THIEVES IN THE CHURCH
Do you know about the sin nobody admits? It’s a sin we’re afraid to mention. We must be afraid to mention it. Because nobody ever mentions it about himself, anyway. Now people have confessed to me that they’re committed some terrible, dark sins. I can recall people who have admitted being drunkards, who confessed to stealing, breaking up another’s home, murder, taking the Lord’s name in vain, trifling on the marriage partner, Sabbath breaking – all the rest – but as far as I can remember in all my time in the ministry, nobody has ever admitted to me that he was guilty of the sin we’re going to talk about now. …
THIEVES IN THE CHURCH
Library of Sermons No. (cpsaflib31)
by Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
Printed in USA
Published (Under permission) by
COCONET-US, LLC (Educational Department)
2207 East Snow Rd
Berrien Springs, MI 49103-9782
“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Eccl. 11:1
The Scarlet Woman
Everywhere people are asking the same questions about the modern church. Why does it appear so weak and compromised? Where is the old-time fire and power that marked the church of a generation ago? These are questions, which prey witness the dwindling influence of religious institutions. Something seems to have gone wrong. Church members spend more time in places of entertainment and amusement than they do in the house of God. There is little firmness of faith, and almost no discipline for those who weakly bend to the indulgent lifestyle of the flesh and the world.
Where can we find courageous pastors who fear not to call sin by its right name? Paul urged the shepherds of his day to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” Then, he made this astounding prediction: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teacher, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”2 Timothy 4:2-4.
These words are being fulfilled before our very eyes. Fables are being taught, doctrinal messages are drying up, and millions are turning from truth to pleasing platitudes. Any sermon that demands obedience or self-denial is rejected out of hand as legalistic and judgmental. The voice of rebuke is seldom heard, and pointed preaching which identifies the biblical antichrist is looked upon as harsh and unloving.
Have we overdrawn the picture? I don’t believe any careful observer of the religious scene would contend that we have. Surely Satan is working harder inside the church than he is on the outside, and his plan is to produce the most clever counterfeit of truth that has ever existed. By creating a diabolical parallel system of doctrinal error within the church itself, he has already led millions into a false worship. The nefarious plot was recognized and exposed by the Holy Spirit shortly before the great deceiver began to implement the major elements of his plan in the post-apostolic church.
But before we turn to John’s inspired account of the sordid story in the book of Revelation, let’s read another prophetic description of the spiritual state of that turbulent period. Paul warned: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” Acts 20:29. Again, he wrote, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposite and exalted himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sited in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”2 Thessalonians 2:3,4.
Paul’s words do not reveal the nature of the apostasy neither the identity of the “man of sin” who would assume the prerogatives of God, but the program would clearly begin to unfold in the early church. Shortly after Paul’s cryptic caution about an antichrist movement within the church, the beloved John began to record his mysterious apocalyptic visions on the isle of Patmos. As the symbols of those revelations have been more clearly explained through comparative study of the prophecies, it is easy to see that John was simply enlarging upon Paul’s earlier oblique references to a developing dichotomy of good and evil within the post-apostolic church.
Without understanding the historical significance of his own enigmatic language, John faithfully described the cosmic controversy between Chris and Satan from it’s very inception. The age-old conflict would finally focus upon the emergence of a counterfeit Christ manipulated by Satan himself, who would seek to destroy God’s law, His government, and His people. In a climactic clash called the battle of Armageddon, the great adversary would consolidate both secular and religious powers of earth against the minority group of faithful loyalists who would refuse to transgress the commandments of God. The antichrist system, under the control of Satan, would be the major force to suppress truth and to seek the death sentence against those who refused to cooperate with the evil confederation.
In his epistles the beloved John had declared, “And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” I John 4:3. Because he recognized that the “spirit” of that prophesied antichrist was operating in his own day, John cooperated fully with the Holy Spirit by clothing his exposé of that power with symbolic language, unrecognizable to enemies who might have sought to exterminate the inspired record altogether.
The Two Sides in Conflict
John used a variety of colorful types and symbols to portray the elements involved in the final controversy between Christ and Satan: for example, a dragon, a lamb, and two fierce wild beasts. But the most prominent representation of the two sides centers in the two striking women described in chapter 12 and 17. No word could b found to identify more vividly the nature of the contending forces in this contest. On one side is the pure woman of Revelation12, clothed in the glory of the sun, wearing a crown of stars, and standing on the moon. Here is represented the true church, the bride of Christ. The prophets had written, “I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.” Jeremiah 6:2. “Say unto Zion, Thou art my people.” Isaiah 51:16.
Later, Paul used the same symbolism of the church when he wrote, “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2.
On the other side, John wrote in Revelation 17 of the activities of a drunken, scarlet-clothed harlot, sitting upon many waters and holding a golden cup of abominations in her hand. Here is the antithesis of the pure woman of chapter 12. The woman still symbolizes a church, but one which has committed spiritual adultery. Her cup is filled with fornication. According to the Bible, this represents a turning away from Christ and unfaithfulness to His Word. “You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that friendship of the world is enmity with God?” James 4:4. Although married to Christ, this church had been disobedient to His Word, taken the teachings of the world, His enemy, and therefore become a spiritual harlot. The fornication in the cup would constitute false teachings and doctrines that would be contrary to Christ, the true husband.
Just as the book of Revelation classifies all the world’s inhabitants as ultimately following Christ or the dragon, obeying truth or error, receiving the mark of beast or seal of God, so it pictures every individual at the end of time on the side of the symbolic harlot or the side of the pure virgin. What a solemn thought it is that everyone reading these words right now will belong to one category or the other. There will be no middle ground. It will be the camp of the saved or the camp of the lost. The prophet looked on one side and saw the wrath of God falling upon those with the mark of the beast (Revelation 14:10, 11). Then, he looked on the other side and declared, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12. A faith experience – a Jesus experience – that produces obedience to His commandments, is the chief distinction between the followers of Christ and the followers of the beast.
The Harlot System
Since most of our study is to focus upon this false religious system which gradually evolved from an early church apostasy, we should read the full description of the “great whore” as given by John. “And there came one of the seven angels which has the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sited upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.” Revelation 17:1-6.
It is no exaggeration to observe that our eternal salvation could well depend upon a proper identification of this corrupt church system. The Revelator declared that “all the world wondered after the beast.” Revelation 13:3. There is no time to assemble the persuasive list of Bible characteristics of the beast power in this study, but it has been dealt with fully in the Amazing facts’ book entitled The Beast, the Dragon, and the Woman. Here we will consider the contextual evidence of Revelation 17 to identify the fallen woman and her daughters who are assigned the name of Babylon.”
Let us keep the points in clear, logical perspective as we look at the revealed facts. First, the woman has been shown to represent a religious system, howbeit a false one. Secondly, a dragon-like beast with seven heads and ten horns is supporting her. Who is this beast holding up the woman? Again, we cannot exhaust the evidence for lack of time, but verse 9 gives us a very strong clue. “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman seated.”
These words strike a very familiar chord. What city is built on seven hills? The old pagan Rome, which was sprawled across seven hills by the river Tiber. Even though this mystery beast involves much more than pagan Rome, we have sufficient evidence that Rome was definitely a part of that which gave support to the harlot church system. This leads us to the question, what church received support from the pagan Roman Empire? Only one, of course, and that was the Catholic Church, whose papal head also assumed the title Pontifex Maximus, as the direct successor of the Roman Caesar’s.
The second line of evidence which points to the papacy is found in verse 6. “And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” History reveals only one church which waged such a frenzied warfare against faithful Christians. Over 50 million martyrs fell victim to the terrible inquisitions of the Church of Rome, according to the most conservative estimates. It was indeed a persecuting church. Multiple evidences, including admissions of the church itself, could be presented to support this particular mark of identification.
Another interesting clue is found in verse 4: “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color.” Anyone who has visited the Vatican can confirm that these are the predominant colors which are in evidence around St. Peter’s Square. Scarlet-robed cardinals are among the most frequent visitors to the papal head of state and church.
John observes further that the woman was “decked with gold and precious stones and pearls.” What a contrast to the simplicity of the pure woman of Revelation 12 who has no artificial adornment at all – only the glory of her raiment of light. Throughout the Bible, jewelry and articles of adornment are used symbolically as indications of apostasy and unfaithfulness. (With such negative spiritual connotations, the true Christian should avoid the vanities of such fleshly display and pride.)
In passing, we should also note that the beast on which the harlot sits has ten horns. The angel explained them in these words: “The ten horns… are ten kinks, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. Theses shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: … these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” Revelation 17:12-16.
This prophetic scenario is very interesting indeed. Since the number ten designates earthly completeness, just as seven indicates divine perfection, we can recognize in this prophecy a universal confederacy of earthly governments giving support to the beast for a certain period of time. Just as pagan Rome was one of the major political powers passing on its strength to the papal system, we now see at the end times a joining together of all the kings of earth in support of Catholic aims. John declared that “all the world wondered after the beast.” Revelation 13:2.
But a change was to take place just before the judgment of the great whore. The earthly kingdoms, apparently, would recognize that they had been duped by the Babylon system and would withdraw their support. The prophetic language leads us to believe that at the very end they violently turn against the woman and “make her desolate … and burn her with fire.”
This helps us understand another symbolic account of the woman’s experience. Although she was seated on “many waters,” those waters were to be “dried up.” Revelation 16:12. The angel explained, “The waters which thou saw, where the whore seated, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues,” Revelation 17:15.
When those waters, of people and nations, turn away from their support, there is truly a drying up of the waters which held the woman in her position. The details of this future development are impossible to define in detail, but the broad picture stands clearly before us in the language of the prophet.
The Harlot’s Golden Cup
Now, we need to give closer attention to the contents of the golden cup in the harlot’s hand. We have already established the spiritual nature of that abominable fornication. A church can only commit such infidelities by turning away from the law of her husband, which is Christ. Without question, the cup overflows with unscriptural doctrines and practices. Many of them are easily identifiable because they have been absorbed by other subsequent religious bodies. Of these we will have more to say a bit later.
In the cup can be found sprinkling in place of baptism. Here is a custom never practiced or endorsed by our Lord. When Jesus spoke of baptism, He used a special word that has only one possible definition. It cannot connote sprinkling or a partial effusion of water. It literally means to dip under and totally immerse.
Also included in the cup would be the teaching of Sunday-keeping instead of Sabbath observance. Nowhere in the Bible has God’s great hand-written law of Ten Commandments been abrogated or changed. Jesus kept the seventh-day Sabbath, “as his custom was,” and knew absolutely nothing about the observance of the first day of the week. Luke 4:12. The pagan “day of the sun” was adopted long after the days of the apostles in order to placate the massive influx of Mithraism sun worshipers and their professedly “converted” pagan emperor Constantine.
A major element in the golden cup would undoubtedly be the Greco-pagan concept that man’s naturally immortal soul flies away at death to either eternal punishment or reward. The truth is that the Bible nowhere speaks of undying souls, Jesus called death a sleep. According to His doctrine, there is an unconscious, dreamless sleep of death in the grave from which all will be awakened in the Day of Judgment to receive everlasting life or eternal death. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” John 5:28,29.
Jesus also contradicted another popular fallacy held in the golden cup of abominations. The doctrine of eternal torment in an endless fiery hell has been responsible for turning multitudes away from the gracious provisions of a loving Savior. Again, the words of Jesus are clear and unambiguous: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Mathew 10:28.
This text establishes beyond question and on the highest authority that the soul is subject to death. Only the righteous receive the gift of eternal life. “The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. “The soul that sinned, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:4. “All that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that come shall burn them up, said the Lord of hosts, … And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet.” Malachi 4:1,3.
The consistent testimony of Scripture points to a final execution of judgment upon the wicked in the lake of fire. It will be an eternal death form which there can be no survival or resurrection. Since the soul is not immortal by nature, all the wicked will suffer the fate so vividly described by Jesus, “destroys both soul and body in hell.”
The Harlot’s Name
These and numerous other “ism” and perversions of true doctrine may be identified in the mystery cup of the harlot. Every one of them constitutes disloyalty and infidelity to the spiritual relationship which every true Christian should sustain with Christ. This is why the woman carries the name on her forehead “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of Harlots and abominations of the earth.” What a title!
The word “Babylon” denotes confusion. It originated with the Tower of Babel where God confounded their language so that they could not understand each other. We speak of a babbling of voices. God call this woman Babylon because of her unholy blend of truth and error which causes “the inhabitants of the earth” to be “made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” In other words, the whole world will be contaminated and confused by her teachings.
But now, let’s look at that emblazoned name more closely. Notice that it is obviously a family name, because she has daughters; and they are designated as harlots, just like their mother. Having established that women symbolize churches in these prophetic writings, we now inquire as to the identity of these daughters. Since they are guilty of infidelity also, we must conclude that they are churches which share some of the same false doctrines which constitute spiritual fornication. In other words, they would be drinking out of the same golden cup with its unscriptural portion of pseudo-Christian teaching. What churches could be represented by these daughters? Since the mother has been identified as the Catholic Church, we must look for other religious bodies that came froth from the mother church of Rome and carried with them some of the same confused doctrines of that church.
None can escape the conclusion that those daughters are Protestant churches who have inherited many of the empty traditions of their Catholic forebears. Whether we like it or not, we must admit that many of the most popular doctrines of the established Protestant churches are rooted in that quasi-Christian twilight period when the post-apostolic church was being overwhelmed by pagan influences.
We need only look at one example of the moral law to see how seriously the infiltration affected the teachings of the church, both then and now. With the most explicit words of the Ten Commandments before them, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shall not do any work,” those leaders of the early church yielded to the political clamor to take in millions of former sun worshipers who did not want to give up their custom of worshiping on the first day of the week – a day they named and observed in honor of their venerable sun-god.
The Catholic Church hierarchy simply changed the day of worship from the seventh to the first day, under the claim that God bestowed such power upon them. Millions of Protestants continue that altered practice, even though it rests solely upon the illegitimate actions of the apostate Catholic system. No human church leaders, whether bishops, priests, or pope, have been given any authority to change the great moral law of the universe, the Ten Commandments.
Isn’t it interesting that the daughters blindly followed the majority practice of the compromised Catholic Church even though they properly identified her as the antichrist power of prophecy? How could this be? Why was it so easy to accept something that was such a flagrant violation of a plain command of God? Perhaps the answer to that question will be more apparent as we ourselves are confronted with a command just as concise and specific. We turn now to the crux of this tremendous prophecy and ask the question: What does God think about this woman and her daughters?
The Call Out of Babylon
The answer is found in the first few verses of Revelation 18. Here also we find the command of God which few are willing to obey in our day. “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her my people, that you be not partaker of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God had remembered her iniquities.” Revelation 18:1-5.
A close examination of these verses reveals that a very special message is being proclaimed which will profoundly affect every corner of the planet. Under the symbol of a powerful fourth angel, a warning sounds forth against the counterfeit gospel being communicated through the woman and her daughters. Not only is she spiritually fallen from favor with God, but also her wine of deceptive doctrines have placed her in unholy alliance with the kings of the earth. All nations are represented as committing fornication with her by giving support to her false teachings. They use the illicit relationship to their own political advantage, and “wax rich through the abundance of her delicacies.”
But then, suddenly, the call of the fourth angel is cut off by an even more urgent voice which sounds forth from heaven itself. This time there is no doubt about the one whose message rolls from one end of the heavens to the other. God is speaking! And He is speaking to an exclusive group. He addresses Himself to “my people.
Here are the exact words, “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partaker of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.” Revelation 18:4. Now the picture becomes more distinct. There are sincere people in all of those fallen churches represented by the harlot mother and her daughters. Because they have been faithful to all the light of truth which had been revealed to them, God extends a final invitation of mercy. But what a message! This is undoubtedly the most shocking and revolutionary call to ever fall on human ears.
What does it mean? There is only one answer. Those religious bodies represented by the fallen Babylon system have departed so far from the foundation of Bible truth that God can no longer acknowledge them as His. By choosing the traditions of men over the commandments of God they have disqualified themselves as reliable shepherds of the flock of God. In almost every crusade, members come to me from a variety of churches weeping and asking what they should do about their church or they pastor. Instead of receiving loving counsel and Bible answers, they are being taught to break God’s law. “The Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross. You don’t have to keep the Sabbath today. You can choose any other day of rest and worship,” they are told.
Apostasy and betrayal has reached its limits when leader comfort people in their practice of sin. God says, “This is it, my people. You can no longer remain in fellowship with a church that is so spiritually fallen that it teaches you to break my law. Come out of that confusion.” What a fearful and emotional command that is to most people who hear it for the first time, and how easy it is to empathize with their mixed feelings. They love their church. Their fondest memories revolve around its ministry – baptism, marriage, and commitment. And even though they recognize the apostasy and the necessity to separate, it is one of the hardest commands to obey.
How strange it is that the strongest and most condemnatory language in the e Bible is used against religious people. Jesus pronounced terrible judgment upon the Pharisees who pretended to be so righteous while violating every principle of truth. Similarly, God speaks again directly from heaven against those who profess His name while willfully transgressing His commandments. His extreme displeasure is revealed toward both religious groups – hypocrites, whited sepulchers, generations of vipers, hold of every foul spirit, habitation of devils, cage of every unclean and hateful bird – these are some of the charges He leveled against them. Are they justified? Why such a scathing reaction against those who were so very religious?
The answer to this question is important. These churches – every one of them – had allowed the popular traditions of men to crowd out the self-denying truths of His Word and His law. Rejecting the Sabbath of the Lord in favor of a pagan substitute, they had been guilty of condoning sin instead of righteousness. Said Jesus; “In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Matthew 15:9.
Who then are Babylon and her children? Any contemporary church who teaches contrary to Jesus. Errors and “ism” could be multiplied, but the height of abomination was reached by giving deliberate encouragement to the breaking of God’s great moral law. Be teaching mend to break the Sabbath, the sign and seal of our salvation-rest in Christ, the churches became the spoilers of God’s people. Very soon those same churches will be so bitter against the obedient ones that they will lend their influence to force compliance by religious legislation. To such organizations no true child of God can give support. It would be equivalent to subscribing to the erroneous beliefs and actions of those church groups.
No wonder then, that God sounds that radical calls, “come out of her, my people. You must leave those churches which have rejected my law.” But where should they go when they come out of the fallen churches? Does God want them now to be rootless, with no church, no pastor, and no fellowship? Indeed, not. Just as surely as there is a harlot woman of prophecy representing a counterfeit religion, there is also a pure woman who symbolizes the true church of Jesus Christ.
The Woman in White
We only have time for a brief look at Revelation 12 where the exciting history of the true church is recorded. A complete in-depth study is found in the Amazing Facts’ booklet entitled The Search for the True Church.
John begins his narrative of the woman in white with this description: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” Revelation 12:1,2.
The remainder of the chapter follows the course of this beautiful pregnant woman and her offspring. Standing in the glorious light of the New Testament age, with the symbols of the 12 apostles on her head, she is about to give birth to a baby. A terrible red dragon stands before her to destroy the child as soon as it is born, but the baby boy eludes the dragon. Later, he is caught up to throne of God. Who was the baby? John declares that he was to rule all the nations of earth; therefore, we must conclude that it was Jesus. He was also the only one caught up to the throne of God.
Afterward, the woman the true church, fled into a wilderness hiding place for 1,260 days. Since a prophetic day equals a literal year, the woman had to be hidden away exactly 1,260 years (Ezekiel 4:6). History confirms that the total period of papal civil rule, during which the true saints were persecuted, was from 538 A. D. until 1798 A. D. During those Dark Ages, the Bible was suppressed, and the true church was not to be seen before the world.
Nevertheless, at the end of the 1,260 years, or sometime after 1798, the truth was to emerge from its hiding place. John provides a dramatic description of the woman as she would appear at the very end of time, and how Satan would still be trying to silence her witness of truth to the world. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17.
This verse contains one of the most exciting revelations in the Bible. It reveals that the remnant, or the last part, of the true church will be characterized by obedience to the commandments of God. The scarlet woman of Revelation 17 had turned away from God’s law, rejected the doctrines with traditions of men. Now the breach is healed and the original truths are being restored by the last part of the pure woman’s seed, the remnant church.
At last, the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled: “And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shall raise up the foundations of much generation; and thou shall be called, The repairer of the breach. The restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from
Doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words: Then shall thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth.” Isaiah 58:12-14.
So the whole circle of apostasy has been uncovered. From the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 to the seed of the woman of Revelation 12:17, the true church pressed its relentless warfare against confusion of woman seemed at times to prevail with a majority support, but the faithful little remnant of the woman in white which “keep the commandments of God” ultimately triumphs. And out of all the fierce beasts portrayed in the book of Revelation, it is the bleeding Lamb who prevails in the end. Trough the blood of that Lamb may we all be gathered to Mount Zion, the place of rest and eternal security.
Library of Sermons No. 21
Copyright 1992 by
Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
Printed in USA
Published (Under permission) by
COCONET-US, LLC (Educational Department)
2207 East Snow Rd
Berrien Springs, MI 49103-9782
“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Eccl. 11:1
The Search for the True Church
Is there a true church in the world today? And if so, how can it be identified?
Of all the religious questions facing the modern truth-seeker, this is certainly the most demanding and also the most frustrating. Conflicting voices from every quarter declare that they have the answer. Denominations, sects, and cults make strident claims based upon emotional interpretations of isolated Bible texts.
The average Christian today has been so totally turned off by these exaggerated boasts that many have even discounted the possibility that any “true church” could really exist. Others have questioned the criteria by which any church could be tested and rated as “truer” than another.
It is very important to recognize that no church can be proven superior because its members are without sin. People are people, and all are subject to the same frailties of human nature. Yet, it is also true that every Christian has access to the same mighty power of God for overcoming those frailties. Therefore, any church today will necessarily be made up of individuals who are at varying levels of personal sanctification. The wheat and tares will still be mingled together, and no church will be made up entirely of perfect people.
But the question remains: Is there some valid way to identify the church which is closer to the biblical standards of truth? Some feel that the distinctive name of the organization will set it apart as the right one. Obviously, this could be no accurate test, because the choice of a name would reveal nothing about the spiritual nature of that church. Such shallow claims only serve to discourage intelligent searchers after the truth.
It must be apparent to all that if God has a special church in the world today, He will reveal it clearly and explicitly in His holy Word. The information must be couched in language that will appeal to human logic and should consist of more than just vague generalities or insinuations.
I am reluctant to make any claims for what you are about to read, although I know very well that it could revolutionize your life. Do not scan or read lightly the material which follows. I ask only that you study it prayerfully and with an open mind. Then judge it on the basis of the Scriptures and your own spiritual convictions. If it is truth, the Holy Spirit will guide you into joyful recognition of it. My personal feeling is that you will find this experience to be the most exciting adventure you have ever had in God’s Word.
Our quest for truth will focus upon the twelfth chapter of Revelation. Limited time and space does not allow for an exhaustive study, but two principles will be given priority – accuracy and simplicity. Over twelve hundred years of history must be dealt with only briefly as we follow the absorbing story of the true church to its surprising climax. Further confirming evidence for the historical part of the prophecy has been provided in my book entitled “The Beast, the Dragon, and the Woman.”
THE WOMAN SYMBOLIZES THE CHURCH
Revelation 12 is basically the narrative account of a beautiful, sun-clad woman and her descendants. “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” Revelation 12:1.
Here we are introduced to one of the most familiar symbols in the Bible. In both the Old and the New Testaments, God represents His people by a woman. As the bridegroom, he is married to the church. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” II Corinthians 11:2.
All through the Bible we can follow the record of this symbolism. God said in the Old Testament, “I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.” Jeremiah 6:2. And again, “Say unto Zion, You are my people.” Isaiah 51:16. The church is called Zion and God compares it with a beautiful woman. In the Old Testament, Israel was the chosen people so often portrayed as being married to God.
In the New Testament, the true Israel of God is no longer a nation but a church composed of Jews and Gentiles who receive Christ as their Savior. Therefore, the woman of Revelation 12 flashes us the picture-story of the church at the time of Christ. The clothing of sunlight typifies the glorious New Covenant of grace, and the twelve starts represent the twelve apostles. The moon under her feet indicates the fading glory of the Old Covenant in the presence of the true Lamb of God.
Now begins the thrilling part! We are going to follow the unfolding future of that true church of our Lord Jesus. The next verses vividly delineate the course of truth through the ages. We want to know where that woman can be found TODAY! Don’t miss a step of the prophecy as we trace the vicissitudes of the true church right down to the twentieth century!
The first thing we discover is that the woman is about to give birth to a baby. “And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads… and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and to his throne.” Revelation 12:2-5.
Who is this man-child destined to rule all nations and who was caught up to heaven? Only one person can meet this description – Jesus Christ. And who does the dragon represent, who tried to kill Christ at His birth? It was Herod, the representative of Rome, who sent out the order for all babies of two years and under to be slaughtered. Ordinarily, the dragon is used as a symbol of Satan, but in this case, the devil was working so closely with the Roman power to kill Jesus that the dragon also symbolizes Rome.
How did Jesus escape the diabolical decree of Herod? Joseph and Mary were warned of the danger in a dream and fled to Egypt with the infant. Later, after the death of the tyrant, they returned and settled in the town of Nazareth.
Even though the devil was foiled in his initial plot to kill Jesus, he did not abandon his purpose. Repeatedly, he sought to take the life of Jesus, and finally, he managed to bring Him to that mockery of a trial where He was tortured, crucified, and buried. But the grave could not contain the Son of God, and on the third day He burst out of the tomb. Later, He ascended to His Father in heaven.
PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH
With no direct access to Jesus, the dragon (Rome) now turned his anger against the followers of Christ, the church. “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.” Revelation 12:13.
These words provide only a tiny hint of the horror of the violence which broke forth against the apostolic church. Practically all the early disciples and church leaders were martyred for their faith. Cruel pagan emperors turned the sporting arenas and coliseums into theaters of death for those who followed the true gospel.
Soon pagan Rome yielded to papal Rome, and the persecutions continued with even greater force. Millions died under the terrible inquisitions which sought to eradicate all opposition to the papal system. Historians estimate that during the Dark Ages more that fifty million people laid down their lives rather than yield up their Protestant faith.
