Due Diligence

“Due Diligence” is a legal IRS term. You are allowed to take a questionable deduction on a tax return as long as you have done your “due diligence.” This means that you have researched your deduction enough to confirm a reasonable possibility that it is a legitimate deduction. If the IRS denies your deduction and you have done your due diligence, you will pay the additional tax plus interest and penalties. If they deny your deduction and determine that you have not given due diligence, you will likely be prosecuted.

I think this applies to Bible interpretation as well. Jesus had little tolerance for those who rejected his teachings because of tradition (Mark 7:5-13).

I have a lot of discussions with other Christians about Bible interpretation. I understand that people are people, and we all are subtly different. We are all biased in one direction or another. That does not excuse us from giving “due diligence” to the things that are important. Here are two examples:

An Example of Not Doing Due Diligence

When I was first realizing what the Bible teaches about water baptism, I wrote a four-page letter to the pastor of the Baptist Church I was attending. I asked if I could meet with him about it. When we got together, he tried to intimidate me with accusations, but they weren’t true. Then he simply told me I should go to another church. Finally, I asked him if he had any response to the letter.

He focused in on Acts 22:16. There Paul recounts that Ananias had told , “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” In this passage, he said, “‘Get up’ and ‘be baptized’ go together, and ‘wash away’ and ‘call on his name’ go together. The baptism is unrelated to the washing away of sins.”

This was an example of no diligence at all, much less an appropriate level of diligence. That pastor would have been satisfied with any answer at all, whether it really explained the verse or not. He spent no time at all deciding whether or not “baptism” and “washing away your sins” were actually related. He did not want them to be, so they weren’t. He did not want truth, he wanted the discussion (and me) to go away. (This is the kind of thing Jesus was talking about when he said, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.”)

Unfortunately, this is what most religious people do. No examination, no deep thought, just a steadfast devotion to the status quo. In other words, for most Christians, tradition is enough.

The problem with this is that evangelicals have many conflicting tradition. Jesus prayed for us to be one so that the world would know that God sent him, but we refuse to face and tear down the traditions that stop us from being one.

Not Doing Due Diligence, Second Example

This may infuriate some people, but I am pretty sure those whom the following would infuriate quit reading my blog long ago.

2 Peter 2:20-21 says: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.”

I am not sure how anyone can read that passage without rejecting eternal security. I have only heard two responses to it:

  1. The chapter is about false prophets, so only false prophets can have this happen to them.
  2. This is a difficult verse.

The first argument is senseless, and the second is false. There is nothing difficult about 2 Peter 2:20-21.

The real difficulty with this passage is that a lot of people do not like it or agree with it. If that’s the case, it is better to tear 2 Peter out of your Bible. It would be much easier to justify removing 2 Peter than to twist 2 Peter 2:20-21 into anything other than a clear statement that Christians can fall away so badly that they will be judged worse than they would have if they had not heard the Gospel.

2 Peter 2:20-21 is a perfect example of the need for due diligence. It creates a massive need for diligence. There are a lot of verses in John’s Gospel and letters that seem to contradict 2 Peter 2:20-21. In fact, the due diligence required is really too difficult for the average Christian. It is our teachers and leaders who should be making the effort to produce an overview of the faith that includes both John and 2 Peter.

Unfortunately, if Christianity were taxes, most pastors and teachers would be in jail for not doing due diligence. All of you suffer for it.

One thing I can tell you is that ignoring verses like 2 Peter 2:20-21 is stupid. Even a child could figure out that this passage warns you not become entangled in the world because you will be judged worse than unbelievers if you do. Ignoring such a clear warning is just stupid.

You can leave the balancing of John and 2 Peter to people who have the time and skills to give you a good explanation of how they correlate rather than contradict. You cannot, however, ignore the warning.

You also need to dismiss any teacher that tells you this passage is not true. Anyone who tells you that you can become entangled in the defilements of the world and be better off than you were before you heard the Gospel (i.e., go to heaven) is wrong. You can ignore their reconciliation of John and 2 Peter because they have reconciled the two in such a way that 2 Peter becomes untrue. A person capable of reconciling the two will show how both are true, not how one is wrong or false.

The Consequences of Not Doing Due Diligence

If you fail to do due diligence with your taxes, you may get away with it. The IRS is not omniscient or omnipresent, and they do not audit every tax return. God, on the other hand, will call us to task one day for every idle word we have spoken (Matt. 12:36). Your lack of due diligence will be found out.

Nonetheless, most of us fear the IRS more than we fear God. If we did, we might be more afraid of failing to do due diligence with the Scriptures. I’m relatively sure that God is not going to care whether we gave diligence to when the rapture will occur; on the other hand, I am certain that he will care whether we save our sinning brother from death of his soul (Jas. 5:19-20). We need to do due diligence about what we should be giving due diligence to!

