A Dose of Perspective

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

These words met me first thing this morning as I sat down at my desk and woke up my computer. The tab was open to one of my favorite Bible pages, and these words just seemed to jump off the page and hit me between the eyes. What a dose of perspective first thing on a Monday morning!

Mondays have never been horrible for me like for some people. However, it can still be daunting having the whole week ahead of me. Lots to do. Have to write a sermon, which means hearing from God, studying and accurately interpreting the biblical text before me, then trying my best to apply that text to people’s lives in a meaningful way. Add to that scheduled meetings and any other pastoral duties that inevitably come up each week and all of a sudden I’m looking at a full plate.

Other people have their own challenges. Deadlines to meet. Appointments to keep. Sales goals to make. People’s problems to solve. No doubt about it, the week ahead can seem pretty overwhelming and scary sometimes.

When I saw this passage from Genesis 1:1 today, however, all of it immediately came into perspective. Our God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth! The One who spoke the worlds into being by a single word! The One who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). The One who “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” Acts 17:25).

Job got a pretty big dose of perspective, too. God appeared to him in a whirlwind (something that’s daunting in itself if, like me, you live in Kansas!) and adjusted his thinking on things.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). Where was I, indeed! Such perspective elicits from me a response similar to Job’s: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (Job 40:4).

Jesus told His followers in Matthew 6:25-33:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

So, as I face this Monday morning with all the stuff of the week ahead, I am reminded of the great and mighty God that I serve. The God who “laid the foundation of the earth” is more than able to handle my week. He is more than able to keep me in His care and give me the grace to do that which He has called me to do. And I’ve known Him long enough to know I can trust Him. He hasn’t failed me yet!

And that’s pretty good perspective.

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What Does ‘Christ-centered’ Mean and Why is it Important?

Words tend to become meaningless over time, especially when used often. There are several words in our English language that have all but lost their meaning and thus their full impact in communication. Probably one of the most obvious is the word ‘love.’ And how overused is the word ‘awesome’ these days?
In Christian circles it is no different. I can think of several words – glory, worship, and anointing to name a few – that have suffered much in their use over time. We would do well to take these words off the shelf and examine them once again and attempt to reclaim the full weight of their meaning. One term I would like to focus on here is ‘Christ-centered.’
When used in the context of ministry, everyone would like to think that their ministry is Christ-centered. After all, isn’t that what it’s supposed to be? Isn’t it just a given that if we’re ministering supposedly in Jesus’ name that our ministry is Christ-centered? To answer those questions, we have to take a look at just what ‘Christ-centered’ really means and then we need to think about what that implies when applied to specific areas of ministry. In other words we want to take this phrase out of the realm of the abstract, define it sufficiently, and make it practical.
The Antithesis
One often effective way to define a term is to show its antithesis. The use of contrast helps us to wrap our minds around an idea much better than if we simply rely on a flat definition. In the case of the term ‘Christ-centered,’ then, the obvious antithesis in a theological context would be ‘man-centered.’ The term ‘man-centered’ is exactly what it sounds like: focused on man. If someone is ‘self-centered’ then everything he does seems to be for and all about himself. Likewise, if a philosophy is ‘man-centered,’ then everything that is done seems to be for and all about man.
The term ‘Christ-centered,” then, describes something that has its focus on Christ. Everything that is done is for and all about Christ. This is easy to see and, for many, obvious. However, the definition alone falls woefully short in painting a full picture of what ‘Christ-centered’ means and how it applies practically to ministry.
Going Deeper
It is important for us to realize here that these terms are expressions of motivation and philosophy. In other words, these terms deal with the why and the how of ministry. Indeed, the why usually determines the how and ends up driving the whole philosophy of our ministry. But even this gets fuzzy in meaning sometimes because there are underlying, foundational presuppositions involved that need to be uncovered for us to understand what different people mean when they use terms like ‘Christ-centered.’
At the very heart of this issue is one’s fundamental assumptions concerning man’s free will, God’s sovereignty, whether conversion is monergistic or synergistic, and the function of the Word of God in ministry. Where one stands on these issues will determine how that person defines ‘Christ-centeredness’ as well as their philosophy of doing ministry. In other words, it determines for them the why and the how of doing ministry.
The Function of the Word of God
All of the fundamental assumptions mentioned above are actually interrelated and interdependent. For instance, if one sees salvation as being a cooperative work between God and man where God makes it possible to be saved but it is incumbent upon man to make the final choice, then that person’s how of doing ministry will naturally focus upon doing whatever is necessary to sufficiently persuade people to make that decision. This then immediately raises the question of whether the person who simply “makes a decision” is really converted or not, but that is another issue for another blog post.
Conversely, if one sees salvation as being a monergistic work of God, that is, that God performs the whole work, even to the point of changing the will of the sinner from being against Him (Romans 3:11) to being willing to turn from their sins and to Christ (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:30), then that person will have a whole different philosophy of ministry. This is because this person also has at the heart of their presupposition the function of the Word of God in ministry. This person sees the following passages as extremely fundamental to their philosophy:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… (Romans 1:16 ESV)
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?…So then faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14, 17 NASB)
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21 NASB)
…but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23 NASB)
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 NASB)
Christ-Centered Ministry
So then the person who sees salvation as a monergistic work of God also sees that the Word of God in general, and the gospel in particular, as the means or the conduit through which God’s power and grace come to people in order to perform that monergistic work of salvation. They also see that, as in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, we also stand by the power of that same gospel after we have believed.
Since the gospel is all about the person and work of Christ, then it is no wonder that Paul says to the Corinthians, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). The reason for his focus on Christ is spelled out in verse 5, “so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”
The meaning of ‘Christ-centered,’ then, is the purposeful focus upon the gospel, and more specifically the Christ of the gospel, in all areas of ministry. In this we see that the gospel is the tool and method that God has chosen for His people to use for the purpose of ministering His power and grace to the world and to His church. The antithesis of this would be a man-centered, pragmatic approach which seeks to employ whatever means necessary to get people to make a decision. Since the Word of God specifically says that through the world’s wisdom no one comes to know God (1 Cor, 1:21), the Christ-centered method of ministry is the only one given to us by God and the only one that assures that true conversion and true ministry will take place in people’s hearts.

