(This was originally posted in 2010, brought here in 2012, updated 5-1-2015)
(Keep in mind the above critique is by a Sikh, not a Christian)
Shame on 3HO for NOT acknowledging innocent kundalini yoga students raped & abused by Yogi Bhajan! (Go to this forum to talk to and see ex-members talk about this abuse. If you’re having a problem signing into the website be sure to click on as a guest using the red button in the far bottom right of the screen.)
I have personally heard stories about Yogi Bhajanbecause of close family members that use to be involved in this breakaway form of Sikhism.
Having an extensive collection of comparative religious texts that deal in some-form-or-fashion with Sikhism mainly and 3Ho to a lesser extent, my understanding of this “sect” is unfortunately deepened via the personal stories of anguish below, merely confirming that which is already known.
Articles like these (See: Britney Spears) are rare due to the small nature of this “sect” and people assuming it is part of the world religion of Sikhism.
….Bhajan taught, among other things, that he could see auras and see into the future. But perhaps his most outrageous claim was that he was the official religious and administrative leader of all Sikhs in the Western world. I am told that most legitimate Sikhs avoid any association with Bhajan’s group, and that Yogi Bhajanism is by no means representative of the five-century-old Sikh tradition whose homeland is in the Indian Punjab.
Further below I merely produce parts of the articles from RegisterGuard, in the hopes that it adds to an understanding of this movement (maybe a previous innocent naiveté, a, postmodern “who are you to judge” attitude) and how many lives it affected.
One should note that with extreme political ideologies as well as religious ones,
the family unit is broken up, either to bolster the State (communism, fascism, socialism), or a way for one man or a small group to control many (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Jim Jones, etc).
Remember, for instance, in the novel Animal Farm when the offspring of Jessie and Bluebell (two characters in the story — dogs) were taken away from them by Napoleon at birth and reared by Napoleon to be his security force. These dogs are trained to be vicious, going so far as to rip many of the animals to shreds including the four young pigs, a sheep and various hens. Similarly, as the sign over Auschwitz entrance to the medical facilities reads:
“I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality…. We will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence — imperious, relentless and cruel.” ~ Adolf Hitler, A sign of his quote hangs on the wall at Auschwitz; Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, p. 23.
It is — the breakup up the family unit — a means for a person to control another. Isolation, separation and alienation leads to the group becoming a substitute family. Members are often encouraged to drop worldly (non-members) friends, may be told to change jobs, quit school, give up sports, hobbies, and the like (source).
Here is some great insight to this dilemma of people stuck in a cult (applicable to political extremes as well):
Milieu Control – the control of the environment including information, associations, time, and energy work to exclude any opportunity for opposition while also promoting the ‘party line’.
Mystical Manipulation – this is the ‘higher calling’ for the follower to be a part of a utopian goal which requires his full devotion. The followers see the leaders as having achieved this higher calling hence they are worthy to be followed.
Demand For Purity – the utopian goal can only be achieved by purity of devotion. Any failure to succeed means impurity exists somewhere and will be searched out by those in control.
Cult of Confession – Failure to succeed means confessions must be made. Any weakness or failure, real or perceived, are to be confessed for the sake of the group. Even confessions where no wrong was actually done can spur the group to more purity.
Sacred Science – The ideology, doctrine and mission of the group are so sacred that they must not be doubted or questioned. To do so is one of the worst offenses possible. However, without the option of questioning, a lie cannot be uncovered.
Loading the Language – Certain words and phrases are so loaded with meaning that stark choices are implied leading to the end of critical thinking.
Doctrine Over Person– What you see, hear or think is irrelevant in the face of the groups doctrine. You must submerge your opinions in the group’s worldview.
Dispensing of Existence– Only those who are committed to the group are valued. Those who oppose or betray the group can be dismissed, defamed, disfellowshipped, or killed.
May I also add that in these types of “religions,” there is no love story entwined in it. The video to the right is a “parable” of sorts on Christ sacrifice for us… it is the Cosmic Love Story that IS the Good News.
A slow, painful awakening led Premka Kaur Khalsa, a top secretary in Yogi Bhajan’s Sikh organization for almost 20 years, to leave the religious group in 1984, she said.
Premka Khalsa, 66, said she could no longer participate because of the inconsistencies she said she had witnessed between the yogi’s behavior and his teachings — the deception and abuse of power.
