July 13, 2020

Works-Righteousness by any Other Name Still Stinks

By Chaplain Mike

Regret. This is the great demon conjured up by International House of Prayer founder and director Mike Bickle to scare Christians straight. The Christian Post reports that he gave a message on the subject to 27,000 young people at a four-day conference last week in Kansas City, MO.

Bickle’s message was first preached on Jan. 28, 2006, as part of a series on the millennium. (You can access the original by clicking the link.) In dramatic fashion, Bickle testifies about a life-changing “vision” he received from Jesus.

I had a very powerful visitation of the Lord when I was twenty-three years old—a long time ago. I am fifty now, and it was Oct. 1978. I lived in St. Louis, and it was a life-changing radical arresting experience—a trance. I was caught up, and I experienced it in the spirit; yet I was still on the earth, I was kneeling before the Lord. and I did not know what was going on. I did not know where I was, or what was going on, but I was kneeling before the Lord. I went to bed one night and I woke up in this experience. I am kneeling before the Lord, and I am looking into His eyes . . .

The Lord is looking at me eye to eye and says, “Saved, but your life was wasted.”

This shocked Bickle, for he was sure that he was a committed believer, full of zeal for the Lord. The pain he felt on that occasion was the greatest he ever felt in his life—the pain of regret. The vision was so powerful, according to Bickle, that it has molded his thinking ever since. More than anything else, he testified that he does not want to reach the last day and experience that feeling of regret.

That was the feeling and when I looked in His eyes, I was ashamed, and I realized there was no condemnation in the sense of we are forgiven; we will stand in His kingdom forgiven. We will be secure in His kingdom, but I was ashamed of how I lived. I felt the feeling and the emotion of it. It is biblical to have regret in the presence of God.

It is not, however, biblical to manipulate people by destroying their assurance through religious double-talk and by teaching them to trust in their own dedication rather than the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

Works-righteousness by any other name still stinks.

In his message, Mike Bickle drives home the eternal issues that are at stake and tells us he doesn’t want to “let us off the hook” like so many other American churches and preachers would.

There will be many people on the last day that will lose. They will have loss; they will stand before the Lord, and decades of their life will be lost. They will have nothing to show: no fruit. Nothing that lasts from a decade—a couple of decades—a month, or a year. I do not know! Beloved, there is real loss, but that is not the end of it. It is suffering loss. What I mean by suffering loss is there will be a real sting of regret. A real pain of regret; it will not be suffering like the unbelievers in the lake of fire—not that kind of suffering. But the pain of loss, and regret will be real. I remember that experience so well [from his vision]; I was in anguish in my spirit because I was face to face with the man who loved me more than I could imagine, and my answer to Him was, “I did not regard or esteem my commitment to Him as worthy of living differently.”

In advance of that day of fearsome judgment, Bickle encourages us to ask the Lord to “shock us now” so that we won’t be shocked when we stand before him. Go to the Lord now, he exhorts us, and ask him: “What are you thinking about my life? I want to know what you are thinking now. How am I measuring up to what you want?”

I can give you the short answer to those questions.

My life is hopeless. Always has been and always will be, especially in comparison with God’s perfections and demands. He knows it, and I know it, and most everyone else in my life knows it. How am I measuring up? Are you serious? How does the anthill measure up to Mt. Everest? And if the purpose in asking these questions is for me to learn that I need to clean up my act and “follow through” (Bickle’s definition of faithfulness) so that I will “measure up” to what God wants for me, what hope do I have of doing that? When it comes to faithfulness, I fizzle. Frequently. Faithfully, you might say.

Bickle tries time and time again in this sermon to assure me he is not talking about my “salvation” here. But in his view that initial transaction involving forgiveness of sins just gets me in the door. What really matters (and what will really count on the Day of Judgment) is what I do with my forgiven status. That’s what earns the big prize. That is what will get me the rewards and relieve me of regret. And what is my hope of winning Jesus’ smile? What will enable me to avoid those dreadful words: “Saved, but you wasted your life”? Bottom-line, according to Mike Bickle: it’s all up to me—my commitment, my zeal, my dedication, my faithful follow-through, my obedience.

Folks, that’s flat out a recipe for disaster.

When some Christian preachers aren’t trying to scare sinners into heaven by painting fearsome, heart-breaking pictures of hell, they aim their guns on the saints and blast away their assurance and joy by inducing fear that they will end up just “barely” saved, filled with regret. Let’s call this what it is: pure manipulation—stirring up guilty feelings and then using them to persuade someone to make a decision to change their ways. It is behavior modification. It is giving people Christ and forgiveness with one hand, and then slapping them in the face with the other hand while shouting, “Yes, of course God loves you, but if you are not totally devoted to Jesus with every ounce of your being, his searing gaze will burn regret and shame into your souls on the Day of Judgment!”

This is so foreign to the spirit and text of the New Testament that one would think the church would have left this behind centuries ago. However, it is so easy for gullible human hearts to imagine that such a project of self-improvement remains possible. And it is so tempting for people in positions of power to manipulate their listeners with guilt and fear. Therefore, every generation has to keep weeding the garden and pulling out the poisonous plants of works-righteousness and self-trust. Bickle wants us to think that the Biblical pronouncement “no condemnation” means something less than “NO condemnation”—it doesn’t cover everything in my life. The only way we can earn the real thing, the whole prize, a complete smile from the Savior, a “no regrets—no condemnation,” is by living a life of wholehearted obedience.

Nonsense. My only hope on the Day of Judgment for any positive outcome is the finished work of Jesus Christ. If God has welcomed me into his family by grace, if he is “happy” with me, it will be because of Jesus and what he did for me plus nothing else. On that basis and on that basis alone, there will be no condemnation on that day. Nor will there be any regret. Jesus will not frown at me and chasten me for wasting my life. At that moment, it will all be about him sacrificing his life for me and taking it up again. Period. It will be about his dedication to his Father’s will, not mine. It will be about his zeal to complete the work his Father gave him, not mine. It will be about the faithfulness by which he followed through all the way to the cross for me, the ever-faithless one. His love will be celebrated, not mine. His obedience, not mine. The Good News of what he did for me, not any story about anything I have done for him.

Get that straight, and there will be no need to rev up the troops with guilt-inducing appeals warning us about wasting our lives and having to face a disappointed Savior.

If you ask me, Mike Bickle may have had some bad pizza back in October, 1978, which prompted a nightmare, not a vision from Jesus. Any dream in which Christ frowns on his people on Judgment Day might be better chalked up to bad pepperoni rather than a divine visitation.

Or maybe he drank too much of the same snake oil he’s now trying to sell to a bunch of young people in Kansas City.

Comments

  1. Dan Allison says

    Right on! No one “measures up.” No one does “enough.” And there will be no “second-class” Christians on the last day. Sure, we should try to walk “in the spirit” rather than “in the flesh,” because that is better for us (and those around us) here and now. But on the the last day — which will really be the first day — it’s a wedding feast for all of us, there will be no shame, no recriminations, no guilt. Shame on pastors and churches who teach otherwise.

  2. God’s grace simply overwhelmed me as I read your post! Was raised on the hymn, “Nothing but leaves for the Master.” It has taken years to detoxify from that. I do know, that because I could not begin to measure up, is why the Savior came! I am Christ’s and He is mine. That’s it – that’s all!

  3. i’m sure i’m reading this wrong, but i sense some defeatism in this post. almost a, “i’m a mess and will always be a mess, so why try? thank God for grace.” from reading this blog faithfully i know that’s not the message you’re sending, but can’t help but hear it.

    personally, i welcome messages such as this. why? after growing up in the church i feel as though i’ve been let off the hook too many times. i’ve been told that because it’s all about grace, and Jesus loves ME soooooo much, nothing i can DO will disappoint him. well, i think that’s a bunch of crap. i believe the things i do, do disappoint God. i believe fruit matters. that’s because i believe the Bible and Jesus’ words are true. Jesus says, ” you want to know who loves me? you want to know who is IN the kingdom? look at the fruit.”

    i don’t want to go off Scripture slinging, but before we get too touchy feely and sing “just as i am”, let’s seriously examine our lives and ask whether we’re truly seeking Jesus’ or just resting on “eternal security.”

    maybe a bit harsh, but why not for the first comment! 🙂

    • What always struck me about the fruit is how they are much more attitudinal based, rather than action based. (Although one could quite easily argue that action should come out of attitude.)
      Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

    • How is guilt going to bear more fruit?

      • is this guilt tripping or exhorting?

        • i felt like mike bickle’s message was exhorting, and encouraging believers to have a heart that is responsive to him and wholly devoted. he said that it doesnt matter how many people come to your conference, how many people you lead to the Lord, its your hearts response to Him. i was personally edified and motivated to seek Him more diligently and obey Him without such reservation.

  4. Allen Rogers says

    You know. I’ve read your blog and read with appreciation your concerns, thoughtful criticisms and reflections about evangelicalism and generally could agree with the vast majority of it. Having read John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Life.” and understanding his passion for God and it’s practical expression in the life of a believer, here I’d have to disagree with you. He has a quote I found enlightening

    “Another riveting force in my young life—small at first, but oh so powerful over time—was a plaque that hung in our kitchen over the sink. We moved into that house when I was six. … It was a simple piece of glass painted black on the back with a gray link chain snug around it for a border and for hanging. On the front, in old English script, painted in white, were the words:

    “Only one life,
    ’Twill soon be past;
    Only what’s done
    for Christ will last.”

    …The message was clear. You get one pass at life. That’s all. Only one. And the lasting measure of that life is Jesus Christ.”

    I have two premises. One, God is indeed sovereign and filled with grace. Two, our decisions in this life are very real and can affect our position and standing in eternity. Those seem to be born out in 1 Cor. 3:10-15

    10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

    Paul’s admonition to “build with care” suggests that it is possible to build poorly. The example of the believer having all of his works burned up speaks of the possibility of living life and having nothing to show for it. I think the implication of the passage is that it is indeed possible to end up living a life filled with regret . I appreciate any thoughtful comments you (the Monk) or other readers would choose to grace my poor attempt at writing with.

    • Man John Piper is quite a pastor!!! I loved his talk about how cancer is a gift from God. Stop and think about that for a little bit. Cancer is a gift. When my Mom was going through pancreatic cancer treatment I gave her that sermon. Wasn’t that beautiful as a son to do?

      • David Cornwell says

        The idea that cancer is a gift from God? That is total nonsense, turning God into the author of unspeakable horror and evil. Yes, God can work to bring good out of evil but the devastation cancer brings to individuals, families can be total. Cancer destroys the good Creation and does not enhance it in some perverted way.

        I had colon cancer 11 years ago. I had radiation treatments before surgery, combined with daily chemo. After the surgery I had months of chemo treatment. The chemo made it hard to work and destroyed my teeth. They all had to be pulled. The radiation, which was focused on my lower body did a number to my spine so now I’ve had spinal stenosis that has progressed to where my body never has a day without pain.

        If I’d been without insurance I’d owe my soul to the health care industry to this day.

        When I was a pastor I knew a family that was almost wiped out by a certain kind of cancer, each one falling victim and eventually dying. I’ve seen children who have suffered in montrous s ways because of cancer.

        Yes, God can bring some good out of horrendous evil. But he is not the author of it. He is the healer, that one that makes us whole and promises a new body after the resurrection.

