Tom: Welcome to Search the Scriptures Daily! In this first segment, we’re going through Dave Hunt’s book An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith, which we’ve been using because of its emphasis on the critical necessity of searching the Scriptures for understanding the Christian faith. In fact, if it’s not biblical Christianity, it’s not Christianity.
Now, Dave, I can imagine some of our listeners reacting to that statement, thinking, well, it’s rather cavalier. But it’s not. It’s just simple truth, isn’t it?
Dave: Well, where do we find out about Christianity? From the Bible! So, are you going to come up with some ideas on your own? I mean, isn’t Jesus Christ—isn’t He the Head of the church? Isn’t He the One after whom Christianity is named? Well, then, I guess that’s the authority we go to.
Tom: Right. Dave, in chapter seven of your book, you begin the chapter by quoting two verses from the Old Testament: Exodus:20:24-26, where God gives instructions for constructing an altar, and then you quote Genesis:11:4, which gives man’s ideas about building an altar for spiritual gain.
How do these verses relate to mercy and works?
Dave: Well, we can certainly see how they relate to works! In Exodus 20, God says there is to be absolutely no human involvement in this altar. The altar is to be built of earth. If you can’t get enough earth to scrape together—the ground is so rocky— build it of rocks. But you cannot lift up your tool on it. You don’t carve the rocks. You don’t add any human embellishments. The altar of earth is a place where you offer a sacrifice. It has nothing to do with human works. And they are forbidden to go up by steps.
Then, in Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel, where they’re going to build a ladder—well, they’re going to build a tower—and by steps of their own making, they will climb right into heaven!
So, one is certainly the very opposite of the other. Babel is a rejection of what God says. How can there be any human effort? And didn’t Christ pay the penalty? Now, if it’s mercy, how can you merit mercy? Someone is merciful to you because you don’t deserve to be pardoned. They’re doing it not because you are worthy of it, but they’re doing it out of mercy.
Paul, in Romans, he contrasts “grace” and “works.” If it’s by work, then it’s not grace. If it’s by grace, it’s not by works—otherwise, grace isn’t grace and work isn’t work. And mercy is very similar to grace.
Tom: Dave, to go back to these scriptures—so, God, in a sense, is laying out something practical but also something very symbolic. And we could look to it—we don’t build altars today, but these scriptures have great meaning to us in terms of what God is telling us: that we cannot come to Him through anything that we might do.
Dave: It is absolutely essential that we understand that salvation is not by works. And it is an affront to God, it is an insult to God, to offer anything. And yet, this is what religion is all about! All religions partake of this error. Paganism, all ritualism, sacramentalism, the robes, the incense, the gilded altars, the ceremonies . . .
Tom: The Liturgies . . .
Dave: Yes, the Liturgies, the sacraments . . . they think that this is somehow efficacious, that this is pleasing God, or pacifying God, and that this is somehow earning God’s merit. I think of the chapter we discussed, “Well, what about the temple? Solomon’s temple was beautiful.”
These were all specifically designed by God. He said, again and again, “See that thou make all things after the pattern that was showed to you on the Mount.” It was a pattern of things that were yet to come. All the sacrifices were a picture of Christ, the Lamb of God, who would come and bear away the sin of the world. And it had to be exactly the way God said, because it was a picture of a reality that was yet to come.
Now the reality has come. Christ has come. He has paid the penalty for our sins. And the various cathedrals—I mean, you’ve visited them in Europe, all over the world—the altars . . . it’s amazing! Not only did Israel fall into this—the high places. The heathen, the pagan nations around them, they worshiped their Gods at high places. It’s like, again, it’s as you say, symbolic of man’s effort. Or the pilgrimages, you know. We were recently (maybe I mentioned this on the radio; I’m not sure, but . . . ) we were recently over in Slovakia, and we visited—outside of this town—they called it Calvary! It has an Orthodox church up on top of it, and it has a path winding up, with various little shrines on the way. And people come by the thousands and walk up this on their knees! Bloody knees, some of them. People who are somehow trying to suffer in order to get merit with God. No! There is no merit in that, and there is no merit . . . the church today has two ordinances: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Neither one of them has any merit in themselves. They are pictures of something that has happened in reality. If you are not a believer, you have not met Christ, you are not—as Paul said—crucified with Him; you have not accepted His death as your death, and you have not experienced new life in Christ by believing the gospel, then baptism means nothing! It will not help you. It can only delude you if you think it will help you.
So, the Bible teaches not infant baptism but believer’s baptism. In Acts 8, the Ethiopian, remember, said to Philip, “What doth hinder me to be baptized?”
Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, then you can be baptized.”
