Jimmy Swaggart's "Message Of The Cross" Examined
By Rev. Rafael Martinez, Director, Spiritwatch Ministries
To Read The First Article "Jimmy Swaggart's 'Message Of The Cross' Illuminated", click here.
I will say it again. God cannot bless error; He cannot anoint error; He cannot even help error; God will help us while we are in error. He will continue to work with us, love us, deal with us and try to bring us to the knowledge of the truth. ... When you sit in the midst of wreckage, you have to realize that the fault and the blame are yours, no one else's! The Cup Which My Father Hath Given Me, p. 166, p. vi.
Jimmy Swaggart's "Message Of The Cross" ExploredA summary of what Jimmy Swaggart teaches about the cross of Jesus Christ is found in his article entitled, well, "The Message Of The Cross" on his website. It is this teaching article we will now look into, as well as other sources of his teaching on the subject that I will refer from which he has written. His basic positions on the cross which have become the focal point of his work are most clearly seen here. A casual review of copies of his Evangelist magazine are article length reiterations of this same position.
We will let Swaggart's words and thoughts represent himself here as we explore his take on the cross, which he claims is a divine revelation from God. They will be represented in the color of navy blue.
I The Message of the Cross
The only solution for sin, the only answer to sin, is the Cross of Christ
Public Humiliation, especially on a worldwide basis, is a trauma that many people never get over. There is no way to describe it. When one has failed. despite doing everything that one knows to do not to fail, and is left only with confusion, and the Lord is never the author of confusion, the situation quickly becomes unbearable.
In such a situation, regrettably and sadly, everyone else knows why you have failed, and they are quick to voice their opinion. But the truth is, they do not know.
I came to find out in all of this, that most of the modern church has little idea how to live for God. Oh yes, one can definitely be Saved without knowing how to properly live for the Lord, but one most definitely cannot walk in victory without knowing how to live for God. If one does not understand the message of the Cross, even as it was given to the Apostle Paul, then simply put, such a believer does not know how to live for God.
It is cautionary that Jimmy Swaggart, after expressing a truth claim which he will then supposedly explain upon, immediately looks back over his shoulder at his past.
One would expect that from a Christian preacher who is going to speak about the cross of Jesus Christ that you would begin to hear an exposition of Biblical truth drawn from Scripture. You would expect that if he actually wasn't tormented by his past and was transformed by God's grace that this would be something he no longer dwelt upon. But a single sentence into his teaching, Swaggart diverges into a revealing reverie centered on the personal aftermath that his infidelity brought upon him. It is throughout these first few paragraphs that Swaggart offers a well sanitized recounting of the wreckage of his spiritual life.
We cannot ignore this digression and what it shows us of the man and how this has skewed his thinking. There will be hordes of Swaggart disciples who will howl over this part of the article, but I'm not the one steering Jimmy's pen here. HE focuses the attention on his fall first of all!
He writes feelingly in the third person about the humiliating sting of his shame after his 1988 exposure, his bewilderment over how he fell despite all of his "doing right", and the volume of criticism he experienced. He writes that he eventually rejected this criticism as little more than other people's opinion based upon ignorance of his efforts. Swaggart then observes quite pointedly that "most of the modern church has little idea how to live for God" and that those that do not understand "the message of the Cross .. as it was given to the Apostle Paul" don't actually know how to live the Christian life.
The World According To Jimmy: Two Critical Insights To His Religious Thinking
We learn two crucial insights about Jimmy Swaggart's thinking and worldview which make all the difference in the world in determining whether he really does speak truth - especially about the Cross of Christ.
These personal insights which he reveals, unbidden and unasked for, are indeed vital to the examination of his teaching. Since he so immediately brings up his checkered past here, we are forced to have to again review it with a decidedly alternative perspective.
- The first thing we learn is the profound shift of his thought that occurred as he grappled with the unimaginable degree of shame and scorn he encountered after his sinful living became public. He found overnight that his name and his ministry, which had been a global spiritual force, was engulfed in a shame that he described as an unbearable trauma. This wounding is indeed a personal one that Swaggart has not gotten behind him, and likely never will quite "get over", as he alludes to. As I have heard a minister friend of mine who has discussed this directly with him a few years ago, Jimmy Swaggart knows all too well that he has to bear the stigma of having been one of the greatest hypocrites in church history every day of his life and that, understandably, this is a burden few others have so painfully borne.
As terrible as this might be to have to discuss to any other extent, however, it is important to rise above the personal sadness and regret that he uncovers here to look at the deeper picture: it is in the midst of the fires of his personal struggle that his rethinking about the cross of Christ actually begins, and not out of the pages of Scripture. The hostile response to his hypocrisy he experienced as much as his own sinfulness is what actually inspired the six years of spiritual pursuit that he says he did from 1991 to 1997. He sought to understand what happened to him as he tried to "do right" only to find himself in utter "confusion" (these are his words, not mine). So the shame he felt onwards from 1991 was the new "crisis experience" he endured that underlay all of his being and doing .. and thinking. It was out of the midst of his own confusion that Swaggart's six year pursuit of order to his world commenced and from this inner personal inkwell he drew the colors that he would use to redefine his view of "the Cross."
And this begs the obvious question none of Swaggart's followers want to answer or even consider: just what kind of "restoration" did Jimmy Swaggart actually receive in 1988?
During those three months he claimed to have been "obeying God" in 1988 when he "submitted" to the decision of the Louisiana presbytery of the Assemblies of God and remained off his TV ministry, how was he getting helped? What steps of accountability and discipline were actually taken to bring renewal to him?
Such a point is entirely appropriate to raise, so as to ensure both Swaggart and the church could move beyond the impact of his fall. Sadly, it has long appeared that Jimmy's personal weaknesses were never actually addressed in a meaningful process of restoration. And his subsequent reaction to a world and a church that didn't view his immorality very politely was to abandon the Assemblies as it sought to bring discipline and restoration to him, defiantly circle the wagons in his ministry headquarters and suggest to anyone listening that no one understood the spiritual needs of mankind like he could. After all, as his "discipline" in 1988 was ending, Swaggart gravely said he was needed to preach by the weekend or millions would go to hell.
But whatever spiritual counsel he'd received by whatever band of unknown preachers who rallied to him and whatever reflection he had done in that spring, definitely did not seem to serve him at all. He was able to talk the talk, the old proverb would say, but not walk the walk. And he apparently was able to do this until 1991. By the time he and prostitute Rosemary Garcia cruised the mean streets of Indio, California in the fall of that year until their infamous police stop, his followers were trusting that he'd been "restored" and was rebuilding his life. Such an idealistic trust was grossly and rudely broken that day by a "restored" man. And what did Jimmy say at that point?
"The Lord told me it's flat none of your business."
So when Jimmy points back to 1991 in his teaching article on the Cross as the renewed start of his spiritual quest for personal victory, the insight we've gained asks yet another inconveniently framed question: what truth about "living right" from 1988 to 1991 was Swaggart actually following?
Clearly, Jimmy Swaggart was a confused and disoriented man in those days and found it necessary to pose as Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, the anointed fountain of truth needed to save souls around the world, to keep his religious business solvent. He didn't need the Assemblies of God to get himself together, so he said, but what actual course of renewal did he chart after he left it?
It appears that it was deep within himself that he looked, not to men of God or counselors who might have enable him to expose and exorcise his destructive impulses with sound pastoral care. If he did not understand how to live a holy life prior to his first or second well publicized falls, then we are left to conclude only one thing: that what Swaggart preached for those three years was leavened with error drawn from the same well of personal confusion he wallowed in and that he was not walking in actual truth. That kind of conclusion demands that his audience had better make it their business to find out what kind of spirit he walked in .. because it didn't seem like a Holy one.
This is important to fully grasp because Swaggart asserts he has always walked in the light of the Bible. Yet if the evangelist says that he did not understand how to live for God ("in victory") properly until 1997 (which we will see shortly), we are left to realize that Swaggart's personal struggle betrays a fatally flawed understanding of how to live the Christian life. The plain conclusion this leads to is that whatever Jimmy Swaggart has been teaching about the "cross" prior to 1997 was not just insufficient but reasonably questionable if not totally unbiblical. Even more personal Swaggart inequities surfaced, exposed through several unflattering books, a 1997 CNN investigative report showing lavish lifestyle, shady business practices and including another Swaggart traffic stop in a red light district (click to view in Real Video).
