Justification and Sanctification

July 24, 2014 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Bible - NT - John, Bible - NT - Romans, Cross of Christ, Federal Vision, Justification, King Jesus, Law and Gospel, Rome, Sanctification

“Of course, we must also teach good works and love, but it must be done in the right place – that is, when we are dealing with works, not justification. Here the question is how we are justified and attain eternal life, and so we reject and condemn all good works, for this passage will not allow any argument based on good works.

“Indeed, ‘the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good’ (Romans 7:12). But when we are dealing with justification, it is not the time or place to speak about the law. The question is, who is Christ, and what benefit has he brought us? Christ is not the law; he is not what I have done or what the law has done; he is not my love, my obedience, my poverty. He is the Lord of life and death, a mediator, the Savior, the redeemer of those who are under the law and sin. By faith we are in him and he in us….

“Christ is no law, and therefore he does not exact the law and its observance. He is ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). It is only faith that takes hold of this, not love. Love, however, must follow faith, as a sort of thankfulness. Victory over sin and death, then, and salvation and everlasting life too, did not come through the law, nor through the observance of the law, nor yet through the power of free will, but through the Lord Jesus Christ alone.”

Martin Luther, Galatians, p. 91.

The Lord of Glory

June 23, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - John, Church History, Cross of Christ, King Jesus, Quotations, Trinity

“When the Apostle says of the Jews that they crucified the Lord of Glory, and when the Son of man being on earth affirms that the Son of man was in heaven at the same instant, there is in these two speeches that mutual [sharing] before mentioned. In the one, there is attributed to God or the Lord of Glory death, whereof Divine nature is not capable; in the other ubiquity unto man which human nature admitteth not. Therefore by the Lord of Glory we must needs understand the whole person of Christ, who being Lord of Glory, was indeed crucified, but not in that nature for which he is termed the Lord of Glory. In like manner by the Son of man the whole person of Christ must necessarily be meant, who being man upon earth, filled heaven with his glorious presence, but not according to that nature for which the title of man is given Him.”

Hooker as quoted footnote 3 of Cassian’s Seven Books in NPNF, p. 577.

What was God to do?

May 14, 2014 in Atheism, Book Reviews, Church History, Creation, Cross of Christ, Eschatology, Human Condition, King Jesus, Quotations, Trinity, Word of God

I’m doing sermon prep on the Image of God and recalled this glorious passage from Athanasius:

     What was God to do in the face of this dehumanising of mankind, this universal hiding of the knowledge of Himself by the wiles of evil spirits? Was He to keep silence before so great a wrong and let men go on being thus deceived and kept in ignorance of Himself? If so, what was the use of having made them in His own image originally? It would surely have been better for them always to have been brutes, rather than to revert to that condition when once they had shared the nature of the Word. Again, things being as they were, what was the use of their ever having had the knowledge of God? Surely it would have been better for God never to have bestowed it, than that men should subsequently be found unworthy to receive it. Similarly, what possible profit could it be to God Himself, who made men, if when made they did not worship Him, but regarded others as their makers? This would be tantamount to His having made them for others and not for Himself. Even an earthly king, though he is only a man, does not allow lands that he has colonised to pass into other hands or to desert to other rules, but sends letters and friends and even visits them himself to recall them to their allegiance, rather than allow his work to be undone. How much more, then, will God be patient and painstaking with His creatures, that they be not led astray from Him to the service of those that are not, and that all the more because such error means for them sheer ruin, and because it is not right that those who had once shared His Image should be destroyed.
     What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.
     In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need.

Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Trans. Anonymous. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977) 40-41.

