(Originally printed in the January/February 1996 Issue of the MCOI Journal)
Jesus said that the road to life was narrow, and few there were that find it. He also mentioned another road; a popular well-traveled thoroughfare; the road to destruction. A few years back, a book was published that was to become a bestseller in secular as well as Christian circles. The title of the book was The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. Dr. Peck, a psychiatrist, used insights gained from his practice, and melded them with what he called “spirituality” to delineate a Path of spiritual enlightenment. By the title of his book, we can surmise that he believed that his path to mental and spiritual wholeness was the narrow road to life which few would travel. No disrespect intended to Dr. Peck or his many fans but, after reading the book, I reach a different conclusion, and believe that Dr. Peck’s road is well worn indeed (potholed even!) with the footsteps of myriads of spiritual pilgrims down through the ages.
This work is liberally sprinkled with spiritual-sounding words and phrases, and the path spelled out in the book is, indeed, a religious path; but can it really be said to be the narrow road of which Jesus spoke? Peck’s road more resembles the mystic path of the eastern religions than it does Christianity, yet the book has been widely read and even highly acclaimed by Christians, though it truly teaches quite a different gospel from the one “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). How is it that even Christians are seduced by Peck’s offer of a new road? Sadly, many Christians are not discerning about books that contain Christian-sounding language and can be purchased at Christian bookstores.
Peck talks about God (though he does apologize for referring to God in a masculine gender!!), Jesus Christ, spiritual growth, love, and quotes Scripture often to make his points. What then, is that “path”, the “road” offered by Peck to lead one lo salvation? It is the road of self-examination, self-discipline, and hard work to overcome your problems and “evolve” into a higher spirituality. It is WORKS, ladies and gents, and works is NOT an uncommon path for men and women to take to a higher spirituality; indeed, it is the most common path of all! It is NOT the road less traveled, but that well-worn road to destruction.
Peck’s definition of original sin is, you might guess. LAZINESS: and his view of salvation is “to become all that you can be.” I don’t find these teachings in my Bible, do you? Peck stands the concept of grace on its head, inferring that the path of working and striving he has laid out is really the path of “grace.” Huh? I don’t get it. Listen to Peck’s statements about grace on p.306 of the book:
“I have interpreted Christ’s saying, ‘many are called but few are chosen,’ to mean that very few choose to heed the call of grace because of the difficulties involved . . . Essentially, I have been saying that grace is earned. And I know this to be true.”
Grace EARNED? How is this possible considering that the very word grace means UNMERITED (unearned) favor? It is astounding to me that such statements about grace would not send off alarm bells for any Christian reading them. How is it that we can merit grace? Peck says:
“Everyone wants to be loved But first we must make ourselves lovable. We must prepare ourselves to be loved . . . when we nurture ourselves and others without a primary concern of finding reward, then we will have become lovable, and the reward of being loved, which we have not sought, will find us. So it is with human love and so it is with God’s love” (p. 309).
How very sad these words are to me; how empty and how tiresome We can not make ourselves lovable and we all know it! Thank God that Christ died for the UNGODI,Y. not the lovable (Rom. 5.6)! But Peck is not unusual in that he uses “believer-friendly” words and phrases to seduce the unwary.
Not to pick on Dr. Peck, but his “road less traveled” turns out to be just another Christian counterfeit. The world abounds with such counterfeits. They do not openly advocate “dumping Christ and Christianity,” for such a position would lead to much resistance. Generally, what they do is to very subtly warp the gospel to remove all of it’s saving power. Yes. you are saved by faith in Christ Jesus AND: keeping the law of Moses, wearing holy underwear, participating in secret rites, avoiding alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, colas, eggs, etc , or by meeting on the “right” day, refusing blood transfusions (or some other medical/theological “no-no”), giving tithes, alms, or expected “donations” in the proper amounts, working out your karma, developing your “lAMness,” following the “right” guru, etc., ad nauseum. Phew! By the time you’re done with YOUR part of the bargain, it would be very easy to forget just what it was that Jesus did for you! The June 15, 1992 Watchtower1Watchtower; The bi-weekly publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses). has, on the cover, a picture of Jesus with the words, “A RANSOM IN EXCHANGE FOR MANY.” Sounds pretty Christian, doesn’t it? Jesus, they teach, has provided a ransom sacrifice to take care of our sin problem; and, yet, out of the other side of their mouths, something entirely different is preached.
