Tag Archives: Faith

As if…

I have a recurring dream. I don’t remember if I told you about it or not. But we always need reminders.

In my dream, I committed adultery.

No, it wasn’t a steamy “sex dream”. No, it wasn’t with anyone that I know. The “other party” wasn’t the point of the dream. In my dream there is no face, no name, no memory of the act itself.

For my dream doesn’t begin with the sin. It begins with my wife finding out. I have to see the look on her face. I see the face that I know only as loving and warm and inviting turn into  a face of hurt and hatred and coldness. It is a nightmare of the worst kind. It is knowing that things will never be the same. That I have forfeited the most precious love. That I have lost a treasure that I will never get back.

It spreads to my kids. It spreads to my church. I lose everything. I am fired from my job, my family won’t speak to me, my kids only look at me with disgust…I say in my dream – O, that this were only a dream! O that I could wake up! And I am overwhelmed with despair, because in my dream I am convinced that it is real.

And then I wake up. It takes me a moment to get my bearings, and then I hear her breathing as she sleeps next to me. I cannot describe the relief and the joy when I realize that I am awake. It was all a dream.

CS Lewis once described an island where dreams come true. The sailors, as they sailed the “Dawn Treader” to the island, were excited about it – until they understood. This isn’t a place where your wishes come true, or your day dreams come true. It is where your dreams come true. Terrifying indeed.

In a very real sense, my recurring dream is a true one. We used to know God as a friend. We used to see his face shining on us. And then, in the Garden and in our actual lives, we committed adultery against him. We raged against him in hatred. We refused to acknowledge how good he was to us. We treated him like an enemy. We made for ourselves idols – the pornography of the spiritual realm. And we inherited it all from Adam. God poured out every good thing on us in abundance (he still does, in fact). And we despised him, looked on his gifts with contempt and hatred and pride.

And God is perfectly just. He will by no means clear the guilty.

Is it possible to wake up from this nightmare? Is it possible to be loved again, to live with God as if we had never committed adultery against him? In our living nightmare, we can’t erase it.

If my dream was real, even if my wife would be able to eventually forgive me, there would always be that hurt and anger and hatred that I CAUSED. It would never be the same again. I don’t think she could ever have that same look in her eye again – that look of trust and safety and peace. I think there would always be a memory of what I did.

(I don’t know why anyone ever commits adultery, by the way. How can anyone wish to go through this nightmare! – but that is the power of sin…)

How much greater is our adultery against God! How can we wake up from this nightmare?

Psalm 126 sees the shadow of such a time – when the bondage was over and God’s people awoke from their living nightmare:

1 When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.
  2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
  3 The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad.
  4 Bring back our captivity, O LORD, As the streams in the South.
  5 Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.
  6 He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him.
  (Ps. 126:1-6)

How can that be? As if…

God sent his only begotten son into the world. He is the well-beloved son, whom God loved perfectly because in the flesh he obeyed in all things. He (as our mediator) never committed adultery. He always loved God perfectly, even when he felt the full weight of God’s wrath on the cross. He always obeyed. Always loved. Always was faithful. And he didn’t do it for himself.

In eternity, he was always with the Father, and was always true, eternal, sovereign God. He did not obey in order to earn God’s favor for himself. He became flesh, born under the law, and obeyed so that you and I might stand before God as if we had never had nor committed any sin. As if…

He took God’s wrath against our sin and gave us his righteousness and now when God sees us, he sees us as we are in Christ. As if…

As if we had never sinned.

As if we had obeyed God perfectly from the womb.

As if we had never fallen in Adam

As if we had never said those hateful things, or thought those ugly thoughts.

As if we had always loved as we ought to have loved.

As if we had never played the whore with other gods, with our affections, with our worship…

And because he loves us as if Christ’s legal record is ours, he sends us his Spirit to dwell in us in love, so that one day our “as if” becomes our reality, when complete victory is ours and we stand before him free from sin and death and misery at last.

And we are delivered from our captivity as if we had awakened from a dream. Can you imagine the laughter and the singing and the joy, when the dawn comes?

Lift up your eyes! Already the light of dawn is breaking through. Already God sees you in Christ and you are greatly loved.

And the devil hates it. He has many “teachers” who will try to convince you that Jesus’ righteousness isn’t enough. That you still need to do something. That your adultery will never be clean and washed away. They will always have one more thing that you need to do. They may speak of the gospel in passing, but they will always turn back at the last minute, like Columbo on the old show, and say, “Oh, Just one more thing. You have to…”

And there it is. Add one more thing. Do one more ritual. Follow one more precept. Keep one more statute.

They will try to rob you of the joy of belonging to Christ.

As if…

Hold onto that joy. In this vale of tears, we stumble in many things. We say sinful things. We lash out.  We offend in many things.

