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Legalism or Progressivism: Which is Deadlier to Faith?

Since 2002, I’ve been advocating for religion-free Christianity, as well as warning of the dangers of allowing legalism to invade our faith-walk. Over the years, I’ve been accused by fundamentalists of being “soft on sin,” preaching “greasy grace,” and failing to understand the importance of the Law.

I’ve been physically assaulted on two separate occasions, I’ve been labeled a “radical” and a “heretic,” placed on false teacher websites and have been blacklisted from several churches due to my views on sovereignty, the believer’s authority, and faith-righteousness.  Through all of that, I’ve stood strong for the message of the New Covenant, the finished work of the cross, and the righteousness of the believer through faith.

Recently though, I’ve received a new form of opposition. Despite my very public (and considered in some circles to be “radical”) stance on grace, I’ve now been accused of being a legalist. How did this happen you may wonder?  Let me explain.

For the last several years, I’ve been addressing a theological phenomenon known by some as spiritual extrapolation.  Spiritual extrapolation is the process by which one attempts to discover a deeper revelation of the Word by starting with a biblical truth, but over time extrapolating the revelation of that truth, until the end doctrine has progressed beyond what is found in Scripture, and the individual ends up in error.

The main concern of spiritual extrapolation is not simply that one now holds to the error, but that he has let go of the value and importance of the Word in establishing a right belief about God.  This form of extrapolation, rooted in Gnostic thinking, gives preference to reason and logic over biblical inerrancy.  Thoughts such as, “If God is really good, then there would be no hell,” sound good on paper, but they violate foundational truths of the Bible, such as freewill, personal responsibility, and the empowerment of the believer. Don’t be fooled, a God that gives no choice, cannot be truly good.

I understand the attraction to this line of thinking, especially by my grace brothers and sisters, many of whom have been deeply wounded by denominational thinking and Pharisaical Christianity. Like many in the grace community, I too, have experienced firsthand the negative effects of legalism, adherence to tradition, and the damage that a faulty view of God can cause to one’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

It makes sense to me that those of us who have been wounded by religion would have the tendency to set sail for greener and freer theological pastures.  And in many cases, this has proven to give birth to wonderful theological renewal.  New insights into the meaning of the cross, a greater understanding of the purpose of the Mosaic Law, and powerful personal revelations of the unbreakable and everlasting covenant with our God through Christ abound. But not all “so called” revelations are good, as is the case with progressive thinking that inevitably leads to extra-biblical extrapolation.

Think of doctrine like a buoy floating in the ocean. Fixed to the bottom of the ocean floor by a strong cable, the buoy is free to float along the surface of the water. It can float a little to the left or a little to the right, but ultimately, it remains safely anchored to the seabed.

In the case of doctrine, our opinions regarding specific scriptures may float, if you will, between various individual interpretations and theological variations, but assuming we are still connected to the Bible and the Lordship of Jesus, we can remain fixed within the broader bounds of orthodoxy, free from the devastating effects of heresy.

However, if our belief and connection to the infallibility of the Word of God is somehow lost, like a buoy ripped from its foundation, we, too run the risk of floating out into the life-threatening waters of false doctrine. This is exactly what happens in the case of spiritual extrapolation and it is the trademark of progressivism.  (For more on spiritual extrapolation, click HERE.)

Verses that used to serve as the final authority on a given topic, are now treated with contempt – marginalized, criticized, or suggested to be inapplicable to a New Covenant believer in the modern era.  All this is just a vain attempt to justify holding onto false doctrines and man-made opinions over the Word of God.

Furthermore, since our new doctrines inevitably violate the Word of God, our belief system creates a tension in our heart.  The need to resolve this tension only further propels us into distancing ourselves from the Bible.  If we begin to hold to a particular belief and wrongly elevate it over the truth of the scriptures, eventually, something has to give.  Unfortunately, our pride usually prevents that from being our own belief system, so by default, our dependence on the scriptures is often the first to detach.

“But isn’t progressivism better than legalism?” I was asked recently. To be completely honest, I had to think about that question for a minute, until I eventually found myself answering it with a resounding, “No!” Here’s why.

In Romans 3:19, Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”

Additionally, Paul adds in Galatians 3:23-24,

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.”

According to Paul, the purpose of the Law was to silence man before God and to reveal his need for a savior.  In fact, any real effort at attempting to fulfill the Law, should eventually lead a person to a deep surrender to the lordship of Jesus.

