"Spiritual Power": A much misunderstood subject in conventional theology

E-reader version on Academia

"Having a form of godliness; denying the power"
The "power" broken down: The 'Gospel' as salvation by man's choice interpreted as supernatural 'work'
•"Dead" or "alive" to "sin"
•Of motivation and "strength", the "flesh" and the image of Christ
•Even the catholics and other faith alone deniers teach this
•The teaching also used in the homosexual debate
“Choice”: the engine of Judgment
Is Jesus all we need?
Cause and effect: another tool of legalism
A Perfect Formula
•The test of the REAL "power": where's the "unity"? (vs "subjective" faith)
What about "Faith"?
Does the Power lie in the Law? Or is it source of the "offense"?
Confusion Between Law and Grace
What exactly is the 'sinful nature'?"
The dangers of the focus on "the heart"
Misinterpreted scriptures
Turning liberty into "bondage" and bondange into "liberty"
Outright denials of "Grace": "Practicing" sin
Claims of "False Grace"
Forms of Calvinism are just as Pelagian!
Grace under fire
•Grace vs "continuing in sin"
•Self-flagellation as solution
The "response" of "Faith" in reaction to Guilt (resistance only from a 'troubled conscience'?)
The "Fruits of the Spirit"
Condemnation of Love
The God of pain: "Holiness" and "grace"/"Love" set at odds by traditional teaching
•A general outline of "traditional Christian" in practice beliefs
•The True Gospel
•God revealed in Jesus
Legalism ignored and only opposite extreme "feel good" messages focused on by apologetics
Where is the "Good News"? What is the difference of this from the Old Covenant?
Setting the Record Straight: The Essence of the Gospel
What really is "pleasing God"?
What is the Gospel for, now?

I've been mentioning this a lot over the years, especially regarding the "Fulfilled View", and as it relates to the "life change" concept (see "Life Change" and salvation) that is to go with "duty faith" in salvation in conventional Christian teaching. It already figured prominently in my treatments of both "Psychoheresy" and the "abundant life" gospel. The latter is the widespread teaching in most of the modern Church, where Biblical principles are taken to lead to psychological health, and the former is from IFB style "fundamentalists", and other more "old-line" churches (including Reformed, etc.) who extend the same "biblical" lines of reasoning to accuse the more contemporary churches of "compromising", because "all that's needed" is the Bible!

The argument in all three subjects is what in theological terms is called an impartation of "divine power", that would then [conceivably] solve all of our mental or "psychological" (read as "soul") "problems" in the process of essentially preparing us for Heaven. This pervades Christian teaching across virtually all denominations and sects, and is seen in terms of transforming our behavior supernaturally (upon a regiment of prayer, meditation and Bible study, which would then gradually change our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and finally desires. This whole "systematic" process is called the "relationship" with God; aka "knowing Him", which presumably no one can be saved without; —right away showing the basis for a lot of harsh judgment).
This "power" is [supposedly] readily available to anyone who asks (at least according to the standard Arminian "free will" position; and even the Calvinistic "election" would say that anyone could ask, and if they are so led to do so, then they were the elect). This then leaves "no excuse" for anyone to never get over certain sins. Anyone “struggling” with anything (from gays, to the chemically addicted, to the merely "bitter" in life) can be presumed to be “loving their sin too much to give it up”. (And the “faith” and “prayer” part of it is also the basis of the “prosperity” or “word-faith” gospels, which are rejected by the more serious apologists. It’s the same claims extended to health and wealth).

There are three main methods of the "covering" of sinners with Christ's righteousness:
"Impartation", where God gives you an imperceptible "power" to sin less, therefore you "prove thyself elect"
"Infusion", as taught in Catholic churches, where you receive "spiritual life" and forgiveness through the sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, etc).
"Imputation", where God counts us as righteous, depite our actual behavior (Romans 4:6, 11, 22, cf. 5:13, 2 Cor. 5:19)
Most of Protestant "evangelicalism" and "fundamentalism" is a mixture of impartation with imputation, and this is where our problem lies. The official doctrine started as imputation, but in practice, it turns into impartation, because "God can't let anyone get by with nothing required of them!"

So more recently, I had been reading more the stories of LGBT people, and the responses of Christians (including "ex-gay" "testimonies"), which has culminated with seeing this sudden "Nashville Statement", where about 254 evangelical leaders came together, to voice their disapproval, of not only the LGBT lifestyle (and the 'justifications' of it as natural causes), but even anyone who approves of it. (In the midst of a string of hurricanes that have torn up parts of the US, and a political showdown where projectile weapons are actually starting to be tested, and white supremacists are totally "out of the closet" and carrying torches and other unrest, and the gays are who the Church comes together to confront! Sort of like a new statement right at the time of the 500th anniversary of Luther's 95 theses; almost like a commemoration of it!)
The common thread in this and all other condemnations of homosexuality, the ex-gay "testimonies" and the support of "reparation therapy", is this "impartation" concept. Even though this is covered in the above linked treatises, it is becoming so in the forefront now. (And LGBT advocates and others don't seem to notice it well in responding, as many of its same principles are what even "liberal" religion [which is more likely to accept gays, and to which they naturally will gravitate] assumes as far as "self-improvement". They've started to address "pray the gay away", which is part of it, but it runs a bit deeper than that, and both sides end up talking past each other).

Introduction: "Having a form of godliness; denying the power"

The condemnation results from a charge that this "power" that is relatively available to everyone; whether homosexuals dealing with their preference, or even heterosexuals struggling with the rest of the "sins": lust, anger bitterness, etc.; is being "denied". (Supposedly, so they can "hold on to their sin"; appealing to John 1:9, 3:19-21). The traditional view reads 2 Tim.3:5 as making one's self look morally good in certain areas, but not really “submitting” and receiving the supernatural “help” God gives us to behave better, so their “sin” comes out somewhere else.

But “power” really means “right” (as in “authorization”). It's actually describing people who reform their behavior on the surface (they may even credit God for it and greatly emphasize being "fully submitted"), but deny God's Grace, where He “gives the right ['power'] to become the sons of God”. (John 1:12. This then becomes the "darkness" the people referred to in that passage were holding on to. Evil deeds especially have to be hidden in "darkness" when you've created such a persona of "lawkeeping" as the rejectors of Christ in Israel had done; along with many religionists in centuries to come).

I think the crux of the problem in popular teaching (from mainstream evangelicals, to old-line fundamentalists, to sectarian groups such as the sabbatarian "lawkeepers") is a misunderstanding of the "new nature". We think this "new nature" somehow makes it possible to keep the Law, at least in a way the carnal Israelites weren't able, or something like that. But I do not see anyone keeping the Law THAT good.

When I used to read sabbatarian literature (Armstrongism, Adventism, CG7's, sacred namers, etc). their teaching on daily living was identical to that of the Sunday keepers, and (with the exception of the religious themes), even secular "self-help" as well. It's all about striving, struggling, taking two steps forward and one back, etc, and always topped off with how "difficult" and a "lifelong struggle" it is.
Yet then, the Christians (including lawkeepers) claim only believers with this "new nature" are capable of changing their behavior (since it's "supernatural", and only exclusive to "true" converts). But that's not what I saw! (For one thing, sects like Armstrongism, and evangelicalism reject each other as regenerated, because of the doctrinal differences. Yet, they're all claiming this same "supernatural power", both in "Christian living" and biblical interpretation. Armstrong, in Mystery of the Ages, regarding these points of agreement, explained it as "Satan is willing to allow the deceived have parts of the truth", p.251. He only differs with the others in saying converts are only spiritually "begotten" with a "germ" of the Spirit, and not actually "born[again]" or "saved" yet until the resurrection when we become actually "perfect"; making some great points of consistency along the way, such as "The 'salvation' in what is called traditional Christianity does not actually change one into a new and different person"; p.238; but otherwise, the "process" and demands of this "growth" toward the final "birth" in "Christian living" are the same).

As a young believer, when I sorted through all of this, coming out of an agnostic "naturalistic" background that attributed "difficulty" and "pain" to evolution and the laws of the universe (which these groups all condemn) basically, rather than a "personal" Creator, it was totally confusing, because we're claiming some supernatural "new life", but it's really no different than what anyone else is doing. And then I was supposed to be going and telling everyone else, what "supernatural power" I had!
And scriptures cited on "difficulty" were addressing a first century Church being persecuted for the faith, yet we in 20th/21st century America had to take all these and apply them to our daily "mundane" circumstances (the biggest "difficulties" many of us face), and it just didn't seem to fit.
But away I plugged on, trying to "keep" the Law (in one form or another). And in certain times when I really was in the grip of sorrow, anger or bitterness over parts of life; I was sometimes judged, with salvation even questioned, or at least statements that sound like that, but are taken to be not as serious, like a Nazarene friend (who himself was up and down in dysfunctional attitudes) mentioning something about "sanctification". The "power" to overcome these things was "there" for the asking. What's wrong with people who just don't 'get it"; "all these Christians out there struggling", as you frequently heard from books and TV programs.

But thanks to the Fulfilled View, I realized that the "new nature" is a POSITIONAL one, where God sees Christ's righteousness (including those "fruits of the spirit") in us, rather than our own imperfect efforts. Our efforts, as good as they may look, stem from the same "flesh" that produces those bad fruits, and "lawlessness" in general. The official position in evangelicalism is "positional", but everyone ends up in practice still judging these things in terms of actual, literal BEHAVIORS, but it's really about the positional "nature".

The "power" broken down: The 'Gospel' as man's choices, interpreted as supernatural 'work'

To start, what can't be repeated too often, is the old perennial example I used on the "Abundant" page:

I have chronic pain from two failed back surgeries. There was a time in my life when massive doses of opioid pain medication would not relieve the pain. It was at that point in my life that I prayed that God would take my life. He did. He caused the old man to die and a new one to be born again. My life was never the same. I still have chronic pain. Now my pain reminds me of His sovereign grace and mercy. The pain that used to be the focal point in my life, is not the focal point anymore.... Jesus is. Jesus is so big in my life that pain is only a small part of it. Although the pain is still there, it is as if Jesus has become the pain reliever... as if He takes the pain for me. I am able to bear it. He has healed me.

The crux of the paradox lies in the claim that Christ "takes" the pain from you, yet they'll admit that yes, you still feel whatever is ailing you, and it is "an uphill battle for the rest of your life", and by "faith and not feelings" that you believe you are healed, and then, "miraculously", God "changes" your attitude. Yet, we sensationalize it, making it sound as if Jesus really does take the pain away, as if you wouldn't feel it anymore! But then, when it doesn't work like that, we say it is not about feelings. Since the "testimonies" talk about it no longer being the "focal point", then it sounds dismissive of the pain. Like telling the person "aaah, pain really doesn't matter".
This is tied in with the frequent phrase Christians give to others; that man needs to “allow Jesus to fill the 'God-shaped void' in his heart”. This too is not really "felt", but is simply the overall result of changing the behaviors we naturally use to fill this "void" (or soothe our pains), through one's own self-willed "walk of faith".

The final answer offered for suffering is usually God "making us more like Him" (based on "being conformed into the image of His Son", based on Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:49, Phil. 3:21, 2 Cor. 3:18, Eph. 4:13), but then for one, why is SUFFERING (including from the "pain" of "striving to grow"; hence why it isn't made "easy") the only thing that makes us like Him? (The Bible doesn't actually say this, but the teaching does seem to leave that impression). Is suffering (and being patient and merciful in it) the only attribute of His character? It may be the most important thing Christ did for us, but to define "being like Christ" that way really seems to reduce Him to much less than what He is. Taking this along with the eternal torment of all unrepentant sinners, and groups like Calvinists believing God actually ordains people for this, it seems like God is all about pain. Why is that? Has anyone ever thought about it?

The problem with this teaching, is it leads to an assumption of the “image of Christ” being behavioral, and since it would be behavioral perfection, and we know we do not measure up to that, then this “being made into the image of Christ” then becomes a mundane “growth process” not much different than what any non-believer can do.

Here, CRI's Hank Hanegraaf lays down the typical formula, (in answer to the question "Does Repetitive Sin Mean We Aren't Saved?")

As you get into the Word of God, and get the Word of God into you, you will have a residue of power within you, to withstand the forces and the temptations that come your way from the world, the flesh and the devil. Not only that, but the intake of scripture is the missing link between meditating on scripture and effective prayer life. So meditating on the Word of God helps to develop a relationship with the lover of your soul, and the more that develops, the more sanctified you will become, which is to say you will become more and more like Christ; and you will find those bad habits eventually falling off like barnacles. [...but we will always have bad habits, because we will be imperfect until the day we die...] www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dRxKnNmDyE

Rankin Wilbourne in a Christianity Today review of his book Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/august-web-only/union-with-christ-missing-heart-of-our-gospel.html stated:

What is that reality and how do we abide in it?

I think in terms of metaphors. To be regenerate means that the Holy Spirit enters your life; you become a new entity. In fact, as Paul says, “you are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). You are in Christ. He is the Sun. From that vital connection flow light and heat, or, in biblical and theological terms, the double grace of justification and sanctification. Here’s another metaphor that might help: Union with Christ is the necklace, and there are jewels on the necklace like justification, sanctification, forgiveness, mercy, etc. But the thread that holds those jewels together is union with Christ. Our indivisible connection to him makes those things possible.

What does abiding in this reality look like?

The art of abiding in this reality is something like learning a musical instrument; it is something you must practice and rehearse. It is not simply remembering. It is also regular prayer, engaging in a worshipping community, sacrificing for the church. These are means that God has provided to practice abiding. It’s like sailing. When you are sailing, you are completely dependent on an external power—the wind. And even though that power is completely outside your control, it is still your responsibility as a sailor to catch the wind. And catching it is an art that requires dedication, cultivation, and practice. To use a word from Christian tradition, it is a discipline.

If I read the Bible through this lens, what would I see?

Union with Christ helps us navigate seeming contradictions, or false choices that we know are false choices. Suppose I read in Romans 4, “It’s not up to him who works…” and then I read in Matthew 7, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father in heaven.” How do I put those two together? How do I unite extravagant grace with radical discipleship?We are tempted to de-emphasize one in favor of the other, so we read James through Galatians or the Sermon on the Mount through Romans. But union with Christ gives us a way to hear different biblical voices, each full volume.
False choices have bedeviled the church…

Your book claims that union with Christ solves major pastoral problems, what problems do you have in mind?

Union with Christ holds together the grace of the gospel and the demands of discipleship in a way that enhances both and cancels neither.

Both of the themes of “come and rest” and “come and die” are in the Bible, and the church has wrestled with how to hold these together. The church desperately needs to hear both of these themes and we can’t afford to diminish or privilege either one. Union with Christ allows us to hear both of these two themes at full volume. I am in Christ, I am accepted, Christ is for me, I can rest. But because we are in Christ, we also are obedient as he is, we die with him, and we are raised with him. Union with Christ is how you frame the gospel without falling into either a theology of cheap grace or of legalism.

Notice, he’s not really answering the questions, directly. He’s piling on more metaphors and analogies. As an "iNtuitive type", I certainly can appreciate the value of these things, but having been drawn by different winds of doctrine over the years through this, I see where it can lead to confusion, and you need some more solid clarity.

Especially when you’re mixing such abstraction with pronouncements of concrete reality. God and Christ are of course to be taken as concrete (literal) realities. In this teaching, you better be united with Christ and have Him “living in you”, or you will die “without Him” and go to Hell. That’s preached as concrete reality. Yet whenever called to explain this process, we get a lot of pure abstraction, rather than a solid answer. THIS more than anything else is what has driven away the skeptical world, and especially science. People see right through it as a form of deflection.

And we see here how it's used to try to harmonize the great “paradox” of “faith vs works”. Abstractly, Christ transforms you, and you do good works. But in the concrete world, how does this translate? Basically; work, work, work; do this, do that, do the other! Do not rest! (Yet that somehow is “rest”. One IFB/KJVO leader did an article comparing the "way of Life" as “paddling upstream”). “Discipline”; compared, as usual, to earthy skill training. Meaning, in actual PRACTICE— WORKS!
By weaving in and out of concrete and abstract communication, bona-fide "works" can now be seen as not contradicting "grace". It’s just as much about effort as what was in the Old Testament, and just as exclusive and benefiting the few (and in some respect even harder and more restrictive), but now because Christ’s name is slapped on the “process”, it becomes ‘supernatural’, and “grace”.
This concept is what is behind the extreme judgment (and virtually outright denial of grace) we will see in the next chapter through several examples from mainstream evangelical sources.

"Dead" or "alive" to "sin"

People read scriptural statements such as “dead to sin” and “newness of life” and think strictly in terms of literal behavior, in the form of “BAD HABITS” that apparently “enslave” us. “Die” in the above quote, being contrasted with "rest", refers to the obvious “difficulty” of the “discipline” and “obedience” of “denying the flesh”, meaning avoiding behaviors we are drawn to (including the lack of the good behaviors mentioned) presumably because of pleasure or convenience. (And also, “making ourselves the center of our lives” as he also discusses).
Since they know no one’s literal behavior is instantly transformed to sinlessness, they have to come up with this “process” of a “struggle” against these “habits” or “addictions”, where the “death” spoken of here is not actually instant, but rather some ongoing recurring or progressive thing (and of course, there’s other scriptures that look like they support that, but they too are being taken out of context), and then and only then do they bring in imputation; that God sees us as completely “dead to sin” even though we’re actually still literally sinning, or “imperfect”, but at least “trying”. Wilbourne quotes Phil.3:12 about “not attaining, but pressing on”, which is the “admission” that we’re “not perfect”, that is supposed to prove salvation is still by grace and not works, because “look; He’s accepting us without actual, literal perfection”. Hence, “But as long as we’re trying“, as I’ve paraphrased it.
And it’s so "hard", and that’s why no one wants to do it, so God has called his preachers to motivate everyone to embark on this regiment.

Everyone forgets who this is; who’s speaking about “dying to his old man”. It was not some ungodly, “secular”, pagan, heathen, idol worshiping adulterer. It was Paul, who was a “Pharisee of the Pharisees”, and more versed in the Law than just about anybody else (Acts 23:6, Phil.3:5). The “old man” of the “flesh” he was referring to was his “old life” of trying to keep the Law, not “rebelling” against it. THAT is what he had to “die” to.
If you think that’s “easy”; that can’t be what “dying to the flesh” is; the flesh wants to break the Law, and the mandate to keep it is the “holiness” and “obedience” that makes it “hard” to the flesh; then look at what it took to bring Paul to change his tune. Look at all of the other people of that day who opposed Christ and the Church. They were holding on to the Law for their dear life. But it could not save them, but rather was what condemned them. As God was advancing His plan to past that system, it was going down: fast. They would either “die” TO it, or die WITH it. That was the “choice” they faced.

By contrast, The Fulfilled View says that we are all “dead” to the Law now. Speaking of it this way should make it seem less like some “excuse” to “do as we please”. It’s not about behavior; it’s about the universal penalty for behavior. People think being “alive” to the Law equates to “dying” to bad behavior, and thus being “dead” to the Law is being “alive” to “the old nature”. This is totally reverse of what Paul taught.

Ironically, this focus on us and our choices (discipline, etc.) is still centered on US. (Even if you Calvinize it with unconditional election and regeneration and say it is really Christ “doing the work”. Concretely, it is purely us). To use the analogy, A good sailor who knows how to navigate the wind can still brag about his skill. I’ve never heard of a sailor or those praising him crediting the wind, just for being more powerful than him! (We see here that these analogies don’t even fit, but all the more prove ultimately against what they are teaching, when followed consistently. At this point, they then tell you to stop analyzing too much).

The “gift” itself is said to be this “union”, defined almost strictly by what we do for Him (and how we’re empowered to continue indefinitely in the discomfort of it. That means, the “jewels” of the necklace are the nice things we’re given, but the “necklace" itself is what we have to give, in order for the whole item to be put together!)

Because it’s about doing, it’s really not about actually trusting Christ, and so people had to come up with another concept of what this “union” is, which is totally “counter-intuitive”, which is something that on one hand is supposed to be a natural result of, and thus a proof of the teaching’s divine origin, yet is just too convenient as a tool for passing something really incoherent off, beyond any intellectual scrutiny. It’s basically the old tactic of “miracle, mystery and authority”.
These “union with Christ” arguments are the same as transubstantiation. It can’t be empirically verified; it just IS, “by faith”. But just as the “spiritual” component of Communion was representative (it was commemorating His death, not recreating it), then the equally “spiritual” followup to that; our “death” and rebirth” (through justification, sanctification, and thus the “unity” with God/Christ; the “atonement"), is the same way. This concept (along with the rest to the “spiritual power” teaching) is basically a holdover from the Dark Ages concept of spirituality. They ditched the more liturgical elements of Catholicism, but still hold on to some of the doctrines founded upon it (and the result, as in Catholicism, is a total loss of real “Grace”, in favor of de-facto “works“).

They won’t accept the idea of the overlap of covenants ending in AD70 (with its strong evidence of the prophetic “time statements”); and that “union with Christ” and “sanctification” is positional. Its conclusion of total Grace is considered “cheap”; because what Christ did for us only has meaning if we either give something back, or face being plunged back into paying our own debt through eternal death.
But this will resolve the issue in a much more straightforward way than this hard to comprehend “mystical” approach.

When he defines “union with Christ” as “discipline” (naming several activities), and says “It is not a part of sanctification, rather union with Christ is the very basis upon which our sanctification, justification, and communion with God is even possible. Union with Christ is the fountainhead from which flows all the blessings of God.”, he’s saying disciplines; i.e. our efforts, are the basis of sanctification, justification, communion with God and the fountainhead of all blessings!

Of course, “rest” in this teaching is really the “peace” of the "union with Christ", even in the midst of the rigorous efforts of the work of discipline. This is disproven by the fact that the passage clearly says “CEASE from his own WORKS!” (Heb.4:10). They might say something like this means “ceasing from doing the works in ‘your own power‘, and doing the works in ‘His power’ instead” (more on this below), but the verse compares it to God, actually CEASING the literal ‘work’ of creation, on the seventh day, not continuing the work under some other name. Why does this now become something totally different, for us?

Such mental gymnastics makes mincemeat of the simplicity of the Gospel, and leads people to just turn away in exasperation and give up even trying to deal with it. (But then this of course just comes in handy to prove they’re stubborn and having no legitimate cause except wanting to “cling on to their sin” too much!)

Of motivation and "strength", the "flesh" and the image of Christ

The "union with Christ" is here portrayed by yet another person claiming to have "found" that one crucial spiritual thing, that nearly everyone else in the Church has missed. The reason everyone misses it is because as long it’s about our behavior and our will and efforts to change (even with the Spirit convicting us), we are operating out of the old man! The same “old man” that produces sin, and hence, the endless “cycle” of striving, falling and getting back up, never getting there, seeking that one thing that will do the trick, and buying more and more messages claiming to offer it.

