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When we make a proclamation we make it personal, so where the Bible says “you,” we say “we.” In other words, we are applying the scripture to ourselves. We’re going to do this, we’re in Ephesians 2:8–10, which is the theme of what I want to speak about tonight.
“For by grace we have been saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
I just want to outline the course that I’ve been seeking to follow. Before I came here, and even last year, I spoke to Don and I said I feel God wants to do something in this camp where we are now that will somehow open the way for revival to break out in Britain. I do not mean to say that revival will start here in this camp, I wish it would. Perhaps it may. But I believe that things can be said and people’s lives can be changed and so aligned with the purposes of God that a little fountain will be opened here which will flow out through the lives of you people to all of Great Britain. Out of that God can work something that will affect the destiny of this nation.
How many of you would agree with me the destiny of Britain needs to be changed? Do you believe God can do it? The song we heard was very appropriate, God can do it if we meet His conditions. He cannot do it without us.
I’ve heard many prayers for revival and heard prophecies for revival; some I believed and some I questioned. But let me say no prophecy for revival bypasses the need for us to meet God’s conditions for revival. Any prophecy that just suggests revival will come and we don’t have to do much about it, in my opinion, is deceiving those people, it’s creating an attitude of passivity which actually opposes the purposes of God.
Tonight I want to deal specifically with what I personally consider to be the greatest single problem that has troubled the church of Jesus Christ from the first century to the twentieth century. If I were to ask you to suggest what I have in mind you might give a lot of different answers. The answer that I will give you may surprise some of you but it’s my considered opinion, and it grows stronger year by year, that the greatest single hindrance to the purposes of God in the church is legalism. Some of you wouldn’t perhaps think that.
I’ll give you a definition of legalism. Legalism is trying to obtain God’s favor by what we do, trying to attain salvation by doing something to earn it. Another definition is thinking that we are earning God’s favor, earning salvation by what we do. I find the majority of professing Christians around the world today are caught in that trap, the snare of legalism.
I’m aware that there are other things, there’s what’s called antinomianism, which is refusal to accept any law and just go your own way. That, of course, is totally contrary to scripture. But according to my personal observation, in many cases antinomianism in peoples’ lives is a reaction against legalism. It’s legalism that’s prompted people to turn to antinomianism.
Now let’s turn to the scriptures. Job 9:2, Job asks a very important question. There is no more important question than anybody can ask. He says:
“Truly I know it is so, but how can a man be righteous before God?”
How can a man be righteous before God? If you study the answers of his friends, they ridicule the idea that anybody could be righteous before God. God is so totally holy and we are so unholy and unworthy, they just said it’s ridiculous to suppose that anybody could be righteous before God. But many, many centuries ago—we don’t know exactly when Job was written—God gave His own answer and it’s found in the epistle to the Romans. If you want to understand Romans, the key issue is righteousness. How can I be righteous with God? In chapter 1, verses 16 and 17, Paul explains this:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first, and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”
What is revealed? The righteousness of God. The key word which occurs three times in that verse is the word faith. Righteousness is achieved only through faith, there is no other way to achieve righteousness. Paul gives a little of his personal background as an Orthodox Jew in Philippians 3, and I just want to quote a few verses. Speaking about how he had been a very zealous Orthodox Jew, observing everything in the law that he could observe, he goes on in verse 7:
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith...”
That’s what we’re talking about. Not my own righteousness which is observed by keeping a set of rules, but the righteousness which is from God by faith.
And then he speaks about the outcome of that righteousness, continuing in verse 10:
“...that I may know Him [Jesus] and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
But it’s really the out resurrection from the dead. It’s not the final resurrection, it’s the first resurrection of only the righteous. Paul says if by any means I may attain to that resurrection. We have a kind of idea that the aim of the Christian life is to get to heaven. That is not the true aim of the Christian life. Heaven is a wonderful stopping off place but it’s not the destination. The destination is the resurrection. That’s when God’s purposes will be complete. While our spirits are in heaven our bodies will be decomposing in the grave. But Jesus died to redeem spirit, soul and body, and redemption is not complete until the body has been redeemed together with the spirit and the soul. That will be at the first resurrection, when the dead in Christ shall rise and we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. This corruption will put on incorruptible, this mortal will put on immortality. That’s where I’m headed, brothers, and that’s where Paul was headed. He said no matter what it costs, I don’t want to miss the resurrection.
I don’t think anybody will drift into the resurrection. I think it requires a set purpose, a set of the will, a commitment to live a certain way. But that is not possible, dear friends, by the religion of works. The religion of works will never get us there, it’s only the righteousness which is from God through faith.
The alternative I’ve already mentioned, it’s legalism. I’ve defined it but I’ll define it again. It’s seeking to obtain righteousness by what you do, by the laws you keep, the rules you observe, by good deeds. The alternative definition is thinking that you’ve obtained that. I think that’s even more common. I think our churches are full of people who think they’re attaining righteousness with God by leading a good life, by keeping the Ten Commandments, by obeying the Golden Rule. That does not give you the righteousness from God by faith. There’s only one way, it’s very simple, it’s believing. The gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who believes. For by grace we have been saved through faith. And lest we should begin to get conceited, that’s not of ourselves, it’s the gift of God. We didn’t have the faith to get saved until God gave us the faith to get saved.