Posted in Bible, Dealing with Scripture Honestly, Evangelicals, Modern Doctrines, Unity, Verses Evangelicals Ignore, Verses Versus Verses | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Three of My Favorite Early Church Father Quotes

There are three passages in the early church fathers that stand out in my memory. I wanted to share them with you.

“Among us you will find uneducated persons, craftsmen, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth.They do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves.” (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians, ch. 11, c. A.D. 175)

“It’s a beautiful thing to God when a Christian does battle with pain. When he faces threats, punishments and tortures by mocking death and treading underfoot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his freedom in Christ as a standard before kings and princes; when he yields to God alone, and—triumphant and victorious—he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced the sentence upon him … God finds all these things beautiful.” (Minucius Felix, The Octavius, ch. 37, A.D. 160-230)

“My friend Cecilius, let Socrates, the Athenian buffoon, confess that he knew nothing at all. Let all the philosophers go on deliberating. Let the great philosopher Simonides go on forever putting off a decision about what he believes.
We despise the bent brows of the philosophers, because we know them to be corrupters, adulterers, and tyrants. They have great eloquence, but they’re speaking against vices that they themselves live in.
We, on the other hand, who do not carry our wisdom in our clothes, but in our minds, don’t speak great things; we live them. We boast that we have found what they have sought for with the utmost eagerness but have not been able to find.” (Minucius Felix, The Octavius, ch. 38, A.D. 160-230)

You can read a modern English condensed version of The Octavius: an Early Christian Debate at https://www.christian-history.org/the-octavius-early-christian-debate.html.

I hope you enjoyed these quotes as much as I have the last 29 years.

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Revivalism and Conversion

This is, I think, the fourth time that I have turned one of Jon’s comments into a post. He asks good questions and offers challenges that I either have not thought of or did not feel I had the time to address in a post.

In a post about true conversion, I wrote: “It seems to me that Washer was reviving a process of conversion I read about in some of the great British evangelists of the 19th and 20th centuries. I think especially of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, and Charles Finney. Washer wants to sit with people and explain the Gospel to them and pray until they know they are converted, even if it takes hours. Finney called it ‘the mourner’s bench,’ and he had them come repent and pray there until they knew they were saved.”

Conversion by Agonizing

Jon answered with, “A similar approach of agonising protracted conversion is evident in the writings of Edwards and other Puritans and sometimes can be detected in contemporary Calvinists like John Piper, John MaCarthur and Tim Conway … I am not exaggerating when I say that I HATE this approach. I hate it because reading and hearing about it has been the no.1 cause of doubt, despondency and lack of assurance in my Christian life for over 10 years. I hate it because it paints Christ out to be a reluctant saviour, who has to be grovelled to before anyone has the remotest chance of being saved by him. Some of the Calvinists even said that you could seek and cry and seek and seek yet still end up in hell because God simply decided not to save you. I hate it because it drains any encouragement out of sweet promises biblical promises (such as Matt 11:28, Matt 12:20, Luke 18:14, John 3:16, John 6:37, Acts 2:21, Rom 10:9, Heb 4:16, John 1:9 among many) by adding small print (e.g. they are not true for you unless you “feel” and “know” the Holy Spirit and see loads of fruit in your life).”

I asked Jon if I could use his comment in a post because, despite the post I wrote, I agree with this. I also believe that a lot of people who claim to be converted are not really converted, and we can know this because they make no effort to obey Jesus’ commands. In fact, they are filled with excuses, amply supplied by some who preach faith only, for not obeying, or even being interested in, Jesus’ commands. The apostle John, on the other hand, tells us that anyone who isn’t actively obeying Jesus commands is lying if they claim to know God (1 Jn. 2:3-4).

So we have this very true dilemma. We want people to be saved, but we don’t want people wondering whether Jesus wants to save them. John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, had that problem. In The Jerusalem Sinner Saved by Grace (I think that was the book) he described 5 years of wondering whether God wanted to save him before he rejected those Calvinist chains, believed, and was set free and saved.

Is Agonizing Prayer for Conversion Scriptural?

Jon wrote, “I don’t think there is huge scriptural warrant for this kind of approach to conversion … but it still, to this day, sometimes causes me to doubt and paints an odious picture of God and Christ in my mind.”

In the linked post, I agreed with Jon in advance that I could not back this process scripturally. I just know that a lot of people who pray the sinner’s prayer, as well as a lot of people who respond to the Gospel scripturally (with baptism), are not converted. I base this on the description of a Christian given in 1 John.

