Saturday, December 26, 2015

Heidelberg Catechism Q3-5

3. Q. From where do you know your sins and misery?

A. From the law of God.

4. Q. What does God's law require of us?

A. Christ teaches us this in a summary in Matthew 22: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.

5. Q. Can you keep all this perfectly?

A. No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour.

As we celebrate Christmas, we are reminded of why Christ came in the first place.  Let's look at Galatians 4:1-7.  Actually, we have to go back to Chapter 3:

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

As the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes, we are incapable of keeping God's law, but we are prisoners under that covenant until the Son comes to rescue us.  Now, this doesn't mean we are innocent victims.  I think that's one of the greatest travesties of the modern Church.  We are told constantly that we have "missed the mark", we have "made mistakes", or we have "failures."  We are told that sin is something that happened TO us.  No, we are rebels.  We are haters of God.  We are completely responsible for our actions, words, and thoughts.  Just because sin is genetic doesn't make us less evil.  You've heard in the movies, "some people are just born bad."  Well, actually, all of us are born bad.

Notice the answer to question 5 doesn't say, "sadly, we just can't keep the law, no matter how hard we try." This is true, but the full answer is that we don't even try. "No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour." Now, notice sin comes before the law, even though sin is the transgression of the law, because remember the law was handed down through Moses.  How can you have the transgression before the law itself?  Well the answer is clear to see: the law is handed down to codify the transgressions that were already taking place.  The ten commandments are not a law handed down for us to then break.  It's an image of perfection to show us how far we have strayed from the attributes of a true child of God.  The law exists to tutor us on what true holiness is.

But the law is not the covenant itself.  The law shows us that we are completely unable to keep the covenant of works to merit our salvation.  Only a transfer out of the covenant of works and into a covenant of grace is the solution.  This is the wonderful hope that the passage in Galatians provides.  Those who have put their faith in Christ (the outward sign being baptism) have been transferred to the covenant of grace.

Now, what does this have to do with the nativity?  Jesus had to be born under that same law, that same covenant of works, so that he could fulfill it. The law of works still needs to be kept, and Christ not only is the one who can do it, he does do it!  We being in Christ by faith have fulfilled the covenant of works, too, because we are IN Christ.  We are no longer rebels but are lovers of Christ, out of gratitude for what he has done for us.

This is why he needed to live a full life without sin before dying on the cross.  He needed to perfectly fulfill the covenant of works.  I'm reminded of the carol Away in a Manger, which is written off as extra-biblical nonsense and silly descriptions of Baby Jesus sleeping.  Believe it or not, there is doctrine there: "The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes."  This is significant.  We all know babies are selfish little creatures, and rightly so, because they are completely dependent on their parents.  They can't feed themselves, they can't walk, they can't talk.  They cry out for what they need.  Yet, Christ did not make a sound, because even though it is necessary, selfishness is still sin, and Jesus cannot sin.  He knows he will be taken care of.  He does not need to cry out for himself to be served.  He, from the beginning, came to serve, and to die as a ransom for many.

Let's remember how even the Christ child fulfilled the law for us, so that we could be redeemed and adopted as sons and daughters of God, all for His Glory.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Five Solas

The Protestant Reformation was based on five solas.  Sola means "alone," and True Christianity needs these five elements to be alone and pure, without addition or subtraction: sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria.  Namely, these were scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, and glory to God alone.  This Christmas, let's look at how each of these relates to the nativity of Christ.

Sola Scriptura
The foundation of our faith is the unmolested scripture.  We believe in scripture alone.  That means that everything we know about God comes from the Bible.  If we read something abut Christ that does not line up with what Scripture says, we discard it.  This goes for dreams, visions, and at the time of the reformation, Papal authority.  It's so easy to get duped into thinking things about Jesus that aren't biblical.  We hear them from the media, our world's "authorities," and our friends and family.  We rarely investigate after getting information from someone we love and trust, but we must always go to the text of the Bible to see if it's true.  Scripture alone.  There are not many words about Christ's birth, but what is there is valuable--precious. God does not give us more nor less information than we need.  People will enhance the nativity to make it more "real" to us, but God found such enhancements unnecessary.  He has given us exactly the amount of information we need for our salvation--no more, no less.

Sola Gratia
This is the all-important grace alone.  This means that Christ's incarnation was not based on anything that mankind, nor particular people, did to deserve this.  We are wretched sinners who deserve death and everlasting ruin.  Nothing in us merits God's favor.  Becoming a man, the Christ, was God's decision from the beginning.  He even told Adam and Eve in the garden about what he was going to do.  It was his plan.  He didn't wait for us to become better people.  We could see from the nation of Israel's history that we weren't getting better at all; worse, in fact.  Only God's grace, his condescending to become a man, solely based on his own will, is what saves us.  God did it because he is good, not because we are in any way.  He is a gracious, holy, and just God, but he is also merciful.  His mercy endures forever. While we were still sinners, unable to help ourselves nor reach out to God for help--in fact we were haters of God--he came to earth to save us.

Sola Fide
Is anything required on our part for salvation?  Well, yes, there is one thing--faith, but as we've learned from Sola Gratia, even this faith comes from God.  We do not bring our faith to the table, God provides it for us through his Holy Spirit.  Faith is just believing, believing in Jesus Christ, but not just any Christ.  No, it has to the be Christ of the Bible. That's why Sola Scriptura is so important.  We are fed false Christs every day, but the one of the Bible is who we are to put our faith in for our salvation.  Faith involves denying self, because you can't have faith in yourself AND Christ.  Denying self is called repentance.  This is also a gift from God.

Solus Christus
Only the Jesus of the Bible, and Jesus alone.  I already said we can't have faith in ourselves.  We also can't have faith in any other religious figure.  We can't "hedge our bets."  We can't put our faith in celebrities or world leaders.  We can't put our faith in false Christs.  Jesus is God, and he is the only one we can put our faith in.  Not because God won't allow it, but because salvation is only POSSIBLE through Christ.  He is our ark, the only one who can save us from the flood.  He is our living water, the only that gives eternal life.  He is the bread of life, the only that can sustain us.  He is our only healer, our only savior.

Soli Deo Gloria
All of what God does for us is really for his glory alone.  That's not being selfish.  God is the greatest thing in the universe, and so everyone should worship him as that greatest thing.  When we look at the scriptures and we read about what God has done for us, and how all we need to do is believe, we see that all the other figures written about in the Old Testament are types and shadows of Christ.  I can't put my faith in Moses but Christ alone.  Moses is a type of Christ. David is a type of Christ.  When I read about David and Goliath, I am not to identify with David and try to figure out how to slay my own Goliath.  That would be for my own glory.  I am to see David as a foreshadowing of Christ defeating the death on the cross.  Everything points to Jesus: the Old Testament forward, the New Testament back.  The scriptures are all about Christ, and we praise him and give him the glory he deserves when we see him everywhere in it.  Anything that can turn our minds toward Christ and the amazing life he lived and died in order to save us, properly gives glory to God alone.  We need to preach to each other the first four solas, so that the fifth sola locks into place.  Only by preaching grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, can we give glory to God alone.  In order to not stray from this course, we need to preach from the scriptures alone.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:19-28)

As advent draws to an end, and the coming of Jesus Christ is nigh, we not only need to think about the great gift God has given us, but we need to think about how we will face Christ on the last day.  John shows us true humility in this passage, humility that we must have on that last day.  This humility consists of three elements: denial of self, exaltation of Christ, and discernment of spirits. 

