For more on Sola fide. The Reformed Confessions are in remarkable agreement.
In the past few weeks there have been two streams of stories that have dominated Christian circles. The first is the debate concerning Sola Fide and the second is the #metoo campaign in light of the fall of serial rapist, Harvey Weinstein. As women around the world told their stories of assault, we saw that sexual assault and rape are not just something happening “out there” but right in the middle of our churches. More often than not, church leadership purposefully and ignorantly looks the other way. You can read a small sampling here, remembering that these are only the tip of the iceberg.
As I read these stories from Christian women, I see a connection. The connection is subtle and hard to glimpse at first, but it is there.
If you are unfamiliar with the debate concerning Sola Fide, you might want to take a few minutes to get up to speed. The historic doctrine of the reformation is summarized simply and beautifully in the Heidelberg Catechism:
60. How art thou righteous before God?
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.
61. Why sayest thou, that thou art righteous by faith only?
Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God, and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.
62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?
Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment-seat of God, must be perfect throughout and wholly conformable to the divine law;1) but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
63. Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God’s will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?
The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.
64. But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane?
No, for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.
I could not say it more succinctly or carefully or beautifully. Perhaps this is why it has been used for over 450 years to explain the Christian faith.
The attack on this doctrine is always subtle. The latest has been the distinction proposed between “justification” and “final salvation”. The idea is that we are declared righteous before God by faith, but our final salvation is dependent upon our holiness. The normal caveat is added, “by grace of course” or “by the power of the Spirit, of course”, but the idea is that somehow we must add our own works to the perfect holiness of Christ in order to finally stand before God.
This, as has been amply shown, is the very idea that began the protests of the reformation to begin with. It is contrary to scripture, to the creeds of the reformation, and to the sound doctrine that brings comfort to the heart of God’s people.
But the purpose of this post is to show that there is a connection between this doctrine and the rise of sexual assault in our churches. But first, a caveat. It is not at all my intention to accuse anyone who disagrees with me of sexual assault. It is merely my contention that the denial of the doctrine that salvation (and not merely justification) is by faith alone provides an ample breeding ground for predators and can never bring safety to the sheep.
It is no coincidence that the Roman church at the time of the reformation was also full of predators. The priests held the sheep in an iron grip of guilt and had their way with them. There were brothels ran by the papacy right in the Vatican and corruption filled every corner. This was not a disconnected anomaly, but directly connected to the doctrine that we must somehow add our works to our faith in order to please God.
If our righteousness and holiness are not complete in Christ, then it follows that we must add something of our own. It might be that we must desire God more, or that we must submit more, or that we must wear different clothing, or watch different movies. The Federal Vision guys prattle about “Covenant faithfulness” and the Vatican says, “Penance and masses and confession.” But it will all come down to the same thing. Christ isn’t enough. You have to add to it. “Yes”, they all say, “We are justified by faith alone. But to really progress in our sanctification we must add to that our good works.”
Since every Christian has a tender conscience, and every Christian wants to please God, they become vulnerable to this kind of thinking. They also make themselves a prey, which is what Paul warns the church of in the book of Galatians.
If Christ is not enough, then where will I go? I know that all of my own works, even now that I am a Christian, are defiled by sin. I know that I can never achieve the purity and holiness that God requires. And if Christ is not enough on the final day, then where will I go?
And when you ask that question, there will always be a Tetzel to offer you a solution – for a price.
Buy my book. Register for my conference. Submit silently to rape and assault. Don’t rock the ministry. Don’t speak up. Don’t rebel against God’s anointed. Go home to your violent and abusive husband. God sanctifies us through torture and evil.
Here’s how to please God more: please God’s servant, and God will be finally happy with you. Here’s who to make the check out to…
And the first step of this bondage is always the same one. “Christ is not enough. We don’t want “easy believism” now, do we?”
But if Christ is not enough, then who is? and what more do I have to do?
And then we start viewing God like an abusive husband: He tolerates you if you get the food on time, don’t give him any grief, do as you are told, and shut up about it.
