Another Look at the Gospel
contributed by Ruth Miller
[Editor's note: Fred and Ruth Miller, in April 1972, left the church which claims no name, but is referred to within the group by various names, such as "The Truth" or "The Way". On July 4, 1988, Ruth wrote a letter to a lady who grew up in this church. The following is from that letter:]
You asked why we left the fellowship and what we are now doing to serve God. This could take pages and pages to answer, of course, but will try as best I can to give you some idea.
We had a very serious reason for leaving, of course. Simply put, and perhaps shockingly put, we left the group because we came to see that it did not teach the truth about how to get to heaven. To miss the most basic and most important teaching of Scripture could only mean that it was not of God.
This was not a hasty conclusion. We were forced to face it quite sadly after several years of careful thought, of searching the Scriptures, of much prayer, of carefully examining the Workers’ preaching, of many, many sessions of careful talking with various Workers about what they believed and taught, as well as what they did not believe.
We had hoped it was simply an inability on their part to speak the gospel clearly as it was in the Scripture, but when we saw at length that they demonstrated and admitted opposition to what we knew to be the gospel, we knew we would have to leave. This was a shock to us, of course, for we had been very earnest in the Way for many years. Fred had been in the Work in earlier years and had been a highly trusted elder for a long time, and still was. But getting eternal life, being received of God, is important above all else and is a matter of life and death. We could not allow misplaced loyalties of any kind to interfere with it. It was all very confusing and stressful for some long time, but we wanted what was true. We knew that was all that God could accept. Finally, in desperation, we tried honestly and consciously to rid our minds of any personal preference as to whether we would stay in or get out, and simply asked God to show us the truth. In a few weeks time our eyes were opened, and we had peace. We could be sure what the gospel really was, and that the Workers consistently oppose it.
So we rejoiced in the gospel of the Scripture, trusted it completely, but felt very burdened for all those we knew in the fellowship. For that reason we stayed in the group another two years or so, knowing that we would be getting out, trusting completely in the gospel, not in the Workers, but using time and opportunity to share what we had learned with others on the inside. You would know, of course, that usually the friends learn very little from the Bible except through the Workers - and the Workers (in spite of what they think they are doing) are not telling people the truth about how to get to heaven. This Way was surely not what we had once thought it to be. So that is why we left.
Interestingly enough, every one of the problems you mention (problems which others have also observed):
- the judging and condemning
- the coldness and scorn toward the world
- the lack of charity toward the needy
- the pretense that the Way has no change
- the evasiveness and veil of secrecy which crops up constantly
- the belief in being the only ones saved
- the many restrictions - the do's and don'ts
- the fear that holds folks in this Way and keeps them there
...every one of these things is a natural result of the workers' misunderstanding the gospel and teaching something which is not the gospel.
How I wish I could talk with you about what the gospel is and about the freedom and the safeness and the love that it brings! It really is GOOD NEWS! Great news, in fact. And it doesn’t produce any of the things on the above list. Those things come about when men distort the gospel. I hope that you will allow me to try to clarify things somewhat and that you will search the Scriptures also for yourself.
To begin with, the gospel is good news, not (as many suppose ) good advice. The gospel itself does not tell me what to do or not to do (in the way advice does); it simply gives me some news - something which I can read or hear and have confidence in because it is from God. It says that God has taken care of everything (as regards the need of my soul) and I can safely rely on it - as I could never rely on my own doing. Ephesians 2:8.
- It says that while God (being a holy God) requires absolute righteousness of me, He saw that I could not meet that standard and (because He is love and grace) sent One who could live righteously in my place - a substitute, a proxy. So the needed righteousness is mine, lived out for me by Another, God's own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:19.
- It says that while God's righteous law requires that any who sin must die, God (again in love and grace) sent Another to take my place on the cross and bear God's wrath against sin in my stead. Romans 5:8, Hebrews 9:28.
So the required righteous life has been lived and the death penalty has been paid. Everything is done. God has accepted it. Christ has been raised again to life, and we can be received into God's love and fellowship; ("accepted in the Beloved" Ephesians 1:6).
It only remains for us to rely upon what Christ has done as ours. And we must so rely, or it is not ours. God will not force us to accept His provision. We can rely on something else if we wish, we can try it some other way, but He cannot accept it. It will mean failure.
Maybe you’ve heard this old, old poem, sometimes sung, I think:
Upon a life I did not live, Upon a death I did not die, Upon His life, upon His death I stake my whole eternity.
Many have echoed this resolve and rested in this truth with glad assurance down through the ages and with great thanksgiving. The Lord invites us to do so. It is His own provision for us.
It is this news, of course, that gives us real cause for thanksgiving, real cause to love God who first loved us, real cause to want to please God who has been so thoughtful of our need, real cause for love overflowing to those about us. We have gratitude that God has loved us and provided for us so freely when we have not earned it; could never have earned it, and it makes it much easier to love others. We have received a gift above all other gifts, ("the gift of righteousness resulting in eternal life" Romans 5:17, 18, Romans 6:23. "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift." 2 Corinthians 9:15), and we have cause to be generous to others. We have received a gift without strings, and we have no cause to want others to qualify for everything they get from us. We have no cause to condemn others, because we ourselves have not qualified for what we have received.
