That Not of Yourselves 1

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  (Eph. 2:8-9)

From The Second Half of the Cross

A biblical journey of faith through the second half of the cross as described in this book is integral with and dependent upon the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith.  It is the security of eternal salvation that allows the new believer in Christ the initial encouragement and confidence to step out into the risk of following Jesus Christ into the as-yet not fully revealed circumstances of our individual callings (Romans 8:1-2).

No matter our station in life, our talents, or our cultural or geographical location, God has a unique and individual plan for each and every believer in Christ.  Like the value of the security that is put forward in a financial business transaction, the value of the blood shed by Jesus on the cross and the seal of the Holy Spirit given to the born-again believer, is God’s security put forward that backs His appeal to trust Him fully as we follow His lead.  God’s appeal to the believer to “live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:12), to live a surrendered life (Romans 12:1-2), to walk worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1), to live a life of purity (1 John 3:3), and to “be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58), are all based upon the eternally unchanging value of the security of our  salvation promised by God Himself.

The great biblical doctrines of grace (John 10:27-29; Titus 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 5:14-18; Romans 1:17; 3:22; 4:24-25; 5:2; 5:17; 5:21; 6:14; 8:1) that support the promise of eternal security allows Christians to launch out into a God-led journey of faith, free to make mistakes and to learn hard lessons through life experiences without placing our salvation in jeopardy.

A journey of faith is a bold and daring adventure out into this broken and often tempestuous world, with Jesus Christ leading the way.  The teaching that a saved person can lose their salvation limits what people are willing to venture.  It confines the Christian experience to the relatively safe parameters of mere church attendance and church activities alone.  The teaching that a saved person can become lost contributes to a lower standard of Christian living because a vibrant and life-transforming journey of faith following God according to the pattern of the biblical narrative stories of faith is replaced instead by standardized, risk-averse, and programed activities based narrowly upon church needs.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us that every new covenant believer from the least to the greatest shall all know God personally.  This requires personal interaction based upon some measure of a mutually shared journey of faith, secured by the promise of salvation through the blood of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the believer.  This is the solid rock of God’s word that allows Christians to venture out into their individual journeys of faith, following the leading of Jesus Christ through the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Salvation is a divine work completely of God.  It fully accomplishes for mankind what mankind cannot accomplish even partially for itself.  If salvation were a mix of God and self, if merit and demerit on man’s part contributed to salvation, then it would be partially conditioned upon man’s spotty, uncertain performance.  Salvation based upon our merit would rely upon a capacity for continuously perfect righteousness that we do not possess (Romans 5:8-9). Salvation would then be limited, reversible, ineffective, and falling short of its divine intention to once and for all time set the captives free from bondage to sin.  Salvation is by God alone because this is the only way it can be absolutely perfect and complete as the sole cure for sin.

Divine grace is likewise one-hundred percent pure grace, or it is not grace at all.  Salvation as the “gift of God” can truly only be a gift if it requires absolutely nothing in exchange from us.  This is because some hybrid of grace plus works leads to an uncertain outcome (Romans 4:16).  Salvation cannot be a process dependent upon man’s continued performance and progress, because salvation would then be forever in doubt.  Salvation is a divine act producing an eternal outcome because it is a work of God and therefore perfect in its entirety.

In the same way that salvation is divinely perfect, a God-composed journey of faith is perfect in all of its details.  The positive narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible do not present a picture of perfect people.    But the life-plans themselves are perfect, because they are created by God (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Free e-books on Kindle

For those of you who have a Kindle and are interested…two of my Christian books are free on Amazon…Friday 6/16 and Saturday 6/17:

The Second Half of the Cross

The Christian Church in the Last Days

For those of you who have read one or more of my books…would you be kind enough to carve out the time to write and post book reviews on Amazon.  For those of you who are self-published book writers…you know how important this is on the “blog-osphere.”