Perhaps now we can see the connection. If our theology teaches that God is like an abusive husband, then we tolerate all sorts of behavior as “Christlike”. Abuse, reviling, hatred, envy, strife…
This is why Paul wrote this:
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Gal 5:19-21 NAS)
In the context of the book of Galatians, the “flesh” is the belief that the works of the law – any law – must be added to the perfect work of Christ in order to be finally saved. In the churches of Galatia, the point at issue was whether Christians should be circumcised. Whether that is your issue, or whether it is covenant faithfulness, desiring God enough, loving God enough, wearing appropriate clothing, submitting to authority, it is all “the flesh” according to Paul, and the flesh always conceives the same babies: immorality, impurity, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, etc. It is the spirit of Cain, Esau, Ishmael.
Abraham didn’t receive the promise because he could have a baby. He didn’t receive it because he reached high enough and worked hard enough. It was by faith, and faith alone. Even his faith wasn’t a work that was deemed good enough. No, faith was the hand that grasped Christ from afar. And in Christ, he rested. And he became the heir to the world.
And by that same faith – holding to Christ alone by faith alone – we find that same rest, and become heirs according to the promise. Never by the flesh. Always by faith. In finding rest, we also find freedom from every Tetzel of every stripe in every age.
In the heart-breaking accounts I referenced earlier, notice how many times you see these ideas:
“I knew that I had to please God.”
“I knew that God wanted me to be submissive”
“I knew that this man was helping me learn to please God”
What if those in the pews had been taught that their whole salvation, from beginning to end, has already been accomplished in Christ? What if they hadn’t been told week after week after week that everything they were doing was wrong. What if they hadn’t been told how to work harder, try more, be more motivated, and instead had been taught what it means to rest in Christ’s finished and completed work? From rest in Christ comes joy in the Lord. Joy in the Lord results in love for God and love for neighbor. A Christian does not work because she has to, for how can love come from being ordered to love? But a Christian works because it is not possible for him not to. He brings forth the fruit of the Spirit because he is born again of the Spirit and united to Christ by the Spirit.
Perhaps if we actually drove the wolves from the pulpits and again accepted only the gospel, we would see the church again become light and strength and courage and salt in a world full of Harvey Weinsteins. But as long as those in the pulpits are in basic agreement with Hollywood producers (“You need something that only I can give you”) the churches will continue to be morally and spiritually bankrupt.
It is time to stop putting up with it. It is time that we all refuse to submit and support every Tetzel of every stripe. If you are being taught that Christ’s righteousness is not enough, or that we must somehow offer our own works to God as part of our holiness, then you need to either leave or file charges. If you are not in a denomination that hears charges, then it is time to leave. You are being fleeced.
In no particular order – just wanted to get these down somewhere.
- From my conception to my last breath I will never do one work that can stand before the judgment throne of God.
- If I was given a glass of water that only had a little poison in it, I would still refuse it. There is no such thing as “sort of pure”. If there is even one drop of sin in what I do, it isn’t holy. Holy is clean, pure, with no admixture of uncleanness. All that I do, though, is mixed with sin. If I reject that, then my works are also mixed with pride. God hates pride.
- Think about this (not directions on how to live, but what it says about Christ:
- Christ sanctifies his people through the means of grace: the word, the sacrament, the local body of believers, prayer.
- If my sanctification depended on me, I would either be in continual despair, or become an expert in self-deception.
- Those in despair seek out gurus to tell them how to live, how to act, how to use their money. They will give all that they have to assure themselves that they will be OK come the judgment day. But they will always know that it isn’t enough. They will never desire God enough. They will never submit enough. They will never be clean enough.
- This is why Jesus said, “The truth will set you free”. “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
- The reason that God strictly commands us to keep his commandments is to remind us continually of our sinful nature, so that we will never rely upon our own works for our salvation, but that we instead will continually cry out for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. Without me, you can do nothing.”
- And how do you abide in Christ? Faith alone. Sola fide. If you add even one work as the ground or hope of your salvation, you will be in continual despair or hardened in pride.
- The desire to add works to our salvation is called by Paul “the flesh”. And the result is always the same:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her;
26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. (Eph 5:25-27 NAS)
Do you see that? Sanctification is a promise of God, given to the bride of Christ out of love. Sanctification is not a duty we perform, it is a promise we receive, long for, and trust in.
It is Christ who does it. He cleanses, he purifies, he covers. He prepares his bride for the consummation.
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Gal 5:19-21 NAS)
- This is crucial: If you seek to sanctify yourself by your works of holiness, you will never get what you think you will get. Is there a connection between #metoo and the rejection of faith alone? I believe so.
