The nation of Israel was bound together in covenant with God under the leadership of Moses. After receiving the Ten Commandments written on stone the Lord spoke to Moses personally and predicted that one day He would raise up another prophet like Moses who would speak the word of the Lord to the people:
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (Deut. 18:18-19)
This prediction of a coming “Prophet like Moses” was fulfilled to the nation of Israel by the coming of Jesus Christ. The late Grant Jeffrey wrote an excellent overview of this prophecy saying that there were “at least fifty elements and events” that were parallel, showing that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed a prophet like Moses.
Jesus was sent by God to speak the very words of God to the people. Jesus Himself said,
When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him… If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:28-32)
The words of Jesus are vitally important to the life of a Christian. As the previous post made clear, the most important set of teachings given by Jesus are those known as the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. These teachings became the very foundation of what it meant to be a Christian for the first few hundred years after the death of Christ, and were often memorized by new believers as their first catechism. They knew that just as they believed in the atoning death of Jesus they also had a responsibility to actually follow what He had to say. During His life Jesus had told His disciples…
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. (Matt. 23:8-10)
At the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, just before He ascended to Heaven, Jesus gave a final command to His disciples:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20)
The disciples were faithful in fulfilling Christ’s commands and in the decades following Stephen’s martyrdom all twelve of the Apostles carried the Gospel of the Kingdom into the surrounding nations, not only to Greece and Rome, but also to Britain and Spain, Egypt and Ethiopia, and even to Armenia and India. They taught about the Kingdom of God and they taught about Jesus our King, who gave up His life for us so that all people might enter into that Kingdom. They also taught that citizens of God’s Kingdom, once born again into the Kingdom, have a responsibility to live by the teachings of their King, a good portion of which are found in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus Himself had concluded this particular Sermon by saying,
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)
For the past several years the Lord has been speaking to me, personally, about FOUNDATIONS, through my own studies and even through the dreams I have been experiencing. I was particularly impacted by Hurricane SANDY striking the command center of the USA (Manhattan Island and New York City) in October 2012. The USA is certainly now (and perhaps always was) a nation built on a foundation of sand. I wrote about this in my post Prophetic Warnings to America.
But first judgment will come to the house of the Lord. As Christians we have the responsibility to be salt and light to a fallen world. We must demonstrate the reality of the Kingdom in our lives today by actually LIVING according to the commands of our King. Today we simply do not do that, as was highlighted in the last post, “The Anti-Church,” by Roger Hertzler. We think we “believe” all the right things about Jesus, but then we ignore His commands, smugly thinking that our eternal salvation is secure and that our personal obedience is optional or unnecessary. Jesus directly warned people who think like this when He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).
Why has the American Evangelical Church, and indeed virtually all of Protestant Christianity, so easily ignored the most basic and foundational teachings of the King of Kings? Well, I think it is because that is simply how we have been taught! Our theology is an out-of-control puffed-up mess. We have done our best to pore over the Scriptures with magnifying lenses and fine-toothed combs, trying to find out what we need to “believe” regarding every disputed fine point of doctrine and straining out every gnat, yet we have swallowed the camel! For Jesus, for the Apostles, and for the early Church it was not what we “believed” on all the various theological points that mattered most in the life of a Christian. No indeed! For the early Church, for those new Christians who had been baptized and taught the bare essential basics of “what to believe,” what mattered most in day-to-day life was how we live! And it is precisely “how we live” that is supposed to set citizens of the Kingdom of God apart from the world, causing the Church to shine in the world like a city set on a hill.
So how exactly have we been so deceived to reach this point where the majority of so-called evangelical “believers” live their lives in a way that is indistinguishable from non-believers? I think that much of the blame can be traced back to the root of protestant theology, namely, to Martin Luther the “Father of the Reformation.” He established a foundation that taught that what we “believe” is infinitely more important than how we live. He actually taught that how we live is completely irrelevant when it comes to the question of our personal salvation. By teaching this he ignored, and in fact contradicted, the teachings of Jesus Christ! Obedience to Jesus is not optional in the life of a Christian! Jesus was crystal clear on this matter!
Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying,
he shall never see death (John 8:51). If ye love me, keep
my commandments (John 14:15). He that hath my
commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth
me (John 14:21). If a man love me, he will keep my
words (John 14:23). He that loveth me not keepeth not
my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine,
but the Father’s which sent me (John 14:24). If ye keep
my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I
have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his
love (John 15:10). Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever
I command you (John 15:14).
