Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on February 20, 1983
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten
us . . . who are kept by the power of God through faith
unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1st Peter 1:3, 5
I AM PREACHING ON BASIC CHRISTIANITY. There must be sight in order to see light, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will quicken the words to make them reach you and give you direction on your journey. These are truths that are as old as the Christian church. And though I have preached these truths repeatedly, it is easy to slip back into a traditional mindset. I can define the word faith a hundred times, but unless you grab hold of your mind, the next time you hear the word faith, you will think it only means “belief.” Faith is more than belief; you do not have faith simply because you believe. The Bible says that Satan and the demons also believe, and tremble. You do not have faith until you are acting on what you believe. And your faith cannot endure unless you have confidence to sustain it, even when the facts belie your belief.
The church world is full of people who will tell you that being a Christian means you have to look and act a certain way. I have preached around this world and have heard just about everything called a sin. When I preached at a convention in the Philippines, all the women wore long dresses, but their shoulders were bare and their dresses had perilously low necklines. So apparently God and His saints were not disturbed by the upper part of the body, but legs were a sin. If you looked at an ankle, you were a sinner. I got on a plane and flew a few hours to Hong Kong to preach in a refugee church; and there, God must have reversed Himself: the women all wore very modest collars that went all the way up to their chins. Either God couldn’t bear the sight of a woman’s neck, or maybe He just didn’t want Christian men to see a woman’s neck. But the young lady playing the piano wore a skirt that was slit very high, so I guess that legs were okay now. Then I flew to India to preach in a church in Calcutta, and I was really confused: the women in the choir wore dresses that went up to their chins and down to their ankles, but they were bare in the middle! Now if all of those different congregations were right about which part of the body offended God, then a Christian should be completely covered up like an Eskimo. But if all of them were right about which part of the body God was unconcerned with, then a Christian might not be left with much clothing!
It is a tragedy that traditional Christianity has been permeated by the heathen concept that you can work your way into heaven by conforming to a list of acceptable behaviors. There are people all over this city who need God and would find the answer to all their needs in Him; but they do not come to God because they think that being a Christian means you have to stop doing a whole list of things. If you were to stop ten people on the street and ask them, “What is a Christian?” they would most likely say, “A Christian doesn’t do this and doesn’t do that. They might throw in a few things a Christian actually does, but not many. If something tastes good, looks good, or is enjoyable in any way, then a Christian shouldn’t have any part of it. But that is not what Christianity is.
True Christianity is the single-minded, focused life called “faith.” Now true Christianity, if maintained, can and does produce certain changes to our behavior, but those changes are an inevitable by-product of the life of faith. You are acting in faith every time you reach up, grab a promise and believe that when God speaks, He is “not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?”
Most of us share an understanding of what a trusting relationship should be like. Have you ever agreed to meet someone somewhere, but when you got there, he wasn’t there? Maybe something happened that caused him to be delayed en route. But both of you ended up spending the rest of the day looking for each other, because neither one of you trusted the other to simply wait in the place where you had agreed to meet. It is a homely illustration, as are all the illustrations that we use to try to explain the things of God. But the kind of trust that God is looking for goes deeper than the superficial, outward displays that are sometimes called friendship. True friendship is based upon a trusting relationship. It means that when someone says they will do something, you can trust that they will do it. That kind of trust usually falls short with men; but when God says that He will do something, He does it.
From the time of Adam and Eve to the present time, God has been looking for people who will trust him; that is all He wants. Yet that simple idea grates on the nerves of a generation that grew up in the traditional church. There are many who have deprived themselves of certain things that they wanted to do, not because God disapproved of those things, but because they were afraid that they could not do those things and still keep up their spiritual reputation in the church.
I have heard Christians misquote 1st Corinthians 8:9 and say, “Be careful not to be a stumbling block to anyone.” What they really meant was, “Stop doing anything that other Christians might criticize you for!” They take a scriptural admonition and wrest it from its context, and then use it to pressure other Christians into abstaining from certain kinds of behavior. But that is not even close to the biblical definition of a stumbling block.
If someone knows enough of God’s word to criticize you for something you are doing, then they are not the one at risk of stumbling; they are just sinning. In fact, they are committing the worst kind of sin: they are judging you! That is the sin of all sins, because they are putting themselves in the place of God who gave His Son, the One who died for you knowing that you are a sinner. Paul said, “He that judgeth me is the Lord,” and “henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” The Greek word translated “marks” is stigmata, which is the brand placed on the body of a bondslave, identifying him as belonging to a particular master. In essence, Paul said, “God is my Boss, not you. I will be your servant for His sake, not yours.” You need to break free from judgmental people. God prizes freedom. He gave freedom to man, because without freedom, love cannot exist. It is the traditions of the church that will bind you.
