Category Archives: Discernment

The Truth About the Rapture

In many Christian circles, the teaching of the rapture is taken for granted. We hear it taught on Christian radio, and perhaps we’ve read books about it. Most evangelicals know about the rapture, assume it’s in scripture, and then go on their merry way.

When I was in high school, I read the entire Left Behind series. I didn’t think twice about whether it was scriptural or not.

There’s one problem. It’s actually not in scripture. It is a recent theological invention from the 19th century that has unfortunately gained quite a bit of popularity.

At the core, this teaching is spiritually dangerous. It tells Christians they won’t go through tribulation since God will intervene and remove them from it in the last days. Jesus, on the other hand, was very clear that those who persevere through suffering will be saved. (Mt. 24:13; Rev. 2:10) We are saved through suffering, not from suffering. There is a difference.

Corrie Ten Boom, the famous evangelist and all-around godly woman, wrote the following regarding the teaching of the rapture:

There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution.

In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly,

“We have failed.
We should have made the people strong for persecution,
rather than telling them Jesus would come first.
Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution,
how to stand when the tribulation comes,
– to stand and not faint.”

I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it.
We are next.

These words are extremely timely. The Lord knows the future. I do not. But we must be prepared to stand strong in the Lord and be willing to suffer for Jesus should we be worthy.

The following clips do a good job of debunking this misinformed teaching. The first video covers the scriptures commonly cited in support of the rapture and explains their true meaning. The second video, “Where Did the Rapture Come From?,” quickly uncovers how this teaching is a recent development associated with Dispensationalism, which was never before taught in churches historically.

 

Are Our Past, Present, and Future Sins Already Forgiven?

A falsehood spreading among the Christian church today is that at our conversion, Jesus forgives not only our past sins, but also our present and future sins—those we haven’t even committed yet.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll hear something along these lines, “Jesus has already forgiven all our sins—past, present, and future.” This is patently false.

Now to be clear, Jesus’ death was indeed a sacrifice given once for all sin. He is not sacrificed over and over again into eternity. However, just because Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was sufficient for all sins that ever were and ever will be committed does not mean that all sins are automatically forgiven. This would be universalism. No, rather it means that the opportunity for forgiveness exists for all mankind, with conditions for God’s forgiveness based on each individual’s response to the gospel.

As Christians, when we are born anew, Jesus’ death provides forgiveness for all the sins we’ve committed up to that point, while also creating a means of forgiveness should we sin in the future. Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice does not, however, mean that our future sins are already forgiven prior to being committed.

Forgiveness in both the Old and New Testaments is only for past sins. As born-again Christians, we are taught to regularly to ask for God’s forgiveness when we sin. We seek this forgiveness through coming humbly before God in true repentance and confessing our sin before Him. This is a foundation teaching of Christianity. One that has been taught in the early church through present time. It has been accepted by Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants, showing it’s a core historical teaching of the Christian faith, regardless of denomination.

In this post, we’ll cover the following points:

  1. According to Scripture, God’s Forgiveness Is For Past Sins Alone
  2. Repentance and Confession Are Required for Continued Forgiveness
  3. These Conditions (Confession & Repentance) Limit Forgiveness to Past Sins Alone
  4. Historical Church Universally Taught Confession for Forgiveness of Past Sin

1. According to Scripture, God’s Forgiveness Is For Past Sins Alone

One of the clearest scriptures regarding what sins are forgiven when we become Christians is found in 2 Peter 1.  Peter, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes that if we possess godly qualities, we will be “neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v 8) However, regarding those who do not have these spiritual traits, Peter writes:

He who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:9)

Peter clearly specifies that Christians have been purified—not from their future sins—but from their past sins, the sins formerly committed.

James also makes it clear that saved believers can have sins that are not yet forgiven. He encourages elders to pray for those who are sick in the church, and “if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” (James 5:15) A saved believer can have unforgiven sins which, according to James, can cause sickness, proving that future sins are not already forgiven. The elders are instructed to pray over such person for them to receive forgiveness.

This foundational truth, that only past sins are covered, is woven throughout scripture. In Ezekiel, we read that God will forgive unfaithful Israel for all their sins they had committed in the past, establishing an eternal covenant with them.

Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done,” the Lord God declares. (Ezekiel 16:62-63)

Just as Peter and James both clarify that only our past sins are forgiven, Ezekiel states the same truth. God says that He will establish a covenant, “when I have forgiven you for all that have done.” He is not forgiving all that they will do in the future, but rather all that the have done in the past.


2. Repentance and Confession Are Required for Continued Forgiveness

The cleansing of past sins alone is reinforced by God’s requirements for forgiveness seen in all of scripture, in both the Old and New Testament. We are forgiven by the blood of Jesus—not by our own deeds or worthiness. However, in order to receive the cleansing benefit of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must abide by the conditions set by God himself—namely true repentance and confession of our sins before Him which accompany true faith.

Examples in the Old Testament. Repentant confession before receiving forgiveness was illustrated throughout the Mosaic Law, which was a shadow of the reality we now know in Christ. On each Day of Atonement, Aaron was instructed to “lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins.” (Lev. 16:21) Confession of sin prior to atonement was required for all guilt offerings.

King David writes of confession and subsequent forgiveness in the Psalms:

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalms 32:5)

Finally, in Proverbs, we read that, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (Proverbs 28:13) In the Hebrew scriptures, confession and forsaking of sin (repentance) is a condition upon receiving God’s mercy.

Examples in the New Testament. The requirement of confession and repentance continues in the New Testament. We all know the words of the Lord’s prayer. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Mt. 6:12) This is another way of asking God to forgive our sins.

