Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Theology Behind the Lord's Supper and Baptism

In the protestant or reformation tradition, only two of the many sacraments from the Roman Catholic church survived. For whatever reason the original reformers had, it must have been the Divine hand that guided them to retain only two because of the deep meanings underlying this rituals.

It must be noted that the Roman Catholic ritual traditions ALWAYS had something to do with the devotee's salvation. Unfortunately, many of them implied salvation by works or salvation by ritual. We owe a lot to Martin Luther, scholar and theologian, and those who followed after him, to courageously point out the fallacy of such beliefs in no uncertain words.

So let's dissect the two survivors: The Lord's Supper and Baptism

In the succeeding discussion below, it is my hope for those who agree with my assessment would take these two rituals more seriously and even make sure the principles are preached either explicitly or implicitly whenever these ceremonies are conducted because of their impact as a reminder of who we are and should be in Christ.

The Lord's Supper ACCURATELY symbolizes the salvation experience while the believer's baptism ACCURATELY represents the Christian life. So these two symbolic rituals alone show in picturesque form, the believers entrance into the Kingdom of God and how he is to stay there once he gets in.


The Lord's Supper

Jesus Christ himself, declared in this ritual that the cup is the new covenant in his blood (Luke 22:19-21; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26). When he broke the bread, he also commanded his disciples to "do this in remembrance of me". In fact, Paul emphasized to "do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me". Those are two very profound declarations by our Lord when he administered the sacrament. Paul added the principle in 1 Corinthians 11:26 "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."

Let us examine these declarations and why they are of utmost importance such that we have to perform the ritual as often as possible:
  1. What is in the new covenant that his blood represents?
  2. Why should we do this in remembrance of him?
  3. Why should we do this as often as possible?
  4. Why does the ritual proclaim the Lord's death? What is so important about proclaiming the Lord's death? Why death only?
Let's discuss the significance of the symbols in the Lord's Supper before we answer the above questions which are, of course, mostly theological. What is not obvious is the practical value of the reminders behind these symbols.

The bread, according to Christ, is his body broken for us. The key words are "bread" and "broken". The gospel according to John declares that Christ is the "Bread of Life" which simply means that anyone who "eats" this Bread will never go hungry (or will live not only temporally as what food does but eternally because of its spiritual significance). Now that Christ identifies himself as the bread of life, he switches gears a bit to declare that the bread represents his body. 

We all know that Christ meant that he would suffer and die on the cross of Calvary to pay for the penalty of our sins. What is not obvious and what most Christians do not realize is that this bread theologically represents Justification (which is by faith) since it is the broken body that pays the penalty for sin. Therefore, the bread represents our freedom from the penalty of sin (discussed by St. Paul in the book of Romans chapters 3-5) which is the justification part of our salvation.  

The cup of wine represents Christ’s blood shed for us. Wine is a cleansing/detoxing and healing agent, and so is blood which is the agent that maintains life, signifies that we are cleansed and healed from the dominion of inbred sin (sin nature) and therefore freed from the power of sin. The wine actually represents the second part of full salvation which is SANCTIFICATION by faith. Note that I used the term "part" of salvation and NOT "phase" or "stage" of salvation. Sanctification DOES NOT come AFTER justification as is commonly and mistakenly articulated by many theologians. Instead, sanctification as preached by Paul comes WITH justification. TRUE SALVATION is justification AND sanctification by faith! It is like marriage, you can't have one without the other.

We disagree with the Reformers if they say that Justification by faith is FULL salvation. The Bible never presents it that way. Every time full salvation is mentioned it is in the context of sanctification. Jesus did not experience death and resurrection just so the righteousness of God can be imputed to the believer. That is "partial" salvation if ever there is such a term since it is ALL OR NOTHING with God. So technically, that is the HALF TRUTH about salvation.

Christ did not come just to free us from the penalty of sin but to free us also from the power of sin.
Salvation is not full salvation if it is declared as only to IMPUTE the righteousness of God to the believer. Full salvation is realized when salvation is declared also to IMPART the righteousness of God to the believer. That is what SANCTIFICATION is all about. Sanctification is essentially a cleaning process, a catharsis for sin. The Greek word for catharsis is found in the pruning of the branch in John 15:2. Sanctification is freedom from the power and dominion of sin.

Now we can answer the questions we posed earlier.First, it is important that the new covenant was based on the blood of Jesus alone and not based on the bread nor based on both bread and wine. This openly declares that the new covenant has more emphasis on sanctification and cleansing and compared to justification or forgiveness. The new covenant therefore emphasizes sanctification or the sanctified life. In fact, we pointed out in an earlier blog that the goal of salvation is entire or full salvation. This point is quite important and is a slight against the emphasis of the reformers which is confined (unfortunately) to justification by faith (Luther made this a slogan but his intention was not to stop there. His biography indicates that Luther actually struggled against the power of the sin nature and finally got freed from its power. We had to wait for John Wesley, who also struggled against it, to articulate properly that such experience of relief is the experience of full salvation or entire sanctification.