Near the end of John’s first epistle, he writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” This verse is often used, most notably in the extremely popular Evangelism Explosion method, to assure a new convert of salvation.

Those who use 1 John 5:13 in this way apparently have no idea that John wrote a letter before writing that sentence. Even “these thing I have written you” does not prompt them to look at the things John wrote. Crazy.

John’s letter, written to those who believe in the name of the Son of God, says that if we do not keep Jesus’ commands, walk in the light, and love one another, then we do not know Jesus. A converted person, even though he/she sins (1 Jn. 1:7-2:2), has a habit of practicing righteousness by obeying Jesus’ commands (1 Jn. 2:3-4; 3:7-10).

So what do we do about this dilemmma? Many, or possibly most, of our conversions do not produce the converts that the apostle John described. On the other hand, the long hours of agonizing prayer that Washer describes, and John Bunyan and my friend Jon hate, have no scriptural precedent.

Solving the Dilemma

The obvious solution to the problem, and one tried by lots and lots of people, is to disciple these converts. The problem is that many of them will neither show up, nor allow themselves to be contacted. I remember, way too painfully, my first year as a Christian and the people we tried to follow up with after “converting” them during our church visitation with them. All but two refused any further contact with us.

I should comment here that I have recently been to a discipleship (and evangelism) training camp conducted by Curtis Sergeant, who has had tremendous success founding disciple-making movements. The movements he has started, and which his trainees have started, have reached tens of millions of people who continue together in small churches that have stayed in fellowship with one another. Tens of millions is not an exaggeration.

Perhaps what has worked so well in those disciple-making movements (DMM) has been two things: their definition of conversion, and their instant follow-up. In these DMMs, a person who prays a prayer or gets baptized is immediately asked to list people to whom they can pass on their conversion experience. They are asked to “make a list of five people you can share your story with.”

Those who do not want to tell anyone are obviously not really converted. Those who do follow through now have friends they are already reaching out to and a mentor who is following up with them as they try. The training continues from there, teaching them how to study the Bible, how to meet together, how to have accountability groups, etc.

Hmm. Maybe I should have written those last four paragraphs rather than writing that post on true conversion.

Believing Without Feeling

Jon wrote: “As I have said before, I have had zero tangible experience of the Holy Spirit despite praying for it many, many, many, many, many times (and still do most days). It seems to be like I have two choices:

  1. “Believe the revivalists and preparationists when they say that experience is of the essence of salvation, that I am headed for hell, and therefore assume that God is simply ignoring all of my prayers and is reluctant to save me.
  2. “Cling to the promises of God in scripture by naked faith and try to press on as best I can.

“As the former will no doubt eventually lead to some sort of mental break down, the only option is the latter. I am not saying I am opposed to experience. I really wish I did know joy unspeakable, to be able to discern the clear witness of the Spirit and to know the love of God deep down. Until that time though, to have any chance of hoping in God’s goodness, all I have is faith.”

Jon’s words here are critical. My complaint in “true conversion” post was about people with no desire and no effort to obey Jesus’ commands, not about those who didn’t “feel” converted. Unfortunately, in the process of talking about Paul Washer’s solution, I most certainly suggested that a person ought to feel converted. That I have to retract.

Who is more to be commended, the person who has a lightning-strike, glorious conversion that fills them with instant joy, or the one to whom this did not happen, yet he/she presses on to follow and obey Christ the best he can?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29).

Based on that we might say—indeed, we must say—that Jon is in a much better position than me. I had a lightning-strike conversion that amazed and changed me to my core. As the Scripture says, “to whom much is given, much will be required.” How much greater will be the reward for those who have not felt the power of conversion, yet have faithfully served?

Two Questions

When we question whether the conversions we are seeing are true, there are two questions involved. One is in regard to what true conversion is, but the other is how to obtain true conversions in those to whom we preach.

Those two questions got confused in my post. In it, I was really questioning what I and those around me here in Selmer need to do in order to see true conversions. In the process I touched in true conversion without focusing on what it is. Let me do that now.

True conversion happens when a person quits living for themselves and starts living for Jesus. It is clear that this involves obeying his commands and loving our brothers and sisters (all of 1 John). Based on everything above, I also conclude that it does not necessarily include feeling anything. Jon is not the only person I know who doesn’t have the feelings, yet is faithfully trying to serve Jesus. There is also the experience of St. John of the Cross and his famous “dark night of the soul.” (If you don’t know about that, it is well worth googling and thinking about.)

That said, there is a promise that the Holy Spirit will bear witness with our spirit that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). This is something Jon has agonized over. I can pray and wish for him to have this witness, but on the last day, none of us will be judged by the warm feeling we had in our chest (sorry, Mormons). We will be judged by our works (sorry, evangelicals; see Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:5-8; 2 Cor. 5:10-11; Gal. 6:7-9; 1 Pet. 1:17; etc.).