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Justification by Faith

Justification1
Undoubtedly the greatest of all biblical doctrines is that of justification by faith. Martin Luther insisted that justification by faith alone is “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” In the midst of the hopeless, fallen condition of mankind, God’s mercy and grace in justifying sinners rises as the shining pinnacle of hope for all of creation. In it God’s perfect justice and His boundless love and grace meet to redeem mankind from the law’s condemning verdict, and thus declares the guilty sinner just. Martin Luther also claimed that Romans 3:21-26, the premier section of Romans which introduces the truth of justification by faith, was “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.” Donald Barnhouse echoed similar words concerning this section of Romans. He says unmistakably that the act of God in providing righteousness apart from the law “is the theme of the Epistle to the Romans, and in reality it is the theme of the New Testament and of the whole Bible.”
This declaration by God is not arbitrary, however. If it was, then God would not be righteous in declaring sinners to be something other than guilty, and He would not have the ground legally, according to His own law, to do so. What is shown in Romans 3:21 – 5:21, however, is how God was able to justly pardon ungodly people and still remain righteousness. The justification of sinners manifests God’s righteousness in that it is based solely upon the faithfulness and perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, being counted to the sinner through faith alone. In this way, God is revealed to be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
Definition
Most Protestant scholars are united on the basic definition of justification. Douglas Moo writes that justification “is what a judge does when he declares innocent the defendant in a trial.” Likewise, Francis Schaeffer points out that justification “comes to sinful men and women when God declares that their guilt is paid for.” Schaeffer clarifies this definition ever further by saying that God does not “infuse” us with righteousness, rather He makes a legal declaration.
The Roman Catholic Church established their doctrine of justification which they still to this day hold to, that “God will never declare a person just until that person actually, under divine scrutiny, is found to be just.” The reason for this belief is based on the fact that in the early centuries of church history, Latin became the dominant language instead of Greek. The Latin word for justification is iustificare. The Latin word fiacre means “to make” or “to shape.” Thus, the Roman Church believes that in justification, God “makes” a person righteous, and that it mostly happens in purgatory after death.
The original Greek word for justification, however, is dikaioo and dikaiosune, which does not mean “to make righteous,” but rather “to declare righteous.” This distinguishes justification from sanctification. In justification God “declares” people to be righteous, whereas in the process of sanctification God “makes” them righteous.
J.I. Packer gives a fuller definition of justification. He states, “The biblical meaning of ‘justify’ (Hebrew, sadeq; Greek, LXX and NT, dikaioo) is to pronounce, accept, and treat as just, i.e., on the one hand, not penally liable, and, on the other, entitled to all the privileges due to those who have kept the law.” The term “justification,” then, is a forensic term which indicates a judicial act by God, in this case, by “declaring a verdict of acquittal and so excluding all possibility of condemnation.”
These definitions are supported by Scripture. The first time the word is directly used in this sense in Romans is in verse 24 of Romans 3. After stating that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (verse 23), which is, of course, the human predicament, Paul states that people, “are justified by his (God’s) grace as a gift…” (3:24 ESV). This tells us that justification is somehow a gift of God’s grace and that it is therefore not earned. Verse 26 says of God that He is the “justifier,” which denotes God as the supreme judge who has the final word in the case.
Paul switches analogies somewhat in chapter 4 by using the language of accounting. Picking up on the idea that justification is a gift from God, Paul points to Abraham whom God used to begin His whole work of redemption to begin with. The apostle uses the phrase, “counted to him as righteousness” and the word “counted” throughout this section, nearly every verse in verses 3–10 containing them. It is affirmed that God justifies the ungodly (verse 5) and that He does so by counting them righteous apart from works (verse 6). The word “counted” appears in other translations as “credited” (NIV, NASB, HCSB, NET) and “accounted” or “imputed” (NKJV). The Greek word is logizomai and means “to impute; to regard, deem, consider, conclude, presume.” Moo also provides a helpful definition of this crediting. Crediting Abraham’s faith as righteousness means “to account to him a righteousness that does not inherently belong to him.” This shows, then, that God is making a conclusion regarding the sinner. He regards them as righteous.