What then did Paul mean when he wrote to the Corinthians and warned them against being a stumbling block? He used the illustration of eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. He said that if you are invited to a meal with heathen, go ahead and eat whatever is set before you: there is no longer a prohibition against eating certain foods, because God said that all things are now clean. But if you are sitting next to someone who has recently converted from Judaism, you should think twice about how your eating could have an effect on someone else’s conscience. You may be eating with someone who was taught his whole life that he must never eat an unclean animal, or an animal sacrificed to idols, or any meat that still contained blood. Paul expressly warned about that kind of situation when he spoke against being a stumbling block to another person.
It is possible for someone’s conscience to have been bound by exposure to traditions. We know that the Holy Spirit can prompt your conscience, and you can set your conscience free by sweeping the traditions from you mind and filling your mind with “Thus saith the word of the Lord.” Someone may have a good conscience and yet still be bound by traditions. Paul said you are not to be a stumbling block to someone whose conscience is weak; but that has nothing to do with offending judgmental Christians.
I have heard preachers say, “If you really got saved, you would stop smoking.” Where is the verse of Scripture that says, “Thou shalt not smoke?” When I was growing up, just about everything was called a sin. In some churches, swimming was a sin. I once heard a preacher say that automobiles were the devil’s instrument that would destroy the church. He may have been right, but he had no chapter and verse for it. Some preachers say that Christians shouldn’t dance; others say you have to stop drinking. They will quote out of context, “Be not drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit.” The Bible is very clear: you shouldn’t get drunk; but where does it say that you should never take a drink? That is not what Christianity is! That is simply a human tradition. The Jews drank wine at Passover, and they did not make unfermented wine 1,900 years ago.
I was taught “Thou shalt not curse;” but again where in the Bible does it say that? The Bible records that there were prophets cursing people and nations all the time. I know that the Scripture says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” Let me tell you what it means to take the name of the Lord in vain. I have seen preachers out golfing. They may have just told some terrible gossip about another preacher, but then one of them makes his best drive of the day, and he says, “Bless God!” That is taking the Lord’s name in vain! Or I have seen other preachers who don’t read the Bible enough to know what to say, so they fill in space in the message by saying, “Glory to God, glory to God!” That does not glorify God in any way; and again, it is taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Tell me who in the world would want to be a Christian with all the restrictions that the traditionalists put on your behavior? Stop feeling, stop talking, stop thinking, stop living! Jesus said, “You make void the word of God by your traditions.” Again someone might ask, “Doesn’t a person’s behavior change when they become a Christian?” Yes, but that is an inevitable accompaniment of God’s Spirit in you. That is the power of God being Himself through you, not your own feeble efforts to keep a checklist of “Christian” behavior.
By analogy, imagine you are driving a powerful sports car speeding along at 70 miles per hour. You would be a fool if you decided to just get out and try to walk once the care was moving. The “car” in this analogy is the Holy Spirit. And though the Spirit in us does not normally move that fast, the Spirit works with much more power and capacity. That is why the Resurrection is so important to Christianity. You shouldn’t be a Christian if you don’t believe in the Resurrection. It is the benchmark from which our faith begins. If the Resurrection did not happen, then all of Christianity is propagated by liars and it is a fraud. Christianity begins with a fact, not a theory. It starts with the proclamation, “He was dead and now He is alive?” And if you can believe that Christ rose from the dead, passed through a stone-sealed tomb and sailed off into glory, then what is so difficult about believing that God can place His Spirit in us?
The traditions of the church drove me away from God. But the subject of the Resurrection kept a hold on me until I could settle the matter; and ultimately, I abandoned the traditions of men. I knew enough to know that most of the traditions that were imposed on me did not come from the Bible. In fact, most of the things that I heard preached against were not even mentioned by God; and the things that God talked about all the time were studiously avoided. But the Resurrection grabbed me: if I could believe that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, then I could believe the rest.
