I’m reminded of the artless public speaker who led off with the words, “Before I speak, I have something important to say.” By happy contrast, I hope these introductory remarks will not eclipse the more important message that follows.
I have hung around countless events of TEAM, now LIFE Leadership, since about the spring of 2006. I devoured many scores of CD’s to my immense benefit and cherished the edifying conversations and trainings that this organization is so justifiably known for. Various training meetings, weekly Opens, monthly Seminars, and several Major Conventions taught me an immense lore of wisdom about relationships, business, finances, health, motivation, spirituality, and more. It is due in no small part to the incomparably beneficial influence of this sort of practical adult education that I always hoped eventually to return the favor in some worthy measure.
In fact, it was precisely what I learned from a veritable army of exceptional speakers and their gripping talks at TEAM events that finally compelled me to pull away for a while in order to write a book on a subject of supreme importance for literally every human being. Having discussed the central contents of the book with many TEAM associates in a host of leisurely settings over several years, the time came, at last, when what I was learning about priorities, such as “The good is the enemy of the best,” and “Don’t let the urgent crowd out the important,” compelled me to announce that after candidly evaluating the most important goal in my life, with some sorrow, but compensating anticipation, I had decided I absolutely must concentrate the next indefinite stretch of my time and efforts on completing what I had well started.
Being the success-oriented people they are, my uplines and TEAM associates concurred and wished me well in a venture whose long-term fruits, I assured them, would benefit TEAM/LIFE hugely, and much more than if I delayed any longer to buckle down and finish the job with due diligence. However, I little knew how much I was biting off, or how powerfully the controversial topic I had chosen—or rather had chosen me!—would draw me into a more poignant awareness of other realities of our day which its implications, if well articulated and appropriately communicated, would necessarily affect profoundly for the good, but only after a stiff uphill fight. However, one of my greatest comforts was in knowing that TEAM/LIFE had strenuously blazed a trail by emerging victorious only after many a nasty battle on behalf of what was true and right. I have heroes to follow and emulate.
Without going into detail about what I have learned to this point, I only wish to emphasize that I always planned to bring back the results of my studies to TEAM/LIFE so that the fundamental truth I wanted to clarify could bear abundant fruit within the premier organization I know of that has not only advocated, but also steadily, exuberantly, and successfully instilled in tens of thousands of “hungry” partners worldwide—what I call a “premial” ethic.
The fundamental truth I refer to is well known and ardently advanced within TEAM/LIFE. It is the Gospel of God concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. Since Easter of 2006, I have written a number of essays and occasional pieces to communicate my findings. I simply could not wait for my book to assume publishable form before conveying the crucial clarifications. Why wait on the good graces of publishers when people so urgently need the solid comforts of the ultimate truth about life?
In addition to that constraint, world history only recently passed the 500th anniversary of the kickoff event of the Protestant Reformation—Martin Luther’s nailing of his “Ninety-five Theses” on the church door of Wittenberg. Half a millennium has passed since that inauspicious posting rocked Western civilization and unleashed world-changing forces long suppressed by widespread ignorance, mounting corruption, and entrenched opposition. Yet amid the celebrations, what if, after all, even the Reformation actually got it wrong in important ways? What if that well-intentioned restoration of apostolic truth somehow fell significantly short of its high aims…and in a crucially central matter?
I think you can feel what’s coming. I urge you to keep your sense of humor, Chris, as I rake a few sacred cows over the coals. This is gonna hurt, gawrawnteed! But I think you’re gonna laugh out loud before we’re done.
NEWTON’S LAW OF THEOLOGY
Now prepare yourself. Newton’s Law of Theology states that “every theological reaction evokes an unequal and opposite overreaction.” This is seriously funny. But even though predictable, it hardly eases the pain when the boom finally falls. As we know, we simply don’t know what we don’t know, so we often sin in word, thought, and deed before we know it. So what’s new? This is basic wisdom from LIFE. It’s only when we actually get down to cases that the rub comes and we feel the friction of challenged assumptions.
The truth I’m about to reconfigure is already inconvenient to the world as we know it. We have become comfortable with substitutes. It’s more convenient to repeat shibboleths than rethink paradigms. As Greg Rau once declared, “We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.” Yet truth is truth, no matter who believes it…or doesn’t. To quote a commonplace of LIFE, “People of integrity expect to be believed, and when they’re not, they let time prove them right.”
If it is true that “Somebody’s going to have to re-educate Americans,” to cite Orrin, then what better time than the present to get started, especially when you consider the high stakes of delaying to reconsider a matter of such importance as the Atonement. So there. I’ve thrown down the gauntlet and announced the challenge. Now to articulate it.
