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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

On October 31, 1517, the Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on to the Wittenburg Castle Church door. The Protestant Reformation was a movement in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, which tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church, because of perceived doctrinal and moral corruption that undermined the Christian gospel. The result was excommunication and the Protestant movement. These Latin phrases; sola scriptura (Scripture Alone), sola gratia (Grace Alone), sola fide (Faith Alone), sola Christus (Christ Alone), Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God Alone), were the fundamental principles of the protestant reformers. They were developed over time, to summarize the theological conviction of the reformers and are central to the doctrine of salvation. -John Piper

In April of 1518, the head of the Augustinian Order called for a formal disputation of the ideas that Martin Luther had put forth. This gave Luther an opportunity to expand upon his concerns. At the meeting, Luther put forward a “theology of the cross” as opposed to a “theology of glory.” -Editors Introduction to the Book of Concord

A theology of glory expects total success, finding all the answers, winning all the battles, and living happily ever after. The theology of glory is all about my strength, my power, and my works. A theologian of glory expects his church to be perfect and always to grow. If a theologian of glory gets sick, he expects God to heal him. And if he experiences failure and weakness, if his church has problems and if he is not healed, then he is often utterly confused, questioning the sufficiency of his faith and sometimes questioning the very existence of God. -Gene Edward Veith

To better understand the theology of glory, one need only look at the adjective included in the five Latin phrases. Alone. The use of this simple term suggests that the theology of glory, understood God’s work of Scripture, Grace, Faith and Christ were insufficient.

The Catholic Church adhered to what Martin Luther called the “theology of glory” (in opposition to the “theology of the cross”), in which the glory for a sinner’s salvation could be attributed partly to Christ, partly to Mary and the saints, and partly to the sinner himself. The reformers responded, “No, the only true gospel is that which gives all glory to God alone, as is taught in the scriptures.” -Monergism.com

This true and Biblical gospel, proclaimed by the reformers, was about how man can be justified before a holy God. Not by any merited favor, but by grace alone. Not any works a man can do such as the confession, penance or indulgences, but by faith alone. Not by any other sacrifice, such as mass, but only in Christ alone. Not found in the church, papacy or tradition, but in Scripture alone. And not for the veneration, worship or glory of Mary, Saints or Angels, but to the Glory of God Alone.

For Luther, the bottom line was the bondage of the will, or the deadness of the human soul. The Bible tells us that we are totally helpless. Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” We were dead in our trespasses and sin and by nature children of wrath. Only grace can raise us from the dead and only Christ could be our punishment. Those two miracles, life from death and wrath removed, can only be received as a gift. Thus, it is to the glory of God alone. -John Piper

When reflecting on today’s subject of God receiving all glory, you may have thought, “I am a Baptist. I know that we do not glorify Mary, Saints or Angels.” This, I’m sure, is true for many of us here. However, these two verses may shed some light on our weakness and who we do glorify instead of God alone.

Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”     2 Timothy 3:2, “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy…”                            

The Bible tells us:

  • Scripture is from God. 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God…”
  • Grace is from God. Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves…”
  • Faith comes from God. Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”
  • Christ was sent by God. John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
  • Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
  • Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”
  • Psalm 103: 19, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.”
  • Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”
  • Romans 13:1, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
  • Ephesians 1:11-12, “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”
  • Colossians 1:16-17, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
  • Hebrews 1:3, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
  • Hebrews 11:10, “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
  • John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only son, that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
  • 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
  • Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Soli Deo Gloria

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Our pastor has encouraged us to look at the 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation. The first Sunday was Scripture alone. The second Sunday was Grace alone. Today we look at faith alone.

When Paul explains the gospel in Romans, he says that in that gospel “is the righteousness of God revealed…as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

I want to begin by looking at how the Catholic church obscured the gospel, then move to how the Reformation recovered the gospel, and finally give an implication of this gospel for us today.

The Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone by tangling up regeneration with justification like a really bad game of twister. Biblically, Regeneration is being born again—having eternal life infused into our souls. Justification is God the judge declaring us to be legally righteous in his sight (instead of guilty). The mixing up of regeneration and justification resulted in the Catholic church teaching that in baptism a man receives an infusion of righteousness into his soul. And this infusion of righteousness is what makes a man inherently righteous before God. Consequently, the Catholic church went on to teach that the fruit of righteousness flows from divine life experienced in baptism so that a man may merit by his gracious works justification. So, the foundation of a right standing before God is what a man becomes at his baptism and what a man does after his baptism. That baptism often being an infant baptism.

This was the thinking that Martin Luther was plagued by. If there was ever a monk who could have been saved by his monkery, it would have been Martin Luther. Vigils, prayers, reading, spending much time confessing, and fasting were performed by Luther. But all of this work failed to give him the peace with God that he was desperate for. And that’s because Galatians 2:16 says “a man is not justified by the works of the law.” So, the Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone by tangling up regeneration and justification and in this way tortured Martin Luther.

But what the Reformation did was untangle regeneration and justification. And this resulted in clarifying what justification means: Justification is not progressive, but the instantaneous declaration of God that a sinner is righteous instead of guilty. And the instrument by which a man is justified is not man’s work, but faith alone in Christ and his work at Calvary.

Romans 4:5 says “ But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Worketh “not”. Justifieth the “ungodly”.

But how can God declare an ungodly man righteous? He does not do this by infusing righteousness into a man’s soul (as the Catholic church taught), but by imputing the righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner. In other words, when a man believes on Christ, God considers the righteousness of Christ as belonging to the sinner.

Think of it this way—when a poor woman marries a rich man, that woman enters into a union with him so that she shares in his wealth. The poor woman becomes rich. Similarly, when a sinful man believes in Christ, that man enters into a union with Him so that he shares in His righteousness. And in this manner God considers Christ’s righteousness as belonging to the sinner and thus declares the sinner to be righteous. This is the only way that a sinful man may have peace with God.

We have seen how the Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone and how the Reformation recovered that gospel. Now, an implication for the church today is this: we had better get justification by faith alone right before we do any work. Another way to say it would be to say, the church had better get the gospel right before she gets to work.

When Paul reveals what the gospel means in Romans, he talks about justification by faith alone.

When the Catholic church obscured that gospel, it gave rise to an unhealthy religiosity. Germany was not being taken over by secularism—it was very religious, but it was an unhealthy religiosity that arose from the burial of justification by faith alone. Contrastingly, we here in America do see secularism taking over. And what a temptation it would be for us in our day to say “We need to get back to being religious!” But if that religiosity does not arise from justification by faith alone, then we are not standing on the gospel.

What revolutionized Europe was not increasing religious activity. It was the recovery of justification by faith alone. May it be so in our day.

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In this third installation of the 5 solae, we come to what another brother had to say about grace alone:

I want to begin with a personal testimony from January of this year…

After a brief explanation from the Lutheran pastor, I followed the funeral procession into the church—deeply moved. Why? For sure I was going to miss my wife’s aunt, who had been a dear family member to us.

But more importantly, what impacted me was the symbol on her casket that illustrated a truth most dear to me. You see, the casket was covered in a white cloth, symbolizing righteousness, which would be the only thing God would accept from her as she would be presented to Him for judgment. But…whose righteousness?

The symbolism goes further—on the cover was the shape of a cross, and the Greek symbols for Christ. Whose righteous works is God accepting?   Would He see ANY of my aunt’s works?

No, for He would not accept them!

She was being presented to God, covered by the righteousness of our blessed Christ! And THIS was our family’s comfort in our loss.

Eph 2:8-10: “For by grace are you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

In this short statement is the sum of the Biblical teaching of the work of grace. It begins with God-working in us faith which justifies us (giving us Christ’s righteousness), which results in good works which please Him—according to His working in us.

Over time, as the Church of the Middle Ages abandoned the supreme authority of Scripture—“Sola Scriptura” in favor of traditions, other doctrines began to emerge—not only those absent from the Bible, but also changes to the understanding of grace itself.

The Medieval Church’s teaching gradually drifted to the assertion that God’s grace would help us produce the works that He would accept for justification, rather than the grace of Christ’s finished work of cross and resurrection for us.

