Monday, August 20, 2012
After a few of our Grace Walk team leaders taught the message of grace in Bogota, Colombia this past week, a friend asked me if I would reaffirm to the dear people in Colombia what we are and aren't saying in our teachings. It's so important to us to be clear in how we share this wonderful message of Divine unconditional love and grace.
In a nutshell, we teach the finished work of Jesus Christ for all humanity. We believe that our Triune God chose, before the foundation of the world, to create mankind for the very purpose of sharing in His life and love. That's why you and I exist - to participate in the circle of intimate love and life that has been and will forever be known among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Early Church Fathers called this relationship perichoresis, a word that refers to, "the mutual inter-penetration and indwelling within the threefold nature of the Trinity." In other words, "a dance of intimate union." We were made to participate in that Divine Dance.
When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, he took us all down with him. Just as mankind's biological roots are found in Adam, so were our spiritual roots. When he became a sinner, we became a sinner. (See Romans 5:12) However, Adam's fall didn't surprise our God. In fact, He had already solved the problem of sin before it reared its ugly head. (See Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Titus 1:2)
The Incarnation wasn't an afterthought on God's part. The eternal plan had always been for God to become man and as the God-Man to bring God and man into union through our adoption in Jesus Christ. (See Ephesians 1:5; 1 Timothy 2:5) The word, "incarnation" refers to the vicarious life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of all humanity. In other words, He didn't simply live and die for us as our substitute. While He did that, He also lived and died as us. His obedience to the Father is our obedience. His death was our death. His resurrection and ascension is is our resurrection and ascension.
When Jesus cried, "It is finished!" from the cross, we believe that is exactly what He meant. Having died for all mankind, He has finished the necessary work to complete the reason for His coming in flesh. He came to take away the sin of the world (see John 1:29) and He succeeded. It is finished! He came to bring forgiveness. When Jesus was dying, He prayed for those who crucified Him to be forgiven by the Father. (See Luke 23:34) Notice that He prayed that prayer apart from those who crucified Him personally asking to be forgiven. He sought forgiveness on their behalf while they saw Him as an enemy? Yes! Was Jesus successful? Yes! It is finished! What He did for them, He did for us all.The sins of all humanity have been forgiven.
"God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them. . ." (See 2 Corinthians 5:19) The sins of the world have been dealt with by the finished work of Jesus. God has reconciled the world to Himself. He does not count our sins against us. Because of Jesus, it is finished!
It may be hard for some to accept that all are forgiven even before they ask but to think that we must do something to finish the work of Jesus Christ is an insult to Him and His work. To proclaim the gospel is to announce the finished work of Christ. God has committed to us this message of reconciliation. (See 2 Corinthians 5:19). We joyfully share this truth and challenge people to believe it! (See 2 Corinthians 5:20). In Jesus, the Father has reconciled us to Himself. It really is finished! The appeal of the gospel isn't to trust God to do something for us, but to receive and believe what He has already done.
Here's an example: God has given us all His love. Correct? Are you loved by Him whether you receive it or not? Of course you are. You may choose to live your lifestyle outside the experience of His love, but the absolute truth is that He loves you whether you receive it or not. That is an eternal truth. His love for you is factual whether or not you know it to be your actual experience.
The same can be said of all that has been given to us in Jesus Christ. What He did on the cross was for all of us and the benefits of the cross are real whether or not they are realized by a person. If any benefit of the cross (like forgiveness) is true regardless of whether or not we accept it, then every benefit of the cross is true for us. We can't piecemeal the work of the cross and argue that one benefit of the work of Christ is true whether or not we believe but other benefits are only true if we believe. It really is finished and what God has done, He has done whether we believe it or not. Just as Adam took us all down, Jesus Christ has brought us all up.
What has He done for us?
He has forgiven us. (See Ephesians 1:7) We aren't forgiven because of what we do - say "a sinner's prayer," be confirmed, take our first communion, join a local church, or anything else. Forgiveness comes from the cross. It was finished there. We don't finish it now by something we do.
