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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

I am participating in a Ligonier Connect Bible Study online with my pastor and six or more other believers at my church. After answering questions and listening to a short lecture online, we have a Zoom meeting on Saturday evening to discuss the content. Fellowship with the saints over the Word of God, Christ, and our walk with God is always invigorating, encouraging and raising one’s spirit. Our topic is particularly encouraging since it is on assurance of saving faith. It can and should be sought after by the believer, because assurance strengthens faith, which in turn develops godliness and a desire for godliness.

In this last week’s lecture, Dr. Joel Beke mentions the key passages on assurance: I John, Galatians 5, Matthew 5, and II Peter 1:6-10. John states his theme toward the end of his book: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). Galatians 5:22-24 lists the fruits of the Spirit. Matthew 5-7 is the “Sermon on the Mount”, which Jesus begins by stating the “Beatitudes”, characteristics of those who are kingdom citizens. Peter is exhorting the believers to exercise “His [God’s] precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (v.4) by “applying all diligence” (v.5) in your faith. There is not a contradiction between what God gives and our proper utilization of it.

Dr. Beke’s lecture was very good, emphasizing the need to both trust the promises of God and “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5). I appreciated most that he dealt with the nuances of testing your faith to be sure you neither deceive yourself into thinking you have saving faith when you have none nor deceive yourself into despairing of faith. I wanted him to provide a list of the assurances, the external and internal (“practical and mystic evidences” as he said it). Since he did not, I have attempted to list and organize them for my benefit and yours. Dr. Beke said there are about 30 evidences in these passages. I came up with the number 37. I combined some because they seemed to be saying the same thing, but I am sure I combine differently than he does. For example, I speculate that he may have clumped all beliefs about who Jesus is into one evidence, whereas I kept them as four separate items. Also, I expanded the II Peter passage by three verses, adding one more evidence.

I further tried to organize the evidences into categories. This is where I ran into problems. At first I had a catch all category that was titled “Emotions/Intentions/Actions”, but I quickly realized that would include everything on the list. So, I separated out “Practice of Righteousness”, but that is still too vague. On that point of vagueness, John lists “practicing righteousness” as a way to know you know God, but that seemed to be a summary of all that he meant and not merely a concrete evidence. I say all of this to say, the process of delineating every single evidence of saving faith is not easy, but the testing of yourself to see that you have saving faith is encouraging and faith building, joy producing, and useful and advisable. I hope that you are encouraged as you read the Scriptures from the list that I have provided. Don’t hesitate to suggest ways that I may better organize my list.

Evidence for Assurance

Or click here to see a clearer Word document version.

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My pastor preached an informative, challenging, and encouraging sermon this morning on John 14:1-3. I am always trying to organize information so that I may digest it. If it is not organized in my brain, I have trouble living it, because I don’t know what the next step is or even where to look for it. He gave four reasons from the passage that Jesus gave for why their hearts should not be troubled: 1) Jesus is trustworthy (v.1), 2) We have a sure promise of a home with God (v.2), 3) Christ began preparing a place for us immediately afterwards through the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension (v.2)*, and 4) Jesus is coming again to take us to be with Him (v.3).

We will outlast troubles, while troubles will burn away like the morning fog, he said. He ended the sermon with the most encouraging book ends of the eighth chapter of Romans. From verse 1, we know that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and from verses 38 and 39, “[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.”

Which of following two responses will you have to troubles and trials, brother and sister? Friend, will you consider the hope and peace you may have by trusting Christ, who saves** all those who trust Him?

Responses to Trouble

*Pastor agreed with me that those past preparations do not exclude the present and future preparations in us and the world and in heaven.

**He saves not only through troubles and trials but more importantly from sin and eternity under God’s wrath in hell.

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Paul and Jeremiah were compelled to preach the Word that God gave to them. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” Jeremiah said, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.” From whence came these obligations? Is some obligation common with all believers? If so, how do we fulfill these compulsions?

Preaching from Romans 1:12-15, my pastor communicated obligations that Paul had before God. My pastor made such conclusive statements as* ‘When duty is delight we please God and find joy,’ and ‘When love empowers our duty, it becomes delight’ glorifying God. From his explanation I took the clear point that our obligations before God must turn into love which will then result in eagerness.

obligation —> love —> eagerness

I wish it was easier to draw that here, because I would keep the arrow** between obligation and love dashed while making the one between love and eagerness solid. Eagerness will follow what you love, but love is not a necessary or normal result of obligation. And I said to my pastor after the sermon that I was challenged to muse on how to get from obligation to love. This is that musing.

