The Lordship vs. Free Grace Controversy

For several decades now, a battle has been going on in Evangelical Christianity between those who espouse what has come to be known as “lordship salvation” on the one hand, and on the other side, those who champion “free grace” as the only scriptural ground for receiving eternal life and having assurance of salvation.

The doctrine of the necessity of submitting to Christ’s lordship in order to obtain final salvation and entrance into heaven seems to have arisen out of the concern of many Chrisitan teachers and evangelists in the middle decades of the 20th century, as they saw the trend toward license and lukewarmness among believers who professed Christ as Savior.  Billy Graham, A. W. Tozer, and John MacArthur were just a few of the proponents of this lordship approach to the gospel of God.

Rising up against the apparent legalism of this emphasis on submitting to the lordship of Christ for salvation were teachers like Zane Hodges, who wrote “Absolutely Free” in 1989 as a response to MacArthur’s book, “The Gospel According to Jesus”, published the previous year.  Bob Wilkin, founder of Grace Evangelical Society, has written often and taught much against lordship salvation and in defense of “free grace theology”.

While both camps teach a measure of truth, it is regrettable that they have by their on-going rhetorical exchanges implied that their respective views are the only doctrinal positions to hold intelligently and consistently, that either you are in the lordship camp or then you must embrace the oppostion’s version of free grace teaching. As concisely as possible, given the enormity of  the subject, I hope to bring a few scriptures to bear on what I believe has turned into a false dichotomy between the two ideas, each seemingly sustained by a reaction to the other side, however well-intentioned and godly may be the respective protagonists.

The doctrine known as “lordship salvation” promotes in general a commitment to Christ, obedience to Him, and the need for perseverence in following Christ to the end of one’s life, in order for a soul to be finally saved.  Regrettably, this teaching blurs the distinction between salvation by grace alone and the call to discipleship, which are as distinct from each other as the parables we find in Luke 14. In verses 15-24, Jesus teaches the blessed truth of the role of God’s electing, compelling grace in the eternal salvation of souls, but in verses 25-35, it could not be clearer that discipleship is the subject.  To ignore the obvious change of subject between 24 and 25 would be to do violence to both the concepts of God’s grace and of our discipleship.  So, other than the fact that many who hold lordship salvation also incidentally teach the truth of unconditional election and security, and that they are rightly distressed at the lack of earnest discipleship among Christians, their lordship view in and of itself has little to commend itself in light of the word of God.

Now, “free grace theology” rightly warns against the lack of doctrinal integrity in the lordship view, but has its own blind spots. The most glaring of these blind spots is a chief proponent’s contention that “Faith in Christ is intellectual assent”. This teacher, Bob Wilkin, goes on to argue for his proposition in this way: “Stripped of its pejorative connotation, ‘intellectual assent’ is a good definition of what faith is. For example, do you believe that George Washington was the first President of the United States? If you do, then you know what faith is from a Biblical perspective.”  Both the premise and the argument supporting it could hardly be further from the truth of what faith really is.  For his camp, there are no examples of spurious or feigned faith found in the New Testament, and every occurence of the word “believe” is of necessity an account of a soul or souls receiving eternal life, no matter the context or commentary surrounding the term in the text. So, to them, Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8 was a genuine Christian from the day he heard the gospel, saw the miracles, and was baptized, in spite of Peter’s subsequent judgment of him as being yet “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity”, and having “neither part nor lot in this matter” of the Holy Spirit’s reception and indwelling. Furthermore, they would claim that the many who believed when they saw Jesus’ miracles at the feast in John 2:23-25 were necessarily saved eternally, although the divine commentary is that Jesus would not entrust Himself to them. Why not? Because they lacked the new birth and a new nature, and “He knew what was in man”, flesh “born of the flesh”, as He explained to Nicodemus immediately after the mistakenly-placed chapter break, in John 3:1-12.  It is not without cause that this version of free grace is often called “easy-believism”, for its teaching on the nature of faith is false and in some respects humanistic.