The first, denial of self, is easier said than done.  John does say it.  To the three questions posed to him, he answers "I am not the Christ", "I am not", and "no."  These are self-denying expressions that don't seem like much until you realize that the ways of the world are all about affirmation of the self.  "I am" followed by an adjective makes up most of our language nowadays.  Joel Osteen has even come out with a book called, The Power of "I Am", and he's not talking about the proper name of God.  He's taking about himself, ourselves, the world.  He's affirming the great sin of pride, which caused Satan to fall and is the foundation of all the other sins we possess.  First we topple God from his throne and put ourselves in his place, then as kings of our own universes we can do whatever we want without consequences. That is, until we discover the truth, hopefully on this side of death.

Are you the Christ?  Are you God?  John says he is not, but our world belts a resounding YES!  The second question: are you Elijah?  In our day and age it would be, are you someone important in the church?  Do we want to be someone important in the church?  With a name?  Someone who can be followed and marketed?  Of course we do!  It would help us to promote Christ if we were charismatic church leaders!  Vision casters!  But John says NO, he is not someone important.  He says later in the Gospel of John that he MUST decrease so that Christ can increase.  You cannot promote God and self at the same time. 

Last question: are you THAT Prophet, mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15 & 18, which is Christ again.  John says no, of course.  Also, remember how the question is framed.  We read that the ones who were sent to ask him these questions were sent by the Pharisees.  That means one thing: they were trying to trick him and trap him into saying something that will get him in trouble.  Indeed they do get him in trouble later, but this line of questioning is answered by resounding NOs.  John will not take their bait.  How would this question be framed today?  How are you revealing Christ's kingdom in the world today?  How are you representing Christ on earth?  We hear preachers preach themselves all the time today, under the guise of proclaiming Christ, but what they are really saying is, "this is how I am doing it, and this is how I'm showing the POWER of the Holy Spirit."  Do you have the power?  Does your ministry reveal Christ's kingdom in supernatural power?  No?  And we end up feeling that we are missing something.  We don't have that edge.  We are not connected with our heavenly father.  Are we even saved?

John says no, I am not that prophet. This is the ultimate minimizing of self in order to grow Christ.  But John doesn't deny that he is A prophet.  He claims he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "make straight the way of the Lord."  Preaching is prophecy.  Remember, Elijah was a miracle prophet.  The bulk of miracles in the Old Testament are attributed to him.  To say that you are him, or even LIKE him, is to push the POWER of your ministry.  John's ministry is quite the opposite.  He proclaims Christ and at the same time minimizes himself.

Which leads us to the second part of humility: exalting Christ.  It's not enough to shrink yourself.  Many worldly people do that, usually to get attention.  It's one thing to speak lowly of yourself so that others will notice you, but John's is a diversion of attention away from himself and onto the Lord Jesus Christ.  Negative attention is still attention, but John's is a positive attention directed toward his Lord and Savior.  He first says he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, but then he pulls us away from the picture of a lone man standing against the world and onto Jesus by saying, "Make straight the way of the Lord."  Now we have a picture of the world lining up, getting out of the way, so that Jesus can be seen.  John is nowhere in the picture.

Here's another way John exalts Christ.  The questioners ask him why he baptizes, if he is not the Christ nor Elijah nor the Prophet?  Once again John marginalizes himself by claiming to be the distributor of the MEANS of grace but not the grace itself.  The grace itself is given by God alone.  Once again, God is edified. The priest's job is to baptize, distribute the Lord's supper, and to proclaim his word--all three of those are MEANS of grace.  Only God gives the grace itself.  My job is to stand out of the way in the shadows and draw no attnetion to myself, but I must continually push Christ into the light, into the open, for all to see.

Finally, there is the discerning of spirits.  This can be seen in the four words "you do not know."  When John is describing Christ, he tells them that there is one standing among them, whom they know not.  The humble person has not only an accurate view of themselves and an accurate view of Christ, but also an accurate view of the world, specifically who are God's children and who are not.  Granted, we are not to condemn others, for that is God's job only.  But John tells us in his first letter that we are to discern the spirits, for false teaching is rampant in the world, and we need to know, for our sake and the sake of other believers, if a spirit comes from God or not.  This is what John is doing when he tells them to their faces that they know Christ not.  He knows who the Pharisees are and what they teach.  John has the Holy Spirit--he had it since in utero--and he can which of the spirits are from God and which are from the evil one.  Notice this disernment is also peppered with humility.  John degrades himself again and exalts Christ AGAIN: he tells them that he is unworthy to even unlatch Jesus' sandals. 

Now, how close are we to being like John? Do we humble ouselves as he?  Do we deny ourselves, exalt Christ like we ought, and do we discern the spirits when we listen to today's teachings on Christ and His Church?  No, we certainly do not.  We preach ourselves all the time, when we should be sharing the gospel.  We keep the reality of Christ and his saving grace from others, because we are too scared about what they would think of us. Finally, we accept all kinds of false teaching--unbiblical things--because we just want to be accepted.  We just want people to like us.  We want to belong to a community.  We want friends.  See how all these things are related to humility or the lack thereof?  We care so much about ourselves, our comfort, our relationships, our status, that we neglect Christ.

Thankfully, Christ died for this very sin, too.  When Peter denied Christ three times, Christ responded by doing the one thing Peter could not do: he restored the relationship and "undid" the denials.  Likewise, for us, weak-willed sinner-saints who exalt ourselvs and leave Christ in the shadows, Jesus did all the things that we were supposed to do.

He denied himself and became a man, became a servant, became nothing, even to the point of death on a cross for us.  From his throne on high to a feeding trough down low.  As it says in Philippians 2: as a result of his humbling himself, the Father highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.  Christ's spirit is the perfect spirit of discernment.  When we are in Christ and in his word, being able to discern false teaching and truth becomes easy.  Although every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, many will confess in embarrassment and horror.  Others will confess with joy and awe.  Two different spirits reacting to the same event on the last day in the same way but with different motivations.

Repentance and faith puts us in Christ, so that our failures are washed away.  He provides the humility that we lack.  When we have faith in Christ alone, his humility becomes ours.  His denial of self becomes ours.  His discernment becomes ours.  We can proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified, because his Spirit working in us proclaims him. As Christmas approaches remember that even though we haven't the humility we ought, Christ has more than enough for us all.  His perfect gift of himself on Christmas supersedes our weak gifts of pride and selfishness.  All you need is faith.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Heidelberg Catechism Q2

2. Q. What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
A. First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.

Note that these three things are in a particular order.  They have to come in this order or we have made a jumble of Christianity itself.  Indeed, all throughout history these three things have been not only scrambled into different orders, but one or more have been excluded in preaching, and therefore we are receiving an incomplete word of God.  We are either brow-beaten with the law without any Gospel comfort, or we are given a false hope without knowing our miserable state, leading to an entrenchment in our own sin.