That was so clear to me because when I was confronted with the gospel I really wanted to believe and I couldn’t until God gave me the faith. It was a gift. It came miraculously, supernaturally. And immediately He gave me the faith, I believed. Before that I had been deep in yoga, unlike some of you, or maybe like some of you. The big obstacle between Jesus and me was my involvement in yoga. I could believe that He was a wonderful guru or wonderful teacher, I could not believe that He was the Son of God. The moment Jesus drove out of me the spirit of yoga I knew instantly Jesus is the Son of God.
Paul’s reaction to legalism is very interesting. There’s one epistle in the New Testament of Paul’s which is generally, theologians say, deal with legalism. Which one is that? Galatians. When Paul wrote most of his epistles he began by thanking God for the grace of God in the people to whom he was writing, even though there were a lot of mistakes. For instance, in 1 Corinthians he starts his letter in chapter 1 by saying in verse 4 and following—and remember, from his own account in 1 Corinthians there were a lot of problems in the church. There was a man who was living with his father’s wife. There were people who were getting drunk at the Lord’s table. There was a certain amount of quarrel and division and selfishness. But in spite of all those things this is how Paul addressed them:
“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That took some faith, didn’t it, to believe that they could be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ when you read some of their problems. Paul believed for them.
And then He said:
“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
That’s how Paul started his letter to the Corinthians. But when he came to the Galatians, they didn’t have any moral problems, there was no drunkenness, there was no immorality. They were leading, in a way, very good lives—legalistically. But Paul was much more upset about the legalism of the Galatians than he was about the sin of the Corinthians. This is dramatic. This is how he commences his letter in Galatians 1:6. He doesn’t say a single word of thank God for the grace He’s given, thank God for all the good He’s given you. All he says is:
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
What was the problem that made him so upset; as we would say in modern English, hot under the collar? Legalism. That’s so contrary to our contemporary view of religion, that Paul was much more distressed by legalism than he was by the obvious sins of the flesh.
Let me speak to you about the carnal nature. There are various translations of the Bible today and many good ones. But I personally believe that there are certain technical words in the Bible you have to learn to understand. If you were going to study electricity, which I don’t understand, you’d have to learn certain technical phrases; otherwise you couldn’t become an electrician. I believe there are just a few technical words in the New Testament which you have to understand or you don’t really understand the book. One of them is the phrase “the flesh.” I say this because the NIV, which in many ways is an excellent translation, tends to translate it “sinful nature.” In my opinion that obscures what Paul is saying. You have to learn to understand what Paul means by “the flesh.” It is a technical word that is essential to understand if you’re really going to appreciate the truth of the gospel. The flesh, as I understand it, is the nature that every one of us has inherited by descent from Adam. And remember, Adam had no descendants until he was a rebel. Every descendant born from Adam has in him the nature of a rebel. That’s the nature of the flesh. Paul sometimes uses the word flesh just to mean the fleshly body that we’re in. You have to discern which is his meaning. But when he talks in these passages he’s talking about the nature that we inherited as descendants of Adam. According to the Bible, which I believe, we may come from many different nations but we all have one common ancestor and his name is Adam. Adam became a rebel and he didn’t have any descendants until he became a rebel. Every descendant born from Adam has in him the Adamic nature of the rebel, which the scripture also calls the old man or the old Adam.
You need to understand the nature of the flesh. In English we do have the word fleshly but it’s not usually used in the Bible. What is the word that’s used in the Bible corresponding as an adjective to the noun flesh? Carnal. If you know anything about the romance languages, all of them have a word there for meat or flesh which is directly related to carne, carnal. So, carnal is fleshly. I don’t object to using the translation fleshly but we’ve got to used to the phrase carnal that I think it’s better to stick with that.
Let me say something about the NIV. I appreciate much of it but its attempt is to translate the Bible into contemporary English. I ask you this question, how far can you use contemporary English and be divorced from contemporary thought? Because, contemporary thought is not the thought of God. We think in a very different way today from the people who wrote the Bible. I’m not objecting to the NIV, I use it often, especially in my broadcasts. I just want to point out to you that sometimes it makes things too easy. You read 1 John 2:17, the pride of life. It uses a whole series of phrases. The truth of the matter is, sooner or later you’ve got to understand what the Bible means by “the pride of life.” It’s the self-assertive ego in everyone of us that says “I’m important, look at me, I’m going to do this. The world revolves around me.” That’s the pride of life. Enough of that.
The essence of the carnal nature is this: the desire to be independent of God. My personal conviction is that when God has finished what He’s doing and this age and maybe the next age comes to a close, there will be nothing and no one independent of God in heaven or on earth. Those who want to remain independent of God will have been confined to a place that Jesus calls outer darkness.