4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal 4:4-7 KJV)
A servant, whether a slave or an employee, works for two reasons. Either to earn a wage or to avoid punishment.
But God doesn’t want good employees, or good slaves. He wants sons and daughters. This is why the greatest commandment is:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Mat 22:37 KJV)
This is why righteousness can never come by the law. The law makes fearful slaves, but God desires our hearts.
It is true that a heart that loves God is a heart that keeps the commandments of God, but it is deadly to our comfort to think that we are working to earn a reward – whether it is final righteousness or final justification or any other “wage”. It is also deadly to our comfort to think that we are working to avoid punishment, for Jesus has already taken the cup of God’s wrath and drank the last drop. There is no more condemnation.
Work that flows from hope of reward or fear of punishment is the work of a servant. And God responds to servants this way:
9 “He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?
10 “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'” (Luk 17:9-10 NAS)
Salvation is not learning to become a good slave, for God would have sons and daughters. Sons and daughters certainly obey and honor their father, but the motive is from a heart of love and gratitude, which is pleasing to the Lord.
Jesus did not come to make us slaves. He came to make us heirs.
And love is only learned from the gospel, received by faith. Love can never be learned from the law.
The apostle James warns of dead faith, which is faith without works. His point is NOT to add works to dead faith, but to repent of dead faith and gain a living faith in the living savior. Living faith always brings forth good works, as a loving son always obeys the father. But we are saved because we are united to Christ by faith, not because we worked hard enough to earn a reward.
The difference between a son and a slave is everything.
I normally try to take Mondays off. But I made the mistake of trying to catch up with the controversy over Piper’s recent “final salvation” post.
I’m not really at this point going to expound on my own problems with this post. It has been done already by Rachel Miller and Brad Mason and in other places. Scott Clark has done some excellent work on this subject at https://heidelblog.net/. So we’ll leave that lie for now. That isn’t what has me worked up today.
This morning in my studying through this issue, I read this by Mark Jones:
Here’s the problem for these critics of Piper. This isn’t really a problem. And if you write blog posts taking issue with Piper on this particular topic, but claim to be Reformed, you probably need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publishing via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously. And even then, it’s possible that you could have such a built-in bias against someone that you’d find a problem with them for saying “Jesus loves sinners.”
I read it again. And then I went back to it and read it again. And to me, this is a big problem, and is infecting every area of the church. What he is saying is this: “She isn’t educated according to our standards of education and therefore has no right to speak to theological issues and be taken seriously.”
Does this not bother anyone else? Throughout the history of the church, since Jesus in the days of his flesh, there have been the “scholars” who have refused to hear anyone who was not “properly educated and peer reviewed.”
At the time of the Reformation, it was forbidden to put a bible into the hands of a layperson because only the scholars had the proper training to interpret the bible correctly. A layperson would mess it up to no end and start talking about justification by faith apart from works and salvation by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone.
Is this really where we want to go? Are we now going to defend those who attempt to add works to our salvation by rejecting the perspicuity of scripture?
It is starting to sound quite familiar, isn’t it?
I fear that we are creating many mini-popes, untouchable by the common layperson. This is a very, very dangerous place to be.
Do we really want to go back to that? Here is the Westminster on the subject:
Westminster Confession of Faith (1.7)
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2 Pet. 3:16); yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Ps. 119:105, 130).
The question is not how many peer-reviewed articles one has, or what their alma mater is, or how many letters they have on their name. The only question is this: Are they right? Is what they are saying consistent with the Holy Scriptures?
Many years ago, my late father was involved in the controversy surrounding Norman Shepherd and Federal Vision. The debate took its usual turn, with every party quoting every Reformer. Calvin quotes and Witsius quotes and Ursinus quotes all thrown back and forth like arrows in the quiver.
At the end of it all, Dad – now in the arms of Jesus – responded with a quote that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “I don’t care who said it. If they said that, they were wrong. If Calvin said it, he was wrong. If Ursinus said it, he was wrong. If Witsius said it, he was wrong!”
As Paul puts it,
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
(Gal 1:8-9 KJV)
Do we need the experts to explain that to us? It doesn’t matter how big a ministry someone has. It doesn’t matter how many books one has sold. It doesn’t matter how many peers have reviewed your articles in respected journals. It doesn’t matter where you graduated from. If you proclaim another gospel, YOU ARE WRONG. And if someone calls you on it, you better listen, no matter how big their ministry is, how many followers they have, whether they are male or female, young or old, rich or poor, peer-reviewed or not. You better listen even if they went to *gasp* COMMUNITY COLLEGE!
