Was blind, but now I see.

2 : 2 January 2003


A Discussion of "The Incomplete Gospel" in Modern America

LeRoy Dugan

© 2003 by LEROY DUGAN, E-mail: Click HOME PAGE of Christian Literature and Living for the current issue articles.



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America's Christians are currently engaged in more battles on more fronts than at any other time in our history.

Heading the list is the struggle for the rights of the unborn. It consumes the time and energy of a valiant segment of fellow-believers as they rescue helpless infants from annihilation.

The battle to reclaim our public schools is also of gigantic proportion.

The pollution of the airwaves is a plague many Christians are determined to stop.

The propaganda campaign of militant homosexuals has made deep inroads in modern society. Again, a resolute contingent of believers is standing against the tide.

The pitched battle against illicit drug use claims the devotion of many.

And there are heroes in the political trenches as well, manned as they are by noble men and women striving to reintroduce God to the centers of power.

It is probably tragic that more of us have not joined the ranks on these various fronts.

But something else seems too evident to be denied....

In our zeal to stand for our constitutional rights in the natural realm we have too often forgotten to stand for what is also BIBLICALLY TRUE in the spiritual.

What really drove me to commit the material in this book to print was an incident which occurred some years ago.

I was seated at a large dining room table in the luxurious home of a prosperous evangelical pastor. Surrounding me were other guests, including some of the staff of the large church. While I pondered which of the large array of forks I was supposed to utilize I overheard one of the associate pastors share his "evangelistic" ideas with the man next to him.

"The first thing ", he said, "is to find out from the sinner what is his most strongly felt emotional need, and then tell him that Jesus will meet that need." Then he crowned his statement with the following words, "I know this is an appeal to selfishness, but it works."

I believe that this young man was sincere. I strongly suspect that he knew sinners needed some sort of initial inducement to seriously consider the claims of Christ. Perhaps he even had Jesus' conversation in mind when He asked the woman at the well for a drink of water. He didn't come immediately to the point, but, instead, addressed her "felt need" first.

Nevertheless, his words troubled me. I could scarcely wait to escape the dinner party. When my wife and I finally reached the privacy of the room allotted to us after the meal I was so upset that only pacing could lend me relief. What if the dear brother at the dinner really thought that his approach was the whole story?!

A parade of memories marched through my mind... recollections of books, seminar themes, Christian promotional literature, TV sermons, radio messages. It dawned on me that this one man's verbiage was not really the source of my deep unrest. It was, rather, that he had put into blunt words what many other men had been saying, more subtly, all along; "Salvation is mainly something God dishes out to make human beings get their felt needs satisfied."

It was awful to contemplate.

It was as if Christians were now presenting God more as a Restaurateur than a Redeemer!

Think of the implications of such a philosophy.

The sinner would now see God as the Owner of the world's most exclusive eatery, and Jesus as the Waiter scurrying nimbly from table to table cheerfully serving each customer and asking, ever so politely, "What is your pleasure today?" If the guest craves shrimp, he will shortly be savoring all the little rascals he can hold. If, on the other hand, only sirloin steak will soothe his palate, he will be given the best ever served.

Never could there be a restaurant so varied and bountiful in its culinary offerings. Never a waiter more sensitive to the discriminating tastes of those under His care! The Establishment exists for the customers. The Management lives only to please. The Waiter wants nothing more than to see them filled, fulfilled and supremely happy! In fact, one of the things He says repeatedly is that He is willing to die to supply all their felt needs. It is a setup which is so satisfactory some will even be tempted to tip the Waiter generously.... as long as the good service continues.

I realize that the analogy is startling, even brutal. No real Christian INTENDS to reduce the Father and the Son to the role of servants.

However, if we do not clearly perceive that WE were made to serve GOD and GOD was not made to serve US, we will most certainly project the imagery of the restaurant to this sinning world.

I fear that, in the heat of the various legitimate conflicts with which the church has become engaged we are too frequently forgetting the most important thing of all- the complete story of the Biblically declared, God-ordained way of salvation!

By and large the Christians who write the articles, hold the seminars, and author the books on how to spread Christianity in this so-called "post-Christian" world have majored in sociological analysis and methodology. If they mention the precise CONTENT of the saving gospel it is rare indeed. Furthermore, if the content is mentioned, it is frequency tragically incomplete.

In their passion to help us all build flourishing churches they seem content to offer a fragmentary message, tailored to the tastes of a consumer-oriented populace rather than a wholly Biblical presentation of the entire body of redemptive truth.

They appear to select the more pleasant bits of divine revelation, frame them carefully in acceptable contemporary language, and hang them up for all to see, in spite of the fact that there are some significant missing pieces whose absence, in fact, actually distorts the entire picture!

This book is a small attempt to rediscover and re-insert those missing pieces into the portrait we all should be displaying so clearly to today's muddled masses.

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I think it is safe to say that today's most popular Christian slogan is, "Meet people's needs".

This motto is all-encompassing. It refers to emotional problems, difficulties with marriage and children, financial reverses, the trauma of separation and/or divorce, physical ailments, the adverse influence of parents, drugs, alcohol and a host of other things as well.

I am certain that those who initially espoused the philosophy this motto implies were emphasizing the fact that providing for people's "lesser" needs is a necessary prelude to making them aware of their ultimate spiritual needs. I further suppose that they were reacting to the indifference to human needs which has so often been characteristic of the Christian church in general.

It was most certainly high time someone shouted, "Stop being so aloof to the ills of your fellows while you so diligently supply your own comforts. Act out your Christianity in ways that help the needy people around you. Pave the way to the human heart by repairing the mind and the body!"

It's a good thing somebody cried out. May they continue to do so. We need to hear that shout again and again.

The same dear people who are earnest about meeting needs can and do point us to the example of Christ himself. He seemed to spend the bulk of his time doing exactly that.

When humans hurt, Jesus helped.

When they fell under the lash of demonic oppression, Jesus stepped in.

When their minds collapsed, Jesus was there with restoration.

When they died, Jesus raised them to life!

On top of that, his followers caught the same spirit of compassion and deliberately roamed the Empire, duplicating the actions of their Master. They left in their wake healings and deliverances unparalleled in all of history.

However, there is a subtlety here which may have eluded us and I believe it is worth exploring.

It is the distinction between PURPOSE and BY-PRODUCTS.

Perhaps a quick look at some "purpose-oriented" texts of Scripture will serve to make my point.

I'll quote them first as they actually appear in the sacred record and then ask you to notice what shade of difference becomes evident when we amend them to accommodate the idea of "need":

"Jesus....He will save his people from their sins." ( Matthew 1:21)

"Jesus... He will save his people from their NEEDS"

"Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29)

"Look, the lamb of God who takes away the NEEDS of the world."

"Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. (I Timothy 1:15)

"Jesus Christ came into the world to MEET NEEDS"

"the purpose of his will...that we might be to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1: 11,12)

"the purpose of his will.....THAT WE MIGHT HAVE ALL OUR NEEDS MET"

"His purpose was to create in himself one new man..." (Ephesians 2:15)


I hasten, at this point, to add that I have no doubt that one day, in eternity. every legitimate human need will, in fact, be met. But that is not what is being promised. We are, rather, being told that our GOAL is to meet needs NOW.

Is it not safe to say that every deed done by Christ on earth was done to fulfill the express purposes for which he came?

Is it not equally correct to assert that, in a very real sense, He did not come, primarily for OUR sakes, but for the sake of the Father? It is the FATHER who has the right to the fulfillment of his dreams. WE. on the contrary, have long since disqualified ourselves by our sinning.

Does it not naturally follow that Jesus' prime objective was the removal of sin, he biggest of all insults to God's person and the biggest impediment to the fulfilling of God's original purposes for the race?

Purpose is one thing. By-products quite another.

IF Jesus' goal was to "meet needs" a number of things would most assuredly have happened during his brief ministry on this planet:

  1. He would have turned tons of Palestinian rock into hard cash and wiped poverty from the face of the earth.
  2. He would have instantly healed every sick person in the world with one powerful word of faith. After all, if anyone had mountain-moving faith it was Jesus. Instead, he healed selectively, and in a very small. corner of the earth. On one occasion he left an entire crown of infirm individuals untouched and cured only one man.
  3. He would have concocted an elixir to halt the aging process. He was God. He could have done it easily.
  4. He would certainly have overthrown the oppressive Roman empire with it monstrous slave trade in the grandest civil rights movement of the ages. With legions of angels at his command, he'd scarcely have worked up a sweat.
  5. And, he undoubtedly would have thrown every crooked politician out of power. ( Instead, He permitted them to execute him.)

As I was first typing these words I suddenly recalled a taped message by Joni Erickson Tada. She related some of the details of her torment immediately following her crippling accident. She told of lying on her face on a kind of canvas mat , unable to move her head while cockroaches skittering across the floor beneath her. she sank into hopelessness and total boredom. Then, to add to her misery, she caught a cold and could scarcely breathe.

I don't pretend to know everything about the theology of that dear lady but I suspect that it would be difficult to convince her that Christ came to this world with the major goal of meeting needs. If he had, she would have long since been freed from the wheelchair which has been her mobile home for so many years. Joni knows better. She has seen God's hand fulfill his PURPOSES in her life, though he has never met all of her NEEDS!

The truth is that Jesus left many things undone before his painful departure, and, to this moment, leaves untold numbers of mortal needs unmet, because none of them are crucial to completing the real purpose for which he came.....TO SAVE SINNERS FROM THEIR SINS, FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.

As for by-products, well, Jesus left them everywhere he went. When he saw the Father doing something for bodies emotions or minds which reinforced the message of eternal salvation he performed all the marvelous deeds so amply recorded in the New Testament.

His early followers did the same. Jesus made it clear before he left that they were to PREACH the GOSPEL and then "signs would follow". Meeting human needs was the natural BY-PRODUCT of fulfilling God's PURPOSE!

To put it another way; everything which Jesus and his apostles did was done in the context of the conversion if sinners!

We, too, must never lose sight of this in our efforts to bring people to Christ.

It will help us to avoid leaving out some essential parts of the message which God has committed to us.

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A number of years ago a pastor friend of mine told a very interesting story about his encounter with a neighbor who was convinced that he placed too much emphasis on the Ten Commandments.

He was working in his front yard when the irate lady appeared before him with a very stern look on her face.

"Your problem, pastor, is that you're still under the law. You should know that we are now in the age of grace. The law was for the Jews in the Old Testament. It has nothing to do with us any more!"

At this point the pastor looked up from his work and said, "Can I ask you some questions, Ma'am?"

She grunted in the affirmative and so he proceeded.

"Tell, me, please. If someone breaks into your home tonight and steals some of your valuables, would that be right or wrong?"

Astonished, she blurted, "Of course it would be wrong. That would be stealing!"

"Well, what if somebody here in the neighborhood spread lies about you? Would that also be wrong?"

"Pastor, what a foolish thing to ask. You know it's wrong to tell lies. You don't even need to ask. You know it would be wrong."

"Yes, I agree. But, what if someone seized your daughter and did immoral things with her. Would that really be wrong?"

"Pastor, I am shocked that you should even think of such a horrible thing..."

"Yes, I realize that it is a horrible thing and I would never want anything bad to happen to your little girl. So, you certainly do agree that such an act would be very wrong."

"Of course I agree. I am offended that you should even ask."

"I am sorry. I do not mean to offend you. Could I ask just one more question?"

"If you must!"

"Would it be good or bad if someone killed your child?"

"Pastor, that is an outrageous question and you know it. Everybody knows it is wrong to murder."

"Forgive me for taking such a circuitous route to make my point. When you stopped here today, one of the things you said was that the law had nothing to do with us any more. But, I have just given you hypothetical examples of the breaking of four of God's Ten Commandments and you agreed with me that it was very wrong to break any or all of them. You were really agreeing that it was wrong to steal, lie, commit adultery and murder. It seems, from what you just said, that you are very much in favor of keeping the Commandments, and very much opposed to breaking them. How, then, can it be that the law of God has nothing to do with us any more?"

Her folly exposed, she turned and briskly walked away, fuming in frustration.

There are fewer things in recent years more likely to spawn vigorous discussion among Christians than the word "law".

Both preachers and their audiences are constantly reminding each other that "we must not get under the law".

Though it is a truism that the keeping of the law is not the condition for regeneration, they do not seem to realize that the dreaded prohibitions of God's Ten Commandments are absolutely basic to the process of genuine conversion to Christ !

Leith Anderson, in his book, Winning The Values War, reminds us that those who believe in God are driven to the conviction that God sets the values for our lives. What is good and bad, right and wrong, is determined by God. Take a look at the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).. They are considered the greatest moral code ever written. These are not just ten good suggestions. They are far more than ten arbitrary ideas. They are moral absolutes based on who God is. The Ten Commandments begin by saying, "God spoke all these words: 'I am the Lord your God....You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol.'" In other words, God sets the values...He says that lying, stealing, cheating and immorality are wrong. God sets the values." (Pages 36,37)

Of course, our Lord Jesus understood better than anyone else the "values" the Law represents and also how and when that Law should be applied. It was He who shamed the Pharisees into embarrassed flight by applying the law to them when they wanted to stone an adulteress to death. It was He who bluntly applied the commandments to the self-assured young ruler who asked what he must do to be saved. He, the Author of the law handed down ages before on Sinai, knew full well that the law must do its work before grace can enter a man's heart!

The apostle Paul was also fully aware of the law and its beneficial effects. He wrote it down clearly, so we would not miss it.

Hear him.

"The law was added so the trespass might increase" (Rom.5:20)

And a bit later he wrote, "I would not have known what sin was except through the law... in order that sin might be recognized as sin it (the law) produced death in me... so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful." (Romans 7:7,13) Then, so we would not delete it from gospel ministry, he reminds us in his first letter to Timothy that "the law is good if one USES it properly.... the law... is made for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God..." (1:.8-10)

The same apostle, once again concerned that we do not misunderstand the function of God's mighty precepts, tells the Galatians two crucial facts:

  1. "Clearly, no one is justified before God by the law" (3:11)
  2. "The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ." (3:24)

Nobody has trouble with the first of those two statements. But they frequently refuse to face up to the implications of the second! Think of it. If it is, indeed, true that one of the functions of the law of God is to lead us to Christ, what untold damage are we doing to sinners by failing to utilize the very instrument which God has designated. The implications are staggering!

For generations the leading theologians of various orthodox groups have asserted the Biblical place for the declaration of the law in the presentation of revealed truth to lost sinners. Listen to some of their testimonies:

Martin Luther wrote:

"There is no better mirror in which to see your need than simply the Ten Commandments." (Table Talk #CCCXXVIII) "The old Adam is dead and can do nothing, and must learn from the law that he can do nothing and is dead; he would not know it of himself" (On the Councils and the Churches, Works of Martin Luther Vol. V, pp 267f.)

John Calvin said:

"Moral law, while it shows God's righteousness, that is, the righteousness alone acceptable to God, it warns, informs, convicts, and lastly, condemns, every man of his own righteousness. For man, blind and drunk with self-love, must be compelled to know and to confess his own feebleness and impurity. If man is not clearly convinced of his own vanity, he is puffed up with insane confidence in his own mental powers and can never be induced to recognize their slenderness as long as he measures them by the measure of his own choice. But as soon as he begins to compare his powers with the difficulty of the law, he has something to diminish his bravado." (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol.1, pgs. 354,5, Edited by John T. Mc Neill, Westminster Press, publisher.)

