousness that comes from outside the sinner's own obedience.

The feasts, the Sabbaths, the festivals, the sacrifices, the laws of Israel, the Temple, the priesthood, and all the other important features of the Old Covenant fulfilled in Christ. With the establishment of the New Covenant, signed and sealed with the blood of Christ, the Old Covenant faded into oblivion because it possessed a fading glory, but the goodness and grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ has an eternal glory (I Corinthians 3:7-18).

So the next time you hear a preacher berate the sinner with words of judgment and condemnation, please know that he is neither speaking in a manner that focuses the listener on the centrality of Christ's goodness which leads to repentance.

If one objects, "But Christ spoke harsh words of condemnation to the Pharisees in Matthew 23!"

Yes, but notice that Christ always reserved His words of condemnation to the religious who deemed themselves superior to sinners.

If we are biblical evangelists, we will do two things:
(1). We will always proclaim the finished work of Christ for sinners, and emphasize the grace, love and kindness of God in Christ, for we recognize that is it the goodness of God in Christ, combined with the work of the Spirit, that alone leads sinners to repentance.
(2). We will refrain from constantly complaining of sin and peoples' sinfulness because we recognize that only the Good News of God's goodness in Jesus Christ will ever lead a sinner to change his ways. 
Isn't it odd how the modern evangelical church get things reversed? We preachers tend to yell and scream at the world for sin, and the world screams and yells at us for yelling at them.

Maybe if we simply loved sinners and proclaimed Jesus Christ at least some of the yelling would stop.

The #1 Thing to Look for When Joining a Church

I am often asked, "What's the best way to know whether or not a church is worth joining?"

My answer often surprises people. The measure of the greatness of a church is not seen in the size of the church, nor the missions emphasis, nor the children's or youth programs, nor the style of worship. 

Nope. Not at all.

Neither is it measured by the kind of church governance (e.g. elders, congregational, etc.) nor by the relevant ways the church seeks to make an impact in the community. 

A church is worth joining if the message emphasized is God's love for sinners in Christ rather than a sinner's love for God by commitment.

Think about that for a moment. 

If a person's love for God is always emphasized to the neglect of God's love for persons; or if one is constantly challenged to be "fully devoted to God" rather than the glorious gospel of "God being fully devoted" to His people in Jesus Christ, or if a person's love for God is always questioned and compared to another person's love for God (especially those who lead) through a verbal "measuring of each other's personal holiness," then you should put on those proverbial sneakers and run from that church as fast as possible.

Church leaders who feel it their duty to "get people to love God more" by controlling the movies they see or the books they read or the tertiary doctrines they believe is church leadership that has gone astray. When there is more of an emphasis on the covenant you sign to join a church than the covenant God sealed when He gave you His Son, then you've entered a land of law, not liberty. 

In the New Testament, the emphasis is always about God's love for sinners in Christ. When sinners are captivated and overwhelmed by the unconditional, eternal, and transformational love of God in Jesus Christ, we sinners come to a place of personal liberty to "love others as Christ loves us." 

Listen to John in I John 4:7-11:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we love God, but that He loves us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loves us, we also ought to love one another.
The above passage contains an inviolable principle of relationships that many churches miss.

We are only at liberty to love other people as Christ loves us when the emphasis of gospel preaching is about God's love for us in Christ.

So next time you consider a church home,  listen closely to the words of the person on the platform. Those who spend more time controlling and directing the conduct of the people than championing and declaring the love of God toward people in Christ are showing tell-tale signs of a pervasive belief in their "spiritual authority" over people rather than their "gifted service" to people.

The Truth will set you free.