        • David,

          John Piper gave that talk when he was diagonsed with prostate cancer. I think its another way that evangelicals over ananlyze and and attribute everything to spirituality. My Mom beat pancreatic cancer (talk about lucky!!) she is in that sliver of a minority. But she later toldme that John Piper’s article was one of the worst things she read. I still carry regret for having given that to her. And I think about this when people say, “Hey would you read/listen to something by john Piper? He’s really good and Bibical”

          • David Cornwell says

            Eagle, thanks for your reply. Now I see what your getting at. I probably sounded harsh in what I said. Yes your mom is very lucky and I’m glad she beat it. It is one of the hardest forms of cancer to deal with.

            Piper doesn’t make it any easier to deal with cancer in my opinion.

        • AMEN!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Cancer is a gift. When my Mom was going through pancreatic cancer treatment I gave her that sermon. Wasn’t that beautiful as a son to do?

        Eagle, that was obviously during your “born-again cage phase”, well before your “Take your God and shove it” reaction to all that came before.

        I watched my mother die from cancer during the spring of ’75 (and I was immersed in an aberrant Christian fellowship at the time), so I know what you’re talking about. Never went as far as you did, but I know what you must have been going through at the time. And nobody’s wrapped all that tight when in that situation.

      • Jonathanblake says

        He can say that as a strict Calvinist because in Calvin’s system God is the author of evil and good. I would suggest Roger Olson’s post:

        http://www.rogereolson.com/2010/11/28/arminianism-is-god-centered-theology/

        Simply put the God who is so highly exalted in Calvin’s theology is a moral monster responsible for every evil committed in history, written and unwritten. Is God not also good (without having to twist the word into some unrecognizable form to apply to this alien god)? Scripture tells us who is responsible for evil Satan and man (not necessarily in that order) and it tells the story of a God who has made it his mission to redeem us and all creation from it meaning even to bring good out of evil when it occurs not that he inflicts evil as a blessing. No, man and the kingdom of darkness inflict plenty of evil on humanity; the hope we have is of a Kingdom of Light breaking in to right the wrongs and restore us to fellowship with God and return harmony to Creation.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          He can say that as a strict Calvinist because in Calvin’s system God is the author of evil and good.

          Then Calvin had the same solution as Islam to the following paradox:
          1) God is all-powerful.
          2) God is all-good.
          3) Evil exists.

          By striking out (2) and putting God beyond Good and Evil (only God’s Omnipotence and Power), you solve the paradox, but at a price. As JMJ/Christian Monist put it, you get “a god that is Omnipotent but not benevolent.”

          • Jonathanblake says

            I’ve brought this point up in class this past semester HUG thanks for bringing it up here. I definitely think they go about solving this paradox in the worst way

    • Coincidentally, Allen, I’ve been reading and thinking about that very same passage, 1 Cor 3:10ff. And I think you’re right. I also have to think of the master’s reaction to the servant who buried his talent (Mt 25:24-30). How could that “wicked, lazy servant” not have regrets?

      Having said that, there is a fine line that CM recognizes between strong exhortation and just manipulation. There is a balance to be maintained between the “kindness and sternness of God” (Rom 11:22). I’ve been subjected to excesses of both, and I prefer the “tension” of both aspects of God being faithfully presented.

      • Allen Rogers says

        Hmm. Is cancer a gift from God? Interesting. Setting aside convoluted logical propositions about “why do bad things happen to good people?”, I merely echo Job from chapter 1

        20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

        “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
        and naked I will depart.[c]
        The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
        may the name of the LORD be praised.”

        Also Job 2:10

        “But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

        If God wasn’t good, then He wouldn’t have let His Son suffer on the cross. There was no requirement that God pay for our sins, only the obligation to find us guilty, pass sentence and execute judgment.

  5. I’ll not comment on Mr. Bickel’s piece directly, but 1 John 2:28 should be considered in this discussion.

  6. Can’t we all quote Ephesians 2:8-10 and move on to bigger and better things? This endless discussion about grace and works is about as stale as 500 year old bread.

    • That passage in Ephesians 2:8-10 is an excellent one for this discussion, ZIppy. Thanks for pointing it out.

  7. It is through faith we are saved, yet a faith without works is dead. On one side lies legalism, on the other side lies cheap grace. It’s a thin line to walk and it’s not surprising that people fall off. I’ve gone to each side plenty of times.

  8. Interesting. I guess Paul was also engaged with the scare-mongering tactics you talk about when he wrote 1 Cor 3:15 when he writes that some leaders of the church will be saved “as one escaping the flames.” I also guess Paul was engaged in a ministry of monstrosity when he told his readers that certain types of behavior practiced as a lifestyle will disqualify one from the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5).

    Oh wait, what about the writers of the General Epistles? Did we somehow miss James’ statement that “faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:26), or Peter’s statement to his readers to “make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (2 Pet 1:10) and that judgment will start with the household of God (1 Pet 4:17)? How about the Apostle John, the man who wrote the Gospel of grace, when he wrote that the “one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 11)? How about our Lord’s brother, Jude, who wrote that there were some men “who were designated for this judgment long ago, have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into promsicuity and denying Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord” (Jude 4)?

    Of course, we can include the Sermon on the Mount by the Lord Himself.

    It’s amazing how people are so works-phobic that they are willing to ignore the plethora of passages that clearly state that a transformed life is a necessary sign and consequence that one is truly saved by the Lamb of God.

    • One major work I think can be listed pretty highly on the faith-o-meter is a quickness to disparage your own works and effort in light of Jesus’ work and effort. When a few people devote themselves to the work of thinking so highly of Christ’s work that they disparage the works of other men, most of all their own, many will denounce them as not producing fruit. They will fail to see that by disparaging their own works, and going on and on about the grace of God in Jesus IS ITSELF a good work and a fruit.

    • Mark, and where did you read in this post that faith does not produce good works?

    • Mark, the passages you’ve referred to say in essence, “Thou shalt not do evil works.” No problem there. But Mikes’s article is critiquing those who say “Thou art not doing enough good works.” Big difference.

      To quote Michael Spencer (yet again): “How much is enough? And who gets to make the call?”

      • I don’t make the distinction between “not doung evil works” and “doing good works.” Not doing the right thing when the person has the opportunity to is actually doing what is considered sin (James 4:17). For example, if you see a poor and helpless person needing your help and you shun him off, you’re actually no better than a murderer, adultery, or Baal worshipper.

        • Good point. I’m with you on the James passage, and I’ll raise the ante with the Golden Rule: Jesus didn’t say, as others have, “Don’t do unto others what is distasteful unto you,” he said, “DO unto others what you would have them do unto you.” It’s an active, not passive thing.

          But it’s a question of whether the works are required for entrance into the Kingdom. To quote myself shamelessly from a comment of a few minutes ago, grace frees us to do good works, and does not enslave us into thinking that we MUST do good works.

          • Ted,

            When you say that grace frees us to do good works, I wholeheartedly agree. It seems that some people here, like Rob, think that when I say that works are necessary fruits and evidence of genuine saving faith that I am promoting a Romanistic works-righteousness doctrine. I am just wondering if my English is just unclear or convoluted to some people here.

      • I also think the sharp distinction that is common among active and passive sins is what is making the evangelical church today in general spiritually sick.

        If you look at the eternally damned “goats” in Matthew 25:31-46 it is not they were actively involved with murder, adultery, theft, idol worship that landed them in the lake of fire but the fact that they FAILED to do something for God’s disciples and messengers when they were in need that proved that the goats were not genuine believers.

        The fact of the matter, many so-called Christians today want to enter the Kingdom without any cost to themselves in terms of true discipleship.

  9. Is Mark Bickel any different than Joseph Smith? I mean really….where do these people come from? Why do evangelicals have more than their share?

  10. I love the scandalous freedom message. I love hearing Steve Brown (partially for his perfect radio voice) talk about it. The only way to get better is to stop trying to get better. The same grace that brought me to Christ forms me into the image of Christ. Sure, it’s very tough work. But thanks be to God that the end result is based ultimately on His will/action not on mine (Phil. 1:6).

  11. Okay..awesome post above. I can deduct that the Pharises will not be pleased. I learned the hard way that fear does nothing. You can learn to live in fear, overcome ANY sin based upon fear and still be in dire straights spiritually. Due to a number of events the Phairsee I knew in Crusade who affected my career, combined with several other situations taught me how to overcome sin. There was one major condition as I leanred in the process and it’s this…

    You don’t need God at all to overcome sin. There are lots of secular resouces that can do it easily.

    It was a new concept, it happened when my faith was struggling and being hammered. But it was the first time I realized that I don’t need God/Jesus what ever you want to call it in life! So though fear tactics and over fear of losing my job I leanred how to vercome sin AND in the process laid the foundation for being an agnositc.

    Isn’t today modern evangelical church something!! 😀

    Let me talk about Mormonism for a bit, and tie it together with evangelicalism. When I was in the LDS faith I leanred that many Mormons were dealing with depression, and other psyhcological issues. Some of it grew out of the demand to be perfect, others out of living by fear. I mean consider…

    You have to get a Temple Recommend for going into the most sacred site in Mormonism..the Temple. You face an interview with a Bishop in which you are going to be grilled on your finances, tithing, lust, when was the last time you masturbated (serious here…), how is your marriage, do you drink coffee or tea (this is also hard for converts seriosuly…) , do you observe family home evening, etc… on and on it goes. And its a fearsome and weary process. And yet you must go through it becuase crucial acts such as being able to marry your wife for all eternity depend upon it. And yet through fear many Mormons achieve this…

    As a former evangelical (now agnostic) I noticed so many parallels between the Mormon faith and evangelical Christianity. One of those was the issue of fear. Both religious movements use fear to stir their followers to do missions work, give money, stay away from sin, live morally, etc.. And people do it all for the wrong reason. Living in fear is a terrible way to live. If John Piper calls for it…good for him, his followers can be in knots over anxiety. If John MacArthur calls for it….good for him his adherants can live in the constant worry.

    That’s not a way to live life, and its a contributing factor which reminds me that its healthier to be an agnositc than a Christian.

    I’ll end the rant.

    • Eagle,

      This is an interesting comparison, and would likely be met with howls of disgust from all parties involved… but statements that land on sensitive spots often do.

      I’m sorry someone claiming the name of Christ did you harm like that. I hope your experience here at iMonk shows that there are some people who follow Jesus who resemble Him as well.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And a valid comparison, missed by all those Christian cult-watchers who define “cult” entirely on the basis of parsed theology, not abusive behavior to the rank-and-file.

        Mormonism was founded in the “Burned-over District” (Weird/Extreme Religion Capital) of upstate New York in the early-to-mid 19th Century, immersed in the American Evangelical Culture of that period, surrounded by X-TREME Revival after X-TREME Revival. I would expect any offbeat religion starting in that environment to unquestioningly adopt the uniquely American attitudes and behavioral tropes of the American Evangelicalism surrounding it.

        And you’re right, Eagle. It’s no way to live. It’s debatable whether that can even be called “living”.

    • ” Both religious movements use fear to stir their followers to do missions work, give money, stay away from sin, live morally, etc.. And people do it all for the wrong reason.”

      Add to “stir their followers to”: give vast amounts of time and money to support the movement, support certain political parties and their candidates, support the movements’ position on social issues, shun certain “undesirables”, insulate themselves from the culture, talk rather than listen, believe that only your movement correctly interprets Scripture and the list could go on and on.

      For thousands of years religion has been a handy, dandy method used by both religious and political despots to control the masses. What better method to get someone to do what you’re telling them to do than to tell them that God or the gods want you to do it, and failing to do it will get you in big trouble with God or the gods and may even land you in some sort of eternal punishment? You must be a strong-willed person to resist that message.