John Wesley wrote:

"It is the ordinary method of the Spirit of God to convict sinners by the law. By this is the sinner discovered to himself. All his fig leaves are torn away, and he sees he is 'wretched, poor and blind and naked'. The law flashes conviction on every side. He feels himself a mere sinner. He has nothing to pay. His mouth is stopped and she stands ' guilty before God'. To slay a sinner is, then, the first use of the law: to destroy the life and strength wherein he trusts, and convince him he is dead while he liveth: not only under the sentence of death, but actually dead unto God, void of all spiritual life..." (Quoted from A Compend of Wesley's Theology by Burtner and Chiles, Abingdon Press, pg. 198)

The great Bible commentator, Adam Clarke, added his insightful comments on the subject when he wrote, "It appears that a man cannot have a true notion of sin but by means of the law of God. And it was one design of the law to show the abominable and destructive nature of sin." (Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 6, pg. 85, published by Abingdon-Cokesbury)

Matthew Henry wrote essentially the same thing when he said, "As that which is straight discovers that which is crooked, so there is no way of coming to that knowledge of sin which is necessary to repentance, but by comparing our hearts and lives with the law." (The Bethany Parallel Commentary on the New Testament, page 916, published by Bethany House Publishers.)

The preaching of the law of God is needed now more than at any other time in American history.

Christina Hoff Sommers, writing in the March, 1998, edition of Imprimis, asks the question, "Are we living in a moral stone age?". To illustrate the sad fact that the answer is affirmative she alludes to an episode on the Tonight Show when Jay Leno took to the streets to do "man-to-man" interviews. On one such occasion he asked some young people questions about the Bible. "Can you name one of the ten commandments?" he asked two college-age women. One replied, "Freedom of speech?" Mr. Leno said to the other, "Complete this sentence: Let he who is without sin...." Her response was, "have a good time?" Mr. Leno then turned to a young man and asked, "Who, according to the Bible, was eaten by a whale?" The confident answer was, "Pinocchio."

Mrs. Sommers goes on to comment: "As with many humorous anecdotes, the underlying reality is not funny at all. These young people are morally confused. They are the students I and other teachers of ethics see every day. Like most professors, I am acutely aware of the "hole in the moral ozone".....Conceptually and culturally... today's young people live in a moral haze. Ask one of them if there are such things as "right" and "wrong" and suddenly you are confronted with a confused, tongue-tied, nervous and insecure individual....I often meet students incapable of making even one single confident moral judgment...We have been thrown back into a moral Stone Age."

The final phase of Mrs. Sommers article calls for a "Great Relearning", wherein moral principles top the agenda for modern America. She is most surely correct!

A typical unconverted man or woman in our nation is literally flooded with a tidal wave of moral relativism. You know the story as well as I...There are no objective, absolute standards by which either attitudes or actions can be assessed and. therefore, there is no need for concern about anything as old-fashioned as the notion of "sin". "Right" is whatever I feel is "right for me". "Wrong" is whatever I feel is "wrong for me". And I have no right to determine what is right or wrong for YOU.

The only apparent exceptions are:

  1. Homophobia. This "crime" is always inexcusable, in the opinion of the same pundits who insist there are no absolutes.
  2. Child abuse. There is still an apparent consensus on this one, though there is not complete agreement on what constitutes such abuse. (Again, those who pontificate the loudest on this issue are frequently the same people who insist they have the "right" to murder an unborn, or partially-born child... a frightening contradiction, to say the least.)
  3. Refusal to be enthusiastic about cultural diversity.
  4. Lack of conformity to the agenda of the radical environmentalists.

These "exceptions" create some bizarre inconsistencies which fairly scream for the reintroduction of absolutes into the stream of American life!

They produce, for example, a society which legislates against farmers to preserve a certain species of crawling creature whose happiness might be impaired if a crop were planted near their recreational area.

More seriously, they spawn a population far more concerned about the preservation of seals, whales and wolves than of helpless human children, waiting in the refuge of their mothers' wombs for probable extinction. They jail a teen-age mother for killing her new-born child in a bathroom at her high school prom, while thousands of supposedly mature, trained members of the medical profession slaughter infants all day long and then simply return to their comfortable homes as honored citizens.

If, somehow, "unacceptable behavior" (a term describing local societal disapproval, not divine disapproval) is detected and admitted, the sinner is almost invariably told that it was someone else's fault...or the consequence of "genetic flaws", "environmental influence", or "chemical imbalance".

Thus, criminals are criminals because they are genetically disposed to be such. Drunkenness is a "disease", not a moral issue. And, according to "evolutionary psychologists", adulterous men are unfaithful to their wives simply because they have evolved into infidelity.

A startling demonstration of this philosophy of relativism was offered to the public by the sages of psychological reasoning in the recent case of a 14- year- old boy who sexually assaulted a four-year-old and then beat him to death with a rock. The plea of the defense attorney was that the poor erring lad suffered from a "syndrome" and had even been (Oh, woe!) spanked by his father. It naturally followed that the murderer could not possibly be responsible for his brutal acts.

In spite of this alarming situation, Christians in recent years continue to take great pains to proclaim their disdain for the law of God ! They are forever warning, "Christianity is not a set of "do's'" and "don'ts", as if 260 million Americans are in grave danger of taking sin too seriously. A moment's thought tells us that salvation is not bought by good behavior. But another moment's thought should tell us a prior truth; "BAD behavior is what makes salvation necessary". And bad behavior must be defined in reference to GOD'S standards, not human opinion.

Of course Christianity is more than do's and don'ts.

But it was our refusal to DO what God told us that turned us into the wretched sinners we became. And not until all sinners realize the gravity of breaking God's rules are they ready to embrace the One who died to rescue us from the consequences of those broken laws!

The church's silence about the law is madness and blindness!!

And all in the face of the unmistakable words of Scripture..."BY THE LAW IS THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN"

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When I was a youngster, like so many other boys, I had a paper route. I had seven customers, and delivered the paper to them five days each week. To make those deliveries I had to walk three and one-half miles, often through storm, snow and rain. For that effort I received a total of 21 cents per week...IF all the customers paid their bills in full. One day, having collected this modest sum at the paper office, I walked past a local drugstore on my way home and felt a sudden craving for an ice cream sundae. After all, they only cost a dime, and I had worked hard for my money and deserved a break. So I slipped in, sat on a stool just inside the door and ordered the rare delicacy. I savored every cold drop. But no sooner had I licked up the last of it than I felt the pangs of regret. I had just blown almost half of my weekly earnings because of a sudden impulse! Just then I looked up, and saw that the counter man was way down at the far end of the place, serving another customer. My dime still lay in front of me, uncollected. It was an opportunity too good to miss. I quickly reclaimed my coin and eased quietly out of the door. The young man at the counter didn't even notice that I had gone. It was a clean getaway.

But I knew Someone else had seen me. Before I'd gone fifty yards my conscience screamed, "You're a thief! You just stole ten cents!"

I had no other recourse. I wheeled around, strode back to the drugstore and replaced the money on the counter. Nothing else could have brought relief and I knew it.

Please understand; I was not yet a Christian. In fact, had you intercepted me that day and asked me what a Christian was, I could not have told you. However, if you had asked me any of the Ten Commandments I could have recited them on the spot. And one of those Commandments was "Thou shalt not steal." The Law of God, so faithfully taught in our Lutheran Church, was beginning to do its preparatory work in my soul. This was not the first time God's Law had been brought to bear on my early life, and it was not to be the last. Because someone knew the proper function of God's holy standards the Spirit of God was able to bring the first small pressure of conviction into me.

I define conviction as a "clear realization of how much our bad behavior injures a good God". It is this behavior which spawns the "guilt before God" which is such an unpopular subject in our day.

Let's remind ourselves that the Law of God clearly implies personal responsibility on the part of his subjects. When He insists that we esteem Him above all competitors, He is assuming that we can make responsible choices to do just that. When He commands us not to steal or lie or sleep with our neighbor's wife, He is not talking to animals or helpless victims of uncontrollable desires or inhospitable circumstances. He is talking to morally responsible beings, created with the capability of making right choices.

This responsibility began with Adam. Everyone who has ever taken the Bible seriously knows when and how that responsibility was first violated on this earth.

One very malicious spirit, only happy when he was doing evil, disguised himself, stepped onto the human stage and seduced the first couple. Whatever more subtle things may be said about that fateful event, one thing stands out in stark relief; the pair made a deliberate choice to gratify themselves rather than God! To put it another way; a decisive choice was made to exchange gods. When the act of disobedience occurred, they placed their own preferences above those of their Creator and thereby became the first violators of the first commandment.

The implications of that act are monumental. Jesus himself reminded us that the first great commandment of the law was the law upon which all others hinged.

It is not necessary to rehearse all the things which able theologians through the centuries have written about the aftershock of that initial rebellion. We need only to look in a mirror, look about us and/or watch the evening news to be reminded of the endless havoc which had its inception in the garden of Eden.

What is most germane to remember is that not only were there universal repercussions following the original sin, but there is an individual truth which we must frankly face. As the spiritual condition of Adam was created by his willful rebellion, so the condition of every mortal is produced by the same cause. Adam became a sinner by rebelling against the wishes of a Holy God. I became a sinner by doing the same. And so did every man and woman who ever lived! While the EFFECTS of Adam's sin still cling to our minds, emotions and bodies, it is our personal rebellion which condemns us before Him.

The CAUSE, then, of the human problem, is PERSONAL REBELLION.

Paul states it this way, "Once you were alienated from God...because of your evil behavior" (Colossians 1:21) The blame is placed squarely upon our own heads. We are guilty because of our own choices! To blame anyone else for our separation from God is to attempt the same cop-out Adam tried when he said, "The woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit."

The understanding of this fundamental fact of life is basic to everything concerning God's program of rescuing sinful people because it begins where the Bible begins: with real guilt for real sins, committed by real people.

We hasten to the next point in our analysis of guilt and its legitimate consequence...conviction.

The CONDITION of the unconverted individual is one of ANIMOSITY.

Again we call upon Paul as our expert witness. "We were God's enemies", and "the sinful mind is hostile to God" he writes in Romans 5:10 and 8:7. In other words, having made our early choices to disobey God, we created within ourselves a mindset of antagonism against Him. What began as a choice immediately became a persistent condition.

Sad to say, the popular notion of sin, so often echoed in pulpits, is too incomplete. The purveyors of the new "psychologized Christianity" do not like the notion that the choice to sin has corrupted human nature. We hear sentences like, " People are fundamentally good, though they, admittedly sometimes do evil", and "We must never tell a person he is bad. That is an ontological assertion that will undermine his self-esteem. Granted, he may DO some unacceptable things, but that does not make him essentially bad. " Public figures take frequent advantage of this twisted view of man by standing before a sympathetic media and calmly confessing that they "see themselves as good persons", after having been caught in adultery, thievery or brutality. In the old days common sense and cultivated consciences would have prevailed. Basically "good" people do not climb into bed with other men's wives, rob their employees of hard-earned wages or bludgeon weak women or children. But the days of such ethical clarity are rapidly vanishing. Time was when strong Christian leaders would have rushed to their pulpits to remind their hearers that Jesus' words are as relevant as when they were first uttered, "Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit." (Matthew 7:17) But now, in their place we have spineless spokesmen, limp with "compassion" and certain that, at bottom, every man is fundamentally nice.

This viewpoint is obviously at odds with that of a Bible which makes frequent declarations of an "ontological nature" about people.

"The men of Sodom were sinners." "Cleanse your hands, you sinners." Jesus came into the world to save sinners." The heart of man is deceitful above all things and exceedingly corrupt." "Out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, etc." These are all statements which cut to the essential character of a man and describe him as he is within. There is no superficial nonsense here about tip-toeing around the harsh facts.

Thirdly: the CORRUPTION of the race is the result.

James words are clear and unmistakable; " You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God. Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (4:4)

The import of the word "adulterous" is obvious. He is comparing a sinner's relationship to the world with an unfaithful wife's relationship to a third party. Having chosen to deny love to her mate, she has fastened her affection on an illegitimate object. In place of her husband she has embraced a "lover". This is, of course, precisely what happened to all of us. Having turned our backs upon God, our "rightful Mate", we gave ourselves, instead, to the world. We became spiritual adulterers, and thereby corrupted ourselves.

We are all made in such a fashion that we must fasten our affections on something or someone. Furthermore, we must, according to Jesus, have only one overmastering affection to which all other attachments are subordinate. (See Matthew 6:24) That Object is meant to be God himself. But an alternate attachment can be ourselves, some other person, a cause or some physical object. But in every case, it is in competition with GOD ! James puts all adulterous attachments under the single heading, "world".

At this juncture we must ask a question. ""What is the 'world', as James uses the term?"

First of all, by simple definition, the word itself means "the present arrangement of things", as opposed to those things which came directly from the heart of God.

At the head of this temporary arrangement is the Devil, called, in Scripture, the "god of this world". Jesus tells us that his three-fold agenda is to kill, steal and destroy.

Secondly, under his supervision are a host of lesser spiritual beings, called demons.

On the third level are humans, either knowingly or unwittingly the "tools" of Satan's purposes. Paul makes this clear when he writes of "things taught by demons.... such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron" (I Timothy 4:1,2) The obvious mission of such underlings is the "bending of minds". They are, above all else, merchants of IDEAS.

Finally, on the lowest level are the common rebels who deliberately buy into the system on a daily basis. They VOLUNTARILY surrender to "everything that is in the world---the craving of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and boasting of what he has and does." (I John 2:16 Ampl.)

All of this distills itself down to real personal guilt for real personal thoughts and actions, centered in self-pleasing, instead of "God-pleasing", and when our minds are not poisoned by alien explanations of our responsibility as free, choosing moral beings, we find our consciences stabbing us every time we deliberately fail to live up to our responsibilities. However, if we explain away the righteous demands of a Holy God, that inner voice grows increasingly quiet, until rationalization takes the helm and we no longer feel any guilt in reference to God.

In the October 15th, 1994, edition of World magazine, author William Smith reminds us of some alarming things about "guilt" as popularly understood.

He laments the fact that in a recently published "Christian" book the reader was assured that if Jesus walked into a Madonna concert, the strongest thing He would say to all concerned is, "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone." The same writer insists that the same Jesus, confronted by the smart-mouthed Bart Simpson would simply give him a "word of encouragement" All of this, in Smith's mind, is "symptomatic of a guilt-free Christianity--a Christianity which is all grace and no duty, all love and no justice, all heaven and no hell. In this form of Christianity God's job is never to challenge, convict, or condemn, but to grant no-questions-asked forgiveness and to help us feel good about ourselves."

Of course Mr. Smith is considered an ethical dinosaur by the new breed. "You're blaming the victim! You're making people feel guilty! Who are you to judge someone else's choices?!", are their habitual responses.