In 1986, she sued Yogi Bhajan and his Sikh organizations, settling out of court. In court papers, she alleged that the married yogi had sexually and physically assaulted her, that he was sexually involved with other secretaries and that, as the head of his administration, she worked long hours for little or no pay.
The organization’s religious leaders vehemently deny those allegations. Its business leaders did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Kamalla Rose Kaur, 55, another former member of Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) who wrote for a grass-roots newsletter in the community, said a light switched on for her when she was researching and writing about religious groups and thought, “Hey, we’re acting a lot like a cult.”
Former member Guru Bir Singh Khalsa, 60, who had been appointed a “lifetime minister” by Yogi Bhajan, said he received a wake-up call in the early 1990s, when Sue Stryker, then an investigator with the Monterey County District Attorney’s office, laid out evidence linking members of his spiritual community to criminal activity. Stryker, now retired, said a member of Yogi Bhajan’s Sikh community pleaded guilty and served time in prison for a telemarketing scam that bilked seniors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
These and other ex-members of Yogi Bhajan’s organization say they aren’t surprised by events unfolding now, six years after his death. Legal disputes threaten to splinter the community. Allegations of the yogi’s past wrongdoing are resurfacing. And the future of the Sikh organization’s businesses are in question.
The outcome will ripple far beyond the religious group, whose companies have become intertwined with the local economy and business community.
In Multnomah County Circuit Court, the group’s religious leaders are suing the group’s business leaders over control of the community’s multimillion dollar businesses, including Golden Temple natural foods in Eugene and Akal Security in New Mexico.
“Organizations/cults that have charismatic leaders and their followings, once their charismatic leader dies, this is generally the kind of thing that occurs,” Premka Khalsa said.
“It’s the meltdown of a cult,” said Kamalla Kaur, who spent nearly 20 years in 3HO, and now runs an Internet forum for ex-members. “They actually kept it together longer than we expected.”
Steven Hassan, a Massachusetts-based author, counselor and former leader of the Moon cult in the 1970s, said he has counseled about two dozen former 3HO members, including leaders, over the years.
“The group, from my point of view, was always about power and money,” he said. “(Yogi) Bhajan is the consummate … cult leader. By not specifying someone to take over, there often are these kinds of political battles and meltdowns — people basically being greedy like Yogi Bhajan was and wanting more of a slice for themselves.”
Watching the business leaders back away from the group’s religious practices, some former members said, reminds them of what they experienced when they decided to leave the group.
“You go through stages of discovery of how you gave away your power and were deceived,” Premka Khalsa said.
“Once the person who is defining your reality — the charismatic leader — once he’s not there continuing to enforce the beliefs, then your eyes start to open,” she said. “You see things in a different way, and it can be disillusioning.”
Premka Khalsa said that’s especially true for the yogi’s secretaries, such as herself, who sacrificed much of their lives to serve him.
“I met him at 25,” she said. “I was 41 by the time I left, so my life of family, child bearing and (being) productive in the world, that whole piece was gone. Nothing was put into Social Security, and I walked out with the clothes on my back.”
The women in his inner circle “were denied having a personal relationship with any other men,” she added. “Some of us wanted to get married and have children, but we got sidetracked into agreeing to forego that with the intention of serving something bigger than us. Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice.”
In her 1986 lawsuit, Premka Khalsa alleged that Yogi Bhajan repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted her from November 1968 to November 1984.
McGrory, the religious leaders’ attorney, said his clients deny all the allegations in Premka Khalsa’s lawsuit, which “were never verified or substantiated.”
In court papers, she alleged that the yogi was sexually involved with various female followers, and that he ordered her to coordinate his sexual liaisons, including orgies, with other secretaries, which she refused to do.
The head of Yogi Bhajan’s administration, and an editor and writer for his publications, Premka Khalsa said she worked on average 10 hours a day, five days a week. She alleged that she was paid $375 a month — only in her last three years with the group.
“It was another part of how he kept us bound,” she said. “We didn’t have independent resources. He had a fleet of cars — one of which was mine to drive. And he had properties to live on, but they weren’t mine. You had few independent resources, so it made it hard to live out on (your) own. He did that with lots of people.”
Premka Khalsa alleged in her lawsuit that Yogi Bhajan called her “his spiritual wife, destined to serve mankind by serving him in a conjugal capacity.” He said if she did so, he “would care for her for all of her natural life,” she alleged.