As said above, I probably should have focused on a successful method of producing obedient converts. You can read about the success of Disciple-Making Movements among Islam nations and in Asia in the books, Miraculous Movements and T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution. (I get a commission of you buy the books through these links.)

For information about discipleship movements in your area, go to 2414now.net.

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Discipleship and True Conversion

On Monday, two days ago, a pastor wondered out loud with me whether we were discipling unsaved people. He talked about his experience of discipleship, which involved him pursuing those who could teach him, searching the Scriptures, seeking God in prayer, and going to church whenever he could because he was excited. That was my experience of discipleship too. I pursued being discipled.

Yesterday, I went to spend nine minutes on our elliptical exercise machine. I looked for a good Christian nine-minute video, and Youtube offered me Paul Washer questioning the sinner’s prayer right on the front page. It was a little over seven minutes long, so I chose that. I turned it on, and Washer immediately began pulling words right out of my pastor friend’s mouth. He yelled that we were discipling goats.

As an aside, I am not used to being yelled at by those teaching me. I am sure many of you regularly experience that, but I almost never do. Washer’s audience was very supportive; he even commented on it. I can’t figure out why the yelling was necessary.

Anyway, he said that people who are saved by a quick gospel presentation and a quick sinner’s prayer are saved despite the process, not because of it. I concur. Nothing biblical about that process.

Washer’s alternative to the sinner’s prayer was not baptism, which is the New Testament’s “sinner’s prayer.” In the early centuries of the Church, but after the apostles’ time, there was preaching, then baptism, then the elders prayed over the convert and anointed him/her with oil to receive the Holy Spirit (but no waiting for tongues to happen). The apostles did the same thing, but when the apostles laid hands on a person, it was obvious the person received the Holy Spirit. Whether it was tongues, prophecy, or something else, when a person received the Holy Spirit in Acts everyone else could tell.

Forgive me if I am misrepresenting Paul Washer. I am about to support him, anyway. Here is a link to the 27-minute long video I watched after the 7-minute video. You can decide whether I understood what he was saying.

It seems to me that Washer was reviving a process of conversion I read about in some of the great British evangelists of the 19th and 20th centuries. I think especially of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, and Charles Finney. Washer wants to sit with people and explain the Gospel to them and pray until they know they are converted, even if it takes hours. Finney called it “the mourner’s bench,” and he had them come repent and pray there until they knew they were saved.

I could argue against Washer with Scriptures about baptism and citations from the early church fathers. Really, though, I like William Booth’s and Charles Finney’s way of getting thoroughly converted converts who, for the most part, disciple themselves better than my way of not getting such converts.

I am realizing that one of the reasons the Holy Spirit fell with such power on the apostles’ converts is because the apostles were filled with power from God! When Philip baptized the Samaritans in Acts 8, he was puzzled that his converts did not receive the Holy Spirit. He did not assume that even though he saw no evidence, they had believed and been baptized, so they must have the Holy Spirit. It seems clear that based on nothing but experience—nothing happening—he concluded those baptized, believing Samaritans did not have the Holy Spirit. So he called for the apostles, and Peter and John came. They came, laid hands on the Samaritans, and something so astonishing happened that Simon the Magician offered Peter money to buy his super-power.

As you know, Peter rebuked him, and as you may know, Simon went off and started the gnostic religion that troubled the churches for a good 150 years or more.

I want that power, and I am sure not going to offer anyone money to buy it.

It is not that I have no power. I have seen many stirred from complacency to fervor in their walk with Christ. That saves a soul from death just like converting a sinner does (Jas. 5:19-20), so I am grateful for God using me. Nonetheless, I also want to see those to whom I preach the Gospel wind up truly and thoroughly converted.

I am completely ready to agree with Paul Washer. I need to take the time to get a person there.

Here is what I think is going on.

Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, and he found the apostles failing to cast out a demon. He told the apostles, “These kind do not come out without prayer and fasting.” Then, without praying and fasting, he cast out the demon.

Jesus was not the apostles. The apostles needed to pray and fast to do some of the things Jesus did without prayer and fasting. It was not that prayer and fasting was required to cast out the demon. Prayer and fasting was required to empower the apostles so that they would have the faith and power to cast out the demon. Jesus stayed in a powerful, full-of-faith state (and he prayed and fasted a lot as well).

The apostles got instantaneous results when they laid hands on their converts and prayed for them because they too were men of power and faith. Later, though, their descendants were not so powerful. That may be because the apostles stayed closer to God. Paul certainly made it clear that he was thorough in his self-discipline (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Php. 3:8-14).