These are the protestations of the moral relativists, who would not for a moment consider the Bible to be authoritative in matters of right and wrong! These are the people who apparently never understood that the most beneficial thing which can move the heart of a sinner is an unrelenting sense of old-fashioned, conscience-induced shame. Not the pointed finger of a fellow mortal but the razor-sharp incision of the everlasting truth of God's Ten Commandments.

Without the presentation and application of God's moral principals God's entire effort to convert is horribly crippled.

Let me explain in more detail.

There are three Biblically indicated means by which a sinner is persuaded that he desperately needs the grace of God...

The first, as we have discussed, is the LAW of God.

The second is the HUMAN conscience

The third is the SPIRIT of GOD Himself.

Think of an analogy which illustrates the functions of each.

Imagine yourself driving down a highway, blithely enjoying the ride and the scenery, with no particular regard for the speed of your vehicle. Oh, you have seen the speedometer along the way all right. You watched the needle swing far to the right. You suspected, deep down, that you might be going faster than the law allowed. But your personal desire to reach your destination has thrust that information aside. Yes, and you also noticed the little signs which periodically appeared in your field of vision; "Limit; 65." But you decided not to heed those persistent messages either. So, it is not at all surprising that a glance in the rear view mirror told you a peculiarly marked automobile was fast approaching behind you, and at its wheel was a very serious-faced man in a very distinctive uniform. Almost simultaneously you did two instinctive things; you stared at your speedometer and lifted your foot from the accelerator. You had chosen to disregard both the built -in speed indicator, and the warning signs along the roadway. Now you are about to encounter that special person who represents what both of them were trying to convey to you. You are about to face the embodiment of the law, the policeman.

I suggest that the components of this little tale are parallel to the tools God employs to create a proper sense of guilt in everyone who needs Christ.

The speedometer, of course, is like the human conscience. It is the built-in, standard equipment with which every mortal is endowed, the monitor which may be disregarded or obscured by persistent neglect, but the same device which induced the hypocritical accusers of the woman taken in adultery to slink away when Jesus applied the holy law.

The signposts along the highway are the Ten Commandments themselves, repeatedly set before the travelers for their own safety and insistent reminders that God's universe is a moral universe and to produce rock-solid guilt at any moment when they are deliberately disregarded.

The officer is God's final appeal to the guilty ones. He is the Holy Spirit Himself, the active, functioning representative of the Governor and Lawgiver of the universe.

Now let's carry the analogy a bit farther.

Suppose that for some unknown reason those entrusted with the job of placing the speed signs along the thoroughfare have failed to do so. The sizable traffic cop approaches the window, places his giant hands on the sill and begins to accuse the driver of speeding. But the driver points out that he has, in fact, driven on this particular highway for hundreds of miles and there has not been a single speed limit sign along the entire stretch of road! If he is correct, a great amount of "clout" has just been wrested from the officer. His effectiveness as a "convicter" has been substantially reduced because the guilty party can now legitimately plead "ignorance" through no fault of his own.

My contention is that, to the degree that God's law ceases to be placed before the minds and consciences of sinners, to that same degree will they be lacking in the conviction of sin.

Tragically, the Law of God HAS been purged from most evangelical preaching, and the resultant lack of deep concern for sin is almost too obvious to need re-telling! Fornicators are now "sexually active" but certainly not gross sinners. Drunkards need not feel distressed. They are no longer "guilty". They are "diseased". The very word "sinner" is rapidly vanishing from the evangelical vocabulary. The lost have been transmuted into "seekers".

(I realize that such a term is helpful initially, for people who are totally lacking in understanding of the rudiments of the Christian faith and might be needlessly offended if the label "sinner" were immediately slapped on them. But, sooner or later, they need to be confronted with the sober fact of their sinnerhood. If they are not, the conveniently neutral and inoffensive term "seeker" will only afford them further license to continue their rebellion against the King.)

The crowning evidence of lack of conviction was illustrated to me some few years ago when I was an advisor at a meeting of a prominent American evangelist. I watched, stunned, as hundreds of people made their way to the front in response to the invitation, with not so much as a single tear staining a single cheek. Heads high, they marched forward to get in on the goodies. After having been "counseled" by the people with the right badges, they were brought to us so we could "double check" on their spiritual state. By that time all had been "led to Christ", "prayed the sinners prayer" or something equivalent. But not a solitary one of those who were brought to me showed the slightest regret about his crimes against the Holy One! The lack of conviction demonstrated during those many nights was verified when I later discovered that something like 2 percent of that throng showed any evidence of conversion when contacted later.

Conviction of sin is in short supply.

It is one of the missing pieces!

It is missing primarily because the LAW is missing!

*** *** ***



Once upon a time there was a man who was not feeling well. He delayed seeking medical help until the bothersome symptoms began to suck too much zest out of his life.

But, finally he got around to doing what he should have done in the first place. He paid his doctor a visit. The physician sent him through a battery of tests to ascertain the cause of his problem. When the results were in, the doctor surveyed them with a practiced eye and called his patient in for a report.

"Well", said the man in white, "the tests show there are some abnormalities which have developed which certainly account for your recent discomfort. But I am confident that, with proper medication, we can rid you of the pain and get you back on the golf course in a matter of days."

Breathing a mighty sigh of relief and armed with the prescriptions just scrawled by his doctor, the gentleman headed home, assured that life would quickly return to normal.

There was just one small glitch in this little tale; the pain left in response to the medicine, but the patient was dead in three months.


Because the tests had indicated that he had a form of cancer which was terminal....unless removed by the hand of a skilled specialist! The surgery was never performed because the message about the seriousness of his condition was never delivered and the fatal consequences were never mentioned.

The sympathetic doctor had treated the symptoms very successfully but the patient died for lack of the life-saving operation!

May I suggest that something like this is happening in America on a grand scale. Well-meaning Christians have been doing their best to take the pain out of the lives of the unconverted, making them "feel better about themselves", "improving their self-image", all the while assuring them of the undying love of God. But, in the process, they are overlooking matters far more crucial.....the life and death issues.

Christians are meant to be physicians of the soul. By the help of the Word and the Spirit we are to diagnose the sinner's condition, announce our findings, honestly warn of the fatal consequences of a life lived without God, and then lovingly take them to the Great Physician for that surgery which is above all other surgeries!

To do less than to tell the whole story is unimaginable cruelty and unforgivable dereliction of duty.

One sunny summer day my family and I were traveling through Iowa. It was a Sunday and we were looking for a place of worship. Eventually we spotted a gathering of cars surrounding a chapel in what appeared to be an old-fashioned Methodist campground. It was the type of place that evoked memories of the fabled sites of a bygone day, so I was excited to hear what good word might be declared in that setting.

When we entered, we discovered the place was so crowded the only remaining seating was in the choir loft behind the pulpit. Taking our places in that rather conspicuous spot, we awaited the morning message. The speaker, a pompous-looking man in a black suit, had not progressed very far before he assured his audience that he was a far cry from the frontier evangelists, like Peter Cartwright, whose ignorance had induced them to preach "fire and brimstone" sermons. A ripple of approving laughter rolled through the crowd, affirming that they, too, were among the modern, enlightened people who had gotten far beyond such crudities.

Our location trapped us, so we had no recourse but to listen to the rest of the ode to folly delivered by the buffoon at the front. I had great difficulty containing my outrage while the preacher made light of a truth which Jesus himself solemnly declared on many, many occasions.

Though our present generation of professing evangelical preachers would probably not be as blatant on the subject as the Iowa reverend, their silence on this crucial subject often speaks as loudly as he.

It has, wisely, been said by many in our day that the present generation has no stomach for dissertations on the afterlife. It is a crowd concerned not with the "by-and-by" but the "here-and-now". And, by and large, this is true.

But we need to ask ourselves why this is the case...

There are at least three reasons why there is such an aversion to the notion of judgment and hell...

First, if there are no absolutes, there cannot be a final reckoning. After all, how would equitable punishments be ladled out if there were no accurate code by which to assess everybody's "mistakes"? The compromisers in our midst would have us believe that any old-fashioned notions about arbitrary guidelines applicable to every human being are part of the antiquated religion of people like Moses. They most assuredly do not apply to us. If you doubt that, just ask your local pastor, and he might explain to you that we are " done with Moses". We are now in the "age of grace".(Which age, thank God, has always been with us. But implying that God's immutable rules of behavior are now outdated does alarming damage to the cause of God.)

Secondly, any guilt which people now experience is the result of foolish choices which admittedly brought pain and suffering to the individual himself (and, on occasion, to those about him), but it is guilt which has no moral implications. It is the kind of thing anyone would feel if he failed to live up to the expectations he has for himself. It is the kind of "guilt" which concerns itself with how I have hurt ME, not how I have hurt GOD. Since this is the case, the idea of punishment to come is meaningless. While it may be true that I have created my own figurative hell by my bad decisions, there is no need for the "literal" hell the "right-wing radicals" rave about.

Third, we all know that God wants our happiness above all else. It stands to reason that a judgment seat, followed by the possibility of a burning hell, is completely out of character for a God bent upon making me as happy as possible. To say that punishment is a future possibility is the same as saying God is no longer loving.

Tragically, all three of these ideas have been nurtured in our churches. Conclusions drawn about the unsavory subject of future punishment are too often based upon ill-informed sentiment instead of Biblical revelation.

Let's explore the origins of this practical rejection of judgment and hell.

It is a fact of history that, with very rare exceptions, the orthodox church embraced and declared the Biblical truth of a final judgment and a literal hell for about 1900 years. The most notable exception, in the early centuries, was a man named Origen, and his view was later condemned as heretical by the church.

Down through the ages, as Luther testified, "this article [eternal punishment] has been unanimously believed and held from the beginning of the Christian church to the present hour." D. Martin Luthers Werke, ser.1, vol.30, p.552

W.R. Alger, in his work, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, vol. 2, writes, "If there be any doctrine ever taught in the name of Christianity which can claim to be really catholic [universal] it is the doctrine of never ending punishment..." pg.518

Thanks to the fine efforts of Jon Braun in his book, Whatever Happened to Hell?, we have readily available to us the statements of no fewer than thirteen separate and prominent creeds, beginning with the time of the Reformation. All affirm the reality of a final and enduring hell for those who willfully reject God's saving grace.

Following are a few samples from pages 112-114 of his volume...

"Ungodly men and devils he will condemn to be tormented without end", says the Augsburg Confession.

"The bodies of the wicked will be imperishable because they are to be tormented with eternal punishment" states The Orthodox Confession of the Eastern Church.

"Everlasting punishment" is the lot of the lost, according to The American Congregational Creed of 1883.

The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) asserts, "the unbelievers and ungodly will descend with the devils into hell to burn forever and never to be redeemed from torments."

God, according to the Mennonite Confession of Faith, will "consign unbelievers to eternal punishment."

We are forced to conclude that the church through the ages has given strong testimony to its firm belief that those who finally depart this life in rebellion are destined for unending punishment.

In light of what Braun calls "the loud voice of twenty centuries", why have so many in our own time abandoned the biblical doctrine of hell? He gives us his understanding of the four major sources of skepticism about this age-old belief...

"There are four fundamental reasons why hell has been air-conditioned or denied by modern critics; (1) the rise of humanistic thought, (2) the doctrine of universalism, (3) higher criticism and impugning of the Scriptures, and (4) the secularization of public education." pg. 32

The most influential of the four, according to Braun, is the first.

"Until the dawn of the Renaissance, the men and women of the Christian era saw the universe and mankind revolving about God. But, with the rebirth of ancient, classical learning in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries came a subtle yet mammoth shift in man's status relative both to the universe and to God. Under the label of humanism, this man-creature, created in the image of God, was exalted to a position he had never before known--even at the hands of the ancient Greek philosophers. Man, with his marvelous capacities and capabilities, was elevated to new and dizzy heights. For the humanist who pursued this course, man became the focal point of the universe. All else revolved about him.
Every nook and cranny of Western life and experience was permeated by the influence of...humanism, and the entire course of Western thought and practice has been altered since then.
Once committed to the philosophy of humanism, a theologian must undertake revamping of all orthodox Christian doctrine... Thus theology has received "general repairs" from humanism, but the doctrine of eternal punishment in particular has been singled out for a major overhaul....Hell and humanism didn't mix; they can't mix and never will mix. It just won't do to have highly exalted man experiencing the torments of hell eternally.. First, it is presumed that the precious creature couldn't possibly do anything bad enough to warrant such punishment. And, even more significantly, the humanists are convinced that God could not bear the eternal loss of even one of these marvelous man-creatures. Who says God's nature cannot endure the reality of eternal punishment for the wicked? Jesus Christ surely didn't. He didn't even come close. It was He who spoke of Gehenna "where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48). Again, speaking of the day He would judge all men, He said, " 'Then He (Jesus Christ) will answer them saying, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." And these shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life'" (Matthew 25:45,46) pages 35,36

This same Jesus had a great deal more to say on the subject. Examples like, "If you believe not, you shall die in your sins", and "You snakes. You brood of vipers. How will you escape being condemned to hell?" come to mind.

The fact is, Jesus spoke more about the future consequences of a sinful life than any other single subject. The Great Physician cared enough about his patients to go far beyond convincing them that he loved them. He dared to announce, repeatedly, that there were unspeakable results of sin.

And the New Testament as a whole mentions the "wrath of God" 28 times, "hell" (or its equivalent) 18 times, and "judgment" more than seventy-five times!

But American pulpits are almost totally silent about it, and Christian literature is just as mute . As for evangelists...well. they, too, often maintain the same solid silence as their brethren in pulpit and print.

But the Scriptures refuse to be still.

From its pages comes the impassioned question of John the Baptist. "Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" And the burning pen of Paul sends its searing declaration; "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness" Paul is, in fact, so convinced of the importance of this theme that he mentions the anger of God nine times in the book of Romans alone. Then, when he wrote to the Ephesians, he made the same point. "All of us...were by nature children of wrath". The Colossians read the same message, as well as the Thessalonians. Finally, the great "apostle of love" himself trumpets the message of judgment in chilling fashion by ten decisive declarations of the wrath of God in the Book of Revelation.

Certainly the alarming news of ultimate judgment must be shared with a blend of anguish and compassion. Nothing less would be appropriate. God Himself confesses, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked". But the refusal to transmit this truth, however painful, is an almost unpardonable dereliction of Christian duty.

In the face of such overwhelming evidence about hell it is difficult to understand how modern American believers could omit such a vital part of God's revelation. Surely we have been listening to too many alien voices and have allowed God's kind advance warnings to be stifled into damning silence!

The message of judgment is one more missing piece.

It is missing because the proper understanding of sin is missing.

The right understanding of sin is missing because the Law is missing!

*** *** ***



It is now time for me to introduce you to Gus. He is important because he is so typical.

Let me tell you about him.

He is a man whose life has been characterized by a mixture of good times and bad. Circumstances have frequently conspired to suck a lot of the fun out of his existence and undermine the plans he's laid down. On the other hand, he has learned how to get his kicks in spite of his occasional setbacks. He's no better, nor any worse, than most of the people around him. In fact, in the quiet moments when he takes the time to do so, he assures himself that he is, by and large, a pretty decent person.

There are, however, shadows which he notices are too frequently cast over his daily life....fleeting notions that feel something like "guilt". In fact, the older he gets, the more often these disturbing feelings occur.

