Tagged: Bible

The Grace that leads to Virtue

We must be careful not to confuse the righteousness of faith with the righteousness of a Christian life. The former is a gift of grace through the imputed righteousness of Christ making us right before God, the latter is the fruit or results of one who has been born-again, justified and adopted as God’s child.  Paul writes to Titus, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11-12). While we must avoid the error of legalism, a system of belief that says one is justified (made right with God) by faith plus the merit of our own works which is an obedience-based acceptance, it is equally important that we avoid the error of antinomianism, a system of belief that says one doesn’t need to give any proof of a life of repentance and virtue as evidence of being justified, an obedience-free acceptance. The grace of God does not exclude the Christian from obedience to God’s moral commands. Instead, in the gospel, our new motive is to eagerly desire to live righteously so that obedience becomes the natural expression of our grateful hearts, an acceptance-based obedience. Only in the gospel can we actually give complete loyalty and obedience to Christ and live a life of faith expressing itself through love.

I have recently discovered a theologian who beautifully communicates this careful balance in his classic work, True Christianity. He was often referred to as “the second Luther” by his contemporaries and yet another well-known theologian called him, “the prophet of interior protestantism.” Johann Arndt (1555-1621) was the first Luther scholar to see that “justification by faith alone” does not preclude doing good works but actually unleashes good works in the Christian. He has said,

“Many think that theology is a mere science, or rhetoric, whereas it is a living experience and practice. Everyone now endeavors to be eminent and distinguished in the world, but no one is willing to learn to be devoted. Everyone now seeks out men of great learning, from whom one may learn the arts, languages, and wisdom, but no one is willing to learn, from our only teacher, Jesus Christ, meekness and sincere humility, although his holy, living example is the proper rule and directive for our life…Everyone wishes very much to be a servant of Christ, but no one wishes to be his follower… He who loves Christ will also love the example of his holy life, his humility, meekness, patience, suffering, shame, and contempt, even if the flesh suffers pain…True Christianity consists, not in words or in external show, but in living faith, from which arise righteous fruits, and all manner of Christian virtues, as from Christ himself.”

Arndt is regularly careful to avoid the errors of legalism and antinomianism. Here is an example:

“You must take care that you do not connect your works and the virtues that you have begun, or the gifts of the new life, with your justification before God, for none of man’s works, merit, gifts, or virtue, however lovely these may be, count for anything. Our justification depends on the exalted, perfect merit of Jesus Christ, received by faith…Take great care, therefore, not to confound the righteousness of faith with the righteousness of a Christian life, but make a clear distinction (between them), for here is the whole foundation of our Christian religion.”

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The Other Ditch

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The Gospel says that you are deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted and significant in God‘s eyes through the merit of Jesus Christ.  Nothing you ever do will cause Him to love you any more or any less.  He loves you strictly by His grace given to you through Jesus. Encountering God‘s free and sovereign grace is supposed to lead us to  an overwhelming sense of gratitude and a complete willingness to give everything to God who has given us everything in His Son.

Of course, free love and grace have led some to licentiousness (license to sin) assuming unearned acceptance gives a new freedom to do anything they want. Paul anticipated this question after explaining that we are justified (made right with God) not by our works but by grace through faith:

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2).” He taught Titus, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12).” After 11 chapters of explaining the gratuitous nature of salvation and mercy He explains to the Romans, “Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship.” Similarly after 3 chapters of describing the work of Christ to call us into God’s family, Paul exhorts the Ephesians, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1).”

Recently I have been attempting to teach my daughter how to drive a car. I’ve found that one of the more important principles of driving is actually avoiding the ditches and staying on the road. But sometimes, because of our backgrounds, when we encounter the gospel and feel its freedom from rule-keeping, we can ride down the gospel road as if there is only one ditch. The ditch that we are most often aware of is the Legalism Ditch.