On the second and third questions as to why Christ wanted to perform this ritual and as often as we can, is simply to keep reminding us that Christ himself desires that all believers be reminded firstly of their freedom from the torturous penalty of sin and secondly (and as we pointed out earlier) that believers are ACTUALLY freed from the dominion of inbred sin or the sin nature. This profoundly means that ALL BELIEVERS SHOULD LIVE AS CHRIST LIVE and be CHRIST TO OTHERS. Unfortunately, what we witness in our generation are people who claim to be Christians but whose values are worldly and live like they do not know Christ! That is why the Lord's Supper either reminds us who we are or convicts as as to who we are NOT.

The last question is most interesting. Why did Paul interject that every time we perform the ritual we proclaim the Lord's death? Well, both Christ and Paul have analogies to answer this.

In John 12:24-25, Christ delivers a universal principle of life and death, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." Christ is actually teaching the BASIC principle behind true sanctification. Something has to die in order for a more important thing to rise to life.  And Christ holds no punches, if we love this old life we lose everything. Instead we should love the new born-again life in order to keep it for eternity.

Paul also points this same principle even much clearly in Romans 6 where he has an exhaustive discussion on the doctrine of sanctification. He likens it to baptism where the old self dies and is buried with Christ so it that new self can rise with the power of the resurrection and newness of life.

So next time we partake of the Lord's Supper and as often as possible, meditate on the profound truths behind the symbols.


Baptism

Let us first make clear that Biblical baptism has very little to do with immersion as it has to do with washing and cleansing as one will notice in the following discussion. Yes, Paul discussed baptism in the context of immersion in Romans 6, but he was simply using a common practice to illustrate an important point. Paul, wanted to emphasize the "burial part" of sanctification. But burial in not the full thrust of baptism. The full trust of baptism is washing and the cleansing from the sin nature so that the believer has freedom to live for God and God alone. Immersion, on its own does not cover the more important concept of resurrection life and power.

Baptism was commanded by the Lord as part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. The book of the Acts demonstrates the consistent application of this principle to all new born-again believers. I believe that the passages that give most sense to the concept of baptism are found in Acts 2:38 when the concept was first declared in evangelism by Peter. The second passage is Paul's dissertation on salvation and sanctification in Romans 6.

While the Lord's Supper depicts the doctrines of justification AND sanctification, of forgiveness AND cleansing, of dying to gain life; baptism gives almost the same analogy but focuses more on the new born-again life given resurrection power to live. True, baptism still talks about dying but Paul simply emphasized being BURIED with Christ to point out that we should have done away with the old self. True as well, baptism talks about sanctification but there is more focus on cleansing this time and even more emphasis on ACTUAL LIVING WITH RESURRECTION POWER.

The most important element concept in Baptism is the necessary PREREQUISITE of DEATH; death to sin, death to the world and worldly values, death to self! All this PRIOR TO being able to achieve or gain RESURRECTION LIFE and POWER for living. Western Christianity has always emphasized living in the power of the Holy Spirit WITHOUT pointing out the prerequisite of death. The Holy Spirit completely respects free will. So for as long as the old self is alive (not even if it is half-dead) the Holy Spirit cannot and will not take over. The Holy Spirit desires to work in a believer's life COMPLETELY UNHINDERED, given total control and privilege to work out change in the believer's heart and life. When this occurs, such is the experience of entire sanctification as Wesley would put it.

This principle of DEATH has to be clear in any sermon on baptism especially in a baptismal preparation class or the baptismal service itself. Otherwise, it will just be mere ceremony and completely superficial.

None of the two sacraments is superior to the other. They do symbolize the same facets of true salvation but they focus on different aspects or angles and they are all equally important for any believer to appreciate the experience of true salvation, in fact, up to entire sanctification.

While the Lord's Supper depicts true and full salvation, Baptism depicts true and full sanctification.
These two sacraments encompass the full message of the gospel. We can only thank the all-wise God for choosing (by declaring and giving importance to) these two sacraments in the pages of Scripture.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

We are Sanctified by FAITH

I just want to emphasize a point here.

Most churches, teachers, preachers, evangelists in our century articulate this doctrine quite improperly.

Intentionally or unintentionally, through their sermons and messages they at least IMPLY "sanctification by GROWTH" which is quite the opposite. Tell me I'm wrong!

Here is John Wesley's summary:

"Sanctification, in the proper sense, is an instantaneous deliverance from all sin, and includes an instantaneous power then given always to cleave to God.
“An instantaneous deliverance from all sin” and not a protracted and tedious process of growth. There is a gradual approach to the blessing, so far as the human part of consecration, preparation, and faith is concerned, but the divine work of “deliverance from all sin” is instantaneous.
Sanctification, in the proper sense, is an instantaneous deliverance from all sin, and includes an instantaneous power then given always to cleave to God.
“An instantaneous deliverance from all sin” and not a protracted and tedious process of growth. There is a gradual approach to the blessing, so far as the human part of consecration, preparation, and faith is concerned, but the divine work of “deliverance from all sin” is instantaneous."

Wesley's articulation " the divine work of 'deliverance from all sin' is instantaneous" is a bit unclear in our generation (a generation which lacks much of basic soteriology and are mostly biblically illiterate!). But I know what Wesley means because I have examined his theology and his biography and this is really how it should be articulated in our generation:

The divine work of "deliverance from the power or dominion of the sin nature" is instantaneous.

That is sanctification by faith indeed!