This prayer was not given for the lost, but for Jesus’ disciples. It teaches us, as followers of Jesus, to regularly ask for God’s forgiveness, not only at conversion, but whenever we sin in our Christian walk.  If we were already forgiven when we sin, there would be no need to pray this prayer. However, Jesus taught us that even born again Christians must readily acknowledge their sin before a Holy God in order to receive forgiveness.

The apostles and earliest church leaders also taught believers to confess their sins. James, the brother of Jesus, admonishes church members to “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

Similarly, John writes:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Clearly, our forgiveness and cleansing from sin is contingent upon repentant confession before God.


3. These Conditions (Confession & Repentance) Limit Forgiveness to Past Sins Alone

These required conditions for our forgiveness—repentance and confession—also are clear evidence that God’s forgiveness is for past sins alone, not present or future transgressions. This is simply because we can only repent and confess sins already committed.

Present sins, by definition, are those actions of disobedience that are being committed the very same moments we are seeking God’s forgiveness. Since no one can be simultaneously sinning and repenting, this shows “present” sins are not forgiven by God. Only when a person ceases to commit the sin and confesses them before God can their wrong-doing be atoned for.

Regarding future disobedience, it is impossible to repent and confess of such sin, thus barring the possibility of forgiveness. First, we don’t know what those future sins are, so we can’t confess them. Secondly, we can’t truly repent before God for sin we plan on committing in the future, since repentance consists of truly turning away from sin. God, who knows our deepest thoughts, isn’t fooled.


4. Historical Church Universally Taught Confession for Forgiveness of Past Sins

In agreement with scripture, the church has universally taught from the early church until today that a Christian’s confession of sins before God is required to receive forgiveness, even after baptism. Different denominations vary on the particulars, but the foundational truths stay the same. The Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and various other Protestant denominations have all taught that confession of sin for the believer is necessary to continue to receive forgiveness of sin.

This requirement of confession, as we’ve shown, is based on the teaching that sin committed after conversion or baptism is not automatically atoned for. God requires the believer to recognize when they sin, repent, and confess for forgiveness.

Likely the earliest Christian document outside of scripture, the Didache (70 AD), mentions confession of sin twice. Describing the way that leads to eternal life, it says, “Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience.” (Didache; 4.14) And later, describing a church service and communion, “On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.” (Didache; 14.1)

Ignatius (35-108 AD), a prominent Christian bishop on his way to martyrdom in Rome, wrote to many churches with final encouragements. To the church Philadelphia, Ignatius warned the Christians there to cease divisiveness and repent for forgiveness:

For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop. (Ignatius to the Philadelphians; 8.1)

In later years, after the schism in 1054 AD, both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions still taught confession for sin. After the Reformation, public and private confession was also taught in Lutheran churches. More recently, private confession has since ceased to be practiced, but the Lutheran liturgy still includes a call for confession prior to communion. While the more liturgical traditions often require coming before a spiritual leader to confess sin, many Protestant denominations teach that Christians can confess their sins directly to God without an intermediary.

I point out this historical evidence for the sake of perspective. Confession and repentance of past sin after conversion has been taught by nearly all denominations of Christianity. The idea that future sins are already or automatically forgiven is foreign to the Christian faith and is contrary to the clear scriptural evidence already presented here.


Conclusion

Scripture teaches us that when we are forgiven, whether at our conversion or later as Christians, this forgiveness is only for past sins—not those yet to be committed in the future. Should we sin after being filled with the Holy Spirit, we must repent from this sin and confess our sins to Jesus. He is our advocate with God the Father. (1 John 2:1)

Every day we must seek to live a holy life in Jesus, putting off all sin. If there is an area of disobedience, whatever it is, we must completely stop and confess it. This isn’t optional, but is a necessity as Christians. In Revelations, Jesus warned those believers in Pergamum who were living in sin, “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” (Rev. 2:16)

Eternity is at stake here, which is why repentance and confession is so important. We can’t presume upon God that our future sins are already forgiven, because they’re not according to His word.

Test the Spirits and Hold Fast to the Faith

The Apostle John writes in his first epistle, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1). We are to test “the spirits.” Whatever we read or hear, we are to examine it closely.

This couldn’t be more applicable today. The sheer number of false teachings have only multiplied over time. The earliest believers had many serious heresies to guard against despite Christianity still being relatively obscure.

I’ve addressed common false teachings here already, correcting those that deny the need for obedience, repentance, and continued faithfulness to receive the eternal promises. Among the Evangelical churches, such undermining of holy living is an insidious and deadly strain of deception.

If Satan can convince a Christian that they are saved despite disobedient living—simply because they agree intellectually with the primary tenants of Christianity—he’s effectively destroyed their soul. Many people will call out to Jesus on the last day, pleading to be allowed into the Kingdom. And Jesus will say, “I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!” (Matthew 7:12)

However, there are other strains of deception—too many to mention here.

I came across a blogger who teaches at an American bible college, holds a Master’s degree in New Testament Studies and a Doctorate in Theology. His website focuses on theology, NT studies, Jesus, and the Kingdom of God. He affirms the death and resurrection of Jesus. He knows his Greek and Hebrew, and seems quite well read.

Yet, I knew something was off. And I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. He had no statement of faith to examine. Scrolling through his posts, I noticed a theme of emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. Nothing explicitly wrong with that, since Jesus was indeed fully human (and fully God). Looking at his YouTube videos, he seemed earnest, but something troubled my spirit, or perhaps the Spirit within me.

