Category Archives: Faith

A Loathsome Vermin?

Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” taught generations of American church-goers that God views us as disgusting vermin, barely tolerable and loathsome in his eyes, as revolting as a spider on a thread.

I believe that sin is far, far worse than we can even fathom, but it is precisely because of the exaltation of mankind as the image-bearer of God (Psalm 8) that sin arouses such wrath in a holy God.

If we were disgusting vermin, sin would not have aroused God’s pity and compassion. It is precisely because of God’s love for us that he is determined to deliver us from the bondage of sin, so much so that he gave his only begotten son, and delivered him up for us all.

The truth is that our sin nature is not part of God’s original design, but a result of man’s fall. God has provided a redeemer because of his great love wherewith he loved us. Christ came to restore that which was lost. (John 3:16)

If you do not believe in the Lord Jesus, come to him to find your value and worth in him. No one that comes to him will be cast out. He calls you to himself because you are created in his image and sin has defaced that image and made it ugly. Come to him for cleansing and healing and forgiveness. You are a great sinner in need of great grace for the wrath of God is coming. But that is different than saying that you are a disgusting vermin. God desires that you be all that you can be and he calls to you to be free from the bondage of sin through faith in the Son of God.

If you are in Christ, you are also not a disgusting vermin, barely tolerable by God. You are a child of his love, a first-born heir of eternal life in Christ. You are a special treasure, a royal priesthood, his bride, his body and he loves you with an infinite love that surpasses anything we know on this earth.

The goal of the Christian life is not to try to make yourself less loathsome to God. The goal is to rest in his love, believe in his promises, understand his compassion, and grow in his grace.

It is the language of a reviler and an abuser – the language of the devil – that tears down the image of God in a person. The devil reviles. “You are loathsome. You are disgusting. God barely tolerates you, you revolting worm. He can’t wait to throw you into hell.” This motivates no one to good works, to love, to worship. We become what is expected of us. Religion is turned into a crowd of groveling worms trying to outdo each other in false humility.

But this is not the good news. The good news is that no matter how great your sin is, you have a far greater savior, who loves you and gave himself for you. He is restoring his image in you that you might finally be free and clean and stand before him whole and complete. His compassions don’t fail. His mercy is everlasting. His love is infinite.

His love for you calls you out of hiding, and says to you, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Rather than viewing us as loathsome, revolting insects, he is a friend of sinners. This knowledge calls to us, invites us to him and drives us to confession, worship and adoration.

“And this is eternal life, that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Imagine a young woman. She grows up in an abusive environment. Suppose her church was tremendously influenced by Elisabeth Elliot, Joshua Harris, and the purity culture – as an example. So she was taught that purity is the same as holiness, and when you loose your virginity, you spoiled your “rose” so that no man would ever want it.

She has been repeatedly raped and molested for years. Or just once. The dynamic is the same. Her abusers have impressed upon her that she is worthless, ugly, loathsome. That she deserved it.

Her worst fear is that God also finds her to be a loathsome vermin.

She has “lost her virginity” and can never get it back so she makes the connection.

No one will ever want me. I am loathsome. I am a vermin, disgusting to God and man.

She might dare to hope that one day, all of those good things that she hears about will apply to her – but for the most part, love and joy, peace and rest, intimacy and glory – those things are for the others, not for her.

And then she reads “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and discovers that the “greatest theologian in American history” has validated her conclusion. She is indeed loathsome and disgusting, a spider or other loathsome insect dangling over hell.

I wonder how many other suicides took place in New England after that sermon…..

Should not the message of the church be “Jesus, the friend of publicans and sinners” who touches us and says, “I am willing; be clean”.

You are washed, cleansed, purified, whole, complete and loved by your father in heaven for the sake of Christ, if only you accept such benefit with a believing heart.

Come to him and rest. Jesus doesn’t find you disgusting. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He hates sin and desires all men everywhere repent and believe.

But he doesn’t find you disgusting.

He is angry at rebellion and sin. His wrath abides upon the unbeliever so long as they are not converted. But he doesn’t find you disgusting.

He is calling you with open arms, with goodness and mercy and compassion, as a nursing mother has compassion on her child. Come to him. He won’t cast you away.

He will clothe you in his righteousness, he will glorify you with the same glory that he is glorified with himself.

You are not “barely tolerable” in the eyes of God. Rest in his love.

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Filed under Abuse, Faith, Goodness, Gospel

By Faith Alone

Scripture Reading

Acts 15:1-35

Sermon

Recently we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It is good to remember history and learn from the mistakes, as well as rejoice in the good things that the Lord has done. But it is also good to remember what Solomon wrote:

10 Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For you do not inquire wisely concerning this. (Eccl. 7:10)

As for me, I confess that I get a little weary at the scholars pontificating about ancient disputes, wrangling over words and living in a world of books and dust and centuries past, while the rest of us live in a world of real hurt and real pain and real sins.

But as I look at the time of the reformation and compare it to our time, I also see a lot of similarities, and our need to recover the gospel is as great as it ever was.