But let’s follow the tragic story in our prophetic outline. Revelation 12:14 tells us what the true church did as the pressures of persecution built up to a climax. “And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.”
In order to escape extinction, the faithful Protestant refugees fled back into the Alpine mountains and valleys holding onto the true doctrine delivered by Jesus. Another book of Acts could be written about the heroism of the Waldensian, Huguenots, and Albigensian who refused to surrender their faith during those centuries of fierce oppression. God fought for them, and sometimes the pursuing armies of Rome were cut off by mysterious avalanches and rock slides. At other times the mountain streams were reddened by the blood of those faithful ones who sealed their devotion to the truth with their lives. The Revelation prophecy gives a symbolic picture of the desperate attempts made to wipe out those minority Christians who were hiding for their very survival. “And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.” Revelation 12:15.
How long was the true church to remain out of sight in the wilderness? The prophecy declares it would be for “a time, times, and half a time.” How mysterious! What is meant by this strange description of the time period involved? When would it end? The answer is found n verse 6. “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.”
Now the picture begins to clear up. One verse says the woman was in the wilderness for 1,260 days and the other verse says she was there for “a time, times, and half a time.” These two periods are equal. This means that a “time” has to be a year in prophetic symbolism, “times” is two years, and “half a time” is half a year. When we add up the one, the two, and the half, we get three and a half years. And that is equal to exactly 1,260 days, using the Bible reckoning of 30 days to the month.
There is one more principle of prophetic interpretation to take into account here. In symbolic Bible prophecy a day always stands for a year. You will find the key for the principle in Ezekiel 4:6: “I have appointed to you each day for a year.” It is laid down elsewhere in these words: “…forty days, each day for a year.” Numbers 14:34.
Please note that this applies only to symbolic prophecy, and cannot be read into other portions of the Scripture. A day is used for a year only in the setting of an obvious prophetic context. This places the woman in her wilderness hideaway for the full period of 1,260 literal years.
Our conclusion must be, then, that the true church could not appear in the world until the end of the 1,260 years. Did such a thing happen to the true people of God? How long did the papal power continue to suppress the true doctrines by the exercise of her religio-political authority?
Here is a fascinating point of history. In 538 A.D. a decree by Emperor Justinian went into effect which assigned absolute spiritual preeminence to the church of Rome. Gradually, this religious tyranny drifted into union with civil powers until eventually kings were forced to seek permission from the pope before they could begin to rule. This authority remained in force until the year 1798 when Europe was rocked by the French Revolution. In the subsequent rebellion of the oppressed peasant against the privileged clergy, the pope was captured in 1798. The papal property was confiscated, and the French Directory government decreed that there would be no more Bishop of Rome. The oppressive rule of the papacy ended exactly 1,260 years after it was inaugurated in 538 A.D.
THREE MARKS OF THE TRUE CHURCH
This brings us to a most important observation. THE TRUE CHURCH COULD NOT APPEAR IN THE WORLD UNTIL AFTER THE YEAR 1798. It was to remain in hiding until the end of the 1,260 years, and that “wilderness” period ended in 1798. We have before us now one of the most amazing marks of identification for the true church. It is not based on some emotional feeling or upon some strained interpretation of a single Bible text. It is rooted in a prophetic revelation of a specific time period which can be verified by scores of historical records. The woman [church] simply could not make her appearance until the inhibiting powers of papal opposition had been taken out of the way. That prophesied event took place in 1798, and the truth which had been clothed in sackcloth now began to emerge from obscurity, soon to appear as the glorious remnant of the woman.
Now we are brought to an actual description of the woman as she would appear before the world sometime after the year 1798. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17.
This text is one of the most crucial to be found in the entire Bible. Nowhere is there a more concise description of the last-day remnant of the original apostolic faith as it was preserved through the ages. Here is an actual verbal definition of the true church for the twentieth century. It is so important that we are going to analyze every word in order to extract the full meaning. If the true church can be discovered at all in the Bible, this will be the verse to reveal it.
“AND THE DRAGON… “Who is the dragon? There can be no question on this point. In Revelation 12:9 the dragon is called “the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world.”
“WAS WROTH…” What does that mean? “Wroth” is the Old English word for “angry.” It simply means that Satan was angry. Whom was he angry with? “WROTH WITH THE WOMAN…” Who was the woman? We have already found that she is the true apostolic church, representing the great, original teachings of Jesus.
“AND WENT TO MAKE WAR WITH THE REMNANT OF HER SEED… “Here a new word is introduced into the picture. Satan is going to fight against the REMNANT of the true church. What is a remnant? It is the last end piece on a bolt of cloth. It is exactly like the first piece that came off the bolt, but it happens to be at the very end and is always a small piece.
What does this tell us about the remnant of the woman? It is the last part of the true church, at the very end of time, which will be holding the exact same doctrines as did the early, apostolic church. But let’s read on.
“WHICH KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD …” What commandments would this be referring to? This designates the great moral law written by the finger of God on tables of stone. The Ten Commandments reflect the character of God, reveal His will for all His creatures, and form the basis for all morality and worship.
Here we are confronted with the second intriguing mark of identification of the true church. Not only must it arise some time after the year 1798, but on the authority of the Word of God, it would have to be keeping all The Ten Commandments of God.
But now let’s finish reading the fantastic verse. “AND HAVE THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST.” Here is another characteristic of the true remnant. Not only will this last-day church arise after 1798 and keep all the Ten Commandments, but it will have the testimony of Jesus. But what is the testimony of Jesus? That is an unfamiliar phrase, and we need more than human wisdom to uncover its meaning.
Notice how the Bible specifically defines this expression for us. If this text truly contains the heart of ultimate truth for us, the Word of God would have to clarify every part of it. The definition is provided by the word of an angel sent all the way from heaven to explain it to John. “I am thy fellow servant, and of your brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10.
There it is! We know now without a shadow of doubt that the testimony of Jesus is the SPIRIT OF PROPHECY. And this is the third great mark of identity of the last-day true church!
Let me ask you something: Does a spirit of excitement rise up in you as these plain Biblical statements zero in on the most sought-after secret in the Word of God? We are getting closer and closer to identifying the special people of God in our day and their special message. And we are doing it by allowing the Bible to make the identification. We have not fabricated a single one of these three definitive characteristics. No one can honestly challenge their application to the end-time church of Jesus Christ. That remnant church will have to possess all three of these biblical tags of identity:
- ARISE AFTER 1798.
- KEEP ALL THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
- HAVE THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY
I know that some are already puzzling over that third mark. The “spirit of prophecy” is just about as incomprehensible as the “testimony of Jesus.” But stay with me, and we will get the explanation for that point very shortly.
A FOURTH IDENTIFICATION CHARACTERISTIC
Right now I would like to add a fourth crucial mark of identification to our list. We have found this church to be the last, end-piece of historic truth. It will be proclaiming the final message of God just before Jesus returns. In fact, if God has any kind of special counsel or warning for the world at the end of time, He would surely give that message through His last-day remnant church. I think we can all see the logic of this conclusion.
Does God indeed have such a message, and is it identified clearly in the Bible? Jesus indicated that the proclaiming of a certain definite truth would immediately precede the conclusion of human history. Listen to His words: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Matthew 24:14.
The last sign of Christ’s coming will be a worldwide preaching of the “gospel of the kingdom.” After that, the end will come. Now follow me closely. John the Revelator actually saw in vision the fulfillment of Christ’s words. He wrote, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice…” Revelation 14:6, 7.
The next few verses describe precisely what that special last proclamation of the gospel will consist of. Then immediately John said, “And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle… and he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.” Revelation 14:14-16.
Did you catch that? The end comes just as soon as this particular “gospel” message has gone to every nation on earth. Jesus said the same thing. “this gospel… shall be preached in all the world… and then shall the end come.”
I submit to you that whatever this message is, it has to be the most urgent and compelling one that human ears have ever heard. Both John and Jesus testify that upon completion it will usher in the glorious kingdom of Christ.
Can we know what that final warning will contain? John spelled it out so simply that none need be in doubt. “Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come.” Revelation 14:7. Notice that a part of this last call of God will be announcing that the judgment has already started. “IS COME,” not “will come.” We must look and listen for the preaching of such a pre-advent judgment message to all nations of the earth.
The next part of the first angel’s message is this: “And worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of water.” Revelation 14:7. Does that sound familiar? It should, for it is quoted almost word for word right from the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, which strongly indicates that the Sabbath will be a part of the “gospel” proclamation which must go to the whole world just before the end.
How do you worship God as the Creator? Right in the heart of the Ten Commandments God wrote the answer: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:11.
True worship stems from a recognition of God’s creative power and authority, and the Sabbath is God’s own established sign that He is the maker of everything. Over and over throughout the Bible God claims worship BECAUSE He created all things. “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: “FOR YOU HAD CREATED ALL THINGS.” Revelation 4:11.
God challenged the false gods repeatedly because they could not create. “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth… He had made the earth by his power.” Jeremiah 10: 11, 12. “God himself… formed the earth and made it… I am the Lord: and there is none else.” Isaiah 45:18.
The Sabbath was instituted by God as a great reminder-sign of His sovereign authority as the only God to be worshiped. The Creator set in motion the arbitrary cycle of the seven-day week to mark off the true Sabbath, so that the world would be without excuse in knowing whom to worship and when. Thus the first angel’s message called for men to “worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea”- a call to true Sabbath-keeping.
The second and third angel’s messages described by John can be summarized briefly: “Babylon is fallen … If any man worship the beast … and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God.” Revelation 14:8-10. Contrary to the opinion of many, this plain, bold preaching of the beast message is included in the everlasting gospel of God’s kingdom. Even warnings against the mark of the beast will be heralded to every nation, kindred tongue, and people. THEN THE END WILL COME!
We are now prepared to add a fourth characteristic to the list of three others. The true remnant church of the last days will surely be used of God to carry His final warning message to all inhabitants of planet earth. That message will include a) the judgment hour is come, b) true Sabbath worship, c) the fall of spiritual Babylon, and d) the mark of the beast.
This completes the amazing array of specific characteristics of the twentieth century’s true church:
- ARISES AFTER 1798.
- KEEPS ALL TEN COMMANDMENTS
- HAS THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY
- PREACHES THE MESSAGE OF THREE ANGELS (Revelation 14 – on worldwide scale)
Could any thinking person be indifferent toward what we have discovered thus far? We have in our hands right now the key to unlock one of the most fantastic spiritual secrets in the world. God has concentrated all the clues in this one, tremendous, prophetic chapter of Revelation. Look at the marks of identification. This is God’s list, not mine. I simply lifted them from the inspired pages of God’s Book. What do they tell us about the true church today?
First of all, it could not have arisen before 1798. This eliminates most of the great popular Protestant churches of the world. Practically all of them were formed before 1798. Secondly, it would have to be a church which keeps all the Ten Commandments. At first glance, this would seem to be a very poor definitive test for discovering which church is right. Surely all of them would teach and practice obedience to the great moral law of God – or would they? The fact is that very few contemporary denominations even lay claim to keeping all the Ten Commandments. Most of them admit freely that they do not observe the seventh-day Sabbath required be the fourth commandment. They observe the first day of the week instead of the Sabbath.
MOST CHURCHES FAIL THE BIBLICAL TEST
Doesn’t that seem strange? God wrote with His own hand, “the seventh-day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it you shall not do any work.” Exodus 20:10 No one has ever been confused about the day God sanctified and commanded. All preachers and churches freely admit that Saturday is the seventh day of the week. Yet most of them are transgressing the commandment of God every week by blatantly doing work on the Sabbath, which God has prohibited.
To compensate for the breaking of the seventh-day Sabbath, they have substituted another day – the first day of the week – in place of the one God commanded.
How do they justify such willful manipulation of the great moral law of God? The situation is astounding no matter how we view it! Many churches brush aside the Ten Commandments as mere ceremonial rules of Moses and teach that they were abolished at the cross! Others take the position that all the Ten Commandments, EXCEPT THE SABBATH, were carried over into the New Testament. In either case, the fourth commandment, containing the special sign of God’s creative and redemptive power, has been rejected and desecrated.
Yet we have just discovered that the true church will be distinguished for keeping the commandments. Mark it down: according to the clear teaching of the Bible, no church could be the remnant of the woman unless it keeps the seventh-day Sabbath as well as all the other nine commandments. Suddenly, we see the vast majority of those who passed the first test failing to meet the second.
But now we move onto the third requirement of the prophecy. The last-day remnant church must have the spirit of prophecy manifested in it. What does that mean? Without doubt this particular flag of identity is the most important one on our list. We shall discover that this involves more than merely understanding and preaching prophecy.
Finally, this special church will be distinguished by the unique message it proclaims to all nations on earth – the judgment is begun, the seventh-day is the Sabbath, Babylon is fallen, and warnings against the mark of the beast.
Before we say more about any modern church system which might match these inspired characteristics, let us return to identifying point number three, which still has not been fully explained.
THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY
Under the inspiration of God, John declared that the remnant of the woman would have the “testimony of Jesus.” Since that expression is somewhat ambiguous, John later gave a clarification which still leaves much to be desired. He said simply, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10.
At least this is moving in the right direction, but we must now discover what John means by that expression, “spirit of prophecy.” Whatever it is ranks high with God, because He designates it as one of the ways by which to recognize His true church in these last days.
The picture begins to clear up when we examine the full context of the statement. An angel appears to John, and John falls upon the ground in awe and admiration. Said the Revelator, “And he said unto me, See you do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and of your brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God; for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10
In this verse, please notice who is described as having the testimony of Jesus, or the spirit of prophecy. Only John’s “brethren” are identified as having it. Now we must seek for some further information as to who John’s brethren were. The Word does not fail us. In Revelation 22:8, 9 John repeats the story of the angel and adds a little more detail. “And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. Then said he unto me, See you do it not; for I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets… worship God.” John’s brethren were the prophets, and they alone are said to have the spirit of prophecy.
Suddenly, the whole puzzle falls into place. The only ones who had the spirit of prophecy were the prophets themselves. If just knowing prophecy and preaching it could be called the “spirit of prophecy,” then many modern teachers and evangelists might qualify. But the Bible makes it exceedingly clear that it is the actual ability to prophesy. In other words, it is the gift of prophecy. Only the prophets had it.
This fact is supported by the apostle Paul. “That in every thing you are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge: Even as the testimony of Christ (spirit of prophecy) was confirmed in you: So that you come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 1:5-7.
Here the testimony of Jesus is called a “gift” instead of the “spirit” of prophecy. And the implication is very strong that the gift will be in operation at the return of our Savior.
With this inspired insight from Paul we are back on familiar ground again. We have no problem with the term “gift of prophecy.” The New Testament epistles are filled with references to all the gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of prophecy. Paul told the church at Ephesus just how and when the gifts were bestowed: “Wherefore he said, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” Ephesians 4:8.
Little comment is needed on this. It is a well-know fact that when Jesus returned to heaven He left certain special “gifts” or abilities with His people on earth. In fact, they are named: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” Ephesians 4:11.
For what reason did Jesus endow certain ones in the church with these appropriate spiritual gifts? “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:12. He did it to build up the believers and strengthen the church. These gifts were to mature and perfect the leaders of the body of Christ as they sought to edify the members.
The next verse tells exactly how long those gifts would be needed in the church. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13.
If language has any meaning at all, these words convey one idea very clearly. All the gifts which Christ placed with His church were to continue operating until the very end of time. They would be needed to bring the church to perfection and to the fullness of Christ’s stature.
Dare we ask the next obvious question? Where are these gifts today? If they were intended by our Lord to do their sanctifying work right down to the end of time, then they should all be seen operating in the churches around us. Let’s inquire if they are. Do we find teachers in most churches today? The answer is yes. What about pastors and evangelists? Practically all denominations have them. What can we say about apostles? Since this word literally means missionaries,” (coming from a Greek word meaning “one who is sent”), again we can say that most modern churches qualify on this particular gift.
So far, so good. But we have one more inquiry – what about prophets? From most religious quarters there in no ready reply to this question. Practically no church claims that such a thing has ever been a part of its ministry.
But why? If all the other gifts are necessary, why should prophets not be necessary as well? It was certainly counted so in the early church. In fact, all the spiritual gifts were very much in evidence, according to the book of Acts.
“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon….” Acts 13:1. Here we have evidence that two of the gifts, teachers and prophets, were a part of the church at Antioch. Then in Acts 21:9 we read that a “man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” Notice that these four women from one family were appointed by the Spirit to be prophetesses. They had the spirit of prophecy.
WHY DID PROPHETS DISAPPEAR FORM THE CHURCH
It is obvious that all the gifts were operating equally in the apostolic age and immediately afterward. But why did the gift of prophecy seem to drop out of sight after two or three years into the Christian era? We do not have the same record of it through the ages as we do the other gifts. Why don’t we find prophets in all the churches of today along with pastors, teachers, etc.?
We dare not avoid the question as so many millions of Christians are currently doing. The Word of God meets the issue head-on and pulls no punches in the process. It is easy to see why most churches try to ignore the absence of this gift in their midst, especially when we discover the reason for its absence.
That post-apostolic period is not the first time that the spirit of prophecy had been removed from among God’s people. The truth is that God was dealing with the church then in the same way He had always dealt with His people. All through the Old Testament God led and instructed them by two divine agencies – the law and the prophets. Through the prophet Jeremiah God spoke to Israel, “if you will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, To hearken to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I sent unto you… Then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.” Jeremiah 26:4-6.
The LAW and PROPHETS! The two go together. Not only do they refer to the writings of Scripture, but they also refer to the two means of divine guidance. “Keep my law and hear my prophets” was the requirement of God. And the sacred record indicates that if they rejected one of those divine agencies, God would remove the other also, because they were actually rejecting His leadership. On numerous occasions the children of Israel turned away from the law of God, only to find the prophetic voice silenced as well.
Jeremiah wrote, “The law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from the Lord.” Lamentations 2:9. Ezekiel put it this way: “Then shall they seek a vision of the prophet; but the law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients.” Ezekiel 7:26. The wise man laid down the very same principle: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he. Proverbs 29:18.
In times of open disobedience of His law, God used the prophets only to rebuke and to call back, not for counsel or guidance. When they turned from the law, they understood that they were also forfeiting the only other avenue by which they could receive divine direction. In his apostasy Saul cried out, “God is departed from me, and answers me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams.” I Samuel 28:15.
We have a perfect example of this in Ezekiel 20:3 when the people came to inquire after God’s counsel. “Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them. Thus said the Lord God; Are you come to inquire of me? As I live, said the Lord God. I will not be inquired of by you.” Why would He not answer them in this case? Verses 11-13 give the answer: “And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them. Moreover, also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despise my judgments, which if a man does, he shall even live in them; and my Sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.”
Surely we can see that the reason God gave no divine direction was because they had forsaken His law and had broken His Sabbath. It was the violation of the fourth commandment which especially provoked the displeasure of God.
Now we are prepared to deal with the question of prophets in the New Testament, and why they disappeared after two or three centuries. What happened to God’s law at the very same time the gift of prophecy disappeared from the church? The history of that early period shows that the Sabbath was set aside in favor of the pagan day of the sun. A disgraceful compromise with heathen sun-worship led to an open rejection of the true seventh-day Sabbath. And when this happened, God did exactly what He had always done before when His people turned from His holy law; He withdrew the guidance of the spirit of prophecy. Prophets disappeared from the church. This brings us face to face with an exciting and challenging question. Is there reason to believe that when the church restores the law and begins to observe the Sabbath again, that God will also restore the gift of prophecy to the church? This leads us right back to that dynamic prophecy of Revelation 12 and God’s description of the true remnant. Now, for the first time, we can see the full significance of that seventeenth verse: “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Do you see it? The law, so long neglected, is right back where it belongs – in the church. And hand in hand with the law is the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy. Think of it! The law and the prophets get back together again in the last remnant piece of God’s true apostolic church! All the gifts are again operating as they did in the day before the apostasy.
Remember that a remnant has to be exactly like the original except that it is on the very end, and it is a small piece. This fantastic prophecy reveals that there will be and end-time restoration of the faith of the apostles. The same Sabbath will be restored. The same gifts of the spirit will be manifested, and all the great apostolic doctrines will be stripped of the effects of 1,260 years of papal distortion.
A church, called the remnant, must appear on the scene some time after 1798. It will restore the foundation of many generations by keeping the Sabbath, the same one that Jesus made for man during creation week, and the same Sabbath He observed when He was on the earth. In that church will be manifested the true gift of prophecy. Under the anointing of unusual spiritual blessing and power that remnant church will carry the special last warning message of Revelation 14 to all the countries in the world. As we have already discovered, this glorious gospel of the three angels includes the present-our judgment, the Sabbath, the fall of Babylon, and the beast message.
This church is identified again by John in these words: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12. Do not overlook the fact that these commandment-keeping saints are empowered to do what they do only by trusting Jesus. When you find them, they will not be boasting of their righteousness, or depending on their good works to save them. Above all people they will have a loving, personal relationship with the Savior they worship. Their obedience will be based solely upon the merits of Christ’s imputed and imparted righteousness. They will keep the commandments because they have been saved by grace and not to gain any favor with God.
By this time, you are probably in a state of excited curiosity as to whether any church in existence can meet the incredible conditions laid down in the Bible. Many claim to be the true church, but their claims are not based upon the requirements of the Word of God. Only those who fit the four specific marks outlined in the book of Revelation can be qualified for consideration. Just suppose we could find only one church in the world today which meets all these Biblical tests. Could we expect it to be a perfect church with flawless members in it? On the contrary, it would surely be composed of average men and women, subject to the same failing as all other human beings. It would have to be a comparatively small church to meet the criteria of “remnant”. Jesus said the way of truth was narrow and “few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:14. Again He declared, “And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.” Luke 17: 26. None should be deceived by trusting great numbers, the majority. The saved will be comparable to the eight taken into the ark at the time of the great flood. Truth has never been popular, and it will be less so in the final age of sensual pleasure and materialism. The remnant church will not be found among the great, popular churches with their indulgent life-styles. Said Jesus, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24. Paul’s counsel was” Come out from among them, and be you separate, said the Lord.” II Corinthians 6:17. To Titus he wrote, “For the grace of God that brings salvation had appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly … a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Titus 2:11-14.
These and many others related verses seem to indicate that the true church of the last days will be looked upon by the world in the same manner that Jesus and His followers were esteemed in their day. Since the remnant is merely an extension of the great original, it will be despised by the majority, counted as peculiar, and finally, like the early church, as worthy of death. The book of Revelation exposes a diabolical plan of the end-time “beast” power to enforce a mark on every individual, and those who will not receive that mark will be condemned to death. As you might suspect at this point, those who resist that beast mark will be those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12. In other words, the remnant church.
Again, it must be emphasized that all those who belong to the remnant church will not necessarily be saved. Like all other churches it consists of ordinary people who must maintain a constant saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is undoubtedly true that there will be people saved and lost out of all denominations and sects. Every person will be judged on the basis of revealed truth, and how he obeyed what he knew. Members of the remnant church will have great light, and they will be judged accordingly. Maybe they will fail the test, because they depend on their knowledge of the truth rather than the saving merits of Christ’s righteousness. This is why it is altogether possible for many even in the “remnant” church to be lost. Others who have not so great light will be accepted if they know Jesus and walk in all the light that has been revealed.
But after making those observations, we must also concede that God has a special church with a special message which is designated as the “remnant” of the woman. It will appear near the end, holding the same doctrines as did the apostolic church, keeping all the Ten Commandments (including the Sabbath), having the gift of prophecy, and preaching Revelation 14 to the entire world.
DOES ANY CHURCH MEET THE FOUR TESTS?
Is there such a church in the world right now which meets all the requirements of these Biblical texts? God does not leave us to wonder. He has made the marks so distinct and clear and simple in the Bible that all can know what to look for. Is it difficult to match the four great distinguishing signs with the hundreds of confusing church names and bodies? Not at all.
How many of those churches arose after 1798? A small minority. And how many of this minority are keeping all the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath? Very few. They can be counted on the fingers of one hand. How many of these few also have the spirit of prophecy? And finally, how many are proclaiming the three angel’s messages of Revelation 14 in all the countries and languages of earth?
The sifting and eliminating has led us down to just one church, believe it or not. It would be less than honest to leave you hanging at this juncture, wondering if God had described some impossible, hybrid church that would never exist. Out of all the ecclesiastical systems in existence at this date, there is only one that fully meets the Biblical criteria of the remnant.
This must be our conclusion based upon historical facts and not because we have any axe to grind for some particular church. The inspired record of Revelation 12 contains no emotional bias toward any existing church. The most disinterested person would have to come to the same conclusion after examining the full, prophetic picture. This leaves no room for boasting or pride. The secret was not revealed by any man but by the Word of God.
As we name the church, it must be with some trepidation. There will always be a few ready to charge us with sectarianism in spite of the undeniable evidence before us. Others will allow personal prejudice to rob them of this glorious truth.
The only church fulfilling the prophetic description of the true remnant is the Seventh-day Adventist church. Arising around 1844 this movement of destiny began the predicted program of restoring the truth which had been lost or distorted during the Dark Ages. One after another of the original doctrines of Christ and the early church were returned to their former luster and beauty. As the authority of the law and the Sabbath was re-established, God did exactly what He had promised to do: He restored the beautiful spirit of prophecy to the remnant church. That gift was manifested through the life and teachings of Mrs. Ellen G. White. This young woman, with only a grammar school education, received special revelations that extended over a period of more than six decades. From her inspired pen poured more than seventy books, many of which were acclaimed by the highest secular critics to be matchless in form and content.
Although the gift of prophecy served in a powerful manner to give impetus to the new movement, it professed only to be a “lesser light” to the sovereign authority of the Holy Scriptures in harmony with the Bible rule to “try the spirits,” every manifestation had to be tested by the Word of God. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20. Had her writings not conformed to the Bible in every respect, they would have been rejected as counterfeit, but they spoke in perfect agreement with the Scriptures. In no way have they been considered a part of the sacred canon of Scripture. Though inspired by the same Spirit, they do not add to nor take away from the Holy Writ, but like a magnifying glass they bring out the beauty and truth of the Word.
