Sufficiency of Grace in Salvation

Posted: Thursday, July 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

The following is from a recent sermon I preached from Galatians 5:1-6. This is taken from verses 5 and 6:

Paul makes four assertions in verses 5-6 concerning true salvation.  First, salvation is through the Spirit.”  True salvation is not a work of man but a work of God’s Spirit.  This is the major point of grace and central to the New Covenant.  Grace emphasizes that God is doing the work.  To say we believe in salvation by grace alone means that we (1) do not believe that we have any capacity for saving ourselves (works) and (2) that the whole work of salvation is according to God’s good pleasure and power (grace).  We cannot boast of our faith or of our repentance.  We cannot up and one day on our own decide to follow Christ.  We can decide on our own apart from grace to give Jesus a try, to follow Him in hopes that He will make our lives better.  But we cannot deny self, take up our cross, and follow Him, i.e. follow Him by faith, apart from grace.  We can only glory in the Lord when the Holy Spirit has worked savingly in our lives, enabling us to see an know God’s marvelous grace.

That is what Paul means in our text. How can a sinner bring himself out of spiritual darkness or lift himself from spiritual blindness or raise himself up from spiritual death?  He has no power to do so.  He must be born again by the Spirit.

This work of the Spirit will accomplish Paul’s second assertion concerning the sufficiency of grace in salvation – a response to Christ alone for salvation, by faith.”  The opposite of “by faith” is ‘by works of the law.” Again, Paul confronts the notion that a person can adhere to the law and be justified before God.  This is not due to the law’s weakness but to the weakness of the flesh to keep the law (Rom. 8:3-4).  We are the problem, not the law.  The law has its purpose to show our inability to keep it and to point us to Christ.  When we come to Christ, we do not gain Him by some act of merit on our part, but only by faith in Christ’s work at Calvary.  Faith comes empty-handed to the Cross, spiritually bankrupt.  The law cannot save you.  Your good-intentioned efforts cannot save you.  Your family’s Christian heritage cannot save you.  Your friends’ impressions of you cannot save you.  Your walking down an aisle cannot save you – not even your prayer can save you!  Your baptism cannot save you.  It is only those who refuse to claim merit before God and who rest totally in Christ that are saved.

Now, in case you haven’t heard me so far, let me again say that salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone (that is in receiving and trusting) in Christ alone.  So I think you would agree that it is important to know, “Who is this Christ?”

According to Christian researcher George Barna, the majority of church youth have an unorthodox view about Jesus. Although 87 percent of teens believe that Jesus was a real person who live on earth, and 78 percent believe He was born to a virgin, nearly half (46 percent) believe He committed sins, and more than half (51 percent) say Jesus died but never rose from the dead.

Another survey done a few years later asked teens to affirm the following four statements:

  1. The Bible is completely trustworthy in what it says about Jesus.
  2. Jesus is God.
  3. Jesus physically lived, died, and came back to life.
  4. Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Sadly, only 9 percent of churched youth would consistently express confidence in these doctrines.[1]

His virgin birth; His perfect obedience; His sacrificial death; His glorious resurrection; His ascension to be with the Father; His return to receive those who have received Him).  Christ alone!

If regeneration by the Spirit of God and faith in Christ is true of you, then Paul says there are two other things true of you as well.  The “root” is salvation in Christ alone through faith alone.  The “fruit” is a faith that first has great “hope” (v. 5).  “We ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”  What happens when the Spirit imparts grace and a sinner believes savingly in Jesus Christ?  What is the result of saving faith?  That person is filled with “hope.”  “Hope” has Christ as its object and with great anticipation looks to the future because “hope” in Christ is confident.  We often use the word “hope” when we lack confidence or are uncertain.  That is not the case when our “hope” is in Christ.  “Hope” in Christ brings assurance of salvation.  “Hope” springs from a resolved mind and a settled heart that Christ is sufficient!

How different this is from those whose confidence is in themselves, in their efforts keep the law by their own works.  The law breeds uncertainty because no man is able to keep it.  That is why I so often remind you that Christianity is the only religion based on grace.  All others are based on works, and there is no hope, no assurance in works because, regardless of your religion, you are always left wondering if you’ve done enough.  It is the gospel alone that brings assurance because it is based on the certainty that Christ, by His perfect life and death, met God’s righteous requirements of the law for you.  It is His work that is accepted, not ours!