Today, as in the sixteenth century, theology has become the area of the experts, who look in contempt at laymen trying to get involved. Those who have not gone to the right seminaries and read the right books are dismissed and told that they have no right to question people far more educated than they are.

In the sixteenth century, the common people didn’t know how to read and didn’t have Bibles in their homes. Today, we know how to read and have Bibles readily available, but the common people generally don’t crack one open. If they do regular reading, they are at a loss as to how to read and interpret the scripture. The experts have trained them to be dependent upon the teat of the learned. And the people have learned their lessons well. They figure that the experts will tell them what they need to know.

In the sixteenth century, there was an infallible pope, who got rich on the backs of the ignorant. The flimflammery of Tetzel and the selling of indulgences is well-known by students of Reformation history. The medieval church peddled salvation in exchange for money, which prompted Martin Luther to pen his ninety-five theses and post them on the door of the church. Today, there are thousands of “infallible” popes, who are also peddling salvation in exchange for money. If you question one of the learned ones, you will soon pay the price through isolation, ridicule, name-calling, and banishment from the circle of the important ones. Money and power of strong incentives to keep the common people ignorant of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And, just like in the sixteenth century, The true gospel is Jesus Christ is shrouded by a miasma of qualifications, modifiers and conditions. The purity is lost. The beauty is shrouded with impenetrable language. The people of God are left as sheep without a shepherd, wondering if they are truly good enough to inherit the kingdom of God.

To strip away all of the Latin phrases, and the disputes of the wise of this world, the question is put simply – just like this: When God sees me, what does he see?

I tend to view myself as a good person, lovable, kind, generous. Does God see the same thing? I’ve done my best to obey. Sometimes I make mistakes, but will this change how God sees me? If God sees me as a sinner, can I change that? What should I do when I fall short?

Ultimately, it comes down to this. The day will come when I will die. I will meet God. What happens then? Will I be accepted by God? Will I be cast into hell forever? When I die, it will be too late to answer that question. So how can I be sure that I have the right answer BEFORE I die? Can I be sure?

This is the most important question you can ever ask. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this: How are you righteous before God?

To those who are outside of the covenant (what the first century would call a Gentile, a stranger to the covenant promises) the answer is “Just do the best you can and hope for the best.” And many different religions sprang up, trying to answer how to manipulate the gods to get a better afterlife. It is our natural religion. It is the religion of Cain, of Esau, and of Ishmael.

But to those who knew the covenant (the promise that was made to Abraham) they knew that there was a resurrection from the dead, and that the heirs of the promise to Abraham would inherit the new earth.

Today, we call this “heaven”, although it is a little misleading. We know that when the resurrection from the dead happens, all creation will be renewed, including this earth – and we will inherit it. But we also know that nothing unclean, wicked, sinful, will inherit.

So the question remains: When the time comes and we are laid in the dust, how do we know that we will inherit the promise made to Abraham? When the kingdom of God comes in its fulness, will we be a part of it?

How are we righteous before God?

The Jews (that is, the Pharisees at the time of Christ) answered this question with circumcision. Those who are circumcised inherit. Those who keep the law of Moses will inherit the kingdom of God.

At the time of Martin Luther, the Roman church answered: you can’t know for sure, but if you go to confession, do the penance, receive baptism, take mass, and submit to the pope, you can shave off years in purgatory and hope for the best.

But the Bible gives a far different answer. The answer is so contrary to everything that we believe about ourselves and about God that we cannot even see it unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.

How are you righteous before God?

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 (Heidelberg Catechism).

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which will set you free from the bondage of sin and misery.

But the devil never lets go of his power easily. He is continually at work. The devil is always in the background saying in your ear, “yes, but….”

That is just too easy. You mean you don’t have to do anything? That means that you can just live how you want and it won’t even matter on the judgment day? That can’t be right? I know that you are saved by grace through faith, but you still have to obey God in order to make it into heaven. Otherwise, someone could just live how they want to and say, “I believe” and think they are saved!

I am 50 something years old. This means, in the circles that I have been in in my life, that I have been to fifty something reformation celebrations and conferences. I have heard every angle of Sola Fide (faith alone) my whole life. I have heard from my youth the story of Martin Luther writing in the margins of his Gutenberg Bible “sola” – by Rom. 1:17 (the just shall live by faith).

And I have seen, more and more, as the years have gone by, these same circles adding the “Yes, but…”

You still have to obey, right?

You preach on justification by grace through faith, and you will get the whispered “Amen” and the pious nod, and the muttered, “And obedience, of course….”

We even turned it into a hymn:

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

In the first decade of the 21st century, my father fought the battle when it was called “Federal vision”; you are saved by grace and covenant faithfulness. He said we would have to fight it again, and he was right. The devil always adds the “yes, but…” to the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The “yes, but…” always takes the same form. You are saved by grace alone, but you won’t inherit the kingdom of God unless you add obedience to that faith. Whatever you put in the space of obedience – more love, more submission, more devotions, more, more, more – whatever you add, it doesn’t matter. You are adding something to the completed work of Christ. And when you go there, you have denied the gospel and you have denied Christ.

