Friday, October 31, 2014

Firm Truth

In honor of Reformation Day, it delights me to post this dramatization of Martin Luther's defense at the Diet of Worms, where he was asked to recant the doctrine of justification  by faith. May the Lord grant me this type of resolve!


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!

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.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Celebrating, Not Merely Stating

The First Century church at Colossae, because of its location as a major seaport welcoming tradesmen and sailors representing a variety of cultures, struggled against false teachings of various kinds. In response to the multiplicity of errors that made their way into the Colossian church, the apostle Paul wrote a letter meant to correct the doctrinal problems. Before addressing the particulars, however, he reviewed the basic Gospel message.

Paul introduced this review of the Gospel with a powerful explanation of Christ's deity:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)
In describing Christ as  "the image of the invisible God," Paul equates Him with God. From there, He identifies Christ's role in creation, insists that He holds the entire universe together, and crowns Him as the Sovereign Ruler. Then he makes his claim even more directly in verse 19: "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell."

Yes, God dwells in every believer through His Holy Spirit, but He doesn't give us all of His fulness.  Vincent's Word Studies offers the clearest commentary on verse 19 that I could find.
The word must be taken in its passive sense - that with which a thing is filled, not that which fills. The fullness denotes the sum-total of the divine powers and attributes. In Christ dwelt all the fullness of God as deity. The relation of essential deity to creation and redemption alike, is exhibited by John in the very beginning of his gospel, with which this passage should be compared. In John the order is: 1. The essential nature of Christ; 2. Creation; 3. Redemption. Here it is: 1. Redemption (Colossians 1:13); 2. Essential being of the Son (Colossians 1:15); 3. The Son as Creator (Colossians 1:16); 4. The Church, with Christ as its head (Colossians 1:18). Compare 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 1:20, Ephesians 1:23. Paul does not add of the Godhead to the fullness, as in Colossians 2:9 since the word occurs in direct connection with those which describe Christ's essential nature, and it would seem not to have occurred to the apostle that it could be understood in any other sense than as an expression of the plenitude of the divine attributes and powers.
   Thus the phrase in Him should all the fullness dwell gathers into a grand climax the previous statements - image of God, first-born of all creation, Creator, the eternally preexistent, the Head of the Church, the victor over death, first in all things. On this summit we pause, looking, like John, from Christ in His fullness of deity to the exhibition of that divine fullness in redemption consummated in heaven (Colossians 1:20-22).
Again, the passage celebrates (rather than merely stating) Christ's divine nature, making it inseparable from the Gospel message. Christ, being God Himself, willingly bled and died on the cross to atone for the sins of those who trust in Him. Remember, Paul here identified Christ as both the Creator and the focal point of His own creation, and in the next breath introduced His willingness  to sacrifice Himself for our rebellion against Him. If that amazing fact doesn't give you a desire to fall on your knees with wonder and adoration, just keep reading about the Gospel. It only gets better.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who Is He, Anyway?

When we say that Jesus died for our sins, we need to first establish Who Jesus actually is. A "Jesus" of our own making certainly couldn't provide any real atonement since, essentially, He would be a figment of our imagination. So I must begin this exploration of the Gospel with the doctrine of Jesus, firm in my conviction that everything begins and ends with Him.

Obviously, I can't fully explain Jesus in a few short blog posts, especially when true scholars have written volumes about Him. (Currently, I must concentrate on interviewing prospective PCAs, an inconvenient task which distracts me from writing much of anything.) But I hope that, as I report basic information about Him, my readers will search the Bible to gain a more comprehensive understanding of each point I make.

Today, I want to emphasize Christ's deity, which He claimed using words and idioms that First Century Jews completely understood. As a 17-year-old girl, I found John 8:48-59 riveting. Here's the passage in the ESV:
48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
Notice verse 58. When Jesus said, "I AM," He referred back to God's words to Moses from  the burning bush:
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” ~~Exodus 3:13-14 (ESV)
The Pharisees, having great knowledge of this passage in Exodus, instantly caught Jesus' reference, as evidenced by their attempt to stone Him  in verse 59. They had no difficulty recognizing the fact that Jesus had very openly claimed to be God.

