Critique My Third Deuteronomy Sermon on Faith

FaithObedienceGetting insightful and irenic feedback for my first two sermons in Deuternonmy (on Sin and Leadership) has been so much fun for me. Thanks! I learned a lot and I think your comments helped improve my sermon. Please feel free to critique my third sermon entitled Faith (Dt 2:1-3:29). My theme is that as sin brings consequences (chap. 1), faith pleases God (chap. 2-3). As disobedience brings discipline and God’s severity, faith expressed by obedience brings blessing. I am still in the process of formulating a conclusion, which often does not happen until Sun morning!


  1. Ben I do not have the capacity to process this one. But here are some related random raven-like thoughts based on my current “outlaw theology”.

    1. Faith is a journey (reference Danaher’s book “Eyes..Ears…”)

    2. Christians do not strive to obey God’s Law, but to follow Jesus. The purpose of the law is not in observance, but in observation. We can see the law, but our lives are not to be centered on observing the law or some modified version of God’s Law.

    3. If we look at the law to avoid sin that is not faith. Faith is looking at Jesus and thereby avoiding sin by looking at Jesus.

    4. Obeying God’s Law is cursed.

    5. The supervision of God’s Law has ended.

    6. Jesus’ yoke is grace, not law.

    7. Anyone who attempts to obey God’s law must obey all of it.

    8. Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.

    9. God’s Law has a purpose: to teach a redemptive narrative about Jesus. We are to teach the Law and the Prophets. They did not disappear. But what do we teach from the Law? We do not become anarchists and teach others to break the Law. We teach them the redemptive narrative about Jesus. We do not teach conformance to the letter of the law, but transformation through the Spirit of the law.

    10. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Distrust is the opposite of faith. It is ok to doubt. Faith is all about trust. We trust the promises of God.

    11. It is not our faith that ultimately saves us but the faith of Christ.

    • I describe some more detail about my outlaw theology on my Lambhearted Lion blog.

    • forestsfailyou

      Wasn’t Thomas condemned for doubting?

    • No, Thomas was not “condemned” for anything, as far as I know. And John 20 is something worth discussing. The issues there are “doubt” and “belief”. But is faith the same as belief? I don’t consider faith and belief to be the same.

      Belief is in our emotional realm: “a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true; a feeling that something is good, right, or valuable”

      Faith is a kind of belief in our soul/will realm: “allegiance to duty or a person; loyalty; fidelity to one’s promises; sincerity of intentions; belief and trust in and loyalty to God; belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion: firm belief in something for which there is no proof: complete trust”

      So in my mind, doubt/belief may be opposites, and trust/faith are opposites. But I admit I may be splitting hairs :)

    • I meant to write “distrust/faith” are opposites :) Jesus doesn’t seem to like either doubt or distrust but he seems more ok with doubt in my observation. So exploring doubt isn’t such a problem, but distrust is a bigger problem and much more difficult to deal with.

    • forestsfailyou

      Faith here means holding onto what you believe despite your changing emotions. Having faith in Christ means trying to obey him. It would not make any sense to say that you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Therefore if a person has handed himself over to Christ, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But we ought to be on guard against legalism. We must try in a new way- not doing these things in order to be saved, but because Christ has saved you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because Christ is already inside you.

    • @forestfails: Brian is right, Thomas was not comdemned at all. As far as I see, he was not even rebuked, instead Jesus helped him to believe.

      Jesus said “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” but this does not mean that in reverse, all who cannot easily believe if they haven’t seen are condemned (this kind of fallacy is called “denying the antecedent”).

      Also, Rom 14 says “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” We should not condemn a person who is a bit legalistic and needs visible acts of obedience such as following certain rules. At least so long as that person does not force these rules upon others. We shouldn’t tolerate that. We see in Gal 5:11-12 how agitated Paul became when that happened.

    • Good point forests: “Having faith in Christ means trying to obey him. It would not make any sense to say that you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Therefore if a person has handed himself over to Christ, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him.”

      My question is this: What is it we are trying to obey? You say obey Jesus, but what specifically?

      One reason a lot of us were so gung-ho about ubf is that ubf reduced “obey Jesus” to something manageable. In ubf obedience means to go fishing on campus, to raise sheep and to marry by faith. Outsiders can’t understand such slogans, so in addition to making obedience to Jesus easy to understand, ubf ideology also gives you the feeling of “real insiders” and “elite, secret knowledge”.

      So ubf ideology first makes obedience very simply to understand. Then ubf ideology makes obedience very difficult to implement. Try going to campus for fishing with 2 or 3 little children who need attention. Try raising sheep when you have a full time job trying support your family.

      Eventually obedience in ubf gets very difficult, which enforces the feeling that you must be a world class shepherd because you work so hard to obey Jesus.

      Then the breaking point comes. You realize you just can’t keep up. Then the ubf ideology steps in again and says you should surrender to your shepherd. Just obey your shepherd, the ubf ideology teaches. As long as you are loyal to your shepherd, you can be forgiven of failing to obey by raising sheep, etc.

      Then your obedience which was groomed by slogans and shepherding ideology gets transferred to your shepherd. Then all kinds of weird things happen. You begin talking like your shepherd. You adopt your shepherd’s mannerisms. You let your shepherd dictate your life narrative during message training. You surrender your choice of baby names to your shepherd for approval. You ask permission from your shepherd to go out of town to visit family. You inform your shepherd of all your plans first, even before telling your wife, who then must simply obey your direction.

      Eventually your obedience in ubf goes further. You learn from your shepherd about how to keep face and avoid getting a bad rap in the violent ubf rumor mill. You imitate your shepherd’s tricks he learned to keep up. You obey your shepherd’s direction to have bible study with stuffed animals in order to make bible study quota for the week. You learn how to quickly copy Slee’s lectures for your own Sunday lecture so that you only need to spend 15 minutes preparing. You learn how to print out a long bible study answer sheet to the ubf questionairre in such a way that it looks like impressively long notes, but in fact you only spend 15 minutes copying and pasting Slee’s lecture into the question sheet which was provided to you electronically.

      And then finally, if the Spirit is willing to intervene, you decide one day to disobey your shepherd. You surrender to grace and the floodgates of joy and peace and love flood your soul. And then you learn that the obedience Jesus wants is to listen to His voice, your One shepherd.

  2. namuehling

    I think perhaps I have a knee jerk reaction to the word obedience. Lately I have been noticing that it is a word is often used in combination with faith. I think perhaps the focus should not be on obedience, but on a relationship with Jesus. This relationship changes us-sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly. So, I believe that we absolutely experience God’s promise without (full) obedience. I have never been fully obedient, yet I have certainly experienced God’s promise through grace. In fact, I realize that I am unequipped to be obedient. I am completely equipped to be disobedient to God. Yet, God has given me a desire to know Him. The relationship has moved me on the obedient-disobedient continuum slowly from one end towards the other. When reading sermons on obedience leading to blessing I am reminded of the latin phrase “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” – or after something, therefore, because of it. It seems like obedience leads to blessing. But, I think it is the relationship with Christ that leads to both obedience and blessing. This comment is about as messy as my thinking in regard to this, and so may not be that helpful. Anyway, hope you are well Ben!

    • Nick, I’m thinking along the same messy line..I’m reminded that Paul said that the purpose of the law was to reveal sin, not to gain blessing. I’m trying to understand John H. Sailhamer” view in The Pentateuch as Narrative. He believes that over arching theme of the whole narrative is the failure of the law to produce obedience. It’s a very interesting book. Also, I was just reading commentary on Matthew chapter 5:27-30. The commentator believes that Jesus is here pushing the logic of external obedience, or obedience motivated through rules and laws, to the point of absurdity, in order to teach a better way of internal righteousness. And I’m remembering so many testimonies of people who could not experience honest trusting relationship with God until they stopped being hypervigilant about obedience, stopped emphasizing their own effort to obey, and instead learned to trust and experience God’s presence instead. I could say so much more, but not very well.

