The Battle for God's Grace
and its Connection to the
Rock of Offence Special Commentary
This is Part 1 of a four-part Bible study.
Click on the links below to access the
other parts of this study.
In our continuing effort to allow Scripture
to speak for itself, we begin this study with
the following five New Testament references.
"For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles - if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power." (Ephesians 3:1-7)
"...Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26)
"Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus (the New Covenant), by a new and living way which he (Jesus) consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:19-23)
"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by Grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his Grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by Grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Ephesians 2:4-9)
"For God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. [He never withdraws them when once they are given, and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His Grace or to whom He sends His call.]" (Romans 11:29 Amplified Bible)
In Ephesians chapter 3:1-7, Saint Paul describes his ministry, which reveals the revolutionary changes that took place through the sacrificial death of Christ. Paul refers to this period of human history following the cross as; “the dispensation of the grace of God” - and in Hebrews 10:19-23 he calls it "the new and living way of Christ."
Much confusion exists among Christians concerning the Biblical word “dispensation”. In order to avoid a lengthy and controversial subject - the word “administration” carries a similar meaning to "dispensation" and is commonly used in the world of politics. Whenever a President is elected, a new administration with new objectives takes over – and the previous one is phased out. God also uses these administrations (or dispensations) as a way to organize Scripture. In this study we use the political meaning of "administration" as a simplified way to understand an important Biblical truth. Depending on the context and subject being discussed, the Bible often uses the following four words interchangeably.
The Bible translators labeled these
spiritual programs; The Old Testament
and New Testament. They could have
also used the terms;
Old Dispensation and
Old Ministry and
Old Covenant and
Regardless of the terminology used, the Bible is clearly divided by special title pages that draw our attention to these two primary administrations. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ started a new administration (or the New Covenant/New Testament) in God’s overall plan for the human race. In the Old Testament, God gives us a glimpse of this yet future event;
“BEHOLD, I WILL DO A NEW THING,
now it shall spring forth; shall
you not know it? I will even
make a road in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Through the prophet Jeremiah God says;
“Behold, the days are coming, says
WHEN I WILL MAKE A
NEW COVENANT ...
For I will be merciful to their
AND THEIR SINS AND
LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL
REMEMBER NO MORE.
(Jeremiah 31:31-32 - Hebrews 8:8-12)
Hundreds of years later, Jesus arrived on the scene to fulfill the words God previously spoke through Isaiah and Jeremiah. As Jesus approached, John the Baptist loudly announced;
"Behold! The Lamb of God
who takes away the sin
of the world!"
During the Last Supper,
Jesus declared ...
"This cup is the New Covenant
in My blood, which is shed
(Luke 22:20 NKJV)
Important Note: In Luke 22:20, the
original King James translation of
the Bible uses the word "testament"
instead of "covenant" (as used by
the New King James), which shows
that both words are often used
After the cross, Paul reveals the
liberating truths provided by the
New Covenant - announced by Christ
at the Last Supper.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ ...
NOT IMPUTING (CHARGING) THEIR
TRESPASSES (SINS) TO THEM ...
(2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
The Redemption of Christ
In Jeremiah 31:31-32, God declares that He would no longer remember the sins and lawless deeds of those governed by the yet future new covenant. 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 and John 1:29 explain how this forgetfulness legally occurs. God blocks all past, present and future sins (and lawless deeds) from His memory because they can no longer be charged or imputed (held against) those who are "in Christ". This "in Christ" designation is the legal standing God imputes (transfers) to everyone who has placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Redeemer. Jesus is perfectly sinless - which allows God to reckon anyone "in Him" to also be without sin (known as "free justification" - Romans 3:24-26). This "free gift of righteousness apart from works" (Romans 5:15-21, Romans 4:4-8) now makes it possible for everyone condemned as a sinner under the Old Testament program - to be declared "righteous". Why? God applies the blood payment made by "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" - to their life. Scripture calls this new relationship - "the new and living way of Christ" because it didn't (and couldn't) exist before the cross. As a result, the Bible declares ;
"There is therefore now no condemnation (judgment for sin) to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1-2)
"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
"For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14)
Under the New Covenant, if God were to hold even one sin against a believer, He would be denying the redemptive work of His Son (The Lamb of God) - who "takes away ALL SIN". This is why the popular and accepted practice of using sin to control and condemn believers - is actually a denial of the finished work of Christ at the cross. Yet, many churches transform this religious form of denial into a good fundamental Bible teaching.