See, we don’t normally see the appalling sinfulness of the desire to be independent of God. God created this universe and as far as the Bible reveals, there are only two creatures that have ever wanted to be independent of God. First was a group of angels, second was the human race. There’s nothing else in the universe that seeks to be independent of God. The animals are not independent of God, the stars are not independent of God, the seas are not independent; they all depend on God. The root problem of humanity is this inherited desire to be independent of God.
I’ve counseled people many times, some have come from halfway around the world, seeking an answer to their problems. I often say to them, “Listen, travel will never get you away from your problem, because wherever you travel you take the problem with you. Your problem is in you, it’s that inner nature that desires to be independent of God.”
When Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the garden he said, “If you eat of this tree you shall be like God.” There’s nothing wrong in the desire to be like God, it’s a very good desire. The problem was they wanted to be like God without depending on God. That’s the root problem of humanity. The commonest method that humanity employs to achieve independence of God is by religion. If I keep all these rules, if I go to church, whatever it may be, if I attend the mosque, if I keep my five rules as a Muslin, whatever it is, that’s all I need to do. That’s not right. No set of rules can make you independent of God. The very desire to be independent of God, which is often expressed in religion, is the root of your problems.
Let’s see what Paul says about the carnal nature. You understand now what I mean by the carnal nature? That thing that’s in you and in me. Sometimes that rebel in you can be very religious, he can use a lot of spiritual language. But he’s still a rebel. Paul says about the flesh in Romans 8:8:
“So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
There is nothing you can ever do in your fleshly nature that will ever please God, because you’re acting out of rebellion.
God has provided a different way of achieving righteousness which is not by keeping a set of rules, it’s not by being religious, it’s by believing.
We’re so used, in the Protestant world, to this that we don’t realize how amazing that statement is. It’s one of the most astonishing statements in the Bible. What I’m teaching I believe is doctrine that has been theoretically accepted by the true church through all ages, but today the majority of professing Christians, including Charismatics, have no real concept of the doctrine that they’re supposed to be believing. We talk about saved by faith or justified by faith but we don’t know what we’re talking about. In a way what I’m fighting tonight is ignorance. I have to say in a loving way some of you people are ignorant. Forgive me, but it’s true.
Remember, the theme of Romans is righteousness. In Romans 3:20:
“Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh [that means no human being, no natural personality] will be justified or accounted righteous in the sight of God; for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
Wherever you read in the New Testament “law,” in most places the word “the” has been put in by translators. I can’t go through this but I would say in eighty percent of the places, and this is one of them. What Paul actually says is “by these of law no flesh will be justified.” Primarily he has in mind the Law of Moses but it includes every other law. No keeping of a law will ever make you righteous in the sight of God. After all, if the Law of Moses couldn’t do it, how absurd to believe that any other law will do it. The Law of Moses was God-given, it was holy, it was perfect. I smile at people like Baptists and others, Pentecostals, who say “We’re free from the law” and then they make their own silly little set of rules which they expect you to observe. Brothers, if we’re going to observe any law, why not the Law of Moses? At least that was given by God. It was not invented by Baptists or Pentecostals or Methodist or Roman Catholics or anybody else.
Paul goes on in Romans 3:27–28:
“Where is boasting then?”
What prompts boasting? What is it that makes us want to boast in one word? Pride. See what we’re dealing with? See the root problem? It’s pride. It expresses itself in religion. Religion is pride’s way of saying “I don’t need God, I’ve got my own set of rules. I do things my way, I follow the rules of my church.” That’s boasting. Paul says the righteousness that comes by faith excludes all possibility of boasting, we’re left nothing to boast of.
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified [or accounted righteous before God] by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”
Faith apart from the deeds of the law. It is not faith plus the law, it is faith and faith alone. You’ve heard, I’m sure, the Latin phrase that was used by the Reformers, Sola fide, which means by faith alone. Many of them gave their lives for those two words. This is not a little issue, it’s something that the devil will contest with all the ferocity he’s capable of because he knows if we can grasp it, he’s defeated.
Let’s go on a little in Romans 4. We come to the most amazing statement in Romans 4, this is still the same theme but Paul goes to the example of Abraham, who’s the father of all who believe, and he considers how Abraham was justified. It says beginning at verse 1:
“What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about...”
You understand, works lead to boasting.
“...but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’”
It wasn’t what he did, it was believing. He is the father of all.
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”
Now listen to this because this is the most breathtaking statement:
“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness...”
What’s the first thing you have to do if your faith is to be accounted as righteousness? You have to stop working. “To him who does not work.” You’ve got to come to the end of every attempt to earn righteousness with God by what you do. If you haven’t come there you’ve never really entered into the provision of God through the gospel. I would suppose there are probably fifty percent of you here tonight, that’s just my guess, who have never actually come to the place where you’ve said there is nothing I can do to earn God’s favor to achieve righteousness. In fact, I have to stop trying. Can you receive that? “To him who does not work, his faith is counted for righteousness.” As long as you’re working, trying, your faith is not counted for righteousness. It’s not faith plus works, it’s faith alone.
