Offensive for Christ

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What does it mean to be salt and light?

… for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:6-13).

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person  (Colossians 4:6).

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).

We understand that salt is used as a preservative, or flavoring. The lesson is that we are to preserve the Word of God in our hearts, and share it with an unbelieving world. To season our speech with salt is to make the Gospel message more palatable. Bible commentators suggest that we can present an offensive message without being offensive, but how is that possible? When salt is poured into an open wound it stings:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing … For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness … (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Certainly, we don’t want to be offensive nor alienate our worldly friends and family. So we live our lives almost embarrassed, or ashamed of the Gospel. And who wants to be outcast as strange and foolish? Who among us will stand up and be offensive for Christ?

Red Letter Christians are probably offended at the suggestion. Jesus, they will say, was all about love and forgiveness. Oh, so Jesus Christ never offended anyone?

When His disciples had been upbraided by the Pharisees for not washing their hands before eating, Jesus confronted the lawyers for elevating their religious traditions above the commandments of God. He said to the assembled crowd that what defiles a man is not unclean hands but an unclean heart.

Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” (Matthew 15:12)

If the Pharisees were offended how much more the merchants whose tables were overturned by an irate Christ. The Son of God offended the world system — religious and civil. Can we do no less?

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:24).

This is not the Jesus worshipped by flower-power hippies who have hanging in their VW van a poster of Jesus smoking pot nor liberals who co-opt Christ to promote a social gospel that is lean on theology but heavy on environmentalism, abortion rights, gay marriage, drug decriminalization and feminist radicalism.

I have long-wondered why our nation is so morally bankrupt. If 80% of the populace identify themselves as Christian then how has the nation become so degraded? How do we elect leaders that swear an oath upon the Bible, but don’t believe what it says?

Liberalism.

Government and education long ago were compromised, and now the covenant body of Christ is being sub-divided by false teachers who, like Thomas Jefferson, excise all but the red letters of Holy Scripture.

Red Letter Christians (RLC) are essentially anti-Marcion. Whereas Marcion, branded a heretic, rejected the canon of Scripture (with the exception of the Gospel of Luke and Paul’s letters) the RLC adopts a theology that cedes authority only to the words of Christ.

For some time I have researched “Christian” websites that are anti-Pauline in doctrine. At the core of these ministries is an agenda that promotes freedom of choice and gay marriage. Their theology is based on Matthew 22:36-40 (love is the greatest commandment); and Matthew 25:31-46 (the parable of the sheep and goats as suggestive of a works-based salvation — feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the sick.) The faith-based teachings found in the Pauline epistles are only subordinate text. It is evident that Paul is rejected solely on the basis that his teachings are at odds with contemporary society. So we have the right to make the Bible conform to our inclinations?

John Gerstner (Professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary) classified the liberal gospel as a gospel of self-esteem. Doing good works makes us feel good, and it softens the ugly truth that there is no good dwelling in us. Like the observant Muslim who thinks he has to do good works to please God, but on the Day of Judgement Christ will say, Depart from me; I never knew you (Matthew 7:23).

Tony Campolo, activist leader of RLC, wrote:

The primary focus of we Red Letter Christians is on what Jesus had to say about the poor. We realize that the only description that He gave of Judgment Day (Matthew 25) was through a parable in which people were evaluated as to whether or not they fed those who were hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned. Because Evangelicals have been steeped in the theology of the Pauline Epistles before they scrutinize the teachings of Jesus in the red letters of the Bible, they have read Jesus through the eyes of Paul.

While he doesn’t deny that evangelicals are very generous towards the poor it does make you wonder what is his real agenda. Campolo insists that RLC is a non-partisan effort to wrestle Christianity from conservative evangelicals who, he says, have hijacked the faith in alliance with Republican politicos who are anti-gay and anti-feminist.

His Christian agenda sounds like the reading of the Democrat platform at the party’s presidential convention. The Gospel is somewhere hidden in a mishmash of environmental activism and wage inequality. When asked his party affiliation, Campolo will typically answer, “That is not the issue.”