It wasn’t until I looked at a book he co-authored that the light bulb went off. Everything I noticed on his blog fell into place. I knew his error.

He denies the divinity of Jesus, arguing that Jesus was just a man who did not exist prior to His human birth. Yet, he still teaches that Jesus was the (human) Son of God and the Messiah.

Here we have someone, who knows the Bible, theology, the original languages, but denies the trinity and the divinity of Jesus. It doesn’t matter how correct your theology is in other areas. If you deny that Jesus is God, we’re left with nothing. That is the core. Those that teach that Jesus is not God, simply do not know God. This blogger, despite all his intellectual prowess, does not know God. We can pray for his salvation, but we should not listen to him in the slightest.

The moral is don’t take everyone at face value, just accepting what they say. Test the spirits. Examine their teachings. Know your Bible. Know the doctrinal foundation communicated to us by the Apostles. Hold fast to the faith.

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. (2 John 1:9 NIV)

Timothy Keller’s False Gospel in “The Prodigal God” (Part 3)

This is the final post in a series evaluating the teachings found in “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller. “The Prodigal God” is based off of the well known parable found in Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Despite being a very popular author and teacher, in this book, Keller attempts to redefine the gospel and in the process severely distorts scripture. His arguments are so contrary to the truth, that I felt the need here to correct some of his more egregious errors.

In the first post, I explained how the entire foundation of Timothy Keller’s teaching is based on a wrong interpretation of the parable, thus invalidating his entire reinvention of the Christian gospel. The second post addresses one of Keller’s more serious falsehoods, his redefinition of sin to include obedience to God, which in turn subverts the gospel. Here, I correct Keller’s false teaching regarding repentance and conclude the series.


In part one and two, we’ve exposed significant errors in The Prodigal God.  The author, Timothy Keller, completely misinterprets the Parable of the Prodigal Son, wrongly claiming that the elder brother is lost. Building on this faulty foundation and attempting to pervert the gospel, Keller redefines how we understand sin—twisting it from being disobedience to include godly obedience. Completely unhinged from biblical truth, Keller reveals that his new “gospel” actually condemns those who do what is right–those who keep God’s rules. Of course, sin has always been just disobedience. And the gospel has always been a message of reconciliation, calling those living in sin to repentance. I have corrected Keller’s teachings in the first and second posts. No need to retread the arguments here.

Since Keller’s “gospel” condemns the righteous, so too must Keller innovate a solution for this unique (and unbiblical) form of being lost. The solution he offers is a significant alteration to biblical repentance. In the Gospels, we read that both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed the good news, which included repentance from sin in light of God’s coming kingdom. (See Matt. 3:2; 4:17) However, Keller undermines this, significantly departing from scripture and misrepresenting the gospel in the process.

Keller’s Teaching on Repentance
As I’ve repeatedly shown, Keller incorrectly argues that the elder-brother is spiritually lost, excluded from the father’s love. He is excluded, not because of rebellion, but because of his obedience. With this in mind, Keller raises a question:

What do we need to escape the shackles of our particular brand of lostness, whether it be younger-brother or elder-brother? (Keller, 73)

Reading on, we discover Keller’s solution, an altered and altogether unbiblical understanding of repentance. This new form of repentance is presented as the way to become “a Christian indeed.” (78) Specifically, Keller incorrectly teaches that salvation precedes repentance, while also changing what we are to repent from.

Keller teaches that salvation precedes repentance. Keller states that, “The first thing we need is God’s initiating love.” (73) This is a true statement if we understand it in light of Jesus’ death on the cross and continued drawing all men to himself through the Holy Spirit. However, Keller doesn’t seem to be using “initiating love” in this sense. Rather than talking about God’s universal act of love and drawing of all mankind unto His Son, He is teaching that God accepts us before we respond to His call in repentance.

Keller bases this on the father’s reaction to the returning younger son:

He [the father] runs and kisses him before his son can confess. It’s not the repentance that causes the father’s love, rather the reverse. The father’s lavish affection makes the son expression of remorse far easier. (Keller, 74)

Earlier, on page 24 of The Prodigal God, Keller expounds upon this “lavish prodigality of God’s grace.” Again, it is clear that Keller teaches that repentance is not necessary for salvation. Now, he cloaks this in a veneer of the unmerited favor of God. However, Keller is clear that the younger son is accepted back (i.e. saved) before he expresses remorse over his sins. This is a false understanding of God’s grace.

Jesus shows the father pouncing on his son in love not only before he has a chance to clean up his life and evidence a change of heart, but even before he can recite his repentance speech. Nothing, not even abject contrition, merits the favor of God. The Father’s love and acceptance are absolutely free. (Keller, 24)

Keller argues, contrary to scripture, that the father accepts (symbolic of receiving salvation) the younger son before he repents.

Thus, the first error is introduced, that salvation precedes repentance.

Keller teaches repentance of “reasons” for obeying. This repentance, according to Keller, is more than simply “regret for individual sins,” because the elder brother has “never disobeyed” the father. (76) The elder brother’s problem is his “pride in his good deeds, rather than remorse over his bad deeds.” (77) The proposed solution, which is incorrect, is to “repent of reasons we ever did anything right.” (78)

Keller believes we must repent of trying to save ourselves by doing good, “of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord.” (78) Keller goes on, “It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord—lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness—that you are on the verge of understanding the gospel and becoming a Christian indeed.” (78)

Keller is essentially attacking those who do good, saying they are really trying to control God and save themselves through their obedience. The solution is to repent, or turn away, from trying to live godly lives. He mixes in unfounded psychological reasons for this, but that is the core of his intention—to call Christians away from trying to please God and to repent of doing good.

