by W. W. Bentley, Jr
(author of The Simple Story of the Universe)

SOME thirty-six years ago God led me into a class of "Truth Seekers" whose sole purpose was to study the Sacred Scriptures and try to glean from them an appreciation of God's real plan of salvation for mankind. Most of us had been brought up in Christian homes rooted in many of the popular denominations, and in many instances we had to lay aside some of the teachings and interpretations of the Bible that had been passed on to us from previous generations.

The matter that troubled me most was the apparent conflict in the teaching of Peter and the rest of the Twelve versus that of the converted Saul of Tarsus who never even saw Jesus in the flesh. Not until we had studied together for over two years did it occur to me that there were two distinctive evangels: that concerning the Kingdom heralded by Jesus Himself and His Jewish followers, and the Pauline Evangel. The former evangel was based upon salvation through a combination of faith and conformity to law; the latter was channeled through the grace of God alone. This distinction, finally dawning upon me, did then, and does still, represent one of God's greatest gifts to me, and I have endeavored in my small way to pass this realization along to as many others as possible.

One of the facets of this "new" concept which has particularly kindled my interest was its relationship to the Lordship of Christ. The prevailing concept of Christ's Lordship differs surprisingly from that presented in Paul's epistles. It is this matter that I would like to discuss in this article.

It is common knowledge that the Scriptures often speak of God's indignation (wrath) and of divine vengeance. It would seem that this emphasis was carried over into the early Christian religion as a critical factor in its organization. This has continued to the present day.

Thus the distinctive evangel that Paul announced during his lifetime both to Jew and Gentile (salvation by grace from a kind and loving God) was obscured. In Romans 1:18ff Paul had spoken of God's indignation as a matter exhibiting the great need of the evangel of grace. Yet the church hierarchy related it to the Lordship of Christ and made it a motivating principle for Christian service. Similarly, Paul referred to God's vengeance as evidence that believers should not seek to avenge themselves on their enemies (Rom.12:19), while church tradition has generally presented it as a threat to the believer in order to keep him in line.

Under the distorted (cf Gal.1:7) evangel of salvation based on fear and works, to become a Christian one had to conform to a ritual, the first step of which was to acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, confessing sins, repenting and being baptized. The second step, to assure one's ultimate deliverance from wrath was to follow in the footsteps of the Saviour, accepting His Lordship in everyday life. For while past sins were washed away at baptism, it was inevitable that a believer would commit more sins during his lifetime, and even though he confessed and repented frequently, there would undoubtedly be some unforgiven sins on the Book of Life which God could use on judgment Day to condemn him to an eternity in Hell. No one was ever sure whether he was saved or not until that final day, so everyone lived a fife of uncertainty regarding his ultimate destination.

The Pauline Evangel, however, teaches us to acknowledge Christ as our Saviour, the only begotten Son of God, He Who emptied Himself and took on the form of a human and dwelt among us for thirty-three years, Who was humiliated and suffered an unmerciful death on the cross for all of our sins, Who arose on the third day and now sits at the right hand of the Father, waiting for the time when He will appear in the air and call "the elect" to meet and be with Him always. Our salvation is based solely on this conviction, not by any works that we do or any laws that we conform to.

These provisions, centered in the accomplished work of Christ, annul the Lordship-precepts prescribed by traditional Christianity. Christ's Lordship is not imposed to enhance one's chances for salvation, but rather it is based on a salvation already graciously gained on our behalf.

Nevertheless, those who have mixed the two evangels claim that the salvation-by-grace concept encourages believers to accept the philosophy of "eat, drink and be merry" because all is forgiven by the grace of God anyway. This is the conclusion that many might reasonably come to, but I would implore them to read on.

Paul's letter to the Romans was written to bring the believers of that day as well as us from an immature to a more mature concept of God's plan of salvation. The whole book is priceless in this regard. I had a Jewish convert once say to me, "How could one remain a Jew after having read Romans?"