It is in this world that Martin Luther sought to be right with a Holy God.

In keeping with church traditions, he followed the rules of the monastery, and did penance–all to a radical extreme (and even the annoyance of his fellow clergy)—all the time being under condemnation in his heart because of the majesty of God’s holiness and perfection overwhelming him.

At this point, as he studied the Bible, he discovered that it is not his righteousness that God will accept, but Christ’s, and that he should by faith abide in Him! Luther received God’s gracious gift of eternal life.

Luther and the other reformers returned to the Biblical, apostolic understanding that good works and a changed life flow from Christ’s righteousness given to us, instead of leading to it. God will not have his glorious gospel assisted by human works.

Our Christ, as God in human flesh, takes on Himself ALL of our sin and sinfulness on the cross, and gives us ALL of the righteous obedience of His perfect life.   We call this teaching Sola Gratia, or “grace alone.”

In short, God’s grace justifies us completely in Christ’s work, and gives us a heart of repentance, rather than demanding we “do penance.”

Church Historian Stephen Nichols tells us that Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, is portrayed in a portrait with an open Bible.

In an illustration of this grace to us, the Bible was opened to Matt 11:27-30:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This is Christ’s gracious invitation to us—then, and now.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we celebrate our salvation in Christ, Sola Gratia, by grace alone—in the words of the Apostle Paul: “…to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved…”

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Several weeks ago my brother in Christ shared this about the sufficiency of Scripture:

“Sola Scriptura is a reminder that God has always worked and will always work on this side of eternity through His word the Bible. Sola Scriptura deals primarily with the issue of authority. It is not a base claim that says that nothing except Scripture is helpful. It is not a claim to Scripture only in all cases. That would not be Biblical. Recognizing this is to distinguish between Sola Scriptura and Scriptura Nuda. Sola Scriptura does not argue that there is no value in anything except for Scripture standing on its own. It is an argument that Scripture is the only basis of authority.

I think a couple of verses would help us frame this discussion. Psalm 138:2 captures the sentiment of Sola Scriptura in a poetic way, but it also stresses a note of praise and worship which seems very appropriate when we are remembering God’s faithfulness over the 500 years since the Reformation. The psalmist here says:

“I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your                       steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your                   name and your word.”

Several translations say this slightly differently, but the idea is clear: God exalts his Word. And God exalts those who exalted his word, and God will be exalted when his word is exalted.

The Reformation, which was a great turning from the time when doctrinal error was pervasive in the church, to a time when the church was based much more on the truth of Scripture follows clearly a line or trajectory of a return to Scripture. Every individual who had a hand in the Reformation of the church was a person who had first learned to see the Scriptures as their sole authority. You can back up to 200 years earlier and look at the life of John Wycliffe in England, who was persecuted for his position on the authority and importance of Scripture. You can look in the 1400s at John Huss, who was also persecuted for a similar stand. He was martyred for his belief in Scripture. But he is the one who famously said, “you may cook this goose.” His name Huss meaning goose, “but in its stead God will raise the Swan who will sing his praises.” That Swan came 100 years later, just a few miles away, in the person of Martin Luther. Martin Luther, was ironically induced into the priesthood in the same church that the bishop who condemned Huss was buried in. And so we see consistently through history, God superintending to bring about his own glory and the reform of his church through the honoring of Scripture. Each of those men engaged in the great task of putting the Scriptures into the language of the common man of their day. Each one of them understood that one of the great tasks of their life was to put Scripture into the language of the common man, so that the English plough boy could read Scripture in English, and the German peasant could read Scripture in German.

Simply put, Sola Scriptura is the cause of the Reformation. The other principles, or rally cries of the Reformation; the other solas, whether it is Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, or Soli Deo Gloria. We could not and would not have any of these were it not for return to Scripture only. Scripture is the foundation; it is the foundation upon which God’s work will always be built.