Correcting Keller Based on Scripture
As I’ve just documented, Keller falsely teaches that (1) salvation precedes repentance, and that (2) repentance is not from sin, but from doing good. Now let’s allow scripture to do the talking.

Repentance must precede salvation. This is a core teaching of Christianity. Like faith in God, which is absolutely necessary, so too is repentance from a past life of sinful living. Repentance, in this context, means not only remorse, but a determination to stop sinning in light of His grace. True repentance will continue into action, getting rid of actual sin in our lives. As John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8)

Verse after verse makes it clear that repentance—basically returning to God—is a condition upon receiving salvation. (This does not mean it merits salvation in and of itself, but rather that God graciously saves those who repent and put their faith in Jesus.)

There are more verses than I can share here that express this universal truth. One such example is found in Ezekiel, where the prophet clearly communicates what true repentance looks like, and God’s response:

“But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.  Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23)

This truth, that the wicked who repent will be forgiven, continues to be consistently taught all over the New Testament. Peter, preaching the gospel to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem, called them to repentance.  He preached, “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)

Paul preached this same message. When Simon the Magician attempted to purchase the Holy Spirit with money, Paul rebuked him, saying, “Repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.” (Acts 8:22) Repentance precedes forgiveness and salvation, contrary to Keller’s claims.

This teaching—that repentance must occur before forgiveness—is central to the gospel, as Jesus himself taught. At the very end of Luke, Jesus gives the disciples a summary of the gospel:

Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:47)

Could it be any more simple? We are to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Repentance is a condition upon receiving forgiveness. It is not—as Keller wrongly teaches—something that occurs in response to our being saved. Rather, we repent and thus are forgiven freely by God. Without such conditions upon receiving God’s grace, all humanity would be saved regardless of their response towards God. I’m sure Keller would not want to be associated with universalism, but that is essentially the root of his false teaching.

Repentance is from sin. Obedience, whatever the motivation, is never wrong. What do we repent of or turn away from? Keller suggests that we need to repent of doing good, or at least of any wrong motivations for doing good. What does scripture say?

Logically, we have two options. One can either turn from evil and begin to do good. Or, one can turn away from doing good, and do evil instead. The prophet Ezekiel presented both these options and their consequences:

When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and dies because of it, for his iniquity which he has committed he will die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life. (Ezekiel 18:26-27)

Scripturally, God commands us to repent of our sins for salvation. If one were to “repent” from righteousness by starting to do evil, the punishment is death. We can be sure God commands repentance from sin, definitely not from righteousness. Only repentance from sin leads to salvation. This is the fundamental basics, but it needs to be said in light of Keller’s confusing comments.

Throughout The Prodigal God, Keller has attacked those who live obedient, self-controlled lives. As we’ve seen, Keller believes that obedience can separate us from God. However, Keller also believes that people are obedient out of some attempt to save themselves. Thus, Keller believes we must “repent of reasons we ever did anything right.” (78)

This is where Keller’s logic falls apart. If obedience is the core problem, as Keller repeatedly asserts that it is, then one would need to repent of this very same obedience, not just of “reasons” for obedience. Of course, we’ve shown in scripture that obedience is not sin and that repentance from obedience is itself an abomination.

If, however, there is indeed “pride” for doing good works, what does God call us to? Is the problem that we are trying to please God through good works? Should we “repent” of trying to please God? Of course not. The problem would be the sin of pride in our lives. The solution is to repent of pride (which is indeed a sin), while continuing to do good. God delights in obedience. (See 1 Samuel 15:22)

To return to Keller’s argument, do we need to repent of doing good, or even “reasons” for doing good? Absolutely not! We must repent of sin, while continuing to do good. As Peter told the gentiles assembled in Cornelius’ home, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality,  but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35) God welcomes those who do what is right. Sin has always been the issue. That is why Jesus came to earth, to rescue us out of sin and redeem a holy nation for His glory.


Concluding Thoughts
Do you remember what Satan said to Adam and Eve?

Satan deceived Eve, asking “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1) The same lie is still proclaimed today, although many do not recognize it. The great lie, just as it was then, says, “Did God really say, ‘You must obey Me’?”

Keller is proclaiming this same lie. In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller offers a new gospel, a gospel that will “reveal the secret heart of Christianity.” (XIII) He wants us to forget anything we’ve ever heard or read about the gospel, and accept what he’s offering. The only problem is Keller offers a twisted and perverted gospel that is no gospel at all.  It’s actually a message of condemnation for those saints who are living obediently to God.

Keller calls good evil and evil good, redefining sin to include righteous living. He suggests that repentance is not necessary for salvation, and that we should instead repent of any motivation for obeying God. Much of what we’ve covered is so basic, but Keller has managed to mangle beyond recognition the most fundamental of gospel truths.

Keller seems to be quite wise in his own eyes, but his teachings stand condemned by scripture. Of Timothy Keller and his false gospel, the Prophet Isaiah’s words ring true:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
And clever in their own sight! (Is. 5:21-22)

Timothy Keller’s False Gospel in “The Prodigal God” (Part 2)

This is the second of several posts, evaluating the teachings found in “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller. “The Prodigal God” is based off of the well known parable found in Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Despite being a very popular author and teacher, in this book, Keller attempts to redefine the gospel and in the process severely distorts scripture. His arguments are so contrary to the truth, that I felt the need here to correct some of his more egregious errors.

