Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Four Points of Holiness. Part 3

God is an impartial judge. He hates sin in the life of a believer as much as He does in the life of unbelievers. Just because you're a believer, God has not gone soft on it. He hates it wherever He finds it.

The above statement makes a lot of sense and is also part of the sermon. One does not have to be a Christian to believe that. Every religion out there has a god who hates wrong and therefore must hate the doer of wrong. Christianity however, teaches something vastly different. Christianity is ridiculous when one approaches it from common sense perspective. Therefore it is wrong to attempt to teach it from that perspective.

1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. ESV

That is the mind blowing nature of the Gospel. The prophets of old were indeed intrigued by this and rightly so. Those acquainted with a Holy God find it an impossibility to get right with Him. So it is amazing and totally unexpected that God Himself would take sin on Himself and pay the penalty. That is Amazing Grace that saved a wretch like me.

Yes God would hate sin in the life of a believer as much as He does in an unbeliever. But the good news is He does not see sin in a child of His.

Psalm 32: 1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. ESV

Wow is the word that best describes the above passage. Imagine God looking at a poor miserable sinner who justly deserves His present and eternal punishment as having no sin. The thanks for this belong to Jesus who bore all our sin on the cross. He suffered the entire penalty for the sin of all people for all time. When one receives this by the hand of faith he or she can go forth in joy, peace and confidence no longer to worry about his or her relationship to God. This knowledge would cause one to strive against sin and repent of sin that will occur in spite of the striving.

Glory be to the Father and to the † Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Four Points of Holiness. Part 2

Holiness is an inflexible standard. It never changes. Be like the One who called you. God HATES sin and He ALWAYS hates it.

That makes sense doesn’t it? One can find passages of scripture which flat out say that. How does that fit in with Justification by faith alone? The above statement is second in a Four Points of Holiness sermon a friend of mine heard.

"You shall be holy, for I am holy." 1 Peter 1:16b ESV

St Peter quotes a statement which is a command of God. If a person wishes to earn a place with Him for eternity that is what he or she must do. Religion, other than biblical Christianity, teaches that as well. By obedience and sacrifice one can manipulate eternal life out of the god of that religion. Sadly some Christians have this idea that somehow they can earn it as well. Or perhaps remain in God’s favour and not suffer any punishment here or in the next life. Others seek greater reward by striving hard to avoid sin and do extra works for God such as evangelism, teaching Sunday school, attending church services, feeding the poor and so on. Those things are helpful for a Christian and his or her neighbour but do nothing for his or her relationship with God.

To claim to be holy as God is holy would be to do everything perfectly. All would be done with 100% proper motivation. Nothing would remain undone at any time. All thoughts would be perfect. And each and every word would have to be sinless. No one can live in that way. What is more a person could have never sinned in his or her past. God has never sinned.

Psalm 51: 5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. ESV

Before we even leave our mother’s womb we are sinners. Not guilty of actual sin we are guilty of original sin and alienated from God. The penalty for this alienation is separation from God. Our forbear, Adam, sinned which condemned all who come after him to death. Romans 5:12. However, God became flesh and Jesus was obedient and we are justified before God in His blood. His holy life of obedience fulfilled the requirement for us to be holy as God is holy. By grace God looks upon us as if we never sinned. This is received by the hand of faith which is also the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-10. Now we have this forgiveness and holiness given to us we respond with doing things for our neighbour and thankful praise to God.

The second part states that God hates sin. Yes He does. It killed those who He created. The admiration of sin will condemn many to eternal separation from God. Those will not repent of their evil deeds whether immorality or self righteousness. God hates it so much He bore it all to Calvary to remove it from humanity. God grant us the desire to cease from sin and repentance when we do sin or trust our ability to be holy.

Thanks be to God. †

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Four Points of Holiness. Part 1

The question often arises; “What are we to do or be about as Christians?” Depending on whom you ask the answers are quite varied. Some say relief for the poor. Yes that is part of it. Others say we are to work on right living to respond to life in ways that are pleasing to God. Yes that would be another part. After all to tell one who is despairing of daily food and place to live to pull them self up by the bootstraps is hardly being Jesus for them. In addition when presented with temptations to jump into it with abandon and figure on being sorry later is not what Jesus had in mind either.