But sadly there are many who have not rested on God's provision of a Substitute; who have relied on something else in the hope that God will accept them - the work of their own hands, something they "do" or "don't do", or some "way" that they identify themselves with, or some human mediators they rely upon. If all these ways do not rely first and foremost on the God-provided Substitute (as a substitute, not primarily as an example), they will be no more successful than the tower of Babel was. These are self-efforts and not only are they ineffective, but they tend to produce the above list of problems you speak of.
Look at the list again and think about it. It is when we think we have had to work and pay a costly price for God's favor that we are tempted to judge and condemn others who we feel have not paid such a price. We can have a coldness and scorn of those who we believe have not denied themselves as we have. We put ourselves in a bondage which can make us envious of outsiders who may have more freedom than we. The scripture tells us that we are free, but we don't feel free, because we have bound ourselves over to something in an effort to secure God's favor. We restrict ourselves and our families more and more beyond reason in an effort to be righteous, but we become self-righteous and feel cut off from life. And it has not even brought us safety.
And then (check the list again), we have to protect the "way" we are depending upon, so that it will continue to appear trustworthy. Hence the evasiveness and secrecy and finally the actual lying to cover for it's shortcomings. The workers, especially, must find this a terrible dilemma. Sometimes the friends will say that they are not trusting the way, but are trusting Jesus. If this is so, why do they feel so terribly threatened when the way is questioned? And, of course, trusting Jesus as an Example to show me how to do it is not at all the same as trusting in His perfect doing and dying in my place. We can't trust our efforts to follow a perfect example, but we can trust His perfect doing. He isn't a way-shower. He is the Way. John 14:6.
And perhaps worst of all is the fear that holds us, all the while we say that we are held by love. True, there is a certain brotherly love there which drew and held us, but I expect in most cases the fear had the stronger holding power. (The fear that since this is God's only `way' of salvation, we would be lost if we turned from it.)
Now, the objection that you will hear brought against this good news, that God has done this for us and given us a gift to trust in, is that we will then live bad lives, because we don't have to pay for salvation by living a good life. There are several things completely wrong with this objection:
- It misses the point entirely. The point we're talking about is not how to live a good life, but how to get to heaven, how to get salvation. So this objection is actually a clever changing of the subject.
- We can't pay for it by living a good life, anyway. Our very best effort isn't good enough. It falls short of God's perfect standard which He can't bend for us. Only Christ Jesus could meet such a price.
- Above all, things just don't work out the way the objection says they will. Trusting Christ as our substitute does NOT make us live worse lives. For this reason: receiving this gift makes it possible for God to accept us. He then gives us a new nature which desires righteousness. If we had only our old nature, no doubt we might live worse if we could get away with it (unless subtle, wicked pride made us want to polish our image), but the person who trusts the gospel has both natures, and the new one finds sinfulness repulsive and wars with the old one and moves us to please God. Paul didn't say "I constrain myself", but, "the love of Christ constrains me." Incidentally, after Paul had explained the gospel in Romans chapters 3, 4, and 5, he foresaw the objection mentioned above, and met it in Romans 6.
No, this news does not (as the devil constantly declares) cause us to have a lower regard for righteous living. After all, Christ's righteous life is a big part of the gift. How can we take lightly something we value highly and for which we are so thankful! Instead, our regard for righteousness rises. The way it actually works out when we rely completely on this news and the gift it speaks of, is that our desire to please God increases many times over, but with this important difference: we have been set free! No longer is there the striving and the pressure. We can express our gratitude individually as we freely choose. No arbitrary list of do's and don'ts handed to us by someone else. We simply have a desire to please God. We look to His Word for direction. Our efforts are imperfect, of course. But we have no fear that God will not accept us. We have already been accepted. The whole thing was God's own plan. We have been "accepted in the Beloved" and we are thankful.
Think again about the gospel and how simple it is:
- Jesus Christ took our place, doing for us what God, in His justice, had to require of us.
- That is, He lived righteously in full obedience to God (thereby earning eternal life for us), and He paid the full death penalty for our sin (thereby reconciling us to God and bringing us forgiveness).
So God’s eternal Law has been gloriously honored in precept and in penalty. The demands of justice have been fully met. How could we possibly have anything so solid to rely upon as our Saviour’s work for us! And all, and only, because God loved us (John 3:16) and provided freely for our desperate need at great cost to Himself. Free to us. Costly to Him.
Yet you will see quickly enough that the workers spurn Christ's work as a gift and treat it as a reward. They have folks working, walking, following, hanging on, etc. in order to get salvation. Their gospel is simply offering folks a chance to "try out" for salvation, to see if they can make it.
But they are trying for something which they can never earn. Our best is never good enough. The Lord, of course, has rewards for His own, but salvation itself doesn't come in that category. It's too costly. The price in solid righteousness is too high. We have to take it the only way it is offered, the only way it is possible, as a gift, completely paid for by Another. Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8,9.
We pray earnestly that there are those in the group who are relying on Christ's work in spite of all the emphasis around them to the contrary. And we do believe there are some who may be privately trusting in the doing and dying of Christ in their stead and are blind to the fact that the workers do not. That was my own exact case, of course. And it's a pretty tricky blindness.