Tom Osbourne, an acquaintance from my workplace in Grand Rapids, now active in LIFE Leadership, loaned me your CD “How Dark the Con of Man” in spring of 2014. He knew I had been active with TEAM and would appreciate your treatment of this topic. And how! Yet it recalled to mind my own long, arduous struggles to understand the Atonement. We (all too human!) tend to become calloused as we approach the borders and frontiers of our personal knowledge where we’ve bumped up against the barbed and razor wire of inherited prejudices. We need to learn how to “paradigm”—how to model our dreams and visions so others can negotiate the hazardous border crossings along with us…provided the vision of freedom is a truly worthy one.
However, if you’re “a rank amateur” (as you claimed in your message), then I’m a ranking member of Policy Council! To the contrary, you have been redeeming you’re spare time and acquiring a seminary education. That makes you more qualified to test what I am about to say and discern whether it’s actually true to Scripture or not, like a noble Berean would.
Chris, you were an “inventor.” So was Orrin. When you joined forces to create TEAM you refused to slow down where established Amway/Alticor/Quickstar traditions had called a halt. You continued reinventing network marketing, didn’t you? So why would you risk remaining stuck within theological traditions that could only bring you so far and no farther? Pastor John Robinson sternly warned the Pilgrims about such perils before their departure from the Netherlands for the New World in 1620. (Do reread the famous summary transcription of his ardent admonition, which was evoked by the sad outcome of the Synod of Dordt, 1618-19.) We need to get on with restoring the full truth of the Gospel, come what may. Resting on our laurels is an ever-present danger for Christians. We need to beware lest we start unconsciously dragging our feet instead of forging ahead to take up the new challenges required to extend holiness into every sector of society and fulfill our highest destiny. Otherwise, we may only reinvent the rut. We can do better.
Are we really winning, or actually waning? There is an attitude much worse, much more personally and corporately damaging, than “unconstructive criticism,” and that’s smug resistance to constructive criticism. This attitude can actually insult, offend, and silence our most reliable source of continuous improvement. Ancient Israel both loved profits (however gained) and killed prophets. Such self-aggrandizing hypocrisy eventually took them down, into exile…and worse. We desperately need prophetic dreams big and inspiring enough to risk flinging away even our well-got fortunes to invest in Kingdom come, whatever the cost. Unless our dreams are worth becoming poor for, they aren’t worth getting rich from.
Orrin once said, “When you learn truth, you almost (?) have a responsibility to share it. When you learn principles that change your life for the better, share them! Because that’s giving back to others!” He also elaborated:
What [Patrick Henry] understood, and what he held upon was, he knew that he had the truth on his side. He knew that his seven resolutions—that every single one of those—they had to agree with. He knew he was right, and he understood that in God’s law, right is might, not might is right. At some time in your life, you have a big decision to make, whether you’ll live your life on conviction or whether you’ll live your life on convenience. A person who will live their life on convenience will sacrifice their principles to keep it convenient. A person who lives on conviction will sacrifice his convenience for his principles. Laurie and I will live our life on principles, and we’ll leave the consequences of those decisions to God Almighty.
Now I want to turn to the salient parts of your talk and weigh them carefully and honestly. Accordingly, I have emphasized key words in bold print. I have also italicized words you gave oral emphasis. I find this often enhances fair interpretation. Here goes.
from “How Dark the Con of Man”
[19:11] The thing that made my blood boil was a little phrase at the bottom of the [movie] poster. And it said, “So dark the con of man.” And what it referred to was the very truth of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—the fact that he came into the world and walked as a mere man, fully man and fully God at the same time, died on a cross and took a punishment that he did not deserve, for me. And yet, someone had used their ‘God-given intelligence’ to be ‘creative’ and call it all a dark con of man! The angriest I ever get is when I’m offended for my Lord. And I was offended that day, because, as Satan often does, it’s a 180. There is a con of man going on—oh, and it is dark, so dark!—but it is the reverse….The con is that this isn’t true, not that it is.
* * * * * *
[21:38] They will see darkness and call it light….Well, what’s the Bible have to say about the con?
* * * * * *
[30:20] So the cure, then, cannot be self-administered. The cure comes first through the mind, through the understanding. God chooses to use the foolishness of preaching, even a total rank amateur like myself, that can at least read the words of Truth into the ears of listeners, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, who opens up the eyes of our soul to our need for the truth. It’s the only way it happens, because we’re dead in trespasses and sins [adapting Ephesians 2:1]. Dead people don’t normally administer much to themselves at all.
* * * * * *
[31:31] As I was looking at [St. Margarita’s] body…these verses struck me—what it means to be dead in trespasses and sins [adapting Eph. 2:1]. The Bible uses a very graphic, very final, illustration to help us see this truth that we are totally—like St. Margarita laying there—she’s totally helpless to do anything there. That’s our spiritual condition before we’re given the truth through the Holy Spirit. That was my spiritual condition before I believed, before I accepted the truth of Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross. And what did he do, by the way?