So many other Scriptures support the beautiful doctrine of Christ's deity, and next time I want to show you a section from Colossians that demonstrates the doctrine in a way that makes me tingle with amazement every time I read it. Forgive me if I go on and on about Jesus being God, but in nearly 44 years, I still love reviewing Biblical texts that highlight His divinity. Once I grasped that God Himself bore total punishment for my many sins, I gained a deeper appreciation of the Gospel's wonder.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Gospel And Doctrine

Simply stated, the Gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sin and rose again on the third day. Faith in these two facts assure a person of salvation.

Yes, it's that simple.

At the same time, this simple Gospel raises several questions that must be asked and answered in order to understand the nature of salvation, its implications and why it matters. Even though a small child can understand its basic components, the principles can never be fully exhausted, even after decades of diligent study. God extends well beyond the limitations of human intellect, yet anyone can access Him regardless of age, education or cognitive ability.

I want to look at the  various aspects of the Gospel, which necessitates examining various doctrines. Some might protest that we should forget about doctrine and "just focus on Jesus." In response, I'd ask how we can do even that without the great doctrines of Scripture that tell us Who Jesus is, what He thinks and how He relates to us. Without these doctrines, He gets treated as a  half-fictitious being Who  conforms Himself to individual  preferences.

Throughout these posts that explore the doctrines implicit in the Gospel, I pray that the Lord will show more liberal readers how and why the Gospel depends on sound doctrine. More importantly, I pray that any readers who haven't yet responded to the Gospel might place their faith in Jesus as they read through this series.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  ~~Romans 1:16 ((ESV)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Belated Birthday Hymn

As I age (two weeks ago I suffered my 61st birthday), I look back on all the times the Lord has shown His faithfulness in my life. These memories build my faith that He'll show that same faithfulness in my future. So today's hymn belatedly observes my birthday.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thus Ends My Retelling Of My Messy Follies

My last three posts, if they communicated according to my intent, demonstrated just a few of the ways I've struggled with error in my Christian life. I could write a great deal more about my struggles, and doing so might encourage people to delve into Scripture to better understand God's perspective. Actually, I hope you do just that! Judge my words, not by popular opinion or your subjective experiences, but by the  Bible in proper context.

I see no reason to continue chronicling my messy follies at this point. Undoubtedly, future posts will mention various episodes involving ways I've misunderstood the Word of God at different stages of my life. At least, I hope I'll have the humility to admit my mistakes. But for now, I believe I've made the point that  I fell into several wrong beliefs because I lacked clear doctrine.

Paradoxically, early in my Christian life, I sat under one pastor who did teach expositional Bible Studies. He did, to a lesser degree than most people in the fellowship, embrace Charismatic theology, but his main emphasis remained on the authority of Scripture. The Lord used this pastor's teaching to give me enough of a doctrinal ballast that I never totally gave in to the off-base leanings that captivated most of my friends.

For example, even at the peak of my involvement with Charismatic practices, I kept an element of reserve. In many instances,  I'd pull back from things like being "slain in the Spirit" or "holy laughter" because they just didn't line up with Scripture.  My conservative stance frustrated my friends. Sometimes, it also frustrated me, if you want to know the truth. But I kept trying (very imperfectly, to be sure) to measure experience by the standard of Scripture.

In the past twelve years, and particularly in the last two or three, the Lord has led me into Reformed theology. This past April, John and I began attending a Baptist church with Reformed leanings (which we officially joined in September), and in July God brought that church a pastor who shares many convictions that John and I now hold.

This turn to Reformed theology hasn't felt like a new phase for me, however. Rather, I feel as if I've returned home. I've learned the crucial importance of sound doctrine, and have seen doctrine correct my thinking in many areas. Although I understand how easily even true Christians can fall into the errors that I frequently address in these blog posts, I also firmly believe that my failures intensify my desire to speak out for truth. May God's people unite, not by discarding sound doctrine, but as a result of it!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Mess Of Being Charismatic

My years as a Charismatic, and even more years as a former Charismatic who remained in a Charismatic church, proved to be the most tangled mess of all. I've almost completed my  journey in understanding the Biblical view of Catholicism, and I've made good progress on seeing why psychology undermines the doctrine of Scripture's sufficiency, although more study on  both matters couldn't hurt. But, despite turning decisively away from Charismatic theology and practice 23 years ago, I still detect its subtle influence in my life once in a while.