In the first post, I explained how the entire foundation of Timothy Keller’s teaching is based on a wrong interpretation of the parable, thus invalidating his entire reinterpretation of the Christian gospel. Here, I address one of Keller’s more serious falsehoods, his redefinition of sin to include obedience to God, which in turn subverts the gospel. The final, third post corrects Keller’s false teaching regarding repentance and concludes the series.


Introducing Additional Errors in Keller’s Teaching
In The Prodigal God, Keller seeks to redefine the gospel by revealing “the secret heart of Christianity.” Keller bases his teaching solely on a false interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-32.

He argues that not only was the younger brother lost, but the elder brother was lost as well. Keller’s reinterpretation regarding the elder son is unequivocally wrong (this is discussed in the first post). Jesus is abundantly clear that the elder son has always been with the father and is a true heir, just as Christians are heirs of God.

Timothy Keller uses this misinterpretation of the parable as a springboard to support even more serious errors. He (1) changes the definition of sin, thus subverting the message of the gospel, and (2) twists the biblical understanding of repentance.

At the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus began to proclaim the good news saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) To accurately understand the full gospel, one must realize their own sin and their need to turn away from their sin towards God. Thus both sin and repentance are indispensable. Any alteration to this foundation perverts the gospel’s truth and power, rendering it ineffective.

In this post, I’ll correct Keller’s redefinition of sin, which undermines the gospel. The final, third post will deal specifically with Keller’s error regarding repentance.

Keller’s Redefinition of Sin and the Gospel
The main focus in The Prodigal God is on the elder son. Keller describes him as dutifully obeying his father in every sense. He is “fastidiously obedient to his father and, therefore, by analogy, to the commands of God,” while also being “completely under control and quite self-disciplined.” (34) Yet, Keller still incorrectly insists that “there is not just one lost sinner in this parable–there are two.” (34).

Keller justifies his tenuous position by redefining sin. Keller argues that even though the elder son is completely obedient, this goodness is actually sin(!). Keller writes on page 37:

The hearts of the two brothers were the same. […] Each one, in other words, rebelled–but one did so by being very bad and the other by being extremely good. Both were alienated from the father’s heart; both were lost sons. (Keller, 37)

The word rebellion, as Keller uses here, is simply another term for sin. Keller is stating that the older brother sinned—“rebelled”—by being extremely good, by being obedient.

This redefinition of sin—from disobedience to obedience—is stated repeatedly in The Prodigal God. On page 35, he writes that the elder brother “is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it.” And also that, “It’s not his [the elder brother’s] wrongdoing, but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the father.” (35)

This faulty reasoning—that obedience is the real problem, not just disobedience—continues to be reinforced:

This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently. It’s a shocking message: Careful obedience of God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God. (Keller, 37)

Since “careful obedience of God’s law” is supposedly a form of rebellion “against God,” Keller’s false gospel naturally condemns moral behavior:

Everybody knows that the Christian gospel calls us away from the licentiousness of younger brotherness, but few realize that it also condemns moralistic elder brotherness. (Keller, 67)

Keller teaches that obeying God is sin, and that—as a result of this premise—“the gospel” condemns the obedient. Apparently Keller believes his “secret heart of Christianity” involves bringing condemnation upon the righteous, rather than calling sinners to repentance.

This absolutely mutilates any semblance of biblical teaching, so let’s address what scripture actually says.

Scripture vs. Keller’s False Teachings

Is obedience sin, like Keller says? As I’ve shown, Keller believes that you can “rebel against God and be alienated […] by keeping all of them [God’s rules] diligently.” (37)

This couldn’t be more wrong. The Apostle John defines sin for us. He writes, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4)

So scripture defines sin as lawlessness. Lawlessness means a complete disregard for the rules (the Greek noun is anomia; without law). That one can break the rules (or sin) by obeying the rules is complete foolishness. Just as light doesn’t equal darkness, neither does rule keeping equal rule breaking. One rebels against God by breaking His rules, not keeping them. Only lawlessness is sin, not law keeping.

The Apostle John couldn’t have said it better. “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” (1 John 3:7)

Does obedience alienate us from God’s love? Keller asserts that the elder brother who carefully obeyed the father was “alienated from the father” and excluded from “the feast of his love.” (34) The elder brother “is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it.” (35) Essentially, Keller is arguing that obedience to God separates us from God’s love, which again is false.

Jesus plainly refutes this in the gospel of John:

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. (John 14:21)

The one who keeps and obeys Jesus’ commands “will be loved” by God the Father. Obedience to God does not cause us to “lose the father’s love” as Keller suggests, but unites us with His love.

Rather than being alienated, the obedient believer abides in God. As John writes, “The one who keeps His [God the Father’s] commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 John 3:2) Those doing God’s will are members of His family, enjoying His presence and love. As Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”(Mark 3:35)

Does the gospel condemn the righteous? Keller writes that Jesus’ gospel “condemns the moralistic elder brotherness.” (67) Does the gospel really condemn those who are living morally?

First of all, the gospel was not a message of condemnation, but rather a call of reconciliation. Yes, God will one day condemn the world for its sin, but Jesus came not “to condemn the world, but to save the world.” (John 3:16)

Secondly, this call of reconciliation was not aimed at the righteous who were already with God, but for the lost sinners. That’s not to say the righteous never previously sinned, but rather they repented at some point and were now reconciled with God. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) All of heaven rejoices when someone repents of their sin and returns to the Father. Jesus came to earth for this exact purpose. The Parable of the Prodigal Son so beautifully illustrates God’s love for a lost humanity and His desire for true reconciliation.

Clearly, the gospel does not condemn the righteous at all. Scripture teaches that (1) the gospel is not a message of condemnation, but of reconciliation and (2) this reconciliation is for the sinners, not the righteous who have no need of repentance.


