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He Who Knew No Sin Became Sin…

Posted: October 5th, 2007, by Reggie Kelly

Good morning Reggie. I do pray that things are smoothing out there and the ministry is back on its feet. I pray almost daily for you.

I have a question that I hope you can find time to answer. It deals with 2 Cor. 5:21. Do you have insight into Jesus being “made sin” or having our sins “placed upon Him”?

I have studied and prayed and still see good men on both sides of this.

Thanks my brother,I am so encouraged that you felt constrained to pray for me. It happens that I am in a great deal of difficulty these days with much uncertainty as to outcome.

It is a pleasure to respond to this question, as I think it represents THE most essential and foundational doctrine on which all others stand. All others support it. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if one misses it here, then correct belief concerning any other doctrine, however important or correct, is worthless. Many will be in hell that were completely clear on the deity of Christ. Indispensable as many great truths and doctrines are, unless we get the gospel right, we are subject to fatal, soul damning, error.

I can’t imagine exactly what you might have been reading, or precisely what tensions you have found among good men on this topic. I’m not surprised, because I know something of the swirl of controversy that has always surrounded this centerpiece of the ‘mystery’ of the gospel.

First of all, I don’t know if you’ve delved into any of the fetching, but I believe dangerous, innovations of E. W. Kenyon, who conceived and taught that Christ was ‘made’ sin in the sense of ‘became’ the sin nature on the cross, that the sin nature itself was judged in Christ’s body. I am more than a little certain that this theory is a far remove from the way in which Jesus experienced the wrath and abandonment of the Father. Rather, I believe the idea is better understood in the context of Paul’s language of imputation and divine reckoning. God was imputing our sin to Christ and actually judging our sins in His body in terms of due punishment, but this does not mean that there was any change in His holy human nature. He suffered the judgement due us in His human nature, but He did not become sin in that sense. I’m not sure if that’s what you’re asking about. I can say, however, that the protestant view of imputation since the Reformation is considered false and dangerous by Roman Catholic theologians; they call it a ‘legal fiction’. Many zealous charismatics and deeper life proponents are definitely on their way back to Rome and do not know it, as they would agree with Rome’s unhappiness with the classic protestant view of imputation, as would also the modern advocates of the so-called “new perspective on Paul.”

Properly understood, there is no greater truth so full of gospel comfort and power than the doctrine of the imputation of the totality of Christ’s righteousness to the least believer (provided, of course, that believer is no mere professor, but has passed through the straight gate of authentic regeneration). Yes, it is quite capable of abuse and miscarriage; show me a doctrine that is not. The Roman church could not see that God could never impute righteousness on any other basis than what was wrought in Christ, and not only at the cross, but this imputation includes the righteousness that was that was tested and proved through the thirty three and half years of spotless obedience that Christ fulfilled UNDER the law. Only through the imputation of this totality of Christ’s righteousness can God lawfully ‘quicken whom He will’ (Eph 2:1; Jn 5:21; Ro 9:18). In fact, IF the righteousness wrought out in Christ’s humanity were not freely and unconditionally imputed in the full, there could be no new creation, no regeneration, not even faith. Why? Because to grant righteousness on any other basis than Christ’s perfect obedience would indeed be a repudiation of the justice of God. The righteousness required by the law must be fulfilled in full. The debt must be paid in full. The punishment must be suffered in full in order for God to justly justify the ungodly. Otherwise it would be a ‘legal fiction’ indeed.

In other words, apart from such imputation unto the everlasting righteousness of New Covenant justification (compare Jer 32:40; Dan 9:24), forgiveness, or remission of sins, would indeed be arbitrary and unjust. Without the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, there could be no Spirit wrought faith in the heart. In my view, even the Old Testament believers could not have believed were it not for the surety of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world in the predestinating counsel and foreknowledge of God. Therefore, in a sense, the only righteousness that God can accept is His own ‘perfect and complete’ righteousness as fulfilled in the One, the righteousness that He perfected in the One humanity that qualified to represent the sinner, namely, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, hallelujah!