Justification, then, can be said to be the free act and gift of God whereby He concludes that a person is considered righteous in His sight, even when that person is indeed guilty of sin.
This definition, however, says nothing about the basis upon which this justification is counted. In the sixteenth century, both the Roman Catholic Church and the newly formed Protestant Church both agreed that justification was something that God does. They also agreed that is was a judicial declaration and that no one can be justified until God declared that a person was righteous. The main issue that separated them then was the question of what basis or grounds God declared a person to be righteous.
Basis
On what basis would God declare that a sinner is just when, in fact, he is guilty of sin? One can clearly see that God’s own righteousness is at stake here. A judge who lets a person off as innocent when he is guilty can hardly be considered righteous or just. Paul goes to great lengths in Romans 1:18 – 3:20 to establish the guilt of all human beings, both Jews and Gentiles, because all are “under sin” (Romans 3:9 ESV).
The answer to this dilemma of basis or grounds is found all through Romans 3:21 – 4:25, and is expounded upon in 5:12-21. Over and over Paul makes it clear that justification is based upon, not the works of the Law, but upon Jesus Christ. This is seen in all its glory, once again, in verse 24 of chapter 3. Paul declares that people are “justified by (God’s) grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (ESV).
What is it about Jesus Christ that becomes the basis of man’s justification? The answer comes by way of comparison between man’s sin and Jesus’ righteousness; between man’s unfaithfulness to God and Christ’s faithfulness; between man’s inability to keep the righteous demands of the Law and Christ’s perfection in keeping it. God’s righteousness is gifted to sinners based not on man’s ability, but “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22 NET).
This faithfulness of Jesus Christ is expounded upon in Romans 5:12-19 where Paul makes a distinction between Adam whereby man received his guilt, and Christ whereby believers receive righteousness. John Piper comments that this passage “brings Paul’s exposition of justification in Romans 3-5 to a climax with a stunning comparison between the effect of Adam’s disobedience on those who are in him and the effect of Christ’s obedience on those who are in him.” Paul makes clear that “sin came into the world” through one man, and that sin and death spread to all men (5:12). This one man is without question Adam (verse 14). “That sin entered through one man is an integral element of the comparison or parallel upon which is to be built Paul’s doctrine of justification.” When Paul says that sin “entered the world,” he is referring to the entrance of sin into the human race. It is not the case, therefore, that people are guilty simply because all people committed their own sins. Paul is clear here that through Adam’s sin, all people are guilty, even those who did not sin in the same way Adam did (verses 13-14).
The comparison is completed when Paul says that “much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (5:15 ESV). If it still wasn’t clear whether justification was in view here, Paul brings the microscope in even closer by saying, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (5:17 ESV). According to John Calvin, this means “that God graciously communicates righteousness to the unrighteous creature in order to restore that creature to fullness of life.”
So then it is made clear that the free gift of righteousness comes to people through Jesus Christ. But why? Paul’s answer is as clear as it is direct. “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (5:18-19 ESV). As Thomas Schreiner comments on these verses, “Paul adds the thought of Christ’s righteous conduct as the means of righteousness for believers.”
It is important at this juncture to point out the truth that Paul pointed out to his Roman readers that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in (God’s) sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). As Paul shows later in chapter 8, this is true because of the sinfulness of man’s flesh (8:3). Therefore, the righteous requirement of the law cannot be fulfilled in sinful man. However, Paul reveals that God sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (8:3-4 ESV). In other words, Christ was perfectly obedient to the law, thus earning by His faithfulness the righteousness that would be counted to sinful men.
It is vital to note here that Jesus’ obedience led him all the way to the cross where his death made atonement for sins. Elsewhere, Paul states that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). God put Christ forward as a propitiation (3:25). “This clause contains the basis of our deliverance from the curse of the law, and our acceptance with God.” Thomas Schreiner makes this clear. “This justification is accomplished through the ransoming work of Jesus Christ on the cross.” John Murray brings the obedience of Christ together with the death of Christ very nicely. “It is through Christ’s sacrificial and redemptive work (Rom. 3:24; 5:9; 8:33-34). We are justified in Jesus’ blood. The particular significance of this truth in this connection is that it is the once-for-all redemptive accomplishment of Christ that is brought into the centre of attention when we are thinking of justification.”
According to Sproul, the Bible makes a distinction between Jesus’ active obedience and His passive obedience. “Jesus’ perfect obedience to the law of God was such that he earned by his own merit eternal felicity with the Father in the Father’s kingdom. He fulfilled all the terms of God’s covenant with man, the promise for which was blessedness.” That blessedness, says Sproul, is the eternal reward for His perfect obedience which He then trades for our sin. This perfect active obedience leads up to His perfect passive obedience, which is “submitting himself to the curse of the law and the wrath of the Father by willingly bearing our sins upon the cross.” It is both Christ’s active obedience and His passive obedience which are essential for the justification of a sinner.
Therefore, the righteousness that is given to sinners is God’s own righteousness through the obedience of Christ. “Justification is an act which proceeds from God’s free grace. It is an act of God and God alone. And the righteousness which supplies its ground or basis is the righteousness of God.” This, in turn, “vindicates” God, showing that He is faithful to keep His promises (Genesis 12:1-3) and that He can do so justly. Moo makes this point by saying, “God’s ‘righteousness’ carries the legal connotation of ‘vindication.’ When he intervenes in Christ, he is vindicating his name and displaying his faithfulness to the ‘contract’ he entered into with the world.”
This leads to the consideration of the means by which this justification is acquired. Although Paul said in 5:18 that “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men,” Paul is not advocating universalism. Rather, he is saying that there is no other way for men to be saved. There remains, therefore, the need to uncover what the means is by which men may obtain this righteousness.
Means
Paul goes to great length in Romans to inform his readers that justification cannot be obtained through keeping the law. He sums up his previous argument in the opening chapters of the letter by saying, “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:20 ESV). The following verse is the pivotal verse which begins the good news that God provided a way to be justified without the works of the law. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…” (3:21 ESV). It has been established that it is through the finished work and complete faithfulness of Jesus Christ that our justification rests, but how does one go about obtaining this justification?
Paul’s answer is clear. Justification goes to all who believe (verse 22). “Because Christ paid the price for all our sin, ‘all that believe’ in Him (3:22) stand justified in God’s sight.” He further clarifies this by stating that it is to be received by faith. Sinners are “justified by grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (3:24-25 ESV).
In returning to chapter 4 of Romans, Paul shows his readers that there is solid foundation for justification through faith and that since it is by faith, no one has any grounds to boast. “Throughout this chapter, Paul grounds his exposition in the key verse, cited in 4:3, of Genesis 15:6: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The focus is especially on the nature and meaning of Abraham’s believing.”
It is vital to make a distinction between ground and means, however. Faith is not the cause of our righteousness. Schaeffer explains, “It doesn’t mean that faith makes you righteous. This would be contrary to the entire teaching of Paul, indeed the entire teaching of the Bible. Rather, righteousness comes as you are linked…to the promises of God that have been fulfilled through Jesus Christ. By faith, you are entered into this righteousness.” Hodge also concludes, “Faith is not the basis of our justification. Faith is not the righteousness which makes us righteous before God…This righteousness is through faith, as it is received and appropriated by faith.”
This faith that Paul speaks of is a trust in God’s faithfulness to His promises just as Abraham believed God would be faithful to His promises. Paul Achtemeier says this clearly. “We have therefore in Abraham an example of how trust in God’s faithfulness is to be exercised.”
This trust in God’s promises is in complete opposition to works of the law. “To want to depend on such works means to want to depend on ourselves, rather than on God.” But as Paul points out, if justification was given to man by works, “his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due” (4:4 ESV). It is clear, however, that justification is not received by works because it is by God’s grace through faith. “Paul makes this clear in the very next verse by saying, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (4:5 ESV). The reason for this is because the law brings wrath, not salvation (4:15). “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (4:16 ESV).
Why, then, does Paul also say, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who are justified” (2:13)? Paul is not speaking here of the method of justification available for sinners, but rather the principle by which all will be judged finally. Sproul summed up this issue by saying, “In the final analysis, we are justified by works – but not our works.”
Time Factors
Since justification is a judicial declaration by God that a person is righteous in His sight based on the finished work of Christ, then it is a one-time act. Paul shows this in Romans 5:1 when he declares, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith…” R.C. Sproul points out the difference between the biblical view and the Roman Catholic view. “The great truth of the ‘therefore’ is that we can be justified now, contrary to what the Roman Catholic Church claims. Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ do not have a prolonged wait for their justification. The moment they believe in Jesus and put their trust in him, God declares them just, once and for all.” The “have been justified” refers to an act in the past. It is something that God accomplished through the finished work of Christ. Note that Christ’s work is finished. Our justification is a past action and we receive it when we believe. Sproul goes on to explain, “We see that our justification is a fait accompli. It took place the moment we believed—it is not something that we must wait to accomplish in purgatory.”
Results/Fruits
Not only is our justification accomplished once and for all time, but there are results from it. In the same verse, Paul goes on to declare that, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that this peace comes through Jesus Christ, the agent of peace. Justification solves sinners’ problem of being under God’s wrath as outlined in 1:18 – 2:29. Paul makes clear that those who are in the flesh are hostile to God and cannot please Him (Romans 8:7). Through Christ, however, we have been made at peace with God.
The second result of justification is that believers have access to God. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (5:2). This means that we have access to the Father. In a believer’s previous state of sin, with sin not being covered and guilt not being removed, the sinner is cast out from the presence of God and has become a fugitive. But because of Christ, believers may now enter God’s presence. Literally, this verse means that the believer has access into a life of grace whereby God continues to pour out His grace upon him.
Thirdly, because of justification, believers have hope. “…and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (5:2 ESV). This solves man’s dilemma that Paul outlined in 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ESV). This also means that believers can rejoice in the midst of their sufferings while they are still on earth (5:3). This doesn’t mean that God promises believers a trouble-free life, but it does mean that God will use even the sufferings to bring about even greater blessing.
Assurance
As Christians persevere in this life which often includes suffering, justification provides an assurance of a future glory which God has prepared for his people. Paul states, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (8:18 ESV). Because justification is a once-for-all act by God which is not dependent upon any works that the person did, believers can be assured that their justification “will not disappoint” (5:5) and will translate into glorification on the day when Christ returns.
Paul leaves no room for doubt on this. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (5:9-10 ESV). As Moo says, The parallel ‘how much more’ arguments of verse 9-10 reiterate the hope that Paul has introduced earlier in the passage….And our hope is certain not only because it is based in God’s work for us (5:9-10) but also because it is rooted in God’s love for us (5:5-8).
This love that God has for believers is recounted by Paul in a major way in chapter 8, solidifying the assurance Christians have of their final glorification, and reassuring that since God justified us, no one can undo what He has done. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (8:32-34 ESV). Francis Schaeffer elaborates, “When Jesus died for us, He said, ‘It is finished.’ The debt for our sin was fully paid. But then, ‘much more,’ He rose again.” This is what is meant in 4:25 when Paul says, “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. So then faith rests not just on Jesus’ death, but also on His resurrection, whereby our justification and future glorification is made sure. “Through Jesus’ resurrection, the same opportunity (resurrection) is now afforded us.”
Paul concludes his argument by declaring in the strongest possible terms that, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39 ESV).
The conclusion to the matter, then, is that “the only righteousness sufficient for us to stand before the judgment of God is the righteousness of Christ.” Justification by faith alone means that justification is by Christ alone, by His righteousness, which is received by faith.