Please understand; the haunting sensations are not always with him, nor do they really alter his activities to any degree. The prospect of illicit sex still captivates him. He indulges freely, with little or no remorse. His drinking habits remain intact. His jealousies are as strong as ever. His language is as colorful as that of his companions. Anger still consumes him in provocative circumstances. Generosity is as absent as ever. Selfishness is still solidly and sovereignly enthroned in his soul.

To offset those periodic inner misgivings he feeds his mind with the comforting thoughts so generously supplied by the pop psychologies of the day; "Do not be ashamed of your sexuality. Consentual sex is natural, not evil. Anger is justified. You just need to learn how to channel it. Don't let anyone tell you that you're a 'bad person'. You are a 'good person'. If you esteem yourself highly, you will enhance your performance in all the areas of your life. After all, there are no absolutes anyhow, so no other person has the right to judge you. You must be your own man. You have the right to determine what lifestyle is right for you."

But all this positive thinking has been wearing a bit thin of late. He is beginning to fear that life will become a real drag if something doesn't change. The truth is some of the sins that once gave him a real buzz have begun to lose their zip. He doesn't mention this to his friends, but he's been sowing more weeds than wild oats lately. And it is beginning to worry him.

So, late one night, while lying awake in his unkempt bedroom, he makes a decision. "Grandma was probably right. Maybe what I need is some religion!" To his own surprise the resolution is still with him when he wakes up late the following morning.

What has happened, of course, is that the unhappy consequences of sinning have begun to outweigh the pleasures. The bad feelings, the mental uncertainties, and even some of the debilitating physical effects have slowly begun to overshadow the sheer fun which sin had once produced.

(Though I cannot prove it, I suspect that when people come to this impasse, they are really looking for a way back to the life of unmixed pleasure they originally intended for themselves. It is somewhat like trying to sneak back into Eden by the back door, for all the wrong reasons.)

Though Gus does not yet realize it, God has been working behind the scenes in his behalf. He is bent on bringing a rebel to the feet of his Son and He has been using several methods to make it happen:

1. The kindness of God has been at work.

After all, the Bible does say, "The goodness of God leads you to repentance" So Gus suspected something unearthly was at work when the boss called him into his office recently. He literally trembled when he walked through the door, quite convinced the he was about to be another victim of "downsizing". And he almost fainted when, instead of firing him, the big man gave him a promotion!. He heard himself whisper as a small cloud carried him out after the brief interview, "Somebody up there likes me."

2. The uncontrollable circumstances have also been at work.

It is interesting to note that in The Pastor's Church Growth Handbook, edited by Win Arn, there is something he calls a Receptivity Rating Scale. That scale reflects research indicating the primary factors which alert people to their need of Christ. And it is instructive to observe that at least half of the top twelve on that list can be completely uncontrollable in an individual's life:

The death of a spouse
Marital separation
Death of a close family member
Personal injury or illness
Loss of a job
A change in a family member's health

So Gus also has been disturbed by some things which remind him of how fragile he is in the face of some circumstances. The surgery he endured....after just having been told that he was "in very good health for a man his age".... was the first example. And the narrow escape when his car careened into the path of an on-coming semi just days ago left him shaking.

These were troubling events, to say the least, and they add to his growing uncertainty.

3. Then, there is his conscience.

In spite of spending years subduing it, it never quite died. For a very long time it rarely spoke. But, recently he began to hear the inner whisper. It says things like, "Would you want someone to do to your sister what you did to that naive young girl in the bar last night?"

So, his mind is made up. Religion has to be the answer.

At this juncture I must introduce one more vital player in the drama of Gus. His name is Will. Will Willgood . He is a fellow employee at the same shop where Gus works. And he is a Christian. So, when Gus approaches him after work one day and expresses his interest in spiritual matters, Will is absolutely delighted. He has prayed for Gus ever since he'd first seen him. He is certain that he can lead him to Christ. In a quiet corner of a local café, over a cup of coffee Will lays out the "plan of salvation".

"God loves you, Gus. No matter what you have done, He loves you. In fact, He loves you so much that he sent his only Son, Jesus, to die in your place on the cross. He wants to forgive all of your sins and take you to heaven when you die. I know you have been feeling bad lately. You have been lonely, too. Well, Jesus wants to be your friend and take away your sadness and your loneliness and give you peace in your heart. Would you like to have him do that for you?"

"Well sure", says Gus, a little surprised at the apparent simplicity of this 'religion' thing. Somehow, it seemed more profound when Grandma talked about it, back when he was a kid.

"OK", says Will,"all you have to do is believe!"

"Believe what?", asks Gus.

"Believe that Jesus died for you. Believe, and he will come into your heart and save you."

"Seems too easy," says Gus.

"It is easy" replies his friend. "Only believe."

Minutes later Gus is bowing his head, as instructed. He is saying the words, as instructed. He is "praying", as instructed; "I confess I am a sinner. Come into my heart and forgive my sins."

Will is jubilant! "That's it, Gus. You're now a Christian! Isn't that wonderful?"

When the episode is over Gus walks home in confusion. When he awakens the following day, the confusion remains. Somehow, he had hoped "things would be different". But the unrest is still there. The sense of guilt still nags. The sadness remains. But that nice guy, Will, must know what he is talking about. He's been religious for a long time. I guess this is it. This is religion. And he said my sins were forgiven, so I guess it must be true.

There is just one problem with all of this. No, there are four problems:

1. Gus' ego is still intact.

If he consents to be part of some church he will be one more "convert" who needs to be constantly catered to, coddled and soothed. He will be a dismal fellow to have in the ranks because, deep inside, he is still running his own life. He is still the person who matters most in this world. His ego still reigns supreme. Some groups will say that he is "not yet fully committed". Others will explain that he is still a "carnal Christian". Still others will account for his behavior on the grounds of "spiritual immaturity".

2. His essential motives are unchanged.

Remember that his philosophy, like that of all other unconverted people, is commonly called 'hedonism'. And hedonism decrees that total self-pleasing is what life is all about. Gus has made his initial move into religion for the same reason he has done everything else in his life, to add a little more pleasure to an existence which has been getting too painful. If Gus sticks to the church of his choice, he will be a very hard man to keep happy. He will need to be supplied with the same level of enjoyment which matches the best he has experienced before he did his little religious thing.

This means that he will need a continuous flow of religious entertainment. If he is in "Church A", such festivities will consist of backslapping camaraderie, plenty to eat, and excursions of various kinds. And he will be a cherished center of attention.

If he selects "Church B", the meetings will be charged with emotion. The strong, incessant beat of electronic instruments and throbbing drums, the clapping, the repetitious singing of passion-laden phrases, the preoccupation with good feelings, the rising intensity, will lift him to heights reminiscent of the rock concerts he once savored as temporary escapes from his increasingly drab life. After all, hedonism has always permitted the higher, more refined types of pleasure as well as the baser ones which the church crowd is now telling him to avoid.

Whether in "A" or "B" the regular services of the church had better be exciting or he will soon turn to other avocations for satisfaction!

3. He will, in all probability, be treated as if he were a genuine Christian.

In most cases he will be told he is a Christian. Instead of letting the very efficient Spirit of God talk to him about his true spiritual condition, he will hear well-intentioned believers assuring and re-assuring him that he is really saved. (And in some instances they will insist that it is, in fact, impossible that he ever be "unsaved".)

This generous assessment makes some real problems for Gus. Committed, as he is, to self-pleasing makes it very difficult to maintain any enthusiasm for some of the stuff that the Christians begin to tell him are part of the "Christian" package...

Reading the Bible, for example, is a real drag. The truth is, he finds it the dullest book he has ever opened.

Praying is another weird thing. It's like talking to yourself! Saying words into empty air is not his idea of recreation.

"Witnessing" is the worst of all! If he's put on the spot he might parrot something metaphysical that he heard somewhere, but he will certainly religiously avoid "evangelism".

Gus is like a younger brother of mine who was prevailed upon to go with a gospel team to a large church in our home town. I asked him, along with others, to share his testimony. When his turn came, he stepped up and delivered a short speech filled with all the acceptable phrases. One of the elders of the church was so impressed he felt compelled to come to the front, grip his hand and thank him wholeheartedly for what he had said. It was not until years later that Dick confessed how fraudulent his presentation had been. He had listened carefully to what those who preceded him had said, borrowed a few statements from each, and repeated the combination at the front of the crowd. If Gus picks up some Christian vocabulary, he might do the same thing.....provided he cannot wriggle out of it.

4. The last problem is the most devastating. Gus is still sinning the same sins and still has the same ultimate destination he has always had. He is as lost as ever!

He picked up a smidgen of religion and will eventually become one more frustrated sinner gloomily telling his old friends that "Christianity doesn't work. I tried it."

You see, all unconverted people have four things in common:

  1. They have a wrong goal.....their happiness, instead of God's happiness.
  2. They have a wrong way of life.... habitual sinning, instead of habitual holiness.
  3. They have a wrong record.... accumulated guilt, carefully recorded in heaven.
  4. They have a wrong relationship..... primary attachment to themselves and the world, instead of God.

Will's formula solves none of these problems!

Any approach to God which is not preceded by genuine repentance does NOT bring a sinner into the Kingdom! Instead, it makes irreligious sinners into religious sinners. More precisely, it makes them, at best, into Christian religionists!

Let me expand on this point for a moment.

Most of the various religions of the world have several common components:

  1. beliefs about the nature of God (or Gods)
  2. rules about private life
  3. rules about religious life
  4. beliefs about the nature of man, and
  5. beliefs about the next life

To agree (or BELIEVE IN) the particular version of these things offered by any given religion is a ticket to admission to that particular fold.

Believe the version offered by Hinduism and one becomes a "Hindu religionist".

Believe the animistic version and you are an "Animistic religionist".

Believe the Mohammedan version and you become a "Mohammedan religionist"

And here is the kicker: Believe in the Christian version and, guess what, you become a "Christian religionist".

And that is exactly what our friend, Gus, has become. Nothing less. But, nothing MORE!

The missing ingredient is REPENTANCE ! Without repentance there can be no saving faith. Without repentance any religious experience is just a religious experience...... no more valid than the experience of an animist, a Buddhist, a Hindu or a follower of Mohammed.

Let's review what Will actually told Gus, though he did not realize the limitations of his statements.

He told him that all he needed to do to become a forgiven sinner was to "believe". Others say it slightly differently. "Only believe", or "only accept Christ" or "ask Jesus into your heart" are popular variations on the same theme. It is certainly not wrong to use such terms, IF you are talking to a genuinely repentant sinner. But, it is fatally flawed if speaking to an UNrepentant sinner because it is offering membership in God's kingdom on terms not prescribed by the King.

Imagine a young man, obviously fond of a young woman. He professes his great love for her and climaxes his fervent speech by asking, "Will you marry me?" She, on her part, is now confronted with a seemingly simple option. She can either say "yes" or "no". And such a brief reply seems like the first and final step to make a legitimate marital union possible. But this is not really true. One crucial step will have to precede her reply or there will never be a marriage in the Biblical sense of the word. She must break off all prior romantic attachments or an affirmative answer to his kind proposal will ultimately make a mockery of the whole idea of marriage! She must be totally convinced that all such attachments are completely out of order and be determined that they shall never be repeated.

This phenomenon is called REPENTANCE, and it is absolutely crucial in the spiritual realm. It makes THE difference between bonafide Christian conversion and its all-too-popular modern substitute. There must be a decisive inner repudiation of all known attachments to sin, or "believing" becomes nothing more than a hollow word.

The New Testament is abundantly clear about this imperative. The very word "repent" is used no fewer than fifty-two times.

When Jesus began his ministry, his first theme was "Repent!". And when he gave his final orders before his ascension He said that "repentance and forgiveness of sins" were to be preached in his name "to all nations". (Luke 24:47)

When Peter and the others preached the first post-resurrection sermon at Pentecost they took Jesus seriously and finished with an appeal to "repent". (Acts 2:38)

When Paul launched out into international missions, he declared, "God commands all men everywhere to repent." (Acts 17:30)

Down through the ages, the great gospel preachers have agreed with Christ and his apostles. Though they have not always agreed on many points of doctrine, they are in one accord concerning the importance of repentance.

Charles Finney, perhaps America's greatest revivalist, preached a powerful sermon in which he stated, "I have been frequently led to examine, over and over again, the reason why there is so much spurious religion.... The cause is doubtless a want of discriminating instruction respecting the foundation of religion, and especially a want of discrimination respecting true and false repentance. To one who truly repents sin looks a very different thing from what it looks like to him who has not repented.... most odious and detestable, and he is astonished at himself, that he ever could have desired such a thing." (True and False Repentance, by Charles Finney, pg 12, Published by Kregel)

Harry Ironside, in his book, Except Ye Repent writes in the Introduction, "I am fully convinced in my own mind that the doctrine of repentance is the missing note in the otherwise orthodox and fundamentally sound circles today. I have penned this volume out of a full heart". Then, in the opening chapter he goes on to say, "No one was ever saved in any dispensation except by grace. Nor were any sinners ever saved by grace until they repented. Repentance is not opposed to grace; it is the recognition of the need of grace. Yet there are not wanting professed preachers of grace who, like the antinomians of old, decry the necessity of repentance lest it seem to invalidate their freedom of grace. Shallow preaching does not grapple with the terrible fact of man's sinfulness and guilt.... and so we have myriads of glib-tongued professors today who give no evidence of regeneration whatever. No one can truly believe in Christ who does not first repent. "' [Italics mine] (pgs 10,11)

D.R. Davies, rector of St. Mary Magdalen, St. Leonards-on-Sea, wrote back in 1952 a very stunning book called The Art of Dodging Repentance. It was published by The Canterbury Press. In it he not only highlights repentance but makes a clear and biting contrast between repentance and penitence. The passage is so striking that I take the liberty of quoting a considerable portion of it.

"Repentance is uniquely a Biblical, and more specifically a New Testament word. It is a word that describes what is also a uniquely Biblical experience. It means far more than penitence, which is a predominantly human reaction to evil.... originating from self.... Penitence is primarily sorrow or regret for evil or wrong conduct, and is partly the product of enlightened egotism. Penitence is misery over the failure of self-centered man to ascend to God by his own inherent power. It is Eros in tears. It contains in itself, of course, a profoundly religious element, as does every experience which registers the failure of egocentric man to achieve his own fulfillment. But penitence is still grounded in egoism."
"Repentance is radically different and almost wholly other. Where penitence expresses a determination to tighten up the ego, repentance indicates a determination to abandon the ego....It is the difference between trying to make the old car do by extensive repairs and getting rid of it altogether and going in for an airplane... transport in a new element.... That is why the New Testament speaks of it as dying to sin, which precedes the new birth. You've got to die before you can be reborn.... Once we... come to clarity about the nature and meaning of repentance, then we can begin to understand and sympathize with the universal and abysmally rooted and fanatical determination to avoid repentance at all costs---at all costs." (pgs.13,14)

John Arndt, the German theologian, summed up the point when he wrote, in his book True Christianity, "If we are destitute of repentance, Christ profiteth us nothing, that is, we cannot become partakers of his grace and favor, nor of the efficacy of his merits..." (pg.13)

Statements from many other eminent preachers could be added to this short list. Agreement on the issue of repentance is virtually unanimous on the part of ministers and theologians of the past. But in our generation this has certainly not been the case, and the results are tragic beyond description.