      Into the midst of that mess stepped Jesus. He gives freely. He can make new creatures of us. His love can flow through us to the people in our lives. If we follow the agenda of someone else, it must be His, not the Lutherans, the Baptists, the Catholics or the local church’s, where many of us have rarely found Jesus. Ahhh – but these religious people so very much want us to follow their agenda, which they tell us is really God’s agenda. Supposedly, God told them so???

  12. Buks van Ellewee says

    It is precisely the undeserved grace of God and the certain knowlege of my sonship in Christ that fills me with an overwhelmong desire to be holy, like Him. It is knowing that I am destined for glory in Christ that fills me with a zeal to live my life for Him. It is not trying to do good works, it is not being able to do otherwise! (Oh of course with much stumbling and tumbling in between – but He’s always there to pick up, dust off and re-affirm His love for me no matter what)

  13. I think we have a very unfortunate tendency to emphasize our responses and attitudes toward Christ (and life in general) rather than the Christ to whom we should be responding. 1 Cor. 3:10-15 talks about our works being tested by fire, but it’s in the middle of a passage warning about division and personality cults – Team Paul and Team Apollos instead of “God’s fellow workers” building on the foundation of Christ. Even well-intentioned substitutions for humble, simple dependence on Jesus are hay or straw. Jesus himself taught that works and fruit matter, but it seems to me that those things flow from relationship with him rather than being things we can manufacture ourselves. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – Jn. 15:5. Sad how often we take a verse like this and then go about trying to squeeze out fruit rather than opening ourselves more to the Vine. Simple message: we’ve been given life – LIVE! It’s freedom, not a tightrope.

    • SG, you mirror my words in an essay that will be up this afternoon. “We have been given life–LIVE!” Perfect. Just perfect.

      • :-). One clarification in looking at some of the comments here is remembering what life we’ve been given – his. We die to ourselves to live in him (and if anyone thinks that’s easy, they’re way off base) – but oh, what life he gives!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And for sheer LIVING, we should take a look at the present-focus and humor and earthiness you find in Judaism.

    • SG, your response provides harmony to some of the more heated (yet respectful) counterpoint to the original post. I agree in full, thanks so much.

  14. Patrick Kyle says

    I remember Mr. Bickle from my Vineyard days. Another garden variety false prophet…

  15. The tell-all quote: “I did not regard or esteem my commitment to Him as worthy of living differently.”

    Slip of the tongue? Or flat out me-centered spirituality…

    Big difference between a Jesus-centered faith and a faith-centered Jesus.

    I was going to try to go easy, but then I saw this line: “We are not in the lake of fire, we are in the kingdom of God. But the pain of regret, knowing on that day how much He gave us and how little we responded to Him, and that though we are saved we were wasted.”

    Here’s the rub, folks. He said(paraphrasing) “Though you’re in the Kingdom, you wasted your life.” He should have said “Though you wasted your life, you are in the Kingdom.”

    Once again, order is everything. I expect sorrow over my sin. However, I deeply take offense at going from Gospel to law rather than from law to Gospel.

  16. The Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoffer had to deal with the problem of cheap grace. He realized how easy it is to so over-concentrate on the “problem” of works-righteousness that one goes to the other extreme. Among the things he wrote are these:

    “One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.” I would assume including one hundred sermons on salvation by faith alone.

    But Dietrich does very clearly believe that salvation is a pure gift. “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes – and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”

    He puts the two sides together rather nicely in this quote, “Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.”

    Let me put forward that Pastor Bonhoffer realized that faith and works are truly linked together strongly, and that this linkage did not have to do with salvation. In fact, he is actually much more radical than Pastor Bickle, for he realized that the disobedient do not truly believe. More than that he realized that works can feed back into your faith, helping it to grow. There is a synergy between faith and works. To separate the two is to destroy the synergy and end up with either legalism or cheap grace.

    In passing, works-righteousness is not as much of a problem for the Orthodox because our model of the atonement is not primarily juridical; it is Christus Victor. Works are how we grow in our union with Christ and into his image, not necessarily how we are saved, per se.

    • Nothing like the free grace (is not cheap grace) and “the theologian of the cross” perspective to get people worked up. Just to show we are inherently theologians of glory, we quickly point to “faith without works is dead” passages. However, these passages do not negate the prior. We are so concerned that someone would get the grace for free.

      Piper exaustes me.
      The cross sustains me.

      • So, you admit, you practice a form of hermeneutics of suspicion against all those passages that talk about the necessity of good works in our life?

        Yeah, I guess preachers like Piper (and MacArthur, Mohler, etc.) would exhaust you. The only problem for you is that the hard distinction between faith and works, justification and sanctification is an aberrant theology only promoted fringe groups of so-called evangelicals.

        • My problem is living a life in a congregation where the weekly Sunday diet is “law light”. “Now that your a Christian you do X,Y,Z”. That is not the diet of a Christian. That only creates self-focused faith, faith in yourself, not in the object of our faith, the crucified risen Christ.

          The daily/weekly diet should be the proclamation of Christ crucified for me a sinner, in the word of the pastor, in corporate confession and absolution, bread/wine, all based upon Christ death and resurrection for me a sinner. That is the diet. I don’t need a diet that talks about my obedience to handle my money, love my wife and kids, be a better employee etc. I know I am to do this. I need to know I am forgiven, weekly, hourly. The free message of grace, Christ crucified for me, rescues, sustains, builds. The fruits of kindness, patience, etc all flow naturally from this. Is not the Gospel, of Christ crucified for sinners, “the power of God unto salvation”. Why do we treat it like it needs our help with new goals etc. I am not saying all this to refute that fruit is evidence of a saving faith. The problem is that people point to the fruits so much but cannot even describe the faith or what Christ has completed for them. It is mingling the gospel with the results of the gospel.

          What tires me out is when Piper (read all the books) keeps focusing on me, not about Christ and what He has done for me. Big distinctive.

          I am not saying this to justify and “lukewarm” as they say Christian faith. Hearing the gospel every week, not law light, is profoundly empowering. It took me 5 churches until I found this weekly diet and responded.

          As a side note, I recently attended a “non-denominational” mens weekend hosted by a highly successful multi-campus church. In 5 sessions, I heard Christ and the cross in the words of 1 song. I heard a whole lot about what I am to do as a man. So much for the gospel proclamation. I’ve been down this path and it tired me out.

    • Fr. Ernesto-
      My “nothing but the free grace” post was supposed to be at the end and is not a comment on your post.

      • Thanks for the clarification. I was a bit unsure how what you said fit into what I said. GRIN. To make it clear, I agree with Pastor Bonhoffer that the analogy of us in a prison cell that must be opened from the outside is indeed a good picture of Advent.

  17. Cedric Klein says

    What troubles me is that one can come up with quotes supporting the emphasis of producing lasting fruit from Genesis to Revelation, with OT quotes from Yahweh God & NT quotes in Red Letters, and the response from many will be “See how much the Pharisees hate the message of Grace & are clinging to works-righteousness.”

    • Cedric Klein says

      Btw, I’m speaking as someone who sat through a guest pastor’s sermon this morning on discipleship & commitment & dealing with your rebellious heart which is the root of all your sins, thinking “Boy, what a Law-drenched message. Minimal Grace. Pelagian to the core” and yet I could not Biblically counter a thing he was saying. I could Biblically alter the emphasis, & say his message was incomplete, but not that it was wrong.

      • I can.

        When we find our identity in Christ–our identity as one who is dead and now resurrected in Jesus—we find we have a new heart. The old, rebellious one is dead. Discipleship and commitment becomes as natural as breathing when we find our identity in Christ’s death and resurrection, not in our efforts. Not even one percent our efforts. I will have more to say on this this afternoon…

    • That troubles me as well. All verses that speak of fruit and of works are explained away so that they do not really mean what they appear to mean. I would argue that this is somewhat against the “plain sense” of Scripture that so many claim to follow.

      • Ah Father, as usual I think that you and I must be saying the same thing, but with a different dialect. Look for my post this afternoon. I never say that we should not not sin. I say that we cannot not sin. It is impossible for us to be good enough for God. We can powder our noses and tuck in our shirts, but we are still clothed in filthy rags.

        It takes the death of a spotless Lamb to wipe away our sins. Once that is done–and it was from the foundation of the world–we then find our identity in his death and his resurrection rather than in our good works. Once we do that, we will find that we do good works because the Carpenter lives in us. We will produce good fruit because we are now in the Vine.

        • I was not fully sure I agreed with the tone of your post until I saw your line:
          “Once we do that, we will find that we do good works because the Carpenter lives in us. We will produce good fruit because we are now in the Vine.”

          Now I see where you are going and I agree.

          But now I must ask what does it mean, to you, to “abide” and “remain” in Him?

          • It means to see that we are dead, and the life we live we live thru his resurrection alone.

            I will go into more detail in a post most are sure to hate in a few hours…

          • “most are sure to hate in a few hours”

            Brace for impact.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Hey, if Jesus was sweet and spiritual and worried about people hating what he said, nobody would have nailed him.

          • Patrick Kyle says

            “But now I must ask what does it mean, to you, to “abide” and “remain” in Him?”

            Anything to grab the credit for our own salvation…..

            The whole disagreement with this post and the “needed” cautions about dismissing good works belies a lack of faith in God and His word, as though God through His word is unable to form and mold His children, producing the desired fruit in their lives, quite apart from their active assistance and permission or even their consciousness of His working.

            God will bring about what He desires in the life of His children quite apart from our self introspection and moral striving.

          • Patrick Kyle-

            “Anything to grab the credit for our own salvation…..”

            For some, perhaps. However, I think many, if not most, are seeing this in terms of sanctification, holiness, becoming more Christ-like. They are not doing it on with a “salvation” motivation.

            “The whole disagreement with this post and the “needed” cautions about dismissing good works belies a lack of faith in God and His word, as though God through His word is unable to form and mold His children, producing the desired fruit in their lives, quite apart from their active assistance and permission or even their consciousness of His working.”

            That is true, but is that how He chooses to work? Or does He seek some involvement on our behalf, even if it is just us focusing on our relationship with Him, to grow us in Christ?

            “God will bring about what He desires in the life of His children quite apart from our self introspection and moral striving.”

            Then we certainly don’t need to worry about be conformed to the pattern of this world, nor that we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom 12). Not sure then why Paul was “urging” this since if it is already a done deal.

        • “Ah Father, as usual I think that you and I must be saying the same thing, but with a different dialect.”

          Its all Greek to me!
          (Yes Father Ernesto, I realize you’re in the Antiochian Archdiocese…)

      • If I may…I think fruit is attributed and interpreted in the wrong way. In my case I learned to “overcome sin” and that was “one fruit”. But it happened in a way that taught me that God didn’t exist. I was afraid that I would lose my job, and that fear mobilized me to change. Yet the damage was deep and maybe permenant. (I’m not going to say never…maybe years from now I’ll give Christianity a second chance)

        When I “overcame” this sin people I knew attributed it to the fruit of the spirit. I remember going to a bar in DC with 2 guys who said “wow…you learned to live in a Galatians 5:22” I began to realize that I couldn’t be honest in this church culture. There was so much an expectation that explained everything in the fruit of the spirit. Again a consequence of black and white thinking. It was one of the reasons why I left becuase I saw that the culture would also hurt my charachter as well. I didn’t want to lie because the culture taught and believed something that I was now in conflcit with. I do believe many Christians are in denial about this point.

