A Bad Example and The Apostolic Contrast

Five months ago Vision Forum Ministries (VFM) had to close its doors because of the sin of its founder and president, Doug Phillips.  Confessing to a “lengthy inappropriate relationship with a woman”, Phillips admitted that his sin was serious and “absolutely does merit my resignation” (World Magazine, April 5, 2014).

Sadly, this is only the latest in a seeming never ending list of outstanding Christian leaders who fall into this particular sin.  In the same issue World notes that it “had the sad task of running stories on Bill Gothard leaving his ministry” for the same reason.  It is not  necessary to document a list of such dreadful events, but important for us to confess that this is far too frequent in recent evangelicalism.

The presence of such sin among us should profoundly humble us.  We must be crying out to God for forgiveness and for the grace to resist this ever present temptation.  I join my brothers and sister in this urgent prayer, this cry for his enablement to help us overcome this particular sin.

At the same time I believe it is of great value to us to notice the kind of example the Apostles left us at this very point.   There is no evidence that any one of them ever fell into any kind of sexual mis-conduct.  As a matter of fact there is little to no evidence that any of the Apostles ever stepped aside into any kind scandalous mis-conduct.  Yes, Peter sinned when he temporarily refused to eat with gentiles, as indicated in Galatians 2:12. But this temporary relapse into his former Judaism was quickly corrected and does not compare to the marital infidelity so frequent in evangelical ministry today.

So, we really ought to be asking ourselves what kept the Apostles so unblemished of this particular sin, and for that matter, so unblemished of any notable or scandalous behavior.   I am convinced that there is a good answer here.  The Apostles were in the grip of RESURRECTIONISM!  They were so captivated by the BODILY RESURRECTION of Christ and its immense implications for their lives that they were held to holy living in the “iron grip” of the Holy Spirit.  The Savior’s RESURRECTION joined to his ASCENSION and sealed to their hearts by the baptism of the Holy Spirit kept control of their lives, using them to minister powerfully to their age of the church.  The word “awesome” should be reserved for these wonderful redemptive acts of God in Christ and then we should be bold to add that the lives of these men were filled with the “TRULY AWESOME” power of Christ the Lord to live as the Savior lived in loving obedience to God.

This is seriously lacking in our evangelical world today, and I am not accusing any of these fallen leaders of failing to believe in the RESURRECTION of Christ.  There is good evidence that most of these men do believe this great truth.  But it should be evident that they do not have the RESURRECTIONIST MENTALITY that characterized the apostles.  To the apostles the RESURRECTION of Jesus filled their minds and hearts with a wonder that never faded.  They saw the entire world from the perspective of his RESURRECTION.  The RESURRECTION was a grand radiance that flooded their lives with true light, the meaning of the cross, of forgiveness, of all the wonders of their salvation.  It held them spellbound for a lifetime.  That is why they could be true to their wives and true to every other duty in this life.

The light of the RESURRECTION so illuminated the law of God that they could see it as the only reasonable way of life.  Any other kind of behavior was pure foolishness, so obviously destructive that only a mad man would engage in it.  They were not heroes.  They were just smart.

My fear is that it is not just fallen ministry leaders who have lost this RESURRECTIONIST mentality.   It is a rare thing among us.  We see it here and there among God’s people, but we need to be praying that “radical RESURRECTIONISM” will become a prominent force among us.   It is the only road to restoration for fallen leaders, for dysfunctional families, for floundering churches.   Jesus baptized us with the Holy Spirit in order to make us this kind of joyful RESURRECTIONISTS.  Let’s open our hearts to this beautiful reality.



                                We become joyful “slaves to righteousness”

           When we come to personal faith in Jesus Christ we become “slaves to righteousness.”  That is what the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 6:18.  Paul makes it abundantly clear, however, that this kind of slavery is a great joy.  Paul uses the whole book of Romans to help us see that living in sin was a dreadful kind of slavery that was destroying everything beautiful in our lives and holding us in the most repressive bondage.  Being “slaves to righteousness” was the very opposite, it is a life full of the greatest joy.  God had created us in the Garden for this kind of joy, and by bringing us to faith in the Savior, he brought us back into that joy.

It was the BODILY RESURRECTION of Jesus that opened the eyes of the Apostles to this great joy.  Until they saw the risen Jesus, the apostles themselves still seemed to be under the bondage of sin.  They had been arguing about which of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God right up to the time when Jesus was betrayed by Judas.  Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus at the trial and we read that “then all the disciples left him and fled (Matt. 26:56).”  Sin still had a firm grip on them.  They were living for themselves and, let’s face it, that is simply “living in sin.”