If man were truly to attempt to fulfill the whole law, he would quickly realize that he could not, and therefore, would call out to God for help.  In reality, mixture is infinitely more dangerous than adherence to the Law, because the worshipper falsely believes that with just a little bit of law and a little bit of God’s grace, he could accomplish righteousness on his own.

But in the case of progressivism, the worshipper must reject allegiance to the written Word of God, which is supposed to confirm and validate the person of Christ and the truth of God. Through humanistic thinking, a progressivist simply follows his own vain imaginations and theological ponderings.  Floating detached from truth, he begins interpreting Scripture with what feels like divine inspiration, yet with each new wave of “revelation,” he floats closer to the shores of agnostic skepticism, before eventually running aground on the rocks of atheism.

These theological drifters have exchanged the Holy Spirit’s prompting for the comfort of their own wit, and by doing so, have lost the opportunity to be reined in by spiritual conviction and God’s rebuke.  Though once enlightened, the tether that was at one time attached to their source of truth has been severed – cut by their own egos.  As a result, progressivists exist in an extra-biblical world, outside of the covenants and separated from the Word of God.

For example, some progressivists suggest that the apostle Paul had only a partial revelation of grace, thus, “his words can’t be fully trusted.”  Anyone who adheres to this thinking is like one who makes the “doctrine of the month” his new authority. His own lack of confidence in the word testifies against him.

Contrast this with the legalist, who, even though he preaches a “ministry of death,” remains loyal to the very law that was intended to lead a man to Christ.  Ironically, through this strict adherence to the Law, there’s actually an opportunity for faith to lead such a person to the hope found in the Gospel.

Does this mean that we should stop speaking out about the hazards of legalistic thinking, because it’s not as dangerous as progressivism?  Personally, I’m not even sure that this is the right question.

Whenever legalistic thinking and/or progressive thought present themselves as an affront to the message of the cross, we do speak – but not with humanistic partiality.  As New Covenant believers, our purpose should not be defined in what we are against, but rather in what we are for – and that is the reconciliation of the world to God.  As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

The frequency with which grace-oriented believers are turning a blind-eye to the grievous errors of Universalism, yet vehemently splitting hairs over minor doctrines such as the tithe is appalling.  It is like jumping over a canyon in order to condemn a crevice.

Some might falsely think that I’m proposing that it’s never right to challenge tradition or to distance ourselves from so-called orthodoxy, but anyone who has read any of my past works knows that I often challenge traditional commentaries on various passages and present “new” meanings to verses. True orthodoxy, however, should never be mistaken for deceptive interpretations or a misrepresentation of God’s intentions.

So how can we as believers protect ourselves from the blind oppression of legalism or the subtle deception of progressivism?

Here are a few questions to consider when approaching doctrinal differences, both old and new.

  • Is my understanding of this belief based upon the sum of God’s Word?
  • In order to believe some new idea, am I forced to ignore certain scriptures or invalidate entire books of the Bible?
  • Is my belief based upon scriptural context or shaped by my pre-formed assumptions?
  • Does my embrace of Jesus as the Word of God force me to distance myself from the Bible as the Word of God?
  • Does my view of God’s goodness rob man of his own right to choose?

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Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 6

So far in this series we have learned the importance of staying connected to God in order to live in the fullness of Christ. We learn how to do this through his Word and by relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We also learn to glean God’s truths from the world around us.

This week we will dig deeper into the importance of salvation and how to have hearts that are a garden of good soil in which God can plant his truths in our lives.

Luke 17:20

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs.

The kingdom of God is within you. We have Christ in us. We have the Holy Spirit as our helper in this process.

My hope is that we can see our heart more as something connected to a pathway. We need to keep that pathway open and not allow it to get kinked or turned or twisted as opposed to the heart being something that is about did we do right or wrong today.

What is our physical heart connected to? It is connected to vessels and arteries that blood flows through. If they get blocked, bad things happen. They get damaged. You don’t say, “Shame on you, artery.” It’s not like that. It’s about – are you getting life?

Romans 10:1-17

Dear brothers and sister, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.

For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand;
    it is on your lips and in your heart.

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If  you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced. 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 So, faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

These verses tell us a lot about salvation and Paul’s thoughts on our need for it. The first verse speaks of Israel. If Paul understood the Gospel as everyone is saved, then he doesn’t have to write this. It takes this one verse to disprove universalism.

I want everyone to be saved. But I know that salvation comes by putting faith in Jesus Christ. The work has been done. But we have to put our faith in him. There are a lot of people in grace who are getting on this slippery slope. They are falling into universalism and reconciliation. But Paul understood the Gospel, that it is urgent because there are people who know Christ and who are experiencing him in their lives. And there are people who don’t and who are in danger. We need to take this message to them. There should be an urgency in our gospel.