        Also I began to notice that the “fruit” issue forced many people to be dishonest and lie about their sins so they could appear to be living in the fruit. And of course there will be those people who will say, “well the explanation for this is that they were never a Christian to begin with” And then begins the judging of a persons heart, etc.. of which I am also weary.

        • Eagle-

          Sorry about your experience. It sounds like, as you pointed out, a misunderstanding of “fruit”, and what that looks like. As you mentioned, it is not always black and white, nor simple, which in truth, is one reason it is amazing when it is evident. It is so often a subtle development, sometimes with ups and downs, which we look back on and smile about.

          It also sounds like there was an over-focus (by some you were around) on the “fruit” itself, rather than on the One that produces the fruit.

          • I agree…all too often Christianity is nothing but behavior modification with a focus on the fruit.

          • “nothing but behavior modification with a focus on the fruit.”

            Exactly. That was something Michael Spencer was so concerned about, and warned against, here. He really saw how that was being pushed on younger generations. Even though he is gone, we should continue to fight against that danger.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I remember somewhere in C.S.Lewis’s essays there’s the statement that Happiness is never something achieved by aiming for it and going after it directly, but comes as a byproduct of striving for something else.

            Maybe this “fruit” is the same way.

  18. This is another one of those times I miss Michael. I remember his comments about “Wretched Urgency,” and how Chaplain Mike’s great comments are another example of IMonk’s warnings. Nice job on hitting on this disastrous circle Bickle is leading people into.

    This type of belief sneers at the beauty of the mundane and treats the normal Christian tending to their family and community with derision. Any attempts to equate Bickle’s message to Paul or James breaks down at this point. It’s unbalanced, unhealthy, and makes us think far too much of ourselves.

    • Lewis said, “True humility is not found in thinking less of yourself. True humility is found in thinking of yourself less…”

    • “This type of belief sneers at the beauty of the mundane and treats the normal Christian tending to their family and community with derision.” I think that’s a very important point, Justin. When Paul describes the “new life” we are to put on (in Eph 4, for example) , it is a litany of quite mundane (but “beautiful”) things. Not, therefore go to a foreign country and serve as a missionary, not join the worship team at church, not give a double tithe to some ministry . . . but don’t lie, don’t steal, love and serve your spouse, etc.

      • Thanks 🙂

        This quote was also from the talk Chaplain Mike linked,

        “I do not want to get you off the hook. The entire Body of Christ is ready to get you off the hook.
        You really need somebody who will faithfully get you on the hook because when you stand before the Lord, He is not going to listen to the preachers of our nation when He talks to you.”

        So….Everyone else will lead you astray but us. Add this to the regret talk and you’ve got some pretty standard textbook spiritual abuse here.

        And to be clear, this isn’t talk about whether or not James was kidding when he said “Faith without works is dead” or Jesus was just using hyperbole in the parable of the Sheep and Goats. We’re talking about telling people that God welcomes us into his kingdom with a shaming finger as we enter because we didn’t do enough. It’s telling us that the primary motivation for doing good isn’t because of His love for us, but rather because we would feel guilty on the final day. Misery and guilt is the focus instead of joy, which keeps the shame going. No wonder people drop out of the faith miserable.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          JMJ/Christian Monist has written a lot on Guilt Manipulation in American Evangelical Christianity. Never mind IMonk’s famous “Wretched Urgency”. I’ve been there, seen and experienced the results, and it isn’t pretty.

          I have enough problems with “Excessive Scrupulosity” and Expected Utter Perfection without upping the ante with God guilt-tripping me too. One bud of mine in Pennsylvania (not my writing partner) has been almost destroyed as a functioning human being through Guilt Manipulation; the guy apologizes to everybody just for existing. Especially hard since he’s one of the best writing talents I have ever come across, but the side/aftereffects of Guilt Manipulation keeps him paralyzed most of the time. My writing partner and I keep encouraging him to dig up his talent instead of burying it deeper for safety, but there’s only so much we can do.

          And the original subject of this thread just rings in God as the ultimate Guilt Manipulator, upping the ante to literally Cosmic proportions. Been there, done that, somehow survived.

        • This is why ministsries that consistently preach shame and manipulation are revolving doors. Yes, the IHOP parking lot was jammed this past week, I think they had another ONE Thing thing going on, and the plates were (as usual) from all over the nation. And slowly, this kind of system will chew them up and spit them out.
          I attend a KC area church , and we get to pick up the pieces after their stint at IHOP is over, if they decide to call our church home. I have no demographics on IHOP youth, only anecdotal data, which proves nothing and anything, so I’ll wait till I can see something of substance before I comment on that.

          “So….Everyone else will lead you astray but us.”
          THIS is the greatest offense, and what gets me going. I’ve already been in two churches that teach this: WE DO NOT NEED ONE MORE.
          GregR

        • Justin, Thank you. Well said.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “This type of belief sneers at the beauty of the mundane and treats the normal Christian tending to their family and community with derision.”

        Again, the essence of Clericalism, if not Gnosticism.

        Driving out all the rest of us who don’t “go to a foreign country and serve as a missionary, join the worship team at church, give a double tithe to some ministry” or all of the above and then some.

    • Well said, Justin. Very like Luther. Luther himself was insistent that faith produces good works, but what good works?

      The evangelical entrepreneurs would have us believe, like the Roman church in Luther’s day, that the good works involve extraordinary commitment of one kind or another to the CHURCH. In Luther’s world that meant taking special vows or becoming a priest, monk, or nun. In our day it runs the gamut of participation in the machinery of evangelical churchianity.

      Luther, on the other hand, believed that the vast majority of us are called to live quiet, ordinary lives of faith in our families, our work, in the midst of our communities, fulfilling our vocations. One of the big questions most of us have missed coming out of the Reformation is not, “Does faith produce good works?” Of course it does. The question is rather, “What kinds of good works does it produce?”

      Bickle and other proponents of works-righteousness tell us that unless our faith produces extraordinary kinds of dedication, it will end in regret. Hogwash.

      • Luther, on the other hand, believed that the vast majority of us are called to live quiet, ordinary lives of faith in our families, our work, in the midst of our communities, fulfilling our vocations

        this is grist for a future series of posts, but PLEASE, PLEASE, take a look at IHOP and those who teach a similar message reg. the “life of the ordinary faith” vs. the life of extraordinary razzle dazzle ONE THING seminars, etx….. part of the manipulation scenario here (and I speak as someone who is NOT a rigid dispensationalist) is leaning on the special, romantic, and some would say sensual experience of Jesus to the exclusion of the “everydayness” of ordinary obedience and faithfulness.

        Pretty hard to quantify some kind of romantic connectedness to Jesus: therefore, you’d better come on back to the prayer room/ ONE THING seminar….

        (and I’d love to hear Mike Bell weigh in on Bickle’s use of terminology, and what that means to the church)
        GregR

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          this is grist for a future series of posts, but PLEASE, PLEASE, take a look at IHOP and those who teach a similar message reg. the “life of the ordinary faith” vs. the life of extraordinary razzle dazzle ONE THING seminars, etx…..

          This is another reincarnation of the Heresy of Clericalism — the idea that only God’s Specially-Consecrated (Priests, Nuns, Monks, Full-Time Christian Workers, P&W Singers, Missionaries, etc) matter, and the rest of us don’t.

          Plus the essence of Gnosticism — that there is Special Secret Knowledge (Gnosis) to put only the Anointed into the group that matters with God.

          part of the manipulation scenario here (and I speak as someone who is NOT a rigid dispensationalist) is leaning on the special, romantic, and some would say sensual experience of Jesus to the exclusion of the “everydayness” of ordinary obedience and faithfulness.

          The latest incarnation of Bridal Mysticism, i.e. “Jesus is my Edward Cullen (sparkle sparkle)”. Humans have a real bad track record mixing the sacred and erotic/sensual, and this will probably be no different.

          • You know, I’ve never heard of Bridal Mysticism referred to with a “Twilight” analogy. But it makes perfect sense.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Yeah, that’s what’s scary.

            I ran into the attitude before Twilight, but it wasn’t until Twilight Fangirls that I was able to put a name to it. The usual description “Jesus is my Boyfriend” just doesn’t describe it with the proper intensity.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In Luther’s world that meant taking special vows or becoming a priest, monk, or nun. In our day it runs the gamut of participation in the machinery of evangelical churchianity.

        They’re both Clericalism, just with different coats of paint.

      • “Does faith produce good works?” Of course it does. The question is rather, “What kinds of good works does it produce?”

        Is this issue and “Cheap Grace,” the same as : Phony Faith. self-deluding Faith and hypocrisy?

    • I’m glad you mentioned “Wretched Urgency”, Justin. Chaplain Mike reprinted that article by Michael Spencer last April 9, a few days after Michael died. Among other classics, I had printed it out, and it was literally “on top of the pile” because I think one of my daughters was reading it.

      HERE’S THE LINK: Time for another read, no doubt.

      https://internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-classic-wretched-urgency%e2%80%94the-grace-of-god-or-hamsters-on-a-wheel

  19. Great discussion. Bickle’s next move, no doubt, after stirring up the “commitment” of his audience, would be to funnel that commitment into the programs he wanted to boost. In other words, there winds up being an entrepreneurial motive behind all this. That’s usually where all this commitment mongering goes.

  20. The failed connection is seldom taught, easily misunderstood, and often made. God not only commands us to be holy/perfect, He also enables us to be so through the blood of Jesus. However, this is not a default position.

    Whereas prior to salvation we had no power over sin, just the opposite is true as a saint. With the indwelling Holy Spirit, we now know sin, righteousness, and judgment. Before Jesus, we had no such knowledge because we were dead. But now in Jesus we are alive, yet a dead man of sin still clings. Now we are aware of that man and we are responsible to keep him in the grave. We are responsible to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin, to die daily. God gave us the power through Jesus to awake unto righteousness and sin not.

    God gave us grace that when we do sin, He gives us the ability to confess our sin and then He alone is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us.

    What we do in those moments of holy perfection as one with Jesus will count for gold/silver/precious stones. What we do in those moments of willful sin will count for wood, hay, and stubble.

    • Tim Becker says

      So Lawrence, how are you doing in the “sin not” category?

    • Lawrence, what are those “moments of holy perfection” like? I’m not sure I’ve ever had one, and given the ability of my mind, still beset by sin, to deceive myself, how would I know?

      • Andy Papia says

        Ok Mike. I’m totally depraved, a complete wretch, but am I not also a slave to righteousness? Doesn’t God work his will in me as a new creature despite my old flesh still hanging around? Why deny that moments of holy perfection are possible but only when Christ is alive in me? Sometimes I think you get carried away with the “I can do no good things” shtick. Surely, God has used you profoundly – though you can’t take any of the credit for that.

        • I think the whole “I can do no good things” shtick, often used by modern evangelicals, is a serious unbiblical error.

          We can do all good things through Christ who works within my heart. That is why the Bible throughout clearly also makes distinctions between righteous and wicked (not forensically, but in actual life). That is why some Kings of Israel were righteous and some wicked. That is why the NT writers denounced unrighteous people, and extolled those who beared fruit for the gospel.

          That is why some Christian leaders will enter the Kingdom with much rewards, while some will have little or no rewards.

          In fact, I think any pastor or theologian who keeps saying to his audience “You can do no good things” is being biblically unfaithful and needs to start reading good books on hermeneutics. I would never want to be under that type of teaching saying that being in Christ does not change the quality of your deeds in any way.