Bibliography
Achtemeier, Paul J. Interpretation: Romans. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1985.

Barnhouse, Donald Grey. Romans: Chapters 1:1 – 5:11. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers,
2013.

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,
2001.

Lowe, Bruce A. “Oh dia! How is Romans 4:25 to be Understood?” Journal of Theological
Studies 57, no. 1 (2006).

Moo, Douglas J. The NIV Application Commentary: Romans. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Murray, John. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1959.

—-. Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955.

Piper, John. Counted Righteous in Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2002.

Santmire, H. Paul. “Justification in Calvin’s 1540 Commentary” in Church History 33, no.3
(1964).

Schaeffer, Francis A. The Finished Work of Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, 1998.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans. Grand
Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Sproul, R.C. St. Andrews Expositional Commentary: Romans. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009.

—-. “The Christological Crisis.” Lecture, Ligonier Fall Conference from Ligonier Ministries,
Sanford, FL, September 19, 2014.

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Romans and the Christian Worldview

RomansCornerstone

Introduction
Both the contemporary secular culture and the world’s many religions offer an array of options on how people view the world around them. They all offer their own way of seeing how life ought to be lived. In the midst of this culture Christians need to know how God has purposed for His creatures to see the world and to live in obedience to Him. The Word of God in general and the letter to the Romans in particular reveals the foundation to the worldview that God’s people are to possess. Romans addresses the main issues that stand in stark contrast to the worldview of this secular age and the world’s religions. Such issues include how the world was created, sin, salvation, eschatology, ethics, and theology.
Creation
The letter to the Romans, a letter that focuses on the gospel, begins by informing us about the foundational event that is necessary for our understanding of the gospel: creation.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20 ESV)