God has promised that He would put in us the same substance of His life that moved into a tent of human flesh called Jesus of Nazareth. He did not promise that I would feel anything; He just promised that the Spirit would be present. You cannot see the Holy Spirit. By analogy, I normally don’t notice gravity, but it is very real. If I went to the moon, I would definitely feel its absence. Christianity postulates that God, who raised up Christ from the dead, puts that same life into us that will transform us. You don’t have to do the transforming; God does His own work in and through us.
Again, you would be a fool to get out of a moving car and try to walk. But that analogy breaks down when we consider that God puts the power of the car, His Spirit, in us and He starts the movement. Then other Christians come along and say, “Okay, now you have to get out of the car and walk to prove that you are a Christian,” and they bring out their checklist: “You’ve got to quit smoking. Ladies, wash off your makeup. And don’t even walk on the same side of the street as a bar. Never be seen doing anything that a Christian wouldn’t do!” Traditional, perfectionist Christianity is the trick of Satan, the great deceiver. Satan wants to get us out of the car, which is the Holy Spirit, and make us push the car all the way to heaven! Most Christians are too eager to get out and push because they think that will enhance their reputation with other Christians. As for me, I would rather just get in and drive!
True Christianity is an engraftation; it is the planting within us of a seed of life. Christianity is a unilateral act of God to place something into us from Himself that will change us. I cannot obtain it by grabbing it; God gives it to whom He will, and He has made it clear that He will give it to faithers!
God bought the whole field in order that He might get the treasure in the field. He can give salvation to whomever He will. He is the Boss. He could be authoritarian and arbitrary if He wanted to be; He could wipe all of us out if He wanted to! To be ludicrous, if He only wanted colorless women who never wore makeup, He could just wave His mighty hand and produce a whole lot of them. But God likes color: look at the colors He put into nature; look at the colors He put into the temple. God does not get overly excited about the things that some tradition-bound Christians do to prove to other Christians that they are holy. If He wanted people who were on their knees all the time, He could have created people who have no legs below the knees. That is not what God is looking for! He is looking for faith; He is looking for people who will say, “When God says something, that is enough for me; I’m going to take my stand on His word and defy the whole world!”
Now turn in your Bible to 1st Peter 1. It begins, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect,” or chosen, “according to the foreknowledge of God . . .” God chooses who is going to be on His team, like a coach chooses the players and assigns their positions. And Peter makes it very clear how they are chosen: they are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.
I am not making an argument for some kind of strict predestinarian doctrine. Do not ask me how God could know which people would have the capacity to respond. I can tell you that it only takes me about 10 minutes of talking to someone to sense whether or not a person has what it takes to act in faith. You see, 90 percent of faith is courage. In any relationship, you have to make some decisions. The one who acts in faith will slay, “I’m going to trust and act like God’s word is true. I’m going to hang my body on His promise.”
God is looking for a certain kind of people, and He will choose those who exhibit what He is looking for. And He chooses them “through sanctification of the Spirit.” That word “sanctification” simply means “to set apart.” The Greek word is a form of the word hagios, which we translate “saint.” It is used as a liturgical word: you “sanctify” something when you lay it on the altar and give it over for the exclusive use of the deity. The Holy Spirit sanctifies something when He takes it as a gift and treats it as set apart.
When you turn from your ways to God’s ways, He will turn to you and help you. He puts His Spirit in you; the Holy Spirit sets you apart and makes you His dwelling place. It is all His doing. Peter said that we are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, “through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience . . .” That means you will follow the Lord, not follow man. The traditionalists take the word “obedience” and interpret it to mean that you now must obey what they say you ought to do. Nonsense! I will obey the Lord. His standard is clear in His word. The traditional list of do’s and don’ts is so confusing that even God cannot figure it out!
We are chosen “unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” In Exodus 24, Moses sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the people, which allowed them to stand in God’s presence and not die. In the New Testament, we are covered by the blood of Christ. God now looks at us through the “spectacles” of Jesus: He sees us as covered by the blood of Jesus. Jesus already died on Calvary for every sin that crops out every day, and I am covered. So when some perfectionist accuses me, saying, “Oh, look at what you’re doing; you can’t really be a Christian!” I say, “Yes, I’m a Christian, and this is what I’m doing. God covered me. Leave me along. I’m covered by Jesus’ blood, and God and I are working it out.”