          • Mark, you know darn well we have had many, many posts here on iMonk encouraging us all to live according to the Gospel. For you to characterize us as continually saying simply, “You can do no good things” is ridiculous and totally misses the point.

        • The problem I have is with the word, “perfection.” Even the best of what I do must be combined with the prayer Kyrie eleison.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Lawrence, what are those “moments of holy perfection” like? I’m not sure I’ve ever had one, and given the ability of my mind, still beset by sin, to deceive myself, how would I know?

        Probably because you have not Lawrence’s Special GNOSIS. (:))

        • When I am dead to sin and alive unto God through Jesus, that is the moment. And in another moment, the old man of my flesh may awaken and I sin again, rendering me unholy and not perfect. There is a difference between the eternal state of alive in Jesus and the temporal states between sin/flesh and righteous/holy/ perfect sin no more.

          Shall we continue in sin? We all say with Paul, “God forbid!” But why? Not for my own personal purity/holiness/whiteness. It’s not about my works towards some end. I’ll never get any better. Jesus gives us the power, privelage, and responsibility of those perfect moments for one reason alone – to worship Him. That is the purpose of His atonement. The redemption price of blood restores our one relationship to God.

          We maintain it (work if you will) by continually dying to self and keeping that old man in the grave. The problem is, as Oswald Chambers said, many of us fefuse to go to the funeral of our own individuality. No, all we do must be in response to the Word, enabled by the Holy Spirit. The flesh will refuse every time and will not die to itself.

          This is a black and white issue. We are first and foremost either dead or alive in Jesus. That is the salvation condition which is unchangeable by any human effort. Next, after salvation, we either stay alive or die again by our willingness to either obey the law of God in mind and live or obey the law of the flesh and die. Jesus said “Go and sin no more” because He gave us the life and the Spirit to do so.

  21. Nothing like the free grace (is not cheap grace) and “the theologian of the cross” perspective to get people worked up. Just to show we are inherently theologians of glory, we quickly point to “faith without works is dead” passages. However, these passages do not negate the prior. We are so concerned that someone would get the grace for free.

    Piper exaustes me.
    The cross sustains me.

  22. “”The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” – C.S. Lewis.

    Thomas Merton puts it another way: that relationship with God will create the good in us that he desires. That’s somewhere in “No Man is an Island”…probably in the chapter entitled “Pure Intention”.

    • Another excellent Lewis quotation, Frank.

      I read somewhere that “God loves us just as we are and loves us too much to leave us as we are.” It works for me.

  23. So here is my take on it…

    We can’t be saved by works… but to borrow from Dallas Willard in the Great Omission, it’s a heresy to think salvation is some kind of strictly binary entity. That shallow brand of evangelical soteriology has wreaked havoc. It’s reductionistic to think Jesus just wants us ‘saved’ and that’s it. “Whew, you made it!” isn’t what we are striving for. It’s as Paul points out a race to be run with excellence, and that does require we put thought and intention into ‘how’ we love our life. It’s not works righteousness, it’s stewarding the time and life God has seen fit to give us.

    • “It’s not works righteousness, it’s stewarding the time and life God has seen fit to give us.”

      Good point, David B.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I’ve often said that the epitaph of the Baby Boomers would be “They were so busy trying to ‘Find Themselves (TM)’, they never had the time to have a self to find.”

        Again, Judaism could tell us a lot about living life. (And didn’t the Church start out as an offbeat Jewish group?)

    • David, I think you’re right when you say, “It’s reductionistic to think Jesus just wants us ‘saved’ and that’s it.” It’s probably what Bonhoeffer meant by “cheap grace”.

      Grace frees us to do good works, and should not enslave us into thinking that we MUST do good works.

      Jesus said in Matthew23:15, ““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

      • “Grace frees us to do good works, and should not enslave us into thinking that we MUST do good works.”

        Very well said. It is not that anyone should think that faith is a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. As HUG said, it is a both-and paradox, but one with a beginning, which is grace. As the pope wisely pointed out in his Christmas Eve homily, there is a balance between grace and free-will, but our free will is useless without forgiveness, acceptance. The paradoxical model is helpful, as long as God through His grace is the first cause. A paradox cannot be an endless circle with no beginning or end.

        Faith in God’s forgiveness gives us the courage to perform good works. I can think of many cases where I was torn with guilt when I missed an opportunity to share my faith or help someone, or if I did take the opportunity, I didn’t say the right things or didn’t have the right motivations. Our works are always like that- mixed with our human imperfections. Without the hope of forgiveness, good works become heavier than the weight of law, crushing us under regret and endless self-examination. There is no courage in performing good works if at the end of our life Jesus will say, “well, that’s a nice effort, you still failed”.

  24. In “The Protestant Tradition” J S Whale, Cambridge Press, 1955, there is an excellent chapter on this topic. It is Chapter VI, “The Paradox of ‘Gabe’ and ‘Aufgabe”. The divine gift(Gabe) involves responsive human activity(Aufgabe).

    Bottom line, Professor Whale ends the chapter on the topic of reponses. I quote the ending paragraph- “For Catholics, and especially for the Greek Orthodox, it meant to become immortal, or to become filled with supernatural power. For mystics it meant to become one with the Infinite. For the typical man of the middle ages, the monk, it meant to become master of the passions, and , therefore, of nature itself. For Luther it meant to become one who loves others”.

    I like Chaplain Mike’s post about ordinary lives in our families, work, and communities. May I add that this topic of God’s gift to us and our response implies to me the relational aspects of our lives- most importantly our prayers.

  25. One more thing, as an firm believer in the evangelical Protestant tradition, I disagree and denounce as a heresy any view of salvation that states that we can enter the Kingdom by a faith that is devoid of good works.

    • Scripture unequivocally disagrees with you. You only have to look at the example of the thief on the cross. He is in paradise with no evidence of good works. All he did was believe.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Which of course begs the question: What if you just sit on your butt and BE-LEEEEEVE and do nothing else?

        It’s a question of Balance.
        Faith without Works is dead.
        Works without Faith are dead.

        Like the theme of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, without the Mediator to reconcile and balance the two, the two will end up destroying each other (and probably everybody else). It’s Both/And, not Either/Or.

        • HUG said:

          “It’s a question of Balance.
          Faith without Works is dead.
          Works without Faith are dead.”

          and,

          ” It’s Both/And, not Either/Or.”

          Yup. And I think we don’t hear enough about paradox as Christians. We tend to want answers in black-and-white, and small enough to fit on a bumper sticker.

          BTW, is paradox one of the reasons you’re also into sci-fi? And where have you been lately?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I can’t post to this blog from my home system for some unknown reason, and I was off work the week between Christmas and New Years.

      • Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

        Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

        There is a ‘work’ or effort involved. Not as in ritual observance or some outward sign. However, there must be fruit whether that is fruiful Christian charity or inward states or conditions.

        The deeper implication of what Jesus meant by believe is far greater than a mental acknowledgment or a long/short version of a ‘sinner’s prayer’…

        Such a belief actually requires a ‘turning’, a ‘repentance’ a reliance on God & not on self. Going thru the ‘motions’ of belief not the same as the change of heart Jesus seemed to address in all His discources…

      • “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

        It seems to me that the thief on the cross quite literally followed Christ on the cross and suffered the same kind of death. In addition, he defended Jesus to the unrepentant thief and testified that Christ would be ruling an eternal kingdom. He humbly accepts the punishment he deserves for his wrongdoing, but he equally as humbly asks Jesus to remember him.

        The thief’s suffering, his verbal defense of Jesus and his petition seem to be works of some sort. At the same time, it shows Jesus’ unbelievable mercy and outpouring of love toward a sinner who repents at the last minute. It’s most comforting, especially when contemplating unbelieving loved ones who have died, but who might have called out to God during the last moments of their lives.

    • We’re all still waiting for you to point out anyone that actually says this.

    • Mark, again I ask, where in this or any post do you read about a faith that is devoid of good works getting someone into heaven?

    • a faith that is devoid of good works

      I actually don’t think this is likely (it may even be impossible); I think the former naturally produces the latter. However, the latter never produces the former. Which raises the question: why are some so focused on works and the definition of what works are acceptable? Seems a lot like the tail wagging the dog, if you will.

  26. “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” – Titus 2:11-12 I think this verse captures the tension between grace and holiness, faith and works, etc. There is a tension we live in where one actually teaches us the other– like fire and heat. The heart of Mary without neglecting the works of Martha. God is so paradoxical! He’s great! He is so “other than”. And the Holy Spirit has promised us to lead us into all truth! Being someone who has experienced extremes on both sides of the fence, I keep asking Him about this subject, day after day.

    • Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

      Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

      There is a ‘work’ or effort involved. Not as in ritual observance or some outward sign. However, there must be fruit whether that is fruiful Christian charity or inward states or conditions.

      The deeper implication of what Jesus meant by believe is far greater than a mental acknowledgment or a long/short version of a ‘sinner’s prayer’…

      Such a belief actually requires a ‘turning’, a ‘repentance’ a reliance on God & not on self. Going thru the ‘motions’ of belief not the same as the change of heart Jesus seemed to address in all His discources…

    • Define “all truth”. The answer determines whether you agree with Bickle or not.

  27. Ah, yes! The classic depiction of the protestant purgatory, where the unbearable, disappointed frown of God bears down upon the lazy pew sitter for all eternity. Other versions of this send the lazy Christians off to the squalid ghetto’s of heaven, within sight of the self-motivated, who bore much “fruit” and now living in The Breakers of heaven, where the smile of God’s approval warmly shines night and day. It makes one rather be a Roman Catholic, where a stay in purgatory may take centuries, but eventually it has an end. I do think there is a third alternative.

    Dare I say, there is an element of social evolution in this teaching, that motivated will survive and advance, evolve, and the unmotivated will perish, or be “left behind” as a lower level species?

    If I have any regrets, it’s that I did not devote enough time on my God-given vocation, rather than wasting time chasing after every church fad which promised to bear more “fruit”.

    • Given Bickle’s self-absorbtion in end times fantasies, your choice of “left behind” is both sad and funny…..and ironic.

      GregR

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Hey, I would have capitalized Left Behind instead of setting it off in quotes.

        (Both my writing partner and I lost 10 years each of our lives to End Times Fantasies. Who will restore those years the locusts have eaten?)

        • End Times Fantasies

          IHOP has a glossary of terms they publish to help the uninitiated understand their usage.

          Strange concepts & esoteric meanings & stuff that could have come straight from the most popular computer games…

          IHOP & the extreme prophetic types & the uber-spiritual warfare proponents live in a make-believe world replete with strategies, characters, demons, angels, personality traits, levels of influence, etc. Exotic esoteric scenarios setup in incredible detail! No wonder it is so attractive to youth raised on such fantasy games+video versions. Alternate universes of phantasmagorical proportions! It is not innocuous. It is not simply a ‘different’ way of looking at the spiritual reality & its intersecting with man & history on this planet. It is a fantasy world special effects stage built by God they claim! He is the one behind the construction with its intended spiritual purposes to fulfill. Lord have mercy… 🙁

          • Joseph: that is one fascinating and sobering post….I’m going to print it and paste it near my desk at home and chew on that for awhile. I think the gaming angle has traction. And I think Mike B. has an uncanny knack for knowing what resonates with his audience. Your post also explains the bizarro world of end times SPECIFICITY…. if the competition is a higher level joe soldier or syms. game.
            And yes, Lord have mercy, CHRIST have mercy…..
            GregR

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Well, that explains why they called Jihad against us SAY-TANN-IC D&D gamers. Didn’t want the competition with their own LARP.