In our zeal to bring people to Christ, we have, instead, done them almost irreparable harm. We have found them troubled about bad present consequences and, usually, not the least bit concerned about causes.. So, we have set about to relieve them of their hurts without first doing the plain things Scripture tells us to do:

  1. Use the LAW of God to help them perceive the gravity OF their sins against a holy God.
  2. Use the message of repentance to call them FROM those sins.

Let's be frank about the matter. If the only thing we have to tell sinners is that they can get relief from loneliness, depression or other miseries by "accepting Christ", we have only touched on the symptoms. We have done nothing to bring them a CURE!

The Bible is clear on this point. We all want our own way instead of GOD'S way, until God enters and changes our preferences. And He cannot produce that change until we are fully willing to forsake our own way. That change is called "repentance". And without it, God himself cannot pour in saving grace!

I shall never forget the impact of this truth on my own father. By the grace of God I was the first member of our family to receive Christ. I was, naturally, so excited about what God had done for me that I wanted everyone to hear about it. At the head of my list of unconverted people whom I wanted to see saved was my own father. And I testified to him repeatedly about Christ and how important it was to put faith in him. But my words seemed to have little or no effect. Finally, during a visit home, the conversation turned once more to Christianity, and my father cried out in frustration, ""Believe. Believe! How do you know when you've 'believed enough'"? I didn't know what more to say. Those dear Christians who had helped me after my conversion always said that the formula to pass out to people was, "Only believe and you will be saved." So, I concluded, since they knew more than I did, this must be the whole message. Yet it was obvious that it was not enough for my father. He tried hard to "believe" but couldn't seem to do it.

When my brief visit ended and I had gone back to Bible College, I heard one of the instructors make a profoundly simple statement; "If a sinner WILL NOT repent, he CANNOT believe." I was thunderstruck! By experience I knew what it was to repent. But, by TRAINING I had been told, "Only believe!" When class ended, I rushed to my writing desk and penned a short letter to my Dad. He received it within two days, read it, and took it to work with him after dinner the same day. He testified afterward that he became so restless at his desk that he went off to a men's lounge at the factory so he could somehow compose himself. When he got there he felt the letter in his pocket, pulled it out and began to read. The first thing his eyes fell upon were the words, "If you cannot believe, it is because there is something of which you are not willing to repent" Now it was his turn to be thunderstruck. Or should I say "Spirit-struck" ? He saw his problem at once, repented of all his sins and found it delightfully easy to invite Christ into his life. Assurance came at once! And joy! From that moment to his dying day he was an incurable witness to the reality of salvation.

Let me touch on one more thing before we move on. Very often, particularly in our time, there is such a general ignorance about the meaning of biblical terms that it is imperative that we offer very clear and understandable explanations. This becomes particularly important in the case of the word "repent". After declaring this truth for many years, I have found a definition which is always readily understood by those to whom I have witnessed. I tell them, "Repentance means you must have a wholehearted change of mind about all sin" This short explanation includes the "depth" which genuine repentance requires, and the "mental" and "volitional" aspects as well....all in one easily-understood phrase.

Failure to command repentance is an unspeakable disservice to sinners and the omission of a crucial component in God's program of saving souls.

Repentance is one more of the missing pieces.

It is missing because conviction is missing.

Conviction is missing because a right understanding of sin is missing.

A right understanding of sin is missing because the Law of God is missing!

*** *** ***



We met Gus in the last chapter. He has acquired a new profession, but not a new possession.

Nevertheless he consents when his new friend, Will, invites him to his first Sunday morning church service. After all, Will is a nice guy and one trip to that strange structure might be interesting.

He soon finds himself seated with a group which will be hearing essentially the same sermon topic they have been hearing for many years. The text will be different. The songs will be different. Even the announcements will have their variables. But the THEME of the message itself will not be new.

You see, the pastor has an urgent problem on his hands, and, every Sunday morning he does his level best to solve it.

His problem is that a substantial number of the people who sit before him are habitually, perennially, continually lacking "assurance of salvation"!

So, this morning, as on all those other mornings, he will be preaching to them about "assurance of salvation." He will kindly, lovingly, earnestly implore them to "believe the word of God which says that he that believes has eternal life". He will reinforce that sentence with reminders that Jesus said, "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my Father's hand". He might even explain to them that it is the Devil himself who is solely responsible for their uncertainty.

During the message there will be nods of approval. After the meeting some will feel relieved. They will head home with warmer feelings and a modicum of peace of mind.... temporarily.

But next Sunday they will need to be comforted again.

It does not dawn on the pastor that they just might lack assurance because they lack saving faith. And they lack saving faith because they are NOT CONVERTED.

Oh, I know that temporary uncertainty can grip the minds of the most devout of God's greatest saints. But, it is always short-lived.

This Sunday, in this church, however, we are surrounded by a body of people for whom gnawing uncertainty is a way of life.

They lack assurance because they lack faith. Which, in turn, raises a serious question: "How can we know if someone has saving faith in his heart?"

One place we can look is in John's first epistle. Here the inspired author supplies us with about seven distinct symptoms existing in every true believer. As 'life signs" are detected in an injured body, so life signs, according to John, are always present in the vilest sinner who has really placed his confidence in Christ as Lord and Savior.

Richard Dugan, in his book, How to Know That You'll Live Forever, devotes several chapters to the subject of the multiple indicators of the presence of saving faith. The following material is excerpted from that volume....

"Evidence number one is that we become obedient to the commandments of God."
"The marvel of all of God's that they can be summarized by one four-letter word. That word is "love". When we truly love, we automatically treat God, our neighbor, our family, and ourselves right. So love is the fulfillment of the law. I don't need to keep statistics on how well I'm doing...I need, rather, to love and the commandment keeping will take care of itself. Romans 5:5 tells us that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which is given to us at the time of the new birth."
"One day it dawned on me. God is not trying to make everyone on earth obedient. He is working within us to make us want to be obedient."
"God styles himself as a Father, our heavenly Father. His laws were not given to cheat or frustrate . They were given to protect, instruct and prove us. When we are born again, we do by nature the things that are found written in the law."
"To sum it up, we must understand that we are not born again because we keep the commandments. Rather, we keep the commandments because we have been born again." (Pages 59-64)

So, the first symptom of saving faith is a new attitude towards God's commands, an attitude of esteem and obedience. John said it best, "We know that we have come to know Him if we keep his commandments."

The second symptom, Dugan reminds us, is written in I John 2:29.

"If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him" (NASB)
"Keeping the commandments would assure God that we won't do what we ought not to do. And practicing righteousness would guarantee that we will do what we ought to do. Though the two actions are closely related, it is possible for each one to stand alone and for a person to have one without the other.

When Jesus answered the Pharisees' pressing questions on divorce and had blessed a company of little children, a notably rich young man of the ruling class ran to him and threw himself at His feet. 'Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?'

Jesus told him to keep the commandments and began to list them for the young man...If we are to accept his words at face value, we must conclude that he, outwardly at least, had indeed kept all the commandments. He passed the first test. We know he is not born again (however) because he still senses a great lack and asked the question.

Jesus' reply was; 'If you wish to be 'complete' go sell your possessions and give to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me'.

He flunked this second test. We are told, 'But at these words... he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property'"(Mark 10:22 NASB)

He was willing to keep the commandments, but unwilling to spend his life 'practicing righteousness'.

Practicing righteousness carries with it the idea of good works which, of necessity follow the new birth. Of course we are not saved by good works. But, because we are saved, good works follow... We must show our faith by our works. If there are no works, there is no faith.

What exactly does practicing righteousness include?

Perhaps we can touch on the pertinent points by an acrostic with the word 'right'.

R--suggests restitution." A man with genuine saving faith "goes back to those he has wronged.....John came to me one day with two four-foot-long cash register tapes in his hand. These were the items he had stolen from the local stores. Upon confession and restitution, they recorded his 'purchases' on the usual tape." Not only were the merchants impressed but, more
importantly, John was acting consistent with the new faith that was in his heart.
I-- stands for inhaling or input. For years the Campus Crusade people have been teaching the necessity of 'spiritual breathing'. A vital part of practicing righteousness is the formation of a religious pattern of spiritual input. It is a specific time each day when the born-again man is renewed within by the practice of Bible reading and personal prayer.
G--stands for giving. New born Christians are notorious for their generosity. And this kind of giving does not impoverish them, but opens the storehouse of God to them. Tithing is a joy. It is the one "bill" we anticipate paying.
H--stands for helping. God so approves of this form of practicing righteousness that He gave a special gift of the Spirit to enable us to do it. The Gospel needs to be believed and it needs to be preached, explained and taught. However, until it is demonstrated, it will have little power in changing our neighbor's life.
T--stands for testimony, and testimony suggests witness. Witness, in turn, suggests martyrdom. The same Greek word is used in both cases. To be a witness is to be a martyr. Practicing righteousness is standing for what we believe to be right even if it may mean the ultimate in personal loss.

Restitution, input, giving, helping and testifying are basic to 'practicing righteousness' and a beginning measure of each is to be found in the one" who has genuine saving faith.

Evidence number three is found in I John 3:9: 'No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God' (NASB).

The tendency in our lives before we are born again is downward, toward evil. We are tempted to do something wrong, and we succumb to that temptation.

After we are born again, the tendency of our lives is upward, toward good and godliness. But, let's face it, we will often be tempted to do something bad and we will, occasionally, succumb as before.

However, the [one who has real saving faith] does not make a practice of sinning....God's Spirit has reinforced the weakness of human nature with His own strength. The Williams translation renders the verse as 'None who is born of God makes a practice of sinning, because the God-given life principle continues to live in him, and he cannot practice sinning because he is born of God'.

As a newly married couple my wife and I set up housekeeping in a tiny parsonage in southern Nebraska. Priscilla decided to please me by making fresh biscuits, one of my mother's specialties and a favorite of mine. She had a cover over them before we sat down to dinner. With a smile and flourish she removed the cover and awaited my expression of appreciation. First, let me say they were the wrong kind of biscuits and, secondly, they were as hard as rocks. But I simply could not hurt her. I thanked her profusely and I ate heartily! Love... will keep you from hurting your beloved."

So, saving faith in the heart will keep you from hurting the Ultimate Beloved.... Christ. Where there is real faith there will be no 'habitual sinning'!

Evidence number four is in I John 3:14. "With Christianity came a new kind of love. The Greeks [of New Testament times] were well acquainted with erotic and filial love. Yet [neither] could adequately describe what those pagan persecutors saw in the suffering saints" [so cruelly afflicted by their tormentors]. " It was as though it was necessary for a new word to be coined to adequately describe what was shared among the born-again crowd. The new word was agape. meaning the love which is the gift of God. This love is the fourth evidence [of the presence of saving faith]. 'We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love, abides in death'.

The newborn Christian has found himself a family. And he loves it. Here he can be accepted, encouraged, taught, exhorted, knowing all the while that even if he is not perfect, he is loved. [His] best friends are Christians; [he] would not even consider marrying a person who is not also a believer; in business [he] wants the partnership of those who are of like precious faith. This love is evidence that [he] is born again."

The fifth indicator of the presence of saving faith is confessing the Lordship of Christ.

In an age long ago in Europe there existed a governing system called feudalism. All property was owned by the feudal lord and worked by the peasants for a meager share of the crop. In exchange, the lord offered protection to the peasants in time of danger and attack from enemies.

Picture the feudal lord in the heat of battle. The drawbridge has been lowered to receive the loyal peasants who lived in the outlying farms and villages. Bringing up the rear he observes a rascal who has flaunted his laws and refused to pay his taxes for years. After a moment's thought the lord orders the drawbridge closed and the rebel left to fend for himself against the attacking hordes. He refuses to serve as savior to those who reject his lordship.

'Whosoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, abides in Him, and he in God' (I John 4:15) A confession that Jesus is the Son of God carries with it deep meaning. It is, first and foremost, a confession that Jesus is indeed King of kings and Lord of lords. This confession carries with it certain moral obligations. Once we recognize Him for what he really is our days of independent actions are over. Failure to bring our lives under His authority is to forfeit our hope of salvation. He, too, refuses to serve as Savior to those who willfully reject His Lordship.

The sixth evidence of saving faith is overcoming the world.

Let's remind ourselves of what the "world" is. By definition it is, simply, "the present arrangement of things". By structure, it consists of several levels. The chief of the entire system, of course, is Satan himself.

Under his jurisdiction is an innumerable horde of demons who exercise control over any and all willing mortals. Paul, in Ephesians, states that devilish control operates IN "the children of disobedience"(2:2)

The third rank consists of those whom I refer to as mind-benders. They are the primary proponents of all the humanistic philosophies, religious and otherwise, which ultimately mold the minds of the masses and decree what kinds of lifestyle are deemed legitimate in any generation. This level of the "world" is teeming with college professors, secular psychologists, artists, journalists, Hollywood producers, and musicians. Their business is both to teach and to popularize their teachings. They set the priorities, establish the "values" and berate the nonconformists for refusing to follow the herd they have corralled.

The lowest, and most populous, are the rank and file, the ordinary people. They rarely think deeply about anything. Instead, they take their cues from others... the mind-benders. They cling to the crowd while claiming to be free. They insist on being their own bosses, but habitually take their marching orders from the corrupted captains of their society. And all the while there is within them the rebellious mind set of the "ruler of the kingdom of the air".

This commitment to conform breaks out in three basic ways, according to I John 2:16.

  1. The inner cravings (I must have what I dream of)
  2. The lust for everything the eyes behold (I must have what I see)
  3. The boasting about abilities and possessions (I must have attention given to what I have accomplished)

This, in brief, is "the world".

And the hallmark of the true believer is that he refuses to be intimidated by this whole earthbound system. Instead, he lives ABOVE it. It touches him, because it's all about him. But is does not ENTER him. The "ruler of the kingdom of the air" has been displaced by the Ruler of the universe! His confidence is no longer in the products of a contaminated country, doomed to fire. His faith is in an invisible King, an invisible Kingdom, destined for unspeakable glory!! So, the apostle writes, "everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our FAITH." (I John 5:4)

"So diametrically opposed is the Spirit of God to the spirit [of the world] that worldliness or love of the world and Christianity are totally incompatible.

In recent years I have heard some spiritual midgets described as "worldly Christians". One mother said her son "was a believer all right but just loved the world more than he loved Jesus." In truth there are no worldly Christians. Rather, because one is a Christian he is enabled to overcome the corrupt system in which he lives and remain free from its satanically inspired defilements." (Excerpts from How To Know You'll Live Forever, by Richard Dugan, pub. by Bethany House Publishers, pages 55-112)

The final evidence of saving faith is the" inner witness".

John is as uncompromising about this as he is about all the other indicators. "Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart" (! John 5:10) The words are an echo of what Paul wrote in Romans chapter eight when he affirmed, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children". (Romans 8:16)

I remember a story told by Leonard Ravenhill that underscores the significance of this seventh "proof of faith'. He recounted a phone conversation he had with the receptionist at the headquarters of an international missions organization. It was approximately as follows:

Ravenhill: "Hello. Is this the headquarters of_________"?
Receptionist: "Yes it is. How may I help you?"
Ravenhill: "Are you saved?"
Receptionist (in a startled tone): "Why...yes, I am."
Ravenhill: "How do you KNOW you're saved?"
Receptionist: "Oh, ah, well...because the Bible says so!"
Ravenhill: "What if you lost your Bible? Then, how would you know if you're saved?"
Receptionist: (Totally taken aback) "I, I, I...!"