Charismatic experience has many moving parts, some of which have slithered in to evangelical churches that consider themselves non-Charismatic. A church may not practice speaking in tongues, for instance, but it may encourage contemplative prayer. Or it may spiritualize new age psychology for "inner healing." Joni and Ken Tada, even though affiliated with John MacArthur's church, write about some experiences in their book, Joni And Ken: An Untold Love Story, that rival many experiences in Pentecostal churches. Charismatic influences permeate evangelical culture.

Precisely because Charismatic ideas have  such a stranglehold, even on me, I find it difficult to write about its effect on my life. Clearly, I can't condense over 30 years of being in the movement into one blog post.

And that admission brings me to my point. The Charismatic Movement, much like the other topics I routinely address in this blog, can't be handled neatly. That said, it very much requires attention because some of its tenents have seeped in to the broader evangelical community. And, having come out of that particular doctrinal error, I believe I need to confront its various facets.

As I broach this topic, please understand that I do not consider all Charismatics to be unsaved. During my 18 years as a practicing Charismatic, I believed the basic Gospel, as do many of my friends who still embrace the theology. I feel concern for those friends, however, wanting to see them liberated from teachings and behaviors that run counter to God's Word and distract them from the Gospel.
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. ~~1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Psychological Mess

As a college sophmore, I took a class in psychology. By the end of the semester, I recognized a tremendous disparity between the curriculum's assumption that man is basically good and the Bible's insistence on human depravity. Mixed with other factors in my life that school year, the exposure to psychology contributed to me backsliding from my Christian beliefs.

Let me be very clear: that class was only one of several factors leading me to compromise my convictions, so please don't misinterpret me as blaming that one class for my spiritual  failings. At the same time, understand that I took no subsequent classes in psychology because I saw the damage that had occurred through that class.

Several years later, working as a correspondence counselor for Love In Action (this Wikipedia article, though biased, gives accurate facts), I struggled with the ministry's incorporation of psychology. In some respects, I considered  some of the psychological models useful, and regretted not going to graduate school for a degree in counseling. At the same time, I noticed an increasing dependence among leadership on psychology resulting in a minimized trust in the sufficiency of Scripture.

I also saw the trend in evangelical churches to deal with a variety of sin issues by referring people to professional counselors. This practice, while intending to show the humility of pastors, communicated to me that hurting Christians needed something beyond God's Word and the power of the Holy Spirit to deal with sin and its effects.

Thankfully, I couldn't afford to see a professional counselor when I wanted help in dealing with my anger. My pastor  did suggest that  my anger stemmed from some repressed childhood trauma, leading me to more unprofitable navel-gazing. Now I realize that anger, like any sin, simply requires submission to the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. I blow it all too often, but I increasingly find victory merely by obeying His Word. I strongly believe that professional counseling would have conjured up some convenient excuse for my anger, thereby intensifying it.

So, I  now view psychology as a hindrance to Christian maturity. The apostle Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, made it clear that God has given us far better tools than Freud or Jung ever could:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ~~1 Peter 1:3-11 (ESV)
Why, when God gives us everything we need as we grow to know Him through His Word, do we turn to something as humanistic as psychology? I confess having fallen for the lie that it offered something more than I could find in the Word of  God. May I  never believe such a lie again.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Catholic Mess

My Religious Studies professor  in college, Father C., saw my Protestant affiliation as an opportunity to demonstrate the fundamental difference between Catholic and Protestant theology to the class on Thomas Aquinas. We had read the Question "Whether to believe is meritorious" in Aquinas' Summa Theologica, and he naturally assumed  I would take issue with it.