He goes on to say that the man who lives by the law will live by the law. What that means is if you try to live by the law and you don’t measure up you will live by the consequences of the law. It means you are not good enough. You don’t have what it takes.

If you do good you get good.

If you do bad you get bad.

And guess what? Because the law is perfect and you’re not, according to the law, you are always going to fail. There is no curve with God. God doesn’t grade on a curve. He doesn’t say, “Well, you are better than 90% of the population. So, I’m going to let you in.”

What he does say is – it’s based upon your work or it’s based upon my work. You choose.

Paul begins sharing that you don’t have to go get God. You don’t have to find Christ.

He is in you.

 

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Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 1

In part two of this series I spoke of connectivity. It’s important to be connected. We can do more together than we can by ourselves.

How do we connect with one another horizontally and how do we connect with God?

As we look at this there are 3 main reasons we connect with others.

  1. Relationship’s sake.

For enjoyment, pleasure, worship, comfort, and empathy. We’ve seen the devastating effects of solitary confinement. You may not live in a cave, but you may have created a solitary life for yourself and some of the psychological effects are the same. You are lonely, depressed, and paranoid.

  1. Synergy.

The body of Christ working together gets things done. There is power in numbers.

  1. Influence.

When we connect with others we can leverage the heart. If you have a relationship with one person your influence can multiply. You reach and influence others exponentially.

Einstein said everything is energy and the human being is part of the whole, called by us the universe. New Age calls this interconnectedness the universal mind. Quantum physics calls it the unified field. Philosophers call it the all or universal consciousness. What all these people are just touching on is what we know as the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is the super highway of human connectedness as God relates to our hearts. The difference between that and the kingdom of heaven is that the kingdom of heaven is the physical rule and reign of Jesus Christ on this earth,

Luke 17:20

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observe.

In this verse the Pharisees challenged Jesus about Scripture .They questioned the idea of the kingdom of God.  Jesus explained that the kingdom of God won’t come with your careful observation.

You point and say, “Here it is! There it is!”

It is within you.

You can’t find it.

It’s within you.

It’s an identity on a heart level of you are.

Proverbs 13:20

Walk with the wise and become wise,
 for a companion of fools suffers harm. 

We become who we are around. In the past we thought that it was because of character or learning behaviors. But quantum physics blew this away. It changed what we thought we knew.

Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

This verse tells us that the physical attributes of this world point to the spiritual reality of who God is. You see the stars and the expanse – and you see who God is. Those things show us something about God; His beauty, his faithfulness.

Niagara Falls water always goes over the top and continues to fall. There appears to be a never ending supply of water. It points to God. He’s faithful. He’s consistent. Our physical realm points to greater spiritual truths.

It’s not our soul teacher – these physical truths. Ideally Scripture and the Holy Spirit are the main guides that we have. But it doesn’t mean we can’t learn through other means as well. Scripture tells us that we can.

The Entanglement Theory, simply put, tells us that when two particles come into contact with one another they become entangled. Essentially, what happens to one is going to be experienced by the other. That’s on a quantum level, on a molecular level. And in theory quantum physicists believe this is what happens on a larger level.

I believe what Scripture shows us is that it works. It’s not to prove quantum physics because quantum physics just shows us stuff about God. So, when we see this and we realize that when we become connected with people we see that after hanging out for a while we might start to laugh alike. Couples who’ve been married a long time might be asked if they’re brother and sister because they become so similar.

A great example of entanglement is Adam and Eve. What happened to one happened to the other. And their fate was passed down to us. We became entangled in their fate. They fell – they pulled away from the glory of God and every person who carries their DNA is affected by what happened to them. The cool thing is that Jesus Christ became a man and became entangled in humanity so we might experience or receive what he deserved. And he got what we deserve.

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The Human Connection Part 2, Day 1

In Review:

This is a both/and series. The point is divided into two parts: how we relate to one another and on the spiritual plain – how we relate to God.

And just how does this thing called connectivity relate to God?

Part of this series is philosophical and psychological. So, why talk about it in church? Something doesn’t always have to have scripture and verse next to it to be true. Scripture encompasses all truth. But, there are principals we can’t tie to just one verse. We’re looking at the whole chasm of scripture in how we relate to one another.The example of this is when Jesus related to others and how we do so in this natural world in which we live now.

Rom. 1:20

 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse

You can look at the natural and physical world and glean spiritual understanding and truths.

