God came to me.


I’ve recently been thinking through what I believe about God, about His scheme of redemption, and how in the person of Jesus He brings sinners like me to himself. In two recent posts, here and here, I tried to display a snapshot of man’s sinfulness and his hopeless and helpless condition without God. In this post I want to show what I believe is the clear teaching of Scripture about how a person  is awakened to the grace and mercy of God in Christ.

It is very common to hear someone serve up the idea that salvation is a cooperative effort, “God’s part” and “man’s part“. For many years I have contended that this idea is not true, and cannot be true. Two verses come to mind that are convincing.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
Romans 8:7

A person in his natural state of being is so alienated from God, and the things of God because of sin, that he does not and cannot receive the things of God. Look closely at these verses.

1. A natural man “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God“.

Left to his own devices and his own resources a person without God will not accept the truth of God. This is true every time, in every case. Why? Because the things of God are “foolishness” to him. The story of the passion of Christ makes no sense to him. I have spoken to many people who upon being told of God’s love expressed in the work of Jesus’ death for sinners, and that he now makes sinners pure without their participation, reject it outright. They want no part of it! Man always wants to get credit for his goodness.

2. A natural man “does not submit to God’s law“.

It isn’t that a person without God is neutral, that he just has no interest. Oh no, the truth is he is in rebellion against God. He is “hostile” toward God. He doesn’t “accept” the things of God, and doesn’t “submit” to God’s law because he is against God in his heart.

3. A natural man “is not able to understand” the things of God. And, he “cannot submit” to God’s law.

Here in these two verses is the picture of men and women apart from God who have NO ability on their own to receive the truth about God, to understand, or to submit to Him. You might say to yourself, “If these verses are literally true then how could anyone ever be saved”? It’s a legitimate question and there is an answer, but first one more passage to affirm the utter hopelessness of people without God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Ephesians 2:1-3

Here the Apostle Paul is speaking to folks who are now God’s very own children. He is reminding them of their past and the awful condition of that ugly past. They were “dead” to the things of God, they lived in “trespasses” and “sins“, they were on a course like the rest of the world, following Satan (“the prince of the power of the air”), they lived only to please themselves, and were “children of wrath” like everyone else.

This is indeed a pretty sad state. Here is a people who are dead in sin, dead to the things of God, following the devil, against God, not willing to accept or submit to God, and in fact cannot possibly do so. How then can a person come to Christ and be saved? Thank God the passage above did not end with verse 3.

But God, being rich in mercy,because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4-5

Yes, people are helpless and hopeless. Yes, they are dead to God, are his enemy, and can’t do anything about it. They have absolutely NO ability to come to God. But God! 

God came to where we were. Right in the middle of our rebellion, our spiritual death, our selfish, ungodly lives and “made us alive together with Christ“! My salvation and yours was by God’s initiative, not mine or yours.

You see, this is precisely what grace is! God loves sinners and he provided a remedy for their sins and then comes to gather them to himself. Paul continues….

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

But for God’s work in us and for us, shining the light of the truth of the gospel into our dark souls we should all perish in our ungodly condition. But He does come to us! The Holy Spirit stirs the heart to faith and repentance and the light of the gospel dispels the darkness of sin and unbelief and God gives LIFE to the lifeless!

“Nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling” goes the old song. I can claim no worth, no merit, no work. I can only give glory and praise to a loving God who makes the dead live and love! Oh how wonderful is the story of Jesus and his love for sinners like me. Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord! He alone can save the lost sinner.

May God’s truth grip our hearts and minds so that He alone has the glory he deserves.

Royce Ogle

 

 

Advertisements

The Journey from Legalism to Liberty in Churches of Christ


In the Bible there are many passages of Scripture that are so wonderful, so majestic, that I can hardly take them in. I read them and am in awe! I think about them and meditate and ponder and measure myself against them and wonder if I have begun to appropriate their promises for myself. I am often convicted, sometimes shamed, and at other times filled with thanksgiving. Some of what I find in the Bible seems to big for me. It is like walking into the front door of the Dallas Autorama, where do I begin? How can I possibly be able to see and appreciate it all?

One of those passages that to me is much more than enough for my mind and my heart is this one.

1″Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:1-4)

Where do I start? I mean this passage is so jam-packed with wonderful truth that I can hardly decide where to begin unpacking its promises. Maybe the best way is to go line by line and see what God is saying to us.

Vs. 1. Peter establishes his apostleship and the deity of Jesus. And he lays out the fundamental truth that every Christian is equal in that each of us have our standing in Christ by faith and that the only righteousness we can claim is His righteousness. Here is the basis of unity among believers, a common faith that gives each of us “equal standing”, even with the apostles.