    • To me Rom 8:14-16 was helpful in this context. We pray to God as our heavenly father. But do we really take this seriously? Would I as father demand perfect (“absolute”) from my son? Certainly not. I don’t want to have a robot as son, nor do I want a son who obeys me just because he fears me. And I certainly don’t bless my son only when he is obedient. I love my son as he is, and I like that he sometimes has his own mind. Why should my heavenly father treat people worse than I do as a deficient and sinful human father?

  3. Thanks, Nick, Brian. Might it be because of UBF that the word “obedience” has become such a turn off? Might it be because of all the cringe and negative gut wrenching emotions you recollect when you were told– either directly or implicitly–to “just obey”? Sorry in advance that my tentative title for Deuteronomy chapter 4 is Obedience!!

    In my opinion UBF and surely many other churches as well regard obedience (usually implicitly and indirectly) as something that is credited to your favor, which then obscures the grace of God.

    For instance, I love my wife partly because I want to obey God’s command for me to do so. But I do not obey as blind obedience to the Law or because I think I would receive some brownie points from God but primarily because of the grace of God who has only granted me favor by granting me his Son and a wife as his gracious gift. Also, by loving by wife, I am actually a lot happier than if I did not love her.

    So obedience is bad if it is Law driven. But obedience that follows the grace of Jesus is what I believe is consistent in both the OT and the NT.

    Here’s the Strong’s concordance for obedience in the NT:

  4. Thanks, Sharon. I fully agree that anyone who is truly honest with themselves know that you are never able to obey God or the Bible fully or perfectly. Those who think their obedience is acceptable to God become Pharisees and older brothers who say, “all these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders” (Lk 15:29).

    So, from my heart of hearts, I want to obey God and love my wife. But I also know that my love for her is imperfect, flawed and sometimes downright infuriating to her! Therefore, my faith and trust is not in my obedience at all, but entirely in the grace of Jesus that enables me to love her, in spite of myself, and only because of his grace.

    • So perhaps we need to be careful about emphasizing obedience as a means of blessing. When you do so you play right into the inner Pharisee in everyone.

  5. The words “faith expressed by obedience brings blessing” are kind of cringeworthy to me, Ben. I tried expressing my faith through obedience for two decades in ways that I now see as very misguided! The blessings I have received have little or nothing to do with my obedience, and everything to do with God’s grace. I think Brian is right in saying that faith is about trust.

    I suspect that reading Deutoronomy through the lens of reformed theology rather than through the lens of its own authors may be a problem. But I’m still trying to work this out.

    • Sharon is right. Te reason why this sounds cringeworthy is that we can still hear Samuel Lee’s teachings in such statements. I want to remind you about this passage from Samuel Lee’s Sunday sermon in April 1999:

      “To obey God or not to obey God’s word determines our fate. There were three medical doctors. They came as UBF missionaries to Chicago. But when their commander arrived, they all ran away so as not to suffer in doing the work of God. The leader was unhappy about them and did not bless them. Then soon one of the doctors, who was an anaesthesiologist, overdosed a patient for an operation and the patient died. So he lost his medical doctor’s license. Now he is running a grocery store very poorly. Another one, influenced by American relativism, cursed the servant of God. Then he left UBF. After several years, he was in a severe car accident. His body was totally crushed and his hands and feet were paralyzed. The third one got a proper job. But he has rheumatism in his right leg and in his left hand. He suffers day and night. All these events happened when they took God’s word lightly. This is to say that when we obey God’s word, God blesses us; when we disobey, God does not bless us.”

      In this short passage, Samuel Lee taught these two concepts: 1) obedience = blessing, disobedience = curse and 2) obedience to the leader (the “commander”) = obedience to God. At the same time, he claimed his power as the “commander” and achieved to instill powerful irrational fears of leaving UBF or disobeying Samuel Lee into the members.

      This is why we still cringe when we read statements like “faith expressed by obedience brings blessing”. And this is also why UBF is rightfully considered a cult. UBF has never officially distanced itself from such statements. Instead, Samuel Lee is still glorified today. I’m waiting for the day when UBF will officially apologize for these wrong teachings. Samuel Lee was not the only culprit. All the Chicago members and elders were sitting and listening, and nobody said a word. And this lecture was distributed into the whole world and used as a template for UBF sermons by many local chapter directors. Nobody protested.

  6. namuehling

    Ben, I don’t believe that I have a knee-jerk reaction because of UBF, although I think they reinforced some of my own ideas that were problematic. I think I gravitated toward the idea of obedience because it is something I can easily wrap my head around and understand, while a relationship with an invisible and sometimes seemingly silent God is not easy to understand at all. I viewed my own disobedience, which is always present, as a result of my lack of faith and as something I have complete control over. For me, this lead to despair. I think, perhaps I am wrong, that for others it leads to unfounded arrogance. If no one can be completely obedient, which we cannot, I am simply wondering if we should forget about obedience. I am not saying obedience is not important, etc., however, I wonder if it is a misplaced focus. When I focus on being obedient, I just see my failings. But when I focus on trying to develop a relationship with God, somehow, I become just a little more obedient. The short of it is that I agree with your statement that obedience follows the grace of Jesus, but am simply wondering if obedience is increased by focusing on experiencing the grace of Jesus rather than focusing on tasks/behavior that is simply impossible for me. The miracle is that some of what is impossible in regard to behavior changes.

  7. Sharon, Nick, I think we are on the same page in that the foundational key to being a child of God is our relationship with him that is based entirely on his mercy and grace to us.

    In Rom 1:5 Paul speaks about “the obedience that comes from faith” (NIV) or in other translations “the obedience of faith.” Our faith is that through Christ we are indeed loved in spite of our sins (Rom 8:32). When we know this and to the degree that we know this, we want to please God, love Him, by living according to his word and in accordance to his will. So the obedience is not legalistic; it does not make us proud or self-righteous, but it is primarily an expression of our love for Him, because He loved us first (1 Jn 4:19). Our obedience is driven by our relationship with him, and not driven by the Law.

    Sharon, I still don’t quite know how to rephrase the cringe-worthy statement that “faith expressed by obedience brings blessing.” I understand why it is cringe-worthy. It makes it sound like an abstract formula, or like some arbitrary steps you need to follow in order to be blessed by God. How might you reword it?

  8. I wouldn’t reword it so much as change the whole paradigm in which you are looking at Dt….to see it as a narrative written by Hebrew authors with a unique perspective and purpose that is different from ours…and I would be hesitant to assume that we understand much about obedience.

  9. Ben, I would think it would be helpful to reference what the NT authors say about Deuteronomy, for example here is a list of NT references to Deuteronomy.

    Still nobody has answered my question satisfactorily:

    What do we who follow Christ obey when we talk about obedience?

  10. Romans 3:20-24 is a critical section of Scripture we must include in these discussions about obedience:

    “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

  11. Hi guys and gals, I am thoroughly enjoying reading all your comments. I believe I am being edified and challenged to “expand my mind” (in the words of Morpheus to Neo in The Matrix), which is very very good!

    Sharon, this is my paradigm: Grace Before Obedience

    First is always grace(Ex 19:4): Redemption.
    Second is obedience because of grace (Ex 19:5): Responsibility.
    Third is reward that follows our obedience of faith (Ex 19:6): Reward.

    Also, the Ten Commandments is preceded by God’s grace of deliverance (Ex 20:2; Dt 5:6). Therefore we do not obey to be saved, but we obey because we have been saved by God’s grace.

    This is a loving obedience from a transformed heart before God and because of his mercy, love and grace (and NOT to UBF directors who believe that they have a God-given right to lord it over you!).