And this is what the book of Galatians is all about.

On this 500th year after Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church, I thought it would be good for us to remind ourselves of how we are righteous before God. Where is peace to be found? How can I become a better person? How can I put to death the sinful nature that I still see in my life? How can I become more and more like Jesus?

And this is the book of Galatians. Today, I would like to give an overview, so we can see the argument from start to finish, and then I will go back and take it section by section. But I hate things out of context. So I will continually remind you of the context.

On Paul’s first missionary journey, he went to the Roman Province of Galatia and founded many churches. They had heard the gospel gladly and believed.

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, there were many thousands of converts, and the other apostles were busy there. Some of those converts were Pharisees.

The Pharisees misunderstood the sign of circumcision. It was so heavily engrained in the Jews that circumcision was necessary for salvation that they could not fathom it any other way. In Jerusalem, it wasn’t a problem, because everyone was circumcised. But then Paul returns from his journey to Antioch and tells of the marvelous conversions among the Gentiles.

And they weren’t circumcised! It is somewhat hard for us to imagine how shocking this must have been to the converted Pharisees in Jerusalem. They had heard the promises in the Old Testament – how God would bring the gentiles to the light. But the idea of circumcision had been engrained so deeply into them for 2,000 years, that they just assumed that this meant that Gentiles would also be circumcised and keep the calendars, feast days, and rituals of the Jews.

So as Paul is in Antioch, some of these Pharisees came down to the church there and started insisting that every new Gentile convert become circumcised, or they couldn’t be saved. They also pretended to be sent by the apostles in Jerusalem. In this pretense, they said that Paul wasn’t sent by any apostles, so he was less authoritative than they were. We are sent by the apostles. He wasn’t. Listen to us, not to him.

Paul the Apostle, saw that this was actually far deeper than it appeared on the surface. It would have been easy to cave and to avoid all sorts of strife. But he knew what was at stake:

If circumcision was necessary for salvation, then Jesus is not a savior. He didn’t actually save anyone. He just made salvation possible – if you add a ritual or a work or something to it. But if Jesus truly saves us from our sins, then we are actually and truly saved. And if we are truly saved, nothing else needs to be added.

If it is necessary to be circumcised, then Christ died for nothing. And in the place of circumcision, you can add any work you like, the theology is the same. If it is necessary for you to do ANYTHING to inherit eternal life, then Jesus died for nothing. We could have just saved ourselves if we had had the right motivation.

If circumcision was necessary, then Christianity was just another sect of Judaism, and just another religion that teaches another way to do something to gain God’s favor.

This is what was at stake. The church at Antioch understood the issues and, together with the church in Jerusalem, they called a council to be held in Jerusalem to examine the issue. We read about this in Acts 15.

Paul returns with the decree. We aren’t laying any burdens on you. You also are led by the Spirit. You also are righteous before God. You have all that you need.

The four stipulations that they add are out of concern for harmony in the church. They are not four works that you must add to the completed work of Christ, as Paul will explain in Galatians. Rather, they are simply instructions for how Jewish and Gentile converts should live together in harmony. They had never done that in thousands of years.

So Paul returns with that decree. But the Pharisees still added their “yes, but…” to the council’s decree. They continued up to Galatia. They continued to slander Paul, saying that he wasn’t sent by any apostle and he had the gospel wrong. To the gospel of Jesus Christ, they substituted their false gospel – that it was necessary for new converts to be circumcised in order to be saved.

When Paul heard that the churches of Galatia were starting to be troubled and believe what they were hearing, he wrote this epistle. His purpose was to explain the decision of the Jerusalem council, warning the sheep about the denial of the gospel that was taking place and teaching Christians of every age how to answer this question: “When I stand before God, will I be judged a sinner or will I be judged righteous”? How can I know for sure?

When you answer that question right, everything else flows from there.

Salvation by grace alone through faith alone doesn’t ever do away with the law of God. It establishes the law. In fact, it is the only way to actually begin to keep the law, as Paul will argue in chapters 5 and 6.

First, God is not interested in man-made rules. So we can immediately throw away all relics, saints, kissing hands and toes, masses, purity balls, and the other rituals – whatever they are.

But what about God’s law, summarized in the Ten Commandments. Doesn’t God require that we keep them? Then how can you say that salvation is by grace through faith alone?

When you understand the nature of God’s law, the question becomes more clear. God is not interested in outward obedience, for God sees the heart. A command can be obeyed out of fear or out of desire for reward, but God wants hearts that love him. How can you love God with all of your heart if there is even one part of you that believes that God is just waiting for you to mess up so he can throw you into hell forever? If you are not righteous before God, then love is impossible, for you cannot see God except as a terrifying judge. This is a God to flee from, not a God to love.

But the gospel is a changed heart, not a check-list.

15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Gal. 6:15)

Paul begins by defending his call against the lies of the usurpers. He isn’t just making up a man-made religion; but is bringing the very words of God as an apostle of Jesus Christ. It is true that he wasn’t sent by the apostles. He didn’t even confer with them. He was commissioned directly by Christ.

