Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A smallish letter to Stegall

Kevin, over at his blog asked me in comment #45 of our discussion, where I take position at this time on the "redefined gospel" (also known as the "crossless gospel"). I give some explanation in the following comment there at his site but I continue with a couple of simple points, in this blog post. (I do desire to get back over there to the "redefined" folks at some point and follow through with some more discussion.)

Here is an article I wrote out of my notes following the October Free Grace National Conference. I share a bit of the context which brought about the writing of this short, basic introductory piece of discussion. My notes begin:

"Of course as soon as it was mingle time I was drawn to the Duluth Bible Church table. I talked with [name withheld], and we slowly eased into talking about the current controversy and as we were talking about Pastor Stegall's papers, he appeared, along with Dave Anderson and Pastor Rosker. We talked for about fifteen minutes till he had to break away for dinner. Later that evening Pastor Stegall came over after Dr. Bing's presentation to continue talking with me (at this point he had recognized me, he said).

I had the greatest time in the whole world, meeting and talking with Pastor Stegall and Pastor Rosker. They were so kind, and I could see the Holy Spirit in their countenance. I can tell he cares, about the Word and people equally. And he cares about what I believe as a crossless person.

He came over and we talked about some scriptures proving a fuller gospel message necessary which I had never seen before. We talked a lot and he wanted to understand why I believe in the crossless gospel. I shared my testimony and many other things, but somehow it still came to this: perhaps my experience has priority over the scriptures.

So I went upstairs and sat down and wrote a smallish letter so that he can read it tomorrow when I see him again. I just want him to understand stuff that I wasn't saying so well about law vs. grace, in person this evening."

Pastor Stegall,

I am so grateful to have discussed the scriptures yesterday. There's one thing on my mind. You and Pastor Rosker asked, 'Isn't experience dictating interpretation?' And I didn't say why, though, I said a mess of stuff. May I tell you so that you know my mind?

"For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God." rom 2:28-29

It actually says about obedience in the verses above it,

"Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?" rom 2:26

And, I understand "keeping the righteous requirements of the law" as meaning as you said too; "obey the gospel" means "have faith."

So here is how I built the interplay between the realm of faith and its preeminence over law. It is by this framework of understanding the sufficiency of faith in Jesus Christ that I was able to repel every false gospel (and as you already know now there were many in my life).

Would we, should we dare criticize the sufficiency of faith?

"...apart from law... to all and on all who believe." rom 3:21,22

"Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." rom 10:17

"God, who gives life to the dead and calls all things which do not exist as though they did... [Abraham] who contrary to hope, in hope believed... according to what was spoken...." rom 4:17,18

I hope you can 'hear' my testimony of salvation in these verses.

This is where I am at.

Whatever is given of the Word, a combination of essentials/non-essentials, more, or less, whenever someone is persuaded with hope that cannot come otherwise (faith): how is that at fault according to the nature of faith's preeminence over all other requirements?

Thank you so much!
Have a blessed day today!



goe said...

You say: "I hope you can 'hear' my testimony of salvation in these verses." I can hear it Michelle! Isn't what you are saying in your letter to Pastor Stegall essentially the same thing Jesus meant when He said, "Most assuredly, I say to you,he who hears my word, and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life, and shall not come into judgement, but has passed from death into life."? Am I misunderstanding you? I enjoy your articles.


goe said...

Sorry I misspelled your name MicheLe.

Sanctification said...


Thanks for the feedback, I really benefit from it.

Absolutely! That's exactly what I'm talking about. If 'gospel' has a broad or variating meaning, or if we can be born again by the "Word," then doesn't this suggest an infinite variety of truths that make us follow after Christ?

What am I supposed to do with the Wilkin's gospel? I can't remember a single time in my entire walk with Christ where I pondered my need and desire for eternal life.

Yeah, it's all part-n-parcel now, somehow....

Teenagers and atheists are the ones who miss out for this reason (neither of them think any consequence of death).

Thanks a lot, Michele

Sanctification said...


