Friday, July 25, 2014

A Way That Seems Right

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12, NKJV).
One might be tempted to ask, “Why doesn’t it say, ‘There are ways that seem right to a man’?” After all, if there is only one right way, as Jesus made perfectly clear in John 14:6 and other places, then are there not many wrong ways? Of course there are, but there is no contradiction or problem here. In fact, all of the false “ways” to God can be boiled down to one “way” with a common thread of falsehood running through them all.
If we take a look at the religions, belief systems, and philosophies of this world, they all come back to one simple idea:  “I must do something to earn salvation, reach heaven, appease God, make my life meaningful, or (fill in the blank) whatever else my goal may be.” There are many examples of such false ideas that all come back to this basic, man-centered belief system. Following are just a few.
(1)  "Someday God will judge all people. When I stand before Him, He will weigh my good against my bad, and if my good outweighs my bad, I will get into heaven. If my bad outweighs my good, I will be in trouble."
(2)  "God loves all people, so if I do my best, He will see that and I will be OK. Even if I don’t really do my best, He knows my heart and would never send me to hell."
(3)  "My religion says I must do A, B, C, D, etc. in order to be rewarded with salvation, so as long as I do my best to fill in the blanks and do A, B, C, D, etc., everything will be all right."
(4)  "There is really nothing beyond this life, so the purpose of my time on earth is to find inner peace. I need to do my best to think in the right ways, meditate, and do good to others so I can have this peace. My experience and how I feel are the things that matter."
There are many specific religious beliefs that I could mention, but that is not my purpose here. Rather, I am simply looking at the fact that all false systems of teaching have one thing in common – they are man-centered: "I must do something, and by doing it, I will earn a reward, either in this life or beyond the grave."
There is a reason this man-centered “way” can never be true. That reason is the fact of sin. All humans have sinned and are in a condition of rebellion against God. The very act of trying to do something to earn salvation is rebellion against God’s simple truth and is the "way" that leads to death. Salvation is not a reward to be earned. If it were, no human would be good enough to please God who is just and holy and righteous.
Romans 3:23 tells us we “fall short” of  the glory of God, but that single verse does not tell us how short we fall. This may be illustrated by a contest to see who could jump from the earth to the moon. Someone who is old and out of shape might jump one foot. Someone who is younger and in shape might jump three or four feet. A world-class athlete might jump six or even seven feet. However, all of them fell short of the moon, and if someone were on the moon looking through a powerful telescope at the contest, they would all appear to be equally unable to make the 240,000 mile jump all the way to the moon. Trying to measure up to the righteousness of God though human effort is even more ludicrous than this fictional contest. Just as the best effort anyone could make to jump to the moon would be futile, so the best efforts of humans to be righteous are also futile, because God's standard is so much higher than sinful humans can ever attain. "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isaiah 64:6, NKJV).

God is absolutely holy and righteous. Just like breaking a single link in a chain breaks the chain, so breaking even one of God’s commands breaks His law – His holy standard of perfection. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10, NKJV). God demands perfection, and anything less is unacceptable to Him. No human is perfect. "For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin" (Ecclesiastes 7:20, NKJV).
“As it is written:  ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.’  Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:10-20, NKJV).
All of this paints a very bleak picture, but as unpopular and politically incorrect as the idea of sin is today, it is truth and is a real issue that must be dealt with if there is to be any hope for any human. Sin has separated humans from God, and no amount of human effort can fix the problem. The only remedy is found in God Himself. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV).
The Gospel of Christ is not man-centered. It is God-centered, as it must be if it is to be of any effect. … I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved … that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:1-4, NKJV).
There always has been, is now, and always will be only one way to God, and that is through God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NKJV).
The other "way" leads to death. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12, NKJV).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Response to comment on "TEN PRINCIPLES OF FORGIVENESS"

[Mr. Finnell, I do not wish to assume the position of instructing you personally.  I offer this response for your consideration only because your comments were placed under my article, so I had to assume you were referring to it.]

