Tuesday, October 19, 2004

What is the Gospel?

My friend Robert recently launched his website (http://www.thisgospel.com). He's worked on the articles on that site for years--I edited a few of them. One of Robert's passions is getting out the true gospel: what is the 'good news'? Why is it so good? Why do you need it?

The truth is, you can't even understand "good news" until you know the whole story, which includes the bad news. Have you lied...ever? Did you ever show disrespect to your parents? Did you ever steal anything? If so, you'd have to agree that you've broken at least one of the Ten Commandments, outlined in Exodus 20:1-17. So before the God who created everything and who therefore gets to set the rules, you're a lawbreaker. (See http://www.wayofthemaster.org and http://www.livingwaters.org.)

Being guilty of lawlessness before God is a big deal. Below is Robert's document "Lawlessness." You can also find it at http://thisgospel.convergencymedia.com/index.php?page=writings/Lawlessness.htm. After understanding more about being lawbreakers before God, we can better understand our need for Him and begin to talk about what He's done to rectify our lawless state. That's the good news, to be discussed later.

Lawlessness (an article by Robert Wiktorski)

Do you hate rules? I do in the flesh. I try not to be rebellious, but let's be honest, I am. Jesus is not rebellious. I used to think of him that way. I could see him overturning the money-changer's tables in the temple. I thought he was out to destroy the sacrificial system and the law of Moses. I did not realize he was cleaning greed out of his father's house. I thought he spoke against the Pharisees because he was against the Law of Moses-and they followed it too strictly. I was wrong. I clarify the place of the law for today's believer in a document entitled "law".

After I got saved, I decided to read the entire bible from cover to cover. It took me a while to "get through" the Old Testament, which I sometimes now refer to as the "Tanuch". It was not as obsolete or pointless as I had expected it to be. I had heard jokes about Leviticus as pleasure reading, and how the law was dry. However, it helped deliver me from the spirit of rebellion or lawlessness that was still lurking in the dark corners of my new Christian experience.

I began to see God's law as a boundary between the Kingdom of the World and the Kingdom of God: A way of defining who is He is and who He is not, a way of understanding His holiness and my lack of it--viewing Christ as the bridge to become one with His identity.

Matthew 19:16-17
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

God’s identity was first revealed to humans through rules.

Genesis 2:15-17
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

He offered a rule and consequence, as any loving father would. As long as they obeyed the law, they did not give authority to the devil, the prince of this world.

Genesis 2:25
The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

After they broke the spiritual wall of God's protection (in breaking the law), and let the devil into their minds, they hid from God.

Genesis 3: 6-11
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

Their innocence had been corrupted by the knowledge of evil. They gained a concept of good and bad. Who did they gain it from? Can it be trusted? Everyone has opinions of what is good and bad for them.

Proverbs 14:12
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

So they traded God's rules for their own. They traded God's law for their own law. Eve had three reasons why eating the forbidden fruit was GOOD. She reasoned that it would not be wrong to eat it. She made her own law. She rejected God's law in the process. (I think she had some help in making her own law. Don't we all?) She felt like God's law was too strict and wanted to see how much she could get away with. After all, how wrong could eating fruit be?

John 3:6
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Romans 8:6-7
The mind of sinful man [or mind set on the flesh] is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;
the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.

Romans 13:14
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Philippians 3:3
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh...

Fleshly thinking, or thinking in our own strength, leads us to reject God's law in favor of our own law that we figure out. This is a deadly type of law and it needs to be continually replaced with God's law.

Psalm 19:7 (KJV)
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. {law: or, doctrine} {converting: or, restoring}

Psalm19: 7-14 (NIV)
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Joshua 1:8
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Psalm 1:2
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

What our opinion of GOOD is does not matter. We are not lawmakers, but children. The Father and the Law are good. They are one in Christ.

Romans 7:12
So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

Christians seems to like to talk about what they think is good and bad. They try to get me to join them. They tried that with Jesus too.

Matthew 19:17
"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

The question for the believer is not: 'what is good or bad?' The Law already tells us that. The question should be: 'what is the Lord's will for me right now?'

Psalm 40:6-10
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, "Here I am, I have come-- it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, as you know, O LORD. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.

Ephesians 5:17
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.

The Old New Age

The essence of the humanistic New Age movement is this: Humans are good and can decide what is good is. Is the New Age "new," though? Where did Eve's ideas come from? Who was tempting her?

Genesis 3:21
The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

In verse 22, it looks like the New Age movement wins, with man as equal to God. Verse 24 brings truth back into the distorted picture. Human knowledge of good and evil is inherently corrupted and vain. Humans need God's law. They will not be able to approach him without submitting to it, as the warrior cherub's sword will ensure.

Enmity against the law's fulfillment

Genesis 3:15
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

Indeed Christ crushed the serpent’s head on the cross. However, Christ’s heel was also bruised in attempts to resist suffocation. Even from the beginning, the spirit of Messiah, who expresses and fulfills the law, has always been at enmity with the spirit of this world—the spirit of the air—the spirit of antichrist.

Genesis 4: 1-8
Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

The spirit of AntiChrist even attacked Christ’s lineage in hopes that he would not be born:

Galatians 4: 28-31
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Then they tried to kill him after he was born.

Matthew 2: 13, 16, 19, 22
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."....When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi....After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt...But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee

They finally got him when he was around 30, but by then, he had already fulfilled (and was fulfilling) God’s will.

The Spirit of Lawlessness

The law’s fulfillment is in Christ, and through Christ. The spirit of lawlessness hates Christ and his obedience through others by the Spirit.

2 Thessalonians 2: 1-17
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Notice Paul’s advice to not give in to lawless “spirituality” by standing firm in the true apostolic message and person of Jesus Christ as He strengthens them in fulfilling the law by the Spirit through every good deed and word. What does he mean by “lawless”?

Mark 15: 27-28
They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "He was counted with the lawless ones" (Isaiah 53:12)

Hebrews 10:17
Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more."

2 Peter 2:7
And if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)...

1 John 3:4
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.

Peter reiterates Paul’s warning against teachers of lawlessness, or antinomianism.

2 Peter 3:17
Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.

Jude continues this warning against apostasy via lawless doctrine and practice.

Jude 3-4
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Let’s look at more about the Biblical warning against lawless men:

2 Peter 2: 1-22
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)--if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed--an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey--a beast without speech--who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness. These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity--for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud."

Then he concludes the next chapter by referring back to the same lawless false-grace teachers:

2 Peter 3: 14-18
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

So he warns that while he and Paul are on the same page concerning lawlessness, some false teachers will try to distort Paul’s true grace message into a lawless one. These teachers take advantage of the fact that Paul’s writings are hard to understand. It is easy to take some of Paul’s sentences out of context to purport an antinomian position.

Some scriptures I have memorized only because I have heard them quoted so many times by so many lawless Christians. I wish I could say that they were not quoting these scriptures to purport lawlessness. However, it seems like they take these scriptures or slogans to hint that you can do whatever you want and God still loves you and you’re still saved:

“all things are permissible….”
“there is no condemnation…[leave out the part about for those who are IN Christ]”
“it was for freedom that Christ set us free”
“I’m free from the law”
“Are you spying on my freedom?”

2 Peter 2:18-19
For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity--for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.

Truth teachers do not misuse scripture and quote 'cool' Christian slogans though:

2 Corinthians 4:2
Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

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