Here is the WTBTS2Watchtower Bible and Tract Society; a.k.a Jehovah’s Witnesses understanding of salvation. . . sin is inherited and causes death. To be saved is to escape physical death by living forever on paradise earth. Adam was created as a perfect man to live forever, but he blew it! Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s) believe and teach that mankind is out of God’s favor and cannot save himself. Here is where Jesus does his part. By being born a man and living a perfect life in obedience to God, he provides a ransom for the human race by “balancing out” Adam’s sin; thus giving us the chance to live forever. In their view, death is the only thing we need to be saved from.
Just how are we saved by this ransom? Jesus’ ransom pays for our inherited “Adamic sin,” which then allows OBEDIENT mankind to progress to human perfection. However, how many sins did Adam commit before he was considered DISOBEDIENT and forfeited his right to life. Since only OBEDIENT mankind will progress to human perfection, how many of us do you suppose would make it? Sinless perfection is OBEDIENCE – one sin would make us DISOBEDIENT, and all our previously done good works would be for naught; just as any goodness Adam possessed before his act of disobedience was nullified by his fall.
Since salvation by our own human efforts will never save anyone, why does this “salvation by works” road appeal to so many? Because whether it is M. Scott Peck offering us the diligent path of self-examination and striving to earn God’s grace or the WTBTS offering us the path of “magazine sales for God” to show our “obedience,” striving and working seems so right! It seems so spiritual, doesn’t it? Human beings know that they are on the “outs” with God, and they feel the need to “do all they can” to fix it. But friends, it never can be “fixed” that way.
What, then, is the Christian position on the ransom sacrifice? First of all. Jesus did not give his life as a ransom for Adam in some “one-to-one correspondence” but, as the Bible teaches, He gave His life a ransom for many (I Tim. 2:6). JWs picture Jesus as “balancing out” the sins of Adam, as if there really merely were an equality there, man for man; but is this Biblical? What correspondence did Jesus, Himself, give the ransom? He said that He was the good shepherd, laying down His life for the sheep (Jn. 10:11). Is that any kind of equal deal? Is the shepherd’s life worth the same as a sheep? Of course not! The shepherd’s life is worth all the sheep and more. There is no correspondence at all! What would we think of a human shepherd whose sheep were about to be taken off and slaughtered, but who decided to ransom his sheep’s life by giving up his own? We’d likely say to him: “You’re nutso, bud…you have been out in the sun too long! Let those sheep die, man. . . get some new ones! You can’t die for sheep!” Wouldn’t we? By the same token, JWs cannot picture God coming down to earth to lay down His blessed, incomparable life for mankind; but the glorious truth is that He did (Jn. 10:18)!
Reading in the New Testament book of Romans, chapter five does compare Adam and Christ, but it is hardly showing a correspondence between two equals; it is cataloging the great CONTRAST that there is between them. What is Paul, the writer of Romans, trying to teach us here? He tells us that we have been born into the Adam family, born into sin and helplessness, with him as our family head, with his sinful nature as our inheritance. Adam’s name is at the head of the great column of fallen mankind, and we are doomed to sin and death by his headship. But now, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are being offered the incredible chance to switch family heads (to have our names placed in Christ’s column), and have his righteousness credited to our account, instead of the unrighteousness that was deposited into our accounts by Adam’s transgression!!! What an unbelievable offer of grace!
There will be those whose sense of justice will protest and cause them to opine that this way of redemption is just too easy on our part! Why, indeed, shouldn’t we have to earn our righteousness before God? Well, think about it this way for a moment… what did you or I do to “earn” being born into Adam’s sinful line? Nothing— just as we did not “earn” our natural birth, with all the attending misery of that sin nature so, too, we are not asked to “earn” our rebirth into God’s family. It does not violate God’s standard of justice to allow us to be born again, by our choice, into the family headship of His Son.
Paul says we receive the “abundance of grace”‘ (1 Timothy 1:14). In the Old Testament, Isaiah 53 states this good news that, “God has laid on Him [Christ] the iniquity of us all.” And certainly, it is not merely this inherited, Adamic sin that we need to be saved from. Isaiah 59:2 reminds us that, “your iniquities have separated you from your God: your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He will not hear.” Romans 1:29-32 lists the “hit parade” of personal sins: those sins which have separated us from God and condemned us to both physical and spiritual death. Some of these sins are greed, envy, malice, deceit, slander, murder, gossip, disobedience to parents . . . Disobedience to parents??? C’mon . . . that’s not a biggie, is it? This is Paul’s message in Romans; the sins that seem trivial to us are worthy of death, right up there with murder and sexual sin which condemns even the “Pharisees” among us, doesn’t it? We are all under sin; legally, we are all condemned to die, no matter how small we may see our sins to be (Romans 3:23)!