Thanks, Barton

Going Back to the Cross 2

“He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.”  (Ps. 18:19)

From The Second Half of the Cross

The concept of the second half of the cross brings the sometimes spectacular participation of God in the lives of the people of faith in the Bible, down within reach of our own present-day lives.  Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life reconnects the open circuit of real purpose and meaning in life, through the myriad of individualized life-plans and schemes imagined within the mind of God, because these life-plans and schemes were first contemplated at the time God created each one of us.  The cross is the universal leveling reality through experience (1 Corinthians 4:9), common to all believers in every age and generation, which today enables us to relate to and understand the Bible on equal footing with the great men and women of faith, as we study the second half of the cross in the lives of the people of faith described in this book.

Most Christians understand in a general way the cross and the surrendering of our lives to Christ.  But do we clearly see and understand this in the narrative stories of the people of faith in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible?  If we can see the cross throughout the Bible, we then have a solid scriptural foundation to go forward into our own personal journey of faith built upon the Rock that is Christ.  If we can capture this vision in scripture, if we can see the cross in the life-scripts of faith in the Bible, we can surrender and yield ourselves to Jesus Christ according to the rock-solid foundation of the Word of God.

The story of Abraham makes no sense whatsoever through a purely humanistic lens.  Why would Abraham go to Canaan unless he is hearing and responding to the actual voice of God calling Abraham into this new reality of a journey of faith?  Without the element of the supernatural participation of the living God, this opening narrative of Abraham picking up and moving to Canaan is just a bland story of a person migrating from one city into another geographical region.

The story of Joseph completely falls apart without the active participation of a brilliantly creative God who has all of the personal, political, and social factors within His command, and has the power to supernaturally enter into and intervene in detailed events and circumstances within the four-dimensional medium of space and time.

Even though the cross of Christ is a continuous thread running throughout the Bible from beginning to end, the wide range of varied storylines of the positive characters in the Bible demonstrates God’s creative ability to take each of our innate capacities and life circumstances, and craft them into something uniquely beautiful.

Jesus Christ looks at us like a sculptor looks at a rough-hewn block of marble.  The virtuosic figure in stone is not found in the finished statue, but in the pieces of marble that must be meticulously chipped-off the rough-hewn block to arrive at the final masterpiece.  Only God knows what needs to be chipped away from our fallen natures to arrive at the masterpiece that God first envisioned when He created each one of us.  This is another way of describing the second half of the cross process that is contained within a biblical journey of faith following Jesus Christ.  This is the uniquely original and living portion of our relationship to God as Christians, that we can recognize throughout the Bible, and that we must pursue with all of our hearts and minds.

Going Back to the Cross 1

“For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.”  (Ps. 61:3)

From The Second Half of the Cross

The postmodern view of religious relativism, which says that everyone’s beliefs and religious experiences are equally valid, is merely a clever variation of the age-old “ye shall be as gods” deception from the Garden of Eden.  Any religious experience or churchianity that maintains self on the throne of our lives is ineffective, counter-productive, and doomed to produce misdirected mediocrity.  Going “back” to the Bible to review the cross contained within the lives of the people of faith recorded for us in the Old and New Testaments, is not a backwards move.  It is the most progressive step forward we can take.  The one and only Person in all of existence who is the most interested in “diversity” is the Person who created all of our individual personalities, character traits, and abilities to begin with…Jesus Christ.  Surrendering our all to Jesus Christ ironically is the one single approach that will produce in practical application the very thing that the postmodern philosophy of individualism cannot and does not have the spiritual power to actualize.  Jesus Christ is waiting for us to begin our journey of faith with Him.  Jesus is waiting for us at the cross.

This is why a biblical journey of faith, made possible through the second half of the cross, is so important.  This is why the Bible is our divinely sanctioned pattern and guide for right Christian experience.  We are not supposed to re-make God into a lifeless philosophical creation who will allow us to continue to sit atop the thrones of our lives.  We are supposed to fall upon the living Stone that is Jesus Christ so that God can re-make us into the people He lovingly created and intended us to be.  This is why self-realization and religious relativism are such gross and abominable frauds.  They displace the one and only agent, Jesus Christ, who can actually fill the large God-shaped void we find within ourselves.

