Can We Be Good Enough to Go to Heaven?

My last post was an answer to an inquirer who asked what I meant when I said it requires works to enter God’s eternal kingdom. He wasn’t satisfied. He asked, “How do you know if you are good enough to enter your version of heaven?”

I answered, “That is always the question. Is that a challenge, or is it a real question?.”

He did, after all, ask about “my version of heaven.” My answer tackled both his question and his challenge. Here it is?

How Do We Know if We Are Good Enough to Enter Jesus’ Eternal Kingdom?

Evangelicals do not seem to be able to conceive of the idea that we might have to worry about the judgment. Peter, however, says, “If you address as Father the one 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). Later in the letter, Peter says, “If the righteous are scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and disobedient?” Paul said he disciplines his body and brings it into subjection “lest having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

I have one more thing to add, but first I have to ask: “Did you look up those verses I sent in the first email?” I believe I simply quoted every verse I cited. Those were not interpretations; those were citations. At the very least, can you look at 2 Peter 1:3-11 and compare that to what I said? (See yesterday’s post for the verses and explanations I had already given him.)

The worst and most deceptive doctrine taught by the evangelicals is that God will send a person to hell for eternity for one sin. That is outrageous, unjust, and unscriptural. Read Ezekiel 18:20-30. Is that talking about sinless perfection, or just a general pattern of righteousness? in 1 John 3:7, John says not to be deceived. Notice what he says not to be deceived about. He says, “Do not be deceived, little children, the one who practices righteousness is righteous as he [Jesus] is righteous.”

There are amazing promises to those who walk in the light (1 Jn. 1:7) and who practice righteousness (1 Jn. 3:7). Their sins are forgiven on an ongoing basis (1 Jn. 1:7) and they have the righteousness of Christ (1 Jn. 3:7). This lines right up with Romans 4:8 (which is a quote from Psalm 32). There are people to whom God will not impute sin. Those people, according to 1 John 1:7 and 3:7 are not those who believe and live how they want; they are those who walk in the light and practice righteousness. Yes, the way to walk in the light and practice righteousness is to follow the Spirit and let the life of Jesus live through us, but those things are choices. They are choices we have to make every day. If we make that choice on an ongoing basis, we will find that God both imparts and imputes righteousness. If, however, we are not willing to suffer, not willing to deny ourselves, not willing to make the effort, we may find ourselves mocking God, and God will not be mocked. Sow to the flesh, and you will reap corruption, not eternal life (Gal. 6:7-8).

It is amazing to me that evangelicals have such a problem with saying we have to have works to get through the judgment and enter the kingdom. James said we are justified by works and not by faith only (Jas. 2:24). He was talking about the judgment. Evangelicals simply do not believe that verse. Instead they twist the words into words they find more palatable, like “we are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” What is wrong with the holy, God-inspired words of James that evangelicals need to improve them? God is not going to treat people favorably for changing words he chose.

Early Christianity: A Defense

I hope you understand that there was a time when all Christians agreed with what I have written here. The fact that one branch of modern Christianity, a branch that produces 4 or 5 half-hearted Christians for every whole-hearted one, is offended by what I teach does not bother me. It is not historically doubtful that the churches of Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, Antioch, and the other apostolic churches taught in the second century what I teach today. None of what I teach about works and judgment is controversial among those who read the writings of the second and third century churches. I am not going to forsake the teaching of the united, holy, and apostolic churches of the second century—a church that did not defend itself and gladly gave themselves to persecution and martyrdom—in order to agree with Christians who are afraid to repeat James 2:24 and consider it heresy to discipline oneself in order to avoid being disqualified.

So, that’s my argument in case your question was actually a challenge. If it is really a question, I will be happy to continue to explain that God does not require sinless perfection, but that he does require working out our salvation with fear and trembling. There are those who are worthy and will walk with Jesus in white, and there are those who are defiled and will not (Rev. 3:4). Worthiness is not sinlessness; it is worthiness, and we are commanded several times to walk worthy of our calling. Revelation 3:4 tells us what happens when we don’t.

