“Diligently Preserve” the Unity of the Spirit

Our unity is not doctrinal. Our unity is spiritual (Eph. 4:3). We are not commanded to diligently preserve the unity of the faith, but to “diligently preserve” the unity of the Spirit. Do you have a doctrinal controversy with someone with whom you are united in Spirit? If God accepts both of you, which is the only way you can be united in Spirit, but you are doctrinally divided, then at least one of you is sinning. Maybe you are even intellectually correct on your doctrine, but you are sinning because division is a bad enough sin to eject you from the body of Christ (Tit. 3:10).

“Sound doctrine” has to do with obeying God, not figuring out theological ideas (Titus 2). In 1 Timothy 1:5 we read that the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, a sincere faith, and a good conscience. Then Paul says that some, who have departed from that focus, have gone off into all sorts of wrong things. That is one of the greatest afflictions of the churches today.

If we could stay focused on laying aside sin and the weights that encumber us (Heb. 12), we would not have time for some of the doctrinal controversies we have.

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How the Church Was One: The Only True Source of Unity

The early churches were united as God’s family. Jesus was Lord and the Father was, well, the Father of the family. The one thing to do in that family was to love and obey the Father through the Lordship of Jesus. If you read through the early Church fathers, you cannot miss the focus on the creation of the church through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the love of the saints for one another, and the emphasis on Christians doing their best to be just like Jesus.

When Justin Martyr wanted to explain Christianity to the emperor around the year 155, he wrote about Jesus’ commands, the love of the saints for one another, and the amazing ability of Christians to be joyful when wronged. When the Romans wrote to the Corinthians towards the end of the first century to rebuke them for division, the whole letter was about envy, jealousy, pride, the importance of humility, and the example of the apostles’ humility.

When the churches finally began dividing after 300 years, it was because they had lost their focus on those basics. The first giant divisions were at the 5th-century councils (Ephesus, Chalcedon) over the relation between Jesus’ human and divine natures, things none of us can possibly understand and which are not addressed in Scripture nor the oral tradition from the apostles. Oddly, those wickedly divisive councils are now known as “ecumenical” councils, and the subject of those councils are given the important-sounding name “Christological controversies.” My, how we can dress up the devil’s work in sacred clothing!

Those 5th-century splits were caused by the loss of holiness in the fourth-century churches, which was caused by bringing most of the Roman Empire’s inhabitants into the church. This happened by imperial influence rather than divine. The children of the devil are by nature schismatic. Those who do not have the Holy Spirit cannot maintain the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3; 2 Cor. 6:14-18).

We must not accept the fleshly standard of unity that replaced the spiritual unity of the family of God. We cannot be united by the Bible interpretations of man. I don’t have to argue for that; it is proven to us every day. We must only look around us.

We must return to the only standard that has ever united churches: love of God, love for one another, a life guided by Jesus’s teachings, and mercy for the weak and poor. (Notice that these are also the things we will be judged for on the last day.)

In the video I will tell the story of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, and Stephen, bishop of Rome. Cyprian cared about unity, and Stephen cared about being right. To this day, those who read of their battle think Cyprian cared about a doctrine, like Stephen did. No, Cyprian’s concern was only unity, and to him the problem was not Stephen’s doctrine, but his willingness to divide over that doctrine. For heresy–the willingness to divide the churches over one’s opinion–to arise in the greatest church in the empire* was the beginning of the end in Cyprian’s eyes. In tears he wrote a letter to Spanish churches expressing his despair; surely the Antichrist was at hand.

Maybe it would have been better if the Antichrist had arisen and brought about the end because we have inherited the heretical attitude of Stephen as something normal. We divide over our opinions, not just at the church level, but even at the family and individual level. Sadly, we do not mourn over this dissection of the body of Christ, the very opposite of what Jesus commanded (Jn. 13:34-35) and prayed for (Jn. 17:20-23).

May God forgive us. Even more so, may he deliver us!

*In the second and third centuries, Rome was known as the greatest church in the Empire for very good reasons, which include both Peter and Paul being martyred there. In letters to Cyprian before Stephen was bishop, the elders in Rome spoke of the “great crime” of falling from their greatness. It was not Stephen who destroyed Rome’s greatness, though. He was martyred, and Dionysius of Alexandria played a large role in cleaning up the mess. Rome’s fall from greatness would happen later. The story of the rise and fall of the Roman church is told in my book, Rome’s Audacious Claim, available wherever books are sold.

