This is a very good sermon from a dear brother in Christ, emphasizing the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ. You will be brought low and built up, as brother Randall exalts Christ from the Scriptures! Listen here.
a review by Stuart Brogden
The latter half of the 20th century has brought a growing interest in Reformed Theology, in striking contrast to the growing apostasy that has gripped many evangelical denominations. Many of my fellow Baptists aggressively and happily embraced the doctrines of grace and the great theological truths about God’s sovereignty and man’s true nature. I am a grateful Baptist who was introduced to this theological construct in the ‘90s and have come to see as foundational to the Christian faith the doctrines of the Reformation, especially the reliance on Scripture Alone for all things having to do with life and godliness and For the Glory of God Alone to keep us focused rightly in all we think, say, and do. And the mostly forgotten doctrine of our forefathers – Semper Reformanda – Always Reforming, because none of has it all together nor will we get it all together while we inhabit these tents of flesh. This brings me to this remarkable book – The Sabbath Complete, by Terrence D. O’Hare. This book is the result of our author “attending an Orthodox Presbyterian Church where various Sabbath-keeping applications were stressed.” (page xi) Prompted by his pastor, who urged his congregation to examine personal motives in religious practice, he decided to study the concept of the “Christian Sabbath”, which is widely popular in churches which hold to 17th century confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession. O’Hare’s study lasted as decade, producing this comprehensive analysis of this contentious issue. His desire, and mine, is that people on both sides of this issue acknowledge the human tendency to cling to traditions (some of which, he shows, are fine and biblical), which can lead to traditions displacing true worship of God and Christ. The thesis of this book is “that Sabbatarianism is a form of traditional pietism and that the acceptance of the fully ceremonial nature of the Sabbath, though shocking to some, is actually Christ-honoring.” (page xiii)
The Sabbath Complete is organized into 12 chapters which examine various aspects of the Sabbath – prototypes, initial practice, law, feasts; how it prefigures Christ in the rest He earned, the Gospel He preached, His resurrection; and a historical review of the practice which has come to be known in the confessions as the “Christian Sabbath.” Coming in at more than 350 heavily footnoted pages, this book is thorough, enlightening, and thought provoking. It is my prayer to whet your appetite enough so that you will buy this book and study it. May the Lord be our wisdom and His glory our goal.
In his examination of the Sabbatic prototypes given to us in Genesis, O’Hare observes (page 1) that “God’s provision for our physical rest is but a token of a more transcendent remedy for our spiritual privation” and follows up (page 6) thusly: “Though God’s rest after creation is a type of everlasting rest yet to come, it is more certainly a type of Jesus Christ, who has come, in whom the faithful rest in salvation.” This snippet shows O’Hare’s focus on Christ – His provision and sufficiency, which is a constant, welcome, perspective throughout this book. As an expression of God’s sovereignty and redemptive revelation, our author reminds us (page 7), “Jonah did not just happen to be engulfed by a great fish and later ejected as a random biological event, but this occurred as designed by the Lord to shadow forth the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. Likewise, the seventh day rest was not a random terminus of creation but a purposed end point to shadow forth the inevitable results of God’s work in redemption.” This sets the stage for a book that is best read slowly, with an open Bible and notepad.
In addition to each Christian studying the Bible for himself, learning from credible sources of church history is very helpful as this sheds light on when and by whom our beloved traditions were started. O’Hare has helpful advice in chapter 9, wherein he reviews the shift to calling Sunday the “Christian Sabbath.” One of the earliest post-apostolic apologists, Justin Martyr, sheds light on the common-place view of Christians in the second century:
“And on the first day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read…But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”
For this most ancient brother, the Lord’s Day was on the first day not as a new instance of the Jewish Sabbath, but in concert with a remembrance of God’s creation and Christ’s resurrection – wherein we have the promise of having our decaying bodies made new like His. Our author laments how Christian traditions were often started not on the Lord’s revelation to us as New Covenant saints, but by imagining connections to Jewish traditions – “such as circumcision giving way to baptism and the Lord’s Supper approximating the Passover, came the forced and fanciful system of religious holidays common in the Roman Catholic Church.” (page 222) He then provides a lengthy quote from famous Roman Catholic Thomas Aquinas, explaining his support for these practices and then comments (page 223), “This teaching blurred the differences between the old and new covenants and paved the way for works orientation. … It was fitting for a better covenant to have fewer ordinances: one, performed only once that identifies the child of God as an heir to the kingdom, and the second, a recurring and sustaining ordinance of remembrance of the life and work of Jesus Christ. Again, similarity does not connote identity. Baptism is not a Christian circumcision, and communion is not a Christian Passover, neither is the Lord’s Day a Christian Sabbath. This is as absurd as calling the new covenant the “Christian old covenant.”” Did I mention that a Presbyterian wrote this book? He goes on to say, “It is plain that the circumcision of the Christian is spiritual and not ritual, and that it is actually the death of Christ, which was His circumcision, into which we were spiritually baptized.” In response to several sabbatarian authors (such as Walter Chantry) who press the “Christian Sabbath”, in part, as a means to restrain evil and provoke (coerce?) Christian worship, O’Hare rightly observes (page 225), “If Christ can raise up rocks to sing His praises (Matt 3:9), why would it be so difficult for Him to raise up His beloved, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to worship at the appointed time (Ps 116:18-19, 122:1-2)?” Amen! Saints of the living God don’t need a command to gather together for worship and fellowship – we, by definition, love Him, are drawn to Him, and we love the brotherhood!