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Importance of Plenary Inspiration to Logical Hermeneutics

I believe in the PLENARY INSPIRATION of Scripture. Plenary Inspiration simply means that the whole Bible is inspired, not just parts of it. The substance of this belief has a tremendous impact in the art and science of  hermeneutics which should sometimes be explicitly called Logical Hermeneutics. By logical we follow ordinary rules or conventions of communication, most important of which is the context of the speaker/author, why he used the words he used and the intent of his message.

Divine revelation has to follow the same conventions of communication at even a higher standard. That standard is that of leaving as little room as possible for alternative meanings which could divert from the original intent of the communicator.

The communicator must be logical and the recipient must be logical as well as follow the same logic as the communicator.  The end result should ALWAYS be that the mental picture or concept that the communicator wishes to convey should be replicated in the receiver's mind as close as possible in order for full understanding to be realized, communication to be successful and for our context, revelation is accomplished with intended results.

Because of Plenary Inspiration, the logical interpretation of a part of Scripture should never contradict the big picture of Plenary Inspiration. Word studies are pointless if they lead to contradictions against the main intent of the Word of God. No New Testament interpretation should contradict the Old Testament but instead complement it and should be logically synthesized to remove apparent contradictions. Recall that Jesus Christ Himself authenticated the Old Testament as the Word of God in Matthew 5:17-19.  While there are contradictions that seem to exist within an interpretation, the exegesis should be considered faulty and should never be used for doctrinal application. Otherwise, cultic interpretations will abound.

Because of Plenary inspiration, I believe in a "qualified" verbal inspiration of Scripture. I use the word "qualified" because I have seen those touting verbal inspiration go to the extreme so as to almost imply by their method of exegesis that God actually dictated the words of Scripture. That viewpoint is a Biblical anomaly.

Peter himself declared in 2 Peter 1:20-21 that "no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."  It was the "men" who "spoke". This clearly means that the very words were chosen by the human author as they were "carried along by the Holy Spirit". If we were to go back to our "replication of mental pictures" principle of successful communication, the Holy Spirit revealed to them a vision, a mental picture or concept or truth that needs to be conveyed, BUT IT WAS THE HUMAN AUTHOR WHO CHOSE THE VERY WORDS to communicate the revelation given by the Holy Spirit. This would be based on the author's language (crude or primitive as it may be), education (or non-education), background, experiences in life, perceptions. The Holy Spirit's main role in the human process would be to quicken their minds so as to make them sharp enough to be sensitive to His voice or promptings enabling them to perceive these truths and in order to communicate them properly or appropriately with clarity BASED ON THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGE and CONTEXT.

I highlighted above, "BASED ON THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGE", because countless times, due to the differences and limitations of the translated language, much is lost in translation especially when it impacts doctrine and the kingdom lifestyle. These are not necessarily mis-translations but anemic translations due to the limitations of meaning. A good example for example is that there is no Filipino Tagalog word for the English "stress". So if a Filipino were to translate the English into Tagalog, he would have to find the closest word equivalent. However, and quite unfortunately, whichever word he choses will never be exactly what the original language means. This makes scholarship and analysis necessary in order the rural Filipino to fully comprehend and appreciate what it truly means.

St. Paul, for example, was purely opinionated when he told women to be silent in churches. The culture was patently chauvinistic and had women mostly with no education whatever. Fortunately, Paul was inspired to declare the full revelation thereof when he declared in Galatians 3:26-29:

26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."

And Paul follows this up with another final revelation as to the gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12:5-11, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 28, Ephesians 4:11=14 of which there is no explicit distinction as to gender such that only men get certain gifts. Note that these are the "prison epistles" which he wrote when he was "older and wiser".  Probably he remembered the words of Joel decades before Him and quoted by Peter in Acts 2:17-18:

"17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 18 even on my male servants and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy."

For those who believe in Plenary Inspiration like me, that the Bible is a logical whole without contradiction, I propose the following guidelines to determine the FULL (plenary) intent of Scripture:
  1. What is the chief end of God? What is God's project in history and time?
  2. Why did God bother to create?
  3. Why would a perfect God create imperfect creatures (The President Duterte question!)?
  4. What is the chief end of man according to Jesus Christ? This cannot be the Westminster Confession answer because the chief end of man should COMPLEMENT the chief end of God and if God created just to get glory, then that paints a self-centered God directly contradicting the revelation of the LOVE of God which dominates the WHOLE of Scripture. Here's a clue: LOVE is the substance of the Great Commandment. Hence the answer to the chief ends must center around love and nothing else.
  5. Confirm this for yourself: The Bible is centered around God's Kingdom project: The Kingdom of God. The Kingdom will be comprised ONLY of people of faith who "naturally" obey the Great Commandment.



