Ghanaian Charismatism and the Total Bastardization of “Grace”

This is the 2nd in a 2 part series of posts on the phenomenon of unbiblical understandings of “grace” that permeates Ghanaian Christianity. It follows from the first one, which is available here.

Walk into many Charismatic churches in Ghana, and do a survey of it’s church members. One will find that apart from the very young generation, most members of these churches were originally members of what are considered “orthodox churches” in Ghana – the churches founded by the missionary efforts of Europeans in the pre-colonial era. And though Charismatism began with an emphasis on the operation of the gifts of the spirit, it soon became infused with teachings originally from Kenneth Hagin and his cohorts – what is referred to as Word of Faith (WOF) teaching/prosperity teaching. In Ghana, I can confidently say that 90% of charismatic churches are now driven by WOF teaching, hence I hope I can be excused for not differentiating between WOF adherents and non-WOF charismatics in this post. In any case even those who aren’t WOF-inclined have some of the same seeds of divine determinism in them, and so will benefit from this critique.

Additional Ingredients

In addition to the seed of divine determinism that already flourishes in Ghanaian cultural Christianity, one more seed that has found fertile ground for the flourishing of these abuses of “grace” is the seed of individualism. Since Western Christianity had even before the Protestant Reformation, interpreted and preached the gospel as a call for each individual to save themselves from being thrown into hell fire and to rather gain a ticket to heaven, it had already been evident in the work of the missionaries to Ghana that Christianity was an individual walk with God. When this is mixed with the Ghanaian cultural deterministic perception that God has set out a “destiny” which is unique for each and every individual, you have an explosive mixture just waiting to be lighted up. And that is exactly what happened with growth in 3 things – urbanization, upward mobility and the arrival of the prosperity teaching, what I call the 3 horsemen.

The 3 Horsemen

Horseman 1 – Urbanization

Many people I’ve spoken to, including some people much older than me, speak of the sense of unity that existed in the orthodox church they used to attend back in the rural areas. They complain after moving to Accra, they experienced that even in a branch of the same denomination they attended here in the city, that sense of unity was no longer there, with everyone seeming to mind their own business. These friends bemoan this state of affairs, and pine for earlier days. What people like these fail to realize was that this sense of unity was always a false one that couldn’t last when transplanted into a new, more challenging environment – because this unity was based more on ethnic and cultural homogeneity than on a theological and practical outworking of what the New Testament means by unity. Once that sense of unity and care is lost, one begins to focus much more on oneself for survival. Enter horseman 2.

Horseman 2 – Upward Mobility

With no sense of real unity other than just showing up on church on a Sunday to perform the rituals and appease God (in the form of tithes and offerings), people naturally drifted into competition to show oneself as “moving forward” in life. Here, moving forward is defined as getting married if one was single, having children if one was married, having a better job and a nicer car than your fellow church member, probably owning one’s own home by 5-10 years of work. In recent times, becoming an entrepreneur has been added to this list. Enter the 3rd horseman.

Horseman 3 – Prosperity Teaching aka Motivational Teaching

Due to the de-prioritization of unity (which was already built on shaky grounds within orthodox churches anyway) and the elevation of individual achievement to the highest ideal, it is no surprise that the message of “name it claim it” and “everything is possible” sounded much more pleasing to cultural Christian ears than the boring old “clinging to the rugged cross”, hence Ghanaians moved across in droves. In recent times, the fashion is that almost every Charismatic pastor is also a “Motivational Preacher”. What they don’t realize is that one doesn’t even need to be a pastor to be a motivational preacher. All one needs is a bit of self-confidence to propound some 7 or 8 theories of success. Voila!! Of course they themselves need to show you that their teaching works to bring material prosperity, so it is near impossible to meet such preachers who look and live simple lives. Obviously that life is built off the back of their congregants, either via directly controlling the cash and exercising undue influence on its spending because they are the “founder” of the church, publishing books that are required reading by church members or have an appeal to a general audience in the “motivational speaking” genre but have nothing to do with the biblical gospel, or moving from office to office of richer congregants in the name of “praying” or “prophecying” for them, yet collecting monies for such “visits”.

What Has All This Got To Do With “Grace”?

I listen to a lot of snippets of sermons by many Charismatic preachers (unfortunately I don’t have a choice – almost every corner is filled with them in Accra so one can’t avoid them). And increasingly I hear the use of the term “grace” to speak of how God was going to bless church members with material wealth. Remember what we said in part 1 of this series? That Ghanaian cultural Christians have an already flawed understanding that God is a micromanager of lives who decides freely (“by grace”) who he was going to “curse” (typically the “wicked”) and who he was going to bless (typically the “righteous” ie one who does what a pastor/church defines as “righteous”) irrespective of hard work, access to opportunities and privilege? Well, these WOF preachers then play this false definition of God’s “grace”, by saying that God will “give more grace” (ie more good decisions) to those who desire to be materially prosperous. Of course, this “grace” always comes with a caveat – it’s given to those who have “faith”, i.e. those who show such “faith” by plenty prayer and profuse attendance of said pastor’s church programs and those who give monies to their church (called “sowing a seed”, “sowing into the man of God’s life”).

In the end, what these preachers mean by “grace” is exactly the opposite of what the New Testament means by “grace” – one does nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing – to deserve it. Not the number of tongues per minute, nor hours of prayer, nor hours of church attendance, nor amounts of money given to the church nor trees planted in the “man of God’s” life. Interestingly the one place where the New Testament uses the phrase “more grace” (according to the NIV translation) is the place that actually condemns selfishness and greed in the name of God.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God … But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’” (Jas 4:3-6).

Edit: Just a few hours after publishing this blog, a friend sent me what I consider to be Exhibit A of the problem I’m addressing – from the “Grand Papa” of Ghanaian Charismatism – Duncan Williams

Grace: A Quick Reminder of Its Biblical Usage

I have said a lot in defining what grace means in a previous post, but let me restate it here in a quick fashion.

  1. The New Testament talks about “grace” in terms of Yahweh’s launching his kingdom by deciding to accept both Jews and Gentiles as part of his chosen people – his church – without asking anything from them ie requiring Gentiles to keep the law of Moses. Sadly, because our notions of the gospel are so individualized (getting a personal ticket to heaven), we don’t realize that when the NT talks about grace, it’s talking about how Yahweh maintains the promise he made to Abraham – just as he chose the Jews by grace, he will make that grace available to all others so that he will have one united people, irrespective of ethnic, social and cultural line. This is what Paul calls “the blessings of Abraham” (Gal 3:14). It is this critical understanding of grace that was not properly planted by our missionary churches, going way back to both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Reformers themselves, for which we are suffering today.

  2. The New Testament speaks of grace as the power to serve God faithfully in this kingdom agenda – the agenda of creating and sustaining one united people of God via bringing this good news to others, and creating disciples out of those who believe this news regarding how to submit to one another and to suffer for one another just as God himself suffered for us to show us the way. That is, grace empowers us to serve God and one another, led by the Spirit.

In short, grace is how you get into God’s chosen people, and how you stay and serve in God’s chosen people. It’s got nothing to do with one’s personal ambitions of wealth and prosperity, and everything to do with who one is in Christ, and how one is living by Christ’s own self-sacrificial example after one becomes part of his people. Grace is about reconciliation with God and one another, and sacrifice for one another once reconciled. Simple and short.