Everything changed immediately and forever when they saw Him Risen, standing in front of them in that locked room.  Can we ever really get a hold on this wonder? – their seeing him for the first time, showing them his hands and his feet, asking them for some fish to eat, and then conversing with them as he had done so often before his death.   I am convinced that our preaching and teaching about this experience of the Apostles continues to fall far short.

CAPTIVATED is a word I want to use to describe the apostles and all the disciples who first saw him after he rose from the dead.  Even that is too weak a word.  The fact is that they had to be absolutely overcome with the wonder of His RESURRECTION and the wonder of what this would mean for them.  This is what genuinely and decisively broke the grip that sin had on them.  It is what enabled them to see their self-centered sinfulness as a dreadful offense against God and their Savior, enabled them to leave slavery to sin behind so that they could become “slaves to righteousness.”

Before they saw him risen from the dead, they had been no better than the Pharisees in one important sense.  Their arguing about which of them would be the greatest grew out of their Pharisaic idea of “earning salvation” or “earning God’s favor”.  They had the same legalistic mind-set as the Pharisees, thinking we are under obligation to earn our way into salvation by your good deeds; so they were competing with each other in this awful way.  This dreadful idea died forever when they saw the risen Lord standing before them inviting them to rejoice in his great victory over the grave.

I am sure that one of the reasons that the church was not immediately launched on the day he rose is that they needed time to absorb the sheer grandeur of the Savior’s RESURRECTION.  They needed those 50 days before Pentecost just to come to grips with their new situation, the RESURRECTION LIFE that God was giving them through the power of Holy Spirit.

The old LEGALISM of the Pharisees had always been wrong.  The 10 commandments were never meant to be a ten step ladder to Heaven by which we earned salvation.  Now the Apostles could see that the commandments had always been a guide for God’s children to see how they could best enjoy all the privileges that Jesus Christ EARNED for us by his death on the cross.  He is the one who alone could earn salvation.  He did it, and proved he had done it by rising from the dead.  We simply believe him, trust him for his provision, rest in his finished work.

As I have already confessed, CAPTIVATED is too weak a word – but it moves in the right direction.  We can understand it to mean that we are so overwhelmed with the wonder and joy of the RESURRECTION of Jesus that sin becomes a great ugliness to us and being “slaves to righteousness” is irresistibly attractive.  We want to love and obey our Savior with all our hearts.


                                               Resurrection Life is God’s Gift to Sinners

The bodily RESURRECTION of Jesus from the dead was a miraculous act of God, giving Jesus life when he was dead.  This was a redemptive act which God performed in the dead body of Jesus.  At the same time this miracle which God performed in Jesus is an illustration of what God must do to save us from our sin.  Because we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), God must raise us to new life in order to save us.   I am saying that our conversion is like a resurrection from the dead.  It takes an act of God to accomplish it.

This is another way of saying that we cannot save ourselves by our good works.  Jesus body was dead while he was lying in the tomb and we are “dead in sin” when God finds us in this world.  To be “dead in sin” means we can do absolutely nothing to “earn” our salvation.  When the Lord finds us in our dead condition, he must take the initiative to give us salvation, regeneration, Resurrection Life.

The idea that sinners can earn their salvation by good works is what we call LEGALISM.  I mentioned in blog  #6 that I was raised on LEGALISM. Both of my parents were trained to be legalists in their own homes, their church tradition and the Christian college they attended.  Then they trained us in this very wrong idea, believing they were being Biblical when they filled our minds and hearts with this terrible deviation from true Christianity.  They were teaching us “religion”, but it was religion completely lacking in the grace of God, completely lacking in the knowledge that God must give us new life, RESURRECTION life or we would never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

BEWARE!  I am about to give you my own opinion.  At the same time, however, I will strongly  insist, as gently as I know how, that LEGALISM is the single most powerful heresy in the world, and it always has been.  I was convinced of this sad fact through my experience with people while I was a pastor in the United States for 43 years.  I found numbers of people in my own congregation still living under the dreadful idea that they had to “earn” their way into God’s favor.   They had to do enough good deeds that they would balance out their bad deeds and thus earn their way into Heaven.  They lived in this mentality no matter what the Bible said or what their official church doctrine taught.