Either way, I am ready to look for results. I am ready to stick with a person as long as is needed until their eyes fill with wonder, and they cry out, “I am saved,” or until they do what I did, which was to ask God, “What did you do to me?”

I don’t want to disciple any more disinterested people.

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“Faith Apart from Works” and “Not by Faith Alone”

This is from the comments on “Faith and Works: A Brief Summary”, my June 19 blog post. I wrote this in response to a good question.

Your comment (that the only mention of faith alone in the bible is in James 2:24 where it says “not by faith alone”) is one of my favorite things to point out to those who think we can live however we want and go to heaven, but to be fair, it is not that simple. While the only occurrence of faith alone in Scripture is “not by faith alone,” we also find “faith apart from works” and “not by works” in the Bible … quite often. Thus, we do have to have a thought-out explanation. The fact is, we have been (past tense) saved “apart from works” (Eph. 2:8-9) and “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit. 3:5).

2 Peter 1:3-11 is my explanation. Verses 3-4 explain the great salvation we can receive by faith without works of any kind. We receive everything that pertains to life and godliness, we are rescued from the corruption that is in the world through lust, and we become partakers of his divine nature. This is the new creation spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 and Ephesians 2:10.

One we have received that incredible transformation, we then “diligently” add to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. If these things are in us and increasing, then we will never be barren or unfruitful, and we will never stumble. If we don’t add these things, then we are blinded, and we will soon forget that we were every rescued from our old sins.

Thus, Peter concludes, “Be diligent to make your calling and election sure because if you do these things, you will never stumble. For in this way an entrance shall be supplied to you richly into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

We are saved by faith, apart from works, and that salvation is beyond anything we can understand. Once we have that salvation, we must diligently add to our faith by the new life and Spirit that is in us, and then we will reap eternal life, if we do not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9).

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What Jesus Saves Us From

I recently saw what I assume is an atheist/agnostic cartoon. In it Jesus is knocking on the door of an ancient-looking home and saying, “Open the door so I can save you.”

The voice behind the door says, “Save me from what?”

Jesus answers, “From what I am going to do to you if you don’t open the door.”

The meme would be more accurate if Jesus had given a list:

  • … from what my Father is going to do to you if you don’t change your ways;
  • … from the sin that creates devastation in far too many lives;
  • … and from your careless, self-indulgent lifestyle that does nothing to rectify the devastation in so many lives.

I understand. A lot of people don’t believe that God created people or that people are accountable to him. The devastation is overwhelming. They feel hopeless to make a difference, or they feel no sense of accountability for the problems.

Those people will perish in the everlasting fire (Matt. 25:31-46) if we do not warn them or if they do not believe our warning. Jesus tells a story about the fate of a rich man who ignored the beggar at his gate. He became a highly motivated evangelist, but only after it was too late to be one (Luke 16:19-31).

For those of us who do believe that God created us and will hold us accountable for our lives, it is wise to open the door at which Jesus is knocking, and let him save us from our comfortable and careless lives. If we do so, we will have eternity to be comfortable, with no sorrow, no crying, and no pain.

You cannot be comfortable in both places. You can be comfortable here, or you can be comfortable there, but not both. If you are a Christian, you are familiar with the beatitudes, but are you familiar with the woes?

But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger.
Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.
Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! (Luke 6:24-26, NKJV)

Anyone who has read the Bible knows the importance God attaches to helping the down and out (if they are willing to be helped). Jesus ties our judgment at the end of the age to our treatment of the down and out (Matt. 25:31-46). Though we should give priority to our brothers and sisters in the household of God, we are required to extend our purposeful goodness to all (Gal. 6:10; Tobit 2:2).

Some of the ministry I have done recently has opened my eyes to the role of hopelessness in drug addiction and broken marriages. Of course, both these things lead to children raised by one damaged, hopeless parent, extending the pattern of hopelessness and ruined lives.

You’re probably like me. You haven’t a clue how to do anything about the “dregs of society.” There are people who do, and they are looking for your help.

You may, like me, think a lot of megachurches are missing the point. Most, however, have a ministry that benefits the down and out, and that is pretty central to the point. Join them. If you have to sign a statement of faith you don’t agree with to do so, then there are other ministries and other churches that just want godly workers. You don’t have to be a ministry director. Peons (“low ranking workers,” real word, not a pun) change the world too. Brilliant ideas become reality with the labor and sweat of those who did not have the idea.

Yes, we must be born again to see the Kingdom of Heaven. If Jesus knew anything about the judgment, though, you should keep a sharp eye for the needy around you or volunteer to help someone else who is keeping a sharp eye out.