He has justified us by His blood. (See Romans 5:9) It isn't what we do that brings justification, but what He has already done.
He has reconciled us to Himself. (See 2 Corinthians 5:19) God was in Christ "reconciling the world to Himself" when He died on the cross. Did He succeed or fail in His work? Did He really finish it? Or did He simply start the process and it's up to people to finish it by their own personal decision? Jesus said, "It is finished." He didn't say, "It's your move now."
He has made us righteous. Romans 5:19 says, "For as through the one man's disobedience (that man was Adam) the many (How many? All!) were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One (Jesus) the many (The same "many?" Of course!) will be made righteous."
Did Adam's disobedience affect everybody but the obedience of Jesus affected only those who allow it to affect them? Not according to this verse. It is finished!
He has given us His life. Romans 5:18 says, "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." Adams' transgression brought condemnation (by sin, not God) to all men. What result did one act of righteousness bring? The justification of life! To whom? To all men!
You may be thinking by this point, "Yes, but there are other verses in the Bible that plainly teach that we are forgiven when we receive it! One verse teaches we are justified by faith! Another verse tells us to challenge people to "be reconciled to God!" Another says we must believe to be righteous! Other verses say we are dead in our sin until we believe!
Those statements are true. There certainly is a tension in the Scripture about these issues, but the question presents itself, "Are we to disregard and reject those verses that plainly teach about the effect of Jesus' work on all humanity? Was Paul wrong when he wrote that God was in Christ "reconciling the world to Himself." Should he have written that "God was making it possible for people to be reconciled?"
Do we accept Romans 5:19 when it says that in Adam all were made sinners but reject the last part of that same verse when it says that in Christ all are made righteous?
Since the Bible is true in totality, must there not be a way that verses like these that seem to contradict may be reconciled together? Yes, there is. The answer is in recognizing and affirming that all the Bible is reliable and trustworthy. The Scripture isn't a buffet where we can pick and choose what we want to believe and what we will reject.
It's true that in Adam all were made sinners. It's also true that in Christ all were made righteous. It's true that forgiveness has been given to all mankind because of the work of Jesus Christ. It's also true that we must receive that forgiveness.
Eternal truth is real, whether we believe it or not. On the other hand, in order for us to benefit from the eternal truth of all that Jesus Christ has done for us, to us and in us, we must believe it. The writer of Hebrews wrote, "For indeed we (believers) have had good news preached to us, just as they (unbelievers) also; but the word they (unbelievers) heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (Hebrews 4:2).
Do you see the point in this verse? It's the same truth that is shared with those who believe and those who don't believe. It is truth before we even believe it. Our belief doesn't make the message of the gospel true. The truth is the truth whether we believe it or not. It is an objective reality. It is factual. It is eternal. It is real! Faith has nothing to do with whether it is true or not. It is true.
However -- in order for a person to "profit" (benefit) from the truth, they must believe it. We are all loved by God but unless we believe it, we will live as if we are unloved. We will spend our lives trying to find a love that, in reality, we already have. All mankind is forgiven. We have been reconciled to God. We have been justified. Christ has given Himself to us. It is finished! These things are true!
When we teach this objective aspect of the work of Christ, we aren't suggesting that it isn't necessary to believe and receive it. To the contrary, the only way anybody will benefit from the finished work of Christ is to believe it, but our unbelief doesn't nullify the reality of what He has done. Objective truth is grounded in an "object." It's real. It's something concrete.
For that truth to become subjective, we must subject ourselves to it by believing and receiving it. Otherwise, that which is factual won't become actual to us. Although it is real, it won't be personally realized. While it remains an eternal truth, we won't know it as an experiential truth.
Because we teach the eternal truth that "It is finished!" and affirm that in Christ it all has already been done for all humanity, does that mean we don't believe or teach that every person needs to receive and believe? No!
Here's what we are teaching: There's nothing left for God to do for anybody because it has all been done in Jesus Christ. People simply need to believe the good news, personally receive it and be transformed by it.