However flawed this particular approach may have been, the point Ravenhill made was very valid. If every Bible on earth were destroyed, the voice of God Himself would still whisper, "You are mine" to the soul of the genuinely repentant convert.

It is important that the written word be believed. Not to do so is the same as calling God a liar.

It is important that we place our confidence in the promises that word contains about personal salvation.

But it is more than that. It is personal confidence in and total commitment to the PERSON who is the only Savior!

It is important to know that Jesus died in my place.

But it is more than that. It is deliberately placing my entire personality into the arms of that crucified One.

It is important to "believe in his substitutionary sacrifice".

But it is more than that. It is offering myself to Him as a living sacrifice.

We can say it another way:

Scripture, and all its marvelous revelation concerning salvation is like a road map. It is vital that we possess the map, for without it we would have no idea what road to travel to get to our destination. But, the map itself cannot TAKE us there. It can only show us the way. To actually make the journey successfully we need to DO something. We need to GET ON the road which the map can only DESCRIBE. This means real repentance and real faith in a very real Christ!

When such faith is in us, GOD HIMSELF tells us it is there! We have "inside information", the "voice" of the Spirit of God, whispering, "You are a child of God!".

One evening so many years ago my parents and I were having another of our intense discussions about salvation. My father was not yet converted at the time, and he was very frustrated about the subject of assurance. He had "tried" hard to "believe" but seemed to be getting nowhere. So, he stared at me fiercely and asked, "Do you KNOW you're going to heaven?" When I replied, "Yes", he wheeled and almost shouted at my mother across the table, "How about you? Do you know you're saved?" She said, very quietly, but firmly, "Yes". What made it so impressive was simply the fact that I did not know she had had a private transaction with God. This was her first public testimony. But the dialogue did not end there. Startled and more frustrated than ever Dad pressed the issue; "HOW do you know you're saved?', he snarled. Her reply was not only heartfelt and true but excellent theology; "I just know that I know". Though she could not have quoted I John 5:10 at the time, she was most certainly experiencing it!

Assurance is missing because faith is absent.
Faith is missing because there is no repentance.
Repentance is missing because there is no proper perception of the seriousness of sin and its just consequences. There is no right understanding of sin and judgment because the Law is missing!

*** *** ***



There were times, in what now seems like the distant past, when the Gospel always worked wonders in those who professed to receive it.

The evidence was on every hand. It was natural that it should be so because the Bible tells us that "if any man be in Christ he is a NEW CREATION, old things are passed away. All things have BECOME NEW" (II Cor.5:17)

The drunkard, once submitted to Christ, ceased his drinking.

The wife-abuser turned from abuse to care and concern.

The immoral man, once embracing the Savior as his own, no longer embraced women who were not his own.

The man with the mouth like a sewer spewed out praise instead.

The druggie forsook his drugs.

The profligate woman became virtuous.

The man who lived on hatred began to love even his enemies.

Sinners, having surrendered to Christ, became TRANSFORMED PEOPLE!

Much of that has changed.

The new evidence is in.

A new version of "Christianity" is now in vogue.

It stares back at us, shaming us, shocking us, and challenging us to re-examine what has brought us to this distorted mockery of genuine discipleship.

Leith Anderson, having reminded us that America is in moral decay, summarizes the situation; "The popular observation is that everyone lies, many commit adultery, stealing is common, and cheating is everywhere. But, beyond that, there is a growing perception that such attitudes and behaviors are OK. Many Americans are convinced that if you don't cheat on your income tax, you will pay more than your fair share. If you are a virgin on your wedding night, there is something wrong with you. If you do not victimize others, you will become a victim yourself.

Sadly, the Christian community looks much like the rest of our society. Surveys often indicate little difference between the attitudes and actions of those who call themselves Christians and those who do not." (Winning the Values War, pub. by Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis)

A survey conducted by the Barna Research Group supplies an addition to the sad story...

While 87 percent of those polled insist that "their religious faith is very important in their life" and "58 percent agreed that the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches", nevertheless, "among those polled who consider themselves to be born again, the survey showed a nonacceptance of fundamental Christian beliefs: 55 percent rejected the existence of the Holy Spirit, 52 percent denied the existence of Satan, 35 percent said Jesus was not physically resurrected, and 34 percent believed that good works get a person into heaven" (Italics mine) Reported in THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD, Tyndale House, Volume 28, Number 5

Not only are their living habits not altered, but they have also decided not to agree with God's written revelation.

There is more....

According to the book, The Barna Report, 1991 Edition, "Among adults who say they are Christian and who attend church regularly, the majority are formal members but are not born again." (Italics mine) Page 252

The same book enlightens us further by saying, "Numerous indicators suggest that rather than adhering to a Christian philosophy of life that is occasionally tarnished by lapses into infidelity, many Christians are profoundly secularized, and only occasionally do they respond to conditions and situations in a Christian manner. Recent research shows that many Christians are especially vulnerable to the worldly philosophies of materialism, humanism, and hedonism." And then the same author states, "Perhaps at no prior moment in history...have so many Christians waged the battle for piety and holiness so lackadaisically and failed so consistently in their quest for righteousness." Page 136

"A recent national survey discovered that no fewer than seven out of ten Christians are prone to hedonistic attitudes about life. The study found, for example, strong support among Christians for the sixties' notion that an individual is free to do whatever pleases him, as long as it does not hurt others. Two out of five Christians maintain that such thinking is proper, thus effectively rejecting the unconditional code of ethics and morality taught in the Bible." "As a final example, three out of ten Christians agree that "nothing is more important in life than having fun and being happy"." Page 141

"Regarding materialism, the statistics are nearly identical. Two out of three Christians express such love for money, possessions, and other material objects that their Christianity cannot be said to rule their hearts....The fact that the proportion of Christians who affirm these values is equivalent to the proportion of non-Christians who hold similar views indicates how meaningless Christianity has been in the lives of millions of professed believers... seven out of ten Christians support at least some of the principles central to the humanist perspective. Attitudes about abortion provide such a clue. The fact that 40 percent of the born-again public believe that there is no right or wrong position on this matter intimates their frivolous, clouded understanding of the sanctity of human life in the eyes of God, and the responsibility that we have to honor God through life." Page 142

The authors conclude their comments with this sobering sentence, "Overall, less than 5 percent of the Christians in this nation are not entangled in the deceits of materialism, secular humanism, or hedonism" Page 143

Perhaps the best summary of the situation was offered by Charles Krauthammer in an essay entitled "Will it be coffee, tea or He?", which appeared in the June 15, 1998 issue of Time. Though his words were not offered in exclusive support of Christianity, I believe he touched the crucial core issue of our topic; lives are not transformed, in large part, because of lack of commitment by those who profess some kind of faith.

Charles Krauthammer writes that there is "disdain bordering on contempt of the culture makers for the deeply religious, i.e., those for whom religion is not a preference but a conviction.

So ingrained is this disdain for the religious that when presidential aide Sidney Blumenthal called Whitewater prosecutor Hickman Ewing a "religious fanatic"--Ewing's sins against secularism include daily prayer, membership in a Fundamentalist church and a sincere belief in God--it caused barely a ripple... Blumenthal did apologize following a bit of Republican grumbling, but there was nothing like the uproar that routinely accompanies a public insult regarding, say, race or gender or sexual orientation." Then, Krauthammer goes on to tell us the most revealing fact of all. The so-called friends of the accused Mr. Ewing, wishing to come to his aid, reflect the commonly held notion that choosing a religion as a "preference" is OK as long as there is no real commitment, by assuring the accusers that "his open Christian left at the prosecutorial door." Then the author sarcastically comments, "Ewing is fit to carry out his judicial duties after all. Why? Because he allows none of his Christian faith to corrupt his working life."

"Religion was once a conviction. Now it is a taste", summarizes the position of those who have not really surrendered to Christ. As a preference for Pepsi works nothing basic into the inner life, so a superficial "preference" for Jesus leaves no internal transformation.

Data, surveys, statistics and editorial comments in national magazines may all look far too abstract to be impressive. So let's put faces on the facts.

Look, for example, at the young woman bursting into the room, shouting, "I've decided to let God take over my life!" The small group gathered for Bible study is stunned.

Here is a girl who, at 19, already has one child out of wedlock and has been living in open rebellion against her parents and anyone else who has offered her advice. She has immersed herself in every thing a twisted society has to offer. Now she is declaring her submission to God. It sounds delightful, an answer to prayer, the best possible news! But the tale does not end there. Her grand entrance was three years ago. But by now she has slept with several more men, had at least one abortion, and is currently waiting for the birth of her second illegitimate child. Oh, she still talks religion. She chides her mother for not witnessing, criticizes her sleeping partners for "not really being Christians", and shows not one pinch of regret for her blatantly immoral behavior.

Is she an isolated case? Far from it. She is typical. She has no shame. There is no embarrassment. There is no deep regret. And there is most certainly no repentance!! She is the direct product of a "Gospel" so bereft of moral content that it has no life-changing energy. She is as void of conscience as anyone I have ever met. But, if you were to ask her about her spiritual condition, she would immediately assure you that she is a Christian. She attends a church which prides itself on its "compassion", "unconditional love" and "unconditional acceptance". It has successfully coated her with a veneer of Christian religiosity, and left her void of inner renovation.

Look at a young man in his thirties. All his life he has heard about Christ and his offer of salvation. All of his life he flatly rejected it. He finally concludes it is best to declare himself an atheist and his goal to become a millionaire. But he is a very brilliant man and eventually his logical mind backs him into a corner and he is forced to conclude that the Bible is what it claims to be. Consistency demands that he make a profession of faith. So he does. And becomes a militant apologist for Christianity. There is just one catch; he is as stubborn, angry and self-serving as ever. There is a new acceptance of truth, but no "new creation". Profession. But no transformation.

In recent years I have had occasion to encounter a stream of such people. All claimed to be Christians.

One insisted that she was not only a believer, but had been filled with the Spirit and spoken in tongues... none of which prevented her from sneaking out of her husband's bed as he slept and making her way to the nearest bar to pick up a sexual partner for the night. Another, a young man, related the story of his " conversion". In solemn tones he told of the angel which appeared to him while he was in his kitchen, relaying to him the message that he was "saved". Emboldened by the personal appearance of such a heavenly dignitary he began to seriously study the Scripture and formulate a theology. Unfortunately his new experience and his deep enlightenment included the doctrine of "sleep with anyone you wish. It is not a sin as long as you are not married."

Still another man declared his great love for a new girl friend. She asked that I "check him out" before she made any commitment to him. A brief interview made it obvious that he was a grossly immoral man, who had already fornicated with the girl. He knew the language of heaven, but lived the life of hell!

A fellow mariner in the United States navy assured me that he was a Christian, in spite of the fact that, in almost the same breath, he stoutly insisted that frequent sexual intercourse with his girlfriend was well within the bounds of virtuous behavior.

As you may know, there now exists in our country an entire denomination made up of "Christian homosexuals". They claim to be the beneficiaries of God's saving grace while continuing to practice their sexual perversion! So convinced are they of the legitimacy of their claim that they have contrived an entirely new theology to support their lifestyle. And, tragically, many so-called orthodox scholars have helped them perpetuate their delusions.

Whenever I hear such folly I think of the logical parallels which could be conjured up: Imagine, for example, "a congregation of saintly child-molesters", or "godly rapists", or "happy whoremongers", all convinced that they were on the path to glory.........while being "affirmed" by a crowd of eminent theologians who berated the rest of us for lacking in compassion.

And, by what tortured logic could they justify their support of such groups? The same "logic" they employ in the justification of homosexuality. They could simply remind us that there are some among us whose "natural bent" is toward sexual fondling of children, forced sex, and the pleasure of paying for copulating enjoyment. When confronted by the plain prohibitions of Scripture against such behaviors, they could carefully explain that the Biblical denunciations are addressed only to those for whom such actions are NOT "natural". It would, according to them, be WRONG for the rest of us to do any of those three things, if it were not NATURAL for us. The sin, you see, is in behaving in an UN-natural fashion. (Yes, I know that the "pro-homosexuals" do not, in fact, justify any of these last three practices. All I am saying is that their failure to do so exposes the inconsistency of their position. Since ALL those things (including homosexual practices) ARE sins, the same reasoning should apply to ALL.)

If this sounds far-fetched, please be assured that it is not. This line of reasoning has actually been the forte of those who have forged an unholy union between sodomy and Christianity.

Once more we see information and profession without transformation.

Some years ago I discovered that I needed to make some drastic changes in my eating habits in order to bring down my elevated blood pressure and excessively high cholesterol. It was a daunting task to break the eating habits of many years standing, but I knew it was necessary. What made it particularly difficult is that I lived in a college situation and was obliged to eat at the school cafeteria, an institution which did not share my passion for specialized menus.

So, with no other option, I launched out in what was a totally new venture. I began to do my own cooking. One of the things I had learned was the value of protein. The other was the danger of deriving such protein from red meat. So, wishing to acquire the former while avoiding the latter, I decided to prepare a main course of good, old-fashioned, protein-laden beans. The catch was that I didn't know how to prepare them, nor did I know what else to blend in with them to make them palatable. But several possibilities came to mind so I set to work.

A small amount of ingredient A. A Larger amount of ingredient B. An estimated quantity of additive C, and so on. I wanted to produce a combination of such a caliber as to match the bean dishes I had so savored as a child! As I stood over the bubbling creation, I first noted that the smell was not at all inviting. And when I actually sat down and placed a spoonful into my mouth, I knew with great certainty that I had created something....but, whatever it was, it was NOT baked beans!! Rather than throw the entire unsavory mess away, I determined to choke it down. After all, it was all I had and I didn't want to be wasteful. However, it was painfully obvious that, in my attempt to walk the thin line between good nutrition and good taste I failed to create either! The reason was self-evident. There were too many missing ingredients which should have been added and too many added ingredients which should have been left out.

I suggest that American preachers and their helpers find themselves in much the same predicament. They want to serve a very needy public what will nourish them spiritually because many of them realize that men and women are desperately in need of help. But, they feel they must give priority to the "taste" of what they offer, fearing that if their patrons find their offering less than completely satisfying, they will lose them entirely. Nutrition, therefore, is relegated to a distant second on their list of priorities. In the meantime, they are importing flavors and concoctions which are, in fact, poisonous and damaging to their ultimate well-being.

To add to their distress, they sadly acknowledge that their clientele are in poor condition, woefully lacking in spiritual health, despite their best efforts to feed them well.

The result is what we now see all about us- the American evangelical church. All the modern methods have failed to create a healthy Christian body. All the staff psychologists, all the recreational additives, all the promotion of self-esteem, all the wondrous church-growth methodology and all the charismatic displays and seminars have utterly failed to create a growing body of self-sacrificing, Christ-centered, godly people, worthy of the name "Christian".