Sunday, March 31, 2019

Defining and Describing Entire Sanctification

After reading a lot of material on the subject of entire sanctification, I still believe that it has not been articulated properly. The first reason is that traditional definitions have led to some erroneously concluding that it is a state of "sinless perfection". A second reason is that many people are led to believe that it is merely an ideal to be attained if possible.  A third reason leaves many unsure if they have attained it or not, fearing that others will call them proud and arrogant if they claim that they have attained it. A fourth reason which comes from the Calvinist side, believes that perfection in this life is impossible, or even likewise unbiblical, that the sin nature can never be conquered in this life (some truth but basically half truth biblically). I found the following description/definition from the internet:

"John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, is generally credited with originating the term second blessing. He taught that the second blessing was an act of God whereby a believer was granted deliverance from both inward and actual sin. While his language can at times be confusing, it is apparent that Wesley did not hold to the modern concept of sinless perfection, but rather acknowledged that believers should grow to a point of being wholeheartedly devoted and obedient to Christ. He believed this “perfection” could be attained either by a gradual growth in grace or by an instantaneous second work of grace. Wesley was clear that even the instantaneous blessing was both preceded and followed by gradual growth in grace. His emphasis was on the need for individuals to desire and pursue God’s work in their hearts, so that their every thought and act would be according to His will.

The modern teaching of sanctification as the second blessing is rooted in Wesley’s writings but deviates from both his and the Scripture’s intent. Scripture is clear that God has done the work of sanctification for all Christians. In Hebrews 10:10 we are told, “By [God’s] will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” It is a finished act, done for us on the cross. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2), he addressed them as “the church of God . . . those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” To be sanctified is to be set apart, dedicated, and made holy. That is a once-for-all-time occurrence that is part of the package of salvation. We stand before God in a position of holiness through Christ’s one-time sacrifice for us." https://www.gotquestions.org/second-blessing.html (A Non-Wesleyan website) 

The above description from what I deem is a non-Wesleyan website comes pretty close to what the experience is. It does correctly point out how the modern way of defining and describing it deviates from both the intent of John Wesley and Scripture. Unfortunately, after quoting relevant verses, the above description still falls short of both Wesley's and Scriptures intent.

So, if one were to be cornered and asked to state what Entire Sanctification is in as few words as possible, the best way I can state it without much room for opinion is:

Entire sanctification is the believer's experience when he has fully and consciously realized that the sin nature (inbred sin) no longer dominates his life and whose life is dominated by holy (self-emptying) love and the fruit of the Spirit.

Even the most recent articulations of this doctrine still miss out on reality by stating that entire sanctification means "freedom from the sin nature". That is not realistic because the sin nature or inbred sin will always be present while we are occupying our earthly bodies. It is God's creation. They also fail to see the point of Paul's definitions and illustrations on Roman's 6 to 8. Hence the proper articulation should not be freedom from the sin nature but freedom from it's dominion, freedom from it's power, freedom from it's shackles, from it's grip on our lives, freedom from our former bondage to sin. Strictly speaking, Paul called those who are entirely sanctified "saints" and only those who are entirely sanctified. This is why Paul, in his introduction to some epistles like Romans and Corinthians (remember that these were problem churches) used the term "called to be saints" instead of actually calling them "saints" because they have not yet reached that point in their spiritual walk.Notice also that Paul did not address the Galatians as saints because of their reverting back to the salvation by works due to the Judaizers.

Let us review the Bible doctrine  of sanctification in the book of Romans:  Based on Romans 6 to 8 which extensively defines and describes sanctification, the TRULY justified Christian is already dead to sin and self (verse 6:2) which sets the stage for sanctification.  Paul even uses the picture of baptism to emphasize the burial of the "dead" self upon immersion. Without the realization of this truth in the supposed believer, sanctification CANNOT happen at all. Biblically, if a person cannot be sanctified, HE MAY NOT BE JUSTIFIED AT ALL! Why can we confidently state this? Simply because Paul says in verse 2 that "we...died to sin" and "died" is in the aorist tense! Logically and biblically, a person who cannot be sanctified has not died and a person who has not died has not been justified at all. If a person who claims to be a believer is still easily stimulated by the things of the world or the things of the flesh, he is definitely very much alive and may not be saved at all. On the other hand, if he is always looking out and motivated by the things of God and is easily convicted by sin, then he is at least on the path of entire sanctification.

Furthermore, Romans 7 describes the experience of a person who is not entirely sanctified while Romans 8 describes the experience of entire sanctification.

In the same way that we are justified by faith, we are also sanctified by faith. That  biblical statement is quite clear in all of Wesley's sermons and teachings. Hence, Entire Sanctification is received by faith and by faith alone but that faith has to be qualified as biblical faith and not a wishful kind of faith. It is faith that only a person who has committed to trading or exchanging his physical life for the eternal life that Christ gave can have. There biblically is NO OTHER KIND OF SAVING FAITH! What Wesley did not emphasize in his writings although he implied it, was that both should occur at the same time, at the point of salvation.

Notice that in our defining statement, every step of the way is under the believer's control and the believer is fully aware of his spiritual state or experience. A believer is fully aware whether or not sin dominates his life because he is either easily tempted by the things of the world and the flesh and the devil, OR he is not stimulated with the things of God, OR he does not seek after the presence of God. The believer can actually confirm for himself if the fruit of the Spirit is real in his life or whether he is just forcing this virtues with human effort. Entire sanctification is easily evaluated by the believer. It is not something he wishes for and never knows when it happens. Moreover, any mature believer can immediately discern that the above definition clearly implies that entire sanctification is realistic and attainable in this life.