His point is this: You have the gospel directly from God through my mouth. If anyone tells you otherwise, I don’t care who they are, let them be anathema. This whole “appeal to authority” is useless!

In fact, even Peter got it wrong. He was visiting Antioch and when these Pharisees arrived he chickened out. He even left the table of the Gentiles to eat with the Jews!

Paul says, in effect, “I didn’t care that this was Peter. I rebuked him, because he was wrong.”

Since the time of the reformation, there have been many who have said “yes, but…” to salvation by faith alone. They can find many quotes in many sources: Puritans, Dutch reformed, Presbyterians. Since 1517 There have been many who have succumbed to the temptation to revert to our natural religion and add the “Yeah, but…” to the finished work of Christ. Just like the Judaizers troubling Galatia, they quote authorities, seeking to drown out the opposition with contempt and verbiage, seeking to silence opposition through intimidation. You don’t know what you are talking about. Just keep quiet and let the experts deal with this.

And Paul responds with this:

8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8)

After he establishes that the gospel is from God and not up for debate, he expresses his shock that they so quickly denied Christ. He explains what he means in chapters 3 and 4.

They want to add circumcision and make it necessary for salvation. So he breaks that down. Did they forget what the promise to Abraham actually was and who qualified for it? The law requires this:

3 Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place?

4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully.

5 He shall receive blessing from the LORD, And righteousness from the God of his salvation.

(Ps. 24:3-5)

Pure means pure; No admixture of sin. A little bit of poison is still deadly, even if the water it is mixed in is pure. A little leaven leavens everything. A little sin ruins every chance of standing before God. Only those pure in all of their thoughts and clean in all of their actions can stand before God. So, you who think you can add to Christ, think of the last work that you did. Can it really stand before God? Just that one work? If you said “Yes” then you can add lying and pride to that work. Now where are you?

This is why the promise was given to Abraham’s seed. Not seeds. Seed. There was only one who qualified, and the only way for you to qualify is if you are found in him. And you are united to him only by the Holy Spirit.

And how do you receive the Spirit, by keeping the law, or by faith?

The first option (keeping the law, doing things, earning rewards) Paul calls “the flesh”. It is our natural religion, which we inherited from Adam. If I do good things, or at least better things than Abel, God will be forced to let me back in to Eden. This is the flesh. The second, righteousness of another received by faith, is called the “spirit”.

The flesh is what we bring out of our own treasury. It is our will-power, our choices, our decisions, our law-keeping, our own purity. It’s what we inherited from Adam.

The spirit is what we received by our new birth. It is our complete reliance on the finished and perfect work of Christ for all that is necessary for our salvation.

And Paul says this:

3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3)

And there is the theme of the book. The idea that you must add obedience to the completed work of Christ is called the flesh, and you won’t ever get what you think you will get from the flesh.

You think you will get purity and righteousness and something that you can offer to God. Instead you will get uncleanness of every kind:

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

And every church that teaches that we must add to Christ’s work, no matter what it is they say must be added, is full of oppression, adultery, fornication, witchcraft, hatred, etc. God said that is exactly what it will bring, and we have seen it for 2000 years.

Tetzel, the peddler of forgiveness of sins in Luther’s day, was also a grand inquisitor of Poland. He tortured, raped, slaughtered, raged against the weak and helpless in his lusts for power.

And so also today. We have come so far from the gospel, that the churches are full of all sorts of wickedness – just as Paul said.

What do we want instead? We as Christians want to please God. And here is a promise for all who hunger after righteousness.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Fruit is not something that is added to make the tree good. Fruit grows naturally from a healthy tree. And the health of the tree only comes from union with Christ by faith. You can’t hold to Christ and to your own righteousness at the same time. You can’t ever get there by seeking to add to the finished work of Christ. You can only get there by confessing how far away you are, and asking again for the gift of the Spirit, rejoicing that all of your sins are truly forgiven and that you are an heir of eternal life, because Christ died for you and you have already been crucified with him.

The more we understand that, the more we will see the fruit of the spirit in our lives. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control.

And when those are perfected, the law is kept naturally, as birds fly and fish swim. This will be our state in heaven. There won’t be laws on stone, because they will be written completely on the heart.

So the gospel isn’t at all contrary to the law of God. Those who say so are the least in the kingdom of heaven. The law is actually established by the law. This is what Jesus meant when he said

Unless your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

In all of their striving to make sure the law was kept, they instead kept none of it. They were murderers and liars who tithed mint and anise and cumin.

Is that actually what God desires? How can we be so foolish?

So Paul concludes with this:

14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Gal. 6:14-15)

This is what circumcision actually pointed to. Everything unclean must be cut off. But this is what the Holy Spirit is doing now, in the lives of all who come to him empty handed. God isn’t interested in what ritual these old, cursed, bodies went through. All of this fades into dust. We are dying men among dying men, and need to stop pretending otherwise.

Salvation is Christ alone. By faith alone. By grace alone. There is nothing more to be added, nothing more to be done. When we have that right, that is the beginning of new life, a new creature, for we have eternal life and it has begun already.

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Work

We Are Never Saved by Our Good Works…Period.

