SOME THOUGHTS ON

RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH

A Study By

Gary Ray Branscome



"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2Timothy 2:15)

    Once we come to faith in Christ, and realize that we are justified by faith not works; we can see that the law was never intended to make us righteous, but instead was intended to show us our sin and need for a Savior (Romans 3:10-28 and 5:20). That knowledge is known in theology as THE PROPER RELATIONSHIP OF LAW TO GOSPEL, and it is the key to rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

    However, rightly dividing the Word of Truth involves more than just knowing that we are not saved by works, it involves thinking and preaching in a way that is consistent with the fact that we are justified by faith. Nevertheless, because people tend to be inconsistent, many who claim to believe that they are justified by faith actually live as if they were justified by works. As a result, instead of coming across to others as kind and loving, they come across as cold, austere, and critical (Ephesians 4:32).

    Since those who try to please God by their works are trusting in those works (to make them acceptable to God) instead of trusting in Christ, works-righteousness is the antithesis of faith (Romans 10:4). However, there are two kinds of self-righteousness, and Churches today have to deal with a different kind of self-righteousness than was prevalent one hundred years ago. Back then, those who were self-righteous had usually convinced themselves that they were keeping the law. Today, those who are self-righteous are often openly sinful, yet without remorse, and unwilling to admit that they deserve God’s condemnation and wrath.

    Because that type of self-righteousness was less common in the past, many pastors are at loss as how to deal with it. And, they are often disarmed by the fact that some who live a sinful life, claim to trust in Christ. What needs to be understood is that because faith in Christ involves trusting in what He did (on the cross) to make us righteous, it is impossible for someone who does not want to be righteous to trust in Christ.

    A century ago those who were self-righteous often had contempt for the message of free forgiveness in Christ. They sought righteousness by the law, and used the law to deny the gospel [i.e. their need for forgiveness]. However, today the opposite is true. Instead of using the law to deny the gospel, the self-righteous use the gospel to deny the law. They use the gospel to deny their need for repentance. In their minds, they have reduced God to a loving old man who will overlook anything, while refusing to hear His warning of judgment and wrath.

    When dealing with such people, in order to rightly divide the word of truth you need to understand that the law is God’s message to the unrepentant, while the gospel is His message to those who repent (1Timothy 1:9). While we want the unrepentant to know that Christ died for their sins, we want to make it clear that those who sin willfully are the enemies of God, that God hates their sin, and that He will not allow it to go unpunished. While we want them to know that God loved them enough to send Christ into the world to die for their sins, if we give them the impression that God accepts them without repentance, we risk hardening them in unrepentance (Mark 16:16, Luke 24:47).

    Those who have no desire to be free of sin have no right to expect God’s mercy, and pastors who condone, justify, and approve of homosexuality, abortion, and adultery are doing the work of Satan. Like the false prophets of old, they are assuring the unrepentant of peace with God when there is no peace (Jeremiah 8:10-12). As watchmen they have a responsibility to warn the unrepentant of God’s judgment, and if they fail to do their job God will require the blood of those who perish at their hand (Ezekiel 33:8).

    In order to rightly divide the Word of truth, God’s law needs to be preached in its full sternness, not watered down (Romans 3:10-23). Moreover, it is not enough to tell people that they are sinners. A pastor needs to help the people under his care recognize their sin, while pointing them to Christ for forgiveness. Nevertheless, many pastors seem more concerned about hairstyles, music and cigarettes than showing people their need for forgiveness in Christ. They place more importance on outward appearance than on the true inner righteousness that comes only through forgiveness in Christ (1John 1:7-9). Although they profess to know that works cannot make us righteous, they are constantly urging people to try to make themselves righteous (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:19-20). What they seem at loss to understand is that even though they should be condemning sin, the purpose of condemning sin is to point people to Christ for righteousness, not works (Romans 10:4). It is the blood of Christ, and the blood of Christ alone, that makes us righteous in the sight of God (John 1:29, 1John 1:7-9).

THE LAW OF GOD


    Because the law not only says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” but also tells us that, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all,” In the eyes of God it is not a matter of being guilty of much or little, you are either not guilty because you are cleansed by the blood of Christ, or you are guilty of ALL (Matthew 5:48, James 2:10). There is no middle ground! Therefore, if we are to rightly divide the Word of truth we need to make it clear that all unforgiven sin damns, and that we can do nothing to save ourselves (Romans 3:20 and 6:23).

