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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Homosexual Christians and The Kingdom

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. -1 Cor 6:9-10
This commonly quoted passage in 1 Cor 6 concerning (among other things) sexual sin and "inheriting the kingdom" does not involve the free gift of eternal life. That is a dangerous path to take and I see it all the time. Do not conflate "inheriting the kingdom" with the free gift, by grace, of life through his name. If all you have is a saved/lost or a heaven/hell understanding of scripture, you will not get very far.

Just the pronouns in the verses above reveal this is directed as Christians. The whole chapter makes it even more abundantly clear that Paul is issuing this warning to Christians. Is Paul writing to unbelievers here?
Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot?
Clearly this aimed at believers. Paul would never refer to unbelievers as "members of Christ." Yet despite the overwhelming evidence in this chapter (and throughout the ministry of the Lord and his chosen), men still turn this gun towards the world or they chalk it up to Paul referencing the past lives of some Christians.
In this passage we see that the members of the church at Corinth had been guilty of homosexuality as well as many other sins, but they had been converted. The homosexuality is spoken of in the past tense. 
-David Cloud (Excerpt, Way of Life Literature)
Paul does say "such were some of you" in reference to the past lives of some of the Corinthian believers, but even with that understood, why would he have need to warn them if they were never in danger of slipping back into those lifestyles? 

Leaving Sexual sin for a moment, "drunkards" is on the list of offenses. Do we believe that it is impossible for an alcoholic to find eternal life and then fall back into an old habit? Here we turn to a parallel warning in Galatians in light of "will not inherit the Kingdom of God."
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. -Gal 5:16-22
Again the pronouns and context and content can only lead us to see this is addressed to Christians. Unbelievers do no have a new nature (spirit) contrasted with the old nature (flesh). But believers do have this choice. Notice "drunkenness" is on this list as well. These are not "former lives" to which Paul is referring, rather he is referring to future possibilities for believers.

So just as it is possible for a Christian to walk in the flesh and fall into habitual drunkenness, so may a Christian fall into habitual sexual sin.  

Applying right division to these Acts Age passages, we see that these may lose a place in the coming earthly kingdom (which we have covered numerous times). They will not "inherit the kingdom of God." Since one cannot lose a free gift and since grace and works are mutually exclusive in terms of the gift, we must not try to equate inheriting the kingdom with having eternal life.

We briefly point you back to the Lord's warning to some of being "thrown into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth." Surely this is aimed at unbelievers, right? Many an evangelist will use it that way, but the Lord is clear:
And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. -Matt 8:11-12
The warning of the Lord's earthly ministry, and in the Acts age, concern the earthly kingdom. That kingdom is earned. The Lord speaks of profitable and unprofitable servants. Stewardship and faithfulness are addressed. If we interpret all these as simply "saved or lost," we end up in great fear and confusion. We are forced to mangle the Lord's clear words to make them fit the free gift of Life.

Rightly dividing the Word of Truth helps us understand these passages and helps us understand things such as the assumed contradiction between Paul's teachings on justification and James' teaching. Paul argues from scripture that the free gift of life is by grace alone. It excludes all works. The two cannot co-exist. However, James teaches that works must accompany faith in justification. They both point to Abraham.
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” -Romans 4
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. -James 2
There are many parallels between the Book of James and the Sermon on the Mount. This is because both are ministering to Israel. Both concern the promises and hope of Israel (the kingdom). Note that James points to an event in Abraham's life which occurred long after the event to which Paul refers. It is not simply that faith results in works (it may or may not), but that justifying faith, in light of the Kingdom, must be made perfect (mature).

Let us quickly look at a popular passage in Hebrews 6 (note, we are addressing Hebrews in the Acts age, just as James addressed "the twelve tribes" in his epistle). Paul urges the Hebrews "to go on to perfection."
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection... But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation... And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. -Hebrews 6:1,9,11-12
These Hebrews had salvation, but they needed to continue on in good works (listed in the chapter) and move on to perfection (maturity). They are warned not to become lazy. They are warned not to stay on the elementary things of the faith lest the continue to crucify the Lord, as it were. Paul again uses Abraham as his model.
For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. -Hebrews 6:13-15
Abraham obtained one promise, but he accepted the cross so he could achieve another.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. -Hebrews 11:8-10
This chapter also speaks of those who sought a "better resurrection." These had the free gift of resurrection life by faith, but they sought a "better" resurrection. We have a similar admonition in our calling. We must strive for a "better resurrection." We must "obtain" a prize through suffering and maturity.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the out-resurrection from among the rest of the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. -Phil 3

Does Paul doubt his free gift of life? Never. Paul is addressing those things which lie beyond the free gift, things earned, things attained. 