Perhaps the greatest wonder of all is how the emerging remnant church, in the providence of God, settled upon the very same doctrines of Revelation 14 – the one specified by Jesus and John and the final message – as the heart of its teaching. But there is yet another miracle! How could that infant church, with only a few hundred members in 1860, reach out with its unpopular message and evangelize every country in the world? Yet, that is exactly what has happened! The work of Seventh-day Adventists has been established in countries representing 98.5 percent of the world population. And every one of these unique doctrines of Revelation 14, including the judgment, the Sabbath, and the beast message, is being witnessed to those nations.
There are several churches which qualify on the first point of identity, and there are a few who fit the second also; but, it is a singular fact that only one church conforms perfectly to all four points. With a simplicity and logic that appeals to human reason, God has fulfilled His promise to guide us into all
truth. The next move must be up to us. What will we do about the persuasive conclusions to which we have been led?
No one can avoid making a decision over this kind of truth. We can decide to accept it, or reject it. We can choose to obey or disobey. But one thing is certain – you can never be the same again, no matter which decision you make. Conviction has a way of staying with us even when we try to ignore or banish it. You can never forget the things you have learned about the true church. You are now in possession of the most sought-after secret in the whole Bible.
I would urge you not to make a decision to accept it just because it has convinced you intellectually. No one should join the church, which is the body of Christ, unless they have been drawn spiritually into a relationship with Jesus.
Behind the fantastic prophecy of the true remnant I want you to see the Lamb of God dying on the cross in your place. He hangs there because of sin – because someone did not love Him enough to obey Him. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15.
We can’t obey Him until we have knelt, broken-hearted because of our sin, and accepted Him as Lord and Savior. Love for Him provides both the motive and the power to fulfill His word. If you haven’t accepted Him already, make that your first decision. Then under the strength of that new love relationship follow Him into service as a member of the true remnant church.
Library of Sermons No. 16
Copyright 1984 by
Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
Printed in USA
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2207 East Snow Rd – Berrien Springs, MI 49103-9782
Cover by A. Soares
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“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Ecclesiastes 11:1
IS IT POSSIBLE TO LIVE WITHOUT SIN?
Recently I read the amazing account of a man who submitted to a scientific hypnosis experiment. While under the influence of a light hypnotic trance the subject was ordered to pick up a glass from the table. Although he was a strong, athletic type, the man could not budge the glass from its position. His most strenuous exertions could not lift the glass that was light enough for any child to remove.
Why could he not do it? Because the scientists, after placing him in the trance, had told him that it was impossible to pick up the glass. Because his mind was convinced that it could not be done, his body was unable to carry out the command to lift it. What a dramatic demonstration that no person can really obey commandments which he believes to be impossible of performance!
Is this the reason so many Christians are living weak, defeated lives? There is no question that the popular, modern theology has been teaching millions that no one can really live without sinning. The Ten Commandments have been portrayed as an idealistic code produced only for the purpose of making people conscious of their need.
Many modern Christians are turning more and more to a soft, lenient stance on the subject of law-keeping. They believe God’s love is incompatible with strict rules and penalties for violations.
That is a very comfortable doctrine but completely foreign to what the Bible teaches. Millions are being conditioned to break the great moral law of the universe – without feeling any guilt! The Word of God gives no one an excuse to feel relaxed about sin. It is the central problem of every person who has been born. Like a highly contagious disease, sin has infected every soul with the germs of death, and no earthly cure or deterrent has been found to halt the fatal progress of the sickness.
From the first appearance of sin in the Garden of Eden it has been totally disruptive of everything good. Never in one instance has it been able to coexist with righteousness and holiness. The requirements of God make it utterly impossible for sin or disobedience to be a part of the Christian lifestyle. The new tolerance for it is not biblical in any sense of the word. Jesus came to save people from it; He came to destroy it. It will never enter into heaven. Our attitude toward it must be uncompromising. There can be no question of making it more acceptable by diminishing the amount of it or changing its form. It must be destroyed. And the only means to eradicating it is by receiving the fullness of Jesus Christ and His grace in the life.
How strange it is that so many church members have now become apologetic for sin, as though it cannot be prevented from triumphing in the life of a Christian. How dare we misrepresent the Power of God’s grace in the gospel! Jesus has already defeated the devil, and no Christian should be intimidated by an inferior, defeated foe. We have no business justifying the transgression of the Ten Commandments.
It is serious enough to engage willfully in an act of sin, but it is infinitely more deadly to defend it as something which cannot be prevented. To say that victory is impossible is to deny the adequacy of the gospel and to negate a large portion of the inspired Scriptures. In addiction, it adds support to the original charge of Satan against God, and gives a paralyzing, false security to everyone who believes in it.
Often people are defensive of sin because they have not been able to stop doing it in their own strength. For example, when they can’t stop smoking, they must find a rationalization for its presence in their lives. Instead of making the humiliating confession that they can’t conquer it, they fabricate arguments that it really doesn’t hurt them or that no one can be perfect. Or the popular, convenient doctrine that no one can really live without sin anyway.
It is probably safe to say that the majority of Christians today are resigned for falling short of the moral law. In fact, they are quite satisfied that God doesn’t even expect them to fulfill that law completely, either in the flesh or in the spirit.
The effect of such a teaching is exactly what one would expect – multitudes of emotionally happy, but disobedient, church members who feel that any concern about keeping the commandments is nit-picking and legalistic.
What a delusive strategy of Satan! As the inventor of the doctrine, the evil one is simply supporting his ancient accusation that God was asking too much. He accused God of being unfair by requiring something that was impossible.
He was able to convince a third of the angels that God was unreasonable to expect obedience to His law, and he has been trying to make everybody else believe it since that time. Think about it for a moment, and the entire scheme begins to make a lot of diabolical sense. Satan knows that sin is the only thing that will keep anyone out of heaven. Since sin is the “transgression of the law”, he had to perfect a plan to make people look lightly upon breaking the law and also cause it to appear unobjectionable. I John 3:4. To make the idea acceptable to Christians, Satan actually was able to disguise it as a doctrine and foist it upon a compromised Christianity.
In every evangelistic crusade, we meet it in one form or another, usually at the point of the law and the Sabbath. The inconvenient claims of obedience are shrugged off with a “Well, nobody can keep the Ten Commandments, anyway.”
But the problem doesn’t end there. Even Christians who have accepted the claims of the moral law are not too concerned about how well they fulfill it, either. In a subtle way they have been affected by the prevalent belief that too much concern about obedience is a form of salvation by works. Incredibly, some seem to be so fearful of keeping the law too closely that they actually make provision to break it. By doing so they perversely comfort themselves for not being legalistic.
How could people committed to commandment-keeping ever come to such a confused contradiction within themselves? Exposure to a false concept of righteousness by faith is only part of the answer. Much of the problem is based upon human failure and weakness of the flesh. Because they found themselves stumbling in their efforts to be perfect, they finally concluded that it was impossible not to sin. From that point it was easy to start interpreting Bible texts to support their weak experience. Satan exploited the psychological bent of the human mind to rationalize, and soon they had developed a comfortable doctrine that accommodated their occasional deviations from the law. Consequently, most Christians today are resigned to an alternating experience of victory-defeat, victory-defeat. To them it is the approved lifestyle of normal Christianity.
But something is fearfully wrong with this position. In the first place, doctrine should never be based on feeling or human experience. It must be rooted in the plain, unequivocal teaching of the Word of God. It is true that Bible texts can be assembled which seem to support the doctrine of spiritual imperfection. We are assured that all have sinned, that the carnal mind is enmity against God, and that man’s righteousness is as filthy rags. But all the verses about failure, sin and defeat are in reference to the unregenerate experience of a person. There are literally scores of others texts which describe an opposite experience of total victory and sinless living. In every case they are referring to the Spirit-filled life of a converted, committed child of God.
This distinction must always be recognized in the reading of the Scripture. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation. His grace is stronger than all the concentrated forces of evil. Jesus came to save His people from their sin. No one who reads the sixth chapter of Romans intelligently can believe that the Christian is free to practice sin. Paul utterly devastates the doctrine that a believer should keep on falling into sin.
It is true that provision is made for cleansing in case sin is committed, but God’s perfect plan made it possible for man to overcome every sin and to live a life of perfect obedience through Christ. In fact, the promises of the Bible are so clear and specific on this point that it is hard to get confused. No secret meaning of hidden reservation can be found in the myriad of texts which describe the victorious experience of the born-again child of God. And just because one may not have grown into that fullness of faith which brings constantly victory, he should not, therefore, deny the power of God to give such deliverance. When Peter began sinking in the Sea of Galilee, it was not because God’s plan or power had failed. Peter could have rationalized, like so many modern Christians, and said, “God didn’t want me to walk on the water, and besides, it’s impossible for anybody to do such a thing anyway.” Like our first parents we still tend to place the ultimate blame on God when we fail to follow His plan.
TOTAL VICTORY PROMISED
The Spirit of God seemed to anticipate the struggle many would pass through in accepting the biblical assurances of total victory. Consequently, the inspired writers were moved to use almost fanatical language in describing the possibilities for overcoming sin. Superlative expressions are utilized which actually boggle the mind. Instead of saying we may be saved, the Bible says we can be “saved to the uttermost.” Hebrews 7:25. Instead of saying we may conquer; it assures that we can be “more than conquerors.” Romans 8:37. Instead of being told that we can just triumph, we are told that we may “always triumph.” II Corinthians 2:14. Instead of promising whatever we might ask to help us in our spiritual battles, the Bible says He will give us “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20. And the verse just prior to that one clearly guarantees that we may “be filled with all the fullness of God.” Verse 19.
Admittedly, many of these promises are too vast for our human minds to comprehend fully, but surely they are intended to impress us with the magnitude of God’s resources in our behalf. If the language sounds exaggerated, it is only because we are too feeble in faith and too weak in the flesh to believe such purity and sanctification could never be fulfilled in us. We tend to trust our feelings quicker than the Word of God.
Is it important to believe the promises exactly as they read? Yes, because it is only through those promises that deliverance can be accomplished. “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” II Peter 1:4.
Notice that it is “by these” that we escape the corruption of sin. What are “these”? The promises of God. The sequence of victory is plainly marked out in this fantastic text. By faith in the promise we become a partaker of the divine nature, and through the power of that new nature in us we are able to escape the corruption of sin. In other words, everything depends on the surrender and commitment of one’s self to the indwelling Spirit of Christ. “Without me,” Jesus said, “you can do nothing.” John 15:5.
Equally important is the inspired comment of Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. That little expression “all things” is the key to victory for every one of us. It includes power over drugs, immortality, appetite, pride, and every act of sin that would rob us of eternal life.
ALL THINGS AVAILABLE
The big point here is that when you get the power of Christ in your life, you have everything else you could never desire. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32. There is that term again – “all things.” You will find it also in II Peter 1:3. “According as his divine power had given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness …”
When you put those texts together, an incredible picture emerges. By claiming the presence of Christ in your life, you also receive everything that Christ possesses. Paul described it this way: “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” Corinthians 1:30.
Here the “all things” are broken down into very particular, individualized experiences, and we begin to see that Peter was right in stating that God has given us all things that pertain to godliness. Those Christians who doubt the possibility of overcoming sin completely should read these verses carefully. What do those words “righteousness,” “redemption,” and “sanctification” include? All three of those words promise us more than deliverance from the guilt of our past sins. The word “redemption” is not limited to redemption from the guilt of sin, but from the power of sin also. “Sanctification” is a word that describes continuous, daily growth in overcoming sin. “Righteousness” literally means right-doing and applies to a dynamic fulfillment of God’s will. They are all big words, but they all have the connotation of being set free, both from the guilt and the practice of sin.
Every child of Adam needs two things desperately – forgiveness for the past, and power for the future. Redemption includes both of them; and the idea that full deliverance from the guilt of sin is included, but only partial deliverance from the power of sin, is a perversion of the gospel. Jesus did not come to save us from the consequences of sin only, but to save us from the sin itself. Salvation is not a negative thing; not just the absence of something. He did not come just to take away something – our guilt, but to give us something – victory over sin. For God to forgive us and leave us under the power of continued sin would make God an accomplice of sin. He not only counts us righteous through the imputation of His atoning death, but He makes us righteous through the impartation of His victorious life.
After thoughtfully reading the entire sixth chapter of Romans, if you need more assurance that victory can be yours, read the following:
I Corinthians 15:57 – “But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I John 5:4 – “For whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.”
Philippians 2:5 – “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
II Corinthians 5:21 – “… that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
I John 3:6 – “ Whatsoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not see him, neither known him.
Let us return for a moment to the analogy of the hypnotized man. He could not physically lift a small glass from the table because his mind was so fully convinced that it couldn’t be done. Has Satan been able to immobilize the church through the power of his hypnotic, lying assertion that obedience is impossible? It certainly seems so.
No one is going to put forth any serious effort to do something that he believes to be impossible. Obviously then, those who believe they cannot live without sinning are not attempting to live without sin. No reasonable person will waste time and effort in a vain struggle to accomplish nothing.
That brings us to an interesting question: Can a person believe that there is no way to stop sinning, and yet make plans not to sin? Logically, it would seem highly unlikely, if not impossible. Yet the Bible commands us to “make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lust thereof.” Romans 13:14. Do we indeed make provision for sin by holding that it is impossible not to sin?
TO HIM THAT OVERCOMETH
The entire book of Revelation is addressed to the seven churches of Asia. In each of the churches certain ones received high commendation and glorious promises of heavenly reward. Without exception the blessing was extended “to him that overcometh.” Those seven churches symbolize every period of the Christian church from the apostles to the end of time. If victory over sin is not possible, no soul will be saved from those centuries of time.
To deny the possibility of total victory over sin is to rob God of the glory of His mission. He came, the Bible says, to destroy the works of the devil. Those works are the works of sin. If no one claimed His power to overcome sin completely, the devil’s accusation would be confirmed. The requirements of God would be exposed as too difficult to obey.
Jesus stated that He had come “to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10. Here He indicated that more than just people needed to be restored. “That which was lost” included a sinless character. His mission was to counteract and neutralize the entire program of sin-defilement introduced by Satan. Restoring the image of God in man is a very important part of the everlasting gospel. That work of the gospel must be done before Jesus comes and not as some magical afterthought of our returning Lord.
The book of Revelation identifies the crowning characteristic of the redeemed as obedience. “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17. “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:14.
How significant it is that man’s condition for remaining in Eden is also the condition for being restored to Eden. Anyone who believes obedience is unimportant should read again the dramatic story of Adam and Eve. A tiny, physical act of sin led to all the stark tragedy of the past 6,000 years. Those who are restored to that lost paradise will have demonstrated that they can be trusted with eternal life. Through faithful obedience in the face of death, they will have proven Satan’s charges to be utterly false. Their steadfast loyalty will be an eternal guarantee of the security of God’s restored dominion.
What can we say, then, concerning those who look so lightly upon the good works of obedience? They are subjects of grave deception and are playing into Satan’s deadly sin-trap. The most glorious experience of the truly converted is to break the pattern of self-indulgence and sin. Under the rule of the Spirit of God, fleshly habits may be conquered and expelled from the life. Through faith in the promises unbelievable power may be released into the life of one who is willing to give up the enjoyment of sin.
The heart of God longs for us to take Him at His word and to claim the power He has promised. It is the only road to real victory. But no one can experience victory who does not believe victory is possible. Read again the assurances of the Bible. Do not try to twist them to match the weaknesses and failures of your human experience. They mean what they say. Deliverance is yours for the believing and the asking.
Right here we need to pause and consider an objection which is always brought against those who believe in total victory. It goes something like this: If you believe it is possible to live without sinning, are you able to say that your own life is free from sin?
Although the question deserves an answer, it should be pointed out that the objection Is not relevant to the issue. If the Bible establishes a truth, it should be received on the grounds of its inspired authority and not on the basis of the messenger’s experience. If victory over all sin is possible through Christ, it is true, whether the preacher has claimed it or not claimed it. Further, the work of sanctification is a progressive, lifelong experience and can never be considered as finished in point of time. Even if one could be unconscious of any known sin, he could never boast of being sinless. In fact, the person who is closest to perfection would surely be the least likely to recognize it. Because the nearer he gets to Jesus the more imperfect he will appear in his own eyes.
The claim might also be made that the doctrine of victory over sin is highly idealistic and too theologically complicated to be practical. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Even a child can understand the simple faith transaction of appropriating the promises of the Bible. There is not a habit or sin known to man that cannot be conquered through faith.
In the next few minutes you will be able to appreciate the beauty of this divine victory plan. You will learn how to stop smoking, cursing, overeating, gossiping, or committing any other sin. Let nothing distract you as you proceed to the next paragraph. It could be the turning point of your life and mean more than all the money in the world. Since so many are struggling with cigarettes, I will use that indulgence as an illustration of the victory we are describing. Put you own problem into the text, and then take the four steps to glorious victory.
THE SECRET OF VICTORY
Have you heard about the evolutionary way of getting the victory over tobacco, or any other sin? It is sometimes called the “tapering” method, but generally it just doesn’t work. Oh, it partially works, of course, because old age takes care of some temptations and sins, and time settles the rest when death comes. But do you know why “trying” does not work in overcoming the devil?
Why can’t we fight the devil for a few months and finally drive him away? Because the devil is stronger than we are. We could fight him for a year, but he would still be stronger than we are at the end of the year. Trying will never break the power of sin in a single instance, because we’re facing an enemy who will always be stronger than we are. What, then, is the answer to our weakness and defeat? This question leads us to the sweetest and most sublime secret in the Word of God. Let us study it thoughtfully and with much prayer.
First of all, one must understand that all of Heaven’s gifts are available to us through the promises of the Bible, and we receive them by faith. Peter describes the “exceeding great and precious promises” and assures us that “by these we might be partakers of the divine nature.” 2 Peter 1:4. Mighty power is stored within the promise to fulfill itself to all who claim it in faith. So few are willing to believe that the promised blessing becomes theirs the very moment they believe it. Why is it so hard to believe implicitly that God will do what He promises?
Now let us come down to the very heart of victory and consider the four simple scriptural steps that any believer may take in claiming God’s power. Four texts will illuminate the amazing transaction. First: “But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57. Allow your mind to savor the fantastic message of these words. Victory is a gift! We do not earn it by our efforts, or deserve it because of any supposed goodness. The only thing we need do is ask for it, and the victory will be given to us freely by Christ. He is the only one who has ever gained the victory over Satan, and if we ever posses the victory, it will have to come as a gift from Him.
Let me ask you something. Do you need victory in your life over some binding, miserable habit of sin? Some are slaves to appetite, to alcohol, or tobacco. Other are struggling helplessly against impurity, anger, or worldliness. The Bible says you may have the victory as a gift through Jesus Christ. Do you believe He will give you that power if you ask Him? How certain can you be that God will answer your prayer for victory immediately? Here is how sure you can be – just as sure as Christ’s words are true! Our second text is Matthew 7:11, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
Is it a good thing when you ask for victory over tobacco, or any other fleshly or moral evil? Of course it is! And you don’t even have to ask if it is God’s will! He has already told us in the Bible that it is His will to destroy the works of sin and the devil. If we pray for more money or a better job we should always ask according to His will but the victory over sin is promised to every one who asks in faith.
Will God give the victory when we ask Him? Jesus said He was more willing to give this good thing than we are to feed our children when they are hungry. He is waiting to honor your faith and to “supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19. These assurances are so open-ended and unlimited that our minds are staggered by it. Why have we been so reluctant to apply for the provision of grace? Why is it so hard to believe that God means exactly what He says? He will keep every promise.
FAITH MAKES IT SO
Here is the next question. How do we know we have the victory after we ask Him? Simply because He said we would have it. We know God did not lie. We can believe His promise. The very moment we ask, we should accept the fact of fulfillment, thank Him for the fight, get up and act like it has been done. No kind of proof-feeling or sign should be demanded or expected. The self-fulfilling power in the promise is released in response to our faith alone.
This brings us to the Third text, found in Romans 6:11, “Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The word “reckon” means to believe, or to consider it done. Every particle of faith should be focused on that one request for victory and then it should be accounted as done. Do you remember how Peter walked on the water? He asked Jesus if he could step out of the boat onto the raging sea, and Jesus told Peter to come. But how long did Peter do the impossible by walking on the water? The Bible says, “When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:30.
What was Peter afraid of? He was afraid of sinking and drowning. In spite of Christ’s assurance that he could safely walk on the water, Peter began to doubt the word of the Master. That is when he began to sink. As long as he believed the promise of Jesus and acted in faith, he was safe. When he doubted, he sank.
Now, what is the impossible thing as far as you are concerned? It is not walking on water. It is overcoming that tobacco habit. And Christ says, “Come to me. I will give you the victory.” It is as simple as that. The very moment you ask for victory it will be placed in your life as a reservoir of power. It will remain there as long as you accept it in faith.
For some people the deliverance is so dramatic that they lose even the appetite for the sin. Tobacco addicts have sometimes been delivered from the craving, but this is not the usual way God does it. Usually, the desire remains, but in the moment of temptation, the power to walk past the temptation springs forth from within. Faith accepts the fact of deliverance and constantly claims the victory which is in the secure possession of the believer.
The final step to victory is described in our forth text, Romans 13:14. “But put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” So strong is the confidence in the appropriated power of God that no consideration is given to falling under the power of that sin again. Under the old “trying” plan, provision was made to fail in most cases. Cigarettes were placed on a shelf, and the smoker said to himself, “I’m going to try never to smoke again, but if I don’t make it, I know where they are.” But under the “trusting” plan, we have no reason to fear failure on the grounds of human weakness. Victory does not depend on our strength but on God’s power. We might fail, but He cannot fail. Cigarettes are thrown away. All plans that might involve any degree of compromise are abandoned.
Little Jimmy was in trouble because he had gone swimming against his mother’s orders. When asked why he had disobeyed her, Jimmy answered, “Because I got tempted.” Mother then said, “I noticed that you took your bathing suit with you this morning. Why did you do that? Jimmy answered, “Because I expected to get tempted.” How typical of those who do not quite trust their own strength to win the victory. They take their bathing suit along. With God there need be no provision to fail.
Someone might raise the objection that this could be discouraging. Suppose the person does fail? Even Peter began to sink. Would it not shake confidence in God if the victory was not maintained? No. Peter’s sinking had nothing to do with the failure of divine power. It did not change Christ’s will for him to walk on the water. It only pointed up Peter’s need of stronger faith to enable him to obey Christ’s command. Our faith could weaken. We might need to be reminded of our total dependence upon His strength. But this does not diminish the beautiful plan of God to impart power and victory through “exceeding great and precious promises” of the Bible. Without faith by the receiver not even God’s promises can be appropriated. The limits are clearly defined in the words of Jesus, “According to your faith be it unto you.” Matthew 9:29.
There it is, friend, in all of its simplicity. And it works! If you are willing to be delivered, it works. Nothing will help the one who is not willing to give up the cigarettes. But if you want it, it is there. Victory, power deliverance – just reach out in faith and it is yours. Believe it and claim it this very moment. God wants you to be free.
Library of Sermons No. 6
Copyright 1989 by
Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
Printed in USA
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“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Ecclesiastes 11:1
Is It Easier to Be Saved or to Be Lost?
It seems very appropriate that the word dynamite is a transliteration of the Greek word dunamis, which means power. The word is not a stranger to those who are students of the Scriptures. It is one of the colorful adjectives used in the Bible to describe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power (dunamis) of God unto salvation to everyone that believe; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16
How few Christians have a true understanding of the explosive power of the gospel they so lightly profess! If Paul’s words are true, then everyone who possesses the gospel should also be filled with tremendous power. But is that the case? Unfortunately, the lives of countless church members are flaccid, bland, and miserably compromised. Instead of vibrant power there seems to be discouragement and defeat. What is wrong? Do these people really believe the gospel or not? And why is the dynamite so obviously missing in their lives?
The answer must be that many do not truly believe what they profess. Or else, they have been taught a counterfeit gospel. Some of the greatest spiritual problems of today are rooted in a misunderstanding of the gospel. The sad fact is that millions have no true comprehension of what is afforded through the gospel, and what it is supposed to do for them. Unaware of its full provisions, they stumble along, claiming only what their weak faith is able to encompass. Instead of feasting at the banquet table of the Lord, these people gather crumbs from under the table, which barely provides enough strength to survive.
They are very much like the “missing heirs” we have heard so much about. All across America millions of dollars are stacked up in banks waiting for the true owners to take possession of the money. In most cases, the heirs are unaware of the wealth which rightfully belongs to them and which only awaits their demand and reception. But these millions are nothing compared to the spiritual riches which still lie untapped by those Christians who fail to recognize their own unlimited affluence. For no reason, except their own abysmal failure to claim their true possessions, most professed Christians are living in wretched poverty and weakness.
SATAN HAS NO POWER OVER GOD’S CHILDREN
Do you know why these millionaires are living like paupers? Because they have allowed the devil to intimidate them. He has lied to them about one of their most basic privileges. We need to unmask the evil one and expose the false claims he makes concerning his authority. Satan would like for us to believe that he has unlimited control over this world and all its people. That is not true. He is not the master of God’s Children and has no power at all over the saints. Where Christ lives and reigns, Satan trembles and flees for his life, GOD IS STRONGER THAN SATAN. This glorious truth must fill our minds with constant assurance.
Don’t misunderstand me. Satan is powerful. We have all seen the incredible, enslaving influence that he exercises in the life of a sinner. But when Christ banishes the devil from that sinner and controls his life, the power for good is far greater than the evil. If there is more power in Christ than there is in Satan, then there is more power in grace than there is in sin. Jesus is not just as strong as the devil, else the warfare between them might end in a draw or a standoff. But, thank God, Christ has already won the battle and Satan is a defeated foe right now.
