Wednesday, October 29, 2008
In America Halloween is celebrated on October 31st. At this time it’s only two days away. I don’t particularly like Halloween, especially its occult aspects, but that’s a message for another time.
I want to tell you a brief story of God’s grace.
You see, October 31st is also Reformation Day, when we celebrate the light that dawned when the so-called Reformers began to break out of the darkness of Roman Catholicism, and once again began to preach salvation by grace through faith.
It was 490 years ago that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the big wooden door of the Wittenburg Church, denouncing the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church, in which the souls of dead people were supposedly purchased out of the mythical Purgatory, or their time in Purgatory was shortened.
It was an evil practice, which preyed on the fears and superstition of the people, and made them poorer as the so-called Church grew richer.
But I want to begin our story much farther back in time, to a man called Abraham.
Abraham was called by God out of Ur of the Chaldees, a pagan land with a pagan superstitious culture. God called Abraham away from his people and his culture, to begin a whole new people and culture, which eventually culminated in the nation Israel, and eventually the promised Messiah of Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And the reason I want to begin with Abraham is because of a covenant that God made with Abraham. And this covenant became the forerunner to what we now call the New Covenant.
God promised Abraham that he would become a mighty nation, that he would have millions of descendants, through which the world would be blessed. Now the whole story is too long to tell here, but there was one little problem.
Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren, childless. And the years had passed, and Abraham had assumed that his heir would be someone from his household staff. This was customary when there was no offspring.
Let’s read the promise of God from Genesis Chapter 15, verse 4 and following:
“Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’”
Now Abraham could either believe that or not. Did he believe it?
Well, let’s fast-forward to the book of Romans and see what Paul wrote to the Romans about it, and at the same time we’ll learn a very important Bible truth about salvation.
In Romans 4:3,5 we read,
“For what does the Scripture say? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” “...but to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”
Through the story of Abraham we learn something that has always been true:
Salvation is a free gift from God, through believing God. Or as the Bible says, by grace (that’s the free gift), through faith (that’s believing God).
And this salvation was paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross when he paid for our sins. The Bible says He became sin for us, so that we could become the righteousness of God.
In other words, He paid the price, so that we could be declared or reckoned righteous by God, Who gave us the gift of His own righteousness, when we believed in Jesus Christ.
There is no other way, and there never has been.
Even the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin, the Bible says in Hebrews 10:4. All the blood of the sacrifices of Israel did were to temporarily cover the sins of the people until the time that the Messiah could shed His blood to pay for and take away sins.
But salvation was always by grace (a free gift) through believing God.
Now let’s fast-forward a few hundred years beyond Paul and the other Apostles, who taught this beautiful Gospel, good news, that whoever believes in Jesus Christ would be saved by grace through faith.
The Roman Catholic Church
The organized Church became infected more and more with the world’s view of religion. What is the world’s view of religion? It’s simply this: we must DO something, some obedience, some ritual, some work to EARN the favor or love or salvation of God. Salvation couldn’t be a gift, so it must be earned in some way.
And every religion of the world, except true Christianity, has that in common. Some aspects of doing good works or rituals to attain heaven, or Nirvana, or eternal life, or whatever.
And although the Church has always had that evil Legalism influence knocking at its door, after around 400 A.D. it became more and more of an organized Legalism, built into the very documents and teachings of the Church.
And on into the rightly-called Dark Ages, and into the Middle Ages, it became the norm. The headquarters of the organized Church became Rome, with its Bishop known as the Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church held its grip on most of the then-known world.
And without going into great detail, the basic doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church was that of works plus "grace", or what they called "grace". It really wasn’t grace at all, because as the Scripture says,
“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Romans 11:6)
In other words, if you add works to grace, as a requirement for salvation, then it’s not really grace at all. Because grace means “free gift”, and if you have to add works to get a free gift it’s not a free gift.
That was the problem with the Galatians, and Paul minced no words when he told them that by mixing grace and works, they not only were corrupting grace, but they were believing in another gospel, which is not really a gospel at all, and those who taught such a thing were accursed.
This is still, by the way, the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church today. You will hear their leaders talk about salvation by grace, or salvation by faith, or talk about justification, or the merits of Christ, or the mercy of God, even the Bible and the authority of the Bible.