In order for faith to save the human soul, and to keep it by the power of God to the end, that faith must be supernatural in its origin, for natural belief in the accuracy of the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection will never bring about new creation life, repentance, or salvation from sin. It is for good reason that the scriptures speak of “unfeigned faith” (as well as of “unfeigned love”)¹, for it is not only possible, but sadly often the case, that believing is with hypocrisy or pretense. A simple word study would bear out the reality of the marked difference between a faith that is genuine and one that is pretended.²

It is only by being born again, being quickened (some have termed it “regeneration”), that genuine faith is even possible. Jesus referred to this truth when He told Nicodemus: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). “Seeing” here indicates spiritual eyesight, or faith, and must be distinguished from the parallel claim of the Lord a few verses later, that one not born again cannot “enter” the kingdom of God.  The scriptures teach us that new birth is the cause of life, and its effect is faith in the testimony of God as to His Son (John 1:12-13; I John 5:1; James 1:18).

New birth is both initiated and effected by God, and it is neither invited nor expected by man. So also with the quickening of Lazarus from the dead, by the sovereign call of the Lord Jesus from outside his grave. Lazarus’ resurrection was a lovely picture of the spiritual truth the Lord gave in John 5:21: “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will.”

This new nature gained through new birth very soon causes the quickened soul to feel the weight of the sin of the “old man”, and the believer repents, justifying God and accepting His counsel against himself as a sinner (Luke 7:29-30).  The “new man which according to God is created in truthful righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:20-24) now characterizes the Christian life. Godly obedience, perseverance in good works, and conformity to the Son are what God by His Spirit works in us and expects from us.³  This is quite distinct from the notion of a “lordship salvation”. This truth of new birth and new creation is also distinct from the wrong teaching of the “free grace” camp, which says that faith is no more than mental assent to facts.  For although the real believer may struggle and fail and sin often, and even languish in a backslidden state, yet he or she has (by virtue of a sovereignly effected quickening and the subsequent sealing of the Spirit) the innate desire and capacity for both “unfeigned faith” to overcome the world, and “unfeigned love” for Christ and the brethren.*

 

¹   I Timothy 1:5; II Timothy 1:5; Romans 12:9; I Peter 1:22

²   From HELPS Word-studies: anypókritos (an adjective, derived from alpha-privative A “not” and hypokrínomai, “to act as a hypocrite”) – properly, not a phony (“put on”), describing sincere behavior free from hidden agendas (selfish motives) – literally, “without hypocrisy” (unfeigned).    (Compare also Luke 20:20 for the word hypokrínomai in context.)

³   II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; Romans 8:28-30; John 15:1-8

*   I Peter 1:22-23; I John 3:23; 4:19 – 5:5

The Snare of Self-Conscious Christianity

The testimony of the Lord is best honored and served, and the body of Christ best built up, when and where Christians avoid the self-consciousness that necessarily goes along with an emphasis on what distinguishes them from other Christian groups.  Majoring on such distinctions is sectarian in spirit: one may as well say that “I am of Paul” or “I [am] of Christ”.¹  To give just one example, if you would say “Come to my church, because we have a great program of worship and service,” or if I should say to you, “Come meet with us, because we don’t have a program, but allow the Lord to lead in worship and ministry,” we both to a degree promote ourselves.  There is an inward focus in this natural tendency of ours, and it is thus we become sectarian in thought and word.

On the other hand, should believers in simplicity and humility make endeavor, as members of that “one body” of Christ, to hold to its Head, and to hold the truth in love, letting faith work by love, then souls who have “learned Christ”² will be attracted to nothing but Him who delights in being in the midst of His own “little flock”. Where much is made of the Lord Jesus, and self not entertained, the calm assurance of His presence may be experienced, for it is by the indwelling Spirit of God that the earnest saint will able to discern where the Shepherd’s voice would lead them, and where He can be enjoyed as among His own.³  It will be there that the sheep of Christ, in the enjoyment of being a part of that “one flock”, may find the peaceful pasture of His gracious provision.