The Apostle Peter pulled no punches when he told us to live as God would have us live;

1 Peter 1: 13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." ESV

Now that is as clear as day isn’t it. All we have to do is be as holy as God is and all is well. Many can and do draw that conclusion in preparing sermons and bible studies. In recent conversation with a Christian friend she shared with me four points of a sermon she recently heard. This is the first point of the sermon.

“Holiness is an inescapable calling for every Christian in every area of their lives. It's our chief calling.”

One could reasonably come to that conclusion looking at the section of the epistle posted above. This is reasonable if one did not consider the preceding passage in the first chapter. And stop reading after the command to be as holy as God. A fourth grade education in grammar would point out that the section had something preceding it. The word Therefore tells us there is something that precedes the command. It is imperative to read the preceding verses to keep from falling into the ditch of legalism and false piety.

We have been born again into an inheritance. Inheriting is not the result of any work one does. This inheritance is brought about by the resurrection of our Lord from the dead and is kept in store for us. This striving to be holy is because of being children of God not in order to become more saved, to have more inheritance or to keep from losing it.

If that is not enough St Peter goes on to say that our ransom has been paid by the precious blood of Christ. This is ours by calling on God as Father. What Father would reject a child after he or she has stumbled in his or her behaviour. Stories have been told of parents wanting to suffer the punishment of an erring child. Now of a finite and sinful parent would do this for a child how much more a Holy and Loving God would pity an erring child. This is what God did when He became flesh and bore our sins to the cross. God determined long ago we would always fall short of Him. Jesus fulfilled this holiness for us and it is given to us graciously. Reading on through the rest of the section we see where to go and what to trust when we fail to be holy as God is. Matter of fact the epistle is rather short so nothing should keep one from reading the rest of it.

Some would object by saying that I am advocating careless living. Who on earth would think that way as a true believer and one who loves the Lamb of God? No out of love and gratitude we want to be like Jesus. And when we fail we obey Him by repenting and receiving forgiveness freely and walking on in confidence that we are loved and forgiven.

Glory be to the Father and to the † Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Protestant Purgatory

“What is done in this life echos in eternity.” That is a line from the movie Gladiator in which Russell Crowe portrays a Roman General. It is a call to for one in his or her duty. It rings true in our ears due to that is how things work here on earth. Common experience will show us that if one disobeys traffic laws eventually one is caught and punished. Shirk responsibility at work and kiss any possible advancement goodbye or even your career. Treat your spouse wrong and your marriage suffers. But does that really echo in eternity?

A Christian doing the aforementioned things will have the same possible consequences. Nothing in the Gospel guarantees escaping temporal consequences. During worship in Lutheran churches we confess that we rightly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment because of who we are and how we fall short. A prayer for mercy is said so we do not get what we so rightly deserve. Then the pastor states that due to the cross of Jesus God has had mercy on us and forgives us all our sins. The eternal consequences are gone due to the bitter suffering and death of Jesus.

Recently something I learned about the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory brought this to mind. Purgatory is for dealing with temporal consequences of a person after death. The mistake is often made teaching that it is to do with eternal consequences. The Roman Catholic Church affirms that the crucifixion deals with eternal consequences. Purgatory teaches that one has to finish suffering consequences for what is done in this life before being welcomed to heaven. Perhaps the person came to faith toward the end of his or her life and was not here to do this paying. This of course is a slap in the face of Jesus that what He did on earth was not sufficient as a robe of righteousness for us.

One of the teachings which is old and has gained in popularity is that we have mandated activities as Christians. This teaching says when we meet Jesus we will spend some time answering for what we have done or not done while on earth. This contains a not too veiled threat that our first bit of time with Jesus after our resurrection will not be a joyful one. Rick Warren alludes to that in his book the Purpose Driven life. However, many who have spurned that book have that idea due to the pastor in his or her pastor teaches that in sermons and bible studies. Several times Christians have stated that they are apprehensive about meeting Jesus because of failure to evangelize or some other activity they have led to believe God requires of them. This is false teaching for when we leave this life our temporal consequences have ended and eternal consequences have begun.