When Yogi Bhajan died in 2004, his wife Bibiji Inderjit was to inherit half of their community property, and he designated that his half go to Staff Endowment, a trust to support 15 female administrative assistants.
She said she was with the group from 1975 to 1985. In her 1986 lawsuit, she alleged that starting in 1978, Yogi Bhajan repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted her.
The lawsuit alleged that the yogi was sexually involved with Guru Amrit Khalsa, as well as various other members of his administrative staff.
Guru Amrit Khalsa’s sister also alleged that Yogi Bhajan did not compensate her for skin and hair care products and snack foods she had developed and turned over to him in 1983 and 1984, after he had promised her an ownership stake or other payment
“Sikh means seeker of truth and therefore I was just a seeker of truth,” he said. “The reason I wanted to put those documents on the Internet was to just turn the light on in the closet.”
“Yogi Bhajan had a dark side, and I think a lot of people don’t want to see it because of what that means about him,” Guru Bir Khalsa said. “I know, for myself, I wasn’t ready and didn’t want to see it. It’s kind of tough when you think you’ve invested as much as you have into something.”
Bottom line with comparing healthy religion to a cultic idea of financial commitment:
Religious leaders regard their followers as being individuals who need protection and assistance, while cult leaders tend to regard people as a resource to be exploited. It seems to be the standard practice that cult victims will end up with no money. But people who become religious are often encouraged to adopt practices that can increase their income (e.g., by avoiding alcohol and drug use). Most people who regularly attend church and who are in a good financial position are expected to donate 10% of their income – which still allows them to have a good standard of living.
I want to leave the reader with this thought by Robert Hume. In his book, The World’s Living Religions, he comments that there are three features of Christian faith that “cannot be paralleled anywhere among the religions of the world” [I can add here, the cults either]. These include the character of God as a loving Heavenly Father, the character of the founder of Christianity as the Son of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Further, he says:
The nine founders among the eleven living religions in the world had characters which attracted many devoted followers during their own lifetime, and still larger numbers during the centuries of subsequent history. They were humble in certain respects, yet they were also confident of a great religious mission. Two of the nine, Mahavira and Buddha, were men so strong-minded and self-reliant that, according to the records, they displayed no need of any divine help, though they both taught the inexorable cosmic law of Karma. They are not reported as having possessed any consciousness of a supreme personal deity. Yet they have been strangely deified by their followers. Indeed, they themselves have been worshiped, even with multitudinous idols.
All of the nine founders of religion, with the exception of Jesus Christ, are reported in their respective sacred scriptures as having passed through a preliminary period of uncertainty, or of searching for religious light. Confucius, late in life, confessed his own sense of shortcomings and his desire for further improvement in knowledge and character. All the founders of the non-Christian religions evinced inconsistencies in their personal character; some of them altered their practical policies under change of circumstances.
Jesus Christ alone is reported as having had a consistent God-consciousness, a consistent character himself, and a consistent program for his religion. The most remarkable and valuable aspect of the personality of Jesus Christ is the comprehensiveness and universal availability of his character, as well as its own loftiness, consistency, and sinlessness.
Robert Hume, The World’s Living Religions (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959), 285-286.
a small portion of a documentary about Bhagwan Rajneesh (an Oregon cult):
(For those readers interested, I debated a Sikh — not a 3Ho member — and we spoke about truth… since he was a seeker of it. Portions of this debate are reproduced here: First Debate; Second Debate).
In our busy schedules choose a single verse from each section and on Monday study that single verse about our sinful nature. Use an online resource such as Blue Letter Bible to read a commentary on it or Bible Gateway to read a version you haven’t read of the verse. (Or one of your home resources… whatever the case may be.) On Tuesday take a verse on forgiveness (mine, or one that has hit a cord with you over the years). Etc.
By Friday, T.G.I.F. takes on a new meaning. The following week, do the same, but with a different verse. Habits.
WE ARE CALLED TO CHECK IN
A verse that calls us to “check in” so-to-speak, is 2 Corinthians 13:5 ~ I will read from a paraphrase of this verse, however, feel free to click on the link below to see the paraphrase next to my favorite versions:
Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it. I hope the test won’t show that we have failed. But if it comes to that, we’d rather the test showed our failure than yours. We’re rooting for the truth to win out in you. We couldn’t possibly do otherwise.