 

¹   I Corinthians 1:10-13

²   I Corinthians 12:12-14; Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:15, 20-24; Galatians 5:6; Luke 12:32

³   John 10:1-30; Matthew 18:20

How Can Ye Escape the Damnation of Hell?

The subject of hell is not a pleasant one to consider. However, since the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of it more than any other teacher recorded in the Bible, we ought not to shun the topic, but rather to seek to learn and hold the truth as to it, and to warn souls of its terror. Most importantly, it ought to be our aim to justify God in His consignment of fallen angels and intransigent men to an everlasting hell, and to glorify God for sparing not only His elect angels, but also for saving so many millions of us humans from that place we all alike deserve.

We cannot cover all that the Scriptures teach on hell in a short article, but we can set forth the reality that its environment is characterized as a lake of fire and as outer darkness;¹ that its inhabitants will experience the timeless torment of both an internal “worm” (of conscious and consuming enmity) and an external “fire” (of judgment and wrath);² and that their everlasting occupation will be that of weeping, and of gnashing the teeth.³ We may assume that some of the language the Lord Jesus used to describe hell is figurative or pictorial, as in the experience of the rich man in Luke 16, because condemned spirits and men with resurrected bodies will no doubt experience sensation differently than we do who are alive on the earth. But it has been well said that figurative language like this “is the Lord’s picture, who meant to teach us [something] by it”,° and He did not mean to teach that men are either unconscious or annihilated in that terrible place of torment.

For those who believe and hold dear the Word of God, hell is a defined reality. What sometimes causes Christians difficulty is the permanence of that state, along with the impossibility of change or repentance in the utterly lost soul. Throughout the history of Christendom, these objections have fostered various false doctrines, such as soul sleep, annihilation of the soul, purgatory, and universalism.

A few observations on the nature of timeless permanence may be in order. While it is impossible for us to come close to comprehending it fully, it is not wrong for us to make an attempt at understanding the eternal state a little better. Our mortal bodies are necessarily bound to both space and time in this physical creation, but it is probable that neither our spirits nor our future resurrected bodies will be sensitive to duration of existence. There will be no conception of the future following the present. Even the past may seem current to the soul in hell, in all but actual state, for it is the passage of time in this life that allows memories to fade in our physical brains. I have no doubt that our spirits retain a memory of all the experiences and emotions and inclinations we’ve ever had (I Corinthians 2:11), excepting perhaps those that God may mercifully cause His saints to forever forget.  But while still alive on the earth, the imperfection of our physical brains hinder or limit the cognitive ability of our mind, which includes our spirit, and one needs only to refer to an infant or an Alzheimer’s patient to understand that.

Now as to the impossiblity of repentance in hell, we may be confident that there will never be a soul in hell that is inclined to repent and glorify God by it. One might try to object by pointing to the rich man and Luke 16, who desired that his brothers not come to where he was, requesting not that he himself be able to warn them, but that Lazarus might rise from the dead to move them to repentance. But in all this, he took for granted the impossibility of his own repentance or release from torment, and any regret he had  was over the loss of his comfortable life exchanged for torment in the flames of God’s judgment. Man simply will not repent except they are given new life and faith, so that the obstinacy of a perishing soul in this life simply continues in the next where time is no more. Think of Esau: he found no space for repentance because he was never thus inclined, but he regretted much the loss of the birthright blessing and benefit, lamenting it with careful tears (Hebrews 12:16-17). If souls are spared from going to hell and a lake of fire, which we all deserve, it is solely because they are brands plucked out of the fire, and not because of any inclination in their naturally evil hearts.

