Can One Be Sure When He Is Right Religiously? (3)
S. Leonard Tyler
We have discussed the need for such a study as we are engaged in. I hope that interest in the all-sufficiency of God's revealed Will, the Bible, will characterize each of us. And too, that we will recognize that the Bible is understandable and that one can be confident in its declarations. However, it seems to be a mighty heavy influence which pushes so many into false concepts and denominational thinking. May I call your attention to some of these with a warning and, I hope, reasons not only as to what these may be but that they should not over-ride God's directions to us. If and when Christ commands man to act - regardless of what that act or deed may be, he will never offset it with something else. His commands are just as essential and just as love laden as His promises because all point to the same end -eternal salvation. That is why in discussing "Doctrines and Concepts Which Point Toward Denominationalism," we have (1) first warned against rejecting the Bible as our standard of measurement. Now let us think together about other signs of danger.
(2) When anyone claims "love" to negate the necessity of true obedience to Christ, he loses his directions. Love is essential to salvation (1 Cor. I3:3), being the first commandment (Matt. 22:37-40), but love is a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22) not a guide. Mr. W.E. Vine says:
"Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:3; 2 John 6). Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God" (New Testament Words, Vol. III, p. 21).
Paul told the Galatians that what counts with God is "faith which worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6). Love (agape) is not the director but is a product of truth itself, "a fruit of the spirit." Therefore, love certainly never negates God's commandments but reaches, as it were, into the heart of "the man of faith" and commits him graciously and completely to the Lord's will in happy but humble obedience (1 John 5:3). Love makes it a joy and pleasure to "walk by faith," which means to have full confidence in Christ and to continue to follow His instructions (2 Cor. 5:7).
The more one loves God and Christ, the more he will delight in and seek to know, believe, follow and teach the truth (Acts 20:28-32). Love is the seasoning ingredient essential to any act of obedience to Jesus Christ; without love one cannot please God (1 Cor. 13:3; 1 John 4:8, 16-21). Love must never be forgotten but must warm the heart toward Jesus and His teaching and do that which is right both toward God and man with joy and contentment.
Human Theory on "Perfect Righteousness" of Christ
(3) When someone claims that the "perfect righteousness" of Christ stands in lieu of man's own obedience to the Lord, he misunderstands the purpose in Christ's coming, living, and dying. Christ's "perfect righteousness" made man's obedience to the gospel possible. Christ fulfilled the requirement of the law for "perfect obedience" and died to redeem (purchase) sinful man from the guilt of sin (Rom. 3:20-26; Gal. 3:13; 4:5), but this did not nullify "the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:26). His obedience in death opens the way for our forgiveness when we obey the conditions of faith (Heb. 5:8-9).
Mr. W.E. Vine points out: "The man who trusts in Christ becomes `the righteousness of God in Him,' (2 Cor. 5:21), i.e., becomes in Christ all that God requires a man to be, all that he could never be in himself . . Righteousness is not said to be imputed to the believer save in the sense that faith is imputed (`reckoned' is the better word) for righteousness." (New Testament Words by W.E. Vine, pp. 298, 299).
When one believes and obeys from his heart Jesus' commands, being baptized into Him (Mk. 16:16; Ga. 3:26-67), he is redeemed, forgiven, saved from past sins. Thus, he becomes a child of God, a partaker of the divine nature (Rom. 6:17-18; Eph. 1:7; Titus 2:14; 2 Pet. 1:4). Therefore, he is made righteous (being forgiven, made pure, and guiltless), enjoys every spiritual blessing in Christ and is to live a righteous life (1 John 3:7, 10; Rom. 6:19-23). This "man of faith" is to "continue in the faith" (Col. 1:23), which means to hold to Christ being "grounded and settled" in the hope of the gospel, so he will never be lead away by false teachers. He abides in the teaching of Christ. Faithfulness to Christ means being loyal and true to Christ and His word (Matt. 25:21, 23, 26, 46; 7:21, 24-27).
(4) When a man extends God's grace beyond the teaching of the Bible, he has turned to fanciful dreaming. God, by His grace, provides all things necessary for man's salvation (John 3:16-18) and makes this known through the gospel (Rom. 1:16-18; Tit. 2:11-12; Matt. 28:19-20). He would have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4-6; John 1:12; Acts 10:34-35). This is the very purpose of preaching the gospel (Mk. 16:15-16; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). These things are written so the "man of faith" might know how to "behave" in the house of God, the church (1 Tim. 3:15). And John wrote so man might not sin, but if he sins that he might know Jesus is the Advocate, "the propitiation for our sins," and he can go to God through Jesus for forgiveness (1 John 2:1-2). This is being saved "by grace through faith" (Eph. 2:8-10). Grace provides and faith graciously accepts the provisions.
