“De Oppresso Liber”

clip_image002 “De oppresso liber”, commonly translated “to liberate the oppressed” is the motto of U.S. Army Special Forces. The phrase stems from the exploits of World War II Office of Strategic Services Jedburgh/Sussex Teams operating behind the lines in France. Colonel Aaron Bank, father of United States Army Special Forces, and his teams enabled the French Resistance to grow and oppose the occupying German Army.

Although the phrase “to liberate the oppressed” might not be an exact grammatical and literal translation, the point is well made. Liberating oppressed peoples has always been a primary goal of U.S. Special Forces.

Perhaps one of the greatest symbols of oppression in the history of mankind was the Berlin Wall. We were stationed in Berlin between 1984 and 1987. When we were stationed in Berlin in the late 80’s, we were able to capture a picture of a small part of the Wall that depicted the goal of German people living on both sides:

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The need to liberate oppressed peoples is nothing new, nor is it a goal or mission reserved for the temporal realm.

God raised up the Prophet Isaiah to accuse the leaders of a rebellious nation of not caring for the oppressed and remind them of their obligations as rulers:

“Learn to do well:
seek judgment,
relieve the oppressed
judge for the fatherless,
defend the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

Perhaps the most significant of the church fathers, Augustine of Hippo recognized that liberating those who are oppressed was one of the solemn responsibilities of pastoral ministry. In a sermon celebrating the anniversary of his ordination as a Bishop he eloquently described how he saw his duties:

“The turbulent have to be corrected,
The faint-hearted cheered up,
The weak supported;
The Gospel’s opponents need to be refuted,

Its insidious enemies guarded against;
The unlearned need to be taught,
The indolent stirred up,
The argumentative checked;

The proud must be put in their place,
The desperate set on their feet,
Those engaged in quarrels reconciled;
The needy have to be helped,

The oppressed to be liberated,
The good to be encouraged,

The bad to be tolerated;
All must be loved.”

(St. Augustine, Sermon 340,3: CChr.SL 194, 920.)

Oppression has many faces and affects all levels of society. The list of oppressors and oppressed people groups is too long to try and list here. At the same time, alleviating varying types of oppression (or perceived oppression), both from America’s past and existing today, has become a priority and matter of debate in secular society as well as the church. ‘Social justice’ issues have been declared by some to be integral to the message of the gospel itself instead of an outcome of having embraced the gospel that Christ died for our sins.

All of the above aside for a moment, I would like to ask you a question, and here it is:

“What is the single most dangerous and cruel form of oppression that has existed throughout the history of mankind and still exists today?”

I’ll give you a hint or two.

  • It exists in every country/nation on Earth and has affected every person that has ever been born since the fall of Adam.
  • It’s not oppression between people or groups of people,
  • It has eternal consequences.

(Insert 30 seconds of quiz show music……….)

And the answer is……………SIN.

The greatest oppression that has ever existed in the history of humanity is sin’s oppression of every single person born after the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve were created with a desire to please God, but also with the ability to disobey. Disobey they did, with disastrous results to follow and affect everyone ever born thereafter.

The Bible tells us about those who are lost to God and separated from Christ by sin:

The lost are slaves to sin.

“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.” (Rom 6:16)

The lost are also spiritually dead.

The Apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus that

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—” (Eph 2:1-2)

The lost are condemned already.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18)

That’s a really short list of passages that speak of the oppressed condition of all those separated from God and apart from Christ by sin. Perhaps the harshest description of the lost in the entire Bible is something else Paul told believers in Ephesus:

The lost are the “children of wrath”.

“…we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph 2:3)

No earthly oppression can ever compare to the oppression caused by the sin that is in the world that resulted from the disobedience of the first Adam. And there are many who live their happy and content lives oblivious of their condition in abject slavery to that sin.

But there is GOOD news! We don’t have to despair!

