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Difficult Verses 3: Revelation 2.4-5 (part I)

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Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place

 

Revelations 2.4-5 has been used to condemn and beat Christians up.  A lot of verses are!  The carnal nature of man is always looking for hooks of fear and guilt to control other people.  And because we read any information or text through the lens of our mind, we can find whatever we want in the Scripture.  This verse is traditionally used to say: the Ephesian church had a problem, it stopped loving God.  It didn’t love God enough.  It didn’t love Jesus enough.  Therefore, it has fallen, and needs to repent of this lack of love for God and if it doesn’t repent it will lose it’s lampstand.

Then the application is made: you don’t love God enough.  You don’t love God enough.  You need to change and love God more.  If you don’t God is going to kill you – curse you – stop you – hurt you.  And the only way to avoid God ripping apart your lampstand is to love Him more.

There are a lot of problems with the traditional understanding of these verses, and we need to unpack each of them one after the other to create a new lens to see this verse properly.

You see the most common way this verse is used is “get back to loving Jesus the way you did when you first met Him”.  Normally, this is used as an emotional thing: have the same feelings as you did back then.  I can’t disagree more with this understanding of the verse.  I have been married 17 years now, and I love my wife more than I ever have.  When we first met, I was so nervous around her because I fancied her so much, I could barely speak.  That’s great – but you can’t do 17 years of marriage like that!  In the last 17 years, we have had 4 babies, faced the death of loved ones, planted 3 churches, fought false accusations, struggled with different issues and problems.  In all of that our love has matured and grown beyond all measure.  To give that up for an immature, teenage love again would not be a step forward it would be a massive step back!

It’s the same with Jesus.  I love Him more now than 20 years ago when we first met.  Together, we have faced adversities, seen the sick healed, and I have found out more about His grace and goodness than I ever had.  I love Him more now than ever.  It may not be the full rush emotional feeling I had back then, but that’s a sign of maturing not backsliding!  Growing up means realizing that romantic love is more than an orgasm, friendship love is more than going out and getting smashed together, and love for God is more than just a rush.

Last week, Dave Duell was with us at the Tree of Life Network.  He did a men’s breakfast for us.  A guy was prayed for who none of us knew and he started yelling and screaming how much he loved God.  It was loud, it was shocking.  I have nothing against that – but it was not a sign of maturity, it was a sign of starving.  If there is someone who is eating regularly, and I buy them a bacon roll, they will say thanks.  If I buy someone who is starving and who hasn’t eaten for weeks a bacon roll, then they will make a lot of fuss and noise as they eat it and be over the top in their thanksgiving.  It’s not maturity that makes them like that, it’s starvation.  I am not against loud and not against expressiveness, and not against any of that – but there’s more to love than just an emotional experience.  True love is about commitment, loyalty, humility and service; not screaming, shouting and blood rushes.  The guys in that room who are in church every week, in living church every week, serving the church, giving to the church – they weren’t shouting and hollering – their love is grown and mature.

So if that’s what Jesus meant when he said return to your first love, he would be telling us to be more immature.  That doesn’t make sense.

So to find out what forsaken first love means, let’s broaden the search and see what hte Bible says about love.  In Ephesians 3.18 Paul does not pray that the Ephesians would love God more, but that they would know more about God’s love for them.  God doesn’t love us because we love Him – but rather we love Him because He loved us first (1 John 4.19).

So if we only love in response to Him… what then is the FIRST LOVE?  It’s not our love for Him, that comes second.  The first love is His love for us.  The Ephesians were working hard (read Rev. 2.1-7), they were serving God, but they were not serving out of a revelation of His love for them.  That sums up a lot of churches today – doing a lot, but it is not rooted and grounded in His love for us.

And there is only one way to forget and forsake the first love – to mix some law in with the grace.  To pollute the blood of Jesus with the blood of animals.  To stop preaching the good news of the unconditional love of Christ and mix in some rules and regulations with it.  To stop proclaiming His complete work, and start addressing that people need to complete the work with some of their good works.  That is forsaking the first love: that is rejecting the love of God.

That is what the Ephesians needed to repent of.  They didn’t need to get on their faces and try and work up some immature rush of love.  They didn’t need to weep and wail and try and force themselves to love God.  They needed to change their thinking about Christ and Him crucified, and realize that His work is complete because His love is perfect.

You see without that you can do good works, but they are not the works of Christ.  Putting a bandage on a sick person is a good work, healing them is a work of Christ.  Feeding a homeless man is a good work, praying for him and seeing a supernatural job and house appear is a work of Christ.  Counselling is a good work, transformation through the preaching of the Word and seeing people released from addictions and depressions is the work of Christ.  Leadership training is a good work, bearing fruit is the work of Christ.