Couched within the language of God’s wrath upon man’s unrighteousness, Paul reveals the reason for God’s wrath, namely the fact that people have failed to see Him as their Creator and sovereign Lord. Paul Achtemeier says, “To imagine that God is something other than he is, the sovereign Lord and sole Creator of all that exists, brings in its train terrible consequences…to refuse to acknowledge him as divine Creator and Lord is to remove oneself from any possibility of fellowship with him.”
In these verses we see that natural creation reveals to all men clearly that God not only exists, but also reveals His “eternal power and divine nature” (v. 19). This agrees with Psalm 19:1 which states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (ESV). This knowledge of God is not a saving knowledge, but leaves people without excuse for their unrighteousness. “Paul’s purpose is to show that the knowledge of God that all people have through observing the created order is suppressed (v.18) and distorted (vv. 21-23), so that all without exception have no excuse.”
Paul goes on to show that humanity is wholly turned against God. He says in 1:21 that “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (ESV). He then proceeds to list in 1:22-32 an overview of their sinful lifestyles that reveals a Godless worldview. This is seen also in 3:18 which declares, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is a condition which is clearly seen in today’s culture through the continual increase and boldness of people’s sinful lifestyles.
Sin
What does Romans reveal to us that lets us know the consequences of such a lifestyle? Since God is Creator, and since His creatures have sinned against Him, there is a penalty for that sin, and yet people continue to live in unbelief as if they answer only to themselves. Beginning in chapter 2, Paul tells of God’s righteous judgment on mankind’s sin. Being a Jew doesn’t get one off the hook, either, since even the Jews have shown that they are unable to keep God’s righteous laws (2:17-29). The consequences of this sin is God’s wrath (1:18; 2:5-11).
Salvation
Since the problem for man is their being “under sin” and because of that sin they are unable to live according to God’s righteous standards, man is in need of rescue. Paul declares boldly in 3:21 that God has made a way for mankind to be made right with God apart from the law. Verse 22 reveals this way as being through faith in Jesus Christ. Why is this so? Paul unfolds the details in verses 23-26. All people have sinned (v. 23), but God brought about the justification of all who place their faith in Jesus Christ, and this is by grace which is a gift (v. 24). Through His death and the shedding of His blood, Jesus became our propitiation (v. 25) which was God’s way of justly being able to turn away His wrath from sinners who place their faith in Jesus Christ (v. 26) and to declare them righteous. This was the mission that Jesus Christ came to fulfill. In Christ, believers, then, have peace with God (5:1).
While justification is a judicial declaration whereby God counts a sinner righteous by faith in Christ, sanctification is a process whereby we become more like Christ. It is the process by which we realize and work out the truth that we have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (6:18). But this process still is not something we do on our own. We are given the Holy Spirit to give us the power to walk according to His ways and not the ways of the flesh. Through the Spirit we are to “put to death” the deeds of the flesh (8:5-13). As Moo points out, “We must recognize that the grace and power of God that justified us continue to be at work to sanctify us. God expects us to obey him, but our very obedience is the product of his grace.” Our part in this is to “present our members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (6:19 ESV).
Eschatology
Although we may see our current journey of sanctification as a struggle, we are given assurance that one day our struggle will cease. In Romans 8, Paul begins to delineate between the present age and the age to come. In light of all that Christ has done for us, and in light of the fact that we now are radically identified with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5-11), we look forward to a day when we will be resurrected like Christ. Romans 8:18-30 talks about the present suffering which will one day give way to a future glory. Verse 19 states that the creation itself even groans, as it were, eagerly awaiting for the revealing of the sons of God. Here we see Paul revealing God’s plan not only to redeem people, but also the whole of God’s creation. Paul spells this out clearly in 8:29-31 with what is commonly called “the golden chain” of redemption – believers are foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. This brings assurance of final salvation as is laid out in 8:31-39, namely that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39 ESV).
Ethics
Our eschatology, then, should affect our ethics. Since “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (13:11), our ethical conduct should reflect that belief. As Christians, we are to live in obedience to God and not walk in the lusts of our flesh (8:5). We are not to be conformed to this world (12:2). We are called to love one another, show honor to one another, pray, and show hospitality toward one another (12:9-13; 13:8-10). We are commanded to do what is honorable in the sight of all, and to live at peace with everyone so long as it depends on us (12:17-18). We are to live properly and make no provision for the flesh (13:13-14).
Romans also addresses ethical worldview issues that speak to the current culture. A true ethical worldview must be based on some standard. It cannot arbitrarily exist. As we have seen in Romans 1:18-20, that standard is God. We also see in 2:15 that all people have the moral law of God written on their hearts and in their conscience. “The conscience in Gentiles proves that they are keenly aware of moral norms that accord with the Mosaic law.” Schreiner continues, “Here the purpose is to show that Gentiles who do not have the written law have a twofold witness to the moral norms of the law. First, the commands of the law are written in their hearts, and second, the conscience also testifies to the validity of those norms, in that it condemns or approves of the behavior practiced.” Paul also tells us that all people know God’s decree and that those who practice unrighteousness know that what they do is wrong (1:32). It is the Mosaic law of God, however, that gives mankind special revelation of what God’s standard of morality is (2:12-24; 12:1-2).
Theology
This all leads us to an overarching subject that is part of every person’s worldview, and one which affects all the other parts. Everyone has some view of God (1:21). Even atheists have a view of God, albeit one that believes that He doesn’t exist. This means that theology is a part of everyone’s worldview.
Throughout the letter to the Romans we see God’s nature and many of His attributes on full display. God is powerful and holy (1:4), and He is a God of grace and peace (1:7). He is a righteous God and a God of wrath (1:17-18), an eternal and all-powerful God who created all things (1:20), a God who decrees (1:32), and a God of judgment (2:1-24), yet He is a God who shows no partiality (2:11). God’s righteousness also reveals that He is a God of mercy and grace (3:21 – 11:36).
In chapter 5 we see God’s great love on full display, while chapters 6 and 7 remind us again of God’s holiness. From there we see God as a great liberator (8:1-25), and we also see God’s great providence in the lives of His people (8:26-30). This all comes together to show a God of matchless love who ably keeps His children in His care until the very end (8:31-39).
God is a completely sovereign God who does whatever He wills (9:1-29), and unfolds His perfect plan of redemption throughout all of history, a plan which includes people from the whole world (9:30 – 11:32).
Finally, we get a glimpse of God’s perfect knowledge and wisdom (11:34; 16:27) and the God who holds all riches (11:35). All this is summed up in acknowledging God as a God who is supreme in glory (11:35; 16:27).