We don’t just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them, and then go on to celebrate every strength, every triumph of the truth in you. We pray hard that it will all come together in your lives.
Even one of the greatest Repormers mentioned this “preaching the Gospel to ourselves” aspect of our faith: “We need to hear the Gospel every day, because we forget it every day” ~ Martin Luther.
ALL HAVE SINNED (#1)
Proverbs 21:2 ~ “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.”
Proverbs 16:2 ~ “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD evaluates the motives.”
1 Samuel 16:7 ~ “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
2 things to glean from these:
1. Divine involvement in man’s heart is not limited to kings or priests;
2. A person may think nothing is wrong with his conduct, ahem, but God may.
The proud heart is very ingenious in putting a fair face upon a foul matter, and in making that appear right to itself which is far from being so, to stop the mouth of conscience. ~ Matthew Henry
How many righteous persons are there?
Romans 3:10 ~ “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
Bill Cosby teaches us about this malady we have from the earliest age (and he is a debased sinner as well, in need of a savior):
As an aside. Something that Bill Cosby said above struck a cord with me. He mentioned that the only time a child tells the truth is when they are in pain. So do we ~ often times ~ as adults. Here is the C.S. Lewis quote that came to me when I watched this:
We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and anyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (NY, New York: Touchstone, 1996), 82-83.
4 The actual sins that men commit are the fruit of the corrupt nature transmitted to them by our first parents. By reason of this corruption, all men become wholly inclined to all evil; sin disables them. They are utterly indisposed to, and, indeed, rendered opposite to, all that is good. (Matt. 15:19; Rom. 8:7; Col. 1:21; Jas. 1:14.)
5 During this earthly life corrupt nature remains in those who are born of God, that is to say, regenerated. Through Christ it is pardoned and mortified, yet both the corruption itself, and all that issues from it, are truly and properly sin. (Eccles. 7:20; Rom. 7:18,23-25; Gal. 5:17; 1 John 1:8.)
Hank Hanegraaff explains WHAT sin is and is not:
R.C. Sproul, a theologian of report, helps us define what TOTAL and UTTER “depravity” means:
…There is a distinction which I have found to be helpful: total depravity does not mean utter depravity. Utter depravity would mean that every human being is as wicked as it is possible to be, and we know that this is not the case. As much as we sin, we can always contemplate sinning more often, or more grievously than we presently do.
While some will not support my posting of this next video by Mark Driscoll… I understand. But he has done a lot of good explaining of core doctrine that assists us in understanding concepts, like, TOTAL DEPRAVITY:
Jeremiah 17:9 ~ “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable – who can understand it?”
Sproul has a wonderful ministry, and he [Sproul] has asked ~ rhetorically ~ how: anyone could be involved in believing in the value of human worth and at the same time believing in TOTAL depravity? He responds:
The very fact that Calvinists take sin so seriously is because they take the value of human beings so seriously. It is because man was made in the image of God, called to mirror and reflect God’s holiness, that we have the distinction of being the image-bearers of God.
But what does ‘total depravity’ mean? Total depravity means simply this: that sin affects every aspect of our human existence: our minds, our wills and our bodies are affected by sin. Every dimension of our personality suffers at some point from the weight of sin that has infected the human race.
Leviticus 5:17 ~ “If someone sins and without knowing it violates any of the Lord’s commands concerning anything prohibited, he bears the consequences of his guilt.”
Modern persons think “guilt” is a matter of feelings;
The Bible treats guilt as a fact.
In the O.T. guilt has three aspects.
(1) There is an act which brings guilt; (2) There is the condition of guilt which follows the act; (3) There is punishment appropriate to the act.
In the N.T., guilt is a judicial concept. The Greek word/idea is drawn from the courts, and emphasize liability to punishment. The guilty person has been:
(1) accused; (2) tried; (3) and convicted.
Both Testaments view acts which bring guilt as the end result of offenses against God. (See: Heb. 9:11–28 for the legal answer to this predicament)
This is the summary of the entire chapter. Paul painted the choice in black and white. The choice is ours—sin and death or free grace through Christ and eternal life. It is very similar to the “two ways” of OT wisdom literature (Ps. 1; Prov. 4; 10–19; Matt. 7:13–14).