One error seems easier to fix than the other.  Much of today's preaching is law without gospel, encouraging the congregation to "try harder" and if they don't see results, they aren't "doing it" right.  Anything can be law, not just the moral laws found in the Bible.  Being a better spouse or father, anything "self help," consists of rules to live by, rules that will be broken, because we are sinful.  Even hearing the voice of God can become law when we compare our walks with others.

So, as a result, many preachers err in the opposite direction, hitting the congregation with inspirational, feel-good platitudes.  Calling sin "mistakes" or "failures," keeping us from understanding our true misery as actual rebels and haters of God and each other.  At least we aren't "trying harder" as when we were clobbered with the law, but this error leaves us in the same state as before, but now with an extra dose of pride, due to our perception that God wants to be our helper in life.  Whatever you were doing before, keep doing it, and now you can arrogantly believe that God approves of it and wants to help you accomplish it.  This error in preaching is harder to fix, because the applause it receives is intoxicating. Our churches grow at exponential rates when we believe that God is fine with our lives.  Only just replace that alcoholism or sexual perversion that you were getting "high" on with Jesus, who is the ultimate high.

Zacharias Ursinus confirms this in his commentary on the catechism: "because without the knowledge of our sinfulness and misery, we cannot hear the gospel with profit ; for unless, by the preaching of the law as touching sin and the wrath of God, a preparation be made for the proclamation of grace, a carnal security follows, and our comfort becomes
unstable. Sure consolation cannot stand in connection with carnal security.
Hence it is manifest that we must commence with the preaching of the law,
after the example of the Prophets and Apostles, that men may thus be
cast down from the conceit of their own righteousness, and may obtain a
knowledge of themselves, and be led to true repentance. Unless this be
done, men will become, through the preaching of grace, more careless and
obstinate, and pearls will be cast before swine to be trodden under foot." The law exists to cast us down from our self-righteousness, and without it, we become secure in our carnal nature.

What is the state of our misery?  It's worse than we think. Look at Romans 3, and apply this description to yourself, because "Jews and Greeks" encompasses all people on earth:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;

no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; 

together they have become worthless;
no one does good,

not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God (Romans 3:10-19).

That sounds extreme, but we need this extreme description to see how God views us.  Here's another list from 1 Corinthians, which hits closer to home, because it contains sins that we can identify with:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

These are things some or many of which we can say we've participated in, even if it only involves cheating, getting drunk, or just being generally greedy. That stuff may not seem so bad to us, but to God we appear as "worthless," our throats "open graves," our speech the "venom of asps."  We need to understand this about ourselves, if the good news is ever to make any sense to us.  The next verse of 1 Corinthians 6 is the hope we seek from the horror of such misery:

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Christians are those who were once condemned but are no longer.  Note the passive verbs: were washed, were sanctified, were justified.  The transfer of Christians from condemnation to salvation is not a work of the Christians themselves but the work solely of God.  This is good news, because it reveals that we are not saved through our own efforts but through God's, and he is faithful and true.  He won't screw it up like we would.  Finally, let's look at Titus 3:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works (Titus 3:3-8).

Again, Paul tells us that we all were once in this state of corruption, where we can't even get along among ourselves.  But God is good and loving and he loved us in a certain way: he sent his son to die in our place, as if Jesus Christ deserved death instead of us.  His righteousness is credited to us and our sin to him.  The final goal in all this is eternal life, the resurrection from the dead.  Now, notice at the end of the passage that Paul says that through faith in what God has done for us, we are to devote ourselves to good works, not as saving works but as works of gratitude that naturally come out of our faith.  This is the third part of the catechetical answer: how we show our thanks to God for our redemption.  If there is no change in our behavior, it's not because we didn't try hard enough. Good works come out of a saving faith in Christ's shed blood for our sin.  These good works are incremental steps in our walk, but they exist nonetheless.

So, these three parts of the answer to the second question of the Heidelberg Catechism are to be considered in order.  Indeed, the rest of the catechism is divided into three parts with those very headings.  Next week, we will look deeper into the law and our misery, which drive us to the foot of the cross and into Christ's saving embrace.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Heidelberg Catechism Q1

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

The first thing noteworthy about the question itself is that what is asked about is the ONLY comfort in both life and death.  We have many comforts in life, and many think death itself is a comfort, but there is only one comfort that transcends this existence on this earth.  We have many creature comforts for our body, like beds and couches, family and friends, entertainment and carnal love, but there is only one comfort for both body and soul, something that gives us spiritual comfort, and that is peace of mind about our final destination.

I'm not merely talking about going to heaven after we die.  That is a superficial reading of this comfort, but Paul himself says in Philippians 3:11 that his goal is "that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."  This goes beyond "going to heaven after we die," and enters into the realm of everlasting life in resurrection bodies after the end.  This is bigger than just our personal relationship with Christ.  This moves into what is happening world-wide with everyone who ever lived and died.

John 5 gives us a big clue.  Starting at verse 28, Jesus says, "Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment."  Notice that the opposite of life is not death but judgment.  Those who are resurrected to life do not have to undergo any judgment, because they have already been judged: Christ was judged in their place on the cross.  We get to bypass the judgment on judgment day and go straight to everlasting life, because Christ already underwent the judgment on our behalf.  This is true comfort.

Here is the comfort in total: 1) we are not our own, 2) we belong to Christ, 3) he bought us with his blood. When has slavery ever been comforting? That's why Christianity doesn't make sense to many people, because we want it to be empowering, but it's really the anti-American prospect of submission of ourselves as slaves. We fought wars to free people from slavery.  We still fight internationally to rid the world of human trafficking.  But Christianity is all about becoming slaves to Christ. We were on the auction block, and Jesus actually paid for us with his blood. Why is this comforting?

The rest of the answer tells us why: 4) Slavery to Christ actually sets us free: free from the devil (and temptations) and free from destruction (and everlasting ruin in hell), free from that very judgment we discussed above.  In Ephesians 2, Paul tells us, "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."  Yes, we were already slaves before Christ bought us, but we were slaves of the devil, which involved a) being dead in our trespasses and sins, b) following the ways of the world, c) following the ways of the devil himself, d) following the ways of our own flesh and sinful thoughts, and finally e) being on the receiving end of God's wrath, the judgment at the end of the age we discussed above.  Remember, we by-pass the judgment now.  Slavery to Christ frees us from that.

Not only does slavery to Christ free me from the devil but it 5) protects
me eternally so that my life, both body and soul, not only is 6) saved by God from destruction, but that 7) in this very life I am put on a course that God decides for me.  This path contains both trials and blessings, but they are all for my good, my sanctification, incomplete but progressing forward nonetheless.  This is also comforting, because we tend to look to our sanctification for the assurance of our salvation.  Indeed we should, but we should not expect some radical transformation into the most godly of saints.  Question 114 of the Heidelberg Catechism reads:

Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?
A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God.

Although saved Christians do earnestly try to keep the commandments of God, we only move forward in small increments.  R.C. Sproul wrote that although we don't love Jesus perfectly or as we ought, we can know we are saved if we love Jesus AT ALL, because those who are not saved hate Christ.  Now, there is a caveat: the Jesus we love at all must be the Jesus described in the pages of Scripture.  There are many who claim to love someone called Jesus Christ, but he is not the Jesus of the Bible.