Wesley was baffled at why some receive it even as early as salvation and some wait for years for such an event to take place. Wesley basically implies that entire sanctification may be observed or evidenced in the Christian's life. This means that there are obvious external manifestations or evidences of entire sanctification which can be witnessed and affirmed by others. This is a very good point and quite biblical. This is the reason the world looked at Christians in the first century and declared, "Behold how they love one another!"

At its very core, entire sanctification is all based on the condition of the heart, soul and mindset and how much the life is consistent with the right heart. The heart is basic in Wesleyan theology and the condition of that heart is easily perceptible and assessed by the person who owns it.  This is why, biblically, each person is accountable for their heart condition. Freedom from inbred sin or the dominion of the sin nature is naturally demonstrated by the consistent manifestation of holy love.

Entire Sanctification is not necessarily a permanent condition in this life due mainly to the imperfections of human nature. A good biblical example is the apostle, Peter, himself.  In the book of Galatians, Paul even rebukes him harshly for cooperating with the Judaizers, the party of the circumcision even AFTER Peter opened the doors of evangelism into the entire world. But such offense is more of a human failure than a sin mentioned in the Torah or the Sermon on the Mount.  Another example is the tiff between Paul and Barnabas which led to their permanent separation in the book of Acts just because they could not agree to bring Mark or not in the next missionary journey and this is after they already made their first missionary journey!

Here is the bombshell of this doctrine: Entire Sanctification is God's goal for salvation in this earthly life! The New Testament has not given any other option. Oh yes, a believer who does not set entire sanctification as his goal may even lose his salvation. Read the whole book of Hebrews which sets out dire warnings for those who refuse to grow in their Christian experience. Beyond even that, look at St. Paul's goal in Philippians 3 which is the goal of the Christian earthly life. First, Paul confirms his life exchange in Philippians 3:8 counting all things rubbish compared to knowing Christ intimately.

Secondly, the "righteousness of my own...which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" refers to righteousness that can be observed and assessed by all, which is no other than entire sanctification which does depend on faith. This is not just positional righteousness. In fact, it is not even positional righteousness if it is through faith demonstrated by true life exchange.  We know this because of the purpose of this righteousness by faith which Paul states clearly in verse 10, "that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death". This goals cannot be experienced by mere positional righteousness. There is no context in Scripture by which positional (legal, objective, philosophical, theoretical) righteousness may enable the believer to attain such goals other than righteousness in ACTUAL practice (read Matthew 5:16, 48 and John 15).

Finally, verse 11 declares his ultimate objective "that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead". Does this hint that Paul had no assurance of salvation? Of course not. In the previous chapter, Paul did admonish the Philippians to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling". All these simply means that in this life we continuously and seriously with due diligence prove "with fear and trembling" and  "by all means possible" that we are indeed saved and true children of God. Such lofty goals cannot be achieved unless motivated by the passionate desire to be entirely sanctified PER OUR DEFINITION ABOVE and according to God's will and purpose.

By the way, in Philippians 3:15,16, Paul insisted, "Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise [or other than WISE], God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained."

After all is said and done, is entire sanctification truly attainable in this life? The answer can be read from biographies and reliable witnesses to the following lives:

  1. St. Francis of Assisi
  2. Billy Graham
  3. Hudson Taylor
  4. John Wesley
  5. Augustine
  6. Polycarp
  7. St. Perpetua
  8. countless others and martyrs
Need we say more? Entire Sanctification is Biblical, attainable in this present life and verifiable by external evidences.  Entire Sanctification is the God's goal for salvation. Entire Sanctification should be our personal goal and passion. We are called to be saints, i.e., all Christians are called to be entirely sanctified. May holy love be finally seen in our lives so that the world start truly desiring what we have and glorify the Father in heaven!!! 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Missing Elements in Western Christianity

NOTA BENE: Please feel free to use any or all of the following discussions in your sermons even if you quote word for word. The time for judgment is drawing nigh. It is closer than when we first believed and many are presuming that they are going to heaven but actually "marching to their doom". May God anoint your message with power from on high.

*********************************************************************************

Over the the past 2,000 years since the time of Christ and the teaching of the Apostles, its seems that the Adversary has succeeded in his mission of distortion without most Christians being fully aware of such deterioration or degradation of the gospel message. Even scholars over the years have not seen the subtle distortions of Scripture caused by the huge gap of time since the original message, the introduction of extraneous traditions, cultic interpretations, highly opinionated pseudo-scholars, the bad witness of so-called "Christians" or even "saints", Bible translations and ignorance of the meaning and idioms of the original language of Scripture as well as ignorance of the environments and cultures, authors, audiences and purposes behind the writings of original inspiration have all but completely revised the simple message of God's love, purpose of creation, and kingdom project in history and Scripture.

This article will not deal with all that got lost but only the significant ones which have been notably removed or missing from the gospel message as originally declared by Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Most significant are the following:
  1. Life Exchange
  2. Self-denial
  3. Sanctification starts at the same time as Justification
  4. The Expectation of Suffering, and
  5. Pathway Disciplines to God's blessings
We are not proposing that these elements are missing in the discipleship programs of evangelical churches. What we contend is that these elements should be intentionally and deliberately brought to the attention of the sinner PRIOR to conversion and NOT AFTER. There should be NO INVITATION to accept Christ without these elements being clear to the would-be believer. Otherwise, we give a candy-coated gospel which may even deceive us that true conversion has taken place.  This is the biggest reason why discipleship becomes difficult since the church is actually trying to disciple spiritually dead people. Christ did not call us to "market" the gospel with fancy sales pitches and charismatic invitations. Christ called us to make disciples. At the very least, Christ called us to declare his word, and declare it accurately according to what God meant..