Because in the end, God just doesn’t care how many awards you have won or how many articles you have published in acceptable journals, or how many famous people endorse your books. In the end, only one thing matters – are you found in Christ? Are you washed in his blood and Spirit? When he comes again, will you be able to say this:
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phi 3:8-11 KJV)
This is what it means to know Christ. Nothing else matters. When I forget that, and begin to count on my credentials or my own righteousness, I thank God when he sends someone to remind me – no matter who he or she is or how many credentials or letters they might have.
We would do well to remember that.
That got your attention, didn’t it?
But it is necessary to clear up some false teaching. If we don’t get this right, we will be tossed around continually by doubt and fear, and we will be enslaved to bondage again.
The word “faith” is popular in wall art, memes, and paintings. You may have tried to encourage someone who was suffering by saying something like, “Have faith!”
But by itself, faith is a meaningless word. Faith means to believe in…something.
So when you say, “Have faith”, I will say, “in what?” It is simply a question of grammar.
Faith that everything will work out just fine? Well, it probably won’t. Lots of people die unexpectedly and alone and in pain. The cemeteries are full of people who may or may not have believed that everything would work out OK. They all still died. If you believe that everything will work out OK, and your only frame of reference is the things of this world, the odds are overwhelmingly against you. History shows again and again that things usually don’t work out alright.
Are we saying, “Have faith in the goodness of people”? Really? Have you met people? They all let you down. Promises are easy to make, and seldom kept.
Perhaps we are saying, “Have faith in yourself.” You know, like the song, “I believe I can fly”. But it never occurred to anyone that believing he could fly did not actually enable R. Kelly to fly. He probably would have been better off if he had sung, “I believe I can be a decent human”, but it probably wouldn’t have fixed that, either. But I digress.
Perhaps this is why people simply say, “Have faith”, as if that meant something. They don’t have anything to believe in that actually gives purpose and meaning to their lives.
What becomes a problem is when we believe that faith is what saves us. If we take just a second to examine ourselves, some questions come up. How much faith do I need? What do I believe in, then? Am I having faith in faith? But that seems a bit odd. How do I believe in believing?
Now I am in a weird circle of believing in believing in believing, but have nothing to actually believe IN. If I believe in faith, and faith is simply a meaningless word without an object of faith, then I guess I am putting my hope of eternal life in a word that makes me feel like I am accomplishing something when I am really just staring at my navel wondering where all the lint came from…
How’s that for a sentence?
The gospel is never “believe”!” It is always, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!”
That makes all the difference. Faith doesn’t save anyone. There is only one savior: Jesus Christ. Faith is the arms that hold him, the eyes that see him, the ears that hear him. To put it into theological terms, faith is the instrument by which we lay hold of Christ!
And that is everything. It takes our gaze away from our own hearts and directs it to where Christ is, at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1). We are weak. We are foolish. We still struggle with sin. We are outcasts. We are despised. We are poor and oppressed on every side.
And yes, there are times when we are discouraged. Times when depression crushes us. Times when we certainly do not feel the presence of God, when we are downcast and almost in despair. There are times when we don’t understand anything, when we don’t know what to do. When we are lost and feel like we are drowning.
And there are many gurus who will tell you how to have more faith, how to be more cheerful, how to live a life of power. You can find all sorts of people who give you instruction on how to lift yourself up, climb out of that hole.
But that isn’t the answer of the Bible. The answer of Scripture is this: Lay hold on Jesus Christ. He is everything you are not, and everything that he has is yours. His righteousness is yours. His death was yours, so you are no longer under condemnation. His righteousness is yours, so you can stand before God’s throne with confidence. His resurrection is yours already, so even when worms devour this flesh, I KNOW that in my flesh I shall see God. Because Jesus is already there, and he is mine and I am his.
Eternal God, strong to save, who does all of his own pleasure, became flesh and fulfilled the law of God perfectly in my place. He took the curses of the law so that the blessings of the law might be mine forever.
If only I accept that benefit with a believing heart.