Christians can lose reward. Christians can be murderers (1 Peter). Christians can walk in the flesh (Gal 5). But we are not our own saviors and if you hold 1 Cor 6 to mean eternal life, you are essentially saying we must maintain the free gift ourselves.

There are dire warnings for Christians all through scripture. Too often some warnings, given to Christians, are attributed to unbelievers. But God has but one message to unbelievers: God has been reconciled to you, you just need to be reconciled to God (1 Cor 5:17-18).

Passages like "the enemies of the cross of Christ" and those "whose god is their belly," refer to Christians just as 1 Cor 6 and Peter's admonition not be charged as a murderer, thief, or evil-doer refer to Christians. Those who abandoned Paul in Asia were Christians (2 Tim 1:15).

If you want to argue that 1 Cor 6 concerns unbelievers, you are dangerously close to denying Christ. The context is clear. Paul is admonishing Christians. After the list of disqualifying sins, Paul writes this:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Who says those things? Christians. Whose body is meant for the Lord? This can only mean Christians. We can be disqualified from rewards, the prize, and crowns. We may "become disqualified" (1 Cor 9:27). We may make a "shipwreck" of our faith (1 Tim 1:19).

Ministries like "Way of Life Literature" make a huge error in simply assigning works of the flesh to the past without understanding the possibility that a Christian can choose to walk in the flesh (hence the repeated warnings). So, yes, there are Christians who practice homosexuality. They are in disobedience, they may lose rewards, but they have not forfeited eternal life.

Those who understand the free gift, yet teach that one cannot be both a Christian and practice sexual immorality have a problem on their hands. Do we become incapable of sin? Is it impossible for a Christian to walk in the flesh? Of course not. And if we walk in the flesh, we can horrible things and we will not grow in the faith. To continue in sin is to silence the voice of the Spirit and suppress the new nature. Without the influence of the Spirit, we cannot be taught. We will fall back to perdition instead of going on to perfection.

We warn Christians about walking in the flesh and according to its lusts. We can't tell unbelievers to walk in the new nature (spirit), because they don't have a new nature.

Ironically, many Christians become puffed up in the flesh because they use passages like 1 Cor 6 to teach that they are either incapable of such sins or they are somehow maintaining their salvation by not falling into "habitual sin." Pride is a sin as well.

Paul warns Timothy when he is appointing elders that he should avoid novices, "lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil..." (1 Tim 3:6).  The same condemnation as the devil? Yes. But since this is clearly for believers and involves pride and not sex (so we can't point fingers), this verse is not taught in the same way 1 Cor 6 is taught.

Have you ever heard anyone teach that an elder who falls into pride was never really a Christian? No, it's too hard to manipulate that passage. However, teachers who don't want to acknowledge other sins of the flesh simply assign most of those sins as signs someone is not really a Christian. But if someone who has the "same condemnation as the devil" can be a Christian elder, so can any Christian fail to "inherit the kingdom of God." And neither of these lose the free gift of eternal life or it is no longer free.

Those who profess to understand the "free gift" are left with the only alternative, wrenching the sins listed there from the context and assuming these never truly had life. But that's rather difficult task in light of Galatians 5 and 1 Timothy 6.

For those struggling with any sin, please see our series on Walking in the Spirit and its parallel study on Walking Worthy.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Understanding Eternal Life

Getting past the simple understanding of eternal (which is actually too complex)


Hopefully, at this point, we should know to test the traditions in Christendom. We must test the things that differ. We have seen the dangers in the simple dichotomies of saved/lost and heaven/hell. We have noted that certain common doctrines are not found in scripture, but rather are mythologies molded to fit scripture (and vice versa).

We noted in a recent study how scripture deals in terms of time. This is a necessity as we are creatures of time and we have great difficulty understanding concepts outside of time. Evolutionists cannot grasp the existence  of matter with no beginning and no end so they simply ignore the problem of the "no start / no end" within the construct of time.

Carl Sagan, in his "Cosmos" series, places the "Big Bang" at about 15 billion years ago. He offers the question in regard to what happened before that and concludes it's not worth asking. This is a necessary backwards period for Sagan as the problem would never end. Matter would have to have always existed, organizing and disorganizing itself endlessly for no reason according to no physical laws except those it would violate. It is assumed there is no beginning and all things continue as they always have. Time has n meaning, yet they are bound by it in a purely physical universe.

