Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
Are you satisfied knowing you or your group proclaims a Christian message rather than the Christian message? The difference between that indefinite article "a" and the definite article "the" is profound. And no, claiming to have the Christian message is not arrogance. It is about our position before Christ and the role he plays in the life of the individual and the life of the Church. A brief listing in the table below makes clear the distinction.
|A Christian Message:||The Christian Message:|
|Calls people to hear about Christ.||Calls people to hear Christ.|
|Calls people to believe in Christ.||Calls people to believe Christ.|
|The church gathers to learn about Christ.||The church gathers to learn from Christ.|
|The church partakes of sacraments or performs certain rituals as a means of grace.
A favorite message is "Christ will come..."
|The core message is Christ is come. The body bears living testimony that grace and truth come by his presence in and among us.|
The important questions in our comparison between "a" Christian message and "the" Christian message are: what are the differences in the outcome? Is there something substantial at stake?
"Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) This portion of scripture is treasured by all Christendom. But do people really understand its implications? The text continues and points out the way of rest for your souls." Take my yoke upon you and learn from me...and you will have rest for your souls." (Matt. 11:29) Jesus is echoing the words of Jeremiah (6:16) which states: "Thus says the Lord, 'Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls.'"
The ancient path, the good way that brings rest to the soul is the path of taking counsel with the creator, hearing and following his voice. This was the basis of paradise for Adam and Eve, this was the foundation of Abraham's righteousness, this was the rock upon which the nation of Israel was to stand. Jesus' declaration, "Learn from me..." is the call to return to this ancient path, this good way that brings the soul into rest.
In response to Jeremiah's admonition to ask for the ancient paths and seek for the good way, the people said, "We will not walk in it." Jeremiah went on to encourage the people to pay attention to the watchman's trumpet saying, "Listen to the sound of the trumpet." Again the people responded saying, "We will not listen."
Jesus' call today is the same as it was some 2000 years ago. If you would find rest for your soul, "Take my yoke upon you. Learn from me." Here is the path, here is the watchman's trumpet. Why do you, in word or deed, declare "We will not walk, we will not listen?"
"How," you may ask, "do we refuse to walk, refuse to listen?"
"Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them," said Jesus. The reason for his being there in the midst of those gathered in his authority is that he may teach us tasks of his yoke and show us the ancient path. Is your purpose in gathering to listen, to wait, to hear the voice of Christ?
By hearing Jesus' voice within us, individually and corporately, we are brought out of our own disquieting works. Here, in taking his yoke upon us and learning from Him, we come into our sabbath rest. The works of his yoke and the words of his teaching are not in vain but bring forth the fruit of righteousness, peace, contentment, and rest.
"OK," you may say, "just give me the tasks-to-be-done list and I'll buckle down and get them done."
No, the first and always the first thing to be done is to wait for Christ's direction to be revealed within us. Without that we do not wear Christ's yoke but some other yoke. Without that we do not learn from Christ but from some other teacher. Consequently we do not enter into rest.
The implications between "believe" and "believe in" have to do with your concept of God's plan in sending Christ. You can "believe in" a Christ that appeared in the world for 30 some years and then disappeared again until he returns at the end of the world, who left a book behind to be our instruction manual. But you can only "believe" a Christ who is actively present in and among his people, teaching them, leading them, ruling them, protecting them, overseeing them, cleansing them, presenting them to the Father, bringing them into unity with the Father and each other, and so on.
I grant you that the English text of the Bible often states or admonishes to "believe in." But some portions of scripture give our understanding of "believe in" a 180° twist. Much of what we understand to comprise "believe in" is related to creedal statements asserting our acceptance of certain dogma or theological constructs. But look at John 3:34-36, "For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure he gives the Spirit; the Father loves the son and has given all things into his hand. He who believes in the son has eternal life; he who does not obey the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him."
Yes the text says "believe in," but the context of the scripture has to do with hearing and obeying the words Christ speaks. Life comes to those who believe what they hear to the point of obedience. A closer look at the text opens up further implications. In the Greek, the word we translate as "in" is a word pointing to the object of the action. The text implies "believe that one" and points us to Christ as the one we are to believe. This is consistent with the remaining portion of the quoted text. After belief comes obedience to what we heard. If there is no obedience, we have not believed what we have heard but find ground for argument.
In the prologue to his book, John identifies the subject of his writing as "The Word." In The Word is the life and the life is the light of men. And the Word became flesh and dwells among us bringing grace and truth and revealing to us the life, the will, and the character of the Father. And in his prayer to the Father, Jesus states, "...this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3) Thus are we given power to become sons of God. In John 6:63, concerning a discussion about the bread of life, Jesus says It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I speak to you are spirit and life. (Some translations render "speak" as "have spoken.") If we rework the John 3:34 text, it could read, "For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure he speaks to us;..." So, do you believe the words you hear from The Word? Believe to the point of obedience?