To seek to avoid confusion among some, here's what we are NOT teaching:
Everybody is going to heaven.
There is no such thing as hell.
How people behave doesn't matter.
When people aren't accustomed to hearing the objective side (eternal truth) of the cross taught and are only familiar with the subjective side (experiential truth), they sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to the universality of the work of Jesus - the reality that every person has been affected by His incarnation. They sometimes frantically seek to find a mental folder to file away the teaching that is new to them.
Unfortunately, they often have no file for the objective truths of the gospel so they "misfile" what they hear. The result is that they think we are teaching Universalism or denying the existence of hell or saying that faith in Christ is unnecessary. Nobody who works with Grace Walk is saying these things.
Our goal and earnest effort is to teach both the objective and subjective truths of the gospel. We want people to see that the benefits of the cross are factual even before they become actual. We desire to proclaim what is real even if people don't realize it in their own lives.
Some who hear us teach are set free by the completeness of the message of the gospel. These are the ones who become excited and with enthusiasm join us in sharing the message of grace. I pray these will increase in number and in boldness.
Others who hear us are skeptical. They haven't heard the objective aspects of the cross before and, because it is new to them, they don't know what to think. Sometimes they encounter others who warn them against our teaching, telling them it's error, false doctrine or even heresy. Sometimes they meet people who encourage them forward in their journey. I pray that these will search the Scriptures and trust the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth.
Still others weigh out what they hear, study the Bible for themselves and come to a different viewpoint than the one we teach. I respect these people for taking the time to seriously consider a different viewpoint from the one they hold and pray for them to be blessed richly as they move ahead in the direction they believe they are being led.
Finally, some will not listen. They believe that the content of their understanding about grace is the right way and they won't consider anything else. They hurl inflammatory accusations like "heretic, false teaching, unorthodox, dangerous, etc." against us. They are afraid. They have vested too much in the house-of-cards theological position they hold and they don't want to see it threatened. These can be very "ungracious" in their "defense of grace." Sadly, they believe they are doing God a service with such attitudes and actions. I pray for these, that the love of the Father will rise up big within them and that they will be overwhelmed by His love. It's interesting how a person's perspective can change when that one thing takes place.
I've written this explanation by request. I know it is lengthy but much is at stake in the culture of the modern church and, for that matter, even within that group that some have called "the grace community." The heart of our Father is always one of reconciliation and loving respect. While we at Grace Walk readily acknowledge that we don't know everything and don't claim to have infallible understanding, we speak and minister from where we believe our God has brought us. We will give our lives to this work.
If you agree with the gospel we proclaim, join us in sharing it. If you aren't sure, join us in exploring it. If you believe we are in serious error, join us in praying the Holy Spirit will lead us into an ever growing understanding of the truth.
We want to be known as a ministry of love for everybody. Where we have failed, forgive us. Where we have succeeded, pray that we may accelerate on that pathway. We will be loving but we won't compromise what we teach. We will be respectful but we will not water down the gospel for the sake of finding common ground. We are flawed, frail and may behave foolishly at times, but our hearts are to put relationships above being right. Listen to us. Pray for us. Then join us in showing others that our unity is grounded in our common union to our Father and nothing else.
Do you realize who you are? Do you realize that you are a joint heir with Christ? Do you realize that Christ is your life and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3, 4)? What else do you need? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8.32). The good news is that unlike the prodigal son you do not have to travel anywhere to return home. You are already there. All you need to do is believe the truth of whose you are, who you are and where you are. You belong to the Father, you are His son and you are in Christ and He lives in you. Believing this truth and living in this reality equals freedom and victory.
So what do we need to do? Watchman Nee says, “Oh, it is a great thing to see that we are in Christ! Think of the bewilderment of trying to get into a room in which you already are! Think of the absurdity of asking to be put in! If we recognize the fact that we are in, we make no effort to enter”. Jesus says Remain in me, and I will remain in you (John 15:4). If you tell your dog to “stay” and remain where he is, what act do you want him to perform? If you tell your child to “remain here for a minute”, what action do you want him to take? Watchman Nee says, “The sin is always to do something”. So what do need to do to live free?