Of course, our perception is that we feel assured, but this perception is instilled in us by God objectively.  It feels like we have subjectively embraced the truths of scripture, but what God has done has regenerated us of his own will and has given to us his 8) Holy Spirit who assures us of eternal life.  If it were up to us to receive Christ, we would surely fail, but God gives us his spirit, and, as the Catechism states, 9) MAKES us willing to live for Him.
This is a far cry from us having the responsibility for our own salvation.  Christ has objectively done a work on the cross, spilling his blood for our salvation, and the only condition for us receiving this salvation is faith, our believing that Christ died for the forgiveness of OUR sins--not just sins in general, or the sins of mankind--our personal sins.  It seems like an easy thing to do, to BE forgiven, but it takes faith in Christ alone, and most of the world refuses to believe the truth that God came to earth as a man and shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins, so that we may live eternally in the Lord's presence after the resurrection.  This does not make sense to many, and yet is is the only thing that can give us comfort in both life and death, both body and soul.  It is the only truth that matters.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Third Sunday in Advent

The Epistle: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

1 That there is not a God, the fool
doth in his heart conclude:
They are corrupt, their works are vile;
not one of them doth good.

2 Upon men's sons the Lord from heav'n
did cast his eyes abroad,
To see if any understood,
and did seek after God.

3 They altogether filthy are,
they all aside are gone;
And there is none that doeth good,
yea, sure there is not one.

4 These workers of iniquity
do they not know at all,
That they my people eat as bread,
and on God do not call?

5 There feared they much; for God is with
the whole race of the just.
6 You shame the counsel of the poor,
because God is his trust.

7 Let Isr'el's help from Zion come:
when back the Lord shall bring
His captives, Jacob shall rejoice,
and Israel shall sing.

The Gospel: Matthew 11:2-10

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Awake to Advent

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:8-end)

In this part of Romans, the "how should we then live" section, we have many new commandments, and the first one in this part is to, "Owe no man anything."  How many us can say that we owe no man anything?  Even though everything ultimately comes from God, the means of these graces in our lives are other people.  God gave us life, but our mothers gave birth to us.  Our fathers raised us.  Our friends and family weep with us, care for us, give us their time and money.  Strangers help us, too.  Our employers and governments do things for us.

So, we do owe people.  In fact, it seems we owe a lot of people a lot of things.  The text confirms this by saying, "Owe no man anything, except to love one another."  That's another way of saying, "owe no one anything except everything."  Because, how do we love one another?  By obeying God's commandments, and that includes the second table of the law, which is every way we interact with each other.  So, the seventh commandment against adultery includes any relation that would be called "marital" outside of an actual marriage.  Extra-marital behavior is abusive--physically, emotionally, spiritually--and injures all parties involved.  The opposite is also true: we are to love our spouses in a non-abusive way.  We are to respect our spouses and share the gospel with them.  We are to care for them emotionally, spiritually, physically.  Other bodily abuse is included in this commandment, including gluttony, harming your flesh, and drug use.  This is committing adultery against your own body, and likewise, encouraging others to do the same to theirs.

The commandments bleed into one another.  So, the sixth commandment takes the abuses of the seventh to the extreme: you shall not kill yourself as well as others.  You shall not destroy what God has made, and you shall not encourage others to do likewise.  This is not loving your neighbor.  The opposite is also true: you shall hold all life precious.  Not only shall you not encourage yourself and others to kill, but you will also encourage yourself and them to save life when they can.  This is loving your neighbor: encouraging them to hold all life dear.

Stealing is not limited to money or material goods.  You can steal someone's time, you can waste someone's time.  You can forge a relationship with someone and then walk away.  This breaks both the seventh and eighth commandments.  Of course it's not love to take someone's stuff, but to take part of their life in time is also abusive and unloving.  The opposite is also true: you are to give to the other.  Relationships in which each party only thinks about satisfying him-or-herself is also a relationship involving theft.  We are to live only for giving to the other person in the relationship, either inside or outside marriage.  This includes children to their parents and parents to their children.

The eighth commandment bleeds into the ninth.  Stealing the truth from someone--altering reality--is not loving.  It makes life harder for the other person.  Now the offended party must attempt to correct the falsehood, to bring reality back to normal, or live a life in which the lie is forever attached to the person lied about.  The opposite, to be honest with everyone, is to make people safe, to give them peace.

The tenth commandment against coveting includes all of the above but in the deeper realm of thought and intent.  How we act outwardly can be loving, but if we do not feel likewise in our hearts, we are still disobeying God.  And all violations of commandments to love our neighbors are also violations of the commandments to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

So, you see, there is no violation of God's commandments that doesn't harm anyone.  We hear all the time, "it's not harming anyone," but it is, if not physically then emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually.  And with our being able to communicate our thoughts and intents at the speed of light, we encourage many to do likewise by giving our testimony of sin.  To love is to fulfill the law of God.  To disobey is lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.  Therefore, sin is the opposite of love.

So, we owe everyone.  We don't love our neighbor.  We sin against our neighbor and God.  Can it get any worse?  Yes, Paul exhorts us to wake up to these truths before it is too late, for the time of salvation--or ruin--is coming rapidly upon us all.  There are two advents.  The first is when Jesus Christ came in the flesh 2000 years ago to shine a light in the darkness and draw all of his sheep to him.  The other is the second coming of Christ--judgment day.  We may see it come while we live, but we will all probably die first and then be transported forward in time to that day.  So, judgment day is closer than we think.  Are we awake to advent?

Have we cast off the works of darkness?  Have we put on the armor of light?  Do we walk honestly?  Or do we riot against God an our neighbor?  Do we abuse ourselves and others with drunkenness?  Drunkenness doesn't have to involve alcohol.  You can get drunk on many things, like power, sex, violence, death, deceiving, and desire. But it all amounts to an abundance of selfishness. And this selfishness is jealous of itself.  It hates its neighbor.  It would rather everyone be without than for it alone to be without.

Now that we are crushed, let's get out from under the weight that lies upon us.  The only way out is through the Lord Jesus Christ.  We put him on like a garment, because only he has fulfilled the law, and only through him will the Father say that we have fulfilled the law, too.  When Paul says, "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof," he is not saying, "do these things and live," but, "Christ has done these things.  Put your faith in him and him alone, and his righteousness will be yours."  You will no longer make provision for the flesh, because Jesus is living in you and through you.  The sanctification process has begun, and our lives become more holy, our repentance more frequent.

Christ never owed anyone anything.  One of the the devil's temptations in the wilderness was that he would give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, if Jesus would bow down and worship him.  Satan was attempting to cut a covenant between him and Christ, the result of which was Christ would owe Satan his allegiance.  Jesus rejected that temptation, like all others.  Likewise, Jesus obeyed the law in word, deed and thought.  He did not commit adultery, even imaginary, he did not kill, he did not steal, he did not lie, he did not even covet.  In other words he fulfilled the second table of the law by loving his neighbor.  He did no ill toward his neighbor.

He also never slept.  He physically slept, of course, but he was never asleep to what he had come to earth to do.  The primary purpose of the incarnation was the salvation of his people.  When we live in the night, our focus turns to worldly things and away from heavenly things.  Jesus Christ always walked in the daylight.  And so, we are to walk in the daylight by faith, so that we may reach our goal of glorification.  Only by faith in Christ can we walk honestly in the day and avoid the licentiousness of the night.