(Psa 40:2 KJV) He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
So when you are downcast and fearful, when the storms of life have almost overtaken you, when the devil and his condemnation continually attack – quit looking at yourself, and lay hold on Christ. He lifts you out of the pit. He delivers you from your sins. He cleans you up and presents you to the Father. Everything that is his he gives to you – life, peace, joy, glory, salvation.
He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the rock that can never be moved, and faith holds on to him.
Faith doesn’t save anyone. Jesus saves. Faith that believes in faith is the sound of one hand clapping. It’s as meaningless as the grasshopper quotes from “Kung Fu”.
Faith in Jesus Christ is something far different. He who believes on him will never be ashamed, can never be lost, and is already in possession of eternal life.
2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (Gen 2:2-3 KJV)
The seventh day, God rested. Of course, we finite creatures cannot possibly understand what this means for an infinite God, but it was written for our benefit. God rests, and created man to enter into that rest.’
But man fell, and was driven from the Garden. I am one of the few that take the history of Genesis literally. I can’t explain men and women, their desires, their loves, their hates, their unfulfilled longings any other way. Man was created to enter into God’s holy habitation. But man became unholy, defiled and corrupt, with a memory of what was lost.
But God did not cast them into hell. Instead, he provided a way of salvation. He provided a way of restoration. We call this the covenant of grace, and it was first announced after man’s fall in the Garden of Eden.
The bondage that mankind put themselves in was illustrated perfectly in Israel’s hard bondage in Egypt. They were slaves to Pharaoh and there was nothing that they could do about it. Pharaoh was too strong, and Israel was too weak. So also with all mankind. Sin is too strong and we are too weak.
We commit our way to God and tell ourselves that today we are going to live righteously. And if you understand God’s holy law, you realize that your commitment lasted until your feet hit the floor. We sin because we are born corrupt and twisted, serving ourselves and our own lusts continually. We hate our sins and yet continually return to them. We loathe ourselves at night and make more resolutions. And break them again first thing in the morning. Over and over again. Sin is a harsh and undefeatable task-master.
Unless God intervenes.
God intervened with Israel in Egypt. He gave them the Passover lamb. They put the blood of the lamb on the door of their houses, and that night the firstborn of Egypt died and Israel was free.
Think of it – they had their first day off in their whole lives. They were free from their taskmasters. And that day, their first day of freedom, marked the first Sabbath. From them on, every seventh day Israel rested.
God told them why in Exodus 31:
13 Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. (Exo 31:13 KJV)
Israel was given the Sabbath as a sign – that Jehovah is the only one that sanctifies his people. God himself makes us holy and fit for the holy habitation of God. Only then can we enter into God’s rest. Just as God delivered them from Pharaoh, so also God promised that he would deliver them from the bondage of sin. But just as Israel could not deliver themselves from Pharaoh, so also mankind could never deliver themselves from the bondage of sin. But that which is impossible for God is possible for man.
This was also signified in the land of Canaan. Joshua led them around Jericho once for six days and on the seventh, he led them around 7 times. On the seventh time of the seventh day, the walls fell flat and Israel entered their rest.
But those who didn’t believe the promise – the God would give them rest – their bodies fell in the wilderness:
10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:
11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.
(Psa 95:10-96:1 KJV)
By the time Jesus came into the world, the Jews had changed the meaning of the Sabbath. Instead of the Sabbath pointing to Jehovah sanctifying his people and giving them rest, the Sabbath day became a harsh burden of a thousand different things that could or could not be done. They had 39 categories of work, each with 6 sub-categories – all of which were forbidden. And the different Rabbinical traditions had their own interpretations and their own rules. All were inflexible. All were merciless.
To the Pharisee, the Sabbath meant that if you worked really hard, did the right things, and separated from those horrible sinners then you could perhaps convince God to begrudgingly allow you entrance into Abraham’s bosom.
As long as you didn’t miss anything.
The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees over the Sabbath wasn’t over which works were allowed and which were not allowed. The point was over the meaning of the Sabbath to begin with. The one promised who would give them rest, who would sanctify his people, who would bring his people into his eternal rest, was standing right in front of them!
How could they have known he was the one promised? Isaiah wrote:
4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: (Isa 35:4-6 KJV)
Israel would know that God had come to their aid when they saw the eyes of the blind opened, the tongue of the dumb loosened, and the lame man walking. And this was exactly what Jesus did. And he did it on the Sabbath day. What was more fitting? The lamb of God sanctifying his people and preparing them for heaven on the very day that was a sign of that reality?
