Giving It All Away - What Does It Mean?
Challenging the Textualist Discipleship Heresy of
Salvation by Works of Discipleship
In the course of the prophetic turf wars between the wilderness “sons of the prophets” and the bridal “daughters of Jerusalem,” heresies have surfaced into open view on both sides. Today’s article looks at the arch heresy found in the wilderness prophetic camp. It is the teaching by certain “prophetic judaizers” that believers are saved by keeping the letter (“laws”) of the discipleship commands of Christ and John the Baptist without reference to any Holy Spirit application and outworking. I refer to this teaching in this article as “textualist discipleship.” This particular letter article is in response to an article by a textualist discipleship teacher requiring the strict unconditional giving away of all possessions to be considered a disciple.
October 11, 2005
Based on the message you recently sent out on the love of money, it would appear that we are not following on the same course of discipleship. Your teaching against the love of money is formulated on an unforgiving interpretation of words and their applications that promotes a discipleship of the letter but not of the spirit.
The textualist (by “textualist” I mean carnally perceived, applied and “judged by the book”) discipleship approach holds all men hostage to the recorded commands of Jesus as laws to be obeyed at face value under pain of hell. It ignores or denies the spiritual contexts and applications of His words in making judgments of men based on “apparent” conformity (or lack thereof) to those commands.
A textualist application of Jesus’ commands regarding money or anything else poses numerous problems which I will enumerate.
[Before proceeding, it’s important I state that this is not a defense of possession of money. It is a defense of spiritual truth regarding possession of money. Nor is it a defense of my own life regarding possession of money. My life is devoted to the Lord and a life of giving. Whatever is in “my possession” is under government of that devotion. (Whether in course of this I have “little” or “much” at any given time is a subjective judgment relative only to outside beholders, a judgment to which I am not subject.)]
I want to focus on the verse: “Likewise, he who does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple” but will refer to others as necessary. Here are the problems with the textualist approach to giving up of all money:
1. Textualist discipleship violates Jesus’ own approach to obedience in both His teaching, His example and His stated expectations regarding the basis of human response to His own words.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clarifies He is after an obedience of the heart, not merely of the letter. He does this through numerous contrasts of the Law with His own precepts (e.g., adultery, swearing, etc.) But if He is after an obedient heart behind the law, He is necessarily after it regarding His own precepts.
This means that when it comes to “giving away all,” He will be judging our conformity to this against the question of “why” we did what we did with our possessions, not merely whether they remained in our possession or not.
By example, Jesus did not live by naked precept. He lived only “by the Father” through the Spirit. This means that though He was a “Giver,” He did not always “give” per se, but that He simply did what the Father showed Him to do. Though He lived by giving, He wasn’t governed by conformity to a humanly perceived / defined standard of “giving all.”
Jesus’ life was fully given to the Father, but it was for the Father to measure how that giving was or was not to be manifested. When it came to giving away healing, Jesus did not give away all that He had every time. Sometimes He withheld healing. It depended on the Father’s direction.
If this applies to His healing, it applies to how He gave away money and to what He meant when He expected others to “forsake all possessions” to follow Him. He did not hold men to one standard of obedience and Himself to another. He did not expect disciples to nakedly obey His own precepts while He obeyed based on the moving of the Father.
Jesus specifically said He did not hold men directly accountable to Himself for how they responded to His words (“I judge no man”). He did expect the Father to mediate between His words and their application in the lives of His followers, and was looking for the Father’s moving behind all responses to Him (“Blessed are you Simon, for My Father has revealed this to you.”)
This all means that when Jesus commanded men to give up all possessions to follow Him, He expected the application of “how-much-when do I give up” to be arranged in the heart according to the Father’s conviction in each individual. (One man wanted to hold onto his parents and the Lord said, “No, leave your parents now.” But another wanted to leave his country to follow the Lord and the Lord said “No. Go back and tell your people what God has done for you.” The same discrimination applies to the Spirit’s applying of how / when we give up “all” our goods for the Lord.)
2. The textualist interpretation of “giving up all our possessions” forces us to conclude that some of the Lord’s closest followers were truly not disciples but were still “bound for hell” because they obviously still had possessions.
Take the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. They possessed a house. The Lord came and refreshed Himself there. But they still owned the house. They never “gave it up for the Lord.” They never sold it and gave the proceeds to the Lord and then followed Him with the rest of the disciples. The house was still in their name. They still possessed it throughout His ministry.
It’s unquestionable then: they were bound for hell. (Sorry, no exceptions allowed. None of this, “Well, I’ll keep it and use it for the Lord.” You either give it all away or you’re not a disciple and you are going to hell—so the discipleship judaizers say.)
And what about that inexcusably expensive box of perfume that Mary had? She broke it over the Lord’s feet, yes—finally. But why so late in the Lord’s ministry? Why did she hold onto it in the first place? Obviously, in the months and years preceding this, she hadn’t “given it up to the Lord.” It was still in “her possession.”
According to the textualist disciple, Mary was on her way to hell just for holding onto that box as long as she did. Again, no excuses. Mary was really not a true disciple until she broke that box over the Lord. (Would you really believe that?)