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

This is the very reason Christ came to Earth so long ago – “to seek and save that which was lost”. That was His mission on earth – the mission that was announced to His earthly father Joseph:

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21)

“De Opresso Liber”

Sinner, Save THYSELF?

I asked a question instead of making a statement for a reason. If I ended the title with a period or exclamation point, a lot of folks might end up with apoplexy (cerebral hemorrhage). After all, I doubt that a believing Christian of any stripe (Calvinist, Arminian, Calminian, or otherwise) would dare suggest that we save ourselves. Also, at the end of the day, my personal opinion is not relevant. Thus, the question.

But ‘WHY the question?’, you might be asking. Well, I’m going to tell you why I ask it.

You see, concerning the salvation of lost men, there are only a few conceivable options concerning who does what leading up to someone actually being saved. The ‘actors’ involved are but two, God and lost sinners. Our options:

1. God saves us (sinners) all by Himself.

2. God saves us with our help.

3. We save ourselves with God’s help.

4. We save ourselves all by ourselves.

Of those four options, let’s get rid of No. 4, that we save ourselves all by ourselves, which seems to be a ridiculous idea. It’s not new and was actually articulated the 5th Century by a man named Pelagius (and his chief disciple Celestius) who taught that we are quite capable of living holy lives without God’s help – that the human will at birth is not inclined toward either good or evil, and whether we perform good or evil acts is a matter of unencumbered free will decision. We do what we do based on decisions we make, apart from anything outside of us pushing us in one direction or the other. We literally can ‘save ourselves’.

That leaves us with three remaining options. Let’s look at No 3. – that we save ourselves with God’s help. That option takes into consideration the sequence of actions that take place on the road to salvation, specifically that while God sent Jesus to die for our sins, it’s our free will decision that makes salvation a reality in our lives. In other words, God made it possible for us to be saved by the death of His Son, but we close the transaction with an act of the human will. I think there’s a bit of sound logic here, but I don’t know anyone who would sign up to the idea.

On to No. 2, that God saves us with our help. I think this is by far the prevailing opinion of most evangelicals, although we balk at the idea of ‘helping’ God save us. You could call it the ‘fallback’ position from No. 3, since we would never actually say we save ourselves, but at the same time, a human free will decision to follow Christ is still in play, as the deciding factor in our salvation. God did 99% of the saving, with our free will decision being only 1%. God did His part, now we do our part. That sounds good, but if we ‘contributed’ anything to our salvation, don’t we have ‘reason to boast’, whether we do or not? If yes, that would be a violation of Eph 2:8-9.

So…….that leaves us with No. 1, that God saves us all by himself. The other 3 options have been eliminated. You can believer that, or we can play at being ‘hypothetical’ and assume No 1 is the truth of the matter. IF No.1 is the truth of the matter, what does that have to say about our receiving Christ as Savior? It goes without saying that a human decision of some sort is involved, does it not?

Let’s get hypothetical again. IF a human decision is involved in the salvation transaction (and let’s assume it is), and IF a strictly human decision would give us reason to boast (prohibited), what does that say about our decision to follow Christ? Does it mean that God is the source of our decision?

Well, IF there are two ‘actors’ in our little scenario, God and a sinner, and IF the sinner can’t take credit for his decision, God, by default, must have brought about the decision. Not only that, God must have done something so powerful that when faced with the truth of the gospel message, the sinner’s greatest desire in this life is to say ‘yes’ to Jesus! What happened?

I think it was a ‘God’ opened heart! We see the perfect example in Acts chapter 16, with the conversion of Lydia in Philippi. Lydia listens to message of the gospel presented by the Apostle Paul, God opens her heart to really pay attention to Paul’s words, and Lydia is saved and baptized. Read the story for yourself.

God opens hearts to hear the gospel in order to save sinners, and God never fails. When sinners with God opened hearts hear their condition in sin, along with God’s solution in Jesus Christ, lost sinners run to the cross!