You can only do the works of Christ with a revelation of the love of God and an understanding of the complete work.  You have to repent from thinking you can or need to add to the complete work of Christ.  You need to return to your first love: His love for you!

If not then the lampstand will be taken!  That’s not a personal verse, it’s a verse to the whole church.  The lampstand was the light in the church.  You see if a whole church forgets the love of God, it will lose it’s light.  Not because God wants to punish a church like that, but because you cannot put new wine in old wineskins.  It doesn’t work… the skin will rip.  You cannot put the new wine of the love of God into the old wineskins of the law and performance.

The Deception of Hypo-Grace

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Hi there,

As the pastor of Tree of Life Church, we are unashamed of the fact that we are a grace church.  Our heart beats with the sound of God’s unconditional, unmerited, undeserved, unending, unfathomable, unbeatable grace.  Paul said that it is by grace we are saved (Ephesians 2.5) and that it was the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 9.8) that led to Him making the monumental decision to become poor and accursed so we could become rich and blessed.

Now, when I read articles like the one doing the rounds at the moment called “The Deception of Hyper-grace” I am interested.  I am interested in what the Bible says about grace, and although the article was clearly arguing against what I teach and what the teachers who have been my spiritual fathers and leaders have taught, I still tried to read with an open mind.

Unfortunately, the article does not seem to start off with an open mind itself, but starts with the strongest of hyperbolic language.  Now I am one for using colourful, polemic language myself – I believe part of being a preacher and a teacher is to create mental images in people’s minds to help them grasp the truth – but tell me: is it open minded to start off by referring to grace teaching as the vomit of satan and a flood of the enemy?  Instantly, any opportunity for helpful and constructive dialogue is lost.

And the reason being is that it is clear as the article is read further along that the intention of the author is not to engage in a dialogue, but to put grace people in their place – as heretics.

Firstly, the author claims that the grace people are arguing that it is a religious spirit that would tell someone to do good deeds.  I am not sure who the author is arguing against or listening to, but I have been listening to those that teach the complete work and would be considered the leaders of the grace movement since 1998.  As the pastor of one of the fastest growing and most international grace churches in England, I have many of these speakers come and minister in our church, and we have for the last three years shut down our church and all gone to the Grace and Faith Family Conference in Telford.

I have never ever heard anything that even comes close to anyone saying that Christians should not do good works or that God’s Word should be hated.  That’s a false argument.  It’s what is called in debating terms a straw man: the author has invented an argument just to knock it down.  It isn’t what grace people teach.  If they did teach that the Word was evil and that Christians shouldn’t live right then I wouldn’t be interested in that message, and nor would my wife and family, and church leadership.

I have no doubt that the author could find an individual who goes to a grace church who believes that Christians should sin and that anyone who says “live right” has a demon, but it’s not what the leaders of the movement teach or preach.  And let’s face it – the grace teachers are not teaching in a bubble.  Joseph Prince and Andrew Wommack are on TV, Arthur Meintjes has hours of free teaching on his website, Duane Sheriff gives away millions of CDs.  The messages are there for this author to engage with – but sadly he hasn’t, and has resorted to what is essentially fear mongering to scare people away from the grace message without ever considering the message of Scripture, the heart of Christ and the love of God!

It is hilarious how the author then reminds us that Paul had to rein in the Roman church and say “What shall we continue in sin then?  God forbid” and now is frustrated that the church today needs the same reminder.  The fact is that the gospel Paul preached in Romans 5 is so outrageously good and shows that God’s love for us and favour on us has zero to do with works and everything to do with His grace, that Paul needs to remind the Romans that grace is not a chance to go and do all those sins because sin is destructive!

The problem in most churches is that the reminder to “sin not” is unnecessary because the gospel that is taught in most churches is so diluted, polluted with legalism and divorced from the truth that we are made righteous freely by God’s grace and have peace with God because of what Jesus did, not because of anything we did (Romans 5.1) that people don’t need the reminder not to sin because they are still being told law not grace.

The fact that a church may need the same reminder to “sin not” as Paul needed to give the Romans isn’t a bad thing, it is proof that that church is finally teaching the same good news Paul taught!  The author shouldn’t be decrying that this is happening but celebrating it.

Then we have the crux of the matter.  Two issues that grace teachers are teaching that the author has a problem with.  Firstly:

Those proponents of the hyper-grace message will tell you that since your sins past, present and future have all been forgiven, there is no longer any need of repentance for the believer.