The reason Israel was forbidden to work on that day was so they would always remember the sign. God sanctifies his people. God delivers his people. God saves his people.
We don’t save ourselves; God saves us. What a tremendous promise! To rest on the Sabbath meant that you had to trust God for your daily bread. And if you lifted your eyes upward, you would see that you also were to trust God to fulfill his promise to sanctify his people. God would give us His righteousness if only we accept it with a believing heart.
30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,
(Rom 9:30-32 NAS)
The Pharisees of every age, on the other hand, followed the natural religion. If we are good enough, God will bless us. And they worked hard at it. They slaved for God’s approval. And they despised Jesus for being gracious to those who didn’t work near hard enough for that favor.
“We have worked, and slaved, and done hard labor our whole lives for God’s favor, and you are telling us that this beggar, this sinner, this publican, this “loose woman”, this Gentile, can just waltz right in and God will accept them??”
This is a big study, but a worthwhile one. A modern Pharisee won’t see the point, and will probably get irritated. But here is why I am telling you about the Jewish Sabbath and the conflict between Jesus and the Jews: We still have the same conflict today.
We have experts of every stripe telling us how to sanctify ourselves to make ourselves worthy of God’s favor. We have annual conferences on how to be manly husbands, feminine wives. We spend millions of dollars on books on how to pray, how to gain God’s favor, how to act, how to marry, how to live. We have our celebrity preachers who will tell you, for a cost, about their schemes, and their soundbites and their plans and their programs. Here’s how you must raise your kids. Here is how you must homeschool. Here is what to wear, what to eat, what to watch on TV, what not to watch on TV. Here’s is how to be a good wife. Here is how to be a good husband. Here is how short your skirt must be; here is what kind of blouse you must wear and what material it must be made of.
All for money or power. We have made Christianity so complicated and so full of so many rules and regulations. And every church has their own rules and regulations.
God only gave us Ten Commandments, but we have multiplied statutes to ourselves and ignored the law completely. We kill, maim, slander, rape, assault, and give approval to those who do the same. But we make sure the skirt is the right length, the wrong beverages are avoided, the appropriate demeanor is put on the face.
The message is clear. Grace is free and unmerited, as long as you do all of the right things, act the right way, go to the right conferences, and do what you are supposed to do. And I will tell you what those things are, as long as you fill out this registration form and send your check or money order to the registrar on time. Can we not see the contradiction? Is the righteousness of God freely given, or bought with money and works?
What has happened to the gospel of Jesus Christ? I don’t even recognize it anymore.
Aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you tired of self-appointed prophets gaining wealth over the backs of the poor and downtrodden? Aren’t you tired of watching your every step, making sure that you are manly enough, feminine enough, righteous enough, a good enough parent, a good enough citizen? Are you weary of the constant vigilance? Don’t you need a Sabbath rest?
Then here is the message of the Sabbath again:
4 Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.” (Isa 35:4 NAS)
To you who have been made afraid, you who have been abused and cast away like garbage, know this: God is gathering a people for himself. He is sanctifying those people and preparing them to enter into His rest. And he will come with vengeance. Egypt, Jericho, Babylon and earthly Jerusalem all fall to the ground.
It is the meek, the oppressed, the poor, that inherit the earth. And nothing unclean will enter in.
And you cannot barge your way through the gates. The only way is through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
So don’t be afraid. There aren’t a thousand different rules by a thousand different men. There is only one way to salvation, only one way to sanctification.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Act 16:31 KJV)
20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.
21 “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
(Gal 2:20-21 NAS)
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat 11:28-30 KJV)
If you have not found rest for you souls, you have not yet found Christ. Come to him, I urge you, and rest.
I add my voice to this. Jane, we hear you and believe you.
On this fine afternoon as thunder rumbles outside my window, my blood is boiling and my “injustice antenna” is sounding alarms. I just read a well-documented account of the rape of a Master’s College student. Her rapist was a student at the Master’s Seminary. Both of these institutions are associated with John MacArthur’s church Grace Community Church. When college and church staff learned of the rape, instead of supporting the victim, she was blamed, called to repent, and kicked out of school. You can read the full story on Marcy Preheim’s website at http://www.marcipreheim.com/2017/09/18/do-you-see-me/but I will also provide a summary of the situation.