Guest post, by Christopher Campbell

 

There are some today who say that our good works play a part in our “final justification” before God when Christ returns. But the Heidelberg Catechism expressly denies this teaching. Heidelberg Catechism Question 62 asks, “But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?” and answers in this […]

We Are Never Saved by Our Good Works…Period.

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Uncategorized

Abuse and Conspiracy Theories

Once again, I am being bullied into “taking a stance” on conspiracy theories. I wish it would stop.

There are certain advocates of abuse victims that write about satanic ritual abuse, conspiracies to molest children, satanic rituals in high places, and so on. I don’t pay a lot of attention, so I don’t know if I know all of the details. I don’t have an opinion as to what they should do or what they should write.

But I have publicly separated from certain groups over it, so I thought I would explain again – as it tends to crop up again. This is just me. I have no intention of dictating what anyone else should do. This is my own conviction.

So here are a few points on my conviction.

  1. I have no doubt whatsoever that great evil exists in high places. I have no doubt that there is indeed ritual satanic abuse, pedophile abuse, conspiracies to cover up and deny the most horrific acts that mankind can commit. That is called “Total depravity” and I have always confessed it and believe it.
  2. I also believe that those with great power in the church and in the state commit great wickedness. It has always been that way.
  3. That being said, I also know that Satan thrives on fear, superstition, unrest, and suspicion. Scripture warns us against that as well. If he can sidetrack us with rumors of symbols, rituals, secret handshakes, hidden messages, then he can convince us that God is not powerful and good, and that Satan is truly in charge of this world.
  4. Satan also thrives on gossip and slander.
  5. Christ has defeated the enemy through his death and resurrection. It is the proclamation of the gospel that casts out all demonic activity, no matter what form it takes (Luke 10; Rev. 12)

So with these points in mind, here is my commitment:

I will not spread around any reports of Satanic ritual abuse, hidden messages, names of “Satan worshipers”, secret pictures, handshakes, conspiracies, rituals, or such like.

I also will have nothing to do with the propagation of such things.

It is NOT because I do not believe that they exist. It is because I believe that darkness thrives on fear, superstition and unrest, and I will not give that to them.

My calling as a preacher of the gospel is to proclaim deliverance and peace through the blood of Christ, not become a sounding board of the restless, superstitious and fearful.

Furthermore, if I spread around the reports that Pastor so and so is involved in ritual abuse, or President so and so eats children in his satanic rituals – these things MAY INDEED BE TRUE! – but if I pass them along I will only accomplish giving more power and more authority to the devil than he actually has. If these things are NOT true, however, I am guilty of great sin in the eyes of God.

I ask myself, when it comes to the latest conspiracy theory – is it true? (almost always I cannot know for certain.) If it is, is it edifying? (almost always, it is simply providing fodder for the gawking crowds). Will it accomplish any good? (Almost certainly not.)

So why would I involve myself in matters beyond me – matters of darkness and great wickedness? The only thing that will defeat such things is the proclamation of the gospel, which is what I do anyway – on a daily basis.

It is one thing to write strongly about heresy or error, refuting someone’s own words. I do that frequently, and will continue to expose satanic doctrines and bad theology. But it is quite another to accuse someone second or third hand of horrible crimes based upon the word of someone you have never met. I have no knowledge of those crimes firsthand, and am quite aware of Total Depravity in bearing false witness, and the thrill of a really juicy story, and will have no part of it. The few times that I have shared on social media someone else’s story I have almost always regretted it.

I do not need to be a crusader against every evil simply because someone demands that I do so. Some abysses I have no interest in exploring, and would suggest that you all do the same.

If someone in my acquaintance or in my congregation suffers from severe satanic abuse, I would believe them. I would tell them the gospel. I would comfort them with Christ and his death and resurrection, and the promise of the second coming and judgment. I will never, ever underestimate the power in the blood of Christ, or his authority as the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

If it were possible, I would support them reporting crimes to the proper authorities.

But I would NEVER encourage or support their taking their accusations to social media to titillate and tickle the ears of the mob. There are already too many sons of Sceva out there. We don’t need more.

14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.
15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. (Acts 19:14-18 NKJ)

Do you see how the powers of darkness were overcome? Magnifying the Lord Jesus, confessing sins, believing the gospel.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy– meditate on these things. (Phil. 4:8 NKJ)

There is tremendous power in the blood of Christ. I will not get sidetracked by “satanic symbols”, rituals, cults, rings, filth of every kind and other stories designed to titillate the readers. I had enough of that in the 70s with the whole “backmasking” thing. No more. Nothing good comes of it. There is already too much unrest in the world.

This is not a flight from reality. It is the exaltation of the light over the forces of darkness. The gospel alone drives out the darkness, and that is my calling.

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Filed under Faith, Wisdom

When God tests his people…

…That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7)

The idea of God testing his people has been on my mind lately.

I think about it frequently. I wonder why. I know that other Christians struggle with it.

“I’m just going through some testing right now.”

But what does that mean? Does it mean that God is giving you a final test that you had better pass?