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The First Great Awakening

Jonathan Edwards

     The Great Awakening is a name used to describe a period of time in the early to middle part of the eighteenth century in colonial America when God’s Spirit moved in a mighty and unusual way bringing renewal to churches and new birth to thousands of unbelievers. It was actually made up of a series of local revivals which were part of a larger movement of spiritual renewal that affected a large geographic area and many dimensions of colonial life in America. This awakening not only affected the religious affections of the population, but also transformed its cultural and political landscape as well. The history can be traced clearly by studying the accounts of its two most influential Christian figures of the time, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.
      The spiritual climate in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century was far from pious. The spiritual ideals of the original Pilgrims had been forgotten and “serious theological and moral decline had set in.” Spiritual devotion gave way to indifference, drunkenness, and debauchery. In 1704, one of the more prominent pastors of that day, Cotton Mather, described the situation well by saying, “It is confessed by all who know anything of the matter…that there is a general and horrible decay of Christianity among the professors of it…the modern Christianity is too generally but a…shadow of the ancient.”
      During this same period of time, there were some small seasons of revival, or “harvests,” under the ministry of Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), grandfather of Jonathan Edwards and pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts. Stoddard was instrumental in developing what came to be the accepted method of revivals in his and future generations. Although he did believe that it was the Holy Spirit who ultimately drew people to salvation, he employed the use of powerful preaching which focused first on the threat of damnation, followed by the offer of hope in the grace of Jesus Christ. This later became the method in which his grandson, Jonathan Edwards, employed with his own preaching.
      Ironically, Stoddard, along with other pastors of the late seventeenth century such as Increase Mather, also added to the problematic situation with regard to church degradation. Mather, on the one hand, had allowed a loose set of requirements for baptism which led to “halfway” members which were congregants who were baptized but not converted. On the other hand, Stoddard, whose sole focus was converting souls for Christ, employed the Lord’s Supper as a “converting ordinance,” hoping that the unbeliever would eventually be converted by including them.
      In spite of these ecclesiastical misgivings, it was Stoddard who paved the way for what would come to be known as the evangelical theology of conversion which would be employed for many years to come. Later, in his memoir called A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737), Jonathan Edwards said of Stoddard that he was “renowned for his gifts and grace; so he was blessed, from the beginning, with extraordinary success in his ministry in the conversion of many souls.”
      While Edwards and Whitefield would later become the superstars of the Great Awakening, one cannot neglect to mention the contribution of two other very influential people in the period. T.J. Frelinghuysen (1691-1747) was a Dutch Reformed pastor in Brunswick, New Jersey, and is generally credited as being one of the primary instruments of the beginning of the First Great Awakening. Frelinghuysen was known for fearlessly preaching the new birth, often amidst ridicule and attack. He is quoted as saying, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than not to preach the truth.” The other famous revivalist was Gilbert Tennent (1703-1764) who had been encouraged by Frelinghuysen’s success. As an extremely strong orator, Tennent spoke up against ministers who were themselves unconverted. His most famous sermon was entitled, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.”
      It was Jonathan Edwards, however, who became the brightest light in New England during the time. Much like John Calvin in the sixteenth century, Edwards was a scholar and had aspirations of studying and writing. His path took a much different turn, however, when his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, called him to be assistant pastor at his church in Northampton in 1727. When his grandfather died two years later, Edwards took over his pulpit.
      Edwards had great concern for his flock, and despaired for their lack of piety and spiritual ignorance. He preached frequently on such themes as original sin, justification by faith, and the sovereignty of God. Edwards was simple and reserved and while he wasn’t known for his oratorical prowess, his sermons we theologically rich and carried the power of God in them.
      Beginning in the winter of 1734-1735, the Spirit of God began to move mightily in his church as he preached a series of sermons on justification by faith. Revival had already been lit by Frelinghuysen and Tennent down in New Jersey, but it was Edwards who became the lightning rod for its explosion. Because of the prevailing culture of the time, the revival centered around the message that “outward morality is not enough for salvation, an inward change is necessary.”
      Although Edwards was cautious about definitely pronouncing someone as “saved,” he estimated that around three hundred people were converted in the first six month period of the revival. He described the revival as truly “universal” because, in contrast to Stoddard’s smaller “harvests” which seemed to affect many more women than men, this revival affected all ages of men, women, and children. It had also crossed racial boundaries as well, as Edwards accounted, when “several Negroes…appear(ed) to have been truly born again.”
      Two of Edwards’ most famous sermons were “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.” Ironically, these sermons represented a minority of the themes on which he preached, yet their impact was felt tremendously. The latter was a sermon which was based on God’s absolute sovereignty, and even though Edwards delivered it in his usual unemotional manner, the congregation responded with weeping and crying out to God for mercy.
      The revival eventually spread to other neighboring towns in the region. Edwards wrote a detailed account of it in his famous work A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God which eventually was published in 1737 and was widely disseminated and read. The account is credited for contributing to the growing revival in Great Britain in 1738 and made a deep impression on the newly converted John Wesley.
      Someone else who had heard of the Northampton awakening of 1734-1735 is English evangelist George Whitefield (1714-1770). Although the awakening in Northampton had waned by 1736, the people of New England had hopes for a greater revival and had heard of Whitefield’s exploits in Great Britain.
      In contrast to Edwards, George Whitefield was a fiery and theatrical preacher. He had no desire to be a pastor such as Edwards, but was known for his itinerant ministry. He was a man of zeal and intense spiritual passion as well as being a brilliant orator. Due to his loud and clear voice which could be heard at a great distance, he more often preferred to preach in the open air and in fields which could accommodate the sometimes tens of thousands that would come to hear him preach.
      Whitefield’s fame as a preacher spread all over Britain and even to the American colonies. His preaching became extremely popular in London, Bristol, Gloucester, and Bath. In 1738 he first came to the Colonies while laboring at an orphanage in Georgia which had been abandoned by John and Charles Wesley due to their lack of success there. After exchanging letters with Edwards in 1739, Whitefield set out on a preaching tour of the Colonies, eventually making his way to New England. His tour took him to many cities throughout colonial America including Philadelphia where he drew such large crowds that Benjamin Franklin, whom he considered a personal friend, would often simply enjoy listening to his powerful oratory skills, although remaining unconverted by his message.
      Wherever Whitefield traveled, revival fires re-ignited. Accompanied by William Tennant, Sr. and his son, Gilbert Tennant, Whitefield became the catalyst for the spread of the awakening to all the Middle Colonies and eventually to New England. Whitefield traveled all over New England including Boston, Roxbury, Marblehead, Newbury, Portsmouth, and as far north as York, Maine.
Eventually Whitefield made his way over to Northampton, making good on his promise to Edwards that he would visit the area. Whitefield preached against the backslidings of the people there and many came under conviction, including Edwards’ own children. Although Edwards was very moved by his preaching, when Whitefield departed Edwards preached on the need for lasting fruit and warned his congregation that Whitefield’s brand of revivalism could lead to hypocrisy.
      Whitefield’s tour of the colonies continued until the fall of 1740. By the time he left for England, tens of thousands of people had been affected by his ministry. “His method of theatrical field preaching rejuvenated New England’s substantial revival tradition and captivated tens of thousands of listeners.” His preaching against unconverted ministers left no small controversy behind, however, which left the local preachers such as Gilbert Tennant to continue their work in that area.
      The results of the Great Awakening were numerous. First and foremost was the number of souls that were converted to Christ which was estimated at being between 25,000 and 50,000 in New England alone. Churches of many denominations enjoyed a large increase in membership and several hundred new churches were born.
      Education was also greatly affected by the Awakening. William Gilbert’s Log College eventually became Princeton University, and other major universities were also birthed in this era such as Dartmouth, Brown University, and Rutgers University. Benjamin Franklin built a hall for George Whitefield to preach in when he was in Philadelphia, and that hall eventually became the University of Pennsylvania.
      The Awakening was responsible also for creating unity between the colonies since it transcended geographical and denominational barriers. This unity was instrumental in fostering suspicion of influences from Europe in general and Great Britain in particular. These feelings are believed by many to have indirectly led to the American Revolution. At the very least, they fostered the unity that was necessary for the development of a new nation.
      Not all the results of the Great Awakening were positive, however. The accompanying emotionalism and excess that some pastors allowed to run rampant created schisms that to this day are not healed. One of the ways that Jonathan Edwards’ influence is felt even to this day is his literary contributions that addressed these matters. Edwards was responsible for producing the first theology for revival in works such as Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1734), Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England (1742), and most notably, Religious Affections (1746). Through these works he helped his contemporary generation as well as future generations be able to better discern the difference between carnal religious emotionalism and the true work of the Spirit.
      The United States is still experiencing the effect of the Great Awakening to this day, especially in the evangelical movement which was birthed from this move of God’s Spirit. Most of all, however, we have the history of the Great Awakening, along with the wisdom and experience that came from it, to look back on and learn from. We can compare the degradation of our own society with that of colonial New England and be moved to prayer that God would once again move in power in our day as He did then in order that many may be brought into the kingdom of God.