Faith is followed by works but that’s a separate issue.
If you say to me, and it’s a very reasonable question, Brother Prince, if I’m not made righteous by keeping a set of rules, then how am I made righteous? What is the way of righteousness that the New Testament describes? It’s stated very simply in Romans. Would you believe it’s in Romans? See what the theme of Romans is. Romans 8:14:
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
And the word sons there is mature sons, not children but mature sons. So, what is the mark of being a son of God? How does a son of God live? By keeping a set of rules? No. But by being led by the Holy Spirit. It’s a continuing present tense. As many as are continually led by the Spirit of God, they and they alone are sons of God. The only way you can live as a mature child of God is to be led by the Spirit.
Everybody thinks that that’s very risky. But you’ll notice that when you’re led by the Spirit you’re not independent. See the difference? You’re depending on the Holy Spirit moment by moment. There’s a song we used to sing, “Moment by moment I’m kept in His love.” That’s the Christian life, it’s moment by moment being led by the Holy Spirit.
And, you can’t have it both ways. It’s either one or the other. It’s either working for your own righteousness or being led by the Holy Spirit. You have to decide which you’re going to do. Galatians 5:16 says:
“I say then, walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
Brothers and sisters, let me tell you the remedy for lust is not a set of rules. The more you fight lust the more power lust has over you. I must not lust, I must not think this way, I must not look at those pictures, I must not, I must not, I must not. The more you say I must not, the more power it has over you. It dominates your thinking. The solution is walk in the Spirit.
Then Paul goes on to say in verse 17:
“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
Remember that? The fleshly nature and the Holy Spirit are in opposition to one another, they will not work together.
Then Paul goes on to say:
“But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.”
So which way do you want it? You cannot have it both ways. You cannot be under the law and at the same time be led by the Spirit. You have to make a choice. The attitude of most Christians that I know is it’s awfully risky to trust the Holy Spirit. Can I really trust the Holy Spirit to lead me? Well let me tell you some of the things the Holy Spirit will do for you. Let me say, first of all, just a little picture. The relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Bible. This is a personal image that I use, it may not affect you, but for me the Bible is like a piano. It’s got a fixed number of books, a fixed number of chapters, it’s complete from beginning to end. And so is a piano, it’s got certain white notes, certain black notes, certain octaves, and pedals. But, it doesn’t produce music. When I was unsaved, for me reading the Bible was like looking at a piano that had no pianist. Nothing came out of it. But once a pianist comes there is no limit to what he can produce, it’s infinite. Who’s the pianist? The Holy Spirit, that’s right. It’s wonderful to have a piano, it’s wonderful to have a Bible and carry it around, especially a big one! Especially if it’s got a lot of notes. But without the Holy Spirit you’ve got a piano with no music. You see? You’re dependent on the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that embarrassing? You can’t do without Him. There’s no substitute for Him.
Let me tell you what the Holy Spirit will do for you. In relationship to the Word of God, three things: number one, He will direct you to the Word of God. How many of you know that when you’re really born again of the Spirit you have an insatiable appetite for one thing; which is, the Word of God. Who gives you that appetite? The Holy Spirit. Don’t be afraid, there’s no conflict between the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
Number two, the Holy Spirit will interpret the Word of God for you. You need Him, you cannot understand the Word of God without the Holy Spirit. Listen, there’s so many of my books out back there I don’t know how many there are. But if you were reading one of my books and you came across a passage which you didn’t really understand—which I could well believe could happen—and I happened to be here, what would be the sensible thing to do? Come and ask me. The Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible. All scripture is given by inspiration of God. If you want to know what the Bible means, ask the author. He’ll tell you. Don’t rely on preachers and don’t rely on churches. If the preacher is anointed by the Spirit then the Spirit will teach you. But don’t just accept doctrine without the Holy Spirit.
Number three, the Holy Spirit will show you how to apply God’s Word. There’s lots of things in the Bible that are rather obscure. We don’t know exactly what they mean but the Holy Spirit is the interpreter, He will show you how to apply it.
I want to say these three things, please understand I believe in the Bible. I believe it’s essential for the Christian life. I believe it’s totally authoritative. But, I also believe in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will direct you to God’s Word, He will interpret God’s Word, and He will show you how to apply God’s Word. If you’ve got a Bible you need the Holy Spirit. It’s not an option. Cultivate it, make friends with Him. He’s a person. He’s not just a half a phrase at the end of the Apostle’s Creed. He’s not a theological abstraction. He’s a person just as much as God the Father is a person and God the Son is a person. God the Spirit is a person. You’ll never get a better friend in life than the Holy Spirit.