Does it mean that God doesn’t know whether your faith is genuine or not and he is testing it to see?

Does it mean that if you can just get over the test with a passing score the difficulty will be taken away and then you can get down with receiving the blessing in your life?

A lot of questions. The answer to all of those questions is, “Certainly not!”

God already knows your heart, even better than you do. He is not surprised at your actions. When he called you and justified you and sanctified you, he already knew all about you. He isn’t going to say, “Wow! But I didn’t know you would do that! That’s it! I’m finished!” Certainly not!

Jesus came to call the sick, the sinner, the poor, the halt, the lame, the foolish, the ignorant, the outcast.

When God sees you, he sees the perfect righteousness of Christ. And he holds you firm with his almighty, infinite hand.

(John 10:27-30)  27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
  28 “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
  29 “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
  30 “I and My Father are one.”

When you are going through testing, it helps to read those verses again and again. “No one is able to snatch them from My Father’s hand.”

No, God doesn’t test for his own knowledge. His knowledge does not change with circumstances, but he knows all things by one act of divine will. His knowledge, like his being, is unchangeable, simple, undivided, perfect.

So why does he test us? We can only know what he has revealed.

Sometimes he tests us because Satan is slandering us in heaven (Job 1). Satan accuses us of only serving God because God gives us stuff. When everything is taken away, the beauty, majesty and wisdom of God shine through us to the world and Satan’s head is crushed.

Sometimes he tests us for our knowledge – so that WE would know that our faith is genuine. When the sun of tribulation comes up, genuine faith continues to hold to Christ.

But the greatest reason is given in 1 Peter 1:7. Faith is compared to gold. But it is buried under a lot of ore and dross. God tries us, as a goldsmith tries his gold. In the furnace of affliction, the dross is burned away so that the genuine, beautiful, shining gold remains – it is when we look most like our glorious Savior.

If you want to look like Christ, it begins with the cross. This life is a life of testing, the fires of the furnace, the pain of illness, and that is when the dross is burned away and the gold shines.

“The flames shall not hurt thee, my only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine”

If you meet someone and the light of Christ shines from them; when they lift up with words; love without hypocrisy, are kind without an agenda;

If you meet someone who lives 1 Corinthians 13 without even thinking about it;

Someone whose life and words and works are works of purity, beauty, love acceptance, kindness;

Who loves without fear…

You know then that you are in the presence of someone who has suffered much in the furnace of affliction.

It is how the gold of faith is made to shine.

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Filed under Encephalitis journey, Faith, Pastoral ministry

Brothers and Sisters

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers,
2 the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.
(1 Tim. 5:1-2 NAS)

Aimee Byrd recently wrote an excellent article on the relationships between men and women. She rightly critiques the multiplying of rules that make interacting with the opposite sex so complicated. (I will take a moment here to plug her new book, which I have not yet read. I am greatly looking forward to it. It is called “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”). Aimee has done some excellent work, calling for a renewal of simple friendships between brothers and sisters in Christ. Anyway, her latest post has caused some discussion on the web. Some edifying, some not so much.

So I started thinking, naturally, about 1 Timothy 5:1-2, particularly where Paul commands Timothy to think of younger women as sisters and older women as mothers. This verse has always puzzled me, maybe it is because I never had any sisters. But I also know that there is much abuse that takes place between siblings. What does one tell a woman or a man who was abused by a brother or a sister? Did Paul mean here that we are to treat our sisters in Christ as a good brother would treat his sister?

Perhaps. Of course, a healthy sibling relationship can be a tremendous blessing to all. If it happens that way, then that would be wonderful to emulate in the church.

But when Paul wrote to Timothy, it was not at all a given that brothers and sisters were living together in chastity and purity. Caligula was emperor, and we all know what that did to the reputation of purity among siblings.

I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about Heidelberg Catechism question and answer # 1.

“What is thy only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ…”

Natalie Hoffman writes,

Her body belongs to Jesus, not her abuser. And by the way, not only does YOUR life and body belong to Jesus, but your spouse’s life and body belong to Jesus as well. So if you’re not treating your spouse’s life and body with loving honor, then you’re missing the point of grace.

And that got me thinking. I think that Paul’s point to Timothy is deeper than simply a reference to a sibling group. The reason that we as believers are one family is that we are all members of Christ, of his flesh and of his bone (Ephesians 5:32).

This union with Christ is so unbreakable and so close that Jesus considers mistreatment of one of his children the same as mistreatment of himself. Consider what he said to Saul of Tarsus:

Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:4 KJV)

Likewise, to the sheep and the goats

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt. 25:40 KJV)

Think about what that means. Christ considers what is done to his members as being done to his own person. Why are you persecuting ME, not others, but me? When Paul applies it to Timothy, he means that when he is speaking to a young woman who is a believer, he better remember that she is a sister – a member of Christ, a prophet, priest and king. A firstborn son. A daughter of a king.

And he better remember this. Whatever he says to her, whatever he does to her, whatever he coerces from her, Jesus will consider it as done to his own person on the day of judgment. Because that is precisely what it is. On the other hand, the respect and honor, kindness, gentleness, patience and love we show are considered as shown unto Jesus himself. “Be careful to entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.”