The Holy Spirit is saying to me through the apostle Peter, “Grace unto you,” unmerited favor, “and peace, be multiplied.” The traditionalists say, “If you were really saved, you would throw those cigarettes away.” I know all the sermons that say you can’t be a Christian and still smoke cigarettes because that means you are in bondage to that habit. I have noticed that some of the people who preach against smoking are often in bondage to some other habit, like eating. Deal with your own sins! Paul said, “I will not be in bondage to anything.” That is the ideal, and it affects every dimension of love. A drunk that is enslaved by his drink hurts the people he loves; he takes from them life, energy, time and money to serve his slavery. But Jesus came to set us free and “whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” Give God a chance and He will set you free. But don’t be judgmental and thereby kill the new life before it has a chance to take root. Let God handle your problems. Don’t come to me for counsel. Listen to God’s word and start living by faith and you won’t need counsel. Someone says, “But I need to talk to you. I have to tell you my problem.” Why? God knows that it is killing you, so why give it to me? I don’t want it. What is so special about having problems?
You ask, “But what about my problem? Are you saying that it won’t go away? I’d heard that if I walked down to the altar and gave my heart to God that everything would be rosy thereafter.” No. In fact, it may even get worse. You ask, “Then why be a Christian?” Because hell is long and hot, and if you think you have problems now, just wait until you get over there. You might say, “But I don’t believe in all that stuff!” Then I say that you should quit worrying about it. Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven, but if you don’t believe Him, then don’t ask God to help you out. The starting point of Christianity is foreshadowed in the word of the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah: “I set before you two ways: the way of life and the way of death.” All this life can do is give you death. That is why Jesus said that it is better to fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. That is old-fashioned, fundamental Christianity; but, my friend, there is a basis for believing Jesus, and He said it.
The Holy Spirit comes to you right where you are when you have faith, and that same Spirit says, “Unmerited favor to you though you don’t deserve it, and peace. God is no longer against you.” You say, “Okay, I understand that now; but what am I supposed to do with my problem?” Read verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You can start by praising God right where you are.
Quit worrying about smoking. Quit worrying about the length of your skirt or whether you should wear a dress or a pantsuit when you go to church. Quit worrying about whether you should be seen wearing a three-piece suit or a hardhat. Quit worrying about those things that the traditional Christians say you have to do to be a Christian. God is going to test your mettle and find out whether or not you have faith. If you are honest, you will say to God “I have been going the wrong way. I have been trying to rule my own life, but I acknowledge that You are the Boss and I want You to take hold of my life. I believe Your promise that if I confess Jesus as Lord, I will be saved. I know where life’s answer is. Lord, take my hand.” God will do it. He puts His Spirit in you and says, “Unmerited favor and peace to you. I am not against you anymore. Now we will walk together.”
You ask, “What about my mess?” Start eulogizing God in your mess. Start looking up to God and saying, “I still have the mess that I had when I came to You, but now I have You with me in my mess. I have the faith to believe You are with me. Now that I have taken Your hand, I will find Your promises, regardless of my circumstances, and grab and hang on to Your word even if I die.”
Read verse 3 again, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us . . .” The word in the Greek means “regenerated.” God put a new battery in us. He did not regenerate us with the guarantee that we will get rich, have no more sickness and live to an old age. That isn’t what the Bible says. It says that He has regenerated us “unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
No matter how bad my circumstances are, I know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and has the power to raise me from the dead as well. Because of my first step of faith in Jesus, the Spirit has come into me and has given me the expectancy of being raised, as Christ was, “to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven.” That is our inheritance, and we are “Kept by the power of God.” Do you know that God is keeping you?
It is the simple act of faith that strikes the connection with God. You may be trying to find a job or trying to figure out how to pay your bills. There may be sickness in your home or any number of problems that are a part of this life. The Bible says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, but you can reach up through the clouds and say, “The best hope I have is that Jesus died for me. If no one else responded besides me, He still would have done it. He is looking for one or all to respond, but He will take one. I am going to believe Him.” Let me say this respectfully, but literally: To hell with the traditions of men! God and I are going to walk together. And while I walk this path down here, I have an inheritance reserved in heaven and I am kept by the power of God.
Some people might wonder how I keep on making it through. It is because I am kept. I do not keep the traditions of men, but I do keep hold of God’s promises and He keeps holding on to me. I should have been wiped out long ago, but I keep landing on my feet. I say in the context of unmerited favor from God that “I am kept by the power of God.” How? “Through faith.” Everyone else may be warring against me, but the Holy Spirit is saying, “I am setting you apart to be My residence, and you have peace with Me.” As long as I am faithing, I have an inheritance, undefiled. Even if everything is coming apart all around me, including my health, I have a new body over there that is kept on reserve by the power of God.