Jane (not her real name) was a 21 year old student at the Master’s College studying to become a Biblical Counselor. In her courses, she learned all about how to deal with situations of rape, including the importance of reporting it to the police. On a…
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I was reading through Luke and read where Jesus withdrew himself for a while to pray.
This really convicted me. I don’t spend near enough time withdrawing and praying. So I am going to do just that. I will be away from my computer and my smartphone and my email for a while.
But I wanted to leave you something to think about. What do you think is the greatest problem with our country, our world, our society?
What is the greatest problem with mankind?
I fear that the modern celebrity church sometimes gives the wrong view as to what is wrong with our country.
But the fact is this: The greatest problem in this country is not that there is no prayer in schools. It isn’t the divorce rate. It certainly isn’t foreigners, no matter if they are here legally or not.
It isn’t the homosexual lobby, or the change in cultural values. It isn’t transgender bathrooms and corrupt politicians.
The greatest problem today isn’t lack of Biblical manhood or womanhood, whatever that means. It isn’t colleges teaching Marxism.
The greatest problem, if you are on the other side of the political spectrum, isn’t Donald Trump, or racism or even sexism. It isn’t income inequality or poverty.
The greatest problem facing mankind is this: we worship and serve the creature, rather than the creator. We are idolaters. THAT is the problem. Everything else flows from there.
We rage against the “others;” we steal; we fornicate; we gossip; get drunk; murder each other with words, guns, knives and thoughts. We lie and cheat, and rob widows and orphans. We seek to find our identity in our sexuality (whether heterosexual or homosexual) rather than the image of God.
We were created to worship and serve our Creator. We were created to love him with our whole hearts. And instead, we hate him and hate our neighbor. Sure, we will have some sort of love towards those who can benefit us, or who agree with our own self-deification. But the heart of the issue is that we love ourselves. We (to borrow from Dr. Horton) are the stars of our own movie. And if the movie is a comedy, a tragedy, a mystery or a farce, it is ours and we will destroy anyone who takes the spotlight from us.
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
(“In the desert” by Stephen Crane)
We put our trust in money, comfort, politics, country, law-keeping. We hold on to misery as a lifeline, refusing to let it go. We will fight tooth and nail to keep the Ten Commendment plaques on our courtroom walls and we will fight with equal fervor against anyone who tries to make them relevant in our homes. We are all for the Law of God as long as we can use it as a weapon against those who are different than us. But we will invent many schemes, fire many ministers, rail against many friends, rather than apply them to ourselves.
At bottom, the problem is idolatry. We worship and serve ourselves rather than the Creator who made us.
Since this is the problem, there is only one cure. Jesus Christ.
(Eze 37:23-28 KJV) 23 Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.
24 And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.
25 And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever.
26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.
27 My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
28 And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.
We need a new heart. Our own flesh has an incurable wound and we are dying under God’s wrath little by little. We are unclean, all of us. But Jesus took it all upon himself, and gives us freely HIS righteousness and holiness, as long as we accept it with a believing heart.
He doesn’t give us white Anglo-Saxon values. He doesn’t give us 1950’s culture. He doesn’t give us validation. He tells us to take up our cross and follow him.
The only thing that we inherited from our parents was idolatry, sin, death and misery. We must be born again with new values, new hearts, new affections, or we will perish forever. And only Jesus can give us a new heart.
And he gives us that only one way: Through the proclamation of His gospel in faithful churches throughout the world. He works faith by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it with the use of the sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The Gospel isn’t politics, coalitions, denouncing of sin, or culture wars. It isn’t found in either patriarchy or feminism, either in complementarianism or egalitarianism or any other “ism” for that matter. There is only one Savior, and it isn’t a system. Salvation only comes one way. Through the blood of Jesus Christ.
A system of doctrine is taught in scripture and confessed by the church, but we must not ever confuse the system with the savior. The system points to the savior. You can be quite orthodox and still be far from God. There is only one savior – Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of David, King of Kings, and Lord of all.
5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1Ti 2:5-6 KJV)
As a church, we pat ourselves on the back for a “unified” statement of sexuality, but at the same time we tolerate those who make Jesus a submissive wife in the Trinity. We missed the boat somehow…
We thought that salvation would come from us telling people very clearly as a coalition what was wrong with them. But righteousness never comes by the law.