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The Judgment by Works: The Most Important Doctrine to Learn from the Early Church Fathers

I wrote the following in a comment on Patristics for Protestants about what is the most important thing to learn from the early church fathers. There are several quotes from the earliest fathers in my comment, but I give you Tit. 2:11-15; Rom. 2:6-7; and Gal. 6:7-9, which says not to be deceived about this, as backing from the Scripture:

We will be judged by our works, and Jesus came so that we would be ready to face that judgment. To me this gets right down to the brass tacks of what will matter on the last day.

Since then all things are seen and heard [by God], let us fear Him, and forsake those wicked works which proceed from evil desires; so that, through His mercy, we may be protected from the judgments to come. For whither can any of us flee from His mighty hand? Or what world will receive any of those who run away from Him? (1 Clement 28)

The Lord will judge the world without partiality. Each will receive as he has done. If he is righteous, his righteousness will precede him; if he is wicked, the reward of wickedness is before him. Take heed, lest resting in our ease, as those who are called, we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince should acquire power over us and thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. (Letter of Barnabas 4)

I exhort you, therefore, that you abstain from covetousness, and that you be chaste and truthful. “Abstain from every form of evil” [1 Thess. 5:22]. For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others? If a man does not keep himself from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen. But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord? (Polycarp to the Philippians 11)

For more such quotes, see Quotes about the Judgment from the Early Church Fathers.

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God’s Plan of Salvation Is Not What You Think It Is

This is the way things are:

Romans 2:6-7: “God will render to everyone according to their deeds. To those who, by patiently continuing to do good seek for glory, honor, and immortality, he will repay eternal life.”

This is the problem with the reality of Romans 2:6-7:

Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Romans 7:18: “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, no good thing dwells, for to desire is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”

This is the solution God came up with:

Romans 8:3-4: “For what the Law could not do because it was weak through the flesh, God did. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in those of us who do not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

Titus 2:11-14: “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purchase for himself his own special people, zealous for good works.”

Folks, the solution was not to change the judgment, but to change us into those who could pursue glory, honor, and immortality by patiently continuing to do good. The reward for doing so is eternal life. Galatians 6:7-9 states that clearly. By sowing to the Spirit rather than sowing to the flesh, and not growing weary in doing so, we will reap eternal life. This is God’s solution, to deliver us from sin, not merely to overlook our sin. Only those who practice righteousness will experience the righteousness of Christ (1 Jn. 3:7). Both Galatians 6:7-9 and 1 John 3:7 warn us not to be deceived about what they say.

This is God’s plan of salvation. It is to make righteous people out of people who were formerly sinners. Do not receive the grace of God in vain. The grace of God is supposed to re-create you to do good works (Eph. 2:8-10). Yes, you can, and must, receive that grace by faith apart from works, but once you receive it, you must not receive it in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

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Ravi Zacharias, the Judgment, and the Weakness of Man: A WARNING!

A FB friend commented on new allegations against Ravi Zacharias. I can hardly take it. My stomach is roiling. I knew nothing about this. I can’t even get myself to post the link to the report.

Folks, we are going to be judged by our works. That judgment is IMPARTIAL (1 Pet. 1:17). The righteous are scarcely saved (1 Pet. 4:18). We need to do warfare with our lusts. You cannot serve the flesh and the Spirit at the same time. One will slay you; the other will bring you eternal life (Gal. 5:16). Get help. There is a reason the Bible says that if you are not exhorted daily, you are in danger of being hardened by the *deceitfulness* of sin (Heb. 3:13).

How alarming that last day will be for the lazy!!

My heart is also broken that I have not trumpeted this louder, nor emphasized it to those around me. It is through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God, Paul said (Acts 14), but I would add that it is through many temptations as well. God will always make a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), but we have to be brave enough to take it!! Unfortunately, sometimes the only way of escape is to humble yourself not just to God but to men, and indeed to your wife! You can hide your shame now, but on the last day all our secrets will be revealed! (1 Cor. 4:5)

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Substitutionary Atonement: Jesus Died to Change Us, not God

This is something I wrote in a Facebook comment. I would like to hold on to it, and I hope it helps you understand Romans and the whole New Testament.

There is a clear origin in St. Anselm for the idea that Jesus had to die in order for the Father to forgive sin. (In other words, the origin of that doctrine is not the apostles, but from a Roman Catholic who lived in the 11th century.) Before that, as a reader of the church fathers, I do not think that doctrine existed. How could it? God forgave sin all through the Old Testament, and he is continually described as a merciful God. King David even said that God did not want sacrifice but repentance! (Ps. 51:16-17). And again, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).