Look again at Mary Magdalene along with Joanna (wife of Chuza) and Susanna, among others. Luke 8:3 says that these women gave to the Lord “from their possessions.” It does not say they gave “all” their possessions. (It also does not suggest that Joanna left her husband permanently.)
Again the textualist teaching demanding we sell “all” to give to the Lord has to insist that these women were not fully disciples nor therefore fully assured of escape from hell. Remember, no exceptions are allowed. No excuses. You either give all or you can forget it. You’re damned (so the discipleship judaizers say).
3. A textualist application of the discipleship command to give away all ultimately demands that we have nothing in our possession at any time.
This includes any clothing. Of course, no textualist disciple would ever argue for this. Even Jesus wore clothes. But this proves that there is context and limitation to the words “forsake all.”
If textualists allow such basic adaptation of context for themselves, then they are hypocritical for denying it to others. They have no basis for making broad based judgments against the entire Western Church and condemning it to hell based on superficially judged nonconformities.
(In June I attended a textualist discipleship [“John the Baptist”] conference held by Andrew Strom at which David Kirkwood [David Servant] tied John’s command to give up our spare tunic to the works for which Jesus finally judges us in Matthew 25. He led us to conclude that anyone owning “two shirts” would be judged guilty of evil works and would be banished to hell. Any protestation as to stewarding possessions was specifically disallowed as an excuse for not giving them all away. I would have liked to ask him if he wore an undershirt or underpants. If he did, he would have had to have been banished to hell for having more than one shirt and/or pair of pants.)
4. If we are obligated to obey the Lord’s discipleship commands as naked precepts, then in fact, we are all going to hell anyway.
This is because, as James says, he that obeys yet offends in even one command is guilty of all. So, even if you sell your estate off to your underwear for the Lord, if you still show even the least bit of love for your parents in any way that delays your call to the mission field—for even one hour—you will still go to hell. That’s all there is to it.
The fact is that none of us can keep the discipleship commands of the Lord apart from the direction and mediation of the Spirit any more than we can keep the Law of Moses. Textualists judge every appeal to grace and waiting on the Spirit as an excuse for failing to obey the naked precepts of Christ and so condemn them to hell.
The question becomes, by whose standard of giving all away are we to be judged? By whose standard of wealth? By whose standard of poverty? The person who lives in the most poverty-stricken place in America has to be adjudged affluent by the person who lives in the richest place of some third world countries.
Look at your own clothes, your own possessions. Have you given away all? (Are you wearing clothes?) By Somali standards, you who live in Florida are rich beyond measure! And if the Lord uses the Somali standard of poverty and wealth to judge you, let me assure you, you are a prime candidate for hell right now.
5. Paul is a firewall against textualist disciplism.
In Mark 10 we have the story of the rich young ruler whom Jesus told to give away all and to follow Him in order to have treasure in heaven. This provides the discipleship textualist basis for saying anyone who keeps any possession at all is not a disciple and so will go to hell.
And yet look at what Paul says regarding such possessions. In I Tim. 6 he simply tells those who are rich that they “not trust in riches.” Paul does not tell Timothy to tell the rich to sell all that they have. If Paul had taught the gospel of discipleship textualism, this is where he would have warned Timothy to tell these people that they were bound for hell for maintaining any possessions. He would not have just told them to “not trust in riches.”
When it comes to advising new disciples of what they should do upon conversion, Paul says that people should remain where they are. Either Paul is in conflict with what Jesus said is required of disciples, or else he is revealing the true spirit behind the letter of what the Lord commanded. Any true disciple must conclude the latter.
- Law vs. “Legislative Facility”
In the world of law, there is law, and then there is facilitating legislation, i.e., legislation that defines and regulates the exact applications of how the law is to be carried out, promulgating the law into force. If the commands of Christ give us the “laws of discipleship,” the ministry of Paul gives us the legislative facility for carrying out the laws of discipleship. He provides the machinery of “grace” by which the laws of discipleship are to be executed. No law can be carried out apart from the grace and liberty of the Spirit’s direction.
Textualist disciples see the commands of Christ and their facilitation all as one. It gives no account for how those commands have to be worked out in context of the finer details of life. What about children? What about families? What about employment? Do we all just up and quit our families once we are converted to follow the Lord? Do we all just up and leave our jobs, our homes—our possessions? According to textualists, it’s either “do this as spoken by the Lord or go to hell.” No questions asked. Anything else is an “excuse.”
Really? Again, if textualist discipleship were the true course, then Paul’s exhortations would have reinforced them all at face value. But they do not! Rather, Paul reinforces Christ’s commands according to the outworking of the Spirit’s will for every person, every family, every church in every circumstance. And those outworkings do not necessarily result in a performance of His commands at immediate face value.
Paul is the apostle of grace. His ministry cannot be skirted. The only way to advance textualist discipleship is to ignore Paul and try to rebuild Christianity’s foundation without his teaching. Paul is a firewall that prevents us from converting Christ’s ministry into one of Spartan stoic performance-based righteousness based on any text of scripture.
