I Call It Heresy!
A. W. Tozer
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance (1 Peter 1:14).
THE SCRIPTURES DO NOT TEACH that the Person of Jesus Christ nor any of the important offices which God has given Him can be divided or ignored according to the whims of men.
Therefore, I must be frank in my feeling that a notable heresy has come into being throughout our evangelical Christian circles – the widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need Him as Savior and we have the right to postpone our obedience to Him as Lord as long as we want to!
This concept has sprung naturally from a misunderstanding of what the Bible actually says about Christian discipleship and obedience. It is now found in nearly all of our full gospel literature. I confess that I was among those who preached it before I began to pray earnestly, to study diligently and meditate with anguish over the whole matter. I think the following is a fair statement of what I was taught in my early Christian experience and it certainly needs a lot of modifying and a great many qualifiers to save us from being in error. “We are saved by accepting Christ as our Savior; we are sanctified by accepting Christ as our Lord; we may do the first without doing the second!”
The truth is that salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred Scriptures. Peter makes it plain that we are “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit for obedience” (1 Peter 1:2). What a tragedy that in our day we often hear the gospel appeal made on this kind of basis: “Come to Jesus! You do not have to obey anyone. You do not have to change anything. You do not have to give up anything, alter anything, surrender anything, give back anything – just come to Him and believe in Him as Savior!”
So they come and believe in the Savior. Later on, in a meeting or conference, they will hear another appeal: “Now that you have received Him as Savior, how would you like to take Him as Lord?”
The fact that we hear this everywhere does not make it right. To urge men and women to believe in a divided Christ is bad teaching for no one can receive half of Christ, or a third of Christ, or a quarter of the Person of Christ! We are not saved by believing in an office nor in a work.
I heard well-meaning workers say, “Come and believe on the finished work.” That work will not save you. The Bible does not tell us to believe in an office or a work, but to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Person who has done that work and holds those offices.
Now, note again, Peter’s emphasis on obedience among the scattered and persecuted Christians of his day.
It seems most important to me that Peter speaks of his fellow Christians as “obedient children.” He was not giving them a command or exhortation to be obedient. In effect, he said, “Assuming that you are believers, I therefore gather that you are also obedient. So now, as obedient children, do so and so.”
Obedience taught throughout Bible
Brethren, I would point out that obedience is taught throughout the entire Bible and that true obedience is one of the toughest requirements of the Christian life. Apart from obedience, there can be no salvation, for salvation without obedience is a self-contradictory impossibility. The essence of sin is rebellion against divine authority.
God said to Adam and Eve, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Here was a divine requirement calling for obedience on the part of those who had the power of choice and will.
In spite of the strong prohibition, Adam and Eve stretched forth their hands and tasted of the fruit and thus they disobeyed and rebelled, bringing sin upon themselves.
Paul writes very plainly and directly in the book of Romans about “one man’s disobedience” – and this is a stern word by the Holy Spirit through the apostle – by one man’s disobedience came the downfall of the human race!
In John’s Gospel, the Word is very plain and clear that sin is lawlessness, that sin is disobedience to the law of God. Paul’s picture of sinners in Ephesians concludes that “the people of the world are the children of disobedience.” Paul certainly means that disobedience characterizes them, conditions them, molds them. Disobedience has become a part of their nature.
All of this provides background for the great, continuing question before the human race: “Who is boss?” This breaks down into a series of three questions: “To whom do I belong?” “To whom do I owe allegiance?” and “Who has authority to require obedience of me?”
Now, I suppose of all the people in the world Americans have the most difficult time in giving obedience to anyone or anything. Americans are supposed to be sons of freedom. We ourselves were the outcropping of a revolt. We spawned a revolution, pouring the tea overboard in the Boston harbor. We made speeches and said, “That sound of the clash of arms is carried on every wind that blows from the Boston Commons” and finally, “Give me liberty or give me death!”
That is in the American blood and when anyone says, “You owe obedience,” we immediately bristle! In the natural sense, we do not take kindly to the prospect of yielding obedience to anyone.
In the same sense, the people of this world have a quick and ready answer to the questions: “To whom do I belong?” and “To whom do I owe obedience?”
Their answer is: “I belong to myself. No one has authority to require my obedience!”
In the name of “individualism”
Our generation makes a great deal out of this, and we give it the name of “individualism.” On the basis of our individuality we claim the right of self-determination.
In an airplane, the pilot who sits at the controls determines where that plane is going. He must determine the destination.
Now, if God had made us humans to be mere machines we would not have the power of self-determination. But since He made us in His own image and made us to be moral creatures, He has given us that power of self-determination.
I would insist that we do not have the right of self-determination because God has given us only the power to choose evil. Seeing that God is a holy God and we are moral creatures having the power but not the right to choose evil, no man has any right to lie.