We worship a God who is outside of time, but we're not 


This is a high concept and our limited minds fail us as we try to process the thought. However, we are not bound by the laws of time in our interpretation of God. When we understand that time is the stage upon which scripture is revealed, however, we must limit our interpretations, then, to time. We can leave intelligence beyond scrutiny. We can assume intelligence and understanding as part of the creation as we readily observe it. We can conclude it exists beyond matter-only, whereas the slave of the matter-only universe must answer the question in terms of time.

Further, he has to explain his very thoughts and emotions in purely physical terms. Every thought must be the result of some random chemical reaction (emphasis on random). To suggest there is something beyond random chemical reactions is to admit to the existence of that which is beyond the physical and to that which is not random.

We must not confuse things bound by time with things not bound


We will leave that quandary there and move back to Christendom and its attempt to frame things not subject to time in terms of time. Rather, insisting that we see words which suggest a limitation in time and forcing them to fit the false heaven/hell dichotomy.

Our English bibles use phrases such as "forever and ever." This is a nonsensical phrase if we apply the common understanding of these core words. This is not a study simply about the word "eternal" per se, but "eternal" has a similar problem for the English reader. Even without the addition of "and ever," the word "forever" is often misunderstood when we equate it with "endless" in terms of time. "Eternal" is lumped in with these as well.
Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, having in like manner with these given themselves over to fornication and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire. -Jude 7
Obviously, Sodom is not still burning. We see a similar pronouncement concerning the gentile nations who come against Zion in a coming age. The smoke of their destruction is said to rise "forever" (Is 34:10). Both of these thoughts suggest that the destruction and punishment are without change. They shall last throughout time without revision. But they certainly do not mean that the suffering in Sodom and the smoke rising from the nations are, as God, without end into a timeless future.

Ages and beyond


Young's Literal often gives us "age-enduring" instead of "forever." As for the confusing "forever and ever," let's look an example.
The Lord shall reign forever and ever! - Ex 15:18 [NKJV]Jehovah reigneth -- to the age, and for ever!' - Ex 15:18 [YLT]
Even here, Young gives us a more reasonable concept. The God of Israel will reign to the end of the age and from there on out. This is better application to the earthly kingdom expected and promised to David and Israel. But even Young falls short here, I believe. He leaves us with an undefined concept in "for ever." We cannot apply that to the examples we just reviewed. Of course, it can be argued that the context gives the meaning, but I know of no English speaker who would accept different meanings for our word "forever."

In the Greek, we see the words "aionios" and "aion" translated as "forever and ever." But when they used separately, "aion" is given a variety of translations: “world”, “course”, “age”, “eternal” as well as being part of "since the world began." It is a word well-connected to earth and time s well as to the ethereal idea of "eternal.".

Charles Welch adds this thought:
Such translations of a word that can range from a “world” which had a “beginning” and will have an end, to “eternity” which confessedly has neither, are too wide to be of service, especially when the choice depends largely upon the theological views of the translator. (Excerpt - Berean Expositor, Vol. 42)
The Hebrew equivalent is "olam." Staying with Mr. Welch's examples, let's look at the diversity of use in Ecclesiastes.

 In the book of Ecclesiastes the word olam occurs seven times, and is translated in the KJV as follows: 
  • “The earth abideth for ever” (i. 4). 
  • “It hath been already of old time” (i. 10). 
  • “No remembrance . . . . . for ever” (ii. 16).
  • “Set the world in their heart” (iii. 11).
  • “It shall be for ever” (iii. 14). 
  • “A portion for ever” (ix. 6). 
  • “Man goeth to his long home” (xii. 5).

Mr. Welch (ibid):
Such variety provides no connected thought, but a consistent translation of olam reveals a definite line of teaching. Olam in Ecclesiastes. 
A | i. 4. The earth abideth to the age.—The passing generation. 
     B | i. 10. It hath been already in or to the ages.— Nothing new under the sun. 
          C | ii. 16. No remembrance of the wise more than of the fool to the age.— Forgotten in the days to come. 
               D | iii. 11. He hath set the age in their heart.— Beginning to end of God’s work past finding out. 
          C | iii. 14. Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be to the age.— God’s work remains. 
     B | ix. 6. Neither have they any more a portion to the age.— No portion under the sun. 
A | xii. 5. Man goeth to his age home.—The passing generation. 