Vs. 2. More grace and more peace come to us in knowing Christ more, for He alone is the source of grace and peace. Paul prayed for believers that they would “grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord”.

Vs. 3. Jesus said “I have all power in heaven and in earth” and here Peter says is it by His “divine power” that we are given “ALL THINGS that pertain to life and godliness”, “through the knowledge of Him (Jesus)”. Let’s see now. I’m living here on earth and I want to be godly. How do I get equipped for the task? Peter says get to know Jesus more because He is the source of ALL THINGS I need for living and being godly. If in Him I find that I have ALL THINGS that means that NO THING will be lacking. My ability to live a godly life, and the power to perform it, and even the will to do it, is locked up in the person of Jesus Christ. But there is more! He has a purpose for me and every other Christian. That divine purpose is that we bring him glory and share in his glory and that we are becoming like him now and finally will like him be excellent!

Vs. 4. By the means of his great and precious promises to us, and for us, we literally take on the divine nature and thus escape the corruption of this world.  Our greatest needs are spiritual needs and only He can provide them. Our greatest enemies are spiritual enemies and only by His power and might can we fight them…and win. And our common desire for immortality can be realized only in Him who was and is and is to come, our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Hebrew writer said that in “these last days God has spoken to us through His Son”. The revelation of God we call the Bible is the story of the loving Creator loving those he created, again and again showing mercy, offering grace, and being rejected. The central theme and central person are one and the same, Jesus Christ our Lord. Only through His work and His worth are sinful men and women set right with God. Knowing Him, really knowing Him, and giving Him honor and glory, with our lips and in our living, is man’s highest good. He is our peace. He is our righteousness. He is our joy. He is our assurance. He is our life. He is all we need.

A Heritage Hijacked

Just over a decade ago I started worshiping, working, and loving, in a Church of Christ. I didn’t know much about the churches or the Restoration Movement but I determined to learn. And so I did. In a few months I started to learn that I knew more about the CoC heritage than most people my age who had been in the RM for generations. And I was shocked at how much churches today are unlike the founder’s dreams and ideals.

The Campbell’s, Stone, and others had some noble and good ideals. They dreamed of Christians from every stripe worshiping together in primitive ways and so infusing the message of the gospel and Christian morals into the culture that someday the whole earth would improve spiritually and morally so that in Alexander Campbell’s mind, the church’s impact on society would usher in the millineal reign of Christ on earth. Of course he was wrong about the end of his dream but none-the-less his dream was noble and pure.

Fast forward a few hundred years to the last 60 or 70 years and up to today and most of our more traditional congregations hardly resemble what the founders envisioned. Alexander Campbell coined the phrase “We are Christians only, but not the only Christians.” But now, in the year 2010, a rather large but steadily decreasing number of our churches hold to the premise “We are Christians only, and the ONLY Christians!” They will tell you in a hurry that even many other church of Christ folks are lost, in addition to two other significant groups who share with them a common heritage.

A movement that began as a “unity movement” to unite into one “the many sects” of Christians is now as fractured as any group on earth except for Baptists who have split and the splinters have split and there are dozens of Baptist groups of different flavors.

A movement that was pure in ideals and noble and right in vision was too soon hijacked by legalists. They turned what was a Bible loving and Christ honoring group of local churches into largely fragmented sects who each believed only they were saved and that everyone else who was not exactly like them in belief, and practice, were lost.

Get in line or you’re out!

By the early 192o’s, salvation and worship were clearly articulated by two sets of five points. Salvation became these 5 points.

1. Hear (Rom. 10:14-17)
2. Believe (Mark 16:16)
3. Repent (Acts 2:38)
4. Confess (Matt. 10:32-33)
5. Be Baptized (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; I Peter 3:21

And, most of those who adhere to this “Plan of salvation” will add a 6th step, “Live a faithful life”.

While these 5 points are biblical and good and right, putting your faith in a “Plan of salvation” does not save. Faith in Christ saves. Interestingly, not one chapter in the New Testament includes all of these 5 steps but the NT references salvation scores of times. I wonder, how did those earliest Christians manage to “turn the world upside down” for Christ and win tens of thousands before even one of these passages was written?

Here is the problem with the “Plan” as I see it. It has become a check off list. A candidate for baptism will be asked the following questions. (That he “heard”, step 1, and believes, step 2, is assumed. In reality he may or may not have heard the gospel) “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” The candidate responds “Yes.” “Have you repented of your sins?” He responds “Yes.” “Who is going to be the Lord of your life from this day forward?” He responds “Jesus”. And then he is baptized after the baptizer says “Based on your confession of faith I baptize you for the remission of your sins.”

