Keep in mind while reading that this series of questions came through my friend, Alan, after he had an encounter with a Church leader who asked him about all the New Testament Imperatives (aka, Christian commands)
Hello Alan, my friend!
Ah, New Testament Imperatives! You know, that sounds pretty intimidating! Seriously though, I’ve gotten to the point that it almost sounds humorous to hear people pick out their favorite verses as if they were spread out on a buffet table in ala-carte fashion. :) Also, realize that it’s not just the verses that are perverted in this way, but life itself is twisted when we view truth in neat and tidy segregated portions, which we sometimes call doctrines or teachings or truth or rightly dividing the word of truth. Now, as I was just in the process of working on your first question-loaded email, your second one came along this morning, and since they go hand-in-hand I will just give you my thoughts and let the order in which they are answered take care of itself. Okay? :)
As to how we are to handle the works of the flesh, there is quite a bit of confusion in the contemporary grace world. I’m not saying the confusion is valid, only that it abounds among those who are examining its precepts. There is a simple reason for this, for we have been attempting to view grace in varying degrees within the structures and systems of the fleshly logic of religion! As a consequence, we find ourselves treading lightly upon their “inspired” viewpoints hoping we won’t have to explain what we sense as a contradiction. After all, we KNOW there’s a lot of Bible verses that talk about sin, and yet we think grace demands that we’re supposed to IGNORE or OVERLOOK the very real effects of sin all around us.
The works of the flesh are EVIDENT - or OBVIOUS. They are as plain as plain can be. The fallacy is that the religious world is really doing God’s work by exposing sin. The FACT is that the religious mind has ALWAYS been in the business of COVERING UP its own sin by focusing on the specific sins wherein it finds a measure of victory. The fleshly mindset is incredibly, incredibly adaptable. Never forget that!
As it was with the Pharisees when Jesus was being attacked by them, so it is with us as we are being expected to play their game. It only APPEARS that the legal mind is serious about its sin, for what is really going on is a tightrope walk as it hopes to achieve true victory by measuring itself on that same scale by which it approaches the whole idea of salvation. Now, when some REALLY serious sin takes place among the sanctuary of the “spiritual”, the aforesaid righteous ones will convene for the purpose of dealing with this gross sin.
The point is, whoever suggested that this sin is acceptable? Not the life of Christ, that’s for sure! You see, what has happened in our Christian assemblies is that an acceptable quantity and class of sin has been implemented within its framework. Isn’t that exactly what the Pharisees did? They established a framework of serving God in a most righteous form with its rules and by-laws and offered many privileges of membership into the God-squad of the day. Those who dedicated themselves by joining the ranks of the spiritual were set free from supporting their old mom and dad.
But he then further antagonizes the issue by posing a hypothetical situation. “What do we do with a deacon (who is in fact a true believer) in the church who has been caught molesting children? Do you say, ‘Well, I can’t actually call what you did a “sin” since you are forgiven and free’? What about church discipline? Are we imposing Law and bondage on him for pointing out the offensiveness of his conduct?”Alan
You know, this approach of posing a hypothetical situation sounds EXACTLY like many of the confrontations between the religious and Jesus! :) The fleshly mind NEVER changes … or never CAN change. This hypothetical situation probably hides many, many internal conflicts hiding within the conscience of the guy who posed it. To truly communicate with this friend of yours, forget the potential of his suggestion and speak to his heart. What in the world might he be actually dealing with regarding his deacons and elders … or even himself? How many things does he know about that he has let slide and now beats himself up over? How fragile does he regard his whole leadership structure? How many times has he thought about cleaning house only to back off because he knew it would either all fall apart or maybe come back on himself? Never lose sight of the real meaning of hypothetical questions and scenarios.