Conclusion: The Seeds of Deception Have Always Been Therefore

Human beings, due to our sinful nature, are always selfish, whether spiritually or materially. We are selfish for holiness, righteousness, peace and self-sufficiency as much as we are selfish for sin, wickedness, violence and greed. Jesus came to show up our selfishness for what it is and to reveal the number one character of God that confuses the wisdom of both Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor 1:18-25) – that God dying on the cross shows himself as the unselfish God who is willing to die even for his enemies.

And this leads to a very important point that many Ghanaian Christians, whether orthodox or Penteco-Charismatic, are missing. Christianity is not about going to heaven, nor material wealth. If your creator is a God who takes risks and suffers for the sake of his enemies, then being made in his image, one must also be seen all your life to be one who is making sacrifices for one’s fellow human. We choose to love not because we will be rewarded with heaven, but because that is the nature of the one in whose image we are made. Therefore, Christianity is a matter of discipleship in the way of the one who created us, not for reward, but because that’s what makes us truly human.

Whenever Christianity is posed in the form of determinism – that God is micromanaging the world and deciding to bless only those who do “right”, we make room for false teachers to come up with their own definition of “right” so we can selfishly appease God whiles they milk us dry. Whenever Christianity is posed as a reward scheme – that saying the “right prayer” or “living the holy life” automatically guarantees access to heaven, we produce people who are more interested in their own individual walk with God than those of their fellow human beings.

When spiritually-minded Ghanaian cultural Christianity got tired of waiting to go to heaven, it obviously chose the next best thing – grabbing all that we can on earth. May we not be overcome by this selfishness, whose seeds were planted by our orthodox churches, but whose fruits are now being harvested in the form of modern Penteco-Charismatism and its WOF champions.

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Healing the Divide II – Grace and Works

Grace

This is the 2nd in my series “Healing The Divide”. Find Pt 1 here

As a young, impressionable Pentecostal, one of the things that was drummed into my head about Jesus and his fractious relationship to certain people groups recorded in the Gospels – Pharisees and 1st century Jews in general – was that these people groups tried to gain their salvation through “works”, whiles Jesus came to bring us salvation through “grace”. As I grew up, I realized that this wasn’t just the teaching of the church I grew up in, but rather the standard teaching in myriads of Ghanaian churches, and indeed in the wider body of Protestant churches worldwide. The cardinal proof-text for this has been Eph 2:8-9.

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. Eph 2:-9

And yet over the last century or more, there has been quite a change among scholars about the relationship between grace and works, especially with regards to how 1st century Jews at the time of Jesus understood them. It began with 3 friends, C.H Dodd, David Daube and W.D. Davies. It was taken up further by Krister Stendahl, a Swedish scholar, but was set out in full swing by E.P. Sanders, a student of W. D. Davies. And it focused simply on applying a rule that any intelligent, honest person who wants to know the truth about any other people group or religion can universally agree with.

When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies. (Rule 1 of Krister Stendahl’s 3 Rules of Religious Understanding)

In simple terms, if you want to learn the most about Islam, you should ask a Muslim, not a Buddhist or Christian. Applying this maxim to Judaism i.e. studying Jewish sources to understand what “grace” and “works” meant to them and not what Christians (who can be considered “enemies” in this case) thought they meant, they found out an astonishing truth – that many Christians, especially since the Protestant Reformation, may have misunderstood Paul when he spoke about the relationship between “grace” and works. Today of course, many others like James D.G. Dunn, N.T. Wright , Scott McKnight (belonging to a school of scholars collectively referred to as “New Perspective(s) on Paul”) have taken up that challenge and have done further research to improve our understanding of 1st century Judaism and therefore these matters of salvation, grace, works etc. But it seems it will take a few light years before this knowledge trickles down to our churches, as many still talk in the same old ways about grace and works. So here’s my attempt to help the process along by bringing them together in the whole that they need to be held in.

Grace and Salvation in the OT

I begin by examining the relationship between grace and salvation from the New Testament’s own historical context – the context of 1st century Israel. And what better place to learn about salvation than the events of the exodus?

The first recorded use of the word “salvation” or “redemption” is used by Moses in his song written to commemorate God’s work of saving Israel from Egypt in Exodus 15.

The Lord is my strength and my defense, he has become my salvation” (Ex 15:2).

After saving them, Yahweh then enacts a covenant with them, and in that process, explains why he saved them.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deut :7-8)

In other words, God’s salvation of Israel was also by grace – they didn’t earn it. They didn’t work for it. God chose them because of his special promise made to their fathers. The only “problem” is that they didn’t use the word “grace” to describe their salvation in the Old Testament, but if “grace” means unmerited favour like we Christians trumpet everyday, then this fits perfectly with what happened between Yahweh and ancient Israel. For them, works was a means of showing faithfulness to the covenant the God had entered to with Israel, not a means to get saved. As Michael Gorman points out in his book on atonement (which is now my favourite on the subject), the whole point of Jesus’s death as well as God’s previous engagement with the people of Israel was about covenant relationship, which covenant always required both partners to keep the terms of the covenant, whether with Israel or with the church.

This debunks one of the greatest caricatures that many Christians make of Judaism i.e. Pharisees and Jews in general were trying to get “saved” by works. Nothing could be further from the truth, as modern scholarship is discovering.

Having broken this covenant and received God’s punishment for doing so in the form of exile to Babylon, the people of Israel at the time of Jesus were now waiting for Yahweh to re-enact a new covenant with them, by first forgiving them of their previous unfaithfulness or “sins”, as captured by Jer 31:31-34. And this Jesus enacted through the shedding of his blood, though this time he opens the floodgates for others who are not Jews to also be part-takers of God’s new covenant. This was expected to be another work of “salvation”, as expressed by the prophets. The return of Yahweh to enact this new covenant and to “save” them is what Isaiah describes in chapter 52 as “good news”.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns! Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.” (Is 52:7-8)

Grace and Salvation in the NT

In Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, Paul realized that God’s promise to enact a new covenant and to also include the Gentiles in that covenant had been fulfilled. He therefore dedicated his life to letting the world know this, especially the Gentile world. But some Jews were still under the impression that even if Gentiles were now part of the new covenant, they needed to show their faithfulness to Yahweh in the old way – by keeping Torah just as they did. These Jews expected the Gentiles to at least observe the key commands which usually set Jews apart from others – circumcision, observance of the Sabbath, observance of the holy days and eating “kosher” i.e. observance of food laws (Col 2:16). These, scholars point out, are what Paul describes as “works of the law”. This became a point of disagreement between Paul and these people he called “Judaizers”.

Paul argued in his letters, especially in Romans and in Galatians, that the Gentiles do not need to show their faithfulness to Jesus by observing Torah (the Law), but simply by faith in Jesus and faithfulness to Jesus alone. Part of the problem was that Torah itself was meant to separate Jews from Gentiles, therefore keeping it would break the new union between the two that Jesus now provided. Paul was at pains to show then that in Jesus, the Law was no longer in effect, and this he did with his letters.

This is why the same Eph 2, expounds what “saved” means – “saved” means being made eligible to be part of God’s covenant people.

Therefore, [picking up from arguing that salvation is by faith, not works] remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done by human hands) – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:11-13)

In effect, just as God rescued Israel by “grace” based on his love for their father Abraham – the faithful one, in the same way God is now rescuing the whole world based on his love for Jesus – the faithful one.

So What About Works Then?