* * * * * *
[32:24] You see, before creation, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit planned this exact thing, because we fell. We are born into sin [adapting Psalm 51:5]. We have a sinful nature. It’s not just that you sin, occasionally. It’s that you are sinful. It’s that it’s your very nature. It’s our very nature. We are dead in trespasses and sins [adapting Eph. 2:1]. We’re totally helpless to the darkness that we find ourselves in. And left to ourselves we’ll run from the light and we’ll scurry into the darkness because we “love the darkness” because our deeds are evil [adapting John 3:19]. We’re totally dead and we need rescue. And the only rescue that could possibly occur would be from someone who’s not under that condition. And the only creature [sic] that’s not is the Creator Himself.
And so, He sent His only Son to walk among us on the earth, as a mere man, to live a perfect life, the one we should have lived, and to die our death on the cross, the one that we should have died, as a substitution for us.
* * * * * *
[33:45] It’s not like the physical suffering of Christ was anything unique….There were two very unique things happening there, though. One is that it wasn’t a mere man; it was the Son of God. And he was there, dying for creatures that he’d created, so that his sacrifice would atone for the sins of those who would later believe.
The second thing that happened was, he was receiving the punishment for sin as God the Father separated in fellowship, and all the wrath of God, all of the punishment for sin, landed on Christ, on that cross, at that moment. He could have called thousands of angels. He could have merely spoke it and been released, taken from his misery. But he didn’t.
* * * * * *
[34:50] All through the Old Testament we see this very culturally odd thing, to us in the twenty-first century, of sacrificing animals. You take these spotless animals and you sacrifice them as a symbol of what Christ would do for us on the Cross, as a pointer ahead to what Christ was going to do as the sacrificial lamb. The sacrificial lamb didn’t provide atonement by fighting back. It provided atonement by dying, in the place of. Christ had to be slaughtered as a lamb, as a meek, humble lamb, spotless and without sin, to take our place, so that when those of us, awakened by the Holy Spirit to our need of Christ, when we awaken to this truth, and we put our faith in Christ, and we believe on him, not just believe on him [intellectually]—James [2:19] says, it’s not enough to believe [that God is One], so too do the demons, and they tremble—we actually have to repent. We have to turn away from our worldly life and our sin, and turn toward Christ. We have to make him our Lord and Savior. We believe and we live for him. We make him our Lord. We believe in what he did.
That’s the Gospel message. The depth of it cannot be explored. It’s a bottomless truth. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it sometimes. You think about it. “So God knew about me before He created me? Well I guess that makes sense. And He knew I was going to fall and be born into sin [adapting Psalm 51:5].” Yeah. “And He provided a sacrifice ahead of time to get me out of this mess?” Yes. “Well, you mean it’s nothing I do? I can’t earn it?…I can’t be a certain amount of good? I can’t earn it? There’s nothing I can do to accomplish this for myself at all?” See, this is where the Devil likes to get us off just one percent. And here’s another part, “so dark the con of man.” Because if Satan can con you into thinking you’re partly responsible—. It doesn’t work that way. Christ is a hundred percent responsible. You can’t earn your way there. You can’t reach that high. You’re totally helpless, drowning in the dark water, in need of a rescue…. Man would invent something that made him look good. Man would invent something that he got to contribute a little bit. “God gets ninety percent, I get ten percent. I’ve got to do my ten percent.”
You say, “Well what are the Ten Commandments about? What are all these commands, ‘Love your neighbor’, ‘Love your God with all your heart and soul…’?” That tells you how you’re supposed to act. That tells you how you glorify God once you’ve received the free gift. Once you’ve been given salvation, and the Holy Spirit moves in your heart and awakens [sic] your eyes to the need for the truth of salvation, you cling to the Cross, and you pray to Christ, and you say, “Lord, save me, I’m a sinner! This is true! I believe! I believe! Save me!” And after you realize this, and you take Christ into your heart, and you become a born-again Christian, you’re new, you’re not dead, you’re not laying in that coffin, you’re not spiritually dead anymore, you’ve been made alive! And even though you’ll die a physical death, you’ll never die! Your soul will live forever in the presence of the Lord who created you. That’s the Gospel message.
John 11:25 and 26. Jesus is in the process of walking up to a grave of a friend of his named Lazarus, speaking mere words, and the corpse comes out. It’s as though I were looking at St. Margarita sitting there, and if Jesus walked up and says, “Rise and come forth!” she’d pop out of that glass casket and come strutting out of there. And that’s what he did with Lazarus, a man who had been dead four days. And he took his time traveling there because he wanted to make the point in a very graphic way. And Martha, the dead man’s sister, had come out to meet Jesus in the street. And she said, “If you’d been here sooner, you could have saved him.” And he says this, John 11:25 and 26, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’” And then he says this to Martha—and I believe he says this to you, this morning—Christ looks at her and says, “Do you believe this?” Do you believe this?