Now that I'm all fired up, I think that the concept of "eternal life" is offensive in some cultures. Perhaps people have to inwardly wrestle with that concept yet meanwhile, are absolutely hungry to have fellowship, Spiritually, with God.

I don't know. I just gotta wonder.... What do you think?

I still can't help but think, THIS: I'm still, fine with being dead when I'm dead. So long as I lived this life on earth in peace with my Maker and the lover of my soul, it is more than enough.

Thanks, Michele

goe said...


I'm not sure I follow what you have said in your comments. I might be misunderstanding the point you are making, but you seem to be saying that some concept of "eternal life" is not necessary or essential in order for someone to be born again by faith in Christ. If that is what you mean, I don't see how that would be possible. If someone is not believing in Jesus for eternal life, they are not believing that Jesus is the Christ, because in scripture, the title of "Christ" is inseparable from the idea of eternal life (Jn. 11:25-27). The Gospel of John tells us that God sent Jesus (the Christ) to this earth with a work and a mission to accomplish. That mission was to give us eternal life. It is precisely this mission that makes Him "the Christ", the promised One of the OT scriptures. Apart from this mission of doing all that was necessary to give us the gift of eternal life (his life, death and resurrection), the word "Christ" becomes empty and meaningless, devoid of its biblical definition and meaning.

"but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel". 2 Tim. 1:10

"If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater, for this is the witness of God which he has testified of His Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in Himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has NOT BELIEVED THE TESTIMONY that God has given of His Son. AND THIS IS THE TESTIMONY: that God has given us ETERNAL LIFE, and this life in in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." 1 Jn. 5:9-12. In other words, to believe that Jesus is the Christ simply means to believe the testimony that God has given about Jesus--that He is the One (Christ) who gives eternal life to every one who believes in Him. To "believe in Him" means to believe God's testimony about Him. To believe God's testimony about Jesus is the same as believing Jesus' promise of eternal life (Jn. 5:24). Remove eternal life from God's testimony, and there is no testimony left.

"But I have a greater witness than John's: for the works which the Father has given Me to finish--the very works that I do--bear witness of me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have (eternal) life." (Jn. 5:36-40)

Of course, scriptures like the above could be multiplied because the message of eternal life through faith in Christ is the very essence of the gospel.

I agree with you that there are many other biblical truths that God uses to bring a person to the point of saving faith in Christ. For example, the concepts of sin and eternal life would be meaningless to an atheist. Until that person first comes to the place of believing in the existence of an infinite-personal God, those concepts would be absurd or offensive to them--because the presuppositions of their belief system logically exclude belief in these concepts. The message of the cross is offensive to many people for the same reason. This is why I believe the bible shows us that when we try to evangelize a person, we ideally want to first know what their belief system already is, then try to lead them step by step in the direction of understanding and believing the fundamental truths which would be logical prerequisites for them to reach the point of believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life. The journey that different people must make in reaching this point of believing in Christ for eternal life will no doubt vary from person to person . I think it was this "journey" that Jesus was referring to when He said: "Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life." (Jn. 6:43-47).

Because we are created in the image of God, God has placed within all people an instinctive and fundamental concept of eternal realities (Eccl.3:10) and God's eternal power and divine nature: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly see, being understood by the things which are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse," (Rom. 1:20). If some people will not acknowledge these realities, it is because they have "suppressed the truth in unrighteousness" in exchange for a false belief system (Rom. 1:18-23). Even if it offends them, we would not be doing them any favors if we did not tell them about eternal life or other biblical truths they don't know and believe.

You say that living this present life on earth in peace with God is "more than enough." But Paul said this: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19), and "If the dead do not rise, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.' " ( 1Cor. 15:32)

Michele, I might be completely misunderstanding what you meant in your comments. If I am, what I have said would be irrelevant and I hope you will excuse me. If you disagree with what I've said I don't mind at all if you tell me so. You are clearly the kind of person who spends a lot of time trying to think through some very complex and difficult issues. For example, I was amazed at all the time and work you must have put into your long article about the sovereignty of God a few days ago. I agree with your conclusions about that because, like you, I too have experienced the adverse effects that a skewed understanding of God's sovereignty can have on us. I definitely do not believe in the Calvinistic doctrines of "unconditional election', "irresistible grace", "perseverance of the saints" etc. Actually, I reject the whole TULIP.