So there you have one old soldier’s thoughts concerning our starting question “Sinner, save THYSELF?”

I would love to hear comments, thoughts and questions.

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him – by Mike Ratliff

by Mike Ratliff, at Possessing the Treasure

41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:41-44 (NASB)

One of the aspects of our Christian faith that we lose sight of sometimes, and it gets us in trouble when we do, is how vital it is that we remain totally amazed that we ever got saved at all. We make a huge error when we forget this because that path leads to self-righteousness, self-absorption, and an ungrateful heart towards God. Even though we may not be fully aware that we are in that place of self-focus, we cannot be Spirit-led when we are full of self.

“God works in people’s hearts by sovereign grace, taking away their imperviousness to his word, taking away their inability to respond to that word, and changing the disposition of their hearts so that instead of saying “Nonsense” when they hear the word of Christ, they say, “That’s just what I need,” And they come.
Are you a Christian? A believer? Then you came to Christ because you found yourself willing, longing, desirous, wanting to, as well as, perhaps, not wanting to but knowing you must. How was that? It was because God worked in your heart to give you this desire. He changed you. It was his irresistible grace that drew you to the Savior’s feet. Praise him for it! It was one expression of his love to you.” – From: To All Who Will Come pp 184-185 by J.I. Packer

Even the most mature Christians are in great need of reflecting on the cross and what an astounding act of grace it is on God’s part to offer up His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross as a perfect sinless sacrifice, The Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of all those who will come. Not only has God provided the way to eternal life through the Son, He also draws His people to Him in such a way that they believe and repent in total surrender to the Lordship of Christ. Those who were God’s enemies who considered the cross as “Nonsense” and Christianity as, at best, a pie in the sky religion that is only the “Opiate of the Masses,” come to Him as the Father draws them. All who come are His and He will raise them up on the last day.

Yes, all of us are in great need of seeing our salvation from God’s perspective. The current trend in the 21st Century in some parts of the visible Church is for the focus to be on being a Christian for temporal gain or to gain God’s favor through being a Social Justice Warrior. However, those who see the truth of their sin and totally lost condition until God saved them will not consider this life to be the focal point of it.

31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:31-34 (NASB)

The part many have a problem with in this passage is in their own experience of not having what Jesus lists here as being added to them. The part that is misunderstood here though is that the condition is that they must first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness then all of the stuff is added to them. The interesting thing about this is that the key part of this passage is not in getting the stuff, but in the seeking first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness. This is describing what God’s genuine disciples do. They put God first in all things. They walk through each day seriously considering every decision in light of God’s glory and their walk with Him. When they do that the interesting thing which happens is that concern about “stuff” goes away. They become content where God has them doing what God has them doing. All of their needs are met to the point that enables them to accomplish His will in this. This passage is not a guarantor of health, wealth, prosperity, or acceptance by the world.

Those who live this way consider the cross and Christ crucified. They take that into account in all they do. They see that the cost has been counted and paid by their Saviour. They live the rest of their life seeking to be obedient to their Lord in all they do. They also know that it is by God’s grace that they can do so, not their own abilities.

Lastly, their values change to match those of Christ’s. Perhaps the believer starts out focused on the world’s concept of “justice” and “fairness” and attempts to align all that with the gospel and their walk with Christ, but when the focus of the believer becomes eternal rather than the temporal, they will see themselves as a branch attached to the vine (John 15) rather than a Social Justice Warrior. Their focus becomes that of one seeking to be that living sacrifice acceptable to God who is being transformed through the renewing of their mind daily, that is, living for Christ in all they do (Romans 12:1-2) with the result being them becoming that Christlike believer who finishes the narrow path to the Celestial City as a mature believer to be accepted into the arms of their Savior and hears that welcoming cry, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Soli Deo Gloria!

Presuppositional Apologetics and Personal Evangelism

Sounds rather ominous, doe it not? Really deep stuff! Well, not necessarily. First, let’s define our terms.

“Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian”.[i]

 To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”[ii]

We all have presuppositions, certain beliefs or assumptions with which we enter discussions. They frame our thoughts about a matter as well as our argument. In matters of personal evangelism, it means that we believe what the Bible tells us about ourselves as human beings, as well as what it has to has to say about lost sinners. We let those truths guide us in our sharing of the good news.

So, what does the Bible tell us about ourselves as human beings? For me, the two most significant facts are found in Romans, Chapter 1.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of (fallen) men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Rom 1:18-19) Emphasis mine.

First, since fallen men are full of ungodliness and unrighteousness, they are subjects of God’s wrath. Secondly, fallen men know that God exists, yet the suppress the truth in their unrighteousness. In other words, God doesn’t believe in atheists.

With that truth in mind, what else the Bible have to tell us about those with who we desire to share the gospel? We’ll share just a few.

1. They don’t seek God.

 “As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:10-11)

2. They hate God and can do nothing to please him.

For the mind that is set on the flesh (the only mind the sinner has) is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8) Emphasis mine.

3.  They cannot, in and of themselves, even understand the gospel!

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4)

 

So how does this affect our evangelistic efforts? There are several ways:

1. If all of us, by nature, already know that God exists, we do not have to ‘prove’ the existence of God. In fact, some would suggest that if we engage in proving the existence of God to an unbeliever, we are presenting a ‘case for God’ and making the unbeliever the ‘judge’.

2. If it’s true that the unbeliever is living in rebellion against the God he/she knows exist, that person by nature also hates God’s gospel. We are actually presenting the gospel to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.

3. If it’s also true that the unbeliever, in his/her natural state, cannot even understand the message of the gospel why do we present it at all?  I tell you why I do.

You see, along with believing what the Bible says about us as fallen creatures (our presuppositions), I also believe that God saves all those whom he has chosen to save in exactly the same manner (another presupposition). Don’t worry, I’m not going to get into a long dissertation about the doctrine of salvation. But I do believe that there are two ‘steps’, if you will, in God’s saving of sinners.

1. God opens hearts to hear the gospel.

2. God sends a messenger to present the gospel to that divinely opened heart.

Do you remember Lydia in Acts, Chapter 16? Paul and company went down to a river outside of Philippi looking for a place of prayer and there was a small group of women already gathered there. Paul spoke to them and we are told:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) (Emphasis mine.)

In short, God opened Lydia’s heart to hear the gospel, sent Paul as his messenger to present that gospel and Lydia was baptized (along with her household) and invited Paul & company to stay at her house!

 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:15)

We don’t need to be told specifically that ‘Lydia was saved that day’; the text speaks for itself. God had a purpose ion opening her heart and God’s purposes cannot fail.

So, what does that mean for personal evangelism? It means that we have the great privilege to be God’s ‘gospel’ messengers. Our job is to ‘get the gospel right’ (Christ died for our sins) and share it with others. Our prayer for the lost is simple. “God, open their hearts to hear.”

We don’t need to try and pry open hard hearts with clever presentations. We don’t even need to ask people to open their own hearts. They can’t. That’s God’s business. Unless God opens a heart to hear the truth of the message, our words are just words. But when God opens a sinner’s heart and the gospel is heard, salvation happens.

In summary, presuppositional apologetics –  believing what God says about fallen men and believing what we are told about how God saves sinners actually simplifies our evangelism. Our ‘work’ is knowing and being faithful to the gospel message (See 1 Cor 15:1-5) and being available to share that message as God leads us. No tricks, no gimmicks. We’re not ‘salesmen’. We’re simply messengers. It is God who saves sinners!


[i] John Frame, 2006

[ii] Alistair Begg, Crossing the Barriers

Joy in Heaven

When does all of heaven rejoice?