Think also of the earth-dwellers in Revelation 16, who, when punished to an extremity for their sins, still do not repent, refusing to give God glory, and moreover increase their blasphemy against Him. Consider the unrepentant abuser or abortionist or terrorist of our day, as well as their apologists and defenders. Why should we suppose it possible that the heart set against God in this life, be that life ever so many years long, should be softened once time ceases? Here, one experiences God’s mercies and his goodness that should lead to repentance, but every inducement and favorable environment that God has put in place here does not and will not cause souls to come to Christ. God, if we might put it this way, is left with one means by which to incline a man to himself, and that is to take the initiative and do the unilateral work of quickening, causing the soul to be born again through no inclination of its own. And we may say further, that if God does not quicken the souls of men (give them spiritual life) outside the realm of time, and we believe He will not, then men will in that timeless permanent state of things continue in their hatred for their Creator. That is what is portrayed in the term used by Jesus: “gnashing of teeth”. We may tend to think of gnashing of teeth to be similar in meaning to the phrase “gnawed their tongues for pain” (Rev. 16), but gnashing of teeth in the Bible consistently speaks of extreme hatred and an intense desire to destroy its object, were it possible.  So it will be with those unrepentant gnashers of teeth in that everlasting hell.

Perhaps we wonder about those whose apparent moral uprightness seems to make them unlikely candidates for condemnation. We cannot know God’s thoughts and purposes toward them, nor their thoughts toward God, and without a doubt, the Lord knows them that are His when all may be unclear to us. And it may be that He quickens many more souls, even at the eleventh hour, than we might imagine.  But this at least we can be certain of, that every soul in hell will be there because they hated God and despised His goodness until the end in this life, and will forever continue in that hatred in a permanent, timeless experience of damnation and darkness. No doubt this will be Satan’s everlasting demeanor as well.

It befits the character of a merciful and righteous God that He would grant the soul He must cast into hell a perfect understanding of why it must be there, while also removing a comprehension of the duration of the punishment. The torment of the flame that brings ungodly regret and weeping, and the undying worm of hatred that causes teeth-gnashing, take place in the eternal present, void of even a concept of time. Indeed, the “Judge of all the earth [shall] do right”(Genesis 18:25).

If you are fearful of hell for your own soul, come to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith this very day. He is waiting to redeem you and bring you to God through faith in His precious blood (Romans 3:20-26).

What a debt of gratitude we redeemed ones owe to the God who chose us in His mercy and saved us by His grace, in spite of the judgment we deserved!

 

¹   Revelation 20:15; Matthew 25:30

²   Mark 9:48

³   Matthew 8:12; 22:13

°    http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/darby/DOCTRINE/10021E.html

The heading is taken from the words of Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:33.

Woman – Glory of the Man

Addressing the subject of gender roles and gender identity from a Biblical perspective is fraught with peril in modern Western society, because Scripture truth on it has perhaps never been more unpopular.  For many decades, there has been a drive toward gender “equality” in the workplace, in government, at home, and in the church, and it seems that few Christians even question the values and principles of this “equal rights” movement. More recently, the line of demarcation between the sexes in our society has been blurred even further, to the extent that genderless clothing, women in military combat roles, and the transgender agenda are being pressed upon society for its toleration and eventual acceptance.

A godly Christian might well ask the question: “Why this movement toward a gender-neutral culture, and why now?”  I would submit that what began perhaps somewhat innocently with women’s suffrage over 150 years ago gained steam from there and has developed to a point where nearly all restraint has been cast off, and society is not the better for it. Meanwhile, Western Christianity has suffered from accepting these societal innovations. No doubt there has been a concerted effort by the powers of darkness in these last days to weaken the church’s testimony to the world and to the whole angelic realm, by bringing innovation and the resulting confusion into the historical relationship between man and woman instituted in the beginning by God.¹  The Biblical practice of ladies covering their heads (while men properly uncover) in worship has almost disappeared in the West, and women taking on church leadership and public ministry roles is commonplace. Could a spiritual person truly characterize these recent changes as “growing by the true knowledge of God”² in His assembly?

But let us now turn to the positive and edifying teaching of the Word of God in this matter. We find principles in the New Testament that give us to understand the simple truth, should our minds and wills be open to it. This wonderful subject cannot satisfactorily be reduced to a short column like this one, so I would like to focus on one aspect of it for now.