    • My contention, Ben, is that we do not and should not look to the 10 commandments to be our “what” we obey. If the 10 commandments are what we are looking to in order to obey, we will fail miserably. Christians do not strive to obey the 10 commandments.

  12. The problem with most ubf people is that they ask the wrong questions. For example, here is a recent question posed by a ubf shepherd:

    “Are you obeying God fully or do you have partial obedience?”


    This is the wrong question because only Jesus obeyed God fully. All 7 billion people obey God partially. So the ubf shepherd asks a stupid question and thereby instills a massive guilt trip on those who listen. When such a question is asked in ubf Sunday lectures, the sheep’s minds all become severely and unnecessarily burdened. And then the sheep’s minds are bound to ubf ideology.

  13. Brian, my thought is that I am not “striving to obey the 10 Commandments” but that my transformed heart desires intimacy with God thought my obedience of faith which is never ever perfect.

    My obedience is not driven by the Law but motivated by love and grace.

    In response to your earlier question: “What do we who follow Christ obey when we talk about obedience?” – See more at:

    It depends on the verse. Famous/greatest/prominent ones: “Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your wife. Love your enemy. Make disciples.” Of course, every Christian knows that our obedience falls short of the glory of God and that only Christ obeyed God perfectly.

    Being bound to UBF ideology is the result of the way UBF teaches obedience to UBF.

    Each Christian I believe should decide in his own heart and mind how they are intentionally and proactively seeking to obey God in obedience to his commands: Pray. Be thankful. Repent. (These and other commands in and of themselves (and out of bad UBF contexts) are valid and biblical, I believe.

  14. I don’t think we should entirely throw out the word “obedience” simply because of our bad experiences in UBF (or in other legalistic churches).

    I believe that anyone who genuinely reads the Bible feels the tug to obey God (not man) in his or her heart. When I read about Jesus praying, I want to similarly obey God and pray like my Lord, even if this is just a narrative and does not command you to pray. But there are other texts that command Christians to pray (Lk 18:1; 1 Th 5:17).

  15. Ben, I think you just correctly articulated the Old Testament understanding of obedience, the way Moses understood it:

    “This is a loving obedience from a transformed heart before God and because of his mercy, love and grace.” – See more at:

    I am still searching for an understanding of the New Testament understanding of obedience. Yes the deliverance came before the law. But how and what are we to obey now that the Messiah has lived, died and risen?

    • For starters: “Love God. Love your neighbor.” These 2 great commands are likely all encompassing to all of life.

    • One of my themes Ben, is to see faith as a journey that goes beyond our emotional hope and our rational reason. Was not Peter’s denial and dark night part of his faith journey? Does not our faith go through the death and resurrection process numerous times?

      What I am trying to say here is that because Messiah has come, we now can no longer draw such a hard line between obedience and disobedience, between faith and distrust, or between belief and doubt. It all works for our good. It all leads to Jesus.

      And perhaps it is our disobedience and doubt that leads to our greatest blessing– the death and resurrection of our self and knowledge of our Savior.

      And yes I am echoing Danaher’s thoughts here (although I suspect Danaher might not agree with my articulation).

      “Ultimately, in our faith journey, we are brought to a place of death in our soul—a place where we feel abandoned by God. It is a place where we are able to muster very little in the form of faith and all seems lost. When we come out of that death experience alive, we have a new faith and a new understanding of God. We realize that it was not the greatness of our faith that brought us through, but the greatness of God.”
      Eyes That See, Ears That Hear: Perceiving Jesus in a Postmodern Context (James P Danaher)
      – Highlight Loc. 683-85

      And I am also echoing what the Altar Boys’ musician sang about years ago. Mike Stand went through a fundamorphosis and I love his journey:

  16. Brian, I really like your question. What exactly do we obey? I agree with your paradigm, Ben, only if you are extremely careful about imposing responsibility and promising reward as you handle the word of truth. It is so easy to get these wrong….not just in the UBF context, but in protestant evangelicalism as well. I would love to talk more about this. I just don’t know what you mean by grace, responsibility and reward, and again, I’m not sure that the OT seen through the lens of Reformed Theology is the key to this understanding. The OT is badly abused in my opinion. I could give examples but maybe another time.

    • Atheists rightfully despise Christians when many of them seem to be good only because they fear punishment and hope for reward. But such Christians really don’t understand the gospel.

  17. Thanks, Sharon. Let me know what you think about some of these quotes regarding grace that resonate with me:

    “Christianity is different from all other religions because it is a message of grace. Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God’s grace. Salvation is by grace, and grace governs and empowers Christian living. Without grace Christianity is nothing. Jesus Christ is the grace of God personified.” Charles C Ryrie

    “In the NT, ‘grace’ is a word of central importance – the keyword, in fact, of Christianity. The thought of grace is the key that unlocks the NT; and it is the only key that does so. However well we may know the NT, we cannot get inside its meaning till we know something of what grace is.” J.I. Packer

    ”Put bluntly, the (American) church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice. We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works–but our lives refute our faith. By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived. Too many Christians are living in a house of fear and not in the house of love.” Brennan Manning

    “The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God–the grace of God which depends not one whit upon anything that is in man but is absolutely underserved, resistless and sovereign. …and Christian experience also depends for its depth and for its power upon the way in which that blessed doctrine is cherished in the depths of the heart. The center of the Bible, and the center of Christianity, is found in the grace of God; and the necessary corollary of the grace of God is salvation through faith alone.” J. Greshan Machen

    “Only when grace is still ‘amazing’ to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.” Sinclair Ferguson

    After 33 years in UBF, my subjective sense is that UBF has not taught nor preached nor communicated grace clearly (without denying it), perhaps because of her emphatic (over)emphasis on mission (and UBF core values), which comes across as a works based salvation.

  18. On face value of course I can’t argue with these. But it isn’t as simple as that.

  19. “Atheists rightfully despise Christians when many of them seem to be good only because they fear punishment and hope for reward.” – See more at:

    Chris, Heb 11:6 says that God rewards those who earnestly seek him. For sure seeking him includes love, worship, reverence, gratitude, and even obedience.

    Yes, I want reward from God (and not the alternative). But I do not want to present or promote a consumerist attitude or mentality of simply using God to get what I want.

    More than a reward from God, I want and desire God himself, which incidentally is what all people want more than anything else, whether or not they realize or acknowledge it.

    • “More than a reward from God, I want and desire God himself.”

      In that we both agree.

      But some Christians believe the reward is some blessing on this earth like health or money. This is the false “health and wealth gospel”. As you see from the quote above, it was also part of Samuel Lee’s teachings. Others believe the reward is some kind of honor they get in heaven because they were Bible teachers (Dan 12:3), others (like Jehovah’s Witnesses) dream of living eternally on an paradise-like earth, even others (like Islamists) believe they can have even more pleasures in paradise than eating fresh fruits. Doing good things (or even bad things, like suicide bombing) to get these rewards does not make a Christian (or Muslim for that matter). Not to speak of those who even seem to take pleasure in the thought that all others who did not live exactly like them will be condemned and tormented in hell forever. That’s even more deplorable. In UBF I never understood how people could cope with the thought that most others were condemned or cursed because they did not follow the UBF way, which was essentially what UBF taught us.

      You are right, the reward is that we shall see face to face. But if you have an image of God that is composed of fear and obedience and feeligns of guilt, then you wouldn’t want to see him face to face, right? You only would want to seem Him face to face if you are fully convinced of God’s grace and justification by grace alone, or if you are an extreme self-righteous person. But I’m not sure if such people really seek God because they seem to have everything they need already.

  20. At the risk of oversimplification, I could say that in the past I taught (and squeezed) obedience because the Bible commands it.