The reason we do not seem to see or discern these distortions compared to how the first century Christians received it, is mainly because the gospel message at that time amidst the context of their environment was immediately clear to the listener and the understanding was mainly correct because it is given under the right context of the first century environment, something that is not true today especially in the Western church.

Because of the dilution of the true gospel message, it would not be surprising that many Western Christians today who think they are Christian are sincerely mistaken, and that is sad, if not tragic because of the eternal consequences of ignorance. Having said that, we proceed to outline these missing essentials in the current gospel messages.

1. The Life Exchange

Note the following verses in the gospels which are so numerous, in fact, more than the number of times the Great Commandment was quoted (only 4 times).

*** Missing from the Western Gospel: The Life Exchange ***

Matthew 10:34-39 - Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 16:24-26 - For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Mark 8:34-36 - For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.

Luke 9:23-25 - For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Luke 17:34-36 - Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. (Reflect on v.32)

John 12:24-26 - Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Note that it is emphatically declared by Christ Himself in all of the gospels that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is willing to die for Christ and the gospel. Such is the essence of giving up your life or surrendering yourself to God or to the Lordship of Christ.

One has to give up his physical life in exchange for the eternal life that Christ offers. Without this exchange, there is no deal, no true salvation.

The western gospel does not emphasize this. Many times in evangelistic sermons, it is not even mentioned or articulated properly. Yes, preachers talk about surrender of life, or submission to the will of God but such statements are no longer as clear today as they were in the first century. The correct modern articulation is "dying for Christ" or "giving up your physical life in exchange for Christ's eternal life" in very much the same way that Jihadists are recruited to die for Allah, or communist recruits are taught to give up their lives to sacrifice for the cause.

The western gospel is cheap and costs almost nothing. They postpone commitment talk AFTER salvation (assuming true salvation occurred) instead of BEFORE resulting in fake Christians or lukewarm ones. And most of these are ignorant of the fact that they are doomed to an eternity without Christ because they are indirectly encouraged to live a life without Christ being truly Lord where they have lost their will to their Lord (another first century concept that is not clearly articulated today).

Salvation is truly "by grace" which means that we do not have to work for salvation through penance and self-mortification. But salvation is also "by FAITH" and that faith SHOULD BE similar to Abraham's faith which was willing to sacrifice the most important thing in his life - Isaac. It must be understood that in Abraham's time and context, people were prepared to die anytime. What they were not prepared for was giving up all they have or their most important possession(s) while they were still living. By FAITH really means you are willing to bet your life on a truth or even die for it. Only a few Western Christians understand it this way today. Let us make it crystal-clear: FAITH AND THE WILLINGNESS TO DIE AND GIVE UP YOUR PHYSICAL LIFE IS NOT WORK. There is no work of penance or indulgence here, just a simple but genuine commitment to what you believe AND CHRIST EXPECTS that at the point of salvation.

2. Self - Denial

Self-denial is impossible unless one has committed to the life exchange described above. Why? Because the struggle is much greater. The struggle should have been done at salvation and not after. Salvation should be given out as a "take ALL of it or leave ALL of it." There should be no halfway "take it or leave it." That has never been a Biblical option.

Let's face it, if one has given up his physical life to Christ, denying the self is just a follow up on a previous commitment instead of a new thing that would shock you.

Go back and review all the Life Exchange verses above and embedded in these principles is self-denial. Now once a person becomes a Christian, he is told in Romans 6 to reckon the old self dead to sin so that it can be alive to God. Christ always required that anyone who would follow him must first deny himself and take up his cross (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). If you remember the hermeneutic principle of knowing if God is shouting or whispering, the preponderance and repetition of verses cannot be any louder than God shouting what he requires! Self-denial has never been optional for anyone who wants to be a Christian.

So how does the Bible define or illustrate self-denial? Although the principle is evident in many Bible verses, mostly indirectly, a picture parable is worth a thousand words. Recall the parable of the Lord regarding a master and his servants in Luke 17:7-10:

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Many miss the point of this important parable. In Western culture today, we talk about rights and we cling to our rights either as citizens, as human beings, as husbands, as wives, as people of a certain group, etc.

In the parable, however, the master is likened to Jesus or God while the servants are likened to Christians or disciples. The servants are already tired and weary from working in the fields or doing their chores for the whole day. Yet they are not expected to rest and please themselves until they have served the master until the master has no more need of their service.

The point of the parable is that in the same way that the servant lives only to please the master at the expense of his own convenience or comforts or even his very self, then a disciple is also expected to always live to please God, even denying himself and his comforts or leaving his comfort zone just to make the master pleased or happy. Yet today, millions of western Christians today would be absent from church mostly because they want to rest or watch Super Bowl or NBA Championship or they want to avoid someone in church. Even Jesus Christ himself would not recognize that such people are Christians since they have the loyalty of the world and the worldly system.

