Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Wild Boar Who Turned the World Upside Down

Nearly five hundred years ago Pope Leo X issued a papal bull, calling for a single monk to recant of his writings or face excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, which was essentially a threat of eternal condemnation.  The opening words of this bulla entitled Exsurge Domine read, “Arise, O Lord, and judge Your cause.  A wild boar has invaded Your vineyard.”  Upon its arrival in Wittenburg, Germany, this same monk announced that he would publicly burn the pope’s bull. Following through on December 10, 1520 before a crowd of his students and citizens of the city, he ignited a fire of reform that set the whole empire ablaze.

The monk was Martin Luther and this was not his first encounter with controversy nor would it be his last.  With the nailing of his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517, as was customary of those seeking debate, Luther sparked what is now called the Protestant Reformation.  Initially desiring only to debate the validity of indulgences (a certificate of pardon issued by the papacy, transferring the merits of saints to sinners in Purgatory, releasing them from temporal penalties and hastening their souls to heaven), not to separate from the Roman Catholic Church, the German monk had no idea what he would soon be involved in or the lasting influence and effects that his actions would have on us today.  Much could be and has been written concerning the historical events that surround this wild boar and the birth of the Reformation but our focus will be upon the fruit, which sprang up with Luther and came to maturity with the formation of Protestant theology.  In other words, what did Luther, as well as others before and after him, recover that is the bedrock of our faith today?

The Primacy of Scripture 

For over a thousand years before Luther, the Roman Catholic Church was considered the final authority on all things concerning life and godliness, including the interpretation of Scripture.  Only the Catholic Church could say what the Word of God said and how it was to be understood and applied.  Popes, councils, theological tradition, and the history of the Church as recorded by its officials were seen and upheld as infallible, authoritative, and untouchable.  Further control by the Church was made possible as the only official copies of the Scriptures were in Latin, as well as in Greek and Hebrew, leaving the vast majority of people without the ability to even read the Word of God for themselves.

Martin Luther, following in the footsteps of others before him (John Wycliffe and John Hus), sought to recover the primacy of Scripture.  This emphasis can be seen in several events of Luther’s life.  Under God’s providential hand he became professor of Biblical Studies at Wittenburg (1512), which forced him into the Word, lecturing on the Psalms, Romans, Galatians and Hebrews for the next several years.  Not only was he a professor but he became the pastor of the Castle Church (1514), preaching several times a week, furthering his exposure to the Scriptures.  The more he studied and meditated upon the Word the more his soul was vexed.  In 1517 he posted two sets of theses on the door of the Castle Church.  The first, the 97 Theses against Scholastic Theology, received little attention.  Then, in response to the selling and abuses of indulgences, Martin Luther posted the well-known 95 Theses on the church door on October 31, 1517.  The basis of his theses was the Word of God.  A few are as follows:

1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

27. There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.

35. It is not in accordance with Christian doctrines to preach and teach that those who buy off souls, or purchase confessional licenses, have no need to repent of their own sins.

53. Those are enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid the word of God to be preached at all in some churches, in order that indulgences may be preached in others.

54. The word of God suffers injury if, in the same sermon, an equal or longer time is devoted to indulgences than to that word.

Especially in the debates that followed, Luther stood firm, amazing his opponents with his knowledge of and use of the Word of God.

The next event that highlighted Luther’s recovery of the primacy of the Scriptures is his summons and hearing at the Diet of Worms in 1521.  Standing before the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, several Catholic officials, princes, and fellow Germans, Martin Luther was asked to recant of his writings or face condemnation as a heretic, subsequently placing a bounty on his head.  The next day, April 18, Luther gave his response founded upon the authority of the Scriptures.  He said:

Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of Scripture or by clear reason – since I believe neither the popes nor the councils themselves, for it is clear that they have often erred and contradicted themselves – I am conquered by the holy Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not withdraw anything, since it is neither safe nor right to do anything against one’s conscience.  Here I stand. God help me. Amen.

Already excommunicated, Luther would now be condemned as a heretic before the diet and become and outlaw.

After leaving Worms, Fredrick the Wise, Luther’s prince, ushered him away to the Wartburg castle in Eisenbach for 11 months to protect him.  There he completed his German translation of the New Testament (1522) and in 1534, he would go on to finish translating the whole Bible into the language of the people, furthering the emphasis of the primacy of Scripture.  This principle of the ultimate authority of the Word alone, Sola Scriptura, became the battle cry of the Protestant Reformation and all their theological heirs.  While not ignoring the importance of doctrinal writings and biblical commentaries, the Reformation solely elevated the Word of God to the highest position, judging all other sources.  All who can open up a Bible and read the Word or hear a sermon in their language are indebted to this wild boar.