So if keeping Torah was bound to bring back the divisions again, does that mean the people of the new covenant do not have any law to guide them? Far from that, I say. In the same Eph 2, Paul makes a very profound statement, stating the REASON why we are saved.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10)

A 1st century Jew reading this would not have been surprised at all, because as in the old covenant, covenant membership MUST always lead to covenant obedience. The salvation of the people of Israel from Egypt was for a purpose – that by obedience to Yahweh, they may show the world his design for human existence. Hence the expansion of that salvation to cover the Gentiles is still meant to achieve the same thing – that they may do “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.

It is here that Jesus’ life and commands in the Gospels take their place of pride. The “good works” are not a vague term that we can define for ourselves (as I often hear some preachers do). Peter explains exactly what “good works” means by referring to none other than the life of Jesus himself.

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea … how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good …” (Act 10:37-38)

This is also why I really appreciate the Epistle of James – because he makes the linkage very clear – faith without works is dead. Being a Jew, he know that faith without works is what led to the Babylonian exile, and Paul like James, knows that our works will be judged in the end for faithfulness.

their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light” (1 Cor 3:13)

In fact I thank God everyday that Martin Luther’s attempt to have the Epistle of James and the book of Hebrews removed from the Protestant canon failed (because it somehow advocated “works” according to his definition of it). It would have been a great disservice to the church.

Reflections

The God of the Bible has shown himself to be a God of covenants. Christian understandings of salvation, grace and works must be primarily taught of as a means for us to enter into and stay faithful in God’s covenant relationship with his nation – which in the Old Testament was Israel, but which in the New Testament is Israel expanded to include Gentiles.

However, this way of understanding salvation, grace and works is not the typical way it is taught in churches today, because it is at variance with the way Protestant Christianity has first and foremost misunderstood ancient Judaism as a “works-righteousness” religion, and thence constructed itself as a “grace-only” religion. Some in this Christian tradition have taken this “grace-only” language to such extremes even beyond the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, and any hint that Martin Luther or John Calvin et al may have been mistaken in their understanding of Judaism (which should be normal, since they didn’t have access to the knowledge we have today) is met with accusations of heresy. But for me, an understanding of the New Testament based on a proper, contextual understanding of the Old Testament is vital and yields the following benefits.

  1. The current modes of speaking of “grace” and “salvation” lend themselves to individualism. Salvation is a call to each individual to participate in God’s covenant purposes he has already established before the foundation of the earth. Thinking in this mode expands our vision of God’s purposes beyond “me, myself and I” to “what has God done and is doing with me, and with these brethren of mine”.

  2. Current teaching in Protestant circles tends to not know exactly what to do with the church. We quote the terms “body of Christ” with very little effect, because our gospel and our understanding of salvation is very individualistic, we don’t see the covenant, corporate nature of this people we gather together every Sunday are meant to achieve a goal that no other group on this earth can achieve.

  3. An understanding of “grace” as God’s means of reconciling all forms of ethnic, racial and socially diverse people into one united body through the death of Jesus would have empowered the church to stand against 400 years of slavery in Europe and America (heavily engaged in by “Christian” nations), colonialism and its abuses (same here) , apartheid in South Africa (openly supported by the Dutch reformed church, whose members were the political leaders), anti-semitism and Christian participation in the killing of 6 million Jews in Germany (again, whose political leaders where either Catholic or Lutheran), and participation in countless wars with fellow Christians and non-Christians alike. Instead, the church would have behaved like Andre Trocme and his church in Le Chambon in France, who harbored Jews at the peril of their lives during World War 2 (when confronted by the authorities about habouring Jews his response was “I do not know what a Jew is. I know only human beings”). I was indeed surprised when I got to know that during the days of the Reformation, Martin Luther unfortunately supported the killing of Jews. Reflecting on it, I realized that if his understanding of “grace” didn’t involve God’s reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, but was focused on how people got a ticket to heaven, then it was bound to happen.

  4. Because of the denigration of “works”, Christians have tended not to pay attention to Jesus’s own life and examples – preferring to see them as “too hard” and meant for heaven, or reading them as nice Sunday school stories from which moral platitudes may be obtained. Any attempt by Christians to take Jesus seriously is met with the charge of “trying to gain salvation by works”.

  5. Talk of the Holy Spirit is again, individualized. Instead of the Spirit being the means by which the church is guided to reach its goal, it is spoken of largely in terms of how a particular person can have the Spirit as a genie in the bottle – rub it the right way and say all your wishes, and it will be done.

Conclusion

These days, even the New Perspective on Paul is becoming old news, as others are building on that work to further expand our understanding of Jesus. Certainly, salvation must lead to works. God accepts us by looking at the sacrifice made by Jesus – but he always had a goal – to co-rule this world with his covenant people. This is what Adam and Eve failed at – without dependence on God (in a covenant of obedience), they were bound to follow their own way of claiming to “know good and evil”. In the same way, without faithfulness to God in covenant relationship as modeled by Jesus, the church will go wrong, and do all that it was rather supposed to stand against.

Grace and works cannot be separated. The former must lead to participation in the latter. Thank God for the New Perspective(s) on Paul, and may others take what they’ve done and open further insights in faithfulness to Yahweh, just as the Protestant Reformation did 500 years ago.

Vicit Agnus Noster, Eum Sequamur – The Lamb has Conquered, Let us Follow Him.

Unmasking Ghanaian Christianity III – “By The Grace of God”

Grace

Here’s Part I and Part II of the series.

One of the great failures in communication is to use the same words with a person, but have different understandings of what those words mean. This failure is even worse when these words are associated with or derived from the bible, and yet have taken a totally different meaning and are subsequently being read back into the bible. So for those who actually do care about what the bible and Jesus has to say to the world, a vital skill to develop is the discernment to recognize when biblical words have been co-opted by the culture around us, and to ensure that we articulate a clearer explanation of what we mean when we use those words. In this respect I believe that one of the saddest and most damaging failures of contextualization amongst Ghanaian bible teachers for decades is how the wonderful New Testament language of “grace” has been totally bastardized by Ghanaian culture, unhinging it from its biblical roots. As with everything that Christendom comes along with, it’s gotten so bad that this unbiblical usages has become the standard way by which one’s “devoutness as a Christian” is judged in Ghana. Let me explain.

The Old Testament and Grace

We see the term “grace” used mostly by Paul in his letters to the churches he founded. However the concept it carried had been in use long before Paul to describe God’s choice of the people of Israel as his chosen people. As I’ve previously argued elsewhere, the idea that 1st century Judaism was a religion of works-righteousness where people were trying to get saved through “their own righteousness” has been proven largely to be an incorrect position that Christians attributed to Judaism since the days of the Protestant Reformation. As NT scholar Richard B. Hayes of Duke Divinity puts it

“The most important advance of New Testament scholarship in the second half of the twentieth century has been its dramatic reframing of the relationship between early Christianity and formative Judaism”. – Richard B. Hayes, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

First century Jews believed that God chose Israel by grace – because he loved their fathers (Deut 7:7-8) – and not because of any work they did. To them keeping the law was a means of showing that one was indeed under grace. Grace was god’s gift of making them his “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6), a gift they did nothing to deserve.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deut 7:7-8)

The New Testament and Grace

Paul’s usage of the word grace falls exactly in this same line. By the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the doorway had now been open for the Gentiles to also become a part of God’s chosen people as expressed by prophets of old about Yahweh’s return. This time however, membership shall not be counted by descent from Abraham, but by “faith in Christ”.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God … Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:8-13)

For the Paul then, “grace” is about how Gentiles (and other classes of excluded people) came on equal footing with Jews to become part of God’s chosen nation.