For someone who has been in the ministry longer than I have been alive to make such a startling admission about their powerless spirituality and failure to grasp Biblical truth is a five course meal of stuff to chew on. That should give those who cling to Swaggart's teaching something to seriously consider, but while most of them may register doubts and checks within their spirits about what they hear from him, they largely compartmentalize, store the nagging thoughts neatly away, and keep on as if nothing was wrong.
This is a pattern of human behavior all too familiar .. and we musn't tarry there. That gets too close ..
- The second thing we learn about Swaggart's post-1991 viewpoint is just how superior he believes himself to be in contrast to the Christian church and those believers within it. It reveals how deeply and proudly elitist his self-justifying mindset has become, suggesting that he actually harbors a towering arrogance. Such a character flaw is hidden in plain sight before his followers who simply ignore, don't see, or neatly redefine it for subconscious storage in the compartments of their minds as previously mentioned. He exalts his pretensive authority by identifying a body of teaching he calls "the Message of the Cross" and then makes clear that an understanding of these truths as he teaches them is foundational to "properly living for the Lord" or a "walk in victory." He then goes on to contrast his supposed mastery of this "Message" with the ignorance and blindness of the Christian Church by making three claims here:
- the church has little idea how to live for God
- believers don't know how to live for the God
- to live for God and walk in victory you must follow the "Message of the Cross" as Swaggart reveals it
The blatantly judgmental nature of these claims need no further analysis. This is what Jimmy Swaggart actually believes, as I have said: everyone is indeed wrong and he alone is right about the Cross, period.
The Swaggarts point out that the church is not just simply mistaken but in complete spiritual confusion and blackness concerning the subject of the cross of Christ, which is responsible for its moral degeneracy. Overlooking the millions of godly Christians who do live in victory over sin by their faith in Christ, the Swaggarts all impudently and narrowly look upon the entire Body of Christ claiming to be able to see exactly how all of us could be so blind. Following this skewed logic all the way to its extreme, then, Jimmy Swaggart and his ministry have basically written off the church as a hopeless mess and bids all their disciples to do likewise. And many of them, clothing themselves with misguided zeal, have done just this.
With such an infallible authority claim, Swaggart has established himself as a spiritual leader completely above any accountability to anyone. It has been said that the Swaggarts typically act as if they answer to no one by quite a number of people who have worked for them - click here to read what some of them claim to have seen and heard. If this is the case, therefore, how can anyone outside JSM with any kind of objection or question be ever considered seriously at all? The short answer is that they aren't.
You can watch how gracious Frances and her friends can be to those who disagree with them on her daily call-in show as millions more watch them belabor those who actually do so in their live programming. Behind such a calloused and seared conscience, it's probably a good and knowing chuckle that Swaggart warms his hands with in his Baton Rouge offices when he thinks he truly is in the right. He may be sincere, some may say. If so, he's still subject to being sincerely, terribly, and hideously wrong.
The "Revelation" And A Good Deal More Unveiled
II The revelation of the message of the cross
After seeking the Lord day and night, so often with tears, for a period of some six years, suddenly and without warning, the Lord began to open up to me that for which I had so long sought. I honestly don’t remember the day or the month, but the year was 1997. I had spent some six years in concentrated prayer, seeking the Lord, imploring Him for guidance and direction.
Let me make something clear: The daily vigil of prayer purchased me nothing with God. As stated, it was for the purpose of my getting to know Him in a more personal way. In other words, He was preparing me for this Revelation of the Cross which He would give to me. For years I had known what He could do, but now I was learning, on a personal basis, Who He was, a description, incidentally, which can never be exhausted.
Very early, probably about 6 a.m., on the morning in question, I was in my office working on the Romans Commentary. In fact, I was working on the 6th Chapter of that great work given to us by the Apostle Paul, which actually is “The Theology of the Church.” I was studying some material written by the late Dr. Kenneth Wuest, a noted Greek Scholar and Brother, whose great love for the Lord was obvious in his writings. Dr. Wuest was explaining the “sin nature.”
All of a sudden, the Spirit of the Lord came over me, and He began to reveal to my heart the meaning of this aspect of our Christian experience. In a moment’s time, I saw it, and I saw it clearly. I can remember getting up from behind my desk and pacing back and forth across my office, tears streaming down my cheeks. The Lord then spoke to my heart and said, “You have asked Me the cause of your problem. It is the sin nature, and your lack of understanding about how it works and how it is to be controlled.”
Note carefully how Swaggart defines what his struggle is by a supposedly literal word of the Lord:
- Jimmy Swaggart struggled to understand what the "cause" of his "problem was and that
- the Lord told him what it was, the "sin nature", that he lacked understanding of it and how the "sin nature" is to be controlled
The first divine insight by the word of the Lord that comes to Swaggart is the discovery of his deficient understanding of the "sin nature", an issue that has been his problem all along. And Swaggart claims the Lord revealed his struggles came as a result of a lack of knowledge, not the need for confession, repentance or the forsaking of sin. This first thunderbolt of revelation in Swaggart's life only leads to a puzzling twist:
Strangely enough, even though the Lord gave me this information, which was the answer to so many questions, still, at that time, He did not tell me how to control the sin nature. He just simply told me this was what constituted my problem, which also is the problem of every single Believer in the world who does not understand what the Lord gave to Paul, and which Paul gave to us. It is the 6th Chapter of Romans which deals with this extremely important subject, which I will explain momentarily to a greater degree.
Countless times, I had sought the Lord earnestly, asking Him how I could have the help of the Holy Spirit in doing the Work of the Lord, but not have His help regarding victory over the world, the flesh, and the Devil. I knew in my heart that this was not the way it was supposed to be, but, at that time, I did not have the knowledge about how perpetual victory could be attained.
This confession by Swaggart is singularly amazing and his candor is hardly disarming but rather alarming.
Here we have a supposedly Full Gospel Pentecostal preacher who has been in ministry longer than I myself am alive (he entered the ministry a few months before my birth in August, 1960) plainly stating that in the year of 1997, he did not know what "perpetual victory" in his Christian life really looked like.
After a lifetime spent preaching and teaching out of the Bible, playing Gospel piano in his memorable style and having consumed his life in mass revivalism all around the world, Swaggart states quite baldy he doesn't recognize what it takes to live a saved, sanctified and Holy Ghost filled life.
This persisted, he said, even through 1997. Up to that very year, he still didn't understand what the Bible teaches about sin as well as what he calls "the sin nature", let alone knowing what constitutes "control" over it! This is utterly, absolutely unreal: if Jimmy Swaggart hasn't understood what this meant, then just what kind of spirituality has he actually been preaching, teaching, and singing about during all of those thirty seven years of his ministerial life?
The mind just boggles at what Swaggart's self revelation shows us here.
His inability to not know how to live right is as startling an ignorance as that of a heart doctor saying he doesn't know what an aorta is, a carpenter not knowing how to squarely frame a house, or a quarterback not really getting what fourth down means! That is how grotesquely bizarre such a statement is. This is a claim to an abysmal ignorance of a Christian lifestyle principle so completely basic to the Christian life. It's almost just too impossible to believe, that a Christian leader could have been wallowing in that kind of utter blindness.
And he doesn't bat an eye over it one bit - and apparently none of his followers do either.
That speaks volumes about how completely undiscerning the Body of Christ in the last days actually is.
I was not brought up as a "church kid" like any of the Swaggarts were. I wasn't immersed in evangelical moral influence all my life and couldn't point back to a kindergarten Sunday School song or a youth group retreat with fond memories. I was a "bad" Catholic who came to Christ on the streets of Chicago at the Pacific Garden Mission as a 19 year old kid and then - of all things - joined the United States Navy in 1980. I knew absolutely nothing about Christian living, didn't know the Old from the New Testaments, and struggled to understand what this born again stuff was all about.
I ended up becoming deployed for not one but two years overseas to help the Sixth Fleet confront the Russians on an aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean. And I found myself living with heathen sailors whose lives were centered around women, two day drunks, and riotous living. For natural and carnally bent men, that was just the way you lived in between port calls after weeks of fleet service. Such a lifestyle bellowed in my ears once more after just putting that whole way of lust-filled life behind me for the love of the Jesus I had barely learned about. The party hardy mindset came calling to me again but this time with a vengeance. I sought to resist that while there but failed miserably, yielding to the kinds of carnal pleasures I used to enjoy.