So Baptism is not efficacious, it has no power. It is symbolic. It is a remembrance, or a declaration, that you have died in Christ and been raised to new life. The Lord’s Supper, we take the bread and the cup. It is not . . . we are not eating the body and blood of Jesus. That would do you no good. We are not gaining some spiritual power, spiritual life, by this. We are remembering. Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of Me.” We are remembering something back there that happened 1,900 years ago—the penalty was paid. Christ died for our sins.
So, even the ordinances that we have today have no power in themselves. They are symbolic or a remembrance of something. So it was with the Jewish Levitical priesthood. The robes they wore, the . . . whatever it was that they did, those priests had no power to communicate spiritual life. They were simply following a pattern that God had given them that was looking forward to something that was to come.
Now, in contrast, all of the religions of this world including Christianity, which has partaken of the same errors of paganism, it believes that it has some power—that there is a priesthood with power. The robes, or the rituals, or . . . whatever . . . have some power in themselves. It is absolutely contrary to the Bible. It is an abomination to God, and we have to come to God depending upon His mercy, not our works.
Tom: Dave, your answer for me personally, it gives me some insights, because sometimes I think, Well, why is God so particular? Why did He lay it down so carefully and He tells us to be careful in what we do? And I think you’re answering that, because we have to stay with the pattern and what the pattern that He presents means. I think about—you mentioned ordinances, like baptism and the celebration of the Last Supper, “communion” for some; “eucharist” others would call it. It’s interesting historically to see how those ordinances changed into sacraments. First of all it began with the elders—and there were only certain people who could actually . . . well, there were only certain people who could perform these in the early church. It had to do with elders, and then it was bishops. Out of that—I think the reason for it was because they started to see something efficacious. They started to mystify that Christ’s presence was there, so you could only have individuals who were of a certain order, a certain spirituality. Out of that, what developed? Sacerdotalism, or the priesthood. So then we had priest who could only do this.
So, my point here is . . .
Dave: Then they claimed to have the power to change it into the body and blood of Christ.
Dave: And they took on themselves an authority that was never given by the Bible, which then gave them power over the common people, who then could only get to God through them, and it was exactly what the rabbis had done, and Christ condemned them for it in His day.
Tom: Right. And it begins with getting away from the pattern, from the carefulness of what God institutes—or has instituted. You know, it’s man developing his own program around it, taking something and really corrupting what God has given. That's, as you started to say, look at all the religions of the world. Take the sacrifice that you find in pagan rituals—I think this is a corruption of what God instituted back . . . I think it began in the Garden of Eden, when God killed two animals, took the skins, and gave them to Adam and Eve to clothe themselves.
Dave: Well, everything in a system . . . I mean, for example, in Tibetan Buddhism they have the priesthood; they have the nuns; they have the incense; they have the holy orders; they have the monasteries and the convents; they have the robes. It’s very, very similar to what you would find in Roman Catholicism today! I don’t think it developed out of Roman Catholicism. I think it is part of a problem. You see, Babel—and the idea of building a tower that would reach to heaven and so forth—that’s a perversion that comes from man’s own pride, his desire to somehow present himself to God. You have it with Nadab and Abihu, who offered strange fire on the altar, and God killed them for this! And, as you said, it goes back to the Garden of Eden. Is God precise? Do we take His Word seriously? He said, “Don’t eat of that tree! If you do, you’ll die!”
Now, that would tell us that something that seems to be very unimportant, and maybe we ought to pay attention to details. You don’t negotiate with God. You don’t revise what He has written. But we have people today who are revising His Word. It upsets me! Some of the modern paraphrases—sometimes they even claim to be translations. They’re not translating the Bible. They’re paraphrasing it. They’re embellishing it. They’re putting their own ideas in there. They don’t think that God . . .
You know, it’s like an editor would do. Well, I mean, I do it to myself, and you do the same. We write something, and then we look at it, and we don’t like it. I mean, it needs to be improved. I sometimes rewrite things five or six times, and then if I saw it a year later, I would rewrite it again, if I had the opportunity.
You don’t do that with God’s Word! When God said it, that is it. He is perfect! But we have men who want to rewrite God’s Word. Of course, we have people today who claim it isn’t God’s Word; our seminaries who are denying that it’s God’s Word. “Well, it wasn’t really six days,” you know, “that the earth was created in. And we don’t think it was a worldwide flood, you know, and what about this . . . ?”
Wait a minute! Is it God’s Word or isn’t it God’s Word. Does God know what He’s talking about? Then, why do we try to improve upon it? So, this is what, I suppose, that chapter at least is somewhat about—mercy and works. Are we going to rely on God’s mercy? Or are we going to offer something to Him that we think is an improvement upon His way of salvation?