This leads us to the joyful conclusion that the Christian has somebody stronger helping him to follow Jesus than the sinner has helping him to follow Satan. This glorious fact should give tremendous comfort to every child of God. It also raises a very interesting question. If we have such a powerful defender on our side, who desires our salvation, is it correct to also conclude that it’s easier to be saved than to be lost? Before any glib response is made to that question, we need to consider the two major aspects of salvation. It is very important to understand whether the question relates to becoming a Christian or remaining a Christian.
We would like to believe that because Christ is stronger than Satan, He would facilitate the entire process of salvation for His children. Yet, we have experienced first hand the painful struggle with self in making the decision to follow Jesus. There was a titanic battle between the flesh and the Spirit, and Satan exploited every human frailty in seeking to hold us in the bondage of sin. It is doubtful that even one soul would concede that it is easier to surrender fully to Christ than to continue living after the flesh. Satan seems to have hundreds of enticing allurements to make it difficult to break away from the ways of the world.
Furthermore, the devil has one advantage over God in that he can lie, and make things appear exactly opposite of what they really are, He can make sin appear unobjectionable and beautiful. The fallen nature of man, with its powerful propensity to sin, has a natural bent toward things, which are evil. And even after conversion, the delusions and deceptions of Satan can appeal to that lower nature. This means that the Christians must be constantly on the alert for subtle or oblique attacks from a very clever enemy.
THE WAY OF THE TRANSGRESSOR IS HARD; NOT THE WAY OF THE OBEDIENT
Does this mean that it will be discouraging to follow the Christian lifestyle? Will the harassment of temptation make it miserable to live for Christ? On the contrary we can rest in the settled assurance that we are on the winning side of the great controversy. He that is for us is greater than he that is against us. Isn’t that exiting good news? The conversion experience transforms the mind and will into a veritable spiritual fortress.
From that control center the Holy Spirit exercises a subduing influence over the lower fleshly nature. AS long as the faculties are yielded to God the Christian finds relief from the burden and guilt of sin.
Is this not what the Master meant when He spoke these words: “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take yoke upon you, and learn of me. … And you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Mathew 11:28-30. Certainly Jesus was not saying that hardships and conflicts would disappear from the lives of His followers. Rather He was describing the joy and peace of mind that would mark the path of the obedient. When Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus He said, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” The meaning for these words is obvious. He was telling Saul that it was hard to resist the Holy Spirit. The misery and struggle lay in the path of disobedience. The way of the transgressor is hard; not the way of the obedient.
We must stop allowing Satan to brainwash us with the exaggerated claims of his authority. It is true that under the reign of sin it is easier to do wrong than it is to do right, but it is also true that under the reign of grace it is easier to do right than it is to do wrong. Why should we not assert the prerogatives that belong to us as the children of God? The Bible writers did not hesitate to challenge the limited authority of Satan, and neither should we. Paul wrote: “Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grade did much more abound. That as sin had reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:20, 21.
Note the expression, “as sin had reigned.” How did sin reign? As a controlling power, did it not? Driving back every spiritual impulse, the carnal nature overpowered all the efforts of grace to enter the heart. But notice that grace abounds “much more” than sin, and “as sin had reigned… even so might grace reign”! Obviously, grace will also be a controlling power, which can overpower all the efforts of sin to enter the life. Isn’t that a fantastic assurance? The devil has no dynamite that compares with the shattering dynamite of the gospel in a surrendered life.
So we are brought back to the question again: Is it harder to serve Jesus or Satan? It is undeniable that we have access to more good power than bad. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Someone might answer, “Satan.” And I say, So what? He flees at the very name of Jesus.” Of course, he wants you to be lost, but God wants you to be saved. You can win every time by being on the side of the stronger. Jesus referred to His mastery of devils in these words: “When a strong man armed kept is palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, … he takes from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divided his spoils.” Luke 11:21, 22.
The strong man referred to is Satan, of course. He is stronger than the wisest man who ever lived (Solomon), and the strongest man who ever lived (Samson), and the most perfect man who ever lived (Adam). But he is not stronger than Jesus. Christ is that stronger One who “Overcame him” and delivers the captives out of his hands. What an exciting reality!
ALL WILL BE SAVED WHO DO NOT RESIST
Not only does God have the power to save us, but also He has the desire to do it. It is His will that all should come to repentance and be saved. What produces repentance in the life? Paul assures us that “the goodness of God leaded him to repentance.” Romans 2:4. How many does He lead towards repentance? Everyone, of course, since it is His will to save all. Christ said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” John 12:32. His love does not appeal to a select few only, but to ALL men. His goodness LEADS every soul to repent, and His love DRAWS all men to the cross. If this is true, why are not all men saved? Because they resist the sweet drawing influence of the Holy Spirit. There is absolutely no doubt that God actively seeks the salvation of every soul on planet earth, and He will continue to convict those who have not hardened themselves in unbelief.
What a thought! The difficult thing to do is to fight against salvation. Unless we resist, God will persist in drawing us to Himself. “For the grace of God that brings salvation have appeared to all men.” Titus 2:11. To how many men? ALL men! Hebrews 2:9 says that Jesus tasted death “for every man.” Again, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” 2 Corinthians 5:19. The only reason the entire world is not saved in simply because the great majority resists God’s provision of saving, sanctifying grace.
So the really hard thing about the way of transgressions is the binding hold that sin has fastened on the mind and body. This is why it is easier for the unconverted to continue their course than to turn from death to life. There is nothing within them capable of challenging the will of the flesh. But we affirm just as confidently that the born-again Christian will quickly grow to abhor sin, and will find it an absolutely miserable act to compromise the conscience by willful disobedience. So what is the answer to the question, Is it easier to be saved or to be lost? We must truthfully say that it is difficult to make the initial turn from the self-life, but after the heart is surrendered, the path of the Christian, in every way, is happier and easier to maintain. Let’s consider the theology behind this glorious fact.
The Bible speaks of “being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God have set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believe in Jesus.” Romans 3:24-26.
Please notice that only those who “believe in Jesus” will be personally justified, even thought the cross provides it for everyone. The text says there must be “faith in his blood.” The utility company provides abundant power and light to my home, but I receive no benefit whatever unless I push the switches in my home. All of God’s saying, cleansing, justifying power is of no benefit to me in salvation unless I accept it in a personal way.
Out text also speaks of “remission of sins that are past” as part of this justification experience. What really happens is this act of remission or forgiveness of sins? Many believe that this is something which happens outside the life of the believer. They consider that forgiveness changes God’s attitude toward the transgressor because of some celestial accounting carried out billions of light years away. It is true that forgiveness affects God so that He no longer holds something against me? This is decidedly not the case. Forgiveness does not change God toward us; it changes us toward Him. God didn’t need to change. He was never wrong. Man was the sinner who needed to change. He stood condemned before a broken law that could offer no grace or forgiveness. There was absolutely no righteousness to be drawn from the law. It could not provide any strength for right doing. The sinner was powerless, condemned and helpless under the scourging of that law.
Paul’s terminology makes condemnation to be the opposite of justification. In Romans 8:1-4 he describes what justification subjectively accomplishes for the individual. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus… For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Immediately, we can see that the problem lay in the flesh, which was too weak to obey the law. Something had to be done in man to bring him back into harmony with God. The Greek word for righteousness in this verse is dikaima, which means just requirement. How could the weak-flesh problem be remedied so that man could fulfill the requirements of the law?
God provides the full solution when He sent Jesus in the flesh to obey the law perfectly. It was only because Christ lived a perfect life of obedience that He is able to impute justification to each one of us. If that plan of sending Jesus had not taken care of my weakness in the flesh, then the plan would have failed. When Christ moves into the life, the condemnation is removed, the sins are forgiven, and we are empowered to fulfill the requirements of the law through Christ in us. This is the change which forgiveness makes in the life.
Forgiveness does not change God, but us. He justifies the ungodly by taking away the ungodliness. He justifies the rebellious sinner by taking away the rebellion. When He declares us righteous, His self-filling word makes us righteous. He does not declare something which is not true. The One who conquered Satan now moves into the human heart to provide victory over the power of sin. The miracle of the new life is described in the Bible by utterly fantastic expressions. We can have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5), partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19), and be made free from sin (Romans 6:18). All this is possible as g race begins to rule the life, and under this power, Satan doesn’t have a ghost of chance.
CHRISTIANS NEED NOT CRINGE OR COWER
All who do not resist the goodness of God will be led to repentance and salvation, and the pretended authority of a defeated foe should not intimidate them. We must recognize our position as the sons of God. We should also be unafraid to acknowledge out authority in Christ over Satan. It is time for God’s children to stop trembling before the threats of a conquered enemy. Too often in evangelism we watch in dismay as the devil arranges his competing attractions to take people away from the Word of God. We say, “Oh my, what are we going to do? The circus is coming to town during our crusade.” The truth is that Satan should be worried instead of us. He ought to tremble and say, “What am I going to do? The evangelistic meetings are coming to town.”
God’s Spirit-filled children must learn to be more confident, more aggressive and bold in their assertion of truth in the name of the mighty, conquering Creator God. We are not operating in the strength of the flesh but in the power of the Holy Spirit. He that is for us is greater than he which is against us. Praise be to God for such assurance!
Now le us consider the question, WHY IS IT NOT HARD TO SERVE CHRIST WHEN YOU ARE CHRISTIAN? Please don’t mistake the language of this question. We are talking about a born-again Christian following Jesus. There is no contention that anyone else will find it easy to live the Christian life. In fact, there is probably no more difficult task in the world than trying to live for Christ in the strength of the flesh. It is quite possible that many of the degenerative diseases and weaknesses of the body have been produced by generations of struggle to please God by human effort. People are wearied and worn out by such futile activity.
I am not saying that there will be no effort or struggle, but for the committed Christian the way of obedience is a joy and delight AND VICTORY IS ASSURED! “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” 1 John 5:3. The great disciple of love declares that it is not hard to obey God’s law when it is the fruitage of a love relationship. The Psalmist wrote, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yes, thy law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8. There are two strong reasons why it is not grievous for the true Christian to serve the Lord. First, he is absolutely confident that God loves him and will do only what is good for him. Second, he loves Christ supremely and chooses to run no risk of displeasing Him.
RESTRICTIONS CAN BE A DELIGHT
Someone may raise a question about the demands laid down in the Bible and the penalties attached for transgressions. None can deny that they are there. Do these requirements and threatened penalties make obedience a hardship? Let me answer that question with two imaginary interviews. Suppose I have just submitted to a complete medical examination and the doctor is giving me a report of his findings. He says, “Joe, I have bad, bad news for you. Your tests indicate that you are going to die unless you follow my orders exactly. To save your life, you must obey what I’m going to tell you, and you must continue to follow my orders every day for the rest of your life. I’ve found that you will be required to eat two or three times a day in order to save your life. And you must force yourself to do it day after day as long as you live.”
Think about it for a moment. Those are strict rules with heavy penalties attached. I can lose my life by violating the law laid down by the doctor. But will it be difficult for me to follow those orders? Of course not! Why? Simple because there is a higher law leading me to eat every day anyway. The physical laws of my being demand that I eat regularly, and I enjoy doing it. It is for my own good to eat, and I do not have to force myself to comply with the doctor’s rigid requirements.
In the same way there is a law of love operating in every Christian life which is the natural extension of a personal relation with Jesus. The commandments and penalties of the Bible are not threat whatsoever, because the Christian recognizes the higher law leading him to do these same things that are for his best good. He does not obey for fear of the penalty, but because he is happiest obeying the One he loves.
Let’s imagine another conversation that will never actually take place. I am preparing to leave home for a month of evangelism. My wife tells me goodbye and then solemnly holds a paper before my face. “Joe,” she says, “you will be gone for a month, and your check will be mailed out before you return. I just want you to read this paper very carefully. It is a copy of Maryland Statute No. 392, and it states that you will be put in jail if you don’t send me money to operate the home. It’s not very pleasant in that county jail, so I’ll be expecting you to send that money as soon as you get your check.”
What she says is true, but do I need the threat of that law to make me support my family? No, there is a higher law of love, which makes me want to take care of my loved ones. Love turns duty into a joyful privilege. I remember walking ten miles in the pouring rain to keep a date with the girl I loved. I had n regrets. My love for her overruled the hardship. We can make anything a burden by the attitude we have toward it and by the way we relate to it. It is a burden to serve Jesus only if the relationship is wrong.
IS THE NARROW ROAD HARD AND UNHAPPY?
I have heard people say, “But Christianity is so restrictive.” True. But marriage is even more restrictive than religion. Does that make it miserable? Do brides and grooms complain about the narrow promises they make to each other? I have performed many marriages and have never seen newlyweds unhappy about their commitments. They are always radiant, even though they have just promised their lives away.
Imagine someone approaching the new bride with these discouraging words: “Oh, my! You really are in a bad situation now. Just think, you’ve got to cook for this guy every day of your life. You’ll be required to clean the house, mend his clothes, and put up with his untidy habits. This marriage thing is bad news.” Do you know how that new young wife would respond? She would say, “Wonderful! I love it!”
Suppose someone should try to discourage a newly baptized Christian, who has just been “married” to Jesus, with these words: “Oh, you’ve got yourself into a miserable mess. Just think, you can’t go to the bars and dances anymore. You can’t go to the ball games on Sabbath, and you won’t be able to eat pork and shrimp anymore.” Without question that beaming newborn Christian would answer, “Wonderful! I love every moment of it!”
The explanation for this response is made in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ constraint us.” Love propels and compels people to do anything and everything to please the One who died for them. No burdensome yoke binds such disciples to the path of service and obedience. “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:14. That word blessed really means happy. The commandments may be restrictive, but it is a joy to be restricted by love.
To the unconverted these thoughts are alien and contradictory. People who are not in love cannot appreciate the selfless involvement of those who are happily married. Some married couples have destroyed their love for each other, and they look upon marriage as a galling bondage. The fault is not with the marriage, but with the attitude. When Christians fall away and lose their relationship with Jesus, they also begin to complain about the burden of religion. The fault lies not in the religion but in the loveless hearts of the complainers.
Does all of this, stand in opposition to the teaching of Christ concerning self-denial? Jesus did say, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23. Did He mean that the way of obedience would be hard and unhappy? No. He was simply picturing the reality of competing attractions in the life of a Christian. There will always be allurements of the flesh and of the world appealing to self and trying to draw me away from Christ. Without the compelling influence of a higher affection, the emotional appeal of those things might be overpowering. Here is where the lines of love’s authority are revealed. The powerful love of Christ constrains me to cling to Him and say “No” to the incessant invitation of the flesh, the devil, and the world. Those foolish challenges to my relationship with Christ will always be present, but I will always be able to choose to stay with Him for two reasons. I love Him more than anything or anybody else in the world, and I know He will do only what is best for me.
Satan will utilize feeling as one of his most effective weapons against the saints, but a true Christian will recognize that the flesh and feelings cannot be trusted. We must serve God because of right and truth and not because we feel in the mood. Moods have led millions to deny the Lord and live for the flesh. Most of those who serve the devil today are doing so because they have been deceived and blinded by feeling. It is a constant marvel to watch people follow the shallow artificialities of sin in pursuit of happiness. Obviously, they do not derive any true pleasure out of smoking, drinking, and otherwise destroying themselves by indulgent behavior; yet, robot-like, they go through the motions dictated by their carnal desires.
Walter Winchell summed it up when he wrote in his newspaper column: “The saddest people in the world are those sitting in joints making believe they are having a good time. This Broadway Street is full of amusement places trying to make people happy, yet its people are drenched in unhappiness.”
The problem is that those millions have no power of a higher law of spiritual love operating in their lives. With no competing force to oppose it, the flesh holds a controlling influence over the mind and body. Self responds to the emotional appeal of external stimuli and has no choice but to be captured by the flesh. It reminds me of a story I heard about a concentration camp. A man stood looking through the barbed wires of an overcrowded death camp. Inside, the prisoners stood with emaciated bodies, hollow cheeks, and sunken eyes. As the man on the outside gazed at the spectacle of those starving inmates, one of the prisoners called to him and said, “Ha! You can’t come in here, can you?” Immediately, the self-nature reacted to the challenge. “Who says I can’t? I’ll show you.” And the man crawled through the wire to join the other sad-faced internees.
That is probably as close as we can come to explaining the senseless carnival of death that leads millions every year into presumptuous violation of the laws of their being. Incredible as it may seems, self is willing to make itself miserable in order to have its own way, and those in the flesh have no power to resist its dictates. It is much easier for them to do wrong than it is to do right. But let us repeat and reaffirm the glorious truth that for those who are deeply in love with Christ, it is easier to do right than it is to do wrong.
Here is the good news of the full gospel of Jesus Christ, and I hold it out to every reader of these words right now. Jesus came to provide the dynamite power by which we can be both justified and sanctified. We may have deliverance from the guilt of sin and also from the power of sin. By accepting the simple, free provisions of the gospel, salvation is assured in all three tenses of our Christian experience-past, present, and future. May God help us not to be satisfied with a partial understanding or application of His grace. Let us lay hold of the incredible riches and power (dunamis) which have been given to us as the sons and daughters of God.
HOW TO CLAIM VICTORY OVER SIN
Have you heard about the evolutionary way of getting the victory over bad habits and sins? It is sometimes called the tapering method or the trying method, but generally, it just doesn’t work. Oh, it partially works, of course, because old age takes care of some temptations and sins, and time settles the rest when death comes. But do you know why trying does not work in overcoming the devil?
Why can’t we fight the devil for a few months and finally drive him away? Because the devil is stronger than we are. We could fight him for a year, but he would still be stronger than we are at the end of that year. Trying will never break the power of sin in a single instance because we are facing an enemy who will always be stronger than we are. What, then, is the answer to our weakness and defeat? This question, lead us to the sweetest and most sublime secret in the Word of God.
First of all, one must understand that all of Heaven’s gift are available to us through the promises of the Bible, and we receive them by faith. Peter describes the “exceeding great and precious promises” and assures us that “by these you might be partakers o the divine nature.” 2 Peter 1:4. Mighty power is stored within the promise to fulfill itself to all who claim it in faith. So few are willing to believe that the promised blessing becomes theirs the very moment they believe it. Why is it so hard to believe implicitly that God will do what He promises?
Now, let us come down to the very heart of victory and consider the four simple scriptural steps that any believers may take in claiming God’s power. Four texts will illuminate the amazing transaction. First: “But thank be to God, which gave us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 15:57. Allow your mind to savor the fantastic message of these words. VICTORY IS A GIFT! We do not earn it by our efforts or deserve it because of any supposed goodness. The only thing we need do is ask for it, and the victory will be given to us freely by Christ. He is the only One who has ever gained the victory over Satan, and if we ever posses the victory, it will have to come as a gift from Him.
Let me ask you something. Do you need victory in your life over some binding, miserable habit of sin? Some are slaves to appetite, to alcohol, or tobacco. Others are struggling helplessly against impurity, anger, or worldliness. The Bible says you may have the victory as a gift through Jesus Christ. Do you believe He will give you that power if you ask Him? How certain can you be that God will answer your prayer for victory immediately? Here is how sure you can be – just as sure as Christ’s words are true!
Our SECOND text is Mathew 7:11, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Is it a good thing when you ask for victory over tobacco or any other fleshly or moral evil? Of course it is! And you don’t even have to ask if it is God’s will! He has already told us in the Bible that it is His will to destroy the works of sin and the devil. If we pray for more money or a better job, we should always ask according to His will, but the victory over sin is promised to everyone who asks in faith.
Will God give the victory when we ask Him? Jesus said He is more willing to give this good thing than we are to feed our children when they are hungry. He is waiting to honor your faith and to “supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19. These assurances are so open-ended and unlimited that our minds are staggered by it. Why have we been so reluctant to apply for the provisions of grace? Why is it so hard to believe that God means exactly what He says?
Here is the next question. How do we know we have the victory after we ask Him? Simply because He said we would have it. We know God does not lie. We can believe His promise. They know God does not lie. We can believe His promise. The very moment we ask, we should accept the fact of fulfillment, thank Him for the gift, get up and act as if it has been done. No kind of proof feeling or sing should be demanded or expected. The self-fulfilling power in the promise is released in response to our faith alone.
This brings us to the THIRD text found in Romans 6:11, “Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The word reckon means to believe, or to consider it done. Every practice of faith should be focused on that one request for victory, and then, it should be accounted as done. Do you remember how Peter walked on the water? He asked Jesus if he could step out of the boat onto the raging sea, and Jesus told Peter to come. But how long did Peter do the impossible by walking on the water? The Bible says, “When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” Mathew 14:30.
What was Peter afraid of? He was afraid of sinking and drowning. In spite of Christ’s assurance that he could safely walk on the water, Peter began to doubt the word of the Master. That is when he began to sink. As long as he believed the promise of Jesus and acted in faith, he was safe. When he doubted, he sank.
Now, what is the impossible thing as far as you are concerned? It is not walking on water. It is overcoming that tobacco habit or other besetting sin. And Christ says, “Come to me. I will give you victory.” As long as you believe that you have been delivered, you will have the victory. It is as simple as that. The very moment you ask for victory it will be placed in your life as a reservoir of power. You won’t feel it, but it is there. It will remain there as long as you accept it in faith.
For some people the deliverance is so dramatic that they lose even the appetite for the sin. Tobacco addicts have sometimes been delivered from the craving. BUT THIS IS NOT THE USUAL WAY GOD DOES IT. Usually, the desire remains, but in the moment of temptation, the power to walk past the temptation spring forth from within. Faith accepts the fact of deliverance and constantly claims the victory, which is in the secure possession of the believer.
The final step to victory is described in our FOURTH text, Romans 13:14, “But put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lust thereof.” So strong is the confidence in the appropriated power of God that no consideration is given to falling under the power of that sin again. Under the old trying plan, provision wad made to fail in most cases. Cigarettes were placed on a shelf, and the smoker said to himself, “I’m going to try never to smoke again, but if I don’t make it, I know where they are.” But under the trusting plan, we have no reason to fear failure on the grounds of human weakness. Victory does not depend on our strength but on God’s power. We might fail, but He cannot fail. Cigarettes are thrown away. All plans that might involve any degree of compromise are abandoned.
Little Jimmy was in trouble because he had gone swimming against his mother’s orders. When asked why he had disobeyed her, Jimmy answered, “Because I got tempted.” Mother then said, “I noticed that you took your bathing suit with you this morning. Why did you do that?” Jimmy answered, “Because I expected to get tempted.” How typical of those who do not quite trust their own strength to win the victory. They make provision to fail.
Someone might raise the objection that this could be discouraging. Suppose the person does fail? Even Peter began to sink. Would it not shake confidence in God if the victory was not maintained? No. Peter’s sinking had nothing to do with the failure of divine power. It did not change Christ’s will for him to walk on the water. It only pointed up Peter’s need of stronger faith could weaken. We might need to be reminded of our total dependence upon His strength. But this does not diminish from the beautiful plan of God to impart power and victory through “the exceeding great and precious promises” of the Bible. Without faith by the receiver, not even God’s promises can be appropriated. The limits are clearly defined in the words of Jesus, “According to your faith be it unto you.” Mathew 9:29.
There it is, friend, in all of its simplicity. AND IT WORKS! If you are willing to be delivered, it works. Nothing will help the one who is not willing to give up the sin. But if you want it, it is there. VICTORY, POWER, DELIVERANCE – just reach out in faith and it is yours. Believe it and claim it this very moment. God wants you to be free.
Library of Sermons No. 12
Copyright 1980 by
Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
Printed in USA
Published (Under permission) by
COCONET-US, LLC (Educational Department)
2207 East Snow Rd
Berrien Springs, MI 49103-9782
“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Eccl. 11:1
WHY GOD SAID REMEMBER?
Numerous surveys and questionnaires have confirmed that the most popular form of modern skepticism is to deny the creation story. Seventy-two percent of ministers interviewed expressed varying degrees of doubt that God actually spoke the world into existence according to the biblical account. This fundamental disbelief has led to the rejection of other foundational doctrines of Christendom such as the virgin birth and the atonement.
It is interesting to note that God apparently anticipated a lot of controversy over the Genesis record of fiat creation. His claims of manufacturing all the staggering mass of matter by merely commanding it to exist – well, there would certainly be doubters and disbelievers of such an account. And even those who read about it and believed it would soon forget the miraculous fact under the confusing influence of a million false gods who would arise.
So God needed to do something unusual to preserve the knowledge of His mighty act of creation. That power to speak heaven and earth into existence would distinguish Him from all the counterfeit gods and their deceptive claims. What could He do that would constantly point mankind back to the focal week of creation when He forever established His divine authority?
CREATION – THE MARK OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
God chose to memorialize that convincing display of creative power by setting aside the seventh day of creation week as a holy day of rest and remembering. It would constitute a tremendous safeguard of God’s sovereignty – a mark of His right to rule as the only true God. It would, at the same time, stand as a devastating debunking of every god who had not created the heavens and earth.
The writings of Old Testament prophets are saturated with reminders of God’s peculiar powers of creation. David wrote, “For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the Heavens.” Psalm 96:5. Jeremiah expressed it: “But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God…. The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish. … He had made the earth by his power,” Jeremiah 10:10-12.
Did God Himself demonstrate and extreme urgency in keeping the truth of creation vividly before the eyes of the world? Yes. To such a degree that He wrote into the heart of His great moral law the binding obligation of every living soul to keep the Sabbath holy, and thus, to acknowledge His divine authority. Within those eternal principles forming the foundation of His government and reflecting His own perfect character, God wrote these words: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it you shall not do any work. … For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is… wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20: 8 -12.
What an act to highlight the omnipotent work of creation! Once a week, as the earth rotated on its axis, the Sabbath reminder would travel around the earth reaching every man, woman, and child with the message of an instant creation. Why did God say remember? Because to forget the Sabbath is to forget the Creator also.
CONVERSION – CREATIVE POWER AT WORK
Parallel to the accounts of a physical creation we find the record of God’s power to recreate the human heart. Evidently, the two processes stem from the same omnipotent source. It requires just as much power to effect conversion or recreation as to call something into existence by creation. Said the apostle, “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Ephesians 4:24. Since the new birth is the most basic identifying mark of the justified believer, it is no wonder that the Bible writers constantly remind us of the creative power which distinguishes the true God from all counterfeits.
