Thursday, October 30, 2014

Remember This Essential

On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, hoping to restore the Roman Catholic church to the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. Rome was not amused. Martin Luther, who loved God's Word more than he feared the pope began a Reformation that would restore a Biblical understanding of salvation. A year ago, I blogged about his conversion to Biblical Christianity, and I invite you to read that post here.

Luther insisted that the doctrine of sola fide (Latin for "faith alone"), formed the bedrock of the Gospel. The system that Rome had developed over 1500 years had morphed Christianity from a glorious Gospel of the Incarnate God taking our place on the cross and shedding His blood for the remission of sin to a man-made system that dispenses "grace" in return for human performance. Thus, man once again assumed ultimate responsibility for salvation.

Most Catholics who study their religion try to argue that they look to Christ as their only Savior. Yet they also believe that they receive "grace" as they observe various sacraments, such as confession and penance. These sacraments, as much as Catholics might insist otherwise, incorporate human effort into the acquisition of salvation. Furthermore, the Council of Trent (which convened from December 13, 1545 to December 4, 1563 to repudiate the  teachings of Luther, Calvin and other Reformers) boldly condemned the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema. ~~Council of Trent, Chapter XVI, Canon 9
Scripture convinced Luther that Christians need nothing more than faith in the finished work of Christ for salvation. Paul's letters very frequently repeat this theme, and his letter to the church in Rome (ironically) first offered Luther a taste of this liberating doctrine. The phrase, "The just shall live by faith" from Romans 1:17 set Luther free from his constant striving to secure salvation. I believe, however, that we need to look at Romans 3:21-26 for a glimpse of how justification by faith comes about.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (ESV)
As Luther learned, Christ made complete atonement for sin through His blood, requiring only that we trust in Him. Contrary to the Council of Trent's declaration, the real damnation for professing Christians happens when we presume to augment His work on the cross with our own actions. 

As we remember Reformation Day tomorrow, we can thank God for using Martin Luther to restore the essential doctrine of justification by faith alone. Without this doctrine, the Gospel loses its power, and Christ wrongly shares His glory (or so we suppose) with helpless sinners. Don't dismiss this foundational doctrine of the Gospel!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Filling In For His Own

He approached me just minutes before church stated (and therefore a scant 20 minutes before Sunday School) to inform me that he didn't feel like teaching that day. He and I, along with another lady, rotated teaching the Junior High Sunday School class, each of us teaching every third Sunday. As lead teacher, I also served as the substitute when either of the others couldn't (or in this instance, wouldn't) teach.

Dictionary.com defines the word "substitute" this way:
 
noun
1.
a person or thing acting or serving in place of another.
2.
(formerly) a person who, for payment, served in an army or navy in the place of a conscript.
3.
Grammar. a word that functions as a replacement for any member of a class of words or constructions, as do in He doesn't know but I do.
 
verb (used with object), substituted, substituting.
4.
to put (a person or thing) in the place of another.
5.
to take the place of; replace.
6.
Chemistry. to replace (one or more elements or groups in a compound) by other elements or groups.
 
verb (used without object), substituted, substituting.
7.
to act as a substitute.
adjective
8.
of or pertaining to a substitute or substitutes.
9.
composed of substitutes.
 
The Bible teaches that, in dying for the sin that would rightly condemn you and me, Jesus willingly died in our place! Scholars refer to His act as the "substitutionary atonement" to emphasize that He accepted the punishment for crimes that we (being born sinners) commit against God. This article on the GotQuestions.org website begins with the following summary of the doctrine:
The substitutionary atonement refers to Jesus Christ dying as a substitute for sinners. The Scriptures teach that all men are sinners (Romans 3:9-18, 23). The penalty for our sinfulness is death. Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That verse teaches us several things. Without Christ, we are going to die and spend an eternity in hell as payment for our sins. Death in the Scriptures refers to a “separation.” Everyone will die, but some will live in heaven with the Lord for eternity, while others will live a life in hell for eternity. The death spoken of here refers to the life in hell. However, the second thing this verse teaches us is that eternal life is available through Jesus Christ. This is His substitutionary atonement.
Scripture supports the premise that Jesus died as our Substitute, as you'll discover if you read the GotQuestions.org article for yourselves. I'd like to highlight just one of the Scriptures involved in this doctrine. I particularly like this two-verse passage because the second verse offers the practical implication of Christ dying the death that you and I deserve.
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. ~~1 Peter 2:24-25 (ESV)
Of course, future blog posts, Lord willing, will fully explore Christ's claim on those who receive  His salvation. But let me throw in the spoiler that truly redeemed people--people who enjoy His salvation because He took their place on the cross--naturally gravitate to Him and begin to live righteous, holy lives out of a desire to express gratitude. The very thought that Almighty God would become a Man for the very purpose of suffering the punishment as my Substitute certainly gives me the desire to put my life at His disposal. After all, I have first-hand knowledge (albeit limited) of what it means to be a substitute.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Beauty Of Christ's Blood

As Mom unpacked my suitcase, I told her stories about Easter Seal Camp Harmon, sorry that I'd never go back. At age 18, I'd found that all the adult campers had intellectual disabilities, and as a result the counselors gave me more attention. Reluctantly, Mom agreed that it would be unfair to the other campers for me to continue going. We kept talking, both enjoying our time of bonding.

Finally she unpacked a large red cross attached to a cord so that I could wear it as a necklace. I explained that the counselors had helped me make it in Ceramics class, and that I'd painted it red to remind me of the blood Jesus shed for my sin. Looking a little disgusted, Mom blurted out, "Well, that's rather ghoulish!"

Perhaps the world, like Mom, has difficulty understanding why Christians regard Christ's blood-stained  cross as a thing of beauty. Perhaps, if  I didn't know what it symbolizes, I might also find it a bit ghoulish. But a year and a half before I applied red glaze to that cross with  my mouthstick, the Lord used a high school friend to show me that He had shed His blood on the cross in payment for my sin.

In the law given through Moses, God required that the blood of innocent animals be shed to atone for sin. Leviticus describes those  bloody sacrifices in such detail that most Christians can't make it through the book. The writer of Hebrews, thankfully, helps to explain why the Jews offered such horrible sacrifices:
18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. ~~Hebrews 9:18-22 (ESV)
God takes sin so seriously that only blood provides full atonement. We, on the other hand, sin so naturally and with such ease that we think a simple (and not necessarily heartfelt) apology should do the trick. We forget that God is so absolutely holy that He cannot tolerate the  least amount of impurity. Even the smallest, most socially acceptable sin offends Him so deeply that it requires the death of something.

Or Someone.

And in His inexplicable mercy, God the Son willingly shed His precious blood, knowing that it provided a much more lasting atonement than the blood of sacrificial animals. Again, the writer of Hebrews explains:
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. ~~Hebrews 10:1-14 (ESV)
Jesus shed His innocent blood in atonement for the sin that you and I commit simply because we're born sinners. In so doing, He simultaneously satisfied justice and showed mercy to all who believe on Him. Oh, I know it boggles our limited human minds, and I also know I can't explain it as thoroughly as I'd like. Nevertheless, I pray you'll see that, far from being ghoulish, the blood stained cross of Christ radiates the powerful beauty of Christ's love for us.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Benefits Of His Blood

In keeping with my series on the Gospel and its  doctrines, I will share a seemingly simple hymn that absolutely bursts with teachings on how the blood of Jesus benefits those who place their faith in Him. Ponder each thought in these stanzas, asking the Lord to confirm to you that "nothing but the blood of Jesus" offers any of us peace with God.


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!

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