Let me tell you two things the Holy Spirit will never lead you to do. He will never lead you to do anything contrary to scripture because He’s the author of scripture, He never contradicts Himself. That’s one reason why you need to live with your Bible, to check your leadings. Are they really from the Holy Spirit? If they’re not consistent with scripture they are not from the Holy Spirit.
Number two, the Holy Spirit will never lead you to do anything contrary to His own nature. His nature is holy. So don’t be afraid of the Holy Spirit. It’s a big risk but it’s a much bigger risk not to seek the Holy Spirit. After all, the Christian life is lived by faith. I mean, there’s no way of living the life of a Christian without risks.
A woman said to me once, “If I really knew this was God, I’d do it.” I said if you really knew, you wouldn’t need faith.
I’ve given an example many times, some of you may have heard it. The difference between a set of rules and the Holy Spirit. The example is this, you’ve got to find your way to a certain destination. You’ve never been there before. You’ve got two alternatives. One is a map, the other is a personal guide. I always picture this young graduate from some university who’s taken his degrees and is pretty pleased with himself. God says to him, “Which do you want, the map or the guide?” He says, “I’m pretty well educated and I’ve got a good understanding. Give me the map. I know how to read a map.” So, off he goes, the way is clear, the sun is shining, the birds are singing. He says, “This is a piece of cake!” But about thirty-six hours later it’s dark, it’s raining, he’s in the middle of a forest and he doesn’t know whether he’s facing north, south, east or west. A gentle voice says to him, “Can I help you?” “Oh Holy Spirit, I need you.” So the Holy Spirit takes him by the hand, leads him out of the forest, puts him on the road, they go off again. After a while he says to himself, “Well, I was pretty dumb. I could have made it on my own, I didn’t really need to get so nervous.” He turns around and the personal guide is no longer there. He says, “I’ll go on.” About forty-eight hours later do you know where he is? He’s in the middle of a bog and every step he takes he’s sinking deeper. A gentle voice says to him, “Perhaps you need me now.” “Oh Holy Spirit, pull me out of this.” And off they go again. Then he turns to his guide and says, “Listen, you know, I’ve got a map here, maybe that would help.” The Holy Spirit says, “I don’t need the map, I know the way. Besides, I’m the one who made the map.” Then he can begin to interpret the map to you, explain to you. You see? Without the Holy Spirit the map will only get you into the bog.
Now you say we don’t need law. Oh yes we do but we need to understand what law will do for us and what it will not do for us. When I talk about law I’m talking about rules. It may be government law, it may be church law, it may be a set of rules of a denomination or a congregation or whatever. Law has two functions, and I’m not saying only two functions. First of all, it defines and restrains evil. It sets boundaries. You see, with the breakdown of law in Britain today the boundaries are all being abolished. There’s really no limit to what people can do. So we need law but it doesn’t make us righteous.
Secondly, law enables people to live together in harmony. If there were no law we couldn’t live together. Just taking the traffic rules, here in England we drive on the left side, in America they drive on the right side. It doesn’t matter too much which side you drive on but if you don’t know which side people are driving on you’re going to be in trouble. That’s just a simple example. If you’re going to live together with people you’re going to have to keep certain simple rules. If you’re a family, the father of the family is obligated to make certain simple rules about the time the children go to bed, about the way they put away their toys, all sorts of things. I am not against rules, I’m all in favor of rules if they’re sensible. All I’m saying is rules don’t make you righteous.
Let’s talk for a moment about the rules of church, denominations. I am not against them. If you belong to a church or a denomination, I think you should respect and obey its rules. If you can’t do that you probably shouldn’t belong in it. But, they do not make you righteous. Most church rules, and there could be exceptions, don’t really deal with the basic issues, they deal with secondary issues. They leave you the impression if I keep these rules that’s all I need to do. That’s where they’re so deceptive.
Let me give you a simple example out of the sermon on the mount, the beatitudes. I’ll just select six. Jesus said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit...”
Do church rules make you poor in spirit? They’ve got nothing to do with it.
“Blessed are the meek...”
How many church rules produce meekness?
“Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness...”
Do the rules of a church make you hungry and thirty for righteousness?
“Blessed are the merciful...”
Most church rules don’t demand mercy. Some may do.
“Blessed are the pure in heart...”
Church rules cannot make you pure in heart.
“Blessed are the peacemakers...”
Generally speaking, the churches with the most rules have the most fights. Is that true? You take, and I’m not going to name any of them, you take the really legalistic groups. Well, I’ll mention some. The Brethren, the Baptists, to take only two. I’m not against either. You can’t count the number of divisions that have taken place in either of those groups. Why? Because of their rules. They attach everything to their rules. And when you’re living by rules you’ve got to keep on making more and more rules. Well, Moses made ten but a lot of churches have a lot more.
My friend Bob Mumford used to pastor years ago and he said he had thirty-three rules for his church. One church member came to him and said, “Moses gave ten, how come you give thirty-three?” You’ll find out that if you make rules you’ll go on making more rules. Do you know how many rules or laws there are in Orthodox Judaism today? Six hundred and thirteen. Orthodox Jews, if they’re honest with you, will tell you, “None of us observe more than about thirty-two of them.”