A lot of people respect the ideals of teaching like this (as you can see in the Amazon reviews, with almost none critical of the teaching), but then have to hang their heads in “humble realization” of how far they fall from what the ideal says they [hypothetically, at least] should possess. (If so many believe like this, then you wonder why there is said to be such a problem in the Church regarding holiness and faithfulness in the first place. Where are all of these “super Christians”? I remember someone who believed praying and reading the Bible every day was our whole “relationship” with God, and it was ridiculous if people “don’t have that relationship, and they think they’re going to Heaven?!” Yet then, you hear the same person or others like him frequently lamenting “Aw man; I’ve fallen off on my prayer these past two weeks!” Also, being “prayed up” to prevent a sinful reaction to something, but when “the flesh” still “slips through”, then what? More self-reprimand!)

This is precisely the antithesis of the “rest” promised! This is what we need to “die” to!
It’s obviously not preventing “the flesh” and “sin”. (The self-humiliation then, in practice becomes sort of a self-willed form of justification; basically a new “penance” like in the old Catholic church, that ironically proves we’re not “self-righteous”).

This sort of teaching actually remains popular (not as "unpopular" as its adherents claim) because many simply expect to be given a standard that’s basically out of reach; and they all figure it’s just what they are “striving” for. (By telling themselves that it's actually in reach!) The carrot has to continue to be held and moved forward, to “keep us on our toes”. (This is what some believe regarding the “Second Coming” and end of the world being said to be “soon” when it wasn’t).
They don’t seem to take the eternal threats in the teachings seriously. (Some will even say I’m the one being too “black and white”; like it’s not meant to be taken “literally”! This is when people will bring out the “you’ll just be less useful to God” interpretation of the “judgment” preached or implied).
But to have a bunch of tough sounding ideals that are not meant to be taken literally and fully seriously, cheapens whatever message you are trying to give, including the entire Gospel itself. This is precisely why there is such an “evangelical crisis” as many of these teachers describe! They buy this stuff, read through it, take the tough talk “with a grain of salt” (extracting only what they think “speaks to them”), and keep going.

So, on top of this, many Christians seem to operate off of a widely preached assumption that man only does good when motivated by the "fear of God"; and you've heard it so many times before; "God was 'removed' from society or public consciousness", the "secularists" then "took over" everyone's minds, and then "morality fell", as everyone began "doing whatever they wanted" and their whole philosophy is "if it feels good, do it". (And this is often said to have been sparked off by preachers “no longer preaching on sin and Hell”).

So it seems like "delaying gratification" or avoiding bad behavior were only characteristics of Christians! After all, they are the only ones who will "get into the Word of God" and allow it to make them [behaviorally] "sanctified" like this!
However, Non-Christians do get over bad habits as well. Non-Christians can suffer and grow to be more patient or compassionate. You might try to say that this is just the image of Christ in general (which all men originally have, and was marred in the fall, but still present in all men), but it is clearly made exclusive to believers in many of these statements.

This might seem like nitpicking, but when it comes to something that makes the exclusive claims the Gospel does, it should really be something other than a regular, natural process. Else, you're just cheapening the whole concept.

Continuing from Wilbourne:

If these are some problems union with Christ solves, what problems does it create? Good spiritual teaching is provocative. I think the nature of the flesh is that we don’t like to be provoked. Union with Christ is an enchanted reality that displaces us from the center of our own lives. We’re inclined, especially in our hyper-utilitarian ethos, to define the gospel mainly in terms of the benefits it brings to us. Those benefits are inestimably precious, but let’s not neglect the necklace that holds all the jewels together. Every gift that Christ gives you is subordinate to that first and greatest gift—union with the Father through being united with his Son. So, union with Christ challenges some of our most cherished convictions.

This is the typical assumption of the “old time religion”, including the old-line fundamentalists with concepts such as “instant preaching”. This author is probably more on the [more moderate] “new-evangelical” side, and on the Reformed wing of that movement. Still; similar philosophy, especially when it comes to the “hard pill” of Calvinism.

This is precisely what justifies turning the "Good News" into bad news, because it's only our "flesh" that wants what feels or sounds "good", and we can't have too much of that! When I list later on, "in practice" Christian beliefs, "man deserves pain", I'm really not exaggerating after all, as one might think! God wants to "provoke" us, and we can extend the whole theology to say this is to weed out the "tares" (who are "naturally" offended), and make it a "bitter pill" even for the "elect" to ensure their need to "die" to something to receive it, when he grants them the ability to respond to the provocation. (And remember, the "Union with Christ" in a Reformed view is by election as well, and withheld from everyone else, who are nevertheless still held "responsible").

This "provocative" concept is not even in scripture. It's from seeing how the religious leaders reacted to Jesus, but the provocation came from their own stance (they were the ones opposing Him, and wielding the "sword" He 'brought', against Him, and others under their charge), and that, with the Law; not some general trait of human nature apart from law.

Regarding "growth" or any other endeavor, they'll often even say something like “don't do it 'in your own strength'”, or when people fail, or non-Christians' apparent general inability to behave better, it's because “they do it 'in their own power'”. But what does this really mean? Those with the power have to exercise it by “daily choices” of their own will, and it's “difficult”, it's not “felt” or made any easier, etc.
The final arbiter ends up subjective experience; including something some people have been calling an “encounter with God”, that bears no description; they're saying it wasn't 'felt', it's not 'seen', etc., and this is supposed to prove they had some communion with God that anyone else who questions it hasn't (which then automatically nullifies the questioner's concerns or observations. Again, like the prosperity gospel). This is part of the reason the Church is so fractured, and you have so many groups all claiming stuff like this, but not even in unity on many doctrines and practices.

Another textbook example of this is seen in this article: http://www.christianpost.com/news/who-or-what-is-controlling-your-choices-more-than-you-think-197212 which lays out spiritual growth as a mechanical process of "discipline" and "changing your thoughts", that really any person can do; there is really nothing supernatural about that (beyond what's called "God's help", but is not really defined. It's all framed around "sowing and reaping", which along with the scriptural "promises" quoted, are taken out of their original contexts [such as actual persecution] and turned into these broad "principles").
Secular "self-help" philosophies teach the same "laws". It's all human effortwhich is actually "the flesh" opposed to "the spirit" in scripture (which is now turned into "the wrong thoughts and desires").

It's all based on the premise of a tug of war between God and Satan, with Satan trying to lead us into pleasure, and God commanding us the difficult path of resisting it. The only difference between Christians and non-Christians ends up being that the non-Christian likely won't use the Bible and its terms as his guide, and focus on changing certain behaviors Christians focus on, like the sexual ones; but the process is still the same. And there are "cults" who likewise profess Christ and His "power", but are rejected as being saved due to other doctrinal differences; yet who practice and teach the same "process"; Armstrongism being one example. It was trying to practice it myself that made me realize it was not what it was being made out to be. There's a strong "intellectual dishonesty" to it (and then this will be when they start cautioning against the intellect or "reason").

What both "union" and "image of Christ" really meant was the positional perfection of being totally freed from the condemnation of the Law, which was passing away "shortly" back then (the destruction of the Temple 40 years after Christ's ascension). That system rendered everyone as filthy sinners, but when covered by Christ, we are seen as "perfect" (even though our behavior is still not). This is connected with the equally misunderstood concept of "the flesh". What "flesh" really meant in Paul's usage was using our physical lineage as the means of reconciliation with God (along with our own efforts at keeping the Law passed down through that heritage). It was referring primarily to the Christ-rejecting Israelites, who thought their status as Abraham's children made them "the chosen", rather than one's position in Christ. That was determined by physical blood lineage, or, "the flesh".
So the connection with the "bad behavior" it is often associated with, is that Paul shows that all your physical nature can do for you spiritually is produce sins (transgressions of the Law; "missing the mark") such as lust and anger and the rest. In contrast, were the "fruits of the Spirit".

The Church has taken this as teaching a behavioral "growth process" where the entire purpose of our "walk" is to develop the better behaviors of those "fruits". This is connected with "running the race", but most admit we never actually get to the end. Is that really "winning" then? (And then what is the purpose of this when we are supposedly, instantly "perfected" at death? At this point, they'll usually revert the purpose of this "growth" to "service to others" now, in this life).
But Paul's point is that "Against such things there is no law" (Gal. 5:23). The whole point of Galatians is Law vs Grace, and the walk in the Spirit is about love being the motivation (v.13, 14), and love is what produces the fruits of the Spirit, not Law. Yet "law" is precisely what is being preached in most of the church, in the name of "crucifying the flesh" in order to "walk in the Spirit".

That this is not what is being described in these passages is proven by the fact that it must be broken down in the teaching into mechanical "principles" and "steps" and a slow "growth" that is not really exclusive to Christians. This is precisely what Paul was calling “the flesh even as the aim was to keep the Law by trying to not commit sins!
So even if it appears to "work", and you outwardly sin "less", you're still preaching something wrong to others, that will likely have less positive results in them; but then this is just attributed to "how hard it is for the flesh to overcome sin"; if not the person not trying hard enough, or perhaps not even really repenting.

The teaching is right, that the problem is "the flesh", but it's the teaching that is actually telling people to rely on the flesh (even while speaking against this), by misunderstanding what "the spirit" really is about.

Even the Catholics and other "faith-alone" deniers teach this

Of course, the focus on our efforts affects the whole question of life after this life in comparative religion. The "Christian" answer to this has been summed up as:

"The soul will live forever in eternity, and the choices that we make here and now will determine our eternal destiny. If we choose to ignore God or reject God, or to ignore the separation [sin] problem, we will spend eternity separated from God, and that place is called hell. On the other hand, if we choose to solve the separation problem God's way by receiving Jesus Christ into our lives, and allowing him to forgive our sins and bridge the gap, we will spend an eternity with God in heaven".

The ball has been placed squarely in man's hand (despite all the limitations he faces, including the sin nature itself, and it's not just "rejecting" God, but even "ignoring the sin problem"), and even God has to be "allowed" to "forgive our sins" and "bridge the gap".

Why does He do this, knowing most people are set to choose against Him (if from nothing more than circumstances, as an Arminian might say, if not our natures, as the Calvinists insist)?
Another version (by an apparent “sacred-name” believer):
“In order for a sinner to be saved, he must first hear the Gospel Preached Romans 10:17. Then, the Spirit must convict him of sin so that he can repent Luke 13:1-5. Next, the Spirit must work the wonder of conversion in his heart, Baptizing him in the Body 1 Corinthians 12:13. Finally, the newly converted person (NO LONGER A SINNER) must be led by the Spirit throughout his life Romans 8:14. THIS IS HOW SINNERS ARE SAVED, AND THIS IS WHAT YESHUA CAME TO DO”.

This one places a bit more activity on the Spirit, but it’s still ultimately about what man “DOES”,being the whole purpose of “what Jesus came to do”..
It seems only "right" to give us the "choice", but really, no scriptural justification is given for this philosophy. The scriptures mentioning "choice" are just given, but as for a reason why, many will attempt to answer, but then the answers quickly deviate from any real scriptural support; it's just a sort of "commonsense" thing. (Armstrong, seeing this point, argued "Jesus did not come to save Satan's world while Satan sits on the throne deceiving them." Mystery of the Ages, p216. Of course, he's operating on the same futurist assumptions regarding the Kingdom as most others and simply moving the general "calling" of the world to the Resurrection, but it shows the futility of what most "free will" Christians argue is God's "plan" for today!)

This is where Calvinism had a very strong point that was hard to answer. Of course, in their view, it becomes simple by saying that it's really God who chooses who will be saved or not. But what happens is that the apparent "offer" He makes, then becomes just a charade, and the whole plan of salvation and evangelism a big "script", being played out by people already predetermined to their "choice" which is not really theirs, but God's.
Not only does this eliminate any real "good news", as most people are apparently determined to be lost, but then it really is not solving the problem of whether salvation is by God alone (monergistic) or with man's cooperation (synergy). It's still man's cooperation, in the same synergistic transaction where he must give God something first, in order to get something (the salvation) back from Him. Only it has Him infusing or imparting the choice to the elect (Calvinism is supposed to be about imputing, but in practice, it's really more of the other two justification options, held by the Catholics and Methodists, respectively. This is how the three views have to basically accept each other as "within the pale" of "historic orthodoxy", even though some of their rhetoric implies the other views are "false gospels"; while anything outside of the common thread of "duty faith" is outright condemned as "beyond the pale").

Like I ran across one Catholic on FB saying:
"If we read the Scriptures correctly, it actually becomes a form of prayer as the Word reverberates in our souls, and the roots dig deeper. Catholic priests and religious are required to pray from the psalms every single day, and yet they will never exhaust their depth and loftiness."

This probably refers to their concept of infusion (as through the sacraments), but conservative Protestant teaching is nearly identical.
What does this “reverberation” really mean? It seems to be something just thrown out there as an "answer", and it's made to sound so "simple" or "easy", so that there's "no excuse" for the unconverted. In practice, it seems to be a mechanical process of effort and conditioning that anyone can do. Like if you read a scripture against lust, it will be harder to engage in lustful thoughts (at least, in the moment). So I guess, it's if you so immerse yourself in such scriptures, then you'll hypothetically always be conscientiously pushed away from lust and of course, actual sexual sin. The same with jealousy and any other problem. But the problem is, this is portrayed as a supernatural work of God that non-Christians are incapable of. Not only is it a general affect of conditioning, but even for believers, it doesn't always work, as they may simply be repressing the sin, (which can then erupt later on and all the more uncontrollable). This explains how big time preachers (and charismatic ones at that, who were always talking about the "power of the Holy Spirit") could "fall" themselves.

Where it's been assumed that Satan is all about "fun", which is at odds with "order", which God represents; in actuality, from Babel, to Sodom, to Armageddon, Satan is about power, particularly man's power in opposition to God. And this is done through what man calls "order"; basically controlling others.
So he actually wields God's holy Law (made to show man's limitation), and then tries to convince man he's not limited, and can do it, if he tries hard enough. When scripture portrays Satan "transforming into an angel of light", this should all the more dispel the assumptions about Satan leading people into "fun", and show he operates from Law; it looks so "holy", even "angelic" even, to preach "Law", doesn't it? So then, he even goes as far as to turn "God's power" into some force we can "tap into" and basically manipulate (like a genie, basically, all at our "will"), in order to achieve the requirements of the Law. (So even those who criticize the prosperity gospel for "turning God into a genie", don't realize how their teaching is still falling into the same thing!)
And as always, this also always ends up becoming the vehicle to compare, judge and then quarrel with others over who is doing more, or enough works. (Disunity in the professing religious world, and against "outsiders").

Next, I found this from searching something online:

Jimmie Chapman, Contemporary Christianity p. 132
"Not everyone who professes to be a Christian follows the paths of righteousness. Those Christians that do walk in the light and follow the paths of righteousness are wonderfully cleansed from their sin. Those who walk in the light and follow the paths of righteousness are undergoing a marvelous transformation, their souls are restored". (Then quotes 1 John 1:5-9 and discusses remaining "connected to the vine" and "Abide in me", and that if they don't, they will be "cut off and cast into the fire and burned". "This is a marvelous plan, and the beauty of it is that it really works")

p.104 "God knew that transformation was what the world needed and he gave his Son to make the change possible in man. Jesus called this being born again and said it was absolutely necessary if a man wants to see the Kingdom of God. Man's greatest need is to get back to his created condition, and Christ has made it possible for us. Spiritual needs are the same in every age, and the remedy is the same in every age".

But what is failed to be realized is that "man's created condition" was about knowledge, not simply behavior, and God's revelation of man's problem has changed, from giving the Law to show he couldn't save himself, to then sending His Son to begin phasing out the system of Law (and what we call the "New Testament" was simply the transitional phase, so we see both Law and Grace). This was to end shortly, not be extended indefinitely, and in doing that, teachings like this have only rehashed the same old Law, under this premise of "the remedy" in "every age". It does NOT work, for we end up with just as much sin and condemnation as under the Law (with a relative few forever "struggling" to stay on the "narrow path", and then condemning each other as not on the narrow path, as we see here). We've only changed the sabbath and rituals.

(I don't know which denomination or movement Chapman is from. Could be Campbellist, though he seems to speak of "Christianity" as a whole in any denomination, and not "denominations" versus a single "true Church" organization [e.g. p22]. Maybe just a more radical "independent fundamental" type, though he seems to reject their mainstay of "eternal security". May well be "Lordship", which is a form of Calvinism that hides it by in a way actually rejecting its own fifth point of eternal security, since people who seem to be saved can "fall away", but were never really saved to begin with, so they fail the fifth point. However, the preachers speak as if free will were true, so they end up sounding ironically like extremely legalistic five-point Arminians or even semi-Pelagians, as we shall see later).

So with all of this confusion we see in the religious world; as for people having "no excuse", because God supposedly made everything so "clear" through the following internal and external means of "communication":

"General revelation" has too much conflicting external "evidence"
"Conscience" has too many conflicting internal "voices"
And there are too many loud, tough-talking external voices interpreting and manipulating both (and also still conflicting).

Our real hope is "Grace"; that it's no longer about our efforts or choices.

The teaching also the lynchpin in the homosexual debate

In recent times, we are increasingly seeing the teaching turn more against the homosexuals. In light of the Nashville Statement:

“The issue is not primarily gay marriage," Butterfield explains. "It's whether 'the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart,'" she said, referring to Hebrews 4:12.

Butterfield recalled that she lived as a lesbian 20 years ago.

"I delighted in my lover, our home on one of the Finger Lakes, our Golden Retrievers, and our careers. When Christ claimed me for His own, I did not stop feeling like a lesbian. I did not fall out of love with women. I was not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief," she wrote.

"Conversion to Christ did not initially change my sexual attraction for women," she further explained. "What conversion did change immediately was my heart and mind. My mind was on fire for the Bible and I could not read enough of it or enough about it. The Gospel gave me a light that was ruinous. It ruined me for the life I had loved. The Lord's light illumined my sin through the law and illumined my hope through Jesus and the Gospel."

She said she learned that sin does not lose its character as sin because we loved it. "I learned that my homosexuality was a logical consequence of the fall of man, the thumbprint of original sin on some of us. It is true that some of us are born this way. It is also true that we are all born in sin, in one way or another. We can hate our sin without hating ourselves because we who have committed our lives to Christ stand in His righteousness and not our own. Our real identity is not in the sin we battle but in the savior we embrace."

Basically, Christ, the "Word of God", and thus "belief", ends up defined by sexual behavior, and this is the incentive to embark on this mental change that again, sounds so easy, but obviously isn't, as she can testify. (And it's only based on "what we 'love'", which is an inaccurate generalization or assumption). But if you just 'get into' the Bible (and read it in practice filtered through the assumptions of other Christians; so you must come to all the same conclusions as they do), and so appreciate Christ for offering salvation to you by motivating you to change your behavior to attain that salvation, this makes it all worth whatever "struggle" this entails.
This seems to be what they are implying here. (And of course, the subjectivism of "it worked this way for me, so this proves it and there's no excuse for you").

So this is basically the ultimate weapon against the homosexuals; what they are presumed to be "hung" by; what they are ultimately condemned for not doing, even if they say they tried. With the “power” offered, it’s so “simple”, the only possible reason someone wouldn’t do it is because they ‘love their sin’ too much; (citing John 3:19-21; not even realizing that the "condemnation" or "verdict" is the bad news, not the Good News; it was only until the end of the age He said some of His listeners would actually be able to live to see).
Salvation then becomes the desire to change, and then it’s not really that simple at all, when the desire isn't readily taken away, except by your own "daily" effort!

Even when a gay Christian doesn't "indulge" in the lifestyle, they still condemn them for even still so much as identifying as "gay", as in the case of Christian singer Dejuaii Pace of the gospel group The Pace Sisters, who came out (but has been totally celibate, which again is generally said to be the right thing to do), and this after trying some of the basic regiments often taught, to "overcome" things like this; but is nevertheless criticized by this magazine just for wearing the label:

Since when did God's word tell us we would conquer sin with two 40-day fasts and never have to worry about it again. We have to battle sin daily. That's just the way it is. Mature Christians who understand God's position on the sin of homosexuality do not suddenly grow unclear about God's standard for holy living simply because we struggle with temptation. We all struggle. We just aren't tempted by the same things.

Blaming God for failing to take away temptation and assuming He must want us to succumb because we feel the urge to do it, is ludicrous! If we acted on every wrong impulse, the world would be in a far greater mess than it already is.

Consider this hypothetical. A woman or man is struggling with coveting someone else's spouse on a daily basis. Each time they see this married person, they are attempted to lure them into adultery.

This author does not understand the problem at all; in order to compare this to coveting or adultery, and lumping all these "struggles" in the same pot; (only this particular one is not their temptation).
Our sexual desire comes from hormones, which are chemicals that can go awry. Coveting and adultery are basic survival and reproductive drives gone awry, but these are not through chemicals, but rather through the influence of the effects of the Fall (sin). One is behavioral, and usually more affected by choices; the other is purely physiological (though there are instances of it truly being a perversion of an otherwise heterosexual drive overindulged. But such people are not truly "gay". They do not share anything like this woman's struggle). Everyone has the propensity for coveting and adultery; not everyone has the propensity for homosexuality.

Since God didn't take away the desire to indulge in this taboo relationship, they begin calling themselves an adulterer and saying it's God's fault. After all, their failure to rid themselves of the temptation through consistent fasting, prayer, and intimate relationship with the Lord, must mean God wants them to embrace an adulterous lifestyle.

Hey, God is the all powerful one, so if He doesn't want this individual hopping in and out of married people's beds, God needs to take the feeling away.

Ridiculous, right?

Temptation is not a manifestation of failure on God's part, rather it is a revelation of our fallen, sinful nature. Let's be real. Nowhere in the Bible does it promise us that we will not be tempted. We are instructed, however, not to yield to the numerous temptations we will inevitably face.

Sadly, it appears that DeJuaii Pace has been deceived into thinking her personal struggle with sin warrants indulgence in it. Prayerfully, God will give her clarity and show her that each of us must die to sin daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). And we must be willing to do whatever we must to fight it.

But she was not even "indulging" in anything. In fact, she clearly said she had not had any kind of sex; but was simply frustrated that the feelings ("the thing") weren't going away. (Reminds me of Christians I argued with over politics, and they assumed I must be a welfare-abusing ghetto person because I was arguing counter to their uncritical praise of capitalism).
All she did was acknowledge that, and acknowledging is not "succumbing". (In fact, it's to try to suppress this, as this magazine is perhaps suggesting, that allows things like this to catch you off guard, and then you're more likely to get caught up in "succumbing" and "indulging" it!)

Plus, they are using the "I die daily" passage, which from the context is not even talking about getting over sins, through some daily "struggle" that apparently, we never completely overcome. Paul was referring to the daily threat of LITERAL death he faced in his evangelistic journeys.
(So, yes, it's understandable to question why God doesn't "take it away", when the preaching makes it looks like He is doing some supernatural "work", but then they pull out these other passages when it doesn't actually work that way).