There’s a connection there – to this natural world because it’s a shadow we use to point to or connect to thespiritual world.

I want to be careful to say this is not a doctrinal thesis. I’m sharing these things as I understand them and invite you to grow and learn with me.

In the first part of the series I introduced the topic or idea of the kingdom of God. This is different than thekingdom of heaven which refers to the physical rule and reign of Jesus Christ.  When Scripture refers to the kingdom of God it’s talking about this invisible realm in which we connect to God and each other.

Luke 17:20-21

 Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of thekingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ becausethe kingdom of God is in your midst.

 

The kingdom of God is within you. Christ in you – where spiritual interactions transpire.  I also talked about theimportance of connecting with one another. We need to connect for relationship and synergy. If you look at thedictionary definition, it explains synergy as the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements…Together we can do so much more than we can on our own. We want to be able to shape those around us in a positive way. To impact those within our personal sphere of influence as well as exponentially through the relationships we build with others.

I intertwined some exciting side notes about quantum physics as well. When we talk about quantum physics it points to the kingdom of God. Not because quantum physics is the kingdom of God, but because God has made himself known through what he has created. It shows us there’s a more true, if you will, physical realm with spiritual laws. It shows us the consistency of God.

In Grace we have a fear of anything that calls itself or is known by law. But God operates by laws.For instance:

He will never violate your will.

He won’t force himself upon you.

Those are laws by which he governs himself. That’s not legalism. Those are principals by which he operates around.

When the Bible says we’re free from the law it means we’re free from using the law as a method by which we obtain righteousness. It’s not that the law no longer has truth in it as though we can disconnect ourselves from it. It’s that it’s not the source of our righteousness.

The kingdom of God works every single time we let it.

Prov. 13:20

Walk with the wise and become wise,  for a companion of fools suffers harm

The entanglement theory is this: every time two things interact they will become connected to some degree. God’s principles and laws are consistent. It all points to the fact that we’re all connected and need each other. And how cool is it that we can be entangled in what Jesus did on the cross because he became a man and those who put their faith in him become entangled in him and we get what he deserves because he got what we deserve? That’s powerful.

 

So, what does all of this mean? We’re going to look into that in this part of the Human Connection series. We’re going to talk about making contact.

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Week 17 Devotional: Are You Found in Christ?

But do not think I will accuse you before the Father.  Your accuser is Moses on whom your hopes are set.”  (John 5:45) 

Many people see God as a judgmental finger pointing God, but this isn’t true.  In fact, God placed all judgment against sin on the person of Jesus.  Because of this, God is no longer bringing accusation against sin.  Many people site the last judgment, but the last judgment isn’t about whether or not you’re a good person (and if it is then we are ALL in trouble), but rather it is about whether or not you are found in Christ.  Jesus says in the above verse that God isn’t our accuser, but rather Moses or the old covenant Mosaic Law.  Jesus identifies here the widely held belief that many place their hope in simply “being a good person”, rather than faith in Christ.   Ill-informed people place their trust in their own ability to keep the Law of Moses, but what they don’t realize is that everyone falls short.  The scripture tells us in Romans 3:10, that “there is no one righteous, not even one.”  The good news is that Jesus set us free from the Law of Moses; as it says in Colossians 2:14, that he having “canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”  As my friend Victor King says, “Christianity doesn’t teach you to be good, but it teaches you Jesus, who made you good.”  This might seem like strange advice coming from a pastor, but stop spending so much time trying to “be a good person” and instead, spend your energy on developing a relationship with Christ, regardless of your behavior.  This is where true freedom lies.

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Week 4 Devotional: Salvation made easy!

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn of among brothers.  And those he predestined, he also called;  those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:29-31)

This has become one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible.  For years I struggled trying to make sense of it, getting caught in all of the theological debates surrounding it.  But one day, I just opened to it and just read exactly what it said.  What a concept I had stumbled into – read the Bible for what it really says.  After that, the meaning just came alive and the message was so simple!  It’s simply saying that God knew us in advance, and he not only knew us, but that he also called us  – giving us a purpose (to be in Christ). But he didn’t just know us and call us; he also justified us, making us perfectly acceptable unto God.  That alone is unbelievable, but it goes on to say that He glorified us!  He allows us to participate in Himself and the fullness of His Kingdom forever.  Paul ends all of this by saying, in light of all of this, who can be against?

You are no accident, God thought of you, gave you a purpose, fulfilled your purpose through Christ, and threw you a party just because He loves you.  What else is there left for you and I to do, other than just to enjoy His goodness?  That’s what I call salvation made easy!

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