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Good People Go To Heaven; Bad People Perish

As an evangelical, I was taught that good people do not go to heaven; saved people do. Now that Jesus died, it is all about faith. Saved people go to heaven, no matter what they do, and people who do not believe in Jesus go to hell. Good or bad does not matter anymore.

It is easy to see how Protestants get that out of the New Testament. John 6:47, for example, says, “He that believes has eternal life.” Plain and simple, right?

The problem is that the same person who wrote that, the apostle John, also wrote:

One who says, “I know him,” and doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn’t in him. (1 Jn. 2:3-4)

Even more to the point, one chapter before Jesus said, “He that believes has eternal life,” He said:

For the hour comes in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice,and will come out; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (Jn. 5:28-29)

I am using the WEB version, and I changed the last word of that quote to “condemnation” because I believe it as a better translation than “judgment.”

The “do good and receive life” quotes are not just a few. Here are some examples:

  • who will pay back to everyone according to their works: to those who by perseverance in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and incorruptibility, eternal life; but to those who are self-seeking, and don’t obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath, indignation, oppression, and anguish on every soul of man who does evil, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 2:6-9)
  • God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let’s not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don’t give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith.” (Gal. 6:7-10)
  • “Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom. Some of you were such, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11)
  • Know this for sure, that no sexually immoral person, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.” (Eph. 5:5-6)

I could go on and on and on, but let’s pause here. Did you notice the “don’t be deceived” and “know this for sure” and “let no one deceive you” among the bolded words about doing good?

There are also bolded words about what Jesus came to do. After you believe in Jesus, you were unrighteous, like those who have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. But after Jesus’s washing, sanctification, and justification, you are not unrighteous.

Yes, saved people “go to heaven,” but that is because saved people are good and righteous people. If you are not good and righteous, then John says you aren’t really saved; i.e., you don’t know God (1 Jn. 2:3-4). Paul and Peter don’t say you’re not really saved; they just say you’re not going to have a part in God’s kingdom (above and 2 Pet. 1:5-11).

Some may ask, if we still have to do good, then why did Jesus die?

He died so that we can do good!

Jesus Died So We Can Do Good

I am not only going to talk about the atonement here, but also grace. The Scriptures lump those two things together a lot. Let’s look at two places they are lumped together:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works(Tit. 2:11-14)

This paragraph is here just to convince you to read the passage I just quoted before moving on. Notice what it says about grace and about Jesus dying for us.

Okay, next passage:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)

It amazes how often people will hear me teach on this matter, then when I get to Ephesians 2:8, they say,”See! It’s grace, not works!”

Of course!

Let’s look at the New Testament pattern:

  1. We are slaves to sin and, as a result, we cannot live a life of ongoing good works, not even if God gives us a perfect law like the Law of Moses. (Rom. 3; Rom. 7; Eph. 2:1-3)
  2. Jesus died to rescue us from all this. That wonderful gift, that wonderful favor, we know as “grace.”
  3. After grace has come, teaching us that we should deny worldliness and lust (Tit. 2:11-12), we are re-created in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:10), and sin has no more power over us (Rom. 6:14). We can do good works and, in fact, we are zealous for them (Tit. 2:13-14).

Because of that New Testament pattern, we must receive saving grace apart from works. If we are slaves to sin until grace comes, then grace has to come apart from our own righteous deeds. Once it comes, however, then we can do good works.

Jesus did not come to get us to heaven without good works. He came to get us to heaven by our good works.

That is why Paul told Titus to teach Titus 2:11-14 (see above) with all authority, not letting anyone give him a hard time (Tit. 2:15). He also told him to “affirm confidently” that God’s people must be “careful” to maintain good works (Tit. 3:8).

If you are still struggling with this idea, read Romans 7. Then, when you are done, go immediately into Romans 8, and in the first four verses, notice what the difference is between being under the Law of Moses and having Jesus died for us. Under the Law, we sin. After Jesus dies for us, we fulfill the righteousness of the Law. The rest of chapter 8 tells us how to fulfill the righteousness of the Law (by the Holy Spirit).

It has always been true that those who live eternally are those who live a righteous life. Wicked people die. People who were righteous, then become wicked, also die. People who were wicked, then repent and become righteous, live. God considers this justice, and he defends that manner of judgment as just (Ezek. 18:20-30).

Jesus did not die to change that manner of judgment. As we see above it is still the same. He died so that we could do good and live eternally because of that manner of judgment.