But despite the twisted terminology, the final result is a teaching that it’s not grace by itself or faith by itself by which we are saved, but grace plus works, faith plus works.
Well, we come in our story to a Roman Catholic monk named Martin.
By his own admission, there was never a monk who strived any harder than Martin to gain God’s favor. There was never a monk who worked any harder, drove himself any farther, punished himself any more than Martin Luther.
But no matter how he worked and strived and prayed and worked and strived and prayed, he had no peace. And the reason was that he understood how righteous and holy God was, and that man’s works can never gain favor from such a perfect and righteous and holy God.
He was somewhat awakened to the corruption of the Church when he saw the practice of indulgences being stepped up drastically to pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The building program was financed by indulgences being sold to the people. And the chief salesman was a man named Tetzel.
Luther was appalled at the crass misuse of power and superstition, and nailed his complaint to the Church door as his 95 Theses.
But that was not Luther’s most important enlightenment. As a student of the Scriptures, he studied the books of Galatians and Romans intently. And he began to see something in the Scriptures, and finally the light dawned on him, as God opened his heart, just as he had opened the heart of Abraham, and millions of others since.
What Luther saw, what was revealed to Him by God through the Scriptures, was that salvation was not earned in any way, but was a free gift of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.
And it set Luther on fire.
In this modern day of gospel books and Bibles on every desk and shelf in America, we may take it for granted. But Luther was living in a day when the light of the gospel had almost been put out for hundreds of years. Darkness had settled in so deeply that when Luther began teaching salvation by grace alone through faith alone, HE was the one who was considered a heretic.
But by God’s grace, the Reformation had begun with gusto. Luther had meant to Reform the Roman Catholic Church, but they would have none of it. And thus the so-called Protestant Church became a whole new thing.
Through Martin Luther, and other Reformers, the Bible was widely spread in the language of the people. Formerly it had only been widely available in Latin, and many leaders had meant it to stay that way, so that doctrine could only be dispensed through them, twisted as they made it. But as people were able to read the clear teaching of Scripture, the good news spread.
One of the most influential of the Reformers was John Calvin, who headquartered in Geneva [Switzerland]. Another intense student of the Bible, by the time he was only 27 years old, he wrote The Institutes of the Christian Religion, and became one of the key streams for the spread of the grace message throughout Europe in this exciting time.
There were many others who caught fire with this light of the gospel that God blasted onto the earth in a new setting. Names like Zwingli, and Melanchton, and Knox. It was Knox who prayed, “Lord give me Scotland or I die.” And Scotland was revolutionized by the gospel.
Not to be thoroughly run out of town, the Roman Catholic Church lashed back with Inquisitions and persecutions designed to maintain its power and the false gospel of faith plus works. Many were tortured, burned at the stake, or otherwise martyred for the simple gospel of salvation by grace through faith. But the blood of these martyrs became the seed of the church, which grew rapidly.
And out of this storm survived some basic truths that we celebrate alongside Halloween, some 500 years later. Despite Halloween winning the popularity contest in our culture, I invite you to join me in celebrating what has become known as the Five Solas.
The first is Sola Gratia, by grace alone. Our salvation has to be a free gift of grace, because our own righteousnesses are as filthy rags, useless in securing our salvation in any way.
Another is Sola Fide, by faith alone. Faith will always be followed by works, but the works are never the requirement or instrument of our salvation.
Another is Solus Christus, by Christ alone. Only by the work of Christ, in shedding his blood and dying on the cross, may we be saved by grace through faith in Him. There is no other way to the Father except by Him, Jesus Himself said.
Another is Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone. The Scriptures, the Bible, is the only authority we have from God for ultimate truth. Because it came by revelation from God, it is true, and He reveals to His children the truth of the Scriptures, and there is no other authority for doctrinal truth, including the Church itself.
And one more, Soli Deo Gloria, for the glory of God alone. That is the heart song of the redeemed, that He might be glorified in our lives. And He is.
One glimpse of the glory of the Lord makes the glory of the greatest Medieval Cathedral, or the glory of the splendor of the Vatican and its gold and fancy dress, fade by comparison.
Celebrate with me, and Abraham, and Martin and John, the Reformation, and the bright light of the gospel of grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
First a few disclaimers and weasel-words before I thrill some of you, and disappoint some of you with some P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S.
1. Neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is the Messiah. I know that.
2. Politics never saved anyone's soul, never gave anyone peace that passes understanding, and never changed the hearts of people at the deepest level.
3. I have, at times, been accused of being a one-issue voter, because I believe that abortion is a modern-day Holocaust of horrible proportions, and I could never vote for someone who supports the right to kill...no, make that murder...the unborn.
4. It's not true at all that I'm a one-issue voter, although "one issue" is more than a LOT of voters in America have. They couldn't even NAME a single issue, but they "like" a certain candidate -- usually the tallest, best looking, most articulate, most charismatic, and so forth (so maybe those ARE their "issues").
Friends, if the shoe doesn't fit, please don't wear it, but the MAJORITY of people I talk to about the upcoming Presidential election are 1) uninformed to the extreme, and 2) don't really CARE that they're uniformed. I can't quite bring myself to think "dumb sheep to the slaughter", but well, I guess I just did.
5. There is not a racist bone in my body. I personally would LOVE to have an African American become President of the United States, IF they were...
--strict constructionist on the Constitution,
--and had the decency to oppose the abortion Holocaust that has taken the lives of over 40 million(!) unborn babies in America.
Barack Obama is just the opposite of those ideals. Even so, I have not the least hatred in my heart towards him. I love him as a person, and sincerely wish the best for him and his family. Apart from politics, of course :)
5. Having said all that, and having mixed feelings about bringing P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S into a Christian Grace blog, I want to link to a little blog called "Dangerous Obama".
Why? Because I think Obama is dangerous on several levels. Yes, dangerous to unborn children, but more than that (see...I'm not a one-issue voter).
6. Since I first became "political" in 1964 at the tender age of 14, I have heard serious people and spin doctors say every four years, "This is the most important election in our lifetime." Yada-yada-yada. I MIGHT have said it myself, but I don't think so. It's a strong statement to make.
But now I make that statement:
I believe this is the most important election in our lifetime.
Barack Obama is not just a Liberal. He's not just a Democrat. He is documentably a Left-Wing radical of the most extreme kind that our country has ever come close to electing (there are always some like that running, but they are up-front and honest about their views, and so they get .0001 % of the vote).
Please take a look at "Dangerous Obama":
Monday, October 13, 2008
I want to begin with a true story from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 21, beginning at verse 23:
Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?"
But Jesus answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John--where was it from? From heaven or from men?"
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet." So they answered Jesus and said, "We do not know."
And He said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
We see a very similar thing today in many cases.
Saying What People Want To Hear
In America, as I speak these words, we are heading into a Presidential election. The candidates are debating, and as we see the verbal battles between candidates one thing is often clear. Sometimes candidates seem to say what they think the people want to hear, rather than what they think is true.
This makes the truth about a candidate sometimes hard to determine. And of course this doesn't shock us, does it? The bending or distortion, or outright denial of the truth is as old as the Garden of Eden.
And it’s not confined to the politicians. The church is not immune from this practice. In fact, it’s too common. The Scripture says that some will heap up for themselves teachers who will give them what their itching ears want to hear.
And so there are always church leaders to fill that gap. Church leaders who will tell people what they want to hear, instead of what they know to be true.
Now here I want to take a side road for a couple minutes and talk about how this actually works out. It usually comes in one of two ways:
How Teachers Teach What People Want To Hear
1. The first way is avoiding the spiritual life in Jesus Christ as Lord, and teaching practical how-to’s of life. Things that could pretty much apply to the non-believer. 7 Steps To A Happy Home Life, How To Succeed In Business and Get Along With Your Boss, 3 Ways To Improve Your Attitude, and so forth.
Messages that look more like they came out of a book from the self-help section of the bookstore, than from the Bible.
2. The second way is in preaching the Law. Preaching performance. Holding up to the people their sins, message after message, week after week, with an often loud exhortation to get their act together and buckle down and obey, you wretches! Beating the sheep over the head with the clear implication that God is very very displeased with them, and won’t be pleased until they are at least a 9 on the scale of 1 to 10.
Now here’s the sad part. There is something in the flesh of the hearers who like this kind of preaching. They revel in what they see as the hard TRUTH being preached, even if it makes me feel bad. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people comment on how good a message was because “it really convicted me”. They think if they were “convicted” (translated, means made to feel guilty), they have been equipped to get out there and do better this time, and earn that 9. But they haven’t been equipped at all.