How might I make the transition from obligation to love? I began to peer further back behind obligation, and further ahead of eagerness to find motivation for loving my obligations. Obligations before God come from His command. His command may come in the form of inner compulsions or providentially guided circumstances, but all must proceed out of and agree with God’s Word. God’s commands come from His purpose, which in turn come from His character. At the other end, delight will result in diligence in the form of prayer, pursuit, and practice. Diligence will bring about God’s purpose through the power He supplies, revealing the glory of His character and works. It would look something like the following:

God’s attributes —> God’s purpose —> God’s command —> my obligation —> my love —> my eagerness —> my diligence —> God’s purpose in me accomplished —> praise to the glory of God’s attributes and works***

If instead of focussing on my obligation before God or even His command, I focus on the beauty of His attributes and the praise of His glory, my love for Him will be increased along with a love of the obligations that bring that praise to Him. I must know my obligations before God. I must obey His commands. But I must focus on Him, His attributes and grace toward me, so that I love Him more along with all of my responsibilities before Him.

After I communicated these ideas to a friend, she said so concisely, “I don’t have to. I get to.” She went on to say, “I get to be a teacher. I get to be a mother. I get to wash the clothes.” Her attitude and simplicity are refreshing and true. I still needed to consider the why behind them so that when “I’m not feelin’ it”, I can focus on the One who is beautiful and merciful and worthy. Everything else will follow, if not immediately, then progressively and surely.

 

*When I use a ‘ instead a “, I mean it to communicate approximate quote rather than court evidence quote.

**As I tell my students, arrows mean for me cause and effect (cause—>effect). Sometimes that is just sequence or correlation, but with a desire to find and communicate cause and effect.

*** Notice that this cause and effect chain goes full circle: “so that God will be all in all.” (I Corinthians 15:28)

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I could see this backyard lawn without any detail other than the fairly short grass. As I observed, I* walked over to the center of the yard and drove a narrowly triangular stake into the ground. Then I tied one end of a small rope that was curled up on a spool onto the stake and began unwinding it as I moved away from the stake. I always kept the rope taut but it danced up and down as I went. After a few moments I paused and looked back at the rope and the stake. As my eyes focussed on different segments of the rope, I saw knots tied at irregular intervals. I compared these knots to their distance from and similarity to the stake. Only in daydreams and dreams can Physics laws be overcome. For then I released the rope, which stayed taut, walked back to several of the more noticeable knots and drove stakes into the ground through the knots. I stood back, observing, as the rope continued to unfurl for what, with a pause**, would be eternity future. 

When the scene vanished from my mind, I immediately realized that it was a metaphor for my life and salvation. The ground, which like a plane, receded off infinitely forward and backward, but unlike a plane had depth of soil, represented salvation. I was being grounded in a salvation that was decided in eternity past and would be executed throughout all of eternity future.

The stake was my moment of salvation. And here is the reason that I believe this line of musing came upon me. I had been considering Jesus’ words to Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because, he, too, is a son of Abraham.” When I read “today”, I understood that Jesus meant that in that moment, in space and time, Jesus had come to Zaccheus in salvation. I have been among varying brothers over time as concerns their understanding of Jesus’ work of salvation. Some say you must receive Jesus; it is your choice. Others say that to ask someone to receive Jesus is wrong and counter to God’s ordaining of salvation in a person’s life. Salvation is wholly of God and “it is your choice” puts man in the driver seat of a vehicle he can’t control. It is wrong. But God is both eternal and transcendent while personal and present. He works in eternity and He works in time. He has predestined those who will be saved and brings it about- all glory to Him. But we do not know the when, the how, or the who, so we plead with people to believe and receive Jesus. When they do, God has accomplished in that moment what He ordained long ago. There is a stake planted in time and eternity. 