Righteousness will never come by the law.
The law can make people obedient slaves. But God doesn’t want slaves. He wants sons and daughters. God’s biggest concern for us is not that we keep ourselves from sinning through fear and guilt. Not at all. What he wants is that we love him with our whole hearts. When we have that, we have everything, and even the law is fulfilled.
There won’t be tables of stone in heaven, for we will all be made perfect. You don’t need a law against murder when men and women love each other as themselves, for it would never enter their minds.
Our goal is not to become good little slaves. Our goal is to be like Jesus, a perfect Son, an obedient Son. And this only comes through the preaching of the gospel.
My wife suffered the past two years with a horrible pain condition. In the US, the doctors repeatedly told her about pain management and gave her a lot of options. None of them worked, but some let her sleep fitfully for a while.
Then we heard that Italian doctors had the cure. We went, and she was cured. There was no longer any discussion about whether tens units or ultrasound would be best. No longer any fees for doctors. No longer any debate over gabepentin or cymbala. She was cured.
Why do we as Christians seek to ease the symptoms when Christ has promised the cure? The outward symptoms are adultery, fornication, heresy, witchcraft, reviling, drunkenness, anger, wrath and malice.
And we are getting angrier and angrier every day, because we forgot the cure. Die to self, and come to Jesus. With his touch, he heals your uncleanness; with his spirit, he cleanses you and gives you a new heart. With his baptism – not with water, but with his blood and spirit – he washes away all of your filth and all of your misery. Come to him and live.
I was born and raised in the church by godly parents. I never went through a phase where I didn’t go to church. I married a godly woman and tried to raise my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
And without the blood of Christ, I would be doomed to die under God’s curse. Apart from my savior, I am filthy, unclean and defiled.
Because it doesn’t matter how you self-identify, how you view marriage, whether you tried hard or didn’t try at all.
It doesn’t matter if you spend years at therapy trying to become a better person, or whether you sit on your couch naked and eat Cheetos night and day while your parents pay your bills.
It makes no difference if you are a respected member of society, recognized as a pillar by the most orthodox church in town, or if you spend every evening in the gay bar. It makes no difference if you give your money to the poor or spend it all on booze and meth.
You still desperately need the blood of Christ or you will perish forever in your sins.
But if you come to him, confessing your sins and guilt, casting away every excuse and every justification, if you cease the continuous “well, at least I’m not THAT guy” as if God’s holiness were measured on a curve, if you believe the gospel and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved.
You WILL be. It is a promise from the one who cannot lie.
And if you are in Christ by faith, you WILL be conformed to the image of God’s Son.
This doesn’t mean that you will look like me, or Ward Cleaver, or Pastor Danny at the Big Church on the corner whose name I just made up. It doesn’t mean that you will be like Spurgeon or Calvin or Wesley or Luther or Mother Teresa.
It means that you will be like Jesus Christ, who loved God with his whole heart, even in suffering. He loved his neighbor as himself. He touched those who came to him. TOUCHED them! And the leper was cleansed, the unclean woman was cleansed, the sinner was cleansed, even the Pharisee was cleansed – once he realized that he desperately needed to be (See Romans 7).
So while I am gone, I have a suggestion that I will follow myself. If you haven’t read Romans in a while (just skimming doesn’t count), then take every other book you have and put them on the shelf for a while and read Romans. Think about it. Pray for guidance. Then read it again.
Learn who Jesus is. Learn what the gospel is. THIS is the gospel if Jesus Christ, and it is what the church is here to proclaim. If you are in an organization that doesn’t proclaim this, then flee. They aren’t a church.
I would submit to you that the lawless are very aware of our position on their lawlessness. Let’s quit making that the center of our message. Instead, let’s teach, preach, show and live Christ. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. True eternal God, the Great I AM of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who became flesh for us and for our salvation.
Come to him, and be saved, all the earth.
See you all in a while!
I’ve edited since I first posted this over 2 years ago. I’ve been called a lot of things because of it, but no one has challenged my Hebrew yet. I can’t make this say anything else in good conscience.
Does Malachi 2:16 teach that God hates divorce?
The King James: For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
The New King James: “For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”
The New American Standard: “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
The English Standard: Malachi 2:16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of…
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