Our Need For Reformation Today
“And [Saul] trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Act 9:6). For three long days in the solitude that only sudden complete blindness can bring, Saul has the opportunity to evaluate the God he is worshipping, his purposes in life, and make the most important decision that any sinful human being can make—the act of complete and unreserved surrender to Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Saviour.
Why did Saul need the three days in darkness? Because he was a Pharisee to the core. “My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee” (Act 26:4, 5). This attitude is reflected in his question, “what wilt thou have me to do?” I want to be faithful. I want to enter heaven. I want to obey God. I want to obey all the rules of this new religion. Give me more rules to instruct me on the way I should do my work. Give me more rules on the way I should eat. Give me more rules on the way I should dress. Give me more rules and I will obey all of them and be declared the strictest follower of Jesus Christ. It sounds so much like the Hebrew people after hearing the law of God at Sinai. “And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient” (). After being convicted of the truth, these are truly good intentions. These are really good resolutions. But our natural heart has no power to implement them.
This man needed time to really understand the depths of the sinful nature that controls each member of the human race. He had to come to the full realization that “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” He had to “see” a clear description of the best that we can offer a sinless God. He had to see that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (; ). He had to see himself as a sinner “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save,” “of whom I am chief” ( ). Until he understood clearly and accepted this fact to the very depths of his whole being, he would still remain a Saul, trying to serve God with constant failure and misunderstanding. He describes this old-covenant living clearly to the newfound believers in Rome. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” ( , ).
Once Saul recognized the depths of the corruption of human nature, he could finally accept the principles of the new covenant relationship with God and allow Him to change the desires of his own nature. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (1 Saul now becomes a Paul and the greatest evangelist of all time is born.). Because this law is written in our heart, the real principles of that law actually change from a “Thou shalt not kill” or even to hate to “I don’t want to kill or hate.” From a “Thou shalt not steal” to “I don’t want to steal.” “The law is an expression of the thought of God; when received in Christ, it becomes our thought. It lifts us above the power of natural desires and tendencies, above temptations that lead to sin.”
What does it take to change the sinful, corrupt nature that we inherited from our parents and added to along the way by our own evil decisions? Listening to the Ten Commandments alone at Mount Sinai could not change the Israelites. Yes, it frightened them for a short time; but no permanent change was made. Keeping the law in front of our eyes bound by little boxes called phylacteries could not accomplish that either. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (). The recognition, appreciation and complete acceptance of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone, can transform a sinner of any character into a saint not only fit for heaven but to a life of usefulness and devoted service here on this immoral planet. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” ( ). It does not matter how hard we try. It does not matter how many and how determined are the resolutions we make. There is only One way to transformation—and that is the conscious act of complete surrender to Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour.
And what are we talking about when we say “Jesus”? To Whom are we to surrender? This is not some nice fancy term found in theological explanations. Nor is it a beautiful picture painted by the greatest artists that place on canvas the best replica of their imagination. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (). It is Jesus dying for my sins. Dying in my place. This is the essence of the gospel. This is the source of power for the humble believer that places him in a position as if he had never sinned by the simple declaration of God. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” ( ). The life-changing power is found in that declaration from the God of heaven. When He declares someone righteous, that person is righteous simply because God said so. (See .)
This is the gospel power. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (2 If we lose this, we have lost our entire religion.). When we speak of the power to change a person from his or her sinful ways, we have to come to the point in our life to see not only the pathos, but also the beauty and the power of the cross. “But we preach Christ crucified. . . . But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” ( , ). This is the central theme of our religion. “Whatever phase of the subject is presented, uplift Jesus as the center of all hope.”