Bottom Line: Denying the self is the first step to pleasing the master. The inverse logic is true, whenever the master is not pleased or is disappointed, it is because we have not taken the first and necessary step of denying the self. Note that if one fails at self-denial, either he is not truly saved or on the way to losing it (Read the book of Hebrews, The central theme of the book of Hebrews TRULY UNDERSTOOD is "BE CAREFUL OR YOU COULD LOSE YOUR SALVATION"). In fact, Hebrews 6 and 9 even suggest that if you lose your salvation, it could be permanent!

3. Salvation cannot exclude Sanctification

Martin Luther was so focused on Justification by Faith that he is often, if not always, misunderstood to NOT include Sanctification by Faith. However, anyone reading in his biography regarding his struggles against the power and dominion of the sin nature will see that Luther himself experienced "full salvation" when he discovered that he could be free from the power of sin by faith, not just the penalty of sin. This is something that John Wesley discovered almost 20 years after he became ordained under the Anglican Church or the Church of England, again because of the distortions of an aberrant doctrine.

On the other hand, a diligent reading of church history will find that the Eastern Orthodox Christians who never went through the Reformation (precisely because they did not need one because their statement of faith has always included Salvation by Faith and Works!) never struggled with this issue.  Their declaration that salvation is by faith and works simply meant that salvation is by faith proven through good works. This implies that sanctification (the demonstration of good works and the fruit of the Spirit) was always part of salvation, i.e., salvation include justification and sanctification starting at the point of salvation.

The book of Romans, ironically the main source of the doctrine of Justification by Faith, is also the main source of Sanctification by faith and Paul insists that they occur and start simultaneously. In Romans 6:2, to answer the ridiculous question "should I sin more so that grace will abound more", Paul adamantly replies,

"By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."

Notice the aorist verbs for "died", "baptized" into his death, "buried". Aorist tense means it occurred at a point in time IN THE PAST!  And this is Paul's introduction to the doctrine of Sanctification by faith in Romans 6, 7 and 8.

So, what happened in the past? Justification by faith. What happened in the past? We died, past tense. We were baptized into his death. Past tense. We were buried with him. Past tense. All of these past events occurred at the point of being justified by faith. That is what being born again is all about. The old self is dead and the new self is alive UNHINDERED in its growth by the old self if it is out of the way because it has been RECKONED DEAD.

Western Christianity today does not emphasize this NECESSARY and IMPORTANT point during evangelistic invitations to sinners seeking salvation. But it is no surprise because life-exchange is not preached and explained prior to salvation. All the Christian has is "cheap grace" instead of salvation, full and free.

Theologically speaking, Christ did not come just to free us from the penalty of sin for eternity. He came that we might have life and might have it abundantly (John 10:10). The only way we can have an abundant life is to live a life free from the POWER and dominion of sin or the sin nature. The sin nature is the old self in Romans 6, Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3. Even a surface study of these passages show that the old self (or the sin nature) CAN BE and SHOULD BE put off or reckoned DEAD while living this present life.

Yes though we are not yet freed from the PRESENCE of sin at salvation, Scripture clearly declares that we are freed from the POWER of sin at the point of true salvation.

4. Theology of Suffering

It is ironic and quite a contrast that whereas Christianity has a heritage of believers being persecuted violently to the point of death and martyrdom, present day Christians are scared even just to undergo a brief period pain or suffering. For readers who have reached this point in this article, the reason is obvious: fake, candy-coated salvation is what most western Christians really have because they have never gone through the life-exchange process and therefore, do not even expect that being a disciple of Christ requires self-denial and the anticipation of a life carrying their cross daily according to the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

The other big reason is the lack of awareness of what is called the "theology of suffering". There may have been various theologians who have tried to explain the theology of suffering but we simplify and make it practical here. We can outline the theology into just a few points:
  1.  All men whether Christian or unsaved WILL undergo suffering in this world for the Bible actually assumes or even promises its constant and continuous occurrence in this life. Suffering is and will ALWAYS be part of human existence. Read the following authors in Scripture:
    Moses:   Psalm 90:10
    Job:   Job 5:7; 14:1
    King Solomon: Ecclesiastes 2:22-23; 6:2; 6:7; etc
    Jesus:   John 16:33
    Paul:   Acts 14:22; Romans 12:12
  2. Suffering is always intended by God to draw us closer to him instead of us complaining and questioning his wisdom and love. Many western Christians tend to resent God and question his power and sovereignty and even love against suffering whenever they experience these hurting situations.
  3. The PAIN of SUFFERING is INVERSELY related to our closeness to the Presence of God. Here is why we should not fear suffering, in fact, we should welcome it like St. Paul did in Philippians 3:11 where he was willing to give up everything that in life that matters, "that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death..." The following visual should help...
    It is the PAIN of suffering that no sane person wants to undergo or experience. It is the pain that we try to avoid. Well, suffering cannot be avoided but the pain of suffering depends on our closeness to God. The illustration reinforces the principle that suffering should draw us closer to God and the closer we are to God, the less we feel or experience the pain of our suffering. 
Christians experience the pain of suffering more if instead of drawing near, they run away from God increasing the distance from the Comforter of pain, and therefore increasing the pain.