Paul further expanded the usage of the word grace to cover additional grounds. He speaks of God setting him apart “from his mother’s womb” to preach him amongst the gentiles “by his grace” (Gal 1:15-16). He speaks of receiving “grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom 1:5). He calls the gifts of ministry given to his Gentile church members “gifts according to the grace given to each of us” (Rom 12:6).

But Paul goes on to say something which is quite striking, and I believe has been the cause of stumbling of many in Ghanaian Christendom regarding the use of the word “grace”. He says everything he is and everything HE HAS DONE is God’s grace. It is explicit what Paul is talking about, but I think sadly many exegetes haven’t paid attention to the whole point Paul is driving at.

But by the grace of God I am what I am … ” (1 Cor 15:10)

Thankfully he doesn’t stop there, but continues

and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor 15:10)

In the above usages of “grace”, Paul speaks of it as empowering him to actually engage in mission for God – a mission which he has repeated mentioned – of bringing that same grace that he has received to the Gentiles. This second usage of “grace” describes then a special empowering to serve God, not just a grace to be anything he so desired. In essence, grace must lead to work, and Paul says his missionary efforts are all due to grace on his life.

The Corruption of Grace

It would seem however that in the fervency of Christianity (especially the Protestant category) in Ghana to emphasize grace as God’s free gift, it has lost its anchor – 1) that grace was about God accepting us Gentiles (in this case Ghanaians) into his family aka election. 2) that grace was about the power to continue to serve in God’s mission (not our own mission) AFTER being called into this family.

As I began to pay more attention to these usages of grace in the New Testament and to compare it to contemporary and historical Ghanaian Christianity’s usage of it, I began to realize how deviated we might be from the New Testament understanding of it. I recently asked in our church what people meant by the Twi word “adom”, and the answer was universally the same – unmerited favour for anything good in this life. And therein lies the problem – our concept of grace has no boundaries. We began to reflect on the songs we used to sing in our previous lives as Pentecostals and other Christian traditions (and some of which are still in vogue today), and the usage of the word “adom” in those songs – “adom” being the Twi word for grace.

Song 1

Twi – “Se wo abrabo mu nsem, yeyie mawo a, hwe yie na wo an hoa hoa wo ho, efrise eye Onyam n’adom ara kwa, na wo te se nia wo ti.”

Translation – “When life is good for you, do not get proud about it, but remember that it is by God’s grace that you are who you are

Note – The boldened part looks a lot like 1 Cor 5:10

Song 2

Twi – “Adom, adom, adom bia m’enya. Adom na miti ase, emu na me keka me ho, emu na me ye m’adie nyinaa ”

Translation – “Grace, grace, oh what grace I have received. It is by grace that I live, it is by grace that I move, it is by grace that I do everything”

Note – This sounds a lot like For in him we live and move and have our being” in Acts 17:28, but note Paul didn’t use the word “grace” here.

I could go on giving more examples of Ghanaian Christian songs with this motif. The word “adom” in these songs has moved beyond grace as a means of election and as a means of empowerment to serve after joining the elect, to grace being used to describe any “good” thing that comes one’s way. This has led to the following behaviour and subsequent questions in Ghanain Christendom.

  1. Amakye Dede, a popular highlife musician whose music I love was involved in an accident last December, and his manager died. He survived, and in typical Christendom fashion, Christians responded with “It’s only God’s grace that saved him from the accident”. The question becomes why did that grace – if it’s free and unmerited – not extend to his manager? Or did Amakye merit it?

  2. A marriage announcement is typically made with “By the grace of God, Kofi is getting married to Ama next week”. If grace is free and unmerited, why is Adwoa who is 35 years old not married, but Kofi and Ama in their twenties are getting married?

  3. During prayer meetings, one is reminded to pray thanking God that one is alive, because it is only by the grace of God that one is alive and not at the ICU of Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana’s largest hospital. The obvious question is – if grace is free and unmerited, what kind of arbitrary God would decide to put some in a coma and allow some to breathe air freely? And is it the abundance of my thanks that keeps me from being in a coma like those unfortunate brethren? If that’s the case, is that grace really free and unmerited?

It is this usage of “grace” that has permeated Ghanaian Christendom such that when one is asked the simple question “how are you”, the “Christian” response is “I’m fine BY GOD’S GRACE”. When I began paying better attention to New Testament theology, I became wary of responding this way, and simply responded with “I’m fine” or “I’m alright”. Interestingly I’ve received queries from some friends as to why my response is always “dry” – by this they mean my response doesn’t sound “Christian”. Fortunately/unfortunately I still respond “I’m fine by the Grace of God” to my older relatives (uncles and aunties and that old crowd) because until I declare myself a Moslem or something else, it is the “Christian” thing to do, and I’m better off saving myself the trouble of negative impressions and questions. Even some Christians expect Moslems to somehow respond with “Nyame Adom oh” i.e. “I’m fine by God’s grace”

But what Christendom doesn’t realize about being precise about language is that if we decouple it from it’s biblical moorings, our words will be (and have already been) co-opted by interests not aligned with Jesus Christ, and we will either complain bitterly about these to no end or end up reading the bad usage back into our bibles. Let me give an example.

The Ghanaian hiplife rapper EL (whose artistry I totally admire by the way, coupled with my bias towards him as a former student of Presec Legon) has recently released a song called “Koko”, meaning “Easy”. Standing in front of a cross mounted by the German Christian missionaries on Mt Gemi in the Volta Region a century ago, he speaks of how everything is easy for his god to do for him, and one line says

Pidgin English – “And by his grace, there’s no girl I no go fit run oh”

Translation – “And by his grace, there’s no girl I cannot have as my lover”

Can Christians endorse this usage of the word grace, especially when being used to talk about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Is this the way of the Christian God as we see in the bible?

Conclusion

And yet EL is very right if judged by the already flawed understanding of “grace” in Ghanaian Christendom. If anything one determines as “good” for oneself must have been made available to you “by the grace of God”, then EL’s ability to snag any woman he desires is indeed by the grace of God. By extension, the ability to steal money from one’s public service job to build a nice house for oneself is “by the grace of God”, not so? Ever wonder why corruption is not going anywhere soon when the 70% Ghanaian Christian population think like this?

And one of the clearest ways that we can begin tackling this is to properly introspect our “gospel” songs, even our old favourites. Because the easiest way to spread false teaching in Africa is to put it to a nice danceable beat. The African love of dancing is a double edged sword that has been used to carry flawed theology for eons, and cannot be left to wander on its own without inspection. It’s part of the reasons why in my church we resolved to write and sing our own songs, instead of complaining about some of the trash being produced in the name of “gospel” music in Ghana.

I’ve had pushback from some friends about my qualms on the abuse of this “by the grace of God” theme, even when answering the simple question “how are you”, but I’m not budging from it. I might consider it if I were a high Calvinist and believed in divine determinism, but I’m not and so I desire that we rather wake up from this abuse. Because if we do not become a people who properly discern our culture, there will be only one end result – our culture will swallow us up, and there will be nothing left of true Christianity to speak of, practice or even defend.

Vicit Agnus Noster, Eum Sequamur – The Lamb Has Conquered, Let Us Follow Him.

Once Saved, Always Saved? Of Course!!

Photo Credit: Christopher JL via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Christopher JL via Compfight cc

A few days ago someone asked me a question that I’d been asked quite a few times before, and this time I couldn’t bring myself to give him a direct answer to his question. This is because over the years, my own understanding of the issue had grown beyond “is it this or that” to questioning the assumptions behind that question. Since my alarm deceived me and made me wake up at 3 am instead of 5am this morning, I thought to make good use of the time and share here the question and how I now approach it.