And, we must always keep in mind that we are judged righteously by our Triune God:
Never put someone to death unless 2 or 3 witnesses:
“But never put a person to death on the testimony of only one witness. There must always be two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 17:6); “For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Hebrews 10:28).
“…yet we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. We, too, have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law, for no human being will be justified by the works of the law.” (International Standard Version [ISV])
~ According to the text in the ISV, Christ’s faith — not ours — does the justifying. It is His focus of attention, not ours, that does the work. (The “onus” then is put in proper perspective.) As an example from one of my favorite verses, Philippians 1:6:
“I am sure of this, that He who (a) started a good work in you will (b) carry it on to completion until the (c) day of Christ Jesus.”
To be clear:
(a) HE started the Good work [salvation]; (b) He will carry it out; (c) He will complete it.
It is ALL a work of Christ!
In-other-words, we will join the 24-elders in Revelation in throwing our crowns at Jesus feet, for all the good “WE” did was in actually Him working through us by even creating these… good works in our heart, and the will and drive to do them for His glory:
“There will be no jarring note in Heaven, no whisper of human merit, no claim of a reward for good intentions—but every crown shall be cast at Jesus’ feet and every voice shall join in the ascription, ‘Not unto us, not unto us, but unto Your name be all the glory of the salvation which You have worked out for us from first to last.’” ~ C.H. Spurgeon
Romans 6:23(b) ~ “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
For those that do not know, I am a three-time convicted felon from many years ago. I like to say I am a retired felon. While in Jail I had to realign drastically the direction I had traveled. I didn’t realize it then, but I was preaching the Gospel to myself by studying Hosea. The Lord told the prophet — literally —
“Go, take to yourself a wife who will prove to be unfaithful.”
And if you think about it, we are all unfaithful to God in some way: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And we break our marriage contract with the Lord, it is the Lord who is faithful and bridges the gap we cannot:
“The LORD said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes'” (Hosea 3:1).
[David offered raisin cakes to the starving (1 Sam 30:11-12); at the celebration of the return of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6:18-19); Abigail made for David’s troops (1 Sam 25:18). What was once good in the Lord’s eyes man will surely corrupt.]
Jeremiah 15:19(a,b) ~ “Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘If you return, I will restore you…'”
This implies we will fail, and He knew it, and yet chose us.
George Gilder enumerates a law that goes well with the Refiners Fire hymn. In an Interview with Dennis Prager Mr. Gilder enumerated a law of Information Theory*, and thus economics:
“A fundamental principle of information theory is that you can’t guarantee outcomes… in order for an experiment to yield knowledge, it has to be able to fail. If you have guaranteed experiments, you have zero knowledge”
*(the mathematical theory concerned with the content, transmission, storage, and retrieval of information, usually in the form of messages or data, and especially by means of computers)
a) Peter was not backslidden or apathetic; b) It was Paul’s general encouragement to fan the flame/keep the fire burning brightly
2 Corinthians 4:16 ~ Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
“…renewed day by day.” Almost like a Jewish Seder which Paul would have been familiar with. Like the Passover Seder, for instance, that helped keep the identity of the Jewish nation for almost 3-millinea, we need habits that keep our identity as owned by Christ, daily. Are we equipped for the task?
“…but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” We have “to take some responsibility in that renewal. The continual brightening of the inner flame that God has given to us is related to God’s own equipment for us. God does not equip us with weakness, but with power. He does not equip us with hatred, but with love. He does not equip us with self-destruction, but with self-discipline.”
Romans 8:15 ~ “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”
John Calvin, the great Reformer, says this of the above Romans thinking:
He now confirms the certainty of that confidence, in which he has already bidden the faithful to rest secure; and he does this by mentioning the special effect produced by the Spirit; for he has not been given for the purpose of harassing us with trembling or of tormenting us with anxiety; but on the contrary, for this end—that having calmed every perturbation [(pûr’tər-bā’shən) mental disquiet, disturbance, or agitation], and restoring our minds to a tranquil state, he may stir us up to call on God with confidence and freedom. He does not then pursue only the argument which he had before stated, but dwells more on another clause, which he had connected with it, even the paternal mercy of God, by which he forgives his people the infirmities of the flesh and the sins which still remain in them. He teaches us that our confidence in this respect is made certain by the Spirit of adoption, who could not inspire us with confidence in prayer without scaling to us a gratuitous pardon: and that he might make this more evident, he mentions a twofold spirit; he calls one the spirit of bondage, which we receive from the law; and the other, the spirit of adoption, which proceeds from the gospel. The first, he says, was given formerly to produce fear; the other is given now to afford assurance. By such a comparison of contrary things the certainty of our salvation, which he intended to confirm, is, as you see, made more evident. The same comparison is used by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews [Hebrews 12:18], where he says, that we have not come to Mount Sinai, where all things were so terrible, that the people, being alarmed as it were by an immediate apprehension of death, implored that the word should be no more spoken to them, and Moses himself confessed that he was terrified; “but to [Z]ion, the mount of the Lord, and to his city, the heavenly Jerusalem, where Jesus is, the Mediator of the New Testament.”
