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(See part 1 for background information.)

Have you ever tried to communicate to someone that, without faith in Jesus Christ, they are headed for hell? You would know from experience, that you had to work around the almost instinctive resistance people have to hearing such an announcement. It's not "nice"... It's not politically correct... It's not popular to even suggest that people are going to die, much less that they are going to be punished after they have died. Yet, no matter how loving, how patient, how positive we might try to be, if people cannot face up to the fact that they are lost and in danger of eternal damnation without Christ, chances are that they are never going to be able to reach out to him in real saving faith. And if they don't reach out to him, they will be lost.

I have a similar communication problem.

The difference, however, is that I am addressing my message to people who just naturally assume that they are already right with God. I am largely addressing my message to "born again" and/or "spirit-filled" Christians. Jesus said of the Jews, "Because you say 'We see', for that very reason, your sin remains." (John 9:41) Or put another way, "Because you think you already know it all, you have already blown it all."

One of the saddest things about our formulas for salvation is that so many of them rely heavily on us deliberately closing our minds to any possibility that we could be wrong, or that we could be lost. We are more or less urged to "bluff" our way to heaven by declaring long and loud, and with a show of absolute confidence that we "know that we know that we know we are saved".

But as Paul said to the Corinthians, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (1 Corinthians 10:12) He said to the Romans, "If God spared not the natural branches (that is the "chosen" people, the Jews), take heed lest he also spare not you. Because of their unbelief they were broken off, and you were put in their place because of your faith. Do not be high-minded, but rather show fear (i.e. humility)." (Romans 11:21, 20)

In my last letter I asked people to list as many of the commands of Jesus as they could, off the top of their heads. I did my experiment, not to humiliate anyone, but merely to illustrate that, whatever else we have been taught through our many combined years of contact with the church, we have not been taught to obey Jesus. The most commands reported by any of you was four.

It is easy for me to get Christians to say "Amen" and to shout encouragement when they think I am doing a good job of pointing out errors in the "opposition": i.e. non-Christian religions, Catholics, Mormons, JWs, and any number of other teachings in the Protestant churches that they themselves do not subscribe to. But each one has a sacred area of "truth" which cannot be questioned. If I get too close to that area, there are fireworks.

Real truth isn't like that. Real truth can tolerate being questioned. Even Jesus himself said, "You can be forgiven for not believing that I am who I claim to be." He allowed room for people to question his rightness. But he went on to say, "What cannot be forgiven is when you resist the voice of God speaking to you in the secret place of your own heart." (Matthew 12:31) That is what had happened to the Pharisees. They had become spiritually numb through an obsession with "religious" faith. As a result, they were no longer able to recognise the voice of God Himself, whether he was speaking through John the Baptist, Jesus, or anyone else. All that mattered was orthodoxy or affiliation.

Several of you have been able to admit that I may have struck on a weak area of teaching in the church today; but that is about as far as the revelation goes. It is as though the teachings of Jesus are but one aspect of a many-faceted faith that involves the institutional church in one form or another. After all, if we didn't have the church to turn to, who could we turn to? (Dare I say Jesus?)

One reader has sent in a list of forty commands of Christ, which he picked up off a web site. (Note: Although it was not pointed out at the time that this series of articles was emailed out and the contributor himself was not aware of it, the list he sent in [The Top Forty] had actually been compiled by ourselves. He found it on the website of a group who were originally part of our group.)

I would like for you to study it and try to imagine what the "church" would be like if professing Christians all over the world started to take those commands literally. Do you think that your church and your pastor would be one of those encouraging people to follow these commands? Or is it more likely that they would be among those arguing against at least some of the commands listed below. And what about yourself? Do you sense yourself becoming defensive about some of those commands? Do you feel inclined to argue against them, or to find some other way to escape their far-reaching implications?

The point I am trying to make with this article is that it may not be just some small area of Christianity that we have missed, but rather that we may have become identified with a movement that is almost unanimously opposed to the true Christ. And in order to align ourselves once again with the true Christ, we may have to take a stand against the entire body of Christian tradition.

I would like to find a fellowship of people who could look on these commands of Jesus as the cornerstone of their faith. I would like to find Christians seeking humbly to apply these teachings in their own lives, and in their fellowships. Perhaps it could start with you and me.

(The Top Forty appears in a volume of this series entitled The Top Forty.)

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