The Question

Is it possible to lose one’s salvation or is it ‘once saved always saved’?”

This is typically asked by someone who tends to be worried that a fellow brother or sister may be taking their “salvation” for granted and not living according to what the questioner expects them to live as a Christian. The legalist in us then seeks to warn the “sinner” that they may loose their salvation as the New Testament would seem to suggest in different places, whiles the “sinner” will also strongly hold to the libertine stance of “there is no condemnation for me” also found in so many other places in the NT.

How to resolve it? Challenge the assumptions.

The Assumptions

One of the greatest achievements of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century was to put grace front and center of the Christian life and doctrine, and we can all be thankful for that. However, this achievement was not without a fair amount of “demonization” of 1st century Judaism by interpreting the letters of Paul in a certain angle.

The Roman Catholic church had taken up the payment of penances and indulgences as a means of giving one’s favourite dead grandmother a quick passport to heaven instead of her spending a few hundred years in purgatory (after all who doesn’t love their adoring grandmother). This practice became an issue of concern to Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other leaders of the protest movement, and to buttress their arguments against an obviously wrong practice, they harnessed Paul’s writings on grace against law to finally break away from the Catholic church. In this scheme of things, the Roman Catholic church were cast as Paul’s 1st century “Judaizers” who thrived by “works” aka penances and indulgences, whiles they the reformers represented Paul, wielding one thing only – grace. The rest as they say is history.

Unfortunately this has coloured the way a lot of us read the Old but especially the New Testament, and even the gospel itself has been reduced to a question of grace as opposed to what it is about – that Jesus is Lord of the world.

What the past century is teaching us though is that Judaism was not quite the “works” religion that we thought it was (or at least not as defined by the Reformation). And in fact if we are to pay better attention, we might realize that Christianity and 1st century Judaism have a lot more in common, and maybe we have been asking the wrong question about salvation being lost or not for quite a while.

The Reality – Grace In the Old Testament

A closer attention to the Torah seems to yield the fact that Israel was a chosen nation by grace. They didn’t work for it, they didn’t have to pay any penances or indulgences to be a chosen people of God. They were chosen because their forefather Abraham had shown faith in God’s promise to remake the world through him. Simple and short.

In fact, Moses had to remind them how they become a chosen people: because he loved their ancestors.

Deut 7:6-8 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand …”

Deut 10:14-15 “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today.”

Do you realize the similarities between this and Paul’s statements about being chosen, being saved, grace etc not because of our “works” but BECAUSE GOD LOVES JESUS and Christians who are in Christ are also loved and saved?

Rom 8:1 “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

Eph 2:8-9 “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”

Eph 3:6 “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

These similarities should tell us 2 things.

  1. There is very little doubt that the principle of favouring a people because of someone else’s status before God is what runs through both the Old and New covenants and these 2 people are Abraham and Jesus Christ. In the case of the Old covenant, being born an Israelite was all it took, in the case of the New covenant, being born of Christ is all it takes.

  2. The point about grace is about election – who are the chosen people of God. An individual may be added to the people of God (aka saved by grace), but the covenant is not just about their individual selves but about God’s intent for the corporate entity called “the people of God”. In the latter, it is Israel, in the former it is the church.

Therefore if the old covenant only required being born an Israelite, then one needed to somehow declare oneself not an Israelite anymore for one to be outside the grace of God. I believe the same applies to a Christian. Once saved, they are indeed “under grace” forever unless they choose not to be.

The Caveat – Covenant Faithfulness

But the point of being the chosen people of God was always meant to achieve something beyond themselves. The point of being a chosen people was so they could point the rest of the world to Yahweh. To enable them do this, Yahweh gives them a set of laws to obey which if they obeyed, it will be well with they themselves as well as draw others to be attracted to this god called Yahweh.

Deut 4:6-7 “Observe them [the Torah] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’. What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?”

The above harkens back to God’s promise to Abraham

Gen 12:2-3 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; … and all peoples on earth will be blessed THROUGH you.”

What was the consequence of covenant unfaithfulness? Not that they will no longer be considered God’s chosen people (people of grace), but even whiles still being considered so, will suffer judgment, great loss and ultimately exile, as documented in Deut 28-30. Of course we know that these judgments did come upon them with the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, and the evidence for that is well documented in the stories of the kings and prophets.

What do we find in the New covenant? Jesus launches his ministry and calls many to follow him. He tells people that being children of Abraham is no longer enough, but rather following him is. Behaving strikingly like Moses giving the law to Israel, he also takes his place on a mountain and delivers what most scholars refer to as his Torah in the Sermon on the Mount. Even while delivering it he places down his warnings as well, just like Moses.

Mt 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Elsewhere in John 15 he says he is the vine, and his followers are the branches. But they will be judged if they don’t bear fruit.

John 15:5;16 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last”

The Answer To The Question

It would seem then that although the covenants may be different, the intended goal was and has always been the same. God chooses a people out of his love (grace) and not because of what they’ve done (works), and sets them on a journey beyond themselves to do WORKS because of his redemptive plan for the whole world. The same Ephesian letter says it quite succinctly.

Eph 2:10 “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”

Grace always goes with covenant faithfulness, and the disciples being normal 1st century Jews (and not 16th century Europeans) didn’t pretend about this at all even in the new covenant.

Its sad to note then that Martin Luther in his unfortunate attempt to demonize works, was actually in favour of removing the book of James from the Protestant bible because James said things like this

James 2:14 “Faith without works is dead”

That would have been a grave loss to the Protestant church if the other Reformation leaders had agreed to this proposal.

Salvation then (as put in the original question. Salvation means much more but we’re sticking to the above usage) is about inclusion into the people of God through the person of Jesus Christ. God has no intention of taking that inclusion away from you if you don’t exclude yourself. After all what shall separate you from the love of God (Rom 8:35)?

However, it is a recruitment call of those who are glad to participate in God’s redemptive work for the world. Non-participation, or false participation, will always go with severe judgment. The old covenant had it, the new is not getting rid of it anytime soon. Not even if Martin Luther wants to.

Faith of the Centurion

Recently I’d been reading on what the NIV appropriately titles as “The Faith of the Centurion” in Luke 7:1-10. This passage taught me a lesson on faith, and I want to put down my perspective of it as gleaned from this passage. Of course I’m only going to scratch the surface of this topic, since there are a million and one other writings on this most important issue.

The story goes of a servant of a centurion who was valued highly by his master fell ill. The centurion sends the elders of the Jews to see Jesus and plead for him to heal the servant. Jesus agreed to go, but on the way the centurion sends friends to Jesus saying

Lk 7:6-8 “(6) … Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. (7) That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. (8) For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come’, and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this’ and he does it.”

Jesus later expressed surprise at the faith of this centurion, telling the crowd following him that he hasn’t found such great faith in Israel, and when the centurion’s friends returned, the servant was healed.

I pondered over why Jesus said he hadn’t found such faith before, and what the Holy Spirit taught me I want to share here. I’ll call these the steps to faith.