When our Heavenly Father promises that He will NO LONGER remember our sins and lawless deeds - the Bible describes it as God's unmerited and undeserved favor called ...
"Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus (or the New Covenant in Christ's blood - Luke 22:20), by a new and living way which he consecrated for us ..." (Hebrews 10:19-23 - Clarifications Added)
In the following reference, Paul uses
the word "ministry" to describe both
the old (previous) and new covenant
"And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious." (2 Corinthians 3:4-11 - Emphasis Added)
Paul is comparing both the new and
the previous administrations in
the following ways:
- The old administration (the letter) now kills
- The new administration (the Spirit) gives life
- The old administration (ministry of death) was
- The new administration (ministry of the Spirit)
is more glorious
- The old administration (ministry of condemnation)
- The new administration (ministry of righteousness)
has much more glory
- The old administration is passing away
- The new administration remains
According to Ephesians 3:1-7, all believers
in Christ are now governed by the new
ministry of the Spirit also known as ...
The Dispensation of the
Grace of God
The book of Hebrews teaches about the
annulling of the previous covenant of
Law and the beginning of Christ's New
Covenant administration - or the
dispensation of God's Grace ...
"that provides a better hope".
Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? FOR THE PRIESTHOOD BEING CHANGED, OF NECESSITY THERE IS ALSO A CHANGE OF THE LAW. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord (Jesus Christ) arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, NOT ACCORDING TO THE LAW OF A FLESHLY COMMANDMENT, BUT ACCORDING TO THE POWER OF AN ENDLESS LIFE. For He testifies (speaking of Jesus):
“You are a priest forever according
to the order of Melchizedek.”
FOR ON THE ONE HAND THERE IS AN ANNULLING (NOTE: ANNUL - TO MAKE LEGALLY INVALID OR VOID) OF THE FORMER COMMANDMENT (THE LAW) BECAUSE OF ITS WEAKNESS AND UNPROFITABLENESS, FOR THE LAW MADE NOTHING PERFECT; on the other hand, THERE IS THE BRINGING IN OF A BETTER HOPE, THROUGH WHICH WE DRAW NEAR TO GOD. And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him:
“The Lord has sworn and will not relent,
‘You are a priest forever according to the
order of Melchizedek’”),
BY SO MUCH MORE JESUS HAS BECOME
A SURETY OF A BETTER COVENANT.
(Hebrews 7:11-22 - Emphasis Added)
So that there would be little chance of
being misunderstood - these same facts are
clarified even more in the next chapter:
"But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He (Jesus) is also MEDIATOR OF A BETTER COVENANT, WHICH WAS ESTABLISHED ON BETTER PROMISES. For if that FIRST COVENANT had been faultless, then no place would have been sought FOR A SECOND." (Hebrews 8:6-7)
"IN THAT HE (JESUS CHRIST) SAYS, "A NEW COVENANT," HE HAS MADE THE FIRST OBSOLETE. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." (Hebrews 8:13)
When God Uses the Word
“New” - He Means New
The word used in the Bible to describe Christ’s new administration (or covenant) is “Grace” - defined as; “God’s unmerited and undeserved favor”. While God extended grace, mercy and forgiveness at various times under the Old Testament program – an all encompassing “administration or age of Grace” that governs the new redemptive program of Christ couldn’t officially begin until after the cross. As a result, the New Testament calls this program; “the new and living way of Christ” (Hebrews 10:19-23). Yet, similar to the world of politics, the old administration ends (passes away and becomes obsolete) when the new one begins (Hebrews 8:6-13). Contrary to popular fundamental church teaching, Christ’s new redemptive administration IS NOT AN EXTENSION OR CONTINUATION OF THE OLD. The new program replaces the old with a set of different principles and rules established on Grace that now govern salvation after the cross. It’s called, “The New Covenant in Christ's blood” (Luke 22:20).