We start to see a more consistent understanding of the word. We something similar in Ephesians with aion, but we shall leave that there. So, as we start to limit our "forever and ever" to the boundaries of time, we start to see that "eternal" is more of a heavenly experience than a timeless concept.

A quality and not a quantity


We see that "eternal" is more of a quality of something rather than a quantity. When we understand that, we can apply it to "the gift of eternal life." We can have eternal life now, yet we can each experience it in different ways in this age. That is, while all believers have eternal life now, some will "lay hold" of it in the current age and in our current fleshly life while others will not.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. -John 5:24
When we believe we have "everlasting life" as a current possession.
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. -John 17:1-3
In the true "Lord's prayer" of John 17, we see the nature and quality of "eternal life." It is a gift and it consists (in this age) of knowing "the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." Paul prays for believers that we may have a "knowledge of him" (Eph 1:17). In Colossians, he emphasizes that Christ is the eternal life which is hidden in God awaiting revelation.
For when Christ shall appear, your life, then also ye shall appear with him in glory.
-Col 3:4
So, we have "eternal life" now, but we shall experience in full at His appearing.

Lay hold on eternal life now


In this life, we can experience some of the quality of that life in the inner man. The gift is unconditional, while the experience is conditional.
But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life [laying hold on the life age-during - Young's Literal], to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. -1 Tim 6:11-16
This is parallel to the gift of resurrection (wherein we experience and "put on" immortality). Resurrection is assure the believer. It is a gift. It is true life. However, there are ranks in resurrection (1 Cor 15:22-23) and there is a special "out from among the rest of the dead" resurrection to which we may attain. As with eternal life, there is the free gift and the reward via obedience.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the [out] resurrection  [Gk: exanástasis]  from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead... -Phil 3:8-13
We may also have a harvest [reaping] of eternal life as a result of our walk.
For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. -Gal 6:8
 Since we are stuck, as it were, in time, in ages, we can only speak of life in terms of time. So, we have "eternal life" and we can "lay hold of eternal life" and we may "reap eternal life."

Let us now put all these thoughts together:

  • Eternal Life is found in the Son of God
  • Eternal Life is a free gift
  • Eternal Life is something we have now
  • Eternal Life may be grasped and lived in now
  • Eternal Life is the result of investing our energy into the new nature

So, how can something that is a free possession also be something that must be grasped and something we reap from the life we lead? This can only be understood if we see "Life" in terms of quality and not in quantity. I can live in "endless time" now. I cannot grasp "endless time" now. I cannot earn "endless time" in addition to "endless time." Life cannot be a free gift from which I have already passed into from death and also something I must earn

We must understand it to be a quality of life in and outside of time. And we must never forget the first point and the hope in Colossians; Christ IS our Life!

For when Christ shall appear, your life, then also ye shall appear with him in glory.-Col 3:4
And this is the testimony: that God has given us [free gift] eternal life, and this life is in His Son. -1 John 5:11
For the wages of sin is death, but the [free] gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Rom 6:23
 In young's Literal translation of Romans 6:23, he renders it, "the gift of God [is] life age-[en]during in Christ Jesus our Lord." The context of Romans 6 is life we are living now. The free gift of life will not suffer any threat in the age or ages to come.

Do we have any suggestion of life beyond time? I think we do see this idea in two passages. In 1 Cor 15,  when we have received our new tents in resurrection, we see the idea of men finally becoming "immortal." But before that in the chapter, we see the end of death itself and a condition wherein God is all in all.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. -1 Cor 15:20-28
Eternal Life is experienced in time and outside of time. It is part of the "ages." It has different applications in different ages. It must also be rightly divided. The rich, young ruler asked how he could have eternal life. The answer he received (keep the commandments) is different than the answer we have, but not altogether different. There was a condition for him to enter fully into blessings promised to Israel. For us to enter fully into the blessings in our hope, we must also "walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called." 

But if we stay in the saved/lost or the heaven/hell dichotomy, we will never be able to reconcile these things. We will never enter into the deeper things of God.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Journey Continues

A theme to which return again and again on this blog is the theme of moving forward. Occasionally I look back over my writings and studies and it is then I realize how wonderful it is to keep growing. Some studies are delivered in a rather sloppy way, others simply delivered without the balance of grace and truth.

As I prepare a video series (complete with PowerPoint slides and some of my own charts), I remind myself that I am presenting what I currently have come to understand, not only before any viewers, but before my Lord.