    Today, I want to primarily and predominantly emphasize and preach (and hopefully live and practice) the unfathomable grace of God, and then allow the grace of God and the Spirit of God to promote obedience in their own lives. I desire to preach the gospel of God’s grace (Ac 20:24) hopefully from the whole will/counsel/purpose/plan of God (Ac 20:27):;ESV;NASB;HCSB

    Does this make sense?

  21. It is now an hour before the Sun service starts! and I am having a lot more fun commenting here rather than praying and finalizing my sermon, probably because I don’t quite know how to do that, and also because I preach extemporaneously, which is my prayer and hope that God allows me to speak and reveal his Son by the work of the Spirit through the instrument of his Word.

  22. In the end, on final judgement, what does Jesus say will happen? Does Jesus say final judgement will have anything to do with our obedience to the 10 commandments? Or about how much faith we had? Or about how much we understood grace? Or about our personal relationship with him?

    No. Jesus says something totally crazy and seemingly contradictory to the Jewish mind: You will be condemned because you didn’t visit a soup kitchen. After this the religious people of the time were pushed over the edge. They just couldn’t take Jesus’ teachings anymore.

    Jesus’ crazy judgement principles

    But maybe this isn’t so crazy.

    • Brian, this is a really interesting passage that we never really studied in UBF.

      Here is how a UBF lecture interprets Mt 25:31-46:

      “Selfish people usually want to get something from others. They have no idea (how) to give something to others. Selfish people become arrogant after getting all the benefits from God. These days secular humanists propagate the idea of living a selfish life. They lead others to eternal destruction.”

      This is so upside down.

      Do you know what Amnesty International, a secular humanist organization does? They care for people in prison and visit them. Do you know what UBF, a “Christian” organization, never did? Caring for people in prison and visiting them.

      I know only one other group that makes such absurd claims about humanists. In light of what we said above, I believe secular humanists are even less selfish than many Christians, because they try to do good without expecting any reward from God.

      Do you also see the hidden guilt trip message in the passage? “Selfish people become arrogant after getting all the benefits from God.” Translated: UBF shepherds cared so much for you and love bombed you, now you owe them, now you have to pay back.

    • Yes Chris, that is the kind of thing I want to point out. I have found the anti-humanist thinking to be rather strong among Evangelical Christians in America. Jesus was indeed both “God” and “human” but I’ve been mulling over the fact that Jesus seemed to want us to follow him in order to learn how to be better humans.

  23. I did not frame the conclusion to my sermon until just before I stepped up to preach. This is my typed up version of what I more or less preached extemporaneously:

    There are two ways to obey God in the Bible:

    1) The Pharisee way.
    2) The gospel way.

    The Pharisees’ obedience produces religious monsters. The Pharisees’ obedience is legalistic and based on the Law. This either produces pride when they think they are obeying well. Or it produces despair when they think they are not obeying well. When they obey, their head swells, they become self-righteous, and they think that they are far better than other “sinners” whom they regard as disobedient and immoral (such as the prostitutes and tax collectors). The Pharisees’ obedience produces “Christians” like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, who said, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders” (Lk 15:29). Pharisees’ obedience makes us religious monsters!

    Gospel obedience reveals the marvelous grace of Jesus. How is gospel obedience different? Gospel obedience occurs when we catch a glimpse of glory through the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:4-6). Last week 15 of our members went to the 2014 Passion conference in Atlanta. When they returned their faces were glowing, like Moses when he came down the mountain of God (Ex 34:29, 35). They were on fire for Christ and were filled with the passion to live in obedience to Christ. It is as though they had received an eye transplant and are living the best day of their life every day. What happened to them? They caught a gliplse of the majestic and glorious Christ. Now they want to live their lives in loving obedience to God.

    Jesus was obedient to death, even death on a Cross. If we are honest with ourselves we know that all of our attempts at obedience are incomplete, imperfect, stained with disgusting impure motives and they fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Thus, we continually need the gospel of God’s grace (Ac 20:24). How? Consider Jesus who–even though he was a Son–learned obedience from what he suffered (Heb 5:8). He suffered not for his own sins but for our sins. The best verses in the Bible that expresses Jesus’ condescension and obedience is in Phil 2:6-8: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

    When we catch a glimpse of Jesus in his majestic glory, our life of obedience is simply a loving response to all that he has done for us (Rom 8:32).

    • Nice Ben. I could live with that. Still the question, “What do we obey?” is vague. But I like the fact that you tapped into what you call gospel obedience.

      Some Scriptures frame it as obedience to the gospel, as in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17. So I think one nuance is that the gospel does not merely impart power to obey something else, but the gospel requires obedience to the gospel Himself, and hence to the messages of the gospel also.

      I haven’t work this out yet but those are my thoughts I kept having today. Thanks for sharing your sermon processing here!

  24. Yeah, Brian, Thanks again for all the comments which I personally find exhilarating, illuminating and thought provoking, even if we might somewhat be crossing/talking past each other, but with our only common ground being Jesus, grace, the gospel and the Bible.

    You state: Still the question, “What do we obey?” is vague. Don’t you think that ultimately, it is to obey God, even if our best efforts at obeying God are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6), and even if our obedience arises from a deceitful heart (Jer 17:9).

    Since Jesus states what the great and foremost command is, shouldn’t we obey God by loving God and loving our neighbor (Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31)?

    The specifics and the details of how we obey God, love God and love our neighbor is to be worked out in the specifics of our own lives.

    • Yes, I would agree with those statements. Yet there is something elusive that I can’t quite describe. Acts 15 comes to mind for example. The direction given to the Gentile Christians had no mention of any of the 613 commands to be obeyed. To the Jewish mind however, it was inconceivable that anyone could obey the Messiah apart from the 613 commands. In today’s terms, it might be inconceivable for some Christians to believe that someone could follow and obey Christ apart from Christianity. That gets to the heart of what I’m trying to find: Could we follow Jesus without Christianity? Does obeying Jesus require obedience to some prescribed Christianity?

    • Ben, I like to see how you’re struggling to preach these things, and I also like to see Brian constantly “nagging” you with questions because these questions are very important, and pondering on these things deeper helps us a lot.

      Your’re right that the greatest (and all-encompassing) commandment is to love God and our neighbour. Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Actually I believe he did not mean this to only encompass the group of disciples, but all Christians and all mankind.

      The big problem here is: How can you command someone to love? How can I “obey” to love someone? So I guess what Jesus wants us to do is working on transforming our hearts, e.g. by doing concrete acts of love and trying to really have interest in the other people, not in the aspect that of showing obedience or earning reward that way. I don’t believe UBF has good answers to learning this kind of love. They tell you that loving others means attending endless UBF meetings and visiting the campus. But I don’t believe it’s the right way to learn real love and empathy. My experience showed that many UBFers rather became insensible to suffering and injustice even when it happened in their own ranks. They also learn to close their hearts for their families and other people who need their help, because they are busy with UBF activities. So it caused division in families, and it caused division and alienation between UBF and other churches and between former members and those who stay in UBF. I cannot see where this whole program really helps to fulfill Jesus’ commandment of loving each other.

      I believe love always starts in your own family, caring for your spouse, kids, parents, wider family and then your neighborhood. In Jesus’ time it manifested in caring for the “widows”. We believe these problems are solved in our time, but they aren’t. We don’t have good universal healthcare in America because fundamental Christians are trying to prohibit this for whatever screwed and wicked reasons. We don’t have good healthcare in Germany and other countries either, because money is lacking, medicine is expensice and people are getting older. So there are many people in our neighbourhoods who could need help. There are also many old and lonely people who need a loving person to care and listen to them. Then we can also engage in helping the people in the poorest countries. People in these countries desperately need help, they need food. But we “civilized”, “Christian” countries don’t care about them. We only care about our self-made financial crisis. These are all things where we fail to obey Jesus commandment, as individuals and as Christian nations. We should really start working on that. But in UBF we never put any focus on these things.

