Last week I locked horns with a Baptist. A "once saved always saved" pastor of a larger congregation in eastern Kentucky eyed some books I was reading, and the inevitable discussion on eschatology ensued. Invoking the lame "agree to disagree" appeal, he terminated the largely one-sided discussion with this observation: "In the end, all that matters is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
This pastor was dead wrong: in the end, all that matters is that our God is glorified! It is not about me: it's all about Him!
Where did mainstream Christianity start to go wrong on the focus of our faith? The self-focused "acceptance of Jesus as our personal Savior" mantra has been preached with little resistance for a generation now. Why?
The Gospel of Personal Salvation
When I was a teenager, I loved to sing Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow around the campfire at our local Christian camp. Let's look at the lyrics of the verses, which I will address in this blog and podcast:
Yesterday He died for me, yesterday, yesterday
Yesterday, He died for me, yesterday
Yesterday He died for me, died for me
This is history
Today He lives for me, today, today
Today He lives for me, today
Today He lives for me, lives for me
This is victory
Tomorrow He comes for me, He comes, He comes
Tomorrow He comes for me, He comes
Tomorrow He comes for me, comes for me
This is mystery
Where in the Bible do we read that Jesus died for me personally, lives for me personally, and will return for me personally? The last verse poses another question:
O friend do you know Him, know Him, know Him
O friend do you know Him, know Him
O friend do you know Him, do you know Him
Jesus Christ the Lord, Jesus Christ the Lord
Jesus Christ the Lord
What is the "knowing" that the songwriter refers to?
The prevalent gospel today can be boiled down to: "Accept Jesus into your heart, and you will go to Heaven." This is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Savior did not come to redeem all mankind by becoming the final sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. All believing humankind was not His "peculiar treasure" (Psalms 135:4) or a "royal priesthood" (1st Peter 2:9). It is the dominant ravening wolves that teach this nonsense to the masses (Matthew 7:14-15).
The Misplaced "Me"
The Bible records that the children of Israel sang with Moses a song:
The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:2)
It was the children of Israel for whom Jesus came (Matthew 10:6, Matthew 15:24) and the Bible nowhere describes a salvation process where the promises of redemption, justification and restoration is extended to all human beings on planet earth. He came to "make ready a people [the children of Israel] prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:16-17). This may sound harsh, but it needs to be said: you may love that old song, and you may love the God of Abraham, but unless you are the literal children of Israel you cannot apply these salvation promises to you. You've opened someone else's mail.
It is precisely because it is not all about everyone individually that all humankind is blessed and rewarded in the Kingdom of God (Genesis 22:17-18) according to His Plan. Not all peoples were the people who were led by Moses out of Egypt and across the wilderness. Not all peoples agreed to the terms and conditions given at Mt. Sinai, and became the Bride to Yahweh. Not all human beings on spherical planet Earth lined up to be baptized - in confirmation of covenant - while the Gospel was being preached to the nations 2000 years ago. Nor can some kind of universal spiritual gospel equivalency be applied to all humankind everywhere, because we find it nowhere in the Bible. This false gospel is a made-up myth, preached by often well-meaning mainstream Christian leaders.
The Gospel of John brings much clarity here. John the Baptist, who was called "the greatest among men" by our Savior, said:
He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. (John 3:30-31)
Does it sound like this great servant of God believed salvation was personal, and that - in the end - a personal relationship with Jesus is all that matters?
He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. (John 3:29)
John the Baptist rejoiced as a friend of the Bridegroom (Yahweh) because the bride (Israel) was standing and hearing the voice of her Husband. His was a servant role, which was performed with great sacrifice. The focus was on the Master - not himself.
Did Jesus Die for You?
You may know His Voice but not be the "sheep of the other fold" (John 10:4, John 10:7, John 10:16, John 10:26-27). It was Israelites (who alone were called "sheep" in the Bible) lined up for baptism by John because they knew His Voice. They were the Bride through Covenant.
Even if you are literal descendant of Jacob/Israel, you are not counted as Israel unless you are also righteous and obedient as Isaac was righteous and obedient (Romans 9:7). Note that the Apostle Paul referred to the Roman recipients of his letter as being Israelites (Romans 9:10). Moreover, Paul specified the Israelites "in the flesh" as being the sole potential recipients of the promises (Romans 9:3-5).
By the way, are you sure you want to be one of the "people of promise" spoken of by the prophets? After all, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). It was thus a twofold requirement: The fleshly seed of Abraham and the covenant recipient of "the promise" through Isaac - that the scope of the prophecies applied. Do you love God so much that you would be willing to physically sacrifice your children?