Lucifer’s temptation that “ye shall be as gods” was so subtly deceptive, because it was not that far off the actual truth.  Lucifer stole and corrupted God’s brilliant plan for purposeful and meaningful fellowship with mankind, precisely because we were created with the capacity for this very thing (Revelation 20:6).  After the fall in the Garden, God has simply taken the added ingredients of sorrow and suffering resulting from sin, and broadened and deepened the experience of a walk of faith to include the element of a “knowledge of good and evil” into the mix.  That is why we need the elevated insight of God to sort it all out for us through the situations and circumstances of a God-composed walk of faith.

Jesus Christ willingly suffered the abhorrent and ignominious death of the cross, so that we could have the opportunity to learn through experience the very thing that Lucifer could not possibly deliver through his deceptively empty temptation in the Garden.  Jesus Christ, through the singular events of the cross and the resurrection, opened up a new and living way, and demonstrated the exemplary quality of character that is needed for the right use of power.  “Ye shall be as gods” only rightly materializes within Spirit-born Christians when it is blended with a non-self-seeking lack of personal ambition, well-meaning thoughtfulness towards others, Christ-like humility, and genuine righteousness.  The high quality of character training that accompanies the right use of power comes only through the tutelage of God.  This is what we read about in the adventures of faith portrayed in the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Esther, Ruth, Daniel, Elijah, Peter, and Paul in the Bible.

If the pinpoint accuracy of the temptation of Lucifer hit its mark, God is also a good marksman in accurately devising the journey of faith to nullify and overturn the damage of sin and unbelief in our world.  If the temptation to be our own independent gods hits at the center of our vulnerability as “in-God’s-image” created beings with an in-built drive for excellence, the God-composed journey of faith satisfies this need at the center of our being with a challenging set of life events and circumstances designed to restore faith and trust in our relationship with God, which are the cornerstones of any meaningful friendship.  A journey of faith based upon the second half of the cross inserts God back into the Equation of Life.  A journey of faith through this broken world is God’s better answer to Lucifer’s clever attack upon the vulnerable character of non-divine beings created with free-will.

Pushing Power Downward 2

“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.”  (Jn. 10:14)

From The Second Half of the Cross

The Bible set into words, and the journeys-of-faith callings portrayed therein, are the epitome of perfect unselfishness pushing power downward.  The incarnation of Jesus Christ is this expression in living form.  The gift of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding us into all truth from within our born-again spirits is at the height of well-intentioned thoughtfulness in the deepest moral sense.

A God-composed biblical journey of faith is an individual one-on-one training mission.  God’s program is to set-up the circumstances unique to each one of our lives, whereby we can learn through first-hand experience to reach the point in wisdom that we knowingly and willingly choose the right, the noble, and the commendable course of conduct as a natural response of our improving Christ-like characters.  God wants us to grow into mature sons and daughters of light, who can react in partnership with His Spirit to every situation in this fallen world environment with the quality of character that will produce joy and peace for ourselves, for others, and for God, now and for all eternity.

Lucifer’s classically deceptive temptation in the Garden, that people apart from God could become “as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), was of the most destructive and diabolical nature.  Lucifer had nothing to offer that was genuine on its own merits.  Lucifer saw the good thing that God had intended for mankind, seized the opportunity, and actually stole God’s idea, corrupting it for his own purposes.  By preemptively stealing God’s creative idea of a journey of faith, before God could establish a solid relationship with Adam and Eve, Lucifer effectively short-circuited the beneficial intentions of God’s program.  By replacing God with “self” in the spiritual equation, Lucifer created a counterfeit “journey of self” to match his own fallen attitude of self-worship, that is completely out-of-sync with the original plan of God for mankind.

This is why the temptation in the Garden was a deception and a lie, rather than a commendably viable alternative approach to life.  Lucifer stole and corrupted God’s idea of a joint-venture walk of faith with Him, making it into an autonomous and solitary “walk of self,” because Lucifer does not have a better plan of his own other than rebellious revolt fueled by pride-filled ambition.  In reality there is no alternate plan for life in all of existence.  The “walk of self” is merely a lower, fallen, corrupted version of the higher walk-of-faith fellowship that God created us with the capacity to enjoy.  The current, worldly conventional modern-day version of a “walk of self” displaces the walk of faith that God designed for us as the vehicle whereby we could get to know Him.