Wow.  So the author of the article does not believe that all sins are forgiven because of Jesus.  When you plow through the rhetoric and name calling, and depiction of grace people as libertines on the hunt for religious spirits – the spew of satan – and get through the article this is really the big theological point.  The author does not believe that all sins are forgiven.

Now this is a big deal if the author is correct.  If the cross does not provide forgiveness of ALL sins, which ones are missed out?  Which ones are not forgiven?  If the source and basis of ALL forgiveness of sins is not the cross, what assurance could we ever have that sins are forgiven at all?

You cannot add to the cross.  You cannot take away from the cross.  It is perfect.  The Greek word for perfect means a masterpiece that adding anything to, or taking anything from, destroys it’s uniqueness and beauty.  I remember watching an interview with the creators of the Office (the UK version which was 12 episodes, not the American one) and they said they felt to write one more episode, even a brilliant one, would destroy the integrity of the series that they had created.  Even a good thing added to it would be a bad thing because of how good the thing was as a whole!  You may or may not like the Office, but I hope you can see the point.  You cannot add to the cross – even with good things.  Our salvation, our forgiveness, our righteousness has to come 100% from Christ alone – not Christ and our work.

If I sin tomorrow (those who know me would probably rather I said “when I sin tomorrow”), the confidence that this sin has already been dealt with on the cross once and for all, is the only basis I have to believe that I am forgiven!  My confidence is not in Jesus AND my flesh, not in Jesus AND my ability to live right, not in Jesus AND my ability to bring the sin to the cross, not in Jesus AND anything: it is in Jesus ALONE.   Only His grace has forgiven my sin, and if you think that is too much grace you have not yet understood the gospel.

It always concerns me when people say “the cross hasn’t dealt with future sins” because every sin I ever committed as a believer and unbeliever was AFTER the cross.  The truth is that every sin was dealt with on the cross because 1 Peter 3.18 tells us that Christ died for sins ONCE AND FOR ALL.  If Christ only died for sins once, then it is safe to say that they were all dealt with.

To call this hyper-grace is to fail to appreciate the beauty of the cross.  On the cross, Jesus became sin with our sin, so we could be made the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5.21).  He took all your sin, all my sin, all the sin of the millions and billions of people on the earth into His own body and died in agony.  Then after rising on the third day, He arose a life giving spirit and now can freely pour His righteousness, life and peace into anyone who believes.  It’s that simple.  It’s a done deal.

Sin is not and will never be a barrier to our relationship with God again.  Any sin you have committed, that you are right now committing or will commit in the future – that was laid on Christ on the cross.  The cross reaches across all of time and space and drew all judgment for sin onto Jesus so there is now no more judgment for sin – no matter if you did it yesterday or today or tomorrow.  It is dealt with.  Jesus was the propitiation not just for our sins, but for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2.2)!

If it is hyper-grace to believe that all sin has been dealt with on the cross, then guess what: I am hyper grace.  Hebrews 9.28 says that Christ cannot come and deal with sin again.  Why?  Because the original work was so perfect, so wonderful, so complete.  It once and for all dealt with all sin in all people at all times in all places.  It’s a done deal!  It’s complete!  It’s done!  This needs to be shouted from the rooftops and should not be muffled because someone misrepresents grace and says (without any Scriptural warrant) that Christ only died for SOME sins!  Ignore those who seek to minimize the cross, and preach what Paul preached: our hope, our life, our forgiveness, our healing, our power comes from Christ and Him crucified – and not our works!  Now you will have to make the same course correction that Paul made and remind people sin kills, but if you never have to clarify that, you have not preached the New Covenant gospel ever!

But only does the author fail to grasp the full magnitude and greatness of the work of the cross, they also fail to grasp what is necessary to benefit from the cross, saying:

Repentance, they claim, is the acknowledgment of a sin that has already been forgiven. Why put back in the ledger what has already been erased? So the reasoning goes.

So, the second problem the author has is that grace people fail to recognize repentance.  For the author repentance is feeling sorry for your sin and also – as stated clearly in the article – that repentance is necessary for forgiveness. In other words if you don’t say sorry for your sin – and say sorry and mean it – then you will not be forgiven.  The author leaves it to our imagination as to whether that means that the Christian who does not say sorry for their sin ends up in hell, or just a dark place in heaven, but the point is made: the author thinks it is wrong to say that sin is automatically forgiven.

