8-3-1 The Problem of Human Nature
Duncan Heaster Reply
What God Requires
In His Word, God reveals only two ways to gain eternal life: the first is to be completely obedient (only Christ did this), the second is to be saved by grace through true faith in the sacrifice of Christ. Megiddo acknowledges the first, denies the second and asserts another way to salvation which is based on reaching the " moral stature of Christ" at some point in our lives.
The problem is that the moral stature of Christ is unattainable once we have sinned, which we all have done. Christ did no sin. We see the " glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (II Cor. 4:6), God's glory referring to His moral attributes, the virtue of His character (Ex. 33:18; 34:5-7). Of everyone else it is said, " All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Once we sin, thus failing to reach the standard of moral perfection exhibited in Christ, our only hope is to be " justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus [not our own works]: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood [the blood which Megiddo claim to be irrelevant to our salvation], to declare His [God's] righteousness for the remission of sins that are past...that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3:23-26).
The idea of being saved because we reach a stage in our lives where we act, think and speak perfectly is foreign to scripture.
Acceptable Believers Still Sin
John describes some who received his first epistle in favorable terms. " Your sins are forgiven you...ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one" (I John 2:12,14). If Megiddo is correct, such Christians would no longer sin. They would have reached a stage where they had become pure even as Christ is pure. Yet John writes, " If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (I John 1:8-10). These people still sinned and needed forgiveness.
Elsewhere we read, " There is not a just man upon earth, that...sinneth not...there is no man that sinneth not" (Eccl. 7:20; Prov. 20:9; 1 Kgs 8:46). Megiddo would say there are some people on earth who have reached the stage where they do not sin. In contrast, the Bible reveals that those justified in God's sight (justified by their faith in His imputed righteousness, Hab. 2:4), still sin. This is exactly as taught in 1 John 1.
Furthermore, if by the end of our days we have achieved moral perfection, then why do we receive " mercy" at the judgment (see II Tim. 1:18; Jude 21)? Why are the faithful portrayed as being unaware of the good works which they did in their lives (Matt. 25:37)? As Paul said, he desired to " be found in [Christ], not having mine own righteousness...but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Phil. 3:9). We must not trust in our own works of obedience but in God's gracious gift of righteousness.
What God Means By " Perfect"
Biblically, the words translated " perfect" do not necessarily imply moral perfection, i.e. sinlessness. Rather do they carry the idea of completeness and fullness: " Perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (Jam. 1:4). Mary and Joseph " fulfilled (same word translated " perfect" ) the days" of the Passover (Lk. 2:43); " the scripture was fulfilled" (John 19:28). Christ is " a more perfect tabernacle" (Heb. 9:11). " More perfect" indicates a relative sense of completion, for one cannot be " more" perfect in the absolute sense. The Hebrew translated " perfect" is also rendered " sincere" (Jud. 9:16; Josh. 24:14). Again, there is no implication of sinlessness.
The scriptures teach that both individuals and the church as a whole must develop toward some point of " perfection" (Lk. 8:14; Heb. 6:1). However, this is a point of completion of spiritual development in certain aspects, not moral sinlessness. David, Asa and others are said to be perfect of heart all their days yet they still sinned in their hearts (I Kgs. 15:3; II Chron. 15:17; 16:10,12). Therefore, " perfection" is not total sinlessness; it is a condition of true faith in God and of trying to obey Him.
There is a way that we can be considered " perfect" before God, but it is a way that Megiddo rejects. It is the blood of Christ which perfects: " By one offering [Christ] hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:1,14).
A Way Of Life Of Obedience
Malicious people will not be saved. Merciful people will be. But malicious people do some righteous acts; they may be merciful to their families and loyal to their employers. Scripture says, " every one that doeth righteousness is born of him" (I John 2:29). That obviously does not mean that every malicious person who does a few good things is considered a child of God. Therefore, " doeth righteousness" cannot refer to isolated right acts but to a way of life.
On the other hand, merciful people will occasionally be inconsiderate or unkind. A few verses later, scripture says, " whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God" (I John 3:10). Does this mean that every merciful person is excluded from eternal life because he commits an occasional unkind act? In no way; scripture is speaking about a pattern of obedience or of sin just as it does in regard to David, Asa and others.