If I were a more disciplined individual, I would take the time to go back and make corrections, clarifications, and additions to all my previous posts. I have done this on a few occasions, but in many instances I have left it to the reader to do his own studying. The Bible is an enormous book and I find more and more enlightening nuggets all the time. This drives me to want to write what I’m grappling with which sometimes leaves little time to go back.

Most of these studies are for me. They force me to lay out the scriptural arguments for myself. Often a post is not published as I deal with my own objections and questions. We are all theologians and each will answer for his theology (beliefs and teachings) as an individual. When I recall things I once believed in light of continual study, and realize how far removed I am from many of those beliefs, I thank God for his patience and for leading me into clearer truths; truths for which I have a far better biblical foundation.

Not to be lost in this journey is our view, attitude, and treatment of others. It is perhaps in this area
I have the most regret. We cannot change yesterday. We should not dwell on our shortcomings. But with whatever time we have left, we need to ask God to fill us with love and grace for those around us.

It is hard to leave yesterday behind, but somehow we must. Whether it be the human traditions which have stifled or enslaved us or our own selfishness and sin, tomorrow must find us moving towards maturity. As we have seen in a number of studies, we want want to be found faithful servants. We do not want to one who beats his fellow servants or one who finds his service for the Lord a waste.

Let us all go to God and allow him to lead us into all truth. Let us be determined to forsake tradition as we realize it might take some time to find the answers. Let us find patience with those around us and ask the Lord to soften our hearts and to give us a love for others born out of his love. He has already been reconciled to men through Christ. We have been made ministers of that very reconciliation.

Friday, October 18, 2019

A Fresh Look at The Rich Young Ruler

Luke 18 gives us the story of the rich, young ruler. This story and the scene that follows are both often misinterpreted by two different factions in Christendom who come to very different conclusions. Also, there is often a failure to connect the passage that follows the encounter with the ruler with the words the Lord had just spoken.

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. -Luke 18:18-23

Let's look at a couple of examples of how this passage is usually interpreted. First, let us see how "the prince of preachers," Charles Spurgeon, handles it.
All which appears to be simple enough, if you only look on the surface but when you come to recollect that there is an inward, spiritual meaning to all this, that a licentious look breaks the command about adultery, that a covetous desire is stealing, that the utterance of a slander is bearing false witness, and so on, who is he that shall enter into life upon such terms as these? Yet they cannot be lowered, for they are, spiritually, just and right. [Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible]

Spurgeon, in my humble opinion, makes a key interpretation mistake: he unnecessarily complicates the text ("there is an inward, spiritual meaning"). The Lord's answer, pointing to the commandments, is simple and should be understood this way. Yes, the Lord does expand elsewhere in his ministry on the full depth and implications of the commandments, but that in no way robs from this passage nor does it make the Lord a liar.

The key lies in what the meaning of "eternal life" is in the passage. When we finally rise above the saved/lost dichotomy which plagues Christendom, we realize that this phrase has contextual applications. It refers to the hope that is before the listener/reader. The hope of Israel is in sight here. The hope of entering the promised kingdom. In our age, Paul tells the rich to "lay hold of eternal life." Is he implying that these must strive to get or maintain the free gift of life? Certainly not. What he is saying is that these must walk in light of the age to come. For the Jew during the Lord's earthly ministry, this was the hope of the kingdom.

The basic requirement of that hope was to keep the commandments. We have looked at the "gospel of the kingdom" in recent studies and we again note that this cannot be the same gospel which preaches the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord. The disciples were sent out to peach the gospel of the kingdom, but when the Lord later reveals that he must go to Jerusalem to die they refuse to believe it. We saw that they were preaching the presence of the King (Gk: parousia)  and the imminence of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6).

Faith is at the base of every hope and reward. In our passage in Luke, the Lord starts out focusing on the statement that he is "good." Does the inquirer truly understand the implication? If that is the case (which is necessary), the next step is obedience. We see in the parables that those "servants" and "stewards" who act lazily or wickedly will be cast out of the kingdom and into "outer darkness." This is all based on a judgment of works. Do they lose the free gift of Life? Of course not, but they do lose something. The kingdom is not life.

In the Revelation we see the overcomers who qualify by faith and works for rewards and a "better resurrection" (cp Rev 2:15-17). Hebrews 11 speaks of this "better resurrection." Paul speaks of resurrection "according to rank" (1 Cor 15). Resurrection is a free gift by faith, but reward and rank are achieved.

