The credibility of the Good News of God in the cross of Jesus Christ has been attacked since the days Jesus walked the earth. Such attacks have even intensified since the message was first revealed, entrusted to and recorded for posterity by Jesus’ personally chosen Apostles until this day. The larger the audience, the more widespread and varied the attacks. The most recent one is in an article by Chris Highland in the Herald Journal, Spartanburg, S.C., March 10, 2023. Chris raised the issue of a possible contradiction in messages between Jesus and Jesus’ personally chosen Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. The article is subtly offered in a supposed attempt to better understand and appreciate Jesus, despite Paul! It is alluded in the article that Christianity and the Christian life might be better if there was no message from a self-appointed Apostle Paul, who it is claimed, never met Jesus and actually appointed himself.
The theme is Paul taught an esoteric theology in a supernatural story of an unattractive, condemning and punishing Jesus; and according to Chris, the better story of Jesus is relayed in the four gospels of a Jesus filled with lovingkindness who condemned no sinner but only healed. In point of fact, Jesus is compassionate to helpless sinners (because they are helpless and can not help themselves) and tells them, and us, where the power of sin actually rules in us. In the heart! Jesus did heal the body, but Jesus’ main ministry did not end there! He came for a specific purpose to heal our internal spirit and give spiritual life from God-through His cross. Those He healed in the body were perfectly aware of their helplessness and most sought His help! They could hear and see Jesus and others. But Jesus also raised the physically dead who could not see or hear others or relate their present condition to others; or worse, seek help from others. They were truly, wholly helpless. Our spiritual death is worse than our physical death and we don’t even know we are spiritually dead, how hopeless we are or how to reach out to solve it! And, it can last eternally!
Jesus and Paul, each and in unison, point out to us that we are spiritually dead and desperately need help! Paul acknowledged that he also had been spiritually dead and separated from the Spirit of God although he had been a highly “religious” and rigidly “practicing” Pharisee in the Temple system in Israel. He knew the doctrine of his theology-but despite that he was spiritually dead. As a physically dead person cannot hear the voice of others, most spiritually dead do not hear the voice of Jesus as He reveals our spiritual condition-but some do-and they listen intently! How did Jesus demonstrate to us we are spiritually dead and helpless? Jesus said if you spiritually think adultery, you have committed adultery! Paul said, under the Commandments coveted with Israel, if you covet in your heart you have breached a commandment for that thought. Covetousness’ can only take place in the heart. The commandment exposes what we are. Our thoughts keep our spirit dead. And we actually do it without end in other matters. Not only are we spiritually dead but our mind keeps us there as a prisoner. We are condemned already! We are helpless slaves to sin. But those, anywhere in the world, that hear the voice of Jesus and listen, as those He raised from the dead in Israel did, now have hope. Such hope is revealed by Jesus and Paul in unison. The remark about condemnation by Chris, in itself, reveals a lack of understanding of the Biblical truth about condemnation delivered by Jesus and Paul. Jesus said we are all condemned already before He came but permanently condemned if we reject His cross; and, Paul said we were all sinners before God and remained so if we reject the cross. Same difference! The truth is we are ALL condemned after accountability in youth. We entered therein unknowingly; God did not put us there. We begin to make our own choices about good and evil. They do not match God’s choices. It has been that way since the Garden. But God did not hold us spiritually accountable but reserved permanent judgment on sin until Jesus came.
BUT the fully realized “means” and “consequences” of our unknown condemnation are another discussion: but it does not include automatic, permanent, inherent hellfire forever for a condition we did not know we had until Jesus told us. It is a remediable status now because Jesus has come for those who hear and listen to Jesus-though they are helplessly dead!! If we refuse to listen to Jesus, the status becomes permanent with all the horror that goes with it.
What we do about faith when we hear the Good News of the Cross of Jesus Christ is when the issue becomes eternally critical!!! Jesus is not instrumental in accusing, condemning or punishing. Instead, Jesus views us, in truth, as already spiritually dead to God and helpless in our state as He finds us so as to desperately need His intervention. It is only when we recognize our condition that we can seek help-as those that sought body healing in Israel! The Ten (10) Commandments do not condemn us SPIRITUALLY, but act as a spiritual mirror to simply reflect to us, as a mirror, our present inherent condemnation in “spiritual death” through our being entirely without the true spiritual life that is only in God. Through a promised penalty for our breaching them in actions with others God protects our neighbors from our physical actions They can not make us spiritually sinless. Only the Spirit of God can do that. The Commandments don’t spiritually condemn us, they just show us what we already are-and that we need help. God provided that help in the cross of Jesus. We need to know our condition in order to seek help from God-which He willingly GIVES in Jesus. There is no contradiction in the message between Jesus and Paul! Both reveal love from God! But we Christians should always be ready to defend the faith from untruth and at the same time remind ourselves of that incredible blessing that is in the cross of Jesus Christ!
