Rejoice Always!

There are a lot of people opening up about the abuse that they have suffered.So many must be feeling triggered right now. Holidays are so hard for so many – reminders of betrayal, heartache, loneliness – that we live in a cursed world full of injustice, lust for power, greed. Many are perhaps suffering from illness or ongoing pain. Many have gone to the church for help only to be attacked, shamed and abused in the house of God!

And yet we also see the command of God to rejoice always! How can we do this?

Here is a list of things that we can truly be thankful for, even in the whirlwind of this life in the flesh.

  1. We have been completely washed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus. On particularly rough days, I imagine the meaning of my baptism as I shower. Just as this cool, refreshing, cleansing water is cleaning my body, I really and truly am washed by the blood of Christ. I am clean completely in the eyes of God. He doesn’t see me as I see myself, or as others see me, but as a new creation, fit to enter his presence – clean. He sees me the same way that he sees Jesus – his well-beloved Son.
  2. Because I am in Christ, God loves me with an almighty, infinite, unchanging eternal love. So I can rest in him. Because he is almighty, there is nothing outside of his power. Because he is unchanging, nothing can remove me from his hands.
  3. He sets the lonely into families; he frees the prisoners; he heals the sick; he feeds the hungry. He cares for my broken-down body. He is at work in me and I am fearfully and wonderfully made! His faithfulness is everlasting – unchanging, almighty, infinite.
  4. God is just, and this is a cause for rejoicing! On this earth, justice always comes short. The wicked prosper and the righteous are oppressed. Ahab gets rich and Naboth is stoned and everything seems completely upside-down. There is even great wickedness in the house of God! But God told us there would be. And God told us that he will not forget. He sees it and there will be a reckoning. God’s judgment will be infinite, almighty and unchanging. He will thoroughly clean his threshing floor.
  5. Sometimes we tie ourselves into knots trying to figure out how a just God squares with an evil world. But since 1 and 2 above are true, we can stop trying to figure it all out, and just rest – knowing that God is not fooled, is not swayed by trends and opinions, and already has this sorted. Our job is to wait and hold to Christ. The secret things belong to him.
  6. And the day will come when Jesus will descend with a shout of the archangel and the blast of the trumpet. His people will be gathered together and meet him in the air, and descend triumphantly with him. They will be vindicated before everyone. Every slander will be revealed for what it is, every murderer and reviler exposed, every abuse and every degradation exposed and left without excuse. There won’t be any “mistakes were made” or “besides, I’m gay” or “we were protecting the ministry” or “everybody did it back then”. There will be only perfect justice.
  7. And God’s people, united to Christ by faith, will be vindicated before the world. Every glass of water given freely, every meal shared, every kind word, every prayer – not to prove anything to God, but to reveal God’s people for who THEY are. Slander and reviling and gas-lighting will all be destroyed forever. God knows his own, and his works in his own people will be revealed before the universe.
  8. And there will be no more curse. No more loneliness, no more wickedness and strife, no more illness and pain, no more death, no more lies.
  9. The day will come when we will crush the head of the serpent under our feet and reign over all things forever and ever.
  10. No matter how weak we are on this earth, no matter how many have trodden us underfoot, no matter what we have suffered, we are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ. In him there is no more male and female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, but we are all one in Jesus Christ. We share in his sufferings together. We share in his glory. We will reign with him over all creation forever. How astounding is that??

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Billy Graham Rule Follow-up

It keeps coming up. Here are some of my thoughts from a while back.

My Only Comfort

I recently wrote a blog to correct the misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You can find it here. I am certainly aware that in terms of the age of internet news, Mike Pence and the Billy Graham rule are the equivalent of 200 years ago, but I can’t seem to let bad theology go, especially when it harms the sheep.

I also know that most readers skim, so please – before you skim, read this paragraph: I have nothing against Mike Pence and his love for his wife and his desire to protect himself as a famous politician with a great deal of power. It seems like a wise thing to do, given his position in our country. So PLEASE don’t think that this post is about that. Also, I don’t know anything about Billy Graham or his rule, having never read his biography. How Billy Graham does things…

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Every Appearance of Evil, and the Billy Graham Rule

Perhaps it is time to look at this again. We need to get this straight. Bad theology always has bad consequences. If you are going to quote a verse, try to get it right at any rate.

My Only Comfort

I’ve been gone and out of the loop for a while. The debate over the so-called “Billy Graham” rule, in light of the comments of Mike Pence, went on without me. That was probably a good thing.

But every generation renews its battle with the horrible interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You have probably heard it:

22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1Th 5:22 KJV)

This is generally interpreted by small-minded men as an excuse to avoid interacting for good in the lives of others. When the passage is poorly translated, and taken out of context, it appears as if it is saying that one should avoid doing anything that someone else might take as being evil. Thus, lazy and guilt-ridden men can avoid interaction with “undesireables” and still pretend to take the high ground.

For example, I heard one man say that if he were driving alone down…

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How does God see me?