We know from the passage concerning the Judgment Seat of Christ (which is for believers and not for unbelievers as the hymn falsely teaches) that some will have nothing to show for their lives while others will have great reward. In our age, we are warned we may be found "disapproved."

Here is another interpretation from a popular website which essentially accuses the Lord of being obtuse. Now, in the case of the Pharisees, he did speak in parables so they would not understand, but this young man is not out to trick the Lord. We know because he went away sad. he honestly sought an answer to his question.
In telling the young man to keep the commandments, Jesus was not saying that he could be saved by obeying the commandments; rather, Jesus was emphasizing the Law as God’s perfect standard. If you can keep the Law perfectly, then you can escape sin’s penalty—but that’s a big if. When the man responded that he met the Law’s standard, Jesus simply touched on one issue that proved the man did not measure up to God’s holiness. [Got Questions]
The first error assumes the Lord was speaking about resurrection life. The word "saved" is again used and assumed to have only one meaning. Well, no, no one can have life by keeping the commandments, but access to rewards and positions can be attained via obedience. The second  error here is connecting the second half of the passage with the first. That is, they argue that the Lord's follow up regarding "perfection" is just a rewording of his answer. On the contrary, it assumes the young man was asking in honesty. He had a different problem about which he was unaware: he was not mature.

The Lord is not exposing some lie about obedience, he is exposing the lack of maturity (holiness) in the man's heart. This young man was still very worldly, even if he had faith and sought to be obedient. These are sobering thoughts even for our age.

As we have seen in many other studies, the believer is either headed towards "perfection" (maturity) or "perdition" (waste and loss). One can be obedient, but that is not the fullness of perfection.
And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.” So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Is the Lord saying that retaining riches will lead to death? If we see this passage as a whole, we see it is about reward. "I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life." Clearly, the Lord is not teaching that the way to a free gift is by giving up things. The Lord is saying that the one who seeks the things of God in this life, while forsaking the things of the world, will find a harvest of rewards in the end.

These rewards differ based on the hope before the believer. What a Jew may gain in the kingdom, or an Acts age Jew or Gentile in the New Jerusalem, differs from the rewards, crowns, and prize we seek in this age. In Philippians 3, Paul writes that he "has not yet attained" the special "out-resurrection" spoken of there. Does that mean Paul is teachings a works salvation? Is Paul making some weird point like the Lord is accused of making in Luke 18 by some expositors? No, he is speaking of a "better resurrection" available to us.

Let's revisit our original passage with this understanding and the second half of the conversation becomes clear:
Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.
Is that "treasure" life? Salvation by poverty or charity? A hope of living in heaven? No to all. If we read from Adam through the Acts (and Revelation), the hope of believers is found on the earth (or the New Jerusalem which comes down to earth). So what happens to this treasure in heaven?
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. - Rev 22:12
 The Lord brings the reward from the heavenlies when he returns to earth; and these rewards are based on "works." This cannot be the free gift of life (which excludes works, Rom 11, etc.). This is reward which is beyond decay and beyond the reach of men.
Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal... - Matt 6:20
 We again note that this is part of the Sermon on the Mount as part of the Gospel of the Kingdom which does not involve faith in the Lord's death, burial, or resurrection (nor could it), but rather applies to the promise of the restoration of the Kingdom in Israel.

The rich young ruler had faith. What he did not have is a mature faith. Because he was married to the things of the world, he had no rewards in heaven. He decided to keep his "treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal." 

If we want to experience the fullness of the gift of eternal life and its rewards, we have similar instructions:
And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition [loss, waste]. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. -1 Tim 6:8-12
Do we flee these things in order to gain a free gift? No, we flee these things to fully experience eternal life now and in the ages to come. It is possible for the believer to experience "perdition" (waste, loss) if he he does not "go on to perfection."

Paul goes on in 1 Timothy:
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. -1 Tim 6:17-19
Not again two things addressed to the rich believer:
  • Good works to lay up things in store for an age to come
  • Laying hold of eternal life
Laying hold of eternal life is to experience resurrection life in the new nature now. When we walk in the new, divine man, we are storing up rewards for that future age.

How do we experience the spiritual blessings of this age? Through good works and obedience.
How do we lay up in store for the age to come? Through forsaking this things of this world.

The teaching is the same all through scripture, but the hope, rewards, commands differ. This is why we must rightly divide the Word of Truth lest we find ourselves striving in vain for another's reward. We will also find ourselves, and many expositors commenting on Luke 18 have, making the plain words of the Lord meaningless and the true meaning to be lost.