Check, check, check, check, check. Now it may very well be that this fellow believes Jesus is the Son of God in the same way he believes Richard Petty was a race car driver. That is not faith, that is giving mental assent to a fact. In many cases this person has trusted a “plan” to save him and not the Lord Jesus. The proof is in the puddin’. I have seen door knocking campaigns where of more than a dozen who followed the plan not one life was changed an iota. Sometimes though God saves in spite of our ignorance and unbelief. Maybe the gospel gets in someway and a few will trust Christ and not in the plan of salvation and be saved.

Worship is just as glib. Again, 5 is the number. There are 5 acts of worship. They are”

1. Singing
2. Preaching
3. Praying
4. Giving
5. The Lord’s Supper.

Click, click, click, click, click. People are taught that if you do right you will be right. This is what the legalist refers to as the “Pattern of worship”. If you follow this pattern you are right and if you don’t…..Oh wait a second! Singing must be only A Cappella. You might ask, “Where does the Bible say that?” And the answer is unbelievable, really it is. What you will be told in essence is “We believe it because the Bible doesn’t say it. We have our reasons..”

If you don’t follow this so-called “Pattern of worship” you are not obedient to Jesus and you are lost. (Never mind that even the order of the 5 acts are points of disagreement and one group will condemn another to hell if the order isn’t as the first group says it should be….??? I’m not making any of this up.)

So, generic Christian Bill goes off to the “building” on a Sunday morning and one by one he clicks off the 5 acts. He sings the 3 songs and the invitation song. He eats a tiny cracker and drinks some Welches grape juice. He listens to the preacher. There was an opening prayer and a closing prayer. He puts $5 bucks in the collection plate and He is home in time for the kick off and he has done what is “authorized”, he has scripturally worshiped! Really?

Lets just examine one of the 5 acts of what is “authorized” and is one fifth of the “pattern” to be followed. Prayer. Someone prayed twice and Bill might have even prayed, but more than likely he only listened to someone else pray. Now I ask you, when we read in the Bible that the early church “prayed together” is this what they did? Surely, with a tiny bit of reflection, nobody believes that is what they did. So has bro’ Bill violated his own pattern?

Here is the flaw of the 5 step plan of salvation and the 5 acts of worship. A person who is not a Christian can breeze right through both of them and in fact they do it all the time. How can I be so sure? I personally know people, close friends, who did it for years. That is until they came to know the only source of eternal life, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Doing right does not make one right.

Everyone who has been around our churches of Christ very long knows several people who have been baptized more than once. Some of them have been immersed 3, 4, or more times. Why? They thought they didn’t do it right. They simply couldn’t understand why their lives were no different since they had followed the “plan”. Only when a sinner puts his faith in Christ, when he believes in a trusting and dependent way upon Jesus does he get what he needs and wants. For many it is synonymous with baptism. However, that is not true with everyone. I know an elder, a very godly man, greatly used by God to share the good news all across the country, whose testimony is that it was years before his life started to match his confession. Baptism, and the other acts are useless unless the candidate, like the man from Ethiopia long ago, believes “with all his heart” in Jesus Christ the God-man, and not in a plan.

Shaking off the shackles.

In the last 11 years I have seen a noticeable difference in my own congregation. The message of the grace of God demonstrated in the doing and dying of Jesus has started to grip the hearts of more and more of God’s people and the harvest of souls is increasing. All around the country people are leaving the bondage of legalism and embracing the love and grace of God. Their testimony is that finally they are free from doubt, free from worry, because they have been convinced that it is not about them but about Jesus. His dying for them, His burial, and His resurrection for them is an objective fact and their faith in Him is sure and firm.

Ephesians 2 answers the objections of the legalistic types whose indictment of anyone who preaches or teaches salvation by grace though faith alone is that we don’t value “works” or “faithfulness” and that we believe a person can live any old way and be fine in God’s eyes. Nothing could be more wrong.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

A careful reading of this passage precludes any nonsensical idea that just because one holds to salvation by faith that he does not value good works.

This is astonishingly clear. Salvation is not the result of works! (Vs. 9)  By the way, that is true before or after one is converted. But keep reading.

Christians are God’s product, His “workmanship”. We are His “creation” in Christ Jesus for what purpose? GOOD WORKS! And, this is something that God didn’t just hatch up at the last minute. No, He prepared this plan “beforehand”. What is the plan? “That we should walk in them”. (Vs. 10)

This is not my plan, it is God’s plan. Just as sure as God created dogs and bull frogs God created Christians to “walk in”, or “do” “Good Works”! A person who does not do “good works” as a lifestyle is not a Christian. Read 1 John. He says this exact same thing. So are “works” important? Yes, so important that God’s design for Christians included them. But, make no mistake about it, not one person will be saved because of their good deeds. “Not of your own doing” in Vs. 8 and “Not the result of works” in Vs. 9 means exactly what it says. No seminary degree with an emphasis in biblical languages is required to unpack this passage and understand it.

