Saturday, October 25, 2014

Of First Importance....Sensatiional Or Not

So, we've established that all humans stand condemned as sinners. Now our conversation naturally shifts to how to atone for sin. Of course nearly all my readers already anticipate my short answer that Jesus shed His own blood, dying in our place as perfect atonement.

We could leave the discussion right there and return to critiquing Rick Warren, Holy Yoga, Contemplative Prayer or a host of other issues plaguing the evangelical  church. And my readership would rally from the slump it's suffered since I started this series on the doctrines of the Gospel. After all, controversy attracts attention--a fact that underscores the doctrine of man's depravity, by the way.


Although I freely admit my desire to abandon this series (and not have to work so hard), my selfish desire for more readers with less effort must take a back seat to what I believe the Lord wants me to do.  At this point in time, I sense that I need to clearly state the basic principles of the Gospel so that people understand why Jesus died on the cross and how His death  brings about salvation.

Without understanding the doctrine of atonement at some level, the idea that Jesus died for sin has little meaning, and even less impact on a person's day-to-day life. It reduces itself to a spiritual insurance policy that we file away and half-forget. Instead of realizing that, by shedding His blood to pay the price for our sin, Jesus buys ownership rights to our lives, we busy ourselves with seeking spiritual experiences or material blessings. "Thanks for dying for me, Jesus," we  say, "and now here's what You can do for me..."

We have, through a variety of weak and/or false teachings, been distracted from the message that Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully Man, took the punishment that you and I rightly deserve by dying on the cross in our place.

Monday, if God wills, I plan to write about why His blood provides the only acceptable sacrifice for sin. It will be work, both for me to write and for you to read, and it probably won't have the sensationalism that will boost my stats, but I pray that the Holy Spirit will use it to draw all of us into a deeper adoration of the Savior.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Self-Exam

Some of you may still balk at the teaching that all humans possess sin natures and therefore stand condemned before a holy God. I understand. I could, I suppose, keep showing you Scriptures that verify our inherent sinfulness in hopes that my tenacity will wear you down. But I know better.

I know that only the Holy Spirit has the power to open someone's eyes to the truth. He calls me, as He calls all Christians, to proclaim His Word, but He  never holds me accountable for how people respond. Those whom He has called to salvation will respond to the Scriptures and the Gospel message because the Father draws them to Himself by the Holy Spirit.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. ~~1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
So, even though I realize that the Gospel hinges on a person recognizing his (or her) intrinsic sinfulness, I believe I need to move on to the good news that Jesus died to provide a remedy for sin. But before we turn that corner, let me challenge you to look honestly at yourselves. 

Look at Jesus' Sermon On The Mount in Matthew 5-7. Here...I've linked to Matthew 5 at BibleGateway.com to make it easier for you. To get to chapters 6 and 7, click the > thingy to the right of the text body. As you read, ask the Lord to help you see how you measure up to God's standards. When I read this sermon two weeks before the Lord brought me to salvation, I only got to Matthew  5:8 before I saw my wretchedness. Can you get farther?

I'll leave you to read these words of Jesus, the Incarnate God. As you ask the Spirit to examine you though these chapters, I pray that He will particularly draw your attention to Jesus' warning:
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. ~~Matthew 5:20 (ESV)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Her Goodness Deceives Her

I've been presenting the Gospel to a particular friend of mine for several years. She identifies with another religion, although she candidly admits that her affiliation with it hovers around a nominal commitment. She confesses to doing some things that  both Christianity and her religion prohibit, feeling that her circumstances leave her no choice in the matter.

As far as I can tell, she accepts my evidence for Christ's deity, for His death as atonement for sin and for His physical resurrection. Her assent to these truths, and yet her unwillingness to turn to Him, quite honestly baffled me. I supposed she feared persecution from her family.

But during a conversation about a year ago, I suddenly realized what holds her back. I asked her directly if she believes she'll go to hell. Despite all I've told her about Jesus being the only Savior, and despite all her honest confession to me about her past and present sins, she confidently replied,   "No, I don't." She views herself as a "good" person.

By human standards, she is.

The Lord, however, judges each of us by His standard. He taught His standard when He gave the Law to Moses, and clarified it when He came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit further explained His standard through the Apostles as they penned the New Testament Scriptures under His inspiration. Through the Spirit, James made it clear that even one violation of God's Law makes a person guity.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. ~~James 2:8-11 (ESV)
My friend freely admits her sins, yet she can't believe that she stands before God condemned as a sinner unless she puts her faith in Jesus Christ. Sadly, many people err in the same way, refusing the gracious gift of salvation solely because they trust in their own "goodness." What a tragedy!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I Don't Like iit!

Most people dislike the doctrine of human sinfulness. Guess what! I dislike it too! I particularly dislike applying it to myself, just as I suspect, dear reader, that you dislike applying it to yourself. The very idea that human beings can't claim goodness, and therefore hope to justify themselves before God, deeply offends us. Its repugnance causes most people to either revise the Gospel into something more palatable or reject Christianty altogether.

I understand those responses ever so much more than regular readers might suppose, and much prefer to see myself as someone capable of meriting my own salvation. Please don't confront me with my sin; I really would prefer not to see it. And while we're being honest, on most days my sinful nature would rather skip personal Bible Study because I don't like how the Holy Spirit uses His Word to expose the rottenness of my heart.