Therefore, the only righteousness that God can accept and reward in us, though it be only by the measure (Jn 3:34), is really never our righteousness at all, but Christ’s righteousness in us through the Holy Spirit. It is “He alone that does the work.” That is, any work that counts must be His alone through us, just as it was not Jesus but the Father that did the work through Him (Jn 5:19, 30; 8:28; 14:10, 24). Only God can do the work of God. As a brother once said that Art was fond of quoting, “it takes God to love God.” That’s true. Anything else is idolatry and pride. As Paul said, “nothing counts (avails) but a new creation” (Gal 6:15). It is the mystery of incarnation; not only of the Father in Christ, but of Christ in the believer. Incarnation is the consummate offense to legal and humanistic rationalism. But this incarnational phenomenon of the Spirit’s work in and through the believer is the result of faith in the gospel of the finished work of Christ, else one could end up in the deception warned of in Mt 7:21. (Somewhere I read the account that when the renowned reformer, Thomas Hooker, was on his death bed, a well meaning brother exclaimed, “you go now to receive your great reward!” At which remark, Hooker stirred himself a last time to reply, “No, brother, I go to receive mercy!” He dared trust nothing to one of the most fruitful ministries of the Reformation, but cast his all on the mercy of God through Christ alone. Where is such holy diffidence in this dark day of spiritual boasting?)

So it is critical that we understand that Christ fulfilled and satisfied all the demands of the law in our place. This is why he said to John, “it is necessary for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus had to fulfill every obedience that was incumbent under the law. This since nothing less than a spotless holiness under the law, tested in every point, can ever stand before the bar of infinite holiness. Nothing less is accepted. Where Christ is not imputed in the whole, there is no hope. (“Eat ye all of it!”) “He (the Father) shall see the travail of His (the Servant’s) soul, and shall be satisfied (propitiated).” Will we be satisfied? or will we try to add to the finished work and pollute the whole as did the Galatians?

No one that hope to stand in any lesser righteousness (“dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne”). There can be no mixture or partiality where justification through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is concerned. And while our sanctification (which is the working out of our salvation in a process of Christian growth and maturity) might be partial and in measure (a process), there cannot be any such partiality where our justification is concerned (Justification is not a process as in the Roman Catholic system of theology), simply because anything short of the totality of Christ’s righteousness, as perfected in His one humanity alone, is short of the glory of God’, and thus unacceptable. That is why it is only as we are “IN” Him, not having our own righteousness, that we can be accepted, simply because we are IN the Beloved. To add the least mixture to this holy unity is to ruin all (“I dare not trust the sweetest frame …”). Mixture where this is concerned will not be tolerated by divine holiness; it cannot. Heaven will reveal not the least toleration of mixture on this point. Here, it is all or nothing. How then is it a ‘legal fiction’? It is no farther for me to be counted the very righteousness of God than for Christ to be counted sin. Both are impossible propositions unless God is free through Christ to ” give life to the dead and call the things that are not as though they were.” Why, to call the glory of this exchange a ‘legal fiction’ is little short of blasphemy. Unless one plans to clime up some other way, it is our only hope.

Still, though scripture is clear on the matter, it is elusive to apprehend except by the Spirit. A believer can lose sight of this and begin to sink. It remains even to believers a considerable mystery, since the idea that Christ could be made sin (not actually, but by imputation), and that I could be made the very righteousness of God (not actually but by imputation; but then actually because the Holy Spirit is pleased to indwell the heart that believes the gospel). These are both very ‘unnatural’ propositions. How can these things be? Therefore, I take the word “made” not to be speaking of an ontological change of nature whereby Christ ‘becomes’ something like sin itself, or the sin nature, as in Kenyon. (I cringe when I hear things like that). No, rather, this is the language of imputation. Christ was ‘made’ sin only in the sense of being counted and treated as sin, so that I might be ‘made’ the righteousness of God in the same sense of being counted and treated as though I had personally ‘fulfilled all righteousness’, which, in fact, I did in the person of my federal head, the second Adam. This is how it is that we partial, ‘on the way’ saints may grow and increase in terms of sanctification and reward, but not in our justification. Since to be justified by the imputation of Christ is to be “complete in Him,” and in that sense “perfected forever.” This is why we must never confuse inheritance with reward.