Students of church history are aware of the persecution Christians continue to suffer at the hands of demonically inspired atheists, agnostics – and those who follow false religions. These are people who generally hate the God of the Bible and seek to either silence His followers or eradicate them from the face of the earth. Much of the persecution is verbal and non-life threatening. But, these actions can quickly change into a murderous campaign, like the one just enacted against Christians in the Middle East. Many are correctly calling it genocide because men, women and children were ruthlessly murdered by the thousands. A few of these executions were recorded and could be viewed on the Internet. To put this into perspective, one member of the clergy commented that the Christian Church had been nearly eliminated in that area of the world. It certainly qualifies as one of the most grievous events in human history.
Regardless of the horrific nature of these acts - it is only one front in a two-front spiritual struggle. The Bible tells us that Satan (the devil) is the Christian’s enemy and uses people to do his bidding, OFTEN WITHOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE. In a time of war, an enemy doesn’t only attack from the outside. The most effective way to destroy an opponent is to attack from the inside – from within their own ranks. This second battle front receives far less attention and is usually suppressed because it negatively reflects on the reputation of a ministry and the preaching of the gospel. Yet, most of the damage occurs through the second front because the enemy can operate covertly and strike at the heart of what Jesus died to provide at the cross - FROM POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY INSIDE THE CHURCH. Rather than suppressing these negative issues, Saint Paul skillfully uses them in his evangelistic message to illustrate the difference between true and false Christian teaching. If you understand the differences, you can better understand the truth. This is why we attempt to follow Paul's example in our ministry.
The Most Dangerous Enemies
of God's Grace are Found
Among the Christ-professing
Members of the Church
A majority of professing Christians tend to live in denial concerning this internal struggle revealed through the typology of the New Testament. The struggle becomes visible during the various confrontations between the Pharisees and Jesus. The Pharisees (which also includes the Chief Priests, Scribes and Sadducees) were trained in Jewish Law from early childhood. They claimed to intensely love and respect God (as most Christians do today). As a result, these leaders claimed to possess the highest level of religious commitment. Yet, a short time later these same devoted men, who claimed to love and serve God persuaded Pontius Pilate to crucify God’s Son.
However, the religious leaders were not the only ones involved in this unjust act. A large group of disciples followed Jesus during His 3 ½ year ministry. Within this group was an inner circle known as “the twelve disciples”. They were His most trusted ministry associates, who would later become the custodians of the new Christian Church following the cross. Yet, one of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, made a deal with the religious hierarchy to betray Christ in exchange for 30 pieces of silver. The plan was initiated during an important meeting between Jesus and His closest 12 disciples - which took place shortly before His crucifixion. It is known as “The Last Supper” (also called “the Lord’s Table”) and now represents the most holy practice within the Christian Church. (1 Corinthians 11:23-32)
It is no coincidence that the Last Supper was also the starting point of the most grievous act of treachery in church history. It led to the public execution of Christ and came from within His most trusted group of disciples. Our Heavenly Father placed this example (and the one discussed later from Acts chapter 15) in the canon of Scripture as a prophetic warning to the New Testament Church. The most dangerous distortions and assaults against God’s Grace and the Redemption of Christ almost always comes from within the Christian Church – from those who claim to be “true believers”. As it was with Judas Iscariot on the night Jesus was betrayed - many of these same individuals will partake of the Lord’s Table - but then zealously proclaim and defend a theology that undermines the very New Covenant truths the Lord’s Table represents. What is being labeled as a betrayal - is the act of replacing the New Covenant Grace-based salvation of Christ – with a counterfeit (and conditional) works and merit-based salvation. Peter accurately describes this practice in the following way ...