However, thanks be to God's grace, I never rested in that. Instead of reasoning that "everyone else" lived with one foot in and out of the church with the typical rationalizing a young man in the world will do to justify his sins by, something else happened. Deep within me there was a steadfast, never ending conviction burning inside me that never left me, even as I compromised in set back after set back ranging from bars to bedrooms. It was the deep set desire within me that I needed to live differently than what I had been doing, that I needed to LIVE right. This, I now know, was the convicting power of God's Spirit working on me.
It had been planted and nurtured within me by God's most amazing grace through my exposure to a verse of the Bible that would become a literal lifeboat for me in the raging storm of my own ignorance and became the most precious verse to me in all the world after John 3:16 and it was 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
This poor and pathetic sinner needed to hear that since few others around me who said they knew God seemed to even care! God knows my sins weighed heavily on me in my Navy days, and God knows how often I leaned hard on that with desperate hope that He would still have mercy on the flickering flame of trust I'd put in Him after some backsliding. How little I knew of Him except that little ray of light because I knew nothing about Christian living!
But I cherished and treasured that promise and it became for me the place of meeting I would have with my God and Savior through the Spirit that He had touched my life with. It would not be until I was discharged in 1983 and started to get discipled through regular church attendance and fellowship with Christians back home in Chicago that I began to learn what that really meant - to live a joyously holy Christian life free from sin is not only possible but the will of God for all believers!
Admittedly, at that point of time in my life in the Navy from 1980 to 1983, Jimmy Swaggart's confession to not knowing how to live right easily was mine also. But the difference is that I didn't stay that way. I didn't expect God to make me live right or to grant some divine release from all temptation. I was completely determined to live better and passionately applied myself to doing just that once I was discharged from it in June 1983. By God's grace I finally learned what it meant to live a victorious Christian life over sin by the Word of God as shared with me and by the examples I saw in the Church of God I attended.
So I can see myself or a former drug addict off the streets who's been saved a few weeks readily confessing about not knowing how to live right. But I'm now supposed to picture a Christian evangelist, the Reverend Jimmy Lee Swaggart, sharing in that level of spiritual ignorance, uncertainty and misery that I had. I'm told by Swaggart himself, a one time ordained Pentecostal minister with the largest Pentecostal movement in the world, after a lifetime spent supposedly dedicated to proclaiming the truth about living right, that he just didn't know how to really do so. After wielding the unimaginable ability to influence millions of lives globally with the Christian faith for decades, we are told to believe him when he says he was ignorant about living right.
If you are a tithe paying and devoted follower of Jimmy Swaggart, you need to think about this a bit.
And yet this is exactly what Swaggart wants us to believe .. and he continues:
I’ve always had a strong prayer life, and I tried my best to pray the problem away. To be sure, I was greatly blessed in my prayer vigils, which I continue unto this hour, and will ever continue, but I did not there find the victory I so earnestly sought.
For a while, I would pray an hour each day; then it got to the place where I would get up in the middle of the night and pray another hour. The reason I did this was because I did not know what else to do; I was fighting for my very life. The pain is even greater, more than words can even express, when the failure becomes obvious to all, and the Church, and I’m speaking of the Church world in general, claims that you are lying about your prayer life, and even resorts to making jokes at your expense about the whole situation.
Please read carefully the following:
“When a person is down, and can do nothing to defend himself, and anyone can do any negative thing to him they so desire, and will not only not be reprimanded, but rather applauded, then one finds out just how many true Christians there really are. Tragically, there aren’t many!”
I did read carefully. To me, Swaggart's declaration here has to be one of the most clumsily executed attempts to emotionally manipulate someone that I think I've ever read. Note that once again, we're treated to another Swaggart lament over what sounds more like wounded pride than anything else. His bemoaning of the predicament his moral failure left him in is repeated off and once again, he freely engages in it for dramatic effect.
By venting an indignant unbelief that people actually could have the audacity to be critical of his ungodly hypocrisy, it is evident that Jimmy Swaggart just couldn't believe anyone could dare to do that to him. He couldn't understand how anyone could actually view him as he actually publicly declared himself to be, a sinner just like the rest of us all and subject to the same kind of carnality, hypocrisy and self-deception that any other person with something to hide might resort to.
Jimmy Swaggart dramatically then requires how he might defend himself after a moral failure. How do you protect yourself? Jim Bakker rather sarcastically asked the same question in an interview after the PTL scandal of 1987 broke by asking "How do you judge a man's repentance?" The answer is obvious: by following the words of Jesus to go and sin no more once He's forgiven you of your sin you've made a great start in rebuilding a defense on the basis of actually observed personal integrity in your life (John 8:11).
How much more simpler can that be? How much more prayer does a Christian have to do about obeying a command from the Lord Jesus Christ?
What "New Revelation" About "The Cross"?
At this point, Swaggart's rambling discussion on his struggle finally congeals and becomes more concretely defined with specific terminology that finally enables us to understand what he is getting at - well, kind of:
If the sin nature is not properly understood, and thereby properly controlled, then “works of the flesh” are going to manifest themselves in one’s life. It does not matter who that person is, whether he is the Pastor of the largest Church in the world, or whether he is the Evangelist who draws the biggest crowds. If such a person doesn’t understand the Cross as it regards Sanctification, works of the flesh will definitely manifest themselves in some way in such a person’s life and living. It is inevitable!
Here, Swaggart again emphasizes a distinction between "the sin nature" and the need for it to be "controlled" and the manifestation of "works of the flesh" in those who fail to do so. And, he further asserts, this is the common spiritual challenge for all Christians and it can be only be met by them with a "understand(ing of) the Cross" in relationship to "sanctification."
But in the course of again pressing home these claimed distinctions, which he would say are Biblical, Swaggart's efforts to define and explain why they are so important bog down in vague generalizing. In trying to describe what these "works of the flesh" are from the book of Galatians, he once more emphasizes the need to "understand the Cross of Christ" but then calls it "the Way of the Cross", a "Way of the Spirit" all believers must adhere to. He throws out terminology that sound impressive and doctrinal but instead only raise more questions than any kind of answers:
III Works of the flesh
Paul tells us this in the 5th Chapter of Galatians. The entire Book of Galatians, but especially the 5th Chapter, is a warning from Paul to the Church at Galatia, which is also meant for us. The warning is that if they place their faith in anything except “Christ and Him Crucified,” that “Christ shall profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:2).
The Apostle goes on to say that if the Believer doesn’t adhere to the Way of the Spirit, which is the Way of the Cross, then works of the flesh will manifest themselves. He said:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).
Now let me say it again, because it is so very important:
If the Believer doesn’t understand the Cross of Christ, as it regards Sanctification, then, in some way, one or more of these “works of the flesh” are going to manifest themselves in his life. As stated, such is inevitable! The first four, “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lasciviousness,” are obvious and easily understood. But the modern Christian quickly dismisses “idolatry, witchcraft, and heresies,” thinking they do not really apply today.
Let us address that:
First of all, any suggested way of victory other than the Cross of Christ, such as the “Purpose Driven Life,” the “Government of Twelve,” the “Word of Faith,” or “Denominationalism,” etc., constitutes idolatry. In effect, it is the same as Old Testament times, when Israel would begin to worship idols instead of Jehovah. To be sure, Israel actually referred to these idols as Jehovah; but the Lord definitely did not look at it in the same manner! And neither does He look any differently at modern idolatry!
Furthermore, all of this constitutes “heresies,” in which the modern Church abounds.
Let me say it more clearly:
Any doctrine, way, scheme, or direction made up by men, which means it is devised by men and not by God, is constituted by the Lord as “heresy,” which is a “work of the flesh.” Let me say it again, and because it is so very, very important! Any way other than “Christ and Him Crucified” is, in the eyes of God, “heresy.” Once one begins to understand these “works of the flesh,” these things become more obvious.
Swaggart emphasizes his belief that knowing what relationship there is between "the Cross of Christ" and "sanctification" is "so very important" to head off "manifestation" of "the works of the flesh." That's an impressive and sobering claim, something so important we would expect that it would be clearly explained in no uncertain terms. Once again, however, Swaggart does no such thing.