Instead, Jesus died to free us from slavery to sin. God was already merciful. Look at his description of the judgment in Ezek. 18:20-30. Even in the Old Testament, a person who repented and did righteousness could be forgiven and receive life. The problem is that so few of us actually lived righteously. That is Paul’s point in Romans 3 and Romans 7. The problem is us, and the problem is so bad that even a good, perfect, and holy law could not fix us (Rom. 7; Gal. 3:21). But what the Law could not do, God did by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as an offering for sin (Rom. 8:3). The law could not make us righteous, but the sacrifice of Jesus can make us righteous. Thus, when the Gentiles first believed, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem remarked, “So God has granted repentance leading to life to the Gentiles as well” (Acts 11:18).

The gift of the atonement, and even of grace, is the power to live righteously and thus receive the ongoing mercy of God, which was always available even under the Old Testament (Ex. 34:6-7). Jesus did not die to change God or cause God to be free to give mercy. Jesus died for us! We were the problem, not God. Look at the description of the atonement in Titus 2:11-14, which describes both grace and the purpose of Jesus’ death. The gift of grace is that sin no longer has power over us (Rom. 6:14).

That is why even after Jesus died for us, Paul says three times that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5). Two of those times, he says not to be deceived about that (1 Cor. 6:9; Eph. 5:6), and the other time he tells the Galatians he has been saying this repeatedly (Gal. 5:21). John tells us not to be deceived that it is only those who are practicing righteousness who have the imputed righteousness of God (1 Jn. 3:7). Yet, we have been deceived about all these things that the apostles warned us not to be deceived about. Why? Because we think Jesus died to change God rather than dying to change us.

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Wisdom in Proverbs, Daniel’s Son of Man, the Trinity, and Jesus the Messiah and Son of God

This article argues for the early Christian/Nicene concept of the Trinity (still held among the Eastern Orthodox), that Wisdom in Proverbs should be understood throughout as referring to the Son of God, who is also called the Word, and provides very interesting information about Daniel’s “Son of Man” prophecy based on ancient Ugaritic literature.

I have always been scared to point out that Justin Martyr (died c. 165) accused the Jews of changing the Scriptures to hide prophecies about Christ. His accusations are related to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was the Bible of both Christians and Jews, at least outside Judea. The Septuagint was translated a century before Jesus was born or more, so it represents an earlier text than the Masoretic, from which our western Bibles are translated. The earliest text of the Masoretic we have is from the 9th century A.D. (Septuagint.net does say that the Dead Sea Scrolls, from a similar time as the Septuagint translation, agrees more with the Masoretic than the Septuagint.

I have never dared agree with Justin Martyr that the Jews changed Old Testament texts in response to Christianity. I still think the evidence is flimsy at best, but the following discussion reminds me of the accusation. I read an interesting article the other day. The article is from Logos.com, a trustworthy and orthodox Bible software company. It says:

The Jewish audience reading Daniel understood the implications — the prophet Daniel was describing a second power in heaven — a second being at the level of Yahweh to whom Yahweh himself granted authority. Although we naturally think of the idea of a godhead as distinctly Christian, we have evidence here that the seeds of the idea are found in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s no accident that Jewish theological writing during the Intertestamental period is filled with references to the “second power in heaven” and attempts to figure out how to articulate what was going on in heaven in light of monotheism. Jewish writers speculated that the “second god” was the archangel Michael, or perhaps Gabriel. Some Jewish writers even wrote that Abraham or Moses occupied that position! For Christians the answer was obvious.

I’ll make this explanation as short as possible. In the early 1900’s, a farmer accidentally found a building that turned out to be a whole city. The city is Ugarit. It dates from around 1200 BC (if memory serves me right). Archaeologists found not just documents, but many tablets. Ugaritic is not much different than Hebrew, and the tablets explain the whole Canaanite deity system. It turns out that Israel took a lot of Ugaritic literature and applied it to Yahweh, the God of Israel, rather than to these Canaanite deities. Even some of the names of the Canaanite deities were applied to Yahweh, just as Abraham got the name El Elyon, God Most High, from Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-22).

In Ugaritic literature, Baal is the god who rides the clouds. Of course, God had to keep driving out Baal worship among the Israelites throughout their existence. The writers of the Psalms regularly point out that it is Yahweh who rides the clouds, not Baal. Such passages may have been written in direct retaliation to the false deity Baal.