Peter reminds us in II Peter 1:16. In this passage Peter reminds us of a pivotal time during the life of Christ. A time where Peter and two other disciples are alone with Christ on a mountaintop, and there in that Transfiguration moment they see the Lord in His glory. But Peter tells us in verse 19:

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to          pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the                    morning star rises in your hearts.”

The King James translation express this as “we have a more sure word of prophecy”. One of the things Peter is reminding us of here, is the fact that even if God were to reveal himself physically to us, as Christ was revealed to the disciples on that mountain Transfiguration, that appearance would not and should not be as authoritative or as significant to us as the physical pages of the word of God that we have in our hands. Peter says that what we have is a more sure word; it is a word more fully confirmed, which we do well to pay attention to. Sola Scriptura thus speaks to the authority and sufficiency of the word of God.

The threat to Scripture in the time leading up to the Reformation, came from an approach to Scripture which claimed that we could not know for sure what Scripture was saying. The scholars and some church authorities the time said that we could look to tradition and Scripture, we could look to reason and Scripture, we could look to the great leading voices of the church and Scripture, and we can look to experience and use that to temper our understanding of Scripture. And out of that mixture of endless qualifications and piles of meaningless footnotes maybe we can come up with something that in some way we could call true. Martin Luther said that that approach to truth, and approach to truth that is merely tentative, an approach to truth that denies the absolute authority of God’s word, an approach that says truth is only possible, is an approach to truth that paves the road to hell. Martin Luther said we do not need possible truth. We need therefore truths; truths that are absolute and unequivocal. We need truths that come to us with the thunderous certainty of Romans 5, “therefore there is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.” We need truths that are absolute! And our only hope, our only source for that kind of truth comes in the revealed Word of God, Sola Scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is thus the basis of our confident joy. Every commemoration, every anniversary, every celebration, should ultimately be characterized by gratitude. A gratitude that shows that we are thankful to God. God is the only reason why good things live long. On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation our heart should be hearts that are filled with gratitude that God has kept his word. We can say with the hymn writer:

         “How firm a foundation the Saints of the Lord

          Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word

         What more can He say than to you He has said

         To you who to Jesus for refuge have fled.”

Let us be thankful for Sola Scriptura.”

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Having taught for 25 years, I have indeed seen many changes in public school. Some represent major cultural shifts while others reflect minor cycles of fad and fashion. One very curious change I have witnessed is a loss of faith in Science. Students used to almost universally confess that science and technology would eventually solve all of man’s problems. Disease will be defeated, genetic difficulties overcome, hunger eradicated, environmental problems will be historical artifacts of developing technologies, mysteries solved, a perpetual motion machine created that would solve all energy problemss, the galaxy traversed. Older minds may have written this off as so much blissful, youthful optimism and ignorance. Instead, I think that it was a product of a worldview that viewed science as the source and conduit of all truth. There were, of course, the rare skeptic that did not trust science or its message.

I see the opposite trend to be generally true today. It is the rare student that has an unflinching faith in Science, or anything for that matter, other than himself. Science and Technology have not solved all of our problems. Epidemics continue, hunger persists, climate change threatens, nuclear proliferation has rebooted, natural disasters terrorize, and people still don’t get along with each other. Unfulfilled expectations and personal discontent are on the rise. Science and technology are frequently viewed as the cause of environmental problems and stressed out living styles.

There could well be many sociological, cultural, and economic reasons for this shift, but I think that in a narrower sense of views about science as a human endeavor, both the blind faith in science and the skepticism of its merits arise from a basic misunderstanding of what the limits of science are. Science is neither the source and conduit of all truth nor the cause of the world’s most pressing problems. Science is a tool. As such it has limits. When I use my large ratchet as a hammer, I damage the tool and very poorly drive the pin I am trying to remove. In a similar way Science used in the wrong way brings harm to its prestige and to the understanding and application it is meant to drive. Science has at least 4 related limits.

Science may only be applied to things which are observable. This observation includes our 5 senses and any other remote sensing we may devise: camera, thermometer, radiation detector, ultrasound, etc. If only time, space, material, and energy exist as many insist, then this observability is not a limit. There is, however, evidence of more than the physical world (the source of beauty, information, purpose, emotions and will) and observability does not automatically exclude the spiritual realm. Scientists use inference (drawing conclusions) as a powerful tool, but it must be based on observation (quantitative data or measurement enable the observation to be unambiguous).