Each chapter of this book delves into history and Scripture to determine the meaning and origin of the various aspects mentioned in the first paragraph. Each is compelling and enlightening. Chapter 4 – Sabbath Law, examines the Jewish laws and traditions tied to their Sabbath and points out inconsistencies in the practice of modern Christian sabbatarians. In nearly every chapter, the diligent reader will be awed by the realization of how detailed the Jewish religion is as given to them by God and how it is much, much more than merely a quaint religion for those people long ago. The Jewish religion, as the book of Hebrews tells us, is mainly a means of communicating God’s eternal plan of redemption to the people He called out of the pagan nations, to protect the promised seed and make His name known around the world. These two priorities – to glorify the Lord and declare the gospel – are consistently the highest order for us humans. This becomes more and more clear as each chapter is consumed.
To keep this review from running 20 pages or more, I will restrict myself to chapter 10 – The Sabbath in Church History. This will put the “Christian Sabbath” practice so aggressively promoted and protected into its proper context. My desire aligns with the author’s – to have readers of this book see the first day of the week in its biblical context, stripped of the accumulated baggage of 20 centuries of religion.
Chapter 10 begins with the apostolic teaching, with O’Hare stating (page 244), “There are three crucial distinctions between Christianity and its roots in Judaism: holy things, the law, and the customs.” He sees some continuity and some discontinuity in the connection between the old religion and the new, acknowledging the law is good, and “Yet these ceremonial laws isolated the Jews from their pagan neighbors, became the point of contention and ridicule, and represented a wall of separation between the two peoples. This was meant by God to display the isolation between sinners and Himself – the Jew included – so when Christ abolished the ceremonies of Judaism, the gospel of peace and the law of moral commandments would become the unifying theology and practice for Jew and Gentile alike (Eph 2:14-16). … At the beginning of the Christian Church, it was a stumbling block to require Gentiles to observe Jewish rituals: “to whom we gave no commandment.” (Acts 15:24)”
The review of the Didache (50 – 120 AD) reveals no evidence of Sabbath-keeping by Christians; the review of Ignatius’ writings (page 247) shows “he clearly distinguishes between Jewish conduct on the Sabbath and Christian conduct on the Lord’s Day, to indicate the superiority of being a disciple of Christ.” He walks us through the records of Mathetes (130 AD), Justin Martyr (114 – 165 AD), Irenaeus (120 – 202 AD), Tertullian (160 – 225), Origen (185 – 254), Eusebius (265 – 340), Sylvester, Bishop of Rome (314 – 335), the council of Laodicea (364); all of which provide no support for the “Christian Sabbath” and often denounce the idea as being a Jewish encroachment in the church.
By the time Gregory I was installed as pope of the then-emerging Roman Catholic Church, traditions now associated with that religion “were already taking root, such as the liturgical mass, a monastic life, symbolic outfits, ecclesiastical hierarchy, and declaration of days to honor saints.” (page 261) O’Hare provides a lengthy excerpt from a letter to Roman citizens in which Gregory I calls those who forbid work on Sunday (which he called the Sabbath day) “preachers of Antichrist” and sums up: “Gregory’s core understanding is that the Sabbath is a fulfilled ceremonial law that should no longer be literally applied.” (page 262) O’Hare quotes R.J. Bauckham’s claim that Peter Comester (a contemporary of Aquinas and Chancellor of Notre Dame in Paris) was the “first exegete to apply the Sabbath commandment literally to Christian observance of the first day”. (page 263) Our author reminds us (same page) that “While it is helpful to acknowledge the scattered, yet progressive, acceptance of a physical rest on Sunday, it is more important to understand the bases for these practices in empiricism and religious authoritarianism.” History tells us what happened and provides evidence as to motives. The Roman Catholic Church explored ways and means to better influence her subjects, working with the legal authorities to provide a day off work and advocating Christian observance of Sabbath principles. “Their expectation that all citizens attend Mass in this church-state led to the need to force compliance through the appeal to Sabbath law.” Thomas Aquinas further developed this line of thought, “asserting that the old law contains moral (emanating from natural law), judicial (laws regarding justice among men), and ceremonial (laws touching on worship, holiness, and sanctification) precepts; and that these three can be distinguished in the Decalogue as well.” (page 264) This appears to be the first teaching of what is now cherished reformed doctrine – that the Law of Moses can be separated into these three categories and dealt with appropriately for new covenant saints. There should be no denying these three elements are found in the Law of Moses, but, as O’Hare shows us with Aquinas, determining what is ceremonial and what is moral is the rub. Aquinas recognized a moral teaching in the Sabbath commandment – people should worship God; he also recognized the ceremonial component, specifically the date upon which such worship is to be given. “At this juncture, Aquinas took the first step toward Sabbatarianism by moralizing a ceremonial command” by asserting the moral necessity of giving time to God. (page 265) Aquinas agreed with Augustine that moral laws are revealed by nature, so all men are without excuse. But in order to get man to be at mass and give to the church due obeisance, Aquinas saw value in elevating that which had been rightly considered ceremonial to moral status.