Posted in Modern Doctrines, Protestants | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Is Christianity Different than Islam Because It Does Not Require Works?

Another email I answered. This one asked how my teaching is any different from Muslim teaching if I teach that we must do good works to enter the kingdom of heaven after the judgment. I kindly avoided saying that one big difference is that I do not advocate conquering other people, tribes, and countries and putting them to the sword if they do not convert. Of course, that makes me different than the Roman Catholics as well as different than the Muslims. Anyway, here’s my reply.

*****************
Before I address your question, we better define “kingdom of heaven.” I think we “enter” the kingdom twice. We are part of God’s kingdom when we get saved/born again. We become part of God’s kingdom on earth, and we look forward to receiving eternal life at the judgment and living eternally in the heavenly kingdom once it comes to earth.

That said, I believe we enter God’s kingdom now by faith in Jesus as Christ, Son of God, and Lord (Jn. 20:31; Rom. 10:9-10). When this happens, we are given all things that pertain to life and godliness, become partakers of the divine nature, and escape the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Thus, we are both delivered from and forgiven for our sins (Tit. 2:11-14). (Of course, I am not talking about sinless perfection, but I am talking about a noticeable transfer from being moved by the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience [Eph. 2:1-3] to walking in the light [Eph. 5:8-10; 1 Jn. 1:7].)

We then live our life by the life of Jesus, walking by the Spirit, as described in Romans 8:3-8 and Galatians 2:20. Through the Spirit, we build on our faith by adding virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. If these things are in us and increasing, we will not be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of Jesus. If we do not, then we will forget that we were purged of our old sins (2 Pet. 1:5-9).

Peter follows up by saying that if we “diligently do these things” we will make our calling and election sure and we will reap an abundant entrance into Jesus’ everlasting kingdom (2 Pet. 1:10-11). In a similar vein, Galatians 6:7-9 says that if we sow to the flesh, we will reap corruption, but if we sow to the Spirit we will reap everlasting life. The next verse then says not to grow weary in doing good because we will eventually (in due season) reap if we do not lose heart. Obviously, then, putting verses 8 and 9 of Galatians 6 together, if we sow to the Spirit, then we will be able to avoid growing weary, and by patiently continuing to do good, we will reap everlasting life (cf. Rom. 2:6-7).

I hope I have explained my statement that we will enter the eternal kingdom after our judgment only if we have done good works. I trust this also explains why what I teach bears no similarity to Islam at all. Remember, though, that while Islam is a terrible, strange deviation from Christianity, it was indeed a deviation from Christianity. Mohammed was influenced by both Christianity and Judaism, and he twisted them together into a monstrous travesty of the true faith. It should be no surprise, then, if there are surface resemblances to Christianity or Judaism here and there, just as there are resemblances between Mormonism and Christianity, but one is not the other.

Again, thank you for writing. I would be happy to answer any further questions you have.

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How I Became a Heretic (to the Evangelicals)

I was raised Catholic, gave up on Catholicism, explored eastern mysticism as a teenager, and wound up agnostic at age 20. The prayers and daily witness of my first Air Force supervisor and some reading of the Gospels led to a life-transforming conversion at an Assembly of God church building on a Wednesday night in 1982.

I was excited to join a church for which the Bible was “the sole rule of faith and practice,” and I was anxious to learn.

Maybe Not the Sole Rule for Faith and Practice

For those of you raised in church, this is going to seem like a joke, but it was not to me. It took me six months to get through the New Testament twice and the Old Testament once. My biggest surprise was NOT finding Sunday school, nor a Sunday morning service with 3 songs, an offering, and a sermon, nor a Wednesday night Bible study/business meeting. How could something that the Pentecostals, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists all believe and practice NOT be found in “the sole rule of faith and practice”?