We have often read a sense of hypothetical into the parables and stories that Jesus told … but I don’t think they were. I think stories like the Good Samaritan were actual happenings fresh in the memories of the hearers. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the priest and the Levite who passed by on the opposite side of the road might have been in the crowd, or may have been one of the ones who confronted Jesus in the first place. Until Jesus told that story, the religious assumption would have demanded that the actions of the aforementioned religious leaders were not only appropriate, but also RIGHTEOUS. After all, these men of God had to keep themselves clean and pure in order to serve God. And who might the wounded man have been? How did the religious community regard his fate? Was he obviously being judged by God in the near-death experience at the hands of those thieves? Remember, the reason Jesus told the story in the first place was in the context of being challenged by a Biblical lawyer.
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in THE LAW? How does it read TO YOU?’ And he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your NEIGHBOR as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have ANSWERED correctly; DO THIS, and you will live.’ BUT WISHING TO JUSTIFY HIMSELF, he said to Jesus, ‘And WHO is my “neighbor”?’ Jesus replied and said, ‘A CERTAIN MAN …’ Luke 10:25-30
Here is the bottom line: But wishing to justify himself, he basically said HYPOTHETICALLY speaking, who are we talking about here? But Jesus got so real his answer cut through the crap and exposed the fakery behind the question itself. With all its pomp and circumstance, the flesh is still pretty obvious. When we pose such questions we are merely trying to justify our own sorry legally-entrenched fleshly perceptions.
You know what hurt the absolute MOST in this story? The fact that the hero was a despised non-person in the sight of the man challenging the morals of Jesus (as well as that of the rest of the crowd). By the way, a Samaritan was a cross-breed between a Jew and (I think) a Canaanite. A current equivalent would be something akin to descendants of Osama bin Laden and an American who turned her back on her own people. Many in our country would rather kill such offspring and would consider them despised by God, as well as by all “good” Americans. But in this probably-true story, they would have already known that one of their own people had been rescued by a piece of trash while their own leaders left him to die because they were too damned busy doing what they thought was God’s work!
Jesus didn’t let the lawyer off easy, for he made him answer his own question. “Which of these three do you think proved to be a ‘neighbor’ to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” It’s not recorded, but I’ll bet this was one of the most difficult obvious answers this man ever had to give. He couldn’t even bring himself to say, “The Samaritan”. No, he tried to keep it impersonal: “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus hits him with the OBVIOUS punch-line: “Go and do likewise.” Oh, yeah, we think this moral of the story was some kind of grace imperative. How BOGUS! The fact is that this man had his whole religious structure ripped to shreds in front of the crowd he had hoped to impress with his technical righteousness about the getting of eternal life. He, along with all the religious-minded in the crowd, were slam-dunked into the pit of despair regarding their own scriptural performance standards.
Here’s the point: By their OWN interpretation of the Law, through the very admission of one of their Biblical technicians, they were shown to be less able to do God’s will than the worst human they could imagine. The fact that we have learned this story by the title “Good Samaritan” only underscores our total ignorance as to its scathing conclusion!
It is the LEGAL mind that establishes this form of godliness that ALLOWS for a multitude of sin, and then that same legal mind turns around and demands to know if the mind of Christ is suggesting that it’s morally okay to sin in such-and-such a fashion! This is the whole underlying motivation behind all the attacks made on Jesus by the religious community. And instead of backing off the obviousness of their built-in sin acceptability standards, Jesus either seemed to answer them in a totally unrelated manner or else he pounded them over the head with those standards. What Jesus did was something like pulling the lever on the huge trap-door they themselves had constructed, and they fell down through the floor and into the chute beneath them.
Is sin okay in any sense? God forbid (as Paul is translated to have written)!
Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Are we imposing Law and bondage on him for pointing out the offensiveness of his conduct?Alan
This is backward. It is the imposing of Law and bondage that has stimulated the offensiveness of his conduct to begin with! Now, if I am imposing this Law and bondage on such a man — which means that I am existing in the same insane mindset without having been caught — and then I turn around and do what I believe is God’s will by pointing out the offensiveness of HIS conduct, I am doing nothing more than judging with unrighteous judgment. In other words, MORE LAW and BONDAGE on top of the already existing condemnation.