Some people know when that stake was planted; some do not. It is planted nonetheless. When a person does not know, perhaps it is obscured by the fog of life or the mysterious moment and work of God was not by Him revealed to that person. When a person knows the when, it may be a helpful source of assurance. Our little rope is firmly attached there and our life is subsequently unfurled. But the main source of assurance is those ancillary stakes in our lives resulting from knots or difficulties in our lives. When we continue to believe and act on that belief throughout our life, we confirm and deepen that faith by driving another stake into salvation. We become more assured. God provides the event in our lives, the stake of faith, the hammer of confirmation, and the strength of remembrance. He animates every part of our faith, but He involves us. All of those stakes ground the rope of my life in the ground of eternal salvation. Jesus holds them firm in Him.

I feel certain that someone could punch holes*** in my metaphor, but the the points I intend are 1) God accomplishes salvation in time and eternity, 2) God involves us, and 3) We have assurance through faith in God throughout the events of our lives. That assurance is described in the letter of I John. One phrase, “by this we know”, occurs 8 times in the book along with other similar affirmations of assurance God gives us that we belong to Him. The best way to have assurance that you believe is to believe right now, which builds more assurance for those trying times when it is harder to believe. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31) is a stake in the ground of salvation then and again and again and now and in the future. Faith does not provide salvation; Jesus provides salvation. Be always clinging to Him.

*It is weird to think of yourself as watching yourself in a dream or daydream.

**For the believer death is not an annihilation of life but a mere transition or pause.

***That pun has holes all in it, but I’ll stake my writing on the truth of it.

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Recently, I gave each of my older grandchildren (that’s 4 out of 6, who are old enough to understand what I am saying) a polished black rock. I told them that every time they look at it or rub it with their thumb to keep it shiny, they should think, “Jesus is  like a rock that is unchanged.” He is firm. He is sturdy. He is dependable. He provides for us. The Scripture describes Him as a rock in I Corinthians 10:4: “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from the same spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.”

The illustrations for Paul’s comments in I Corinthians are found in Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:1-13, and Deuteronomy 8:15, 32:1-43 (The Song of Moses). If you read the Numbers passage, you will see that God got angry with Moses and Aaron for striking the rock this second time instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. Even though Moses’ anger showed a presumption on his part, what God says to them reveals the source of God’s anger as resulting from them not treating (or representing) God as holy before the congregation. They had disobeyed God’s direct command. I have long wondered why God got so angry. I believe ultimately it may be because Moses’ careless and angry action destroyed a symbol God had designed to explain His work with man. The first time before a rock (Exodus 17), God commanded Moses to strike the rock. The second time (Numbers 20), God commanded Moses to speak to the rock. The first time Christ came He was struck on the cross to deliver us from sin, for “in that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.” (Zechariah 13:1) Just as the rock poured forth life giving water for the people when Moses struck it, so Christ poured forth life giving blood when the nails were struck into his hands and feet. The second time Christ will come “having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await him.” (Hebrews 9:28) He will gladly provide all we need and more for those for whom He was struck to rescue them. “Ask, and it will be given unto you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the it will be open to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened to him.” (Matthew 7:7-8) 

In Deuteronomy, Moses teaches Israel a song about the dependability, consistency, strength, perfection, faithfulness, righteousness, and jealousy for His people of Israel’s God, their Rock.

David helps to solidify our understanding about God as our Rock. His most direct explanation of the rock metaphor comes in Psalm 18. In verses 1-3 he sets forth the idea of the Lord as his rock:

“I love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

The rock metaphor becomes a shorthand for David of security, protection, salvation, strength, victory, and all else that God means to him regarding physical, mental, and spiritual rescue from all variety of enemies. God is for him a firm place where his foot doesn’t slip and his enemies don’t overcome him (v.36-37)

I know that my grandchildren can’t understand all of that right now, but learning dependence upon God is a good lesson to begin early. We will always need to come around to learning it at a deeper level and life provides many opportunities to review that lesson.

20190729_083735

 

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Some of my friends have already seen this or were there, but others might benefit from what this video has to say. I had the privilege of preaching at my church this past Sunday. I felt led and carried along, so that I believe it is a message that God gave me. I give Him the glory for anything of profit therein. It is a message for the church of America. I hope that you will take the time to listen to it:

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“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. ” (Galatians 5:1)

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:12)

What is liberty? How do we obtain it? How do we live in (or by) it? Many lengthy treatises have been written on this subject but a simple, functional definition is frequently beyond our grasp. I began to think on liberty after considering a line in the hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”, by Fredrick Faber: “There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.” In order to understand the meaning intended by this line you must understand kindness, justice, and liberty, not from a humanist standpoint, as we frequently do with liberty, but from God’s viewpoint.

