I saw a Christian movie last night called “The Time Changer.” It was very thought provoking, even though the acting was mediocre at best. This post is not really about the movie, but I need to give you a brief synopsis to get into my subject.
In the movie a Bible school professor from 1890 writes a book. One of his colleagues then sends him 100 years into the future so he can see what effect his sortÂ of ideas have on society. The movie does a great job at making us look at our American lifestyle in the light of past values. However, what I want to talk about is the strange and unthinking application of the filmmaker’s pet doctrine to the situation in the movie.
The professor from 1890 is shocked at the behavior of both society and Christians in 1990. By his standards, they have lost morality to such an extent that he is certain it must be the last days. He compares 1990’s America to 2 Timothy 3, where Paul says that in the last days people will be “lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents,” etc. Amazingly, however, when he discusses the source of the problem with a 1990’s Christian, she says, “People are beginnig to rely on their own goodnessÂ to achieve salvation, as if they could earn their way to heaven when it’s a free gift from God through Christ.”
I was so surprised I laughed out loud. The reason that people are lovers of their own selves, covetous, etc. is because they’re trying to earnÂ their way to heaven by goodness? Has anything more ridiculous ever been said?
The problem is that evangelicals only know one doctrine. “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” So even though their doctrine has no application to the problem they’reÂ discussion–not even remotely–they apply it anyway. Ridiculous.
What’s even more ridiculous is that their doctrine, a false one sent from hell, is a large cause of the problem. It’s not that people today are selfish and sinning because they believe the evangelical doctrine of going to heaven apart from works; it’s that the doctrine, false as it is, does not produce Christians or obtain grace from God. Therefore, the Christianity that holds that doctrine is pitiful and brings shame and not glory to the name of God. Thus, the society around that religion abandons God and goes their own way. There is no salt to preserve nor light to guide society where the evangelical doctrine of “no works” holds sway.
Paul did indeed say that a man is justified by faith apart from works. What Paul did not ever say is that people would go to heaven apart from works. In fact, he says quite the opposite over and over and over again. Those who practice the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, he says in Gal. 5:19-21. Evangelicals don’t get it, so he says the same thing in 1 Cor. 6:9-11 and Eph. 5:5. They still don’t get it, so he tells them that if they want eternal life, they need to patiently continue to do good in Rom. 2:6-7 and Gal. 6:8-9. They still don’t get it, so he tells them that they will be judged for their works, whether good or bad, in 2 Cor. 5:10. They still don’t get it, so Peter tells them that they need to add numerous qualities to their faith if they hope to enter the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:5-11). They still don’t get it, so the Lord himself out and out says that those who do not do the will of his Father in heaven will not enter the kingdom (Matt. 7:21).
They still don’t get it, and they don’t get it so badly that they suggest that people with no interest in morality whatsoever are that way because they’re trying to get to heaven by morality?
This was not a mistake or loose slip of the tongue. It was the central theme of the film. In another spot, one of the characters says, “People are deceived into thinking that if they lead a good life they will receive God’s approval and attain heaven.” I have to think that since Peter said that God accepts every person who fears him and works righteousness (Acts 10:35), and Paul said that God will repay eternal life to those who seek it by patiently continuing to do good (Rom. 2:7), that the movie character meant that Peter and Paul are the ones deceiving people.
God will judge everyone according to their works, even Christians (1 Pet. 1:17), and it is knowing that good works are required to enter heaven that should drive a person to Christ. People don’t need us to tell them that everyone’s a sinner. They know it. We don’t have to tell them to cry out, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death.” As soon as they know righteousness is required of them, they will see their need for help in righteousness. You will never find an apostle preaching to the lost that they are sinners. They teach the church how those things work, so you will find plenty of mention in letters to churches that all men are sinners. However, scour Acts as you may, you will not find them having to teach sinners their need of being forgiven. They preach that Christ is the Judge of the living and the dead, and the lost figure out quickly, without help, that they are in need of favor from that Judge!
Realizing their need of favor, they are quick to cry out, “What must I do to be saved?” Their question is the exact equivalent of Paul’s “who shall deliver me from this body of death?” They are asking what will forgive their past sins and change their future conduct enough to face the Judge of all. The answer is faith in Christ. The answer is only faith in Christ. If you wish to be justified, transformed, and sanctified, it is only grace that will do that, and grace is only obtained by faith.