The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it this way:
Take care brethren lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another everyday, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ only if we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said 'Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.' Who were they that heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? And with whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they should never enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Heb. 3:12-19)
"Believe" is a dynamic relationship between you and The Word, your Creator, not a static acceptance of creedal statements. "Believe" implies that your most important action is to listen for the voice of Christ, for you know that this is the source of your life.
Grace is defined as divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life. Most denominations have a listing of rituals, called Sacraments, that they declare or use as the means of grace. That phrase, "means of grace" is defined as the instruments, the agents, the agencies, or the mediums necessary or useful to achieving grace. This is a viewpoint distinctly different from what is given in scripture, which states that (1) grace and truth come by Jesus and (2) the grace of God has appeared to all men...
A look at one of these so-called Sacraments, the Lord's Supper or Communion, will reveal something substantially different than is practiced by most of Christendom. Its basis is the Passover meal Jesus had with his disciples just before his crucifixion. During this meal, Jesus said to his disciples, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (Luke 22: 15-16) Jesus is marking a change; announcing the inauguration of something new. The original Passover was a shadow of something of far greater significance. In the original, the angel of death passed over every house having the lamb's blood painted on the door post; non-painters lost their first born child and the first born of their livestock. But mankind has a problem that extends beyond the death of their first born; except we be renewed into the image of God we all dwell in death. Jesus is announcing a different sort of passover wherein death cannot touch those who bear within them the Lamb's life. John the Baptist's announcement of Christ, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," (John 1:29) can be seen in the light of Christ being the Passover Lamb provided by God; the "sin of the world being death". Many of the incidents recorded in the Book of John center around or occur at the Passover. Let us look again at the passage from John 6 which took place at the feast of the Passover, during which the Israelites were to eat the Passover lamb. Jesus told the Jews, "...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves." (John 6:53) When the disciples could not understand this, Jesus explained, "The flesh profits nothing, the words I speak to you, these are spirit, these are life." (John 6:63. I have put the quote into present tense according to the Greek dictionary found at the back of the Strong's Concordance.)
"Do this in remembrance of me," is a phrase that not all source manuscripts share. However, it is the basis of the ritual that has continued to the present. Let's look at other statements in Scripture that have bearing on this subject. Jesus said, "I am come that you might have life and that more abundantly." (John 10:10) He told his disciples "I will not leave you orphaned, bereaved, parentless, fatherless, comfortless; I will come to you." (John 14:18) Paul wrote extensively to the Romans concerning the law of death and the law of life (the new Passover). The writer of the book of Hebrews stated, "Today, when you hear his voice harden not your hearts as in the rebellion." (Heb. 3: 15) This is written in the context of "In these last days God speaks (or has spoken) to us by his son." And "How shall you escape if you neglect so great a salvation?" (See Heb. 1:2 and 2:3) The great salvation is this new Passover wherein you have the Lamb's life within you; the "words I speak to you" within you.
"Do this in remembrance" is at variance with the declarations of Christ come. You do things in remembrance of someone only in their absence.
So do you have life, the same life that dwelt within the apostles and the early Christians? If you have the life of Christ within you, how did it come, by what agency or vehicle did it come? "Behold," said the resurrected Jesus, "I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and eat with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3:20) Do you have Jesus in you to eat with? Paul, writing to the Colossians concerning the mystery hidden from ages and generations, proclaimed "Christ in you, the hope of glory..." (Col. 1:24) And to the Corinthians, he said, "Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith...Know you not how that Jesus Christ be in you, except you be reprobates?" (2 Cor. 13:5) This is not about performing sacramental rituals, but rather about experiencing the risen Christ in and among you fulfilling all his offices.
Here are several declarations of Jesus come and the grace made available to all who receive him, who hear his words, who follow him. These are they who eat his flesh and drink his blood, who know death to passover them because they feed within upon the life of the Lamb.
Are there differences in outcomes of adhering to a rather than to the Christian message? Is there something substantial at stake in choosing one or the other? These are the questions I postulated as important at the beginning of this article.
I have noted several outcomes under each topic I have discussed; outcomes such as entering our sabbath rest; partaking of the dynamic relationship with our creator where we hear and follow his voice; and how we receive grace, truth, and life. However, there is one other dimension I want to discuss, i.e. overcoming evil and escaping temptation. How do we do it?
I have learned that there is no spiritual gymnasium where I can train to become stronger than Satan. Anytime I attempt to defeat him in my strength, I am lost. But the good news is Satan is defeated already. When you experience Jesus in your midst in all his offices, you have the one and only deliverer in your midst. He alone can write on your heart the faith that shields you from the fiery darts of the enemy. He is the truth with which to gird your loins. He is our righteousness to protect the breast. He is both the gospel and the peace between God and man to protect our feet and to keep them from slipping. He is the sword, the Word of God, that wields us. In providing all these functions, Christ is our dynamic salvation that covers and protects our head. In other words, Christ himself is the armor Paul admonished the Ephesians to wear. Thus these are the things at stake: there is no entering our sabbath rest, no hearing and following the voice of God, no grace and truth, no life, no overcoming of evil, and no escaping temptation except by following Jesus' leading and experiencing his functions within and among us.
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