Personal Experience As a Standard
(5) When a man substitutes such things as personal experiences, feelings, visions, and spiritual manifestations for proof of salvation or being right with God, he becomes his own guide. God's word alone produces faith (Rom. 10:17) and is written for that very purpose (John 20:30-31). Man is charged to never allow any thing or anybody to come between him and the things written (1 Cor. 4:6) because God is our sufficiency (2 Cor. 3:5) and every thought must be brought "to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).
Paul shows very plainly what should be self-evident: when man rejects the knowledge of God, he of necessity turns to human reasoning and wisdom - his own personal desires and lusts become his goals or gods. As Paul states concerning the Gentiles, "They changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever" (Rom. 1:25).
Do not pass this by with a shrug of the shoulders as if it can never happen to us. Look around you and observe. Read Romans 1 and consider, if these things are not happening! Romans 1 gives the natural consequence of rejecting God's revealed truth both then and now.
"Living proof" establishes only one thing - the person testifying thinks he is right and feels great about it. "Feelings" are not "standards" by which right is established. "Feelings" are manifestations of what one's own conscience approves or disapproves. In reality, it is what one thinks is right and his feelings compliment and laud or justify him in his thoughts. The testimony upon which faith stands - the standard by which it is sustained - is the determining factor of the rightness or wrongness of the feelings (Matt. 7:23; 25:1-13; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2 Cor. 10:12, 18). Paul thought -and therefore felt - that he was right with God, and most sincerely wanted to be right; but, he was wrong and a persecutor of Jesus (Acts 9:4; 26:9 23:1). Thinking will not make it so, but obeying Jesus will.
Cannot Be Certain, No Absolute Knowledge
(6) When any person discredits the Bible because he cannot attain to absolute knowledge, understand God's will perfectly, he lets go of his only source of saving faith (Rom. 5:1; 10:17; Heb. 11:6). It does not require an infallible interpreter to understand what the Bible teaches - but the Bible is God's unalterable revelation and must be received as such (1 Thess. 2:13). It is its own best interpreter. No man, can know absolutely everything the Bible teaches perfectly, but he can know some things and treasure them by observing and teaching them. He must keep the Bible as the infallible guide and search the Scriptures daily for the answers.
I have to do that with the dictionary. I do not know all the words perfectly, but I can keep Webster handy and look them up. The honest, sincere "man of faith" will treasure God's Word and meditate upon it both day and night as the perfect law of liberty in Christ (Psa. 19:7; James 1:25). He will never extend God's grace, judgment, nor wrath beyond the Word of the Lord. He will seek to know the truth and abide in it as humbly and faithfully as he can and leave the rest to God (James 4:7-12).
(7) When man presumes "a thing" to be right with God without Scriptural confirmation, he becomes his own soul's Protector and Master. This the rich man of Luke 12 did when he spoke to his own soul. But God's voice gave the verdict, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee." Is there a greater sin than presumption, just taking for granted or deciding within oneself "a thing" is right with God. How prevalent is this among people today! But how dreadful are the eternal consequences!
In the Old Testament, if a prophet presumed to speak a word in the name of God without His direction, he was to be put to death (Deut. 18:20). "But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord . . . and shall be cut off" (Num. 15:30, 36). Even to the man who gathered a few sticks on the sabbath, death was the consequence. Why? "Because he hath despised the word of the Lord" (Num. 15:31). Balaam told Balak, "I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more" (Num. 22:18; 24:13). Peter expressed it, in speaking of those who "walk after the flesh . . . presumptuous are they, self-willed . . ." (2 Pet. 2:10).
David prayed, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression" (Psa. 19:13). The great sin of presumption is so alluring and flattering to one's own will and pleasure, it is hard to resist. Staying within the bounds of the teaching of Jesus Christ is just as essential as acting at His command. We should pray as David, "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer" (Psa. 19:14). If we would act upon this petition, all the "extras" tacked on to the gospel, the church, the worship, and the work, would go the way of all presumptuous thinking and additions. All such would be laid aside by the faithful. The peace, unity, good-will, fellowship, happiness, accomplishment and unity could be enjoyed by the people of the Lord.
(8) When one allows ignorance to cover for sin or transgression, he has lost the purpose for which the gospel of Christ is given (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Luke 24:44-49). The gospel is given and preached to produce faith (Rom. 10:17; Acts. 8:12, 13; 18:8 Eph. 1:13, 18). The reason one is to study God's word, is to understand what the will of the Lord is (2 Tim. 2:15). This will banish ignorance (1 Cor. 10:1; 12:1; Rom. 11:25; 1 Thess. 4:13). Paul prayed for Israel, although they were ignorant of God's righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness -which so many people do today. He wanted them to understand God's way and accept it and be saved (Rom. 10:1-4, 8). John shows his reason for writing was to lead one to understand God's will and way of life (1 John 2:1-2, 12-20).