Justification by Faith Alone through Grace Alone in Christ Alone

Flowing out of Luther’s emphasis on the primacy of Scripture is the recovery of the gospel from the traditions and rites of the Catholic Church.  From the beginning of his monkery, Martin Luther was haunted by the righteousness of God.  He saw this righteousness as that active righteousness by which God brings justice and wrath upon sinners.  But through his study of the Scripture and with the help of his friend, Philip Melanchthon, he began to understand how it was that a sinful man could be made right before a holy God.  His focus was on Romans 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  In 1519, Luther had his famous “tower experience” while studying this verse.  This is what he wrote of that experience:

I hated that word, “justice of God,” which, by the use and custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically as referring to formal or active justice, as they call it, i.e., that justice by which God is just and by which he punishes sinners and the unjust.

But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn’t be sure that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got angry at God. I said, “Isn’t it enough that we miserable sinners, lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel threaten us with his justice and his wrath?” This was how I was raging with wild and disturbed conscience. I constantly badgered St. Paul about that spot in Romans 1 and anxiously wanted to know what he meant.

I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: “The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: ‘The just person lives by faith.'” I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just person lives by faith.” All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g., the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.

Luther rediscovered the Gospel that had been covered for so long by the commandments of men.  He saw in the Scripture that sinful man is made right (just) before God not on the basis of man’s work but only on the basis of Christ’s work in the atonement.  Our righteousness before God is an alien righteousness, being that is not our own but Christ’s, and we are partakers of His righteousness by faith alone, not by any work or merit.  All this comes to us only by the grace of God.  Hence, the other slogans of the Protestant Reformation became Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), and Sola Christus (Christ alone), summarizing the glorious gospel of God.

Theology of Vocation

In 1525 Luther abandoned his monastic life and married a former nun, Katherine Von Bora.  No longer a monk, how could Luther serve God as well as he did before?  This question arises from the common thought imbedded in the formation of the Catholic hierarchy in Rome.  The thought was that you could become holier and serve God better as a monk or Church official than you could as a husband, a wife, a miner, or anything else common to man.  The concept of vocatio (vocation), a calling from God to serve Him, was seen as exclusive to those dedicated to the work of the Church.  Luther, with his emphasis on the primacy of the Scriptures and a renewed understanding of the Gospel declared that all saints (believers) of all professions and roles have a calling. This calling was to glorify God in all that you do (1 Corinthians 10:31).  This last cry of the Protestant Reformation, seen here in Luther, is Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone).

We have much to thank Martin Luther for.  To ignore his accomplishments and the accomplishments of other Reformers like him, for whatever the reason, is not merely to refuse to recognize the work of men, but it is a refusal to acknowledge the hand of God faithfully at work, keeping, building, and strengthening His people, the church.  And while we rightly honor the men  God used to recover the Scriptures and the Gospel itself, we must not neglect honoring God for his faithfulness.  Luther sets for us an example as he seeks glory not for himself but for God and His Word, declaring, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing.  And while I slept…the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such loses upon it.  I did nothing; the Word did everything.”

Soli Deo Gloria & Happy Reformation Day!

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C.T. Studd on YOLO

Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way; 
Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done; 
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgment seat; 
Only one life,’ twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice, Gently pleads for a better choice 
Bidding me selfish aims to leave, And to God’s holy will to cleave; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears; 
Each with its days I must fulfill, living for self or in His will; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore, When satan would a victory score; 
When self would seek to have its way, Then help me Lord with joy to say; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep, In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep; 
Faithful and true what e’er the strife, Pleasing Thee in my daily life; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn, And from the world now let me turn; 
Living for Thee, and Thee alone, Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne; 
Only one life, “twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Now let me say, “Thy will be done”; 
And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say ’twas worth it all”; 
Only one life,’ twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

C.T. Studd (1860-1931)

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Resting in His Righteousness

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

(Romans 8:1-4 ESV)

If you haven’t read the passage above, please take the opportunity to read it before you continue, and if you have already read it I would encourage you to reread it, listening to it as voice of the Spirit of God to you who are in Christ.  Let it soak in. Let it break through the familiarity.  Let it melt the hardness of heart born from pain and struggle.  Let it gladden the soul burdened by indwelling sin.  Let it strengthen the bones broken by the weight of life.  In Christ you are freed, forgiven, and filled by Him, “who is the head of all rule and authority.”