Yes, this so-called ‘great exchange’ sounds dangerous to the legalistic mind, but let someone get a hold of the implications of the glory of this, and you’ll see what the scripture means that the truth sets the heart free, as there will soon follow a far greater power and liberty to fulfill all obedience than ever otherwise. Then will be seen in far greater and more authentic measure the so-called ‘practical’ righteousness that works itself out into deeds of real love and faith, the outward testimony and evidence of “Christ in you,” which reality MUST result in true holiness and the true fruits of the Spirit, and not their laborious and proud religious imitations.

To truly lay hold of this is a resurrection event indeed. “They believed not for joy.” Many fail of it, simply because it’s just too good to be true. It’s just not ‘rational’. Exactly! No wonder Rome is offended. What devout and well meaning child of nature wouldn’t be? Especially those that are chomping at the bits to “become” sons by their own will power, and are nervous that if they just believed on Christ for their sanctification no less than their justification, why, they might be buying in to ‘cheap grace’ and lose their guarded restraint against their carnal appetites and impulses. I tell you that those that think in those terms no not the gospel or the power thereof! No wonder such a gospel makes legalism to stumble. Spurgeon once said something like “if you can preach a gospel that doesn’t lend itself to the kinds of accusations charged against Paul, then you’re probably not preaching the same gospel that he preached.”

If we want true holiness; if we want the real implications of true calling unto the fullness of mature sons, then let us approach the standard of holiness and the true fulfillment of the law in this glorious and holy gospel way. Then we will experience the Spirit’s liberating empowerment that follows really believing the testimony of God as set forth in the good news of the gospel. That’s where the power is; it is nowhere else. Any other source of power, however well meaning and religious, is deceitful and proud and threatens to bring one to the dread reply of Mt 7:21. This is where Israel stumbled; they approached the standard “as IF” it were a law of works” (ro 9:32). That’s where all stumbling occurs. Why, I’m certain that any lapse into carnality is only due to a lapse of faith and apprehension of the glory of this most foundational tenet of the unshakable foundation of God (see 2Tim 2:19). And since the Spirit that works the all and all of anything acceptable in the believer is received by faith alone apart from works or pre-qualification, there is no risk that this faith will not be vindicated by the Spirit’s liberating power unto true holiness, true sacrifice, because of true love created by the Holy Spirit and shed abroad in a heart set free by the gospel.

Yours in the Beloved, Reggie

“They” Nourished Her…

Posted: September 28th, 2007, by Reggie Kelly

Dear Reggie, good morning…

In seeking to better understand Rev. 12…I asked a friend and teacher [Greek scholar] recently about the differences found and the proper translation of Rev 12:6 and Rev. 12:14.

His response:

“Below are translations of Rev 12:6 and 12:14. I added my own translation and short commentary as well. Indeed, the verb “trevfw, trepho” at 12:6 is 3rd person plural, present tense, subjunctive mode, active. However, in 12:14 trephetai (she was nourished) is 3rd person singular, indicative, passive.

Thus, the question remains, why the plural in Rev 12:6 and the singular in Rev 12:14. If one looked at the text in a strictly grammatical manner, the direct antecedent in 12:6 would be God, whereas in 12:14 the woman is given
the wings of a great eagle (thus, God using “means” to help the woman).”

And the woman fled into the desert, where she has there a place already prepared by God, so that there they (3 person plural, present tense, subjunctive mode, active) may sustain her one thousand, two hundred and
sixty days. [The word in plural, sustain, or “they might sustain” has no direct antecedent except for God, the One who prepared the place for her. Thus, it could be that John is speaking of the plurality of Persons in the Triune Godhead, or, God’s people, who must be inferred here by linking this verse to 12:14 and the wings of a great eagle mentioned in 12:14].