Post Summary
Keller argues that the older brother is lost (and continues to be lost), which is completely erroneous. He redefines sin to include obedience to God, teaching that this obedience separates us from the Father—clearly another serious perversion of truth. And as a consequence of this redefinition, Keller’s gospel falsely condemns those who obey God.

The truth is Jesus came to graciously call the sinners to repentance, not bring condemnation upon the righteous. You’ll be hard pressed to find any biblical support in The Prodigal God. And it’s no wonder, since scripture consistently teaches the opposite. Even a little light goes a far way in exposing the darkness.

Next I’ll reveal where Keller deviates from scripture in regards to repentance and salvation. Repentance cannot be ignored or perverted if the true gospel is to be preached.

Timothy Keller’s False Gospel in “The Prodigal God” (Part 1)

This is the first post of several, evaluating the teachings found in “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller. “The Prodigal God” is based off of the well known parable found in Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Despite being a very popular author and teacher, in this book, Keller attempts to redefine the gospel and in the process severely distorts scripture. His arguments are so contrary to the truth, that I felt the need here to correct some of his more egregious errors.

I explain below how the entire foundation of Timothy Keller’s teaching is based on a wrong interpretation of the parable, thus invalidating his entire reinvention of the Christian gospel. In the second post, I expose specific errors of Keller that are a part of his newly invented “gospel.” The final, third post corrects Keller’s false teaching regarding repentance and concludes the series.


Introduction
Timothy Keller opens The Prodigal God by making it clear that his short book is meant to present the Christian gospel. However, he immediately clarifies this by saying, “Nevertheless one of the signs that you may not grasp the unique, radical nature of the gospel is that you are certain that you do.” (XI)

It’s a strange statement. Logically, the correctness of one’s beliefs regarding the gospel are not dependent upon how certain we are, but if we are in agreement with scripture. Why then does he begin with this misleading statement?

The answer is simple. This initial assertion by Timothy Keller in The Prodigal God is designed to convince us to change our understanding of the gospel. He’s telling us to forget anything we’ve ever learned in the past. The goal of The Prodigal God is to “correct” (or subvert) the teaching of the gospel with Keller’s own teaching, a unique perspective (or perversion) that we haven’t heard before.

That Keller aims to change something as central as the gospel should set off alarm bells. A godly, biblical teacher should aim to reinforce what was handed down by the Jesus and the Apostles, rather than introduce some novel teaching almost two thousand years later.

Timothy Keller’s teaching is entirely focused on the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32. He’s taken this parable and reinterpreted it to present a completely new teaching. This new interpretation will redefine, not only how we understand Jesus’ parable, but also how we understand sin and salvation itself. This isn’t speculation. Keller himself writes on page 10 of The Prodigal God that, “Through this parable Jesus challenges what nearly everyone has ever thought about God, sin, and salvation.”  Later, in chapter 3, he again repeats this assertion, “He [Jesus] is redefining sin, what it means to be lost, and what it means to be saved.” (28)  The “redefining” of the Gospel is unashamedly and clearly evident in The Prodigal God. Even two of the chapters are entitled, “Redefining Sin” and “Redefining Lostness.”

Timothy Keller claims this redefinition of the Gospel reveals “the true meaning” of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He says that it changed the way he “viewed Christianity” and it reveals “the secret heart of Christianity.” (XIII). Both are quite bold statements. The only issue is that this supposed “true meaning” doesn’t agree with scripture or even a careful reading of the parable itself.

How can we know if Timothy Keller’s new version of the “gospel” is correct? Do we take him at his word? Of course not. We study the scripture, and compare it directly against what Keller writes in The Prodigal God. We’ll use the light, the word of God, to expose the darkness and deception in Keller’s teaching.

Keller’s False Teaching: Both Brothers Are Lost
Keller summarizes his new interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in this way:

“Most readings of this parable have concentrated on the flight and return of the younger brother–the “Prodigal Son.” That misses the real message of the story, however, because there are two brothers, each of whom represents a different way to be alienated from God, and a different way to seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven.” (Keller, 7)

He believes that both brothers represent two different ways to be “alienated from God.”  Timothy Keller teaches that both the younger and elder brother are “lost,” although for different reasons. The younger brother is lost because of his rebellious, disobedient behavior towards the father. The elder brother is lost for the opposite reason, by being completely obedient. According to Keller, each is trying to gain salvation through these different paths.

As one reads through The Prodigal God, it becomes abundantly clear that Keller is far more concerned about the obedient “elder brothers” than the rebellious “younger brothers.” He writes, “While both forms of the self-salvation project are equally wrong, each one is not equally dangerous.” (46) And a page later, “Being an elder-brother Pharisee is a more spiritually desperate condition.” (47)

As we see, Keller believes that the elder brother is more lost than the younger brother.

Biblical Truth: The Elder Brother Was Never Lost
Is this true? Is the elder brother in Jesus’ parable lost?  Is he in a “spiritually desperate condition?” Of course not. The elder brother has always been with the father, unlike the younger brother. He has no need to return in repentance and remorse, simply because he isn’t lost. This is based on scripture, so let’s take a look.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is the last of three consecutive parables Jesus gives that all teach the same lesson. Jesus makes essentially the same point in each of the parables, so we can compare them to clarify Jesus’ true message and intent.

The First Parable. Jesus begins with the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7). We’ve all heard the story:

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:3-7)

Jesus clearly explains what the parable means in the last sentence. Just as the lost sheep that was found resulted in great rejoicing, in the same way, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (v. 7) The lost sheep symbolizes a sinner who repents.