    Those who water down the law by reducing its requirements risk bringing damnation upon themselves and others (Matthew 15:6). Pastors need to understand that the law not only will not justify, it also places a curse on anyone who leads people to seek God’s favor, good will, or blessing through works (Galatians 1:6-9). Because it is the blood of Christ, and the blood of Christ alone, that cleanses us of sin, those who lead people to seek righteousness through the law undermine the gospel, for if we could please God by keeping His law we would not need Jesus. Therefore, instead of telling people to keep God’s law, show them their need for forgiveness, while pointing them to Christ.

    The reason for going to church every week is not to be nagged to perform works, but to be reminded of our sins while being assured of forgiveness in Christ. I certainly don’t need to go to church just to receive a lecture on how to behave. I’m an adult and I know perfectly well how to behave. However, I am often blind to my own sin, often fail to see my need of forgiveness, and need my faith strengthened through the gospel (Romans 1:16). Therefore, instead of urging people to “obey,” sermons should help us to see our sins, condemn all sin, and make it clear that the unrepentant will not escape God’s wrath. At the same time, Christ’s sacrifice should be held up as the source of all true righteousness (1John 1:7-9). Since preachers who waste their time trying to make people righteous through works are not rightly dividing the Word of truth, they are not approved by God (2Timothy 2:15, Romans 3:20).

RECOGNIZING SIN


    It is perfectly reasonable to expect people to keep the Ten Commandments (at least when it comes to outward behavior), for those commandments were given to Moses as the basis of the political law. Furthermore, because those commandments were made the basis of English law centuries ago, they are basic to the American system of law. As Americans we have every right to expect the government to punish murder, adultery, theft, slander, abortion and other manifestations of criminal behavior (Romans 13:1-6). However, the church must make people aware that such outward “civic” righteousness does not make us righteous before God.

    In ancient Israel the role of the state was to condemn and punish criminal behavior, while the role of the church was divided between priest and prophet. While the prophets (and “sons of the prophets”) called the people to repentance (and faith in the coming messiah), the priests assured those who repented that their sins were covered by the blood. In carrying out that role the state and church both used the Ten Commandments, but they used them in different ways. By punishing outward transgression, the state insured that the people took God’s law seriously. At the same time, the church made it clear that outward obedience was not enough to make one righteous in the sight of God (Ecclesiastes 8:11, Isaiah 57:17, Psalm 66:18, Jeremiah 17:9, Deuteronomy 15:9, Proverbs 24:9, Ezekiel 38:10, Acts 8:22).

    In other words, just because you have never committed the act of murder does mean that you are innocent of murder in the eyes of God. On the contrary, the Bible makes it clear that those who hate have committed murder in their heart (1John 3:15). Have you ever felt like punching someone? Have you ever said words that were intended to cut to the heart and hurt? If so, in the eyes of God you are just as guilty of sin as if you actually hit someone. If you imagine in your mind that you are killing someone, or blowing them away, then as far as God is concerned you have done it in your heart. Thus the spiritual law condemns not only the outward act, but also the thoughts and urges in your mind (Matthew 5:28, Jeremiah 17:9). Furthermore, let me make it clear that I am not just talking about strong urges, for it is not the strength of the urge, but the evil of the desire that makes it sin (Matthew 5:48). In fact, the very corruption of our heart that causes such urges and desires to arise in us places us under the condemnation of God’s law from the very moment of conception (Psalm 51:5, Psalm 58:3, Romans 5:12, Ephesians 2:1-3, Matthew 15:17-20, Mark 7:21, Romans 3:10-23, Hebrews 11:6).

    Likewise, just because you have never committed the act of adultery does not make you innocent in the eyes of God. Jesus made it clear that those who look upon a woman to lust after her have committed adultery with her in their heart (Matthew 5:27-28). I have heard people try to get around that passage by saying, “You cannot avoid the first look, but don’t take a second look.” However, sin is still sin whether we can help it or not. It is true that we should not take a second look, but that does not mean that the first look is not sinful. Those who want to excuse the first look are simply trying to cover up their own sin. The Bible makes it clear that it is not only the act or thought of adultery that is sinful, but the very lust that puts such thoughts our mind (James 1:14:15, Jude 18, Matthew 15:17-20).