I don’t know which of those ways is sadder, the how-to-succeed pablum, or the legalistic bombast.
But again, it’s not just church leaders. It’s Christian brothers and sisters who too often think like those chief priests in our story of Jesus, who think, “If I say this, then I’ll look bad, but if I say this, then I’ll get in trouble, so I’ll just lie. It’s just a little lie, no big deal, but then I’ll look spiritual and nobody will give me any trouble.”
How To Escape Saying What People Want To Hear
O.K., so how are we REALLY equipped in this area? How can we get off the boat of saying what we think people want to hear, and get on the solid ground of speaking the truth in love? How can we get off the boat of being safe and comfortable, and get on the solid ground of walking in truth and surrender with our Lord Who is the Way, and the TRUTH, and the Life?
Well, one of the greatest blessings of the New Covenant is that we have been given the Holy Spirit to actually dwell in us. He is always with us and in us, if we are born again believers in Jesus Christ. In fact the Scripture says that if someone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they are none of His (Rom. 8:9). In other words, they aren’t a Christian at all. So every true Christian has the Holy Spirit in them.
And the Scripture calls this Holy Spirit, The Spirit of Truth.
John 14:17, "...the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
John 15:26, "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me."
John 16:13, "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth..."
It’s not surprising that He is called the Spirit of Truth, is it? Jesus Himself is truth, and full of truth.
John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
John 1:17, "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
And how are we to worship God?
John 4:24, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
Being Set Free
And what did Jesus say that truth would do for us?
John 8:32, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
Avoiding the truth always leads to bondage of some kind.
And God wants you to be free. Even if that might be in prison. Free in spirit, free in our hearts.
Truth can be trouble, as even the sly politician knows. Truth can be trouble for YOU. It was trouble for Jesus, who always spoke the truth. Jesus said to the leaders in
John 8:40, "But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God."
Truth can be trouble for YOU, too. But it still will set you free, inside, in the kingdom of God.
How to Walk In Truth
And that leads us to the question, how do we walk in truth? How do we avoid that man-pleasing flesh-pleasing place that looks safe when we lie, but is really the quicksand of bondage? That place you may have gotten yourself into, because one lie leads to another, and another, until you can hardly sort out the truth anymore?
How do we walk in truth?
By walking in the Spirit.
It may begin by getting alone with God, and just shutting up. Be still and know that I am God. It may be that you just haven’t had what we call a Quiet Time for a long time.
It may be that the things of the world have crowded out your fellowship with Jesus Christ.
It may be that you haven’t taken the time to sit with your Bible open, and just read and prayed and read and prayed and opened your heart to the love of Christ.
It may be that you have been under the teaching of legalistic performance-based Christianity which has taught you that God is mad at you when you fail. That He loves you on a 1 to 10 scale, depending on how well you do. This is wrong.
You may need to understand the basic foundational truth of Grace.
That you were saved by grace, and that grace is still God’s way of viewing you.
That you have been forgiven, not just of former sins, but present ones, and future ones. You are forgiven, child of God.
And not just forgiven, but have become the righteousness of God. God declared you righteous, through what Jesus did on the cross. The old you has been crucified with Christ, and He is now living through you, through your spirit, through you as a New Creation.
You are not a liar anymore. You have been changed. You are a new creation, able to walk in the spirit, as you commune with the Lord.
It takes time, I know. It takes purpose. It takes a sort of striving, but not striving to follow the Law. Striving to fellowship with Jesus through grace.
Then the Spirit of Truth will lead you to speak the truth in love. You don’t have to manipulate like an unscrupulous politician. You are free. You can breathe the air of the freedom of truth, as you are filled with the Spirit of truth.
The flesh will still lust against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, Gal. 5:17 says. But verse 18 says, “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” And verse 16 says, “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
Truth, like love and joy and peace, can be a fruit of the Spirit. That’s why we don’t want to just speak the truth, we want to speak the truth in love.
Don’t be like those chief priests, parsing every word and thinking, “If I say this, I’ll look bad, and if I say this, I’ll get in trouble.”
Be being filled with the Spirit of Truth, speak the truth in love, and even if you’re a prisoner of circumstances, you can be free inside.