But what about the ninety-nine sheep that were not lost? Are they considered by Jesus as sinners too? Not at all, Jesus says they are “righteous persons who need no repentance.” So there are both sinners and the righteous in Jesus’ parable.

The Second Parable. Reading on, Jesus gives a second parable about the lost coin that reflects the same basic teaching:

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)

The parallels to the first parable are obvious. Once again, there is great rejoicing over the lost being found. Just as in the first parable about the lost sheep, the lost coin here represents the “sinner who repents.”  Because the second parable closely mirrors the first, we know that the coins that were never lost represent “the righteous persons who need no repentance.”

The Third Parable. The final parable is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). It is in this parable that Keller incorrectly asserts both sons are lost and alienated from the father, who represents God. Although the third parable is longer than the previous two, it has the same structure and message. We’ve already seen how the first and second parables have both lost sinners and also the righteous who were never lost. We’ll see the same here in the third parable.

To summarize the story, the younger son takes his share of the fathers inheritance and wastes it in sinful living. After a severe famine, the son is starving and returns to the father with a repentant heart. The father welcomes his lost son with open arms and great joy, giving him a celebratory feast. Jesus concludes the parable by repeating the theme of being lost and found. This is expressed through the father’s words to the elder son.

The father answers the elder son who questions why he has never received a feast:

“Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. We had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:31-32)

Jesus is clear that the older son has (1) always been with the father (thus never lost), and (2) is a legitimate heir. He is enjoying the full rights as a true son. He is not lost at all, but “with the father” in every sense. Just like the older son, Christians are co-heirs with Jesus, being born again into the family of God. As Paul writes to the Romans, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17) The elder son represents those who are heirs of God, true spiritual children of the Father.

So, to recap, the younger son represents sinners who repent (paralleling the lost sheep and lost coin), and the older son represents the “righteous persons who need no repentance” (paralleling the ninety-nine sheep and nine coins).

Implications of Keller’s Error
Keller’s reinterpretation of this parable in The Prodigal God hinges completely on the idea that the elder son is lost, just as the younger son was lost. In fact, Keller argues that Jesus concludes the story with the elder son still being lost.

Keller writes:

“Although the sons are both wrong and both loved, the story does not end on the same note for each. Why does Jesus construct the story so that one of them is saved, restored to a right relationship with the father, and one of them is not? (At least, not before the story ends.)” (Keller, 46)

Keller is saying the younger son’s relationship is restored with the father, while the older son remains unsaved, distant from the father. But as I’ve shown, the Bible is clear that the elder son was never lost at all! He has “always” been with the father, which means he hasn’t wandered away like his younger brother. All that the father has is his. He is already in relationship with the father. Jesus couldn’t have said it any clearer.

This is a plain, almost elementary reading of the text. It does not require a sophisticated exegete to understand what Jesus is teaching in his simple stories. The fact that Keller has misinterpreted this parable is, frankly, both embarrassing and deeply concerning. The entire foundation of The Prodigal God is based off a complete twisting of scripture.

As I wrote in the introduction, Timothy Keller is attempting to redefine the true gospel with this teaching. The Prodigal God is written to convince us to reset our beliefs about sin and salvation. But Keller’s redefinition is based on a completely perverted interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Keller has sought to find a deep and hidden meaning in it that will “reveal the secret heart of Christianity,” but instead he has only introduced false teachings based on an obvious distortion of a simple parable.


In the next post, I’ll cover several of the most serious false teachings in The Prodigal God. Keller incorrectly tries to redefine sin, so we’ll correct that error. He also distorts biblical repentance to fit his already flawed teaching, which I’ll address in the final post. Each of these issues are key to correctly understanding the true gospel, so we’ll systematically address all of these falsehoods by comparing his teachings with scripture itself.

Did God Turn Away From Jesus on the Cross?

As Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out in a loud voice, “‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Matthew 27:46)

This verse, and the equivalent in Mark 13:34, has been used to support grossly unbiblical teachings about God—false teachings we may have heard and accepted at some point without truly questioning their validity.

I have heard people reference this verse, and explain that God the Father turned away from Jesus in that moment. Or that the Father abandoned His Son and could no longer look upon Him. It has even been taught that for a split second, Jesus and His Father were completely separated from one another, no longer in unity. (All of which are patently false.)

Is that what Jesus is saying when He cried out? That God abandoned Him and they separated from each other for a moment in time?

Absolutely not. In crying those words, Jesus was giving a reference to a specific Psalm of David. By crying out “My Father, My Father, why have your forsaken me,” Jesus was directly quoting the first line of Psalm 22. We reference the Psalms by their number, but Jews during that time would reference the first words of that particular Psalm. Similarly, we refer to the first book of the Bible as “Genesis,” but Jews know it as the Hebrew equivalent of, “In the Beginning.” In the same way, those listening to Jesus (or reading the account in the gospels) would immediately understand the reference Jesus made.

By quoting the first words of Psalm 22, Jesus both expresses the human anguish he was experiencing at that moment and refers to the prophetic Psalm that spoke of His very sacrifice for humanity. A Psalm that, contrary to the unbiblical teachings we may have heard, speaks to the very fact that God had not abandoned Jesus at all. Rather, God was faithful to Him, even in death.

Psalm 22 speaks so directly to Jesus and His death on the cross, it is a wonder that Jesus’ words have ever been misunderstood at all. Just listen to the words of the Psalm. David begins with the same exact cry Jesus utters on the cross.