I had exactly the same kind of experience on the mission field.  Only now I was discovering that the LEGALISM that abounded in Christian churches also extended into other religions.  Islam is an unabashed system of LEGALISM, encouraging their people to commit jihadist suicide as the supreme act of earning their salvation with Allah.  What was dawning on me in this missionary context was that LEGALISM was worldwide.  I became convinced that for most people RELIGION and LEGALISM  are synonyms.  To be religious in any Faith is to be LEGALISTIC.  This is a road to moral and spiritual disaster.

A right understanding of the bodily RESURRECTION of Jesus destroys legalism. Let us thank God for the Apostles Peter and Paul who built their whole preaching/teaching of the gospel around the RESURRECTION of Jesus.  The entire New Testament is built on that great fact of our Redemption.  Biblical scholar G. R. Beasley Murray is remarking on this grand truth when he insists about Jesus that, “The glory of the resurrection event suffuses every hour of his ministry and even reaches back to the morning of creation.”

But how does the Resurrection refute LEGALISM?

            Simply by showing us the magnitude of what God had to do to save us.  He had to raise us from the dead just like he raised Jesus from the dead.  We were absolutely unable to do anything for ourselves because we were spiritually dead.  We could not lift a twig to earn our salvation.  God had to do it all.  The wonderful truth of the Gospel is that He did do it all.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit joined in a Holy conspiracy to give fallen sinners eternal life.  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!”



               The Inseparable Wonders of Redemption

              The RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST was a violent intrusion into human history.  God was the intruder.  He stepped into history by raising the body of Jesus from that grave. Up to this very point in history, man seemed to be in charge.  Now it was evident that God had always been in charge.

It is so important to recognize that the RESURRECTION did not stand alone.  The RESURRECTION  was, indeed, the grand climax in the story of Jesus Christ but everything he had already done was also of great significance.  His birth, his preaching, his miraculous healing, his raising of the dead – all of these remarkable actions in his life were leading up to this grand event.

Most significant of all was that series of acts which he performed at the end of his earthly life – his death on the cross to redeem us from our sins was not merely something evil men did to him.  Much more than that, it is what Jesus did for us, an absolutely indispensable work that this Son of God/Son of Man performed so that our sins could be forgiven.  The death of Jesus had to be inseparably joined to his RESURRECTION to secure our justification.  This is why these two events are joined in Romans 4:25, “…who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Two more acts of Jesus are just as inseparably joined to his death and RESURRECTION.  Those acts of Jesus are his ASCENSION TO GLORY and his OUTPOURING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT on the day of Pentecost.   In his ASCENSION TO GLORY Jesus presents us to God as forgiven sinners whom he purchased with his own blood, enabling us to live in eternal communion with him.  Because he died and rose on our behalf, he is able to present us to God for this glorious destiny.  Finally, we should see the OUTPOURING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT on Pentecost as the first grand magisterial act of our Lord Jesus, giving to us new life through the transforming grace of this blessed HOLY SPIRIT.

All four of these wonderful works of our Lord Jesus Christ are both absolutely inseparable from one another and absolutely indispensable to our salvation.   There really should not need to be any need to argue this point.  Simply to see how these four acts of our Savior fit together in scripture should be enough to convince us.  Of course it all remains a great mystery to us, but not the kind of mystery that a detective tries to solve in a novel.  It is a mystery like a sunset – so beautiful that we stand in awe, transfixed by its grandeur, amazed beyond words that God would love us so.

I have to go one more step.  While we are looking in amazed wonder at these four wonderful acts of redeeming love, we have one more event that is just as inseparably joined to these four.  It is the Second Coming of Christ.  The Second Coming is a still future event, but it is just as tightly attached to these first four as each of them are attached to each other.  The Second Coming is the ultimate climax of this awesome series of events that our Lord performs for us.  Through this grand climactic event, we will be carried by his grace into eternal communion with the living God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ exercises his Lordship over us by performing all five of these great acts of REDEMPTION in our behalf.  Please do not misunderstand me.  These are not the only things that Jesus does for us.  He is constantly at work in our behalf providing an infinite number of loving, caring acts in our behalf.  I emphasize these five because they are right at the heart of his gracious work for us.  They are like a deep fountain flowing from the depths of his infinite love for each of us, his adopted children.

How should we respond to this magnificent revelation of the Savior’s Redemption?  There can be no question that any true understanding of this wonder will produce in us the most profound thanksgiving, the deepest and purest kind of gratitude and love for our Savior.  We will be moved from our hearts to serve him, to honor him, adore and praise him with all our hearts. Our obedience to his commands will not be legalistic subservience but will flow spontaneously from our love for him.  This is a life-style that we should call RESURRECTION LIFE.