We can’t come to it on our own; we can’t work our way there. We can’t come to this belief on our own. It’s given to us as the free gift called “grace,” by the God who created us, who put this plan in motion, and who knows every hair on your head…. “So dark the con of man” indeed, that required this to happen so that man could live. “So dark the con of man” indeed, that would turn its back on this great truth that the very Creator Himself came up with to reconcile us to Himself.
Just like the germ theory that was ignored for centuries, but still killed, this truth can be ignored. It can be run from. It can be covered with a chorus of intellectual conversation, it can be covered with supposedly scientific postulates, but it kills nevertheless. Sin kills every moment of every day. But as Jesus said to Martha, before he raised Lazarus from the dead, and proved that he has the power to do this, and proved that he was God, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, and he who believes in me will live even if he dies. Do you believe this?”
Let’s pray. Dear Lord, we bow before You so humbly this morning, realizing that the truth of this is always going to be somewhere a little bit outside of our total comprehension. We don’t have Your mind. We’re fallen. As You told us, we’re dead in trespasses and sins [adapting Eph. 2:1] until You see fit to illuminate Your truths into our life. Till You see fit to touch our heart with the power through Your Holy Spirit to awaken us to our condition. And we’ve heard the con; we’ve maybe bought into the con; we’ve maybe added to the con. But we didn’t know. We couldn’t know until You brought us this truth, until You brought us the free gift of Your grace. We didn’t deserve it, but through Your mercy and Your infinite love with which you loved us, You brought us this truth. You gave us this Book. You gave us this truth. You gave us Your Son. And he paid the price that we should have paid. And we believe. We believe, Lord. We believe. Save us, we’re sinners. We throw ourselves on Your mercy. We trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
And we ask that if there are those here this morning who have not yet come under the understanding that Your grace provides, we would ask You to invade their hearts mightily, Lord. Give them eyes to see. Let them take the truth of this from the mere realm of religiosity and churchianity, the attic where morality is stored. Bring it down onto the first floor of the very foundation of their life, Lord, and open up their hearts and give them a saving faith in You and what Your Son, Christ, did on the cross. We would ask that they could pray that to You right now, Lord, and we thank You for all that You’ve given us through the Word that You’ve left us and nurtured down through the centuries so it could land in our hands and illuminate these age-old truths, to yet another generation in need of Your salvation. And we thank You for Christ on the cross. Amen.
(Transcribed April 6-7, 10-11, 21, 2014.) Italics: oral emphases. Bold: a con of man.
SUMMARY OF PROMINENT EMPHASES
in “How Dark the Con of Man”
- God, our Creator, came up with this exact plan before creation and put it in motion, requiring it to happen so that man could live and be reconciled to Himself.
- Human beings are born into sin, therefore human nature is itself sinful, totally dead in sin, totally helpless to do anything against the spiritual darkness they find themselves in, drowning in the dark water, in need of rescue. They love the darkness and run away from the light because their deeds are evil. The light of the truth can be run from, ignored, and covered. Yet people are not even partly responsible for their rescue and cannot contribute a bit to it.
- Christ is a hundred percent responsible. Only the Holy Spirit, by moving in their hearts, can open the eyes of their souls and awaken them to their spiritual condition and need for the truth of salvation. Only in this way does God, through the Holy Spirit, give them the truth.
- The grace to believe the truth is given only when God sees fit to touch and move their hearts to bring them this truth of their need of Christ. Only in this way does God give them eyes to see, an open heart, and saving faith. Belief in Christ is given to them as a free gift, called grace. Thus by God’s free gift of grace, understanding of the Gospel is provided.
- On the cross, the Son of God received all the punishment of separated fellowship and wrath from God the Father, which he did not deserve, for all the sins of others who did deserve it, thus dying the death they should have died, as a substitution in their place, and thereby paid the price they should have paid for their sins.
I hope you find this a fair summary of your main points, Chris. In what now follows I would like to offer a bit of counterpoint for your prayerful, critical, and informed consideration as a full-fledged student of theology.
BUT MY BIBLE SAYS…
It seems to me the wisest approach (although probably the most shocking to the System) is to begin with the final point and unzip them from the bottom. I shall first state them in rapid succession and give the exegetical proofs thereafter. Hold on tight.
Jesus was not receiving punishment from God at the cross.
Jesus drank the cup of the Great Red Dragon, the ancient Serpent, called Adversary and Satan, whose fury and wrath bruised his heel on the cross.
Jesus never experienced the fury or wrath of God.
Jesus suffered from diabolical and human beings what he did not deserve, in his humiliation at the cross.
Jesus received from God what he did deserve, in the exaltation of his resurrection, ascension, and enthronement.
Jesus’ separation from God was the effect of an unjustly inflicted curse of Moses’ Law.
Jesus suffered his own undeserved death, not the death that sinners rightly deserved.
Jesus was not a substitute in the place of others, under the wrath of God.
The ancient sacrificial lambs were symbolic substitutes in place of Christ, the true reality.
Jesus did not pay the price that others should have paid.
Sinners “pay for” their own sins by dying a physical, temporal death, then getting judged.