And other scriptures talking about "dying" to sin, are talking about counting on keeping the Law and hitting yourself with the resultant guilt (which is what this site is arguing, of course) for your justification.
So she is apparently "dying to sin" in that respect!
(“Dying to self” means dying to your will and your choices and trusting instead in Christ. Paul was an ardent keeper of the Law, but then realized in being converted that this was not taking away his sins, but only compounding and highlighting them, and this was his “old man” he had to “die” to).

On the other hand, you have the "testimonies" of people who claimed to have "prayed the gay away" and entered heterosexual marriages. Judging the way this "Christian victory" teaching goes [in practice] in every other subject, we do not see what goes on in the bedroom of such people, and whether it's a "daily struggle for the rest of your life", or hence only an "attitude change" (i.e. I still really don't like being with the opposite sex, but it's the "full blown surrender of control" [Jackie Hill Perry]; i.e. forcing yourself to do it, because "it's not about our pleasure" after all, and struggle is good, etc.)

I believe it is wrong to pitch something like that as God actually changing something. It's our own will (which they will often admit, but it is not a part of salvation; John 1:13) with the big fear element behind it (see 1 John 4:18). This is what we try to 'sell' to the world, with extravagant claims of God [in theory] in effect making it easy (when it really isn't), and in case that doesn't work, behind it is the fear of Hell for rejecting something so "easy" (whether it in practice really is, or not).
(Imagine how much agony this can create for some people, especially if it might happen to be true that their "orientation" is more than just psychological. Remember physical chemicals [hormones, etc.] are involved in this as well. This parallels the argument of those who deny all psychology and claim "depression" is just "sin" and all "mental illness" is just a "choice". Some seem to be acknowledging this now as even reflected by one of the points of the Nashville Statement; but again, the imparted divine "power" is still said to overcome this).

All of this is clearly "works", and initially, they'll say salvation does not depend on it, and when leveling it against other "sins" like "anger and bitterness", they may or may not question salvation (but will warn of stuff like "backsliding", or perhaps never really being saved or "sanctified" to begin with; you can see all of this addressed here: "Abundant life gospel").
But in the case of homosexuality, they are clearly and uncategorically denying salvation; with this "process" as ultimately what they need to do or at least agree to embark on, to be saved! (And thus, what is hidden behind "Jesus loves you as you are, and you can come and be welcomed, but He has something better for you" [which is the 'condition' of that acceptance].
They might as well just openly confess salvation by works!

“Choice”: the engine of Judgment

The whole fulcrum of the issue is this matter of human “choice". That's supposedly the means by which we receive the "power". It begins with the notion that everyone deserves Hell, because they all “chose” to sin, and they could have “chosen” Christ for salvation, but instead “chose” to “hold on to their sin” instead. Initially, it’s because the first man (Adam) chose to “disobey”. The Fall is often seen in terms of a single act of “disobedience”, rather than its effect; knowledge of good and evil (seen in the shame that immediately resulted).
Then, you often heard the "tree" involved shorthanded into simply “tree of knowledge", which fit in perfectly with the Church’s fear of modern knowledge (science). But it’s not just any “knowledge”; it’s knowledge specifically of good and evil. That, ironically, ended up getting assumed by religion, to be the solution to “disobedience”, where scripture itself portrays it as essentially the cause of our “sin” afterwards.

Even among various groups professing Christ, there is doctrinal difference, which often ends up amounting to a forfeiture of salvation of one group in the view of the others. (If the doctrine in question is not seen as too fundamental, then it might not question salvation, but still ends up as something they come close in the rhetoric to denying salvation, such as Calvinism and Arminianism’s portrayals of each other’s “monstrous” or “weak” ‘god’). Whether it’s “how to be saved”, or the Trinity or deity of Christ (disputed by so-called “cults” who are “beyond the pale of orthodoxy”), or various points of “obedience to the commands of God”, one group “chose” the clear “truth”, while the other group (or everyone else in the “world”) allowed “human ego” or its components such as “the wicked heart” [emotions] or the “sinful mind” [“faulty human logic”] to take over, and thus they’re “blind”, while we “see”. All by our own “choice”!

What’s wrong with those “sinners” (in general), or homosexuals, or leftists, or “rebellious compromising ‘neo’ Christians”, or holders of whatever other doctrine or philosophy, for their “blindness”? For rejecting the “clear truth”? Of course, the “reprovers” of these sins rapidly fill in the answer: they “chose” their “sin” or “error”. You would think, if they were really so “blind”, as they call them, then when you think of blindness, that’s something the person usually couldn’t help. “Error” is a “mistake". Yet here, they are being blamed, as “responsible” for their own blindness and error. (Of course, the Calvinists will loudly proclaim that’s exactly how judgment is meant to work!) This should really bring to mind Christ’s warning: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin. But since you say, ‘We see,’ therefore your sin remains.” (John 9:41)

The traditional assumption on what “sin” is assigns [in practice CONSCIOUS] deliberate motives to the non-Christian “world” (and errant Christians); an “agenda” to oppose God and His ‘servants’ for no other reason than a desire for pleasure or independence, which God forbids, and His servants have all (presumably, or at least hopefully, if we’re honest) forsaken.
This, for example, is why scientists won’t accept creationism, why society doesn’t want one religion promoted in the public sphere, why entertainers push racy material, why the 60’s generation rebelled, why homosexuals persist in their behavior, etc.
It allows them to conveniently ignore how the actions of the “Christian society” contributed to some of these events. Christians are those “trying” to not sin, so if they do sin, it’s by accident, unlike everyone else, who sins “willfully”, and therefore "worse".

This plays right into “us vs them” premise, and ignores the ongoing [in practice] sinfulness of Christians, (regardless of how “conservative”), creating the great irony of those who preach “sin” and “repentance” the most fervently being the most fierce deniers of it in themselves (and particularly in institutions they identify with).
It assumes the “grand story” of God’s dealing in the world is what’s basically a “tug of war” around pleasure; that man and Satan’s whole goal is pleasure, which is then what “sin” is all about, and God’s whole aim is to rein it all in, which the Law was for. The Gospel becomes a "deal" of sorts, where God gives an “offer” of trading in one gain for the other, (one being "primary" and “easy” by “default” and the other being "secondary", and hence “hard” and requiring the “will”), and it is the utmost anathema to say anyone can ever “have both”. (This thus makes sense, from a human legal/penal perspective).

You do not need all these assumptions to have a biblical doctrine of “sin”. This actually betrays a shifting away from true biblical definition. “Sin” is “transgression of the Law”. As the Law is summed up by “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, then its ‘transgression’ is summed up as “Whoever knows to do good and does it not, TO HIM it is sin“ (i.e. what “sin” preachers long decried as “situational”).

I’ve noticed that the entire evangelico-fundamentalist world-view (from IFB’s to charismatics, with many “new-evangelicals” inbetween) relies on a whole “cause and effect” mindset as justification of their morality. That music, or those people, or that object or that belief system will lead to “sin”, and “sin” leads to “more sin”. You just keep “indulging” and “feeding” it, they claim. (Many even rejecting what they call “behaviorism” as held by secular “humanistic” psychologists, then adopt a “Christianeze” version of the same thing, differing only in that it’s “scriptural”, meaning proof-texted with passages like James 1:14-5. But then “salvation”, “regeneration”, “sanctification” etc. [depending on the group] ends up becoming a “process” of breaking bad habits. It’s claimed to be supernatural and thus only accessible to born again converts, but the “process” they describe is something that nonbelievers can engage and succeed in. It should also be pointed out, in passing, that James reflects the requirements of the “Law” to those accustomed to keeping it, where Paul focused more on Grace, and showed that Law leads naturally to the downward process James described).
So sin will finally lead to “Hell” for the unbeliever after death, and even apart from that, the “end times One World apostasy” (which professing Christians can hypothetically get caught up in), which you can see behind, for example, the entire IFB badgering on all the “compromise” they point out, in not only the new-evangelicals, but even other IFB groups, now.

At one point, I myself am warned (by charismatics, who are otherwise moderate, but with apparently a full Arminian belief that in practice denies eternal security) that if I don’t “give God [His due] time” every day (reading the Bible and praying in a “systematic” effort), then I’ll become “lukewarm” and eventually be “spat out of Christ’s mouth”. (Which some will argue doesn’t really mean lost, but rather “ineffective for being ‘used by God’ in the world”, but the context of the overall Methodistic soteriology suggests otherwise).
When I begin questioning things like this, as well as other pseudo-scriptural assumptions in common “Christian teaching”, then it’s suggested, essentially, “see, it’s happening!” When I adopt the “fulfilled view”, seen as unorthodox, then it’s “see, it’s happened!” Of course, next step forecasted is turning away from God altogether! (And this writing, turning others away from "the truth"). From this, I’m supposed to be stricken with fear, and just drop everything I’ve come to believe (which explained a lot of things, yet still from a biblical framework), and run back to the “Commonly Accepted Message” (with all the contradictions and resulting dissension it’s plagued by, pitched as “unsearchable” “paradoxes”), all based on something that has not happened, but is surmised or hypothesized as possibly happening, based on a perceived “pattern”. Basically, just to be “safe”.
As one internet meme perfectly illustrates this mindset, including holiness as an effort-based “choice”:

Of course, throw into the mix the “monergism vs synergism” argument of Calvinism, then all good “choice” is controlled by God, while bad choice or no choice is what’s been left to “sinful human nature”. That gets them around the question of “what causes you to differ” (1 Cor.4:7; which they then level at Arminians), but then, a particular clause of the doctrine (especially held by “Baptistic” and “Methodistic” Calvinists, in order to make sure to maintain maximum blame of the sinner), is that God still “holds men responsible” for the “natural” choices they couldn’t help but make. So they are still blamed for it, as if they had controlled their own choice or lack thereof.
So while certain Calvinists, such as Michael Horton (who I like to cite) will scold the Church for its hostile rhetoric toward the sinful world (that’s “merely acting out its beliefs”, Beyond Culture Wars p. 70), and blame this on the “Pelagian” assumption of free will, many Calvinists do join their Arminian counterparts in aggravated blaming of “the world” (or other segments of the Church), and wanting to “take back” something they feel has been taken from them. (They never figure, when applied to themselves, that “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” Job.1:21).

Is Jesus "all we need"?

One day, someone on Facebook asks "Is Jesus 'all we really need' or does that just make a good refrigerator magnet or bumper sticker? What exactly does that mean? When people say that, do they really think that Jesus will pay your bills? Do they think Jesus will bring back your loved one who died of cancer or who is struggling with cancer on their death bed? What exactly do they mean when they say, 'Jesus is all you need.' ??"

The church is so confused on all of this. It reminds me of older Christians who were so against all psychology, because (aside from thinking it necessarily "denied sin"), "you don't need therapy, you only need Jesus" (or "regeneration" or "sanctification", or "the Book, the Blood, the Blessed Hope". It got to the point that they even declared "mental illness" as a "choice"!) Then they distinguish what they call the "medical" concept, where it's obvious Jesus doesn't heal physically [though others say He does], from the "soul" area, where all our problems are from "sin", and thus only healed by our own "repentance" whereby we receive "power".
(To see the utter extent this has been carried to, one IFB leader, Bill Gothard, has a chart advising sexual assault victims —on top of whether they brought it on themselves [or "God allowed it to happen"] through the "disobedience" of stuff like immodest dress, evil friends, etc.— asking them to "choose" whether it would be better to have no physical abuse, or to have had the physical abuse, but to have the "spiritual power" God "compensates" it with, and be "mighty in spirit"; citing scriptures of course! Can you believe this? What a choice they are posing to people! How cold and heartless can you get? —And all in the name of Christ and the Spirit! The way it is being used here, it becomes the justification for making any physical trauma imaginable "no big deal"! Meanwhile, Gothard would then go on to be accused of some sort of sexual indecency himself!

This, folks, is what's behind the anti-psychology and "Jesus is all you need" rhetoric of older forms of fundamentalism, and what the more modern churches have supposedly "compromised" on by allowing stuff like "therapy"; and the point is, it's all justified by the same "spiritual power" concept used by nearly everyone!)

They can appeal to 2 Tim.1:7: "For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind". But "sound mind" there is actually "sophronos" which means "discipline", and while the psychology critics are trying to ward off, among other things, excuses for lack of discipline, no one is justifying that. (But again, this must not be turned into something only worked up through our efforts, so that mere "discipline" would be the magical key that would presumably cure all mental problems. The immediate context is Paul's laying hands on Timothy (previous verse), and the apostles obviously [many would at admit] had special gifts (Mark 16:17,8) which would of course include discipline rather than fear. The problem becomes how this translates to today, with many claiming to continue these gifts; but many do not claim them, but instead just strip it down to "growing in character". The ultimate point there is the testimony, which included a salvation "not of works, but according to....grace" [v.9]).

The problem is that regeneration and sanctification had become so tied with behavior improvement, and since "problems" are often used to explain bad behavior, they had to claim that our behavior, and ultimately, our mental health, is "fixed" by receiving Christ and being "born again" and "made holy". Some will reduce this to nothing more than gratitude from being "saved" from Hell. So then anything that happens to you in this life, should no longer "matter". (And there are of course numerous "proof-text" verses used to support this, though the contexts of most of them are actual persecution of the original readers and anxieties about redemption, not modern mundane "problems"; again, see "Abundant life gospel").

Since this is [obviously!] not automatic and instant, then they had to develop a whole "philosophy" of "daily choices" to "grow" into the ideal "whole" state.
"Evangelical Protestantism" is a mixture of Calvinist and Methodist doctrine. On the Methodist (Wesleyan) side, the whole "method" it's named after is a regiment of "Christian living", with the most influential source being what was known as the Keswick "Higher Life" movement (with its teachings on "sanctification", with "grace" and "Spirit-filling" interpreted in terms of behavior and attitude). The earlier Calvinist position on regeneration had assumed all of this would automatically follow election. (It was all "monergistic", where God does all the "work", which then only plays out in behavior. Of course, this was often corrupted through what was called "Providence", where many different actions could be justified as being predestined, or even right, simply because it is able to be done, and with some "scriptural" justification provided).
The Methodists (Arminians) realized that this was NOT automatic, and so developed a synergistic theology of a "growth process", where the Christian must "work" WITH God in his own behavioral improvement.

Much of it ends up being about developing a proper "attitude" toward "difficulties in life" that makes pain no longer matter as much. (So the "choice" that mental illness represents, is simply the choice not to follow the "steps" toward the right attitudes! This is what has happened to every single person who ever had any form of 'mental illness', or even things like "depression"!)
So even the contemporary church, which may not go that far, and allow concepts such as "therapy", has bought into this whole idea (and especially the influential charismatics, who emphasize "the work of the Spirit").

But in practice, their "daily choices" by now differ little from what you can find in any other religion or secular self help teaching.

In passing, I should mention one “red herring" often thrown out there, which is the concept of “happiness”. The assumption is that everyone seeks to be “happy”, and are using their pursuit of money, relationships and other “pleasures” to be “happy”. So the almost formulaic answer is “those things don't bring happiness”, and what people need is to “turn to Jesus” to “fill that void”, which then often will get renamed “joy” (since the term is used more in scripture; especially “the joy of the Lord"; then, they're sometimes contrasted: “we don't need 'happiness', we need 'joy'”). This "joy" then is seen as the supernatural "fruit". One hymn even sings "to be happy in Jesus, we must trust and obey". This usually is then defined as the “positive attitude” we develop when things don't go right (which is then presumed the "natural result" of "trusting" and "obeying").
So this then ends up being used as another pacifier. Like “you don't need more; it doesn't bring happiness", or “Don't envy the rich; they're not happy”, or “I might have a lot of stuff, but I don't get my joy from it”. (Yet they will be just as defensive against having things “taken” from them, —and also usually defend the rich's “rights” and “freedoms”).

But our desire for things (including just pleasure in itself) is really tied up more in survival instinct, and this is what is often condemned in itself as "the natural man" (except, again, when defending their own livelihoods or power). The "power" is then held to be the true "survival", at least by people like the IFB "psychoheresy" critics the Bobgans who mock CRI's Hank Hanegraaf's book Counterfeit Revival, with a book or article entitled "Counterfeit Survival", just for publishing an article on psychology, because "Psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies is a counterfeit means of survival for Christians, because God has given His children all they need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)." But to even make the issue one of "survival" (strictly the Bobgans' term) in some earthly, albeit "mental" sense, totally misunderstands what the Gospel is about.

So for these old-liners, if therapy is wrong because a "dose" of the Book, Blood and Blessed Hope [Jack Wyrtzen, in an old Christianity Today article comment] are what will solve all our temporal problems, then they are the ones who have turned the Bible, the work of Christ on the Cross and the entire Gospel itself into a competing form of "therapy" (And it's certainly "moralistic", and in the long run "deistic", because God doesn't actually do any of this for you; it's all about your daily "choices"; i.e. efforts. Many people are now criticizing new-evangelicalism for what's being called "moralistic therapeutic deism"; but they don't realize that what they're calling "Biblical answers" is really just the same thing, read into the Bible, just like everyone else does).
They were on to the truth when first mentioning salvation as the biggest "need", but the purpose was not to make pain in this life not matter; it was, as mentioned "anxiety" of the condemnation of the Law, which also was used by the opposers of the church, who were apart of the Law system.

Obviously, Christ was "all they needed" to ensure they were "covered" and thus not condemned, and that any persecution they suffered proved they were God's people, rather than proving they were being "punished" by Him for sin, as many assumed (and still do). This was what 2 Pet.1:3 "[Christ/His power]...has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness" was saying! Christ never promised to fix all our mental or emotional problems, or make pain not matter, so people today are adding something not promised, to sell their belief system to the masses. When it doesn't work out (and the people have to consult other forms of help, such as "therapy"), then they can easily claim the people didn't really have "faith", and are "trusting" in "something other than Jesus".

"Cause and effect" (and "spiritual warfare"): another tool of legalism

Christian teaching posits this causative explanation for a lot of pain: the person did/didn't do this, and then because of that, such and such got worse. It's all blaming and shaming the person (with the Law) into an onus to reform his behavior and/or attitudes.

Common Christian teaching assessing someone’s breakdown or failure (whether moral, marital or even psychological) will take it as validation of the “laws” or “principles” they believe are apart of the path to “victory”. It is always cast in this purely mechanistic “cause and effect” framework. (Even if cast as "spiritual", and involving Satan, demons, and so-called "spiritual warfare"). It goes like “because he/they did not _________, (could be “trust God”, “seek God”, “be intimate enough with Him”, “read the Bible enough”, “pray enough”, “die to self”, etc.) he allowed {sin, lust, bitterness, the Devil, etc} to take hold, and it finally brought him down”.

This is generalistic and often ignores other factors, and assumes a legalistic premise that “laws” (presumably God’s) are primarily for man’s “happiness”. As author Michael Horton, Beyond Culture Wars says (p.114) pointed out: “We would know better than to say ‘We are saved by our obedience to the Law’, but we find it more difficult to detect that ‘We will achieve victory by following these principles or steps’ is a new way of saying just that.” On p.233, discussing the real "armor of God" (which is all, of God; not of us), "when the enemy comes, he is not coming to 'bind' our house or give us generational curses; [all the stuff you commonly hear in more "spiritual warfare" focused circles, especially charismatics] he is coming to strip us of our faith in the Gospel. He is coming to try to persuade us that we are too sinful; too unholy...We have not advanced enough in the Christian life; we have quenched the Spirit.... It is faith that unites us to Christ and all His benefits, so if the devil can take away our confidence in His atoning work, he couldn't care less about wreaking temporal havoc on our family line." [or our own personal lives].

So when looking over someone else's ruin, it often goes “IF ONLY he had just...”, and it's cast as something “so simple”, such as “just surrendering”. But in practice, when they themselves begin breaking down the “process” (as it ends up becoming), it's not really so simple. They then begin talking about the “struggle”, of the “daily dying” and everything else. But by now, it should be more understandable why the person didn't want to “yield”. Everyone knows “the walk” (as they call it) is not easy and simple. So why do they try to sell it as so? It's to justify the harsh penalty for not converting, and promote the belief system through fear.
(They'll actually say this assessment is too “black and white”, but they're the ones the whole time speaking in terms of “black and white”: "black is black and white is white; Hell is hot and sin ain't right". Yet when questioned, it boils down into a mush of shifting "nuance").
The devil is portrayed as luring them into the problem with some “fun” or “pleasure”, and the Law is pictured as what would have saved them from the problem.
In reality, the devil is the one accusing, with the Law. Just as the preachers of this are doing!

The main proof text for this is Gal. 6:7-8 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” This is an example of a transitional principle, as should be obvious when we ask when this “sowing and reaping” occurs. We tend to start it off as occurring in this life (hence, fulfilling this “cause and efect” mindset), but this does not always happen. (I remember waiting for disobedient Christians to have breakdowns, based on this passage. Of course, is that what we’re supposed to be doing?) So then, the final resort, the afterlife. But v9 says “for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” This points to something to occur in their lieftimes. Which was the same “judgment” all the other scriptures point to. (And “flesh” again is really that part of us that aims to be justified by the Law, which of course, what leads to “corruption”!)

A Perfect Formula

The whole thing seems to fit so well. They cite examples of one person's problems and negative reactions, and another person's better attitude, or perhaps even the same person learns some better attitude, then cite the passage on contentment or growth, or things working out for good, (and then, for the icing on the cake and the ultimate proof, even back it up with a secular study or article, such as this one I just found during this edit: http://sharedthis.com/2017/10/14/scientists-proven-negativity-literally-makes-cancer-grow-inside-body) and "bingo!" we have a ready-made, relevant, scientific, scripture-based philosophy that comes together like clockwork, and will "work". It's "hard", but with some help from the Spirit, we gain this "peace" that transforms our view of everything. That's the difference.
"The world can't do it", many actually claim. Or "I don't know how the world does it without the Spirit". But not only do many on the world practice similar "steps to growth"; the results are similar. Notice how the arch-"secular" figure Oprah can host these "testimonials" by leading evangelical Christians (such as Rick Warren, and a guy who had no arms and legs), and it fits right in with everything else on those shows, as she and the fans shout in agreement! This is the ultimate proof that this is no special "supernatural" work available only to born again or "regenerate" Christians!
No one has attained any better "supernatural" level of "growth" than anyone else. If they did, you would hear about it, and everyone would try to copy it. (Some will try to slip in "common grace" available to all).

Even though I [admittedly] struggle with faith, I value and respect the Gospel concept, to separate it from pragmatic philosophy that renders it essentially no more truthful than anything else; and if anything, falsified by the claim that it's a special supernatural "Grace" as they call it, accessible only to converted Christians. (Another example of terms and concepts torn from their original meaning and context).
The purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not a "growth through positive thinking" philosophy. It was freedom from the condemnation of the Divine Law which rendered mankind as dead sinners.