These "people of promise" were to unconditionally obey Yahweh, or face being scattered (Deuteronomy 4:27, Deuteronomy 28:64, 1 Kings 14:15, Nehemiah 1:8, etc.) If they did not obey God, they were to face sickness, slavery, madness and poverty (Deuteronomy 28). They were to " glory in the Holy One of Israel" in both battle and times of peace. They are able to "show the former things" to defiant people (Isaiah 41:22). These were a people designated specifically by the God of Abraham to be a priestly people, forsaking everything else. Unless the Bible is not the Inspired Word of God, these are the people that Christ died for.
You will not find righteous "the people of promise" glorifying other gods, practicing homosexuality, eating unclean things, engaging in interracial marriage or endorsing any world view or people which is antagonistic to the Kingdom. According to the Bible, there is an ethnically distinctive people characterized by these things, and it is for these people alone that Jesus Christ died for. Yeshua - who was born under the Law - died for the people that were under the Law.
When is the last time you heard this preached from the pulpit?
As is often pointed out by Christian academia, "Personal salvation is the restoration of our original communion with God." (source) By "our", all mankind is meant in orthodox Christianity. But Adam was not the first human being, nor was all mankind ever given the Law (thus facing the consequences of sin). If "it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philemon 2:12-13) then we have the concept of election, and - according to the Apostle Paul - not everyone is among the elect.
It is often taught that if nothing unclean can enter the Kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:5) then we have the concept of individual choice. However, it is also assumed that all humankind was made in His Image (and thus can be "restored" to some original state which has been lost). Since all human beings were not made in His Image, there is not necessarily a "divine essence" of the Creator in all human beings.
If God will have all human beings "come to the knowledge of truth" (1 Timothy 2:4) then why is it the nature of many peoples to be perpetually in opposition to Him? If God will draw all human beings "unto Me" (John 12:32) then why are other faiths increasing, while the Christian faith is decreasing?
Are you the "me" in "Christ died for me?" Mainstream Christianity teaches that the answer is an unconditional "yes!" But the Bible does not teach this. Like so many of the errors we find in Judeo-Christianity today, we find the opposite is actually the truth!
Does embracing the truth about individual salvation place one outside of orthodox Christianity? Absolutely. Hard as it is, we change the prevailing understanding regarding personal salvation. It's my hope and prayer that we need not face sickness, slavery, madness and poverty in order for us to do what must be done.
By the way, I often hear silly phrases like: "make Him King in your life today!" But - if you are among the elect - how can you make Him king if he already IS the sovereign King? His Kingship is not dependent upon your accepting Him as King. Here is another silly phrase: "Accept Him into your heart today!" (it's always "today"). Believer, you'd better pray that HE ACCEPTS YOU! More on this Christian arrogance and self-centeredness later.
Here is the take-away: Christ came for a people: not for you as an individual. If you are among "the people of promise" then He died for you. If you are not, then His death on the Cross for His Bride opens up eternal blessings in His Kingdom for you in potentially different ways.
Just because Jesus may not have died for you does not mean that He does not love you! Praise Him, glorify Him and - most of all - OBEY HIM! Believe His Word. Accept what is true, and reject what is not. Regardless of any personal reward, He alone is the everlasting King, Judge and Lawgiver who Rules over all Creation. Regardless of who you are and where you came from, your glory is found in His Glory.
Does Jesus Live for You Today?
There are those that teach that Jesus not only satisfied the Law by His living 2000 years ago, but also continues today to satisfy the Law in His present living:
You see, for many years I knew that Jesus had died for my sins and that by believing in Him I would be saved. However, I thought that I had to do good things and live up to the Law in order to be pleasing to God...
You see, Jesus is my substitute not only in His death but in His life too. (Ben Baker, PM Notes)
Indeed, Jesus does not "live for you today" in this sense - unless He failed to do what He came to do. In other words, if Jesus is "living for you today" then you believe we are still under the blood of bulls and goats, and we are not New Covenant Christians! Either Jesus has put away the consequences of sin, or He has not. Worse, this idea propagates the idea that we are incapable of obedience, that only He can be obedient in our place. Moreover, it denies the current working of the Holy Spirit in us.
If we are "in Christ" then we are a new creature, and we are no longer servants of sin, but servants to righteousness (Romans Chapter 6). We are a "new creature" not because of what Jesus is currently doing, but because of what he has done; He put away the elements of the old Mosaic Law that "led unto death" (Galatians Chapter 3). Paul said "... I through the law am dead to the law" (Galatians 2:19) The Law thus provided both the curse and the redemptive answer to disobedience. Jesus - who was born under the Law - irrevocably provided that answer: those elements of the Law that "led unto death" were satisfied by His Atoning Blood.