I came to this church with one goal, and that was to get it back on the path of faith. As long as we maintain that connection of faith, we will make it through. I will believe God, even if I die in the process. There is nothing complicated about that. You can understand the difference between claiming a promise of God like “The Lord is my Shepherd” and the traditional mindset that you must “do this” and “don’t do that” in order to get into heaven.
Recognize that Christ died for your sins; but He did not die for you faith: He cannot faithe for you. Through the teaching of the word, we have moved aside the obstacles of traditional Christianity. We have broken the barrier that the traditions put up. In the face of your problems and circumstances, it is up to you to either give up and say, “I’m finished,” or stay connected by faith and say, “The Lord said it, and that settles it.”
We are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice,” literally, wherein you exult, “though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations,” literally, many-colored temptations.
You don’t have to let yourself be subjected to the pressure from the traditionalists. God says, “I am at peace with you. Why are they warring with you? Ignore them! I am giving you an inheritance on reserve. You are being kept. No one will take you out of My hand as long as you keep your grip on faith.”
Find a promise of God that fits your individual need, and act on it. It is like plugging a light cord into an electrical outlet: you have to plug in the cord for the power to flow. Quit complaining, quit running around in fear and running away from other people. Claim a promise of God and say, “This promise fits my circumstance, and I am plugging in!” What if I die not having obtained the promise? The onlookers might say, “He plugged in the cord, but the light never came on.” But by faith, I will say, “You ought to see how brightly that light shines in eternity!”
Verse 7 says, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” Jesus will come one day and say of you, “He believed Me. He didn’t believe Me only because he saw results; he believed Me and acted beyond mere belief, and he faithed his way through the trial.”
The perfectionists might say, “But he didn’t perform like Christians ought to perform. Further, his circumstances never changed. All he ever did was plug in a cord of faith and claim a promise of God.” But Jesus will say, “That is all I am looking for: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor on that great day.”
That is Basic Christianity. That is the kind of faith that looks the circumstance in the face and will wait until eternity to see the rewards which are reserved in heaven. But down here on earth, you will keep the connection of faith and keep on faithing in spite of everything. That is why Peter speaks with wonder of those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ, “whom having not seen, ye love.” You trust, you faithe in the unseen One.
I want us to understand, as strange as it may sound to the perfectionists, God takes you as you are, with all of your problems, and He works with you as you are, right where you are in all of your problems. What changes when God comes to you? He says, “Unmerited favor to you! I paid the price – all your sins are covered. Peace to you!” We are no longer at war with God. He has given us grace and peace.
As you act in faith on a promise that fits your need, you build up the “legal tender” of eternity. If you are facing financial hardship, you can claim the promise, “I am the Lord that sees and provides.” You may die the poorest person in the world, but if you keep trusting in the promise until your last breath, you will wake up in heaven with an eternal inheritance. If you are sick, go to the Table of the Lord and take the bread and the wine, believing God’s promise of forgiveness and healing. You can claim the promise, “I am the LORD that healeth thee.” Someone says, “I keep claiming that promise, but I only feel worse! What if I die from my sickness? My relatives might say, ‘See, faith doesn’t work.’” Don’t mind what the onlookers say; your faith will take you to heaven where you will get a new body. If you wake up in fear, say, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in the Lord,” and walk out into the light of day claiming the promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
Jesus will go with you wherever you go. I have heard the traditional nonsense of those who say, “Don’t go anywhere that the Lord wouldn’t go!” You fool, Jesus came to you, and isn’t that about the worst place He could have gone? He will go with you! God is looking for faithers; He isn’t looking for do-nothing marshmellows or super-spiritual showoffs. God is looking for people who will stare a hurricane of circumstance in the face; and while everyone else is running away, they will say, “Lord, help me,” as they lower their head and charge, believing God’s promises. That is what God is looking for. That is the way you get saved.
The pastor doesn’t have to save you, and the other saints don’t have to beat you into heaven. You don’t need to have an altar call where you cry for hours to show off your repentance. You don’t need any of those things. Just go out claiming a promise of God that fits your circumstance, plug in the cord of faith and God will save you. Someone asks, “Do you mean that my forty years of trying to act like a Christian won’t save me?” Right: you can go to hell trying to do that. Faithe a little, and you will go to heaven. Say it with me: “We made it through this year!”
Reprinted with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott
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