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.”
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.”
If I make the claim that my wife is prominent in my earthly affections, that’s not saying very much. All I would be saying is that within my heart’s desires, she is noticeable and easy to see among all of the other competing passions in my life. In my earthly affections, my wife should reign as preeminent, surpassing all others and without peer or rival. As Christ should be preeminent over all in my heart! Jesus comes to us passionately and jealously because His Father’s Preeminence consumed Him (Cf. Psalm 69:9, 119:139; John 2:17) Christ was so zealous that His Father would have First Place in our hearts that during at least one scene He became an Army of One driving the idolaters from His Father’s house. He was so jealous for the honor of His Heavenly Father and His Temple that it ate Him up. Paul reminds us of the Majestic Supremacy of Christ who is entitled to have First Place in our hearts,
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:17-20)
So just as a newly married bride is given a new name and an accompanying identity, the new identity is the only incentive she needs to live a life which her affections are set exclusively on her husband. Before she may have felt some affection for others but now her husband is the preeminent affection of her heart so that anything which would distort or destroy that affection must be insistently refused. So with us who are united to Christ.
The gospel tastes so much better than Chicken Soup, it is actually Wine for the Soul. For his first miracle, Moses turned water into blood, the curse of the law turning common comforts into bitterness and terror (Exodus 7:14-25). But Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into the most delicious wine , the blessing of the gospel bringing delight, comfort and happiness to those who believe (John 2:1-11). The gospel of Jesus Christ is wine for the soul that lifts the countenance and brings good cheer to the heart. The gospel call has always been, “Come, all you who are thirsty, …Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost… Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:1-2) The Goodness of God is poured out on us abundantly in Christ, who holds all the treasures of the grace of God (Col. 2:3) and from His fullness we have received, grace upon grace (John 1:16). And in Him our souls can feast on the the milk, wine and bread of the gospel.
- Jesus Makes the Best Wine (johnestorge.com)
I have always been impressed that the coming out party of the Son of God was during a wedding reception where He transformed water into the best tasting wine imaginable. The narrative of the wedding miracle is recorded in John 2:1-11 where Jesus Christ showed Himself publicly to be the God of all Creation who makes the earth to bring forth wine. Psalm 104:14-15 reminds us that “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” He is the God who made vegetables to farm for food, wine to make your heart happy, oil to give you a glowing complexion and bread to give you strength for work. And His presence at a wedding reception and His provision of wine bearing the Master’s seal of approval shows that we have a Savior who wants to make our hearts happy.
To bring the miracle into perspective, I did some research regarding how to plan a wedding reception and found a website which ironically stated Rule #1 in planning your Wedding Reception as, “Make sure you always have enough drinks on-hand for your guests.” The recommendation went on to inform that “The majority of parties and receptions run from 2 to 4 hours and you will need to plan on an average of 3 drinks per person for the first 2 hours.”
200 guests will drink 600 drinks in 2 hours = 120 bottles of wine
But Jesus goes overboard with his provision toward the end of the reception in Cana taking six water pots holding thirty gallons each and filling them to the brim with water before perfecting His wine.
6 waterpots x 30 gallons =180 gallons = over 908 bottles of wine
When it comes to meeting this need, Jesus gives more than enough which reminds me of the immortal words of Matthew Henry, “His Supply is often better than His Word, but never worse.” Christ wonderfully supplies an abundance of the very best wine at the party’s end while the common practice would have been to bring out the good wine at the beginning of a feast, when the guests have their heads clear and their appetites fresh, and can enjoy it, and will commend it; but after they have had much to drink, when their heads are confused, and their stomachs are full, they don’t notice if it is good wine or cheap wine. With wine and with other substances there is a law of diminishing returns so that the first glass tastes wonderful but after a while you can hardly taste it. Certainly this is one of the reasons why Jesus models for us a moderate partaking of his gifts because He wants us to enjoy them as He designed them to be enjoyed. For when we drink a glass or two of wine we enjoy an unparalleled taste sensation which is accompanied by a happy heart but when we drink a lot of wine we only get drunk.
And certainly it was His intention that there would be some wine left over at the end of the banquet to attest to the miracle so that others would believe. I can imagine people coming for weeks on end to the reception hall to see and perhaps tasted the miraculous 180 gallons of wine which was perfectly balanced, crafted with a pleasing bouquet, rich tannins and a delightful finish. Moreover, if you had just witnessed the abundant and delightful miracle, you wouldn’t desire to drink to excess, you would anxiously taste and spend the remainder of your time praising the One who crafted it. Jesus saved the best for last, as He will when He brings the fullness of his Best Provision at the Final Wedding Feast where His betrothed bride, the church will be fully united to Him in the consummation of his Kingdom. For it is a trustworthy saying that, Those that follow Christ will feast with Him!
What is being a Christian all about? Sometimes even Christians imagine that being a Christian means to have a certain ideology which contains a political or social agenda that would solve the country’s problems. Others consider Christianity the best way to attain Your Best Life Now as if believing certain Christian-like truths will make them more successful, more popular and give them more control over their lives. Some think that being a Christian gives them an intellectual upper-hand that they can enjoy because it makes them feel smarter than everyone else. While others find Christianity as the pathway to financial independence and wealth so that they don’t have to ever rely on anyone else.
But the Scriptures teach a different substance and meaning of the Christian Life that does not consist in a political agenda, an economic solution, nor does it impart a pathway to success, popularity or financial independence. And it certainly is not the way to put you more in control of your life or to give you power over others. So then what does it mean to be a Christian? Being a Christian is about an ongoing intimate encounter with The Risen Savior who will progressively intertwine your heart with His so that you love what He Loves and grieve over what grieves Him. Jesus Christ is about making “little Christs” (Christians) whose hearts are so captured by the grace of the gospel that Christ becomes their who? what? where? when? and why? For Jesus the meaning of being a Christian is that He would become your identity, significance, destination, direction, and motivation. He becomes your Everything.
So if you’re looking for Peace with the Righteous Judge of the Universe, if you want to be washed of your guilt, and given a new identity to replace your shame, if you’re willing to live dependently passing the control of your life to another, and if you want to live forever in the full enjoyment of God for all eternity, then Christianity is for you!
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.
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)
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…
What were the disciples looking for on the first Easter Sunday Morning?
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!