We will step quickly through the early reformers to show how this idea progressed. Philip Melancthon is quoted as saying, in 1530, “Those who consider the appointment of Sunday in place of the Sabbath as a necessary institution are very much mistaken, for the Holy Scriptures have abrogated the Sabbath and teach that after the revelation of the Gospel all ceremonies of the old law may be omitted.” (page 274) “Luther vacillates between his definitions of the Sabbath as a ceremonial law bearing no external application for Christians and a binding law incurring God’s judgment if disobeyed.” (page 279) John Calvin also had trouble being consistent in his view on this matter. In asserting “that the Sabbath was ceremonial and is moral leaves us open to problems concerning the nature of its existence – it is both abrogated and legally binding. This was further complicated by the church-state relationship that sought to mimic a theocratic Israel and by Calvin’s misconception that the biblical Sabbath required all Israelites to assemble at the synagogue.” (page 281) In his commentary on the Heidelberg Confession, written in 1563, O’Hare lists eight failures on the part of reformers that led them to embrace the “Christian Sabbath” (page 288):
“Failure to familiarize themselves with the teachings of the early church fathers regarding the Sabbath.
Failure to expand the understanding of how the Lord’s advent fulfilled each specific Sabbath command beyond “resting from one’s sins.”
Failure to be consistent in the treatment of ceremonial laws and types.
Failure to satisfactorily explain why the ceremonial Sabbath was placed with the body of the Ten Commandments.
Failure to recognize the limitations of the Ten Commandments as a means to inculcate Christian ethics.
Failure to differentiate the biblical Sabbath from the tradition of the synagogue.
Failure to emphasize the authority of the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to institute a new order of congregational worship.
Failure to distinguish the Sabbath from the Lord’s Day.”
In what may be the keystone paragraph in the entire book, O’Hare explains the meaning of the Sabbath commandment (page 289).
“The Mediator is on the first table (of the Decalogue) because, unlike Moses, Christ truly comes from God and is fully God. Yet Christ, by becoming fully man, joins with man to make him complete. Man cannot become complete simply by keeping the law, but he must experience through faith a life-altering union with Christ. The ceremonial Sabbath is the evangelion within the Ten Commandments that addresses the redemption of man. It is Christ Himself who takes the place of the Sabbath in the Decalogue. The Lord’s Day is not a continuum of the Sabbath or its replacement; it is a fresh ordinance for the church of God based upon the completion of redemption that was twice sealed by the Lord, first by His resurrection and second by the descent of the Holy Spirit.”
This puts the Decalogue in the absolute best light for new covenant saints to understand it and relate to it. (Scripture never calls the Decalogue “The Ten Commandments”, but only and always “the ten words” – hence the term Decalogue. But “Ten Commandments” are much weightier in the mouths of religious overlords than are “ten words”. I would have liked O’Hare to address this aspect of the creeping incrementalism of religious lordship in the church.)
It was during this time that the early reformers also broke with the clear teachings of Scripture and the church fathers by beginning to teach the Sabbath as the product of a creation ordinance. This was taught by Ursinus who “may have adopted the theory of the Reformed Englishman John Hooper, who, in his widely published book, Declaration of the Ten Holy Commandments (1548), claimed that God instituted the Sabbath from creation. … So, only 300 years after Aquinas and fifty years after Luther, the admixture of the Sabbath and Lord’s Day developed into a general concept that the Lord’s Day is the Sabbath, fostering the idea that the Sabbath remains a viable force in Christian living.” (page 290) This creation-ordinance based “Christian Sabbath” was a major element used by state-churches on both sides of the Atlantic to coerce Sunday worship – just as Rome had learned to do, using the same unfortunate logic.