My contention is that, to a large degree the reason why all these massive and expensive efforts have fallen so far short of the mark is that we have eviscerated our message! We have chosen to either neglect or hide the tough parts in the fond hope of conning people into the Kingdom. And it is not working.

Clever methods pull in crowds.

"Positive preaching" pleases them after they're in. Pleasant surroundings and plentiful programs please their pampered preferences.

But nothing short of the whole truth, inspired by the Spirit, actually CHANGES SINNERS INTO SAINTS.

Thank God for good methods.

Thank God for innovative ideas to get a hearing for God.

Thank God for every earnest man or woman who works at wooing people to the Savior!

But we must reclaim the whole message, the whole truth, the complete story before all this methodology is going to result in truly transformed people!

Transformation is missing because faith is missing.
Faith is missing because repentance is missing.
Repentance is missing because conviction is missing.
Conviction is missing because a Biblical view of sin is missing.
A Biblical view of sin is missing because the Law is missing.

*** *** ***



The Love Behind The Law

When I was a child, growing up in a church which laid great emphasis on the Ten Commandments, I drew certain conclusions at an early age:

First, I was convinced that committing those laws to memory was far too taxing an undertaking.

Next, I was certain that the rules themselves were far too strict.

Third, I decided that they were part of some gigantic and mysterious conspiracy to prevent me from having a lot more fun than I would have had without them.

The fact that the teachers in the Sunday School and Confirmation classes gave no evidence that the Rules had made them any better didn't do anything to modify my conclusions. All in all, the Law, in that setting, and from those instructors, looked very grim, ineffective and oppressive indeed!

This was tragic, because it did not put before my mind the true picture of why God had declared his Rules of Life in the first place. Someone should have helped me reach out my hand and touch the awesome motives which pulsed BEHIND those stringent requirements. But none did. So I missed the love behind the Law.

It was a God who loved us supremely who etched those words on the tablets of stone!

It was the same God who would one day die for us who shook the earth at Sinai and struck terror in the hearts of young and old. It was that same God, now clothed in human flesh, who repeated the same holy Laws so eloquently in the sermon on the mount.

The eternal Laws of behavior spelled l-o-v-e to all who would open their minds to them. However, you, too, may be wondering how I dare connect law with love. Let me explain....

First of all, Jesus himself told us plainly that the whole moral law can be fulfilled by acting out that same delightful four letter word. "You shall LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength...and LOVE your neighbor as yourself". (Matthew 22:37,38) The Ten Great Rules are a divine summary of the art of love, real love, the kind made in heaven.

It is as if God said, "Let me show you how to love everybody in a down-to-earth-everyday sort of way. Not love in the abstract, but love where it matters and where it counts. Love right where you live, for the ultimate benefit of as many fellow humans as possible. I love like this all the time. Now I'm showing you how to do it!"

The first commandment; "Love Me by eliminating unworthy competitors" (Any self-respecting young woman would demand no less of a suitor.)

The second commandment: "Love Me by throwing away all the pictures of your previous lovers" (Surely the same young woman would expect nothing less.)

The third commandment: "Love Me by speaking respectfully of me when you are with others." (Again; this would be nothing more than a minimum requirement even between human lovers.)

The fourth commandment: "Love Me by not getting so preoccupied with work that you don't take time to let Me give you good rest."

The fifth commandment: "Love your parents by giving them honor."

The sixth commandment: "Love other people by helping them preserve their lives"

The seventh commandment: "Love the opposite sex by respecting the fact that their bodies belong to ME, not you."

The eighth commandment: "Love other people by respecting their right to private ownership."

The ninth commandment: "Love other people by always telling the truth about them"

The tenth commandment: "Love other people by not even craving what is rightfully theirs."

I'll grant you that He didn't say it quite that way, but I am sure that was what was behind it. We all know that He had to say it with a sharper edge than I have used. He had to put some fire in it, some smoke, some thunder, some trembling terra firma because He knew full well that we were not all that enthusiastic about spreading a lot of love around. We were too preoccupied with sucking up as much love for ourselves as we could possibly absorb. As a human race we were into loving ourselves. In fact, we were busy making self-love into a fine art! [And in our own day, thanks to some perverse thinking spawned in hell, we have elevated our chief sin to the status of our most sought-after "virtue".]

But a loving God knew a great deal more about what is really good for us than we will ever know. So He stuck to his guns. He gave us the Law in spite of the sad fact that not many of us were too happy about it.

Of course there was more than just a reading of the regulations from that mountain. Completely aware of the tendency to act unlovingly, He had to put some teeth into the stipulations. He had to warn us of the natural consequences of choosing selfishness instead of love. Notice; I did not say "divine" consequences, but NATURAL consequences. Although God does most certainly reserve the right to punish sin, there is a real sense in which willful self-serving brings its own inevitable consequences, in much the same way that a man running headlong toward the brink a cliff is certain to end up at the base of it.

Behind every prohibition, implied or stated, was the threat of dire results if we boldly choose in favor of UN-love. The inevitable, final, natural result of living for one's self is total alienation from all other selves...including God Himself. It could not be otherwise, given the nature of selfishness.

Thus God did us the enormous favor of giving us the Law. It forced love to the forefront of our thinking by making the love -versus -UN-love issue plain and easy to understand. It was an act of LOVE.

Unfortunately the very definition of love has been largely lost to us.

The result is that we rarely recognize it if it is not in the form of emotional or sexual expression. Granted, love has many faces. But they all have one thing in common. They are all driven by the honest desire of doing someone else ultimate good.

I shall never forget one of the deepest expressions of God-like love I have ever seen. It was many years ago in the country of Brazil. A missionary friend asked me to come and meet a Christian man who had for many years distributed Christian literature in that nation. When we arrived at his modest home, the gentleman invited us into the room where his beloved wife was seated. She had suffered a crippling stroke some time earlier and was now unable to speak, smile, or care for herself in any way. But, the husband smiled broadly as he gestured toward her and spoke the words of introduction. It is no exaggeration to state that I felt as if I were in a palace and a servant were introducing me to a queen on a throne. Here before him was a woman who was incapable of doing anything for him. She required his constant care and had nothing to give in return. Yet he treated her as if she were royalty itself!

I came from that home feeling that I had never seen such love before.

And then I remembered Jesus. And I remember him now.

I remember how he saw the crowd before him and "had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:34,35).

Here was something greater than my Brazilian friend's love.

I thought again, and again a picture of Jesus came to mind...suspended in agony on a rough wooden shaft, saying unthinkable words, "Father forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing!"

This was love which took him far beyond the deep sympathy expressed before the crowd on the hills. It carried him to his own death. The ultimate act of love!

I say all this to say that since God's motive for delivering the Ten Rules was LOVE, and Jesus' attitude toward those who had broken those rules was LOVING, we must make very sure that when WE declare the Law to others, we have the same attitude Jesus had.

When Jesus spoke the Law from Sinai, there was nothing but love behind his words.

When you and I speak the law to sinners, our motive must be the same!!

The Practical Use of The Law

USING the Law is a practice with a long and noble history.

Jesus used the Law to convict people who had memorized it, but had refused to submit to its surgery. The Pharisees applied it to others, but refused to yield to its convicting power. The rich young ruler did the same.

Peter and the early apostles used it like a blazing sword when they boldly accused the Jewish throng of murder. It was so effective that the smitten crowd cried in anguish after they had been cut deeply by its blade!

Paul used it with the pagans when he stood before the Athenians and charged them with violation of the second commandment.

The precepts of the moral Law are for Jew and Gentile alike. They always have been, because they are the eternal principles of right living.

And they are for us today.

They are not only guidelines for Christian living, they are God-given tools for bringing the sins of unconverted people under their burning light. So Paul says, "The law is good IF A MAN USES IT PROPERLY." (I Timothy 1:8)

How do we use it properly?

Perhaps the best way to begin is to talk about how NOT to use it.

  1. Do NOT tell people that the Law is a series of recommendations which express an unattainable ideal. Nowhere in the Bible is there even the slightest hint that the Ten Commandments were anything less than commands which can be obeyed! (If you tell a sinner that God gave orders which he cannot obey, he is forced to conclude that either God was not really serious about them or he cannot be held responsible for disobeying them.)
  2. Do NOT tell people that obeying the Law will bring them forgiveness. The Law was never intended to be a vehicle of salvation. We humans have accumulated a debt of sin so large, by the time we learn the Law, that no amount of "law-keeping" will ever outweigh that debt. It is like a housewife with meager resources charging her groceries over a long period of time and then going to the grocer with the following proposition; "I know I already owe you several thousands of dollars in unpaid grocery bills, but I have determined to pay cash for everything from now on. So, I am asking you to forgive and forget all my past debt." Unless that grocer is crazy, he will reply, "I am delighted to hear you have resolved not to go into debt in the future. However, there is no way that new resolution will help cancel the bill you've already run up."
  3. Do NOT tell them your own personal versions of the applications of the Law. For example, don't tell anyone that they have sinned if they ever went to outdoor movies, wore tennis shoes to church, fell asleep during a sermon, wore short sleeves, went bowling, watched videos, read a novel, played catch on Sunday, or voted Democratic. However bizarre some of these samples may sound, the fact is, all of them have been called breaches of sacred law at one time or another. Our message is to convey HIS rules about right and wrong, not our flawed interpretations of them.

To illustrate the proper use of the law, let me cite a real-life example which may prove helpful....

A gray-clad derelict was seated on the curb in a mid western city on a summer's eve. I approached him in a friendly manner and the conversation soon turned to religion. Asked if had ever been to church, the "bum" affirmed that he had. Asked if he has ever received Christ as his Savior, he admitted that he had not, but added, "I am glad religion means a lot to you. I have nothing against it. But, I guess I've never really felt a need for it myself."

From this point onward the conversation was somewhat as follows:

"Have you ever done anything wrong?"
"Oh, sure. Who hasn't? Nobody's perfect."
"Do you mind if I read something from the Bible?"
"No. It's OK with me."

So I read, "What comes out of a man makes him unclean. For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these come from inside and make a man unclean". These are the words of Jesus Christ, and they are a list of various ways in which God's commandments can be broken. I'm not here to tell you I am a great guy who has never done any of the things Jesus mentioned. I'm not even suggesting that I am sitting here to judge you. In fact this list of stuff really sits in judgment on both of us because it reminds us of the things we have done wrong in our lives. May I suggest something?"

"Sure. What?"

"May I suggest that I read the list again, slowly, and you just stop me whenever we get to a word that sounds like something YOU have done. Is that OK with you?"

"I guess so..."

(So the list was read, and from time to time the man admitted he has done what Jesus mentioned. He didn't think he was guilty of ALL of them. But he frankly confessed to some. Then I resumed the conversation...)

"How old are you, sir?"


"How old do you think you were when you first did something you knew was wrong?"

"I don't know. Maybe ten."

"All right, let's assume you committed your first sin at the age of ten. That means you have been doing at least some sinning for thirty-five years. Agreed?"

"I suppose so."

"Let's go a bit farther. As far as you can estimate, how many times a day would you say you do or think something wrong?"(At this point I took out a small piece of paper and a pen.)

"Oh, I don't know. I suppose maybe ten times a day."

"OK. Let's do a little informal arithmetic. There are three hundred and sixty-five days in a year. Multiply that by thirty -five and you get 11, 775. This means that you have lived, since the age of ten, for 11, 775 days. And you guessed that you have sinned an average of ten times each of those days. So, we multiply the number of days by ten and we arrive at a figure of 117,750. This means that you have just admitted to having deliberately sinned against a holy God 117,750 times in your life!!. Now, if I may, I would like to read just one more passage from this Bible; "Whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it, for he who said 'Do not commit adultery' also said, 'Do not murder'. If you do not commit adultery, but you do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker" (James 2:10,11)

When we started talking a few minutes ago you said you had never felt a need. What do you think now?"

"Oh, man, I never realized.... I need to get saved!"

You can use this method by opening to the Ten Commandments themselves, or any number of "sin lists" which are in the New Testament. In either case you are bringing the demands of the Law before the mind of the unconverted, as long as you make it clear that each of the sins is a violation of a specific law of God.

I urge all serious Christians who want to help people come to Christ to familiarize themselves with the major passages which house the Commandments or the infractions of them. Begin with Exodus, chapter 20, where the story of the giving of the Law is told. And, in the New Testament, go to Mark 7;20-23, Romans 1:29-32, Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5,6, or Revelation 21:8.

Incidentally, the derelict repented and came to Christ for forgiveness. Though, of course, the Law does not always do its work so quickly, the important thing is that it became God's vehicle to bring a man to the realization of his need of Christ's forgiveness... which is the reason for using it in the first place.

The very fact that God has designated the Law as our "tool" for producing the knowledge of personal sin reminds us of certain basic things which have been too often overlooked in our day:

  1. God is not only a spirit Being of enormous power and boundless love, but He is also, fundamentally, a "moral" Being who is wholly dedicated to "right".
  2. God cannot, therefore, enter into an intimate personal relationship with any other being who is dedicated to "wrong".
  3. The Law, then, is God's way of putting his fanatical dedication to "right" into words.
  4. Deliberate disdain for those words, by intention and behavior, is the greatest possible affront to the "moral" God because to take sides against His morality is to take sides against HIM.
  5. It naturally follows, therefore, that the more aware a sinner is of the magnitude of his disdain for the Law, the more likely he is to be convinced of his guilt and his need for pardon from the Offended One.
  6. Salvation is, then, predominantly an ETHICAL TRANSACTION between two choosing beings. It has mental and emotional aspects, of course, because without mental comprehension of the truths involved there would be no moral responsibility in the first place, and any transaction between anyone as awesome as the Almighty and a puny mortal is bound to effect the emotions. But, nevertheless, salvation remains a preeminently ethical phenomenon.

Unfortunately, this is not always presented clearly.

Too frequently we have conveyed the notion that the salvation event is something like Gatorade dumped on the coach at the conclusion of a victory on the football field. It happens unexpectedly, without collusion on the part of the recipient, but arbitrarily poured down from God. It is primarily a special type of emotional experience.

In many other cases, we have given the distinct impression that salvation is like losing a debate to a skilled logician. He presents such an overwhelming set of facts to support his viewpoint that we are forced to concede. While it is certainly true that Christianity is eminently logical, and the only self-consistent view of the universe, nevertheless, getting into the loving embrace of God is still more a moral than a mental matter. Our problem is not that we are separated from Him by ignorance but by disobedience!

The truth is, if we omit the Law and its consequent intensification of the sense of sin we invite people to mere emotional sensations, or mental assent to facts. We do not raise THE issue which prevents vital friendship between sinners and an offended God! THE issue is the SIN issue! Without meeting the sin issue in God's way, we produce, at best, "religious sinners" whose spiritual "experiences" are no more valid than those of New-Agers, transcendental meditators, or devout Hindus. To say it another way, if we separate the moral from the spiritual we get neither good morality nor true spirituality.

So, we have no other biblical recourse than to "use" what God has supplied- the Law.

Witnessing to the Reality of Judgment

As we have mentioned earlier in this book, we are obligated to tell the "bad news" as well as the good. However unpopular the idea may be, the fact is that Paul included judgment in the same package as the good news. When he wrote to the Romans he concluded his searing summary of the human condition by asserting, "God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares" (2:16)

The most awful part is the final part when Christ himself will conduct a public hearing at which the ultimate destiny of all rebels will be announced, and their doom sealed forever.