Legalism is a system of belief that says one is justified (made right with God) by faith plus the merit of our own works. Legalism is a works-based, conditional acceptance by God which, if fulfilled,  places God in the position as the debtor, the one who owes. Legalism is mechanical because it will only do the absolute minimum of what is absolutely required. This leads to a joylessness in life where we perform burdensome duties as a down payment for heaven. But legalism will never get anyone into heaven because it is impossible to be good enough. It is Obedience-based Acceptance.

The other ditch of which we are often not aware is the Antinomianism Ditch.

Antinomianism is system of belief that says one does not need to give any proof of a life of repentance and virtue as evidence of being justified (made right with God). Antinomianism is a perversion of Paul’s teaching on grace and actually mocks the holiness of God and the spiritual law that He gives us as a guide to holy living.  Antinomianism teaches that grace means that I am freed from morality and freed from adhering to any moral law leading many back into bondage to sin. Antinomianism rejects the very notion or expectation of obedience as legalistic.  It is Obedience-free Acceptance.

But the Gospel Road teaches something different than Legalism and something other than Antinomianism. The Gospel is an Acceptance-based Obedience. This means that if I know that I’m loved apart from how I perform, I will give my all. Now because we are justified by Christ, we are free to fulfill the Law by Loving God, and Loving Others, though we won’t do this perfectly. In the gospel, our new motive is to want eagerly to live righteously so that obedience becomes a natural expression of our grateful hearts.

Martin Luther clarified the gospel road in this way,

“Whoever he be that is assuredly persuaded that Christ is his righteousness, doesn’t only cheerfully and gladly work well in his vocation…but submits to all manner of burdens and dangers in his present life, because he knows that this is the will of God, and that this obedience pleases him… No one should think we reject the importance of good works or of obeying the law. When we receive the Christian righteousness, we consequently can live a good life, naturally, out of gratitude.”

Breaking News: Jesus is back from the Dead

Breaking

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It was the Breaking News that turned the world upside down. As the news headline spread, everyone in the region and eventually in the world would have heard the claims of hundreds of eye witnesses. A following would develop that would become the preeminent movement in the world based only on this news. This historical event would be the most discussed and most transcribed event of its era yet many would deny its authenticity. Skeptics would challenge the historicity of the event years later claiming that it couldn’t be proven scientifically. This headline would have all of the same limitations for scientific proof of other historical events because categorically, it’s very difficult to scientifically prove historical events. Sir Karl Popper, perhaps the greatest philosopher who ever lived would later say, “You cannot prove history scientifically.” Taken to its logical conclusion, if one refuses to accept the historicity of a past event based on its lack of scientific evidence then all of history comes into serious doubt. Necessarily we’re led to doubt everything that happened before the invention of YouTube.

The truthfulness of History is most often proven by the eyewitness accounts of people who have observed and documented it. The Gospel Writers: Matthew (aka Levi), John Mark, Luke the Scientist and John the Apostle either witnessed or interviewed witnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not a secret event with limited publicity. Instead news would have spread to everyone in the region even during the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Saul of Tarsus, Simon Peter son of John and James the Just would also write about their first hand encounters with the Risen Christ. Very few doubt the main events in the lives of historical men like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, yet many doubt the most important event in the life of Jesus Christ. Yet the resurrection of Jesus Christ  has greater textual attestation than any event in antiquity.

Christianity is not a political ideology or moral code

It is interesting that first century Christians were consumed with two things: (1) A man, Jesus Christ who claimed to be God and (2) An event when this same man was resurrected from the dead. But did Jesus exist? It is a fact that Jesus Christ is the most documented historical character before the age of printing. “No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus.” (Otto Betz – What Do We Know about Jesus? SCM Press, 1968.) Historically we know that He did exist. The bigger question is the historicity of the resurrection.