Have you written anything on this?

I think the latter (God’s people). That has always been our position that God is jealous that His sovereign choice and the sole and unmixed work of His Spirit be mediated through jars of clay. It is on the one hand all Him and nothing of man, but on the other hand, this wholly divine working is mediated through a people bearing His nature, so that “it is not I that does the work” (Jn 14:10; 5:19 see also Paul’s repeated ‘yet not I’s’) but “my Father is working and I work.” It’s the mystery of incarnation of the divine nature in the saints; it is the one in, and through the many, the old dialectic of paradox and mystery that has always stumbled humanism and works religion. This is why God is jealous that this be mediated through a “son of man” company that is in fact the overcoming church, and why the church must, of course, be here to complete the testimony AS the church. This waits on the fullness of revelation, but God is very jealous for the process by which such age-ending revelation comes about, but that’s another topic. Thank you for sending this. It casts a grammatical light on a choice of truth. How we interpret, and what we see in such things is also a reflection on how we are inclined. There is always a choice that reveals the disposition of the heart, even in the interpretation process, regardless of tools, resources, or training. I’m glad you’ve got such a ‘bead drawn’ on these things.

The Lord give you all the land in possession, Reggie

Matters of the Law: From Circumcision to Tithing

Posted: August 3rd, 2007, by Reggie Kelly

Dear Reggie,

I was reading through Galatians 2 recently, and I noticed how Titus refused to be circumcised so as to appease the party of the circumcision (to Paul’s approval). Yet in 1 Corinthians 8 Paul embraces a being all things to all people philosophy. So, my question is to what degree as Christians are we to embrace such a philosophy in regard to matters of the law?

In my own context, I attend a church where the vast majority (if not all) members believe in and practice tithing. Yet it is my understanding that since the tithe was part of the entire sacrificial system (whether pre-law or not), that we as Christians today are not obligated to tithe. However, since I love my brethren, and desire to minister to them, to the best of my ability, I attempt to tithe. For I know that if I did not tithe, and such was known to them, such would be a stumbling block to them, and most of them would have nothing to do with me or my ministry.

But in light of Galatians 2, I have wondered if my approach has been proper? Would I be better off not tithing, so as to display that far from the heavens being shut, and the earth being as brass, that the blessing of the Spirit rests upon me in spite of such?

God bless,

You have a very important question there.

Before coming to the question of tithing and the problem of legalism within the church, it is good to look at the word “obligation.” Obligation is not opposed to grace. During the millennium, the nation that fails to send a delegation to Jerusalem to keep the feast of tabernacles will receive no rain (Zech 14). Now that’s obligation! But responsibility has nothing to do with justification, which is a resurrection event of new creation, unconstrained by anything in man or of man. Therefore, grace is never the absence of responsibility, but rather the power to fulfill ‘all righteousness’ by a newness of spirit that works by love. This, since nothing counts except what issues out of a new creation (Gal 6:15).

Thus, Paul’s vehemence against the law is essentially directed not against the law, but against the evil presumption that anything within the natural power of man (even the best will and resolve of religious man) could procure righteousness or contribute anything towards justification. That common presumption is always and under all circumstances and dispensations, WORKS. For this cause, Paul said “to whom we gave place, no, not so much as an hour SO THAT the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” Pretty serious stuff. So serious that Paul says to Peter, “if I build again the things that I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” Again, pretty serious implications.

But there’s an important difference between this and tithing. Typically, the evangelical is not looking to tithing for his justification, although he cannot imagine sanctification without it. It seems a small thing indeed, but once that ground has been given, it becomes quite arbitrary where the line is to be drawn. Not that a believer is trusting in himself to obtain righteousness by his commitment to giving, but when giving becomes the law of the tithe, it misses entirely the point of NT testimony of the spirit of liberty, which says giving is to be ‘without constraint’. Why without constraint? What is at stake? We mustn’t lightly yield the principle here. Why would the law of the tithe not be obligatory during this dispensation?

