The doctrine of (historical) inclusion is a deceptively appealing but unbiblical message that minimizes the lostness of the lost and, as a result, diminishes the saving work of the cross. Telling unbelievers that they are already saved, righteous, and in relationship robs the gospel of its power to save those who believe. It does this by promoting a cerebral faith that is little more than an intellectual acceptance of an insurance policy whose main benefit is a ticket to heaven. But the most damaging aspect of this doctrine is that it stymies love. Instead of being invited into union with Christ, unbelievers learn that they are the unwitting participants in an arranged marriage. Jesus is not on the outside waiting to be invited in; He has already entered against their will and married them! It’s a fait accompli that you had just better get used to. If unbelievers then exercise their freedom in the only direction left open to them – refusing to participate through unbelief – their husband might yet pursue the eternal equivalent of an honor killing.
Happily, the gospel of grace that Paul et al. preached is nothing like this! Jesus has not violated anyone’s will but stands at the door knocking and waiting to be invited in. He will dine with anyone and everyone who accepts Him. For God so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus to save everyone. He then sent the Holy Spirit to point people to Jesus. Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but enjoy eternal life in union with the Triune God. The life He offers is nothing like the one you were born with for it is His life. Jesus wants to live His life of unconditional love, divine favor, and supernatural power through you. To live like this is to experience heaven on earth here and now. It is knowing God – His love, His will, His joy and pleasure – today. And this life is available to all who would say, “Yes, Jesus!” Salvation is not an historical event. It is the present reality of Christ living in me. Now is the time of God’s favor. Today is the day of salvation.
There are a few things quite so boring as being religious, but there is nothing quite so exciting as being a Christian! Most folks have never discovered the difference between the one and the other, so that there are those who sincerely try to live a life they do not have, substituting religion for God, Christianity for Christ, and their own noble endeavors for the energy, joy, and power of the Holy Spirit. In the absence of reality, they can only grasp at ritual, stubbornly defending the latter in the absence of the former, lest they be found with neither! They are lamps without oil, cars without gas, and pens without ink, baffled at their own impotence in the absence of all that alone can make man functional; for man was so engineered by God that the presence of the Creator within the creature is indispensable to his humanity. Christ gave Himself for us to give Himself to us! His presence puts God back into the man! He came that we might have life – God’s life!”
Foreword, Classic Christianity, Harvest House, 1989, 7.
New-covenant ministers, essentially, can do only two things for others. First, we can help remove obstacles that are keeping people from carrying out what is written in their hearts and in their minds. These obstacles can be fears, misconceptions, habits, strongholds. Through love and witness, a minister can help remove these barriers and open the way for faith to operate freely. Second, we can help provide opportunities for God’s people to do what they have already been programmed to do by their new birth. Looking at ministry in light of these two tasks helps shed light on how best to minister without manipulation. It is not wrong, for example, for ministers to give us opportunities for service. Christians needed to be challenged to do what is in their hearts to do – to believe, to serve, to give. Placing opportunities in front of others is not necessarily manipulation. Only when the inner person is sacrificed to external behavior does manipulation replace ministry. Manipulation is playing God. That is a tiring and exasperating experience; you are just not equipped for it. If you fall into the habit of relying on manipulation in the service of ministry, your energy level will not hold out. In the long run, you cannot be successful. Ministry, on the other hand, is following God, immersing yourself in the reality of the gospel of grace and responding to his leadership as you lead others.
Grace Works, Vine Books, 1992, 198.
He does not want you to be used by anyone, and He would never use you. Your gifts were given to you for the purpose of bringing joy to your life, not for the purpose of serving Him or furthering His cause.… He wants people to think highly of and respect you. He loves it when folks are drawn to you and when they are amazed at how gifted you are… Christians today have been trained to purposefully cover their light, rather than let them shine for all to see, for fear that God might get angry at how bright they are. How crazy is that?…
His purpose is for us to be His sons and daughters, and out of those relationships, we become the message.… What is the one thing all good parents want for their children? They want them to enjoy life.… God’s love is not concerned with what He can get; He’s concerned with what He can give.
The Misunderstood God, Windblown, 2009, 100-1.
In the Chinese language the word for righteousness is a combination of two characters, the figure of a lamb and a person. The lamb is on top, covering the person. Whenever God looks down at you, this is what he sees: the perfect Lamb of God covering you.
Grace: More Than We Deserve, Better Than We Imagine, Thomas Nelson, 2012, 23.