This does not mean that we have not yet received righteousness, but instead, it means that the full complement of all that the righteousness of Christ has secured for us will be ours.  The infinite wonder of His grace shown to us will be made known for the ages of eternity.  It is this “hope” that secures the Christian in the difficulties of life.  Hebrews 6:19-20 – 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

What else happens to the person who has received the gracious work of the Spirit, has renounced trust in himself and cast his whole reliance upon Jesus Christ, and who has a new hope assuring him?  In verse 6, Paul again explains that circumcision and uncircumcision are not what counts, but being “in Christ” does.  And, he says, one in Christ will have “faith working through love.”  This is the first occurrence of “love” in the letter and demonstrates that where faith is real and vital it will operate through love.

The Reformation expression applies this truth: the believer is justified by grace alone through faith alone; but not by a faith that remains alone.”  The Greek expresses the idea of faith being “energized” so that it produces love.  Faith is never idle.  It produces love in the believer that shows up in his kindness and acts of charity toward others.  It is a love that is best evidenced not only in his love for God but in his love for others.  We love others not because we find them worthy of being loved but because our lives are now characterized by love. If God has done a saving work in you, then you are a loving person.  Love is not an option.  If you have been set free from the law, you are to love as Christ loved, showing compassion to others.  And this love is not to be in word only, but in deed.  That is the work that matters!  We don’t work to be saved, but because we are saved.  We don’t work for righteousness but our righteousness is demonstrated by our works born out of a love for and the love of Christ.

One of God’s great gifts to the Christian is the church. [The church] is for us, because God is for us too. The worship, though ultimately for God, is meant for our edification—for belivers’ edification, not immediate resonance with nonbelievers (though we want our services to be intelligible to them too). Just as important, think of the one another commands. Church should be a place to bear each others burdens, meet physical needs, express comfort, demonstrate care, exercise hospitality, exchange greetings, offer encouragement, administer rebuke, receive forgiveness—basically faith working itself out in love. And isn’t love for each other the distinguishing mark of the Christian community?[2]

[1] Israel Wayne, Questions Jesus Asks, chapter one, Kindle edition.

[2] Kevin DeYoung, quoted in William Boekestein and Daniel R. Hyde, A Well-Ordered Church, p. 24

Book Review: I Will

Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 in Book review, Books
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I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian is Thom Rainer’s a follow up to I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude That Makes the Difference. In the latter book, Rainer descibes how a Christian can and should experience joy as a church member – the Christian’s attitude. In I Will, Rainer moves from attitude to actions that can and should flow from the heart of a joyous church member.

Every church has, or has had, a Heather or two. Heather represents the Christian who was once happy in their church.  But something happens along the way (in her case a divorce) that opens or exposes a heart that is not joyful, and consequently not happy in the church.  They no longer feel a part or don’t feel like they fit in.  The result can lead to discontentment, divisive grumbling, and perhaps withdrawal from their present church or the church altogether. Often the reason for this comes from always expecting to be served rather than to serve others, to be “inward-focused” rather than “outward-focused.”

Rainer suggests that while there are problems in some churches that might lead to one not feeling a part, the member is often at least a part of the problem, if not the entire problem. He suggests nine “I Wills,” nine chapters that will help a member refocus and be intentional in their responsibilities in a local church, to move from an “inward-focus” to an “outward-focus”: (1) Move from “I Am” (attitude) to “I Will” (action), (2) Corporate worship, (3) Fellowship, (4) Serve, (5) Go, (6) Give, (7) Not Drop Out, (8) Avoid “Churchianity” (9) Make a Difference.  Each chapter challenges the member to make a determined effort to be “others” oriented.

Every pastor and church leader should read this book because they do have members who have, are, or will become disenchanted with the church – every church has a Heather or two. Rainer will help the pastor better understand the “problem” member an better disciple them, but also to examine their ministry to see if something or someone has “slipped through the cracks.” The greatest benefit for church leaders is that Rainer says what we sometimes know we ought to but don’t for the sake of “unity.” He is blunt at times in hopes of getting a member to recognize their inwardness and wrong or unrealistic expectations of the church.

Every church member should read this book because there will probably be a time when we feel like Heather – like we aren’t a part of the church.  We need to hear what Rainer says, and his words might step on your toes. If so, pray that the words would be used to change your heart attitude and lead to heart actions that will be more fulfilling to you, your church, and the kingdom of God. Check out thomrainer.com/iwill/ for more information.

I received a copy of this book free of charge from the publisher for the purpose of an honest review.

Engaging the Culture

Posted: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 in Culture, Evangelism
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When we take a biblical stand against the culture we often hear, “I thought the Bible taught you people not to judge others.” Suddenly, a person who gives little if any thought to the Bible becomes an authoritative and interpretive scholar. However, I think you would agree that such a statement cannot stand up against even the tiniest bit of reasoning.