So put on Christ.  He died on the cross for all your sins, and the assurance of your salvation is that God raised Jesus from the dead, proving that he does not lie, so when God says that he has saved you, he has saved you.  Put on Christ like a new flesh.  The old flesh tempted you into darkness.  The new flesh is a suit of armor of light, the indestructible flesh of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Romans 5:19 Twisted

For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)

Ready for some eye-popping scripture twisting?  If you read the above verse in context you will understand the following:

1. The one man who is disobedient is Adam.

2. Because we are all his progeny, we are all made sinners by birth.

3. The one man who is obedient is Jesus Christ.  All have sinned, so he is the only one who ever was obedient to God's law.

4. All those who are born again are now Christ's progeny, and so they are made righteous, not by their own work, but by Christ's work on the cross.  His righteous and perfect life is imputed to his flock, those who put their faith in Christ alone.

This is the only meaning of this verse.  Now, hear a shocking interpretation from an actual pastor:

When anyone is obedient to God's law, he or she will make many righteous.  We have now moved from Christ's perfect obedience to the law for our salvation to our obedience to the law for others' salvation.  We are put in Christ's office and Jesus is marginalized to a spectator, the distinction between the Father and Son blurred.

I never thought I would put these words down, but when I heard this interpretation, after I got past the shock and disillusion (at first I was in denial that anyone could so mishandle scripture and so I pondered what else he could have meant for weeks), I had to write this brief post.  I pray that you will never be led astray by anyone and that scripture twisting like the above will cease.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Heidelcast

Here is a great podcast that I subscribe to and highly recommend.  Rev. R. Scott Clark spends 13 episodes on exploring Nomism and Antinomianism by working his way through the Marrow of Modern Divinity, a book I heartily recommended a few weeks ago.  This series of episodes starts at Episode #58, so begin there.  Below is a link to the Heidelcast and another link to the free ebook of The Marrow.

The Marrow of Modern Divinity

In the Flesh

And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 3:24b-4:6)

When we become Christians, through faith and baptism, we are given God's Holy Spirit as a gift.  There are no exceptions.  There's no delay.  Just as we are washed clean with Christ's blood from all sin, so, too, we are given a down-payment of the Holy Spirit as a promise of everlasting life.  Now, God's Spirit does not lie dormant in us, but he performs certain functions while we still live on earth.  One of these is testing the spirits.

There are other spirits than the Holy Spirit, angels and demons, and according to our passage in 1 John, we are to test them to see if they are from God or not.  These spirits interact in our world behind the scenes, influencing things, either on God's behalf or against God.  Since the Holy Spirit is perfectly good and holy, he will never lead us astray.  Just as he interprets the scriptures for us, he also discerns the spirits that are in the world. This doesn't mean that we suddenly see angels and demons wandering around.  No, we see the influence the Spirits have on people, and it's through observing and listening to the people--what they do and what they say--that we can see the influence the spirits have.

So, when pastors who are supposed to be teaching the truth about God from the scriptures, instead preach themselves or come up with false doctrine for shameful gain, leading their congregations astray, those who have the Holy Spirit will be able to detect this, and depart from under the false teacher's influence. These "false prophets," as John calls them, have false spirits influencing them. The Holy Spirit detects and rejects these false spirits.

Now, John gives us the test.  This is how it looks to us.  It seems as if we are just using logic, and the test is a logical one, but without the Spirit, we are easily fooled, and the false things we hear are easily digestible, easily incorporated into our worldview, and we are led further and further astray from God. 

Here's the test: the Spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. That seems pretty straightforward doesn't it?  In fact it seems so simple, why wouldn't anyone say that this statement is true?  However, there are many truths loaded in that one statement.  So what does "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh" mean?

First, Jesus was the Christ, the messiah, the anointed one, the savior of mankind.  The Old Testament promises a messiah who will save God's people from all their sins.  Jesus is that messiah.

Second, Jesus was fully God.  The scriptures say that the messiah is going to be God himself.  So, Jesus, in being the Christ, is fully divine with all the powers and attributes of God.

Third, Jesus was fully human.  This is what is loaded inside the clause, "in the flesh."  Jesus lived as a man. He bled, he died, he showed emotion, he wept, he touched things and interacted with other humans on a real level.

Fourth, the incarnation really happened.  This is important.  Ancient heresies that are still around today claim that since Jesus was God, he just appeared to be a man.  Or Jesus was just a man, a great moral teacher, who wasn't really God but had the divine spark in him.  No, Jesus is God, and as the second part of the trinity, he was incarnate on earth, born of a virgin, and lived out a fully human life on earth, but at the same time he was fully God.  He died like a man, but he rose again from the dead by the will of God.

Fifth, he taught as a man but with divine authority.  His teachings are pure and good, because he does not lie.  He always backed up his teaching with miracles that only could happen from God, including instantly healing the sick and raising the dead.  We believe his teachings as true because he was God.  We follow his teachings because he was fully man, who could lead by example.

Sixth, he did not sin.  Being fully God, he was purely good and was incapable of sin.  Being fully man, he was tempted by the evil spirits, just as we are.  As God, he resisted the temptations and remained sin-free.  As man, his sacrifice on the cross enables his perfect righteousness to be imputed to us and our actual sins to be imputed to him.  A God who only appeared to be man is not capable of being a human sacrifice for our sins.

Seventh, he actually died.  Being in the flesh, he was actually able to die.  He was tortured, beaten--he bled.  He was hung on a cross, suffocated--he died a true death.  Being fully God he was able to take on himself the sins of the world.  Being fully man, he was able to be killed in our place.  If he did not die in our place, we are doomed and must suffer eternal death ourselves.

Eighth, he rose from the grave into a new body of flesh.  As Christians, our goal is to attain the resurrection from the dead to eternal life.  Jesus showed us what this looks like. His resurrection body is flesh, indestructible flesh, and so we are not to anticipate a spiritual-only resurrection.  Many Gnostic heresies speak only of a spiritual resurrection, the flesh being bad, and so many false teachings come with that idea.  If flesh is bad, then why would our good God create anything inherently bad?  Suddenly our God stops being the creator God who made heaven and earth.  The new heavens and the new earth aren't going to be spiritual places but actual places that we can experience with our senses.  Christ's resurrection is the first fruit of that reality. 
Without these eight details we have no hope.  We are most to be pitied, because we are putting our trust in an illusion.  Without Jesus Christ having come in the flesh, was are still dead in our trespasses and have to account for our sins on the day of judgment.  Without Christ in the flesh, we are ruined.

And the false spirits are still active in the world today.  The false teachings are still happening.  Many, many sermons and teachings about Christ are not really about Jesus Christ but about us, our lives here and now, and how Jesus can magically help us through our earthly problems. Jesus' name becomes a magical code word that allows God access to our selfish, sinful lives.  God becomes a comforter and helper without being our savior.  Jesus becomes a genie who can give us prosperity and riches and fame.  When a teacher is avoiding the cross, because the cross itself implies an actual death of an actual man, when a teacher avoids talking about that, he reveals himself as one who does not believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.  He may believe in one aspect of Jesus' nature or the other--perhaps fully God, perhaps fully man--but there is a false spirit with that teacher who is keeping the two natures of Christ apart.