Contrary to normal human thinking, this is the real attraction that brings the sinner to the Eternal God of the universe. We may try all sorts of ways to attract people to the message. Social events are good. Special youth activities are good. Singing groups and concerts are really attractive. Prophecy seminars show the history of nations in advance and give us confidence in the Bible as the word of God. But the real attraction is found in the simple story of the cross of Calvary. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (3). This is the drawing power. The crucified and risen Saviour becomes everything to us. “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” ( ). “The cross of Calvary appeals in power, affording a reason why we should love Christ now, and why we should consider Him first, and best, and last, in everything.”
But what do we mean when we say that we are to surrender our heart to Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour?
This Divine Saviour is nothing less than eternal life. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (4). We are not speaking of mortal life but eternal life. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” ( ). This is something that only Deity possesses. “It is not physical life that is here specified, but eternal life, the life which is exclusively the property of God. The Word, who was with God, and who was God, had this life. Physical life is something that each individual has received. It is not eternal or immortal; for God, the Lifegiver, takes it again. Man has no control over his life. But the life of Christ was unborrowed. No one can take this life from Him.”
Knowing Him as a personal human being is the connecting link between fallen humanity and Divinity. It is the ladder that Jacob saw as he was fleeing a certain death caused by his own evil actions. This is why it is so important to know Deity through Jesus Christ. (.) If we were to connect directly to Deity, it would mean death, “for our God is a consuming fire” ( ).
It is the human nature of Christ that makes the direct connection to humanity. For that reason, it “would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross.”5
How do you have a relationship with One you don’t see? How can we say Solus Christus (Solely through Christ) when our relationship with Him is with One who is invisible?
Jesus gave the answer clearly just before parting from the disciples. In a discussion that involved the separation they would feel when He would be gone, Jesus tells them how to have that personal relationship with Him. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (6 that is born into this world. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” ( ).). Jesus is the embodiment of the truth. He is the revelation of the plan of redemption that each of us must read and study in order to have eternal life—the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” ( ). The entrance of this Word as manifested in the truths or doctrines of the Bible bring liberty to the soul. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” ( ). It is the study of this Word—in reality a personal knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ—that activates the faith that God introduces to every human being
True doctrine that comes in the light of Jesus as our personal Saviour is like rain to the plants that depend on it for life. “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (). Remove the rain and you have death and a desert. Remove pure doctrines from the church and our personal lives and the result is spiritual death and a cruel desert. Accepting the Bible as Jesus speaking to me is the saving gospel, as it reveals Jesus in a practical and personal way. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” ( ). This is why a good minister will couple the knowledge of Jesus as a personal, caring Being with His teachings as revealed in the Scriptures. “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained” ( ).
We read that Jesus is the Word of God. Therefore, we need to read the sacred writings in order to find out the true teachings of Christ so that the power in the word can change us. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (, ). It is only with this kind of change that makes it possible for us to spend eternity with a pure and holy God. “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” ( ).
Our faithful forefathers gave their lives to maintain the clarity of the doctrines they held, because rejecting pure teaching would be a rejection of their Saviour. “Well would it be for the church and the world if the principles that actuated those steadfast souls were revived in the hearts of God’s professed people. There is an alarming indifference in regard to the doctrines which are the pillars of the Christian faith. The opinion is gaining ground, that, after all, these are not of vital importance. This degeneracy is strengthening the hands of the agents of Satan, so that false theories and fatal delusions which the faithful in ages past imperiled their lives to resist and expose, are now regarded with favor by thousands who claim to be followers of Christ.”7
The gospel is the “power of God unto salvation.” Because our faithful forefathers kept to the pure doctrine, they had the power for evangelism in this wicked world, even though everything was seemingly engineered against them. “The early Christians were indeed a peculiar people. Their blameless deportment and unswerving faith were a continual reproof that disturbed the sinner’s peace. Though few in numbers, without wealth, position, or honorary titles, they were a terror to evildoers wherever their character and doctrines were known.”8 This is why we need to be steadfast to the truths that Christ has revealed to us through His prophets. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” ( ).
As the great evangelist Paul realized his life was about to come to an end and the persecutor had become the persecuted till death, he turned his attention to those that will follow after. His exhortation rings down to the end of time: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” ().