Claiming a lofty apostolic insight, Swaggart's claims are hardly insightful: his usage of religious terminology, Scriptural passages and his own reiterated assertions about the cross are a lot of impressive talk that make him sound as if he is actually saying something of profound importance. But what he actually does here is little more than making points with his audience. Instead of actually explaining what this "way of victory" is, Swaggart launches into a general attack on soft targets such as whatever he chooses to call "heresy", be it questionable belief systems like the Faith movement, the controversial G-12 church growth movement or plain old sectarianism itself.
That's an easy way to get an "amen" from his audience while avoiding any actual discussion of what he'd just claimed was so important to understand. This is also a great way to run a shell game as an "anointed" approach to doctrinal difference cloaked with a zeal for purity so as to convince everyone he's on a holy crusade for truth. It's an entertaining diversion into one of Swaggart's stands against false doctrine that his amen corner may lap up readily. It can warm the heart of the Christian disgusted with rampant false teaching in the church everywhere.
But what Swaggart is saying here is hardly original. It's a pious smokescreen being burnt off to sound authoritative. All Christians, and even non Christians, can agree on what Galatians 5 says about the works of the flesh. And that still doesn't answer, much less define, what issues he raises here about "the sin nature." Simply telling us what the works of the flesh are doesn't explain to us what the flesh actually is.
Hiding The Cross In Plain Sight - Another Shell Game Of Spiritual Verbiage
So we're still wondering here just exactly what are these issues? What is this "way of victory" over "manifestations" of "the works of the flesh?" What is it about the cross of Christ we're supposed to understand in a deeper way? Swaggart is setting us up for divine insights but he fails to explain what he's talking about. We only treated to more discussion about Swaggart's pondering over the "sin nature" in 1997, which are supposed to finally answer the question:
IV THE CROSS
I knew what the Lord had given me regarding the “sin nature,” and that it was the answer to my question “Why?” But, as stated, when He revealed that to me, He didn’t give me the solution to the problem. He told me what the problem was, which was a great Truth, but yet, I didn’t have the solution; however, the Lord never does anything half way.
It was in one of the morning prayer meetings, actually only a few days after the Lord had given to me the Revelation of the sin nature. At that time, I was seeking the Lord, actually asking Him to reveal to me the solution to this problem.
How are we to address the sin nature? How can we control it? He began to speak to my heart.
“The answer which you seek is found in the Cross! The solution which you seek is found only in the Cross!”
I knew it was the Lord; of that I had no doubt. The Spirit of God flowed over my soul for the entire prayer meeting. I knew I had found the answer. I cannot even begin to tell you how I felt. It was like I had been in prison, the doors were now opened, and I was being told, “Go free!”
I had no doubt about what the Lord had told me. He said, “The solution which you seek is found in the Cross!” As the tears rolled down my cheeks and the Presence of the Lord filled my soul, I kept saying those words over and over again. In the days to come, He very speedily began to open up to me the Word of God, showing me exactly how it was, and is, the Cross.
Listening to Swaggart's emotional reverie about how God supposedly showed him that "the Cross" was where his "solution" would be found is moving. But hearing Swaggart continuing to describe a reading of what the Bible says about sinful behavior as a "Revelation of the sin nature" really pushes the envelope of his credibility.
He claims to have experienced a lofty place of divine revelation about this, when, in fact it's just a simple illumination of Scriptural truth that all Christians readily can read and understand he is speaking about here. His position is that he's heard from on high direct from the throne room of God and is revealing some hidden truth the church has lost. Unfortunately, he actually sounds more confused then ever. He once again simply keeps pointing to "the cross" without explaining what it means. He's relying upon the common evangelical love of the cross to provide that answer without burdening himself with such a task.
What Swaggart asserts is that the Lord only gave him half an answer with Galatians 5:19-21's listing of the works of the unredeemed human nature and left him dangling for the rest of the truth. While these verses may actually be an answer for him as to what the "works of the flesh" may look like, his continuing attempt to sound like an oracle coming down off a holy mountain to speak divine truth aren't helped when, he says, God "didn't give the solution to the problem" which the verses posed to him. It actually depicts the Lord God Almighty to be a rather petty, arbitrary and even fickle divinity by being so selective in His self-revelation. And this is supposedly the true and Living God speaking to his servant Jimmy.
Jimmy, Have Ye Not Read ..?
Putting out any fire requires knowing what fuels it. This is fundamental to doing anything to battle such a destructive force like fire itself when it is uncontrolled and running wild. I learned this while in the Navy as part of my fleet fire fighting training. Different kinds of fire require different means to extinguish them but once that's been determined, they can be contained and put out. This point cannot be emphasized enough regarding the teaching of Jimmy Swaggart here, for we've read half of the article and he still hasn't explained what the "sinful nature" actually is, or what the "Cross" really has to do with it. We are still left wondering how to conquer the wild and rebellious fire of the fallen spirit within man.
I have shaken my head in disbelief as he writes this stuff and can't help but ask "didn't he read the latter part of that chapter or Galatians 6:7-9?" The answer to Swaggart's tearful years of search are found just a few verses away from where he pitched his tent of despair: pay attention to the adjectives here when Paul speaks about sowing and reaping:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
The living Word of God more than answers Swaggart's question. Jimmy just isn't taking notice.
Here, Scripture shows us how radically different the works of the sinful flesh are with those holy ones produced by the Spirit of God. It is not an issue of good deeds being done while suppressing bad ones raging in the heart. The life of the Spirit of God Himself is to come alive within the lifestyle of the consecrated Christian. This is a Christian who has put to death within themselves their former lustful ways by deliberate choice. Paul's epistle to the Galatians is sobering: God will not be fooled by the self-deceptive games we play as we try to act out a holy life while an unholy one festers within our inner desires. We will ultimately reap what we sow.
Living holy in a daily lifestyle is still a choice every Christian must choose daily to pursue, having renounced the fleshly lusts that so easily tempt us. We're not helpless but fully able to make that choice as Paul asserts in Colossians 3:1-3:
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
This is at the core of what Jimmy Swaggart sadly fails to understand as many Christians of all spiritual persuasions do as well. The cross in it's original ancient context was an instrument of death, a device of execution, not restraint and control of those nailed to it. Victims nailed to crosses in ancient times were meant to die, not negotiate. No better symbolism could so strikingly make this point than the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. According to Scripture, our struggle against sin in our lives is a war we can win only by resting in Christ while also taking up a daily death to ourselves.
Our inner personal disposition toward sin ("the flesh") is what the sinful nature actually is. The personal crucifixion of self is how this sinful nature is decisively dealt with. This war within, as Paul points out in Colossians 3:1-3 is one that compels the believer to make intentional, deliberate and active choices and not simply wait upon God to make passively make us "do right", a forced compulsion to His will He will never push on us in life.
So we see that when Swaggart tells us that the "sin nature" is to be "controlled" by the cross itself, it betrays his own serious misunderstanding of what actual personal self-denial and personal death to one's sinful nature actually involves. His warning about believers not understanding "the Cross of Christ as it regards to Sanctification" is, I believe, actually a veiled confession to his own serious misunderstanding and/or ignorance about what Christian sanctification actually means. This is what has cost him so terribly and so personally.
When he says that he just didn't know about "how perpetual victory could be attained", you can hear the frustrated voices of the Pentecostals of his generation for whom holy living was an ideal of sinless perfection, a summit of spirituality that maddeningly was just beyond their greatest personal effort and reach. I've gone to church with many dear older Pentecostals such as them and have come to know their broken hearts as they sought to live better and yet failed so bitterly. Like them, Swaggart plainly believed he could arrive at a place in which he would gain total "control" (his word) over their carnal "sin nature" by a bold stroke of divine "old time" power. They were among the many within the Pentecostal movement who never fully came to grips with how the old Pentecostal confessions about being "saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost" actually were supposed to be lived out .. daily, even moment by moment.
They sought a thunderbolt of powerful spiritual experience that the preachers promised would settle the issue, without ever really understanding that true repentance means a change of mind and not a change of feelings. Spiritual manifestations, from shouting, tears, running at the altar and groaning at an altar service are not substitutes for self examination that was far less dramatic but gets the real job done. It was what John the Baptist demanded of the hypocritical Pharisees who came to hear him in the wilderness (Matthew 3:7-8). The word "repent" literally means just that, a change of mind and it's what Jesus required in his own ministry in Mark 1:15:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel
What did this repentance look like? It is described by the Lord Jesus Himself who said in Matthew 16:24 that "if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (emphasis mine). By His very word, we learn that every Christian is ordained to taking up and bearing a uniquely personal cross every day, a distinctively personal path of self-denial that helps them escape those daily temptations which threaten to derail their Christian walk (1 Corinthians 10:13).