Jesus tasted death exclusively in the grace of God.
By faith and baptism we get included in Jesus’ wrongful crucifixion and rightful resurrection, thus also in his grace from God.
The Holy Spirit is the unspeakable Gift that God’s grace gives in superabundance.
Sinners receive this Gift when they believe the testimonies concerning the Gospel and are baptized.
The Gospel is the News that God raised Jesus from the dead, even a death of the cross.
The Gospel is itself the power of God for salvation, by touching and drawing hearts to saving faith in those who listen.
Sinners are responsible for believing the persuasive written testimonies of the apostles about the Satanic execution of Christ and his divine resurrection that followed on the third day.
Faith is not a work, therefore it does not place God in our debt; faith is a Sabbath—a work stoppage.
God is obligated to honor faith because of His own voluntary oath-bound promise to reward it.
Faith is not a “sovereign gift of God” but simply the heart’s response to persuasive demonstration, which God has graciously provided for mankind in the Gospel story when fairly proclaimed in words given by the Holy Spirit, which can, nevertheless, be resisted.
God is responsible for planning the surrender of His Son to the forces of darkness, in order to raise him from the dead and thus reveal the glory of His own irrepressible justice and rescuing power.
To resist the Gospel is to resist the Holy Spirit that inspired holy men of God to write down their testimonies to Christ’s resurrection from the dead so that we could be saved.
Resisting the Gospel and Holy Spirit causes the human heart to become calloused so that it is not opened up to understand the message. Israel suffered this hardening, and even Christian believers are not immune.
The Holy Spirit further testifies to the truth with extraordinary power from on high—the powers of the coming age—that further confirms faith.
Sinners gain access to God’s grace by faith, induced by the testimonies in Scripture to the Lord Jesus’ actual death and genuine bodily resurrection.
Accordingly, we should pray that God commissions workers to reap the harvest with the sickle of the Gospel explanation, accurately sharpened.
Through attesting the Gospel events, the Holy Spirit exposes the world concerning sin (of crucifying the Messiah), justice (of God’s raising him from the dead), and coming judgment (as to individual decision pro or con).
Human judgment and choice reflect being created in the image and after the likeness of God Himself, with real but limited sovereignty and authority over oneself.
Human nature was created good and remains good, in spite of sin.
Human beings sin when they go against human nature.
Human nature corroborates both Moses’ Law and human conscience in exposing the corruption of mortal human flesh, with its lust and sin, whether Jew or Gentile.
Everyone whose actions are wicked and who commit bad things love the darkness and hate the Light, refusing to come to it lest they get condemned, so instead run away from, cover up, or ignore it, thus hardening their hearts like Pharaoh of old.
However, those who do the Truth do come to the Light in order that it may be apparent their actions have been actuated in God.
Therefore, human beings are by no means totally helpless, either to ignore, run from, cover up, or to be persuaded by and believe the Truth. God has made sure of that.
No living human being is “dead in sin.”
Satan tempts us into thinking we are not even partly responsible for believing the truth, in fact that we are people of reason and ought not to be so gullible as to believe religious claims. Instead, he insinuates, we are totally responsible to reason our own way to truth and should steer clear of people who presume that by their religious faith and piety they deserve eternal reward and are better than everyone else.
Believers, by baptism into Christ’s own death and resurrection, are to count themselves now dead to sin, in which they once walked, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
THE EXEGETICAL BASIS
Long ago I realized that if I wished to sustain by argument the inconvenient truth the Lord was clarifying, I would have to base it squarely on fair and sound exegesis. This would not be easy or popular. All the “best” proof texts had already been commandeered and reframed to support other agendas, and many key terms now mean something quite different than originally intended. An honest interpreter is worth his weight in gold, but would be reckoned fool’s gold by dominant trends of interpretation. For example…
Romans 6:10-11 states that even as Christ “died to [dative case without preposition] sin once-for-all-time, yet…is living to [ditto] God. Thus you also, be reckoning yourselves to be dead, indeed, to sin, yet living to God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” However, the abbreviated parallel passages in Ephesians 2:1-2a (“And you [believing Gentiles] being dead to your offenses and sins, in which once you walked…”), Ephesians 2:4 (“we [believing Jews] also being dead to the offenses…”), and Colossians 2:13 (“you [believing Gentiles] also being dead to the offenses and the foreskin [literally!] of your flesh…”) must somehow mean something radically different, namely, that Gentiles and Jews alike are dead “in” sins, “in” offenses and, curiously but decisively, “in” “uncircumcision” (a euphemistic translation of “foreskin”; preachers steer clear of expounding what “dead in uncircumcision/foreskin” might conceivably mean!). Furthermore, even 2 Corinthians 5:15-17 reinforces the contexts of the other three passages regarding matters of the “flesh” as no longer having control over us as they “once” did, for “now” these “primitive things” have “passed by,” such as circumcision and uncircumcision/foreskin alike, for believers are “dead to” them, no longer “living to themselves, but to the One dying and being raised for their sakes,” 2 Corinthians 5:15.