“Fearing that Timothy’s mild, yielding disposition might lead him to shun an essential part of his work, Paul exhorted him to be faithful in reproving sin and even to rebuke with sharpness those who were guilty of gross evils. Yet he was to do this ‘with all long-suffering and doctrine.’ He was to reveal the patience and love of Christ, explaining and enforcing his reproofs by the truths of the word.”9
When we speak about Jesus and only Jesus, we cannot separate the true and the living Jesus from the teachings that reflect His character. We are often asked the question: “Which is more important, Jesus or doctrines? Jesus or the law?” The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the truth (). The same Bible teaches us that the truth is the law. “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth” ( ). Since Jesus is the truth, and the truth is the law, then Jesus is the practical revelation of the perfect law of liberty. The formal teachings of the law without a living Saviour cannot produce salvation because the power is in the blood of Jesus Christ. However, the cleansing blood of Christ will naturally produce obedience to that law that simply is an expression of HIMSELF.
The prophecy states that the law is in the heart. “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (). Whose heart? Comparing this verse with , we see it is speaking of Jesus. He had the law written in His heart. Therefore if I truly accept Jesus as my personal Saviour into my heart without reservation, that same law will be written on my heart as well. (See .) And the result will be a complete transformation of the life and character. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” ( , ).
“The words, ‘A new heart also will I give you’ (10), mean, A new mind will I give you. This change of heart is always attended by a clear conception of Christian duty, an understanding of truth. The clearness of our view of truth will be proportionate to our understanding of the word of God. He who gives the Scriptures close, prayerful attention will gain clear comprehension and sound judgment, as if in turning to God he had reached a higher plane of intelligence.”
We may talk about Jesus in many different ways. We may refer to Him by the many titles given Him throughout the Bible. The struggle from the very beginning has always been with His authority; but in the end, every living being must recognize that very authority. “Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (11 Are you prepared to worship Him not only as Deity, but as the Lord of your life?). Do you recognize Him not only as your Saviour but as the Lord of your life in everything? The slogan has been used quite often “What would Jesus do?”—and later, “What would Jesus really do?” Are we serious about those questions? We are not speaking here about trying to find a way to force ourselves to obey. We are talking about surrender right from the very beginning. We are talking about the willingness to do the will of God and ask Him to be the true Ruler of our life—not the co-pilot but the pilot. “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” (NKJV). “The world can only be warned by seeing those who believe the truth sanctified through the truth, acting upon high and holy principles, showing in a high, elevated sense, the line of demarcation between those who keep the commandments of God and those who trample them under their feet.”
We are in a war. “Opposition is the lot of all whom God employs to present truths specially applicable to their time. There was a present truth in the days of Luther—a truth at that time of special importance; there is a present truth for the church today. He who does all things according to the counsel of His will has been pleased to place men under various circumstances and to enjoin upon them duties peculiar to the times in which they live and the conditions under which they are placed. If they would prize the light given them, broader views of truth would be opened before them. But truth is no more desired by the majority today than it was by the papists who opposed Luther. There is the same disposition to accept the theories and traditions of men instead of the word of God as in former ages. Those who present the truth for this time should not expect to be received with greater favor than were earlier reformers. The great controversy between truth and error, between Christ and Satan, is to increase in intensity to the close of this world’s history.”12
“Now, God wants His converting power to come on this occasion. There are some that come to our meetings—they will sit all through the meetings; they have borne a few words of testimony now and then; they have gone home and done just exactly [the same as], if not worse than, before. Why? Because they had not the new heart. What is the new heart? It is the new mind. What is the mind? It is the will. Where is your will? It is either on Satan’s side or Christ’s side. Now it is up to you. Will you put your will today on Christ’s side of the question? That is the new heart. It is the new will, a new mind. ‘A new heart will I give thee.’ Then let us begin right here.”13