You see, it is easy and common for the weight of daily life to overshadow the glory of God and the gospel.  We strive and we fail.  We fight and we lose.  We aim and we miss.  This is everyday living for the Christian.  Sin has so corrupted us and this world that while we long for it, perfection will ever allude us here.  By God’s grace, the Scriptures are not silent in regards to our failures, our struggle, and our hope.

While mankind was dead, condemned, helpless, and hopeless, God showed up.  He didn’t just give us a word of encouragement, His Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He didn’t give us more requirements that we could’t meet, He became our righteousness. He didn’t ignore the debt we owe, He poured out His wrath on Christ on the cross to satisfy its demands.  In Christ we are justified by faith, have peace with God, made alive, set free from sin’s dominion, delivered from the guilt of the law, filled with the Spirit of life, transformed into His image, loved evermore, and kept by the power of the Lord of all.  Praise Him!  All our failures are undone in Christ, all our need supplied in Him, and all our wounds healed in Him.

But often this is not where we live our lives.  We allow guilt from residing sin to blur the forgiveness Christ has accomplished for us.  We allow the daily struggles with sin to convince us that we are not free from sin’s bondage.  We allow the shame over not meeting our self-set standards of holiness to keep us away from Him who has reconciled us, loves us, and wants to be known by us.

How do we experience the freedom found in Christ as we live our lives? How do we enjoy the fullness of life that Christ came to give us here and now?  How do we rest from our endless attempts of self-effort, seeking to make ourselves acceptable before God?

Romans 8:1-4 leads us down the right path – to the gospel.  As Charles Spurgeon wrote, “the gospel is milk for babes, and meat for strong men.”  We begin with the gospel but never advance past the gospel.  It is the one sure foundation of the believer.  It is not only the power of God unto salvation but it is the power of God for sanctification, as we gaze upon Christ in it we are transformed into His likeness.  It is bread for the hungry, water for the thirsty, medicine for the sick, and balm for the wounded, and hope for the hopeless.  This is exactly what is going on in this passage.

The Bible is clear that we, all apart from Christ, deserve nothing but death, wrath, and condemnation.  But while this still lingers in the text, Paul breaks out and proclaims “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus.”  Wow!  Really? No condemnation!?  I beg your pardon Paul, but isn’t this what I deserve?  Isn’t God a just and holy God whose character and commands require a righteousness that I do not have nor am able to achieve?  How is this possible?  Paul continues, explaining why, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”  In Christ, you have been set free from condemnation because you have been set free from bondage to sin and death by the Spirit of life.  But that still doesn’t explain why no condemnation and how we can now be free from our debt of sin.  So Paul pushes on, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”  We could not obey the law and therefore are unable to meet the righteous requirement of God, so God provided that which was needed in the incarnation, where the Word became flesh, dwelt among us, and was crucified, bearing the weight of sin and wrath, satisfying the justice of God.  So our debt has been paid, our sin has been dealt with but we still have no righteousness, no holiness of our own so as to be acceptable in God’s sight.  So a question of condemnation still remains, because we not only need our debt cleared but righteousness before God.

But Paul is not finished.  He writes that all that has been mentioned above happened “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled…”  Fulfilled in whom?  In Christ?  That’s what we would expect because it is He who came in the flesh, fulfilled the law and its demands, died to satisfy God’s wrath, and was raised to be exalted and give us life.  Naturally in reading this passage our minds should want to read that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in Christ because only he has fulfilled the law, but that is not what it says at all.  It says these things God did “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  Fulfilled in us!  Fulfilled in all who have repented and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ. Fulfilled in all who have been given the Spirit of life.

But how can this be?  This is important because this is what the whole passage hinges on.  This is the reason why there is no condemnation for those in Christ.  This is why we could be set free from the law of sin and death.  This is why we have any hope today and for eternity before God.  So here it is, when you were saved, when you repented of your sins and believed the gospel, you were eternally united to Christ by the Spirit of God, so much so that his death became your death, his resurrection became your resurrection, and his righteousness became your righteousness.  Wow! Yes, you read that correctly – his righteousness is now your righteousness.  He not only died the death that we deserved but Christ lived the life that we were created for in perfect obedience to the Father.  2 Corinthians 5:21 declares, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  This is the GREAT EXCHANGE – our sin for His righteousness, our debt for His redemption, our rebellion for His reconciliation.  He has done it all.  There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!  There is nothing that you can do to make yourself right before God, not before or after salvation.  There is nothing that can separate you from Him for your union with him is grounded in Him and His righteousness.  We are ever accepted, forgiven, and loved by God in Christ.