            Ever thought we’d be a lot better off if these guys could have gotten their “make-believe world replete with strategies, characters, demons, angels, personality traits, levels of influence, etc. Exotic esoteric scenarios setup in incredible detail!” fix from ol’ Dee & Dee?

            Internet Monk used to say (in “I’m Weary of Weird Christians”?) that “some of these guys make me think I stepped into a bad Star Wars prequel”. Guys like this make me think they’ve already cast me as a Red-Shirted NPC or Orc in their little God-LARP.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            P.S. Some celebrity reporter covering some Christian event (don’t remember the specific reference) once commented “We have Paris Hilton. They have Jesus.”

            WIth IHOP and the X-Treme Spiritual Warrior types, it’s more like “We have D&D and WoW; they have Prophetic Spiritual Warfare.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            P.P.S. IHOP & the extreme prophetic types & the uber-spiritual warfare proponents live in a make-believe world…

            Listen to the Gamer and the (gasp) Furry:

            No matter how immersed I got in various “make-believe worlds” and critters, I still knew they weren’t real. (Though with some, I regretted they weren’t.)

            These guys are so immersed, to them it’s not only Real, but of God, elevating it to literally Cosmic Importance. And that’s scarier than the most flaked-out gamer, otaku, or furry fanboy I have ever encountered.

    • “If I have any regrets, it’s that I did not devote enough time on my God-given vocation, rather than wasting time chasing after every church fad which promised to bear more “fruit”.”

      I wish I had read this 10 years ago. Same here.

  28. flatrocker says

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with my hightly sensitive “works-righteousness” brother-in-law. He makes a living as a counselor. I asked him once if he considered what he did to be a full time job – by that I meant did he think about his job outside of “8 to 5 office time.” He of course said yes. I asked him if he considered his thoughts to be part of his work. Again he said yes. So by thinking alone, or by conversing alone, he confirmed to me that he considers this aspart of his job – his work. A radical revelation – thinking is work.

    Somewhere along the way, we sophisticated moderns seem to have equated work to be an exclusive realm of a visible “musculature-related” action. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. However as evidenced by the conversation with my brother-in-law, surely we can understand that a purely mental activity (counseling in his case) can also be described as work. Cue the groan from the cubical where most of us work and perform tasks in a hightly thought intensive atmosphere.

    In light of a broader definition of work to include our thoughts as well as our actions, the thief on the cross actually performed a work in his realization of who Jesus is. This work of thought lead to his faith conversion on the cross and to his destiny in paradise. His action of thought lead to his salvation – not a rambling thought, not a manipulative thought. But a purely righteous and holy thought that required “mental work” on the thief’s part to embrace a Savior.

    Revelation 14:13 brings this to the forefront. “and then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they will rest from their labors, for their deeds will follow them.”

    It is precarious to wistfully dismiss the inteaction of our faith with our deeds. It does appear that our faith leads us to Him, but our deeds follow us wherever we go.

    After 500 years of arguing this point, I find it curious that we can not or will not see the relationship.

    • flatrocker writes, ” It does appear that our faith leads us to Him, but our deeds follow us wherever we go.”

      That’s a great way of putting it.

  29. A little off topic, but it makes me think of a time in worship, when after a rousing set of worship songs, the leader said, “God must truly be pleased with our sacrifice of praise”.

    The relationship to this post is this: God is pleased, i.e. “smiles”, because of His Son, Jesus. Period. We add no more and subtract nothing else from that. Sacrifices of praise or “fruit” will not bring God more pleasure. The truth is, it is God who shares his pleasure with us through unity with His Son. That is accomplished through the new being, through rebirth of baptism, through the Holy Spirit making a creature who wants to and can bear fruits of charity. The old man cannot be whipped into bearing fruit. It makes no sense without that relationship with Jesus.

  30. IHOP, The Call, Acquire the Fire, are the most flagrant examples of extreme charismania propaganda, mind control & religious conditioning.

    It ‘preys’ upon gullible youth constantly fed the line, “you & you alone are thee chosen generation!” They are directed to fast much, pray much, repent much, all under the approving gaze of their most holy leader. It is a sublte manipulation using proper Christian disciplines for ulterior purposes. I do believe that is why Jesus directed us to fast & pray in secret. The group dynamic is a dangerous thing when it is under the direction of zealous leaders bent on ‘producing’ tangible manifestations to justify their existence. Signs+wonders, political activism, esoteric spiritual warfare strategies, etc. all have the stench of fleshly effort to bring about a self-made version of the kingdom on earth. Their efforts intended to obligate God to come thru due to the fervor of the youthful energy spent doing the leader’s will. It is a human based effort at creating a spiritual result supposedly confirming God’s approval+blessings+will.

    There is an artificial heirarchy of spirituality based on super-duper performance. Heck, raise the dead & you are definitely of the elite! God approved, sanctioned & released with the anointment! There will be many disillusioned, defeated, rejected, frustrated, disappointed young people investing much but not experiencing the spiritual high others claim to have. Those happy testimony claims always the golden carrot just out of reach for the majority of them, but they are too ashamed to admit their experience is not that way & too young to have the discernement sufficient to simply abandon the organization. Lord have mercy… 🙁

    • “There is an artificial hierarchy of spirituality based on super-duper performance. Heck, raise the dead & you are definitely of the elite!”

      Very profound, considering, as stated in Revelation, that the anti-Christ will even deceive the elect.

      I think Jesus said they will know we are His disciples by our love, not extravagant miracles. In a way , there is no greater miracle than love.

    • Evangelical parents take note: This is what your church’s youth pastor is teaching your children. Wednesday night youth group meetings focused primarily on whether you were REALLY committed to Christ. Almost every youth convention I attended as a teen gave a message along these lines. Are you SURE you’ve identified every single area of your life that isn’t perfect? Maybe we should turn down the lights, sing a chorus twenty times, hold an altar call (and tell you that staying in your seat is the equivalent of rejecting God—I wish I was kidding), and make you think reeeeeally hard about whether you are in fact 100% committed to the great cause. The sheer amount of emotional manipulation that goes on at church camps, conventions, and other major youth events to get “results” is absolutely disgusting. It made me sick, but as you point out, Joseph, I didn’t know anything else and didn’t have the maturity to understand that my discomfort had a legitimate cause. It is only by the grace of God that I was broken out of this mindset when I went to college and am now slowly growing into authentic Christianity. I think somebody somewhere along the line decided that in order to keep the teens in the churches, Christianity had to be turned into this grand, EXTREME! (insert trademark symbol here), sensational thing to hold their attention in the age of the television and the game console. If you engaged their emotions, pulled their guilt strings, made them FEEL that spiritual high, they’d stick around. Except that this created a generation of kids who either are convinced that this spiritual mountaintop mentality is the entirety of the Gospel or saw through it and ran for the hills. And now the question is, what happens when someone who grew up in this environment starts or takes over a church?. I’m not saying this is where the trouble started, but I think it’s one thing perpetuating this works-righteousness thinking in evangelicalism.

      • Profoundly correct and deeply disturbing. Thank you, SottoVoce.

      • I think IHOP has tapped into a slightly different set of emotions, and packaged it differently than “Jesus camp”, but I think you are on to something, and the over use of a good thing (emotions and experience in the christian life, esp. in worship) is being used as the ‘hook’ to keep kids committed to ‘the vision’. I think there are going to be multiple thousands of burned out, and ‘burned over’ kids in the KC area and beyond because of it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      First impression of Joseph’s comment, dancing around Godwin’s Law. (Joseph, I agree with you. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt):

      It ‘preys’ upon gullible youth constantly fed the line, “you & you alone are thee chosen generation!”

      First thing that popped into my mind when I read that:
      “RULERS OF TOMORROW! MASTER RACE!”
      — Ralph Bakshi, Wizards

      They are directed to fast much, pray much, repent much, all under the approving gaze of their most holy leader.

      After that first flashback, this continues the imagery in my head of a Nuremberg rally. (But then, I got the same image from high school pep rallies, so go fig.)

      Their efforts intended to obligate God to come thru due to the fervor of the youthful energy spent doing the leader’s will.

      Isn’t this the same reasoning and motivation as behind 9/11 and the Twelfth Imam cult of the Iranian Ayatollahs?

      There will be many disillusioned, defeated, rejected, frustrated, disappointed young people investing much but not experiencing the spiritual high others claim to have. Those happy testimony claims always the golden carrot just out of reach for the majority of them…

      And the closer you get to that golden carrot, the more it gets snatched just out of your reach until one day you just sit down like a lump and give up. Maybe catch up on what you missed out on before death and hell. Depression and despair, burning envy towards God’s Little Pets with the super-duper spiritual performance.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      P.S. I worked for the other IHOP (the more familiar one outside of Christianese) for four years in the late Seventies, and their top management wasn’t much to brag about, either.

      • FollowerOfHim says

        UHOPPED.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Yeah, literally. In fall of ’82 my entire department at their corporate HQ all found other jobs, quit within weeks of each other, and left the pointy-haired bosses high and dry.

  31. Zippy, despite my trying to add to the conversation here, it should be acknowledged that you are correct that this is stale.

  32. I’m very interested in this. there is very much huffing and puffing about doing good. There are very many warnings against thinking that faith doesn’t produce results. I like good works. I want my faith to produce fruit. I’m on board with the Bible’s warnings on the subject.

    In fact, I don’t believe there’s anyone out there who is not trying very hard to get something done. Even if it’s to escape responsibility. Lots of people, of course, are trying to get the wrong things done. But no one can really be admonished that they’re not doing anything. There are no true nihilists.

    So the question is not am I doing any works, but what is it that’s inspiring my works which, at all times, I’m most certainly doing? The answer is WHATEVER IT IS THAT I’M PAYING ATTENTION TO. Good works are produced from good faith- good affections, good allegiances, good desires, etc. The ultimate good thing is Jesus Christ crucified, risen and reigning. If you’re perceptive, you’ll see where this is going.

    Lots of propositionally true things aren’t the food we need to be eating in order to produce good works. Theology of the dynamic between faith and works is one such thing. Bickle’s warnings about “regret” may be another. Again, it’s like expecting to be nourished by studying the molecular makeup of bread. One of the last things you want on people’s minds to produce true fruit, for instance, is how much power you’re going to be rewarded with in heaven. But Mike Bickle does just that from 3:12 to about 4:00 in the sermon. Fruit comes from the love for Jesus plus nothing, last of all some vulgar power grab by believers who can’t stop talking about themselves and their awesome efforts.

    So does Mike Bickle, and anyone else who trumpeting the necessity of fruit, consistently draw attention to Jesus- crucified, risen, reigning? Does he inspire lofty, worshipful thoughts about him? Or is it celebrityism and hype? That’s the real question that needs to be asked. If there’s a rich exposition of Jesus in the sermon, I can give him the beneift of the doubt. If there isn’t, he’s just another salesman, and so is anyone who’s so infatuated with they’re work/effort that they can’t be bothered to talk about Jesus Christ. One hour in, I’m finding it’s a sermon basically about doing good that manages to briefly get to the Gospel once. Again, this simple principle should help- it’s not “is it factual info” but “will it inspire correctly?”

    In a similar vein, while John Piper will say things like “don’t waste your life,” he’s pretty thoroughly as Christ-centered as you can get. It’s all about context, folks.