This response, “we are not supposed to judge other people,” is typical of those who do not understand the biblical teaching. They take Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged” totally out of context to support their position. However, in Matthew 7, Jesus did not intend that we are not to make moral judgments. How else are we to examine a tree and its fruit (7:15-19)? We have to make moral judgments. Jesus’ warning to “judge not” had the presumed superiority of the scribes and Pharisees in mind. They judged others harshly and often legalistically, with a log in their eye blinding them to their own faults. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7 should strike fear in the hearts of those that condemn others in this way.But that is not to say that we are not ever to pass moral judgments. Declaring a verdict requires making a judgment. If there is no judgment made, then both the individual and the church as a whole suffer (and a nation).

So we must make biblically informed moral and ethical judgments. And we must pray for our political leaders to do so as well —because Jesus commanded us to do so. We should pray for our church leaders and bosses and friends and neighbors to do so. And we should pray for revival to sweep out land. Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Book Review: A Well-Ordered Church

Posted: Thursday, July 23, 2015 in Book review
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I continue to be grateful for the current resurgence in the Church of Jesus Christ – a serious consideration of through whom and for what the Church consists. However, given the many positives in this resurgence there can be extremes, extremes that at the end of the day fall short of what the Scriptures teach concerning His Church.

Therein is the reason I am also grateful for this new title by William Boekestein and Daniel R. Hyde, A Well-Ordered Church: Laying a Solid Foundation for a Vibrant Church. The title and the sub-title offer a complete description of the goal or purpose of the book: to provide what the Scriptures proclaim and second what some confessions teach concerning the foundation for the Church, how the church is to be built upon that foundation, and how the Church will function within and without according to this structure.

The book is given in four parts: (1) Identity, (2) Authority, (3) Ecumenicity, and (4) Activity. The first two parts deal with the governance of the Church – Christ as the only Head (Identity) with earthly authority derived from Scripture and not the tradition of man (though the author’s do not discount the importance of traditions that are based on Scripture) that is fleshed out through the officers of the Church (elders/pastors and deacons). Of course, as with any book dealing with church governance (ecclesiology) there will be disagreement as to what the Scripture teaches – and the authors recognize that truth and do a good job of navigating the waters to stay on point. They emphasize the importance of a plurality of elders both biblically and practically and show the dangers where such plurality is lacking. They also give a biblical understanding of the deacons as servants of the church but also show the authority that comes with the diaconate. And they state that there is some flexibility in the Scriptures as to how this governance is practiced. As a congregationalist I found myself at times thinking that they had stated something too strongly. As an example, they point out that a church should not be absolutely autonomous.  Though they do not use the word absolutely I use it for other congregationalists who might wince at what they say concerning autonomy. There purpose is to show that just as the Scriptures do not allow for spiritual Lone Rangers, neither does it allow for Lone Ranger churches. The early churches fellowshipped and associated with one another and they provide a model for the church today. Regardless of how that fellowship is fleshed out, whether through denominations or local associations, whether formal or informal, the authors contend that for the purpose of accountability and edification a local church should be in close association with sister churches, and I heartily agree. Congregationalists will find a few other points of disagreement where we can agree to disagree.

The final two parts are built upon the first two. Part 3 on Ecumenicity takes the fellowship of churches a step further. Anticipating the question of how far is a church to go in associating with other churches within a denomination and without (“How big a tent are we talking about?”), the authors give some sound biblical, confessional, and practical guidelines to consider. Again, depending on your particular ecclesiology there may be places where you agree to disagree with the authors, but the importance of ecumenicity in the church universal for the sake of the kingdom is their focus. They quote the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, “Every local church is therefore simultaneously an independent manifestation of the body of Christ and part of a larger whole.”

The final part (Activity) fleshes out how a local church then practice church in six chapters. The church is to teach, worship, witness, and repent (the practice of church discipline). Each chapter is fairly brief and this is the one part of the book that could have provided a bit more detail. However, each of these chapters has entire books written on the subject and the authors do an adequate job of setting forth important points. I would encourage you to consider their recommendations for further reading at the end of the chapters for further study.

While there have been numerous books published over the past twenty years on the church, and many like this one, I think you will find A Well-Ordered Church to be a brief yet valuable resource to turn to and to offer to others. The questions at the end of each chapter are good for church leaders and members to consider for the purpose of the Church – His Church, not our church! Taking from the foreword from Dr. Cornelius Venema, you will come away with a greater appreciation for the way Christ is present and active in the life and ministry of the local congregation.

I received a copy of this book free of charge from the publisher for the purpose of an honest review.

Are You on Fire?

Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

The following is one of my favorite songs… though one that is eye-opening and humbling to those who seek to be on fire for Christ. Read and examine your heart!