In 1973, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church published a report from a committee that had been formed to study the relationship of the Westminster Confession of Faith to the fourth commandment. In part, the committee reported:
“The weekly Sabbath is an eschatological sign. This truth, central to the teaching of Hebrews 3:7 – 4:13 as well as fundamental to the entire biblical revelation concerning the Sabbath, does not find expression in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. The reason for this would appear to be that the Standards mention the Sabbath commandment primarily in terms of its bearing on the more specific matter of public and private worship.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith was not changed to reflect the eschatological import of the fourth commandment. O’Hare, having taught in this book the nature of moral law (unchanging and universal), observes “If the Sabbath is not ceremonial or typological, it is not eschatological.” “Where”, he asks, “”can it be shown that the Ten Commandments summarize the moral law given to Adam? Where can it be demonstrated that the Sabbath commandment is purely moral?” (page 291) “Was the fourth commandment, as God gave it to Israel, about the Christian Sabbath or the Jewish Sabbath? Was there anything else in the fourth commandment that was abrogated than merely the day of the week on which it fell? Where can it be shown that God abrogated the Jewish Sabbath and installed a Christian Sabbath in its place? … So, besides omitting fundamental truths about the Sabbath, the Westminster codified interpretive errors that budded with Aquinas and blossomed with early Reformers.” (page 292)
In closing this very provoking chapter, O’Hare shows us that the fourth commandment not only commanded rest, it commanded work for six days. The Hebrew word in this commandment is in the Qal imperfect tense, which implies an on-going action – “you work”. “But, if the fourth commandment moralizes the example of God for man to obey, then it is as much a sin to work on the day of rest as it is to rest on the days of work. … if someone completes their (sic) work in three days and does nothing more for three more days, what exactly are they ceasing from on the seventh day?” He instructs us on two types of rest: “1) God’s rest signifies the promise of eternal life, and 2) Israel’s rest signified her faith in God alone. God’s work is redemptive, so man’s work is meaningless apart from that redemption.” (page 309)
“The early church correctly believed that the Sabbath was a ceremonial command and welcomed the ordination of the Lord’s Day as a commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection. However, the ascension of church power through the state and the influence of rationalism allowed the medieval church to begin to associate the fourth commandment with the Lord’s Day. The Reformed church, by perpetuating the error of Aquinas, eventually expanded the scope of applications of Sabbath law and increased its moral muscle, forcing the church to practice Sunday Sabbatarianism.” (page 311)
He gives us eight conclusions which are supported by Scripture and history (page 311):
“The creation account is not about the Sabbath. It is about the primal peace with God that was lost through sin because of a lack of faith. The pattern of creation – six days of God’s work and the ensuing rest – reverberates through Scripture to demonstrate God’s sovereignty in effecting the work of redemption by grace through the faith of man.
When Israel left Egypt they were given the Feast of Passover; a few weeks later in the wilderness they were given the Sabbath. At Mount Sinai, Israel received her full calendar of feasts. The Lord devised this new system of shadow laws to prefigure the person and work of the Messiah.
The Ten Commandments are a summary of the Mosaic laws and therefore contain both moral and ceremonial laws.
Christ in His earthly ministry was born under the law and obeyed the ceremonial laws as well as the moral laws.
Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. His work of redemption – His incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection – is the fulfillment of all shadow laws, even though some of them are yet to be manifested in their entirety.
The redemption of Jesus Christ initiated the new covenant. It is the fulfillment of what the former covenants forecasted.
The apostles had divine warrant to establish first-day worship. Scripture unfolds the transition from things Jewish to things Christian. First-day weekly worship was the normative practice of the early church, it did not move the Sabbath to Sunday.
While there is no explicit scriptural mandate for this transition, we have scriptural foreshadowing and history of first-day significance, and rationale. Christ’s resurrection and the inaugural descent of the Holy Spirit – the most important events of the church age – occurred on the first day of the weeks in fulfillment of Israel’s shadowy calendar laws.”
There is much, much more in this book than I can even hint at in these few pages – which are too many for most, I fear. Buy the book. Study the topics, challenge the author (I found a few places where I consider him to be in error), challenge yourself – for none of us has arrived any more than did any of the Reformers.