We have the power to lie but no man has any right to lie.
We have the power to steal – I could go out and get myself a better coat than the one I own. I could slip out through a side door and get away with the coat. I have that power but I do not have the right!
I have the power to use a knife, a razor or a gun to kill another person – but I do not have that right! I have only the power to do it.
Actually, we only have the right to be good – we never have the right to be bad because God is good. We only have the right to be holy; we never have the right to be unholy. If you are unholy you are using a right that is not yours. Adam and Eve had no moral right to eat of that tree of good and evil, but they took it and usurped the right that was not theirs.
The poet Tennyson must have thought about this for he wrote in his In Memoriam: “Our wills are ours, we know not how; our wills are ours to make them Thine!”
Oh, this mystery of a man’s free will is far too great for us! Tennyson said, “We know not how.” But then he girds himself and continues, “Yes, our wills are ours to make them Thine.” And that is the only right we have here to make our wills the wills of God, to make the will of God our will!
God is the Sovereign
We must remember that God is Who He is and we are what we are. God is the Sovereign and we are the creatures. He is the Creator and therefore He has a right to command us with the obligation that we should obey. It is a happy obligation, I might say, for “His yoke is easy and His burden is light.”
Now, this is where I raise the point again of our human insistence that Christ may sustain a divided relationship toward us. This is now so commonly preached that to oppose it or object to it means that you are sticking your neck out and you had best be prepared for what comes.
But how can we insist and teach that our Lord Jesus Christ can be our Savior without being our Lord? How can we continue to teach that we can be saved without any thought of obedience to our Sovereign Lord?
I am satisfied that when man believes on Jesus Christ he must believe on the whole Lord Jesus Christ – not making any reservation! I am satisfied that it is wrong to look upon Jesus as a kind of divine nurse to whom we can go when sin has made us sick, and after He has helped us, to say “Goodbye” – and go on our own way.
Suppose I slip into a hospital and tell the staff I need a blood transfusion or perhaps an X-ray of my gall bladder. After they have ministered to me and given their services, do I just slip out of the hospital again with a cheery “Goodbye” – as though I owe them nothing and it was kind of them to help me in my time of need?
That may sound like a grotesque concept to you, but it does pretty well draw the picture of those who have been taught that they can use Jesus as a Savior in their time of need without owning Him as Sovereign and Lord and without owing Him obedience and allegiance.
No such concept of salvation
The Bible never in any way gives us such a concept of salvation. Nowhere are we ever led to believe that we can use Jesus as a Savior and not own Him as our Lord. He is the Lord and as the Lord He saves us, because He has all of the offices of Savior and Christ and High Priest and Wisdom and Righteousness and Sanctification and Redemption! He is all of these things and all of these are embodied in Him as Christ the Lord.
My brethren, we are not allowed to come to Jesus Christ as shrewd, clever operators saying, “We will take this and this, but we won’t take that!” We do not come to Him as one who, buying furniture for his house, declares: “I will take this table but I don’t want that chair” – dividing it up!
No, sir! It is either all of Christ or none of Christ!
I believe we need to preach again a whole Christ to the world – a Christ who does not need our apologies, a Christ who will not be divided, a Christ who will either be Lord of all or who will not be Lord at all!
I think it is important to agree that true salvation restores the right of a Creator-creature relationship because it acknowledges God’s right to our fellowship and communion.
You see, in our time we have over-emphasized the psychology of the sinner’s condition. We spend much time describing the woe of the sinner, the grief of the sinner and the great burden he carries. He does have all of these, but we have over-emphasized them until we forget the principal fact – that the sinner is actually a rebel against properly constituted authority!
That is what makes sin, sin. We are rebels. We are sons of disobedience. Sin is the breaking of the law and we are in rebellion and we are fugitives from the just laws of God while we are sinners.
By way of illustration, suppose a man escapes from prison. Certainly he will have grief. He is going to be in pain after bumping logs and stones and fences as he crawls and hides away in the dark. He is going to be hungry and cold and weary. His beard will grow long and he will be tired and cramped and cold – all of these will happen, but they are incidental to the fact that he is a fugitive from justice and a rebel against law.
So it is with sinners. Certainly they are heartbroken and they carry a heavy load. The Bible takes full account of these things; but they are incidental to the fact that the reason the sinner is what he is, is because he has rebelled against the laws of God and he is a fugitive from divine judgement.
It is that which constitutes the nature of sin; not the fact that he carries a heavy load of misery and sadness and guilt. These things constitute only the outcropping of the sinful nature, but the root of sin is rebellion against God. Does not the sinner say: “I belong to myself – I owe allegiance to no one unless I choose to give it!” That is the essence of sin.
