How the Moorings of the Gospel Were Secured

God’s promise to Abraham was given 430 years before Moses

I have taken some time to reflect on the unity for which Jesus prayed in relation to the story of Peter & Cornelius and the tension that continued in the early church over extending the Gospel to Gentiles (non-Jews). The tension that persisted at the heart of the early Church threatened to unmoor the Gospel from its footing.

In previous articles, I reflected on the deeply ingrained nature of the belief that the Jews were God’s people. They were entrusted with the Law of Moses, and they had protected the Law God gave them for well over a 1000 years, painstakingly preserving it, passing it down from generation to generation.

They were instructed by God Himself to drive out all the inhabitants in the land God promised them, to avoid intermarrying and being corrupted by the influence of “Gentiles” to worship their gods. Thus, Hebrew descendants of Abraham avoided association with others – Gentiles. Like the plague.

So intent on sticking to the script were Jews in the First Century, that they didn’t recognize God when He shed his deity and came to them as Jesus from Nazareth.

John says that God came to His own people, and they didn’t recognize Him. When the Word through whom the universe was created, the Word who “was with God” and “was God”, became flesh (John 1:1-3, 14), “his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:12) “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:11) John continues:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

John 1:12-13

“His own” were the Jews. The “all who did receive him, who believed in his name”, were Gentiles (and Jews) who believed in what Jesus said and trusted in him. They became children of God, not because they were born into it, nor because they or anyone else desired it, but because God Himself desired them to be His children.

But these things were far from clear to the early Church. Even Peter, who lived with Jesus and knew him intimately, had difficulty with the idea that the Gospel should be extended to Gentiles.

In the previous articles linked above, I summarized how God gave Peter a vision that occurred three times in a row for emphasis, an audible voice, and the voice of the Holy Spirit, directing him to go with men who appeared just then at the door to summon him. Peter’s experience was orchestrated with an angel that visited Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, who was directed to send those men to “a man named Simon who is called Peter”. (Acts 10:5) Then God poured out His Holy Spirit on the Centurion and his household to emphasize to Peter his intention to extend the Gospel to the Gentiles.

But the tradition of shunning the Gentiles would not die easy. Despite the obviously divine orchestration of events to drive home God’s intentions to Peter, Paul had to confront Peter publicly in Antioch over the issue when Jews from Jerusalem came to visit, and Peter disassociated himself from the Antiochian Gentiles. (See Galatians 2-3)

Paul encountered the same issue in Galatia where people were insisting that the Jews continue to follow the Mosaic law. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul described his confrontation with Peter. More importantly, Paul explained why the Mosaic Law no longer applied to the people of God – who now included not just the Jews, but everyone!

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The Antidote to Human Pride

I knew in that instant this was the antidote to all that was wrong with me.


I didn’t grow up in the Protestant tradition. I wouldn’t say that I had a high view of God. It was more like a distant view, and His grace was a foreign concept.

I experienced a leap in understanding of God’s grace way back when I became a believer, about 40 years ago. That leap was like going from zero mph to 60 mph in a matter of seconds.

I was selling books door-to-door over the summer between freshman and sophomore years in college for the Southwestern Book Company. After giving my spiel to an insurance salesman one day, he asked me if he could ask me a question. Not knowing what he was about to ask, or that it would change my life forever, but being curious, I said, Ok.”

So, he asked, “When you die, will you go to heaven?”

I had never thought about it before, but I lived with the guilt of all my failings, guilt mixed with a good measure of prideful disappointment in myself. I was raised Catholic, you see. Catholicism is good for keeping our failings front and center in our minds. Not only that, but knowing all the things I “needed” to do to make them right, and not doing them, only added to the load!

Not going to church anymore, not being appropriately devout, not saying all the “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers” and all the things I didn’t pay particular attention to, or remember much about, while being told of their imminent importance, compounded the weight of the knowledge that my life wasn’t right.

But, I wouldn’t have associated what was “wrong” with me as anything having to do with God – if He really existed. I never really thought about whether God existed. I think I just accepted that He did, but I wasn’t much interested in Him at that point. The fact of my disinterest didn’t lighten my load in the moment when that pivotal question was proposed to me on that day in the insurance salesman’s home.

The question was followed by a brief, but uncomfortable moment of silence. I was taken aback. I wasn’t ready for that kind of a question. It summoned up the deepest angst that lurked in my being, and I didn’t know just how to respond, for surely there was a “right” response.

My friendly interrogator rephrased the question a moment later: “If you were standing before Jesus right now, what would you say to Him? Why should He let you in to His heaven?”

Of course, it is God’s heaven, isn’t it? The weight of the realization that heaven was God’s domain, and I was an outsider rested with full force upon me in the next moment. How would I convince Him to let me in? How could I convince Him?

Naturally, I let loose all the things I could think of that might matter to God. I recently begun a journey. I had been through years of reckless, angry and self-destructive living, hard drinking, indulgent drug taking, and I was angry at the world (for no good reason I can now admit) … I was going nowhere fast just a short while ago, but I had changed.

The truth is that I woke up, after a series of mishaps, to the fact that my life was likely to be very short if I didn’t change course.  I totaled two cars and had some other close calls. I was run over by a car in which I had been a passenger driven by a “friend” who wasn’t even old enough to drive, and we were doing something stupid and illegal. Something about all of this and having to attend school in a wheelchair gave me pause about where I was heading.

So, I changed. I made a conscious decision to go the other way. I realized at the same time that I was desperately empty inside, out of touch with real meaning in my life and determined to find it. I became a good student in my last year in high school and became a truth seeker. Genuinely.