So, how about you? When you retire at night do you have the assurance that everything is OK between you and God? Are you trusting Him? Or, are you depending on your ability to worship right, be good enough, and hope it all works out in the end? There is a better way! Put your whole trust in Christ alone and enjoy the love and grace only he gives.

I suggest that everyone who reads this post take some time and read John 17, slowly and prayerfully, asking God to show you the truth of those words. You will find that you are safe in Him.

For truth,

Royce Ogle

Boldly Going Where Only God’s Grace Can Take Me


Today is September 14, 2010. My journey with God began in the spring of 1960 when I was a sophomore in high school. These 50 years have been marked by mountain tops and dark valleys, tears of joy and tears of sorrow, disappointment, rejection, and personal failure. In every place along the way, God has been with me. I can see His loving hand, even at my darkest, lowest times, even when I sinned against Him, a future was mapped out. I can say without even the hint of a question, since the day that I as a teenage boy, the best I knew how, put my trust in Jesus, God has been for me and not against me. His love for me has been over-the-top, His grace and mercy lavish to the point of almost being absurd, and today as an old man with aches and pains and a head of gray hair, joy wells up in my heart and I can say boldly God’s grace is enough.

Had my standing with God depended on me I would have stood condemned a thousand times. If the only righteousness God saw in me arose from my own performance I would be rejected as unrighteous and ungodly by almost any standard. But,…my standing with God is based on the person and work of Jesus Christ for me, and my righteousness is His righteousness, and I am a child of God by God’s initiative and kept by His mighty power. I am indeed a work of the grace of God.

God’s grace is His unconditional love expressed by what Jesus has accomplished for sinners and keeps on doing for saints.

God’s Riches AChrist’s Expense

For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)

Upon this declaration I rest as I wait for the blessed hope Who is a blessed certainty. What God demands grace affords. The battle belongs to the Lord and every weapon we use to fight the evil powers of this world are weapons of grace. It is grace that leads to salvation, it is grace that teaches us to say no to ungodliness, and it is grace that will see us safely home.

Every good in me is His good, every act of love is His love, and my only hope of immortality and a place at His table is afforded by His marvelous grace.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Agape’

Royce


Jeb’s Story


It was an unusually beautiful Sunday afternoon in the courtyard of the wealthy widow, Abigail. Abigail’s deceased husband had done very well and had left her a sizable inheritance, including the nice property on  a hill overlooking Jerusalem, and a bustling wine business. Abigail was known as a shrewd business woman but for the last two years was almost as well known for her hospitality and philanthropy. She had converted to the Way several months after the well known events of the execution of Jesus of Nazareth and his reported resurrection.

This woman who had earned a reputation as a heartless, and sometimes less than ethical business woman, was now unbelievably generous. It was rumored that she repaid people she had cheated and had given a small fortune away to the needy since joining the Way.

Today, as was her custom of late, she was hosting a gathering of disciples of Jesus. They had started to gather early in the morning and had talked, heard readings from the Torah, sung Psalms, laughed and shared stories. Soon they would all share an agape’ meal and near the end of the meal they would eat some unleavened bread and drink wine to remember the body and blood of the Christ. But, a guest had requested that he be able to share his story with the others.

Abigail began speaking. “Please pray with me. Almighty God and Father, the God of Abraham, together we give you thanks for Messiah who has given us his life and his peace. Please give strength  to our brother Jeb as he speaks to us. May each of our lives honor the Christ of our God, please help our brothers and sisters who are suffering great persecution for the sake of our great God, Jesus Christ our Lord and Messiah.”

The last thing anyone knowing Jeb would expect would be that he would be speaking before perhaps 300 people, some of them the most prominent citizens of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Even more out of character was that this guy who was known for shady business dealings and an affection for wine and women had converted to the Way.

Jeb rose to his feet and began speaking with a trembling voice. “My name is Jeb and I am a follower of the Way. I have lived my whole life in the city of Nazareth. I own two inns, have some cattle, and other small business interests, but I am not proud of my life.
I came from a good family, devout people of God. Our custom was to attend synagogue, repeat daily prayers, and keep all the customs of our faith. I was the rebel in my family. At a young age I started to lie for my own gain, steal, cheat, and when I was old enough I was consumed with lust for women. That all changed two years ago….”

To be continued….

Royce