At the end of it all, why doesn’t this book, or anyone else, show from Scripture why the Jewish Sabbath command is not meant for the new covenant church? This is the wrong starting point. We look to Scripture to see what is, what God has revealed to us; not to prove a point. What we see in Scripture about the Decalogue is that is was an integral part of the Mosaic Covenant and the testimony or witness of that covenant (Ex 31:18, 32:15, 34:27 – 29). This key aspect of the Decalogue being a testimony of God’s covenant with Israel is further developed in Ex 25 and 26, with the ark being the “ark of the testimony” (see Ex 25:22 for emphasis). This is reminiscent of Ex 16:33 – 34 when Moses was commanded to put manna in a jar as a testimony God’s promise of provisions, seen in Ex 16:4 – 5. These are the most (only?) explicit statements in the Bible regarding the reason and purpose for the tablets and the ark – as a testimony of God’s covenant with Israel made on Mt. Sinai. Ezekiel 20:12 tells us the Sabbath is a sign between God and the Hebrews – marking their exodus from Egypt. It is not listed as a sign for the church, any more than water baptism is a sign and seal of that New Covenant. The burden is on the backs of those who say the Jewish Sabbath was, as the confessions say, abolished and re-established on the first day of the week, given to the church as the “Christian Sabbath.” That assertion, is found in paragraph 22.7 of the Second London Baptist Confession, yet established by no Scripture. Yet we do see in God’s Word the admonition for Christians to be understanding and accepting of brothers who lean on the practice of old religion (Romans 14 and 1 Cor 8) as well as stern rebukes for those who want Christians to practice old religion as a requirement (Acts 15).
The Sabbath Complete provides a comprehensive review and analysis of myriad aspects of the Decalogue and the Sabbath; examining the Word of God, the languages, and the historical context. Let the reader humbly go before Holy God and plead for understanding rather than rely on his own “wisdom” or unexamined presuppositions that we all hold too closely. Remember those who went before us – they knew they were fallible, yet many of them acted as if they were complete in their understanding of God’s Word. Yet they stood under the banner of Sufficiency of Scripture and all for the glory of God – as we must. But let these slogans of an bygone era be not merely nifty phrases we use to show our credentials, let each of us also acknowledge that we must be reformed and reforming for the glory of God, for He alone sees and understands perfectly.
This book is available on Amazon and directly from the publisher, at a competitive price.
And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region. And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
This Thanksgiving Day, we are providing a post written by the Pilgrim from Thanksgiving 2009. So much has happened and changed in the world in the last 4 years, but there are also many things that have not. This is a reminder we should have in front of us every year.
As we in America celebrate Thanksgiving, and all the great freedoms, advancements, and benefits that the exporting of Christianity to this land brought with it, let us not forget about those millions of other people who are trapped in the bondage of their nations who are held captive to false religions and the human wreckage that those false religions bring.
Becoming Last had a post containing some pictures which reminded me exactly how thankful we should be, and exactly how starkly different the continent of North America may have turned out had the light of Christianity not pierced the darkness that covered this land.
The pictures in the post came from a piece in the Sacramento Bee. I’ve included some of these sobering but needful reminders below.
Let us not go to our graves having done nothing to see the advancement of the gospel to the uttermost parts of the world, where the worship of idols and demons keeps millions, if not billions, of souls in bondage.
On Cross Encounters Radio, we have been setting up special broadcasts to address the false teachings of the Bethel “church” in Redding, California. Today, Tony Miano took to task the false gospel statements of senior associate pastor Chris Valloton. I highly recommend you check out the article Tony wrote in association with this broadcast, both of which can be found below:
“This article is the second in an ongoing series of articles looking at the false teaching and false practices of Bethel Church, in Redding, CA. In this article I will address the false gospel of false prophet and teacher, Kris Vallotton, Senior Associate Pastor at Bethel Church.
Here is Vallotton’s biography, posted on the Bethel Church website:
“Kris Vallotton is a noted prophetic voice in Northern California, and has trained prophetic teams in this region. He is a sought after speaker with a vision for equipping an “Elijah generation” for the end-time harvest. Kathy’s practical wisdom and prophetic insight combine to give her a unique and profound ministry as both an instructor and the school’s administrator. Kathy is also an anointed worship leader,assisting with the training of the worship teams at the school. Both Kris and his wife Kathy have a vision to raise up a company of warriors to impact this generation for Christ. Their goal is to see the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 with their own eyes. This prophecy begins with individual people getting delivered and healed–it ends with the ruined cities being restored. Kris says it is time for the fire of God to burn up His enemies and warm the hearts of the lost. This mandate has become their mission. God has instructed them to gather together warriors with like hearts, then train and equip them, and send them into the Harvest. Holy Spirit fortifications must be established in the midst of the darkest places of the planet earth. Kris is currently Senior Associate Pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, California and Kris and his wife Kathy are Overseers at Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry. They have four children and five grandchildren.”
Read the article here: Bethel Church: The False Gospel of Kris Vallotton
Little Tommy was doing very badly in math. His parents had tried everything; tutors, flash cards, special learning centers, everything they could think of. Finally, in a last ditch effort, they enrolled him in the local Catholic School.
After the first day, little Tommy came home with a very serious look on his face. He didn’t kiss his mother hello, but instead went straight to his room and started studying. When his mother went up to check, she found books and papers spread out all over the room and Tommy hard at work.
