A Partial Gospel Is No Gospel at All!

July 30, 2010 at 10:36 am | Posted in False teaching, Grace and Faith, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Security and Assurance, Theology | 3 Comments

Dear Pastor Glenn

My friends are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I have had several theological discussions with them and knew they believed some weird things.   But recently he made a comment that really took me by surprise.  Apparently they believe that when you die, you will be born again (literally) and live another life and will keep doing that until you get it right.   Not quite like the re-incarnation of the eastern religions where you can come back as a cow or something – you always come back as another person, but re-incarnation nevertheless.  I didn’t realize Jehovah’s Witnesses believed that, did you?  Is that a main-line Jehovah’s witness belief, or a radical one that only some of them believe?

In one of my conversations, we got on the subject of true Christianity, and I made the statement that I thought the fundamental things you HAD to believe to be considered a Christian were 1) That Jesus Christ was not just a prophet or a man, but the Son of God, the second person of the trinity, 2) that He died on the cross for our sins, 3) that He rose from the dead, and 4) that belief in Him and acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior is the only way to salvation.   Both heartily agreed with that statement, so what’s your take on this?

Dear ________,

I found your inquiry interesting, as I too have never heard of JWs who believe in reincarnation.  After a short check, I could find no official belief in reincarnation among JWs, but my best resources for that have long since been given away.  However, that doesn’t exclude the possibility that some who call themselves JWs believe that way.  Like many who call themselves Christian, yet their theology comes from multiple sources – many of which are not Christian in any sense, so also there are certainly JWs who have a strange blend of JW and other philosophies all mixed together.

However, I would like to address the other question more directly as it has significance on how we understand the true Gospel.  I thought your four statements were great, but you didn’t define terms, and that makes all the difference.  JWs as I know them, would say they totally agree with statements 2, 3, and 4.  However, they would not understand those statements as you intended them to be understood.  For instance, “Did Jesus die on the cross for your sins?”  A JW would respond, “Yes, he did,” but when pushed would have to say, “He died so that my sins would be forgiven, which brings me back to even ground with God; now it’s up to me to get the rest of the way on my own.”  In other words, in their view, Jesus’ death didn’t purchase my salvation, thus guaranteeing my forgiveness; rather his death made my salvation a possibility which I must complete by my good works.  They say yes to the question, but there is a huge difference in meaning.

To your third statement, they would again say, “I believe Jesus died and rose again from the dead.”  Here they would be in agreement as to what that means, but they miss the implication of it.  Jesus’ resurrection gives them the possibility of resurrection; it doesn’t guarantee a resurrection for those who believe.

As to your statement 4, “Is belief in Jesus and acceptance of him as Lord and Savior the only way to salvation?”  Yes, they would say, Jesus is the only way to salvation; however, a complete honest answer would add that he is not the entire way to salvation.  Only through Jesus can we get to the place where we have the opportunity for salvation; taking that opportunity is up to us.

The first statement is a little trickier, and your friends affirmative answer may be some of that blended theology and may be based on what she understands “trinity” to mean.  I was tickled that you didn’t capitalize the word, since they don’t believe in the Trinity as we understand the Bible to teach it.  JWs believe that Jesus is the first created being, who was given power and authority by the Father and who in turn created everything else, but a created being nonetheless.  This is a matter beyond what I have time for now.

Of, course all this misses the point of the Gospel, and is not “gospel” at all.  When I ask my well-studied JW friend at the Rec Center questions about Jesus’ character and divinity, he has, at least in his mind, an answer for the biblical passages that seem so clear to us; but when I ask him about his assurance of forgiveness, he has no answer at all.  There is no assurance in their beliefs because their salvation is not based solely on Jesus’ character and work, but on their own works, which they know to be sinful.  The true Gospel says that Jesus did it all for us.

They could never sing as we do  .  .  .   “In Christ alone who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless Babe.  This gift of love and righteousness scorned by the ones He came to save.  ‘Til on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.  For every sin on Him was laid.  Here in the death of Christ I live.”

The Glory Jesus Has with the Father

July 26, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Theology | Leave a comment

            In the talk Jesus had with the disciples the night before he was crucified, recorded for us in John chapters 13 through 17, Jesus often mentioned his own glory.  Listen to the words he says: “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.” (13:32)  “He (the Spirit of Truth) will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (16:14)   “Father, the time has come.  Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (17:1)  “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.  And glory has come to me through them. (17:10)  “Father, I want those you have given me .  .  .  to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (17:24)  Those are some powerful  statements, but the strongest of all is in 17:5, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”  Jesus had glory with God the Father before the world began!