What Paul is talking about here is nothing less than the very foundation of all Christian ethics. That’s why the above Colossians passage is followed immediately by Colossians 2:16-4:1—what amounts to an enormous expansion of this doctrine of death to sin that unveils the very persona of the “new humanity” that we “put on” after counting ourselves dead to sin, to offenses, and (for Gentiles) even to their own remaining foreskin, and which therefore makes the “handwriting of [Jewish] decrees” such as circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, food laws, festivals, etc., not even just optional, but even ridiculously “primitive” (2 Cor. 5:17) in light of their being radically new creatures in Christ Jesus! Not to be outdone, in Ephesians Paul proceeds to upstage himself beyond even that passage by unreeling some four chapters’ worth of ethical implications of being dead to all that old stuff: Ephesians 2:11-6:20. We’ve been conned!
And if there’s any remaining doubt, even the apostle Peter chimes in to reinforce this obvious and edifying construction in I Peter 2:24—“Who himself carries up our sins in his body on the tree, that, coming away from sins, we should be living to righteousness,” just like “our beloved brother Paul also writes to you” in Romans 6 “according to the wisdom given to him, as also in all the epistles, speaking in them concerning these things, in which are some things hard to apprehend, which the unlearned and unstable are twisting, as the rest of the Scriptures also, to their own destruction,” 2 Peter 3:15-16. It’s a slam dunk.
The above mistranslation of the Greek case (dative), where the decisive preposition “in” (en) is absent, has lured many theologians to read in (eisegete) their pet dogma (which they walk all over holy territory without a pooper scooper), but at the high cost of crosswiring God’s own Explanation. For instance, it is commonly used to buttress a doctrinaire use of Psalm 51:5 about David’s being “born in sin.” (This criticism is a decisive challenge to your second point in my above Summary, Chris.) In startling fact, wherever the preposition “in” really does show up in association with sin and death, it lends a very different significance. Jesus declared, “You are of that which is below; I am of that which is above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I said, then, to you, that you shall be dying in your sins. For if ever you should not be believing me that I am, you shall be dying in your sins” (John 8:23-24). Obviously, then, Jesus is not talking with folks like St. Margarita, i.e., already dead, for he evidently expects them to listen up and repent at his proclamation, like Nineveh did, and like Sodom and Gomorrah would have if he had preached to them instead of to stubborn, stiff-necked, hard-hearted, calloused Jews of his own generation.
Here the preposition is explicit, so there can be little doubt about the translation. Now we can see the theological problem instantly. For if this is a warning that they will die in their sins if they do not believe, then obviously they are not dead yet! Not too dead to convert, not too dead to repent, not too dead to believe, and not too dead to be fearfully responsible for not believing on the spot! In startling fact, he demands these deeds from sinners! Surely, if by “a mere word” (your statement on the CD) Jesus could command Lazarus out of the grave, then surely by the powerful word of the Gospel which then came to these leaders of the Jews, they too could believe!
The fact that they did not believe made them culpable precisely because they could believe if they would! Yet they would not. Why not? The very same Gospel of John explains: “They love the darkness because their acts were wicked,” not because they were “dead in sins.” That’s why John goes on to say (although you didn’t in your talk) that “he who is doing the Truth is coming to the light that his acts may be made manifest that they have been worked in God” (John 3:21). Clearly, John the Apostle has a different agenda from John Calvin. Who are we gonna believe?
Another reason they couldn’t believe is that they were “getting glory from one another, and are not seeking the glory which is from the only God” (John 5:44). But even that all comes down to an alternative love: “they love the glory of humans rather than even the glory of God” (John 12:43). They had a “good” ol’ Boy’s Club going. And boys will be boys. They reinforced each other’s bad behavior (not “deadness in sin”) so that they became hardened, calloused, “stiff-necked,” to use Hebrew idioms. That’s why the famous quote or allusions to Isaiah 6:9-10 keep popping up all over the New Testament (Matthew 13:14-15, John 12:37-40, Acts 28:26-28, Romans 11:7-10, 2 Cor 4:3-5). “Evil conversations are corrupting kind characters” (I Cor. 15:33).
So if these folks will die in their sins if they don’t believe Jesus’ powerful words, then it follows that they are not dead yet! Whoopee! There’s still hope for them. There’s still time to repent and turn around and believe! Hallelujah! “Now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2), because that is apparently “when God sees fit.” “You are able to believe. All is possible to him who is believing” (Mark 9:23). “Now apart from faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing” (Heb. 11:6). “Now everything which is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). If we don’t believe when presented with the hard evidence, then we harden ourselves! Cardiosclerosis. That’s what Pharaoh suffered from. The more habituated we are to resisting the native power of the Gospel, the more friction develops a thick callus until it’s impossible to believe anymore. And if you happen to have special interests at stake (like, uh…a leadership position let’s say) the harder it becomes to bow the knee to a Higher Sovereign. This is why God’s Kingdom breeds violence…among those who feel threatened by it. They hate and envy (which is why Jesus is said to have gotten crucified), afflict and persecute. In this sense, Jesus came “to bring a sword.” Are we better than our Master? If him they hated, us they will likewise hate. Let’s be prepared.