Belief in An Almighty God

As a military man, the centurion was well versed with the notion of authority. He himself was “under authority, with soldiers under me”. He is able to give instructions to his soldiers, and they must be carried out, or they face the penalty of death. In the same way, his statements show a conviction that Jesus was a man of might and authority over the spiritual realm (and by extension the physical as well). In other words, he was God or sent from God – and the centurion considered himself unworthy to receive Jesus under his roof. Jesus only needed to give a command. This tallies with what the writer of Hebrews said about God.
Heb 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him

In this day and age of increasing rebellion against God conveniently named “atheism”, it is very important that any form of faith that can be considered Christian faith be first founded on the fact that there is an Almighty God whose will we must seek to do. I recently had an arguement with a professing Christian who had a lot of questions to ask about why Christians do what they do, and I had to remind them that if they did not believe in God’s existence, then no answer I could give will be enough to convince them. I believe I’m writing to Christians and therefore do not need to go into the intricacies of the existence of God.

Absolute and Resolute Belief in His Word

But say the word, and my servant will be healed”. Having established the fact that Jesus was a man of authority as he himself was, he goes on to tell him to just “say the word”. For us Christians who already express a belief in God, this statement is of unparalleled importance. It is the difference between living faith and dead faith, between commitment and lukewarmness, between the good servant and the unfaithful one.
Faith is not founded on emotions. It leads to emotions. It is not founded on logic. It leads to logic and wisdom – and is one of the reasons why Paul discourages arguements based not on the authority of the word of God but on logic. Faith is founded on the word of God, and our obedience to it. Heb 11:1 defines faith as
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” And this is exactly what the centurion expressed.

But how can we achieve this? We believe in God, but we’ve not seen him before. How can we be “certain of what we do not see”?

  • We are certain because he told us so. Ge 15:5-6 “He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them’. The he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’. Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness”

    Abraham believed God’s promise or God’s word, and God considered him righteous. Note what Jesus said in Jo 6:47 “He who believes … has everlasting life” – not shall have. In the same way by believing in God’s word, God immediately imputed righteousness to Abraham. Faith is based on accepting God’s word – very simple.

  • They say seeing is believing. But seeing before believing is not faith. Faith is based on what has been said by God before, and clinging to them then brings the physical manifestation of them.

Jo 11:39-40 “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone’. Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days’. Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”

  • What is the guarantee that the word of God is true? That what God has written in his word will come to pass? Because His word is truth. Jesus told his disciples in Jo 15:3 “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you”. Ah, so the word of God can cleanse us? Then know these as well:

Jo 17:17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”.

2 Sa 7:28 “O Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your words are trustworthy …”

Jo 14:6 “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me’”

Jn 1:14 “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

These expound emphatically one of most fundamental declarations of the nature of God and His word. You cannot believe in one and ignore the other. You cannot claim a belief in God but ignore His word or vice versa.

Confession and Appropriation

It is important to note that what the centurion believed, he did not keep to himself. He personally sent some elders to Jesus to plead on his behalf for his servant’s healing. Believing that Jesus Christ could heal his servant was not enough to save him – taking the steps to see that happen was.
This is the point where faith has an emotional manifestation. A genuine faith will always be confessed and acted upon by its professor.
Ro 10:8-10 “… (8) But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: (9) That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”
Note that v 9-10 are preceded by v 8, – “the word of faith we are proclaiming” confirms what we have concluded before that faith is based on God’s word. However, the residence of faith is not in the mind. It is in the heart. This is where faith and emotions meet.
We all know that it is emotions that drive us to do what we do. Remember, every decision is pondered in the mind. Once the mind is made up, we begin to act on our decisions with our emotions now taking over. This is how a Christian is able to withstand all the pressures that the devil brings against him – because he/she takes the word of God personal. We can’t begin to really experience faith in God if we will not allow it to take control of our hearts. How many references are there to people storing up the word “in their heart”?

Ps 31:30-31 “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just. The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip”

Ps 119:11 “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you”

Pr 3:1-3 “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the table of your heart.

I could go on and give all the listed verses from the small concordance in my study Bible (I’m sure a bigger concordance will give me almost more than twice what I have here) but the point is still made – the repository of faith is the heart. The word must be stored in the heart, which is the driving seat of human body. So faith and emotions are very compatible because true faith leads to action, but it’s foundation is the word of God.

Allow me to digress a bit here – faith is different from hope, which is stored up in the mind. Someone pointed out to me 1 Th 5:8

1 Th 5:8 “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation

Faith and love emanates from the heart and must be protected by a breastplate. Hope is in the mind. Also faith is here and now – it is an active thing, not something of the future. Remember the number of people Jesus healed because they had faith in him. He didn’t say they should wait for a future resurrection before they receive their healing. He healed them there and then. So even though something we may be claiming from God by faith has not yet manifested, continuing in the faith that what you asked has already been provided is what makes what your desire come true.

Jas 1:5,6 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God …. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”.

See another example of the distinction between faith and hope. Col 3:3-4 points out that by faith you are now in Christ, but your hope is to be glorified with him when he appears.

Col 3:3 “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”

Col 3:4 “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory”.

Most often but not always, references to hope in the NT are to future events of glory, whiles references to faith are to a present status of a disciple relative to Christ or His word.

Living out Your Faith

Although not exhibited by the centurion in our passage, I cannot close this article on faith without talking about living out your faith. You have believed God’s existence and believed in His word. You have stored up his word in your heart and confessed him with your mouth. Aren’t these enough? Well, I’ll raise a few hairs here by saying that going through these things guarantees you a place in His kingdom, but not an inheritance in it. Why? Because faith without works is dead. We’ve already established that saving faith does not depend on anything but repenting from sin and believing that Jesus Christ is Lord. Period. No rituals, no “works of righteousness” or “penance” or “good deeds” is required. It is free, by grace and by faith.
Eph 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

But there is a purpose for that salvation through grace. Interestingly it is stated in the same breath as this one is, but I can count the number of times I’ve heard somebody preach about it in the same breath as the one stated above.

Eph 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Tit 2:14 Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

The purpose of salvation by grace is so we can show our faith by our works – works which God has prepared way in advance for us. Note I didn’t say gain faith by our works but show forth our faith by our works. Works is the evidence of faith, not the guarantee of it.

Jam 2:14-19 “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, I have deeds’. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”

I believe this passage does not require a rocket scientist to understand, as my brother Odarno will tell you. However, I’ve heard some prosperity preacher massacre this passage beyond recognition before and I only pray for God’s mercy for him.

The passage in James also matches what Jesus said in Jn 15:1-2

Jn 15:1-2 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off ever branch in me that does not bear fruit”.

Note that the branch that is cut of was already IN Jesus the tree. This signifies one who is already a self-declared Christian, but who is bearing no fruit. Such a person on the day of Christ’s return for the first resurrection will be sent straight to the lake of fire, where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. My next post will go into more details on this issue of the faithful and unfaithful servant.

But what are these works? Well, they are simply works done in the love of God. In the same Jn 15, Jesus talks about “remaining in his love”. This love is the love given by God himself, and it is the same standard that Christ requires of us.

Jn 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love

Jn 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”.

Eph 1:4 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons …”

In all these passages, the word love here refers to the “Agape” love. This love can only be given us by the Holy Spirit.

Ro 5:5 “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Gal 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy , peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”

Well, I need not say more on this. If there is no evidence of faith in our lives, we need to look again at it because even the demons claim faith in God, but we all know their destination. And if our works done in faith are not motivated by the love of God, they become worthless deeds, and stand the chance of being called evil deeds.

Mt 7:22 “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Conclusion

To conclude, there is no doubt about the importance of works after faith. Rev 19:7-8 tells you explicitly what they are for.

Rev 19:7-8 “Let us rejoice and be glad and five him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean was given here to wear (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)”

The KJV says “righteousness of the saints” but almost all other translations have the above rendering. If you do not have any righteous acts to contribute to the garment, where do you think you will be? Your guess is as good as mine. Are you still warming the pew?

