Category Archives: Faith

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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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Hope, justification, Sin and Grace

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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Filed under Abuse, Faith, sola fide

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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