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his
commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth
not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in
him (1 John 2:3-4).
The problem with Martin Luther was that he made the teachings of Paul the center and foundation of his gospel, and placed the teachings of Jesus on the side. If Luther did turn to Jesus he always made sure to interpret Jesus in light of what he thought he understood about Paul. But the Apostle Peter warned us against doing this! In 2 Peter 3:16 Peter said that Paul’s writings are sometimes hard to understand and they are easily twisted. That is exactly what Luther did! He didn’t understand Paul and he twisted what he said. However, the teachings of Jesus are NOT hard to understand, and they are NOT easily twisted! Jesus was a straight shooter, and He taught in simple language, often using parables to drive His points home.
If you get your basic theology from Jesus then the teachings of Paul can be understood properly. If your view of Paul contradicts what Jesus clearly taught then you need to reassess your view of Paul, rather than twist the words of Jesus. This is most clearly evident when it comes to the Salvation Theology of Jesus. To put it simply, Jesus taught that eternal life was obtained through an obedient love-faith relationship with Him. We enter into the Kingdom by faith alone, which is a gift of grace, but then our place in the Kingdom is confirmed through our faithFUL obedience to Him as citizens of His eternal Kingdom. Not everyone who enters the Kingdom is guaranteed to receive eternal life. Many will enter the Kingdom by faith, but then be cast out at the judgment after Christ returns. Jesus teaches this in the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4, Matthew 13, Luke 8), the Parable of the Dragnet (Matthew 13:48-50), in the Parable of the Vine (John 15), and in many other places in the Gospels.
Turning back to Martin Luther, we can read in his introduction to the book of Romans that his gospel was based on the teachings of Paul. Keep in mind that this intro was published and distributed throughout Luther’s sphere of influence in Europe during the Reformation back in the mid-1500s:
“This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes. Therefore I want to carry out my service and, with this preface, provide an introduction to the letter, insofar as God gives me the ability, so that every one can gain the fullest possible understanding of it. Up to now it has been darkened by glosses and by many a useless comment, but it is in itself a bright light, almost bright enough to illumine the entire Scripture.” (from http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/romans/pref_romans.html)
Luther taught that the book of Romans was the single most important piece of New Testament Scripture, and yet not once did it include a quote from any of the teachings of Jesus. The teachings and parables of Jesus are primarily found in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John’s gospel was written last and did not repeat a lot of what had already been established. John’s Gospel is a spiritual Gospel, but nonetheless it remained true to the earlier Gospels and to the Salvation Doctrine of Jesus, especially as found in John 15:1-17. Now take a look at what Luther said in his preface to the entire New Testament.
“From all this you can now judge all the books and decide among them which are the best. John’s Gospel and St. Paul’s Epistles, especially that to the Romans, and St. Peter’s first Epistle are the true kernel and marrow of all the books. They ought rightly be the first books and it would be advisable for every Christian to read them first and most… John’s Gospel is the one, tender, true chief Gospel, far, far to be preferred to the other three and placed high above them. So, too, the Epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter far surpass the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
In a word, St. John’s Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul’s Epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians and St. Peter’s first Epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that it is necessary and good for you to know even though you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to them. For it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.” (from http://www.scrollpublishing.com/)
Martin Luther says that the Gospel can be understood entirely by only reading the Gospel of John, 1 John, 1 Peter, and Paul’s Epistles. Luther says that this is “all that is necessary and good for you to know even though you were never to see or hear any other book.” But this eliminates the Sermon on the Mount! Jesus Himself said that the true foundation for citizens of the Kingdom of God was found in obeying the commandments of the Sermon on the Mount!
Luther’s understanding of the Gospel is without a solid foundation. No wonder that Protestantism is splintered into a million pieces! No wonder most evangelical protestants today ignore what Jesus actually taught, thinking their eternal life is guaranteed by “belief alone”! Now I understand why Jesus predicted many unfaithful servants perishing at the judgment with much weeping and gnashing of teeth! (See Matthew 25:30) These aren’t “unbelievers,” they are “unfaithful believers” who are denied eternal life in the Kingdom!
The bottom line is that Jesus is not looking for “believers,” He is looking for “followers.” He is not looking for those who follow Paul, and He is not looking for those who follow Moses. Jesus is looking for those who will repent, change their worldly ways, pick up their cross and follow Him. Now THAT is true revival!