There are other self-help philosophies that are probably better than this.
What we end up with: "Many sermons are moral exhortations, which can be heard delivered with greater skill at the Rotary or Kiwanis Club. Many sermons offer personal therapies, which can be better provided by well-trained psychiatrists. Why should anyone come to the Church for what can be better found somewhere else?" (John Leith, The Reformed Imperative, Westminster Press, 1988, quoted in Horton, Beyond Culture Wars p.76, who points out that this was originally aimed at mainline churches, but now just as accurately describes evangelicalism!)
On p.145 he rhetorically asks if our sermons are "essentially pep talks seasoned with personal anecdotes and helpful illustrations?" (Perfect description!)

In Christless Christianity, he criticizes the "inward focus" (which ultimately turns glory right back onto man) of the "changed life" concept, and others. He also mentions how many in practice treat God/Christ/The Spirit as an "energy source" we "tap/plug into". This is especially pronounced in the Charismatic environment I find myself in. (And charismaticism has greatly influenced the broader new-evangelical culture).
This remarkably describes much of the preaching and teaching you hear in churches, books and broadcasts today. While it may be good in its own right as "self-improvement", to confuse this with the Bible's teachings on the power of God only clouds the issue. But it does sell, however.

The entire Christian teaching industry, and much of televangelism is driven by extravagant claims of "the mighty work God is doing today", (defined as "changed lives", overcoming problems, supposed healings, etc.), but which do not match the actual day-to-day reality of people's daily lives, (which are more of a "struggle" as is admitted) and the world sees this!

A typical meme I saw on Facebook:

Here is the testimony of a Chinese Christian: “I walked through the road of life and had fallen into a great ditch. The ditch was filled with depression, discouragement, and sin. As I lay in that ditch, Mohammed came along and said, ‘It’s your fault you’re in the ditch. You offended Allah, and this is your just punishment.’ Then Marx came by and said, ‘You’re in the ditch because of class warfare. You must revolt.’ But after the government changed, I was still in my ditch. Then Buddha came along and said, ‘You’re not really in that ditch. You just think you’re there. It’s all an illusion of the mind. Be at peace.’ Then Confucius came by and said, ‘Here are the 10 steps of self-attainment by which you can get out of your ditch. If you will struggle, you will climb out eventually.’ But as much as I struggled and strained, I couldn’t get out of the ditch, because it was too deep.

“Then one day, Jesus Christ came by and saw me in my ditch. Without a word, he took off his white robe and got down in the muddy ditch with me. Then he lifted me up with his strong arms and got me out of the ditch. Thank God that Jesus did for me what I could not do for myself.”

The Church in PRACTICE has taught all of those same things; just change the “Marx" one from “class warfare” to “culture warfare” and you have what many Christians have preached when addressing society and politics.
Say you can't see or feel Jesus there with you or feel any better about situations, you get something that nearly amounts to Buddha's answer (i.e. saying this life doesn't matter; only the spiritual world, etc). Ask what you can do to be more closer to God, and “feel His presence” like that, and you get Confucius' answer. Ask why God does it this way and doesn't make it easier, you get Muhammad's answer (which is really more typical for the Church than for Islam, all in the name of “the doctrine of sin” and of course "God" instead of "Allah"; like are they kidding to point this at some other belief system?)

This is what I consider "intellectually dishonest", and all it's doing is just throwing more dirt at other religions and philosophies they always dump on anyway, not realizing they do the same things. It can be a textbook example of "projection" of the "Shadow".

If the "ditch" was guilt over sin, then it would at least be a more scriptural ideal. But instead, the "ditch" is said to be "depression" and "discouragement" in addition to just "sin" by itself. (Again, when they begin breaking down how to "overcome" these things, you get the Confucius-like "steps", with God only giving you "help" in it).
So now, looking for where the notion of Christ "suffering in/with us" (which is often the final "comfort" for the pains of this life) comes from, it seems the closest thing to that I can find is Hebrews 4:15 "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." The whole context of the chapter is "rest", from "works", where Christ as "high priest" is being contrasted with the physical priesthood that was coming to an end (the theme of the entire epistle), which was a system of religious "works" and fear of condemnation. Like everything else, they extend it to a more "relevant" self-help sort of theme.

The test of the REAL "power": Where's the "unity"? (vs "subjective" faith)

If the "power" of the Spirit will do all of these things in our own personal lives (cure homosexuality, as well as other "addictions", bitterness, grief; dictate our every step as to what's right or not as often claimed, etc.), then it will also teach us the same things (John 14:26; i.e. doctrinally as well as morally), so that there would be one united Body without all the doctrinal dissension (with homosexuality and other "sins" of the "world" about the only thing they unanimously agree on now, as we see in this Statement).

But that's not how it has worked in practice, so we end up with this totally "subjective" personal faith, where God teaches each of us personally, and this is the ultimate proof of His ongoing presence, activity and "work" in human lives (and thus, lack of "excuse" for others), but when we come together corporately, we find we have different beliefs we can't resolve, where we have to "agree to disagree"; (which is being rejected in the issue of homosexuality by the Statement).
This is precisely one of the things Horton and others have been criticizing the larger body of evangelicals for! (Though, of note, he's joined the others in the Nashville Statement, whose 12th article proclaims this "power" concept).

The subjective "faith" and ["tapped in"] "power" focus where "it worked for me", and so those for whom it didn't work are accused of not really trying, or not having enough "faith", is also at the heart of the increasingly popular "prosperity gospel", also strongly rejected by many of these leaders (and rightly so). But it's the same exact claims; only applied to different areas of one's life; and this, I believe, is why it was able to creep into mainstream evangelicalism and gain such a foothold so easily to begin with. You hear the same "biblical principles", and so at first glance it sounds the same, but is simply extended further. So they'll all hold "By His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5), but the "faith healer" will apply it to physical healing, and those rejecting them will apply it to mental healing (or some category they call "spiritual" healing, which ends up being about certain behaviors or attitudes). It is "spiritual" healing, but this about pardon from condemnation, not behavior.
(The Spirit would have also taught the Christians of the "golden age of righteousness" of the middle of last century and before that not just sexual immorality or irreverence to God, but also widely accepted things such as colonialism, racism and financial greed were wrong. Instead, people were able to cite the Bible and appeal to concepts like "Providence" to say that God in effect told them to do what they did. So here, even on the "corporate" [collective] level, men just read anything into scripture, and yet that era is always appraised, in contrast to the "self-ism" of recent generations).

So something is really not being understood correctly, regarding the power of the Spirit.
(This should be addressed, and squared away, before using it against homosexuals or anyone else. This is part of why "the world" keeps throwing the failings of Christians back at the Church! We say it is Satan "accusing" us, but then we are very busy accusing them, but often not living up to the standards ourselves, which "gives him occasion", so of course he will turn on us when we fail ourselves! We've been "playing his game"!)

What about "Faith"?

Horton further points out on p284 (BCW again) that we should accommodate our language but not our message to the world, but are doing the opposite:
"We still speak Christian-eze; we still talk about being 'blessed' and 'anointed' and use other Christian language that nobody understands outside of the evangelical world", yet "...are accommodating the message to the world".
He also says "In our day, the church resembles Corinth, with its attraction to slick preachers, and signs and wonders; an immature church..." (p.228)

This is actually a sign of a lack of faith. We want so much to share the biblical saints' experience of regular divine interaction, that we must feign it, by hyping up things such as “healing” and “tongues”, and the language we see in the texts (often torn from their original contexts); if nothing else, substituting psychological “growth” as today's “miracle”, by fusing it with the concept of the “changed life”.

It seems no one wants to admit that [most times, at the very least] prayer's likeliness in being granted seems to conform to the natural situation. Even if we can't fully understand it (in which case we take it as the ultimate proof it was a supernatural “answer”; like "no" or "not yet" as the memes go). When we admit prayers might not be answered, then we come up with alternate purposes for it (besides “making your requests known to God”), like “it changes US”, or it's just our “relationship” with Him.

Being that expectations are basically the source of most of our non-physical pain, interpreting these scriptures as “promises” for US today, under the banner of “faith” raises more expectations, and when they don't come true, and we have to shrug and tell ourselves (or another person) “oh well; we just don't understand what God is doing”, it is creating more pain and disillusionment with God (and potential judgmental-ism if the disappointed person doesn't develop the right attitude). It's for all purposes "playing with our [own] hearts"! It would be God playing with our hearts, if we insist He is the one causing things to happen or not happen for some unknown purpose, but most Christians wouldn't dare say that. (Only in moments of extreme frustration, some might). But people seem to believe that this is precisely what makes it a “test” from God. (To "teach us how to handle disappointments". Another form of "playing with our hearts" is the notion that we gain "relief" from "dying"; i.e "to self", as mentioned above, but this is not actual relief, but still feeling the pain, and having to struggle to "change our attitude" on top of it. Don't call it "dying" or "relief", then!)

(The way they make it sound, I often wonder if this “growth” could be quantified. Perhaps into units of “grothions” or “grothons”, or perhaps "growitons". So each disappointment we react to the right way gives us one growiton, and a bigger disappointment might give us five growitons. Whoever dies with the most, wins, and the more you have, the bigger the prize).

Belief in an invisible God is a very powerful tool, which can potentially be very dangerous in the wrong hands, since it holds great emotional sway and fear over many, yet cannot be readily proven or disproven (sort of parallels the power wielded by early men who discovered fire). It should be used with great caution, humility and love; knowing our human tendency to control others. So we are not to use it to silence people about the "unsearchable counsel of God" when we have been making a lot of extrabiblical speculations on what He is doing all along!
"Trusting God" ultimately winds up meaning trusting men, when teachers use their own interpretations of His promises, and personal experiences (and even personal "revelation") read into them to instruct people on the "walk of faith".

Faith today is very difficult, and while most will superficially admit this, in practice we end up treating it as if it were as clear as gravity (the notion that there is "no excuse" for unbelief has to be justified. The main passage this is based on, Romans chapter 1, is actually addressing Israel, whom God "showed" Himself to through special revelation).

Faith is been admitted to be "hard", because it is ultimately subjective (no matter how "objective"; i.e. "from God", they claim it is. They say "God spoke to me", and we're supposed to read this as "GOD spoke to me". But no matter how you slice it, that "me" is still what it's being funneled through; God is not speaking to all of us at once, in flaming clouds or mountain tops anymore, where all would be seeing and hearing the same thing, undeniably.
So you can't escape the fact that you could be wrong, and no one else has any way of knowing what you have experienced internally like that. You then say "wait and see what comes to pass", but that's just putting it off to some other time that may or may not; [and often does not], ever come). So, men's interpretation is fallible, as it can be skewed. Religion uses “divine enlightenment” to get around this. But it ignores that they can be wrong about being enlightened.

What I've seen is that “faith”, when presented to others, always ends up with a measure of "presuppositionalism" (a term associated as one of the backbones of Reconstructionism, which takes just about everything the world hates about traditional religion to an extreme).
All of your arguments must presuppose the whole premise at some point. Usually, personal internal experience becomes the final arbiter, but then how can we expect others to go by just that? We have to argue that they have had the internal experience as well, which we take to be "conscience". But conscience alone doesn't prove all the other doctrines that go along with the entire faith. So you can't prove it, can't disprove it; so that, in effect (whether consciously or not) becomes our ace in the hole, as we just presume and assure ourselves "They know it's true, so we don't have to prove it to them, and that's why God's penalties are so harsh". When the world eventually turns away in disgust, and even believers grow weary and desperate, we can just chalk it up to their own "hardness". (Many churches still try to entertain them back in, though).

Does the power actually lie in the Law? Or is it source of the "offense"?

This article http://reasonablechristian.blogspot.com/2008/11/beyond-culture-wars-critique-of-michael.html criticizing Horton's Beyond Culture Wars over Christians trying to legislate morality, even says

The law and the Gospel go hand in hand and without the law there can be no conviction or revelation of sin. If society approves, institutionalizes, and endorses sin it makes the job of preaching the gospel even harder because no there is no public shame for sins otherwise universally seen as sinful! By observing the secularization of the European countries we can see the results of secularization and a rejection of moral law.

The assumption is that this "public shame" is what leads to [true] repentance. Basically, the supposed verification of preachers such as Spurgeon and Edwards who used fear, which then seemed to lead to "revival". What's never asked, is that if this was really a valid means of spreading the Gospel, why was there always an even worse backlash generations later? Of course, the advocates of these methods will just blame the forces of godlessness and "secularization" anyway. Or "preachers who [just out of nowhere] began softening preaching on sin and Hell".

The irony is that this writer (as a "Reformed Anglican") is a fellow Augustinian/Calvinist (like Horton), who believes that God has preordained who gets saved or not all along. So all he's arguing with Horton over is what amounts to a huge script or charade. Horton is at least consistent in that since God determines individual salvation, it does no good to badger the sinners (while driving them away and marring the image of Christ with our often hostile behavior). The writer goes on to cite 1 Tim.1:8-11 on who the "Law" is good for, not recognizing that this passage is positional; and all of those sins listed are what all of us are, if not covered by Christ's righteousness (not about necessarily literal behavior, as the Sermon on the Mount shows), and this aimed at those who were "desiring to be teachers of the Law" (v. 7); NOT those desiring to do away with the Law!

He accuses Horton of “liberalism” (and a “liberal political agenda”), and even an “Anabaptist” position of “surrendering to ungodly culture”. Horton was not really saying Christians should never be involved in politics, but his whole point, which is precisely what is missed here, is the failure of Christians (including “conservative” ones) to necessarily reflect God's will in their politics. So Horton is cautioning them on a misguided zeal (i.e.“emulation”, Gal.5:20) that ignores one's own sins and slanting of the message to a purely cultural ‘gospel’.
The article precursor to the book, which the writer is answering (http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=831&var3=authorbio&var4=AutRes&var5=1) mentioned “minorities” in addition to homosexuals and abortionists as those given no reason to listen to us. The church focused on those last two, but totally ignored the first, if not justifying oppression with the same Augustinian/Calvinist “providentialism” and “sovereignty” used in other issues. So as Horton pointed out, people ended up as proven bigots even when morality was not the issue.

So the overall message I'm seeing here is that the old church was just right about everything.
I would say he's right that Horton has deviated from the full “Reformed” mindset, but then all that really was, was the same Dark Ages Catholic institutional (including state power) controlling, oppressive system, only re-infused with Augustinian electionism, on top of still maintaining the [in practice] Pelagian works-focused perfectionism the Roman church fell back into.

(I see that this writer elsewhere denies perfectionism and that "the Gospel is about 'transformation' or 'change'" (e.g.), which "confuses sanctification with justification", but the catch is using sanctification to determine justification, which is done by most, at least in practice. e.g. "Is sanctification optional? No. But neither is sanctification the foundation or basis for our justification or our salvation!" The argument is that it's not the "foundation"; however, it is still required! In practice, there is no real difference, especially when it's a process that God is selectively doing on certain people anyway.

"Sanctification simply makes our witness before men credible. Our profession of faith is credible before men and the church because we are progressively being sanctified." I would say, that is another reason why there still seems to be "Law" preached in the New Testament. Clearly, the focus was on their "witness" to those in the system of Law, which was judging and persecuting the Church. That is why Jesus would tell the woman "go and sin no more, lest a worse thing happen to you", and Paul would have someone "delivered to Satan" to be punished for blasphemy, and in one case, go as far as to have someone circumcized to placate the institution, and discuss how the "liberty" he was teaching his readers would be misconstrued by this system, and that the believers should therefore not flaunt it. Once that system was gone, all of that would be over.
But most people do not believe this; they believe God was the one judging with the Law in those cases, and that this extends to our time and beyond, so we have to "grow" in "sanctification" if we're truly "justified", and "persevere" in this, to "the end"; either death, or a Second Coming, if they believe in that. Perseverance is in theory monergistic (all God's work), but in practice, synergistic (the "daily choices to 'die to the old man'", as agreed on by everyone else).

So it's all Law, and God chooses to empower certain souls to believe and then keep the Law (the modified “traditional Christian” version, that is, and that's what this thing they call "general equity" is about). He otherwise is operating perpetually on Law and condemnation, hating not only homosexuality and homosexuals (and all other sins and sinners), but also even the elect, before they convert! (But then isn't one of their main proof-texts for predestination that God "loved them from the foundation of the earth"?)
There is clearly no real “good news”. (And recall, Calvin taught God goes as far as to make some people think they are elect, when they aren't, and it makes no difference then how many “works” they do [the supposed "evidence" of election], if they don't “persevere”).

And he repeats the common error of both the Law and Gospel being “offensive” to “the lost sinner”, and being upheld by God side by side, perpetually. (And people like this are often a-millennial if not preterist, rather than futurist, so this paradigm is “it”, forever!) Based on this, the "sinners" can be trampled on as if they weren't human. Regarding homosexuals, "They are wicked and unsaved. So what if the moral law offends them? Is it right to give in to sin just because sinners protest?" The same could be, and once was, said about the African or Native American "barbarians", regarding taking their land and freedom, to establish their new Christian "kingdom". Only centuries later, for the Church to have to admit it was wrong. (Though I still get people in debates who appeal to "providence". Especially when you ask them why it's OK for them to complain about their perceived loss of power, but it's wrong for those previously conquered to complain or demand compensation).
He ignores where Horton cites Paul in saying "what business is it of mine to judge outsiders?" (1 Cor.5:12). Nobody is saying "give in to sin", or to not have any kind of laws, like against murder and theft. An issue like homosexuality is ultimately the people's own personal business, and why are you even "in their bed" (i.e. involved in what they're doing) to begin with? So even in this "general equity" concept, it cannot be seen as a publically "moral" law, and would be in the same category as the other neighboring laws in Leviticus which they claim were abolished at the Cross. (Where Israel was a more closed community, so people were more in others' business).

Of course, one of the criteria often used in determining what carries over to post-Cross, is what was "repeated" in the New Testament. (I even had to fall back on this, in debating the sabbatarians as a futurist, and even appealed to "the seven Noahide laws" and Acts 15, which was basically my version of "general equity"). But even the parts of the "Law" repeated there were part of an overlap of covenants, where the Law that was "passing away" still had some power. Conversion was turning to Christ to receive the covering. Yet they had to persevere in good works to "the end" (in their lifetimes); else, to extend this "overlap" to the present (rather than ending SHORTLY), you end up with these endless "perseverance" ("once saved always saved"), "predestination vs prevenient grace [i.e. 'foreseeing' of free will]", and "faith vs works" disputes, which (as is apparent) cannot be resolved with the different scriptures, under the commonly accepted theological lenses.

So the Law is offensive (for good reason, as Paul explains), but the Gospel was only offensive to those holding onto the Law. (Who were "lost sinners", but not quite the ones teachers like this are thinking of!) And that's because it shows shows how far they actually fall short of the Law, in contrast to their own self-appraisal (think, rich young ruler). So when this guy says "...the law, without which there can be no Gospel!" and "Without the law there is no understanding of sin", and that they go "hand in hand", that's true, but it's not about what they seem to be advocating, of taking the law to control or terrorize people into obedience, and then the only good news is —IF they're "elect"— they will be saved, and at that, only if they prove it by persevering in good works and/or right belief.
The Law is the "bad news" (don't think so; read all of Paul) that sets the need and purpose of the Gospel, as the "good news". This teaching here does precisely what Horton says, in confounding Law and grace (and which he claims to agree with Horton for addressing in the Church). He's not separating between bad news and good news; it's all one big thing, that stands together in "offending" everyone —but the legalists, that is! (Who only battle amongst each other over who's really keeping it right or thoroughly enough).

One of Horton's best points was that the reason for this, was that in order to come down so hard on others with the Law, they had to think they were keeping it enough themselves. (And the prime example he uses is the rich young ruler). And in order to do that, they had to scale it down from what it REALLY, fully requires. Even if they appear to be increasing its requirements (as the rabbis of Christ's time had done), it really is scaled down in some way, to conform to their "cultural" customs or sensibilities.
Hence, focusing only on certain sins (like sexual ones, which Horton even mentions are the only ones some seem to be concerned with). And then these also happen, ever so conveniently, to be the ones God passes [temporal] “judgments” (of both individuals and “nations”) over. So as he says [to paraphrase a bit], people end up confident that they “don't smoke, drink or [scr]ew, or go out with girls who do” and "muse at how God does not hand out curses for gossiping and greed". It also perpetuates the “us vs them” mentality he describes, which has plagued both religious and political conservativism.

A twisted “God is sovereign, man is responsible” ideology then leads to “God hates them, and imprecates them through the Law they can't keep, and so should we”. (In addition to taking over and dominating them, if possible. Even innocent children who get AIDS are suffering this “judgment” of the world's sin. He criticizes Horton as too soft on abortion, but you wonder why that's even wrong, then; or any other form of murder for that reason? [It certainly wasn't deemed wrong when brutalizing conquered peoples, using essentially this same theology!]
In passing, Horton's brand of Calvinism, if I understood it correctly, apparently doesn't really hold man “responsible”, since he is just a helpless “vessel” of the “Potter”. But these other variations, including the Baptistic ones such as the “Lordship” movement, do put man into that double-bind, thinking it somehow “glorifies” God, and not recognizing that it eliminates any semblance of “good news”. [And so the version of the theology that removes "responsibility" is seen as "hyper-Calvinism"]. Some may also be of the view that the redeemed will enjoy the suffering of the wicked in Hell).

Overall, man is left in the exact same dilemma: nearly all lost under the Law, as before Christ. What has the Cross really accomplished? (Other than switching from “Jewish” rituals and sabbaths to these new “Christian” ones, which is how they understand “the Law” being “nailed to the Cross”).
But when you look at Jesus in the Gospels, you just do not see this default hatred toward people, especially the "outsiders" to the faith (the so-called "sinners"). When the disciples demanded instant [temporal] judgment to be rained down on an unrepentant city, He scolded them, saying they did not know of what spirit they [the disciples] were of, and this, not simply because "it wasn't time yet", or "He had to rescue the 'elect' out of there first", but rather for He did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save. The Augustinian/Calvinist doctrine teaches essentially that He did come to destroy, for that is what best "glorifies" God, and only a [relative] few "redeemed" are needed to be saved out of that, to witness this.

On the other hand, the only people Jesus displayed such wrath towards were the religious institution, which was established by God, but had become corrupt, not recognizing their own sinfulness and learning the lesson the Law was designed to teach them, but instead, foolishly imagining they could improve upon the Law and then master it (and thus win God's favor and "save" the nation and usher in the Kingdom of God), and then go on to oppress others with this. THIS was the bigger offense toward God, than the [relatively] petty "sins" they tried to punish others over. This is what totally negated everything Christ came to fulfill, and led them to reject Him and have Him crucified.
But the conservative Christian world (whether Calvinist or Arminian) has turned this on its ear, by directing all this anger toward the outsiders, and even sometimes the people sitting in the Church, or other, less zealous churches, while presuming God must be smiling down on the leadership thundering Law and judgment at the world (so long as they do their little nod regarding themselves being "lowly worms", and most today don't even do that, anymore!)