It's a daily battle, a daily wrestling, a moment by moment withstanding of our fallen nature that Christians understand is at the heart of true spirituality. At the heart of these inner wrestlings is our complete and total trust in what Jesus Christ has already done at the Cross for us - ultimately, it is not a trust in what we do but utter faith in what He has done (1 John 5:4) that empowers us to live as saints in a world of sinners. It's what fighting the good fight is all about, and is the only way we will become truly legitimate victors over the world, the flesh and the devil (James 1:12).
And the personal quest for a holy life can be won by all Christians every day: this is what Paul was referring to when he wrote that
(This) is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4).
The response of the Christian to temptation is in the present tense of our lives - the central place within our spiritual lives where we come to a firm grip on who and what we are so as to keep ourselves from yielding to ungodliness. And this place of self-denial is uniquely personal and familiar to every individual believer.
All Christians are to know exactly what it means to "possess" one's vessel or one's body, mind and soul through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Romans 8:13-14). As the apostle points out again in 1 Corinthians 10:13, we are to know how to directly deal with those uniquely personal enticements that rise up within our sinful nature (so well described in James 1:14-15) and resist them actively:
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Paul gives us a divine revelation of God's mercy: in the heat of our temptations, God always provides us power to endure and withstand it. In the midst of the alluring call of our sinful desires ("our lust" in James 1:14 that silently and secretly "entices" - see Job 31:27). God will never allow us to face a temptation that we can't stand against. Christians who too quickly cave to it sadly miss their God-given destiny to be escape artists, inspired masters of our fallen selves by the power of the Spirit and our death to self.
But this Biblical perspective is still tellingly absent from Swaggart's teaching!
Despite what the Swaggarts say, the "copious Verses of Scripture" they quote never bring this point up.
It is the pampering of our sins, our excuses and our presumption with God's grace that defiles us. Our self-justification sets up an unholy and false piety within us that rebels against what He has provided for us to escape temptation. Read that again. That is where Jimmy Swaggart, I feel, had gone wrong in his spiritual walk. It is a struggle all of us face every day and is the deadliest of spiritual bondages. This compromise can, in a heartbeat, become a self-love enthroned in our lives which emboldens our carnal Christian nature to cry unto God for blessing while living in uttermost sin. It is nothing less than the creation of a defiling idolatry in our warped spiritual lives; it is no idle exhortation, therefore, that Paul makes concerning temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:14: "wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry."
A sinful lifestyle driven by one's lustful "sin nature" is, therefore, an idolatry we are to put to mercilessly, relentlessly put to death by the Spirit of God (Colossians 3:5) through a foundational and saving faith in His Son's atoning work on the cross. The doctrine of personal sanctification as traditionally understood by Pentecostals has always emphasized that the shed blood of Christ at Calvary (the cross) is what purifies the sinful soul and that His death, burial and resurrection have sealed the cost of victory over sin for all mankind.
There has been no little debate in the Pentecostal movement as to whether sanctification is a second work of God's grace in the life of the believer or whether it is a "progressive" work that continues from the moment of their conversion. For example, the Church of God (Cleveland) movement tends to the "second work of grace" position while the Assemblies of God teaches a "progressive" position. But there is one thing both differing schools of thought have agreed on. They always emphasized how fundamental is the part that one's personal consecration to God plays in appropriating the grace that God will freely supply to all who desire to be made holy. Holiness is made possible by the blood of Christ but growth in it only occurs as one determines to be made holy in a daily walk of obedience to His will (1).
And the Bible never flinches once over this point for the apostle again makes this clear in his writing to the young pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:5: "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." Knowing how to live righteously by self denial in a personal lifestyle is what every believer can and must come to personally grasp, in a mastery that must be done "lawfully" or according to the principles of the contest. The Word of God is crystal clear on this point. We can know how to live right personally!
But Jimmy Swaggart would have us believe that all he needed was a fresh perspective, a new insight which, unbelievably, something a holy God kept him in the dark over and there's no way I can buy that.
How to live victoriously over sin in the Christian life has never been a mystery or an ideal impossible to attain. This same God is on the record as having commanded His people to "be ye holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). The will of God is that we be overcomers (read Revelation 2-3) and not deserters from the frontlines of our souls. Swaggart was an Assemblies of God minister for decades and certainly could not have been ignorant of the movement's commitment to the doctrine of sanctification (regardless of whether he viewed it as either an instantaneous or progressive touch of God in his life) and holiness as a lifestyle. But as I have said, he is a product of his times and may have viewed holiness in the traditionally misunderstood way of simple "do's and don'ts" and perhaps never understood what the Bible teaches about holiness from within and not just looking a part.
Upon this error of judgment and spirituality, it would seem, Jimmy Swaggart's struggles with sin were guaranteed. I suspect this is where his struggle lay and to this day remains within him. He even more direly and desperately needs the counsel of godly people who would speak truth to him about what is a hideously obvious spiritual need in his life. The late Christian pastor A.W. Tozer had some choice words that would certainly help him see the light, in my humble opinion and you can read these at the close of this article (2).
The Biblical perspective on personal response to the call to live a holy life by dying to ourselves which I've shared is completely absent from Swaggart's religious rumination here. He never points to this need because it he simply doesn't see it.
Clear As Mud: Scripture Wresting In The Expositor's Study Bible
And while Jimmy affirms that God "began to open up to me the Word of God, showing me exactly how it was, and is, the Cross" one might assume that he's finally going to start explaining what that really might mean. For to those looking to him for spiritual guidance about "the Cross" it would seem some answers are finally going to be in order. But unfortunately, as we read on, things get less and less clear and the guidance more and more muddier ..
When he affirms once again that the only "remedy .. solution .. answer to sin is the cross of Christ" and that "nothing" but the cross will get one to "live for God" properly, he is only reinforcing my own central points of contention above that he is missing the whole point of the cross of Christ. He looks for and teaches that there should be a miraculous release from the influence of sin ("works of the flesh") and the fallen sinful nature that all men share ("sin nature") through the cross, but makes no reference at all to personal responsibility, or choice, or resistance to temptation. At all.
He keeps insisting that a right understanding of what he calls "The Cross" will provide this liberation but he sounds more and more like a broken record. Remember that Swaggart views erroneously that one's sinful acts (what one does - "works of the flesh") are the same thing as the "sinful nature" (what one struggles against) in Romans 6:1-2. That is a grave mistake for what one does is not the same as what they actually are.
I've reviewed the New Testament record on how the cross of Christ addresses both of these arenas of moral failure within humanity. But Swaggart's teaching makes no traction whatsoever here. The flawed logic that he displays here is another step down the slippery slope of an utter misunderstanding of the Christian life.
And his intrusive "handling" of Scripture, shamelessly inserted into the Bible verses themselves, doesn't help: we start to see it here in his usage of red lettered text as he quotes Roman 6:1-2:
He took me to Romans, Chapter 6
Paul said: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin (the sin nature), that Grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, who are dead to sin (dead to the sin nature), live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2).
These Passages let us know that sin, i.e., “the sin nature,” is the problem. While Preachers might try to say that this, or that, or something else is the problem, the Holy Spirit tells us that “sin” is the problem. It might be a sin of commission or a sin of omission, but, to be sure, sin is the problem.
He then tells us that the only remedy for sin, the only solution for sin, the only answer to sin, is the Cross of Christ. In other words, the Holy Spirit through Paul takes the Believer straight to the Cross. Remember, Paul is not speaking here to unbelievers, but rather to Believers. As we attempt to live for God, and I mean live for God properly, this tells us that we must ever understand that it is the Cross of Christ where we must begin, and where we must end. There is nothing after the Cross of Christ, because there needs to be nothing after the Cross of Christ.
It's at this point that Swaggart cites Romans 6:3-5:
Paul said, “Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the Glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:3-5).
Now let’s examine these same Passages from THE EXPOSITOR’S STUDY BIBLE.
Now, we're about to see just how south, pardon the expression, this "examination" is about to go.