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers AMONG YOU, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of." (2 Peter 2:1-2)
The New Testament warns that this counterfeit Christian theology (Paul calls it “a different gospel”) is associated with the spirit of “anti-christ”. We often fail to realize that the prefix “anti” in this case does not mean “opposite to Christ” ... but means “instead of Christ" - or a substitute for Christ. It’s similar to replacing a real 100 dollar bill with a counterfeit - and then treating the counterfeit as if it were authentic. Here’s the problem: Unless you take a close look beneath the surface, the authentic and the counterfeit look and sound the same. All of these things come together in the Book of Revelation when a man called “anti-christ” arrives on the scene in the last days. At first, he will not reveal his evil intentions, but will claim to be the real Christ and the promised Messiah of Israel. Yet, because he is actually possessed by the spirit of Satan, Paul calls him "the man of sin" and Saint John refers to him as “the Beast”. He will offer a false promise of peace and security and will destroy many through these lies.
The consistent Scriptural pattern of authentic vs. counterfeit - where the real Christ is replaced with "another Christ and his different gospel" - is the focal point of "the battle for God's Grace".
Concerning this often ignored internal
church war, Jesus warned;
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; AND A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THOSE OF HIS OWN HOUSEHOLD.’" (Matthew 10: 34-36 - Emphasis Added)
This Bible study examines the original - and continuing - "battle for God’s Grace", where many of our enemy's representatives claim to be "true believers in Christ". Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not something new. Paul warned the Church about this undercover operation by saying;
"And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." (Galatians 2:4-5)
This spiritual war is between those who correctly preach the new administration of God’s Grace initiated at the cross – and those who labor to keep the previous administration of Old Testament Law which came through Moses at Mount Sinai. In Romans 8:2-4, Paul uses slightly different terminology and suggests that the struggle is between those who embrace “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (or the new covenant) – and those who insist that our “faith in Christ” continues to be governed by “the law of sin and death” (or Old Covenant Law). TODAY, BOTH GROUPS CLAIM TO BE "CHRISTIAN" – and both insist that they are committed and sincere “Bible-believers”. Yet, after the cross (and according to the warnings of the New Testament) – God accepts one group, but rejects the other.
According to the Epistles of Saint Paul, the rejected group are "false brethren" (counterfeit believers in Christ), who are convinced they are serving God - yet unknowingly operate under the control of our enemy to destroy our liberty in Christ established on God's Grace and purchased at the cross.
It is often said that these warnings
are only meant for the popular
religious cults that often show up
at our doorstep looking for converts.
But, the Bible clearly directs these
warnings at all members of the
Christian Church and their leaders.
Paul exposes this stealth undercover group
in a way that many find offensive.
"But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, TRANSFORMING THEMSELVES INTO APOSTLES OF CHRIST. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works." (2 Corinthians 11:12-15 - Emphasis Added)
Jesus refers to this covert internal struggle
once again - and commends believers in the
Church at Ephesus for their efforts;
To the church of Ephesus, Jesus said, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and found them to be liars ..." (Revelation 2:2)
The Authority of Scripture
The following statement represents one
of the most important principles that
govern the life of the authentic
Scripture alone is God’s final
authority concerning all issues
of Christian faith and practice.
Bible Scholars sometimes refer to this truth as "Sola Scriptura", which is translated as, “Only the Scriptures”. Without the existence of a “Scriptural standard”, well-meaning church leaders and their followers can (and will) create extra-biblical rules that they think are necessary to protect cherished, yet wrong traditions and beliefs. These man-made rules, which are designed to look and sound as if they are based on Scripture - are then given the same authority as Scripture. Jesus strongly condemned this universal tendency in Mark 7:6-7 when He said;
"...this people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
Church history is replete with these attempts, which is why we have so many denominations today that teach different and many times wrong things about God – both on the Roman Catholic and Protestant sides of isle.
This is Part 1 of a four-part Bible study.
Click on the links below to access the
other parts of this study.
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