By getting the human race to depart from God through his upside-down deception of making rebellion as autonomous individuals appear as if it was commendably liberating, Lucifer effectively erased the apprenticeship training program that God had planned for us.  By going-it-on-our-own apart from the Holy Spirit, we shortchange ourselves from the character lessons that would enable us to happily and responsibly exercise our God-given capacity to learn to use power rightly for the good of ourselves and others.

Lucifer wanted power for its own sake, without being accountable to God or anyone other than himself.  By getting mankind to join his rebellion against God, Lucifer has instilled this same lust for power within the character of fallen mankind.  This explains why there is so much push-back against the gospel message of repentance, spiritual rebirth, and surrendering our will and way to God.  Being broken upon the living Stone that is Christ (Matthew 21:44) means giving up power.  But what is so sadly deceptive about sin, is that in willingly giving up self-sovereignty, the Spirit-led Christian is really only transferring power over to Jesus Christ, who intended all along to give back this self-same power to us, repackaged in a beneficially crafted individual journey of faith.

 

This ingenious creation of a walk of faith is a divinely guided set of life circumstances, originally designed to enable us to learn to use the power of our individual gifts and abilities properly.  The irony is that it is Jesus Christ who created mankind with the express capacity to be able to use spiritual power rightly and correctly.  Sitting upon the throne of our lives in spiritual rebellion frustrates the loving intention of God to fulfill our created purpose.

Pushing Power Downward 1

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”  (Jn. 10:11)

From The Second Half of the Cross

The tragic irony in all of this, on a truly galactic scale, is that God does not mind sharing power.  God is not only willing, but anxious to impart spiritual power to human beings (Luke 9:1-2).  It is God who created us with the capacity for abstract thought, logical reasoning, and moral judgment.  A walk of faith through a life-script of varied situations and circumstances, carefully designed and orchestrated by God, is a guided apprenticeship in the right use of personal freedom and power.  The examples of the people of faith in the Bible are a demonstration of God’s enlightened management approach of pushing power downward into the lives of His faithful servants.

The management approach of pushing power downward, as a method of training, is an extraordinary trait to find within the character of God.  The God who created our universe is an unequaled perfectionist.  In our human experience, one of the most difficult things for a perfectionist to do is to delegate.  Yet God works in partnership with Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Deborah, Gideon, David, Esther, Daniel, Peter, Paul, and others through unique and unusual story-lines in the Bible in order to give them the opportunity to experience the right use of power under direct apprenticeship to God.

God composes creatively different life-scripts, calls people by His Spirit, and orchestrates adventures of faith so that people can grow and stretch into the potentially Christ-like people that God intended us to be when He created us.  The fact that God enlists people into all sorts of varied enterprises in the Bible, which He could undoubtedly do infinitely better solely by Himself, tells us there is a profound purpose behind God joining Himself with us along a walk of faith through life.

The writing of the Bible is a clear example of this concept of God pushing power downward.  The Bible has nearly 40 different authors, writing over a span of 1,500 years.  These writers were prophets, kings, shepherds, fishermen, a physician, and other common people with varied backgrounds.  They wrote from different geographical locations, about different challenges and circumstances, and through the lens of different cultural settings.  The fact that these men produced a consistent and cohesive message has enormously persuasive apologetic value in arguing for the divine inspiration of the Bible.  But it also demonstrates God’s willingness and ability to spiritually joint-venture with people to produce something as lofty as Holy Scripture.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:18 that the scriptures are so precise that not one jot or one tittle (Hebrew punctuation marks) shall pass from the Law until all be fulfilled.  Jesus says in John 10:35 that the scriptures cannot be broken.

That God can and would enlist human participation in the writing of the inspired word of God called the Bible, which mirrors accurately in written words the actual living expression of the Word of God embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, tells us plainly of God’s intention and ability to push power downward effectively into the hearts and minds of faithful men and women of God.  The fact that God created us with this “in-His-image” capacity is the clearest evidence of His loving desire to interact with us on the elevated plane of being able to responsibly, thoughtfully, and rightly use power.