Chris speaks of theology. Theology among men is generally defined as the systematic study of the nature of the divine and, more broadly, of religious belief. It places an emphasis on our inherent, personal human judgment of God! But we as humans have no inherent, infallible wisdom to judge God! Our only true recourse is to accept ALL that comes from God in His Word-His Word is life and Spirit! We can’t pick and choose among His Words to believe for the simple reason we are not infallible in judgement. We have no ability to truly decide if any action of God is good or evil! We do not know God’s perfect definition of good or of evil! We exist with a finite mind but God exists with an infinite mind! We actually presume to define those two terms on our own in early life without true understanding. That does not end well. It is then best to be concerned about God’s TRUTH and how God’s truth may be revealed and imparted to us from God-not how we may define it and receive it in our own wisdom. The New Testament does not mention “theology” and the word “doctrine” is only in reference to simply “teaching”-a “teaching” (doctrine) can be true or not true!
There is an irresistible assumption among mankind that the more we “learn” about God the more we can be like God in our own wisdom. The sad truth is, for those who honestly reason that way, that no matter how much we learn about God’s perfections, even if those absolute perfections are revealed by the only perfect teacher-Jesus, we simply cannot be like God on our own power or wisdom. God has what we are lacking and unless He freely gives it to us-we can’t earn it, learn it or have it! God is truth, God is true life and God is true love; and, we are not! But-God has Himself provided a Savior and an intercessor for His chosen people-those who simply trust all His Words entirely and not their own wisdom-Jesus Christ.
Chris Highland implied there was, perhaps, a better possibility of a better Christian life without the teachings of the Apostle Paul. Perhaps, opines Chris, we should just rely on the compassionate Jesus. Well, what did the compassionate-and He is compassionate-Jesus say?
Jesus said in John 14, 6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the father but by me.” Jesus did not say we could learn the “way” through theology or some doctrine-he said he was the “way”. He did not say we could become the “truth” through instruction-he said he was the “truth”. He did not say we could become “the life” through doctrine or theology-he said he was the “life”. It is only if we possess Jesus in faith, that we have the “way, the truth and the life” but we don’t receive it in our wisdom, we receive it by a gift from a source external to us of his total existence in faith.
We cannot receive Jesus or His gifts without personally receiving Him as the incarnate Word of God. We accept Jesus Christ as the perfect personification of the Word of God and the visible perfection of God in the flesh. We will receive the fullness of Him in the resurrection through faith in the truth of His words not learned theology or doctrine.
The central impediment to our receiving the gift of the “indwelling” Word and Spirit of God in this lifetime is our uncleanliness. Some sadly, prefer their uncleanlessness, and reject truth. We are not spiritually clean in our heart nor in our flesh and must be cleansed. That is the main aspect of our condemnation. We cannot cleanse ourselves of sin and we are ALL defiled (condemned) in sin after accountability-not just some bad actors we feel we can clearly identify! Sin defiles our whole spirit and our spirit controls our actions-even when we don’t know it. In the Temple system you could not enter the Temple unless ritually clean. God wanted His people in His Temple so he provided ways to be physically clean so they could enter-because He is Holy but wanted their presence. God provided the physical cleansing, not them. If an Israelite touched a dead body, intentional or unintentional, he was unclean and could not enter the Temple. But God again provided a cleansing so he could enter. The point is God is Holy, we are not no matter how we got that way, but He wants our presence so we can rejoice in Him and He provides free cleansing. God does not seek to, nor look to punish us for our spiritual defilement -just help us in this state. If we are not performing sin, we are constantly spiritually thinking about it. That is a “defiled” and "unclean" spirit and we can’t even perfectly stop thinking and yearning for it! The pure Word and Spirit of God cannot and will not reside in such a defiled habitat. We are a defiled habitat. But we desperately need the internal presence of the Word and Spirit of God.
We are helpless slaves to sin and its consequences. We need help! God alone provided a way as only God can. To cleanse us and free us from this slavery Jesus paid the penalty for us and gave His perfect, sinless human body on the cross for our sins and became sin for us, and gave Himself beyond the cross, so that we might now be clean and that we might serve as a clean habitat and host for the indwelling Word and Spirit of God. We can only then become children of God. God delayed eternal judgment on sin until Jesus came. Jesus did not come to eternally condemn us and eternally lay guilt on us-we are already condemned and subject to the inherent consequences of that condition (another discussion for another time); He came to save “believers” from our condemnation and offer true life. Permanent condemnation comes from rejecting the cross. We begin this new life through the internal presence of the Spirit of God. Who now resides in us because Jesus cleansed through the cross.