We're inescapably drawn into a most dubious exercise as Swaggart cites the "Biblical text" from his Expositor's Study Bible. Unlike any other conventional study Bible I know of, which relies on footnotes, word studies, Biblical cross references and headings to amplify portions of the Biblical text, the Expositor's Study Bible puts an unbelievably disturbing twist in place. It essentially imposes Swaggart's own personal commentary into the actual King James Version text verse by verse in red letters.
It is Swaggart's words that jump off his Bible's version pages, so there's no way to read the Bible itself without having his perspective directly injected into any reading of the verses in it.
I've never seen another "version" of the Bible so disruptively imposed upon in this manner than the Expositor Study Bible (not even full blown cultic perversions of the Bible like the New World Translation have attempted this). Just the presumptive implications of that observation alone deserve an article to discuss them (you can read some pointed observations on Swaggart's work by clicking here and here .. and for good measure here). There's much more that can be said about the sectarian nature of the Expositor Study Bible, but we simply don't have time to get into this. I won't try it now other than to point out just what we will have to deal with in this next section on Swaggart's misuse of Scripture.
To properly reflect Swaggart's thought, his commentary will be represented in red text just as it is in his Expositor's Bible to show you graphically how intrusive his commentary is and how he uses it to verify his "cross message." Instead of now just quoting the Scripture itself, we are now forced to have to grapple with the grotesque spectacle of Jimmy Swaggart quoting himself to prove his teaching, which, as we have seen so far is hardly any sort of unique revelation whatsoever.
“Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ (plainly says that this Baptism is into Christ and not water [I Cor. 1:17; 12:13; Gal. 3:28-29; Eph. 4:5; Col. 2:11-13]) were baptized into His Death? (When Christ died on the Cross, in the Mind of God, we died with Him; in other words, He became our Substitute, and our identification with Him in His Death gives us all the benefits for which He died; the idea is that He did it all for us!)
“Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death (not only did we die with Him, but we were buried with Him as well, which means that all the sin and transgression of the past were buried; when they put Him in the Tomb, they put all of our sins into that Tomb as well): that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the Glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (we died with Him, we were buried with Him, and His Resurrection was our Resurrection to a “Newness of Life”).
“For if we have been planted together (with Christ) in the likeness of His death (Paul proclaims the Cross as the instrument through which all Blessings come; consequently, the Cross must ever be the object of our Faith, which gives the Holy Spirit latitude to work within our lives), we shall be also in the likeness of His Resurrection.” (We can have the “likeness of His Resurrection,” i.e., “live this Resurrection Life,” only as long as we understand the “likeness of His Death,” which refers to the Cross as the means by which all of this is done.)
Swaggart's assertions, annoyingly interspersed into Scripture itself, appear sound, orthodox and Biblical.
They are not.
We've just seen what Scripture teaches on how faith in Christ followed by personal consecration and death to self is foundational to winning the battle over one's sinful nature. This is the focus of the Christian seeking to live a victorious and holy life. It is absent in Swaggart's teaching thus far and that should be a cautionary red flag about how sound and Biblical it is.
Now in his commentary seen here, Swaggart, keeps insisting "He did it all for us!" explaining that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was an "identification with Him in His death" which "gives us all the benefits for which he died." While this sounds like an affirmation of the sufficiency of Christ's atonement to cleanse humanity of its sin, it not only fails to make clear just what that means but implies that personal responsibility before God is irrelevant. When he states that "the likeness of His Resurrection", which would be the transformed Christian life, is obtained only as we "understand the 'likeness of His Death,' which refers to the Cross as the means by which all of this is done," his teaching is that at Calvary, in the cross of Christ, is where our lives are changed.
But as we've seen in this "Cross" teaching, in essence, Swaggart is saying that by gaining the right kind of "knowledge" about it, the struggling Christian would somehow experience a complete purging of the power of sin itself over their lives. It's not just forgiveness of sin Swaggart is pointing his audience to but a complete eradication of its presence in our lives. This is what he infers when he states that "all the sin and transgression of the past were buried", as if any and every sin a Christian can commit has been "buried" to be seen and accounted for no more. The implication is an attainment of an instantaneous depth of salvation and sanctification without any regard to personal faith, personal consecration or personal death to self. This assertion by Swaggart is an utterly unbiblical position.
It is not what we do that saves us, according to Ephesians 2:8-9, but in whom we trust. While pointing to the Cross's sufficiency to cover our sin, Swaggart boldly and erroneously claims that "the Cross must ever be the object of our Faith, which gives the Holy Spirit latitude to work within our lives." He is bent upon impressing upon his followers that a "new" revelation of the central place of "the cross" alone is what they need to change their lives and is his conclusion about how "the message of the Cross" is to be understood. But Swaggart fails to incorporate the Biblical foundations about what the significance of that cross to the daily life of the believer in the manner that Christ clearly commanded in Matthew 16:24 which we will repeat again here: "if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (emphasis mine).
Simply pointing to the Cross as an "object of faith" without explaining what that means in the plainly personal and practical manner that Jesus requires of us may seem to be a step in the right direction for a believer, but it fails to address their spiritual need. Jesus commands believers to trust Him and then act upon that trust with holy living that can only be done by a daily, personal crucifixion of one's sinful nature based upon that trust in His cross. Swaggart misses any illumination of this by a country mile.
And his narrow view on "the Cross" so completely skews his commentary on Romans 6:3-5 here that he also fails to recognize the profound significance of Paul's teaching on the relationship of the death of Christ to His Resurrection. Paul teaches in Romans 6 that our salvation through faith in Christ is symbolized in our participation in water baptism that signifies both His death and his resurrection. God's Spirit - the "glory of the Father" (Romans 8:11) - has both made Him the perfect sacrifice for sins as well as the victor over death itself which sin brought into the world (Roman 5:12) through His resurrection.
Our faith in Christ's substitutionary sacrifice saves us, but our ongoing embracing of our personal crosses from that point on keep us in firm and intimate contact with that grace. We then walk in "newness of life" supplied by His Spirit sent into our lives (Romans 8:10-11) and by remaining filled with that same Spirit (Romans 8:13-15) we ensure that no room is made for the sin that can "easily beset" us all (Hebrews 12:1). This is what his reference to "resurrection life" actually is! But Swaggart once again seems clueless about it and is completely silent about it!
Had Jesus not been raised from the tomb by the power of God's Spirit to conclusively prove He alone had power to forgive the sins of the world through His atoning death on the cross, the grace of God would never have been understood or revealed. Had the Resurrection not been fully manifest, His victory over all the powers of sin, death and an unbelieving world would never have been fully proclaimed. Swaggart's almost dismissive qualification as "the Cross" being the object of Christian faith that the Spirit needed to "work within our lives" is a half truth drawn from a misunderstanding of Romans 6:3-5. In sounding as if he's glorying in the cross, Swaggart only unveils an unbiblical obsession with it that ultimately will help no one (3).
And the most troubling aspect of Swaggart's unbiblical assumptions are that they are impressed into the very text of Scripture itself, using red lettering that for generations of Christians has been assumed as representing the authoritative words of Christ Himself! Doing so only amplifies a hundredfold the level of bold, shameless presumption that Swaggart indulges in with his "commentary" here.
It doesn't get any better as he continues in 1 Corinthians with a line of reasoning that he claims God gave him:
V I Corinthians
The Lord then took me to I Corinthians. Paul said there:
“For Christ sent me not to baptize (presents to us a Cardinal Truth), but to Preach the Gospel (the manner in which one may be saved from sin): not with wisdom of words (intellectualism is not the Gospel), lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect. (This tells us in no uncertain terms that the Cross of Christ must always be the emphasis of the Message.)
“For the Preaching (Word) of the Cross is to them who perish foolishness (Spiritual things cannot be discerned by unredeemed people, but that doesn’t matter; the Cross must be preached just the same, even as we shall see); but unto us who are saved, it is the Power of God. (The Cross is the Power of God simply because it was there that the total sin debt was paid, giving the Holy Spirit, in Whom the Power resides, latitude to work mightily within our lives.)
“But we preach Christ Crucified (this is the foundation of the Word of God, and thereby of Salvation), unto the Jews a stumblingblock (the Cross was the stumblingblock), and unto the Greeks foolishness (both found it difficult to accept as God a dead Man hanging on a Cross, for such Christ was to them).
“And I, Brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom (means that Paul depended not on oratorical abilities, nor did he delve into philosophy, which was the rage of that particular day), declaring unto you the Testimony of God (which is Christ and Him Crucified).