      I remember that when I had been invited to my first European UBF “conference” I expected that people from all countries would meet to pray for the problems of the poor and collaborate on ideas how to help them. But no, world peace, hunger, injustice were not even mentioned once in any of the prayers. It all revolved only around UBF and “campus mission” as an end in itself. Campus mission may be good, but only if it serves the goal of making people aware of the problems in the world and creating a community that emantates love, not just the goal of doing more campus mission. The humanist student organizations on the campus are doing much better in this regard, and therefore I believe they are obeying Jesus’ commandment much better than groups like UBF are doing.

    • Interestingly, not only in America the Christian politicians are those who are trying to avoid and prohinit doing the simple acts of solidarity and love Jesus had in mind in Mt 25. Here in Germany, guess which of the established parties is the one that agitates against immigrants and asylum seekers? It’s the CSU where “C” allegedly stands for “Christian”.

  25. CHRIS..I have never met you or know who you are but your assessment of UBF is right on about love…I do hope you read our new book coming out…in UBF you are taught to ignore family, the poor, injustice, people, spouses….you are praised for teaching the Bible but rebuked for trying to do humanitarian services… is all about UBF….rebuked for attending other churches……these things are not love but religious business… will discover no love when tragedy hits..beware of false shepherds

    • Big bear, sure, I want to read your book when I find some time. But actually I read and listened to so many similar stories of ex UBFers already. It’s really not nothing new for me, and I could write a book as well.

      When speaking with one ex member of my chapter, she summarized her whole UBF experience as “there is no love in UBF”. She could also write a book about UBF, about her arranged marriage, about being sent from America to Germany when she was way too young for such a move, about the way she was divorced and her husband was remarried to another woman by Samuel Lee when she started to see problems. Please understand that I’m not saying this just to “bash” UBF, but to make current members stop and think and ask themselves why people come to such devastating conclusions in view of Jesus’ one and only command to love each other. But of course no person in my German chapter or her former American chapter contacted her, she had become a “non-person”. I was the first to contact her and listen to the real story.

  26. Chris, I believe you know that for the most part I do not disagree with you. You and many others say UBF is a cult. My primary response is that UBF is a flawed and unhealthy church on many levels.

    I really don’t have an issue with UBF being flawed, because at my core I am clearly no different as a sinner condemned unclean, yet loved to the heavens!

    The big problem I have as a 33 year member of UBF is that UBF has such a great difficulty in simply facing the obvious facts about ourselves that more and more people know, including most of their own children!

    Perhaps a day is coming soon that UBF may begin to honestly acknowledge the reality about herself.

    • “You and many others say UBF is a cult. My primary response is that UBF is a flawed and unhealthy church on many levels.”

      The question is when does a church stop to be just “flawed and unhealthy” and start to become a cult? There is no hard division line and the term “cult” has no rigid definition anyway. The “unification church” for instance, is surely a cult. I would say the Chicago headquarters in the time of Samuel Lee was clearly a cult, and at least one German chapter was and still is clearly a cult. Concerning the current UBF, you need to differentiate. There are certainly healthy chapters like yours, and other chapters on the way of becoming healthy. In the post Samuel Lee age, things changed a bit and UBF is not so homogeneous any more. However, there are still very cult-like chapters and the big problem is that UBF never has officially admitted the issues and distanced itself from its past and its cult practices and teachings. Quite to the contrary. What I see is that the cult past is reinforced and glorified as “heritage”, a museum is dedicated to it, “founder’s day” is celebrated, and reformers are not rehabilitated until today. And so long as this does not change, if forced to answer “Is UBF a cult, yes or no?” the only answer can be “yes”.

  27. Chris…I am not sure if UBF is a cult and part of me does not want to believe it because I spent 29 years in the system…but I wrote a book to let the reader decide and the experts….I tried to write in love and tell the story despite the abuse and no love…I did learn the Bible….I think my story needs to be heard and like you to read it…..and all in and out of ubf and the public…….God will do something

  28. Chris,

    You may have perhaps met SL a few times and likely read about his (mis)deeds more than any other living person, and you said and likely still stand by your statement that SL is not a Christian.

    Well, I do not disagree with you about his (mis)deeds. But I have met him, spoken to him, prayed with him, ate with him, laughed with him almost every week (sometimes up to 6 times a week) for the last 22 years of his life, and even met him a few days before his death. My conclusion is that he is a Christian, albeit one who has made decisions that I do not agree with and cannot support.

    Our salvation (yours, mine and SL) is only by the mercy and grace of God, and not by our works and certainly not by our sins. I’ve seen the fruit of SL’s life and spirit. I and countless others have experienced goodness, mercy, compassion, tenderness, kindness, forbearance, etc, through him.

    Of course, God is the final and only Judge.

    Perhaps this question or discussion is futile, unproductive, speculative and useless. But who should people believe? You (and others) saying he is not a Christian. Or I (and others) saying he is.

    If you care to respond, perhaps a short answer would be preferable to a long one.

    • The short answer concerning UBF is, just check against the following checklist to find whether it is a cult or not:

      The short answer concerning SL is: You’re right, God is the final judge. All I can say that his behavior showed more hallmarks of a cult leader than a Christian, that his practices and teachings were abusive and unbiblical and created a cult and not a healthy Christian community, and that he was the primary and root cause for all the mess and all the issues we have been discussing here and elsewhere for years and the things that have already troubled people 40 years ago when they wrote the first open letter.

      You claim that I cannot assess whether Samuel Lee was a cult leader because “I met him only a few times.” Following the same logic, I would have no right to consider Sun Myung Moon a cult leader, because I didn’t even meet him a single time.

      The typical cult leader always appears as charismatic, witty and compassionate to his followers, otherwise he would not have followers. You sure will find dozens of people who were close to Sun Myung Moon and will testify about his good character and how gracious they are that “father” arranged a marriage for them.

    • Again, Samuel Lee was someone who preached from the pulpit that he was a commander and that anybody who would leave or not obey him could expect fatal accident, illness and endless suffering. The example I gave was not singular. I found several such passages in his official, printed and distributed Sunday sermons. One such passage ended as sinister as this (quote): “One woman, who was asked to remain in the church as a prayer servant, ran away. One day, on her way home from work, she had a big car accident. Only her head has been alive for the last ten years.” He was also someone who invented and implented inhumane, torture-like and humiliating “trainings”. He maligned those who left or criticized him. He ordered men to have perms and women to have abortions. He ignored all serious open and private letters written to him. He divided from the Presbyterian church creating a pseudo-church UBF and then he divided UBF several times by completely ignoring requests for reform. Just to list a few of the things I know. All this I know for sure, even if I never met him privately. That’s why I call him a cult leader. How he was in private and which impression he made on you doesn’t matter to me at all in my assessment because it does not change anything to the things I listed.

  29. This sermon by an OT scholar at Wheaton (Daniel Block) gives a most lucid explanation of how great and wonderful obedience to the Law is for those who know how great their redemption is:

    It is from about the 30 min point of his lecture based on Dt 4:32-40. He says to those who know God’s saving grace (I’m paraphrasing), “Instead of asking, “Why, O why, why do I have to obey the Law???”, should you and I who know God’s amazing grace not rather ask, “Is that all I am asked to do? Is there not more that I should do?”

    This resonates with me. Psalm 119 has so many verses that expresses how much the Psalmist loves the Law and loves to obey the Law. It is because he realizes what a great salvation and redemption and love he has received from God.

    • Those are absurd ideas Ben. I’m not going to make any attempt to obey the OT Law. Such a way of life is now cursed. And if those things Block says are still true, even after the Messiah has come, why did the Messiah die? And then how do we obey Deuteronomy 21:18-22 since we must then obey all of the law?