And we ask forgiveness of our loved ones. We weep over sin. We beg again for the gift of the Spirit. And our hope is this:

Even then, it is as if we had never committed nor had any sin. We are washed clean. It is different than God saying, “I pardon you”.  When a judge pardons, he is releasing the penalty that is due the crime. But with a pardon, the crime was committed, even if the penalty is released.

But that isn’t really the gospel. Yes, there is a pardon. Yes, there is forgiveness. But it goes deeper. It goes to the wakening of the dream. We wake up. It is “as if”. Yes, we did it. But in the wisdom of God, he has provided a way for us to be truly clean – as if we had never sinned. He has provided a savior.

Jump! Shout! Rejoice! Lay aside the burdens. Walk out of the false churches that continue to tell you how much better you need to be and crawl to where the gospel is proclaimed. There you will learn the true measure of Christ’s gift.

Wake up, you who sleep – and Christ will give you light!

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Filed under Gospel, justification

Shattering words and crying to God

This morning, I was meditating on Psalm 42.

9 I will say to God my rock, “Why hast Thou forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
(Ps. 42:9-10)

These two verses in particular struck me. The first thing is the Psalmists righteous determination to cry out to the Lord.

Those of us who were trained with the books of Jay Adams were taught to always be aware of manipulation and complaining. He warned us that the people we are counseling will often seek to manipulate the conversation with tears and a lot of words.

O how glad I am that God does not treat us that way! How many of you have been told by pastors (or even spouses) to stop crying, quit manipulating, and cease complaining. How many of us were told that our tears were simply trying to change the conversation or that our complaining was unthankful and ungodly!

The woman with the issue of blood touched Jesus robes and was made well. He said, “Who touched me” so that she would talk to him. God delights when we pour out our troubles on him and call upon him in distress.

So much of scripture is filled with God’s delight in the prayers of the saints, and his curse on those who did not call upon him, who refused to seek his aid.

Contrary to the American popular religion, God’s blessing is NOT on the one too proud to seek help. It is not on the one who lifts himself up by the bootstraps, but on the one who has no help, no hope, no strength and knows it.

Take heart! God hears our tears, even when surrounded by mockers and revilers!

The second thing I noticed is that the Psalmist compares the reviling of his enemies to a shattering of his bones. How many times have we heard pastors and elders say, “But it really wasn’t abuse, though. There were no broken bones, no one went to the hospital. He didn’t lay a hand on her.”

We have even been taught that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Cute – but it isn’t biblical. In fact, the uniform testimony of scripture is that words hurt and destroy far more that any physical violence. We actually heal from physical scars, but scars of ugly words last a lifetime.

Jesus warned that hateful, reviling words cause one to be liable to hell-fire.

And the Psalmist pours out his complaint to God for the reviling and mocking of his enemies. And his prayers are heard.

God sees every sneer, every contemptuous smirk, every wink of the eye. He hears every reviling word, every “Raca” and every “You are so stupid. You are such a fool”.

And when the altar of God is covered with the tears of those with whom you dealt treacherously, God hears and will come in judgment (Malachi 2:13).

So keep speaking, you who are oppressed. Keep weeping, those who have been reviled. And remember that God will wipe away every tear and will come in vengeance. And remember God’s promise.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

So as the Psalm ends, we read this, even in the midst of tears:

Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance, and my God. (Ps. 42:11)

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Filed under Abuse, Prayer

My Two Bits–in no particular order

It may surprise you that I have random opinions. Sometimes they are pretty good. Sometimes they can just be deleted. But thinking about things never hurt anyone. So here are some more of my opinions. I have a bunch of them, as my wife can attest.

  1. The foundation of the nouthetic counseling movement is a book called “Competent to Counsel” by Jay Adams. The theme of that book is that every single Christian is indwelt with the Holy Spirit and competent to counsel anyone, no matter what the issue is. A companion book was “The Big Umbrella”. The theme of that book is that psychology is very, very bad and you must never go to a psychologist, even if the psychologist is a Christian.  These two books have contradictory themes. Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it…THERE it is…
  2. Completely unrelated, which is the why these are random thoughts: Scripture teaches that God uses tyrants to control and judge nations when the nations prove incapable of controlling themselves. For decades, the visible church has succumbed to reviling, cursing, and mocking the world, the left, the democrats, the gay community, the poor, etc. Don’t tell me they haven’t. You know it, and I know it. Could it be that the modern “politically correct” speech police is a Tiglath-Pilesar or Nebuchadnezzar sent from God to teach us to control our tongues with the whip? (See Habakkuk 1:2-11 and Isaiah 8:6-7). Remember that there are no laws against the fruit of the Spirit, nor can there be (Gal. 5:22-23)
  3. Whenever I read what “biblical counselors” tell women that they must do to avoid sinning, I realize that we have created our own Talmuds – and we have done it for the same reasons that the Pharisees did it: to make sure women and sinners don’t get out of control. But it is wicked and godless, and we must stop. (a good critique is here)

Wow. Just three random thoughts today. It is probably because I have work to do and need to go now.