Romans 3:10-18 says that we are all useless. What does it mean that we have become “useless”? Have you ever had a key made at the hardware store? It has to be made just so in order to open the lock. If ‘the new key is off by just a fraction, it won’t open the lock it’s USELESS! It may look pretty good but, if it’s off at all, you may as well throw it away. That’s us. We’re useless … we’re flawed! We just don’t fit the lock. Now you may be more flawed than me or vice versa, but it really doesn’t matter because we are all useless, throwaway keys. But here is what we say to ourselves as human beings . . .”OK, so I don’t fit the lock, but I’m really not such a bad key . . . look how much shinier I am than that other key over there.” The function of any key is to open the lock. If it does not function properly, it is useless! All of us fall short, and how much prettier we may be than some other hapless key is not even an issue and is, in fact, just vanity.
Now the keyhole is the law … it shows us just how very useless we are (Rom. 3:20). But Jesus is the perfect key . . . His righteousness “fits” the law (Gal. 3:23-25). God offers us Jesus’ righteousness as a free gift to all who will just lake it through faith in Jesus (Rom. 6:23). There is no other way to open the lock and gain eternal life, but by faith. There are many people who just refuse to accept this gift of righteousness from God … they keep trying to fix themselves so they can open the lock for themselves. Paul’s words about his fellow Jews at Romans 10:1-4 applies to such folks as well; “They have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” They do good works in their flesh and may even preach about the ransom sacrifice of Jesus: yet, they keep on trying to ransom themselves, with just a little help from God. This is futile, Jesus said that He was the door and if anyone tried to get in another way they were a thief and a robber (Jn 10:1).
Could salvation come as some sort of combo “faith-plus-works” deal or the infamous “Jesus-plus” plan? No way. Romans 3:28 states that we are “justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.” Ephesians 2:8-9 states that, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” We all know the difference between a gift and a wage. Have you ever been offered a “gift” to hostess a Tupperware party? We all go along with the terminology to be polite, but we know in our hearts that such a “gift” is no gift at all. We have to EARN it!
In John 6:28-29, when the people asked Jesus what works God requires of men, Jesus told them that the “work of God” was to ”believe in the One that He had sent.” Why didn’t He mention that we must make ourselves lovable, perform baptisms for the dead, or fill out timecards and attend meetings?
The Christian view of justification is to be declared legally righteous by God, as a gift, solely on the basis of our faith in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus, apart from the works of the law (Romans 3:24 and Romans 5:6-9).
But wait just a minute, Joy! Didn’t James say that Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac (James 2:21)? Yes, he did say that. Just what did he mean by it? We must realize that words may have more than one meaning in Scripture just as in our everyday speech, and the meaning must then be determined by the context. Does the word “justify” or “justification” always have the meaning of being declared righteous in the legal sense before God? No. Biblically, the term “justify” can also have the meaning of “prove” or “vindicate” as at Matthew 11:19 where it says that “Wisdom is justified by her children.” This verse means that the results of a given action vindicates or proves the wisdom of that course of action.
And notice that, in the context of this passage in James, he is speaking of men showing each other their faith; nobody is showing God anything here. God knows the heart (Psalm 44:21). Just as love in the heart is invisible without outward expression of word or deed, so faith without works of righteousness is invisible, except to God. Dead, for all practical purposes. But, back to Abraham, James 2:21 refers back to Genesis 22:9; yet, though, it was here that Abraham proved his inward faith by his outward actions. He had been justified in the legal sense (or declared righteous before God) for many years already at this point. We find this legal justification recorded at Genesis 15:6, where God saw that Abraham “believed God, and counted this belief as righteousness.” Abraham WAS, from that time on, righteous before God just on the basis of his faith; his proof was offered seven chapters later! Paul speaks of this in Romans, the fourth chapter, correcting the faulty view that Abraham was justified by his works. I find this very interesting. He says in verse two, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God?’ Who, then, could Abraham boast before? Other men only!!! (I’ll show you and you show me.. .)
There is, of course, nothing wrong in “doing things for God” out of love and gratitude to Him, as long as we recognize that we are not earning our salvation by so doing. Christians are not saved by good works but are saved to do good works (Eph. 2:8-10). And back to Dr. Peck, there is also nothing inherently wrong with self-improvement in a limited sense. Indeed, a proper self-examination may bring you to the end of your efforts and can be the U-TURN onto the road to life. But, when working on yourself or your “issues” becomes your religion, and your “salvation” is to “become all that you can be,” you have gotten yourself on the wrong road, friend. Ω
Love to all.