All the cults preach a Christ who was not God but only a man, maybe a man with the divine spark but a man nonetheless.  Those teachers are easier to discern because the whole point of Christianity is that we believe that Jesus was God.  However, more subtle is the preaching that Jesus was God but that his humanity is irrelevant.  Remember, salvation is impossible without Christ being fully man as well as fully God.  Preaching and teaching that focuses on ourselves and Jesus as our genie, or a mystical, personal experience with a spiritual Christ, is preaching that denies his humanity.

Of course, that is why we have the Holy Spirit.  Even though the phrase is simple and logical--Jesus Christ has come in the flesh--the devil has created many ways for us to be deceived from this simple truth.  Without the Spirit in us, even this test becomes impossible to perform, because the false spirits are tricky and will tempt us to believe in anything, just as it was tempting these Christians, to whom John was writing, to doubt Christ come in the flesh.

That is why John begins this very letter with the following: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

See how many times John describes experiencing Jesus Christ with his human senses.  Christ come in the flesh is of paramount importance to our salvation.  Thankfully, God has given us his Holy Spirit to reveal this truth to us and to test the spirits to discern the truth in others who proclaim Jesus.  Remember, he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

God Loved the World in This Way

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

God loves the world in a specific manner.  We translate "so" to mean something like "so much!"  This sounds like God wants to give the world a great, big, God-sized hug!  What this clause actually means is "God loved the world in this way, under these circumstances."  So the definition of Love we have in our minds may not mean the same thing as God's.  We usually think of love being a romantic love, but God's love of the world is very different.  God's love is a self-sacrificial love.  It is a love that involves pain and even death.  It is a love of giving.

God gave his only begotten son.  He gave Jesus Christ as a gift at Christmastime, but he also gave up Jesus' actual life for us.  There was an eternal decree where Jesus volunteered himself up for sacrifice, and it was followed through.  Now, see that the condition of salvation is belief--faith.  It doesn't say that if someone does something spectacular and impresses God, he will save them.  No, one only has to believe in Jesus Christ, to put his faith in Jesus Christ.  That's it.  He doesn't have to prove himself at all.  But we want to prove ourselves.  We want to show God that we are something special.  However, since we are born into sin, everything we do, even if it looks good to the world, is corrupt.  Our greatest accomplishment is like a filthy rag to God, because of sin.

It's the difference between eternal life and eternal ruin.  Belief is all that is needed.  Faith is all that can save you.  And it can't be just any faith.  It has to be faith in Jesus Christ himself.  Even then, it can't be a false Christ.  It can't be a Jesus that loves romantically, or anything else that we dream up.  It has to be the Jesus that loves in the specific way that is described above.  It has to be the Jesus of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

Christ's first coming was not to condemn the world but to save it.  He was putting a face on salvation.  It wasn't some arbitrary thing anymore.  He specifically came to let everyone know that all who put their trust in him would be saved.  He did not come to judge the world but to save it.  Now, Jesus will be coming again, and the second time he comes will be to judge the world, with fire. And there will be two camps: one camp of people who put their faith in Christ for their salvation, and one who didn't.

Whoever believes in Christ is not condemned.  That seems simple and straightforward.  However, the opposite is not true.  The opposite would be that those who do not believe in Christ are condemned.  This is not true.  Condemnation is not contingent on believing in Christ.  We are not on neutral ground here.  We aren't just purring along with life and then we hear about Christ, reject him, and then God puts us in the "condemned" category.  No, we have been condemned since birth.  Why?  Because we are born into the line of Adam, who sinned against God on the first day of his life.  God created a covenant with Adam, and Adam immediately broke it.  We are Adam's progeny, and so we are guilty of that sin, too.  In other words, we are guilty of breaking God's Holy Law.  Breaking the law leads to condemnation.  Therefore, we are condemned, and have been since our existence.

Now, belief in Christ pulls us out of that condemnation, but unbelief does not put us in the condemnation.  We are already condemned.  Our unbelief merely keeps our status in God's eyes the same.  There is a famous quote from the late Anne Dillard that goes like this: "I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, 'If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?' 'No,' said the priest, 'not if you did not know.' 'Then why,' asked the Eskimo earnestly, 'did you tell me?'"  Well, remember what we said above: he who does not believe is condemned already.  The priest in the quote, and Anne Dillard, is incorrect.  The answer is actually "Yes! You would go to hell."  Let's look at Romans 1:18:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Jesus Christ came into the world, and he cast a light on everything, and everyone can, by the light of Christ, see that all the accomplishments, all the great works, all the earnings of their way to God, to heaven, are actually evil works.  The Eskimo was condemned already.  His works were evil, no matter how good his intentions were.  Christ only exposes the wickedness in men's hearts.  Even our greatest accomplishments are worthless and evil in God's eyes.

Now, do you think that the light exposing the evil works would cause the evil workers to change their ways? No! Instead, the evil ones run deeper into the darkness.  They hate the light.  They hate Christ and actively work to ridicule him and lead others away from him.  The devil doesn't want to be destroyed alone.  He wants to take as many with him as possible.

Now, those who do have changed hearts, who do put their complete faith in Christ alone, those people are no longer condemned.  They are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God.  Even their worst failure is made fragrant and pure by the shed blood of Jesus.  Look at Colossians 1:13 & 14:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

God transfers us from one domain to the other.  He gives us the faith to believe.  What does it look like?  Repentance.  When we are transferred from one domain to the other, we repent of our sins, we turn away from self, and we turn to Christ as the only source of light and life.  Jesus forgives us of all of our sins: past, present, and future.  Out of gratitude we do good works, which do not save us, but these works can be clearly seen by others that they are carried out in God.  With no faith in Christ, our works are poison, even our best works.  When we are in Christ, having put our faith in him alone, our works are blessed, even our worst ones, because they are based on faith.  They are based on our trust in what Christ has done for us on the cross.  His perfect righteousness is what God counts in our favor.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cleverly Devised Myths

2 Peter 16 reads, "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty."  Peter and his associates didn't make anything up.  They told others their eyewitness testimonies, and these testionies are recorded in the Bible.  The same goes for the other Apostles, and even the Old Testament prophets.  If God didn't want it to be in the Bible, he didn't give the information to his writers.

I heard an explanation of the fall of Lucifer once.  There was a scene where God gathered the angels about and explained to them his plan for salvation--the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Not only was Lucifer having none of this plan and had a third of the angels rebel with him, the story actually has a scene where Lucifer comes to the meeting late and says something like, "hey everybody, what's happening?"  This is a cleverly devised myth, not because of its creativity, but because it succeeds in distracting us from the testimonies about Christ that God has given to us in the Holy Scriptures.  We need to eschew any new information given to us from outside the scriptures as something God did not want us to have and that distracts us from Jesus.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Twenty-Third Sunday After Trinity

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:17-end)

Paul exhorts the Phlippians, and us, to join in imitating him and other disciples.  What does this look like?  Let's look at 1 Corinthians 4:14-17:

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.