Hold firmly to the gospel of Christ. Don’t let the devil lead you astray through the righteousness that is of the law, for it can never justify a sinner.

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matt. 15:9)

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Filed under Random thoughts

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

Loss and Grief

Some of you might have noticed that I haven’t published anything for a couple of months. I’ve sat down to write a few times but could think of nothing to say. I think I am grieving. It’s an unfamiliar emotion. I don’t know how to analyze it.

In our culture, we learn very quickly to not grieve, especially if you are male. Grieving itself is viewed as a weakness. I think this is changing. But I’m not sure.

I know that in my own upbringing, weeping was a sign of weakness. Big boys don’t cry.

So I’m trying on this new feeling for me. Grief. Sometimes loss is just a bit overwhelming. Sometimes I wish I could just experience what they call the “ugly cry” but I don’t think I’m able to. Too unseemly. I have too much of my father in me I guess. But I still grieve.

I am grieving for lost youth. I wasn’t ready for middle age. I wasn’t ready for old people problems. I wasn’t ready for cancer. I haven’t finished being young yet. I wish that I hadn’t squandered my youth with childishness. But now that is gone.

My fingers cramp now when I type. My knees hurt when I walk. The arthritis gets my joints when it rains. I haven’t learned the third movement of the Waldstein sonata yet. There was always a part of me that knew it would always be a little beyond my reach, but now I say goodbye to the dream. It’s a strange feeling. Some days I don’t know who I am.

I am grieving things that I cannot speak of, for they are not my stories to tell. I am grieving the missed opportunities, the lambs that have wandered, the words unspoken, the good deeds left undone.

It’s hard to explain. I don’t know if this is what grief feels like. I know what being sad is, but it isn’t really exactly like that.

It a sigh, it’s a reset of the brain. The remembrance of things past.

I think it is like this: There have been moments in life when a grand buffet table was within your grasp. You tasted it for a moment, but it was taken away before you were finished with it.

Maybe this is how the grass feels. Just when it starts to bloom, the mower cuts it down. Always growing, always becoming, always cut short.

But then I remember that God remembers that we are grass.

13 As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him.

14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.

16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more.

17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting (Psa 103:13-17 NKJ)

I am fading.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. I was made to live forever. But now, I fade and die.

To grieve that loss is to be human, I think. But to be a child of God is to try to remember that God knows that.

I am tired of saying goodbye. I am tired of saying goodbye to youth, goodbye to dreams, goodbye to friends, goodbye to family.

I’m tired of it. But God remembers that we are dust. And I try to remember that I will never, ever have to say goodbye to God’s mercy.

God’s mercy is from everlasting to everlasting. You don’t have to say goodbye to the one who doesn’t change.

“O thou who changest not, abide with me.”

Some days I forget to remember that God’s mercy is from everlasting. But God doesn’t ever forget.

Some days, I am in the valley of the shadow of death, and I forget to remember that God is with me. But he doesn’t forget.

He doesn’t leave me behind and forget that he has a child. He doesn’t forget his little lamb.

I think that is astounding.

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Filed under Grief, mercy, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Abuse, Faith, sola fide

Thoughts concerning Slaves and Children

4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal 4:4-7 KJV)

A servant, whether a slave or an employee, works for two reasons. Either to earn a wage or to avoid punishment.

But God doesn’t want good employees, or good slaves. He wants sons and daughters. This is why the greatest commandment is:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Mat 22:37 KJV)

This is why righteousness can never come by the law. The law makes fearful slaves, but God desires our hearts.

It is true that a heart that loves God is a heart that keeps the commandments of God, but it is deadly to our comfort to think that we are working to earn a reward – whether it is final righteousness or final justification or any other “wage”. It is also deadly to our comfort to think that we are working to avoid punishment, for Jesus has already taken the cup of God’s wrath and drank the last drop. There is no more condemnation.

Work that flows from hope of reward or fear of punishment is the work of a servant. And God responds to servants this way:

9 “He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?
10 “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'” (Luk 17:9-10 NAS)

Salvation is not learning to become a good slave, for God would have sons and daughters. Sons and daughters certainly obey and honor their father, but the motive is from a heart of love and gratitude, which is pleasing to the Lord.

Jesus did not come to make us slaves. He came to make us heirs.

And love is only learned from the gospel, received by faith. Love can never be learned from the law.

The apostle James warns of dead faith, which is faith without works. His point is NOT to add works to dead faith, but to repent of dead faith and gain a living faith in the living savior. Living faith always brings forth good works, as a loving son always obeys the father. But we are saved because we are united to Christ by faith, not because we worked hard enough to earn a reward.

The difference between a son and a slave is everything.

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