So he rails about conservative Christians, but refuses to identify himself as a liberal Christian. Like Hillary Clinton, he is more comfortable with the term progressive as if that can hide a leopard’s spots. Curious how liberals define (or, in the case of marriage, redefine) certain absolutes. Abortion, for example, is not infanticide but free choice.

What liberals have to do is re-interpret Scripture that both Jews and Christians have understood for thousands of years. Progressives (oh, they are so enlightened) will say that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their inhospitality; Leviticus 18:22 suggests that it is unclean for a man to lie in a woman’s bed, and not prohibitive of gay sex; and Paul’s indictment of homosexuality was only a judgement against prostitution.

In any case, they will say, it doesn’t matter what Paul wrote because he doesn’t speak with the authority of Christ.

There is a deception in the church that is blinding the eyes and clouding the minds of those who have not a discerning spirit. The disparagement of Paul within the church is troublesome. Is it Satanic? To diminish Paul’s credentials would be to undermine two-thirds of Christian canon.

We have to be able to answer this question: By what authority did Paul speak?

Peter wrote:

… and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Of course, there are some within the church who doubt the authorship of 2 Peter so this passage would be inadmissible. Very well, then, may I present the testimony of Luke — acceptable even to Marcion:

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, Ananias. And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight. But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake (Acts 9:10-16).

Paul was anointed by the Lord Jesus Christ as Paul, himself, testified to the assembly at Galatia:

Paulus an Apostle, not by the children of men, neither by a son of man, but by Yeshua The Messiah and God his Father, he who raised him from among the dead …(Galatians 1:1). — Aramaic Bible

With what, then,  are we left? Jesus Christ is our Lord and Master …

… and …

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

There is light, though, within the RLC. An article, posted on their website, disagreed with Campolo’s interpretation of marriage. The silence of Scripture — that is, Jesus did not specifically condemn homosexuality — is not an affirmation of an act that is clearly condemned in both Jewish and Christian canon. The article honestly cited the Bible’s clarity on marriage, and that sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is the Biblical norm.

We’ve only peeled a few layers off this theological onion. Liberals within the church dispute essential Christian doctrine regarding the deity of Christ, resurrection, faith and salvation. They teach that confession and repentance are unnecessary in this age of grace. Feed the poor and you’ll be okay. Everything else is religion. Jesus, they will say, had no problem with sinners, but with religious people.

How should we respond? Meekness does not mean that we dim our light or lose our savor. In this ongoing spiritual battle we must courageously decide to be offensive for Christ — in the world and from the pew. Let your light be a blinding light, and your words like a two-edged sword.

Remember: Christian love is corrective — not permissive.

Reference:

The Liberal View of Justification, article by John Gerstner.

Red Letter Christianity: A New Name for Progressive Evangelicals, article by Tony Campolo.

When Red Is Blue: Why I am not a Red-Letter Christian, article by Stan Guthrie.

The Problem with Being a Red Letter Christian, article by Ian Paul.

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Was Abraham Saved By the Law?

The short answer to this question posed by a reader is, no. The Law had not yet been given. Moses delivered the Law to the children of Israel 430 years after Jehovah made His promise to Abram. 

In Abram’s day there were no Jews or Israelites. Abram was both a Semite (descended from Noah’s son Shem), and a Hebrew (descended from Shem’s son Eber). Jehovah extended His promise to Abram’s son Isaac; and again to Isaac’s son Jacob whom the LORD renamed Israel. [Jews descended from Judah, one of Israel’s twelve sons.]

If Abram could not be saved by the Law, how then was he justified? The Apostle Paul teaches very clearly that no one can be saved by works lest any man should boast; but many people have told us that they believe God will save them simply because they are a good person. If this were true then:  

The grace of God is nullified, and Christ’s death on the cross was meaningless.

We read in Genesis (chapter 15) that God told a mystified Abram his reward would be great. Abram replied that he had no children for an inheritance so the LORD took him outside and said:

Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be (Ge 15:5).

The Bible says that Abram believed the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Abram was 85 years old. It wasn’t until Abram was 99 years old that the LORD commanded him to be circumcised.

We read that the LORD declared to Abram:

I am God Almighty…I will establish My covenant between Me and you…No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham (or father of many nations). And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you (Ge 17:1-5, 11).

