Works and Religion meet Grace and Truth


Two religious leaders met on a breezy night long ago in the city of Jerusalem.

One of these men, a trained theologian and an official of the civil court for his faith group, initiated the meeting. He was very likely one of the most respected men in that part of the world, known for his holy life, his piety, and his dedication to the Jewish law. There was no person of his faith who could better represent the religion of the Jews than this man.

The other man was a commoner. He likely had little formal education and could not claim much accomplishment in life by usual standards, except he was good at wood working. He had gained quite a reputation as a spiritual leader himself in spite of His lowly station in life. It was said of him that the blinded eyes were opened, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, and even the dead were raised to life at His command. Some said he was a great prophet, others that he was King of the Jews.

It was his notoriety of doing mighty works (miracles) that drew this educated man to a street preacher under cover of darkness. He could not understand how this plain man, in appearance not unlike other thousands in the area, could do the wondrous things he did. He concluded that only a man sent from God could possibly do such things.

The event and the conversation is recorded in John’s gospel chapter 3 verses 1thru 21.

          1 “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.16“For) God so loved) the world,) that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not) perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not) believed in the name of the only Son of God. 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. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

This is the story of law meeting grace, of religion meeting Truth. And it contrasts, not only Nicodemus and Jesus, but Jesus and us.

Had I been in Jesus’ place in the story, and just had such a sincere compliment, by response might well have been “Thank you very much”, said as humbly as I could muster. And then after some small talk about what we had in common I might have invited him to church or even asked if we could study the Bible together. But Jesus after hearing the compliment replied Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” There was no explanation, no quoting of Scripture, just this odd statement. And as Nicodemus understandably asked questions Jesus only repeated the same in different terms. And He added this rebuke “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”  He said to Nicodemus in so many words, “Your problem is unbelief”.

This ruler of the Jews, undoubtedly a good man by the measure of a man by men, did not need to “do” more good things. He did not need more religious activity. He did not need to be more “sound” in doctrine or to follow the correct pattern of worship. His only need was Life. He was dead in his sins. He and every other man and woman needed to be born again.

After dropping a bomb on this leader of the Jews Jesus explained.


“ 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.16“For) God so loved) the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not) perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not) believed in the name of the only Son of God”.

Not one thing has changed in the last 2000 years. The only way men are made fit for the kingdom of God is by being born again by doing what Jesus told this man to do.

The scandal of modern churches is that instead of telling people about the one who was lifted up as the serpent in the wilderness so those who look can live, is that we have told them to follow Nicodemus rather than Jesus.

We invite them to church, ask them to say a prayer, or repeat some words and be baptized, and then we begin the process of teaching them to behave like our model of a Christian. We tell them to pray, read your Bible every day, don’t cuss, drink, steal, or cheat on your wife, tithe your gross income, and attend church regularly, and “if” you do these things well, and in this church or another just like it, you will go to heaven when you die. This is the modern version of becoming a Christian.

Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, even at the cost of life or limb, because “It IS the power of God for salvation” and “In it THE righteousness of God is revealed”. (Romans 1:16, 17) Only by telling folks the good news about what Jesus has already done is the “power of God” (creative power) released to impart faith and repentance and to give everlasting life to a dead man. In the story of Jesus, and there alone, is the sinner introduced to the Righteousness of God whose name is Jesus. Those who believe the message and trust His claims are “made” righteous and condemnation flees forever.

Law (good deeds, rule keeping, religious activity, etc.) kills, but the breath of God (Spirit) gives Life.

May all of us who claim to be gospel preachers and teachers be what we profess in 2009. It is a matter of life and death.

For telling the story of Jesus,

Royce

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The Deity of Jesus …Fact of fiction #3


 

As Jesus begins His great high priestly prayer in John 17 He says to the Father in verse 5 “And now Father, glorify me with your own presence with the glory I had with you before the world existed”.

In Philippians 2:6-8 we read “(Jesus)Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”. Jesus “was in the form of God”, was equal (equality) with God, “made himself nothing”, and “humbled himself”. Here it is clear that Christ’s life transcends both time and eternity.

The same idea is conveyed in John 1 where it says in verse 14 that He “became flesh and dwelt among us”. Unique among all humans who ever lived He clearly lived before His birth.

Further in John’s account in 6:62 He said to his disciples “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before”? And in John 8:58 the familiar verse “Before Moses was I AM”. There was no doubt to the hearers that His claim was that he lived before Moses and that He is God. The “I AM” is a translation of Yahweh, or more correctly YHVH, the name reserved and revered as the name of the God of Israel. Jesus claimed to live before Moses and to be God in the same breath.