MARTIN LUTHER tells us we have to preach this to ourselves constantly… because it is SUCH GREAT NEWS we seem to view it as unbelievable:
Grace in the Reformation
Luther’s Reformation message of salvation by grace alone could hardly have looked more different when compared with that old pre-Reformation teaching of his about salvation by grace. This is how he began to talk: “He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.”4 Here grace is not about God’s building on our righteous deeds or helping us to perform them. God, Luther began to see, was the one “who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5), not one who simply recognizes and rewards those who manage to make themselves godly. God is not one who must build on our foundations; he creates life out of nothing. It meant that, instead of looking to God for assistance and then ultimately relying on himself, Luther was turning to rely entirely on Christ, in whom all righteousness is achieved. “The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.”
Here Luther found a message so good it almost seemed incredible to him. It was good news for the repeated failure, news of a God who comes not to call the righteous but sinners (Matt. 9:13). Not many today find themselves wearing hair shirts and enduring all-night prayer vigils in the freezing cold to earn God’s favor. Yet deep in our psyche is the assumption that we will be more loved when (and only when) we make ourselves more attractive—both to God and to others. Into that, Luther speaks words that cut through the gloom like a glorious and utterly unexpected sunbeam:
The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it…. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.
In Reformation thought, grace was no longer seen as being like a can of spiritual Red Bull. It was more like a marriage. In fact when Luther first sought to explain his Reformation discovery in detail to the world, it was the story of a wedding that framed what he said. Drawing on the romance of the lover and his beloved in Song of Solomon (especially 2:16, “My beloved is mine, and I am his”), he told the gospel as the story of the “rich and divine bridegroom Christ” who “marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness.” At the wedding a wonderful exchange takes place whereby the king takes all the shame and debt of his bride, and the harlot receives all the wealth and royal status of her bridegroom. For Jesus and the soul that is united to him by faith, it works like this:
Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his. If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his? And if he takes the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers?
In the story the prostitute finds that she has been made a queen. That does not mean she always behaves as befits royalty but, however she behaves, her status is royal. She is now the queen. So it is with the believer: she remains a sinner and continues to stumble and wander, but she has the righteous status of her perfect and royal bridegroom. She is—and until death will remain—at the same time both utterly righteous (in her status before God) and a sinner (in her behavior).
That means that it is simply wrong-headed for the believer to look to her behavior as an accurate yardstick of her righteousness before God. Her behavior and her status are distinct.
The prostitute will grow more queenly as she lives with the king and feels the security of his love, but she will never become more the queen. Just so, the believer will grow more Christlike over time, but never more righteous. Thus, because of Christ, and not because of her performance, the sinner can know a despair-crushing confidence.
Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his.”
For the rest of his life Luther took this message as good news that needs continually to be reapplied to the heart of the believer. From his own experience he found that we are so instinctively self-dependent that while we happily subscribe to salvation by grace, our minds are like rocks, drawn down by the gravitational pull of sin away from belief in grace alone. So he counseled his friend as follows:
They try to do good of themselves in order that they might stand before God clothed in their own virtues and merits. But this is impossible. Among us you were one who held to this opinion, or rather, error. So was I, and I am still fighting against the error without having conquered it as yet.
Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say: “Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou hast taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.”
Michael Reeves and Tim Chester, Why The Reformation Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2016), 84-88.
Okay, what does “forgiven” mean? And, how does this change our position with God?
We have all heard the famous saying, “Mercy is not getting what you deserve. And grace is getting what you absolutely do not deserve.” This comes in part from Hebrews 4:16:
“Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.”