In part, I wanted to have fun with Father C. He and I had  a playful friendship, and I loved throwing him off his game. But Aquinas had appealed to my pride, disarming my intellect with the comforting possibility that maybe I had contributed to my salvation after all. So when Father asked for my response to the Question, I saw a perfect opportunity to both mess with his mind and answer honesty (with my priorities decidedly in that order).

"Well Father," I began in a tone signaling my intention to draw things out, "when I started reading this question, I was prepared to disagree. But as I followed his line of reason, I realized he might be right."

Father C.'s stunned expression and ensuing loss for words sent the entire class into fits of laughter. After class, several of us assembled, gleefully recounting how stymied he had been and how I'd thrown a monkey wrench into his lesson plan. Actually, I have been chuckling as I've typed the story today.

My chuckling, however, turns to grief over my glaring  doctrinal error in Father C.'s classroom that day. That priest knew, better than I did, that Martin Luther's entire Reformation hinged on the doctrine that no human act--not even faith--can possibly merit anything from God.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~~Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
Luther rightly understood that Roman  Catholicism has replaced the Scriptural teaching of grace and faith with a system of works and sacraments whereby we "earn" grace. Luther, Calvin and the other Reformers took tremendous risks (some even dying as martyrs) to restore  the Biblical doctrines of grace and faith.



Sadly, I spent decades ignoring the importance of this doctrinal distinction, even long after I saw that Aquinas got it wrong. Once again, the cry for "unity" between evangelicals and Catholics demanded that I minimize the importance of doctrine. At times, largely depending on the prevailing attitude among the various evangelical circles I frequented, I might  argue that faith couldn't merit God's favor, but I avoided a dogmatic stance.

Obviously, the Lord has now shown me that I must no longer equivocate on this  matter. Aquinas taught falsely. Furthermore, in this false teaching he attacked the sufficiency of Christ's shed blood on the cross, again implying that we play a pivotal role in securing our place in heaven. And that suggestion that anything we do--including believing--could merit salvation, completely undermines the Gospel.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

All Five Verses!

After several years of scouring YouTube, I've finally found a video of How Firm A Foundation (my all-time favorite hymn) that contains all five verses! Over the years, singing this hymn to myself has often comforted me in times of struggle. More importantly, it reminds me that God has  told me everything I need for faith in the pages of Scripture. May the Lord encourage you through these lyrics, which come from God's Word.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Messy Credit

As a teenager, I knew the depth of my sin, and gratefully received the wonderful news that Jesus died on the cross to atone for that sin. I didn't understand how His death purchased my pardon, but I trusted that He saved me from  certain damnation by shedding His blood on my behalf. And I knew that, because He saved me from eternity in hell, I owed Him my life. More precisely, I wanted to express my gratitude by living for Him.

On that basis, I believe the Lord genuinely converted me that January afternoon so many years ago. My faith rested in His work on the cross, not in any of my efforts. On one level, I've never deviated from my conviction that my salvation rested solely on what Jesus did on the cross.

Regretfully, I also believed that I had "accepted" Christ, therefore playing some sort of role in my salvation. As recently as two years ago, I recounted my testimony in such terms that I subtly congratulated myself for "becoming" a Christian, as well as taking credit for "maintaining" my salvation through my "obedience."

Yet my self-congratulatory stance ebbed and flowed, often giving way to the truth that I contributed nothing to my salvation. Looking back, I think my instability arose from being in churches that minimized the importance of doctrine. These churches deliberately avoided the Arminianism/Calvinism debate (although they tended toward Arminianism) for the sake of "unity." Consequently, I struggled a lot with whether or not I could take credit  for my Christianity.

Arminianism definitely appealed to my pride. Truthfully, I very much liked having the spotlight on how I "correctly responded" to the Gospel. Yet I also had Calvinist leanings. I didn't particularly want them, but  the Bible had an annoying habit of supporting the doctrines of man's depravity and election.

At the time I began chatting online with John, I also chatted with another man who hoped to introduce me to the "beauty" of   Calvinism. I felt resistant. I also wondered how Calvinism could be beautiful. Of course, my romantic attraction to John quickly caused the other  man to stop chatting with me, so he had little chance to explain his doctrinal perspectives to me. I was both relieved and disappointed.