There is one section in Romans that has a direct bearing on a mature recognition of Christ's Lordship. It begins with chapter 6, verse 1, where Paul asks, "What, then, shall we declare? That we may be persisting in sin that grace should be increasing?" In other words, we who have finally accepted Christ as our Lord and Saviour, after having lived a life of sin and knowing now that we have been justified in God's sight, should we now persist in our sins knowing that God's grace is unlimited, and knowing that through Christ's sacrifice, we are all justified in the acts we have done or will do in the future? If that is our attitude, we are far from maturity, as Paul explains in Romans 6:2-14. "May it not be coming to that! We, who died to sin, how shall we still be living in it? Or are you ignorant that whoever are baptized into Christ Jesus, are baptized into His death? We, then, were entombed together with Him through baptism into death, that, even as Christ was roused from among the dead through the glory of the Father, thus we also should be walking in newness of life. For if we have become planted together in the likeness of His death, nevertheless we shall be of the resurrection also, knowing this, that our old humanity was crucified together with Him, that the body of Sin may be nullified, for us by no means to be still slaving for Sin, for one who dies has been justified from Sin.

"Now if we died together with Christ, we believe that we shall be living together with Him also, having perceived that Christ, being roused from among the dead, is no longer dying. Death is lording over Him no longer, for in that He died, He died to Sin once for all time, yet in that He is living, He is living to God. Thus you also, be reckoning yourselves to be dead, indeed, to Sin, yet living to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. "Let not Sin, then, be reigning in your mortal body, for you to be obeying its lusts. Nor yet be presenting your members, as implements of injustice, to Sin, but present yourselves to God as if alive from among the dead, and your members as implements of righteousness to God. For Sin shall not be lording it over you, for you are not under law but under grace."

Finding that Christ is our Lord and Saviour means that we desire to walk "worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the realization of God" (Col.1:10). This is an attitude we most willingly accept because of all the wonderful blessings He has endowed us with. This acceptance of Christ's Lordship does not rise out of fear of His indignation, or of being sentenced to an eternity in Hell. It is the mature attitude that rises from an appreciation of the evangel of grace.

At the same time, we recognize that we are still subject to human frailties. And even though we are strongly motivated out of our love, affection and appreciation for God's grace, we fail and even yield from time to time to sinful influences. This is the human condition and is true of everyone, no matter what our views may be of the evangel. The question is, What is the mature concept of Christ's Lordship that God has provided for us in dealing with our everyday weakness and sins? Is it a Lordship established by a gracious, accomplished salvation, and is such a concept of His Lordship an effective force in our lives for making progress in dealing with our weaknesses?

Again, Paul, who says, "Become imitators of me, according as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor.11:1), leads us in the path of maturity. He writes, "Not that I already obtained, or am already perfected. Yet I am pursuing, if I may be grasping also that for which was grasped also by Christ Jesus. Brethren, not as yet am I reckoning myself to have grasped, yet one thing--forgetting, indeed, those things which are behind, yet stretching out to those in front--toward the goal am I pursuing for the prize of God's calling above in Christ Jesus. Whoever, then, are mature, may be disposed to this, and if in anything you are differently disposed, this also shall God reveal to you. Moreover, in what we outstrip others, there is to be a mutual disposition to be observing the elements by the same rule.

"Become imitators together of me, brethren, and be noting those who are walking thus, according as you have us for a model, for many are walking, of whom I often told you, yet now am lamenting also as I tell it, who are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose consummation is destruction, whose god is their bowels, and whose glory is in their shame, who to the terrestrial are disposed. For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour also, the Lord, Jesus Christ, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory, in accord with the operation which enables Him even to subject all to Himself" (Phil.3:12-21).

Another helpful passage from Paul on this matter is as follows: "We should all attain to the unity of the faith and of the realization of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ, that we may by no means still be minors, surging hither and thither and being carried about by every wind of teaching, by human caprice, by craftiness with a view to the systematizing of the deception" (Eph.4:13,14).

As we continue to "grasp" for maturity in Christ, we should not become discouraged by our human weaknesses and assume a guilt complex. Our course in the Lord should be to acknowledge our mistakes, and truly regret them, while continuing to praise God all the more for His grace and goodness. The recognition that we serve the Lord Who has dealt with our mistakes on the cross is truly an effective force in dealing with present weaknesses. Our aim comes to be one of glorifying God in everything we think, do or say because we know that in His eyes we are spotless, totally justified, and our destiny is with Him. This is maturity in Christ.

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