 

Bibliography

Dallimore, Arnold. George Whitefield. (London: The Banner of Truth, 1970).

Edwards, Jonathan. Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005).

Hardman, Keith J. Seasons of Refreshing: Evangelism and Revivals in America. (Grand Rapids:
Baker Books, 1994).

Kidd, Thomas S. The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial
America. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

Lescelius, Robert H. “The Great Awakening: A Pattern Revival.” Reformation and Revival 04:3
(Summer 1995).

Thornbury, John F. “Another Look at the First Great Awakening.” Reformation and Revival 04:3
(Summer 1995).

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Why Worry About False Teachers?

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I was browsing through Facebook this morning and came across one of my friends who had shared a recent quote from Joel Osteen’s page. Osteen’s post went like this:

     Philippians 1:28 says, “Do not be intimidated by your enemies.” You may be up against a giant obstacle now, but put your shoulders back and hold your head up high. You are not weak. Those for you are greater than those against you.

The Bible passage he quoted didn’t ring a bell, so I quickly got out my Bible and looked it up. Sure enough, the passage was taken grossly out of context in the worst way. Here is what the context says:

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (ESV)

In this passage, Paul is encouraging the Philippian Christians to stand firm in the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul knew there were false teachers (the “opponents” or “enemies” mentioned in the above passage) that were trying their best to lure them away from the true gospel and to win them over to their camp for personal gain. Paul also knew how easy it was to fall into false doctrine that sounds great, but will turn them away from the truth to their own destruction. He warned Timothy of the same thing.

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)

So what’s the big deal? After all, one might say, Joel Osteen’s teachings are very encouraging and inspiring.

True. And I might have even passed by this blatant misuse of Scripture with a simple roll of the eyes had I not seen a comment someone made to my friend’s post. This is what she said:

I love reading this man’s updates. I get more out of him than any church I’ve ever attended! His themes focus on loving and believing in yourself and treating others the same……

This comment is what hit me between the eyes like a brick. I knew then that as a minister, indeed, as a Christian, I couldn’t stand by and just let this go. What if you had a friend who was a doctor and he or she saw you about to consume something that she knew was poison to your physical body? Would she be acting in a loving and caring way if she simply sat back and let you consume it? No. Because of what she knew, she has a moral responsibility to say something. More than that, if she truly loved you, she would definitely say something to you about the danger you are faced with.

So what did Osteen say that was so wrong?

First, let me say that the above quote represents the norm for Osteen. The proverbial “pull yourself up from your boot straps” message pervades his teaching. People are encouraged to see themselves in a better light, to remember their strengths, to dig down deep to find the goodness within them. His books teach us how to “become a better you,” and that our “best life is now.” So what’s wrong with those messages?

What’s wrong, to begin with, is that they are completely opposite of what the Bible teaches. And the biggest thing that is wrong is what is missing. The gospel.

The Biblical gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, first tells us the truth about our condition. All of us are hopelessly and helplessly lost in sin.

None is righteous, no, not one;
11       no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12       All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)

I realize many may see this and say, “You see. Nothing but doom and gloom and telling me how bad I am. I’d much rather listen to Joel Osteen who is positive.” But wait a minute. There is good news, but we can’t appreciate the good news without first realizing the truth of our condition.

You see, because of sin, we are all separated from God. We are spiritually dead and the Bible says we are already condemned because of it. This is a condition that does not call for humanistic self-encouragement. This is a condition that does not call for teaching that tells us to pull ourselves up from the boot straps and hold your head up high. We don’t need to be told that we aren’t weak. We need the truth!

And the truth is, we all need Jesus Christ! God, the One who created the heavens and the earth and can do as He pleases, gave us a Remedy for our sinful, lost condition.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

It is through Christ alone that we are rescued! It is through His death and resurrection that we are set free and find hope and freedom from the sin that bound us, and it is through that same resurrection that we will one day be forever free from the sorrow, shame, sickness, and death that is a part of this present life we now live in.

So, my friends, if I seem to be overly passionate about false teaching, it is only because that false teaching is blinding people to the only truth that can truly set them free from their true sinful condition, and keeping them from the only One who gives them true hope for eternal life where the curse of sin will be no more.

So then, when determining who to listen to, remember this. If the message points you to trust in Jesus Christ and His completed work on the cross, it is the true gospel. If it points you to yourself and becoming better by your own strength, run the other way! You might just be encountering a false teacher!

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No More Night – a poem for Easter

Sin cast its shadow upon the earth
And spread like a plague throughout all humanity
The darkness of night would fill the soul of
Every man, woman, and child ever to be born thereafter

The darkness of night
Filled with loneliness, fear, and shame
Its shackles bound to every heart
Its talons gripped every soul

The earth itself lay in ruin
Under the curse of man’s sin
What once was declared to be good
Now lay in the clutches of Evil’s reign

We searched and searched, groping in the dark
Searching desperately for hope
For fulfillment, for freedom
Only to find the shackles tightening
Even greater upon us

We were prisoners of our own lusts
Captives of our own rebellion
Without hope, and without God in the world
Our hopelessness had been sealed
The judgment of death upon our soul

Then from the midst of the night, that blackest of nights
From the midst of the world’s despair
A Light shown in the darkness
And behold, the darkness had to flee!

This One who forgives sins, who raises the dead
Could this be Israel’s long-awaited Messiah?
Could this be the Savior of the world?
Might we, after all, have cause for…hope?

Look, as He walks the rocky soil of earth
Watch as He reaches down to the lowly, the helpless
Could this be the one to raise us out of darkness
And bring an end to the eternal night?

But why? Why upon a wooden cross
Is this Messiah nailed?
What of our hope? What of our hope?
Where shall we turn, when all hope is gone?

Oh despair, how can you reign once again?
Oh night, how black, how black can you be
When once a Light shown so bright
But now is snuffed out!

Shall we return again to the blackness of night?
Will the chains continue to bind us?
The talons sink deeper into our soul
Dooming us to everlasting darkness?