It only got worse from there. I was baptized almost as an afterthought a month after my conversion. The reason I was given was that baptism is simply a public testimony to a salvation that had already occurred. Yet every baptism in the Book of Acts occurred immediately upon belief, not only on the same day as believing, but often within minutes. The Philippian jailer in Acts 16 was baptized in the middle of the night with only his own family as witnesses!

This is all I can remember struggling with my first nine months as a Christian. The town of Niceville, Florida had a thriving and active Christian community, and I was in some sort of Christian activity every day, whether it be a Bible study, church service, Christian music night at the skating rink, or street witnessing.

What Does the Bible Really Say?

After nine months, the Air Force sent me on a remote assignment to Alaska. I found only 5 or 6 committed Christians there, and I immediately gathered them up for a Friday night Bible study and passing out tracts in the local Indian village.

I had something to do with creating the explosion that happened within 6 weeks. I had already noticed that although we were always careful to say that God was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the New Testament was not nearly so careful. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul says, “For us there is but one God, the Father, … and one Lord, Jesus Christ.”

I can’t remember where I was getting all the tracts we were using, but one of them suggested the possibility that the only-begotten Son of God was begotten before all time rather than just at Bethlehem. This made a lot of sense to me, and it seemed to explain the contrast between the Bible’s wording and the wording my Christian friends used. I shared this with the others on Friday night, and one of them ate it up. He got quite excited about the idea, but the others did not.

One Friday evening, we got into a deep discussion about it. I loved it, but one new Christian, who had been converted there in Alaska, was offended by the arguing and refused to speak to any of us from then on. It was only a couple more weeks, and most of them refused to meet with each other anymore. I eventually won the new Christian over, and he would at least hold discussions with me. In fact, I was no longer cut off from anyone, but several of them remained cut off from each other. The rest of my one-year tour was spent with only one or two Christians at a time.

This provoked me to start over. I decided I could not be Assembly of God anymore, I needed to get in the Bible and find out what it really said. I spent all my time in it, snatching every moment to read it that I could.

Romans 2:6

I ran across one verse that stuck in my craw. Romans 2:6 says that God will repay us according to our deeds. Despite the fact that the Assemblies of God believe that a Christian can lose his or her salvation by living an ungodly life, “salvation by faith alone” was a central theme of their conversations and teaching.

In fact, I remember explaining this to my Catholic mom (who had been raised Church of Christ, but converted to Catholicism so she could marry my dad). The conversation went something like this:

Mom: So we go to heaven by faith alone?
Me: Yes.
Mom: So I can do whatever I want, and as long as I believe in Jesus, I will go to heaven?
Me: No. You have live out your faith by obeying Jesus.
Mom: So I have to do good works.

We went around like that for a while before I realized I was not equipped to win that argument. This happened in Florida when I was only a couple months old in the Lord, so I figured I just needed to learn more.

Romans 2:6, though, seemed to agree with my mom. I was puzzled. I wrote it on the blank last page of my Bible, which would accumulate a lot more verses on judgment by works over the next six years.

Sealing My Status as a Heretic

The Air Force moved me from Alaska to West Germany. It was not my first trip to Ramstein Air Force Base. My father was in the Air Force too, and I had graduated from high school at Ramstein.

When I got there, I was more influenced by my desire for unity than by my questions about how to describe the Trinity or the role of works in our salvation. Gene Edwards’ book, The Early Church, that I had picked up during a weekend in Fairbanks, had made a huge impact on me. In addition, a close friend from Florida had been writing me with teachings about unity that had their source in Watchman Nee, a Chinese teacher and author.

I tried to pass on those teachings wherever I went. It would be impossible to count how many people to whom I brought up 1 Corinthians 3:3. “Paul said that the Corinthians were carnal for saying they were of Paul or Peter or Apollos or Christ,” I would tell them. “Doesn’t that mean that we are carnal when we say we are Baptist or Assembly of God?”