ON FIRE Lyrics
Sanctus Real

Remember when you couldn’t wait
to show up early and find your place.
Cause you didn’t want to miss a thing.
And your heart was open and ready for change.
Oh, those days.
You were never afraid to sing,
never afraid to lift your hands.
Didn’t care what people would think.

You were on fire,
and church was more than a place,
and people were more than faces,
and Jesus was more than a name.

Remember when you weren’t ashamed.
To tell your friends about your faith.
A time when you felt the pain
of just one lost soul that was slipping away.
Your heart was soft, you had radiant eyes,
but slowly the pressures and burdens of life
pulled you into the dark of the night.
But when did you lose your sight?

Cause you were on fire,
and church was more than a place,
and people were more than faces,
and Jesus was more than a name.

Oh you were on fire,
you let life put out the flame.
But he’s still calling out for you
cause he wants to light your heart again.
And set it on fire
Set it on fire.

Turn your eyes, turn your eyes
and don’t forget what it was like
Set me on fire, set me on fire
I wanna hold God’s people close
wanna feel the power of Jesus’ name

Set me on fire
Set me on fire

ZwingliThis latest addition to the “Bitesize Biographies” series by Evangelical Press will prove to be a beneficial addition to a Reformation library. In Ulrich Zwingli, William Boekestein provides not just a personal biography of the best known Swiss Reformer, but the political, magisterial, economic, educational and religious landscape in Switzerland in particular and in the broader European setting during the time of the Reformation.  It serves then as a brief introduction to the Reformation. He highlights the key relations in Zwingli’s life that helped shape his political and theological thought (Erasmus of Rotterdam, Myconius, Bullinger, Luther, etc.), whether in agreement or in dispute.  Of course, the battle with Roman Catholicism is front and center as Boekestein tells of Zwingli’s powerful expository preaching and gentle shepherding while serving as a priest in Einsiedeln and later as priest and canon in Zurich at the renowned Great Minster Church.

While Boekestein sets forth Zwingli’s emphasis on the centrality of Christ in his ministry, he does not shy away from the pitfalls of Zwingli’s life, specifically his confessed sexual immorality(ies) and his sometimes untimely emphases on certain disputes with Rome (popery, authority of Scripture, Mary, the mass, tithe/indulgences, iconoclasm, etc.) and with others (most notably the Anabaptists and his dispute with Luther).

I would heartily recommend this book for a brief yet thorough life of Zwingli’s influence on the Reformation in Switzerland and Europe. Also of worth are Zwingli’s Sixty-seven Articles (akin to Luther’s Ninety-five Theses) found in the appendix. The spirit of Zwingli is found in his concluding words of those Articles: “Let no one undertake to argue with sophistry or human wisdom, but let Scripture be the judge (Scripture breathes the Spirit of God), so that you can either find the truth or, if you have found it, hold on to it.”

I received a copy of this book free of charge from the publisher for the purpose of an honest review.

Book Review: Heaven, How I Got Here

Posted: Monday, March 16, 2015 in Book review
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51m96Ba9R7L._AA160_Let me state the unfortunate from the beginning – I just completed a series of sermons on “The Seven Sayings of Christ on the Cross” and wish I had this book beforehand!

That said, Heaven, How I Got Here is a fresh approach to what actually happened mixed with what might have happened at the cross of Calvary. It is written in the genre of theological fiction, giving the story from a first person perspective of the thief on the cross that was told by Christ, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Each chapter gives one of the events of the crucifixion, particularly a saying of Christ, narrated by the thief.

Some might take issue with the “liberty” Smith takes in giving the perspective of the thief. True, there is much that is not found explicitly in the gospel accounts, and some would argue that some is not even inferred – and I would agree. However, I would also say that while liberty is taken, it is not out of the realm of possibility that much of Smith’s “retelling” actually happened fairly closely to his account. For instance, one might disagree with how the thief’s mother is cast as a legalistic parent, but she certainly might have been.

Regardless, all of this serves Smith’s purpose for the book, which is to demonstrate that salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Every facet of a salvific diamond is demonstrated according to the Scriptures, and the narrative serves as a backdrop to bring the reader into the moment of the crucifixion – the pain and the joy, the suffering and the deliverance. No man can be saved by his own works no matter how “good” (legalistic mother), nor is any man’s work to”evil” to keep him from salvation (the thief). And if a man comes to Christ by faith, he finds full satisfaction for forgiveness of sins in Christ and can experience true joy. This is the teaching of Scripture, and for that Heaven, How I Got Here is to be commended – and recommended.

I received a copy of this book free of charge from the publisher for the purpose of an honest review.