    Because we want to do what is right, we should not want to see immorality on the screen, enjoy stories or jokes about it, or want to hear music that condones it. Satan uses filthy stories, lyrics, pictures, and jesting to break down our abhorrence of such behavior (Romans 12:9). The further you let sin progress from desire, to thought, to word, to deed the more control it gains over you (Romans 6:16).

    Since lust, in and of itself, is evil the Bible calls for modesty in dress (1Timothy 2:9). Clothing designed to entice the opposite sex either by revealing the shape of the body under the clothing, or by leaving too much uncovered, is to be avoided. Likewise, close body contact between unmarried men and women needs to be avoided, including any dance that stirs up lust (Proverbs 6:29). Because temptation is all around us, we must continually be on our guard (1Peter 5:8).

    Even though you probably have not done anything that would lead the state to charge you with theft, have you ever taken anything that did not belong to you? Have you ever tried to get something that belonged to someone else, perhaps by gambling? Have you ever cheated on your income tax? As far as God is concerned, taking something small is just as sinful as taking something large (James 2:10). Have you ever enjoyed a show in which a thief is made to look so clever that you wind up hoping that he does not get caught? If so, you need to realize that it is evil for us to approve of evil. Have you ever wanted something that did not belong to you? Have you ever taken credit for something you did not do? Have you ever wasted time when you were being paid to work? If so, you need to look to Christ for mercy.

    Although you may never be charged with false witness in a court of law, have you ever falsely accused someone? Have you ever tried to turn people against someone? Have you ever cut someone down behind his back? Have you ever repeated something bad about someone without even knowing if it was true? Have you ever passed the buck in order to get out of trouble? Have you ever cheated anyone? Did you ever lie to get out of something? While it is common for the world to excuse falsehood, God’s justice cannot ignore any sin. Without forgiveness, even those sins that seem very small will send you to hell (James 2:10).

    The point that I want to make is that when it comes to the Ten Commandments, there is a difference between what the government requires, and what God requires. While the state should never require more than outward compliance to those Commandments, the church needs to make it clear that such outward compliance will not make anyone righteous in the sight of God. Those who water down God’s law, by leading people to think that it can be kept, or that God’s favor and blessing depends upon keeping it, are failing to rightly divide the “Word of truth” (2Timothy 2:15). [Note: If we could gain God’s blessing by the law we would not need Christ (Hebrews 11:6).]

THE GOOD NEWS


    Just as the law must be taught in its full sternness, the gospel must be taught in its full sweetness. We need to make it clear that the gospel requires nothing of us. On the contrary, salvation is a gift of God (Romans 6:23). Because, “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost,” even our faith is a gift of God. Our standing with God is not a matter of being worthy or unworthy (1Corinthians 12:3). We are all unworthy (Romans 3:10-20). Therefore, if we are to rightly divide the Word of truth we need to make it clear that our salvation is totally the work of Christ, bought and paid for by His death on the cross (1Corinthians 15:3, 1John 1:7).

    Those who claim that we must have works in order to have God’s favor or blessing, are under a curse (Galatians 1:6-9). Therefore, instead of urging people to be righteous, pastors should be exposing sin, revealing the many ways in which we do not keep God’s law, and pointing their listeners to Christ as the source of all true righteousness (Romans 10:4).

    Because God intends for the law and gospel to work together, we cannot compromise one without compromising the other. Those who are constantly urging people to keep the law, blind them to the fact that they do not and cannot keep God’s law (Romans 3:10-28). On the other hand, those who give people the impression that they can be saved and yet out of God’s favor, wind up making God’s favor (grace) depend upon works (Romans 4:14-16 and 11:6).

    Those who claim that we can be saved yet out of God’s favor seem blind to the fact that what they are saying differs little from the heresy condemned in the book of Galatians (Galatians 3:3). What needs to be emphasized is that God’s grace is His favor. To have God’s grace, is to be cleansed of all iniquity (1John 1:9). And, God sees no fault in those who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ (1John 1:7). Therefore, if we have God’s grace, we have His favor. Someone may feel that he is out of God’s favor because his conscience is bothering him, however, the remedy for that is to confess the sin and embrace God’s promise of mercy, not to seek God’s favor by works.