Pointing beyond the mere fact of a physical creation, God spoke these word also, “Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.” Ezekiel 20:12.
Please note that a sanctified Sabbath was to be the mark of a sanctified people. The word, “sanctify,” meaning to set aside for a holy use (a day which spoke of God’s creative power), served also as a reminder that God could set people apart for a holy use through regeneration or recreation.
In the light of these facts, it is easy to understand why the devil has waged a continuing, desperate battle against the seventh-day Sabbath. For almost six millenniums he has worked through pride of tradition, misinformation and religious bigotry to destroy the sanctity of God’s special sign of authority – the Sabbath.
As mark of God’s right to rule, the Sabbath challenged Satan’s boast that he would take God’s place. Said the adversary, “I will be like the most High.” Isaiah14:13, 14. Satan actually wanted to be worshiped. To accomplish this, he had to nullify God’s claim as the rightful ruler. God’s authority rested on His claim to be the Creator, and the Sabbath was the mark of that authority. By destroying the Sabbath, Satan would prepare the way to set up a counterfeit government based on counterfeit claims of authority symbolized by a counterfeit day of worship.
THE BATTLE OVER AUTHORITY
It is fascinating to look back over the ages and see the outworking of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. The contest has always focused upon the issue of authority.
The strategy of the evil one has been a two-pronged attack on God’s claim to be the Creator: First, by the theory of evolution with its humanistic doctrine of natural selection; Second, by an age-long effort to destroy the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, the mark of creative power.
We can only say in passing that each of these hellish attempts to discredit God’s authority has produced a bitter success beyond all expectation. Millions have been turned into religious skeptics and agnostics as a result of Darwin’s doctrine of organic evolution. Denying any fall of man which would necessitate a Savior from sin, evolution struck at the plan of redemption as well as the fact of creation.
In a similar vein, Satan’s attacks on the Sabbath have led millions to disobey the one commandment in the Decalogue which God had made the specific test of obedience to the entire law.
A successful plan to subvert the loyalty of millions who were devoted to the true God required a masterpiece of satanic strategy. It would take time. It would involve centuries of deceptive mind-bending. There would be no dramatic turn from serving God to serving Satan. He secret would be to win obedience through religious subterfuge. Satan understood the principle of Romans 6:16 long before Paul ever penned the words, “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey?”
Obedience is the highest form of allegiance and worship. If Satan could create an issue that would cause people to disobey God, he had an even chance of winning their obedience to his cause. The decisive contest would take place over the law of God. It constituted the foundation of God’s government. How could Satan destroy confidence in the law and make people obey him instead? And which commandment should he attack? Obviously, the one which pointed to God’s creative power and His right to rule. As the identifying sign of the true God, the Sabbath has always been an object of satanic hate. God had chosen the Sabbath as a test of loyalty to His law in the Old Testament: “That I may prove them,” said the Lord, “whether they will walk in my law, or no.” Exodus 16:4.
THE TEST POINT OF THE LAW
Since God had made the Sabbath the resting point of all the Ten Commandments, Satan determined to make it the giant issue of the ages. By destroying the Sabbath, Satan would be prepared to launch his super-plan to claim obedience to a counterfeit day of worship. Manipulating the weakness of a compromised Christianity which had slowly acceded to pagan influences, Satan set up his masterpiece – a worldwide church-state – which would ruthlessly enforce compliance with his counterfeit system of worship.
For over a thousand years, beginning with the so-called conversion of the pagan Emperor Constantine, the dark history of apostasy unfolded. Almost the first act of the newly-professed Christian emperor was to make a law against Sabbath-keeping and to institute other laws requiring rest on the first day of the week, a wild solar holiday dedicated to pagan sun worship.
We will not dwell, at present, upon the well-documented history of the papal church councils which enforced the observance of the pagan Sunday on pain of death. The facts are well-known to those who have been willing to search the records with an open mind. During the fourth and fifth centuries, the first day of the week was exalted by papal decree to displace the true Sabbath of the Bible.
Unfortunately, prejudices and false information have led thousands of Christians to close their eyes to the overwhelming historical evidences of this substitution. The roots of their prejudice are not hard to identify. Satan has worked too long on his opposition system to allow it to be rejected easily. Through the ages he has perfected a series of subtle false arguments to bolster obedience to his counterfeit day of worship. He still hates the Sabbath which identified the true God.
Only as we expose these attacks on the seventh-day Sabbath will we be able to understand why millions continue to observe the first day of the week, a day for which there is not a single supporting Bible text. No one disagrees with the meaning of God’s handwritten law. “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord … in it you shall not do any work.” Yet millions do not obey it. No one can refute the overwhelming evidence of Sunday’s pagan origin, yet millions keep it instead of the plainly commanded Sabbath of the Ten Commandments. Why? I repeat, the reason is rooted in the clever arguments of Satan which have created a climate of prejudice against the holy Sabbath of the Lord. We shall now examine some of the major fallacies of those arguments.
THE SABBATH WAS MADE ONLY FOR THE JEWS
This falsehood has gained such strength that multitudes of Christians refer to it as the “Jewish Sabbath.” But nowhere do we find such an expression in the Bible. It is called “the Sabbath of the Lord,” but never “the Sabbath of the Jews.” Exodus 20:10. Luke was a Gentile writer of the New Testament and often made reference to things which were peculiarly Jewish. He spoke of the “nation of the Jews,” “the people of the Jews,” “the land of the Jews,” and the synagogue of the Jews.” Acts 10:22; 12:11; 10:39; 14:1. But please note that Luke never referred to the “Sabbath of the Jews,” although he mentioned the Sabbath repeatedly.
Christ clearly taught that “the Sabbath was made for man.” Mark 2:27. The fact is that Adam was the only man in existence at the time God made the Sabbath. There were no Jews in the world for at least 2,000 years after creation. It could never have been made for them. Jesus used the term “man” in the generic sense, referring to mankind. The same word is used in connection with the institution of marriage which was also introduced at creation. Woman was made for man just as the Sabbath was made for man. Certainly no one believes that marriage was made only for the Jews.
The fact is that two beautiful, original institutions were set up by God Himself before sin ever came into the world – marriage and the Sabbath. Both were made for man, both received the special blessing of the Creator and both continue to be just as holy now as when they were sanctified in the Garden of Eden.
It is also interesting to note that Jesus was the One who made the Sabbath in the first week of time. There was a reason for His claim to be Lord of the Sabbath day (Mark 2:28). If He is the Lord of the Sabbath day, then the Sabbath must be the Lord’s day. John had a vision on “the Lord’s day,” according to Revelation 1:10. That day had to be the Sabbath. It is the only day so designated and claimed by God in the Bible. In writing the Ten Commandments, God called it “the Sabbath of the Lord.” Exodus 20:10. In Isaiah He is quoted as saying, “the Sabbath, my holy day. “ Isaiah 58:13).
But we must not overlook the fact that this God who created the world and made the Sabbath was Jesus Christ Himself. John wrote: “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. … And the Word wad made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-3, 14.
Paul clearly identified Jesus as the Creator, “…his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood. … For by him were all things created.” Colossians 1:13-16.
For Christians to separate Jesus form the Sabbath is a tragic mistake. For He is the Author, the Maker, the Sanctifier, and the Architect of the Sabbath. To discount the blessing which He places on that day is to deny His authority.
This argument has led many to believe that the Sabbath existed only for a limited period of time following creation. But is this a fact? Actually, the Sabbath could never be just a type of shadow of anything, for the simple reason that it was made before sin entered the human family. Certain shadows and typical observances were instituted as a result of sin and pointed forward to the deliverance from sin. Such were the sacrifices employed to symbolize the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God. There would have been no animal sacrifices had there been no sin. These offerings were abolished when Christ died on the cross, because the types had met their fulfillment (Matthew 27:51). But no shadow existed before sin entered this world; therefore, the Sabbath could not be included in the ceremonial law of types and shadows
Paul referred to the temporary system of ordinance in Colossians 2:14-16 as being “against us” and “contrary to us.” He tied it to the meat offerings, drink offerings, and yearly festivals of the law that was “blotted out.” It is true he referred to sabbaths also in the text, but take careful note that he called them “sabbath days which are a shadow of things to come.” Were some Sabbath days blotted out at the cross? Yes, there were at least four yearly sabbaths which came on certain set days of the month, and they were nailed to the cross. They were shadows and required specified meat and drink offerings. All of these annual sabbaths are described in Leviticus 23:24-36, and then summarized in verse 37 and 38: “These are the feast of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing upon his day” beside the Sabbaths of the Lord.”
The scripture plainly differentiates between the annual, shadowy sabbaths and the weekly “sabbaths of the Lord.” The ceremonial sabbaths were blotted out at the cross; they had been added as a consequence of sin. But the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments law had been hallowed before sin was introduced and was later incorporated into the great moral law written by the finger of God. It was eternal in its very nature.
JUST KEEP ANY DAY IN THE SEVEN
By this argument Satan prepared the world to accept a substitute in place of the Sabbath God had commanded. Upon the table of stone God wrote the great, unchanging law of the ages. Every word was serious and meaningful. Not one line was ambiguous or mysterious. Sinners and Christians, educated and uneducated, have no problem understanding the simple, clear words of the Ten Commandments. God meant what He said and He said what He meant. No one has tried to void that law as too complicated to comprehend.
Most of the ten begin with the same words: “You shall not,” but right in the heart of the law we find the fourth commandment which is introduced with the word, “Remember” Why is this one different? Because God was commanding them to call something to memory which already existed but had been forgotten. Genesis describes the origin of the Sabbath in these words, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made. … And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” Genesis 2:1-3.
Which day did God bless and sanctify? The seventh day. How was it to be kept holy? By resting. Could any of the other six be kept holy? No. Why? Because God commanded not to rest those days but to work. Does God’s blessing make a difference? Of course. This is why parents pray for God to bless their children. They believe it makes a difference. The seventh day is different from all the other six days, because it has God’s blessing.
Some more questions: Why did God bless the day? Because He had created the world in six days. It was the birthday of the world, a memorial of a mighty act. Can the Sabbath be changed? Never. Because it points backward to an accomplished fact. July 4 is Independence Day. Can it be changed? No. Because the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. Your birthday cannot be changed, either. It is a memorial of your birth, which happened on a set day. History would have to run through again to change your birthday. To change Independence Day, or to change the Sabbath day. We can call another day Independence Day, and we can call another day the Sabbath, but that does not make it so.
Did God ever give man the privilege of choosing his own day of rest? He did not. In fact, God confirmed in the Bible that the Sabbath was settled and sealed by His own divine selection and should not be tampered with. Read Exodus 16 concerning the giving of manna. For 40 years God worked three miracles every week to show Israel which day was holy. (12) No manna fell on the seventh day. (2) They could not keep it overnight without spoilage, but (3) when they kept it over the Sabbath, it remained sweet and fresh.
But some Israelites had the same idea as many modern Christians. They felt that any day in seven would be all right to keep holy: “And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, how long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” Exodus 16:27, 28.
Get the picture? These people thought another day could be kept just as well as the seventh day. Perhaps they were planning to observe the first day of the week, or some other day which was more convenient. What happened? God met them and accused them of breaking His law by going forth to work on the seventh day. Would God say the same thing to those who break the Sabbath today? Yes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever – He changes not. God made it very clear that, regardless of other feelings, those who go forth to work on the Sabbath are guilty of breaking His law. James explains that it is a sin to break even one of the Ten Commandments: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if you commit no adultery, yet if you kill, you are become a transgressor of the law.” James 2:10, 11.
WE CAN’T LOCATE THE TRUE SEVENTH DAY
This is a fallacy that has comforted many in their disobedience of the fourth commandment. It just is not true. Here are four positive proofs which identify the true Sabbath today:
- According to the Scriptures, Christ died on Friday and rose on Sunday, the first day of the week. Practically all churches acknowledge this fact by observing Easter Sunday and Good Friday. Here is the Bible evidence: “This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And he took it down and wrapped it in line, and laid it in a sepulcher that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew on.” Luke 23:52-54. Here is proof that Jesus died the day before the Sabbath. It was called “the preparation day” because it was the time to get ready for the Sabbath. Let us read the next verses: “And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment.” Verses 55, 56.
Please notice that the women rested over the Sabbath “according to the commandment.” The commandment says, “The seventh day is the Sabbath,” so we know they were observing Saturday. But the very next verse says, “Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared. … And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher.” Luke 24:1,2.
How clearly these three consecutive days are described for us. He died Friday, the preparation day, commonly called Good Friday. He rested in the tomb on the seventh day, Sabbath, “according to the commandment.” That was Saturday. Then on Sunday, the first day of the week, Easter Sunday to many, Jesus arose from the grave.
Anyone who can locate Good Friday or Easter Sunday will have absolutely no difficulty finding the true Sabbath.
- The calendar has not been changed so as to confuse the days of the week. We can be positive that our seventh day is the same day Jesus observed when He was here. Pope Gregory XIII did make a calendar change in 1582, but it did not interfere with the weekly cycle. Our present Gregorian calendar was named after him when he made that small change in 1582.
What did Pope Gregory do to the calendar? Before 1582 the Julian calendar had been in effect, instituted by Julius Caesar about 46 B. C. and named after him. But the Julian calendar had calculated the length of the year as 365 ¼ days, and the year is actually eleven minutes less thatn365 ¼ days. Those eleven minutes accumulated, and by 1582 the numbering of the calendar was ten days out of harmony with the solar system. Gregory simply dropped those ten days out of the numbering of the calendar. It was Thursday, October 4, 1582, and the next day, Friday, should have been October 5. But Gregory made it October 15 instead, dropping exactly ten days to bring the calendar back into harmony with the heavenly bodies.
Were the days of the week confused? No. Friday still followed Thursday, and Saturday still followed Friday. The same seventh day remained, and the weekly cycle was not disturbed in the least. When we keep the seventh day on Saturday, we are observing the same day Jesus kept, and He did it every week according to Luke 4:16.
- The third evidence for the true Sabbath is the most conclusive of all. The Jewish people have been observing the seventh day from the time of Abraham, and they still keep it today. Here is a whole nation – millions of individuals – who have been counting off time meticulously, week after week, calendar or no calendar, for thousands of years. Could they have lost track? Impossible. The only way they could have lost a day would have been for the entire nation to have slept over an extra 24 hours and for no one ever to tell them about it afterwards.
There has been no change or loss of the Sabbath since God made it in Genesis. The origin of the week is found in the creation story. There is no scientific or astronomical reason for measuring time in cycles of seven days. It is an arbitrary arrangement of God and has been miraculously preserved for one reason – because the holy Sabbath day points to the creative power of the only true God. It is a sign of His sovereignty over the world and over human life; a sign of creation and redemption.
Is this not the reason God will preserve Sabbath keeping throughout eternity? We read in Isaiah 66:22, 23: “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, said the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come worship before me, said the Lord.”
The Sabbath is so precious to God that He will have His people observe it throughout all time to come in the beautiful new earth. If it is so precious to Him, should it not be precious to us? If we are gong to keep it then, should we not keep it now?
In an age of false gods, of atheistic evolution, and traditions of men, the world needs the Sabbath more than ever as a test of our loyalty to the great Creator-God and a sign of our sanctification through His power.
- Proof number four lies in the fact that over one hundred languages of the earth use the word “Sabbath” for Saturday. For example, the Spanish word for Saturday is Sábado,” meaning Sabbath. What does this prove? It proves that when those hundred languages originated in the long, long ago, Saturday was recognized as the Sabbath day and was incorporated into the very name of the day.
THE SABBATH WAS ONLY A MEMORIAL OF DELIVERANCE OUT OF EGYPT
This strange idea is drawn from a single text in the Old Testament and is distorted to contradict many clear statements about the true origin of the Sabbath. The text is found in Deuteronomy 5:14, 15: “But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God brought you thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
Some people draw from this text that God gave the Sabbath as a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt. But the Genesis story of the making of the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3) and the wording of the fourth commandment by God Himself (Exodus 20:11) reveals the Sabbath as a memorial of creation.
The key to understanding these two verses rests in the word “servant.” God said, “Remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt.” And in the sentence before this one He reminds them “That your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you.” In other words, their experience is Egypt as servants would remind them to deal justly with their servants by giving them Sabbath rest.
In similar vein God had commanded, “And if a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not vex him … for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Leviticus 19:33, 34.
It was not unusual for God to hark back to the Egyptian deliverance as an incentive to obey other commandments. In Deuteronomy 24:17, 18, God said, “You shall not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge. … You were a bondman in Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you thence: Therefore, I command you to do this thing.”
Neither the command to be just nor to keep the Sabbath was given to memorialize the Exodus, but God told them that His goodness in bringing them out of captivity constituted a strong additional reason for their dealing kindly with their servants on the Sabbath and treating justly the strangers and widows.
In the same way, God spoke to them in Leviticus 11:45, “for I am the Lord that brought you up out of the land of Egypt. … you shall therefore be holy.” Surely no one would insist that holiness did not exist before the Exodus, or that it would be ever afterwards limited only to the Jews, to memorialize their deliverance.
KEEP SUNDAY IN HONOR OF THE RESURRECTION
It is true that Jesus rose on the first day of the week, but nowhere is there the slightest intimation in the Bible for anyone to keep that day holy. The basis for Sabbath keeping is the direct handwritten command of God.
Many wonderful events occurred on certain days of the week, but we have no command to keep them holy. Jesus died for our sins on Friday. That is probably the most significant event in all of recorded history. It marks the moment my death sentence was commuted and my salvation assured. But not one Bible text hints that we should observe this day of such great significance.
It was a dramatic moment when Jesus rose from the grave on that Sunday morning, but there is not a scintilla of biblical evidence that we should observe it in honor of the resurrection. Not one instance of Sunday observance has been found in the recorded Scriptures.
There is, of course, a memorial of the resurrection commanded in the Bible, but it is not Sunday keeping. Paul wrote: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4.
Baptism is the memorial of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Those who believe that Sunday observance honors His resurrection cite the upper room meeting of the disciples on the same day He arose from the grave. To them that gathering was to celebrate His resurrection. But when we read the Bible record of the event, we discover that the circumstances were quite different. Luke tells us that, even though the disciples were confronted with the eyewitness story of Mary Magdalene, they “believed not.” After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” Mark 16:12-14.
Obviously, none of those upper room disciples believed that He was raised, so they could not have been joyously celebrating the resurrection. John explained their reason for being together in these words: “The doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews.” John 20:19.
Thus, we have examined the major arguments used against the observance of God’s holy Sabbath day. Not one of the objections provides a trace of evidence that God ever changed His mind about the Sabbath. When He wrote the word “remember” into the fourth commandment, it was in reference to the same seventh day that appears on our wall calendar. Neither men nor demons can diminish the validity of that eternal moral law.
May God grant each one of us the courage to honor the Sabbath commandment as heaven’s special test of our love and loyalty. As we have discovered, when Jesus returns, we will keep that same Sabbath with Him, ages without end. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Library of Sermons No. 13
Copyright 1980 by
Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
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“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Eccl. 11:1
Why The Old Covenant Failed?
Some time ago I stepped off the platform at the close of an evangelist message and hurried toward the front door to greet the people. Suddenly my path was blocked by three young men, one of whom addressed me in quite a loud voice. He said, “Brother Joe, we were disappointed with the way you put us back under the Old Covenant tonight by preaching the seventh-day Sabbath. Don’t you realize that we are living under the New Covenant now and should be keeping Sunday instead of the Sabbath?”
That young man was voicing the conviction of many thousands of Christians today who sincerely believe that the Ten Commandments constituted the Old Covenant, which disappeared at the cross and, therefore, has no present application to grace saved Christians. Is it a true premise? If so, we certainly need to be clearly apprised of the doctrine in order to avoid the pitfall of deadly legalism. On the other hand, if the Ten Commandments are still binding, it would be the most tragic mistake to discount even one of those great moral precepts.
No one can deny that there are Old Testament statements which refer to the Ten Commandments as a covenant; however, it will be our purpose here to show that the Ten-Commandment law was not the Old Covenant which was abolished.
But before we delve into this fascinating subject, we need to define what a covenant really is. There are many types and forms, but basically a covenant is an agreement between two parties based upon mutual promises. All through the centuries God has dealt with His people on the basis of covenants. He is a reasonable God, and he invites, “Come now, and let us reason together.” Isaiah 1:18.
Sometimes God established pacts with individuals like Moses, Abraham, and David, and sometimes with the nation of Israel. The most important covenant of all was set up long before this world came into existence. It was a covenant between the Father and the Son and had to do with the eventuality of sin. Jesus offered Himself there in the vast eternity of the past as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Revelation 13:8. He agreed to become the atoning sacrifice to redeem man, should Adam and Eve choose to sin.
The terms of that eternal covenant have never been changed or superseded. Although many other covenants have been established through the years, the simple provision of salvation through faith has remained in effect through all ages, for all mankind.
The covenant which has caused the most misunderstanding, though, is designated as “the Old Covenant” by the writer of Hebrews. He also describes the institution of a new covenant which has some very important advantages over the old. Here is how he describes the two: “But now had he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, said the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: … For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayed and waxed old is ready to vanish away.” Hebrews 8:6-13.
The description leaves no room for doubt concerning the fate of the Old Covenant. It was set aside in favor of a new one which had better promises. Naturally, we are interested to know all about that new covenant which will place God’s law in the heart and mind. But we also need to understand the nature of the covenant which disappeared. Millions have been taught that it was the Ten-Commandments law. They boast of being delivered from the law and claim to walk in a glorious freedom from the Old Covenant of works.
THE OLD COVENANT – NOT THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Is this a biblical position? It is just as important to understand what the Old Covenant was not, as to know what it was. Right now, let us look at three absolute proofs that the covenant which disappeared was not the Ten Commandments. Then we will determine by comparing scripture with scripture just what the Old Covenant was.
First of all, we notice that the Old Covenant had some poor promises in it. The New Covenant, we are told, “was established upon better promises.” Verse 6. Tell me, has anyone ever been able to point out any poor promises in the Ten Commandments? Never. On the contrary, Paul declares that they were very good. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor your father and your mother, which is the first commandments with promise; That it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth. ”Ephesians 6.1-3.
This declaration alone is sufficient to show that the writer of Hebrews was not charging the moral law with any weak promises. The Old Covenant, whatever else it might be, could never be the Ten Commandments.
The second thing wrong with the Old Covenant was that it was faulty. The Bible says, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second,” Hebrews 8:7. Let me ask you a question: Has any man ever been able to find a fault or a flaw in the handwriting of God? The psalmist declared, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Psalm 19:7. Paul wrote, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” Romans 7:12.
Does that sound like something weak and imperfect? No law could be perfect and faulty at the same time. It becomes more and more apparent that the Old Covenant could not have been the Ten Commandments.
Finally, though, we read the most dramatic thing about the Old Covenant – it was to be abolished! “In that he said, A new covenant, he had made the first old. Now that which decayed and waxed old is ready to vanish away.” Hebrews 8:13. Now we can ask a serious question that should settle every doubt on this matter. Did the great moral law of Ten Commandments vanish away? Anyone who has read the New Testament must answer, Absolutely not. Paul affirms the exact opposite about the law. He asked, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Romans 3:31.
Does the Bible contradict itself? Can something vanish away and be established at the same time? Did the same writer say opposite things about the same law? Just to be certain that Paul was not saying that the Old Covenant was the law, let us insert the words “Old Covenant” instead of the word “law” into Romans 3:31. “Do we then make void the Old Covenant through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the Old Covenant.”
That doesn’t sound right at all, does it? We know that the Old Covenant had vanished away and could never be spoken of in this way. Very clearly, then, we can see that the covenant which came to an end could not have been the Ten Commandments.
WHAT WAS THE OLD COVENANT?
Having found what the Old Covenant was not, we are now ready to identify it specifically from the Word. To do so we must go back in the Bible to the book of Exodus. Many people have failed to see that there was more than one covenant involved at Mt. Sinai. God called Moses up into the mountain before He gave the law and proposed a covenant between Him and His people: “And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; … if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And you shall be unto me … a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak unto the children of Israel.” Exodus 19:3-6.
Notice how God asked Moses to present His offer to the people. Here are all the elements of a true covenant. Conditions and promises are laid down for both sides. If the children of Israel accept God’s proposal, a covenant will be established. How did they respond to the divine offer? “And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord had spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord.” Exodus 19:7,8.
Just as soon as that answer went back to God, the basis for the Old Covenant was set up. But before it could go into formal operation there had to be a sealing or ratifying of the pact. This ritualistic service involved the sprinkling of the blood of an ox on the people and is described in Exodus 24:4-8: “And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel which … sacrifice peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord had said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord had made with you concerning all these words.”
Again we are reminded that this covenant was not the law itself but was made “concerning all these words.” The Ten Commandments were the basis for the agreement. The people promised to keep that law, and God promised to bless them in return. The crucial weakness in the whole arrangement revolved around the way Israel promised. There was no suggestion that they could not fully conform to every requirement of God. Neither was there any application for divine assistance. “We can do it,” they insisted. Here is a perfect example of leaning on the flesh and trusting human strength. The words are filled with self-confidence. “All that the Lord had said will we do, and be obedient.”
Were they able to keep that promise? In spite of their repeated assurances, they miserably broke their word before Moses could even get down of the mountain with the tables of stone. Do we begin to see where the poor promises lay in the Old Covenant?
The book of Hebrews begins to unfold. There God is reported as “finding fault with them.” Hebrews 8:8. He said, “Because they continued not in my covenant … I regarded them not.” Verse 9. The blame is placed squarely upon the human side of the mutual pact. Thus, we can see exactly why Paul wrote as he did about this Old Covenant in Hebrews 8. It did gender to bondage, it proved faulty, had poor promises, and vanished away – all because the people failed to obey their part of the agreement. Putting all these things together we can see why a new covenant was desperately needed, which would have better promises.