When you have time, I hope you will check out what Diane posted today at Antonio's FREE GRACE THEOLOGY>Meeting Tomorrow with 2-4 LDS Missionaries. What she says there is very good IMHO. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

God bless,


Sanctification said...


I am blessed by your careful response. In fact, the longer it is, the more material you give for my consideration, the more I feel loved!

You said:
You say that living this present life on earth in peace with God is "more than enough." But Paul said this: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19), and "If the dead do not rise, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.' " ( 1Cor. 15:32)

Excellent point. I will keep this in mind, though, with a lack of interest regarding eternal life I don't want to give impression that this means a rejection of the teaching....

I read Diane's comment earlier this morning, and appreciated it. She and others have such a great fellowship, I admire it. I will go back tomorrow and do as you ask.

You said:
in scripture, the title of "Christ" is inseparable from the idea of eternal life (Jn. 11:25-27).

BTW, I think you understand me correctly!

As for this scripture, a clear association is established but associations cannot prove exclusions, for example 'he who believes in me has eternal life' says nothing of whether or not eternal life is the only item had by belief.

You said,
The Gospel of John tells us that God sent Jesus (the Christ) to this earth with a work and a mission to accomplish. That mission was to give us eternal life. It is precisely this mission that makes Him "the Christ", the promised One of the OT scriptures.

I wonder what you might think eternal life means and does not mean. Have you glopped everything about the new covenant into the concept of "eternal life?" To me, eternal life only means that there will be no separation, but fellowship, with God when we are resurrected.

You might want to next ask me, "Yes, but, how is that even possible?" And you might mention the righteousness we have imputed to us by faith in Christ, but: that's my next point.

According to Romans 4, what I need (alternately to John's gospel centered on "eternal life") is to be included in the promise, to be a child of Abraham, either by circumcision or uncircumcision; either by faith that is alone or by faith that is accompanied by works.

According to Jeremiah 33 and the book of Hebrews what I need (alternately to "eternal life") is to be included in the new covenant. This new covenant can be described in the most basic of ways, from those passages. But I will pick a couple that are on my mind.

Genesis shows that Abraham's covenant is the bosom for ours, and his faith was credited as righteousness. What we need, is righteousness. That is what, alternately, Christ's major accomplishment was on earth, for which we must receive in order to see the Kingdom of God.

2 Cor 5:20-21 says "Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

I don't think that these features of salvation are subject to the issue of the transmitting of eternal life. In fact, I would say, that eternal life is one of the benefits subject to be given under the greater transmission of righteousness that comes by faith.

I want to have a restoration of my relationship with God, right here, right now, for my life as I experience it. This is how many people in John's gospel, were thinking and living. He may have granted them eternal life, but how can you say that their own lives is not what brought them to faith in Christ -- because this is what I see, and as I show above, this is the issue I believe the scriptures also support.

In fact, I am even more sure this gospel is missing something important when I think of how sanctification is an extension of the means of our justification; by faith alone in Christ alone. "As you have received Him, so continue to walk in Him...." Colossians 2:6. How can we walk in the promise of everlasting life? How can we walk by "faith that we have eternal life because Jesus grants it to us?" No, we walk in faith in Christ, knowing righteousness is imputed IN UNION with Christ, by faith, supplying all I need to be sanctified in this life.

Do you see all these things?

I hope you are able to understand what I am trying to say.

I am SO THANKFUL to talk, with you, about this. You are knowledgeable in the scriptures and I know I am going to learn a lot.

Thank you Gary!

Kevl said...

I left a response at my blog Michele, thought I would tell you here in case you missed it.


Sanctification said...

Hi Kev,

Thank you for leaving the note. I try and check it so often.

:D Michele

goe said...


I don't think I would disagree with the points you have made here. I does seem that you might be misunderstanding me a little though. I'll try to clarify what I meant in light of your comments.