Oddly, almost no one agreed with me, or if they did, their answer was, “That is why I am a Christian first and a Methodist second.” Almost no one grasped the idea that distinguishing ourselves from other Christians was divisive.

I got out of the military and stayed in Germany in order to remain in the house church that was my primary fellowship. I got a job at an English-language Christian bookstore, and God proceeded to devastate both the house church and my life. The story is too complicated to tell here.

I wound up making phone calls for a life insurance salesman who sold to the American military. I had to move into an apartment he owned because I was homeless. The first day I arrived I took a walk and found a shortcut to a big Baptist church that was just off a main thoroughfare. I attended the church on Sunday, and when I did not come back the following Sunday, they sent a visitation team to me.

I have to skip the great story about the girl on the visitation team who became my wife. I have to skip the great story about being nominated for deacon at that Baptist church. I will tell you about two conflicts the pastor and I had.

Church Membership

Three weeks after we were married, the pastor called me in to ask why I was not a member. I told him I had become a member of the church when I was baptized. My commitment to the church was made and sealed at baptism. Signing a membership paper would put something else in the place of baptism. I couldn’t do it. The Pastor told me to beware of spiritual pride.

My wife burst into tears as we drove home. “Why can’t you sign the stupid paper?”

We got home, and an hour later she walked triumphantly into the living room. “My dad is coming over to talk to you.”

My father-in-law is as devout a Christian as any man, and she trusted him implicitly. We talked for a while, and he told my wife, “If I believed what Paul believed, I would do exactly what Paul is doing.”

My wife told me later that her dad handed the reins of her life to me that day. She felt free to follow me on the difficult path we would walk the next thirty years.

The next encounter with the pastor was about baptism.

Water Baptism

I had seen the contrast between the practice of baptism in evangelical churches and the practice of baptism in the book of Acts way back in 1982. It took me several years, however, to understand why the apostles baptized immediately (though now it seems obvious). When I did, I sent a letter to the pastor with my thoughts, asking if he would talk with me. When I got there, he began by accusing me of not tithing. I explained to him that I did tithe; I just did not put the money in an envelope with my name on it. I did not need the tax deduction.

When we got to the subject of the letter, he told me to go to the Church of Christ. He also told me that greater minds than us had discussed that subject for centuries, and he told me to beware of spiritual pride.

Afterward, my wife asked how I could be the only one that is right. I told her, “I can’t be. No one who is alone is right. I can tell you, though, that pastor is not correct. He doesn’t care what the Bible says.”

The Real Heretics

In 1989, a couple years after we were married, I ran across the book, Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?. The book was a survey of 9 Christian writers who wrote in the second and third centuries. I had no idea that we had letters and books from Christians from the second and third centuries. We do, though, and a lot more.

The author, David Bercot, covered about 10 subjects. The rules for the subjects were that at least 5 of the 9 early Christians had to have written on the subject, and all of them who wrote on it had to agree.

I spent all evening and a good portion of the next day reading it. (I was no longer making calls for an insurance agent, but I ran an auto insurance agency and a Christian bookstore both.) When I got home from work, my wife was reading on the bed. I threw Bercot’s book on the bed and told her, “I’m not a heretic! I was just born in the wrong century.”

I was shocked at the agreement between the things I had seen in the Scriptures and the subjects Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up covered. Only 1 subject was new to me. On the other 9, the book and I agreed in advance. After growing used to being a borderline outcast, it was nice to know that had I been born 200 years after Christ’s birth, rather than 2,000, I would have fit right in.

I was thrilled, and I felt justified. I was anxious to spread this new-found knowledge.