To be honest, that point of view is so far from the New Covenant, it is hard to work out where to start.  Our salvation does not depend on our ability to say sorry.  That is a lie.  The complete forgiveness of our sins is based on His propitiation not our sorrow, not our repentance, not our ability to craft a well-intended, well-meaning sorry.  The prodigal son never went home because he felt bad for treating his father so terribly, he went home because he was hungry and fed up.  When his father sees him, he does have a well-rehearsed apology, but the father doesn’t care.  He is just so happy to see His son, He rejoices and killed the fatted calf.

That is the nature of our Father.  The moment we believe the good news that Christ paid the whole price for our salvation and our peace with God, He turns on the jukebox, puts on a happy songs and starts dancing over us and rejoicing over us.  He paid the price so we could be free and at peace, not so we could grovel on the floor before him thinking of the right words and hoping we were sad enough and strained enough for Him to find pity on us enough to let us into the kingdom.  That is a total under-estimation of how good grace is!  That’s why I called this article the deception of hypo-grace.

Hypo- and hyper- are both Greek words, and they are actually exact opposites.  They are both prepositions which mean that they go before words to alter their meaning.  Hypo- means to go under (a hypo-dermic needle goes under your skin), and hyper- means to go above (a hyper-active child has above average activity!).  The author thinks we have made the mistake and are hyper-grace, when the truth is that he is hypo-grace because he erroneously believes that grace is not enough: it needs our pitiful, half-hearted attempts at an apology and our fiery insistence that we will live right to activate it and make it work.

Did you know that Peter’s sins were forgiven before he even sinned them?  Jesus prophesied Peter would sin and betray him, but in the same prophecy (in Luke 22.32) Jesus also tells Peter that when he is converted (i.e. after the sin) that he must strengthen his brothers.  From Jesus point of view the sin was totally forgiven before Peter even committed it!

Hypo-grace people can’t grasp that.  Their picture of grace isn’t big enough.  The idea that Peter would deny Christ and seven weeks later preach at the biggest Christian conference that had even happened at that time is anathema to them.  Their picture of grace isn’t big enough.  They are hypo-grace people, and because their picture of grace is too small, they keep polluting grace by adding our works, our effort, our holiness.

Paul wrote to the Galatians who were trying to add circumcision to the grace because the Galatians were hypo-grace Christians.  They thought you started in the spirit and continued in the flesh – Paul said that was witchcraft!  Paul is saying here that if you believe that Jesus forgave your past, but that His grace hasn’t forgiven your future and you have to do that in your own work then you are preaching and teaching witchcraft.  That’s strong stuff, but it is exactly what Paul says.  That’s why I am raising the bar here and making this point.  For those of you who think that language is too strong, remember the article I am responding to started off calling grace people the vomit of satan!  I am just using the language Paul used for the Galatian church!

And as for Paul, the question we have to ask is this: was Paul a hyper-grace person – an abundant, more than enough grace person, or was Paul a teacher of hypo-grace, that grace was not enough.

Well, we find his answer in 1 Tim. 1.14 which says “And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant”.  If you dig into the Greek, when Paul says that the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant, the Greek word is hyperpleonazō, which translated means above-abounding, or overflowing, or overabundant.

Paul saw that grace was hyper.  It is more than enough.  It is above and beyond anything you could ever dream of.  It has forgiven you already, even for the sins you haven’t even committed. It doesn’t need your works, your sorrow, your effort, your strain and your passion added to it to make up for it’s shortfalls – it has no shortfalls.  Grace needs nothing added to it; it simply needs to be believed and received.

March for Repentance

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Yesterday I had the privilege of taking part in the UK March for Repentance.  The march ran from Hyde Park past Westminter Abbey and the Houses of Parliament down to Trafalgar Square where there were a number of speakers and prayers for the nation.  I phoned up the organisers of the event a week or two and asked if there was anything I could do to help, and ended up wearing a day-glo yellow-green jacket and helping steward.

This was not a difficult task because the crowd were very peaceful.  The hardest part of the march was carrying people’s bags, chairs and a large number of bottles of water!

There was a strong sense of the presence of God on the march, and it was remarkable how people stopped as we marched and looked at us and were very interested and open in our message.  I am convinced that there were more people at the end of the march than when we started.  The route of the march led right past the office I work in during the week and that was surreal marching past my office with hundreds of Christian praying for the people around, singing Christian hymns and being in the presence of God so strongly.

As always at these events we meet new people from all over the globe, and I met a lovely Welsh lady called Heather and her friend Steve who are involved in a prayer ministry in north Wales.  I am sure we will meet again and maybe help extend the kingdom of God together.

I will write a little bit on the state of the nation during this week and put on my photographs from the event.

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