The purpose of my article is to focus on the discovery that Jesus who is called the Messiah (the Christ) is, in fact, God - the offended party in the matter of sin.  Therefore, the subject of the ordinance of baptism is irrelevant to it.  (Compare Acts 3:19 where, when giving the prerequisite for the wiping away of sins, Peter also offers no  mention of baptism.)

To respond to your comments regarding that ordinance, it would seem prudent to remind ourselves that belief, or trust in Jesus Christ as Messiah and Lord is the essential event, if you will, in becoming a Christian.  Paul makes it clear in Eph 1:13 what happens in the heart of every believer at the moment such faith occurs: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.

Water baptism, then, is a subsequent event - an outward public affirmation of that regenerative transformation that has taken place in the life of the believer, namely the Holy Spirit having come in to take up residence in the heart.  Water baptism, therefore, is an act of obedience for believers and does not precede saving faith.

Interestingly, Paul clarifies his own priorities regarding water baptism in 1Cor 1:14-17:  I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say you were baptized in my name.  Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.”

To those legalistic Judaizers who followed Paul around to irritate him and make general nuisances of themselves regarding their presumed priority of the Jewish ordinance of circumcision, he responded sarcastically in Gal 5:12:  Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.”

I think we can safely project Paul’s feelings, were he here among us today, to the current misplaced overemphasis of the Christian ordinance of baptism over saving faith, and to those who can see nothing else but the doctrine of baptism and who attempt to make the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ equivalent to baptism, he might in similar fashion say something like:  Would that those who are troubling you would even drown themselves.”

Paul’s perspective on water baptism is well worth emulating.  It should behoove us to practice exegesis, not eisegesis, when approaching the Scriptures, and to attempt to discover what the Holy Spirit wishes to say to us.  Our goal should be to understand the WHOLE counsel of God, not to pervert it because we deem our own private interpretation as sacred.

I am quite familiar with your doctrine.  It is a high tower built upon straw - misunderstanding, ignorance, and prejudice.  Much like the ‘King James only folks’ – no amount of evidence will allow them to consider that they might be mistaken, even in the slightest degree.  And so the debate goes on and on as it has done for 20 centuries.

Nevertheless, I offer this in regard to your reference to Acts 2:38 and the definition of ‘for’ in the phrase ‘eivj a;fesin tw/n a`martiw/n u`mw/n’ (‘for the forgiveness of your sins’).  We should be reminded that there are ten major definitions of this English word and several sub-definitions of those ten; but one of those major definitions is ‘because of’.   So, some basic clarification is in order:  1. ‘For’ does not always mean ‘in order to obtain’ and 2. ‘for’ sometimes does mean ‘because of’.  However, the original Greek should be our major focus and there are several words which are translated ‘for’.  In this passage the Greek word translated ‘for’ is the preposition ‘eivj’, which has many shades of meaning, depending upon the context, and one major definition of this word is ‘because of’.  [Permit me to say at this point that I take no definitive position on how ‘eivj’ should be translated in this verse; I prefer to allow other Scriptures to clarify the meaning here.  But I do know, and honest theologians agree, that a person will often choose which definition he prefers here based upon the tenets of his own theology.]
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Following are some examples of passages in the NT where ‘eivj’ has clearly a shade of meaning other than ‘in order to obtain’:

In Mat 10:41, ‘eivj’ is translated ‘in’ in the KJV and the NAS but is translated ‘because of’ in the following versions:  NIV, ESV, NJB, NIB, NAB.  Clearly the meaning in context is ‘on the basis of’ or ‘because of’ being a prophet.

In Mat 12:41, ‘eivj’ is translated ‘at’ in most English versions because the context clearly indicates it was ‘because of’ the preaching of Jonah.

Other passages for your consideration:  Rom 4:20; Mat 3:11; Mrk 2:18; Rom 11:32; Tit 3:14.
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E. L. Cardwell
The original article, "Ten Principles of Forgiveness," is found here.