The Law and Grace – Differences & Similarities 2: Leadership

I’ve been looking further again at the differences and similarities between the Old Testament and the New Testament. One of these differences which I mentioned in my first post I want to take a deeper look at – the leadership of the participants of the covenants.

In my previous submission I sought to establish that Christians are the modern day equivalent of Levites, and our high priest is Christ himself.

1 Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Rev 1:5-6 To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made use to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Heb 4:16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Interestingly, this promise was given to the Israelite people as well in Ex 19:5-6

Ex 19:5-6 Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

The difference between the two however is in the actualization of this promise. In the OT, only the Levite tribe was allowed entry into the Tent of Meeting and therefore the people could only approach God through them. Look at what Moses said to Korah the Levite when he challenged him.

Nu 16:9 Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them?

However, Heb 4:16 tells us that we can approach the throne of grace “with confidence”. And I Co 3:16 says we are the temple of God and of His Spirit. The promise of a kingdom of priests that the Israelite community did not fully have is granted in all it’s essence to every disciple of Christ.

With that established, we’ll come to the substantive matter at hand: leadership. Taking the Christian life to be a journey to a promised land (which it actually is in reality), it is important for us to understand that God is leading us in the same way that he led them in the exodus from Egypt to Caanan. The striking parallels of this truth are expressed all over the NT, some examples of which are 1 Co 10:1-13 and much of the book of Hebrews.

The leaders of the people of Israel in the Exodus was Moses and Aaron. The two represent on one hand authoritative leadership and mediation and on the other intercession for the sins of the covenanted. These responsibilities are also explicitly shown and assumed by Christ Jesus in the NT. As we seek to establish these similarities/differences, we’ll see how they should affect what Christianity should be like (and probably isn’t right now).

Leadership in the OT

God appointed Moses the man to lead the people out of Egypt into Canaan.

Ex 3:9-10 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.

When Miriam and Aaron opposed Moses’ leadership, God himself testified about him and the role of leadership that God had called him to.

Nu 12:6-8 When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

This burden of leadership of an ungrateful, unbelieving people was such that even Moses had cause to complain why God had made him lead these people.

Nu 11:11-12 He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers?

That Moses was also the mediator of the OT cannot be overemphasized. When he was ready to declare the decrees of God to them, this was his introductory statement:

Dt 5:4-5 The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the Lord and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain).

And again hear him repeat what the Israelites told him to do:

Dt 5:25,27 But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer … Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey.

The Apostle John confirms this statement, comparing his role to that of Christ.

Jn 1:17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came though Jesus Christ.

The ceremonial work of atoning for the sins of the nation of Israel was declared the duty of Aaron and his family, with the rest of the Levite clan assisting him.

Lev 9:7 Moses said to Aaron, “Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and the people; sacrifice the offering that is for the people and make atonement for them, as the Lord commanded.”

Nu 3:5-6 The Lord said to Moses, “Bring the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him.”

It is worth noting the division of responsibilities to two different people – Moses and Aaron, even though they were all of the same tribe of Levi. However, this was not the original idea of God. When God called Moses he gave him all the authority and responsibilities needed to lead the people of Israel. It was based Moses’ own insistence on his inadequacy that God provided Aaron.

Ex 4:13-15 But Moses said, “Oh Lord, please send someone else to do it.” Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well … You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you to speak and will teach you what to do.

Leadership in the NT

Jesus Christ’s leadership had two purposes which were closely interlinked – to lead us like Moses, into a promised land referred to as the Kingdom of God where we will be the kings, and secondly to lead us to God himself. The achievement of the former implies the fulfillment of the latter.

Mt 19:27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Jn 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

If there is one other role of Jesus Christ that most Christians will not dispute, it’s the role of of mediation – as already stated in Jn 1:17 above and reiterated in 1 Ti 2:5.

1 Ti 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

The role of atonement for the sins of the people which Jesus Christ again plays is better captured in the book of Hebrews.

Heb 8:1-2 The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a hight priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.

Heb 7:20 He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Heb 7:11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come – one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron.

So we see two clear things happening with the coming of Jesus Christ.

  1. A parallel form of leadership to that of the Law.

  2. A combination of both offices of leadership and priesthood (what Peter calls “royal priesthood” in 1 Pe 2:9) into one person – the person of Jesus Christ. The unification of leadership into one person was the same thing God wanted to achieve when he called Moses, but seeing his human failure, had to break that responsibility up into two to include Aaron as well.

Obviously, the calling of Jesus Christ is far superior to that of Moses and Aaron, though the form and function of it is still the same – to lead God’s people to Him and to His purpose. The all-encompassing, all-sufficient leadership of Christ is very well captured in Eph 1:22

Eph 1:22-23 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

This understanding of the role of Christ to the people he is leading (the Church composed of his disciples) forms the basis then for a very critical look at Christianity today. I believe that most Christians accept the fact that Christ is our priest and the mediator of the covenant between us and God. But most of us do not also fully realize the dimensions of his authoritative leadership of the church.

Christ is the head of the Church, and therefore that position cannot be taken by a human being, whether symbolically or authoritatively. His authority cannot be challenged, in the same way Korah could not challenge the authority and calling of Moses. He exerts his authority as head of the Church through the Holy Spirit (take a critical look at Acts 15). This understanding of the role of Christ was so well grounded in NT Christians that there is no recorded pattern of single leadership of any local church – all examples denoted plural leadership. That way the Holy Spirit brings them (the leaders) as well as the whole body into agreement signifying the will of Christ, not of one person as we have it today. No wonder strong rebuke was given to those who made such attempts.

3 Jn 9-10 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

I Co 1:12-13 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ”. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?

This is why I do not agree with the notion of man made authorities like Popes, Moderators, Presidents, General Overseers, Archbishops, Chairmen and co – whether they are symbolic or authoritative. They are all usurping the role of Christ exerted through the Holy Spirit on this earth.

The Current Situation

Today we have a situation in Christendom where our pastors have created their own “Levitical” tribe called the “clergy” and labeled everyone else the “lay” ( I don’t know where these terms are in the Bible). They have twisted the OT to put their brothers into “slavery” under them. I guess the “clergy” does not understand the definition of their role as per Eph 4:11-16. What do they understand of “… to prepare God’s people for works of service”? I hope the understanding is that the works of service are to be done for God, not for them. They have forgotten that they are to teach men & women to be like Christ, filled with the word and with the Spirit – so that they won’t be blown by all sorts of winds (Eph 4:15-16), a good example of which is the current wind of “prosperity” cum “motivational” teaching.

Unfortunately the concept of the “lay” has really made Christians “laid” back (I think the appropriateness of the word itself cannot be lost on anyone). And this has been so well ingrained in Christians of today that we do not see the need to even know the word of God for ourselves. After all as Isaiah said, we think that the word is “sealed” – only the clergy can expound it to us. We don’t understand that we ARE the priests who are supposed to be doing the work with our High Priest, not someone else doing it for us.

Is 29:11-12 For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read and say tho him, “Read this, please,” he will answer, “I can’t; it is sealed”. Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read and say “Read this, please,” he will answer, “I don’t know how to read”.

But look at what the Apostle Paul advised the Colossian church to do.

Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God.

Today, to have an intellectual discussion with a fellow Christian about the word of God is tantamount to heresy. It is as if we are afraid of the word of God. Our Christianity is only evident in the four corners of the church room. We don’t have the word dwelling in us, so we can’t discuss it. At best, we can only talk of opinions and mindsets, not on what the word itself says. In fact, Christians are not interesting anymore. Most of us are in it for the social value and fashion statement and have never truly repented, believed and obeyed.