What I Have Learned Since

The first thing I did was buy the 10-volume set The Ante-Nicene Fathers. The set contained many, maybe most, of the extant Christian writings from the second and third centuries. Despite constantly being told that the early church fathers disagreed with one another, I found that the fathers of the second and third centuries were in amazing harmony. (In 2011, I published a book about the Council of Nicea in 325, which is when Christians began vehemently disagreeing with one another. It is called Decoding Nicea.)

I quickly deceived myself into thinking that if Christians could just see this, they would drop their traditions and unite. That did not happen. I only alienated the evangelicals even more.

You might wonder why I did not move on to the Church of Christ or to some high church like the Anglicans. One answer is that I do not actually agree with the Church of Christ on baptism. The main answer, though, is that I like to be around people who want to talk about Jesus, spend time in his presence, hear the voice of God, walk by the Spirit, and give themselves to Jesus, the Gospel, and each other. Others have had a different experience, but I found it easier to find people like that among the evangelicals. For all their problems, they have a lot of people who love Jesus. To me, it looks like they have more such people than anyone else does.

So that’s the story of how I came to be a heretic, or at least a borderline heretic, among the people I most want to fellowship with. You can probably see what I’ve done with that problem in the pages of this blog or on Facebook, where I post regularly. Just look up my name there (Paul Pavao).

Posted in Bible, Dealing with Scripture Honestly, Early Christianity, Evangelicals, Modern Doctrines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Doing Good Works Is not Legalism: Salvation by Faith the Bible Way

In this post, I want to rescue you from the negative attitude towards good works that is so common in modern churches.

The Conflict: Works and Faith

The source of that negative attitude is verses like Romans 3:28, which says, “We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Another passage is Ephesians 2:8-9 where the apostle Paul tells us salvation is a gift of God, “not of works so that no one will boast.”

On the other hand, the apostle Paul also told one of his students, Titus, to “affirm confidently … that those who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8).

Let me explain how these verses go together, what misunderstanding causes this negativity toward good works, and explain the proper understanding of Romans 3:28 and Ephesians 2:8-9.

Defining Good Works and Salvation by Faith

First, let’s explain terms. When Paul says we are “justified by faith apart from the works of the law,” he means that you can give to the poor, help old ladies across the street, be kind to your co-workers, and love your wife, but none of this will make you a Christian. Becoming a Christian is a purposeful choice to believe that Jesus is God’s Son and begin to follow him (Jn. 20:31). That purposeful choice is what Paul means by faith.

The Misunderstanding

Many churches have twisted this idea. They think that Paul meant that if we believe Jesus died for our sins, then all our sins are forgiven: past, present, and future. It literally does not matter how we live. God will reward us with eternal life in heaven just because we believe Jesus died for our sins.

This, of course, is nonsense. Let’s look at Scriptures that talk about how Christians are supposed to live.

Faith Empowers Us for Good Works

In this Bible study, I am going to copy and paste the verses for you. Normally I make you look them up, but this study is too important.
Titus 2:11-14: “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.”

In this passage you see what happens when a person is “justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” We cannot become a Christian by works, but once we become a Christian “grace” appears. It teaches us how to live godly, so that we can be the people Jesus died for, a people zealous for good works.

Now let’s look at another passage we have already seen, but this time, let’s add one more verse to the passage.

Ephesians 2:8-10: “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.”

You saw what grace does in Titus 2:11-14. It teaches us to be godly and to deny ungodliness. Here we see that our faith that Jesus is the Son of God is what brings the grace that saves us. The result of this salvation is that we are created anew in King Jesus for the purpose of doing good works.

Do not be mistaken. You will not inherit eternal life in God’s everlasting kingdom if you do not use the salvation you have been given. Those who live by the flesh will not inherit God’s kingdom (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-7), and good works are required to receive eternal life at the judgment (Rom. 2:6-7; Gal. 6:8-9; cf. Matt. 25:31-46).

The New Covenant: Why Salvation Is Apart from Works

There is a reason that salvation comes without works.