True discipleship never denies grace. It always appeals to grace in light of the fact that no one can perform righteously according to any external standard of performance, including the discipleship commands of the Lord.
The works we will be judged for are not our performance against objective standards, but our faithfulness to submitting to the Spirit’s power to fulfil the individual standards laid down to us by the Father. Really, we will be judged on the basis of how much of our work was really His work through us.
When Jesus commented on the rich young ruler to the disciples, the disciples were perceptive enough to realize that no one could fulfil the standard He was talking about. “Who then can be saved?” they asked. Not only this, Jesus confirmed that, if it came down to the standard of possession of wealth, no one could be saved—rich or poor! “With [all] men this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”
Salvation regarding wealth exceeds a standard of performance or conformity to some arbitrary standard of living no one can perform, no matter what standard of wealth is used. This is because the “rich” are covetous. And the poor are just as covetous! We’re all either rich, or wish we were.
6. Ultimately, we are judged by the standard of our own words.
“Be careful how you judge. For with what standard of measure you judge, with that standard you will be judged….I will judge you out of your own mouth.”
This means that, in the end, if we hold to the textualist standard of righteousness, it is not those we judge by it who will suffer the consequences of hell. It is we who put ourselves under it. And the reason we will suffer those consequences is that we cannot keep the same standard by which we are holding the rest of the church to account. We can never give enough to satisfy the textualist standard of “give all.”
Textualist discipleship condemns the church for using grace to defy Christ’s commands of discipleship. Is this a genuine problem? Absolutely! Paul condemned the problem himself. Textualist discipleship charges the grace-drunk church of perverting and producing another gospel.
The problem is that textualist disciples, instead of restoring the relationship of grace to command, throw out grace and hold us all hostage to command. In this, they produce an equally false gospel, a salvation based on adherence to commands, principles and patterns of discipleship. And in producing a false gospel they bring on themselves their own condemnation of hypocrisy.
We are never saved by our works of discipleship. We are only saved by grace which manifests itself through works of discipleship. The works do not save us. They only bear evidence to who we are.
We are not saved by repentance. We are saved by faith via repentance. Repentance is a counter-quality that establishes the enduring quality of our faith. Without repentance, our faith will not produce life that endures. Thus without repentance, we cannot be permanently saved. But we are not saved by repentance.
Those who take on themselves to make blanket judgments of the rest of the professing church will ultimately pay the price they are charging against the church.
Making Judgments Based on Cross-Cultural Comparisons
The whole issue of cross-cultural comparisons is also problematic in these regards. Certain prophets living in the poorer parts of the world make prophetic judgments against believers in the more affluent parts of the world simply because of their possession / stewardship of possessions.
Paul says that those who compare themselves one to another are not wise. It is not wise for the Eastern Church to continually compare their spirituality to that in the Western Church on this basis and vice versa.
Each church, people and individual will give account for what it did with what it was given. The Western Church will give severe account for what it did with its prosperity to minister to the poor in the eastern world. But it will give this account to the Lord, not to the eastern world.
The Western Church will be severely punished for what it spent on itself. And it will be greatly rewarded for what it gave to make possible and support Eastern Church ministry. But the Eastern Church will not be praised simply because it was poor. All shall be judged and judged alone for their obedience to the Father respecting the commands of the Lord given us in scripture regarding stewardship of possessions.
Judged By Our Works Means What?
Textualist disciples are quick to point out how Jesus says in Revelation that He will judge us “by our works,” which they automatically interpret to mean works of obedience to the text of scripture. But that is not what Jesus says works are.
Jesus equates works with fruit. In one place he says we will be judged by our works, and in another that we are judged by our fruit. And the truth about fruit is that fruit cannot be manufactured by performance to an objectively perceived standard.
Fruit is the result of an internally outworked process by the Spirit. Love for one another is the chief of these fruits, says He. Thus it is only according to the Spirit-directed outworking of our actions in obedience to any word of Christ in scripture that we will be judged.
So any text-based obedience to the commands of Christ in scripture not outworked by the Spirit will be judged to be bad fruit! So if you give away all your possessions out of mere forced obedience to the text, but it is not by the outworking of the Spirit in the love of Christ, it counts for nothing but works to be burned! So agrees Paul:
I Cor. 13:3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
And love can only come by way of the inner working of the Spirit, not by conformity to a command simply on its face value in the text of scripture.
Textualist disciples have made repentance their watchword, lifting up the image of John the Baptist. They have commanded the church to repent for failing to obey the letter of the words of Christ. But it is they who must repent for promoting a false gospel of text-based works of the flesh.
You have warned of judgment for failing to obey the text. But it is you who will be judged by the words of your own mouth, for you have failed to meet the standard of performance of your own words. You are unable to obey the naked textual commands of Christ at face value. Are you prepared for hell?
I would greatly urge you to rethink your stance and attitude regarding what it means to give up all your possessions for the Lord. For you have not done so (or else you could not live in Florida). And at the judgment, any explanation you offer for keeping anything you own at all will be judged to be an excuse by your own words.
Riverside, Rhode Island
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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