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

Notice that it does not speak of rejoicing in heaven over someone who ‘accepts Jesus’, ‘invites Jesus into their heart, or ‘gives their heart to Jesus’. That should be significant to all that of us who share Jesus with a lost world.

I’ll leave it to you to figure it out. When you think you’ve got it, p,ease feel free to comment!

Food for Thought About the Gospel

“Sinners must hear the gospel, they must believe the gospel, and they must embrace the gospel.” – John Macarthur

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” – Phil 1:15 – 18, The Apostle Paul

From John Bunyan’s Conclusion to ‘Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners’

Of all tears, they are the best that are made by the blood of Christ; and of all joy, that is the sweetest that is mixed with mourning over Christ. Oh! it is a goodly thing to be on our knees, with Christ in our arms, before God. I hope I know something of these things.

I find to this day seven abominations in my heart:

(1) Inclinings to unbelief.

(2) Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth.

(3) A leaning to the works of the law.

(4) Wanderings and coldness in prayer.

(5) To forget to watch for that I pray for.

(6) Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have.

(7) I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves,
‘When I would do good, evil is present with me.’

These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good.

(1) They make me abhor myself.

(2) They keep me from trusting my heart.

(3) They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness.

(4) They show me the necessity of fleeing to Jesus.

(5) They press me to pray unto God.

(6) They show me the need I have to watch and be sober.

(7) And provoke me to look to God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world. Amen.

________________

Grace Abounding To the Chief of Sinners is John Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography. In it he tells of his conversion and struggle with faith. He wrote it while he was imprisoned for preaching without a license. His main issue was a kind of “spiritual obsessive compulsive disorder” as one reviewer puts it. Bunyan was constantly concerned about the state of his salvation and whether God deemed him worthy enough for eternal life. This story communicates the author’s anguish over his sin, his confession, and the life-changing impact of God’s saving grace. Bunyan’s spiritual struggles will remind readers that even the great minds of faith had issues with belief, and his personal testimony will encourage anyone who is doubting the status of their salvation.

A PDF copy of Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners can be downloaded from Christian Classics Ethereal Library..

Why do we do this?

I have a serious question. 
Have you heard anyone beginning a testimony with anything like ‘Ever since I repented of my sin and believed in Christ. . .’?
I haven’t, not lately. They always begin with somethimg like:

‘Since I gave my heart to Jesus. . .’

‘Since I accepted Jesus. . .’

‘Since I received Christ. . .’

‘Since I chose Christ. . .’

Why is that?

We Recognize No One According to the Flesh

by Mike Riccardi

Source: The Cripplegate

from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

2 Corinthians 5:16–17

Paul speaks about regeneration in this passage. If anyone is in Christ—if anyone has become united to Jesus Christ by saving faith in the Gospel, if anyone has died to sin and self in union with the One who died to sin once for all—he is a new creation. Working backwards, from cause to effect, the second half of verse 16 notes that the very first result of regeneration is a new view of Christ. As unbelievers, we all once regarded Christ from a fleshly point of view, according to worldly standards, paying special attention to the way things looked outwardly and externally rather than internally and spiritually. But the regenerate regard Him in this way no longer. When Almighty God issues His sovereign decree for light to shine forth in the heart that is dead in sin, when the eyes are opened and the ears unstopped, when the heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh, the first thing that changes is the sinner’s view of Christ. We see Him for who He is, in all His beauty, glory, and suitableness to our need.

Working backwards even further to the first half of verse 16, Paul speaks of a second result of regeneration. Not only does the regenerate sinner have a new view of Christ, but he also has a new view of everyone else. When we’re transformed from the inside out in regeneration, and our assessment of Jesus changes, so does our assessment of everyone else in the world.