HOWEVER if I am viewing all things through the NEW creation, I will not be in confusion as to the nature of the one “caught in any trespass”. I will KNOW that this man has been living under the influence of justifying his behavior by laws and principles and has no real option BUT to be caught up in breaking laws. If I approach him with the “spirit of gentleness” — which is not an attitude but the REALITY of having been set free from sin and made alive toward God — then I can actually address the REAL problem behind his sin. The spirit of gentleness demands that I see MYSELF according to the same life and reminds me that I, too, will fall into the same bondage by pointing out the offensiveness of his conduct. Geez, do we REALLY suppose that one made alive in Christ does not ALREADY KNOW the offensiveness of the sin stimulated by the law?
The fact is that if this hypothetical man is indeed in Christ then there has been a war going on inside him in which he sees himself condemned in a gut-level way. WE have been that hypothetical man enough times to know the sense of unworthiness and isolation from God one feels that comes with the territory.
Are we imposing Law and bondage on him for pointing out the offensiveness of his conduct?Alan
Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES! The question gives itself away! If I think I need to point out a believer’s sin I am making an unspoken — but obviously agreed upon — ASSUMPTION that God has not given this man His Spirit, because I ASSUME he does NOT know. But he knows all too well, and THAT is the problem! I am assuming that the life of CHRIST is NOT sufficient and therefore I am NEEDED to do some convicting of sin.
Ignore the problem? NO! The fact is that I CANNOT even come close to addressing the reality of the problem unless I am seeing it ALL through Christ. I will be of no good to my brother if I come to him as a spiritual superior who has followed some kind of Principles of Spiritual Living better than he has.
What will this pastor offer to the offensive brother? What standard of behavior? If the man is in Christ he ALREADY KNOWS how he ought to act, but it has flown far past him. After he points out the offensiveness of his conduct … then what? What salvation is declared? What hope is to be offered? Will he simply be pushed further into condemnation by adding to his already incessant voice of condemnation?
Does this pastor not know how to truly communicate so that he would be made totally unaware that one of his deacons was living under law? Maybe he simply doesn’t know the good news but only the message of condemnation. Maybe his supposed deacon doesn’t really have the life of Christ but has been elevated to this position based on fleshly considerations in the first place. Maybe this pastor has spent far too much time making determinations based upon appearances, and the reality of viewing all through Christ is simply too ethereal to him. You see, the question is really not about the hypothetical situation of a hypothetical deacon, it is about this pastor’s own thoughts of inadequacy.
In addition, his problem is not really with the soteriological argument (i.e., mixing works with grace for justification - which I believe is truly “another Gospel”). His problem lies with how all of this works with sanctification. Alan
There really is no difference! No, WE’VE made up those systematic distinctions in order to be able to preach grace for one, and law for the other. Our perception of this so-called soteriological argument is that of PROJECTION. What I mean by this is that our concept of Justification cannot be imagined off into the future as if we can somehow be declared righteous for the purpose of going to heaven, but is merely the projection of our PRESENT sense of unrighteousness and inadequacy. We think we NEED a doctrine to tell us that our place in heaven will be secured because we are convinced that any sanctification-type of righteousness is severely lacking.
Don’t misunderstand me here, for I’m not denying any future staying power of our deliverance in Christ. The fact is that our teachings about Heaven far over-compensate for the relatively small quantity of material written in the Bible concerning it. This is because WE have a problem with knowing that our life in Christ is entirely sufficient. We think we need this security documented in a heaven vs. hell scenario, and to have it written down in our doctrines to convince us that we will still be with Him when our physical presence on this earth is ended. If I have a problem with what is called sanctification then I have a problem with Christ’s sufficiency. Period. I have a problem with the lack of concrete evidence of a life that is so contrary with what I can see and understand.
Well, this short treatise will have to do for now as my lunch is getting cold. :)