He says Horton "seems to ignore the doctrine of total depravity", but then people thinking that any group of men have the right to "presuppose" their beliefs as "just true", (and then demand that the entire world just submit to them) denies total depravity by taking themselves out of the equation. Why should I believe them over a non-believer who insists he's "good" enough to go to Heaven without Christ? Or a pagan emperor or totalitarian dictator or cult leader who says he's a god, and should be worshipped? Or someone who shows up on our shores sayigng God commanded them to take us over? Or someone on the street saying he can sell me the Brooklyn Bridge? (And especially since their doctrine includes the clause that they could be not elect after all. In such case, they were wrong the whole time!)

It all ties into the whole "life change" concept, which leads Christians to deny their sin (after filtering what they consider sin to begin with), which then leads to presuppositionalism (in practice, they cannot be wrong, even though they're flesh and blood MEN like everyone else, since they are unconditionally "elect" and "regenerated", and do not have to prove their positions, even with the Bible, since that would call into question that their interpretations of it are correct to begin with, and the confessions and their assumptions of scripture hold the final say anyway). They then demonize others, and vie to take over culture and legislate this skewed morality, under the premise of "restraining the wicked" and voilà, you have a system of oppression like those in colonial America or South Africa under Apartheid. (Likewise, the whole mindset of the "alt-right", who make blanket statements such as "blacks lack character and ethics"; "blacks ruin everything", etc., totally obliterating any notion of their own propensity for sin, or understanding of sin altogether, are also based on the same mindset).

Any “Christian kingdom” based on something like this will just be a repeat of the corrupt Israel and Temple system of Christ's time, or ultimately, Nimrod's kingdom, or the much feared "antichrist" kingdom (and will be full of oppression and hypocrisy, all “baptized” with various proof texts removed from their contexts). The people Jesus tangled with, such as those who wanted to stone the woman (but not the man she had to have been committing adultery with as the law they were appealing to commanded), and those adding all the sabbath restrictions, were right, then. For they were only trying to “save” the nation, and bring it back under God's favor.

Church in Trouble Because of Confusion Between Law and Grace


“God’s Word comes in two forms: demands (Law) and deliverance (Gospel). Both are important and necessary, but they have vastly different roles. He said a focus on Law over Grace leads Christians to believe that somehow, if they try really hard, they can attain the level of sanctification and holiness that pleases God by following his laws and commands.”

And so what happens is that “deliverance” (a term often and heavily used) is redefined in a strictly behavioral sense; as “deliverance” from the “sins” (transgressions of the Law) we get often hooked into (addictions, bad habits, etc).

And how does this usually transpire? “the Law gets softened into helpful tips for practical living [such as “steps” for getting over habits and addictions], while the Gospel gets hardened into a set of demands that we have to live out.” [i.e. the “power” God gives us to be able to follow those steps; but “He doesn’t make it easy”, because “hardship” makes us “grow”, so that’s where the “trying really hard” comes in].
Some people insist on the "instructions" for "practical living" (which makes it all "relevant") as the Gospel. But in that case, the "Gospel" is something other than salvation! (Namely, just the Law all over again!)

Also says: “The focus and the foundation of the Christian faith is not living for God. The focus of the Christian faith is that God in Christ gloriously lived for us. That foundation produces fruit, but the root of the Christian faith is not living for God. It’s the fact that God in Christ is living for us.

Excellent observations! This so needs to be thundered throughout the Church!

What exactly is the 'sinful nature'?"

A key to understanding the power is to understand the "nature" it addresses, which raises questions such as this one, as I saw online.

Sin is defined as transgression of the Law. The Law was given as a result of man's taking on the knowledge of good and evil. And man's behavior, by nature (i.e. just following instincts which are to survive and reproduce, without regard for anything or anyone else, without any kind of moderation) falls short of this Law. (So nature itself is not bad, as Augustine and much of the church after him concluded, but it's how we participate in it; without integrity, which is an ethic of care and justice).
So in that sense, we have a "sinful nature". As far as using this as a justification for religious fear tactics, the punishment for this (death) was handled at the Cross.

When the discussion turns into whether we can stop sinning, while all would acknowledge we can never be perfect, one person goes into the old "indwelling" concept, and said the problem of not receiving "Christ's life" to help us, is because of "self-focus", and then alludes to concepts such as "growing", and "not being there yet", and "the POWER of Christ's WORDS", compared to a motivational speaker giving words of encouragement, and only a handful of people in the group will benefit, based on the FAITH of those few, who will act upon those motivational words. (And here is the perfect illustration of how well this fits in with secular "motivational" speaking, as I've been arguing!) So, "In like manner, Christ's power is manifested through his words, when we believe them and act upon them it gives us spiritual life (see John 6:63). The apostle Paul said he knows what is good, but how to perform it is where he has problem."

But making it all about our own struggle of "getting there" or "growing" is what keeps it "self-focused"! It's all about Christ and His righteousness imputed to us. What's being described here is, again, "impartation", and is basically a Wesleyan "Higher Life" concept, and as such, is semi-Pelagian (man, in his fallen state, has to pull himself out of it by his "choices", and Christ only gives us some "help" in making it "possible", through this imparted "power", that still leaves it as a whole "process" of daily struggle).

In John 6, He was clarifying that His words were spiritual, where people were taking them literally, and then getting totally shocked. (And of course, Catholics insist it is "literal", leading to their transubstantiation doctrine, which they call a "mystery" of how a wafer and wine is "literally" flesh and blood, and then Calvinists believe the whole passage is referring to "No man can come to me, unless drawn", which they use to support their doctrine of unconditional election, which to them is the "offense"-stirring "mystery").

So the real "mystery" is how we are in Christ and have His righteousness, apart from our performance or "acting on" anything (It's about "BEing", not "DOing"). And this is basically the point a lot of people stumble on. (1 Pet. 2:4-8)

The person then quotes several Psalms saying the Law or "statutes" quicken us. That's the opposite of what Paul says, and people all seem to forget, Psalms is Old Testament (still "under the Law"). It doesn't address man's inability to keep the Law (though this is sure seen in the prophets' excoriation of the nation). It still mark's God holding man up to the challenge (to ultimately show him he can't).
Christ's work is not simply taking that same Law, eliminating only certain details (sabbaths, rituals, etc), and then giving us more "motivation" to keep the rest (but it's still an ongoing "struggle"). "Motivation" may have been the "quickening" David experienced, but Christ goes beyond that, for that still ends up as about "doing", even if one makes "being" and "doing" one in the same (as the person implied, in sort of agreeing what what I said about "being").

The person then says the NT is just a "manifestation and fulfillment of the OT". Fulfillment, yes, but I would say it's better to think only of the OT in light of the NT, and not the other way around. (That is, in terms of the Gospel. When it comes to the definitions of certain concepts, especially prophecy, then the NT should be understood in light of the Old, but is often similarly reversed). The OT was a SHADOW of the NT. Precisely the problem, is people making what they call the NT or "the Gospel" just a rehash or even extension of the OT; simply modified by reducing the number and type of rules. But it still ends up all about "Law", and "doing", "struggling to grow", etc. and the end result, condemnation (and dissension, as everyone becomes a "prophet" trying to preach everyone else into repentance, often one-upping others ["emulation"] and thus differing in what they think is a sin or "compromise" that needs to be "reproved").

Scripture elsewhere speaks of metaphors like "new wine in old wineskins", and the Galatians "falling from grace", where mixing the two destroys the whole thing.

The dangers of the focus on "the heart"

Someone had commented somewhere else:

Sin nature is just a manifestation of the heart. The act is not the actual sin or the first sin. The first sin or root of the sin is starts within the heart. People sin when they have hardened their hearts and refuse to cast down the negative thought. Satan understood this in the garden of Eden. He understood that a person with a contrary heart will be less likely to cast down a contrary thought. The contrary thought is that thought that is only appeasing to the flesh and not the spirit. The contrary thought clearly does not line up with the thought or Word of God. The thought of God brings life. Creation was rooted in the thought of God. He told us in his Word that He knew us before He formed us in the womb. Our existence comes from the thought of God. Going back to the Garden of Eden, we see how Eve and Adam fell to sin. They didn't cast down the negative thought, they fell to sin, and now them and their seed were able to speak and produce death as well as life.

Which I saw as the opportunity to address this whole "heart" comment, which I hear a lot, being in a somewhat charismatic environment. It also seems to be held up as indirectly supporting condemnation, because God cannot just forgive anyone with such a bad, Fall-causing heart; it must be cleaned out first (by the person's own "will" or "choices").

This seems to make the "heart" the origin of the NATURE. In the Garden, it was not the heart that was wrong, it started with the act of taking on the knowledge of good and evil. THEN, they "fell", and took on a sin-"nature", and the heart became darkened, from this.
As for the appeal to 2 Cor. 10; that is a time when the fall has long occurred and taken hold, and the Plan of Salvation is progressing through the Church. And with the opposition they were facing (mainly from advocates of the Law, who rejected Christ, and were in the actual "stronghold", in their position in the Law system), that is why they had to "cast down arguments". Too many people (particularly in charismatic-influenced churches, and this has spread to much of popular evangelicalism) take passages like this (and the whole concept of "the heart" in general) and turn it into this "Christianeze" spirituality or "spiritual warfare" lingo, tossing around the terms often way out of context.

This "heart" teaching of theirs as we shall see again shortly is actually the whole doorway to severe judgment. No matter what you believe or do, or why, the "heart" is what they appeal to as condemning you, based on some scriptures mentioning the heart or conscience. So even among the Wesleyan/Arminian groups not as radically legalistic as the two that will be discussed next, they can begin to harshly judge, or question salvation, based on what they see as someone's heart being "not right". I've seen a quote "In the end, whether or not one is a Christian has almost nothing to do with persuasive intellectual argument: it has to do with whether one has experienced God; it has to do with the grace of God - a mystery." (Barbara Grizzuti Harrison). This can be used to dismiss any Biblical critique of their teaching, though what they ignore is that they have simply built up their own "persuasive intellectual arguments" that are what's being argued against in the first place, but when these run out of answers, then they have to set aside intellect in favor of "mystery" and presuppose some sort of "spiritual" subjective (esoteric) experience (granted by "the power"), the person arguing against them supposedly lacks. All of this is nothing more than the old appeal to "miracle, mystery and authority" which was the "historic Church"'s old tactic of silencing questions or objection.

So the "heart" premise can totally void grace, and this won't be seen as turning it back to works, because the "work" of changing the heart is all "will" without physical action.
But since it's so "hard", as they put it, then it is still a kind of "works", especially when/if it determines salvation. (And the term "works", ergon, includes in its definitions, "that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking, any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind"!)

Misinterpreted scriptures

The lawkeepers quibble over Paul, citing Peter's warning that many would misunderstand him. But it's precisely the tactic of taking a verse here or a chapter there (used by many), that is most prone to misunderstanding. (Armstrong even advocated this, likening the Bible to a "jigsaw puzzle", whose "pieces" must be put back together "here a little, there a little", citing Isaiah; —totally out of context!)
It's like we are given a whole picture, we then fracture it into little pieces (the "verses"), and then everyone claims to put it back together the "right" way. It shouldn't be "fractured" in the first place!

Lawkeepers I was debating with even claimed the Law was God's "gift" to us. But Paul in Ephesians is clear that salvation by grace through faith (and that's the "faith OF Christ"), is the gift; "not of works, lest any man should boast" (which is exactly what people are doing, whether the sabbatarians, or the old line fundamentalists, or anyone accusing others of "lawlessness").

One person cites Eph.2:10 about being "created unto good works". The "works" they were created for were not THEIR works (their efforts at keeping commandments), but rather God/Christ's works ("HIS workmanship"). It's all about Him, not us.
Though some translations interpret it in terms of what we "do". It actually says that "we may walk in them", which many will also associate with what we do, from the OT passages that use "walk" in this manner.

But the work was SAVING us (v.5-6, 11ff, including "abolishing the enmity even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making PEACE").
(Though many will claim it's still our effort, and then it becomes "His work" simply because He's "giving us the power". Again, this is not actually felt, just believed in, so it just becomes an untestable supposition).

If people's emphasis on keeping laws was correct, then Christ was unnecessary, for they already had the Law before Him and were admonished to keep it better. What really changed? What was the cause of this "enmity" in the first place?
Again, look at the CONTEXT of the whole passage. It's all about reconciliation. The Law condemns us (creating the opposite of reconciliation) because we don't keep it.

The James passage on "faith without works" they cite also says "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." Yet they all admit that we don't keep them perfectly, but [from what they imply] as long as we're trying, we'll receive grace (scripture doesn't say this).
The context in James is people showing "respect to persons", meaning discriminating against the poor in favor of the rich (which many seem to think nothing of, at least in their political ideologies). This technically doesn't violate any of the commandments, but James, like Jesus showed in the Sermon on the Mount, shows that spiritually, it does.

James was speaking to Jewish Christians, who gravitated more to the Law. I believe there was an overlap of covenants, so they were partly still under the Law, and they had to run the race to the end of the Old Covenant in order to receive the full promise of grace. So James is warning them (again, like Jesus did) that their compromises were not passing. (In fact, it should be noted that Romans 1—2, the main "clobber" passage against homosexuals and even unbelievers in general, is describing people who claim to follow the Law [that had been "revealed" to them], and judge others over it, yet "do the same things" themselves!) Many probably believed, like the lawkeepers or "holiness" advocates today "well, just as long as I'm trying; I'll be saved by faith"; i.e. "faith" will "fill in" the holes of their imperfect works). But as James is showing if you're going to go by works (even under the banner of "faith"); you either keep the whole Law perfectly, or you're judged "lawless"!
People don't even realize how much of their actions really violate the Law, and that's the whole problem today as well.

In reality, since all of our “works“ and even our “faith” is marred by sin, both the "faith" and "works" that will save us are Christ's, not our own!

We also get John 10:25 “The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me", and Colossians 1:29: "To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily." One person in a discussion adds his own (and the standard view's) take on this: "faith plus the works of Christ. Its not enough to just believe we must let Christ works show through are actions that others may know we are not our own but bought with a price for His purpose."

That ends up still about us and our efforts, and doesn't even seem to be anything more that an ideal that becomes another "law" we must confess we don't really live up to.
What are all of these "works" people are doing today? Just basic "morality"? (Even if you take the Lordshippers' and others' view that the entire modern evangelical Church has "fallen away", then what really are the "mighty works" of these "chosen few", then, [which should stand out all the more then], beyond a lot of tough talk you can't even verify as to how consistent it is int heir actual day to day lives?)

The Apostles were promised supernatural powers (healing, etc). and of course, many people in certain movements claim that today, but in the end, it is neither here nor there; just more sensationalism made to gain followers.
This has apparently ceased, because that age had ended.

The common reading of 2Cor.3:15 assumes the "image of Christ" is behavioral. If it was, then when we admit our behavior i still not perfect, then it basically becomes imputational (God's seeing Christ's sinless covering when He looks at us), as if to 'fill in" where we fall short, but then that's what it really is to begin with.

Catholics and Campbellists, and perhaps sometimes even some "orthodox" teachers, have also used Titus 2:11-12, which appears at first glance to define the "grace" that "brings salvation" in terms of a set of "instructions" (as Campbellists I have debated with put it; i.e "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts", living soberly, etc.) The "orthodox" who employ this will probably claim the "grace" is the "power" that enables us to follow the "instructions". But this is just reiterating what Paul had taught in Romans 6, and the motivation is following Christ, and also, again coming out from under the Law. The "grace" brings salvation, and motivates people to be "dead" to sin, and "the Law", and in this period, what hinged upon this is gaining righteousness, and eternal life (v.19, 22; and from there, we get the all-so familiar 23rd verse), as they waited for "the blessed hope" (Tit.2:13), which wasn't for an end to the physical world, but for salvation itself (1:2).

Turning Liberty into "Bondage" and bondage into "liberty"

v12 says "So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty." They interpret "liberty" as "freedom from the power of sin". This is of course, "only by the power of God".
So no matter how much you have to "strive", and how "difficult" it is, and how many more rules we have to tack on, to make sure you don't even come close to "crossing the line" into sinning, this is actually the true "liberty". (Because again, it's all about the behavior). They'll often quote Jesus and Paul on being "slaves to sin", but Jesus is pointing out the true state of those who thought as Abraham's children they were keeping the Law pretty good, and then Paul expounds upon this showing the true positional nature of the concept. "Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?"
When we read this, we think of being caught up in some addiction or bad habit, as opposed to "obedience" meaning 'getting over' the habit, and thus keeping whichever commandment it was leading us to violate. But "obedience" (hypakoen) simply means "compliance" or "submission". It's not necessarily something we DO ("active"). To stop relying on our effort and trust in Christ IS to "obey"; meaning "obey the Gospel".

To trust in that "striving" being held up as the true "liberty", is actually the true "slavery" to sin!
The result, as some have pointed out, is the Church's obsession with "sin". (Under the banner of trying to stamp it out). Meanwhile, to repeat, the people don’t even realize how much of their actions still really violate the Law.
This is the true "slavery to sin"! And this is why Paul attributes it to the Law.

(And v13, which they always seem to skip over, says "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." So even James is ultimately pointing to mercy or Grace!)


The end result of this teaching: outright denials of "Grace", in popular "tough" teaching

"Practicing" sin

At one point, I see a meme made of 1 John 3:6-10, NLT:

Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is. Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.

Here's a gross example of a new translation completely confusing the message of the Gospel. It makes it look like we really are saved by our behavior! Then, John Bevere, who posted this on Facebook, notes "How do we determine if someone belongs to Jesus? It's so clear! No commentary needed."

"Practice righteousness" becomes "do what is right", with "it shows" thrown in there. "Sins" [v] becomes keeps on sinning" and "make a practice of sinning".
It's not a matter of a commentary being needed, it's a matter of translators just changing it to common interpretations of what these terms mean. So here it is laid out all "clearly".

But that's not all. From there, in "Part 2" the meme cites verses 10-13 on Cain slaying Abel, and he comments:
"John shows the way to recognize someone who truly belongs to Jesus and someone who doesn’t. It’s not by what he or she says, rather it is by what he or she does. John makes it so clear, the person who makes a practice of sinning is of the world and doesn’t belong to God. It doesn’t matter how often they attend church or conferences, sing worship songs, and confess belonging to Jesus. They don’t belong to Him because if they did they wouldn’t habitually sin."

Totally forgotten, in relying on a translation like this, is that "sin" means "missing the mark". It's a state of being, not just a bunch of "actions" that lead to that state. "Righteousness" in the Greek is defined as "equity (of character or act); specially (Christian) justification". Again, it is ultimately a state, and not a bunch of actions.

So then,

Who is the ‘world’ he is referring to? He uses Cain as an example. Cain wasn’t indifferent to God, he wanted a relationship with God, for he brought the Lord a sacrifice. The ones who will hate with the greatest intensity are not those who are indifferent to God, those who don’t attend church, and don’t believe He exists; rather it is those who seek after a relationship with God, attend church and conferences but have not repented of their sins. These are the ones who attacked Jesus, Paul, Silas and the other disciples. We must remember what true love is, its truest definition is to keep the commandments of Jesus Christ. 1 John 5:2 states, “We know we love God’s children if we love God and OBEY HIS COMMANDMENTS." The true grace and love of God not only forgives us, but empowers us to live a righteous and godly life. So be encouraged knowing that you have the character of Jesus Christ implanted in your heart to live selflessly as He did!

So even "seeking after God" isn't enough, it's all about the behavior, and of course the good old concept of "impartation" is brought out; the "power" that somehow "helps" us to stop sinning.

But as I've said regarding the Lordship teaching (which this sounds a lot like; didn't know this about him), who really has stopped sinning? It becomes if you "try" to stop sinning, and then we get into the whole "daily struggle" concept and focus on "growth". But none of that is what this passage says. John is writing to people who are still under the Law, many trusting in that for their justification, but not realizing that it can't save; you had to be COVERED with CHRIST'S righteousness, and the "cover" is not something we do, or that He "empowers" (helps) us to do. So the primary "commandment" was to get covered. Verse 23 says "And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment."
But of course, "believing" is often in practice defined by these works, and (with the extension of the "fulfillment of all things" to the yet future) becomes a duty just as much as the works of the Law. With the "power" concept, we can go around questioning the salvation of those now behaving a certain way, because look, 'all you have to do' is 'tap into the power', or "be willing" to do what the power allows you to do. But it's easy to preach that when most people you're teaching can't see your day to day living, and most importantly, what's in your heart or mind. The solution is generally the immediate absolution of beating yourself up for "slipping" or "falling into the flesh", etc. But when does it become clear that this is not the "rest" or "peace" promised as part of salvation? (Most teachers like this hold "rest" and "peace" to be a changed attitude toward the difficulties of life, but "salvation" itself is in practice yet another daily "difficulty", even with this "power" granted).

Claims of "False Grace"

Apparently connected with John Bevere (and Charisma magazine), we have John Burton, with the video "Five Marks of False-Grace Movement"

1) "Exemption theology: "Not all part of the Bible are for us":
The claim is that it's all to avoid "parts of the word of God that require response" [spoken all sternly]. We have to be "a people of response". He even says they "overemphasize our sinful nature" and underemphasize, what else, but the "power"; the "power of the Cross", which is all about behavior; "Was it not sufficient to keep us from sin?" (And it's 'not about being sinless'; but the old cliché of "not having to sin"; which is not even a biblical statement, but rather likely derived from the common misunderstanding of "slaves of sin" (which in their view is merely 'slaves' of bad "habits" that are "sinful").

Of course, they don't realize the positional and not behavioral nature of holiness (in the total fulfillment brought by the Cross). He derides this as "automatically holy; innocent by association"; taking a "commandment to be holy" (Peter) as "a great goal" or "principle", or "great ideal", but not a "command" or "imperative".
(Never mind the concept of holiness by "imputation". What these teachers are advocating is the competing view of "impartation", which stems from Wesleyan semi-Pelagian teaching more than anything else). It's all about "obedience and [behavioral] holiness".
Meanwhile, if it's really "not about sinlessness", then "holiness" is then a "goal or principle or great ideal", in practice after all, and then they will allow imputation (i.e. "by association") to in effect "fill in" for the required holiness. But this is not what Peter is teaching, and it shows their soteriology is completely inconsistent!

We’re not overemphasizing sin; we’re taking it seriously; apparently more seriously than those who think man just needs some more “motivating” (“you can do it” and “no excuses” talk along with the fear of Hell) and some nondescript “power” as “help”, and then he can put away sin, meaning keep the divine Law. They used to criticize those they thought were too liberal as “underemphasizing” sin; but now we’ve done a complete flip, and teachers like this end up as the ones in practice minimizing or softening down the Law, so it can be in reach of man (especially with the “it’s not about sinlessness” line); with simply more motivating and divine “help”. (This, as much as they wield the fear of Hell and condemnation of sin).