Jesus marveled that people did not get that. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” (Luk. 6:46). In another place, he said, “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

Going to Heaven

I hope this does not take away from anything I have written above, but I have to touch on this. The New Testament does not use the phrase “go to heaven.” It talks about inheriting the kingdom of God (in the Gospel of Matthew, “kingdom of heaven”). The kingdom of God is coming to earth (Rev. 20), where we are going to live forever on a renewed earth (2 Pet. 3) with no tears or suffering or death (Rev. 21:4).

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You Do Not Win Battles Without Battling

This blog was a Facebook post, and the FB post was supposed to be just the quote from Micah in the next paragraph. My mind and fingers raced forward almost on their own. I sure hope that was God moving me and that this is helpful.

How shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams? With tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shill I give my firstborn for my disobedience? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O Man, what is good. What does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8)

The context of the familiar verse Micah 6:8 is important. Sacrifices are great for the obedient, but sacrifices, even claiming the sacrifice of Jesus, does nothing for those who do not repent and do not seek to live a life that pleases him.

King David said it well when he wrote, “For you don’t delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:16-17).

Psalm 51 ends with David offering burnt offerings, but look at what he wrote:

“*THEN* you will delight in the sacrifices of righteousness, in burnt offerings and in whole burnt offerings. *THEN* they will offer bulls on your altar.” (Ps. 51:19)

Repentance is first, even in the New Testament. James does not say “trust in Jesus’ sacrifice” to those living in sin, but “lament and mourn and weep.” Paul described his ministry as going about preaching repentance and works fitting for repentance (Acts 26:20). To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22).

What we don’t understand in today’s church is that Jesus’ sacrifice was much more to free us from sin than to forgive us from sin. God promised to forgive the repentant throughout the Old Covenant. The Jews most common praise to him was “Praise ye the Lord, for his mercy endures forever.” Mercy is not new to the New Covenant; the Holy Spirit and deliverance from the power of sin is new to the New Covenant.

Sin will not have power over you because you are not under law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)

This is the great gift of grace that Old Testament saints did not have! God consigned Jews and Gentiles alike under sin so that he could deliver us from sin. Romans 7 describes what the Law could not do. It could not deliver us from the power of sin. God, however, could do what the Law could not do. He did it by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:2-4).

If you are still a slave of sin, then you need to get together with your brothers or sisters and get help. All of us need exhortation/encouragement/consolation “day by day” if we are not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13).

Let’s step up the game, brothers and sisters! Let’s obtain repentance. Let’s cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1), as a team! We grow together, speak the truth in love to one another, and need each other (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 12).

You don’t win battles without battling!!

“Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may get it! … I run, therefore, not with uncertainty. I do not fight like someone boxing the air, but I discipline my body, and I bring it into subjection, lest having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”–The apostle Paul

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Faith, Works, and the Early Church Fathers

A friend told me a couple times recently that the early church fathers disagreed among themselves a lot. I hope to get a chance to finish that conversation with him because that statement is just not true. They were far more united than we are!

A missionary and bishop (head pastor) in the late second century, wrote:

“The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.” (Irenaeus, _Against Heresies_, Bk. I, ch. 10, par. 2)

Note: you can look up all my quotes from the early church fathers at www.earlychristianwritings.com.

Other Christians of that time period would give the same testimony. In fact, Irenaeus, who wrote the quote I just gave, and Tertullian, a Christian lawyer from Carthage about the same time, both argued against heretics based on the amazing unity of the Church.

“The Church” they were talking about are the churches we read about in the Bible (Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, etc.) and other churches those original churches started after the time of the apostles. The “heretics” were gnostics who denied that the God of Israel was the true God.

Why Modern Christians Say the Early Church Fathers Contradict Each Other

There are two reasons Christians say that the early church fathers contradict each other.

1. They are talking about arguments that arose in the fourth century and later, which were a product of growing corruption in the church. (Carnal men are argumentative men, Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Tim. 6:1-6.)

2. They don’t like what the early church fathers taught, so they hope the early church fathers disagree with each other.

3. They don’t understand the early church fathers because they don’t understand the Bible either.

Let me explain number 3.

Contradictions in Our Interpretation of the Bible

There are two verses in the Bible that seem to absolutely contradict. They are:

Romans 3:23: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.

James 2:24: You see then that by works a man is justified and not by faith only.

Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century Reformer, offered his doctor’s cap to anyone who could reconcile those two verses. His own reconciliation of those verses was that the Epistle of James was an “epistle of straw” that had “nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.

It is obvious from the book of Acts (e.g., ch. 15) and from Galatians 2 that James did understand the Gospel and that James and Paul agreed on it. It is obvious from history that the churches of all the apostles got along just fine. They saw no conflict between Paul and James. The problem lies with Martin Luther’s understanding, not with a conflict between James and Paul.