I vividly recall the time when God first impacted my mind with the significance of that white throne judgment. I read Revelation 20:11-15, "I saw a great white throne and him who sat one it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away... And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened... and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works...And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

The sheer horror of the prospect of appearing before the unspeakable holiness of Christ without having been pardoned was almost overwhelming. I remember walking alone down a silent road, crying out to God for the salvation of people in my own family who had not yet surrendered to Jesus. I could almost see the faces of aunts, uncles, and one of my own brothers, in the crowd gathered before the throne. The thought of their future in an endless eternity sickened me. I lost my appetite for food. I agonized inside for many days and weeks. No amount of rationalization could change the fact. . Anyone who decides to by-pass Jesus in this life will find Him unavoidable in the next.

I struggled to understand how anything so awful could really be true. Then, one day, I realized three things more clearly than ever before:

  1. If judgment seems too severe, it is because I have not fully grasped the seriousness of the sin that made it necessary. Sin is so evil that one Man had to die in agony to do something about it, so it is no surprise that people who deliberately persist in it should also be punished severely.
  2. If the penalty of never-ending punishment seems too long, it is because I had forgotten that the punishment will be eternal because SINNING will also be eternal. By the time the great white throne is put in place, all sinners will have made their final decision NOT to submit to their rightful King. They sinned through their lifetimes. They were in rebellion at the instant of their deaths, and they will still be rebels when they appear before Christ.
  3. I realized one more thing which made sense; In the last analysis, God has done everything in his power to PREVENT people from ever needing to be at that final meeting. Like criminals who remain defiant of the judge right up to the moment of sentencing, so sinners will appear at the ultimate court BY THEIR OWN CHOICE.

Coming to grips with the stern reality of coming judgment is painful for any Christian genuinely concerned about other people. But, unpleasant as it may be, it is part of the message we must convey. The apostle Paul put it this way, "Knowing...the terror of the Lord we persuade men." (II Corinthians 5:11)

Sinful humans possess a remarkable ability to evade reality. In their quieter moments they all know, for example, that they will eventually die. But they have managed to stifle the thought of that inevitable event by a host of deliberate distractions. By the same token, most people have been quite successful in locking the thought of final judgment out of their consciousness by a variety of ploys. As a consequence, it is difficult to motivate them sufficiently regarding the salvation issue. They are too busy smothering such ideas under layers of lesser issues.

Intransigent in their self-serving way of life, and almost immune to conviction, they need all the legitimate stimulation to action which can be brought to bear upon their minds and consciences.

The surveys tell us the strongest incentives impacting a sinner's life are the circumstances which are the most unpleasant to him, and the truths which are the most unsavory. This means that confining our witness to the subject of God's great love does not normally affect the unconverted. This should not be surprising to us. Scripture does say, "We love him because He first loved us." But that comment was addressed to people who were already Christians, not to sinners. The fact is, telling people that Jesus loves them makes little impression unless the listener is already convinced he desperately needs a loving Savior to rescue him from his guilt. The first apostles must have known the limitations of the "love motivator" because they never included "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" in any of their sermons. You can search the entire record in the Book of Acts, for example, and you will not even find the word "love" in any of the twenty-eight chapters.

Let's face it squarely. Sinners are difficult to move toward God. Their consciences are numb. Their minds are submerged in a dark ocean of trash and trivia. Their emotions are constantly stimulated by everything but God. They need to be moved from their indifference to a keen consciousness of their lostness.

Nothing is more calculated to produce such incentive than hearing the cold, hard facts of judgment as a natural supplement to the teaching of the Law.

The Command to Repent

About four summers ago I attended a Christian convention on the beautiful campus of Calvin College in Michigan. During the course of the week an announcement was made that a discussion group on "soul-winning" would meet for a daytime session. My wife and I went to the appointed room, expecting to find a crowd of interested people. Instead we found about four or five Christians. The lack of interest in such a vital subject astonished me, especially since the avowed reason for holding the convention in the first place was to enhance our ability to bring people to Christ. I was very disappointed.

However, the words of our discussion leader more than compensated for the low attendance. They were, approximately, as follows:

"I don't mean to sound critical, but I have been very unhappy with the way the Gospel has been presented in our evening sessions. They have been very shallow in content. It seems to me that it just isn't enough to say, ' 'Jesus died for you. Come on up, say a prayer, and accept him as your Savior. And then keep urging the audience until, finally, a couple of little kids are led to the front by some eager adult. The speakers have not once mentioned the word ' repentance'."

The discussion leader was a dear black man from Philadelphia. I thought to myself, "Here is a kindred spirit."

Then he went on to say something even more significant; "There is not a single case in the entire New Testament in which an "invitation" was given to come to Christ."

I was a bit startled. But he wasn't finished.

"There were no 'invitations'. There were only COMMANDS. Jesus said, 'Follow me!' That was not an 'invitation'. That was a COMMAND. The apostle Paul said, 'God COMMANDS all men everywhere to repent'"

I was so delighted that I spent a long time talking to him when the session was officially over. I told him that it was a pleasure to find a man with those convictions. I didn't feel nearly as lonely any more.

It is our duty to speak, on the basis of the Word, with authority equal to that of Paul, when we attempt to turn sinners from "the error of their ways". Sooner or later, in our efforts to win someone to Christ, that person needs to be told he has no alternate route to God. He must repent. God commands it.

May I take you to a real-life dialogue once more?

"You say you are really interested in becoming a Christian, and that is wonderful. Do you know what you must do to become one?"

"Well, I know you gotta believe."

"That is certainly true. But there is one other thing you must do first. You must repent. Do you know what that means?"

"I suppose it means to feel real sorry about what you've done wrong."

"That's part of it. But let me suggest a definition of repentance that might help you understand better. Repentance is 'a wholehearted change of mind about sin'. So far, so good?"

"I guess so."

"Now let me make it practical for you by asking a very easy question. The question is this; 'Is there any sin in your life which you WANT to keep on sinning?"

I have found over a long period of years that everybody understands that definition and everybody is always able to answer the final question. They KNOW whether or not they WANT to keep on sinning. You need not tell them. Their memory and their consciences have already given them the answer. And YOU can tell immediately whether or not they have, in fact repented. If they admit they still want to continue practicing even one sin, you know they have not. If they affirm that they do NOT want to sin again, you have reason to believe they are really repentant.

Dealing With the "Assurance" Issue

I always get a little nervous when I hear that someone "helped somebody come to assurance".

It conjures up pictures of well-intended counselors kneeling alongside nervous 'seekers', quoting a series of Bible verses...

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved". "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.", etc.

While it is certainly true that believing is the key to salvation, the thing that troubles me is that too often such Scriptures are used to convince somebody's mind of something with which their spirit cannot agree!

Let me explain.

In the first place, if there was no realization of their sinfulness, and no inner repentance, talking to someone about the importance of believing is simply not timely.

Secondly: to "talk someone into assurance" is to undertake something for which none of us qualify. "Assurance" is something the Holy Spirit of God gives freely when HE sees that the conditions for conversion have been met!

Thirdly: Counseling about assurance frequently includes urging people to disregard everything except their brains. "Don't worry if you feel nothing." "And don't worry if you see no change in your life. Just believe the Word. Just trust in his promises!" But genuine assurance, coming from God, settles in at a deeper level than the head. It is a "knowing" that only God can produce.

Fourth: Counseling about assurance frequently culminates in the counselor telling the seeker, "You say you believe. OK. You are saved!"

We must tell sinners about the POSSIBILITY of assurance.

We must tell sinners the CONDITIONS for receiving assurance...repentance and faith in Christ.


WE must not GIVE SINNERS ASSURANCE. The Holy Spirit is infinitely wiser than we. He knows everything about the individual we are trying to help. He knows if he is fully repentant.. He knows if he has committed himself to Christ as Lord and Savior. He knows all the things we cannot possibly know with absolute certainty about someone else.

But, He is not only wiser than we, but far more efficient. When he sees a repentant, believing heart, He rushed in and whispers in the secret chamber of the soul, You ARE my child. I AM your Father."

All of this is not to say that we cannot help those who are troubled about their relationship to God.

We remind them of what Christ has done to purchase their salvation.

We remind them that God solemnly promises salvation by grace, through faith.

We remind them that repentance makes such saving faith possible.



Let me make this very practical by introducing you to a young woman who was a student at a very conservative Christian Bible College.

I was an instructor there. She came to our room one evening looking very troubled. I asked how I could help.

This was her lament...

"I am not sure I am saved."

I then did what I always do in such cases. I asked her to tell me about her spiritual pilgrimage.

"Well", she replied, " I went to a Bible Camp when I was a youngster and heard an evangelist preaching about the importance of being saved. At the end he asked all those in the audience who would rather go to heaven than hell to come to the front and accept Christ. So, I went forward and someone asked me to pray "the sinner's prayer." So I did. Then he shook my hand and declared me "saved".

At that point I asked her, Did you have assurance that you had become a Christian"?

"No", she replied.

"Have you had assurance any time since that event?"

Once again the answer was negative.

So I told her that, in the final analysis there were only two possibilities. She lacked either repentance or faith.

She opined that repentance was probably the missing ingredient.

I asked her if there were any sin that she WANTED to continue to practice. She insisted there was none. At that point it appeared that she had simply failed to place her whole confidence in Christ as Lord and Savior.

I then made the following suggestion.

"Try to forget that you ever had any kind of religous experience. Let's go, as it were, back to square one. I don't know if your first approach to God was valid or not. It was so long ago and you were so young that perhaps you cannot evaluate it accurately either at this time in your life.. Let's imagine now that you are coming to God for the very first time. (Incidentally, God loves to have people come to Him and is not the least bit troubled if they do so many, many times.) Now tell Him that you want to, once for all, turn your back on all sin."

She did precisely that.

Then I said,

"You alone know if your declaration of repentance is true. But, if I is, I suggest that you think of Jesus being present with us right now and tell Him, in your own words, what you want him to do for you. (I never tell people what words to use in prayer, or even insist that they pray at all. I take pains NOT to create pressure. In fact, even if they have sins they wish to confess, I often suggest that they do so alone. Then I offer to converse with them afterwards if they wish to do so.)

That young lady declared her repentance, asked Christ to come in, and she received immediate assurance of salvation! she has now been faithfully serving Christ for many years as a confident, witnessing Christian.

Granted, assurance does not come instantly for some, but the conditions for receiving it are the same for all!

One thing further....

Very frequently (especially in our day when the term has been drained of much of its original content) there is need for a clear explanation of the meaning of the term "believe". John 1:12 reminds us that saving faith is equal to receeiving Christ Thus, "receiving" and "believing" are two terms describing the same thing.

However, there is more to the story....

At this point the Amplified version comes to our aid in its translation of Acts 16:31. "Believe in and on the Lord Jesus Christ...that is, give yourself up to Him, take yourself out of your own keeping and entrust yourself into His keeping and you will be saved". {italics mine}

I shall never forget the case of the young farmer's wife who was uncertain about the meaning of personal faith in Christ. She had attended church for many years by the time she and her husband began to attend a short series of meetings I was holding. She listened very attentively the first night. When an invitation to receive Christ was extended she came to the altar with her husband. Both were very serious and after further instruction her husband declared his repentance, voluntarily confessed his sins and received Christ. He left that meeting in a very joyful frame of mind.

Nevertheless, his wife looked very downcast as they departed.

The following evening they were at the service again and, at the conclusion, she came to the place of prayer one more time. I recalled that she had sought salvation the night before so I thought it best to speak with her privately. We went to an adjacent room and the dialogue was approximately as follows:

"Didn't I see you at the altar last night with your husband?"
"Yes, I was there."
"Why did you come forward at that time?"
" I wanted to get saved."
"Did you ask Christ to save you"?
"Yes, I did. But I had no assurance whatever."
"How about your husband"?
"Oh, he really got saved, and he knows it."
"OK. First of all; may I ask if there is any sin in your life that you want to continue sinning"?

When I asked that question it was as if she had been shot!!

"Oh, no!", she cried.

"All right then, it would seem that your problem is not repentance, but faith."

"Yes, I know I should believe but I don't seem to know how."

The room we were in had one exit to the outside so I decided to use it as an illustration of saving faith.

"See that door over there? Imagine that you hear a knock What would you do?"

"I'd go over and see who is knocking.", she said.

"Good. Now imagine something else. Imagine that when you open the door you see the Lord Jesus standing there. What would you do?"

She answered, without hesitation, "I'd ask Him to come in!"

"Great! Though we cannot see him with our eyes, we know He is God so He is actually present right now. May I suggest that you bow down before Him now and just tell Him, in your own words, what you want...."

She immediately knelt by her chair and said, "Jesus, please come in. I receive you as my Lord and Savior."

That was virtually all she said. It was short. It was precise. Her request, following her avowed repentance, indicated she was "giving herself up to Him, putting herself in His keeping" and receiving Him in a clearcut act of faith.

When I asked her, "Did He come in?" she emphatically cried out, "YES! He did. I know it!" Joy spread over her face and she went on her way rejoicing!

What was true of this young woman can be true of anyone else. Whoever genuinely repents of all sin and receives Christ with the attitude described by Acts 16:31 will be forgiven and saved. Assurance is certain to follow!

As anyone reading this little book will agree, the subject of the missing pieces is most certainly not exhausted.

Much, much more has been said by others, and much more could still be said by authors more qualified than I.

However, it is my hope that this small volume will stir others to a renewed examination of their message, and especially a renewed examination of the text of the New Testament.

I realize that we all too easily fall victim to the trends which surround us and we all crave success in the enterprise of saving souls. Both these factors sometimes draw us, unwittingly, from the pure stream of truth which God has poured out for us in his word.

Some years ago my own passion to win souls to Christ led me to venture into the role of traveling evangelist. It was during an era when "crusades" were very much in vogue, as sponsored by individual churches. So, I vowed to hit the road and conduct such crusades.

I had heard the messages of other evangelists. I had attended their meetings. I had read the advice of those who seemed in tune with the times. So, I resolved to alter the salvation message to fit the current thinking of the newer generation.

However, before I launched into my first series of meetings, I was privileged to hear a series of messages by one Paris Reidhead. He took me back to Bible basics; sin, the lostness of sinners, coming judgment, repentance, and saving faith. And, perhaps more than anything else, he reminded us all that God does not exist for us, but we exist for God. His eternal truth, therefore, takes precedence over all humanistic considerations.

These were his time-honored themes. They opened my eyes once more. I determined to tell the whole truth, the pleasant and the unpleasant, and studiously avoid concessions not permitted by Scripture.

Thus, leaving my family tucked into a small house in southern California, I hit the road. My messages to the unconverted were essentially the same at every stop. As I watched people submit to Christ in meeting after meeting around America I thanked God He had permitted me to do my best to include all "the missing pieces".

May I urge you , too, to include the whole story, no matter what popular theological fad may tempt you to offer a partial gospel.

*** *** ***



LeRoy Dugan
Bethany Fellowship International
6820 Auto Club Road
Bloomington, MN 55438, USA