The Apostle Paul makes an amazing statement when he writes that “the woman is the glory of the man” (I Corinthians 11:7).  What does it mean for something to be the “glory of” a person?  Generally, the glory of a being or entity is the thing that brings out the excellence or the worth of its subject, displaying it before a particular audience. A “glory” is made apparent to that audience by means of either physical or spiritual perception, and is something the subject of that glory may rightly take pleasure in, subject to godly order. So, for example, when it is said that a woman’s long hair is a glory to her, it is not difficult for us to grasp that her long hair conforms with what is naturally excellent and praiseworthy as to her womanhood. Accordingly, she should not be ashamed of that glory nor hide it, except when it is appropriate that she cover her head and her hair because of a greater glory that ought not be eclipsed or usurped; that is, the glory of God on display in the man during prayer and ministry.³

It is normal that a man should enjoy appearing publicly with the woman he loves, for she is his glory, being the one who completes him. Could there be this natural glory for the man, or would his excellence be on display as the crown jewel of God’s creative work, had he not a wife to fulfill or complete him?  The notion of a man glorying in his own appearance or hair is unnatural, for it is his mate that he ought to glory in.  It is clear from the scripture passages we have noticed that the woman was made of and for the man (while the man now comes by the woman), and that the chain of typical glories was only complete when God brought the woman to the man as bone of his bone. Only then, after His work on the sixth day in creating Man male and female, did God pronounce His work of creation “very good” (Genesis 1:26-31).

The glorious mystery of Christ and the church,¹ as well as God’s display of His own manifold excellence before the universe,³ is compromised in the minds of those (including Christians) who bring their own thoughts to bear on the matter of gender roles and distinctions.  Let it suffice for us to maintain that God is always wiser than men, and that He has revealed to us His mind on the work of His own hands, the man and the woman. It will be for our blessing and enjoyment to submit in simplicity to God’s infinite wisdom. How blessed are we who are allowed the privilege of participating intelligently in a scene that brings such glory to God and to Christ.

 

¹ Read these scriptures together: Gen. 2:18-24; Eph. 3:8-11; 5:22-32; and I Cor. 11:3-10.

²  Colossians 1:10 JND trans.

³  I Corinthians 11:7-15

(This article was originally posted on March 10, 2016. Minor revisions have been made.)

The Reality of Hope

Someone may take issue with a phrase like the one in the heading above linking hope and reality. How can hope, or something hoped for, be realized in the present? Is “hope” not by definition an expectation of an event or condition in the future that is not yet “reality”?

It is true that the man of this world would hear only dissonance should he hear the terms “hope” and “reality” linked together.  But the Christian has Christ Jesus as his Hope, and the operation of faith in his soul substantiates (gives reality to) what he knows is ahead for believers: glory with Christ.¹  Genuine faith in Jesus is the absolute prerequisite for hope; where faith is either feigned or rejected, souls have nothing that can really be called hope, for they have not Christ, and are without God in this world (Ephesians 2:12). Their wish for a blissful hereafter has no substance, and is no more real than a dream that vanishes upon awakening.

The spiritual reality of the Christian’s hope brings with it the potential for very much practical enjoyment in the walk of faith. Here are a few things that are found where hope is doing its special work in the believer’s soul:

  • “We have been saved in hope” (Romans 8:24*).  Yes, we are “saved by grace through faith” from a hopeless existence and course through this world, and from its judgment, but God ordained that hope would characterize and attend that salvation, working perseverance in us while we await the “blessed hope” of the Lord’s coming. His coming at the rapture to catch His own away is referred to in the phrase “the hope of salvation”, and that hope is a “helmet” of protection for our minds from the distractions that can cause even believers to slumber spiritually.² “Every one that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:3*).
  • “We boast in hope of the glory of God . . . hope does not make ashamed” (Romans 5:2-5*). Because hope to a Christian is but “deferred certainty”, as some have put it, he has a right to boast with God-given confidence in the reality of coming glory that accompanies justification and full access by faith into his perfect standing in grace.  And it is impossible that this hope will go unrealized and leave a believer ashamed and lost, for God’s love for him, once so fully displayed at the cross of Christ, is now shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit, and there is no possibility of separation from that “everlasting love”.³
  • “Be always prepared to give an answer to every one that asks you to give an account of the hope that is in you” (I Peter 3:15*).  How would anyone ever think to ask a saint to give an account of his hope?  Because he or she lives like that’s all that’s worth living for! While it may be more common for an unbeliever in modern societies to marginalize or ignore the Christian that lives according to the hope of glory, rather than to inquire about that hope, we can be assured that they notice and have difficulty understanding the phenomenon. They will answer to God for their willful ignorance.

The Christian’s hope is something that cannot be feigned or counterfeited, as has often been attempted with faith, by subscribing to a legalistic or humanistic belief system.  Even love may be feigned through a variety of counterfeits from legalistic service to hedonistic sensuality.  But while the apostles repeatedly called attention to the possibility of feigned faith and feigned love,° there is in scripture no corresponding admonition to maintain an “unfeigned hope”.  It is assumed to be the real thing whenever it is found in a believer who confesses Christ. Would it not be virtually impossible for a person to speak of eagerly awaiting the Lord’s return were he not truly “saved in hope”?

The exhortation to the believer in Christ is this:  “Hold fast the confession of the hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23*).  This living hope in Christ, held fast and enjoyed, is that which affords the Christian both the desire and the energy to endure with patience till the coming of the Lord.

¹   I Timothy 1:1; Hebrews 11:1; Romans 8:17

²   Ephesians 2:1-9; Titus 2:13; I Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11

³   Romans 5:1-11; 8:28-39; Jeremiah 31:3

°   I Timothy 1:5 and II Timothy 1:5; II Corinthians 6:6 and I Peter 1:22

*   Scripture references given in the Darby translation.

Be At Peace Among Yourselves

The admonition to be at peace among ourselves in local gatherings of saints is a brief one (I Thess. 5:13), but it requires much spiritual exercise in the form of prayer, wisdom, self-judgment, and brotherly kindness (brotherly affection – philadelphia).  “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Romans 12:10).

Posted below is an audio recording of remarks made to a group of Christian young people at a Bible conference in St Louis on the subject of maintaining sincere love and affection for each other, and on the very real need for peacemaking at home and in the assembly, beginning early in life. “Let no one despise thy youth, but be a model of the believers, in word, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12 Darby translation).

Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God

On Saturday, October 27, 2018, a hate-filled gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh while a Jewish congregation was holding Sabbath (Shabbat) services, killing eleven worshipers and injuring seven more. This trajedy was the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history, and its shocking nature, as well as its implications for the Jewish comunity in the Western world, reverberated through the press and social media.

Condemnation of anti-semitism in light of this horrible massacre was certainly justified, and was almost universal, although it is noted by some that while Jew-hatred in the West is condemned across the political spectrum, the same cannot be said of the Western prejudices that Jewish people face who are in their homeland, defending it from their Middle Eastern enemies. It is probable that very many who now give lip service in opposing anti-semitism will in the not-so-distant future be indifferent to the Great Tribulation persecution that Jesus foretold would come upon the Jews, who are properly the decendents of the biblical nation of Judah.

How ought those Christians who love the God of Israel regard and respond to events like this, or more broadly, to enmity against Jews wherever they are found in the world?  In the Christian profession, attitudes toward the Jewish people range from indifference to emulation, advocacy, or solidarity, but perhaps relatively few seek to understand the mind of God on this important subject. Resorting to humanistic political reasoning is exclusive of seeking to intelligently understand the dispensational ways of God, as laid out in His word.