5. Means of Grace = Pathways to God's blessings

One final principle which has been misconstrued by "justification by faith" demagogues who do not believe that salvation ALWAYS includes sanctification are what John Wesley called the "means of grace" which we now reword in modern English to be "pathways to God's richest blessings".  The following excerpt from a Methodist website explains it succinctly:

  • "Courageous and forward-leaning mission congregations practice spiritual disciplines… John Wesley taught that God’s grace is unearned and that we were not to be idle waiting to experience grace but we are to engage in the means of grace. The means of grace are ways God works invisibly in disciples, hastening, strengthening; and confirming faith so that God's grace pervades in and through disciples.

  • Works of Piety

  • Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
    Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

  • Works of Mercy

  • Individual Practices - doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
    Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor"
Clarification needs to be done lest anyone should assume that these are works that save or that these are rituals that have power in themselves like amulets or like vending machines where you  expect to get something just because you fed the machine some coins.

These means of grace were traditionally called spiritual disciplines (a scary word to post-modern Christians who receive a candy-coated gospel).

What we should seek:

The Goal of the Means of Grace or Pathways to God's richest blessings: Seeking God, seeking the face of God, seeking God’s face to shine upon us and be gracious unto us, seeking the very personal presence of God.

What we SHOULD NOT seek:
  • Any special power in the works
  • That the works will gain us points in heaven
Why we should do them: We miss out on God’s personal providence, we miss out on God’s blessings. God's logic is simple: You do the means, you get the blessing and promises attached to it. The inverse is just as true: If you do not get the promised blessings, it is because you did not do the means or you did not do it with the right mindset and faith.

The narrative of Mary and Martha found in Luke 10:38-42 is highly instructive. There was nothing inherently wrong with the focus of Martha. In fact, the Lord did not rebuke her. Instead, Jesus pointed out the "better way". Mary chose a Means of Grace, Martha did not. This has very little to do with priorities as much as it simply points out why one activity is "the better way" compared to the other.

The Armor of God in Ephesians 6 is another great illustration to drive home the point of why the Means of Grace are necessities in the Christian life and walk.  The armor of God can only be completed by diligent practice of the means of grace. How can you use the sword of the Spirit if you don't know the Word of God by heart? What is the shield of faith if you have not tested prayers being answered by God with perfect timing? How can you use the shoes of readiness for the gospel if you have not practice works of compassion. Yes, works of piety and works of compassion contribute greatly to getting the armor of God ready for any testing or trial.

Recall the time David went for Goliath and King Saul wanted him to use the king's armor? David obediently tried it on but what did he say after fitting it on? "Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.”" (1 Samuel 17:39b). Likewise, it would be certain defeat for the Christian to go into battle with an armor that he has never tested!

So whether we are undergoing trials and testings or not, we need to test the armor regularly, in fact, daily, mainly through the means of grace or spiritual disciplines which are the pathways to God's blessings. Then when the time of tribulation and temptations dawn on us, we are indeed prepared for battle.




Friday, December 7, 2018

There Are No Perfect People...

"... There are no perfect people, just perfect intentions."  Quoted from the movie, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.

Azeem (Morgan Freemans moorish character) encourages Robin Hood (played by Kevin Costner) when Robin Hood finds out that all his good intentions and plans seems to fail.

This albeit secular statement is not at all new to Wesleyan Christians. While most classical Christians approach the concept of perfection from a Platonic viewpoint of faultlessness, Wesleyans approach perfection from an Aristotelian perspective where perfection is simply the state of fulfilling the purpose of creation.  For example, a chair is meant to carry us when we are in a seated position. If it does the job, the chair is "perfect" for it fulfills its purpose.

Man's purpose for creation is to be in union with God, demonstrating a perfect heart with perfect motives and intentions and practicing holiness which includes loving God will all of heart, mind, soul and strength and loving others actively in acts of compassion and/or servanthood. If and when a Christian is able to fulfill that purpose, he is deemed to be perfect. Matthew 5:48 is the Lord's command for his people to be perfect in the same way the the heavenly Father is perfect.  This is NOT at all do-able from a Platonic perspective of sinlessness or faultlessness but is practically do-able from the Aristotelian perspective of fulfilling the purpose for which God created us. The Beatitudes proclaim "Blessed are the pure in heart," again not realistic from a Platonic viewpoint but from an Aristotelian and biblical perspective is quite practically do-able since it describes the present state of a kingdom child and not his future estate.

The concept of sinless perfection is not a Wesleyan concept at all since only Christ can meet that standard. Wesley's theology has always been practical as he intentionally ignores theological concepts that do not contribute to Christian perfection. In fact, Wesley's teaching always centered around complete salvation and entire sanctification as that life that has been quickened by the spirit that it has lost its desire for the comforts and attractions of this world and lives only to please God and to fulfill God's purpose of holiness and a perfect heart in whatever vocation or activity, secular or religious, the life is involved in. Perfection is being Christ-like to others external to the self.


We Expose The Truth...

"...we expose the truth. Ignorance is our enemy."

The above quote from the character of Jimmy Olsen in the TV series, Supergirl: Season 4 Episode 2 concisely summarizes the main purpose of this blog site.

I may be brutally frank many times in exposing the truth but many times, it is the only way to make stubborn heads even just start to think.