In living in the truth and abiding in Christ we are not trying to make ourselves do right and avoid sin, we are just acknowledging the truth that we are righteous as Christ is our life and we are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Rom. 6:11 means when it says, In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. We do it because it is true. The proper procedure is (1) Know the truth. The truth is you are loved and accepted, so (2) Believe the truth. You can do it. You believe that Jesus died for your sins and He lives in you and you can believe the truth that you are a unconditionally loved and accepted child of God, who is dead to sin. You may not feel like it, it may not look like it, but it is true, so believe it. (3) Act on the truth. Reckon it to be true. Consider it so and count on it because God said so. And what God says is the truth regardless of your feelings or circumstances. Appropriate it for yourself and chooses to trust what God says. (4) Then you will begin to feel like it. Well sort of, kind of, maybe sometimes, but our feelings will never completely measure up with the truth. When you woke up this morning you probably didn’t feel dead to sin, righteous, holy and blameless, but it does not alter the truth that you are.
Excerpted from "Helping Others Over Come Addiction" You can get the book here: http://gracewalkresources.com/item.asp?cID=&PID=775
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more. Hebrews 8:12
Consider this example: Your finger is a member on your hand. If you were to accidentally cut off your finger, it is possible that somebody could pick it up, pack it in ice and rush you to the hospital with your severed finger. You would most likely be rushed into surgery where the surgeon would seek to “remember” your finger by reattaching it to your hand.
That’s the meaning of the word as used in this verse. You can be confident that your sins have been severed from you through the finished work of Christ on the cross and they will never be “remembered” again. Your sins are gone and you have the personal commitment from God that He will never remember them again.
Walk into this day in the joy of knowing your sins will never be remembered!
Sunday, August 12, 2012
James Fowler has released what I predict will be a very helpful book in leading people to understand the objective and subjective truths of the gospel. The Extent and Efficacy of the Life and Work of Jesus Christ particularly meets a real need in the grace community in that regard.
For nearly eight years I’ve been teaching about the objective side of salvation in comparison to the subjective side. Objective truth is that which is true whether we know it, receive it, or personally experience it. It is truth that is valid whether we believe it or not. Subjective truth is that which we personally recognize and embrace. Objective truth is factual while subjective truth is that which becomes actual to us personally. Objective truth is eternal while subjective truth is experiential.
In his new book, Fowler explains the nuance between these two views of salvation. The primary strength of the book is the simple and easily understandable way that the objective and subjective truth of the gospel are presented. While many other books appear to be directed toward the scholar, this book has a popular reading style that will make it easily accessible for the average reader.
In the modern climate of the church where charges of unorthodoxy at the least and heresy at the worst are being hurled, Fowler does a good job in showing the value and importance of both sides of the “gospel coin.” He writes:
“The dialectics of Christian thought involve two seemingly contradictory or opposing ideas that are both biblical tenets and must be held in tensioned balance one to the other. The contrasts do not pose a polarized either/or dichotomy, but rather a both/and tension in which the two tenets may appear to be in conflict, but must always be maintained in a complimentary balance.”
It is from that starting place that Fowler sets forth with clarity the meaning of the gospel in a way that disarms those who accuse others who stress one side of the gospel over the other of missing the mark. The book is well organized in that it sets forth the objective side of the work of Christ, which Fowler calls “objective universal” and then presents the subjective aspect that he calls the “subjective particular.”
In the third chapter he shows the danger of minimizing the objective-universal tenets of the gospel by explaining the fallacy of “paricularism,” the viewpoint that overemphasizes the responsibility of man in salvation. The ditch that one may fall into with this error is Calvinism, a view that places such a distorted emphasis on God’s sovereignty that it diminishes the place of human response to the gospel.