      I’ll stick with Galatians 5:12 and many other Scriptures.

  30. Joe Schafer

    Ben, my take on Psalm 119 is different from yours. After wrestling with this for a long time, I’m now of the opinion that Psalm 119 (like so many of the Psalms) displays a mixture of good and bad theology and anticipates the gospel in a negative way by showing how much we need the full revelation of God in Jesus to set us straight.

    Some of the Psalms (1, 19, 119) reflect a school of thought in second-temple Judaism that was something like modern-day biblicism. The authors (perhaps the forerunners of the Pharisees) imagined that, if only enough people would learn to love the law and become strictly Torah observant, then God would finally be pleased with them and he would return to them and usher in the messianic age. Like all of us, the authors of these psalms had a mixture of good and bad theology. Yes, they had sincere devotion to their principles, and sincere devotion to God, but some of it was misplaced ideology. The author of Psalm 119 meant well, but he heaped excessive praise and glory onto the law that should be reserved for God alone. When I pray Psalm 119, I sense the need to sanctify it by mentally replacing the references to law with references to Jesus who is the fulfillment and perfection of the law.

    • Joe Schafer

      I suppose you could read some kind of gospel grace into Psalm 119. Perhaps the psalmist did have some internal sense of God’s grace. But it seems to me that this is an anachronism, imposing a later concept on the Psalm that never really occured to the psalmist.

    • If I remember correctly, Danaher mentioned that the glory of the law (the foreshadow, temporary 613 commandments) was in the fact that they “stop up” every moral attempt to gain righteousness before God. Anyone who attempts to obey the 613 mitzvah will only find futility and will need to cry out for the mercy and grace of God. The law is glorious only in that it blocks every attempt at godliness except for the Messiah. The hope of the Messiah coming is the only way to godliness and holiness, the narrow door if you will.

  31. Psalm 119 speaks to the glory of God’s wisdom and God’s perfect law of love, not the temporary, foreshadow 613 statutes/10 commandments. The Psalmist may have been expressing an incomplete thought fabric having only the hope of the Messiah, and not the full realization of what the Messiah actually did and taught. So I can say Amen! to Psalm 119 because my eyes see the perfection of God’s justice and culmination of the foreshadow in Jesus.

    • I see the Psalmists longing for the Messiah and the higher law of love and the living Word that is not a foreshadow in verses like Psalm 119:41-42.

  32. Oh, just saw your comments Joe! I haven’t thought of those things exactly that way, but I would tend to say yes I agree with your line of thought.

  33. Thanks, Joe, Brian, I do appreciate your comments and do not even disagree with them. Perhaps, I am more simplistic. In Jn 14:15, Jesus clearly connects loving him with keeping/obeying his “order, command, charge, precept, injunction.” This HNV (Hebrew Names Version) is an interesting translation: “If you love me, keep my mitzvot.”

    If a Christian asks, “As a Christian, do I need to obey the Ten Commandments? I know that obeying the Law cannot save me because I am saved by grace through Christ. Now I strongly feel like committing adultery. Should I obey the 7th Commandment, ‘Do not commit adultery’?”

    • Joe Schafer

      If you love your wife and children and don’t want to mess up your life and your marriage, then by all means, obey the 7th commandment. I’m not sure why you ask this question. Are you hinting that Brian’s train of thought leads to antinomianism?

  34. Joe, No I do not believe Brian is an antinomian. I will await his response, but it come across to me as though he simply rejects the doctrine of obedience in the Bible.

    I fully agree and concur with Brian and others that the way UBF (and perhaps countless churches in general) have taught obedience in horrible, abusive and legalistic ways that do not express the beauty of the gospel. But I do not think that just because some Christians and churches teach obedience badly and abusively, therefore obedience should not be taught or encouraged in the church.

    Sadly, the story of countless Christian husbands and even pastors who truly love their wife and kids is that they have disobeyed the 7th Commandment and committed adultery. (It’s sadly also true of countless Christian wives who love their husbands and kids.) I hope they do not think that just because they are saved by grace, they no longer need to obey the 10 commandments.

  35. About the psalms “displaying a mixture of good and bad theology” I would not be in disagreement. After all Peter, the rock upon whom Christ would build his church, had some “bad theology” and needed Paul to rebuke him publicly and openly (Gal 2:14).

    Still, the matter of obedience to the Law (for Christians, not non-Christians), as a response to grace (not as a means to get a leg up on God and others) is I believe biblically mandated. We Christians should live in obedience Christ, because Jesus himself said so (Jn 14:15, 21, 23), and because Jesus himself gave numerous commands, beginning with the great commandment to love God and others.

  36. Ben,

    You pose good questions. Should a Christain follow the Law? That is not such an easy answer and perhaps the question over-simplifies the issues.

    I assure you my thoughts on obedience are not a reaction against ubf. My thoughts stem from Messianic Jews, from much reading of the books of Hebrews, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and the 4 gospel books. And my thoughts stem from my processing what I’ve read so far among Spurgeon, Brother Lawrence and others (but I’m not sure who among the “greats” agrees with my thoughts on obedience; most likely some heretic agrees with me…)

    Acts 15 answers the question in my mind Ben: What did Peter and the others tell the Gentiles? Did they quote Jesus and say you must keep the 613 commands? No. They only gave three general principles. Their point? Gentiles are not required to submit to the Law.

    My point is not that I reject obedience, but that Jesus invoked a paradigm shift in obedience (among many other teachings).

    I am not afraid of the Antinomian label. And I’ll say it again: I will knowingly and intentionally *not* strive to obey the 10 commandments nor any of the 613 mitzvot. I will however, grow in godliness and holiness because of Christ who lives in me and directs me according to the law of love.

    The OT Law and Prophets did not dissappear, for they demonstrate that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ. But the OT Law and Prophets, having been fulfilled, no longer server as our life supervisor. We who follow Christ are not to be bound to blessing/curse from obedience/disobedience to the Law (and we don’t need prophest to call us back to the Law).

    And here is why I am not an Antinomian: Christ-followers are now bound by the Spirit living inside us. We are bound to obey the law of love. Our obedience is now to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which means I am bound to live in peace, to be an ambassador of the Kingdom, to reveal the glory of Jesus, to work out my salvation, and to witness to the grace of God (past, present and future).

    Here are some thoughts by a Christian that match mine:

    “Anyway, since I get asked “whether a Christian should follow the law” fairly regularly, I thought it would be good for me to “go on record” once again and restate my view on this subject as clearly as possible.  So, in answer to the question, “Should a Christian follow the law (as understood by rabbinical Judaism)?”, my answer is simply: NO. In case I am still being unclear, please first take a few moments to read this article. The Apostle Paul, surely the greatest Torah sage of his day, likened those who confused the terms of the covenant made at Sinai with the New Covenant made at Zion as being no less than spiritual adulterers. Trying to “mix the old and new wine” creates a witch’s brew that leads to spiritual promiscuity before God [see Romans 7:1-4 for example]”

    source: Torah Observance

  37. Ben, you stated:

    “As a Christian, do I need to obey the Ten Commandments? I know that obeying the Law cannot save me because I am saved by grace through Christ. Now I strongly feel like committing adultery. Should I obey the 7th Commandment, ‘Do not commit adultery’?”

    This is OT prophet thinking and is not Christ-like. Prophets still exist today (1 Corinthians 12:28-30) BUT the role of a prophet has been changed because Jessu fulfilled the old role. A NT prophet does not call people to obey the Law, but to obey the Gospel.

    So if you ask me, Should I commit adultery? I would say, No I should not. Why? Because the Spirit living in me demands that I submit to love and remain faithful to my wife.