In Daniel 7, though, a different person, the Son of Man, rides the clouds to appear before the Ancient of Days. Only deities ride on clouds, giving rise to the discussion of “the second power in heaven” during the time between the Old Testament and New Testaments. Interestingly, rabbinical scholar Alan Segal says the idea of a second power in heaven was not considered heretical until the second century A.D., the same time that Justin accuses the Jews of changing the Hebrew texts to hide prophecies.

Is that proof they did this? No. It may create a small suspicion it is proof of nothing. I told you all this not to talk about the Jews, but about us. Like the Jews, we have lost much of our understanding of the Word, the second power in heaven, who would come from heaven to be born in Bethlehem and be named Yeshua (Jesus). Daniel 7 does not just announce the Son of Man, a title Jesus applied to himself throughout his time on earth, it announces him as deity. Only deity rides the clouds. Humans do not do so.

We have lost one other amazing description of Christ, not to the Jews, but to an overreaction to the Arians, those who held the teaching of the heretic Arius, after the Council of Nicea. That passage is Proverbs 8:22-31. We do not want to apply this amazing passage to Jesus because Proverbs 8:22 says he was created.

This did not cause any trouble to the Christians from the apostles until Arius became a troublemaker in the early fourth century. For 300 years, Christians thought Proverbs 8:22-31 was a beautiful description of the Son of God, Jesus, participating in the creation of all things. They understood “created me the beginning of his ways” to simply refer to incomprehensible birth from within God the Father. Jesus, was, after all, the only-begotten Son (a term used throughout the Gospel of John). He was also “the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). The “creation” reference in Proverbs 8:22, in early Christian eyes, was simply a reference to his inexplicable generation from the Father before the ages.

The only reason we do not still use Proverbs 8:22-31 as a description of Jesus creating the world with the Father is because Arius wanted to take “created” litereally. Eusebius, the historian, wrote this about the Arian doctrine:

Although it is once said in Scripture, “The Lord created me the beginning of his ways on account of his works” [Prov. 8:22] yet it would do us well to consider the meaning of the phrase and not … jeopardize the most important doctrine of the church from a single passage! … For although [the Scripture] says that he was created, it is not as if he were saying that he had arrived at exist-ence from what did not exist, nor that he was made of nothing like the rest of the creatures. (Against Marcellus, as cited in The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus, Bk. II, ch. 21)

If we can once again understand Proverbs 8:22-31 as a description of the One who was “begotten, not made” before the beginning, we can realize then that Wisdom can be understood throughout Proverbs as being also the only-begotten Word of the Father as well as simply God giving wise advice.

Additional Notes

I explain the early Christian doctrine of the Trinity in a series of pages beginning with The Trinity: Doctrine, Development, and Definition.

Some of the more important prophecies that are in the Septuagint, but not in the Masoretic text, which prompted Justin Martyr’s accusation include (quoted from the Orthodox Study Bible):

  • Ps. 110:3: “I have begotten you from the womb before the morning star.”
  • Ps. 45:1: “My heart overflowed with a good word.”

And one that Justin specifically addresses is Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call his name Immanuel.” He claims the Jews substituted the word for “maiden,” rather than the word for “virgin,” the word the Greek Septuagint uses. I would argue, though, that the context of Isaiah 7 requires the prophecy to be dual. It is both a maiden in the time of Ahaz having a child named Immanuel and a prophecy of Jesus, God with us, being born of Mary while she was yet a virgin. Again, there is nowhere near enough evidence to support Justin’s claim. What is much more interesting is that the Jews stopped referring to this “second power in heaven” from Daniel 7 after Jesus came and raised up the Christian church. Even the Jews, from Daniel 7, knew that there was a divine Son of Man coming, but they could no longer admit this once Jesus came because it fit the claims of the Christians too well.

It is not that the Jews changed the Scriptures themselves; they changed their understanding of the Scriptures because of the Christians. I want to suggest we do not change our understanding of the Scriptures for Arius the heretic, but go back to knowing that Proverbs 8:22-31 is a wonderful description of our Lord’s participation in creation.

Even worse, because we have mostly forgotten the teaching that the Word of God was begotten of God before the beginning, modern scholars are beginning to argue that “only-begotten” is not the right translation in verses like John 3:16. They want to translate “only-begotten” as “unique” or “only.” This is not a result of good scholarship, but of forgetting the doctrine of the Trinity that was taught until Arius came along and prompted an over-reaction. There is a great article on “only-begotten” that I think a non-Greek reader can understand. It is written by a Baptist theologian: Deep in the Weeds on Monogenes.