“For I determined not to know anything among you (with purpose and design, Paul did not resort to the knowledge or philosophy of the world regarding the Preaching of the Gospel), save Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified.” (That, and that alone, is the Message which will save the sinner, set the captive free, and give the Believer perpetual victory [I Cor. 1:17-18, 23; 2:1-2].)
Paul also said, “But God forbid that I should glory (boast) save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (what the opponents of Paul sought to escape at the price of insincerity is the Apostle’s only basis of exultation), by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (The only way we can overcome the world, and I mean the only way, is by placing our Faith exclusively in the Cross of Christ, and keeping it there [Gal. 6:14).)
Seeing all of this, I began to understand that the story of the Bible, in its totality, is the story of “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.” Jesus said as much.
The evangelist's unbiblical teaching now starts to get, frankly, repetitive to the point of nausea.
Swaggart continues his mishandling of Scripture here by persisting in his belief that "the Cross" is the only emphasis for salvation the Church needs to pursue. He strings together these several verses together, which we have seen speak of the saving work of Jesus as symbolized in both crucifixion and baptism and accessed by faith in Him alone, to keep buttressing his imbalanced emphasis on the cross alone. Both His death and resurrection are what Paul means when he refers to the cross as "the Power of God" and not the cross alone. Once again, Swaggart's attempt to glorify God is an imbalanced expression of a deeper misunderstanding of the true nature of the cross in the faith and life of the Christian.
But this is what Jimmy thinks is at the heart of the apostolic preaching of Paul. He says, in effect, "see? THIS is THE TRUTH!" .. and he misses the boat by the proverbial nautical mile. Swaggart's obsessive tarrying on "the Cross" apart from the rest of Paul's teaching in Romans, namely chapters 7 and 8 which reveal the work of the Spirit of God in our salvation and our transformation by sanctification shows how deficient he is in understanding just what "the sin nature" truly is. It is sad to see how quick he substitutes his own obsessive focus on "the Cross" apart from "the Spirit", who has - thankfully - been given "latitude" in our lives.
It is my assertion here that when Paul speaks of the Cross of Christ in these verses that he is not only speaking just of "the Cross" alone. He is referring, as we have seen, to the full counsel of the good news of the Gospel itself which involved a complete unveiling of Christ's saving work in both the Cross and the Resurrection, how faith in Christ alone saved the sinful soul and also, how the taking up of one's personal death to self was the foundation to a life of Spirit-empowered holiness. All of this is what was in the mind of the apostle as he spoke here of glorying in "the cross" and not just the cross itself!
But again, this is completely absent from Swaggart's teaching. He so adamantly insists that "the cross" is the summit of all Christian faith that he actually excludes any other interpretation that would bring a balanced understanding of what the cross means to the Christian. That's because, of course, Jimmy Swaggart has been given "more light than the church had known," according to his wife Frances and a host of Swaggart supporters who affirm he walks in divine truth God gave him - who can argue with that?
What makes this nauseating is that evangelist Jimmy Swaggart is telling us that "the Lord" is revealing all of this imbalanced hyperbole to him.
One can and should begins to seriously wonder what "Lord" Swaggart was listening to and whose spiritual lead he was actually following.
He continues onward with even more grotesquerie:
I The words of Christ
After His Resurrection, with His Disciples still not believing that He has risen from the dead, He suddenly appeared to two of His Disciples as they were going to a village called Emmaus. The Disciples did not recognize Who He was; they thought He was merely a stranger.
The Scripture says, “And He said unto them, What manner of communications are these that you have one to another, as you walk, and are sad?” (Lk. 24:17). They began to relate to Him all the things which recently had happened.
“Then He said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the Prophets have spoken: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Lk. 24:25-27).
The Cross of Christ is the foundation principle of all Biblical Doctrine. It is the foundation because it is the first principle of Redemption, brought about in the Mind of God even before the foundation of the world (I Pet. 1:18-20). This means that every single doctrine must be built on the foundation of Christ and the Cross, or else, in some way, it will be spurious. And that’s the problem with the modern Church; it is building doctrines on other foundations.
I've always wondered what it would have been like to be one of the two disciples mentioned here in Luke 24. What a singularly gripping thing to have heard Christ Himself expounding from the Old Testament about "the things concerning Himself," and to have been able to say with them "did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32) The blazing light of Biblical truth coming from the living Word Himself undeniably would have been a manifestation of glory that would be unforgettable.
On the other side of the coin, however, one wonders how equally fascinating it would be for Jimmy to review just where in Moses and all the prophets that "the cross" as he pushes it here was taught. Had Swaggart done some reflection on that and shown that the Old Testament teaches "the Cross" as the "first principle of Redemption" as heralded by the law of Moses and all of the prophets would help his argument immeasurably. I think it's safe to say that when Jesus illuminated the Old Testament passages of prophecy and symbolism alluding to Himself that Swaggart's views were not part of His teaching. Jesus pointed to His suffering, His sacrifice, His atoning work as prophesied in Scripture! He didn't obsess over a sectarian interpretation of the cross He died upon!
Yet this is what Swaggart eagerly rushes to claim by citing the account of Luke 24 here. He shamelessly associates his own pontification on the cross as part of the body of teaching Jesus gave to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. This is an argument from not only silence but pure religious fantasy that seeks a level of self-aggrandizement that is shocking in its breadth. And Jimmy's uncritical audience, razzle dazzled by His pious Godtalk about "The Cross" readily embrace this unwieldy mass of confusion about it as Gospel truth.
What Swaggart wraps up with here is a very plain point: if you're not pushing "The Cross" on every single angle of emphasis in the precise manner Swaggart does, you are in heretical darkness, ignorant of his "Revelation." Note how he simply keeps harping on this point without truly making one founded on objective Biblical truth. As he ends his article, Swaggart then treats us to yet another unabashed wresting of the Bible's texts to his own commentary biases, as if it was necessary, to underscore his warped perspective:
Paul addressed this by saying:
“According to the Grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder (in essence Paul, under Christ, founded the Church), I have laid the foundation (Jesus Christ and Him Crucified), and another builds thereon (speaks of all Preachers who followed thereafter, even unto this very moment, and have built upon this foundation). But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. (All must preach the same Doctrine Paul preached, in essence, “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.”)
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid (anything other than the Cross is another foundation, and therefore unacceptable to the Lord)¸ which is Jesus Christ (Who He is, God manifest in the flesh, and what He did, Redemption through the Cross [I Cor. 3:10-11]).
In I Corinthians 1:17, which we have just quoted, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle tells us exactly what the Gospel is. To be brief, it is the “Cross of Christ.” As our Lord said to me, “The answer for which you seek is found in the Cross,” in effect, He actually said, “In the Cross, and only in the Cross.”
The conclusion of Swaggart's article further shows how out of touch he is with what the Bible says about the Good News, the Gospel of Christ, itself. This most glaring of his unbiblical assumption here can't be left unaddressed. None of Swaggart's amen corner on his network will dare bring it up so I guess it's up to me.
Paul the apostle himself defines for us what the Gospel actually is in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 and his teaching there harmonizes with his testimony of faithful preaching as found 1 Corinthians 1:17. There is no contradiction, no confusion here in what the apostle states here.
The content of the Gospel as Paul presents it here us what can rightly be called the "first principle of Redemption" and his full counsel of the Good News is both instructive and authoritative:
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
Paul's declaration of what the Gospel is doesn't stop with the Cross.
He shows that the Gospel includes the remembrances of his death for the sins of the world as well as his burial and resurrection three days later as foretold by the prophets. It includes the affirmation of eyewitness accounts to His saving work in a literal world in space and time. Paul says these things were at the core of what he preached as the Gospel and that it contained the means to save the soul of those who believed upon it. Swaggart's attempt to coopt Paul's teaching in Romans to prove that "anything other than the Cross is another foundation" crumbles to the dust as most of the rest of his teaching in his article we've reviewed here.
Unfortunately, the balanced understanding of the Gospel that Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 is totally absent from Swaggart's teaching here. Such a grave omission isn't simply a matter of differing opinions that can be dismissed lightly (and sadly, I doubt the Swaggarts would care any way). Jimmy's misunderstanding of the Cross strikes at the very heart of what the Christian faith teaches. His insistence that the Bible supports his pet doctrine on the Cross and attempts to prove this by using his own Bible commentary in a Bible version of his own creation is a grotesque and reckless attempt to make the Bible fit his doctrine.