Indeed, the sad absence of a freedom to give and sacrifice liberally does not give evidence of the new spirit of Christian liberty, but rather hints at some kind of bondage or blockage, but this isn’t remedied by a legal return to the law of the tithe, which in principle opens the door to turning what should have been a free and unconstrained delight into a moral obligation, that if not mandatory for justification, is certainly required for blessing.

And certainly there is a blessing to the giver, and there is a godly desire to separate to the Lord a first-fruits (not as “necessity,” but as a representative token that really “all” has been given over to God). But this assumes that such giving is without a servile necessity that is “under” the law, since this would convert what should have been a delight into a mandatory obligation. Hence, something important is lost of the divine intention for this dispensation when, for example, our Presbyterian brethren make Sunday the new Christian Sabbath. By so doing, they actually embrace in principle (a divinely imposed obligation based on the perpetuity of the ten commandments) the very error that gives the Sabbatarians the strength of their argument, not for justification, of course, but as an evidence of justification. Still, even when not for life, but as evidence of new life, such obligation to the law is not God’s intention for this dispensation, which is to show His prerogative to give the promised Spirit “apart from the law,” on the basis of a living faith, even to unqualified Gentiles. And the evidence of the NT does not lead me to conclude that such Gentiles began immediately to observe the law as proof of their salvation.

So responsibility, even ‘obligation’ is not the problem in any period or dispensation, but progressive revelation necessarily brings dispensational changes suited to the purpose of that time, and there is thus a new responsibility peculiar to that particular divine trust. The test is our response to that revelation.

So, I believe to return to the law of the tithe is a slippery slope to the return to the whole law, if not for justification, for the perfecting of the Christian life. But having begun in the Spirit, we cannot hope to be perfected by laws and ordinances, not even the big ten. “For had there been ‘a’ (any) law that could have given life ….” It is a matter of dispensational propriety, because even if such ordinances were obligatory for this time, that would not in itself militate against Christian freedom. On the contrary, grace in the heart would lead the Christian to delight in those things, if that were indeed the stewardship/ requirement of this time. But as I have discussed elsewhere, God has a statement that He is making through Gentiles in this time and dispensation. When that statement is complete, I believe there will be a return to certain legal obligations in the millennium as a testimony, and the regenerate nation of the Jews will delight in responsibilities some old and some new, also as a testimony. My only point is that these are not the testimony, not the test, of this dispensation.

The question now is what is God’s intention for this time, and our responsibility to the changes that have been instituted for this time, in manifest contrast to the older dispensation. That is a real point of difference that I take with the Sabbatarians, who must impute to the ten commandments a higher sanctity than the other laws of equal perpetuity, such as circumcision for example.

But apart from all these considerations, tithing is in a category all its own. It is an emotional issue, because just in the nature of things, tithing is good business. It uses guilt (not consciously, of course) to control Christians that are not free, and that would not otherwise give. It’s smart; it’s rational; it’s natural; it works.

As to your decision, I can’t think of too many things more unsavory than having the joy and freedom of my giving to be monitored. There’s a point when accommodating someones scruples can become its own bondage, and actually is a kind of indulgence that encourages an immaturity that genders to bondage in many other areas as well. When Paul became all things, I don’t think he was talking about putting up indefinitely with a believer’s divisive errors of heart or doctrine, but rather for the sake of evangelism among the cultures there was a measure of accommodation. What is needed is sound teaching on the issue of grace and law and the dispensations. But because of the sense of threat to settled and reliable views and their safe and assured results, you can expect that such teaching will expose the teacher to the greater danger of rejection and loss. That itself should tell you something about the vested interests of the intimidating principalities over issues like this.

Yours in the Beloved, Reggie