(It is wonder that anyone can reject these plain truths of the Bible, even Jesus’ very words, and still proudly refer to themselves as Christians.)

Post # 4 will prove without any doubt that Jesus is God to any person who wants to know the truth.

In Him,
Royce

The deity of Jesus …Fact or fiction #2


I am always amazed what nuggets of truth can be discovered in scripture that are more often than not passed right over, and for the most part go unnoticed. 1 Peter 1:11 is such a verse. Peter is speaking about the gospel of Jesus, the trials, joys and hope that accompanies those who trust Him, and then he talks of the prophets of ages past who prophesied concerning the suffering and glory of Christ. In verse 11 he says about those prophets “… the spirit of Christ in them was indicating the sufferings of Christ…” Centuries before a birth in Bethlehem, before the cross, before the resurrection of Jesus, He was active in revealing partially to the prophets the salvation that had been planned long before the creation of the universe. The spirit of Christ could hardly be doing anything hundreds of years before He would come in flesh had he not existed prior to His humble birth as Mary’s child.

Another example of Christ being active in Old Testament history is found in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4. Paul is warning against idolatry and he says “For I want you to know, brothers that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ”. Even a rank skeptic must agree that if the Bible is true, then Jesus lived before His birth.  

Jesus existed before His natural birth “in time”. Post # number 3 will show that Christ also existed before time began, that He is God and is eternal.

In Him,
Royce

Christian Unity?


Last evening I was reading some articles on the web and came across one by one of our “traditional” brothers whose subject was the danger of “Denominationalism”. His thesis is that denominations and denominational churches are unscriptural because they violate passages in the Bible that call for the unity of believers. How can denominational churches claim unity when their very existence is based on their differences? Up to this point the author was making a logical case. Then he disengaged his brain and exposed either his ignorance, (he is a bright, well educated man) or his bias.

After excoriating all denominational churches, and as a result all their people, he then made the case that the churchs of Christ alone are the undenominaitonal churches and are thus the only biblical ones. Any casual observer must admit that churches of Christ have their share of divisions. Here I will only consider the fractions of the churches of Christ, not the Restoration Movement churches as a whole which is a greater problem for anyone who subscribes to the notion that only the church of Christ has unity as discussed in the Bible.

Hmmm, church of Christ unity. In the very same paper by the very same author, there was a piece thrashing North Richland Hills church of Christ for having musical instruments in their worship services. Not only did the author disagree, not only does he not intend to fellowship with such people, he declares that they are not even saved. Some unity huh?

Lets see just how unified the beloved coC is. Institutional vs. non-institutional, once cuppers vs. multiple cuppers, Sunday school vs. non Sunday school, paid preacher, vs. mutual edification, just to name a few. I think you get my point. Then there are those who flagrantly lift their hands in worship, clap along in time with songs, sing during the Lord’s Supper, have a kitchen in the church, have women actually speak in an assembly, consider others outside of churches of Christ Christians, etc., etc.

Christian unity? I believe the denominational churches might have more unity than the coC. I have never heard a Baptist pastor brand a Methodist unsaved because they have different ideas about church government. I have never heard a Calvinist write off those in the “free will” camp as lost because they don’t agree with him on all 5 points of Calvinism. I admit that there is a sprinkling of those whose particular pet doctrine or myth defines in their mind who is saved and unsaved, but largely most denominations work fairly well together. Not so for our beloved churches of Christ.

I am glad to report that things are changing. There is a grace awakening happening across the Restoration Movement churches in spite of the viscous attacks of the most strict traditionalists and zealots. There will always be those few of every stripe who demand that everyone agree with them on every point or be damned to hell.

The sad truth is not obvious to most people but it is true none the less. Without exception those folks who believe someone else is lost because of what they either do or do not do on a given Lord’s day are also wrong on the doctrine of salvation. They put man in the drivers seat with God at his disposal in opposition to the biblical position of God being in control. Every person I have ever had communications with who teaches either a works based salvation or a supposed mixture of works and grace, to the last one, vehemently denies what he clearly teaches. Only one time in my 40 years of being a Christian have I had anyone admit that he believed we are saved by works.

There is only one unifying point that should bond believers of all brands, our common faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. All of the other practices and beliefs that divide God’s people pale in comparison to what we believe about Jesus Christ the son of God. We must first agree about who He is and what He has accomplished for sinners, and then how we receive the gracious gift He offers, which is eternal life. (Romans 6:23)

His peace,
Royce