True Bible students do just the opposite by making their doctrine fit what the Bible itself says.
Jimmy's Got A Lot More 'Splainin To Do
We are forced to conclude then that Jimmy Swaggart is struggling in unbiblical error at best and dangerously close to teaching heresy at worst. If one cannot properly define what the basics of Biblically-based salvation are as revealed in Scripture, then it is safe to observe that the potential for misunderstanding on every other point of teaching they make is a very real danger. Jimmy Swaggart's teaching on the cross is dangerously compromised, supported by a Bible he created to indoctrinate with his own sectarian bias and profoundly, fatally imbalanced. He is not teaching apostolic Biblical doctrine but a whim of his own religious mind that supposedly has changed his life and yet displays no real substance at all, only dogmatism aimed at magnifying his alleged authority.
Therefore, we also conclude, the Cross is not "the Message" of the Bible alone. It isn't just the Cross.
Romans 5:10 conclusively says it all:
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
What the Swaggarts have been doing for years, even though their followers are blind to it, is to engage in a divisive creation of a new religion that seeks to draw away disciples after their own leading, by the same sneaky manner that Paul warned about in Acts 20:29-30. Their self-congratulatory elitism reeks of an incredible arrogance, no matter how sincere they are about it. It directly follows from their teaching that the Holy Spirit's ability to lead the Church into all truth was a failure (John 14:26 and 16:13) and that the gates of hell are, despite what Jesus has said in Matthew 16:18, prevailing against the church. And of course Swaggart's been anointed by God to be a voice of apostolic authority before whom the "faithful remnant" in the church must submit to.
Such baldly stated claims, transmitted daily by Swaggart's media, are an affront to the generations of Christians who do indeed understand what the significance of the Cross is to the Christian life. And simply because they are not formally connected with Swaggart's teaching authority, whatever "light" they may walk in is to be summarily dismissed as a deficient belief system incapable of helping anyone to come to Christ at all. They recommend leaving such obviously misguided dens of apostasy to take membership in the true faith of Jimmy Swaggart's "Media Church," to support "The Work" with tithes, offerings, attendance at Swaggart meetings and the need to ensure the Expositor's Study Bible is bought by the case and distributed everywhere: "You too can have one of These Great Study Bibles for a love offering of just 100 dollars .. All major credit cards accepted."
What we've seen is that, in actuality, the Swaggarts actually do teach that "God's Truth was not readily available to any and all individuals" - regardless what Frances glibly has said as quoted in the last article. If the Church is filled with Christians who do study their Bibles and yet remain ignorant of "the Message of the Cross" as they believe it to be, then indeed the Great Apostasy is at hand! So they routinely pillory the evangelism and Christian education efforts of churches all around them and teach their followers to be as contemptuous of them as they are. Their biting criticism of the Body of Christ for not being like they are is nothing less than hypocrisy of the highest order confirmed by their own commentary, deeds and words.
But they're more than happy to raid churches of converts and offerings quite readily.
They have become pathetically intolerant examples of aberrant Christian leadership gone astray into sectarian extremism. JSM endlessly replicates the comforting, joyful sound of Southern Gospel music and Pentecostal worship to lead thousands of more people into a crippling dependence upon their spiritual direction. And as they accomplish this, they lead them into adopting a rigid and intolerant religion where the love of power has all but drowned the power of love. The Swaggart's informational control and distortion of sound doctrine is a shocking thing to behold and is ignored by his followers at their personal spiritual peril.
Let's do the social group math here: from outside the Swaggart subculture can be seen false doctrine, unquestioned authority wielded by the Swaggarts who control thought by compelling control of information among their viewers, claims to divine truth no one else has, a list of enemies who are daily harangued which are drawn out of a pure hatred of the Church Jesus died for, not to mention all kinds of double standard-driven hypocrisy from which the JSM hierarchy are feared as if they were demigods able to call fire down on the heads of those who disobey them.
What's the total? Just one heart beat from the dark lands of the Cultworld, if it hasn't been entered already.
What Jimmy Swaggart has done, in damning all around him for their "idolatries", is to establish an odious one of his own: an idolatry about the Cross of Christ that is frightening to behold.
He still needs to repent!
(1) Swaggart's perspective is basically inspired from his own understanding of the old "Finished Work" doctrine, a Pentecostal teaching on sanctification which asserted that salvation and the complete sanctification of the sinner were done at conversion and that growth in holiness was an ongoing progressive process. This view of sanctification is prevalent in the Assemblies of God and was likely what led him to arrive at the conclusions he displays in his teaching here. But the position of progressive sanctification doesn't wink at sin and affirms the absolute necessity to a devotion to a holy lifestyle manifest in one's personal choices. And this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, when holiness is to be expected in the life of a professed believer.
I die every day to the world through intentional obedience and stay in Christ throughout the week's struggles so I don't end up every Sunday at an altar in church slobberingly wondering if I'm saved or not, fearing I'm only going to go out and return to the delicious diversion of my sin for a season.
That is the difference between those for whom Jesus Christ is Lord and those for whom blind obedience to a teaching about Jesus fails to give them any spiritual root (Ephesians 4:14).
A sound understanding of the role the Cross of Christ plays in one's personal salvation and sanctification is a real issue in the Body of Christ today. But it is one thing to state categorically that the Church is untaught about this and quite another to claim superior understanding of it based upon a personal revelation from God that carries the same weight of apostolic teaching, quoting and displaying personal commentary as if it was Scripture.
(2) What would the legendary Christian pastor and globally respected writer A.W. Tozer have said to Jimmy Swaggart about the spiritual strait that he is apparently very much in?
What if Tozer had a chance to get Swaggart into a counseling session and what might Swaggart actually hear as part of the "no bull counsel" I have been saying for years he needs?
If Jimmy Lee Swaggart could, just for a moment, consider that his empty teaching has left him in a spiritual poverty that is terrible to behold and that he needs to understand what true Christian victory over sin actually can be in his life, the quote below might by what Tozer would have said to him:
Brother Jimmy .. this contest between the indwelling Deity and our own fallen propensities occupies a large place in New Testament theology. But the warfare need not continue indefinitely. Christ has made full provision for our deliverance from the bondage of the flesh. A frank and realistic presentation of the whole thing is set forth in Romans 6 and 7, and in the 8th chapter a triumphant solution is discovered: it is, briefly, through a spiritual crucifixion with Christ followed by resurrection and an infusion of the Holy Spirit.
Once the heart is freed from its contrary impulses, Christ within becomes a wondrous experiential fact. .. Brother Swaggart .. the surrendered heart has no more controversy with God, so He can live in us congenial and uninhibited. Then He thinks His own thoughts in us: thoughts about ourselves, about Himself, about sinners and saints and babes and harlots; thoughts about the church, about sin and judgment and hell and heaven. And He thinks about us and Himself and His love for us and our love for Him; and He woos us to Himself as a bridegroom woos his bride.
Yet there is nothing formal or automatic about His operations within us. We are personalities and we are engaged with personality. We are intelligent and have wills of our own. We can, so to speak, stand outside of ourselves and discipline ourselves into accord with the will of God. We can commune with our own hearts upon our beds and be still. We can talk to our God in the night watches. We can learn what He wants us to be, and pray and work to prepare Him a habitation.
Jimmy .. what kind of habitation pleases God? What must our natures be like before He can feel at home within us? He asks nothing but a pure heart and a single mind. He asks no rich paneling, no rugs from the Orient, no art treasures from afar. He desires but sincerity, transparency, humility, and love. He will see to the rest.
(from A.W. Tozer's book "The Incredible Christian")
Instead, outside the subculture of his own making, Swaggart is grist for obscene jokes and abstract art.
(3) On page 4 of his study article "The Struggle Of Faith", in the September, 2008 Evangelist Swaggart's attempts to assign the priority of the cross above the resurrection plumb even deeper levels of stubborn devotion to a pet doctrine:
"While the Resurrection is extremely important, even as would be obvious, our Redemption does not rest in the Resurrection, but rather the Cross."
It's just too bad for the church, then, that Paul the apostle in Romans 5:10, got that wrong. We owe a debt to Jimmy's ability to shed light on this. That must be a part of the Bible that we need to - cross - out.
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