The Wrecking Ball of Regeneration

In regeneration, the entire person is renovated. The old things have passed away; new things have come—in every aspect of our life. Murray Harris says, “When a person becomes a Christian, he or she experiences a total restructuring of life that alters its whole fabric—thinking, feeling, willing, and acting.” John MacArthur writes, “Old values, ideas, plans, loves, desires, and beliefs vanish, replaced by the new things that accompany salvation. . . . God plants new desires, loves, inclinations, and truths in the redeemed, so that they live in the midst of the old creation with a new creation perspective.” In other words, when you become a new creation in Christ, all your ambitions and your hobbies and your joys—everything about you—are like a building that has been leveled to the ground by the wrecking ball of regeneration. And in its place is an entirely new creation, built by the Spirit of God on the foundation of Christ, with new tastes, new affections, and new joys, and new ambitions!

New Canons of Appraisal

And along with all of that newness comes new ways of assessing other people, new canons of appraisal, new standards according to which we arrive at our estimation of people. Just as Paul once knew Christ according to the flesh—just as he once esteemed or appraised or evaluated Him according to the world’s preoccupation with the outward appearance—so also he “recognized” or “regarded” or “viewed” or “appraised” or “valued” other people according to the flesh as well. “But,” he says, “from now on”—that is, since the time of his regeneration and conversion to Christ—“from this point forward, we recognize no one according to the flesh.” By definition, then, the one who has become a new creation in Christ has put off those fleshly canons of appraisal which judge men only on the basis of superficial, external matters.

This is a lesson the church needs to learn. It’s an especially valuable lesson for us given the aftermath of the U.S. Presidential election, and the tensions that exist in American society today. Far too often, Christians have not distinguished themselves from the unregenerate in their personal standards of judgment and evaluation of others. Virtually instinctively and subconsciously, we regard men and women according to the flesh. We appraise people on the basis of their physical attractiveness, their style of dress, their educational achievement, their social status and level of “success,” their political affiliation. And one of the saddest truths concerning the visible church is that so many professing believers still allow their opinions of others, as well as their understanding of their own identity, to be shaped by the color of their skin.

eyeBut the Holy Spirit of God, by virtue of the inspiration of 2 Corinthians 5:16–17, tells us that none of those things has any place in the mind of the one who has been regenerated and united to Christ. None of them. They are not the basis by which we evaluate others, and they are not the sources from which we derive our own identity. No, in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek.” In Christ “there is neither slave nor free.”

Neither Jew nor Gentile

Think about what a radical statement that is from the pen of Saul of Tarsus. This was the most promising young rabbi in Jerusalem, educated under Gamaliel, supervising the persecution and execution of Christians. This is the one circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; a Pharisee, a persecutor, and blameless according to the ceremonial law. Time was when his only canon of evaluation was whether or not someone met the strict Pharisaical standards of Mosaic ceremonialism. If he did, he was a brother. If he didn’t, he was a dog. And now: “There is neither Jew nor Greek.” What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened: Regeneration happened. The one who boasted in his eighth-day circumcision says: “For neither is circumcision anything, nor [is] uncircumcision [anything]; [the only thing that matters is] a new creation” (Gal 6:15). Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised: doesn’t matter. Your ethnicity doesn’t matter. Your religious rituals don’t matter. What matters is whether or not there has been a new creation. What matters is: Is this person regenerate or not? Is he united to Christ or not? Is he a child of God or not? Does he stand yet in need of forgiveness of sins or not?

Colossians 3:10 and 11: Paul says we’ve laid aside the old self, and have put on the new self (the old has gone and the new has come, 2 Cor 5:17). And that new self is “being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all.”

See, the regenerate person has been so dominated by Christ that the only point of reference for his view of anyone is whether or not they are in Christ. The new view of Christ that is born in those who have been made a new creation necessarily issues in a new view of others.

And this reaches even to the level of family. Someone lets Jesus’ know his mother and brothers were waiting to speak with him. His response is just stunning: “But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matt 12:48). Jesus regarded no man or woman after the flesh. Not even His own family. What mattered is whether or not they believed in Him.