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Difficult Verses and Bible Interpretation

Perhaps the best Bible interpretation advice I can give has to do with difficult verses.

There are verses that are actually difficult. For example, no one knows who Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 15:29. Who was “baptizing for the dead”? No one knows. I read a scholarly paper recently with a theory, but the fact the scholar wrote that paper establishes that no one knows who Paul was talking about. I once searched the early church fathers for that verse, and Tertullian (Carthage, c. A.D. 200) mentions it. He says something to the effect of “whoever they are.” It is just unknown. 1 Corinthians 15:29 is truly difficult.

Most verses that get called difficult, however, are only difficult theologically. For example, I have heard both Hank Hanegraaff and Bob George call 2 Peter 2:20-21 difficult. That passage is not difficult. A first-grader could tell you what it means. It was difficult for those two radio hosts because they do not believe it, not because it is difficult to understand. (Hank has since converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, so he probably finds the verse quite simple now. The Eastern Orthodox believe that passage. They have a much harder time with Matthew 23:8-12.)

Don’t be like those two radio hosts! If you find a verse theologically difficult, CHANGE YOUR THEOLOGY!

This is wickedly hard. We are physically wired not to change our minds. Our flesh devotes itself to division and dispute (Gal. 5:19-20; 1 Tim. 6:3-5). If we want to please God, however, it would be good to believe the Bible and even be frightened of it.

Fearlessly and confidently ignoring the Bible or changing its words to fit your theology is a TERRIBLE idea, but doing so is normative for most Christians.

Here’s two examples:

1 Cor. 3:3: This verse quite obviously teaches us not to call ourselves Baptists, Pentecostals, and other names that divide us in any other way than geography (church in Rome, church at Corinth, etc.). Yet we say, “That’s why I’m a Christian first and a Baptist second.”

James 2:24: The verse says “justified by works and not faith only.” We say, “justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” You get 10 points for that cunning twist of James’ words in oratory class, but 0 points in heaven. Figure out what it means, folks, in such a way that you can repeat James words, not in such a way that you have clever changes to his words. There is a reason GOD said what he said through James, and it was not so that evangelicals could come along and improve it.

At least Witness Lee was honest enough to write (in his notes in the Recovery New Testament) that James did not understand the New Testament economy. Luther was honest enough to write that James and Hebrews had “nothing of the nature of the Gospel about them.” Unlike Lee and Luther, we claim that James’ words are the words of God, but we happily twist those words to make them sound like our theology rather than his.

The Bible says that God will reward those who patiently continue to do good with eternal life (Rom. 2:6-7). That seems like a pretty important verse, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, though, there are plenty of other verses you can use to build a theology that teaches something different than Romans 2:6-7. There are plenty of men who will gladly teach you that theology. I’d like to commend John Piper for dealing honestly with Romans 2:6-7 and other verses like it (ref).

Of course, at least one Reformed writer says, “This is heresy and a false gospel of which the Reformed Church used to preach against.”

Hopefully, this didn’t bother Piper, since the arguments in Paul Flynn’s article (<a href="https://themegiddoreview.com/2017/10/23/desiring-god-and-john-pipers-works-final-salvation-and-false-gospel/&quot; target="_blank") make Paul and Peter heretics too for writing things like Romans 2:6-7 and 2 Peter 1:5-11.

Back to my original point. Don't be like Paul Flynn. Believe the Bible. Do not argue against it from your theology. It's hard, but you MUST do it if you want to be a Bible believer. A verse is not difficult just because it contradicts your theology. Adjust your theology so you can believe the verse, and you will turn most difficult verses into easy ones.

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God Has Always Been Merciful (Rebuilding the Foundations)

I haven’t posted in over a month. I have been trying to listen to God’s guidance for the rest of my life. A lot of things have changed that have given us more free time and less responsibilities. I have also finished the book that I believe God created me to write. It is on its second edit, and I will do at least four edits, but it is already online for free download at https://www.rebuildingthefoundations.org/rebuilding-the-foundations.html.

A lot of my recent posting has been to promote and defend the model of Christianity I teach in that book. Today’s post is one of those teachings:

As I read through the Psalms I am becoming keenly aware just how central the mercy of God is. Israel’s favorite saying has to be, “God is good, for his mercy endures forever.” It is in almost every verse of Psalm 136. Israel, the house of Aaron, and all who fear the Lord are each told separately to say, “He is good, for his mercy endures forever” (Ps. 118). Jehoshaphat’s army, led by singers, sang, “The Lord is good, for his mercy endures forever.” When God appeared to Moses, covering him with his hand as Moses stood in the cleft of the rock, God announced himself as a God of mercy.