Couldn't I take from each tradition, not confining myself to a doctrinal stance? Well, essentially I did just that for nearly forty years, all the while regarding myself as a "mature" Christian. But now I understand that, for the most part (no system of theology gets every point right), Calvinism most closely follows Scripture's teachings.

Through my exposure to Reformed blogs these past few years, the Holy Spirit has helped me understand that He alone brought me to faith in Christ. The following Scripture best explains how He brought me to life:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)
Does it matter whether or not I believe I played a part in my salvation? Yes. As long as I took even the tiniest slice of credit, I denied the clear teaching of Scripture. Had I never studied doctrine from a  Calvinist standpoint, I would, in all probability, still assume credit for something that the Lord did entirely because He is gracious.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Messy Digression

Before I write anything further about my concerns about false unity and its disdain for the importance of doctrine, I believe I need to tell you more about my almost 44 years as a Christian and my struggles to read and apply the Bible  correctly.

Writing about my spiritual history challenges me for several reasons, though I don't count fear of embarrassing myself among them. I fear offending long-time friends who still adhere to Charismatic (or at least continuationist) beliefs. I fear alienating my liberal friends as well as loved ones who identify as Catholics. But mostly, I fear that I still don't fully understand everything I've gone through well enough to explain it neatly.

And maybe I can't make a messy past fall into orderly prose. The writer in me wants to construct an orderly narrative, appeasing the memory of my college English professor, Sister Nicholas. Sister Nick always insisted that a written piece have a beginning, a middle and an end. My attempts to understand my theological background resist her tidy format. Simply stated, it's messy.

Yet readers have called my stands against certain teachers and movements harsh. I agree. I have little patience with people and teachings that deviate from Scripture. Few people realize, however, that throughout my life I have struggled with various ideas, beliefs and influences that drew me away from doctrinal purity. The harshness I project comes from a hatred of false teaching.

In exposing my own failures in the next few posts, I hope to become more merciful toward people who embrace the various errors that I often address here.   Perhaps I've forgotten how some of those errors seduced me, as well as how gently and patiently the Lord works (present tense, because I see areas I still need to sort out) to correct me. Therefore, I intend to disclose some of my folly, not as exhibition or catharsis, but in hopes of the Holy Spirit giving me a more merciful attitude. The narratives most likely will come out messily, but I pray they'll bring more order when I return to my topic of unity.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Context And Application

Sometimes, in our zeal to apply Scripture to our lives, we miss the obvious. We'll zero in on a passage, look for ways to implement its principles, and begin putting it into practice. We know many people and churches--often people and churches whom we highly respect--who understand a passage the way we do, and their encouragement bolsters our resolve to proceed in our application. But on some occasions, despite our honest desire to please the Lord with our obedience, we unintentionally isolate a passage from its context, misunderstanding and consequently misapplying it.

As I've considered how evangelicals use Ephesians 4:11-16 to support ecumenical unity, I've begun thinking about Paul's main theme in the epistle as a whole. He puts forth that theme most directly a chapter earlier:
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. ~~Ephesians 3:1-6 (ESV)
Paul proclaimed the message that Jesus had extended salvation to Gentiles, uniting us with the Jews who had received the Gospel. The doctrine of the Gospel brought about a unity built, not around a tolerance for differing interpretations of the apostles' teaching. That teaching established a unified faith, but not a nebulous faith that allowed for a deliberate avoidance of doctrine.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ~~Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV)
Time and space will not allow me to show you all the Scriptures that caution Christians against factions in this small blog post, but I would suggest that none of them supports the sort of unity that minimizes doctrine. While some minor points certainly may be left to individual conscience (I'll address those matters another time), we err greatly if we regard doctrine itself as a divisive entity that we should avoid. 


Instead of forcing an ecumenical agenda on Ephesians 4:11-16, let's remember that Paul intended the entire epistle to address the racial division between Jewish and Gentile believers. In the 21st Century, then, we must apply this passage to racial and social status. As we all gather around God's Word, letting the Spirit use His doctrine to unite us with Christ, worldly differences will recede so that we can focus entirely on Him.

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