The Blood of Christ is Thicker than Water

Nationalism means nothing. You have a deeper connection to true Christians in Iraq, in Iran, in Syria, in Afghanistan, than to any unbeliever in America.

Ethnicity is nothing. You have a more intimate union with genuine believers who are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, than to any unregenerate person who shares the color of your skin.

Even family, in comparison to Christ, is nothing. Jesus says He has a thicker bond with the children of God than He does even with His own mother!

Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that national citizenship doesn’t exist, that ethnicity is somehow erased, or that familial ties vanish. But all of those things are absolutely inconsequential in determining one’s status before God or his place within God’s kingdom. They are not how we see others, and they are not how we see ourselves. We regard no man after the flesh. We are not those who take pride in appearance rather than in heart (2 Cor 5:12).

Where this really intersected for Paul was how the false apostles were persuading the Corinthians to regard him after the flesh—to look down upon him and judge him accursed because of how severely he suffered in the cause of ministry. But Paul says, “Those who are truly united to Christ have been born again! They’ve been totally renovated! Entirely renewed! And as a result, they don’t judge men and ministries on the fleshly basis of external appearance, of outward success, of worldly power and prestige! If they did, they’d have to judge Christ and His cross to be a failure!” Paul’s saying, “The false apostles are judging me the same way I used to judge Christ—after the flesh—and in so doing they reveal that they have not experienced the transformation of regeneration that marks all those who are united to Christ in saving faith.”

And brothers and sisters, we make the same error anytime we look at a man or woman and allow their appearance, their résumé, their political affiliation, or their skin color to determine our estimation of them, rather than the state of their heart before God. In our time, when accusations of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and other epithets are being hurled back and forth, may Christ’s people live out the reality of their regeneration, and regard no one after the flesh.

Sinner, Save Thyself!

Say what?????

We all (Calvinists and Arminians) vehemently DENY that anyone caves himself/herself! And that is as it should be. At the same time, aren’t we asking sinners to save ‘themselves’ when at an altar call, accompanied by emotional music, we say things like:

  • Only YOU can open the door to YOUR heart.
  • God has done his part, now you need to do YOURS.
  • Will YOU accept Jesus as your Savior?
  • Won’t YOU give YOUR heart to Jesus right now, tonight, before it’s too late?
  • Why don’t YOU to surrender YOUR heart and life to Jesus?

While we would loudly deny that anyone saves themselves, we ask, or tell, sinners in the seats, or with whom we are sharing the gospel) to ‘do’ something that will usher in eternal life. Think about it from the perspective of the one to whom the message of the gospel has been presented, wither in a group or individual setting.

I’m a sinner who knows little of the things of God and I have just been told that Jesus came to save me and give me eternal life. Then I receive one or more of the above statements and/or questions respond positively to it/them. I am welcomed into the Kingdom of God.

With very little logic involved, I conclude that by my action, I just saved myself! After all, I performed the final action in a sequence of actions leading to my salvation, didn’t I?

I have to say that a friend of ours came to that very conclusion in a conversation with my wife one evening in our home. And at the same time, I have to confess that the above statements and questions could lead anyone on the receiving end to come to the same conclusion unless persuaded otherwise.

The question I now ask is “Why do we ask and/or say things that might bring unnecessary confusion to our hearers?” There are several possible answers to that question, and I’ll leave those to your imagination.

Rather, I suggest that none of the above questions and statements is actually Biblical. You might think they express Biblical concepts, but you won’t see any of them in any evangelistic encounter in the New Testament. Instead you hear about repentance and belief; repentance from sin and belief in Christ as the substitute for sinners. And you hear it first from the lips of Jesus when, at the beginning of his ministry he said:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15V)

If it is God who opens hearts to hear the gospel and also who does all the ‘saving’, we need only be faithful to the message that Christ died for our sins and be able to explain what that means. Trust me, God WILL save his people from their sins!