    Only those blinded by sin will assume that man’s obedience will bring God’s favor. Since the Bible plainly says, “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight,” it should be obvious that those who urge people to seek God’s favor through “obedience” are not rightly dividing the Word of Truth (Romans 3:20, 2Timothy 2:15). Because our “righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” it is impossible for anything we do to bring God’s favor. The only way that we can ever be free of condemnation, is to be freed from the law. And, Christ died so that we could be freed from the law (Romans 7:4). However, what the world does not understand is that we are freed from the law so that we can be righteous, not so that we can be wicked. Furthermore, when I speak of being righteous I am not talking about being righteous because of what we do, but being righteous because the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed us of all sin (1John 1:7). That is the righteousness that the Bible is talking about when it says, “the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith” (Romans 9:30). Being freed from the law makes it possible for us to be faithful to our spouse, loving parents, and good citizens without being condemned because our behavior falls short of what the law requires (Matthew 5:48).

    The carnal mind is so locked into the idea of works that it cannot conceive of freedom from the law as anything other than freedom to do evil. However, nothing could be further from the truth! At the same time, the idea that we can somehow make ourselves righteous by performing certain works, without doing all that the law requires, is a Satanic delusion (Galatians 5:3). Another delusion has to do with the idea that being “led by the Spirit,” means that we have to obey mystic, non verbal, commands that we imagine are being communicated to us by the Holy Spirit. That is utter nonsense! I once heard a pastor claim that God caused his child to die because God was calling him into the ministry and he did not obey. That is satanic doctrine! What kind of evil ogre does he think God is? To be led by the Spirit is to walk by faith, believing that Christ has freed you from the law. And, anyone who would bring you back into bondage, by leading you to believe that God’s favor depends on your ability to “obey” anything is not “rightly dividing the Word of Truth”.

    I strongly object to the song “Trust and Obey,” because it leads people to think that God’s favor depends on what they do. It also promotes the satanic lie that doing works makes us obedient even if we do not do everything that the law requires. When the Bible says “there is none righteous, no, not one,” it is saying that none have obeyed (Romans 3:10). Furthermore, to paraphrase John, “Anyone who claims to “obey” God is deceiving himself and the truth is not in him” (1John 1:8).

    Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that every Christian should want to lead a Christ-like, sin-hating life. I long for the image of God that consists of true righteousness and holiness. However, I would be a liar if I deceived myself into thinking that I had already attained unto holiness in any way other than through the forgiveness of sins (Romans 10:4). Likewise, I would be a liar if I deceived myself into thinking that I was obedient to God in any way other than by being cleansed of all unrighteousness by the forgiveness that is ours in Christ Jesus (1John 1:7-9).

    If you are one of those people who says, “If I really thought I could be righteous without keeping God’s law, then I would live it up and do all of things I was previously afraid to do,” then 2Peter 3:16 applies to you. As long as you think that works will make you righteous, or even partly righteous, you will think that freedom from the law is freedom to sin, when nothing could be further from the truth. To be subject to the law is to be a sinner before God (Romans 8:2). To be free from the law is to be righteous in the sight of God (Romans 7:6 and 10:4).

    Since some of the old television shows such as “Leave It to Beaver,” depict people who are trying to do what is right without actively trying to make themselves righteous, they illustrate what I mean by leading a righteous life apart from the law. As Christians, we should want to be faithful to our spouse, loving parents, and good citizens, however, that is not what makes us righteous in the sight of God (Romans 3:10-28).

CONCLUSION


    The Word of God is not being rightly divided whenever church members are given a false assurance of salvation by being taught that they can please God by their works, or that they can willfully indulge in sin, without ever truly repenting of that sin, and still be saved. Likewise, it is not being rightly divided whenever church members are being robbed of assurance of salvation, by an emphasis on works or salvation experience. For that reason, the solution to problems in the church is not going to be found in contemporary music, easy membership, or anything else other than a heartfelt return to God’s Word. And, that return will not take place until everything that is being taught in the churches is consistent with the fact that we are made righteous by the blood of Christ, and by the blood of Christ alone (Romans 10:4, 1John 1:7).