He then appeals to the Rich Young Ruler, which he compares "many Christians" to, but the Rich Young ruler is for one, before the Cross; it's warning those people trusting in the Law, and thinking they were keeping it that they weren't. (These were not people "slacking off", or thinking themselves "exempt"; he even asked "what else do I lack yet", striving for that much "obedience" and aiming to keep the whole Law perfectly).
But of course, that can't refer just to them back then, it must refer to us; we can't possibly be "exempt". (We wonder what the Cross was for, then. I guess it's just the key to the "power". It then has nothing to do with forgiveness of sins; it's just giving us what the Israelites supposedly lacked in the ability to keep the Law, and I guess removing the more difficult aspects of the Law, like sacrifices, sabbaths, etc).

The result; people who even want to follow Jesus, are still "turned away", "because of attitudes of the heart". (Here we see the "heart", again!) He says "people give more power to sin than to the Cross", but in reality, the "power of sin" IS the Law (1 Cor.15:56 i.e. the "commandments" that defined "obedience" and "holiness"!) The battle is not between the Cross and "sin" (meaning our behavior). That battle was finished instantly, on the Cross. The battle is between the Cross and our efforts (which then becomes the "sin" in that respect).
The "power" of the Cross was the RIGHT to be called "sons of God" (John 1:12. This in opposition to those who thought only the Law and physical inheritance gave you that right). Never is it portrayed as some sort of psychic force (that we must "will" to "tap into") that changes our behavior, with the behavior ultimately qualifying us for Heaven, or at least "making the difference".

People read of the rich young ruler, and how he “walks away sorrowful” for not wanting to “do” or “give up” something, and it seems to fit their idea that following Christ is all about “giving up” things, or “doing” difficult stuff.
But they miss the point. He was already “doing” --a lot more than most of us today! (And that's precisely what he didn't want to "give up"!)

What the Spirit does is bear witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16). But according to these teachers, people can go as far as to be “fervent” and “on fire”, but still lost. Where is the assurance then? How can one ever know for sure they are saved? It seems to be only based upon our own efforts and behavior. (We must presume "I've been doing well, 'growing' and sinning less, developing the right 'attitudes of the heart', etc. so I guess now I must really be saved". This not even taking into account the possibility of falling back into condemnation!)

But what work, then, really? Like that rich young ruler, we can ask, “what good thing do I lack yet?”, and will the answer be this one act, like giving up all your possessions, that will then give you access to Heaven?
By now, it sounds ludicrous, doesn't it (and it would certainly be more than just one additional work); but this fails to take into account how we often decide for ourselves what is enough, especially if you say it's not about actual perfection. Of course, we will look down on people not doing as well as we are, but those teaching this should consider that maybe their level of works isn't good enough either, even if they feel confident that it is. The question is “what causeth thee to differ?” (1 Cor.4:7)
This of course shows how this is a slippery slope to loss of any hope of salvation. But it sounds so good, because it's “tough".

They can talk this stuff as toughly as they want, but that is really all empty assumptions read into the texts. It sounds so "right", because of that part of us that feels guilt (which they are exploiting; 2Tim.3:6), so salvation must be "hard". (Which is actually what all the old pagan religions operated on). This then becomes "the way that seems right unto man", but the end result, (as they themselves testify), is death! (Prov.14:12) This is the work of "The Accuser"!

2) "Sin is treated as temporarily troubling but eternally benign" (cites Heb.10, "sinning deliberately").
This is what I refer to as "as long as you're trying. (Which some people might fiercely deny when put that way, but that's clearly what is being implied here). So the effort of "trying" to overcome sin is what saves you from it; not actual "cleanness" from sin. If you're trying, then whatever sins remain will be forgiven. (This is what I was led to believe when I first entered the world of Bible theology as a young unchurched convert, through Armstrongism and comparing others I was exposed to such as Campbellism, Catholicism and Russellism, which are all considered heretical in conservative "orthodox" Protestantism. Yet you have these leaders, within so-called [Protestant] "orthodoxy" who sound just the same. They only differ in which commandments are necessary, and that they lip the protocol of "grace/faith alone", which the others openly, but more consistently, reject).

Then goes into "universalism". He knocks "once saved always saved" in favor of "once saved rarely saved". (Making up new unbiblical terms on the fly!) Again, what is the "Good News"?
"Walking in the Spirit" is interpreted as our efforts at avoiding sin, trusting in our efforts at obedience; i.e. keeping the Law, rather than trusting Christ. (But then as with the Lordshippers, "trusting" or "abiding" is itself assumed to be "obeying". "Trusting", in actual Biblical use means that even though we do NOT have the required perfect obedience, we recognize we are still forgiven. The Accuser and all of these preachers are saying otherwise, and even our "conscience" seems to go along with it, but as far as escaping condemnation, we "trust" HIM, who actually died on the Cross as the Son of God, as opposed to trusting what the preachers say, or what we ourselves feel or do. But they have turned this on its ear, into basically "growing" toward this hypothetical perfection, and "trusting" then ends up apparently about the "difficulty" of this "process").
"Not under the Law" is interpreted as ceasing from doing the things condemned in the Law; just like the sabbatarians argue; otherwise "grace does not cover us".

So "grace" itself then must be this "power" to change our "attitude of heart" to embark on this long hard, narrow difficult "walk" of works. Again, is this a "gospel" at all? (And again it's what those aforementioned "un-orthodox" groups teach).

Also fails to understand that "walking in the flesh" means precisely what he's preaching, and that's trusting in our efforts at "overcoming" sin. This is what creates the endless "struggle" with all those sins mentioned, where you have to "strive" so hard to begin with. For that is what Paul is showing all our efforts lead to, even if we do appear to get the upper hand on some of them, and "grow". Why would it be so "hard" otherwise"? They say because of our "old man", but why would "the same power that resurrected Christ" (as someone else calls it as we'll see next) then end up in such an endless tug of war with our old natures, and one where this power apparently loses most of the time? [i.e. in most people]. What is really stronger then? The Power, the "old nature", or the "Will"? It seems the "power" is the weakest of the three, being totally helpless without the "will"! No one ever thinks about this; so they just use fear to quell all questions instead. (And the frequently quoted 2 Cor. 5:17 "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come", like the others, is positional, and it leads to v.19 showing that the "reconciliation" is Him NOT COUNTING our sins against us; "so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God". Behavior is not even mentioned in this chapter!)

Meanwhile, they don't even try to address Romans 4:5 "But to him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." and Hebrews 4:10 "For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his" (and in that one, the condemnation mentioned is those who refuse to enter the "rest", which is the "disobedience" of v.11 and other places).

(As a side note, sin as "temporarily troubling, but eternally benign" is the exact argument they use when trying to "comfort" someone suffering pain, or especially wrong by others. If so, then why wouldn't our own commission of sins be the same? The argument generally is because sin "won't be allowed" in Heaven, but then they believe no one has attained actual perfection, so then people going to Heaven are all instantly perfected upon death or rapture. If so, this has nothing to do with how much they were striving for it, or how far they advanced by the end of their life).

3) "Repentance and confession of sins after salvation is not necessary."
This of course goes along with salvation constantly being in danger of being lost (and thus agrees with sects like Campbellism and even Catholicism), even by "little things" such as jealousy! Again, how could anyone call this "good news"? What really do we have that OT Israel didn't; even if you say "the power" to help us; they had supernatural miracles and God's tangible presence.

4) "Biblical works message is renounced as 'legalism'".
"Are you really serious that for me to obey is to put me in bondage to the Law?" Well, then, what are you "obeying"? If you have to worry that if you stop striving to obey beyond a certain point, then you will go to Hell, isn't that "bondage"?

The only point "obedience" is "legalism", is "if we were to reject the Cross and resurrection of Christ and attempt to work our way into Heaven".
They always do this! Redefine "legalism" in a specific way tailored to exclude their teaching. "Legalism" means "Law"-ism! All they are doing is adding the Cross to Law and then that's the only difference between the views. It's once you "accept" the Cross and Resurrection, then working your way into Heaven, but since this is by the "power" given to us, they won't ever admit it in those terms. But that's exactly what he's describing!
(Then, gives more pre-Cross commands).

Where preachers have long made much of the sins of the 'secular' (nonreligious) "world" as being what the Gospel condemns as "the old wine", "the old Man", the "old life", etc.; in the original context (e.g. Phil.3:8), it's really the Law, and those simply adding the Cross to the Law are the ones mixing the old with the new! (And no one is saying "obedience" itself is bondage or legalism, it's when you place salvation on it, exactly as these teachers are doing. [Or add non-biblical "rules" as points of "obedience to God" and denounce others over them, even if you don't stake salvation on them; as other groups do]. They must always obfuscate what others are saying about their teaching.
And it ties into the whole "without the fear of Hell, you have no reason to obey" belief. They say "out of love", but the whole premise is founded upon fear, where the Gospel contrasts love and fear, saying one casts the other out—1 John 4:18).

5) "Salvation is depicted as 'easy' and/or 'permanent'":
"Jesus didn't die on the Cross, to make it 'easy' to get saved; He died on the Cross to make it possible to get saved".
(Then goes into "the process of salvation", which "people don't understand", and again, like the Campbellists and others, cites James 2:14 and says it's only "works alone" that don't save, but they otherwise "play a part" in salvation).

The fact that you even talk about "easy" shows a total works-salvation focus.
Salvation is by works, and God doesn't make it "easy"; it's "possible" by your own hard work, with the "help" of the "power", which is not felt, but by "faith", and so thus doesn't even make it feel any easier.

And of course, it's narrow and few will be saved. Again, what do we have that OT Israel, following the flaming cloud, Moses on the mountaintop, or God in the Temple, didn't have?
"Another gospel, that is NO Gospel [good news]"! (Gal.1:6)

They do not realize that they are denigrating the Cross with these redefinitions of theirs. (And this is actually what ties into the apostasy being described in Heb.10; not just any "willful sin", but "counting the Blood of the Covenant, with which they were sanctified, an unholy thing"! [i.e. when the true affect of the Blood is really expounded, they consider it "promoting unholiness"]). If Christ only made it "possible", then He Himself didn't really do anything. He only rehashed the Law and changed the method of "applying" its pardon. But this guy insists this whole fear basis and merit by "fruits as evidence" is "freedom".

The battle is not between The Cross and sinful behavior; it's between The Cross and our efforts; the "power of sin" is the Law. The "power" of the Cross was the right to be called "sons of God", not a force that fixes behavior. The Spirit bears witness that we are children of God.

All of this is like spiritual "gaslighting", as they say "grace, not works", but then describe works; they say "faith, not sight", but then say there's absolute proof of God you will be judged by; and they say it's "easy", but then describe it as "hard". You can't readily prove or disprove it; they cite scriptures, you can cite scriptures to show otherwise, but each view calls the other unscriptural. So they play with your mind and your heart (conscience).

The Accuser uses our guilt to condemn us and "convince" us (basically perverting our "conscience"; Titus 1:15, 1 Cor.8) this is true, so we either force ourselves to accept it, or we rebel against it (which "proves" to its adherents that this is "the offense of the Gospel").
More often than not, people do both; one after the other, and the very denominations that have taught things like this the most, in the beginning, usually become the biggest "liberal mainliners", as the people eventually give up. If I'm going to do all that work and effort, and still might be "turned away" or not "persevere", then what's the use? They just hope for the best, like maybe before they die they'll be able to get a grip and turn their lives around, but if not, then they were going to Hell anyway, so what's the difference. (Hence, all the Catholics who make up much of "secular" Western society, and are trusting in "getting their last rites" to "make it to Heaven". But many Protestant groups are just like this, minus the sacramental focus; especially the Methodists and related groups, from whom this whole "holiness" focus largely came from, as well as the conservatives among the "higher" churches holding to the monergism of Calvin and the other reformers, but still mixed with a strong pietistic focus).
But again, the preachers rising up out of these groups, "calling them to repentance", and looking down at all the "sin" around them, will only take this as support of their view (plugged into scriptures on "falling away", which were described as occurring in NT times, not centuries later).

This, is the work and plot of the Devil, as much as he has been portrayed as the one leading all the sinners away from Law with the promise of pleasure.
Grace is God, in Christ "not counting our sins against us" (2 Cor. 5:19); NOT "giving us the power to sin less" or "making it possible" for our sins to be pardoned if we're trying to stop sinning, or gain the right attitude. Either grace is free, or it is no more grace (Rom.11:6, 4:4).

Forms of Calvinism are just as Pelagian!

On a board, someone posts a question of "How will God reconcile believers in heaven?":
"Many believers are divided against each other over secondary issues and many believers have been offended by others and so they do not speak with each other. So how will God reconcile believers in heaven? Will He wipe our bad memories? Or will we have them but just look at them differently? This is a tough question but as you know Christians are very divided against one another these days."

We get the usual "answers" regarding our afterlife perfect state, but one person's response stood out:

I think there are some issues with the question and assumption. First we are told this; Mat 6:14,15
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

By that I am of the mind if we die in un-forgivness of another we are not forgiven.

The second thing is I think there is not nearly as many Christians as many think.
Mat 7:14
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and FEW there be that find it. Mat 7:21-23
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

What I can tell you with some certainty is that there is NOT going to be any division in heaven. The real problem is being very sure we are going.

Now that being said I feel I need to explain how to get there.

Contrary to what some claim we do not get saved by asking Jesus into our hearts, praying a so called prayer of faith, accepting Him as our personal Savior, being baptized or confirmed, confessing our sin, or belonging to a church as the bible never teaches those things for salvation. Nor do we get saved by cleaning up our lives as that is works. Yes any or all of those things may make the church roles fat and the preacher feel or look good when we come forward, but they can also cause us one day to hear, I never knew you.

Salvation takes repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 20:21. Make no mistake. We cannot be a friend of Christ while remaining a rebel against God. The word repent, from the Greek word metanoia, means a change of mind or direction. It is not 50%, 75% or 99%. It is 100%. God is not interested in us almost repenting. It is like the command 'about-face' which is a 180 degree turn. When any person comes to the point in their life that they are broken over their sin to the point of being ready to get right with God no matter what it will cost them they are in a state/spirit of repentance toward God.

We then take that heart that we have toward God and place it on the Lord Jesus Christ, for there is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved, and that becomes faith. At that point God's grace through Christ is applied to us and we are saved, born again, and will never turn back into the practice of sinning. It is a repentance/faith that is lived daily and never turned from as we are kept in that state by the Spirit. Acts 20:21, 1John 2:19 and 1John 3:9,10.

Repentance of sin is the result of our salvation (new birth), and will be part of the sanctification process in our new life with Christ Eph. 2:10. While we may sin from time to time after being saved no one continues in the practice of sinning or returns to it after salvation 1John 3:9,10

Then, a link is provided, to a YouTube video called "It Will Cost You Everything", by a page calling itself "I'll Be Honest", and following the website links I see it's a ministry associated with Paul Washer. That explains it! Lordship salvation!

Here we see in its full glory that Lordshippism is the worst of Pelagian legalism, wrapped up with Calvinistic electionism (which is usually minimized in the message) to form a deadly "perfectionism". (And I just realized, they probably hide it to avoid the stereotypical use of Calvinism and eternal security as an "excuse" to "slack off" if not outright backslide).

They command such high standards, which of course people can't live up to. It is works-salvation to the hilt, but because of the unconditional election, it's seen as "God's work" and not man's. That gets them around the "legalism" charge (in their own minds, that is). So they can preach all this repentance at the world (and Church) as if free will were true, but in reality, only those whom God elects will be able to respond, and do all the "works" (forgive, etc).
As the video "Let Go and Let God" (which is emphasizing that this "abiding in Christ" is "active, not passive") says, it's all about the "power"; the "same power that raised Christ from the dead". This is apparently now focused solely on changing our behavior ("which is why we say radical things like this to people"; i.e. it's nothing you "can't" do; "no excuses"), and you don't even "feel" it; it's by "faith". (This is the same power that raised Christ's physical body from the grave; again, mind you. But this is the way it manifests today!)

So while this impossible regiment is all achieved by divine election, in actual experience, a person just wills himself purely by his own effort, to change his behavior. If he succeeds and "perseveres" to the end, he was "elect"; if not, then he was "reprobate" (but still "held accountable" for rejecting the preaching of the Gospel, or general revelation, conscience, etc). Of course, without this "power" it's impossible. (Which means no non-Christian ever cleans up bad behavior; they just do everything they want that feels good, and if even if they did clean their behavior, then and only then do we tell them that doesn't save; salvation is by "faith, not works").
So basically, they're just imprecating everyone else (which Calvin even admitted).

The one answer to this, whether conditional salvation, Fulfilled View, or anything else, is what is the GOOD NEWS [i.e. GOSPEL] in this then? Especially since Calvinism (and this doctrine following suit) allows that God gives reprobates a false faith that He then takes away. So even if you think you're saved, and go as far as to be "bearing" all the "fruits" (for now, that is), you can still fall away (as scriptures seem to mention, and five-point Arminians and Pelagians will use to deny eternal security, and so then of course, the doctrine that works don't save finally kicks in).
And these people can say anything to you, and you most likely know nothing about their personal lives to see if they themselves are actually living up to it. (Rom. 2:21-4)

So the good news then becomes that a relative handful of people will escape Hell and make it to Heaven, and we hope we are one of them, and work our hide off as much as we can to try to "prove ourselves elect". This in practice is by now no different from Catholicism and most "cults" and many other religions (minus Christ). If it "COSTS us everything", then it's about OUR paying our own way into Heaven, and not about Christ paying anything; with "everything" required from us, there is nothing left for Him to have paid for!

Doctrines like this (that its adherents love to cram down everyone's throat as "the TRUTH", and hardly anyone else questions) are why the Church is so divided, to answer the original question.

Grace under fire!

I find this on Facebook, not from the Biblical Debate group (where we often argue over the Law), but rather through someone else who often posts "self-help" sort of stuff. The guy doesn't seem much like a true conservative evangelical at all. He has a series of books on male-female relationships (one of which alludes to a vulgar term in the title), and prosperity.
But in any case, it sums up perfectly the assumptions of Law, Grace and the purpose of Christ's death assumed by legalistic groups:

American Christianity harps on God's grace to the exclusion of the need to turn away from sin. We have a 'God knows my heart' gospel. Which effectively inoculates people from the whole truth that will set them free.
I call it a feminine gospel because it's mostly taught to and for women who've lived extremely messy lives. When you really get into God's word deep enough, you'll know that grace and mercy only benefit those who choose to turn away from their sins.

For everyone else: they're still under the curse of sin and in danger of God's judgment.
Of course you'll slip up and sin anyway. God knows that. Which is what grace is for. But you shouldn't be using grace as an excuse to keep on sinning.
Grace is something like a AAA card; only to be used in emergency situations. You shouldn't be using it all day everyday. That's indicative of someone who hasn't made a firm decision to live out their Christian faith in sincerity.

Christ didn't die to free folks from sin so they could continue living in it. That would make his death in vain. You can call that 'religion' or 'legalism' all you want. I call it biblical truth and basic Christian doctrine.

This again totally misses the point of Christ's death. It assumes Christ died solely to clean up man's behavior. It totally ignores what the Fall is, and its effects. Here, it clearly advocates a "clean slate so that you can get it right this time" premise. It only benefits those who make the effort to try to keep the Law.
Ignored is the fact that if this were the case, you wouldn't have needed Christ's death at all. Just keep sending more prophets reiterating the Law. Or keep adding more laws.

He doesn't even appeal to the "power" supposedly given after conversion, that would be the lynchpin to the "changed life" according to others!
He criticizes "God knows my heart", but then acknowledges "of course you'll slip up and sin", and that this is what "grace" is in fact for. But it's all about the "trying" not to sin. But then where do we draw the line every time we sin, between a "slip up", or the "willful" excused sin we could have avoided? This is precisely what would lead to a "God knows my heart" excuse! It's promoted by the very teaching that eschews it!

Grace is provided precisely because we do not obey as much as we hypothetically could (and the standard is actually perfection, not doing one's best). So again, teachings like this are what make Christ's death in vain. People already had this, under the Law, before He died!

Grace vs "continuing in sin"

Here's an interesting article:

One person comments:

What bothers me a bit is that you quote the Apostle Paul extensively in proclaiming grace as the very core of the Good News, which is absolutely correct. But what about our response to that grace? Paul addresses that, too. According to your column, there needs be no response, just bask in the sun of life, don’t concern yourself with sin, and soak up the grace. It may not be your intent, but your article reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw: “Jesus paid for our sins…Let’s get our money’s worth”. How about Romans 6:1? If there is no accountability, no attempt to live a better life because of what Christ has done for us, then we have turned freedom from the law into license. I agree that the grace of God is so radical that we often find it offensive and we can never be righteous enough to earn our salvation. Still, Universalism is not bibical, not even New Testament biblical. Although I wish it were.

(and then another person adds:

There are some friends who seem to balk at all calls for repentance though (1) that was the core of John’s (the immerser) and Jesus’ message out of the gates of his early ministry and (2) this is what a grateful, grace-filled life results in (“Should we continue in sin so that grace may abound?” To which Paul responds “no way.”) and without which one cannot claim to have been touched by grace.

Salvation from sin is by grace alone; without salvation from sin, there has been no grace bestowed.

“Continuing in sin” there, means continuing under the Law, (according to the whole context) which is what judged sin, in the first place. Being “dead to sin” doesn’t mean cleaning up your behavior (which becomes stretched into this ongoing “growth process” in practice, that’s supposed to be an instant supernatural work; in common teaching). It means to not trust in your works as proving you’re justified, for all that will do, is lead right back to condemnation (hence, the endless “process”). Then, love will be your motivation to do good, not just doing what’s required, (to escape judgment).
“License” is an NIV term, and not really a biblical concept. Other versions read “turned grace into lasciviousness”, but these were likely those preaching the Law, who accused the Gospel’s liberty of being exactly what people accuse this of today.

(Another takes the "Most of the really angry persons I know are not the evangelicals but the progressives" route [and adding politics into it], and someone responds, because of conservatives trying to control what they believe).

Self-flagellation as solution

Another time, I saw this linked to: https://www.dailywire.com/news/28549/walsh-repentance-matt-walsh (And this, being some conservative POLITICAL site!)

Christ said something very different. “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). “Unless you repent, you will all perish" (Luke 13:3). Jesus doesn’t want us to “relax” in our sin. He wants us to make war upon it. He wants us to gouge out our eyes and chop off our hands if they are causing us to sin (Mark 9:43). He wants us to reach always for perfection and to never be satisfied with anything less (Matthew 5:48). Relax? No, there is no time for relaxation. In the Sermon on the Mount He tells us not to be anxious about Earthly and materialistic concerns (Matthew 6:25), but on the fate of our souls we should be obsessively focused, for it is a narrow and difficult road that leads to life (Matthew 7:13).