When people today think about Christianity, they speak of it as an ideological entity with a political agenda. Others might hold that Christianity is a body of teachings from the greatest Teacher ever, Jesus who taught us an original moral code. But this was not how Christianity was defined in the first century A.D.. Early Christians were known more for their testimony to the historical event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“At no point within the New Testament is there any evidence that the Christians stood for any original philosophy of life or an original ethic. Their sole function is to bear witness to what they claim as an event– the raising of Jesus from among the dead… the one really distinctive thing which the Christians stood was their declaration that Jesus had been raised from the dead…” (J.N.D. Anderson, citing Cambridge professor C.F.D. Moule)

Easter Sunday emerged from Black Sabbath

To Recap the Historical Narrative of that first Easter Weekend, it was on Good Friday evening that a wealthy Jewish Disciple of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin wrapped Jesus’ lifeless body in clean linen and laid him in his own new tomb which he had cut in the rock and rolled a giant stone down a slope to cover the tomb’s entrance. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat and watched with great emotion. Later several Roman soldiers would be posted to lock down and seal the tomb to prevent body theft and resurrection fraud.

As the sun rises on that first Easter Morning, the women emerge from the darkest 30 hours they have ever experienced, an empty void, a Black Sabbath. The gospel writers give us few details about the day between Good Friday Sunset and Easter Sunday Sunrise it is just empty space and dead air. After a Good Friday of despair, darkness, defeat and hopelessness and before an Easter Sunday of joy, light, victory and hope, the women and the disciples endured the longest day of their lives. A day of stark emptiness. A day of dead intermission between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ when His body lays in the tomb. A parenthesis when they reflect on reflect on their cowardice, their denials, and their desperate flights in fear.

For the disciples it would be a dark season of emptiness, wondering what would become of them as they hid from the authorities. The women, not feeling the same guilt as the apostles, would still feel empty, lonely, grieved and without hope. They would spend the better part of these two nights laying on their beds soaking their pillows with tears. And so the story continues in Matthew’s Gospel, “Now after the (Black) Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” And what they would find was completely unexpected…

Easter Sunday

What were the disciples looking for on the first Easter Sunday Morning?

Easter eggs

On that first Easter morning, there was a band of women and a group of disciples who were hunting. But they weren’t hunting for Easter Eggs, they were hunting for their best friend, Jesus the Christ, the Promised One…

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

The gospel accounts testify to the physical, literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the Resurrection of Christ is so crucial to the Christian faith, gospel writers Matthew, Mark and John are very careful to record the details of what they saw with their own eyes. Luke, another gospel writer, includes eyewitness testimony from as many as 500 people who saw the Risen Christ in order to assure us that Christ is risen from the dead. He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Passion Week begins with Singing!

Just days before He cleansed the temple again, before He hosted the Last Supper complete with foot-washing, before He predicted Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s thrice denial, before He went to Gethsemane and caught a glimpse of the imminent cup of wrath, before He was arrested, interrogated, flogged, and nailed to a cross like a criminal; Jesus was praised and welcomed into Jerusalem in a manner befitting the return of the King of Kings. In fact the songs that were sung by the crowds are those which we will sing when the King Returns again. Psalm 118 is a song for the promised redemption of God’s people placing their hope in the coming Son of God so they sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” See Psalm 118:19-29 for the part of the Psalm which the people gathered along the road sang to Jesus as He entered into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey:

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Hosanna (Save us), we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever!

Look, your King is coming to you

Zechariah as depicted on Michelangelo's ceilin...

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The prophet Zechariah wrote from Jerusalem around 520 B.C. about the Necessary Divine Intervention for a full restoration of the people of God. This full restoration and redemption would be initiated by the Son of God coming in the flesh to inaugurate His Kingdom. Zechariah would hear from God and write, “Say to the daughter of Zion,’Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” John Calvin comments, “This would have been a ridiculous display, if it had not been in accordance with the prediction of Zechariah regarding the Coming of the King of Zion.”