It appears that Paul is telling his congregations to be imitators of him like a child would be an imitator of a father.  As a priest, one of my titles is "Father", but it's a heavy burden being in a Pauline role to my congregation, because there are many things that I wouldn't want my fellow Christians to imitate in my life.  But Paul has given me--and all believers--a qualification.  It can be found in that last sentence.  He has sent Timothy to remind the Corinthians of Paul's ways in Christ, as he teaches them everywhere in the church.  We know from Romans 7 that Paul still sins, so what are these ways of Christ that Paul sent Timothy to remind them--and us--of?  If we look ahead to 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, we see this:

God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? ... Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. ... Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

The immediate issue at hand is what do we do when we become a Christian and our spouse remains an unbeliever?  Our immediate reaction is to separate from the unbeliever, but Paul exhorts us to remain in our condition, for we might bring that unbelieving spouse to Christ.  He then extends this exhortation to all ways of life.  We desire to change our outward condition to reflect the inward regeneration.  We want to up and move, we want to detach ourselves from all remnants of our "old" life, but Paul is saying that the people in your old life are the very people that God wants to reach, and now God has an agent in those people's midst--you. This is the difference between the outward call and the inward call.  When we become Christians, our inward call changes--radically.  However, instead of altering our outward call to fit our inward, Paul exhorts us to keep our outward call unchanged.  Remember, God gave us this outward call, too.  He placed us in time and space exactly where he wants us to be.  We had no choice on where or when we were born, and we have no choice on the people we meet in our lives. We are right where God wants us.  Now with the inward call different, we are to share the gospel with the people of our outward call, no matter where that happens to be.

What about Paul himself?  If we are to imitate him, and he exhorts us to maintain our outward call, is this what he himself did?  Let's look at the first part of Philippians 3 and see:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Notice that Paul is talking about the change in his inward call.  He did have to alter his outward call, because his whole lifestyle, as a Pharisee, was wrapped up in his inward call.  Likewise, the parts of our outward call that are wrapped up in our inward call--once that inward call gets oriented toward Christ--should be abandoned for the new inward call.  If we are ensnared in a cult, hear the gospel, and are regenerated, we should break free from that part of our outward lives.  But this does not mean to change jobs or change spouses or change friends.

In our passage, Paul tells us about false apostles.  They are those who did not receive an inward call, but they altered their outward call regardless.  Look at 2 Corinthians 11:12-15:

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

Notice the word "disguise" being used over and over.  This is an alteration of the outward call, people moving from the place God called them to be in life in order to insinuate themselves among a different group of people.  The inward call isn't there, so all they are doing is leading people astray.  Paul actually weeps over this situation--and so should we, for this predicament is happening today, too--but he knows their end: destruction.  Their God is their belly--the flesh. They glory in shame--doing shameful acts, like the people described in Romans 1.  Finally, their minds are set on earthly things, as those without an inward call would so set their minds.

How important is it not only to strive after our inward call but to maintain our outward call as well.  So often we give up our God-given vocations to seek something "better" that God has in store for us, like a hidden treasure.  The result is we no longer are among the people God wanted us to share our faith with.  Likewise, there are those who haven't been regenerated who insinuate themselves among the brethren in order to deceive them.

This sounds like a hard task to maintain, but fortunately both calls have been purchased by Christ as well.  Hear what Paul says: Our Citizenship is in heaven.  He didn't say, "strive to become a citizen of heaven." No, God has already made us citizens of heaven.  From heaven our savior comes to transform our lowly bodies--our outward-call bodies, so to speak--into new glorious bodies like the one Christ had after his resurrection.  This power to transform our bodies is the same power that Christ will use to subject all things to himself.  At the end of the age, not only will our bodies be transformed, but all of creation, heaven and earth itself.  Look at 1 Corinthians 15:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”

Our hope lies in the resurrection of the dead, just as Paul claimed when he said, "that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead."  Christ's resurrection is the sign of hope for us.  We were dead in our trespasses, but Christ has made us alive again, and he conquers all of his enemies--including death--and puts all things in subjection under him.  Our obedience to the inward call and the outward call are also part of this subjection. Our wills, our souls and bodies, are all subject to Christ, who won all through his death and resurrection.  What a marvelous peace we have, knowing that Christ not only will subject all things but that we are the firstfruits.  We have been subjected already.  Our sin has been forgiven.  Our wills have been conquered.  Christ obeys for us, through us.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Twenty-Second Sunday After Trinity

As we near the end of the church year, our readings begin to focus on the end times, but notice that they aren't all about the moon turning to blood and the sky rolling up like a scroll.  They are about being ready for the end, because it will come like a thief in the night, and although we, as Christians, don't know the day or the hour, we will still be prepared for it, when it comes, because Christ has given us everything we need to know in his Holy Word.  In Paul's letter to the Philippians, his words are filled with joy as he appreciates the Philippians for their steadfast faith.  He prays that their faith and love will increase more and more.  What does this have to do with the end times?  Well, the period of time between our our conversion and our death is a period of sanctification.  This is a time where we increase in faith in God and love for our neighbors, so that we can make a good showing at the end, like finishing a race.  Sanctifying works are not related to God's wrath or hell.  Salvation from God's wrath and hell has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ's death on the cross and has been applied to us by the Holy Spirit in our conversion.  As justified sinners, we no longer fear hell.  However, the life we live afterwards is a constant striving against sin and a continual doing of good works for our neighbors.  This is Christ's righteousness, imputed to us, being lived out in us, more and more as we become more sanctified, until the end comes.  This is Paul's prayer for the Philippians, and it is his prayer for us as well.

Remember, we are still sinners, and failing to do good works during our sanctification doesn't mean we are suddenly "unsaved," but not trying to live a Christian life may mean that we were never saved in the first place.  Antinomianism, or an anti-law philosophy, says that since we have been saved, we don't have to do good works, and--more importantly--if we try to do good works, we are not really saved, because only unsaved people try to do good works.  This is false.  Pre-salvation works are like filthy rags to the Lord, but post-salvation works are merely the righteousness of Christ shining forth in the believer.  Let's look at Paul's first thoughts in his letter to the Philippians (1:3-11):

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 

So, one of the aspects of the Philippians' sanctification is their partnership in the gospel, which means that they immediately began to spread the gospel after conversion.  Let's flip back to Acts 16 and see it in action:

So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Paul and his assistants found the place of prayer, and they sat down and spoke to the women there.  Women would have been shunned by pre-salvation Paul, but women are equal under the new covenant of grace.  It seems that only one woman, Lydia, is regenerated out of all.  The text says, "the Lord opened her heart to pay attention."  Is this conversion?  Yes, because the next sentence says that she was baptized, which is the outward visible sign of the inward invisible grace of the Lord's regeneration.  Also, her household was baptized, too, to reflect the grace that God bestowed upon the whole family.  Even if some don't quite yet believe, God is faithful to continue to grow faith in the family of a true believer.

An incident in the marketplace lands Paul and his group in prison.  Here comes the next conversion and addition to the Philippian church:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

God seizes the Philippian jailer with fear, bringing him to his knees.  God gives him the initial seed of faith to believe in Jesus, and this faith is extended to the jailer's household!  Paul and Silas water the seed by preaching to the household, and then the jailer responds with a good work for new brothers in Christ--he begins washing their wounds.  He and his whole family were then baptized.  The jailer feeds his pastors and the whole household rejoices at God giving him the power to believe.  So, two entire households were the start of the Philippian church.  And, according to Paul, they have remained in partnership in the gospel until now, the writing of the letter.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 

Now, we have the other side of the Christian life, the other bookend. Paul prays that their sanctification will be brought to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.  Let's look at what that means by reading 1 Thessalonians 5:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 

We may not know when the day of the Lord will come, but our sanctification makes us prepared for it.

