Monthly Archives: September 2017

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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“I will give you rest…”

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)

And

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)

And here:

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.

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Believing Jane: Reflections on a Rape and it’s Cover-Up at The Master’s College & Seminary

I add my voice to this. Jane, we hear you and believe you.

Late Night Theology

believingjane

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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Taking a small break

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.

Ever.

No buts.

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!

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