When I first began reading the fathers I was thrilled to find this seeming contradiction in the letter of Polycarp to the Philippians:

“In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that by grace ye are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.”

and …

“But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness …”

Polycarp’s Qualifications

Polycarp was the bishop (head pastor) of the church in Smyrna. Most historians think he was appointed by the apostle John. Smyrna was one of only two churches in Revelation chapters 2-3 that was not rebuked by Jesus. His credentials as a shepherd and teacher are as good as anyone’s who has ever lived outside of the apostles themselves.

I loved this seeming contradiction in Polycarp’s letter because it made it clear that Polycarp understood the conflict between Romans 3:28 and James 2:24. Polycarp’s “contradiction” is much like the “contradiction” between Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-9 and Ephesians 5:5.

In modern times, we wrestle with James 2 so much that we dare not simply repeat what James said, “So we see then that we are justified by works and not faith only.” Most evangelical churches would silence us for saying such a thing, but it is a Bible quote!

That is a problem. A big one!

The Solution

Polycarp did not have that problem. He knew that we “have been” saved (past tense) by faith apart from works, but that if we want to be raised up with Jesus on the last day (future tense), then we better have used the power of our salvation to produce good works through our life. This lines up with what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10 and explains why he could write both that passage and Ephesians 5:5.

Ephesians 2:8-10: For by grace have we been saved, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 5:5: For this you know, that no immoral, unclean, or covetous person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

If you want to delve more deeply into this subject, see my article at https://christian–history-org/sola-fide.html

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Toning Down 1 John: the Docetist Proto-Gnostics

I generally avoid big words on my blog, but “proto-gnostic” is necessary to this post; so is docetist.

1 John is one of the harshest letters in the New Testament. “The one that says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar'” (2:3-4). The word “liar” is in the Bible 12 times, and 5 of them are in 1 John.

This is important: 1 John 2:3-4 is true, and therefore it applies to Christians, BUT it is not written to Christians or about Christians. That is why it uses words like “liar.”

It is well-known that John wrote his first epistle to combat docetist proto-gnosticism in the church or churches he was writing to. “Docetist” means that adherents of this doctrine believe that our flesh could not be saved, so it did not matter what we did with it. “Gnosticism” means they believed their spirit could be saved through knowledge, and “proto” just means “first.” It was the beginning. Gnosticism had not yet grown into its fullness of lunacy.

Gnosticism was almost certainly started by Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24). After Peter rebuked him, he went off teaching that Christ was a spirit (literally, an “aeon”) that abode on Jesus, but was not Jesus. When Jesus failed by being put to death, the Christ aeon had to go to someone else. That someone else, of courses, was Simon.

There is a lot of early Christian testimony claiming Simon started gnosticism. I’ll have to write an article on that someday, but for now see Wikipedia.

The point of all this is that by the time John wrote 1 John, there were people who were deceiving Christians into believing that only their spirit needed to be saved. Because the flesh could not be saved, there was no point in keeping the flesh under control.

Horrified at these teachers, John calls them liars. No one who knows God ignores his commandments and does whatever he wants. Those who know God keep his commandments.

The same is true of the verses preceding, from 1 John 1:7-2:2. Apparently, these proto-gnostics were teaching that they did not sin. They could not sin because their spirit was saved and their body did not matter. John rails against this doctrine. Anyone who says they have no sin is deceived, and anyone who says they have never sinned makes God a liar (1 Jn. 1:8, 10).

Farther into the letter, John asks, “Who is a liar but the one who denies Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, who denies the Father and the Son.” Again, he is storming against the docetists. The Christ was not a Spirit that rested on Jesus. Jesus is the Christ.

I think you get the point. You can read the rest of 1 John and see his war against the docetists throughout.

The real point I want to make, though, is that John would not have stood in front of a congregation of Christians and told them, “You are not keeping the commandments well enough. You are a bunch of liars.”

1 John is not about keeping the commands of God well enough. It is about keeping the commands of God, period.

This is important. It is possible to read 1 John and be terrified in a way God has no intention of terrifying you. “I sinned once, I’m going to hell,” or “I snarled when I was verbally slapped on the cheek, I’m going to hell.” This is not what John is trying to communicate. He was trying to tell them, “Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s okay to live however you want. It’s not. I know you sin and stumble (1 Jn. 1:8, 10), but keep loving your brother; keep helping one another; continue keeping the commands of Jesus.”

We do need to fear God. Fearing God is beginning of wisdom and knowledge. We must not be deceived into thinking God is a harsh taskmaster. His commandments are not grievous (1 Jn. 5:3). He has given us plenty of power to overcome in this world (1 Jn. 5:4), and plenty of mercy so that we can pick ourselves up when we fall (1 Jn. 1:7-2:2).



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