To her further amazement, the minute he finished dinner he marched back to his room without a word and hit the books as hard as before.
This went on day after day, for the entire first term until Tommy finally brought home his report card. He quietly laid it on the table, went on up to his room, and hit the books. With some trepidation, his mom looked at it, but to her surprise and relief, little Tommy had an “A” in math.
Unable to contain her curiosity any longer, she went up to his room and asked “Son, what was it? Was it the nuns?” Tommy shook his head. “Well then,” she continued, “was it the books, the discipline, the structure, the uniforms, WHAT was it?”
Tommy just looked at her and said, “On the first day of school, when I saw that guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew they weren’t fooling around.”
You see, Tommy developed a COMMITMENT that changed his life! The funny part is that we all know Tommy’s commitment was based on a misunderstanding. Tommy was a learner, but not a disciple. His work was good – by man’s standards – but his motive was all wrong.
Commitment is like faith in several ways. Like faith, the object or reason for your commitment is what determines how significant it is. Like faith, commitment can be based on the wrong motivation. And like faith, commitment is important, and must be focused on Christ if it to have any value.
From the Homan Bible Dictionary: “In the Greek world the word “disciple” normally referred to an adherent of a particular teacher or religious/philosophical school. It was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master. Disciples of the rabbis could select their teachers.
“One can assume that Jesus used traditional rabbinic teaching techniques (question and answer, discussion, memorization) to instruct His disciples. In many respects Jesus differed from the rabbis. He called His disciples, saying, “Follow me”. He taught more as a bearer of divine revelation than a link in the chain of Jewish tradition.”
Disciples of Christ are called by Him – they haven’t chosen Him.
It’s the Heart of the matter
Here’s the unpleasant reality – behavior doesn’t necessarily reveal the heart. Tommy’s mother wanted him to do better in math. But no parent would want his child to have Tommy’s motivation as the reason for the proper behavior. That funny story points out a major problem in many people’s lives: they make major commitments based on misconceptions, we do the right thing for the wrong reason. When circumstances get difficult, the false premise of our commitment causes it to crumble. Like a house built on sand. Our boy Tommy probably lost his zeal for math after a few semesters. He may have found out the truth about the “guy nailed to the plus sign”.
What does the Bible say about those who would be Christ’s disciples? In Luke 14: 25 – 27 “And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” This is a standard traditional rabbis and other teachers did not require. But we Christians are to love Christ more than we love our Earthly family.
Matthew 28:16 – 20 The Great Commission: “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
This word, “teach” is the Greek word “math-ayt-yoo’-o“ (verse 19) or “didasko” (verse 20), both of which mean to disciple or instruct. One thing of interest here: Christ is telling His disciples to “teach all nations” – yet He is not telling each disciple to teach all nations. The church must evangelize and disciple the whole world, but only God Himself can tell you and I where and how we are to “go and teach”. It’s obvious that not every disciple can go to all nations. But the church can!
Luke 6:46 “why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” The Lord wants us to realize that our words must be backed up by our actions. We aren’t the first generation to live at odds with our professed beliefs. And the world is watching us, to see if we live on Monday in accordance to our “Amens” on Sunday.
Matthew 22:37 – 40 The Greatest Commandment: “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
If we are Christ’s disciples, we will love Him with the right motive and that love with be evident to others. If we don’t obey Him in the things that we know are His will, how can we claim to be His disciples?
Consider marriage, the most serious, sacred commitment one person can make to another person – created to give mankind a glimpse of Christ’s commitment to the church. Yet many marriages end in divorce and so often the reason – more properly, the excuse – is irreconcilable differences. Many people get married with prenuptial agreements in place. Plans already made and documented, detailing who gets what WHEN they divorce. These folk are planning to fail. Many people get married not realizing God is the author of the institution – whether they believe in Him or not. They get married thinking they are going to be able to change their mate into their own image. They get married thinking their own faults will be overlooked but they won’t overlook their mate’s. All of these misconceptions lead to unrealized expectations and frustrations. And failure. The sacred commitment is abandoned. One’s view of marriage reveals one’s view of God. This happens in the church as often as outside the church. By people focused on self, not Christ
The American Heritage Dictionary defines commitment as “A pledge to do. The state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action or to another person.” Why is it that our “pledge” to cherish until death often fails? Do we let the state of our emotions rule our intellect, creating irreconcilable differences where the Lord intended complimentary strengths and weaknesses? Many do, and the “life-long” commitment is abandoned.
Commitment Isn’t Enough
You recall the case of three teenagers, named Hananiah, to Mishael, and Azariah. The king ordered all his people to worship an idol and these boys were committed to their God – not his – so they refused. The king had the boys brought before him and told them to bow down to the idol or be burned to death in the furnace. These teenagers, you know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Nebuchadnezzar was committed. He threw the boys into the furnace. But God had a plan working that the king could not see and did not anticipate, one that ultimately changed his plans to line up with God’s.