But wait, what piercing gleam of brightness
Now floods the earth!
It is He, Israel’s Messiah!
Could this really be?

See as the darkness flees!
See as the fetters fall!
The talons loose their grip
And hope springs forth once again!

This Jesus has become
The firstborn from among the dead!
The forerunner of God’s new creation
The Beginning of a new heaven and new earth!

God has raised this Jesus from the dead!
He has defeated sin and death!
He has triumphed over the grave!
And now He reigns as King of all kings!

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people,
And he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain
For the old order of things has passed away!”

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When Caesar is in Power: Making (Christian) Sense of The Election

In reading some of the posts on Facebook today, anyone can tell just how personal this election was for many people. These are definitely serious times we live in with serious issues that carry very serious potential consequences. Most of the people I associate with are very disillusioned today, bordering on depressed. I must admit, I can relate. But I also want to try to bring some perspective to the situation for my readers in an attempt to make sense of things and how we can maybe handle ourselves in the wake of this situation.

First of all, I echo some of my friends when they say, “God is still on the throne.” This is definitely true and we need to keep that in mind. No matter how bad things get down here, God is neither surprised, nor impotent. He’s the same God the day after the election as he was the day before.

However, I do want to caution you about just throwing up your arms and saying, “Well, God is still on the throne,” as if to silently say, “and all those people are just going to hell.” This would be a very unfortunate attitude to take as Christians. So often we get stuck in the mindset that we want to fortify what we think life should be like according to our worldview so that we can feel like we’re victorious and somehow our faith is vindicated. First of all, our faith is vindicated not by someone winning an election, but by the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead! But that former mindset I was talking about  is the oft-times silent and maybe subconscious thinking behind our actions when it comes to politics. Then when things don’t turn out like we had hoped, we just say, “Well, God is still on the throne.” Well, yes and no.

You see, ultimately God is, indeed, on the throne and there is nothing anyone can do about it, no matter who is President. But in another sense, God is not on the throne of many people’s lives. This should be the issue that drives us as Christians and the lens through which we see the results of this election, as well as all of life.

For instance, we don’t just want to throw up our hands and say, “Oh well, God is still on the throne,” and leave it at that. There are some very real consequences that result from this election. First of all, no strides were made toward stopping the killing of innocent unborn babies. And make no mistake: Real people are being killed in the womb in America and our government is not doing its job to protect them. This should be an outrage to all followers of Christ. But not only does it affect babies here in America, but it also means that money will continue to be given to other nations to fund abortions there. My only comfort is in knowing that at the very least, each one of these precious unborn lives will be immediately ushered into the arms of our loving Heavenly Father. But that doesn’t change the fact that the taking of these lives is beyond tragic.

The issue of abortion is one of the most important issues for Christians, but it is just one. There are many more disturbing consequences to the outcome of this election and our disillusionment is understandable.

All of this should do one very important thing: drive us to pray. We are called to pray for our leaders, no matter who they are. It just so happens that when the need is so tangibly felt as it is now, our motivation to pray ought to be all the greater. We need to not only pray for our leaders, but also for the hearts and souls of the people of America. This is, indeed, the greatest need, and the reason why we can’t just throw our hands up and say, “Well, God is on the throne.” Such a response is incomplete by itself. The need plus the truth of God being on the throne should move us to see those who are without Christ and also those who are blinded to the truth as people who need our diligent prayer. After all, they are the ones who voted the way they did, and we as a nation will reap the consequences of that choice. Make no mistake, even though God is on the throne, we are accountable for what we do here in this life. Our hearts should be broken for the souls of our fellow Americans whose blindness keeps them from seeing the truth.

Lastly, this should force us as Christians to be less dependent on government and more dependent on God. Too often I see a fellow Christian whose only conversation seems to be lamenting the current government. This is truly a shame. Our conversation and our lives should be reflecting the true HOPE for a CHANGE of life that can only be found in Christ alone. Our lives and words should be ever pointing to the One who has set us free from our own sin and bondage and be a road sign for those who need to experience that freedom as well. And that’s something no President can ever hope to offer.

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What’s The Message?

While watching the Olympics this summer, an advertisement for a new television show, Revolution, caught my attention and curiosity. The premise of the show seemed intriguing and interesting so I looked forward to checking it out.

The first episode went rather well and held my attention so as to want to watch the following week’s episode. Then it happened. I realized quickly while watching the second week’s episode that two things were unsettling to us, so much so that we turned it off and are now not going to watch any more. Those things were inordinate killing and gratuitous profanity.

Granted, the title of this series is “Revolution” and one can expect there to be a war in there somewhere. But the ease and frequency that the show featured the killing of people, coupled with the mindset of one of the main characters, took it to an unhealthy level in my opinion. This might seem odd coming from someone who thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games movie. But there is a huge difference.

In The Hunger Games, killing was actually seen as something that was bad in the eyes of the main characters as well as the citizens of the country. Katniss and Peeta loathed the very existence of the Games, let alone the expectation that they were to kill others. The message of the movie was clear. Killing is bad.

While one may, if you look really hard, be able to find that message in Revolution, to me it wasn’t nearly as clear, and could have been absent altogether. At the very least, the second episode gave the clear message that restraining from killing was a bad idea and shouldn’t be restrained henceforth.

I posted a message on Revolution’s Facebook page saying they lost a viewer because of the killing and profanity. One replier bemoaned my stance, asking if this was 1970? What’s that supposed to mean? Does the fact that we live in a day that is later than 1970 mean that violence and profanity is all of a sudden O.K? Who made that determination? Or is it that what most people call “progress” is actually desensitization to evil?

So where should we draw the line on violence in entertainment? Is a little bit O.K. but a lot not? Are there certain themes for movies/shows where it is expected? I suspect the answer to these questions will depend on who is being asked. But for me, it comes down to what message is coming through. Is violence and killing being done grudgingly in self-defense, or is it somehow embraced as just another accepted part of life? Is violence just the product of people saving the day (I’m thinking superhero movies) or is it being used specifically as  the focus to try to entertain? The answers to these questions, to me and my family, make all the difference in the world.

As for profanity, it’s just not needed. I can handle a little D-word slip here and there, but when a movie or TV show seems to be littered all throughout with the B-bombs and S-bombs or worse, it’s time to turn it off. Whatever you subject yourself to (hearing and watching) will become a part of you and your thinking, and eventually will come out in your actions. As Christians, we need to be separating ourselves from that.

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.As God has said, “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing,  and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1)

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The Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil.

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