The first step to the first step is to feel shame for our sin. It does no good to say we are sorry if we are not really sorry. We "store up wrath for the day of wrath" when we have an "impenitent heart" (Romans 2:5). That is why it is so unfortunate that the modern church has developed a deep aversion to shame but not an aversion to the sin that causes it. A Christian will continue on doing shameful things while pushing away the shame that follows. “Jesus doesn’t want me to be ashamed,” he says. No, Jesus doesn’t want you to sin. But if you do sin, He wants you to feel shame and feel it deeply. It is Satan who wants you to sin and feel no shame.

If we have never felt shame and guilt, we have never repented. If we have never felt disgust at our sin, we have never repented. If we have never allowed ourselves to suffer for our sin and embraced our suffering the way the penitent thief on the cross embraced his, we have never repented. And if we have never resolved with all our hearts never to repeat the sin, we have never repented. If you’re like me, you have resolved a million times and yet sinned again anyway. Our flesh is weak, that much is obvious. But our spirit must still be willing, and a willing spirit means coming to God in total submission and saying, “I am devastated by my sin because I know that it offends You. I ask You to give me the grace to turn from this wickedness and never indulge in it again for as long as I live. I would rather die than continue along this path.”

This is true repentance. A repentant heart is a radical heart because it is a heart that prefers death over sin. A repentant man realizes that sin is what brought death into the world, sin is what put the Son of God on the Cross, therefore sin is the most terrible thing in all existence. He sees that his sins are the thorns in the crown placed on Christ’s head, the whip that scourged Him, the nails that went through Him, the spear that pierced Him. He sees this and weeps over it. A Christian who can stand casually before the Cross, and feel nothing for the abuse he inflicted on his God, is in an extremely dangerous state. He is even more lost, and closer to Hell, than an atheist or a pagan who does not believe in Christ but at least has a proper sense of guilt for his wrongdoing.

This guy, and countless other "old time religion" preachers fails to realize that "shame" was the automatic result and reaction to the Fall (the taking on of the "knowledge of good and evil"); not what saved them from it! They felt that shame and then hid themselves, and God had to move to begin the plan of fixing the problem. It was at that point not about "behavior". It was about the knowledge and "shame". Yet religion afterward has consistently made "shame" the solution, like we had better punish ourselves with it so that God won't need to. What he's describing is basically paying for your sin yourself (on a very minuscule level); "giving" God something as payment for offending Him.

So he turns the Gospel on its ear in several places. Satan is the "accuser", not the one trying to bring ease. He completely contradicts's Christ's statement about "rest" with the "no time to relax" statement. Of course, "rest" is usually redefined as some "attitude" we have in the "difficulties" of the "hard walk", but he doesn't even say that, here.

"Death" again assumed to be the "difficulty" of either giving up sin or feeling the shame for it, rather than dying to the notion we can save ourselves.
Basically, since sin is what caused God so much trouble, that is why it's all about changing behavior. They might try to appeal to Heb.10:25, but again, the "willful sin" that "tramples underfoot the Blood of the Son of God" is specifically the act of "counting the Blood of the Covenant, with which they were sanctified, an unholy thing"! Teachings like this are actually what come close to that, when they claim the teaching of full grace brought by the blood "promotes unholiness"!

THIS is "[the] way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death". (Prov. 14:12). Not the "death" we are supposed to have, but the one we want to avoid.

Satan is the "accuser" who denied Christ's work and tells man "you can do it yourself" (or minimizes Father/Son/Spirit's work down to mere "help" in doing it ourselves. Yes, the Spirit is the "Comforter" or "Helper", but that help is not what conventional Christian teaching has turned it into). It's what we saw with the Babel builders, though the later religion got smart and decided to disguise it as "submitting" to God rather than "rebelling" against Him. That made them look all the more "good", and this could be something else they could hit all the "sinners" of the world with.

There is no "good news"; it's just a continuation of the toughest aspects of the Old testament, with only some of the laws changed (and it of course does not recognize that the "repent or face judgment" language that is still present in the NT, was what would be resolved by the "Blessed Hope", as something that would occur shortly, not be extended forever).

It turns out, he's actually Catholic (and he does mention "priests"). That would make some sense, as the self-flagellation he advocates, as I mentioned in the last comment, in practice becomes sort of a new “penance”. It's just that this guy made himself sound more like an old Protestant "fundamentalist" and omitted the sacraments.

Another commenter added:

To understand God's "goodness", we absolutely have to understand with shame our falling short of the glory of God.there is a reason David affirmed that "His mercies are new every day" because, daily we sin, daily we stumble and daily we need accountability. We are physical beings who are fallen and sin repeatedly. We grow in righteousness through obedience and accountability, it's how we live out the Grace given to us

This of course is the typical assumption that the Law (which is what we "fall short" of) is for the purpose of creating "order", through "accountability. It's obviously taken from human (secular) authority (job, etc.) and injected into the Gospel.

The "response" of "Faith" in reaction to Guilt (resistance only from a troubled conscience?)

As an example of this notion of "shame" being the solution, a common statement, such as what I've seen recently, from a person who testified of being saved when he realized he could receive forgiveness for a bad thing he had done: "I came to understand that every sin I have ever committed was not just against a person, but against the God who created me and stood alone in judgement over me. While repentance 'may' be necessary for salvation, I have a hard time seeing how a person could be saved and not repent."

I think that illustrates that a lot of this debate is because we all know deep down inside how sinful we are. There are different approaches to this.
Denial, where the total nonbeliever says “Oh, that religious stuff is all nonsense; I know I’m a good person, and if there was a God, he would ‘understand’ anyway". The religious version of this (and yes, there is one, and it’s all too common), is to think one has ‘repented’ of all his sin, and so whatever he does now (in his “changed life”) is OK, or at least justified in some way.
Another approach is remorse, and either an attempt to “make up for it”, namely through works, or sometimes, to accept grace. But what often happens, is we project this onto others, and say, “because I felt so much shame, and needed to ‘repent’ (whether that means works or just ‘faith’), then that means no one else can be saved without remorse/shame/repentance/works/’personal faith’, etc. either”. We basically ‘project’ our own sense of sinfulness onto others, and this we need to beware of. (And then, hence the need for some to continuously try to preach “works” or some other move of the will, to others).

Since I had seen a suggestion that perhaps “Ultra Grace” (as one called views like mine) people were operating on a “guilty conscience”, I saw the need to further address that point; including, regarding my own fervency against these teachings (which legalists can use as the grand proof that their teaching is right, and I'm only resisting "conviction"). But yes guilt feelings do figure in that, and they are naturally stoked by Law/repentance/works preaching. But that doesn’t mean that that is right.

The ‘conscience’ isn’t always right, and “repentance" preachers have always been the first to turn against ‘conscience’ (and also, especially, ‘sincerity’ and ‘trying as hard as I can to be good’) when someone says “but my conscience says what I’m doing is OK”. The conscience can go the other way and be too “weak” (restrictive of things that aren’t really or necessarily sin) as Paul discusses, and most importantly, Satan, rather than being someone who leads people into “fun”, is really an “accuser” (the entire meaning of his name).

So God can be truly operating off of Grace, and Satan (or just “the flesh”) will come back with the Law and guilt; and not the other way around. The purpose, while disguised as “lovingly leading us to repentance and salvation”, or “just ‘pleasing’ God”, is to oppose the work of Christ (in Satan’s case), or self-assurance of our own justification (in the case of the "flesh"; which also opposes Christ).

The “Good News” is that we do not have to sit and be terrorized by those feelings, or be frantically motivated to try to “do" something (whether physical or mental), to appease God; only for that to likely not even be enough in the end.

This, is NOT saying “DON’T do good works” (as people will keep charging). This is what’s always leveled at us; it’s like the only way people can think. Again, that’s another projection of the sinfulness we feel inside, partly from being so obsessed with ‘sin’, from not believing in a total Grace, and thus wanting to take care of it ourselves, with our ‘will’. So YES, it is about being “off the hook” (as I've also heard at times), because Christ was the one who was ON the hook (the literal nails of the Cross) in our stead. That's the whole point of the Gospel!

Every voice in our "consciences" is not the Spirit. There are many different "voices" saying many different things. I've elsewhere been talking about what are known as "inner objects", which are the recollections or "images" of previous people and things you have encountered. This can include things like abusive authority figures. This is what can be triggered by "tough talking" teaching today.
I had previously gone along with this, and ended up following “conscience”/“conviction” into wrong areas (such as sabbatarianism, to begin with), and then found it was just out of self-righteousness. They say you need “relationship with God” to be able to tell which “voice” is Him, but a lot of people claiming this have been wrong (i.e. have done or taught bad things, insisting they were right. Anyone can claim this spiritual enlightenment)

Even when I was, basically, a legalist (initially going as far as to be a 'kosher' sabbatarian), I still knew I wasn't "perfect" (as these teachers admit), and would often do just what they said, and hit myself over the head with my sin. Yet, this did not "help" me cease sinning! I would then still react this way to teachings like this. Where others, as stated before, just do the "humble" bit, resolve to do better, "take it with a grain of salt" and figure just this attitude and the pattern of "trying" is what 'proves' they are saved from the judgment threatened; I took these teachings literally/seriously, as I believe they were intended. If what they're saying is true, then my "trying" and even being remorseful is not enough. As commenters on this site say, most people just keep doing the same thing, and I knew I did. I was most likely not "growing" fast enough. So the only effect was to perpetually stoke the guilt-ridden conscience, but that in itself did not solve the problem! What then is the “good news”? What then, was even the line between "willful" sin, and an "accident"?
That shouldn't matter; for God's "power" will make us stop sinning, but only if we do everything "required" to access this "power", and keep at it.

Over time, this just makes people give up, figuring either they have no hope, or God must "understand". (Hence, why so many historically legalistic denominations, from the Catholics on down, have become the much decried "liberal" churches). Or, to just go into denial, and not admit things they are doing are sin. Or, try to "suppress" it out of their minds, like an addiction, but then when an urge comes up again, to go from resisting, to "just a little"; etc. This of course is that "cycle" many find themselves in; the much preached against "slavery" to sin, and if the teaching is true, then these people (of course) aren't saved, because they ("obviously") "lack the power".
Just that "one thing" they're not doing. Just like the rich young ruler asked about. If you ask where the "line" is between sin and salvation, you are accused of "trying to get away with the bare minimum rather than pleasing God". That's actually true, but it's what they are teaching that implies this "line" and the urgent need to make sure you've cleared it! They just believe, apparently, not to think about the line, but just be too busy "striving" to worry about it, and then you'll be saved. But no matter how much you strive, you always could have hypothetically done "better". So you are right back to where you started.

Where's the "Good News"? The good news is only once you've successfully "done it", and made it into Heaven. But that's too late if you haven't "made it". Why are we even speaking of "making it" anyway, if salvation is supposed to be the work of Christ?

The "good news" and the "comfort" ("help") of the Spirit is to bear witness with our spirit that we are children of God, not based on our fallible efforts. That is the antidote to that [correctly identified] “slavery”! The legalist is the one whose heart is geared to "getting away" with something (as evidenced by the 'loopholes' they must eventually employ to maintain their position), and so everything is seen through this motive, and it's hidden behind the rigorous effort. This is from trusting the "old man" to beat itself, rather than actually "trusting" Christ.

The "Fruits of the Spirit"

Then, I saw in a discussion, a common teaching: "Fruits of the Spirit are not qualities inherent in fallen men, but are achieved only by God’s grace. None are righteous, but the Spirit produces righteousness within His children. The remaining sin that dwells within the believer reminds him of the futility of his own effort, his dependency upon the Spirit, and his constant need for God’s grace and mercy."

I think there’s a big misconception here, as the “fruits of the Spirit” described are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”, and to say that these “are not qualities inherent in fallen men, but are achieved only by God’s grace” has led to the belief that only born again Christians have ever displayed these traits, which is so inaccurate, it’s not funny.
So then all sin in society ends up having to be totally unbelievers’ fault, and nothing Christians do can ever be wrong or contribute to problems (which is the insinuation we've basically heard in much of US "culture war" style preaching).
When forced to acknowledge that non-believers can have these things, then we come up with this notion that it’s “fake”, or then we switch to “these are works that don’t save”, such as what’s been called “common grace”.

The utter irony of all of this is, that these are supposed to be works of God (the Spirit “producing” them), but then we admit they don’t come “automatically”, given the “remaining sin that dwells within the believer” and the “pull of the flesh”, and come up with this philosophy that the reason God leaves it there (rather than vanquishing it instantly as you would think) is to “remind him of the futility of his own effort, his dependency upon the Spirit, and his constant need for God’s grace and mercy”.

Yet, since it’s not automatic, then when they begin explaining how to gain these fruits or behavioral “rightousness”, they describe a need to “cultivate” these “fruits”, and it’s a list of “steps” that all consist of self-willed efforts, that are admittedly “not easy”. So then this “grace and mercy” we “need” gets reinterpreted as some sort of motivation to continue to embark on this regiment, and “dependency on the Spirit” becomes just an “attitude” of “joy” and “peace” in the midst of this difficulty we gain by the right actions (such as prayer, Bible study meditation, thankfulness, service, etc.).

Since it’s so “hard”, then many of course slack off and fail to develop these fruits, which then becomes yet another occasion for judgment of some groups against others (like old line fundamentalists against new evangelicals, and “Lordship salvationists” [who are grossly perfectionistic closet Calvinists] against nearly everyone else; i.e. 2/3rds of professing Christians are lost “tares”; after all, “only few will be saved”).

THIS is what has turned me toward this “ultra grace”, after trying to practice it for 20 years, only to have it all dashed by preaching like that, realizing that it is in fact likely right if the doctrine is taken consistently. At what point do we realize that this is in no stretch of the imagination “good news” any more, and is bona-fide “works” salvation?
And people of other religions and even no religion can do these things. The only difference is that Christians are doing it for “God” rather than some other purpose, and have more motivation, especially through fear, and especially in some of the sins nonbelievers don’t see as important, but the Church has focused on.

That’s what showed me what “dependence on God” really means!
The “fruits of the Spirit” is contrasted with the “deeds of the flesh”, which of course are the usual preached against sins (but also includes “discord, dissensions, factions”, which are often caused by teachings like this, as stated), and the reason all the “self-effort” is so “hard” to begin with, is because “flesh” means any effort of our own will (John 1:13). And all it does is produce those deeds; hence, that endless “struggle” when we in that same flesh try to go against them.
So the “fruits of the Spirit” is what reminds us how much we fall short, and thus need to depend on Christ, and not our efforts to will ourselves into mastering them.

Condemnation of "love"

With the Pope visit in recent years, we of course had people talking about how this is leading to the "end times one world religion" (especially now that he's rather liberal in some areas).

But in opposing the Pope or any other movement that focuses on "love" of leading toward the "end times apostasy", they actually end up condemning "love" (I think of a Chick tract, where a nerdy looking young contemporary Christian is captioned as preaching a "love gospel" with "no repentance" to the "Hell's Angel"-like character the story is about ["Bad Bob", I believe], and who is totally unimpressed and scares the kid away, IIRC. Of course, the basis of "repentance" in that belief system is fear, which as the Bible says, is the opposite of "love", so of course "love gospel" would be put down).

It's hypothetically true that if Satan wants to sway "the world" to some final future showdown with God, he could use something that sounds nice to everyone, such as "love" (which is the secular culture's whole premise). But what's totally missed, is that in the Bible, the true role of Satan is an accuser, who opposes Christ's work on the Cross, and the GRACE it brought, and he does this not by leading men to sinful "fun" or sentiments such as "love", "peace", etc. but by focusing on LAW. The total reverse of what mainstream "conservative" Christianity has preached.
It's through Law that man thinks he can get to Heaven on his own (this is what we see in the Bible from cover to cover: from Nimrod to the "Man of sin"; from Adam's fig leaves to the "mark of the Beast" on the hand and forehead), and totally negates all Christ did and stood for; reducing it to some mere, shallow "help" in doing works that "prove", if not procure salvation.

The God of Pain: "Holiness"/"Glory" and "Grace"/"Love" set at odds by traditional teaching

The whole notion of this "power" only "helping" us, but without providing any real, felt relief, is tied to the notion that man deserves pain anyway, and so giving us some "difficulties" in the "walk" by which we will enter "salvation", is actually a great step up from the "Hell" we "really deserve".

A lot of this seems to have stemmed from The First Great Awakening, which is looked up to by all evangelical Protestants, and the more stricter ones such as Lordshippers and IFB’s place an even greater emphasis on the preaching with the whole “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” model and its supposed affect on revivals. (Moderates still respect it, even while softening down some of its methods, and this seems to be why they have not defended themselves against the less moderate more).
Taking place in the 1700's, it is also the time when Wesleyanism arose, with its emphasis on personal "holiness". Unlike the Augustinian "unconditional election" of Edwards and the original Reformers, this view added an emphasis on "free will", which then, to still make it "God's work" and not man's, necessitated an emphasis on divine "power" to be "holy", defined in terms of behavior. So this also marked the move from Catholic "infusionism", to both Protestant "imputation", and also added to that, "impartation".

Spurgeon, the other preacher held up alongside Edwards, was actually mid 1800’s; a full century after Edwards, and while this was the time of the Second Great Awakening, he doesn’t seem to be considered apart of that.
The Second Great Awakening is what brought many of our current sects and doctrines, including dispensationalism on one hand, and Millerism, spawning sabbatarianism, and more distantly, Russellism and Campbellism. Some Reformed, like Horton, while praising the First Great Awakening, see the Second as where a lot of problems came in; especially the increase in too much emphasis on “free will” and anti-intellectual “emotionalism”.
The “Third Great Awakening” was the last half of the 1800’s, and was where the Social Gospel and the Holiness movement, including charismaticism came in. There was also a “Fourth Great Awakening”, 1960–1980, where the Jesus Movement, modern evangelicalism and a Pentecostal resurgence arose and the older mainliners declined).

So we see these “awakenings” can all be seen as a continuation of the Reformation, in the move against “Catholicism”, or the “high Church” (hence, “ritualism, formalism”, etc. which the IFB Sword of the Lord magazine, for an example, has printed on its cover as what it stands against), which early Protestantism largely retained. The First awakening would establish the “low” church (wit: Baptists and Methodists). Those “high” churches are largely what would form the “mainline” that had gone liberal in modern times, and all the conservatives were preaching steadily against.

But it seemed that these “awakenings” often went to the opposite extreme, back into de-facto legalism, in addition to fear-mongering and emotional manipulation, and the cycle would always start all over again, as people give up, and “soften” and “compromise” with modernity, firing up the dying old-breed in their denunciations.

So, looking at the standard doctrines from another angle, when God is roasting people in the fires of Hell; why? What does He "get" out of it?
They basically come up with this whole philosophy about "His holiness" requiring all this pain and suffering, somehow. (Many now have tried to turn to an argument that Hell is voluntary; that people go there of "their own will", because "they don't want Him". But that's not the “traditional” view, where God deliberately “casts” (Rev.20) people there because of His “holiness”, and would mark a softening down of the doctrine among many new-evangelicals).

Sin is defined in scripture as "transgression of the Law". So then Paul points out how the Law is what brings death, and thus what we need to be freed from. But now, they changed it to "transgression of His holiness". Of course, they can argue that His holiness is shown through the Law, but they don't want to acknowledge the Law as the barrier for us, as Paul does, because the goal is to get us to turn to the Law (albeit with "God's help" this time). So basically, this "holiness" is something that transcends the Law as defining sin, and why the Law must be maintained (despite what Paul says, and even what they themselves say, when groups preaching more of the Law than they do, confront them. Since they acknowledge then, that the Law has been "abrogated", yet want to continue to to pitch parts of it to others, then Paul's words, right after establishing how we're "not justified by the works of the law", are especialy pertinent to them: "For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor". Gal.2:18).

Similarly, when someone explains the real meanings of “Sheol”, “Hades” and “Gehenna”, they maintain their position, partially acknowledging the truth, saying something like “God 'used' those terms to illustrate the final place of the wicked”. Once again, no scriptural evidence of that interpretation of scripture. It just stands on its own as the “orthodox” presupposition. The only shot at a proof will be the Lazarus and the Rich Man story, but pointing out its symbolic nature will only bring on the scorn of “allegorical readings of scripture” (despite the contextual evidence of it being told in the midst of a series of parables).

Basically, the concept (like many others) is based on all of these [rather weak on their own] evidences put together. When you refute one of them, it is presumed to stand on all of the others. (More on this here: Man Deserving Pain.

Why would "the same power that resurrected Christ" end up in an endless tug of war with our old natures, where it loses most of the time? It seems the "power" is weaker than the "old nature", and the "will", which it is totally helpless without!

A general outline of "traditional Christian" in practice beliefs

1) God got mad at man for disobeying a commandment in the garden and then retaliated

2) From then on, man deserves pain (starting with the temporal pain of the “cursed” ground, and culminating with eternal fire after death)

3) God gave the Law to try to fix man's behavior, but since he had also taken on a fallen nature, he couldn't keep it, so God sent Christ to die to forgive man's sins, (creating a “blank slate”, initially).

4) But since God's ultimate goal was behavioral order (called “holiness”), He still had to fix that problem, so He then also sent the Spirit to “impart” an ability to keep the Law better.

5) Since man still deserves pain, God did not make this easy. This power cannot be felt, only "believed" in, while the pull of our "old nature" is left fully in place, and so you still have to will yourself to better behavior through the motivation of preaching, Bible study and the conscience. The power then gradually makes you not want to sin as much, "proving" your regeneration, but you still have to struggle "uphill". This is done deliberately, because it also makes man "grow" into behaving better.

6) Though some laws were changed or dropped, the overall standards have become higher, creating a “hard walk” on a “narrow path” most won't make. At the same time, all special revelation has been withdrawn, and so “faith” must be “pre-supposed”, against any evidence that may seem to go against it (unless you're following a group that claims science really proves the pre-supposed doctrine), making it all the more harder. Yet God will still judge us harshly as He "showed" us the truth, even though the only thing shown is conscience or "general revelation" (ambiguous evidence from nature).

7) Those who manage to convert and live right and persist and "grow" then have their sins removed (both forgiven, and virtually ceased), with the “nature” greatly diminished in character. They thus do not deserve pain in the way other sinners do, (though God still gives them some through “tests” of faith via some general difficulties in life). Any person or political system that offends them or criticizes them for any reason is therefore wrong, and an attack of the Devil.

8) Because of this, God calls preachers among them to shake up the sinners of the world by preaching at their sin, threatening Hell, and also guarding against other Christians softening the message or having too much ‘fun’ themselves. These preachers are to reflect God's utter hatred of man and his sins, and uphold the “righteousness” of the past, when God raised their forefathers after centuries of church/empire corruption to create an “exceptional” Anglo-American civilization. Only those who conform are to be shown God's love.