It is possible to grieve for and with the Jewish people when such hatred is displayed against them, without running ahead of God’s program for them. In due time, He will bring them through intensely deep tribulation before blessing a large remnant of all twelve tribes of Israel in sovereign grace, by which He will quicken millions of souls and establish them in their land for a millennium. As Christians, we ought to look forward with great expectation to that time, for we will be reigning with Christ in glory, enjoying His rightful exaltation over this world that crucified Him. Our primary business as Christians is to wait for the coming glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, while showing compassion to, and grieving over the injustices perpetrated on, all the “offspring of God” (Acts 17:29) because of the corruption of sin.¹

At the present time, God is dealing with all of mankind according to this framework: “Jews . . . Gentiles . . . and the church of God” (I Corinthians 10:32). The church (assembly) of God is made of both Jews and Gentiles (all who were by nature not Jewish) who have received the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and the “middle wall of partition” has been torn down by His mighty work on the cross.²  Not only is there no longer a wall between Jewish and Gentile believers, there is also no recognition by God of a different pattern of worship for Christians of Jewish heritage. We all know that the first Christians were Jews by birth, and God was patient with them as they continued their Jewish rituals, feasts, and even sacrifices for decades after Pentecost, but in the Epistle to the Hebrews, God makes clear that the era of Jewish tradition in the assembly of God was over. “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle”, and “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13). It seems evident that this reproach accompanies a leaving behind of all that pertained to the camp of religious Judaism. And this direction to separate themselves was given to believing Hebrews after the writer of the epistle goes to great lengths to show how that Jesus Christ is better in every way than the shadows and figures that the Law of Moses prescribed.

Let me hasten to make clear that there is nothing wrong with a Jewish believer in Christ having an interest in and a gratitude for his or her heritage as a child of Israel, any more than it would be wrong for me to have similar sentiments for my lineage that goes back almost exclusively through the Swiss and German Anabaptists. But neither case, neither heritage, justifies a sectarian communion or a differentiated program of worship, and Colossians 3:11 (among other passages) makes that abundantly clear: “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”

A regrettable incident took place in the days after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Vice President Mike Pence, an unabashed Christian, invited a rabbi from the Messianic Jewish group “Jews for Jesus” on stage at a campaign event to pray for the fallen Jewish worshipers and for their families, and for the United States as a nation. The Messianic rabbi, Loren Jacobs, invoked his “Lord and Savior Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah” in his prayer.  The Vice President was strongly criticized by the Jewish community for this incident, and while his motive may have been commendable, his understanding was faulty, and the backlash he received online and in the press should not be surprising to an instructed Christian. It is wonderful that many Jewish people have come to faith in their Messiah in recent decades, but there is still, twenty centuries after Pentecost, a real need for them to leave that attractive legal system of worship and religious identity in order to enjoy spiritual maturity as members of the body of Christ. God now sees them that way, as the scriptures make plain.

Judaism and Christianity ought not be conflated, for the Christian faith and its spiritual worship is not compatible with Jewish worship.³  The Lord Jesus taught this by parable in Luke 5:36-39: “No man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.”  We see the “bottles” of Judaism and Christianity both compromised when men try to bring them together or bridge the gulf between them, whether for political or sentimental reasons, or even to mitigate the reproach of Christ that usually accompanies the conversion of a Jew to Christ. No doubt new Jewish believers of the both the first and the twenty-first centuries tend to feel that “the old is better”, and God is patient with that sentiment, but at the same time, His desire is that they come into the full enjoyment of the better things* of Christianity.  The path of an ethnic Jew that believes on Jesus and embraces the simplicity of biblical Christianity is often not an easy one, but our God is so patient and merciful, and His grace is sufficient for it. He has promised it would be.

 

¹   Matthew 24; Ezekiel 36-37; Revelation 20

²   Ephesians 2:11-22

³  Philippians 3:1-11; Hebrews 13:15-16

*   The Epistle to the Hebrews uses the term “better” many times to distinguish between the old (Mosaic legal system) and the new (Christ and Christianity).