And even greater, in the body of Christ, you are serving Christ himself with every cup of water given, every meal served, every person clothed.

On the other hand, every harsh word, every act of contempt and hatred, every intimidation and power-play over one of Jesus sheep, He takes it very, very personally.

He does not take kindly to the abuse, ridicule, insults, contempt and hatred of the members of his body – of his flesh and of his blood.

Here is what we all must keep in mind. the young woman in the congregation, the older woman in the congregation, the young man and the old man – they aren’t objects to be used and controlled according to the pleasures and whims of the pastor, but they are dearly loved members of the body of Christ. Whatever is done to them is done to Christ.

Remember that, and you won’t need any “Billy Graham rule”. Love will flow from the heart, if, of course, you belong to Christ.

Take courage, you who have been mistreated and abused and assaulted in the name of Jesus, your Lord is coming again. He grieves with you and he hates what was done to you. He will come with recompense and vengeance.

He truly will. For by faith you are members of his body and are greatly loved by the Creator and Maker of the universe.

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Filed under Abuse, Faith, Union with Christ

Meditation on the Passion

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.
2 And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.
3 Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.
4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?
5 They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.
6 As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.
(Jn. 18:1-6 KJV)

The night that Jesus was betrayed, he was in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. He is about to be arrested, mocked, spat on, scourged and crucified.

It will be a time of tremendous trial for the disciples, who are still expecting the Messiah to establish a kingdom in Jerusalem. Luke tells us they were expecting the one who would redeem Israel. But the redemption that Christ would bring would not be what they were expecting.

It would appear that the Messiah, the prince, the heir to David’s throne, the Son of God, is about to be overwhelmed, overpowered,  and overthrown. It would appear as if Jesus the Son of God would be weak and defeated in death.

The disciples are about to watch him dragged away bound. But before this happens, Jesus gives a glimpse into what is really going on.

Judas appears with a “band of soldiers”. This is a Roman cohort of around 600 men. Overkill, perhaps? But they have heard the stories about how Jesus works miracles, so they don’t want to take chances. “He’s really strong, so we are going to need a whole bunch of soldiers!”

Jesus asks them, “Whom do you seek?”

They answer, “Jesus of Nazareth”.

In our English versions, he responds, “I am he”, which sounds harmless enough. But in the Greek he answers “Ego eimi”, which is translated “I am.”

It is the same phrase that God spoke to Moses when Moses asked his name. “I am”. The name Jehovah is a form of that word. Jesus is answering the question, “Are you Jesus of Nazareth?” But he is showing us that he is far, far more than simply “Jesus of Nazareth”.

He is the eternal God, the maker of heaven and earth. The one who at no time ever sleeps, ever slumbers, ever loses control. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the eternal One, of infinite power, might, wisdom.

And when he speaks the name “I am” the entire cohort of soldiers falls flat on their faces before Almighty God.

At no time will Jesus every be weak, out of control, or overpowered. He gave himself. He himself said,

17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (Jn. 10:17-18 KJV)

This is worth thinking on.

When a man is being hurt, it is an instinctual reaction to pull away, to avoid the hitting or spitting. Jesus, of infinite power, did not have to be tied in place for the scourging. He did not have to be nailed to the cross to keep him in place. At any point, he could have stopped the whole thing with merely a word. He showed us that power in the garden. 600 soldiers would not have been enough had not Jesus given himself for our sins. One word, and they all fall flat.

But he remained obedient to the Father, even to death. It pleased the Lord to bruise him. He gave his back to the whip and his face to spitting.

The one who stumbled under the cross on his way to Golgotha is the very same one who gave the law from Sinai, who spoke to Moses from the bush, who destroyed the firstborn of Egypt.

His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. What the world views as weakness was nothing other than the strength of almighty God, tearing down the strongholds of sin and misery and shame.

And Jesus of Nazareth is still the one, true eternal God. He is still on the throne, reigning over all things. And he still is conquering. His sword comes from his mouth and his word still defeats the world. Take courage! His strength is made perfect in weakness.

What God considers strong is not the same as what the world thinks as strong. The greatest act of strength the world has ever seen was the suffering servant – arrested, scourged, ridiculed, crucified – and through those sufferings Satan is bound, and his kingdom is plundered.

Satan’s kingdom is still plundered the same way: through the word of Christ.

So beloved people of God,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
(Col. 3:16 KJV)

It is hard for us to believe that this word – sung, spoken, taught, preached – has the power over sin and shame and misery. But again, God’s ways are not our ways.

When the devil attacks, attack back with the word of Christ. Watch the armies of the enemy fall backwards to the ground.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1 KJV)

Take just a minute today to think about it. Run it through your mind. Picture the Son of God at the moment of his arrest. But right before, he speaks, “I AM.”

This is whom we worship. And when we worship the Lamb who is the Lion of Judah, what do we have to fear?

What army can overthrow this one? What power could remove us from his hand? What have we to fear.