But thankfully, salvation reverses that and restores the former relationship so that the first thing the returning sinner does is to confess: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men” (Luke 15:18–19).
Thus, in repentance, we reverse that relationship and we fully submit to the Word of God and the will of God, as obedient children.
Now that happiness of all the moral creatures lies right here, brethren, in the giving of obedience to God. The Psalmist cried out in Psalm 103:21, “Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,/ you his servants who do his will.”
The angels in heaven find their complete freedom and highest happiness in obeying the commandments of God. They do not find it a tyranny – they find it a delight.
I have been looking again into the mysteries in the first chapter of Ezekiel and I don’t understand it. There are creatures with four faces and four wings, strange beings doing strange things. They have wheels and still other wheels in the middle of the wheels. There is fire coming out of the north and there are creatures going straight ahead and some that lower their wings and wave them. Strange, beautiful beings and they are all having the time of their lives utterly, completely delighted with the Presence of God and that they could serve God!
A world of disobedience
On the other hand, hell is certainly the world of disobedience. Everything else that may be said about hell may be true, but this one thing is the essence – hell is the world of the rebel! Hell is the Alcatraz for the unconstituted rebels who refuse to surrender to the will of God.
I thank God that heaven is the world of God’s obedient children. Whatever else we may say of its pearly gates, its golden streets and its jasper walls, heaven is heaven because children of the Most High God find they are in their normal sphere as obedient moral beings.
Jesus said there are fire and worms in hell, but that is not the reason it is hell. You might endure worms and fire, but for a moral creature to know and realize that he is where he is because he a rebel – that is the essence of hell and judgment. It is the eternal world of all the disobedient rebels who have said, “I owe God nothing!”
This is the time given us to decide. Each person makes his own decision as to the eternal world he is going to inhabit.
A serious decision
This is a serious matter of decision. You do not come to this decision as though it were a matter of being interviewed for a job or getting your diploma at a school.
We have no basis to believe that we can come casually and sprightly to the Lord Jesus and say, “I have come for some help, Lord Jesus. I understand that you are the Savior so I am going to believe and be saved and then I am going to turn away and think about the other matters of lordship and allegiance and obedience at some time in the future.”
I warn you – you will not get help from Him in that way for the Lord will not save those whom He cannot command!
He will not divide His offices. You cannot believe on a half-Christ. We take Him for what He is – the anointed Savior and Lord who is King of kings and Lord of lords! He would not be who He is if He saved us and called us and chose us without the understanding that He can also guide and control our lives.
Brethren, I believe in the deeper Christian life and experience – oh yes! But I believe we are mistaken when we try to add the deeper life to an imperfect salvation, obtained imperfectly by an imperfect concept of the whole thing.
Under the working of the Spirit of God through such men as Finney and Wesley, no one would ever dare to rise in a meeting and say, “I am a Christian” if he had not surrendered his whole being to God and had taken Jesus Christ as his Lord. It was only then that he could say, “I am saved!”
Today, we let them say they are saved no matter how imperfect and incomplete the transaction, with the proviso that the deeper Christian life can be tacked on at some time in the future.
Can it be that we really think that we do not owe Jesus Christ our obedience?
We have owed Him obedience ever since the second we cried out to Him for salvation, and if we do not give Him that obedience, I have reason to wonder if we are really converted!
I see things and I hear of things that Christian people are doing. As I watch them operate within the profession of Christianity I do raise the question of whether they have been truly converted.
Brethren, I believe it is the result of faulty teaching to begin with. They thought of the Lord as a hospital and Jesus as chief of staff to fix up poor sinners that had gotten into trouble!
“Fix me up, Lord,” they have insisted, “so that I can go on my own way!”
That is bad teaching, brethren. It is filled with self-deception. Let us look unto Jesus our Lord, high, holy, wearing the crowns, Lord of lords and King of all, having a perfect right to command full obedience from all of His saved people!
Remember what the Bible says
Just remember what the Bible says about the Person and the titles and the offices of Jesus.
“God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36b). Jesus means Savior, Lord means Sovereign, Christ means Anointed One. The apostle, therefore, did not preach Jesus as Savior – he preached to them Jesus as Lord and Christ and Savior, never dividing His person or offices.
Remember, too, that Paul wrote to the Roman Christians:
But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (10:8–9)
The apostle did not say that “You shall confess with your mouth the Savior.” He said,
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all who call on him, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (verses 10, 12–13)
Three times he calls Jesus Lord in these passages telling us how to be saved. He says that faith in the Lord Jesus plus confession of that faith to the world brings salvation to us!
God desires that we be honest with Him above everything else. Search the Scriptures, read the New Testament, and if you see that I have given a germ of truth, then I urge you to do something about it. If you have been led to believe imperfectly in a divided Savior, be glad that there is still time for you to do something about it!