Those transgressing God's will in the first century although ignorant were accountable for their sins (Acts 3:17; Eph. 4:18-32; 1 Peter 1:11-16; 2:15-16). Paul was guilty before God, not withstanding he was conscience free, being ignorant (Acts 26:9; 23:1; 22:16; 1 Tim. 1:13-15). All men sin and no man is able to save himself. Therefore, God provides a way by which man can be saved through Christ (1 John 1:8-10), but man must accept or comply with God's conditional remedy (Acts 8:20-24; Gal. 6:1; James 5:19-20).
If and when one allows ignorance to grant certain sins without guilt, he must classify sins. Or, would he say that "ignorance" will allow lying, stealing, adultery, and murder? Most times these are excluded from "ignorant allowables." Why? Because those granting "ignorant allowances" have restricted "ignorance" to certain sins. Why? Well, you will just have to consult the author of "ignorant forgiveables."
But, "Don't you think that a babe in Christ is weak and ignorant?" Most times, yes. "Does God expect as much of a young Christian as an older one?" No, everything being equal. "Well then, will not God overlook the spiritual babe's mistakes?" No, God has instructed older Christians to aid the babe in growth and overcoming evil and temptation (1 Cor. 3:1-7, 16-23; Gal. 6:1; Heb. 3:13; 5:11-16; Eph. 4:15; 5:6-12; Tit. 2; 2 Pet. 2:17-18). He, like any other Christian, must repent and comply with God's remedy. All must give an account unto God for what he hath done and reap what he has sown - there is no respect of persons with God (2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:7-8; James 2:12; Rom. 2:11-16).
The Social Gospel
(9) When the gospel of Christ is turned into a social gospel, the church will become a socio-religious organization. This God did not design, Christ did not establish, and the Holy Spirit did not reveal nor does the New Testament justify. Therefore, it is no part of God's revelation and, consequently, becomes repugnant to the simplicity of God's Divine arrangement. Christ does not authorize His glorious church to engage in recreation, entertainment, or social activities as such.
The gospel of Christ is God's power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). It is given to save the soul from sin and direct the saved into a life of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-23; 1 Jno. 3:7, 10; 1 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 2:20). It tells the "man of faith" how he must "behave himself" in the house of God, the church (1 Tire. 3:15). Paul points out that "bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Tim. 4:8). The Corinthians had corrupted the Lord's supper by feasting and banqueting. Paul asked, "What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not?" (1 Cor. 11:22). They came together not to eat the Lord's supper but to banquet. The effect will be the same today.
There is no record of the first century church entertaining, banqueting, pot-lucking or recreating as an activity of the church in the New Testament nor any instructions for the church to practice any such thing now. Then if the church practices such today, who authorizes it? It does not come from God or it could be found in the Inspired Word.
God's Way Won't Work
(10) When one feels that God's way will not work because of whatever excuse is offered - he turns to man's schemes, plans, and inventions; consequently, denominationalism is just a matter of development. The Israelites thought their ways were right and God's were unequal. They said, "The way of the Lord is not equal." Ezekiel plead, "O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? . . . But as for them their way is not equal . . . . I will judge you every one after his way" (Ezek. 18:25, 29; 33:17, 20).
Matthew shows that God has a way in contrast to man's way (Matt. 7:13-14). God's way is revealed in His word (Acts 9:2; 18:26; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22; Heb. 12:22-24). The church was in God's eternal mind to show forth the manifold wisdom of God and through it He is to receive glory "throughout all ages, world without end" by Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:10, 11, 21). This does not negate Christ; He is the head, the sustaining power and Savior (Eph. 5:23).
Paul wrote to the Colossians, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ . . . . Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God" (Col. 2:8, 18-19). God's Divine arrangement or way will work and, if we will accept and work by faith within its bounds, we shall receive God's eternal blessings.
Thus, as Brother J.W. Sheperd said, "God has revealed to us the things that pertain to his church - the faith, the practice, and the promises - and with these it is my purpose to deal. Here, all is faith and assurance; beyond this, all is opinion and fruitless speculation. Concerning those in Babylon we have but one living direction. `Come forth, my people, out of her.' To this we should give faithful heed. For to console people in the Babylon of sectarianism, and to reconcile them to their bondage, we have not divine right; but to deliver them from it is a divine obligation. Therefore, God's church is an institution separate and distinct from the Babel of denominationalism" (The Church, The Falling Away, And The Restoration, Gospel Advocate Company, Nashville, Tenn. 1948, p. 6).
May God help us to humbly search the Scriptures daily to learn His truth. And when we have through (1) Precept or Command, (2) Approved Example and (3) Necessary Inference diligently and prayerfully searched the entire Book of God and ascertained the totality of God's message as nearly as it is humanly possible, let us stay our faith. This is God's Divine pattern for our life and salvation. This will work. It is God's way provided by His grace and accepted by faith for man's salvation.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 38, pp. 613-616