We have seen that Abraham was already deemed righteous by God apart from the Law, and that circumcision was a sign of that covenantal relationship much like baptism is today.

Some readers see a division between the Apostle Paul and James  (half-brother of Yeshua) regarding the faith of Abraham. Both New Testament writers point to the Genesis account that Abram’s belief was counted as righteousness, but James adds that by his works Abraham’s faith was justified.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas 2:18).
  
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and he was called a friend of God (Jas 2:21-23).

The offering of Isaac is an interesting study of faith. It’s a common misconception that Isaac was but a lad when Abraham offered him to the LORD. The Hebrew word for lad—used also to describe the accompanying servants—can also be translated young man.

Also, Abraham instructed Isaac to carry the stock of wood up the mountain to burn at the altar; a difficult task for a little boy, but not so for a grown man. Additionally, the historical references in Genesis suggest that some time had passed before Jehovah had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son whom some historians determine was in the range of 20-33 years of age.

More important to consider is that human sacrifice is an abomination to the LORD; and killing Isaac would effectively dissolve the covenant Jehovah made to Abraham. Abraham had faith that the LORD would either provide a substitutionary atonement, or that He would raise Isaac from the dead. It was a test of faith that Abraham stretched out his hand to slay his son when the Angel of the LORD (pre-incarnate Christ) called out:

Abraham!, Abraham! Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, for now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your only son from Me (Gen 22:12).

A reader with faithful discernment will see that the offering of Abraham’s son pre-figures the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son—the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

Next: Did James Contradict Paul?

Did James Contradict Paul?

A reader posed the following question which has caused difficulty for many believers: Did James contradict Rabbi Saul (Apostle Paul) regarding salvation by faith or works? Before we examine the weightier issues related to this topic let us first establish that we are saved by grace so that no man may boast before God.

This is what Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9).

Paul is saying that we do not receive salvation through the performance of good deeds. It is by grace (a gift of God) through faith (a gift of the Spirit) that we are saved .

This is what James—the half-brother of Yeshua—wrote, rather plainly:

Faith without works is dead (Jas 2:17).

At first read it seems as if James and Paul are not on the same page. On the contrary, James enhances Paul’s teaching by suggesting, so to speak, that the proof is in the pudding.

To appreciate what James was teaching we must understand the spiritual climate of his day. The faithful were growing in numbers from amongst both Jews and Gentiles. Those of the Pharisees, who believed  in Yeshua, were teaching that the Gentiles needed to observe Mosaic Law and be circumcised.

There was much dissension and debate within the Jerusalem assembly whether Paul’s doctrinal teaching of grace was, in effect, blasphemy. During his first missionary journey to Lystra, Jews from Antioch and Iconium dragged Paul outside the city and stoned him, leaving him for dead. As the disciples gathered around him, he got up and continued preaching and praising God.

Paul traveled on to Jerusalem to testify before the Council of Elders. James was head of the Jerusalem assembly, and he had the opportunity then to dispute any of Paul’s teachings.

Peter stood up and admitted that the Jews themselves could not obey the law which he likened to a curse:

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are (Ac 15:10).

After Peter’s testimony, James spoke to the assembly saying:

Therefore it is my judgement that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him (Ac 15:19-21).

James very clearly establishes the foundation of Mosaic Law, but the sticking points were the hundreds of statutes and ordinances—like circumcision and dietary restrictions—that Jewish believers wanted to impose upon the Gentiles.

The Council drew up a letter to be distributed amongst the Gentiles for their instruction:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well (Ac 15:28-29).

This edict was sent out with the authority of the Council of Apostles and Elders; and we cannot ignore that there were no instructions regarding circumcision or keeping of Shabbat (Sabbath)—signs which Jehovah gave specifically to the children of Israel.

We know that James wrote his epistle to Jewish believers who had been dispersed due to persecution. The doctrine of grace was difficult for them to understand, and some mistook it to mean that the law of works was abrogated.

James exhorts his readers to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (Jas 1:22).

He adds:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (Jas 1:27).

We are saved by faith for good works. Or as Paul wrote to Titus:

Christ redeemed us from every lawless deed to be a people zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14).

We conclude that James and Paul are in agreement.

Next: Christ is Our Atonement