    The Gospel compels my fidelity and protects my heart and mind and soul and my body. In the past, the Law commanded fidelity and protected the body only and perhaps the mind.

    • And on these thoughts, I stake my entire being, every fiber of my mind and every breath of my soul.

  38. Ben, I don’t understand many things about your statement: “Still, the matter of obedience to the Law (for Christians, not non-Christians), as a response to grace (not as a means to get a leg up on God and others) is I believe biblically mandated.”

    Are you saying non-Christains are free to do anything they want? Why is this immutable Law so limited, only applying to those who call themselves Christian? Would not God’s Law be universal? Would not God’s Law open the hearts of all people?

    What was Jesus’ yoke? Are you saying that once we taste the abundant, all-surpassing greatness of Jesus, we have to shoulder the weight of obeying the Law that Jesus fulfilled?

  39. I actually have no bone to pick with your answers and response.

    I will virtually say the same thing as you regarding not committing adultery: I love Jesus. I love my wife. I love my kids. I love my church.

    I don’t think you will have any issues about John Piper’s 4 minute response to the question, “Are Christians Under the 10 Commandments?”

    I might say, “I keep/obey the 10 commandments because that is the expression of who I am in Christ.”

    • I would tend to agree with that sermon by Piper, yes.

      But I do not agree with your comment :) “I might say, “I keep/obey the 10 commandments because that is the expression of who I am in Christ.”

  40. Joe Schafer

    Don’t know if it’s wise for me to jump in on this discussion, but I’ll quickly add my two cents worth.

    As a practical matter, many Christians like (and perhaps need) rules. Rules are a convenient, shorthand way to understand and communicate something we believe about what God desires for us and what genuine Christian discipleship looks like. Not committing adultery is highly consistent with these. And I would not advise anyone to commit adultery, at least not under any scenario that I can now imagine.

    But under the gospel, do we frame the principle “one shouldn’t commit adultery” as obedience to the 7th commandment? I don’t think so. Because we live in a world of grace, not law, and our actions as Christ-followers should be the outward evidence of interior transformation. (In practice that’s often not the case, but ideally it should be.) We are supposed to be manifesting love, and love is not a law; rather, it transcends the law.

    The fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 are love, joy, peace, etc. Obedience to rules and laws are noticeably absent from that list. That omission is not an accident. It was intended by Paul. If Paul had included “obeying the law” as a fruit of the Spirit, it would have mucked up the message of the earlier chapters in Galatians.

    Similarly, in the book of Romans, the behavioral implications of the gospel are spelled out in chapter 12. The focus is love. Obeying rules and laws aren’t mentioned. If they were, it would have mucked up the message of the earlier chapters in Romans.

    Of course, if someone has genuine love, the outward evidences of this love will often coincide with certain behaviors that would be generated by the keeping the law. But not always. Sometimes love can appear to be prodigal and lawless.

    If Christians are actively growing in love, and if they are actively growing in discernment, then fewer and fewer rules will be needed, because they are experiencing greater and greater freedom as they draw nearer and nearer to God.

    Here is a useful question: “If I exercise my freedom more and more, doing what I want to do, will I be (a) running toward God and sinning less or (b) running away from God and sinning more?” If I say (a) then I am living an authentic Christian life. If I say (b) then, even though I may be a Christ-follower at some level, something has gone very wrong.

    And if a Christian community is propagating rules and regulations, it’s a strong indicator that things are headed in the wrong direction. The need to spell out more and more rules is a sure sign that a Christian community has become decadent.

  41. Thanks Joe, I love this discussion. I believe these kinds of discussions are what sharpens and refines us.

    I would expand one thought you have regarding excercising freedom. I notice a dichotomy that many have told me the past two years: Either you do whatever you want, or you submit to God’s Law.

    This dichotomy doesn’t sit well with me. How can we “sin less” or “sin more”? Are we confined only to two options? Either antinomianalism/anarchy or submission/obedience to Law?

    I have become convinced that a third option is the way to resolve this particular dichotomy: Marriage to Christ/Christ living in you.

    I find that as I grow deeper in my relationshsip with Christ, who lives in me, I no longer care about measuring my holiness against God’s Law. I find I no longer care how much I sin. I do care a whole lot more about love, joy, peace, justice, hope and such things.

    I don’t know how to describe what is happening to me other than to point to Brother Lawrence’s writing about the presence of God, and to point to the “present grace” messages of the gospel, which are edified by the foundational and future grace messages of the gospel.

  42. Joe Schafer

    Brian, I like your last comment very much. Your statement, “I find I no longer care how much I sin” is provocative and easily misunderstood, but I know what you are saying and believe it is right. In that statement, you are using the word sin (I think) as a violation of some divine laws. That legal understanding of sin doesn’t even begin to capture what sin is truly about.

    When people explain Romans 3:23 as “Each one of us is a sinner because each one of us has broken at least one of God’s commandments at least once in our lives,” it makes me want to lose my lunch.

    When I look at that verse, I think, “All of us, certainly as individuals, and together as the human race, and as each tribe within that race (the Jews, the Gentiles, Christians, UBF,), we have utterly failed to be the beautiful and noble creatures that God made us to be.” Paul was pointing out that the Jews, who were supposed to play a key role in God’s solution to the world’s problems, had become a big part of the problem. Those who were called by God to love and serve the world and given the Bible took that Bible and used it to set up an exclusive club for promotion of themselves and their group.

  43. Joe, you’ve understood me perfectly. I am weary of people who define sin in terms of quantity. That is a Greco-Roman influenced viewpoint I think, and not a Hebrew concept of sin. I don’t fully understand this yet, but I’ve come to understand sin qualitatively, and the gospel makes a whole lot more sense. So while I don’t measure my “progress” of “sinning less” against the laws, I do care deeply about the diffusion of sin. I’m not sure what theological terms I should use, but I’m talking about regeneration. The gospel to me in terms of “present grace” is all about regeneration.

    So perhaps we could articulate a arch of thought about the gospel as justification (foundational grace), regeneration (present grace) and recapitulation (future grace). In all these I see the theme of entering into God’s rest for your soul, as in the book of Hebrews.

    The Spirit led me to the Sermon on the Mount as the first place to look in Scripture to understand the gospel. I read it but didn’t really understand much. I was a little despressed because Jesus seemed to be giving us a “greater mitzvot” and burdening us with over 1,000 commands (compared to the 613 OT commands).

    But then I noticed what Jesus did immediately after the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus intentionally broke the letter of the law and numerous stipulations about the law by touching a leper with his hand.

    Read Matthew 8:1-4. Jesus touched the leper with his hand. This is strictly forbidden by the written laws in Leviticus 13:1-59 and Leviticus 14:1-32. The Law says lepers must live in isolation. They are not to be touched until a priest does certain actions and approves the person as clean (See Impurity of leprosy)

    But Jesus did not act as the priest was told to act in Leviticus. And Jesus did not act as the Jews were told to act in Leviticus. Jesus did not “keep the Law” in this instance, right after the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus did not respect the written mitzvot nor the oral tradition in this instance. What do you make of this?

    Jesus touched the man. Jesus loved the man. Jesus did not care about the number of sins accoriding to the letter of the law, but about cleansing through love. And this I contend is what made the Jews so furious, not only toward Jesus, but toward Apostle Paul and Stephen.

  44. Joe Schafer

    Brian, the Sermon on the Mount is a great place to begin. I’ve been reading the newly released commentary by Scot McKnight on the Sermon on the Mount. He debunks the common misconceptions about the Sermon. (For example, the Moses-on-steroids view that says we as Christians are now held to higher standards than the Jews were. Or the view that the Sermon’s purpose is to make us aware of how sinful we are so that we become receptive to the gospel.) McKnight says that the Sermon on the Mount is not a prelude to the gospel nor a consequence of the gospel. Rather, the Sermon is itself pure gospel. It is a kind of “inaugurated eschatology” — the glorious future kingdom pouring into our present lives.