Tom: Dave, one of the enigmas of all this is man, who is in rebellion against God, is very religious. I do find that . . . I’m not saying . . . Well, even the Buddhists, who are atheists, they’re very religious. The atheists, in terms of their ideas and beliefs, they’re very religious. But more than that, we find people who develop ritualism, who are looking for formulas, religious ideas, concepts—whether it be the New Age, whether it be Wicca, occultism, whatever it might be.
Dave: Or it’s worshiping “Mother Earth,” worshiping the atom, worshiping space. Carl Sagan was a pagan. He would get very religious in the presence of the Cosmos. That really is their god, the materialist. And his God is some kind of a force that is hidden in matter and it brings forth order and life and so forth. That’s his god.
Now, it’s very similar, Tom, to the person who may even call himself a Christian, but he’s not willing to submit to Christ. They call themselves atheists, but yet they have, as you said, a religion. Einstein was certainly not a believer in the God of the Bible, but he believed that there was some kind of a force out there—some kind of a power that organized things. But it’s a power that we can manipulate. The scientist can tap into this. He can discover how this all works, so, in the final analysis, he is God, just as Satan promised Eve in the garden. “You can become one of the gods.”
Tom: Or, he, as Lucifer, promised himself in the very . . . in heaven!
Dave: Exactly. So it is impossible for any human being to escape this religious consciousness that there is a God, but he perverts it, and it is in religion itself that the perversion becomes the worst. I mean, it is more obvious in man’s religions, because this is how he thinks that he’s approaching God and pleasing God and so forth. And it is right here that the perversion becomes the greatest. And it is in our relationship to God that we have to recognize . . . You know, Tom, I often talk to God about this. I say, “Lord, I don’t . . .” It’s frightening when you think God never had a beginning. He didn’t get to be God. He didn’t somehow come from nowhere, and somehow become God. God is God! The I AM. And when you think about that, it just is beyond—it’s boggling! “God, You never had a beginning! I can’t fathom that! You always are! You are God from eternity to eternity!”
And then we dare to think we can offer this incredibly . . . well, incredibly infinite—infinite is incredible. This God! We think we can offer Him something! Or we can improve upon His Word. Or we can negotiate with Him! Or we can just ignore Him, and we can make up our own religion. We can make up our own way of life, and so forth. What an affront it is to Him to see His creatures that He created—He gave them life and existence—and they ignore Him!
We’re building, you know, our own little empires. We’ve got our politicians; we’ve got our parties; and we’ve got our United Nations, and we’ve got our plans and our programs, and man, somehow, is going to make something out of this earth, and he’s going to bring peace and prosperity and blessing, and yet, we are the ones who made a mess out of this world. The whole problem is that we don’t pay attention to God. We don’t even . . . many people who call themselves Christians, and I speak to my own heart: How seriously do I take the Bible? This is God’s Word. This is supposed to be a lamp to my feet, a light to my path. This is supposed to be my guide. Then you have . . . “God says, My people have forgotten Me days without number.” This is the whole problem in the world. We’re all playing God, and we ignore God, who has given us His Word, and we go about our business.
Or, when we come to Him—we go to our churches on Sunday morning, and we’re going to pay Him some pittance, you know. We’re going to acknowledge Him. And we have our own ways of doing it. We’ve got our own little formulas that we’ve fallen into, and that goes for Protestants as well as Catholics.
Tom, we call this program Search the Scriptures Daily, and it speaks to my heart, as well as, I hope, to the listeners. We need to search the Scriptures. We need to get back to God’s Word and treat it like it is God’s Word, and thank Him for His mercy and His grace instead of trying to offer our pitiful rituals or whatever they may be, and trying to impress Him some way, and learn His ways, and trust Him.
Tom: Why, Dave? Because for all of what you said with regard to the rebellion of man, nevertheless, God sent His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe upon Him would have eternal life.
Dave: He came to die for our sins, to pay the penalty that we deserved and that His own justice demanded.
Tom: Right. In terms of works, the only work that we can do is to be separated from God forever. That’s the penalty. In other words, I’m saying if you want to pay the penalty, you want to appease God—I don’t know if that’s the right word, but you have to die for your sins, or turn to Christ, who paid the full penalty
Dave: Accept His death. Now, the Bible does teach works, of course. We’re not putting works down. But works are not for salvation, but they are as a result of salvation. We have been created in Christ Jesus unto good works.
Tom: Dave, you’re right! Works—well, first of all, works cannot pay the penalty. Only Christ’s death could pay what we couldn’t pay.
Dave: We are created in Christ Jesus, Ephesians:2:10 says, “unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” So now it is God who works in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure. So our works are not our own fleshly efforts, but it’s Christ living within us, and now, the Christian ought to be characterized by good works, but it’s the life of Christ in him, not his efforts to appease God.