9) They are called to rule over it, and “take it back” if they lose power.
Many “sinners” oppose many things about that paradigm (purely because of their hatred toward God). So just this opposition constitutes “persecution” against “God's people”. But since the sinners deserve pain, their concerns are to be disregarded, as “whining” in an attempt to gain "comfort" "ease" or “entitlements” they should not have. Even stuff like slavery and other oppression can be ultimately justified, and the victims should be "thankful", because they really deserve worse! (And their "sins" probably brought some of it on them anyway!) The “rugged” godly men's complaints, on the other hand, are different; it's the “truth", and demanding their God-given “rights”.

10) Naturally, relatively few will convert and then remain committed to the faith. Basically (to be really honest), it's set up for most men to fail. This can only be explained by some “secret counsel”, where God is more “glorified” by men burning in Hell (whether via Calvinistic “sovereignty of God in reprobation/preterition" or Arminian “sovereignty of man's free will”)

The True Gospel

1) Man took the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which instilled in him a sense of shame and the need for covering

2) God held man up to his new knowledge, and added the Law and its punitive and atonement system to address man's problem.

3) Man as a whole could not keep this Law, but only became self-righteous about it, while his sin was still present.

4) God sent His Son to keep the Law and die to represent the propitiation of the requirement of the Law and gain the pardon man needed and then removed the Law system

God revealed in Jesus

In the Calvinist literature, you essentially hear more about "God" than Jesus, and of course, with the Trinity doctrine their founder burned someone at the stake over, Christ is equally God.
This means that what you saw when Jesus walked the earth (and recorded in the gospels), is the fullness of the divine revelation. If it looks different than that perpetually "angry God" in the Old Testament, or even His reprisal in Revelation and other New Testament prophetic passages, then apparently, God was working out different parts of a Plan, with different people.

At this point, people may try to bring up "God changes not" (Mal. 3:6, Heb.13:8). Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters p141 says "Although in one sense antinomianism is the 'opposite' error from legalism, in another sense is the 'equal' error, for it simply abstracts God's law from God's person and character (which undergoes no change from old to new covenant). It fails to appreciate than the law that condemns us for our sins was given to teach us how not to sin."

But neither passage is saying anything about which laws He commands (sabbatarians use this a lot to say sabbaths are still mandatory), or that He will always judge based on the Law. Most Christians believe in either a future Kingdom, or at least a Heaven, where God will no longer be sending lost sinners to Hell. Where the Fulfilled view teaches an "overlap" of covenants from AD33-70, the "commonly accepted message" simply extends this to the present. And still, if God once only maintained a "general equity", and then added the entire Law to Israel, and now has gone back to general equity, then things did "change". God's unchanging character is represented by the penalty His justice and holiness demanded being paid, and man set free.

(The Trinity is supposed to be one of the most important doctrines defining "historic orthodoxy", but the battle against homosexuality is now leading some to even begin blurring it, and apparently without even realizing it! The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood hosting the Nashville Statement appears to fall into the old heresy of the “eternal subordination of the Son”! See also: http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/housewife-theologian/a-few-questions-about-the-new-cbmw-statement
Apparently, the connection here is that the organization or certain leaders in it want to use an “eternal functional subordination” or “eternal relationship of authority and submission” within the Godhead as the model of a husband and wife; which “gender roles” of course are also blurred by same sex marriage. [This is kind of ridiculous considering God the Father and Son are both presumed masculine; and the “marriage” of Christ and the Church is the most understandable model to use in these debates!]
This, BTW, wouldn’t even be an issue if the “orthodox” Church was aware of the pre-Nicene view of the Godhead, where the “generation” of the Son is taken to be at His birth, and thus, the “subordinate role” or “function” implied by that term and “son” is only in His humanity, not His eternal position as “the Word”. Discussed here

It’s amazing now how this whole “traditional view of the family” will lead the Church, again, standing in such unity over homosexuality, to now begin to fracture over the Trinity of all doctrines, which is supposed to be the number one affirmation defining true believers! Again, priorities have surely been mixed! But it is the logical extension of the virtual separation of the Father from the Son that marks much of "holiness" preaching!)

Legalism ignored and only opposite extreme "feel good" messages focused on by apologetics

So now, basically, we can identify three strains that are heavily legalistic.
"Old line fundamentalists", most embodied in "Independent Fundamental Baptists" (IFBs).
"Hyper-Wesleyanism", such as Bevere and Burton, who appear to be a more conservative form of charismaticism, which stemmed from Weslayan "Holiness" but then emphasized "spiritual gifts". Whether a teacher upholds the gifts or not, the misconstrued "holiness" focus is what marks this group.
"Lordship salvation", which is centered around John MacArthur, and most popularly promoted by Ray Comfort and Paul Washer, and has a strong presence among Southern Baptists, and adds Calvinistic "election" to a "holiness" premise.

The first two are Arminian, but the second two are more alike in questioning salvation. The first group may be "legalistic" in their concept of "separation", and avoiding modernity, where they can denounce both of the others as sliding on. They have a lot of ridiculous rules, but they usually do not question people's salvation on them (some would even question instead the salvation of the other two groups for teaching a "false gospel" of works!) What the first and last have in common is simply connection to the Baptist denomination, which is basically divided between Calvinism and Arminianism, and between stricter and more modernistic expressions.

Apologetics has been busy going after the “feel good” message of Joel Osteen and others, while totally ignoring this practically open rejection of the Gospel right under their own noses, because again, it sounds 'good' because it's “tough”, and also “traditional” (with the likes of Spurgeon and Edwards long seen as the model of good preaching we wish the modern church never turned from).
In other words, Osteen is seen as softening the Gospel into nothingness, but Lordship's denial of Grace in favor of works is “closer” to “historic orthodoxy”, though the apologists, like the Lordshippers themselves, will still pledge belief in “grace alone”. Only the teachers redefine grace in terms of works, and the apologists ignore this, seeing it not as bad as the “feel good” messages, and instead, perhaps the antidote to them.
But this makes it no less worldly, as secular “self-help” is full of “tough talk” coaching; the only difference is that it's not Hell after you die they are motivating with.

Where I've spent a lot of time talking about IFB's, with all their rules, they in a sense are not as bad as these other two groups, for at least they are less likely to deny salvation of Christians they see as compromising.

Where is the "Good News"? What is the difference of this from the Old Covenant?

For all of these groups, just imagine, a person coming out of the Old Covenant, where they had to do all the commandments, including the ritual system that represented atonement. This didn't promise absolute certainty, but as long as they kept at it, they could hope for redemption.
So now, they enter the New Covenant, which promises to be the fulfillment of the old system, and thus bills itself as “Good News”. But in the end, the Cross only gives you this “power” you can't even feel, you just believe in by “faith”, and which doesn't make anything easier, but only “possible”, and instead actually becomes a new burden for you to “receive” and “respond” to right, that you are judged on (and then the special revelation you had before is completely removed, and so all you have is your own choice to believe something, guided by fallible and often contradictory men and ambiguous "conscience" and "general revelation"), and it's still about how much you “obey” the commands; only some of them have been changed (especially the physically bloody ones). In fact, it’s even been stepped up several fold, as it’s now revealed that even under all that Law before, God was actually “winking” at sin the whole time, but now, is really demanding repentance! And for far more! Now, it’s not even just literal stuff like adultery, but “spiritual” counterparts like “lust”. Again, the only mitigation is this unfelt “power” to try to keep all this as much as possible. Then and only then does this Cross actually grant you pardon from your sins.

What really is the benefit there?

You wonder with all of this judgment they preach, where Jesus really fits in. The Jesus we see in the Gospels who was patient with average people (including those who were obviously "sinners". This may be a bit of a cliché among skeptics challenging Christianity; that "Jesus befriended the sinners, the prostitutes, etc". But then this shows they have a better handle on Christ than those who claim to believe in Him, but then preach as if He never came, and man is left standing before God under pure Law without Mediator, and who is just looking for reasons to condemn. They can't say "Well if man rejects Christ, he's not covered by His mercy" (i.e. they've "rejected" the "Mediator"), because now you have people who believe in Him and can even be "on fire" for Him being "turned away". (So salvation can't be simply being "covered with the blood").

Is this really the Jesus we see in the Gospels? They might appeal to Jesus calling people vipers and driving out the money changers, but these weren't people who simply had the wrong attitude of heart or weren't diligent enough in "holiness"; they were the religious establishment; the guardians of the Law! So it's clear that with, again, all the "tough talk", it's not Jesus being looked to, but rather man's attempt (in His name), to prepare other men to come directly before the Father (hence, all the "holiness" focus, where it's impossible to pass) on his own, with the "help" of the Spirit, instead of the covering of the Son. They're all supposed to work together, with the Son covering, and the Spirit bearing witness to this. But teachers like this have changed the Gospel to something else entirely, with a "Jesus" who died essentially to seal the fate of most people (because that's what most "glorifies" Him)* through another impossible system of works; and at the same time smiles down upon tough-talking leaders who promote this; but insist that it's other people who are coming under condemnation, over works.

*(Lordshippers say "God desires to exercise ALL of His attributes: Justice and Mercy; Wrath and Grace; Judgment and Love", citing a meme of a saying of James White: "God's wrath is part of God's glory. Because if you look at the Cross and don't see the wrath of God against SIN, you are not seeing the love of God there either"). Of course, this is all philosophy extracted from various scriptural teachings, rather than any actual scriptural teaching. It's only true in the sense that wrath against sin (Justice/Judgment) is what necessitated the love of the Cross (Mercy/Grace). The Gospel (Good News) teaches that Love is what fulfilled all (1 Cor.13, Rom.13:10), as Christ bore the wrath/judgment. These teachers are trying to use this to justify so much deliberate and ongoing or future "wrath/justice/judgment", on the "non-elect" (including this vast majority of professing Christians) when they die, in contrast to the love/grace/mercy bestowed on the "elect". But the wrath/justice/judgment was borne on the Cross, and only fell on those back then, "shortly" (Rev.1:1), in the same generation that saw the Cross (Matt. 16:28, 24:34), but many rejected it in favor of the "world" of the Law. After that, God's "cup" of wrath was "complete" (Rev.15:1).


Setting the Record Straight

The Essence of the Gospel

I had long focused on Michael Horton's Beyond Culture Wars for its political discussion, but now I'm paying more attention to one passage, where he pretty much sums up the whole essence of the Gospel (and the current deviations from it) in a nutshell:

The rich young ruler came to Jesus looking for the "one thing" he could do to be saved (Luke 19:18). Our Lord replied by first informing him that no one is good but God alone (v. 19). Next, Jesus tells the man, well-versed in the Law, "You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'" And the ruler confidently replies, "All these I have kept since I was a boy." "When Jesus heard this, he said to him, 'You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'" (vv. 20-22).

The rich young ruler...sought to justify himself, like the Pharisee in the parable Jesus told before this incident. He had misunderstood what the Law really required. He thought that because he had never thrust a sword through another man, he had never murdered; because he had never broken into a house or bank and stolen valuable possessions, he was not a thief. But Jesus tells the people in the Sermon on the Mount what the true righteousness of the Law requires: "You have heard it said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment." etc.

It is not enough to resist the temptation to steal; when we fail to do everything in our power to protect our neighbor's person and possessions, even if that means giving him or her the shirt off our back (v. 40), even if he or she is an enemy (v. 38), we are convicted thieves.

This is why Jesus tells the ruler to go sell everything he has and to give it to the poor—to show the man that he hadn't actually kept the Law, that he was a law-breaker like the common criminal. He had not loved his neighbor as himself. Suddenly, he was stripped of the righteousness he thought he possessed. It is indeed amazing that so many evangelical Christians [and even moreso, so-called "lawkeepers"] are so sure they, like the Pharisees, are pulling it off... .

Paul says the Israelites are not saved, in spite of their zeal, precisely because...they do not know either the righteousness God requires (perfect conformity to the Law in the strictest sense we have just been discussing: loving God and our neighbor perfectly without a single thought of ourselves, for our entire lives) or the righteousness which God gives (in the Gospel, the robe of Christ's perfect righteousness which is placed over our nakedness). In other words, because they did not really understand the Law,* they could not comprehend the Gospel. *[i.e. 1 Tim. 1:7]

Similarly today, few seem to understand the Law of God: the righteousness God really demands, the wrath and judgment which are associated with our failure to keep that Law perfectly. To the question, "Does God expect human beings to be absolutely perfect?" nearly every believer, in our own informal surveys, has responded, "Of course not!" And yet, in that same Sermon on the Mount, our Lord declared, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Many people think that they are saved by trying their best to follow Jesus' example, live for the Lord, and so on, not realizing that God doesn't grade on a curve. He requires the original righteousness with which we were created. His character has not changed, and He will not accommodate His holiness to ours, His character to our own.

This, indeed, is the pinch: God demands absolute perfection; I don't have it. Therefore, must I be condemned? Not at all. If by trusting exclusively in the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ's life, death, and resurrection, I am clothed in the very righteousness of Christ Himself, even God cannot find a spot or blemish in me. Thus, we are justified not by the Spirit working within us, in our heart [as the almost universal teaching today insists], but by Christ working for us nearly 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, a gift given through faith alone on account of Christ alone. It is a perfect righteousness imputed or credited to our account as though we ourselves had earned it, not an imperfect righteousness that results from our cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

This is the Gospel, with no additions and no subtractions. It was this message that Paul said was so essential that if anyone preaches contrary to it, or merely adds to it, he stands under the divine anathema.

But we have confused the Law and the Gospel in our day, as the Galatians had done and as the medieval church had done. We have watered down the Law, so that it's not quite so severe. God no longer requires such strict holiness and purity of heart, mind, and body. Just give Him our best, He'll do the rest: that's the message we often get these days. [i.e. argument of Judaism, Catholicism and "lawkeeping" sects and others that it's not really about keeping it perfectly; just as long as we "repent" afterward]. The Law is only there for our own good, our own happiness and fulfillment anyway, right? [i.e. arguments 'proving' various commandments were for "health" or "moral glue of the nation" and other such beneficial uses]. And, as the Law has been reduced in its terror, so the Gospel has been reduced in its liberating word of pardon and justification. The Gospel becomes a new law that is easier and user-friendly.
(Michael Horton, Beyond Culture Wars, p.111ff Moody, 1994. Emphasis and bracketed annotations added)

This then leads to what I've quoted elsewhere; that "we would know better than to say 'we are saved by our adherence to the Law', but find it difficult to realize that saying 'we shall achieve victory by following these steps' is a new way of saying just that".
[Of course, he is not of the Fulfilled view, but rather believes God gives a limited number of "elect" the personal "faith" needed to "trust" Him. The Fulfilled view holds that saving "faith" is "OF Christ"; Christ's own perfect faith, not the [imperfect]faith of the people being saved (just like it's not our imperfect works); and thus could be extended unconditionally once God's plan advanced to the right time, which was when the Old Covenant was totally concluded in the first century. But otherwise, both views agree on a totally "monergistic" means of salvation, rather than a "synergistic" one based on manual "cooperation" on the part of converts].

So it's like just enough Law to hit other people over the head with, and just enough discomfort ("the daily struggle", etc.) to wear like a badge, but not too much to really see that you're really falling short, which was the law's whole ultimate purpose in the first place!

Like I find it funny, sabbatarians say how much "joy" it is to "rest" on the sabbath ("Why is rest so hard"? or however one meme goes), but of course it IS hard when you have to deal with being in a job that works on the day; if that's all you can find. You have to leave it (and as hard as the job economy might be; and I personally have been there!), and THEN all of these leaders admit it's "hard", and tell you "trust God" in the "difficulty" of finding a new job or way to support yourself. (So they too appeal to "the power" in both showing people the importance of the sabbath, in addition to the "strength" to endure whatever hardship they face over it. And most of these leaders, also like the rest of the Church, themselves being supported by the church or ministry organization, which if big enough, shelters them from this problem).

So this naturally connects to the whole standard "difficulties are good for you to make you grow", and "you'll get more rewards in the Kingdom" paradigm; identical to the top Sundaykeeping Christian teachings, minus the sabbath ("Purpose Driven Life", etc.; and minus the religious theme altogether, identical to secular self-help).

But things have been torn totally from their contexts. For one, the problem arises from not being in a NATION that is shaped around the sabbath (and in fact, their whole identity!) Yet, we apply this to people today, saying how "good" the Law is for them; it's for US (And isn't this exactly what Osteen's wife was just not too long ago criticized as having said?)

So no, the Law was NOT for our pleasure; the Law was to point us to Christ by showing us our need, from falling short.

What really is "pleasing God"?

Much of the church seems to believe the purpose of life is human behavior reform, and thus the purpose of the Church is to oppose bad behavior and try to correct it in “the world”. “Grace” covers past sins, and then afterward, the purpose is keeping our lives clean (and most will say grace continues to cover sins afterward, but in practice, it still ends up being all about Law).

Then, there's the purpose of “doing good” for God (e.g. keeping your “heart”/“mind”/life clean).

What really is “pleasing God”, and WHY is it “pleasing” (or not pleasing) to Him? The common answers will basically boil down to the Law, but as usual, not be seen in that term. Some of us say “love”, but then this still needs to be defined better. The common answer is "to preserve society". But then this ends up extending to private actions between consenting people, with the Church accusing this of "destroying society".

A good guideline is simply whatever harms other people, since they are the ones we affect. This is the sort of thing long criticized by conservative preaching as “relativism”, "situational ethics" or “the new morality”, but their attempts to add some direct “offense” to God that goes beyond man can only lead right back to the Law, and thus works-righteousness. It denies what divine grace is, and has Him as being more vulnerable and “thin skinned” than man.
The evidence of this is Jesus' citing of Hillel's "Golden Rule" as "summing up the whole Law".

It should also be pointed out, that while this is accused of being "license" (which is an incorrect NIV term, and otherwise unbiblical), the Gospel's “liberty” was such that it could easily be misconstrued and used against believers:

Rom. 3:7 1Cor.8:9 Gal.2:14 5:13
1Pet 2:16

Again, most Christians believe this "liberty" was only from "Old Testament" commandments, or from a "bad attitude" toward the "discomfort" of the "hard walk", but the Gospel is still all about rules and "order". The true liberty is something to not be taken as an "occasion" for doing things that offend others' sensibilities, but the point is, it is still freedom from the fear that hung over man, under the Law.

What is the Gospel for, now?

I've spent a lot of time talking about what is not the Gospel, or what contradicts it, (namely, all forms of "merit"), or how it shouldn't be used. But now is a good time to discuss how it should be used.
Even though the Fulfilled View removes the whole "condemnation" premise (and thus seems to remove the need to spread the Gospel, to "save souls"), it is still "good news" that has a reason to be shared. The thing is, it's most likely not with most Westerners, who've already made their "decision" in regards to Jesus Christ or whatever other religion or philosophy they believe in. This is the source of most "debate", and engaging in it for over 20 years, and watching current events debates over homosexuality, transgenderism, and the role religion is to play in society and government, I see it is largely a waste of time. Then you read again Christ's statement (in instructing His first disciples on how to share the news), that if the people in a place have already "made their decision" ("against", basically), then to "leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet." (Matthew 10:14, Luke 10:11). Staying and arguing is, again, wasting time and energy. If it brings a violent reaction from the people, then it becomes what He also referred to as "Giv[ing] that which is holy unto the dogs, [or] cast[ing] your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and tear you." (7:6. The point is of course not to stick your nose up at unbelievers and call them dogs or swine. The people these passages were originally referring to were obstinate lawkeepers, not "worldly" unbelievers, but since the evangelical Church insists the Commission to "preach the Gospel to every creature" is still for them, then it follows that these instructions on how to do it and what to do and not to do would be as well).

The only reason anyone would waste their time and energy (and possibly lives) like that is because their own ego has some investment in that place. Like "it's our nation, and we want to take it back". Or it's just where you're used to, and you don't want to go somewhere unfamiliar (at least not permanently, or to keep moving). So we stay in place, feeling at home in this "world" (that we sing is "not our home"), but still feel the need to "do our part to 'help build up the kingdom'" (and get "crowns in Heaven"). Even if you emphasize it's "for the people's souls", then again, most have made their decision, and while you may be trying to catch "whomsoever will", Jesus did say not to stay in a city, mining for such souls (Luke 10:7b).
In any case, you've moved completely off of a God-centered focus, and from the "Commission" you say you're following.

So recently I thought of who the Gospel would be good to share with. One example is tribal cultures, who may still have cannibalism and human sacrifice, other gruesome ritual, the ongoing maintaining of bloody animal sacrifices (where most other religions have replaced them in one way or another), and even child rape (the shamans reportedly had been telling African tribesmen this would cure AIDS), and other stuff like female genital mutilation.

Most "politically correct" liberals would likely still oppose trying to replace the practices of these "other cultures" with this "western concept" as they see it, even with the fire and brimstone removed. But look, right off the bat, those latter two things are something the liberal activist world has spoken out a lot about. They wouldn't mind those things being ended!

Most of these rituals come from the same place just about all religious ritual and other efforts come from, and that's the need to appease the gods (or God, as syncretistic religions such as Santeria might acknowledge). "Appeasement" is doing something to gain the pardon or favor of the other party. So it's the same thing as the most "kosher" lawkeepers or "holiness" adherents of the monotheistic religions. Man's "works" to save himself. The futility of these efforts is not changed by the notion of afterlife condemnation ("eternal death") being abolished. It's no longer about the fear of Hell, but rather they are following things that are not from God (Jer 32:35), that are exacting a lot of unneeded and useless pain or burdens upon people (including the poor children born into this, without even any choice).

So Christ's fulfillment of all of that, as the ultimate "sacrifice", then is still "good news" to them, even if it's not about Hell.
It also would be good news for those trusting in their heritage for some sort of personal worth. This is what drives white supremacy. Their ancestors did horrible things, and they can't accept it. So they justify it, by at best "that's just the way they did things back then", and at worst, the people colonized and enslaved were inferior and/or "cursed". Yet they are still greatly irritated by this "race card" being "played" on them. The nation was really "exceptional", and the descendents today not doing well simply lack character (if not being, again, naturally inferior). There is so much wrong today, but it's all the "liberals" or other groups of people's fault. They rebuff any association with the evils of the ancestors, saying it wasn't them, or even that their actual ancestors weren't here yet, or didn't own slaves. Yet they identify with those ancestors or unrelated founders when it comes to the "good" of the nation.

If they really trusted in Christ (and truly understood Grace), and did not seek identification with the righteousness of the past Americans (which is exactly what the Israelites of Christ's time were doing with their lineage), then they wouldn't be so uptight (or feel “guilt-manipulated”) about the evils of the nation (like slavery and racism) when pointed out. The good and evil go together, and there is no way to split off the evil. You just end up putting it on other people, and that just causes strife. Each person stands before God on his own, not inheriting others' goodness, or being dragged down by their badness, which you then must deny as if your own justification depended on it.
It of course is also “good news” to anyone struggling with that cycle of guilt and trying to do better, having to perpetually wonder if they’re “growing” enough, and finally seeing the utter futility of all this!

To understand this, and allow Christ to remove the guilt would be the real, delivering, liberating "spiritual power"!

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