Furthermore, if we, even as sinners, have vital signs sufficient to repent and believe at the coming (not of the Holy Spirit! but) of the Gospel, then we are commanded to reckon ourselves dead to sins and offenses, and not before, which is yet another reason why these verses in Ephesians and Colossians cannot honestly be used to teach the Calvinistic theory of “total depravity,” i.e., of being dead in sin (…yet alive “in” God?), or some such discordant rendering. The “analogy of Scripture” will keep us in line if we observe it diligently. Compare Scripture with Scripture, even at the minute level of syntactical patterns and grammatical parallels. The concordant method of translation has proven an immense boon to me over the decades. I encourage you to check it out.
FURTHER EXAMPLES OF CONCOCTED TRANSLATIONS/INTERPRETATIONS
Here are a few more common examples of Scripture-twisting “disinterpretations” for your careful consideration, Chris.
Genesis 2:17, “for in the day you eat from it, to die shall you be dying”—Hebrew idiom for “you shall start dying, culminating in final death”—is currently often declared to mean “you shall suffer eternal death.” But that reads too much into God’s simple words. However, reading too much into God’s well-sifted word choices became a cottage industry for Aurelius Augustine, the contentious Latin-speaking bishop of Hippo who introduced a host of theological novelties into the Western church to displace the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. We have suffered his original sins ever since.
Isaiah 64:6 (KJV) reads, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses as filthy rags.” The King James Version O.T. was translated almost exclusively from the Hebrew Masoretic text. However, in this exceptional case, the translators used the Greek Septuagint reading, “sequestered rag” (as from a menstruous woman), which was atypically followed also by the Latin Vulgate of Jerome, who otherwise used the Masoretic text. However, the Hebrew rendering (Isaiah 64:5 in the Hebrew versification) is “ornamented cloak” or “sequined garment,” which fits the text better, as referring to showy hypocrisy. In any case, this verse is never cited by Ante-Nicene church authors. It was popularized by the Protestant Reformers who were echoing Augustine’s grossly distorted doctrine of sin and punishment stemming from his Pelagian controversies.
In Romans 3:25, hilasterion no longer means the Protective Cover on the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holy of Holies. Oh no. It is now commonly represented as “a sacrifice of atonement” (NIV, whose margin gratuitously elaborates: “as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin”) outside on the altar! After all, how much difference of interpretation can there possibly be in walking but a few dozen steps west…
In Romans 3, Galatians 2-3, Ephesians 3, and Philippians 3, pistis christou doesn’t really mean the objective “faithfulness of Jesus/Christ,” like the Greek plainly suggests, but rather our subjective “faith in Christ.”
Paul couldn’t possibly mean what he says, i.e., that “faith is reckoned for righteousness” to the believing sinner (Romans 4:5, 9-11, 20-25, Galatians 3:6, James 2:23, Genesis 15:6), but must mean instead that “Christ’s own righteousness is reckoned” to them. (Problem is, “Christ’s righteousness” is never mentioned anywhere in the Bible. And if it wasn’t important enough for the Holy Spirit to articulate in simple words within Holy Scripture, it must not be important enough for theologians to make such a big deal about. In stark truth, it must reveal a corruption of theological understanding about the Gospel.)
Romans 4:25 doesn’t mean what it says, that “Jesus our Lord” “was surrendered because of [dia] our offenses and was raised because of [dia] our justifying,” in order to emphasize the argument in the previous two verses: “Now it was not written because of [dia] [Abraham] only, that [righteousness] is reckoned to him, but because of [dia] us also, to whom [righteousness] is about to get reckoned, who are believing on Him Who raises Jesus our Lord from among the dead.” Instead, the preposition dia must somehow mean “for” our offenses and “for” our justification. But this has the effect of muddling the “how” of justification (i.e., the mechanics), whereas Paul’s whole point is clearly about identifying the “who” (i.e., the fresh new recipients from among the Gentiles).
“Blood” in Romans 5:9 isn’t a semantic equivalent in syntactic/poetic parallel with “life” in Romans 5:10 (as elsewhere in biblical usage), but rather with “death” earlier in the verse. (This is what happens when we don’t take our cues from ancient Hebrew poets in order to “rhyme thoughts” in accord with accurate synonymy revealed by repeated scriptural associations throughout.)