Megiddo says that to be saved we must become exactly like Christ. God does not say that. We are saved in prospect at baptism. We are not begotten of God as was Jesus; and the reality is that we can improve to a high level of obedience but we will never be free from the moral results of our past sinful actions. We can walk in a pattern of obedience and that is what God sets as our goal. We will, however, be considered " perfect" if we sincerely believe in the work of Christ, for He will count our faith as righteousness.
The Problem Of Human Nature
Megiddo's view of salvation implies a misconception of man's nature. The analogy about the repentant bank robber implies that it is only our personal sins, of which we can repent, which separate us from God. This overlooks the fact that we partake in the effect of Adam’s sin: " Therefore as by the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation..." (Rom. 5:18). Being freed from the guilt of our own committed sins is not the only factor in our salvation.
The point is further reinforced by the statement " The wages of sin is death." This is why we all die. If obedience alone is all that is required to obtain redemption, and we can reach a state of total obedience at some point in our lives, then why do we still die? We are not condemned for our past sins, they are forgiven. The answer must be that we are born dying creatures as a result of the judgment passed on Adam's sin. Megiddo do not deal with this problem at all. The sacrifice of Christ does.
From all this it follows that we need access to something more than our own effort if we are to be given immortality (II Pet. 1:4). In our condemned condition, we need a God-provided savior. Consider:
1. Under the law of Moses, a mother was defiled by childbirth and was to bring an offering to the priest " who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her" (Lev. 12:7). No personal sins were involved but an atonement was still required. Why? Because the woman was defiled by the child who had come from within her. She had not brought forth sin, nor committed sin by the act of conception; but there was the need for atonement.
2. There are clear references to " the body of sin," " sinful flesh," etc. Our whole humanity , not just some of our individual actions, are associated with sin. While we must separate our thinking from our natural tendencies and develop a new mind based on that of Christ, our mortal condition cannot be changed in this life. For this reason, mortal man cannot approach God's personal presence (Ex. 33:20; II Tim. 6:16). Thus our separation from God is not due solely to our specific sins. We need a change of nature, to that which Jesus now has.
3. Romans 7 describes how Paul struggled with " sin that dwelleth in me," " in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing" which stopped him from performing the righteousness he wished to. He finally exalts in the solution: " Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ." Christ is, therefore, the means of deliverance from this sin-prone nature we have, which we all too easily give in to. Just being our example is not a deliverance from this. God provided a way for us to break our captivity to that which Paul described by " sending his son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin" : in that Jesus destroyed the power of sin through sharing our very nature (cp. Heb. 2:14-18).
Without Christ's destruction of the power of the sin-principle, we would be doomed to the results of continual sin, i.e. condemnation. We must become " in Christ" so that God will treat us as if we, too, have overcome as our Lord did. If Christ is just our example, why is there the language of being in Christ? Biblically, the point of entry into Christ is water immersion into him; remaining in him is dependent upon living a life of faith “in him”.
4. We are all under the Adamic curse of death. By Adam, sin entered into the world, and death by sin (Rom. 5:12). The way of escape from this curse is not by obedience alone. Genesis 3:15 promised that Christ as " the seed of the woman" would overcome the power of sin. We must, therefore, associate ourselves with his death, through which he destroyed the power of sin (Heb. 2:14-16).
Steps To Salvation
In setting forth their ideas, Megiddo totally omits immersion as being necessary to salvation. This is in sharp contrast to the emphasis of Christ and the apostles. When asked what one should do to be saved, Peter replied, " Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). This parallels Jesus' instruction: " Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:15-16).
The Megiddo emphasis on obedience fails to appreciate that we enter a blessed relationship through Christ at baptism. We who were dead in our sins are made alive with Christ, for he " hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus...for by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:5-10).
This blessed condition is conditional upon our continuing in a faith that works by love. If we do not, we can fall from grace: " Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). But unless we fall from the Truth, we stand in grace and thereby rejoice in the forgiveness of sins. We must continue believing in the work of Christ which we show by our " patient continuance in well-doing."
God Takes The Initiative
Megiddo's idea is that if we do something then God will respond. But God has taken the initiative. Rather than our obedience leading to His response, " He first loved us...[by sending] His son to be the propitiation for our sins" (I John 4:10,19). It is this which motivates our love of God.
What is Megiddo's motivation for belief in the doctrine of perfect obedience? Do they want salvation as part of a legalistic arrangement which is linked solely to their own actions? This leads to human-centered thinking, an approach which is wholly overthrown by the right balance of reliance on God's grace in the sacrifice of Christ and our works springing from our response to that grace.