Let the word dwell in you, and do not be afraid. It is his good pleasure to give us the kingdom.

Everything is going exactly as he planned it. How can it not? He said, “I AM” and 600 troops fell down flat, and that was BEFORE he rose from the dead and was exalted to the right hand of God.

What then can take us from his hand? Who can stop his kingdom?

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way.

THIS is whom we worship. Blessed are all they who put their trust in him (Psalm 2) .

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Hope, Passion

Trust

4 Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength: (Isa 26:4)

We have a natural tendency to attempt to add our own works to our salvation. We like to think that there HAS to be something that we contribute to justification.

Popular theologians will sometimes separate initial justification from final justification, trying to preserve the reformation doctrine of sola fide and at the same time bring human effort back into the final judgment. This shows how strong the pull is to revert back to our natural religion.

Our natural religion says that we aren’t as bad as God says we are. That we are at bottom pretty good people who just made a few mistakes along the way. Natural religion also views God as a harsh judge to others, but far more lenient with US and those just like us. The first priest of the natural religion was Cain.

But the Bible doesn’t allow us to fudge on the holiness of God. God as a just judge should rightly cause us to tremble in terror, because we are on the wrong side of that justice, and we all know it.

But Christian doctrine is as opposed to natural religion as east is from west, as oil from water. Christian doctrine places God’s acceptance of us in the righteousness of another – Jesus Christ. It is only His righteousness that can stand before the judgment throne. God does not now and never will accept “good intentions” in the place of perfect righteousness.

Not even a game show host will accept “I was just going to say that” in the place of the correct answer. How much less will a perfect, holy God accept “I was just going to do that” instead of perfect righteousness?

But God has provided that perfect righteousness. It is found in only one place. He sent forth his Son, made of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those who were born under the law (Galatians 4:45).

And here is an important implication of this doctrine, which will affect everything that you do:

We are called to trust in the Lord with all of our heart. We have no other place to stand. Doctors fail, with a 100% failure rate – eventually. Politicians never bring change. Horses won’t save us. Princes won’t save us. Knowledge and science won’t bring peace to our souls or stave off death.

The wisdom of the world changes every few years. The opinions of men cannot even settle what kinds of foods are healthy and what are not, how much less can they tell us how to be accepted by the Holy One of Israel?

Men and women, above all, battle a ferocious enemy whose weapons are fear, shame and guilt. He drives humanity to extreme cruelty, extreme despair, extreme illness, extreme mistrust and hatred.

And this enemy is far, far too powerful for us. Where will we turn for salvation? Where will we stand when all around is sinking sand? Where will we find rest? Who will take away our distress?

And here is the kicker: You cannot trust anyone if you are not fully persuaded that they are actually on your side.

Israel mistakenly believed that Assyria was on their side. It cost them their lives and their inheritance. Judah falsely trusted Babylon and Jerusalem was destroyed. Syria, Babylon, Assyria were on their own side, and looked out for their own interests.

How much more damaging is trust in a God who isn’t actually on our side? Can anything be more terrifying than this pronouncement from God?

4 Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of this city.
5 And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath.
6 And I will smite the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast: they shall die of a great pestilence.
(Jer 21:4-6)

And these are the words spoken to Israel. How can you trust in the Lord if the Lord Himself is against you?

And here is the problem with all schemes that seek to put even one little work back into the plan of salvation. If I have to prove to God that my faith is genuine, if I have to add one little thing to the perfect work of Christ, if I have to love or desire God as a condition for my salvation – then how on earth am I supposed to trust him? What if I didn’t do enough? What if the law still thunders its curse at me?

What if I fail? What if the water I give isn’t cold enough, or my longing for the face of God is too sporadic and changing, what if my love isn’t worthy of the beauty of the object of my love?

What if my sacrifice isn’t enough? What if my submission isn’t enough?

Did I miss something?

And then I realize that I am not actually SURE that God is on my side, because a holy God cannot dwell with sinful man and the more I examine myself, the more I see just how corrupt I am.

So how can I trust God to do me good if God’s view of me depends upon me – even a little bit.I don’t even like me all that much, how can God?

This is why trust in God is always based on only one thing: the person and work of Jesus Christ. There is no fault found there. There is no failure or mistake, lapse in the perfect Son of God made flesh for us and for our salvation.

I can completely and absolutely and without reservation commit my salvation, my health, my livelihood, my retirement, my daily bread, and the forgiveness of sins into the hands of the one who did not even spare his own son for me and for my salvation. THAT is trust. Even my prayers are made in the name of Jesus, for apart from that name, God isn’t actually on my side and I have no reason to trust that he will hear me.

Because of Jesus our righteousness is perfect, complete and finished – now and forever. And since this is true, we can boldly say,

31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Rom 8:31-39 KJV)

If our salvation isn’t actually finished and certain, then how can we possibly say this and where will our souls find rest?

Come to Jesus who is able to clothe you perfectly. His garments cover your nakedness and shame. His blood makes you acceptable to God as his dear child. His righteousness has you covered forever. Only when you know this can you actually trust God, and love and joy and peace flow from there.

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, justification, Trust

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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