In chapter four, Fowler does an admirable job in showing how that Universalism is the other aberrant extreme that comes when the subjective-particular aspect of the gospel is understated. He clearly shows that our faith in Christ is not “a work” that contributes to our salvation but is simply a grace-based response to the good news of the Incarnation (life and work of Jesus).
This book is a sufficient answer for any of us who minimize or dismiss one side or the other of the gospel. It shows how that both the objective aspect of Christ’s work (what Christ has done on our behalf before we even believe it) and the subjective aspect of his work (the imperative call for our individual faith response) both are twin towers of truth in understanding His finished work.
Since toward the end of the book, Fowler mentions me by name, along with C. Baxter Kruger, Paul Young and Malcolm Smith, I will respond to what I believe are sincere but misguided understandings of what I teach. He wrote that, “When Steve McVey (who had been affiliated with the Exchanged Life Ministries group) began to share with his followers that he had changed his theology, a tempest in a teapot began to brew.” Apart from a minor detail, his observation about that period of time is fairly correct, but six pages later he incorrectly states a few things regarding our teaching that bears mentioning.
Fowler is troubled by the word, “Trinitarianism” and charges that “the movement has hijacked the orthodox terminology of “Trinitarian . . .” I disagree and believe that the Cappadocian Fathers as well as other early church leaders would be completely comfortable with our use of the word, “Trinitarianism.” Fowler prefers the phrase, “Evangelical Calvinism,” a phrase whose creation he seems to attribute to Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. While I believe there are many early Church Fathers who would have no problem with the word, “Trinitarianism,” I suspect it would be a needle-in-a-haystack-search to find a true Calvinist who wouldn’t be offended by labeling what I and others teach as “Calvinist” in any form. He also mentions the name “Trinitarian Universalist,” a pejorative phrase used primarily by those who oppose Trinitarian thought in an attempt to indict those who hold Trinitarian views with the label of “Universalists,” a blatantly false charge. (In the broader theological world, the phrase is sometimes used to distinguish "Christian Universalists" from "Unitarian Universalists.)
Fowler states that “the Evangelical Calvinists . . . might state that:”
"All humanity "is drawn into fellowship and participation with the Triune God via the humanity of Jesus." While I’m tempted to respond on behalf of the others mentioned by name, I will restrict myself to answering only for what I teach. I don't believe or teach that all are drawn into fellowship and participation with God via the humanity of Jesus.
What I do believe is that we are all within the perichoretic circle of the Trinity, but the only way we will personally experience the "fellowship and participation" in that Triune life and intimacy is through personal faith. In other words, while I believe the objective reality is already there, a subjective response must exist for fellowship and participation to be realized.
His suggestion that we teach all humanity "is relationally 'in Christ,' i.e. has a relation with God by the life and work of Jesus" isn't something I believe or teach in the sense he uses the phrase. While all the cosmos is indeed "related" to God through Christ, we must believe the gospel in order to experience relationship. Again objectively, yes- all things are related to God in the sense that he both created and sustains all things. All things are "in Christ" in that sense. (See Colossians 1:17) However, a "personal relationship" is only realized through faith in Jesus Christ.
The suggestion that Trinitarians teach that all humanity "had the choice made for them, when Christ chose to become Man and life 'as us'" is a statement that needs clarification. If the statement suggests that there is no choice to be made by us, then I deny and reject that view. Again, I believe everybody, without exception, must believe on Jesus Christ in order to be a Christan and/or go to heaven. It is "(His) faith unto (our) faith" (Romans 5:17). In other words, Jesus is our "faith source" but we must align our faith with His in order for the efficacy of the cross to have personal meaning to and transforming impact in us.
The suggestion that Trinitarians believe that all humanity "has exercised faith in God by 'the faith of Christ' - Christ is the faith-er for all mankind" is both a yes and no for me. Yes, I do believe it is the faith of Christ but I also believe that faith must be actualized in each individual. The faith of Jesus isn't a unilateral action toward the Father that automatically becomes personally efficacious apart from our "acceptance" of Him and His faith.