Let me give you one other scripture which has been impressed on me. Just consider if church rules can produce this. Galatians 5:20. It’s part of a description of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It says:
“Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That is an astonishing demand, giving thanks always for all things. So you have a motor accident and your car is all beat up. Do you stop and give thanks for the car? Or, a member of your family dies. Do you give thanks? It’s not natural, you can never do it by a set of rules. No rule will ever produce that result. There’s only one thing that will produce that result, it’s grace.
See, God has designed the Christian life so that you cannot live it apart from the grace of God. The motivation behind most rules is this, the Christian life is pretty difficult but we’ll keep to our set of rules. But actually, God has designed the Christian life so that you cannot live it without the grace of God, you are totally dependent on the grace of God.
Let me suggest to you three results that normally follow from depending on church rules for righteousness. Number one, they will promote self righteousness and pride like the Pharisees in Luke 18 who went up to the temple. There was a tax collector, you know the parable. Jesus said in Luke 18:10:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.”
Tax collectors were outcasts from Jewish society.
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself...”
I want you to notice that phrase “with himself.” He wasn’t praying to God, he was praying to himself.
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.”
He said those words with bitter contempt.
“I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I possess. The tax collector, standing far off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ And Jesus commented [now listen], ‘I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified rather than the other.’”
Who achieved righteousness? Not the Pharisee with his laws but the tax collector with a cry for mercy. Basically, keeping rules will make you pretty proud, religiously I’m talking about.
Secondly, keeping church rules will distract you from really important issues. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, and they are really the Biblical example of people who live by religious rules, in Matthew 23:23:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law, justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone.”
He said it’s not wrong to pay tithes of mint and anise and cumin, but the things that really matter—justice, mercy and faith—that those Pharisees were so caught up with their rules about tithes that they were oblivious to the claims of justice, mercy and faith.
And then there’s the effect of keeping rules tends to have on us. It tends to focus us on the peripheral, the secondary issues, and cause us to ignore the primary. You remember what I said the first night, the primary issue is love. The goal of our instruction is love. Anything that deviates from that is idle talk and fruitless discussion. How many churches actually really focus on love? How many churches have rules which, if they could, are designed to produce love in the people?
I think you would probably agree with me that basically—there are wonderful exceptions but most legalistic people are unloving people. That’s not an accident, it’s cause and effect. That’s what legalism does.
What’s the alternative? This is a subject I could deal with for a whole week but I’ll try to be brief. The alternative is grace. What is grace? You can get some theological definitions. Grace is the favor of God toward the undeserving and the ill deserving. That’s all right, that’s theology. But it doesn’t make grace sound very exciting. Grace is something intangible but absolutely real and extremely powerful. It is a power. It’s supernatural. I’ve said many times grace begins where human ability ends. As long as you can do it yourself you don’t need the grace of God. When you come to the end of all your resources there is a supernatural resource of God that is available to you, it’s grace.
Law and grace are mutually exclusive. Let’s go back to Romans for a moment. You’ll notice how many times we have to go to Romans. That’s because Romans, the theme is righteousness. This is a startling statement. If you’ve never been surprised by this statement. If you’ve never been surprised by this statement, you’ve never really understood it. Romans 6:14:
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
Let me point out I was a logician and it sometimes helps me. Let me point out two logical implications. First of all, you cannot be under both. It’s either law or grace. You can’t mix them, you can’t have them both, you have to make your mind up.
Secondly, if you are under law sin will have dominion over you. Do you accept that? Is that a fair interpretation of that scripture? Paul said elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 15:56:
“The strength of sin is the law.”
That’s an amazing statement, isn’t it? I’ll tell you why, in my own simple way, because when you have the law it’s like something up in front of you, say a tablet with ten commandments. It’s outside you, it’s external, and you say to yourself, “I’m going to keep that.” What are you relying on? You’re relying on yourself. When you do that you activate the old man, even if he was dead. A lot of Christians begin in grace and end in law. They go back because they go back to relying on their own ability and their own efforts. When you do that you reactivate the old man who died when you came to Christ. I’m going to read those words again. I hope you’ll carry them away with you. Ponder them. See if they’ll affect the way you live.
“Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
I’d like to ask each one of you, you don’t have to answer out loud, which is it? Where are you? Are you under law or are you under grace? It’s not one and the other, it’s one or the other.
The passage that Ruth and I quoted said “by grace we have been saved through faith.” I think people in certain movements have turned that around and said “by faith we have been saved through grace,” but that’s not the way it is. By grace we have been saved through faith, that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. The faith that got us saved was a gift that God gave us in order to get us saved. Not of works, lest anyone should what? Boast, that’s right. You see, what works produce is pride.
I’m well aware that the Bible says faith without works is dead, James 2:26. But you have to get the order right. First faith, then works. Works are the product, the outcome of faith. If you have real faith it will produce real results in your life. If there are no real results you don’t have real faith, you just have nominal faith.