Mere commitment might have let them comply with Nebuchadnezzar because of irreconcilable differences between their religion and life itself. They could have rationalized this one compromise, because commitments are made to be broken. But their commitment had been left behind; they had surrendered their rights – abandoned their lives – to God and could not go back. Regardless of the outcome. The young men went beyond commitment – they were disciples. That’s the line that we must cross – leaving the future to God, obeying Him despite the consequences. Because we know Him and trust Him.
Abandoned to God
The American Heritage Dictionary defines abandon as “To surrender one’s right; give up entirely. To yield oneself completely.”
Commitment is good, but in our language today, it implies too much ongoing effort on our part. It is too often bound up in circumstances that shift as sand on the beach during a hurricane. As such, commitment falls short, leaving us free to re-evaluate our decision and change it as circumstances warrant. The call of Christ is for you and me to yield completely – no turning back. And commitment cannot take us as far as Christ would have us go in our walk. Like going to Europe – you can drive yourself to the airport, but you will have to trust completely in the airplane and its crew to get you across the ocean.
When a pastor calls upon you to make a commitment for Christ, he better be telling you to abandon your life to Christ. A former pastor of mine said, “God didn’t invade planet Earth to change your life, He came to kill you!” Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) You cannot accept His gift of salvation on your terms – with an escape clause or an opportunity to bail out if times get tough. Life in Christ is complete – on His terms. With His unconditional love, Christ calls us to an unconditional surrender. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20” I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Nobody who was ever crucified lived. And there’s no turning back. Is your commitment strong enough to ensure you will never turn back? Mine isn’t and neither is yours. We’re men, our will is insufficient. As Dirty Harry puts it, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”
This is standard Jesus set with His own life. Philippians 2:6-8 “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Yes, Christ was committed – perfectly. And there’s the rub – our commitments, and the efforts to keep them, are imperfect.
What was so special about the death of Christ that goes beyond commitment? He was arrested and dragged all over town during the dead of night, repeatedly beaten and mocked through six separate trails. Whipped 39 times with a whip of leather with knots holding bits of bone or balls of lead. Romans had scourging down to science, bringing the victim as close to death as possible. The balls bruised, the leather thongs cut open the bruises. Continued beating tore into muscles, tearing them such that bleeding flesh hung in quivering ribbons. Arteries, veins and muscles were torn open, at times even entrails were laid bare. Normally, a victim would faint after two and half minutes.
How many of us would find a way out of a commitment before we got to the whip? And He had yet to face the cross. And we deserve that death; He didn’t.
Mel Gibson’s movie did not exaggerate the cruelty of the suffering Christ submitted Himself to.
Prior to His arrest, Christ prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Then He was led away, beaten, and nailed to the cross.
Abandon: “To surrender one’s right; give up entirely. To yield oneself completely.” Not my will, but His. This is the standard, the call of Christ to men.
Who Holds the Future?
Professional athletes are committed. They work hard, give of themselves and perform amazing physical feats. But how often do contract disputes, injuries, personal issues get in the way of their commitment? As remarkable as your favorite football player is on the field, his efforts fall short of perfection. Since Troy Aikman could not predict the future nor control the aging of his own body, his relationship with the Dallas Cowboys ended a year or two earlier than he planned. In spite of his passionate commitment to play baseball, Daryl Strawberry’s unplanned drug addiction was more powerful. These athletes are wonderfully talented, but they cannot control what is yet to come.
Your marriage will never be what you expected. No matter how hard you work, it’s a commitment that you may not be able to keep. Your life will never turn out how your planned it. Because we are not in control and cannot see the future, sacred relationships must be marked – controlled – by something that will not change. Something outside yourself, that is true whether you agree with it or not, is true whether you know about it or not. God’s Word is true, will never fail, will never change. Everything crafted by man will fail, will change.
He calls you and me to walk in obedience as sons of the most high King of kings. He says if we love Him we will obey His teachings. We should be able to say, “I’m abandoned to the One who love me and gave Himself that I might have life eternal.” So great a gift – all the world’s riches could not buy it. Such a small price for me to pay – not to earn it, but to demonstrate that He’s given it to me – obey the perfect will of my Father in heaven, rather than my myopic, self destructive will. And He promises peace and joy – something the whole lost world is dying for and cannot deliver. How could we refuse?
No Turning Back
When Hernando Cortez landed his Spanish fleet on the shores of Mexico in the spring of 1519, he considered his mission too critical to quit. So when the difficulties in the New World proved to be more than his crews envisioned, he ordered them to burn the ships that brought them the new world – and could take them back to Spain. It may be that he had heard the legend of a Greek general who torched his ships so his army would not be tempted to retreat in the heat of the battle. Whatever his reason, Cortez took the commitment he and his men had made and turned it into being completely yielded. No turning back – abandoned to the mission.