God, however, won't adjust His holy standards simply because I don't like them. Nor will He ignore my inherent sinfulness in the interest of my self-esteem. Through His Word, He regularly exposes all my thoughts, attitudes and behaviors that violate His commands and reinforce my need for a Savior.

Please take the time to click this link to Scriptures on man's sinful nature. No, it's not fun reading, but we need to see and accept the Lord's assessment of us in order to embrace the Gospel message that we needed Christ to die for our sins. As much as we yearn to see ourselves as "basically good people," we must humble ourselves and acknowledge the Lord's authority to call us sinners.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. ~~1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Negative Until Positive

My niece, despite being less than a year old at the time, knew good and well that she must not touch my potted ivy plant on the low shelf. My sister and I watched her crawl toward it with unmistakable determination. Half-way across the room, she paused and looked over her shoulder at my sister with a defiant expression that reduced us to laughter. The little minx knew she was about to break a rule!

People try to deny the existence of a sin nature in each human being, but that funny incident with my  niece convinced me that we sin instinctively. John Calvin called it  "total depravity." As much as we want to believe in man's basic goodness, Scripture indicts every single one of us as incorrigible rebels against God. Consider, for example, Paul's unflattering description of humanity in his letter to the Romans:
10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” ~~Romans 3:10-18 (ESV)
Not a pretty picture!

We need, however, to accept this picture of ourselves in order to understand why Christ, the Incarnate God, died for us. The Gospel makes no sense apart from the doctrine of man's sinful condition. In order to understand the concept that Jesus Christ died to save us from sin,  we must first face up to the ugly truth about ourselves. The Good News follows the bad news that we need salvation.

Being arrogant sinners, we quite naturally balk at this doctrine. The idea that God considers us to be sinners insults our sense of dignity, causing us to reject the Gospel...or at least amend it in ways that put us in a better light.

I know I tend to emphasize mankind's sinfulness in my writings, and I also know some people dislike my blog for that reason. But unless people see the negative truth about the human condition, they cannot fully appreciate the positive message of the Gospel. Indeed, the recognition of how sinful we are in comparison to His purity stirs believers to adore Him all the more for His incredible grace in dying for our sin! So as I write these next few posts, trust that this unpleasant doctrine merely prepares us for the joyous message of the Gospel.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Intimate Identifiication

Having introduced the concept of Christ's deity as an important fact to understand in relation to the Gospel, I now turn to the equally important fact of His humanity. He is 100% God, certainly, and He is equally 100% Man. In this discussion, I won't try to explain how He can fully possess both natures simultaneously, knowing that theologians much more learned than I scratch their heads in bewilderment over that question. Instead, I want to show you a glimpse of how His humanity plays into the Gospel.

The writer of Hebrews gives us a picture of Jesus' purpose in coming as a Man.
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. ~~Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV)
Jesus, unlike either God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, experienced all the frailties, difficulties, limitations and temptations that you and I face. As a result of His intimate identification with all the weaknesses intrinsic to humanity, He has compassion for us. That compassion motivated Him to take the punishment  that properly belongs to us by suffering a brutal execution on the cross.

Had Jesus merely assumed human form like the fictional gods of Greek and Roman mythology sometimes did, His death would have been nothing more than an illusion. Consequently, it couldn't have provided any real atonement for sin. Thankfully, He shed human blood, and His bloodline went back through David all the way to Abraham so that no one could forensically dispute His Messianic claim.

I have decided to close with this weekend's hymn a day early so that, as we reflect on Jesus as a Man of sorrows, we might worship Him with newfound awe. What a Savior!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Harvard: From Adams to Zuckerberg, With An Eccentric Mother In Between

We should have stayed home Tuesday to   advertize for  an evening  PCA, but we honestly believed we had an interim person lined up. Tuesday night, her husband told us that her circumstances had changed, but by  then we had already indulged in a student-led tour of Harvard Yard. I think I'll take a break from my series on elements of the  Gospel to show you a few photos John took, beginning with Massachusetts Hall.
This freshman dorm housed Founding Fathers John Hancock, James  Otis, Samuel Adams and (my favorite)  John Adams. Now the two lower floors hold administrative offices, including the university president's office...though the top floor continues to serve as a freshman dorm. Too bad the tour opened with its highlight for me.

Widener Library fascinated both me and John.

Harry Elkins Widener graduated from Harvard in 1907. His avid love of books led him to develop an extensive collection, some of which he'd gathered in Europe. Sadly, he perished on the Titanic. In his memory, his mother had the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library built to house the remainder of his books.

One of Mrs. Widener's stipulations in donating the money and books for the library prohibits any alteration to the visible structure, posing quite a problem when added books and technologies required expansion. The school solved that dilemma by building six stories down and expanding outward underneath Harvard Yard. So typically Boston!

Our tour guide pointed in the direction of Mark Zuckerberg's dorm, where he developed Facebook, but neither John nor I could tell exactly which building she indicated.
You may need to take your own tour of Harvard to find the building. Since time restraints prevented me from showing you all the pictures John took and telling you all the stories, perhaps you really should consider visiting Harvard for yourself. Although I suppose my PCA search ought to have kept us home Tuesday, I can't regret going. Neither will you.

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