It is also true that he will “by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7), and he will not be mocked (Gal. 6:7), but for those of us who are trying to please the Lord, his primary OLD TESTAMENT attribute is mercy. The New Testament difference is that his primary attribute toward us is grace (favor). Jesus’ death brought us grace, which teaches us to live soberly, godly, and righteously (Tit. 2:11-12), which means that we are not among the guilty that he will not clear. The only people God does not have mercy toward are unrepentant and persistent sinners (Ezek. 18:20-30). This was true under the Old Covenant, and it is true under the New Covenant.

Jesus did not die to make God merciful. God’s sense of justice is like ours. We got ours from him. God has never believed that a person should perish for one sin. Again, read Ezek. 18:20-30. That is how he judges the children of Adam.

Read Romans 3 again, where Paul says we are all sinners. Does Romans 3 say we all told one lie, so we are liars? Does it say we all hated someone, so we are all murderers? No, it quotes Psalm 53 (from the Septuagiont) and accuses us of being full of bitterness, bloodshed, and evil. The judgment of God is not on those who lie once, but on those who are persistent liars. This is what it means that God shows mercy to thousands but does not clear the guilty.

It is that good, just, and merciful judgment that Jesus died to save us through. God endured Israel from the wilderness to Babylon, around a thousand years, so that we would learn from them that we are persistent sinners, rebels, haters, and destroyers of society. This is what Jesus died to save us from. As Romans 5:19 says, just as Adam made us sinners, so Jesus makes us righteous. That is not just in standing, but in real life action.

Because we are delivered from persistent rebellion against God, we will find the mercy of God in our day to day lives and at the final judgment, which is thoroughly described in Ezek. 18:20-30 and Matt. 25:31-46. This judgment described by the Reformers, a description they got from the Roman Catholics, in which God scours the life of the unbelieving to find one sin, then does not forgive it because he is “holy” is the most wicked slander against him. Being unmerciful is not holy!

Please! Those of you who are serving him like I am, faithfully but often poorly, what have you found God to be like? Have you found him cruel, or have you found him to be full of so much mercy and love that you weep at his kindness in forgiving your sin and pouring out his presence on you? This is how God has always been. He does not change. Jesus did not die to change him. He died to get you down on your knees, repenting and finding BOTH mercy and grace (which empowers and helps in time of need–Rom. 6:14; Heb. 4:16).

My brothers and sisters, the basic idea that the good are rewarded with life and the evil are punished with death is central to both the Old and New Testaments. Under both covenants, the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-7). Under the New Covenant, though, we have grace rather than law. The law can make no one righteous (Gal. 3:21), but Jesus’s sacrifice does what the Law could not do (Rom. 8:2-4). Grace frees us from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14) and teaches us how to live (Tit. 2:11-12). That is why Titus was told to continually remind us that we must be careful to maintain good works (Tit. 3:8).

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Romans 8:13: Putting the deeds of the body to death by the Spirit

I got an email asking how we put the deeds of the body to death by the Spirit. My answer got a lot of positive response on Facebook, so I am sharing it here too:

In my experience, drawing strength from the Lord requires spending time with him. I get on my knees, and I tell him what I am struggling with. My confessions are without excuses, and I call sin what it is. If I failed to talk to someone out of cowardice, I don’t say I was nervous or shy. I tell God I need some core attitude changed. I need the Spirit of love, power, and a sound mind because today I took the coward’s route. I don’t condemn myself for this, though I mourn a bit. I dealt with condemnation at the cross. I know that my flesh cannot please God. All of me needs to be crucified. Whatever I have done, it is the life of self, and it needs to be overthrown by submission to the power of God.

As I write these words, they don’t seem clear or heartfelt. When I am on my knees praying, however, they are real. He gives me grace and peace. I stay on my knees till he sends that grace and peace. When I fail to do so, I find my life is weak.

The other super important thing is confessing your faults to others. You can confess your specific sins to God in naked honesty with trembling and conviction because he saw your sin anyway. To your brothers and sisters, confessing your faults is enough unless you have specifically offended that brother or that sister. You need their prayers. You need them to check on you. You need their advice about battling those weaknesses. Those should be people who know and understand you so they can speak to you clearly. Mature Christians can help even if they don’t know you because they know humans in general. Hopefully a mature Christian will speak to you by the Spirit and in love.

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