    So many books to read. So little time.

  45. Joe, I’ll have to add Scot McKnight to my reading list. Yes in deed so many books!

    I call the Sermon on the Mount the “Sermon of Sermons” for the very reason you just mentioned Joe. A sermon reveals the gospel and as you say the “Sermon on the Mount is not a prelude to the gospel nor a consequence of the gospel. Rather, the Sermon is itself pure gospel.”

    I captured my initial thoughts on the “Sermon of Sermons” in my other blog… The Sermon of Sermons: Step Back

    Please send any criticism or comments or feedback on my thoughts if anyone is so moved. I have been capturing my thoughts in what I call “silent sermons”, that is, sermons with myself as the audience. I started doing this after realizing that I was a “1 star” messenger for so long. I’m not gifted as a teacher or preacher but I love to write for myself.

  46. forestsfailyou

    It is interesting. Right now the messages are centered around Galatians, specifically chapters 2 and 3. The message has already been expressed in these comments, that faith is necessary for salvation, adherence to the law does not save. My pastors last message on Gal 3:14 noted that the righteous live by faith, and that “it is important to live by faith … because we cannot please God without faith. When we live by faith…God also rewards us.” He lists and talks about each of these rewards: the holy spirit, experience of miracles, accreditation as righteous, and a share of Abraham’s blessing. Some interesting things to point out. A passage that appears in his sermon was preached as follows:

    “There are some people who struggle to experience the Holy Spirit by their own effort. They attend all the church meetings. They try to keep all the rules and regulations. Above all, they want to be morally nice and better than others. Of course all these are important and *necessary* in devout believers.” (Emphasis added)

    It was edited by my roommate who said

    “There are some people who struggle to experience the Holy Spirit by their own effort. They attend all the church meetings. They try to keep all the rules and regulations. Above all, they want to be morally nice and better than others. Of course all these are important and *expected* in devout believers.” (Emphasis added)

    Disregarding the validity of the notion of the mercenary behavior that comes with a concept of blessings that come though faith. My concern is that to my bible teacher faith is equivalent to works, so that this taken comes to mean

    “Works = blessing”, along with the terrible converse “If you are having problems and do not seemed blessed, its because you have not done enough works (for the ministry) If your fishing efforts fail it is because you did not fish enough, if you are having issues with your children you need to attend more meetings, etc. I just strikes me as heresy.

    The notes given to me for my bible studies are laced with absolute garbage and downright comic passages. Here is an example:

    “At that time there was no written bible, so God used dreams as a means of revealing his will to men. God had given these two men a special revelation through their dreams, but they didn’t understand what he was saying to them. So they needed a Bible teacher. Joseph taught that interpretations belong to God…Things happened just as Joseph had said, but sheep are sheep and the cup bearer completely forgot about his Shepherd.”

    • @forest, that’s interesting. In my 10 years of UBF we did not study Galatians even once. Only after leaving UBF, I understood that Galatians is from beginning to end a repudiation of everything UBF and that’s why our chapter leader never wanted to study it. (Neither did we study Corinthians except 1Cor15 every year, because e.g. Corinthians speaks of different gifts and other things that do not comply with UBF theology.)

      Gal 2 is a particularly striking passage. It shows an instance of making a higher ranking leader “lose face” by openly and publicly criticizing him – in fact the one who was criticized was the highest imaginable leader in all church history. That’s actually a no-go in the UBF system. The UBF reformers were expelled for doing exactly this thing. But in the Bible, this is given as a positive example and it did not seen to harm the relationship between Peter and Paul. I wonder how you explained (away) this passage in your UBF chapter.

      Gal 3 is a repudation of rigtheousness by works of the law. Words like “foolish”, “cursed” and “in vain” are used for the attempt to become blessed or righteous through works. Gal 3 also says we don’t need a guardian. Gal 4 says that we are God’s children who call God “Abba” instead of living in fear of doing not enough and losing His blessing all the time or even getting punished (as preached by Samuel Lee).

      Gal 5 starts with the ultimate repudiation of shepherding/discipling in verse 1. What UBF calls “obedience” is contrasted to “obeying the truth” as mentioned in Gal 5:7. And to me, Gal 5:8 even seems to repudiate the “coercive persuasion” that I experienced in UBF as “that kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.”

      Gal 5:22 explains that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Note that the list does not contain “obedience”, “subserviency”, any works of mission, “number of 1:1s” or “raised shepherds” which would be the definition of “fruit” in UBF.

      I could go on and on. It’s always amazing to me how people in UBF are able to read (or even “study” as they call it) passages like Galatians and not see the errors. And yes, I was really naive when I said they should read Bonhoeffer to see what’s wrong. If they don’t see it when reading Galatians, they will not see it when reading Bonhoeffer.

  47. Not being able to “see” is practically problematic when you have already firmly decided that “I am right and you are wrong,” no matter what Bible verses, books or impassioned reasoned arguments are brought up.

    One of Jesus’ clear denouncements is for church leaders to not lord over others. I don’t think he could have been more emphatic than saying, “NOT SO WITH YOU.” Yet, throughout church history, church leaders somehow find a “biblical way” to justify lording over others.

    This C.S. Lewis quote is classic: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

  48. Joe Schafer

    Forests, in my experience, the examples you give are fairly typical of what has gone on in UBF. One of the biggest concerns of a chapter director is to elicit certain behaviors from the members: fishing, meeting attendance, testimony writing, monetary offerings, etc. He has to motivate the members to do those things so that the chapter can grow. So we developed all sorts of creative ways to make Bible passages say he things we wanted them to say. At some level, we believed that this is what the Bible passages really meant. But we also sensed that we were manipulating Scripture and people. This created a lot of cognitive dissonance that we tried to ignore.

    A certain ubf founder whose initials were SL used to say in his announcements that “Americans are like vending machines. You put in one quarter, you get one Coke.” What he meant was: In order to get American students to do something you wanted them to do (such as register for your conference), you had to pay them compliments, serve them with delicious meals, and so on. SL was bemoaning the fact that missionaries had to keep serving the students in order to get them to do the things that the missionaries wanted them to do.

    The great irony is this: The picture of God that SL conveyed through his stories is that God is like a vending machine: If you did certain things “by faith” then he would bless you in certain ways. In SL’s messages, he tried to speak with great emotion about the beauty of Jesus, the glory of God, the blessed truths of the gospel, and so on. But the picture of the vending-machine God also came through. To this day, it remains an unsolved contradiction in the faith of many ubf leaders. They do not know how to reconcile the words of the gospel or Christian doctrines with the mental picture of God as a cosmic vending machine. They are unable to tell their members that, if they stopped going fishing and stopped writing testimonies, that God would love them just the same. They are afraid to set people free by the gospel, because they fear that if people are set free, the ministry will fall apart.

    • “[The chapter director] has to motivate the members to do those things so that [his] chapter can grow.”

      And I believe the chapter directors were under the same dilemma concerning their own motivation as we were when obeying all their rules, not knowing whether we obeyed for obedience’s sake or because we loved God and our neighbours.

      On the one hand, chapter directors surely wished to see their chapter grow because they wanted to see people come to God. On the other hand, their whole status and honor in UBF was measured on their success in increasing the size of their chapters. Also, a large chapter with large offering money revenues allowed them to retire, permit themselves a salary or pension, and always have people at hand who can be bossed around.

      Such conflicting motivations could have been easily avoided if UBF chapters had not been lead by single persons, but by a group of elders that is fully accountable to the membership and including native people from the very beginnings. Then the success or failure of a chapter to grow could not have been accredited to a single person.