And then a passage I read on Sunday night, I want to read it again tonight, Galatians 5:6. Isn’t it interesting how we turn from Romans to Galatians and back again? Galatians 5:6:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision, nor uncircumcision, avails anything [no set of rules], but faith working through love.”
So faith without works is dead, faith works through love. So, faith without love is dead. You remember we said that? I think we’ll say it again. Faith without love is dead. Say it again. Faith without love is dead.
Let me just close very briefly by dwelling for a few moments on the operation and the effects of grace. My aim is to give you an appetite for grace because there are no words to express how wonderful the grace of God is, how totally desirable, how inestimably precious is the grace of God. I’ll just take a few passages from Paul. 1 Corinthians 15:10. Paul is comparing himself with those who have been apostles before him and he says in verse 9:
“For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God. But, by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I but the grace of God which was with me.”
The word grace occurs three times in that verse. Paul says, “I didn’t deserve anything. I was the worst, I was the chief of sinners. But God chose to demonstrate His grace in me, and by His grace I am what I am. His grace was not bestowed upon me in vain, but by His grace I’ve labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I but the grace of God that was with me. Can you see that grace is something that’s with you? It’s not just a theological abstraction, it’s something infinitely powerful, inexhaustibly rich.
And then in 2 Corinthians 12—and I want to offer this as a word of comfort and consolation to some of you who have insoluble problems. And there may be many of you here tonight. You’re not the first one. Paul had a problem he could not solve and God would not solve it for him. That’s when it becomes really discouraging when you know God could do it but He doesn’t. This is what he says, 2 Corinthians 12:7:
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations...”
What was the problem that he was guarded against, in one word? Pride, that’s right.
“...a thorn in the flesh was given to, an angel of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”
Now this is my personal theory. I believe there was a satanic angel, a principality or power, something like that, that just had one assignment: was to make trouble for Paul. And the trouble he went through was absolutely unnatural. Every place he ended up there was a riot, he usually ended up in prison or beaten or being chased out of the city. It didn’t happen to all the other apostles. They had their share of problems, all of them, but there was something totally unnatural about what Paul went through. He said it was an angel of Satan just set on me. He had no other assignment but to make trouble for me. Wherever I went, he went and stirred up trouble. He said:
“Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.”
Not once or twice but three times Paul said, “God, get this angel off my back. I don’t think I can stand it any more.” He didn’t say that. Maybe he never would. God said to him:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
God said all you need is my grace. It’s never insufficient, it’s always sufficient. And to those of you who came here with problems and will leave with problems, and maybe you’ve prayed and fasted, just let me say God’s grace is sufficient, just as it was for Paul.
We preachers cannot solve everybody’s problems. Sometimes we can’t even solve our own. But God’s grace is sufficient for every one who trusts in Him.
And then he makes a most amazing statement. I tell you, I read this verse hundreds of times and I had to say to God, “God, I know it’s in the Bible, I know Paul said it but I cannot honestly say it.”
“Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
And then he goes on to say:
“Therefore I take pleasure...”
Listen to that.
“...I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
What made him strong when he was weak? The grace of God. Can you say that, I take pleasure in infirmities, in distresses, in persecutions? I don’t know that I can but I know that I’m a lot nearer to being able to say it than I was, I have to say that. Partly through observing my wife because she has had for several years various extremely debilitations physical problems. God has come to her help on various occasions, sometimes miraculous healing. But the problems are not all resolved. I have observed in my wife, and I say it in her presence, the increasing grace of God in her. Two of the worst things for her condition are air travel and sitting in meetings. I mean, if she had to choose a way of life, that would be the last thing she would choose. Many women would have said, “Well, God hasn’t healed me so I’m just giving up.” She didn’t say that. Why not? The grace of God.
Brothers and sisters, when you get to the absolute bottom, that’s when God’s grace is most gracious. He’ll always make it available to you, He’ll never withhold His grace from you. He may not solve your problem. Why go back to law? Why go back to a silly set of rules when you can have the grace of God?
I want to make it plain, I believe in rules but I don’t believe rules make us righteous.
Let’s see what Paul said in Ephesians 1 and I think that’s about as far as we’ll go tonight. Ephesians 1. You notice there are certain epistles of Paul that he alone wrote. Some were written by him and others but certain epistles contain his unique revelation. Romans is one, Ephesians is another. Romans contains the righteousness of God, Ephesians reveals the church. It’s a unique revelation of the church. I just want to read some verses from Ephesians 1, beginning at verse 3:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be hold and without blame before Him in love...”
Let me ask you, can any set of rules ever make you holy and without blame before God in love? It’s absurd. People who are living by rules have lost the vision of the calling of God.
“...having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace...”
Why has God been so good to us? Because He wants us to praise Him for the glory of His grace. We want to be a living demonstration of the glory of His grace. Brothers and sisters, when the going is hardest and the pressures are greatest, that’s when you really have a unique opportunity to give God the glory for His grace. When everything’s going right people say, “After all, I could do that.” When everything’s going wrong and you don’t give up and you continue to pray and to praise God and to love Him, you are satisfying His heart. He wants His grace to bring glory to His name.