Romans 5:12 didn’t really state that “death passed through into all mankind, whereupon [epho] all sinned,” but rather “because” all sinned, thereby reversing the flow of the apostle Paul’s logic, with appalling results. The Latin Vulgate, translated from the Greek by Jerome (to which Augustine would appeal), rendered the particle “in whom [i.e., Adam] all sinned,” with comparable tragic results for subsequent Western Christendom.
Romans 5:16 & 18 don’t teach that Christ’s one “just award [dikaioma]” from God for his wrongful death (namely, his getting justified to everlasting life via resurrection from the dead) is what spilled over in “superabundance” to all believing mankind, but instead that his one “just act” (construed as his voluntary passive suffering under God’s condemning wrath on the cross) is what somehow brings life. This relates to your fifth point in my Summary, Chris.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15, instead of teaching that believers who are now alive should not be living “to themselves, but to the One dying and being raised for their sakes [huper]” in order to inaugurate a brand New Creation in Christ, through whom we are conciliated to God, a difficulty is now commonly imputed to that translation since, according to dominant assumptions, it would imply that Christ’s resurrection is substitutionary, and who of us in our right minds would want him to be raised from the dead in our place or instead of us! Whereas the problem is actually illusory, arising from the popular notion that the preposition huper mainly denotes substitution.
2 Corinthians 5:21 shouldn’t be translated, “For the one not knowing sin He makes to be a sin-offering [hamartia] for our sakes that we may get to become God’s righteousness in him,” even though that is it’s usual translation in Leviticus, Numbers, and other books where offerings are sacrificed precisely to cancel sin and restore righteousness and peace (out of 284 uses of the Hebrew chattath, 167 are translated as “sin” and 117 as “sin-offering,” although scholars vary). Instead, to better reflect the penal theory of atonement, it is insisted that Paul meant Christ was “made sin”.
Galatians 5:21. Instead of faith being regarded as the natural response of the human heart to testimony, evidence, proof, and demonstration (such as God has graciously provided in the Scriptures generally, but especially in the Gospel story), on the dubious basis of this isolated verse, one of the many fruits of the Spirit is uniquely singled out as “the gift of faith” which we must await the Father to bestow upon us at some secret time within His sovereign discretion lest we wander around with no better remedy for our “total depravity” than a gospel quite powerless to save us without this arbitrary extra impulse.
(March 9, April 8, 11-12, 15, May 5, 11,12, 2014, July 19-21, 23, 26, 2018)
Finally, how does Scripture describe the power source drawing everyone to salvation?
GOD’S LIVING POWER TO EVOKE FAITH FOR SALVATION
“In the beginning was the EXPLANATION…ALL CAME TO BE through IT…In IT was LIFE, and the LIFE was THE LIGHT of mankind.” (John 1:1, 3, 4)
“The EXPLANATION of God is LIVING and OPERATIVE and KEEN above any two-edged sword.” (Heb. 4:12)
“Having been REGENERATED, not of corruptible seed, but of INCORRUPTIBLE, through the EXPLANATION of God, LIVING and PERMANENT…the DECLARATION of the Lord is REMAINING FOR EVER. Now this is the DECLARATION which is being PROCLAIMED to you.” (1 Peter 1:23, 25)
“RECEIVE with meekness the implanted EXPLANATION which is ABLE to SAVE your souls.” (James 1:21)
“The EXPLANATION of the Cross…to us who are getting SAVED…is POWER of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) “We are HERALDING Christ crucified…POWER and WISDOM of God.” (1 Cor. 1:23-24) “If Christ has not been RAISED, vain is your FAITH—you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:17)
“No one CAN come to Me if ever the Father who sends Me should not be DRAWING him.” (John 6:44) “And I, if I should be EXALTED out of the earth, SHALL BE DRAWING ALL to Myself.” (John 12:32)
“If ever you should be CONFESSING with your mouth the DECLARATION that Jesus is Lord, and should be BELIEVING in your heart that God RAISES Him from among the dead, you SHALL BE SAVED. For with the heart IT is BELIEVED for JUSTNESS, yet with the mouth IT is CONFESSED for SALVATION.” (Rom. 10:9)
“The PROCLAMATION…is God’s POWER for SALVATION to everyone who is BELIEVING…for a JUSTICE of God is being REVEALED in IT, out of FAITHFULNESS for FAITH, just as it is WRITTEN: ‘Now the Just One out of FAITHFULNESS SHALL BE LIVING’.” (Rom. 1:16, 17)
“FAITH is out of TIDINGS, yet the TIDINGS through a DECLARATION of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17)
“The SACRED SCRIPTURES…are ABLE to MAKE you WISE FOR SALVATION through FAITHFULNESS which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15)
“I am committing you to God and to the EXPLANATION of His GRACIOUSNESS, which is ABLE to EDIFY and GIVE THE INHERITANCE among all who have GOTTEN HAL-LOWED.” (Acts 20:32) “HALLOW them by…[FAITH in] Your EXPLANATION.” (John 17:17-21; Acts 26:18)
November 2007, revised July 30, 2009 and July 23-26, 2018.