Salvation comes without works because prior to salvation all of us are stricken with the human condition. We all have a propensity to sin: to seek our own desires and to fulfill our lusts without regard to the damage we may be doing to others, to society, or to the will of the God who created us. God could give us a law explaining exactly how we are supposed to live on this earth, but he did that already with the nation of Israel. He gave them a divine law through Moses. The vast majority of Israel violated that law for centuries.
As a result, God made a new covenant (contract, agreement) with Israel, and with all mankind. This new covenant was predicted 500 years in advance by the prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34).

Basically, God explains through Jeremiah that humans are untrustworthy, so he is going to make a new covenant in which he himself writes his laws on our hearts and in our minds. Under this covenant, every person will know him and have his Spirit.

God has always wanted us to do good, but since humankind has failed over and over to be good, he made a covenant with mankind in which, if they came to him through Jesus Christ, he would give them the power to do good by his grace and his Holy Spirit. This is called salvation, and God forgives all of our sins when we enter into this new covenant by believing in Jesus.

2 Peter 1:3-11 gives a great overall picture of what I have taught in this post. Verses 3 and 4 tell us what we receive when we become Christians by faith. Verses 5-10 tell us what is required of us after we become Christians, and verse 11 tells us of the glorious reward of eternal life in Jesus’ everlasting kingdom.

I sure hope this has helped you because it is very, very important.

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Saved by Works and Not by Faith Only

I thought of a way to get across a concept that people struggle to understand: there is a difference between being saved by faith and going to heaven.

Picture a congregation. The congregation is asked, “How many of you are born again?” Many hands go up.

The speaker then asks, “How many of you have gone to heaven?” All hands go down.

Read the Bible with that distinction in mind, and you will find that though you were born again by faith, you will go to heaven only if you have works (and a lot of mercy along the way). Thus the reconciliation between Romans 3 (“faith apart from works”) and James 2 (“works and not faith only”).

The main point I wanted to make is done. Everything below is to answer common objections and perhaps add some explanation and context to what I have just written.

This Is Scary

Is that a scary thought? Peter writes, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:17). It is supposed to be scary.

Paul writes, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:10-11)

If We Go to Heaven by Works, Then We Can Boast

This objection is prompted (rightly) by Ephesians 2:9: “not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

The answer:

  1. Ephesians 2:8-9 is talking about being born again. It is all in the past tense. That salvation has already happened to us, and it is indeed apart from works. The result of that salvation is in 2:10. We are recreated in Christ Jesus to do good works.
  2. Thus, Paul writes, “What do you have that you have not received? And if you did receive it, then why do you boast as though you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). We should be able to boast that Jesus has changed our lives and delivered us from sinful patterns of life. We are not boasting about ourselves, but about Jesus.

How can we claim to be created in Christ Jesus to do good works if we are not doing good works?

Thus, Paul tells Titus, “… concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men” (Tit. 3:8). Other versions have “I want you to affirm constantly.”

Harping on good works is not legalism. It is a command from the apostle Paul, and if you count yourself a prophet or spiritual, then you should acknowledge that Paul’s commands are the commands of Christ (1 Cor. 14:37).

Mercy

I am always stunned that people think I am talking about sinless perfection. Not at all. We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2). God is full of mercy and has made amazing, wonderful, full provision for it (1 Jn. 1:7-2:2). Take advantage of it. Go boldly to the throne of grace and obtain mercy and grace to help (Heb. 4:16).

But don’t be deceived. God is not mocked. He who sows to the flesh, will reap corruption. Only he who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life. Therefore, do not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:7-9).

Or as God said himself to Moses, “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex. 34:6-7).

A Christian must have a pattern of righteousness in his life. A pattern of sin is the mark of a son of the devil (1 Jn. 3:7-10). If you have been born again, you should find your life changing. You should have the ability to add virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly-kindness, and love to your faith and find yourself increasing in those things. Diligently adding those things is the route to an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:3-11)

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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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