The Historicity of the Resurrection

May 4, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Cross of Christ, Easter, Heresy, Meditations, Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:3–11 (NKJV)
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
The American Presbyterian historian and theologian J. Gresham Machen wrote his classic work Christianity and Liberalismto expose the fundamental differences between Christianity historically understood and liberalism. In his day liberalism was beginning its conquest of the American mainline churches, a conquest which in our day is largely complete. Machen insisted that liberalism is not merely a corrupted Christianity, it is no Christianity at all. It is a new belief system that teaches that whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead is insignificant. What really matters is our subjective experience of Jesus, that Jesus lives on in our hearts.
As Machen correctly perceived, this notion is entirely foreign to the message that Paul preached and that Christianity has preached. The Gospel that Paul preached was rooted in history, rooted in reality. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day. The very thing that distinguishes Christianity from every other religious system is that Christianity is rooted in reality, centered on God’s actions in space and time, in history. It is not merely a system of dogmas but a declaration of events that have dogmatic significance.
Note, therefore, that Christiantiy is, as Machen insisted, founded upon a combination of historical events and their theological significance. Christ died. This is history. He did not get spirited away or exchange places with someone else as Islam teaches. He actually died on a cross outside Jerusalem while Pontius Pilate served as prefect of the Roman Empire in Judea. And why did Christ die? He died, Paul says, for our sins; he died to endure the punishment that our sins deserve. That is theology.
This same combination of historical reality and theological significance characterizes Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. This is history; and note that Paul emphasizes the historicity of this event by appealing to witnesses. The Risen Christ was seen by Cephas, the Twelve, 500 brethren at one time, James, the Apostles, and Paul himself. And, Paul implies, if you want to verify the truth of all this, go ask them since most of them were still alive in Paul’s day. In the rest of the chapter, Paul goes on to unfold the theological significance of Jesus’ resurrection.
As Christians we are often led astray by the theological liberalism that pervades our social institutions – both religious and political – ino believing that religion is just a subjective phenomenon. No one religion is superior to another; each has it adherents; each meets the subjective needs of its followers; each is merely a private, personal experience; so who are you to judge? But this is to subvert completely the very meaning of the word Gospel – good news. The Gospel is an announcement of something that objectively happened and that objectively changed the course of human history. Christianity is not just a private religious matter but a public announcement: Jesus died, was buried, and then rose again; so all men and nations are called to confess that Jesus is Lord; Jesus is God’s Anointed One.

So reminded that if we are to approach God it must be on the basis of truth, something that really happened, and not just on the basis of our sincerity; reminded that we must approach God through Jesus who died and rose again for our sins, died and rose again to reconcile us to God, let us kneel and confess our sins to God.

Standing Before God

April 27, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Cross of Christ, Easter, Federal Vision, Justification, Meditations, Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (NKJV)
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
Following Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week, he appeared to the disciples over a period of 40 days, manifesting Himself to them, convincing them of the reality of the resurrection, and enlightening their minds to understand the things that had been written about him in the law and the prophets. This 40 day period has historically been called Eastertide, a time to celebrate the way the resurrection of Jesus has transformed the world. The entire cosmos has been changed, shaken at its very core. And because the world has been changed, we can be changed. Hope has arrived; forgiveness has been achieved; new life has entered into the world; consequently, we can have hope, can receive forgiveness, and can experience new life.
So for Eastertide we begin a series of exhortations from the 15thchapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. What is the significance of the resurrection? Why does it matter?
The first answer Paul gives, the introductory declaration, is that the resurrection matters because it enables us to stand before God unto salvation rather than damnation. The word Gospel means “good news” – and the good news of Jesus’ resurrection shines in its brilliance only when set in context of the bad news of our sin and rebellion.
Biblically heaven is for real as the recent book and movie by that name announce; but the tragic reality is that hell is for real too. And by nature we all are alienated from God, pursuing our own passions and desires and priorities rather than those of God Himself, and hence heading to judgment, heading to hell. We all like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way – some of us worship other gods, some of us think of no god but ourselves, some of us claim the Name of Jesus but live for our own lusts and pleasures – we all like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way. And the consequence of this straying is death and judgment. It is appointed unto men to die once and after this to face judgment. And shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?
When we come before God, when we stand before Him to give an account for what we have done, when we rise from our graves and give an account to Him who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, the inevitable result – if we endeavor to stand before him on the basis of what we have done – the inevitable result will be condemnation.
But thanks be to God that though we all like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way, the Lord has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. The Good News is that God provides a substitute, someone to take our punishment, to stand in our place, to endure the judgment of God for us. Through faith in Him, through trust in His work on the cross, we can stand in the day of judgment, we can be saved.
And how do we know that this man’s sacrificial offering has been accepted by God? Because, on the third day, he rose again from the dead. He rose – and sin was conquered. He rose – and death was overthrown. He rose – and the gaping jaws of hell that opened before our feet, preparing to welcome us to the grave, were broken.
So let us believe, let us entrust ourselves to Christ, to this One who gave Himself for us that He might reconcile us to God. And let us not merely believe for a time, let us not be among those who believe in vain, but let us trust Him all the way to the end of our days and so have an entrance abundantly supplied to us into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And this morning, let us confess our sins to the Lord, rejoicing that in Christ he freely forgives us.

