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