            Yet Yahweh, Jehovah God, the One we call the Father, says of himself, “I am the LORD, that is my name, I will not give my glory to another,” and “I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11)

            It seems to me we have only three choices to understand this:  (1) Either Yahweh God changed his mind and decided to share his glory with another.  This makes God a liar, because it is something he said he would never do; and it is a contradiction, because Jesus said he shared God’s glory before the world began, while Yahweh said he wouldn’t share his glory with another to Isaiah obviously after the world began.  Or (2) Jesus was a deceived egotistical maniac, who thought he deserved to share God’s glory.  In this case one wonders why an egotistical maniac has had such a positive influence on the world.  Or (3) Jesus really was God in the flesh.  The choice seems pretty clear to me.

The Intensity of Jesus’ Temptations

July 20, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Theology | Leave a comment

          Luke 3:1-13.  I believe we don’t fully comprehend the extent of Jesus’ temptations.  Yet they were real and they were intense — more intense than anyting we may face.  First: Jesus hadn’t eaten for 40 days.  He was taken to the breaking point as far as physical urges are concerned.  Most of us have never gone even 40 hours without food, yet alone 40 days.  Only once have I gone more than about 30 hours without, so I have no concept of what he was facing, but he was at the end of his physiological rope.  Though I face temptations of the flesh, I have never experienced the depth of temptation that Jesus faced here.  It may be gluttony, drunkenness, sexual drives and addictions, drug addictions, or laziness.  These are all fleshly temptations we face, but none is as demanding as this one Jesus faced.  Second: He was taken to a high place and offered all the kingdoms of the world.  When we are tempted with the lust of the eyes, we see things that fall way short of this opportunity.  It may be money or material goods, even billions of dollars worth in some cases, but it is not everything in the world.  Even the wealthiest people, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, don’t have it all and haven’t been tempted by everything.  Third:  He was taken to the highest point on the temple and given a great opportunity to prove who he was.  This was a place with a lot of people, and all those people were looking for God’s Messiah to reveal himself.  There could have been no better opportunity anywhere in the world to prove who he was.  Not only that, but he knew that the cross lay before him, and this was an opportunity to shortcut the cross, to make himself known as the Messiah without the sacrifice.  When we face pride of life temptations, they are nothing like this – not even close.  When Hebrews says Jesus was tempted in all things as we are, that is somewhat of an understatement.  He was tempted in all ways we are, but to a far greater degree than we are.

100 Cupboards

July 13, 2010 at 10:35 am | Posted in Books and Movies | 1 Comment

            Recently, my daughter and I both finished this wonderful trilogy from N.D. Wilson.  And we both loved it.  The three books, 100 Cupboards, Dandelion Fire, and The Chestnut King were fun and well written books from a Christian author in the tradition of Narnia and Middle Earth.

            The first book starts as slow as a lazy Kansas summer day, with Henry York coming to live with his uncle, aunt and cousins in Henry, Kansas.  But stick with the series, because things heat up quickly when Henry discovers a universe of new worlds in the 99 cupboards hidden behind his attic bedroom wall, and they get even more exciting when entering one of those worlds unleashes an ancient and powerful force of evil.  The entire series finds Henry, with his friends and relatives, working to defeat that evil.  Each book gets more complicated and more exciting than the one before it.  Filled with many twists and turns the series comes to a grand conclusion and a final unexpected twist.  There are many characters with admirable qualities and yet all have their failings as well.  We can cheer Fat Frank’s commitment to do the right thing regardless of the cost – and it costs him dearly, Caleb and Mordecai’s relentless pursuit of victory over the evil queen, and Henry’s constant search for the good in spite of the attraction he has to the evil queen.

            If you want an exciting, well-written, good-vs-evil adventure fantasy that involves no sex or crude language, then this is a series for you.  Some of the evil and violence in this series will be too intense for younger children (it lies somewhere between Narnia and Lord of the Rings), but for young teens, for young-at-heart adults, and for never-grown-up pastors, 100 Cupboards is wonderful!

The Cup of Wrath

July 6, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

          On Sunday our worship service at Village was a great time of patriotic music, with both congregational singing and a small choir musical put together by our worship leader.  She did a great job!  One of the songs we sang together was The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  I was thinking about the biblical imagery in that song, including “trampling out vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”  Later we talked the allusions as a family.  Some of the references are about God separating the wicked from the righteous and the wrath he has for the wicked.  Then on Monday morning I read both of the following passages in my devotions.  Funny how God often puts things together like this!

          Psalm 71:7-8  “God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another.  For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine foams; it is well mixed, and He pours out of this; surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs.”

          On the same day, I continued my reading through Isaiah and found the following words in Isaiah 51:22.  “Thus says your Lord, the LORD, even your God who contends for His people, ‘Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling, the chalice of My anger; you will never drink it again.’”

          There is wrath planned for the wicked of the earth.  However, we need not fear that wrath, because God contends for his own people, and they will not suffer it.  In fact, the wrath he had stored up for them, which their wickedness deserves, has already been poured out on his Son.  Those who trust in Jesus are God’s people, and they will not experience his wrath.  There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!

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