    PPS. If you haven’t read Fr. Ernesto’s comment above, it’s one of the most measured, intelligent ones, and sheds real light on the subject. “get-savedism” really has done damage in Protestantism. Bonhoeffer saw this pretty clearly and differentiated between grace as mere theology a la Eph 2:8-10, and grace as the shed blood of a human savior.

  33. I’m not a big fan of Cliches, and maybe this is more of a metaphor, but here goes.

    There is a Biblical root to what I’m about to say and that is Romans 7.

    There are two mirrors. In the first (the law) we look at ourselves and scream “OMG! (using colloquially not as taking God’s name in vain) I look horrible!

    In the second mirror, the Gospel, we gaze and are equally astounded, because, looking back at us is the perfect face of Christ.

    The problem is when those who look in the first mirror become consumed with their hideous appearance and stand and primp for ages . . . a little eyeliner, a little lipstick, a little whatever that beige stuff is called that covers everything . . . yet to no avail. They never quite make it to the second mirror because they are so consumed with the primping in front of the first one. Many of us finally give up and move on.

    • You can add all the paint to the outside of a corpse, but it is still a corpse…

      Dress it, position it, set it in whatever pristine environment imaginable; it is still a corpse…

      Kick it, beat it, yell at it, preach at it; it is still a corpse…

      What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

  34. Chaplain Mike is attending a Lutheran church and he is being formed by Lutheran sensibilities, in which there is much good, especially with the emphasis of living one’s ordinary, daily life in Christ. So much of American Evangelicalism emphasizes doing the extra-ordinary, and Bickle’s talk and the Piper quote above are but two of many, many examples of that which could be given. I think such a view is the product of interpreting certain scriptures through the “glasses” of certain elements of American culture which grew out of the Enlightenment, in the wake of which our country was organized – the stress toward measurable progress and Exceptionalism – combined with a strain of Scottish Calvinism (“success” and “progress” linked to being Elect). There’s an interesting attachment of some Romantic ideology as well, as in the importance of How One Feels. If you don’t do something extraordinary, you don’t measure up to the American Evangelical standard; I know from experience how shaming and discouraging that can be for a person who sincerely wants to do God’s will and be the person God wants him/her to be.

    “Works-righteousness” is a term that can be traced back to Luther. I also find it so interesting that the conversation has gone so strongly in the direction of “is salvation by faith or by works”. This kind of discussion always reminds me of Dallas Willard’s term “the gospel of sin management”, especially when the term “standards” is uses. Christians ought to be moral people… and morality isn’t the only point of the “work of Christ”.

    Finally, I do believe that when one turns to God through Christ, a major consequence of that is one most definitely wants to do good, and God often gives people much grace to break loose, or begin to break loose, of some besetting sins; I’ve known plenty of people for whom this is true. But I believe that Jesus’ exhortation to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” is not really about sinlessness; it’s about loving and doing good for those who take your love for granted, or who ignore it, or who actively hate you, or finally end up killing you. That’s the point of the context of that verse within the pericopes in which it appears. Coming to that place in one’s own heart requires certain kinds of practice, like learning to play a musical instrument, or learning a language, to use N.T. Wright’s examples. Willard says that Grace is not opposed to Effort, but rather to Earning. It’s those kinds of practices and efforts – along with God’s Spirit working within – that enable consistent morality – virtue. So I don’t think this life In Christ is in reality marked by as sharp or radical a break between “before” and “after” one comes to faith as the idea of “Discipleship and commitment becomes (sic) as natural as breathing when we find our identity in Christ’s death and resurrection, not in our efforts.” I don’t mean to offend you, Jeff; I’m not questioning what God has done in your life, or has told you to do. I simply think your assertion actually doesn’t help to get away from the kind of thing Chaplain Mike is pointing out about Bickle’s talk. I think becoming consistent in our ordinary life in Christ often takes a lot of effort over time; it’s simple, but not often easy. I’ll be back later to read your post.

    Dana

    • Very thoughtful comment, Dana. Thanks. Anyone who reads iMonk consistently knows that we encourage effort in the Christian life. Read last year’s “Spiritual Formation” posts, for example.

      What we are talking about here is saying that my Savior’s response to me at the last day is dependent on me being completely dedicated to him. Bickle’s sermon and the sermons of so many in today’s church are the bad news of my commitment, dedication, and faithfulness, rather than the good news of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for me.

    • “Grace is not opposed to effort, but rather to earning.” I’m pretty sure that 95% of the more contentious comments are because someone is trying to assert one half of that statement, and other people are trying to assert the other half.

  35. “I, I, I had a vision of JEEZZUS-ah…”

    “He, He, He was cryin’ you know…big crystal-like tears from piercing blue eyes…”

    “And He said, ‘Son, I know you try real hard being a good Christian-ah, nevertheless I hold this against you: you have not done enough of the ‘greater works than these’ to gain the crown of eternal gloryishness promised to thee elect-ah…”

    “I was startled out of my reverie & got my fat arse off the demon couch, cracked open my bible, signed up for Forerunner School of Ministry & gave my last dime to Bro. Bickle. I, I, I feel so alive & free & approved by the Big Guy Himself! Hail-la-lujah! I have seen the light!”

    • Funny, Joseph! I can just hear this.

    • Joseph: you naughty naughty boy….you are SO NOT HELPING me deal with my cynical and cranky self thus far in 2011. Fact is, Bickle does not sound like the typical charismatic snake oil dude, his package is much more Gen-X and Gen-Next friendly.

      GregR

      • GregR: in the midst of all the ‘extreme Christian’ movements or organizations or emphases, one has to over do the parody to get a laugh otherwise we all will end up cynical.

        I am a self-proclaimed skeptic. I hope to hover around the skeptic fringes & not swing too far into cynical stage. I’ve been thru the hyper-charismania turnstyle. Been there, done it. Gots the scars & bruises to prove it. I did invest in it whole heartedly truly desiring to find out for myself just what God had in store for those that were a ‘God chaser’…

        Well, it was quite the eye-opening experience. And my spiritual sensitivity did finally show me much of what was being promoted simply prophetic-rhetoric & silly machinations trying to one-up the then popular claims. What a bunch of hooey. No accountability. No sober investigation into wild claims. The charismania themed urban legends simply grew to outlandish heights. No one questioned. No one stop up against the foolishness. It was a religous debacle of epic proportions…

        Boy, that made me hungry. I am going to get me some lunch… 😉

        • are they still selling IHOP (pancakes) ??
          Just teasing with my reply; I’m glad GOD has seen you thru you own charismatic chasm. I’m all for “examining everything” in order that we can “hold fast that which is good”. I’m still in the process of finding what exactly is praiseworthy over at IHOP the ministry.

          Hoping that GOD gives us both clarity and charity this new year.
          GregR

          • Oh man, now there is a good prayer or wish for the new year, “Hoping that GOD gives us both clarity and charity this new year.”
            I surely need both in my mind and motivations.
            Thanks, greg r.

          • no IHOP pontificating pancakes, but a good grilled chicken salad.

            i know you are being light-hearted in your replies. me too. i like to be able to speak as one that has been there. not as an outsider with an agenda, but one that did the ‘stuff’ & some amazing ‘stuff’ to be sure. not enough though to justify the effort to winnow wheat from chaff or meat from bone. talk about hard work! searching for that proverbial needle of ‘good’ from all the straw not what Jesus had in mind as a humble disciple…

  36. I don’t know about Jesus-visions and all that, but …

    My understanding is that works are the direct and natural outcome of faith. If I don’t have works, it says something about my faith–or lack thereof. Obviously, I should not be encouraged to cover up this issue and do works as a way to please God and make it look like I have more faith than I do. I should instead be exhorted to face the fact that I have a faith issue. Get to the root of the issue, so to speak.

    It’s all about grace, yes. That’s why I have any hope at all on this earth. But I think we run the risk of misleading people if we imply that it’s OK not to have fruit, since “fruit”–both our internal attitudes and our external works–is what grows naturally from faith.

  37. As mentioned in Dr. Rosenbladt’s “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church”, license or antinomianism is more often the result pietistic legalism, not the gospel of grace. It makes perfect sense. In Jesus parable of the man with the plank in his own eye who is fishing for specks in his neighbor’s eye, the man probably thinks he is an expert at specks, because he already fished a speck out of his own eye – totally oblivious to the blank embedded there. That is our sinful nature in a nutshell. We think we are justified by fasting, praying, and esoteric experiences while all along we are cruel to our families, use unjust scales in our vocations, and show no mercy to the poor, the orphan, and the widow. But in contrast, as Jesus declared about the sinful woman, he or she who has been forgiven much loves much. He who has no need of forgiveness but is self-confidently busy at works to appease God has no love at all.

  38. I attended the IHOP-KC conference two years ago. Although I enjoyed the worship and learned a lot from the teaching, I was relieved that I could still hear God personally speaking to ME in the midst of all the calls to fasting and reading the book of Revelation over and over…telling me not to make any such commitments, to take the time to eat and take care of myself and go back to grad school where He had called me. I’m not going to say those people aren’t doing what God wants them to do, but I’m glad I’ve grown out of being a purebred charismatic, too.
    Sure, I could waste the next ten years of my life and disappoint Jesus. But I don’t want to. 🙂 Nor do I think that in eternity I will be reminded of any of my failures.

  39. Chaplain Mike, though my reaction to that sermon would be more or less along your trajectory, I have some conflicting thoughts here. My little bro went to One Thing ’10 and ’09. I see some of these works righteousness tendencies in him and me from time to time. It is the temptation in those circles.

    However, I’m also a fan of Piper’s DWYL, Paul Washer’s critiques of the sinner’s prayer abuses, and Francis Chan/David Platt’s call’s to “radical” obedience to Christ. So, i think, this message can be done in a gospel-grounded way.

    My family loves Mike Bickle, and have recently started following his ministry after a decade’s hiatus after some of the let down from the KC prophets hype, which they were also a part of. So I say this as one who is pretty familiar with Bickle’s ministry.

    The sole reason God is 100% for me is because of what Jesus has done for me. And I can still grieve the Holy Spirit. And I can still please God by my obedience and displease him by my disobedience, and all as a justified man. It does not surprise me that someone with a blog entitled “weak on sanctification,” one who boasts of his own weakness, as we ought to, and one who has expressed reservations on Piper’s pietistic leanings, would be a tad indignant over Bickle’s message and, more importantly, the (apparently, I have not personally listened to the message, perhaps you have) gospel-less motivation behind it. It is dangerous.

    So, here’s my corrective, a la Luther: You say to a crowd of college students “DWYL, or judgement day is gonna be a downer!” I say “That’s as absurd as saying to a pear tree “Bear pears, not lemons, or harvest will suck!” Nonsense, since Pear trees do that naturally, some 30 fold, some 60, some 100.”

    From how you paint the sermon, it is all imperatives, no indicatives. That may be so. iHOP seems to major on the imperatives, while you on the indicatives that ground the former. Me too. Judgement day is all gospel for believers, all law for the lost (I would add “and nothin but gospel, or else it’s not so gospel after all.” No BUTS. No “yea, saved, BUT.” That makes me cringe. No, “yes, gospel, HOWEVER.”

    BUT, (sorry to play the hypocrite) can you make sense of this verse in light of your critique:

    1 John 2:28: “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”

    This is the same John who says, if we do sin, Christ is our advocate, and that Christ is greater than our condemning hearts (2:1,2 and 3:19, respectively). What comfort! Yet, what an exhortation! I don’t want to be ashamed at his coming, so I’m gonna abide in him!”

    My question: is John pulling a Bickle here?