Why does this matter?
Everyone wants to live a life that matters. Every godly man wants to leave a godly legacy. What does it take to do so?
Consider Goodyear, Rockefeller, Pulitzer, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Macy, Gould, Crane, Astor. Names you know. In 1886 some of the East Coast’s most prominent millionaires purchased a coastal island near Georgia for a hunting preserve and winter family retreat. Members of the exclusive, clannish Jekyll Island Club, they controlled one-sixth of the world’s wealth, forging together an alliance that virtually controlled America’s corporations and government. As an example, in one of the elegant private rooms of the secluded Jekyll Island Clubhouse, top government officials hammered out the first draft of the Federal Reserve Act.
The first transcontinental telephone call was initiated from the Jekyll Island Clubhouse to President Woodrow Wilson in Washington and Alexander Graham Bell in New York. J. P. Morgan twice financed the teetering United States government, staving off federal bankruptcy. The Jekyll Island Club was the absolute highest form of a temporal kingdom. These men were committed – devoted – to worldly success and had achieved it!
Though they once commanded one-sixth of the world’s wealth, these power brokers have two things in common with every other man of their era: All their plans have come and gone, and they are all dead.
Today, the Jekyll Island Club is history. Curious visitors wander among a half-dozen restored buildings scattered around the grounds. The overgrown weeds, the peeling paint, the shattered glass – all vividly illustrate the futility of man-made kingdoms. Except those restored for tourists, the posh winter “cottages” lay in ruin, representing the final destiny of all the kingdoms of man.
“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). All the benefits of prosperity are temporal. All the risks of prosperity are eternal. Tread lightly in temporal kingdoms, for all our plans will come to an end, and then we die. The only profit that matters is an eternal one. Are you spending your wealth for Earthly pleasures or are you sending it ahead to heaven by building the kingdom of God?
What are you committed to? If your commitment is to reform your flesh – compelling yourself to bigger and better things – your focus is on the wrong target and you will fail. Your commitment, if you are to succeed, must be in Christ – plus nothing. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” “Be anxious for nothing …” Not “Me first!” Where’s your focus? Your commitment? Want success in the battle over your sinful flesh? “Walk in the spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
Commitment? Go farther. Mere commitment won’t take you where Christ calls you to go. You want success in your walk with the Savior and your marriage? Deny – abandon – yourself to a higher calling. Are you willing to answer His call? Want to leave a godly legacy? The legacy you leave will be the legacy you live. You don’t build a legacy in the last six months of your life. As the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt one stone at a time, your godly legacy will be built one day, one decision, at a time. You can’t microwave it, buy it from L.L. Bean, or fake it. Live for Christ! Walk in the spirit and you will fulfill His plan for your life. Only at the end of such a life will you or I have the legacy we yearn to leave for our children and grand children.
In 1994, a team of Christians arrived in Stravopol, Russia to distribute Bibles. A local resident recalled seeing Bibles in an old warehouse – they had been confiscated in the 1930s when Stalin was persecuting the church. Amazingly, the Bibles were still there!
Among those who showed up to load them into trucks was a young agnostic student who was simply looking to earn some easy money. But he soon slipped away from the job with a Bible he had stolen. Some time later, a fellow worker found him in a corner, weeping. Out of the hundreds of Bibles, he had stolen one that bore the handwritten signature of his own grandmother. Persecuted for her faith, she had no doubt prayed for her family often. God used that woman’s Bible – preserved for 60 years – to convict her young grandson of his sins.
Romans 10:17 – “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” It is the Word of God that convicts people of their sin and brings them to Godly repentance. We must know this or else we will fear failure about our ability to witness and evangelize adequately.
Want success that matters? I do. Abandon yourself to Christ and let Him direct your work, use your wealth, and secure your future. There is hope in none other and in Him alone is there eternal security.
You may have heard the rumblings on the internet that atheists are aghast at Ray Comfort’s newest film, Evolution vs. God. Their weeping and gnashing of teeth comes with good reason for Ray kicks out the legs of their worldview with one simple question, “Can you show me evidence for Darwinian evolution that I do not have to accept by faith?” This film takes professing evolutionary experts and their students to task by causing them to admit that the evolutionary theory is not provable by operational science. It demonstrates that evolutionary theory, at its heart, is really nothing more than a concerted effort to cause man to reject the knowledge of God that he already has so that he may pursue the sinful desires of his flesh. I highly encourage DefCon readers to take the time to watch this film, then go to www.evolutionvsgod.com and help support getting this film into the hands of university students across the country.