Perhaps the most disturbing statement for me personally is Fowler’s assertion that Evangelical Calvinists can disregard all the religious threats of hell - ain't no such place, and nobody's going there."
I have had this charge brought against me many times despite the fact that I have repeatedly said that I believe in hell. It seems that in the climate of Western Evangelicalism, if one suggests another view of the nature of hell than the traditional Augustinian, infernalist, retributive version of the nature of hell, we become suspect for not believing in hell. I can't speak for others but I do believe in hell and have done a teaching about my understanding of hell in my series "Important Things I Didn't Learn in Sunday School." My view is more of an Eastern Orthodox view and one that often doesn't set well in the conservative Evangelical world in North America. Do I believe hell is of the Dante/Augustinian order? No, but I do believe in hell nonetheless and teach that those who don't believe the gospel will experience that hell.
I appreciate Dr. Fowler’s honesty and fairness in the book and believe that one statement he made may account for the divergence of emphasis between grace teachers. He wrote on page 170: "I admit that I have had a tendency to "camp out" on the subjective-particular emphases of the indwelling presence of the Triune God. I still believe that is the missing element in Protestant thought that God has called me to teach."
That makes perfect sense. His experiences with the church world have led him to believe that the objective aspect of the finished work of Christ has been emphasized to the neglect of the subjective necessity of personal faith. Thus, he "camps out" on the subjective-particular aspect of the indwelling presence of God.
My experience is different. My opinion is that in the conservative mainline Evangelical church world (particularly non-liturgical churches), the emphasis has been unbalanced by an emphasis on personal responsibility to the neglect of the objective nature of the finished work of Christ. In other words, there's so much talk about the importance of "being saved," of "asking Jesus into your heart," of "accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior," that the objective nature of His finished work is largely unknown. That's why some people have falsely called me a Universalist. They are only familiar with the subjective imperative of believing but have little or no knowledge of the indicative biblical teaching that our belief doesn't cause God to do something but it simply aligns our experience with an eternal reality that already existed even before we believed.
Because of my experiences in the church world and my view that the objective aspect of the gospel isn't known by many (including those in the exchanged life community), I "camp out" on that side of the gospel.
Having identified these few areas that I think are honest misunderstandings on Fowler’s part, I want to end this review by stating that I wrote ‘Amen!” by almost everything else he wrote in the book. If you are one who has been caught up in the discussion of the differences between objective and subjective truth, I can’t overstate how valuable I believe you may find this book to be. Even if these concepts are new to you, I heartily recommend the book as a great introduction toward moving into a deeper understanding of the gospel.We will never plumb the depths of God's grace expressed in Jesus Christ, but for those who enjoy diving into the Scripture and going deeper, you will find The Extent and Efficacy of the Life and Work of Jesus Christ to be a guide toward greater wonder and amazement over the gospel message.
To buy the book, click this link: http://www.amazon.com/Extent-Efficacy-Life-Jesus-Christ/dp/1929541422/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1344761092&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Extent+and+Efficacy+of+the+Life+and+Work+of+Jesus+Christ
Wednesday, August 08, 2012
Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?
The God who stood on the edge of nothing and spoke everything into existence is your help. The Word who continually sustains all that exists to keep atomic particles from rushing into every direction lives inside you. The Spirit who hovered over the face of the deep before the first molecule was formed guides you.
There is no problem you face that towers over your Triune God’s ability to overcome it. Nothing is too difficult for Him. In your moments of weakness resist the urge to rely upon your own strength and ingenuity. Yield yourself to Him, acknowledge your total dependence upon His loving grace and then patiently wait for Him to intervene on your behalf.
His authority can change the hearts of those who oppose you, rearrange the circumstances you face or cause supernatural evil to flee. Nothing is so great that Divine Love has not already defeated it for your sake. Don’t fret over the outcome of your difficulties. The ultimate end of all things in your life will be good because Goodness is the divine path upon which you travel and the ultimate destination you will reach.