Based on our faith in the accomplished work of Jesus Christ on the cross we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (John 3, 14-21) Jesus promised His true apostles that after his resurrection God would send the Comforter and that He, Jesus, would come to them after the resurrection and not leave them as helpless orphans in this world. Through the Apostles that promise is to believers throughout the ages also, as Jesus prayed for us as He prayed for those who believed the message of the Apostles. John 17, 20-26) The Apostles through what they left for the church delivers that same promise to believers. (John 14, 15-21) It is then God who actually saves and works in believers, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Philippians 2, 13) Faith and trust in the truth of God in His Word is saving faith. (Romans 3, 10-31). The cross is the only way-not theology or doctrine. Jesus and His apostle Paul simply reveal the truth. What did Jesus say of those who did not believe His Words? (John 8, 22-24 and 8, 34-47). Such ones who reject Jesus Christ and His cross can only receive God’s horrible wrath. But it is a consequence of unbelief, not punishment and they could avoid it by faith in Jesus! After His resurrection Jesus announced that those who believe His Words shall be saved and that those who did not believe shall be damned. (Mark 16, 15-16)
We believers are regenerated to new life by the gift of the indwelling Spirit of God. Regeneration is essential. But it is an unearned gift. (John 3, 3-8.) We then have the promise from God of the resurrection. Jesus said “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” He did not say he would “teach” us how to act in order to be resurrected. (John 11, 25-26) If we have the indwelling Jesus (Word of God) until death, we have all and lack nothing; and, the Spirit Himself will resurrect believers. Our good deeds will not resurrect us. Only the Spirit of God can. It is beyond our ability, wisdom, doctrine or theology. A dead person, physically or spiritually, cannot give life to himself-only Jesus.
The primary mission of Jesus Christ, after resurrection, or the Apostle Paul is not to teach a doctrine or engage in theology but to simply “reveal the truth of God” concerning the cross and what flows from it. Jesus and Paul are of one mind in revealing the cross and its blessings. If we reject that truth when revealed it will determine our spiritual abode for eternity. It is not punishment but a simple consequence for rejecting truth. The Spiritual Word of God is sharper than any sharp material sword. (Hebrews 4, 12) When the Word strikes our spiritual heart, it slices our spiritual heart into two parts. Either to true faith in the accomplishments of the cross alone: with the joy, rest, hope and peace with God that goes with it or into unbelief and the desolation and misery and burden of sin and fear of future judgment that goes with it! The dividing line is how we treat the truth of the cross-with or without faith. Doctrines of Theology won’t help!
As a clarification to Chris’ article, the Apostle Paul did meet Jesus! (Acts 26, 13-19) Paul was blessed by meeting Jesus as the resurrected Jesus Christ from heaven and Jesus alone singularly chose Paul to reveal (not teach theology) this Good News of Jesus’ death and His resurrection, forgiveness of our sin, new life and resurrection with God-to all the world-and Paul did! To reject or denigrate Paul’s message is to reject one chosen by Jesus to deliver truth from Jesus. That can’t end well! Doctrine and theology-studying truth-is admirable for any. But receiving the pure gift from God of actual indwelling truth is best as it is God’s spiritual life from mankind’s present spiritual death. The peace Christians have with God is maintained by God Himself and does not rest on a believer’s day to day “feelings”. Satan often makes believers “feel” guilty! It is Satan’s inherent being to lie, accuse us and sow discord; and, teach us to look upon God or Jesus as only a consuming avenger and then encourages us to run from God or earn favor from Him in our own wisdom. But we rely on God’s Word-not our lackluster feelings or wisdom; and, certainly not instructions from Satan! But true believers will STRIVE to be like Jesus!
God has promised He will not look behind the life or under the blood that was shed to cover our sins, freely given in love by the incarnate Jesus Christ, as it alone fully removes from us the consequences of our sin and fully satisfies God’s perfect justice of wrath on sin, not our efforts at sinlessness. If Jesus is in us through faith that is what God sees. He will accept us because of Jesus and burn what is unacceptable. Jesus is the propitiation. He satisfies just Divine Wrath and at the same time, in Himself alone, provides Divine Life. We are transformed by God alone from children of wrath to children of God. Don’t deceive yourself with that statement, God knows who truly trusts the cross in their hearts and not their own efforts. The indwelling Word of God and the indwelling Spirit of God is all the “theology” true “Christians” need. If the Spirit is in us we will steadfastly and patiently endure to the end to be like Jesus. Jesus and Paul reveal the same truths. This great gift of sin forgiveness and eternal life, which is offered as a free gift in love to believers, was obtained at a great personal cost to Jesus Christ. It cost Jesus nothing to heal bodies and raise the dead in Israel but it cost Him dearly to give us life and raise us from death! The human mind cannot conceive nor measure the magnitude of that cost! For the searching heart there can be no improvement on the truth already delivered.