How were the New Covenant promises better? Because God made them, and they guaranteed successful obedience through His strength alone. “I will put my laws into their mind … I will be to them a God … I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Hebrews 8:101-12.
How was the New Covenant ratified? In the same manner that the Old was confirmed – by the shedding of blood. But instead of an ox having to shed its blood, the sinless Son of God would provide the blood of sprinkling: “Now the God of peace , that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 13:20, 21.
What a contrast to the weak promises of the flesh made by Israel at Sinai. Instead of the people’s “we will do,” God’s New Covenant promise is to : “make you perfect in every good work … working in you.” It is no longer human effort. It is not so much you working, but Him “working in you.” And how is this power made available? “Through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” Because of what Jesus did on the cross.
THE NEW COVENANT BASED ON CONVERSION
This brings us to the very heart of the New Covenant operation. Obedience is made possible by the writing of God’s law on the heart. Through spiritual regeneration the mind and heart are transformed. Christ actually enters into the life of the believer and imparts His own strength for obedience. By partaking of the divine nature, the weakest human being begins to live the very life of Jesus Christ, manifesting His victory, and crucifying the flesh.
Paul describes that transaction this way: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:3, 4.
The word for righteousness is ”dikaima,” meaning “just requirement” of the law. In other words, because of Jesus’ sinless life in the flesh, the requirement of the law can be fulfilled in us. He overcame sin in the same kind of body we have, so that He could impart that victory to us. He will actually live out His own holy life of separation from sin in our earthly bodes if we will permit Him to do so. This is the New Covenant promise for every believing, trusting child of God. And it is absolutely the only way that anyone can meet the requirements of the law: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27. “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.
It is most important for us to understand that the New Covenant law written on the heart is exactly the same law that was graven on the stone. Those great spiritual principles reflect the very character of God, and form the basis for His governments. The difference is not in the law but in the ministration of the law. Written only upon the tables of stone, they can only condemn and minister death, “because the carnal mind … is not subject to the law of God.” Romans 8:7. Received into the heart which has been spiritualized by the converting grace of Christ, the same law becomes a delight. The beloved John declared, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” I John 5:3. Not only is the law not grievous for the Spirit-filled child of God, but obedience becomes a joyful possibility. The psalmist wrote, “I delight to do your will, O my God: yea, your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8.
NO CHANGE IN THE NEW COVENANT AFTER CALVARY
Since the New Covenant was ratified by the blood of Christ, it obviously could not have gone into effect until after Jesus died on the cross. This crucial fact must not be overlooked. Eternal life or death could hinge upon the proper understanding of this key point. Paul wrote, “For where a testament is there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator lives.” Hebrews 9:16, 17.
The word “testament” is the same as the word “covenant.” Only after man’s last will and testament has been ratified by his death can the provisions be executed. In the same way, Christ’s covenant or testament would begin to operate just as soon as He had confirmed the covenant by His death at Calvary.
Another text leaves no question on this issue: “Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulled or add thereto.” Galatians 3:15. Paul is saying here that after a man’s death, his will or covenant cannot be changed. Not one new addition can be made after the death of the testator. The covenant stands forever exactly as it stood when the testator died. After the death of Christ, no change whatsoever could be made in His provisions to save mankind. The conditions were all sealed and ratified by the shedding of blood. Every requirement had been laid down clearly by the perfect pattern of His sinless life and provision had been made for the writing of His magnified law, by the Holy Spirit, upon the mind of each believer.
Under the terms of that New Covenant not one soul would be left to struggle helplessly against the powerful urges of a fallen nature. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Romans 5:20. Eternal promises rooted in the changeless nature of God would provide power to overcome every inherited and cultivated weakness. No wonder the Bible emphasizes the “better promises” of this glorious new agreement!
Now it is easy to understand some of the things Jesus did just before He died. For example, why did He institute the Lord’s Supper before His body had been broken? On the Thursday night before His agonizing death on Friday, Jesus met with His disciples in that upper room. Holding the cup in His hands, he said, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Matthew 26:28.
Isn’t it curious that Christ would say those words before His blood had been shed? He was commanding a memorial for an event which had not even happened yet! Why? Because it had to be introduced before His death in order to come under the New Covenant. Nothing could be added after His death.
Now, let me come back to the story I started to tell at the beginning of the book. I had just finished preaching on the subject of the Sabbath in one of my evangelistic crusades. As I stepped off the platform to greet the people as they left, three young men blocked my way in the aisle. One of them addressed me in quite a loud voice – loud enough to cause about fifty people near the front of the auditorium to stop and listen.
“Brother Joe,” he said, “we were disappointed tonight with the way you put us back under the Old Covenant. Don’t you realize that we are living under the New Covenant now, and should keep Sunday instead of the Sabbath?”
Although most of the congregation were leaving the building, the group near the front gathered closer to hear all that the young men were saying. It was obvious that I would have to take the time to answer this trio’s challenging question. As I suspected, they turned out to be young seminarians in training at a local Bible college. Eagerly they held their Bibles in their hands and waited triumphantly for me to answer.
Usually, I do not like to debate controversial matters in a public forum, for fear of stirring combative natures, but there seemed no way to avoid dealing with these ministerial students. Anyway, they had my path completely blocked, and the circle of listeners looked at me expectantly for some explanation.
“Well, it seems as though you have studied the subject of the covenants quite deeply,” I suggested.
“Oh, yes,” they affirmed, “we know all about the covenants.”
“Good,” I replied, “You undoubtedly know when the Old Covenant was instituted.” One of them spoke up quickly, “It was started at Mt. Sinai.”
“And how was it ratified?” I asked. Without a moment’s hesitation one of them answered, “By the sprinkling of the blood of an ox.”
“Very good,” I commented, “and how was the New Covenant ratified?” All three chorused the answer, “By the blood of Jesus on the cross.
“I commended the young men for their knowledge of the Scriptures and asked them to read me two verses out of their own Bibles – Hebrews 9:16, 17 and Galatians 3:15. They responded eagerly to the invitation, and read the verses, commenting on each one after reading. “We agree that the New Covenant did not go into effect until after Christ died. And nothing can be added or taken away after He ratified it on the cross,” the spokesman for the group asserted. All three nodded their heads emphatically over this point.
I said, “Now you must answer two more questions for me. Here’s the first one, and you must think carefully to give me the correct answer: When did Sunday-keeping begin?” There was a moment of shocked silence, and then another, and another. The boys looked at each other, and then down at their feet, and then back at me. I gently prodded them for the answer, “Surely you can tell me the answer to this question. You have known all the others, and have answered correctly. When and why do you think people began to keep Sunday?”
Finally, one of them said, “We keep Sunday in honor of the resurrection of Jesus.” I said, “Then I must ask you my last question. How could Sunday-keeping be a part of the New Covenant? You just stated that nothing could be added after the death of Christ. He died on Friday and was resurrected on Sunday. If Sunday was added after Jesus died, it could never be a part of the New Covenant, could it?”
The three young men shuffled their feet, looked helplessly around, and one of them said, “We’ll study into that and talk to you later.” Then they fled from that auditorium as fast as they could go. I can assure you, also, that they never returned to talk further about the covenants.
The fact is that Sunday-keeping, even if it had started on the day of resurrection, would have been three days too late to get into the New Covenant. Both Bible and history prove that Sunday was never observed by the apostolic church. It was added much, much later as a result of the gradual apostasy which developed in the early centuries of the church and which culminated in the pagan accommodation of Constantine in 330 A.D.
Millions of modern church members regard Sunday as a sacred day which memorializes the resurrection of Christ. It is certainly true that Christ arose on the first day of the week, but nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to keep that day holy. Events such as the crucifixion and resurrection should mean much to every Christian, but not one intimation is given in the Bible for observing either Friday or Sunday. The only day ever commanded for weekly worship is the seventh day of the week – the same Sabbath Jesus kept during creation week and the one He will keep with His people throughout all eternity. Genesis 2:1-3; Isaiah 66:22, 23.
The very strongest reason for rejecting Sunday worship is that it was not included in the New Covenant requirements which were ratified by the death of Jesus. If Christ had desired His resurrection to be memorialized by Sunday-keeping, He could have introduced it on that same Thursday night of the Last Supper. Then it would have become a part of the New Covenant, along with the Communion service and foot-washing. Jesus did not hesitate to command the observance of His death, even though it had not taken place yet. Just as easily He could have commanded the observance of His resurrection, which was still future, in order that it might become a New Covenant requirement. But He did not! And no one else ever did either, until Paul’s prophecy began to be fulfilled about an apostasy following his departure. Acts 20:29, 30. He spoke also of a falling away which would lead to the enthronement of Antichrist. II Thessalonians 2:3, 4. But true it is that no hint of any change of the law is given in the Scriptures. The unchangeable moral law was preserved in both Old and New Covenants as the perfect revelation of God’s will.
ISHMAEL AND ISAAC REPRESENT TWO COVENANTS
With this background, we are now prepared to examine Galatians 4. Many have been confused over the allegory Paul used to illustrate the Old and New Covenants. Here is the way he wrote about it: “For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bond maid, the other by a free-woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendered to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answered to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.” Verses 22-25.
Paul portrays Isaac and Ishmael, the two sons of Abraham, as representing the Old and New Covenants. He plainly shows that Hagar’s son, Ishmael, symbolizes the Old Covenant, and Sarah’s son, Isaac, is a type of the New Covenant. “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. … So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” Verses 28-31
This is interesting. How do those sons of those two women represent the two covenants? Actually, they are a perfect illustration according to everything we have learned so far. God had promised Abraham a son by his wife Sarah, but because she was almost 90 years old, neither of them believed such a thing could happen. Sarah knew that her womb was dead and that she was long past the age for bearing children. So she suggested that her husband take Hagar, her handmaid, and have a child by her. It seemed the only way to rescue God from an impossible promise. In time, Abraham yielded to the face-saving device and had a child by Hagar.
Here is an exact illustration of the Old Covenant principle of “we will do.” Abraham tried to work it out in the flesh, according to human effort and planning. The old arrangement failed just as surely as the Old Covenant promises failed, because there was no dependence on divine power. God did not ever recognize Ishmael as the promised seed.
When Isaac was born, it was a miracle. God actually created a new life out of a biologically barren womb. The physical impossibilities yielded to the supernatural, creative power of God. Isaac perfectly represents the principle of the New Covenant relationship based upon regeneration, a new birth experience, which brings the life of the Son of God in all who believe. The natural, physical womb of Sarah was totally incapable of producing any fruit. In the same way, the natural, carnal body and mind of a sinner cannot bring forth the fruit of obedience. When God used His power to create a new life within Sarah, the impossible happened. And she bore a son. When God uses His power to create new life in the soul, the impossible happens again – a human being becomes spiritual and obedient.
Isaac was not “born after the flesh,” but “after the Spirit.” Galatians 4:29. Because man is carnal and “weak in the flesh, “he has no power to attain to the righteousness of the law. He, too, must be born after the Spirit. Every attempt to obey on the Old Covenant basis of human effort will produce only children of bondage. The law must be written into the heart by the Holy Spirit and fulfilled by “Christ in you.”
This allegory of Hagar and Sarah clears up another very important point of truth. Those who are under the Old Covenant are the commandment breakers, and those under the New Covenant are the commandment keepers. It was only when Abraham disobeyed God by taking Hagar that he fulfilled the principle of the Old Covenant. When he trusted God to give him a son through Sarah, he was being obedient to God’s will, and properly represents the New Covenant Christians. Yet how often do modern interpreters get these facts confused! Like the three young preachers, they accuse law-keepers of being under the Old Covenant. The truth is exactly the opposite. The law is not really kept until it is written on the heart of the transformed believer. Then it becomes the mark of identification – the love symbol – for those who are born of the Spirit. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15. John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” I John 5:3.
TRUE CIRCUMCISION IS NOT PHYSICAL
Have you ever wondered why God gave circumcision to Abraham as sign of the Old Covenant? Doesn’t that seem to be a rather crude way to represent such an important agreement? Think about it for a moment and it might begin to make a lot of sense. God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision to remind him of how he failed by trusting the flesh. All through the Scriptures, physical circumcision is related to dependence on the flesh. Paul wrote, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Philippians 3:3
Paul was comparing true circumcision with “that which is called circumcision.” The cutting off of the flesh was not true circumcision at all: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Romans 2:28, 29. Notice how Paul turns from the flesh to the Spirit. He says real circumcision happens to the heart, and it exalts what God does, and not man. It is the cutting off of the fleshly nature through conversion. The new birth is the true circumcision experience.
The clearest explanation is found in Paul’s epistle to the Colossians: “In whom also you are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” Colossians 2:11.
Here the spiritual work of Christ on the heart is called circumcision. It is done without hands, indicating that no human effort could perform this act. It is not cutting off the fleshly nature of sin through the indwelling of Christ. It will be available to all on exactly the same basis: “And if you be Christ’s then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29. All who receive Christ become heirs of all the promises made to Abraham. Those experiencing true heart-circumcision constitute the real Jews.
No longer can anyone boast of belonging to the right physical family. There is no more Jew or Gentile, male or female. Acceptance is based upon personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.
Neither can any man claim a special favor for cutting off the physical foreskin of flesh. Those things were done by people who based everything on “we will do.” They sought justification and salvation through works of the flesh. God’s new plan through Christ is not of works but of grace through faith.
Does this mean that works are no longer important? Since the law cannot justify, should it be abolished by the believer? The doctrine of the covenants establishes beyond any doubt that the law is just as important under the New as under the Old. Instead of being graven on stone, it is written in the heart. Instead of being fulfilled by us, it is fulfilled by Jesus in us. Instead of keeping the law in order to be saved, we keep it because we are saved. The same works of obedience are there, but they are there for a different reason and from a different motive.
Sometimes, without realizing it, we can begin to trust our traditional round of religious exercises far more than we ought. No merit system must clog the free channels of faith, love, and grace. Obedience in its proper position is important and necessary, but it must always be in that position – following grace and accompanied by love.
In fact, it is possible to put ourselves back under the Old Covenant even today if we begin to trust our works to save us. Just as the saints of old could have received true circumcision by accepting spiritual regeneration, we may fall back under the Old Covenant by trusting the flesh to save us.
Library of Sermons No. 28
Copyright 1986 by
Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
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“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Eccl. 11:1
THE RICH MAN & LAZARUS
Much argument has taken place over whether the words of Jesus in Luke 16:19-31 were intended to be understood literally or as parable. Some Christians fell that in this story, Jesus was offering His hearers a glimpse of what existence in the afterlife is like. Others, citing numerous passages of Scripture which seem to contradict the portrayal of heaven and hell contained in this passage, fell that Jesus was teaching an altogether different kind of lesson. Unfortunately, many modern religious teachers have isolated the story from it s original context and used it as a device for scaring people. Religious “conversions” resulting from a fear of hell as it is depicted in this passage have indeed occurred, but are based on a foundation sorely in need of the strength which comes only from a genuine appreciation of God’s character and a proper understanding of Scripture.
To begin this study, we’ll take ka closer look at just what a parable really is, and then examine the setting in which Jesus told this story. Perhaps then we will better understand what lessons there are for us in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
The Random House College Dictionary describes a parable as “a short, allegorical story designed to convey a truth or moral lesson.” Cruden’s Complete Concordance further expands this concept, saying that parables in the Bible were used “more generally than elsewhere.” We know that the Bible writers used situations both imaginary, as in the trees asking the bramble to be king over them [Judges 9.8-15], and realistic in parables. Whatever form the parable took, it was only a vehicle for the moral lesson being taught.
Jesus recognized the value of parables in teaching the people. He desired to stimulate their deepest thought and contemplation, and He knew if He spoke too literally, certain of His hearers would quickly forget His words. Not only that, but others, for whom certain of His parable contained stern rebukes, would be so angered by straight speaking that they would attempt to silence Him by violence. Wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove, Jesus recalled the words of Isaiah 6:9 and told His disciples, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” Luke 8:10. Cruden’s Concordance explains: “Our Savior is the gospels often speaks to the people in parables. He made use of them to veil the truth from those who were not willing to see it. Those who really desired to know would not rest till they had found out the meaning.”
It is appropriate here to ask to whom Jesus was speaking in Luke 16:19-31. Which category of people was He dealing with? The last verse before Jesus’ voice begins in this passage tells us. Verse 14 says, “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.” Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, a class of men who were notorious all through the gospels for their refusal to deal honestly with Him and the truths He taught.
We can be sure that of all the people Jesus taught, none were handled more guardedly then the wily Pharisees. They dealt in deception and subterfuge, but Jesus dealt with them wisely and truthfully. The safest way for Him to do this was by parable and allegory. Evidence that they did not understand many of His teachings can be found in Jesus’ prayer in Luke 10:21, “I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you had hid these things from the wise and prudent, and had revealed them unto babes.” Mark 4:33, 34 clearly shows that Jesus’ lessons were almost invariably couched in parables: “And with many such parables spoke he the word unto them: as they were able to hear it. But without a parable spoke he not unto them; and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.”
Now we are ready to examine the story of the rich man and Lazarus itself, and try to ascertain the real message Jesus was seeking to convey through it.
“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sore. And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.” Luke 16:19-21. Who was the symbolic rich man? The Jews had been blessed above measure by a knowledge of God and his plan of salvation for all mankind. They had received “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” Romans 9”4. Only a Jew would pray to “Father Abraham,” as we find the rich man doing later is the story. The Jewish nation was clearly represented by this character.
By contrast, Lazarus symbolized all those people in spiritual poverty – the Gentiles – with whom the Israelites were to share their heritage. The words of Isaiah were well known to the Jews, “I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6.
Unfortunately, the Jews had not shared their spiritual wealth with the Gentiles at all. Instead, they considered them as “dogs” who would have to be satisfied with the spiritual crumbs falling from their master’s tables. The metaphor was known. Jesus had used it before, testing the faith of the Canaanite woman, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” She responded accordingly: “Truth, Lord”: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s tables.” Matthew 15:26, 27.
The rich Jews had hoarded the truth, and in so doing had corrupted themselves. Only moments before relating this parable, Jesus had rebuked the Pharisees for their spiritual conceit, “You are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knows your hearts” for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sigh of God.” Luke 16:15. What was to be result of this terrible conceit?
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and you are tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” Luke 16:22-26.
The Jews had enjoyed “the good life” while on earth but had done nothing to bless or enrich their neighbors. No further reward was due. “Woe unto you that are rich! For you have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! For you shall hunger.” Luke 6:24, 25.
Conversely, the poor in spirit, symbolized be Lazarus, would inherit the kingdom of heaven. The Gentiles who hungered and thirsted after righteousness would be filled. The “dogs” and sinners, so despise by the self-righteous Pharisees, would enter heaven before they would, “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots to into the kingdom of God before you,” Matthew 21:31.
The parable concludes with the rich man begging for his brethren to be warned against sharing his fate. Asking Abraham to send Lazarus on this mission, he alleges that “if they hear one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.” Luke 16:30. Abraham replies, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Verse 31.
Jesus thus rebuked the Pharisees for their disregard of the Scriptures, foreseeing that even a supernatural event would not change the hearts of those who persistently rejected the teaching of “Moses and the prophets.” The miracle of raising the real-life Lazarus from the dead soon afterward confirmed the accuracy of Jesus’ conclusion. One did rise from the dead, yet he brothers of the “rich man” did not repent. In fact, the Pharisees even plotted to kill Lazarus after his resurrection. His very life was a reminder to them of their own hypocrisy.
Today many Christians believe that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a historical account of two individuals’ literal experiences in the after life. On the basis of this belief, some people teach that those who are consigned to the fiery torments of hell will never stop burning throughout all eternity. As with the parable of the trees and the bramble [Judges 9:8-15], however, serious problems arise with a literal interpretation of the story elements.
Can we believe that all the saints are even now gathered in Abraham’s bosom? If they are, in whose bosom does Abraham rest? And if there is really a great gulf fixed between heaven and hell, how could the rich man possible have been heard by Abraham? Perhaps more disturbing, how could the saints enjoy the comforts of heaven while enduring the cries of the wicked being tormented?
Another dilemma that arises with a literal interpretation of this story could be called “the mystery of the empty graves.” If this is taken literally, apparently neither of the two leading characters spent very long in the grave – both being whisked away rather quickly to their respective places of reward. Their bodies obviously came along, for we find the rich man lifting up his eyes, and desiring to have his tongue cooled by a drop of water from the finger of Lazarus who was resting, as we have seen, in Abraham’s boson. Enough graves have been exhumed in recent years to know that the bodies of the deceased are carried neither to heaven or hell after burial. They finally turn to dust and await the resurrection.
From these few examples, we begin to see that in this parable, Jesus was not trying to explain the physical realities of the afterlife. Instead, He was referring to the unfaithfulness of the Jews regarding their assigned responsibility. As stewards of the special message of truth, they utterly failed to share it with the Gentiles, who were eager to hear it. In fact, the entire chapter of Luke 16 is devoted to the subject of stewardship.
Beginning in verse one, Christ gave another parable about stewardship of money or property. “There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.” After dealing with the principle of being entrusted with material goods, Jesus opened up the issue of being entrusted with the truth. By the parable of another rich man, He graphically illustrated how they had proven just as unfaithful with spiritual riches as the first rich man’s steward had been unfaithful with his physical wealth.
To attempt to stretch the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to cover the doctrine of hellfire is to miss the point Jesus intended to convey. The Bible speaks with unmistakable clarity on the subject of hell in many other places. Nowhere do the Scriptures teach that the wicked will continue to suffer in the fires of hell through the ceaseless ages of eternity. Rather, they will be utterly destroyed. Jesus never would have compromised the integrity of the Holy Scriptures by teaching a doctrine contrary to its own overwhelming testimony on the subject.
The truth about hell may be ascertained by examining even a few of the many Bible texts that speak directly on the subject. Before examining these, however, we must remember that “the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life.” Romans 6:23. There are only two alternatives for every soul. Those who accept Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice will live forever; those who do not accept Jesus will die. If the wicked suffered without end, eternal life – however painful – would be theirs. But we know that eternal life is available only to those who accept Jesus.
Consider these clear texts of Scripture that speak of the reward of the wicked:
“But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as eh fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.” Psalm 37:20.
“For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, said the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Malachi 4:1.
“And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, said the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 4:3.
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28.
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” II Peter 3:10.
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Revelation 21:8.
Mary other texts could be cited, but these clearly illustrate that the ultimate fate of the wicked is death. Notice that the Scriptures choose the strongest possible words to describe the complete annihilation of the wicked. In no way should these clear words be misunderstood by one who honestly desires to know truth. There is a fire reserved for the wicked, but a fire so hot it will utterly destroy all who are engulfed by it. When the fire has done its work, it will go out. Eternally burning fire is not taught anywhere in the Bible – not even in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. [Some people have wondered what the expression “for ever” means in the usage of Revelation 20:10. Other similar passages demonstrate this merely to mean as long as a person lives. See Exodus 21:6; I Samuel 1:22; Jonah 2:6; etc. Also, the expression “eternal fire” may be understood in terms of consequences rather than duration, as in the example of Sodom and Gomorrah in Jude 7].
It would be tragic to miss the actual point of the parable by removing it from the setting in which Jesus gave it. Let’s accept the lesson He was trying to teach and apply it to our own lives. Are we doing all we can to spread the message of salvation to others? Do we have a genuine love for those around us, and have we invited them to share our spiritual inheritance? If we hoard our riches, like the Jews of old, we will become self-righteous and corrupt. In contrast, by active, loving service, our relationship with Christ as well as with others will become stronger and more meaningful.
Let us not make scary stories the basis of our Christian experience. Instead, le t us understand that “God so love the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
SOME DIFFICULT TEXTS EXPLAINED
I Samuel 28:14: “And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man come up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.”
This spiritualistic séance has been cited as evidence for life after death. But here are points to the contrary:
- Wizards had been sentenced to death and banned from the land [verse 3; Leviticus 20:227].
- God had left Saul and would not communicate with him [verse 15].
- Samuel was supposedly “brought up.” Other expressions: “ascending out of the earth.” “come up,” and “bring … up.” Is this where the righteous dead are – down in the earth? Not according to those who believe in the immortal soul.
- “Samuel” is described as “an old man covered with a mantle.” Is this the way immortal souls appear? And where did the soul get the body? They’re supposed to be disembodied. Was there a resurrection? Did God obey the beck and call of the witch, and raised up Samuel? If not, can Satan raise the dead?
- The apparition of Samuel told Saul, “Tomorrow shall you and your sons be with me.” Saul committed suicide on the battlefield the next day. Where did Samuel dwell, if the wicked Saul was to go to the same place?
- The record never says that Saul saw Samuel. He received his information as second hand from the witch, and only concluded it was Samuel from her description. The truth is that the devil deceived the dissolute old woman, and she deceived Saul. It was nothing more than a devil-generated séance.
- The enormity of Saul’s sin is revealed in these words, “So Saul died … for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it; And inquired not of the Lord: therefore, he slew him.” I Chronicles 10:13, 14.
Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Jesus clearly teaches in this text that the soul is not naturally immortal. It can and will be destroyed in hell. But what does He mean about killing the body, but not the soul? Is it possible for the soul to exist apart from the body? Some say it is, but the Bible indicates otherwise.
The Hebrew word “psuche” has been translated “soul” in this text, but in forty other texts it has been translated “life.” For example, Jesus said, “Whosoever shall lose his life [psuche] for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 16:25. Obviously “psuche” could not mean soul in this instance, or people could be said to lose their soul for Christ’s sake. It is properly translated “life.”
But what of Matthew 10:29? Put in the word “life” instead of “soul” and the text makes perfect sense in its consistency with the rest of the Bible. The contrast is between one who can take the physical life, and He who can take away eternal life. Here is proof in the words of Jesus: “And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: Fear him, which after he had killed had power to cast into hell.” Luke 12:4, 5.
In other words, the word “soul” here means not only life, but eternal life. Notice that Luke says everything just like Matthew except that he does not say “kills the soul.” Instead he says “cast into hell.” They mean the same thing. Men can only kill the body and take away the physical life. God will cast into hell and take away eternal life. Not only will their bodies be destroyed in that fire, but their lives will be snuffed out for all eternity.