At the outer limits of divine perfection self-centeredness goes away.  One stereotype in the business world is of the manager who keeps information to themselves.  In any organization knowledge is power.  But the servant-leader approach informs, trains, and empowers others.  The servant-leader creates business reports and sends out memos with the aim to share information.  The servant-leader approach is a management philosophy of proactive thoughtfulness intended to liberate subordinates from complete dependence upon the all-informed and all-knowing manager.  The servant-leader, who manages to get people involved in the goals of the enterprise through personal participation in decision-making through shared leadership based upon trust, when done wisely usually creates highly motivated, enthusiastic, and committed workers.  The servant-leader approach is the exact opposite of the autocrat who keeps all of the information and knowledge, and therefore the power to themselves.

Lucifer wants to live out his dream of being god at the expense of others.  Lucifer’s approach is egocentric and requires the sacrifice of others to achieve his goals.  By contrast God wants to fulfill His will and way by enabling others to actualize their created potential through free-will participation, a personal relationship, and wise and prudent delegation of authority.  God’s approach is based upon unselfish divine love that will sacrifice Himself on the cross for the benefit and well-being of others.

The Christian Salvation Experience 2

One of the exceptional attributes that demonstrates the divinity of God in our world is His ability to take spiritual opposition and craft it into eternally beneficial lessons for the people of faith.  God did not create evil (James 1:13).  But God is so intelligent He can take spiritual darkness and turn it around for His purposes.  The story of Joseph in Egypt is a clear illustration of this principle.  The crucifixion of Christ is the most powerful demonstration of God’s ability to take spiritual opposition, in its most deadly and threatening form, and shape it into a beneficial outcome on a massive scale.  God is so intelligently masterful over events and circumstances that He can even recruit death itself, the universal symbol of defeat and despair resulting from sin, and reshape it into a substitutional atonement from the penalty of sin, purchasing eternal salvation for us through His life, death, and resurrection as the divine Son of God in a human body.

Through the temptation in the Garden of Eden, Lucifer unknowingly handed to God the opportunity to inaugurate for man a faith-propelled search for truth involving the knowledge of good and evil, that is so richly illustrated in the life stories of the Bible.  By introducing sin into the world, Lucifer unintentionally brought into existence the major underlying ingredient of spiritual darkness for God to work with, whereby God can compose the fuller and deeper life-script callings of faith previewed for us in the Bible.  It is actually the existence of spiritual darkness in this temporarily broken world that enables us to experience in our own lives the invaluable lessons that expose and clarify the issues that lead to discovering the key to our everlasting peace and happiness (Romans 8:18).  The Spirit-led Christian of today has the opportunity to understand the fundamental issues of eternal truth recorded in the Bible and developed through first-hand experience, which Adam and Eve would never have been able to comprehend even after thousands of years living in the idyllic environment of the Garden of Eden.

The ingenious creation by God of the vehicle called a walk of faith, through this physical environment of a four-dimensional world of space and time, enables the God-led man or woman to discover first-hand a fundamental eternal lesson.  This lesson is that true fulfillment lies in being unselfishly content in the inspired role of being who and what each of us were created to be, within a trust-filled and loving friendship with God our Father.  A biblical-quality walk of faith restores true reality by allowing God to fill the very large size shoes that only God can fill.

When viewed in this light, the decision to repent and to accept Jesus Christ into our lives is not a sign of character weakness, of supposedly taking the easy way out, of conveniently dumping our problems off on God.  It is instead the most clear-headed, rational, and sensible decision a person in their fallen and spiritually unbalanced condition can make.  A journey of faith in our natural intended role as a human being, with Jesus Christ leading the way, is actually the zenith of all of human experience.  It is at the height of what human beings can achieve.  The decision to accept Christ and to embark on a biblical-quality adventure of faith through life is the pinnacle of our very existence, not a compromise or a cop-out.  The fact that a world mired in spiritual rebellion would scoff, revile, and ridicule the Christian walk of faith following God, should actually be interpreted as an unintended confirmation that laying down our arms as rebels, and taking advantage of God’s current offer of redemptive pardon, is the one true right course of action.