    • Garrett, I don’t think John is drawing distinctions between different types of genuine Christians in 1John, but between genuine Christians and gnostic/docetic pretenders who are promoting or following the false teaching that has infiltrated the church. Those who shrink at Christ’s coming are those who have apostasized and joined the false teachers.

      • Yea, that makes sense in light of 4:2:

        “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”

        Seems like the heretics that don’t (antichrists) will shrink, but those that abide (believers) will not. I think that solves it.

    • John’s imperative is firmly rooted in the person of Christ. Much of Bickle’s imperative (especially the beginning part where he hypes the “rulership” of certain saints but not others) is rooted in desiring to be one of elite crowd of super-Christians, or fear of getting called “unfaithful.”

      For me, that’s the key distinction. Piper, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have much of a problem remaining Christ-centered for entire sermons(and because I’ve yet to hear him elevate a “Christian green beret” that are more worthy than the rest.) I cut him some slack on DWYL, because he’ll follow it up by actually helping me eat the bread.

  40. AnglicanDave says

    Google Mike Bickle and ‘Kansas City Prophets’.

    The guy is a false prophet\teacher and should be exposed as such.

    Dave

  41. Note:
    This is not meant to be mean. Though it may sound like it.

    I do not know much about Mr. Bickle, visions he had, or IHOP (most of the posts seem to be negative towards him) maybe if I knew more about him I would be more disagreeable towards him.

    But just the message he had about “saved” people wasting their lives is very real to me. It calls to mind the words of Dietrich Bonhoffer (which Fr. Ernesto has already commented well on), Cheap Grace & Costly Discipleship. Do we ever feel like we over rationalize grace & works? Sometimes it seems like anytime someone mentions – serving for, following, or living for Christ, people throw there hands in the air & scream – WORKS-RIGHTEOUSNESS! Why? Because people have been hurt by “law” & abusive pastors, (I understand that), but lets not make every person who brings a word of Discipleship or church discipline EVIL. People have been broken by the Church so they want Grace & Gospel (I understand that, WE ALL NEED THAT) but serving Jesus is part of Grace & Gospel. People are broken in every relationship they get involved with, that’s part of life in a broken world. If you fall in love & get hurt should you never fall in love again? Should you just scream Bloody Murder at every romantic idea? That’s what some people sound like to me when they scream WORKS-RIGHTEOUSNESS. Please do not explain away Jesus’ sermon on the mount, or why Discipleship is hard, or why Jesus calls us to take up our cross, – & YES we will all fall flat on our faces, but WE HAVE GRACE.

    Please help me understand why it has to be all or nothing. NO complex Theology please.
    Again I understand people have been hurt, but that’s no reason to over-react when some calls us to serve God. Peace

    • That pretty well expresses some of things I thought as I read this post.

    • Preeeecisely.

    • Brian K: thoughtful and well written post. Since my restless leg syndrome has kicked in, and sleep is a wish, I’ll redeem the time and reply. An intro note: I attended Bickle’s church, KC Metro Fellowship from late ’95 to mid ’96, just long enough to find a wife at Metro, and then leave. Yeah, not very spiritual, but that’s me. My experience was not bad, at all, my wife and I attended a small group that was one of the best I’ve been part of in 30+ yrs of walking with the LORD. No lingering hurt there. I will note that many of his sermons made next to zero sense to me because he uses language in such strange and IHOP specific ways. This was more confusing than wounding.

      This is MY problem with Mike B., not necessarily Chap Mike’s: his call to works plus faith (which on the surface could just be Matt. 25, I mean c’mon man…) is not just works but a particular IHOP package that unavoidably creates a spiritual elite. He is kindly in disposition to other churches , but his TEACHING is NOT. His call to prayer is not a generic, christians need to embrace the Savior and make abiding in Christ their daily habit, but a specific style and type of prayer ministry that ALL the body of Christ needs to concern itself with, or else JESUS CANNOT RETURN. Do you catch the difference ?? Again, this is GregR typing, so I may be wandering from Chap’s original post somewhat, but this kind of stance divides the body into the super spiritual end time “forerunner generation” and then the lower class slobs who “don’t even have real prayer on their radar…..”. I challenge anyone to look closely at what he teaches and see if this is so, and show me differently if I’ve caricatured his work and words.

      I could flesh this out, but I don’t want this to become it’s own post, but to repeat, this isn’t just a problem of affirming works to accompany faith (the church in this century needs MORE, not LESS of that) but we have some gnosticism (as HUG pointed out) brewing, and it’s stinking…

      Hope this helps. As a sidenote, Bickle’s bookstore has MANY excellent resources in it (George Eldon Ladd, Piper, Larry Crabb and others) He should read some of what he’s bought.
      GregR

      • There is a trend today just the same as in the earliest church: “I follow so-and-so!”

        Without categorizing the weird uncles types as heretical, they are founded/headed by cult-like figures. Doesn’t matter which teacher or leader is put up on the pedestal, there will be disciples of that very person & their particular brand of doctrine+faith application.

        It is that eerie Christian celebrity status with its mock humility of both leader & fan club that is a good clue that something is out-of-wack in Camelot.

        The youth oriented movements/organizations resort to what I call Christian propaganda which is just enough of acceptable spiritual principle to make it palatable to those that do agree with the perceived deficiency in ‘The Church’ that is being addressed & corrected. Unfortunately, to do so there is a psychological & emotional appeal that continues to be taught, chanted, reinforced, practiced, etc. It is a scary thing as the group then is used for the purposes supposedly of God but really of the leadership. Anyway…back to work for me…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Again, this is GregR typing, so I may be wandering from Chap’s original post somewhat, but this kind of stance divides the body into the super spiritual end time “forerunner generation” and then the lower class slobs who “don’t even have real prayer on their radar…..”

        Question, everybody:

        How does this differ from Clericalism and Priestcraft that the Reformers denounced?

        How does this differ from “The Roman church of his day was not merely preaching that one must do good works to be saved, they had also defined and limited good works to extraordinary acts of religious devotion” where IHOP-style “Real Prayer” is THE latest Extraordinary Act of Religious Devotion, so Extraordinary that It and It Alone can bind or loose The Second Coming?

        • Interesting post HUG: well, if the position is that all faithful, zealous members are members of the special Forerunners generation, then I see your point. Within IHOP, I am not aware of them making this rank or that any big deal (other than maybe staff members having special prayer time quotas, but I’m sketchy on that).

          The word that Bickle uses for the special quality of end-time Forerunner obedience is that it acts as an ACCELERANT to God’s will. Whatever GOD had in mind to do, HE will do it that much quicker in response to the zealous activity of HIS Bride. I’ve just eaten lunch, so I don’t want to touch that for an hour or two. Whatever weirdness has attached itself to IHOP, the end times fixation is putting an edge , a very sharp edge, on everything. We live in fascinating times, ehh ??

          GregR

          • My first sentence is garbled: should have read:

            ….all faithful , zealous members of the special Forerunners generation are equevalent to a special category of priest or religious group, then I see your point.

            thanks

        • My first sentence is garbled: should have read

          all faithful, zealous members of the Forerunners generation are the equivalent of a special class of priest or cleric, then I see your point…..

          • Bickle’s strategy as well as that of the NAR & the Extreme Prophetic types, & might as well throw Hagee into that mix, is a very, very scary version of Dominionist intervention into the affairs of men all in the name of God.

            Yeah, God is the conspirator & just itching to get His will done on the earth thru the dedicated few that actually rightly discern exactly what it is the Almighty wants to accomplish.

            They know that they know just WWJD if He had this very special dedicated elite spiritual storm troopers around to do His bidding, say, 2000 years ago. Heck, Jesus wouldn’t have had time to sit down in glory since the return trip clarion call sounded almost as soon as He was swallowed up in the cloud on His Ascension…

            I don’t like the fact that very influential religious kooks like Hagee actually bend the ear of Senators & Congressmen along with those in the Knesset. Hagee would trigger Armageddon if he was anywhere near the doomsday button. Bad religion makes far worse zealots than political despots do.

            Jesus did teach us to pray, “Your kingdom come and your will be done on the earth as it is in heaven.” Hey, I can get behind that directive. I just don’t like certain high profile types making it their business telling the rest of us just what that would look like & when. It makes me nervous. Yeah, very, very nervous…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Yeah, God is the conspirator & just itching to get His will done on the earth thru the dedicated few that actually rightly discern exactly what it is the Almighty wants to accomplish.

            Isn’t that the same justification as the Taliban and “God’s Shadows Upon the Earth”, the Ayatollahs of Iran?

            Both stamping out all who Spread Corruption Upon Earth in the Name of God?

  42. “Works-righteousness” is a Protestant buzz-word that is used chiefly as a slur upon competing understandings of salvation (whether Protestant or not). It reminds me of the Pharisee’s prayer: “Lord, I thank thee that thou has not made me a believer in works-righteousness, like this Mike Bickle fellow.”

    Outside of Protestantism (and certain moderate denominations within Protestantism), discussion of the relationship between human behavior and faith tends to be more balanced and organic, with less of an obsession with boiling down “salvation” to a simple formula.

  43. When I consider how my light is spent
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
    And that one Talent which is death to hide
    Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, lest He returning chide,
    “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
    I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
    That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
    Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
    Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
    Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
    And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
    They also serve who only stand and wait.”

    –On His Blindness, John Milton

  44. Brother John says

    I regret every ounce of energy I have spilled on the ground in my lust
    I regret every selfish thought that has made me blind to the needs of those around me
    I regret every word and act of anger or violence that I have inflicted on the ones I should love
    I am so grateful for the grace filled voice of my Lord Jesus as he says to me “Rise up from the
    mud you are crawling in and be one with this amazing life I have given you.
    Look up from your self pity and give your attention to those around you fully, without restraint or hesitation
    And finally: look up from your regret, for its work is finished, and you and I can share the joy our Father’s grace gives when his power, through my spirit, shines from you and heals the world”.

  45. pretty hilarious how caught up the most knowledgable persons theologically can get on the dumbest things. Jesus Christ died for our sins – because of Christ and ONLY because of Christ, ‘there is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are IN Jesus Christ’. guilt, shame, regret, blame, this, that, over there, over here, faith, trust, love, hope, peace, abraham, isaac, blah, blah, blah – Jesus was crucified for our sins. believe it? God knows if you truly do or you don’t. if you do, no condemnation. ever. donezo. thy will be done – not my will.

  46. If repentence is works, is it for righteousness’ sake? If not, then whta is its purpose. In the great resurrection chapter I Corinthians 15 God says “Awake unto righteousness and sin not.” Why are some posters condemning/mocking those of us who take this at face value and obey it?

  47. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It is not, however, biblical to manipulate people by destroying their assurance through religious double-talk and by teaching them to trust in their own dedication rather than the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

    Back in the Seventies, I experienced a variant of this mated to that other IMonk Classic subject, “Wretched Urgency”. I was personally victimized half-a-dozen times or so by “Soul Winners” whose first step in “Witnessing” WAS to “destroy their assurance through religious double-talk”, usually of the “Are You Certain? Are You Sure? Are You Sure You’re Certain You’re Sure?” variety. Once worn down into doubt and despair by this Infinite Regression tactic, the Witness would then Save Their Soul (and put a notch on his Bible) through the usual Altar Call method.

    There was a general belief that “It’s All Gonna Burn” except for the Souls You Led To Christ, and there was a corollary that the more Souls Saved, the better for you on Judgment Day. This really supercharged the whole process, and led to “sheep rustling” tactics such as that described in the previous paragraph. Looking back, it was a generally bad scene.