"eternal life says nothing of whether or not eternal life is the ONLY item had by belief."
I totally agree with you here. When God gives us eternal life, there are, of course, many other things that happen to us that we don't necessarily know about or understand when we first believe in Christ. Keep in mind that the Gospel of John was written primarily for the purpose of evangelizing unbelievers. It wasn't written for the purpose of instructing those who were already believers or explaining the other truths you have mentioned. Those things are explained in the rest of scripture. The epistles, for example, were written to people who were believers. They already knew they had eternal life, but needed further teaching in order to grow in their understanding of what God had done for them when they had been born again (or saved). They also needed instruction on truth related to sanctification and learning to live in a way that pleases the Lord. The Gospel of John does contain some basic truths related to sanctification in chapters 13-17. But since John's main purpose is to tell people how they can be saved and have eternal life, he keeps things simple and focused on that issue in chapters 1-12. If a person read John's Gospel and believed in Christ for eternal life, he could then use the basic truths John gives in chapters 13-17 to begin his walk of fellowship with Christ (abiding). But he would eventually need further instruction in the things we find in the epistles. I do think it is significant that for the purpose of evangelizing unbelievers, he keeps the focus on a simple message--believing that Jesus is the Christ=believing in Him for eternal life. In fact, John is simply recording for us how Jesus Himself evangelized people. Jesus obviously believed that offering salvation to people in terms of "eternal life" was the simplest and most meaningful way to communicate what it was He wanted to give them. It is a broad enough term that it can implicitly include the other things you have mentioned without requiring that unbelievers know or understand all those other things. But the beauty of "eternal life" is that is DOES communicate in a meaningful way the real essence of what Jesus wants to give us and do for us.

You are right that we need to be "included in the promise" and the new covenant, we DO need righteousness, justification and reconciliation (or "restoration of my relationship with God, right here, right now, for my life as I experience it"). "Eternal life" implicitly includes all these things, though we don't fully understand it all at first. But that doesn't mean that these other things you have mentioned are unimportant or are in conflict with the concept of eternal life.

Eternal life means more than just unending life with God " when we are resurrected" (as you said). It means we have the very life of God Himself given to us, both quantitatively AND qualitatively. It is not something we wait to get in the future. It is something we have right now, in the present, the moment we believe in Christ. Having eternal life is also the beginning of KNOWING God: "And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Jn. 17:3 This knowledge of God begins in a simple way, but continues to grow deeper in this present life on into eternity--the ages to come. In fact, to have eternal life is just another way of saying that we have Jesus Christ Himself living in us, and us in Him--because Jesus Christ IS eternal life. ( Jn. 1:4 and 1 Jn. 1:1-3) When we understand what the bible means by "eternal life", we see that it actually involves the highest form of intimacy with God. Him in us, and us in Him. Jn 14:20, 17:20-23. Of course, "eternal life" also entails the idea that our relationship with Christ is eternally SECURE--something we can never lose once we have it.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that "eternal life" is a rich and dynamic concept that implies the most intimate relationship possible between human beings and God, a forever relationship--through Jesus Christ. It begins right now, the moment a person believes in Jesus Christ for eternal life. But that does not mean that we cannot also understand or speak of this relationship with Him in terms of the other things you have mentioned.
Those things just further explain and enrich our understanding of that relationship and all that is involved in establishing it. There is no conflict between all those things. It's just that we can't understand it all in the beginning, so for the purposes of bringing unbelievers to faith in Christ, "eternal life" is a great beginning concept that both encompasses and summarizes the essence of it. That is why Jesus used it and why it is used almost exclusively in the Gospel of John--the only book in scripture written mainly for unbelievers. It is a FOUNDATIONAL concept, but of course, you are right that there is more we need to know and understand for our walk of faith, so I am not trying to minimize their importance at all.

Am I making any sense? Is what I'm saying even remotely touching on the questions you have raised? Or have I totally misread you? I hope not, because my fingers are cramped from typing all this (ha!)--I would hate to think I've wasted my time!

Let me know what you think. It's alright, you can be brutal if you're in that kind of a mood.

Best wishes.


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