Matthew 25:46: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
It is well to notice that Jesus did not say that the wicked would suffer “everlasting punishing.” He said “everlasting punishment.” What is the punishment for sin? The punishment is destruction, and it is of eternal duration. II Thessalonians 1:9. In other words, it is a destruction which never ends, because there will be no resurrection from that destruction.
Paul says, “the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. John describes that death as “the second death” in Revelation 21:8. That death or destruction will be eternal.
Mark 9:43, 44: “And if your hand offend you, cut if off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, that having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm die not, and the fire is nor quenched.”
In this verse the word “hell” is translated from the Greek word “Gehenna,” which is another name for the Valley of Hinnom just outside the wall of Jerusalem. There the refuse and bodies of animals were cast into an ever smoldering fire to be consumed. What might escape the flames was constantly being destroyed by maggots which fed on the dead bodies. Gehenna symbolized a place of total destruction.
Jesus taught in this verse that the fire of hell could not be quenched or put out by anyone. Isaiah said “they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame.” Isaiah 47:14. Yet he hastened to say in the same verse, “there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor a fire to sit before it.” So the unquenchable fire will go out after it has finished its work. Jerusalem burned with unquenchable fire [Jeremiah 17:27] but it was totally destroyed [II Chronicles 36:191-21].
The flames and worms of Gehenna represented the total annihilation and obliteration of sin and sinners. With the fires of Gehenna burning before their eyes Jesus could not have spoken a more graphic word to the Pharisees to describe the final total destruction of sinners.
Those who cite this text to support their doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul are thrown into a real dilemma. Why? Because the fire and worms are working, not upon disembodied souls, but bodies! In Matthew 5:30 Christ said, “the whole body” would be cast into hell.
In Isaiah 66:24 the same Gehenna picture of hell is presented with the unquenchable flame and the destroying worms. But in this case the word “carcasses” is used, revealing the fact that the fire consumes dead bodies, no disembodied souls.
Luke 23:43: “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto you Today, shall you be with me in paradise.”
Some have assumed from this verse that souls go to their reward immediately after death, contrary to scores of other Bible texts. But notice two things wrong with this assumption. First, even though Jesus told the thief “verily I say unto you, Today shall you be with me in paradise.” Three days later He told Mary that He had not yet ascended to His Father. Here is the evidence that His Father was in Paradise: Revelation 2:7 says the tree of life “: is in the midst of the paradise of God,” and Revelation 22:1, 2 describes the tree of life by the side of the river of life which flows, in turn from the throne of God. So there is no question about Paradise being where the Father’s throne is located. The question is: How could Jesus tell the thief that he would be with Him in Paradise that day, when He did not go there until three days later?
In the second place, Jesus and the thief did not even die on the same day. When the soldiers came just before sunset to take the bodies off the cross, Jesus was already dead [John 19:32-34]. The thieves were very much alive, and their legs were broken to hasten death and to prevent them from escaping. They undoubtedly lived on past sunset into the hours of the Sabbath and possible longer. So how could Jesus assure the thief of being with Him in Paradise that day when they did not both die on “that day”?
The apparent contradictions clear up when we consider that the punctuation of Luke 23:43 was added by uninspired men when our English Bible was translated. They place a comma before the word “today,” when in reality it should have been placed after “today.” Then the verse would correctly read, “Verily I say unto you today, you shall be with me in paradise.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “I give you the assurance today, when it seems I can save no man; today when my own disciples have forsaken me and I’m dying as a criminal die – yet I assure you of salvation right now.”
Please notice that the thief did not ask to be taken to Paradise then. He asked, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That’s exactly when he will be remembered and taken into that Kingdom.
II Corinthians 5:6, 8: “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: … We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
In verses 1-8, Paul is contrasting the present mortal state with the future immortal life in Heaven. Notice the expressions he uses for the two conditions.
|EARTHLY HOSE||BUILDING OF God|
|This tabernacle||House not made with hands|
|Mortality||Our house from Heaven|
|In the body||Absent from the body|
|Absent from the Lord||Present with the lord|
He also speaks of being clothed with “our house which is form heaven,” [verse 2] and again, he longs “that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” Verse 4. But the key to the entire discourse lies in the description of a third condition. After desiring to be clothed upon with immortality, Paul states that “being clothed we shall not be found naked,” Verse 3. Putting it yet another way, he said, “not for that we would be unclothed.” Verse 4.
Clearly the naked or unclothed state was neither mortality nor immortality but death and the grave. Paul realized that one did not pass instantly from being clothed with this tabernacle into being clothed with our house from Heaven. Death and the grave cam in between, and he referred to it as being unclothed and naked.
In another text Paul spelled out exactly when that change from mortality would take place. In I Corinthians 15:52, 53 he wrote, “the trumpet shall sound … and this mortal must put on immortality.” That will be when Jesus comes.
I Peter 3:18-20: “For Christ also had once suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”
There has been considerable misunderstanding of these verses of Scripture. It has been preached that Christ actually descended into the lower regions of the earth and preached to lost souls that were in prison in some purgatory or limbo. This is very far from what the text actually says. Let’s look at it closely now and get the real message of these verses. It says, “Christ had once suffered for sin that He might bring us go God being put to death in the flesh. But quickened by the Spirit by which also He went and preached. … “First of all, notice how Christ preached to those spirits in prison. He did it by the Spirit, and that word is capitalized in your Bible. It actually refers to the Holy Spirit. So whatever Christ did in preaching during this period of time, He did it through or be the Holy Spirit.
With that in view, let’s ask this: When was the preaching done? The answer is plainly given in verse 20, “When once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.” So the preaching was actually done while the ark was being built – during the preaching of Noah to9 that antediluvian world. Now, one more question: To whom was the preaching done? The text says here “to the spirits in prison.” Throughout the Bible we find this terminology used in describing those who are bound in the prison house of sin. David prayed “Bring my soul out of prison.” Psalm 142:7. Paul spoke of his experience in these words, “bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.” Romans 7:23.
What Peter is telling us here is simply that Christ through the Holy Spirit was present while Noah preached; Christ was there through the Holy Spirit to speak conviction to their hearts and appeal to them to come into the ark. There is absolutely nothing here which indicates that Jesus departed from the body during the time He was dead to go to any subterranean place to minister to wicked spirits. The three questions are clearly answered in the text itself, that He preached by the Holy Spirit, He did it while the ark was preparing, and He did it to the spirits in prison or to those individuals whose sinful lives were bound in the prison house of sin.
Revelation 14:10, 11: “the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; And the smoke of their torment ascends up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receives the mark of his name.
“The words “for ever” do not necessarily mean “without end.” In fact, the Bible uses the term fifty-six times [“For ever” can be found in your biblical concordance under “Ever”] in connection with the things which have already ended. In Exodus 212:1-6 the Hebrew servant was to serve his master “for ever,” but it was obviously only as long as he lived. Hannah took her son Samuel to God’s house to abide “for ever,” but she plainly limited that time to “as long as he lived.” I Samuel 1:22, 28.
The term is clearly defined in Psalm 48:14, “For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.” This desolation of Edom was to continue “for ever and ever.” Isaiah 34:10. Christ is called “a priest for ever” [Hebrews 5:6], yet after sin is blotted out, Christ’s work as a priest will end. The Bible states, “The wicked … shall be destroyed for ever.” Psalm 92:7.
Library of Sermons No. 14
Copyright 1984 by
Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
Printed in USA
COCONET-US, LLC (Educational Department)
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Berrien Springs, MI 49103-9782
“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Eccl. 11:1
THE HIGH COST OF THE CROSS
After his disastrous defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon so the story goes, met with some of his leading generals to analyze the battle’s flawed strategies. In the course of their discussions, the little general pointed at England on the colored map before them and said bitterly, “Except for that red spot I would be master of the world.” Satan could say the same thing today except he would point to a cross on a hill outside the wall of Old Jerusalem. Aren’t you thankful for that red spot of Calvary that rescued this world from the control of our great enemy?
That was the place, the time and the contest that settled the destiny of planet earth. Satan has been a defeated foe ever since. There it was that he met his Waterloo and suffered a decisive defeat from which he will never fully recover.
How few of us understand the real meaning of Christ’s suffering and death on that cross. We have only a dim comprehension of the conflict He passed through and the kind of agonizing death He experienced. Could our eyes be opened to grasp the true significance of His sacrifice, there would be no more miserable collaborating with Satan. Our weakness would be turned into courage and victory.
The Bible writers struggled to explain, in human language, the mysterious incarnation and atoning death of the Son of God. Often we weep under the power of their inspired testimony. We get glimpses that boggle our minds, but still, we are only scratching the surface of a subject which will continue enfolding for all eternity.
Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought in not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:5-8. These sublime words describe the condescension of Jesus from the throne to the manger and then to the cross.
FROM THE HIGHEST TO THE LOWEST!
There is not an illustration in all the vast reaches of time or space that could properly portray what Jesus did. Sometimes we try to fabricate imaginary circumstances to convey the idea of His sacrifice. A diseased pack of wild dogs is described, covered with many scabs and running sores. It is postulated that if one human being would only submit to become one of the dogs, the entire pack could be saved from imminent death. Could anyone be found who would voluntarily lay aside his human condition, and suffer the unspeakable indignity of turning into a dog? Dramatic as it may sound, that is a feeble illustration of the humiliation of the divine Son of God. We cannot grasp the glory and position from which He separated when He emptied Himself and came into the condemned, dying family of Adam.
This is why it is so difficult for Christians to grasp the atonement. Why do so many treat casually the events of the cross? Surely because they do not understand what their salvation cost the Son of God. It is only when we know the cost of something that we begin to appreciate it. We value most highly that which requires the greatest investment.
All of us have encountered people who display a mystifying indifference toward the sacrifice of Christ. At the end of one of my crusades I visited a businessman who had attended every night but who had made no commitment. We had developed a warm friendship during the four-week series, so I felt bold to ask him why he had made no decision for Christ. His vague answer indicated to me that he had no understanding of the seriousness of accepting the gift of salvation. He had never made any kind of response to the gospel and, under my gentle questioning, confessed that he had no assurance of being saved. Finally, I asked him point blank, “Do you mean, Sam, that if you died tonight you would have no hope of eternal life?” He answered, “NO, I have never made any kind of profession of Christianity.”
Shocked by his obvious unconcern I gathered the courage to ask this question: “Sam, suppose that you could pick up $10,000 tomorrow morning form your banker in exchange for a paper containing the signatures of then men in this city. Would you be willing to drive around the city tonight and get those signatures?” He answered, “Of course I would.”
“Would you run any risk of losing one of those signatures on the paper? I asked. “Absolutely not,” Sam replied, “I know a good thing when I see it.”
The truth was that Sam did not recognize a good thing when he saw it, and I felt constrained to tell him so in the kindest way that my outraged spirit could manage. I said, “Sam, you would not take the least change of losing $10,000 between now and tomorrow morning; yet you have stated that you do risk losing eternal life if you die tonight. You place more value on the money than you do on eternal life. Your appraisals are wrong. You don’t have the faintest idea what it cost to provide for you salvation, or you wouldn’t value it so lightly.”
It was easy to see why my friend was so noncommittal towards the cross of Christ. Even though he had been around Christians all his life and had heard hundreds of sermons, he held the typical “martyr” view of the death of Jesus. It is simply not true that He died just like all the thousands of others who were crucified on crosses around the wall of Jerusalem. There can be no comparison. Christ did not die because of the nails, spear, or physical abuse. No amount of blows or pain could have produced the agonies of the cross. Others were enduring the same torture of the flesh, but none died from the same causes which took the life of the Son of God. His death was different. How was it different?
What kind of death did He suffer? The Bible says that “he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Hebrews 2:9. Think of that for a moment. He died my death, and yours, and every other person’s. How could that be? Will we not have to suffer our own death-experience at the end of our days? Yes, we will. And therein lies the mystery and the wonder of what He did for us. He did not take our place in passing through the first death. He experienced the second death for every soul who has ever been born.
CHRIST DIED THE SECOND DEATH
It is so important that we distinguish between the first and second deaths. Only then will we be able to understand why God the Father turned away from his Son on the cross. Angels were not permitted to minister to Him. Jesus had to be treated as though He were guilty of every terrible sin which has ever been committed. Under the weight of that condemnation and guilt, He sweat great drops of blood and fell fainting to the ground in the Garden. On Golgotha’s Hill, shut off from the approving presence of His Father, He cried in torment, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me? “Matthew 27: 46.
Do you begin to see what Sam overlooked? He did not sense the real suffering of the cross and, therefore, had no true understanding of the cost of salvation. We shall attempt to expose some of those “hidden costs” which Sam did not recognize and which many today do not properly appraise.
Paul wrote, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Romans 5:12. Several fundamental questions are raised by these words of Paul. If only one man sinned, why did all have to die? Do people have to pay the penalty for other men’s sins? When Adam was in the Garden of Eden, he represented every person who would ever be born. As the head of the race he stood before God as though he were every man. You and I were there, represented by the genes and chromosomes which later produced the hereditary pattern of Adam’s children. As partakers of his body and mind, all his descendants had to be affected by what affected him. He is our father, and there are laws of heredity which reproduce the genetic pattern from age to age.
What happened to Adam which also affected his children? God placed him on probation in that original paradise. The test was simple and direct: obey an live, disobey and die. We remember so well the story of the tree in the midst of the Garden. God said, “In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely dye.” Genesis 2:17. His continued existence in the perfect atmosphere of Eden depended upon obedience. Adam’s happy future was conditional upon staying away from the forbidden tree, but he did not meet the condition.
No provision had been made to remove the penalty or to lighten it. The issue was clear-cut: obey and live, disobey and die. At the age of 930 the sentence was fully carried out, and Adam died and was buried.
All of Adam’s children were born after his nature had become depraved through sin. They could inherit only what their father had to give, so they were born with a sinful, fallen nature. Please note that they did not inherit the guilt of their father, but only his weakened, sin-loving nature. There is no such thing as original sin, in the sense that Adam’s descendants were accountable for his sin. It is true that they also were subject to death just like Adam, but their death was not the punishment for Adam’s sin. They died because they had received a mortal nature through the laws of heredity. Their death resulted from the degenerated constitution which Adam transmitted to his offspring. Only Adam’s death was the punishment for his sin.
From the moment sin became a fixed fact, every human being who would live became subject to the first death. In fact, if God had not intervened, it would have been an eternal death. Adam’s probation ended when he sinned. As far as that first offer of life was concerned, it was finished. He had forfeited all hope of life under the proposal God had made. Now only death awaited him – a hopeless, final death. And if God had done nothing more, that’s the way it would have ended – for Adam and all of his descendants.
A SECOND PROBATION PROVIDED
But immediately after Adam sinned and before the sentence was fully executed, God introduced the plan of salvation through the seed of the woman and gave Adam a new trial (Genesis 3:15). This second probation was conditioned upon acceptance of a Savior who would bear man’s penalty through His own substitutionary death. A new hope was set before Adam and all his posterity through this second arrangement, but it did not alter the consequences of failing the first probation.
That brings us to a very crucial question. How could God uphold His integrity by carrying out the penalty of the first failure, and still hold out the offer of a new life to everyone through another probation? God met that puzzling dilemma in such a simple way that we are amazed. He would let men live their limited life span and then die, regardless of whether they did good or evil. That fist death would take care of the Adamic consequences of failing the first test. Then, le all men be raised from that first death, into which they fell through no fault of their own, and let them stand before God to answer for their own personal sins, for which they are responsible. Then their destiny would be determined on the basis of the second probation (between birth and the first death), and how they met the condition of salvation through Christ.
If they are found guilty of personally failing the second test they will suffer the same penalty that Adam faced – death. In this case, however, there will be no further probation extended, and their death will be the second death – final, eternal extinction.
Now we can better understand the words of Paul, “For as in Adam all fie, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” I Corinthians 15:22. The plan of salvation involves a resurrection of all men from the first death, so that they can be placed beyond the effects of Adam’s sin. This is necessary so that they can be judged on the basis of their personal actions and choices. Adam died because he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, not because of anything he did after that. But if, after the judgment, Adam is found worthy of the second death, it will not be because he ate the fruit, but because of other sins committed after that experience which were not confessed and forgiven.
Some may charge God with being arbitrary and cruel to bring the wicked back to life again only to destroy them in the lake of fire. Why not just let them remain under the power of the first death? That would not meet the conditions required by the second probation. The first death is not the punishment for sin for any of Adam’s posterity, Justice requires that each individual be held accountable only for meeting the conditions of his own salvation. Without a resurrection no such judgment could be made, and no just retribution could be given. It is no wanton act on God’s part, but a fulfillment of the standards of divine justice.
THE SECOND ADAM MEETS THE TEST
With that understanding of the first and second deaths we are prepared to examine the roles of the first and second Adams. Just as the entire human race was represented by Adam in the Garden of Eden, so every man would be represented by Jesus, the second Adam. “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Romans 5:18, 19.
As we have seen, whatever happened to the first Adam affected all those whom he represented. Now we are told by Paul that the experience of the second Adam will directly affect all men, Jesus, the Creator, was incorporated into humanity, and stood before God as though He were every man. This is why Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ.” Galatians 2:20. “We are buried with him by baptism.” Romans 6:4. The life of man is deeply associated with the events of Christ’s life.
Because Jesus came to redeem the failure of the first Adam, He had to do it in the same flesh that mankind possessed when He was born. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren,” Hebrews 2:17. Had He possessed any supernatural advantage over His brethren in conquering sin Jesus would have given support to Satan’s charge of injustice. God had been accused of requiring an obedience that was unreasonable and even impossible. Christ came to disprove the devil’s false accusation by meeting the requirements of God in the same human nature that any man may obtain through faith in the Father.
It was that perfect victory of Christ over sin and death which provides the basis of all salvation. All the descendants of Adam lay under the influence of his weakness and failure, making it impossible for any of them to obey the law. In that dying, condemned family of Adam they were doomed to perpetual struggle and defeat. But the victory of the second Adam opened a door of escape for the family of the first Adam.
The first Adam passed on the results of his sinful experience through physical birth – weakness, sin, and death. The second Adam passed on the results of His sinless experience through spiritual birth – partaking of the divine nature, victory, and eternal life. All the effects of the first Adam’s failure are completely counteracted by the second Adam. Please don’t miss the point that one can join the new family only through a spiritual birth. Through faith in Christ a new creation takes place, lifting man out of the hopeless, carnal state of the family of Adam. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” II Corinthians 5:17.
The change of families constitutes one of the least understood blessing of the Christian experience. It is not a theoretical or mystical transaction with no practical results. Just as the transformation of nature is dramatically real, so the privileges of the new family are also real. One of the hardest thing for the newborn Christian to accept is the total change of position, authority, and ownership under the new family arrangement. They are now eligible for all the riches and advantages of the children of God.
Incredible promises are included in this new spiritual relationship. “the Spirit itself bear witness with our spirit. That we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” Romans 8:16, 17. It is easy to understand why the human mind boggles at this concept. We tend to probe for hidden reservations and secret meanings in verse like these A joint-heirs is one who hold equal rights to all the family estate. We ask ourselves how it is possible to become sudden heirs of such unlimited wealth. From abject poverty we now hold little to the universe! The holding of God includes galaxies and island universe in space. By faith we try to grasp hold of the reality: Jesus and I share and share alike in all the spiritual riches of the Father. Whatever He gets, we also receive. Paul describes the boundless resources of the Spirit-filled life in these words: “That you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:19. Who can comprehend such language? The great, loving God who made us, and who gave up His Only Son to die for us, now wants us to have everything His Son has, and also everything that He has!
Along with the staggering assets of a King, we also actually inherit the family name and the family resemblance. We even begin to look like our new Father and Elder Brother. “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” Colossians 3:10. In the beginning Adam was made in the image of God, and was called a “son of God.” In Genesis we read, “In the likeness of God made he him. … And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years and begat a son in his own likeness.” Genesis 5:1-3.
Like father, like son. Adam looked like God, but the resemblance was lost through sin. So Adam’s son did not look like God; he looked like Adam. But under the new birth, man begins to lose his Adamic features and to look like the One who created him – Jesus. God create only an illusion to make it seem that man is being restored to the divine image, or does He powerfully provide for the change to take place? There is a theological debate as to whether God’s righteousness is only accounted to man or whether it is truly imparted as well. Those who fell that man is only accounted righteous, do not believe that he can really overcome sin and live a holy life, even in Christ. But Paul’s words are clear, “By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Romans 5:19.
Along with birth the family likeness this new spiritual birth brings deliverance from the second death, which was inevitable under the Adamic nature. Christ did not change the first death penalty for Adam’s failure under the first probation, but He did abolish the second death for all those who received Him under the second probation. This was made possible only because He submitted to suffer the horrible penalty of the second death in place of man. He became sin for us, and voluntarily accepted the punishment which sin demands. On the cross, with no ray of hope from the Father, Jesus was enveloped in the darkness of a billion lost souls. He tasted death for every man. Hebrews 2:9.
ABRAHAM’S FIERY CRUCIBLE
Was it easy for Jesus to have such an experience? Was it easy for the Father to withdraw from His beloved Son and treat Him as though He was guilty of the most atrocious blasphemy and crime? Only one man in the world has come near to understanding the intense suffering of the Father and the Son in that situation. That man, Abraham, gave up his only son also, and became the first human to share the agony of the cross.
Paul wrote that “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham.” Galatians 3:8. Jesus also recognized that Abraham had special revelations on the atonement. He said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see m y day; and he saw it, and was glad.” John 8:56.
To understand how this Old Testament patriarch had such prophetic insight into the work of the Messiah, we must go back to his experience on Mount Moriah. Because he had initially failed to believe that God could give him a son from Sarah’s dead womb, Abraham was subjected to another test concerning life from the dead. God told him to slay his only son Isaac on an altar. The account of that lonely journey to Mount Moriah is one of the most moving stories in the sacred Word.
Abraham had no doubt about the validity of the order. He was a friend of God and had learned to recognize His voice. There was no way for Abraham to comprehend the reason for this bizarre command. The promise had been confirmed repeatedly that Isaac was the seed through whom the Messiah would come. Now he was asked to take the life of that child of his old age through whom the altar?
By the time father and son reached the base of the mountain Abraham’s faith had resolutely claimed God’s resurrection power. He said to the servants, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” Genesis 22:5. This time there was no weak faltering over the seeming impossibility of the promise. No resurrection from the dead had ever occurred, but Abraham believed that God would fulfill His promise concerning Isaac’s seed.
As Abraham lifted the knife over his submissive son, he was meeting the most severe test ever faced by a human being. It would have been terrible enough to take his son’s life, but with one stoke of the knife he was about to destroy the only hope of salvation for himself and every person who would be born. No one except Jesus would ever hold the destiny of a world in his hand as Abraham did in that moment. It was more than the rest of fatherly affection. By killing Isaac, Abraham was depriving the world of a Savior. The knife was at his own throat also. God’s unfailing word had assured him that no Messiah could be born without Isaac. Do you begin to see into the fiery crucible of Abraham’s test? No wonder Jesus spoke of Abraham being able to see His day.
Even though his hand was stayed and God provided another sacrifice, Abraham really did give up his son that day. He experienced all the pain heartbreak, and horror that attends the death of an only child. Holding the power to save His son’s life, he would not exercise it. God intervened only after it was fully apparent that Abraham would not hesitate to offer up Isaac. Thank God for the faith of Abraham and for the equal faith and submission of his beloved son. No one can miss the impact of that very moving, human story. It brings the love and sacrifice of the atonement within the understanding of every child of Adam. Now we can grasp a little better how the Father and his only begotten Son suffered at the cross. The cost of our redemption becomes clearer.
HOW THE CROSS PROVIDES FORGIVENESS?
But now we must consider another aspect of this heavenly drama which will further illuminate God’s love and sacrifice. How does the death of one man, the second Adam, provide forgiveness for all who have sinned? The Bible says, “Without shedding of blood is no remission (of sins).” Hebrews 9:22. Remission, of course, means forgiveness. The question is: How does Christ’s death make it possible for Him to forgive sin? This brings us to the crux of all we have learned so far. It was necessary for Jesus to suffer the second death in order to acquire the power to forgive.
The germ of all forgiveness is rooted in an act of substitution. Whoever forgives another person must actually substitute himself for the one he forgives, and be willing to suffer the consequences of the wrong done. For example, if I forgive someone a debt, I must be prepared to suffer the loss of the amount. If I forgive a blow, I must be willing to suffer the pain of it, without requiring the one who gave it to be punished.
Justice requires that every offender be recompensed in proportion to what he did: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. The one who gives a blow must also suffer an equal blow in return. Forgiveness, though, relieves the offender from receiving what he legally deserves. The forgiver accepts the consequences himself in order that the guilty one can go free without punishment. Thus there is clearly a substitution of the innocent for the guilty in every act of forgiveness.
As a further demonstration let us imagine that a murdered man could forgive his murderer from beyond the grave. He would, in effect, be consenting to his own death in order that the killer would not be punished. By accepting the results of the offense against him, he allows his won death to satisfy the penalty which could be legally laid upon the murderer.
This illustration brings us very close to the heart of the atonement. We are dealing here with the readjustment of a jarred relationship. That is what atonement really is. Two parties are always involved, the wronged and the wrongdoer. In this case it is God, the wronged, and man, the one who sins against Him. Justice demands an adequate expiation of the sin. Only two courses are possible: either justice will exact the prescribed penalty, or there must be forgiveness from the offended one. If forgiveness is extended, the forgiver will have to accept the consequences of the sin, and suffer it in place of the guilty. The penalty for sin is death. So in order to grant forgiveness to the sinner, Jesus must be willing to bear in His own body the same punishment that the broken law would demand of the sinner.
The punishment for sin is not the first death, but the second death. That is why the protracted agony of Jesus on the cross was totally unlike any other death. Thousands of criminals were crucified in the same physical way that Christ was nailed to the cross, but they suffered only the bodily pain of the first death. He experienced the awful condemnation and separation from God that the vilest of sinner will feel in the lake of fire. His sensitive nature was traumatized by sharing vicariously the guilt of foul rapes, murders, and atrocities. He became sin in order to allow the full wrath of the law to fall upon Him in exactly the same way it would fall upon the lost.