And then it says in verse 7:
“In Him [that’s Jesus Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace...”
I want to tell you, God is not poor in grace. He has enough for everybody and plenty to spare. Remember that.
And then Paul goes on in the next chapter, chapter 2, beginning at verse 4:
“But God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
There are three past tenses there connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus and its effect in our lives. God, when we were dead in sins, made us alive, resurrected us and, don’t stop there, He enthroned us. All of that is in the past tense. Not future, it’s here and now. In Christ we have been made alive, resurrected from the grave of sin, and exalted to sit with Him on His throne. Now, could any set of rules achieve that for you? You’ll notice Paul says it’s the riches of His grace.
And then one final thought from Ephesians always excites me. Paul says his job as a preacher in Ephesians 3:9 was:
“...to make all people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ, to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places...”
To the intent, that means God’s purpose was that His manifold wisdom through us might be made known to all the hosts of heaven. Isn’t that exciting? And you’ll notice the word manifold in Greek is many sided. No two of us are alike. God never makes one person a carbon copy of another. And every one of us is a unique demonstration to the heavenly powers of the grace of God. What a destiny! What a destiny!
Brothers and sisters, how could we ever trade in for some silly set of church rules? Listen to me. Keep your church rules. If you belong to the church you need not keep rules. If you can’t keep the rules, don’t belong to the church. But don’t ever imagine that that makes you righteous. It does not. It does not.
I think that’s all I have to say. I just trust that somehow by the grace of God I’ve been able to give you some kind of taste of the grace of God, some kind of desire for the grace of God, some ability to accept the grace of God when the going is toughest, when your need is greatest. I tell you tonight God has given me a heart of compassion for every one of you. I know there are many of you from extremely difficult situations. Home situations, job situations, relationships situations. Brothers and sisters, neither Don Double nor I nor Yanker nor anybody else whose been on the platform can solve all your problems. But, we can commend you to the grace of God. His grace is sufficient. He wants us to be a demonstration to the whole eternal universe that’s up there above us of what His grace can do in human lives.
Ruth and I recently had a young woman working for us briefly who had been just about everything you could be. A prostitute, an unwed mother, a drug addict. She’d been such a bad mother that the social services had taken her child away from her. And, she got saved. I would tell you if you didn’t know her past you couldn’t believe what was behind her because she is pure and radiant in every aspect of her life. That’s the grace of God. Don’t cheat yourself, don’t settle for less.
Lord, what am I to say now?
I think I need to say one thing. There are some of you here tonight who never really fully yielded to the grace of God. You’ve never really let God’s grace into your life. It’s like He’s been willing, you’ve been waiting but through unbelief, through self-centeredness, through self-confidence, you have never opened up. You’ve never really come to the place where you understand that if you are to be made righteous, the first thing you have to do is stop working.
Some of you are good church members but that revelation has never come to you. And tonight I want to pray for you that God will show you that when you come to the end of everything you can do, that’s where His grace begins. If you would like us on the platform to pray for you to that end, that you may come to the end of all your efforts to make yourself righteous, and accept the grace of God, if you want prayer for that end, and that’s the only issue I’m going to raise tonight, just stand to your feet where you are. I’m going to ask the brothers behind me to come and join me on the platform. Remember what you’re saying, I’ve never really come to the end of my own efforts to be good and to be righteous. Maybe it’s a hard acknowledgment but if you want our prayers, wherever you are in this auditorium, just stand to your feet.
See, in standing to your feet one thing you’ve done is humble yourself. You’re saying really, “I know I haven’t been able to make it. I’ve tried hard, I’ve worked hard but it never worked.” Listen, if you’re ever talking about it, you’re mistaken. It’s not it, it’s He. It doesn’t work, He does work.
Many of you may need to seek counseling. Many of you may need to be instructed in the simple basis of the gospel. And if so, we commend you to seek out your pastor or some other person who can counsel you. But we’re going to pray for you now.
“Heavenly Father, we’re so grateful tonight for the people who’ve come to the end of themselves, who’ve seen that they could not by their own efforts ever achieve the kind of results that you offer them freely through your grace. Lord, we invoke your blessing now in the name of Jesus upon every person standing here, that your grace come upon them now. In the name of Jesus, release grace into their hearts and lives and situations. Situations that maybe were intolerable before but you will give them victory through your grace. Thank you for every one that’s receiving your grace by faith right now, according to the Word of God. By grace we have been saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus, for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Brothers and sisters, I just want you to realize right now heaven is looking down. The angels are astonished and they’re saying or thinking, “You mean to say that those people standing up there tonight are going to share the throne with you? They’re the failures, they’re the misfits, they’re the people who couldn’t succeed.” God says, “They’re going to be the demonstration of my grace to the whole universe for all eternity.” Amen.