We used to teach this New Covenant assurance, but old Gnostic teachings like this keep popping up in our doctrine. The Gnostic idea that anything fleshly is incapable of being a vessel of righteousness has forever been addressed by the atoning work of Jesus - who Himself was God in the flesh! Paul said:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Paul, who was an Israelite, writing to the elect in Galatia, confirmed the correlation of the eternal sacrifice of the Lamb of God nearly 2000 years ago with his then-current salvation. Which leads us to another verse of the song: is He coming again in the future for me?
Is He Coming Tomorrow for Me?
Regardless of your eschatology, you won't find anywhere in the Bible that Jesus is to come for anyone personally. In His Coming there is indeed reward for "every man" (Matthew 16:27, Revelation 22:12) both good and bad. The reasons for Jesus' prophesied return were to:
- Appear a second time without sin unto salvation for those that are looking for Him (Hebrews 9:28)
- Destruction of the first-century temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1-51)
- Provide Israel's inheritance: the Kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46)
- Judge the wicked (Matthew 16:27, Revelation 22:12, Revelation 20:11-15)
- Judge "Satan" and "his angels" (Revelation 12:6-9)
- So that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
- Establish the Eternal Kingdom (Revelation 21:1-4)
As we can plainly see, Jesus' return is not all about me. And, if Jesus has not yet returned, there is no current eternal Kingdom (government) which is Israel's inheritance. If Jesus has not yet returned, the old temple should still be standing, and we are not currently blameless before our God. According to the writer of Hebrews, the first-century believers (which were then being persecuted) were depending on the event for their salvation 2000 years ago.
The Kingdom of God is never depicted in the Bible as being Heaven; it is depicted as being from Heaven.
The Kingdom of God is not all about being nice, but exercising authority, power and dominion. The Gospel of the Kingdom is not about telling everybody that Jesus died on the Cross so they can go to Heaven, but instituting His Government here on earth, as it is in Heaven. It's revolution. (source)
Does this Kingdom exist, or not? Is Israel still waiting for their Kingdom? Did the first century believers see their salvation, or not? Jesus said that these things would happen in His generation (Matthew 24:34, Matthew 23:36) and all the New Testament epistles confirmed a first-century expectation of fulfillment. Did Jesus fail, and did the Inspired writers of our New Testament epistles get it wrong? Of course not! As a result, the "Second Coming" is a historical event, and we are now under the New Covenant.
Most assuredly, Jesus is not coming again for me in any sense, and the Last Days prophecies made by the prophets of Israel were made to Old Covenant Israel: not to me personally.
Do You Know the Lord?
One almost never hears this question without it being followed with something like: "Accept Jesus as your personal Savior today!" Implicit in this statement is that those who have "accepted Him" and "know Him" uniformly enjoy levels of serenity, understanding and wisdom which would not only be otherwise be unattainable, but very personal indeed. It boils down to needing only to sign on the dotted line, and you are in an exclusive club where everybody behaves, knows and understands similarly. But - in mainstream Christianity - it is certainly far from true that all "knowing" Christians behave, know and understand similarly!
Truth be told, I've been unjustifiably and unceremoniously dismissed many times by people who claim to "know the Lord." People who "know the Lord" say and write profoundly conflicting things. You would think that people who claim to "individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord" and who "know and experience God's love and plan for [their] life" would hold to consistent doctrine. Clearly, mainstream Judeo-Christianity does not understand the difference between believing and knowing.
How do can you work with any person claiming to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, or under some "anointment" while they are also saying and doing things inconsistent with Scripture and observable truth? For instance, what of those professing believers claiming to "know the Lord" who are Zionists, and promote the outright butchering of Palestinians through phosphor bombing? When professing believers "invite God to guide and direct [their] lives" do they then support a pre-emptive nuclear strike upon Iran?
If you pray the "prayer of faith" do you really begin a "personal relationship" with God, and have a guaranteed "knowing" of God's "wonderful plan" for your life? People, these are just foolish words; they have no real meaning. It's evangelical marketing. It's the assembling of attractive words into palatable catch-phrases which appeal to those disinclined to roll up their sleeves and really dig into the real meaning and purpose of life in Christ.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not schizophrenic. There is no room for a person claiming to both experience a "deep love of God" and support anything which is demonstrably contrary to the God's Law.
To know God, surely one cannot be self-focused. Conversely, if one is self-focused, it's a sure bet they do not know God. Don't think for a minute that the adversary hasn't figured this out. Where the are huge egos, there is a "kick me!" sign taped to the backside. This brings us to the next point: it is likely in academia where we find the biggest egos.