What good work can we do that God needs done which He has not already completed? Are there mandated activities for a Christian to do which will make a difference in what happens at the resurrection? Is another person’s eternity really at stake if we do not witness to them? Are we held accountable for missing church or not giving enough money? One of the verses which is referred to in teaching this suffering or shame is the following:

1 Corinthians 3: 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. ESV

At first blush that it does look as if what we do will have some bearing on the hereafter. The fact that we will be in heaven is not referred to in the doctrine of purgatory in Roman Catholic teaching, from Rick Warren or the other preachers of this idea. Our destiny and what we have in eternity is based solely on the merits of Jesus. To say otherwise is to lay a burden on other which God has not laid. Rightly distinguishing between law and gospel will keep one from doing this to themselves and others.

Context plays a key role in biblical interpretation which cannot be over emphasized. Earlier in that section of St Paul’s epistle to the church at Corinth he states he could not address those believers as spiritual people due to divisions in the assembly over himself and another teacher. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Jesus is our foundation of faith not a teacher or pastor no matter how good he is. (vv 1-11) It is a call to unity and not to judge one another and imply because you have a favorite teacher or came to faith under another preacher than I did you are lost. Those who are redeemed have one Saviour who is given all judgment authority and who cares how we carry on toward each other. To Him only do we owe allegiance not to men whom He has called to serve us.

Lord, forgive us when we look too much to the gifts you give us in the good bible teachers and ministers. May we keep our eyes on you and strive to care for one another like you care for us. Amen

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Leah Marie

A few days ago passed what would have been the 30th birthday of one of our daughters. During the pregnancy my wife suffered a complication in which the baby died in miscarriage. This is a devastating circumstance on many levels but especially when one considers as the psalmist declares we are sinners from conception totally guilty and justly deserving God’s temporal and eternal punishment. Psalm 51

Some our family, friends and fellow church members were of the “decision Theology’ mindset. These folks tried to say that because Leah had not reached the age of decision making she was not a sinner. The difficulty with that if she was not a she would not have died for the wages of sin is death. They did not have any bible verses with which to show us this teaching.

Others were of a Calvinist mindset. Part of them stated that she would be in heaven due to being of a family of elect parents. The difficulty with that is the teaching is to the baptized of elect families and being Baptists we did not baptize infants and she was not baptized due to not being alive to receive this. No scripture to be had there either.

Another part was of the opinion even if she had lived she may not have been of the elect and would be lost anyway. This is of no comfort and will lead to wondering if the parents and the children that are alive are elect. One can find a few passages to use as proof text for this position but what we end up with is a capricious God that does not exist. If He did exist who would love and serve Him?

Matthew 19: 13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." ESV

The promise of Jesus is the real answer. He opened heaven’s gates to little children. The kingdom of heaven is given to children whom are unable to choose or understand the doctrine of election. However, he or she is able to passively receive the benefits of the cross of Christ. That is how we adults receive it too isn’t it. He has graciously brought my wife and me to trust Him with the salvation of Leah Marie as well as her siblings who lived, their children and our salvation as well.

Glory be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen †

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Stiff Upper Lip.

Christians are told during times of great trouble to not be concerned because that would be lack of faith and therefore sin. The person saying this is seeking self interest of not wanting to hear of another person’s trouble. Instead of receiving encouragement this leave the grieving one in more distress. This is another example of teaching the grace of God as a spiritual steroid. It is believed that with grace and a lot of effort one can build the character to face tragedy or uncertainty with a stiff upper lip.

Luke 22: 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. ESV

Jesus was looking ahead to His crucifixion taking on the sin of the world and shameful death on the cross. Was He sinning in his agony? I doubt anyone else have been so troubled so that he or she is sweating great drops of blood. No, Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but without sin. He was tempted in this manner for us and His having the temptation and not sinning fulfilled our requirement to endure it perfectly.

Most assuredly when we are anxious sin is involved for we are sinners. But the anxious thoughts in themselves are not sin. The reaction to them will fall short of the glory of God. When Jesus experienced this He did not lose any trust in His Father but it was still very real. That is another of a long line of mysteries of how the Creator of the universe would be the least bit anxious. However, Jesus is God become flesh which in itself is the greatest mystery.

When we receive His true body and blood in the Holy Supper He comes to us in a real way to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith. He is able to do that because of His deep agony, being tried falsely, beaten and being nailed to the cross. We can rejoice to receive the risen Saviour in His meal as he promised; “This is my body broken for you.” “This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.” That is always the response of our merciful and gracious God to our sin. You are forgiven.

Thanks be to God. †