The day is going to come when Jesus will come again and we will all stand before his judgment throne. We will be judged on our works.

This means that we have a problem. To illustrate that problem, take out a blank sheet of paper. On this sheet of paper, write down every sin, mistake, error in judgment, and failure that you have ever committed.

Wait.

Before you start, put down Adam’s sin in the very first spot. When you were conceived, you already had this one on your account.

Now, start with the things that keep you up at night. The kind words you should have said. The ugly words that you did say. The lingering looks over the girl walking by you and the horrible things that went through your mind.

The time you really enjoyed that tiny piece of gossip, destroying someone with your hateful tongue. Maybe the time that you were unthankful to God and doubted his goodness. Add your road rage, your hateful words at the customer that is standing in your way. Add your thoughts of rage against your server or cashier for being an idiot and a moron.

And those are just the things you did and didn’t do. What about who you are as a person? Your first thought isn’t about the glory of God; it is about your own glory. Your first love isn’t the love of God, it is a love for yourself. You don’t wish your neighbor to have success, even if it means you don’t. You want to be first. You don’t want to worship the God who is; your first thought is to worship a god that you like better than the one true God.

Maybe you try really, really hard to love God. Maybe you really want to be a better person, so you have learned to reign in your tongue.

But you still have sleepless nights, don’t you? You know that when Jesus comes again, all of those thoughts will be revealed to the whole universe so that every mouth will be stopped. There won’t be any more excuses. They weren’t indiscretions; they weren’t inappropriate gestures; they were sins, affronts against almighty God and worth his eternal wrath.

And you can’t do anything about it.

Write them down on your piece of paper. Remember that all of the ones that you missed, or excused, or forgot about, God already has written them down. He will never acquit the guilty.

Now think about Jesus. Look at the law. He kept all of that perfectly. Imagine never once failing to act according to perfect love. Imagine loving God with all of your heart and mind and strength, and never once failing. Never saying a cruel word. Never rejoicing in gossip. Never abusing and defiling, even in his mind.

It’s hard to imagine because we have no experience of it. We don’t know what it is like to NOT be corrupted by sin. But we have the law. We have the proverbs – God’s description of wisdom – a character reference of Jesus, the Wisdom of God made flesh.

Imagine perfect righteousness, spotless holiness, and unflagging wisdom written in a book.

Now you have two ledgers. You have the works that you have done and have failed to do. It’s pretty ugly. And you have the works that Jesus did and the sins that he refused. It is beautiful, wise, holy, without blemish. It is clean.

When Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate declared him innocent. Pilate knew that he had done nothing deserving of death. As the temporal judge, he bore witness to God’s judgment: Jesus committed no sin and had no guile in his mouth. But because of Pilate’s character and the treachery of the Jews, Pilate condemned him to death anyway. But when it came time to write up the charge and nail it to the cross, Pilate had a problem. He didn’t have anything to write.

So he wrote, “The King of the Jews” in order to insult the Jews. He refused to change it.

God says this:

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Col 2:13-15 KJV)

Even though Pilate had nothing to write on Jesus’ cross, God did. He took that ledger that you just filled out. Your sinful nature, every sin that you committed and every deed of righteousness that you failed to do. God even took the ones that you didn’t add, the ones you didn’t know about, the ones you excused and justified – he took them all and nailed THAT to the cross of Christ.

The charges were against YOU. The condemnation fell on Jesus.

“What thou, my Lord, has suffered

Was all for sinners’ gain

Mine, mine was the transgression,

But thine the deadly pain” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

What happened to the other ledger – the one with Jesus’ perfect righteousness? It’s the book that is opened when I stand before God on the judgment day. Every work that he did, every perfection, every spotless act of beauty and wisdom, is put on MY account.

It isn’t how much I loved God in this life. It is how much Jesus loved God.

It isn’t how much I desired God or lived a life of Christian hedonism. It is HIS perfect righteousness, faith, and obedience, put on my account.

It isn’t how much I persevered or how tightly I held on. It isn’t about the strength of my faith or the purity of my faith. It is about the strength and purity of my savior. With my empty hands, I cling to him. With my filthy heart, I cry out for mercy. With my sin-filled tongue, I call to Him.

His righteousness is mine. My sin and filth were put to death on his cross, and that puts to death the bondage and power of the devil. That great exchange will always lead to a changed life, but the changed life will always fall far, far short of the righteous requirements of God. The only thing that will EVER stand before God is the perfect righteousness, holiness and satisfaction of Christ put on my account.

If only I accept it with a believing heart.

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Back to the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms

For more on Sola fide. The Reformed Confessions are in remarkable agreement.

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Sola Fide and Assault

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.

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Random thoughts on Sola Fide

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:
  • 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.

  • 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:

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.

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Thoughts concerning Slaves and Children

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.

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“…Let’s just pipe down and let the experts handle this.”

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.

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, sanctification

Faith Doesn’t Save Anyone

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.

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Filed under Faith