RESPONSE:

REPENT: Repent of your sin, confess your failures, and flee to Christ.

REST: Rest in Christ and His righteousness.  You are free, accepted, and blessed in Him.

REJOICE: Rejoice over God’s grace, Christ’s finished and sufficient work, and your redemption.

REPEAT: Repeat this glorious truth to others that they may find rest and to yourself that you will continue to rest in Him.

______________

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/57097328@N06/5723015616/lightbox/

 

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Heaven is a World of Love

 

On this day 309 years ago Jonathan Edwards was born.  He was a pastor, a theologian, and a missionary in colonial New England. Edwards wrote voluminously, preached widely, and pursued God and the truths of his Word vigorously.  He is sadly most popularly known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  While worthy of attention, this one sermon does not adequately represent the mind or ministry of this pillar of the Christian faith.  In fact, he spent much energy writing and preaching some of the most beautiful sermons and books about heaven and the love of God.  In honor of Jonathan Edwards’ birthday and his legacy I would like share a snippet of one of his sermons, “Heaven, a World of Charity or Love”:

[The] God of love himself dwells in heaven. Heaven is the palace or presence-chamber of the high and holy One, whose name is love, and who is both the cause and source of all holy love. God, considered with respect to his essence, is everywhere – he fills both heaven and earth. But yet he is said, in some respects, to be more especially in some places than in others. He was said of old to dwell in the land of Israel, above all other lands; and in Jerusalem, above all other cities of that land; and in the temple, above all other buildings in the city; and in the holy of holies, above all other apartments of the temple; and on the mercy-seat, over the ark of the covenant, above all other places in the holy of holies. But heaven is his dwelling-place above all other places in the universe; and all those places in which he was said to dwell of old, were but types of this. Heaven is a part of creation that God has built for this end, to be the place of his glorious presence, and it is his abode for ever; and here will he dwell, and gloriously manifest himself, to all eternity.

And this renders heaven a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light. And therefore the glorious presence of God in heaven, fills heaven with love, as the sun, placed in the midst of the visible heavens in a clear day, fills the world with light. The apostle tells us that “God is love;” and therefore, seeing he is an infinite being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of love. Seeing he is an all-sufficient being, it follows that he is a full and overflowing, and inexhaustible fountain of love. And in that he is an unchangeable and eternal being, he is an unchangeable and eternal fountain of love.

There, even in heaven, dwells the God from whom every stream of holy love, yea, every drop that is, or ever was, proceeds. There doth God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, united as one, in infinitely dear, and incomprehensible, and mutual, and eternal love. There dwells God the Father, who is the father of mercies, and so the father of love, who so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son to die for it. There dwells Christ, the Lamb of God, the prince of peace and of love, who so loved the world that he shed his blood, and poured out his soul unto death for men. There dwells the great Mediator, through whom all the divine love is expressed toward men, and by whom the fruits of that love have been purchased, and through whom they are communicated, and through whom love is imparted to the hearts of all God’s people. There dwells Christ in both his natures, the human and the divine, sitting on the same throne with the Father. And there dwells the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as it were, flows out, and is breathed forth in love, and by whose immediate influence all holy love is shed abroad in the hearts of all the saints on earth and in heaven. There, in heaven, this infinite fountain of love – this eternal Three in One – is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it, as it flows for ever. There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain for ever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love! (Charity and Its Fruits, 326-28)

Our God is love and we do not have to wait until heaven to begin to enjoy and experience it. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).  Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through faith we are united to the perfect, loving relationship of the triune God and to all believers of all times and places.  We are to be eagerly awaiting the appearing of our Lord Jesus wherein he will deliver us unto that eternal existence of perfect love but even now we are ,with the love given first to us by God in Christ, to love those with whom God has united us in Christian fellowship, reflecting the perfect love and fellowship that is to come.  As we do this, we will not only begin to experience more of the fullness of God’s love here but we will begin to long for that day when all sin and selfishness will depart and we will see him who first loved us, wounds and all, and dwell with him and all the saints forever.

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