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

David then speaks of how the Israelites have historically trusted in God, that “they cried out and were saved” by the Holy One. And then we read these prophetic verses. Verses that speak of Jesus being mocked by men as He hung on the cross.

7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Despite this mocking, David prophetically speaks how Jesus still trusted in God. David goes on, again referencing the crucifixion of Jesus:

16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

The trust David has, which is also prophetically seen in Jesus, is only more evident as we read on. There is a plea for God to deliver, followed by a significant declaration of God’s faithful character—that he will respond to this cry for help.

19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

Did you catch the last verse? David writes that God “has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one.” (22:24) Not only that, but God “has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

God did not despise Jesus on the cross, in fact, He did not even hid his face. This directly and forcefully contradicts any notion that God turned His face away from Jesus during the crucifixion. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that God has not hidden his face from Jesus at all.

Jesus’ death on a cross was not a demonstration of God’s rejecting those who call on Him. Rather, it is a demonstration of His faithfulness. The Father was faithful to Jesus in raising Him from the dead, vindicating and glorifying Jesus. God was faithful to humanity and the nation of Israel by fulfilling His promises to send a redeemer. He was faithful to His covenant with Abraham in blessing the entire world through Abraham’s seed.

Our God is faithful towards those that trust in Him. He does not turn away from us during our hardest moments, just as He did not turn away from His Son Jesus. When we feel there is no hope, He is our eternal hope.

A Biblical Understanding of Tithing (Part 3: Application)

In my first and second posts, I outlined the biblical instructions on tithing and giving.  Now that we have a solid scriptural foundation upon which to build, let’s think about what this means for Christians and the church today.  There are no easy answers. Even if we understand the biblical concepts, the application of these principles requires guidance by the Holy Spirit and discernment in each unique situation.

Let’s Give Generously in Freedom

The Bible is clear on the what Christian giving in general should look like. We are to give as we have purposed in our heart, not according to some external command.  There are no specific mandates on percentages or amounts. Even though the tithe is often used as a basis for saying congregants should give ten percent to the church, that is misapplying a Mosaic Law system in a completely unrelated context. Both the believer that feels compelled to donate ten percent and the believer that gives a different amount are free to do so.  We have freedom to give as we feel led by the Spirit. That freedom, however, should not be an excuse to be uncharitable with our finances.  Rather, true Spirit-led giving is both generous and wise.

Let’s Drop the Term “Tithing”

There is certainly continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The sacrificial system, appointed times of the Lord, and so forth all are shadows the lead us to the bright reality in Jesus Christ. So we need to have a biblical understanding that brings from both the old and new.

That said, using the term “tithing” when talking about donations to the church just causes confusion. Pastors begin to misuse verses (see Malachi 3:8) in an effort to increase giving. Different scriptures are thrown together willy-nilly without any consideration to a holistic, accurate understanding of the scripture. Tithing was clearly a mandated system with specific application to the nation of Israel. Only those under the Mosaic Law were bound by its requirements. For Christians, we are not under the Mosaic Law, and consequently can only apply the general concepts as we walk by the Spirit.  Any more than that, and we are missing the big picture. As Jesus said to the Pharisees and scribes, “you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23)

Let’s Redistribute Church Offerings Back to Members in Need

The early church in Acts left a undeniable example for us. Collections were taken up by the apostles, only to be redistributed back to those in the church who needed help. This would have included widows who did not have family members to support them. If a need was found, the money collected was there to provide for it.

When we look at any given church budget, does a significant portion go towards helping its members who are struggling financially? As long a church owns a building and has some level of staff, there will be overhead costs that cannot be avoided. But does a significant portion of the additional surplus go into a fund that is then used to support the needy? Or are funds being used primarily for new buildings, more (unnecessary) staff, better equipment, and so forth.  We need to take a good look at where money is being spent and discern if it honors God and is in accordance with scripture.

Of course, if money is being redistributed to church members in need, there is a practical discernment that needs to be applied by elders and deacons to ensure people aren’t taking advantage of the system. Those who can work should work (1 Timothy 5:8) to ensure that those who are the most vulnerable are cared for.

Implications for Salaried Church Staff

This is a complicated subject, so I’ll just share some high-level thoughts.

When we look at Paul’s example, he made an effort to not financially burden those he was ministering to. However, when we look across the large majority of churches in America, how many pastors have a part-time job, let alone a full-time position outside the ministry? They are out there, but it’s not the norm.

Instead, what we see are churches with significant staffing costs. Not only is there a lead teaching pastor, there may be a worship pastor, operations pastor, youth pastor, children’s pastor, men’s pastor, women’s pastor, and the list goes on. This doesn’t count everyone who works behind the scenes. These large churches have become corporate behemoths, burning through cash quickly. The entire modern church model needs a revamp, but that’s for a different discussion.

This is the exact opposite of the early church we see in scripture. Church leaders were normal guys with normal jobs. Seminaries did not exist at this point, so their qualification rested on their spiritual maturity. Traveling evangelists were typically supported by churches or patrons, but this was a practical accommodation because of their constant travel.

It’s safe to say we as the American church have a lot to learn from Paul. In too many instances, ministries have become a financial burden on the people, greatly hindering the gospel.  A church model where the leaders have normal jobs in addition to their ministry positions would create a financially-resilient church with the cash-flow to provide for those who need it the most.

The Fulfillment of Tithing is Love

In everything we do, we are to walk in love and by the Holy Spirit.  That is the key.

The tithing commandments and all the New Testament instructions on giving find their fulfillment in godly love.  It’s not about rules and regulations, but about meeting needs wherever we see them. If we live this way, we’ll truly be disciples of Jesus Christ.