The Problem Of Pride
" That no flesh should glory in his presence…of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (I Cor. 1:29-31). " For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). The spirit of God's plan of salvation is perfectly clear -- the glory is not to man but to Him because of His gift to us in Christ Jesus.
In contrast, Megiddo speaks of how we must " merit eternal rewards." They say " God provides the knowledge of what we must do, along with the mental and physical powers we need. But it is our responsibility to use all these to develop the character He requires." Their only mention of depending upon God is that we depend on Him to change us from mortal to immortal.
Under the Megiddo scheme of salvation, those who think they are righteous cannot help but have an inner sense of self-satisfaction. It is not Christ who is made to them righteousness but their own effort and self-discipline. Salvation is not a gift but something that they merit, and which God owes to them as a wage (Rom. 6:22,23).
The frame of mind that would inevitably be developed is very similar to the person who prayed with himself before God, saying, " I thank thee that I am not as other men are..." He stood in contrast to the man who " smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." The man who confessed he was a sinner and relied upon the grace of God " went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Lk. 18:9-14).
The right approach to salvation does not result in personal exaltation but humble thankfulness before God. With a right conviction, we rejoice that He cleanses us through the blood of His only begotten Son and counts our faith in this for righteousness. With a wrong approach, we are in danger of being grouped with those who " trusted in themselves that they were righteous."
Megiddo 4,000 Years Wrong
If the primary purpose of Christ was to be an example and not the God-provided savior, there is no reason for God to delay his birth for 4,000 years. Everyone, right from Adam, needed to know how to live an upright life. If Megiddo is correct, for 4,000 years people were deprived of a right example and right teaching.
Realizing Christ is our savior, however, fits perfectly with the delay in his begettal. As each generation lived, they would see that there was no perfect person. " There is none righteous, no not one...all have sinned..." (Rom. 3:10,23). Even though God called out one nation, the Jews, and worked with them, openly showing His power and sending them His word through special prophets, there was no one who could reconcile man to God: " And he [God] saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him" (Isa. 59:16).
All men, every single one of them, were alienated from God by their wicked works (Col. 1:21). " And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me...and I found none" (Ezk. 22:30). Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel were all alive when these words were written but they had all sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Each person thus has every reason to be convinced he cannot save himself. We need God to save us. This He has done in providing His Son that through him salvation might be offered to all who believe: " But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us...through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7).
True, it is humbling to be saved by the righteousness of another and not by our own perfect walk. Looking at the history of mankind, however, we are convinced we cannot save ourselves and should respond with grateful hearts to the fact we can be reconciled " in the body of his [Christ's] flesh" if we truly believe in him and are baptized into the Lord Jesus.
The Bible sets forth the necessity of a sanctified life and the need for sharing in the merits of the sacrificial death of Christ. Megiddo sees this as an unresolveable conflict of ideas. In fact, the two themes complement each other as is evidenced by their appearing side by side throughout the Bible. The life of grateful conformity to Jesus issues from a belief in His death for us, and the redemption by grace which this has achieved.
Furthermore, when applied to God's requirements for us, the words for " perfect" are seen to refer to a pattern of obedience and not to absolute perfection. Even though we strive to do God's will, we all sin and likely will always commit some categories of sins.
We need deliverance not only from our specific transgressions but also from our human condition. We need a savior and God has provided one in our Lord Jesus.
The forgiveness of sins is based upon repentance and upon our faith in the sacrifice of Christ. Obedience to the commands of the Old Covenant brought about rewards on account of the blood which ratified that covenant. This pointed forward to the blood of Christ under the New Covenant, for it was " shed for...the remission of sins." " Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." This the crucial importance of association with the blood of Christ.
Symptomatic of Megiddo's mistake is their leaving baptism out of the steps to salvation. They do so in contrast to Christ and the apostles.
The importance of the issue is highlighted at the very beginning of scripture in the incident of Cain and Abel. Cain was rejected because he brought God the works of his hands rather than accepting the importance of shedding literal blood. Doubtless he reasoned, like Megiddo, that seeing he was being obedient, he was fulfilling the symbol of outpoured lifeblood. But he failed to appreciate his need for forgiveness through sacrifice, his own inadequacy; and that the symbolic must have a basis in the literal.
Duncan Heaster, September, 1992