However, none of this changes the fact that there is a Judge and a judgment to be feared. Peter says, “If you address as Father him who impartially judges according to each man’s work, then conduct yourself throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:17).
I’ll quit there. There are a number of long, clear passages that state the things I’ve just said outright. Romans 6, the whole chapter, is one of them, and Romans 8:1-14, the answer to Romans 7, is another. The open-minded will see these things are obviously true. However, I will address a couple of other false ideas taught in the movie.
One idea that leads to this whole doctrine of going to heaven apart from works is that God requires perfection at the judgment. This is not true. It is nonsense, and it makes a monsterÂ of God, for he made it so that it was impossible for men to be perfect, yet he will torture them eternally in flames for their imperfections. Ridiculous. God is a just Judge, the Scripture says, and a just Judge does not torment a person eternally even for a crime like stealing, much less for a white lie.
Another fiction, this one not addressed in the movie, is that God requires blood to be merciful. Once we sin, according to this bizarre doctrine, God requires something or someone to die. He doesn’t even care who it is, as long as some person or animal dies. What sort of god this is, I do not know, but it is not the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, nor the God of the prophets. The prophets tell us that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is and always has been merciful, extending mercy and lovingkindness to thousands, abundant in pardon, and forgiving iniquity and sin. Ezekiel makes it clear that he will do this in return for simple repentance. No one need die.
In fact, David, who sinned so grievously that he not only committed adultery but also murdered the husband, said that God wasn’t interested inÂ sacrifice. “ForÂ you do not wantÂ sacrifice, or else I would give it…The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart; these, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:16-17).
There is so much wrong with what the evangelicals say about God that it is hard to know where to begin. For years it seemed that every time I turned around I was discovering some new fiction that had been handed to me in Protestant churches. A lot of this turned up as I studied the earliest church writings, from the era immediately after the apostles. At first, I thought it was they who were in error and not us. As time went on, though, it was clear that they lived in unity and holiness, something we evangelicals were merely longing for. Like Paul, they could be confident that he who had begun a good work in them would continue it until the day of Christ Jesus down to the last member of their congregation. We were fortunate if 5 or 10 percent of our congregations continued growing in the Lord throughout their lives.
One of the things they pointed out was the problem with Cain’s sacrifice. As an evangelical I heard and taught that the problem was that Cain offered grain and Abel offered livestock, aÂ blood sacrifice. This didn’t deceive the early Christians, who knew that God isn’t interested in sacrifices (Jer. 7:22-23). It’s the purity of the person sacrificing that purifies the sacrifice, not vice versa. So they knew that the problem was not the sacrifice, the problem was the heart. Cain’s sacrifice was rejected because Cain was wicked, not because his offering was grain.
Scripture, as has almost always been the case, backs the early Christians. John tells us that Cain slew Abel because Cain’s deeds were wicked (1 Jn. 3:12). It’s clear then that Cain was wicked before he slew Abel. In fact, Genesis tells us that Cain was angry because his sacrifice was rejected and that’s why he killed Abel. So it’s clear that Scripture ties Cain’s wickedness and the rejection of his sacrifice together. Genesis 4:7 makes it even more clear. “If you do good, will you not be accepted?” God asks. Why was Cain’s offering rejected? Because his deeds were not good; they were evil.
The problem American society has is not that it is trying to get to heaven by good works. The problem American society has it that it doesn’t care about nor believe in heaven because Christians are not trying to get to heaven by good works. Because Christians are not crying out to God for the grace that breaks the power of sin (Rom. 6:14), being content to slide into heaven on the strength of a sacrifice that was actually meant to purify and transform them (Rom. 8:3,4), there is no proof being offered to the world that a God of power, the Ruler of Heaven, exists. The proof Christ offered was the unity and love of his disciples (Jn. 13:34,35; 17:20-23), but the power to live in that unity and love is lacking because the gospel being proclaimed in America is, in general, a false one.
Don’t get me wrong. I know there are good Christians even in America, though they’re relatively rare, being not much more–or perhaps no more–common than good people among atheists and Buddhists. There are people who have experienced the power of Christ and know that they must live for him. However, the proof Christ offered to the world was not a few isolated disciples, it was disciples that were as united as he and the Father.
That, my friends, will take a faith that fears God.