It's been argued that a focus on personal salvation began a few decades ago as Christian leaders sought to motivate individuals on a "personal level" because the Christian faith seemed cold and disconnected from the everyday world. Tragically, we now see a move to make a personal application for every sermon, and to simplify the Bible language of belief, confession, repentance and even baptism down to "accept Jesus into your heart." (example)
I lay the blame for this at the feet of Christian academia. However well-meaning, our Christian colleges and universities are cranking out preachers who know little more than this watered-down drivel. While doing this, they defend themselves as would any self-perpetuating priesthood.
A couple of months ago I received an email invitation to participate in an online discussion concerning a series of books by prominent Preterist author, John Noe, who is a Ph.D. I did challenge Noe on several problems concerning his attempt to use a "synthesis approach" to build a more-or-less fulfilled view on eschatology (which amounts to a smorgasbord-style selection of what makes sense, and what doesn't).
Not surprisingly, Noe demonstrably failed to address my challenges (which he himself solicited). Having met Noe personally, and having read several of his books, I went into this knowing what lay ahead. But one reviewer said it best: "I just can't see past arrogance being your problem."
It is not arrogant when one can back up a claim. It's confidence. And, indeed, I have backed it up. The uniqueness of my synthesis approach in my book and theological paper (both titled, "Unraveling the End"), and in Church history has been demonstrated, tested, and proven at the highest level of scholarship - the Ph.D. dissertation level. (John C. Noe)
It truly is not arrogant to be able to back up a claim. But it is arrogant to appeal to one's academic credentials in lieu of actually backing up a claim. In my case, as an example, Noe was decidedly unable to defend his claim that the Greek (hellen) recipients of the first-century Gospel must be non-Israelites.
Noe's Challenge: Thirdly, in Gal. 3:28 and Rom. 3:9 the word translated as "Greek" or "Gentiles" is "hellen" and not "ethnos." "Hellen" would be a "non-Jew, " would it not?
My Response: No! Hellen can very much include Israelites! For example, consider John 7:35:
The Jews then said to one another, "Where does this man intend to go that we will not find Him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion (G1290) among the Greeks (G1672) and teach the Greeks (G1672) is He?
Strongs G1290: "Diapsora: of Israelites dispersed among foreign nations"
Noe simply ended up bunting with a "concern" that I was promoting an "exclusivist model of God's redemptive plan" and terminated the discussion with no further comment. He knew my response logically forced a reassessment of his universalist interpretation of the Gospel. But it's not just Noe; it's nearly every author and teacher in any discipline I have encountered with a heavy academic background. These are people who can be tenured into a system they cannot (or will not) depart from. In Christian academia, the altar is very often the denominations, the creeds and patristic writing.
It seems nearly everyone (Christian and non-Christian alike) believes there is equivalency between higher academic degrees and common sense. I have discovered that the opposite is often the case. Knowledge is not wisdom! Neither is intelligence analogous with knowledge and understanding.
Academic egotism can be another way believers have become self-focused. It's what we've been taught. What better word can be used to describe this phenomenon than inbreeding?
Inbred: Fixed in the character or disposition as if inherited; deep-seated: an inbred distrust of radicalism.
Christians are constantly being asked by academics to believe things that don't make sense. These academics don't hold themselves accountable to anybody other than their own peers, and their hubris has found its way into the untutored sitting in the pews.
If I were to ask a question, how would you answer in one sentence?
Why do you love God?
I asked this question recently of Michael Allen, a THEKINGDOMNOW.ORG contributor. His quick response was "He established the Law." This is the perfect answer; it is the way a priest for the Kingdom of God would respond. Without God's Law and his Government this world would be "without form and void." This is the way the Hebrews would have answered. It's certainly how King David would have answered:
O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. (Psalms 119:97-100)
I'm sure most mainstream, "fundamentalist" Judeo-Christians would answer very differently with: "He died for me on the Cross [so I can go to Heaven]." The difference is not subtle; the focus here (and even the condition) for loving God is based on what He can do for them individually.
There is no kind way to say this: the arrogant and obnoxious world view we as an elitist, imperialistic nation have is born of our own self-centered faith - not of understanding and obedience to our sovereign King. We're not seeking knowledge and wisdom, but individual acquisition and comfort.
Mainstream Judeo-Christians, with their half-baked, inharmonious doctrine of personal salvation have become have taken on a cult character. To even question their unbiblical message of personal salvation will quickly isolate you from their midst. What delights this crowd is not the critical need for reason and human justice, but what is in it for them.
It's become Christianity "on the take." Scale this problem up nationally to our world view and our foreign policy, and I wonder what's next.