Let us look at the word of God again and ask the Spirit to lead us into truth because we have our Moses and Aaron – and he is called Jesus Christ. No one else in any form can take His place.

The Law and Grace: Differences Between the Covenants

I find that one of the greatest confusions created by dominant Christianity today is the (un)intentional mingling and confusion of some of the foundations or truths of the covenants of the Law and that of Grace (or Old and New Testaments). I’ll try in this post to outline some of differences between them and how these understandings should influence our actions as Christians.

  1. The New Testament is based on what God “promised to our fathers” (Ac 13:32; 2 Co 7:1;2 Pe 3:4,9). It is based on unconditional promises made to Abraham (Ge 12:2-3;15:4-21; Gal 3:14,16) and repeated his immediate descendants Isaac (Ge 26:24) and Jacob (Ge 28:13-15) and also to David (2 Sa 7:11-16;Is 55:3-5). However after 400 years of giving the promises he now creates a new covenant – one based on a conditional promise (Ex 19:5) to his favourite nation Israel (contained in all of Ex 19-24). Heb 8:6 says the New Testament is founded on better promises. You see why?
  2. Both covenants had mediators, and the Old Testament’s mediator was Moses (Dt 5:4-5; Jn 1:17; Gal 3:19). However there is something unique about the New Testament. Because it is based on an unconditional promise, it means that one cannot appeal to any middle person to force compliance or fulfillment of that promise (it is self-maledictory – Heb 6:13-14,18). The delivery of that promise is based on the person’s own honour. God is forced to fulfill his sworn promise by coming down on earth himself in the form of Christ. And so Christ is the mediator of the covenant which He himself, as the word of God (Jn 1:1) covenanted with the fathers (1 Ti 2:5;Heb 12:24; 8:6; 9:15). This is what Paul meant when he said “A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one” (Gal 3:20). God himself is the keeper/enforcer of his own covenant through Christ – no middleman.
  3. The promises made to the fathers contained elements for not only Israel’s attention but for the whole world at large. God tells Abraham that “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. He reiterates it to Jacob as well (Ge 28:13-15). God tells David that his kingdom will be established and will rule the world forever. However note what Moses says in Dt 5:3: “It was not with our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today”. Ex 19:5 says “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession”. The Law was given for Israel and Israel alone to follow. It could be applied to a gentile only if they had been converted to Judaism.
  4. In the Old Testament a tribe was set aside as the tribe of priests, the Levites. They alone were to offer prayers and sacrifices both on behalf of themselves and the nation under the leadership of a high priest. In the New Testament, the High Priest is Christ himself (Heb 8:1-2) who once and for all performed the sacrifice in the heavenly typification of the earthly temple with his blood (Heb 9:23-26). This is in stark contrast to the Old Testament where the chief priest had to offer blood again and again to cleanse both himself and the nation. Also the New Testament considers all its partakers priests. All these priests must act under the direction of the Holy Spirit and display different gifts and ministries in an equal brotherhood as children of promise (Joel 2:28; Jer 31:34; Eph 4:11;1 Co 12:7-11). There is no division between so called “clergy” and “laity” (1 Pe 2:4-5; 9-10) as this is just an attempt by self-serving men to use OT priesthood to confuse and therefore gain control over their fellow NT brothers (Gal 4:21-31). “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come – one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?” (Heb 7:11). No wonder Gal 5:1 says “do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery“.
  5. In the Old Testament tithes were paid to the Levitical priesthood and they alone had the right to determine what to do with it – “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting” (Nu 18:21,24;Mal 3:8). Abraham paid his tithe to Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God (Ge 14:18-20). Tithing began before the Law was given and the first instance of it was not to a Levite, for they did not exist then. However, in the Law God redirected it to be paid to them. The New Testament, founded on the “promises to the fathers” and not on the Law requires that we pay our tithe to our High Priest whose priesthood is “of the order of Melchizedek”. As Heb 7:9-10 says, even Levi can be considered to have paid it even when he was still in the loins of his forbearer Abraham. Because the New Testament banishes the Levitical priesthood (v 11), the already illegal “clergy” has no right to claim tithes paid by Christians to Christ as theirs. We as a “people”, a “priesthood” and a “nation” of and belonging to Christ have the right to determine what we want to do with our tithes, which could include giving “double honour” to the elders whose work is teaching and preaching (1 Ti 5:17-18). They themselves cannot claim “Levitical priesthood” and do what they want with it. I hope they realise that “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law” (Heb 7:12) and come to repentance. Our tithing as Christians is not paid to Old Testament Levitical priesthood but to the priest “of the order of Melchizedek” – Christ. Christians must wake up and stop being deceived by the so called “men of God”.
  6. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon men and women of God, such as his prophets, kings etc (Jg 6:34;1 Sa 10:10). In those times the Holy Spirit was an influence that came upon them to do the will of God. In contrast the Spirit lives with and in men and women of the New Testament (Jn 14:15-17;Jn 7:37-38;Joel 2:28;Ac 2:4;Eph 5:18). That is why Paul says we individually are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Co 6:19) and as a group are also the temple of the Spirit (1 Co 3:16). The work of conviction of the unrepentant person is done by the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:8), therefore the Old Testament experience of the influence of the Spirit exist for anyone who comes into Christianity anew. But the new experience of the Spirit must be felt by him filling each and every disciple. He is our only source of power to do good works (Ac 1:8), the seal guaranteeing our inheritance (Eph 1:14), the One who leads us into all truth (Jn 16:13), teaches us the mind of God (1 Co 2:10,16) and binds us together into one body (1 Co 12:13) . Works done without the direction of the Spirit does not and cannot please God (Ro 8:6-8;Gal 5:16-18). His indwelling presence in every believing Christian cannot be overemphasized, failure of which only leads to “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Ti 3:5). No doubt the majority of the church today is guilty of this grave sin, with orthodox Christianity the most guilty.
  7. The Old Testament had special days and times set aside for special events – Passover, Sabbath, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Tabernacles etc (Lev 23). However, all these were set aside with the coming into being of the New Testament, especially for us Gentiles (Gal 3:23-25). That is why Paul was concerned when he found the Galatians “observing special days and months and seasons and years” (Gal 4:10). The only sacrament of the New Testament covenant is that of The Lord’s Supper and no more. This is one reason why it is not a vital issue whether we meet on a Saturday or Sunday so far as we do not neglect gathering together to encourage and build up one another, and another reason why the early predominantly Gentile church decided to meet on “the Lord’s day” (Ac 20:7). However modern Christianity has burdened itself with all sorts of institutionalized Christmases and Easters and Lents etc. Observe that anytime God told Abraham to do something and he (Abraham) did something else in addition, trouble came out of such an action. Look at the trouble Lot brought him (Ge 13-14) when God gave a simple instruction – “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household …” (Gen 12:1). God promised him a son by Sarah, but being impatient he had to go for one from Hagar first and we all know how his descendants are suffering for that. Are we trying to write our own version of the Law? Now Christianity finds its “special days” hijacked by the world for it’s own pleasures and we are battling to explain to an unrepentant world the significance of our own self-instituted, non-scriptural “special days”. Santa Claus is going nowhere. We created him!

These are a few that I’ve discovered so far. Hope to flesh it up with more as the Holy Spirit gives the guidance. In the meantime ponder them in your head, and find out whether you are being “Lawful” or “Graceful”.