Science is also limited by the requirement of being testable. Scientists test hypotheses with controlled experiments to acquire a deeper understanding of the physical world. There are things that an experiment cannot test which nonetheless exist and effect our lives.

Scientific experiments must be repeatable. Other scientists must be able to use clearly set forth procedures and obtain the same results. If the results are different, some variable has not been controlled for or the experimenters were not careful enough in their observations. Therefore, scientists ask for procedures, data, and analyses from colleagues in order to determine if the conclusions are valid. The best way to do this is to repeat the experiment.

Finally, conclusions resulting from observations must be falsifiable. This does not mean that all evidence or conclusions will be falsified, but rather there must be the possibility of demonstrating that a conclusion is wrong. The essential function of Science is not to reveal truth but to eliminate falsehood. Based upon observation alone, one may never know for sure if something is true. But the ability to falsify wrong ideas narrows down what science accepts as true sufficiently to act upon it. This does not mean that there is no truth. It means that science does not have the ability to state truth in any absolute way. That must be done from other pursuits.

Many ideas are parading around, claiming to be scientific theories when they do not rise to the level of even a hypothesis, let alone a well substantiated hypothesis, that is, a theory. As an example, consider the issue of origins. How did we get here and how did it all begin? Can anyone who is living or has lived observe the beginning of the world? Since they cannot, can they possibly do an experiment on beginning a world? Is that experiment repeatable? If no experiment or observation by scientists may be done directly on the beginning of the world, then it is not a falsifiable idea. Therefore, though evidence may be given from subsequent events as to which version of origins is most likely, presuppositions are inevitably required in any discussion of origins. Another name for presuppositions, those assumptions made in order to begin a discussion or make inquiry, is beliefs. Any discussion of origins by definition is based on a worldview or belief system. It may be labeled religion or science, it does not matter, but it is essentially based on belief.

What this means for any discussion of origins is matching present evidence to the best presuppositional explanation. Does your belief about origins fit the evidence?

What this means about faith in or loss of faith in Science is a need to reconsider its value. Science is a valuable tool wielded by mechanics of varying training and skill, operating from differing worldviews. Retain a healthy skepticism that desires to understand what has been discovered and understood. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathe water. That is, don’t throw out the valuable tool of Science or the useful evidence it provides when you have to wade through false claims, poorly substantiated ‘theories’, intentionally falsified conclusions, or presuppositions that don’t match up with what you know to be true. Science is a useful tool.

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Sigh and Faith

One sentence from a comment on my last entry keeps coming back to me:

“A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.”        (G.K. Chesterton)

When I came across a small poem that I had written about a year ago and considered my daily struggles, it seemed an example of how I must doubt my sinful self and cling evermore so firmly to the saving truth that brings joy and confidence. This salvation is not a past tense thing, it is a continuous present tense thing:

A deep heavy sigh

To realize I’ve failed again

How can I reply

Other than repent of sin

Only live by faith

Letting God’s grace to shine through

Jesus first of all

In all life that I pursue

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Even If

God has and does give more than enough evidence of His existence and work in the world (Psalm 19), but not for mere curiosity seekers or those looking for excuses (Matthew 12:38-39). He does give sufficient evidence (John 10:37-38). The true element preventing so many from believing is faith.  And faith is in fact given to an individual by God (John 6:44).  If you sense the slightest inkling of desire to know God or find truth or know if there is a God and if the Bible is true, pursue it and plead with God to open Himself to you (Mark 9:24, Matthew 7:7).

Even if evidence is as clear as can be
Without faith we will choose to not see
All that God has done in the world and in our lives
Until He comes again or death arrives

Even if great blessings light the way that we go
Without faith thanks will fail to overflow
All to luck, fate, karma will be attributed
Until no praise to Him is presented

Even if intricate design is discovered
Without faith the true meaning is covered
All is said from nature uniformly evolved
Until not one thing is from Him derived

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