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 

The end won't surprise us, because we are living in the day.  Paul's prayer for the Philippians is essentially a prayer that they live continually in the day, so that they will be prepared for Christ's return.  Living in the day also means that we are doing the works of the Lord, because good works are done in the day.

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Note that Paul says that "God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."  This is just more proof that our salvation is solely a work of the Lord.  We watched as God gave Lydia and the jailer saving faith, and we watched as God extended that salvation to their households.  Note in the rest of Paul's words to the Philippians how not only our salvation but our sanctification is a work of Christ:

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 

Not only are the Philippians partners in the gospel, but they are partakers of grace.  They are partakers in Paul's imprisonment, even though they are not there with him.  How is this so?  Because the Christian life is full of persecutions.  Even though they are not physically in jail, the Philippians--as well as all true Christians--experience tribulation.  This is the Christian life.  If you are having your "best life now," you need to be worried. Note that Paul doesn't say, "sorry that you're going through trials."  No, he rejoices in tribulation.  Persecutions and trials are actually signs that the Lord is working in our sanctification.  Now, getting into messes because of secular reasons does not count as Godly tribulation.  Acting like an unbeliever and getting immersed in worldly trials like an unbeliever is not the same thing.  This is why Paul attaches "defense and confirmation of the gospel" to "imprisonment."  The persecutions within our sanctification come with our defense and confirmation of the gospel, not only with our lips but in our lives.

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 

Even the affection that Paul has for fellow believers comes directly from Jesus Christ.  Remember, Paul is a fruit-bearing branch on the vine of Jesus Christ, just as the Philippians are.  He isn't a special vine in his own right, with his own religion, his own righteousness, and his own set of rules.  He is a fellow partaker in the righteousness that Jesus bestows on all his children.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Here Paul reaffirms that the purpose of our sanctification is so that we can be presented pure and blameless (or as pure and blameless as possible for justified sinners to be) for the day of Christ--for that final judgment day.  He also reaffirms that the fruit of righteousness, the good works that come out of our sanctification are through Jesus Christ as well.  Jesus is our justification and the source of our sanctification.  And all of this is to the glory and praise of God.  When the end comes, eternity with Christ begins, which consists entirely of glory and praise to God.

Going back to 1 Thessalonians 5, we can see Paul confirm this:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Some of the most comforting words in the whole of scripture: "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."  He surely will.  You have nothing to fear, because not only is God alone capable of sanctifying you, but he is faithful to do it, too.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Twenty-First Sunday After Trinity

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:46-54)

We are nearing the end of the church year (we have four Sundays left), and as we near the end, the subject matter of the gospel readings becomes more and more eschatological. This means that we are getting more and more concerned with the end times.  Last week we had a parable of the wedding feast, which had eschatology all over it.  This week we have a healing.  In what way does this event near the beginning of Jesus' ministry concern the end times?

First, notice that Jesus responds quite negatively to the official (actually a better word would be nobleman). A few weeks ago, we looked at Matthew 8, in which a whole bunch of healing takes place.  Here is Matthew 8, starting at verse 5:

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The centurion comes and asks Jesus practically the same thing, "come heal my servant."  The nobleman in our passage says, "come heal my son."  Isn't a son more important than a servant?  Jesus says to the former, "I will come and heal him."  To the latter, Jesus says, "you're just looking for a miracle, you unbeliever!"  Now, the nobleman is a Jew and the centurion is a Gentile.  The centurion actually stops Jesus from coming, saying he isn't worthy to have Christ come under his roof.  Is this the difference between the two?  The faith of the Gentile is coming through, whereas the Jewish nobleman is expecting Jesus to come because he himself is a royal official?

A major theme in the Gospel of John is that the people Jesus came to, his own, the Jews of Israel, rejected him.  "They received him not," the text says.  But we see over and over again in the Gospel the same people, his people, wanting Jesus' miracles, but not wanting him.  They seek Jesus' WORKS, not his WORD.  Look at John 6 for a great example of this. After Jesus feeds the 5,000, they chase after him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Then this exchange happens:

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?

They are seeking his WORKS, not his WORD.  In the same way, this nobleman is looking for Jesus to heal his son, but Jesus knows that he has no faith.  The centurion had faith, because he knew Jesus could heal his servant without even being in the same physical space.  It's as if Jesus had said, "come on, let's go do this miracle," and the centurion responded, "wait, you're the Son of God, you can heal him just with a word."  This is the faith Jesus sees.  The nobleman says to Jesus, "come and heal my son!"  He doesn't believe that Jesus can heal from afar with a word.

Another thing is happening here that we can only see if we read deeper and connect some pieces.  After Jesus tells the nobleman that he is just a sign-seeking unbeliever, the man just repeats his request, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Then Jesus does something.  He changes his attitude and says, "Go; your son will live."  The ESV doesn't render this phrase accurately.  The Greek and the NASB say, "Go; your son lives."  Then the scripture says, "The man BELIEVED the WORD that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way."  What happened?

Jesus turned his heart.  The man was NOT altering his point of view based on Jesus' chastisement.  He continued to ask Jesus to come.  Jesus actually reaches into the man's heart and changes him from a sign-seeker to a man of faith.  He changes him from a man who wants Jesus' WORK to one who is satisfied with Jesus' WORD.  He has turned the man's heart away from something.  What is it?  It's the impending death of his son, the most valuable thing in his life--his idol.  Jesus has turned the man's heart from idolatry to faith in Christ. All that matters to the man is that his son live, but after Jesus turns his heart, he is okay if his son dies.  Why?  When we render the text properly, "your son lives," we realize that Jesus is not only talking about the current state of the son's health.  He is talking about everlasting life.  He is talking about the salvation of the man's son.  Your son lives.  He is no longer dead in his trespasses.  I awaken him from afar, and he will live--forever.

The man doesn't ask again for Jesus to come down with him.  His heart is different.  He believes in the Word of God and departs.  He finds out later that his son was physically healed at the exact moment Jesus said, "your son lives," but the faith already has been put there.  The man believes, and through his testimony, all his household believed, too.  This goes beyond a physical, temporal sign and into the realm of faith in Christ for everlasting life.  So, we, too must believe in Christ's word, but as we see in this passage, the faith to believe Christ's word comes from Christ himself.  Nothing we can do, think, or say can give us the power to believe.  Only Christ.

See what happens when we stop looking at this event in the life of Christ as a temporal healing and begin to look at it as an eschatological event?  We are no longer putting our faith in God for our earthly comforts but looking for him to salvation from the wrath to come.  Indeed, with Christianity comes persecutions and trials.  When the nobleman was immersed in the traditional covenant of works, all he could think about was his son living.  When Jesus transferred him into the covenant of grace, he put his faith in Christ's words.  Only trusting Jesus mattered.  Believe, you and your household, Jesus can and will save all of you from afar.  Your son lives.  Your daughter lives.  Have faith and live.