I rapidly recalled these things to the quietly earnest man in front of me. He let me go on for a while, before he gently stepped in with the next question, the question that changed my life. He asked: “What would you say if heaven was a free gift, and you couldn’t earn it?”

…. That question lit up my mind and heart and shocked me into paradigm shifting silence.

I was speechless. I had no retort. I was stunned.

He continued, unhindered by me as I stood like a prisoner blinded by the sunlight pouring in from a door suddenly opened to the outside world. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I knew in that instant this was the antidote to all that was wrong with me.

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The Work of Godly Grief Within Us

How we measure up in relation to the barometer of Scripture and what we do with it.


“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) (ESV)

When I read this, I immediately ask myself, “How do I measure up to this standard?” Have I exhibited a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation? I think that’s the natural inclination.

I search myself, my past and present experiences, my behavior and my orientation toward God, and I measure myself on the scale that is presented, not just in this passage, but in any passage. Scripture is not just a prescription; it’s a barometer.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) (ESV)

I felt that active and sharp character of the Bible when I first read it in college, and it is not any less active or sharp in its affect on me today. If I am conscious of the “interaction” of the Scripture in relation to the thoughts and intents of my heart, it provides a third person view, in effect, into my self in relation to God.

Still, I am tempted to think, “How can I measure up?” Regarding the verse above, I am tempted to consider how I can generate a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation. My mindset is, “How can I do that?” or “What does it take to accomplish that?”

As I dive deeper into the verse, though, I begin to see something else. That something else gets to the heart of my relationship with God. It is the heart of the Gospel.

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The Impossible Perfection of God

What is it that is impossible with man, but possible with God? What can we not do that only God can do for us?


In the Gospel of Mark, we read the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. (Mark 10:17) After a brief discussion about the law and keeping its commandments, Jesus said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21)

The rich young ruler went away saddened and grieving. (Mark 10:22)

Obviously, the rich young man found the instruction very difficult. He was evidently hoping for a different answer. He claimed to have kept the commandments of God from an early age, but Jesus brushed his boasting aside and dashed his hopes by demanding the “impossible” from him.

Jesus turned to his disciples as the example for what he was about to say was walking away, and commented, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23)

If we are being honest with ourselves, most Christians in the United States are wealthy compared to the rest of the world. We might even be considered wealthy compared to the rich young man who sought out Jesus in the First Century. Unless we gloss over what Jesus said, these are hard words to swallow.

They were hard words for the disciples also. Though they had left everything to follow Jesus, they were still “amazed” at what Jesus just said. (Mark 10:24)

As if the example wasn’t enough, Jesus said it again, “[H]ow hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” and he added a word picture for emphasis:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)

At these words, the disciples were not just amazed; they were “astonished”, asking, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26)

I believe they identified with the rich young man. I suspect they knew they had to more to give than what they had given. They might have also been thinking about the size of this following to which they had given themselves – it would be small indeed! Who could even qualify?!

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A Progression from Law to Relationship

From over 600 laws, to a couple of dozen to just two principals, the progression in Scripture is from rules to relationship.


A friend recently commented on an article I wrote about hypocrisy in which I referred to “God’s standard” without defining what that standard is. Of course, defining God’s standard of morality isn’t that easy. My friend made this point when he said:

“If you asked 100 self-proclaimed Christians, you will get 100 different answers. There are over 30,000 denominations of Christianity… all bible-based. The notion of a singular Christian ‘standard’ doesn’t really exist. Example… is killing ok?… I can find verses in the bible both for and against.”

He is right on a cursory level, though he overstates the proposition. The World Christian Encyclopedia puts the number of denominations at 33,000, of which there are “6 major ecclesiastico-cultural mega-blocs”.  I would venture to guess, however, that 100% of them hold that murder is wrong.

While we might have virtually universal agreement on some things, and “consensus” on other things (perhaps, killing in self-defense), nuances will generate different answers among those different denominations, and individual Christians as well. We don’t all agree on topics like killing in war, capital punishment, abortion, etc.

Some disagreements are doctrinal (infant baptism or adult baptism). Some of them are conduct related. (Is it ok for Christians to dance? drink alcohol? or smoke?) Should Christians tithe? What is the standard of tithing? Is homosexuality a sin? If I walk past a homeless man on the street begging for money and don’t give him anything, is that a sin?

Most Christians agree on the ten commandments, but disagreement grows from there. We may not agree on the details of “God’s standard”, but virtually all Christians would agree that God has a standard of morality, regardless of whether we agree on what it is.

Still, it’s a fair statement to say that we shouldn’t be so glib as to assume some universal set of rules to which all Christians ought to subscribe – at least a universal statement of rules that we confidently say is “the ” standard.

This got me thinking about morality from a Christian perspective, and it dawns on me that one of our failings is that we put too much emphasis on a set of standards that we can define. Yes, I think it is a failing, and I think Jesus would agree. Such a focus misses the point

According to a recent presentation by Ravi Zacharias, Moses gave us 613 laws. David summarized them in 15 laws. Isaiah reduced the summary to 11 laws. Jesus reduced everything in the Law and the Prophets down to just two principles. I haven’t researched these figures to confirm them, but the point is that there is a progression in the Scripture in respect to the law from an intricate set of very specific rules to summaries of the law that get simpler and simpler – culminating in just two principles.

I believe this progression from many, very specific laws to just two principles correlates to the progression God wants us to make from law to faith.

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