How Shall a Man be Set Right with God?

April 20, 2014 in Bible - NT - Romans, Church Calendar, Church History, Cross of Christ, Easter, Federal Vision, Justification, Meditations, Resurrection
Romans 4:23–25 (NKJV)
23 Now it was not written for [Abraham’s] sake alone that [righteousness] was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. [Righteousness] shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was [crucified] because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
How shall a man be set right with God? Shall we love our neighbor and so please God? Shall we practice the ten commandments and so please God? Shall we beat our bodies into submission and so please God? Shall we live and let live and so please God? Shall we practice jihad and so please God? How shall a man be set right with God?
For nearly two millennia now our fathers and mothers have been celebrating the feast of Easter – the celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. On this day, the first day of the week, our Lord Jesus rose bodily from the grave. Why?
Paul answers our question here in Romans. The resurrection presupposes the crucifixion, the death of Jesus. So why did Jesus die? He died, Paul tells us, because of our offenses. In other words, Paul reminds us that we all of us have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. We have failed to live up to God’s standards, failed to love our Creator with all our heart, soul, and strength. Consequently, by nature we all stand guilty before God – estranged from God and in need of reconciliation with Him.
So how shall we be set right with Him? Only through the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Jesus gave His life, sacrificed Himself, that He might take away our guilt and set us right with God.
And how do we know that Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted by God? How do we know that trusting in Jesus to reconcile us to God isn’t just some pie in the sky hope; some degree of wishful thinking? We know because Jesus rose from the dead. In the resurrection, God has given proof to all men that the sacrifice of Christ has been accepted. Jesus was raised because of our justification. In other words, Jesus was raised to set us right with God.
So what of you? Where have you placed your hope for acceptance by God? Have you placed it in your good works? This hope shall fail. Have you placed it in your sorrow for your bad behavior? This hope shall fade away. Our only hope lies in Jesus, the Lamb of God who was crucified for us and then rose again from the grave that we might be set right with God. So put your trust in Jeus. On the last day, we shall all rise from our graves and stand before our Creator – and the only way we shall endure that interview is if Christ is our Advocate.

Reminded that we can only be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus, let us kneel and seek His forgiveness in Christ.

Palm Sunday 2014

April 13, 2014 in Bible - NT - Luke, Cross of Christ, Easter, Justification, King Jesus, Meditations
Luke 9:51–56 (NKJV)
51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” 55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.
When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it was the culmination of intentional planning on his part. From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus understood that one day He would be called upon to enter into Jerusalem only to be rejected and killed. And it is this fixed purpose of Jesus to die for His people which Luke highlights for us in our text today.
Luke tells us that when the time had come for Jesus to be received up – in other words, when the time had come for Jesus to be crucified, the time when He would be delivered over to the scribes and chief priests, and rejected, and put to death – when that time had arrived, Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. He knew that it was impossible that a prophet should die outside Jerusalem – that it was there in that city that the final contest would be waged. And knowing this, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.
As they are traveling to Jerusalem, they come into a Samaritan village, but the village rejects Him and refuses to grant him and his disciples shelter. Why? Listen to Luke’s words: But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. Jesus is rejected in this village as a foretaste of the destiny that awaits him in Jerusalem. He goes to Jerusalem to suffer and be rejected.
Why? His rebuke of James’ and John’s vindictiveness gives the answer. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. Jesus is going to Jerusalem so that He might save men from sin and death, save men and women and children from the ravages of the Evil One.  He is going to Jerusalem to give His life a sacrifice for others, to give His life so that the just penalty of the law might be paid by Him so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem to die.
It is fitting, therefore, on Palm Sunday – this day that we celebrate the entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem – that our color changes to red – for red is the color of blood and it was to shed His blood that Jesus entered into the city. While Jesus was acclaimed today, He knew that this acclamation would not continue and that the end of the story would be bloody. He had set His face to go to Jerusalem.

And so this morning we are reminded that Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem for our sins – and so let us confess our sins in the Name of Christ and seek the Lord’s forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus our Savior. As we do so, let us kneel.