In no other way can we explain the mysterious anguish of spirit which surrounded our Savior in His closing hours of life. From the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus bore the accumulated sins of mankind on His breaking heart. Not one ray of light was permitted to penetrate the blanket of total alienation from His Father in heaven. In order to take the place of guilty sinners and to proved forgiveness there could be no difference in their penalty and His penalty.
Let no one suggest that the Father did not suffer equally with His son. The divine forbearance of God in allowing wicked men to torture His Son to death is the ultimate proof that He love s us with the same love that He loved Jesus. The choice He faced was very simple. He could spare the Son or He could spare us. There was no other choice. The law had been broken – the law which was holy and perfect. As a reflection of His character it could not be changed or destroyed. The penalty had to be paid. The Father loved those who had broken His law, but He also loved His Son.
Look again at the scene around that cross, God looked upon those wicked men as they spat upon Jesus and hit Him in the face with their fists. They were unworthy to touch the hem of His garment, but they were mauling Him to death. He held the power in His hand to smite those little men into oblivion. He could save His Son from cruel taunts and blows, but if He intervened not one human being would ever live again. Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, and every other child of Adam would be lost for eternity. Their resurrection depended wholly upon the death and resurrection of His Beloved Son. In His omniscience God must have remembered every individual face and name, even of those who had not yet been born.
In that moment God thought about you and me. Even though He saw all our miserable failures He still wanted us to be with Him for eternity. He knew the great majority would not accept the offer of eternal life with Him, even though it would be provided at such a fearful cost. Bu he also knew that a few would love Him and gladly receive the substitutionary death of His Son in their behalf. So God turned away from His Son, and allowed Him to be crushed to death under the weight of sins He did not commit. Even the sun hid his face from the terrible scene, and the earth shuddered in protest. “It is finished,” Jesus cried, and yielded up His life. John 19:30.
WAS THE PRICE TOO HIGH?
The price of redemption had been paid. Was it too high? For multiplied millions it was an empty investment, a wasted sacrifice. They would lightly esteem the entire transaction and reject it out of hand. But what about you? Now that you see a little clearer what it cost, do you find yourself responding to the investment He mad in your salvation?
So far we have focused upon the enormous scope of the atonement – how it provided for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. This emphasis should not obscure the terrible personal aspect of what He did. The quality of that love which brought Jesus to His death on the cross was such that He would have made the same sacrifice for even one soul. I need to remind myself every day that God not only “so loved the world,” but He so loved me, that He gave His Son. The genius of the entire plan of salvation revolved around the application of His death to individuals.
Christ’s love for people is repeatedly dramatized in the Bible. We see it in His time consuming, one-person interviews. Some of His most significant spiritual discourses were delivered to single individuals. We see it also in the dangerous voyage He made across the sea to deliver the Gadarene demoniac. It occupied fully two days of His precious time to cross that stormy water and return. Only one man was directly contacted during that unpleasant excursion, but that man, late, turned the whole countryside toward the savior.
We must watch Jesus relate to Nicodemus, the leper, the harlot, and the despised tax assessor before we can understand the value of a single soul. He took time with people regardless of their position or possessions. The woman of Samaria was just another shameless community “character” when Christ took the opportunity to engage her in a conversation that turned her life upside down.
Undoubtedly Jesus looked at each person as a candidate for eternal life. How else can we explain His association with Simon, Zacchaeus, and Mary Magdalene? He saw in every soul the glorious potential of reflecting His own holy character for both time and eternity. He saw there the reason for His incarnation. Each soul was the one He had come to redeem. Those were the faces which came into His mind as He hung on the cross, strengthening Him to drain the cup of His suffering.
One of the most astounding statements in the Bible about the atonement is found in Hebrews 12:2, “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
How could that terrible experience on the cross have any joy connected with it? We are assured that some joyful motive girded Him for the shame and humiliation on the crucifixion. What was “the joy that was set before him”? Here lies the secret of His self-abnegation. He did it in the strength of the anticipated joy of opening wide the gates of Paradise to welcome us into His never-ending kingdom. It was love for us, and the desire to be with us for eternity which led Him to endure the unendurable. Here is a positive assurance that He was thinking of you and me as He bore the wrenching cruelties of the cross.
Is one soul worth such an infinite price? In the light of eternity, the answer is Yes. Consider the amazing fact that one redeemed soul will outlive all the combined years of earth’s total population. Eventually, in eternity, the life of that one person will outstrip by a million times all the life spans of all the inhabitants of this world put together. In this sense, one saved person represents more life, more accomplishment, and greater fulfillment than all the lost people combined. Jesus must have recognized that truth every time He looked into the face of a man, woman, or child. In even the most degraded human being He saw a life that could memorialize His love for longer than time had been computed.
With these glimpses into the real costs of Calvary, hoe could anyone lightly esteem His mission to planet earth? You can be that soul who will bear an everlasting witness to the love and grace of our Savior. Never has so much been provided for so little. By a single step of faith, we may exchange the deadly birthrights of the first Adam for the un-searchable riches of the second Adam. In a moment of surrender and acceptance we begin to share the life He deserved, because He was willing to bear the guilt, condemnation, and death we deserved. What an exchange! It will be the exhaustless theme of our study for all eternity. And as ages roll by, we will continue to get new, thrilling insights into the nature of His atoning love and sacrifice. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” Hebrews 2:3. So great? So very great? There is no answer to the question because here is no escape. Accept that salvation now that costs so much to provide. Don’t neglect it another moment.
Library of Sermons No. 40
Copyright 1992 by
Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
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“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Eccl. 11:1
THE CALVINIST CONNECTION
Although all of us have heard the dramatic story of the prodigal son, few have considered the intriguing steps in his revolutionary recovery. After his money was exhausted and all his good-time friends had abandoned him, our Lord describes how the confused and starving young man “came to himself.” Luke 15:17. In that mind so deluded by the fantasies of sin, a strange new revelation began to unfold. Thoughts and memories which had been long suppressed by the spell of sin began to dimly glow and develop.
So the first step in the prodigal’s return was simply that he began to think. That was something he had not done since plunging into his intoxicating, feverish round of indulgent spending. The bubble had burst, and it was natural for his thoughts to reconnect with the realities of life as he had known them in his father’s house. Jesus said he began to think about the home, and his parents, and their servants. But thinking alone is not enough to take anyone out of the “far country” of sin. Not one prodigal will ever be welcomed into the Father’s house with the words “Well thought, thou good and faithful servant.”
But then the young man began to talk to himself. According to the Scripture he said, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee. And am no more, worthy to be called thy son.” Luke 15:18, 19. But he was still speaking from the miserable much of the pig sty. Talking about being saved is not enough. The Father will never welcome anyone with the words, “Well said, thou good and faithful servant.”
Finally, the Bible records that “he arose and came to his father.” Luke 15:20. He began to move for the first time in the right direction. The memories, the resolutions, the decisions – all are now translated into action. “He arose and came.” That was the final step that brought him out of his place of shame and bondage. And to everyone who follows his example will the Father say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, … enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matthew 25:21.
What a moving scene as the younger son meets his father and receives the clean robe, new shoes, and family signet ring of authority – all symbols of full acceptance, forgiveness, and restoration. Very quickly, we can imagine, the happy youth utilized the facilities of his father’s house to wash away the marks of this prodigal past, and to show forth the evidences of a new relationship.
This story by Jesus illustrates the only way that anyone can get into the heavenly family. All of us must receive the robe of Christ’s righteousness. It is the most important and necessary step in the salvation experience. We must understand how to come, how to be accepted, and how to fit into the new role of son ship.
Strange as it may seem, this elementary experience of the robe has been made terribly complicated and distorted. The subject of righteousness by faith has been more often misrepresented than almost any other theological issue. The whole fabric of Protestantism has been affected by conflicting views over the roles of justification and sanctification in the process of being saved.
GOING BACK TO THE ROOTS
Many seem to agree that the modern confusion on the subject probably stems from an ancient system called Calvinism. Although John Calvin was a great French reformer who deserves much credit for throwing off the yoke of Catholicism, he also introduced a series of basic errors which have permeated most of today’s Protestantism. Between 1536 and 1559, Calvin produced a monumental work entitled Institutes of Christian Religion. Those four volumes actually shaped the theology of reform churches throughout Scotland, Holland, France and England. Later, Calvinism became a powerful molding influence over major American denomination.
Briefly, we can summarize the erroneous elements of Calvinism in four categories. First: Predestination, which teaches that the exact number of the saved and lost has already been predetermined by a sovereign God. Since each person has a fixed destiny, there is no such thing as free will or personal choice in the matter of salvation.
This doctrine of “election” has brought both despair and elation to millions through the ages, depending on their ability to generate “feelings” about their own salvation. What terror of soul must have harried multitudes into their graves because they “felt” rejected of God. On the other hand, those convinced of their unconditional election, allowed no convictions of conscience to prod them into performing unpleasant duties.
Second: The doctrine of Christ’s irresistible grace made it impossible for the pre-selected saved ones to evade the decree of God’s sovereign choice for them. The benefits of the atonement are, therefore, limited to only those who were divinely elected for salvation from the days of eternity.
The third error is the natural outgrowth of the first two; namely, that once saved means always saved. If one is fore-ordained by God’s unalterable decree to be saved, there can be no possibility of falling back or losing that eternal security. After choosing to become a Christian, the door is forever closed on any future decision to change course or to renounce the faith. Now they must be saved in spite of themselves, and also without any reference to their future choices or actions.
A COUNTERFEIT RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH
Now, I want you to see how these Calvinist concepts opened the door to a fourth perversion which has invaded almost every Christian denomination to a greater or lesser degree. If one cannot ever be lost after accepting Christ, then how can the wicked lifestyle of some “converts” be explained? What about backsliding? How do we explain apostasy? How can God save the person who is walking in willful transgression of His law?
The contemporary evangelical Christian would probably answer that the imputed merits of Christ’s righteousness would cover those sins and thus assure justification for the professed believer. Here is where the deadliest effects of Calvinism are revealed. The strange theory that continued willful disobedience can be “justified” by merely accepting credit for Christ’s perfect obedience is a fraudulent claim of a compromised Christianity. Not one Bible text can be found defending the practice of known sin.
There is indeed a beautiful doctrine of imputed righteousness which provides justification for those who claim it by faith. But true faith always produces obedience. It never allows for the deliberate continuance of sin. The twisted doctrine which gives assurance of heaven to the practicing sinner is one of the deadliest errors stemming from Calvinism. Unfortunately, many individual Christians have adopted the view without recognizing its tainted origin or its dangerous implications.
After looking at the four unbiblical principles at the root of Calvinism, we can see that most modern churches have been influenced by one or more of these teachings. The amazing thing is that some who have been historically opposed to predestination, irresistible grace, and eternal security have been snared into the fourth error of counterfeit righteousness by faith. For this reason, we need to carefully examine the issue under the microscope of God’s Word in order to identify its hidden dangers.
Please notice what this position actually is proposing. In so many words, the claim is made that the atonement saves us from the results of sin, but not from the sin itself. Salvation does not involve so much a change in our nature in relation to sin, but rather, a change in the nature of sin in relation to the Christian. Incredible as it may seem, that this doctrine affirms that when you accept Christ, that very moment sin loses its deadly sting. Something happens to change the nature of sin. It is no longer threatening to your salvation. God gives you an instant “standing” of righteousness which allows you to safely and securely continue in disobedience without jeopardizing your hope of heaven.
I emphasize, again, that these same words may not always be utilized by those who have been captivated by this comfortable doctrine, but there is no doubt that they express what is believed. Some would want to qualify the kinds of sins that could be safely practiced while claiming justification. Others would place no limit on the category of continuing sins covered by the robe of Christ’s righteousness.
VICTORY IS NECESSARY
Do you begin to notice the common element in all of these variations of Calvinism? None of them believe that the Christian is transformed by the power of God so that he can stop sinning. That is the weakness of the whole theological scheme. It denies the very essence of the gospel to save people from their sins.
Let me try to explain how mesmerizing this belief can become. Of course, it is appealing to every one of us. Who hasn’t been tempted to believe it, especially when struggling with some special weakness of the flesh. After repeated failures to overcome, haven’t you been attracted by the idea? Let me tell you what happens if you toy with that temptation. One of two things will inevitably take place in your life. Either you will discover that “he is able also to save them to the uttermost” and will claim the total victory over that sin, or you will convince yourself that God will save you while continuing to commit your besetting sin. Hebrews 7:25.
Why is there no other alternative in this situation? Because no one can keep on repenting endlessly of the same sin. It is too painful. Repentance is not cheap. It involves heart anguish and grief. Every time you truly repent, you also determine to yield to that sin again. That is an essential element of real repentance. The deep sorrow and tears of such an experience are not contrived or artificial. I remember my own heartbreak as I pleaded for victory in my early teens. I knew God could give me deliverance, and my faith grew stronger each time I agonized over a failure. Then, the day came when I claimed the promise of God and walked away from that sin forever.
I must tell you frankly that I could not have continued that program indefinitely. I had to go one way or the other. I had to claim an objective victory outside of myself or else yield to the subjective feeling that it was impossible, and therefore, God wouldn’t require it of me. That guilt was too great, and I could not have lived with myself in any other way.
Do you understand what I am saying? We must either find relief by overcoming in the power of Christ or by redefining sin so that it is no longer threatening to our salvation. I have met those whose tormented consciences would give them no relief until they convinced themselves that God would not cast them out for practicing sin. Only after justifying the existence of sin in their own minds could they find relief from the guilt. Strangely enough, for such people it is almost as though they are hearing the gospel for the first time. And indeed it is a gospel – a new one. It uses Bible texts, utilizes theological arguments, and even focuses on love, grace, and the cross. But this new gospel not only changes the nature of sin, it also, changes the nature of the atonement, the nature of Christ, and as we have discovered, the doctrine of righteousness by faith.
REDUCING SIN IS NOT THE ANSWER
Now, let’s peer through the lens of God’s great amplifier of truth, the Bible. What does it say about sin? But first, let’s note what the Scripture do not say about sin. Not one text teaches that we should diminish the amount of sin committed. Reducing the quantity is not the issue, because it is the quality of sin which makes it objectionable. It always brings the same results. “The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. How could a little bit of sin bring only a little bit of death? The Bible says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1. God’s program projects a plan where there is no sin, no condemnation, and no death.
How could that be? Because true righteousness by faith includes forgiveness for sins that have been repented of, confessed, and forsaken. The word “righteous” means right-doing. How could anyone be called righteous who pursued a course of wrong-doing? It would be a contradiction of terms.
Incidentally, the same can be said concerning the word “saint” which translates from the Greek as a “holy person.” Can there be such a thing as a “sinning saint”? If so, one could only conclude that there are “unholy holy ones.” A carnal Christian is no more possible than a square circle. Paul declared that “to be carnally minded is death.” Romans 8:6. But the converted soul has been delivered from that sentence of death, and no longer lives for the flesh and the world. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Romans 8:13. Notice the only two choices open to any of us – “ye shall live … ye shall die.” The only way to die is to live after the flesh, and the only way to live is to die to sin in the flesh.
Someone may reply that in this experience of righteousness by faith people are only counted righteous, even though they have not really experienced it. That brings us right back to the basic error of Calvinism – that God creates a legal fiction by granting an exemption from guilt even though the guilty conduct remains. But doe salvation consists of juggling records to make sinners appear as saints even though they continue to sin?
The fact is that when God declares a person righteous. His creative, self-fulfilling word performs the miracle of conversion at the same time to make that person righteous. Justification takes place in exact conjunction with the new birth experience which empowers the believer to turn away from known sin. At that point also the Holy Spirit enters the life to make total victory a glorious possibility for every true believer.
Not only does genuine justification provide a standing before God, it also provides an actual state before god – a state of righteousness, or right-doing. We refer to that state of being as sanctification. In other words, righteousness by faith is not only inputted; it is also imparted. It not only provides forgiveness for the past, but power for the future. It not only removes the penalty of sin, but it also takes away the sin itself. It consists of both justification and sanctification.
Has anyone ever drawn any security from the practice of sin? Paul declared, “But now being made free from sin … ye have your fruit unto holiness.” Romans 6:22. Again, Paul wrote, “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” Romans 6:18. “The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. The only way to be delivered from death is to be delivered from sin.
The very core of the gospel is to restore man to the original position of obedience from which he fell. If there is no change in man’s state, then the language of the Bible would be a lot of words without meaning. Consider the most common terms used to describe the process of salvation – redemption, reconciliation, justification, atonement, and righteousness. Each one of those theological words incorporates the idea of being separated from God. For example, the word “atonement” literally means at-one-ment. The original oneness of God and man was broken by sin, or disobedience. For man to be restored to that unity with God, there must be a removing of the factor which brought the separation. Until sin is removed, there can be no at-one-ment, or total reunion of God with man.
In similar fashion, the word “reconciliation” carries the core meaning of having been alienated and needing to be brought back. But alienated by what? Sin, of course. We always come back to that root problem which must be resolved before God and man can be in harmony once more. Unless there is a removing of sin, there is also no relief from guilt, condemnation, and the death sentence.
The word “redemption” is one of the most meaningful expressions used in the Bible. We often sing about being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. The dictionary defines redeem as “to buy back.” Something was lost and needs to be restored. What was it? Man’s life had been forfeited by sin and needed to be bought back from the service of Satan.
Two things were absolutely required before full redemption could be effected, and the divine relationship resumed – forgiveness for sins already committed, and unreserved renouncing of sin as a future choice. As far as I have been able to discover, not one feature of the great plan of salvation makes provision for the continuing practice of sin. Disobedience is the dark, miserable force that separates man from God, and it can never have a part in his recovery from that separation.
The truth is that the only way to remedy this separation from God is to experience a separation from sin. “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Acts 3:26. There is no suggestion here that a man’s sins are to be separated form the notice of God by some hiding curtain of His righteousness. Nothing escapes His notice. Human minds can be dulled, blinded, or hypnotized into perceiving things which are not true, nothing can be covered form the all-seeing eye of God. Jesus did not come into the world to make man look good, but to make him good. Had He only removed the penalty of sin without removing the sin, He would have made Himself an accomplice in al man’s failures. No, the text says that God sent Jesus to turn away every one of us from our iniquities. That is so clear and concise that no one can be confused.
THE FRUIT OF CALVINISM
How much of this permissive attitude toward sin can be traced to the Calvinist connection? We would have to concede that most denominations today have been liberalized to some degree by the leaven of these false theories. Even those churches who have historically opposed the more radical views of Calvin now appear weakened in their defining of sin. Few indeed are those churches who fearlessly expose the willful breaking of God’s law as a factor in their ultimate salvation. There is a growing tendency to define sin in very generalized terms so that none can be embarrassed or made to feel uncomfortable.
A serious maligning of God’s character is involved in the “standing but not state” view of righteousness by faith. This version of the gospel credits god works to all those who believe in the objective work of Jesus in His living and dying. It does not require any subjective change of heart, nature, of lifestyle on the part of the believer. Righteousness is a covering which is placed over the sinner so that he can be credited with right-doing even though his practice continues to be sinful. This is called justification by faith. The individual is now “justified,” but the word itself means “to show to be just.” How can God show someone to be just who is not just? Does God declare something to be true which is not true? Impossible.
And what of the sin record in the books of heaven? All will finally be judged out of the things written in those books. Does God keep an accurate account of every word, though, and action? Indeed, He will make the final decision based on His infinite knowledge of every individual.
Now, let us suppose that a young man accepts Jesus on the terms of the Calvinistic gospel. He professes faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross. He is credited with being righteous, but unfortunately, his subjective experience continues to be rebellious and disobedient. What does God do about this man’s record in heaven? While He faithfully records the unrighteous deeds of this professed believer, does He declare him to be righteous? Is it not abundantly clear that the recording of a man’s sin must correspond perfectly with the man’s life? Right now Jesus is interceding before the Father in the heavenly sanctuary for every sinner who confesses. This is the special time for sins to be blotted out or retained in the books of record, but mark this down and never forget it: no sin can be blotted out of the sanctuary record that has not been blotted out of the life already.
The books are a perfect reflection of the life experience of each person. If we want to be declared righteous, or shown to be just by God, then we must accept by faith the victory of Jesus as a continuous imparted power to keep us from sinning. This is true righteousness by faith, and what God declares about us can be confirmed by the loving obedience we are rendering Him. In other words, no man is justified by fait whose faith has not made him just.
SINS FORGIVEN AND FORSAKEN
The beloved John clearly affirmed the true nature of salvation when he wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9. Obviously, the apostle was talking about more than just forgiveness for past sins. He wrote that God will also “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Here is a deeper sanctification work which is accomplished simultaneously with forgiveness. Thus, both phases of true righteousness are described – the imputed justification and the imparted sanctification.
Peter discussed one of the greatest mysteries of the conversion experience when he explained how we become “partakers of the divine nature” and escape “the corruption that is in the world through lust.” II Peter 1:4. Certain it is that the apostle was not talking about some accounting process. There was actual assimilation of the mind and character of Christ so that no pollution of the world could defile.
In this first epistle, Peter explains a bit more about the nature of this victory over the fleshly lusts. “For as much then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” I Peter 4:1, 2.
Notice how Peter explicitly connects the “mind of Christ” experience to ceasing form sin. He perceived that the inward spiritual transformation of a man would happen at a specific point in time, and after that, “the rest of his time in the flesh” would be a glorious litany of triumph over the “lusts of men.” There is no Calvinistic portrayal here of ongoing transgression under the cover of some legal technicality. Like other inspired authors, Peter recognized sin as a deliberate defiance of God’s will which could never coexist with genuine justification by faith.
This is very similar to the way Jesus taught on the subject of coming into His family. He said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” John 15:5. Much of that chapter is relating to the necessity of a constant organic union of the vine and branches. There must be the unceasing surge of vitality flowing from one to the other. Who would dare contend that this symbiotic relationship is merely a legal accounting? Christ said that this is the way He connects with His followers. We truly receive and manifest the very life of Jesus. Along with Paul we can say “Yet not I. but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. Dr. Richard Taylor described the vine-branch relationship in these words:
To live through Christ’s righteousness does not mean that His was sufficient for both Him and us, that we remain sinful, and that His righteousness is merely imputed to us. As we have pointed out before, this is nowhere stated in the Scriptures. We should rather say that Christ by His righteousness broke the long reign of unrighteousness, and then by His death made I t possible for us to also have victory over sin, and be individually cleansed. This is by no means and independent righteousness. It can be maintained only by constant abiding in Him and constant dependence upon the blood. But we do insist that although the righteousness of the branch is derived from the vine, it is more than imputation; it is an actuality in the very fiber and leaf of the branch. – A Right Conception of Sin, p. 49.
What did James mean when he wrote, “Purify your hearts, ye double minded”? James 4:8. Was he describing something that was possible or impossible? And how does one obtain this purification? Is it only a dream or hope for some far distant goal? Do we “grow” impurities out of the heart through long years of trying? The true truth is that God’s Spirit can sweep away those sins at the moment of conversion.
It is just as absurd to talk about growing sin out our heart as to talk about growing dirt off our faces. We have already found that there is no allowance in the Bible for a graduated program of sin reduction. On this point God is extremely arbitrary. Any tolerance of sin would be inconsistent with His holy nature.
CHRIST NOT A MINISTER OF SIN
The great Apostle Paul dealt a deathblow to Calvinism when he wrote, “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” Galatians 2:17, 18. How cleanly Paul cuts through the twisted concept that justification allows for the practice of know sin. If Jesus upheld anyone in their course of deliberate transgression, He would share in their guilt and be a minister of sin. Those who “seek to be justified by Christ” will not be “found sinners.” Sin condemns, but Paul declared, “There is therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1.
We cannot fail to notice that Paul is telling the Galatians how useless it is to “seek to be justified by Christ” without turning away from the practice of sin also. No matter how much seeking through all the formalities of faith and acceptance of Christ, no one can be truly justified as long as he is found a sinner. The apostle here speaks of rebuilding the things he had destroyed. He is referring to the earlier rejection of sin, which he allows to build into his life again. Thus, he describes the re-entry of willful transgression in these words: “I make myself a transgressor.” In that condition he is no longer justified by Christ, because, as Paul says, He will not be the minister of sin.
One inspired commentator made this statement on the subject in 1904, long before the issue had affected most of Protestantism. “He who has not sufficient faith in Christ to believe that He can keep him from sinning, has not the faith that will give him entrance into the kingdom of God.” Review and Herald, March, 10, 1904. How true! We need confidence in the ability of our God to prevail in our behalf. Never will He leave us to struggle helplessly against the oppression of a defeated foe. The victory has already been won; and since Calvary, Satan has not one effective weapon to use against the trusting child of God.
Three powerful promises of God actually stand ready to release their explosive liberating strength into your life and mine this very moment. They are easy to memorize and remember because they all begin with those triumphant words “He is able.” How we need to encapsulate those simple words into our brain’s frontal lobes! They are true, and we should say them, sing them, and pray them until we know that there is not a ghost of a change for the evil one to make us sin. Here are the three promises:
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” Jude 24.
“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Ephesians 3:20.
“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for the,” Hebrews 7:25.
If we had no other assurance in the entire Scriptures, these would be sufficient to carry us through the firestorm of Satan’s final furious assault against the saints. Where could we find more staggering, mind-boggling words or phrases with which to wrap our faith in? Had Calvin viewed these promises as applicable to all who would receive them, millions would have been spared the isolation and hopelessness spawned by his doctrine of non-existent predestination.
Furthermore, those exceeding great and precious promises would transform the thinking and the experience of all who currently believe that it is impossible to live without sinning. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all you can ask or think! Use your imagination right now, and think of the most impossible barrier of sin, weakness, or temptation in your life. He not only will give you all you have been able to imagine, but exceeding abundantly above what you have been able to conjure up in your wildest dreams. So trust Him! Thrust Him! He is able!