In the scene of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, we find that Jesus is in complete control as He perfectly fulfills even the strangest prophecy regarding the coming of the Promised Messiah. Jesus shows his Commitment to Scriptures, as He brought every part of his life under it, always fulfilling and quoting Scripture. The word was at the center of his heart and mission. You can’t say you love Jesus but you don’t read, study or follow the Bible. He completely trusted the Scriptures.

To fulfill this Prophecy, Jesus lays claim to the honors of royalty as Zechariah prophesied that all Hope is built on The Coming of the Redeemer King on a donkey and when He comes, He will bring Joy to your hearts! This is Good News of Great Joy and means that God is reconciled to man through His Mediation. It means you will be delivered from your sin and your trouble. This King is just but comes carrying salvation!  He will mediate the very presence of God back to earth. He will be the door to God, the final temple. You now have access to God through the coming of God to Man! And what a magnificent scene it was!

Jesus as the Ideal Knight

Lancelot

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The Middle Ages gave us the image of the Ideal Man exhibited in the Medieval Knight (not that Medieval warfare was ideal or virtuous). The Ideal Knight was a combination of Toughness and Tenderness and the greatest of all of the imaginary knights was found in Sir Thomas Malory‘s 1485 compilation of the legendary tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table called Le Morte d’Arthur. The ideal knight, was a man named, Lancelot and in one scene when he heard himself pronounced the best knight in the world, “he wept as he had been a child that had been beaten”. We are amazed at the sensitive heart of this fierce warrior. Upon his death, Sir Ector said to the dead Lancelot, “Thou were the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.” This ideal creates an almost paradoxical image rarely exemplified in any human being. CS Lewis wrote,

“The Knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped off limbs; he is also a demure, almost maiden-like, guest in a hall ,a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness, he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth degree.”            ~ Present Concerns, “The Necessity of Chivalry” (1st published in Time and Tide, Aug. 1940)

Admittedly, this ideal knight is only found in the stories of men, but its inspiration is found in Jesus Christ. The medieval ideal brought together seemingly irreconcilable qualities of which we see best portrayed in the person of Christ: He is transcendent and immanent; He is royal and modest; He is bold and humble; He is Tough and Tender, each to the nth degree not a balance between each opposite. The image of the ideal Knight came from christ whose power was expressed in weakness, whose triumph was to be dragged away and killed. He showed that it takes courage to serve, it takes power to submit, to be first you must be last, and to be great you must be humble. This is what Jonathan Edwards meant when he wrote that “there is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.” How does it strike your heart as you find this ideal in your Savior?

Second Chance Psalms

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse synago...

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A.W. Tozer said, “We weren’t given the Bible as a substitute for God; rather it is supposed to lead us right to the heart of God.” And God’s heart is one that woos us back to Himself to give us the Second Chance. He holds out mercy and forgiveness to us continuously while calling us back to a lifestyle of repentance, holiness and love and His Heart is on display in His Word. The Psalms have a unique quality in that they display the heart of God while simultaneously they become windows into our own souls. As John Calvin comments “we are certain that God puts [His] words in our mouths, as if He Himself were singing in us to exalt His glory.The Psalms of Repentance (aka The Second Chance Psalms) is a name designation dating from the sixth century A.D. given to Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143  which are specially expressive of godly sorrow for sin and rich in God’s heart of mercy and consolation to draw us back to be satisfied in His love.

Psalm 130 is one of these Second Chance Psalms and was probably Martin Luther’s favorite. Here the Psalmist finds himself overwhelmed with adversity and passionately begs the Lord for deliverance. As he prays, he acknowledges that he is being justly chastised by the hand of God. He doesn’t innocently find himself in trouble instead, he is in a mess of his own making. This is not a trial which came out of nowhere. Conventional wisdom and sadly even many churches would say to him, “you’ve made your bed and now you have to lie in it.” He passionately begs the Lord for deliverance and finds hope because God is the everlasting deliverer of His people and has always shown Himself ready to extend mercy and rescue even from the worst of self-inflicted circumstances. Take a moment to savor this Psalm.

Psalm 130

A Song of Ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.