Now the gracious invitation is extended: draw near with confidence to the throne of grace. Our confidence is based on the knowledge that He died to save us and that He lives to keep us. We are assured of a hearty welcome because He has told us to come.
….We can go into His presence at any time of the day or night and obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. His mercy covers the things we should not have done, and His grace empowers us to do what we should do but do not have the power to do.
In Genesis 8 when Noah sacrificed clean animals to God, “the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma.” Christ is the last Adam, thee final sacrifice that ends all sacrificial offerings, and we see in 2 Corinthians 2:15 the “…we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” You see, we are covered in Christ’ offering and are thus pleasing to God.
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
Even in failure and time of testing and trials we have a line to divine joy. Consider James 1:2-4:
Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (HCSB)
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (The Message)
Of verse two my first owned (and still a favorite of mine) commentary says this:
The Christian life is filled with problems. They come uninvited and unexpected. Sometimes they come singly and sometimes in droves. They are inevitable. James does not say “if you fall into various trials” but when. We can never get away from them. The question is, “What are we going to do about them?”
There are several possible attitudes we can take toward these testings and trials of life. We can rebel against them (Heb. 12:5) by adopting a spirit of defiance, boasting that we will battle through to victory by our own power. On the other hand, we can lose heart or give up under pressure (Heb. 12:5). This is nothing but fatalism. It leads to questioning even the Lord’s care for us. Again, we can grumble and complain about our troubles. This is what Paul warns us against in 1 Corinthians 10:10. Another option—we can indulge in self-pity, thinking of no one but ourselves, and trying to get sympathy from others. Or better, we can be exercised by the difficulties and perplexities of life (Heb. 12:11). We can say, in effect, “God has allowed this trial to come to me. He has some good purpose in it for me. I don’t know what that purpose is, but I’ll try to find out. I want His purposes to be worked out in my life.” This is what James advocates: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Don’t rebel! Don’t faint! Rejoice! These problems are not enemies, bent on destroying you. They are friends which have come to aid you to develop Christian character.
God is trying to produce Christlikeness in each of His children. This process necessarily involves suffering, frustration, and perplexity. The fruit of the Spirit cannot be produced when all is sunshine; there must be rain and dark clouds. Trials never seem pleasant; they seem very difficult and disagreeable. But afterwards they yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by them (Heb. 12:11). How often we hear a Christian say, after passing through some great crisis, “It wasn’t easy to take, but I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything.”
William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2218.
In another commentaries summing up of verse three, we see perseverance is key to our joy as well, but this takes time and is something not magically infused at the outset:
…But James’s readers knew the good reason God allows such trials (v. 3). God intends for them to result in a mature and complete faith; perseverance is faith’s first product. But perseverance is not a minimal virtue. Rather, it is elemental to that fortitude of the soldier who braves all in his life-and-death struggle on the field of combat. Praised by Paul (1 Thess 1:3) and by the author of Revelation (cf. 14:12), perseverance characterizes the godly both before and after Christ. The gradual and painful acquisition of this virtue is also unmistakable. Perseverance, though essential to faith, is not infused immediately in a moment of conversion. Only through great ardor and the stumbling pursuit of the goal laid before it and only through sustained service in spite of opposition does perseverance come.
Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 61–62.
Paul surely knew by heart this verse:
My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You because You have redeemed me.
We should then have a definition of o-u-r-s-e-l-v-e-s… as Christians, that bring to bear the gift we should now be celebrating, here, Martin Luther in his Commentary on Galatians, offers a good definition of a Christian. In this definition we see the totality of the above study of Romans Road ~ exemplified:
“We therefore make this definition of a Christian: a Christian is not he who hath no sin, but he to whom God imputeth not his sin, through faith in Christ. That is why we so often repeat and beat into your minds, the forgiveness of sins and imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake. Therefore when the law accuseth him and sin terrifieth him, he looketh up to Christ, and when he hath apprehended Him by faith, he hath present with him the conqueror of the law, sin, death, and the devil: and Christ reigneth and ruleth over them, so that they cannot hurt the Christian. So that he hath indeed a great and inestimable treasure, or as St. Paul saith: ‘the unspeakable gift’ (2 Cor. ix. 15), which cannot be magnified enough, for it maketh us the children and heirs of God. This gift may be said to be greater than heaven and earth, because Christ, who is this gift, is greater.”