A short article on Christian liberty I found online had a succinct discussion and concise conclusion: “The ultimate goal for the Christian should be to glorify God, edify fellow believers, and have a good reputation before unbelievers.” (https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-liberty.html) This sentence confirms what I had heard to be a simple statement of what Christian liberty (and therefore any real liberty) is: Liberty is the freedom to do what is right.

In order to stand firm in that liberty we need to stay out of two miry, hazardous ditches: legalism and license. We best keep our eyes fixed ahead on Jesus and the liberty trail He has blazed rather than fearing or obsessing over the ditches on either side of us. We must be aware of them, wary of them, and wise to them, but if we obey the voice of God as He guides us, we need not fret over them.

So how do I run the right wheel of liberty merrily along without being tracked into the icy waters of the ditch legalism? I love the hymn that says, “Free from the Law, oh, happy condition, Jesus hath bled and there is remission; Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall, Christ hath redeemed us once for all.” As the Scripture says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us…” (Galatians 3:13). That curse was death demanded by the righteousness of God proclaimed by the Law. In fact, “we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6) There it is! The Spirit gives us the power and freedom to do what is right. The statutes of the Law for the Christian were abolished in Christ, but not the moral law, the ten commandments. Instead, we are now enabled to do what is right- blessed liberty!

Many friends reading this blog will not have trouble with the aforementioned ditch. So how do I run a true course with the left wheel of liberty and avoid sliding off into the ditch license? Again I refer to this old hymn: “Children of God- oh, glorious calling, Surely His grace will keep us from falling; Passing from death to life at His call, Blessed salvation once for all.” I see three Scripture based answers to the license danger in this hymn verse: 1) His grace keeps us from falling (2 Corinthians 12:9), 2) The glory of our calling in Christ gives us purpose and worth to resist mere license (Romans 6:1-4), and 3) We are being fitted for heaven which brings great hope and focus (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). 

So the “standing firm” of the initial verse of this blog entry means walking in liberty without tracking or sliding into the ditches. When you “Consider yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 6:11) you guard on the one side and “So speak and so act as those judged by the law of liberty,” (James 2:12) in defense of the other. Tracking in liberty is not looking at the worrisome waves on either side, but keeping full view of the Savior out in front of us. And He even knows our frailty and extends a hand to catch us up when we call for help. (Matthew 14:28-33)

We extend this liberty to others in the natural realm through governance, community involvement, church unity, and family togetherness, so that they may come to see true liberty in the spiritual realm through the two great commandments: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40), and thus be saved to eternal joy and peace. Happy Independence Day!

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During prayer time this morning I was convicted about the extent of my failure in relationships over the years. Rather than mope I asked God to heal relationships and continue to change me. After a short season my prayer was interrupted by the words of the first verse of the following poem. Over the next hour, as I began planning for my students, I came back to the poem until two more verses appeared.

I am not who I will become
Or who I should be

But I am not who I once was
Jesus changes me

Each day I choose for right or wrong
Reaping what you see
By His grace I can do what’s right
Jesus sets me free

Today I’m here, tomorrow there
God knows where I’ll be
Best not fret or scheme or worry
Jesus directs me

 

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With what are you struggling? Struggling with temptation is a matter of replacing it with something good and godly. I find that Romans 6:11 helps me to focus in times of temptation. Philippians 4:8 helps it to be less of a problem in the first place and less burdensome when happening. But what if the struggle is not a temptation but concerning a desire that you have thought to be a godly ambition? You pursue it, but thus far, to no avail. Patience and acquiescence to God’s will are certainly needed, but as platitudes they do not answer questions about how to proceed. So, here is how I am struggling:

My senses all say no
As do comments and circumstances
Whence comes this great desire
When all else says there are thin chances

To prayer I did devote
This ambition of which I now speak
Much counsel, plans I wrote
And God’s will in this matter I seek

How do I now proceed?
Exercise patience and longer wait?
More scrutiny it need?
Oh my mind and emotional state?

Is it time to give up?
To admit it was not in God’s will?
Accept this empty cup
As good providence rather than ill?

This I know above all
God is good and His will is the best
May stumble but not fall
Be bewildered but finally blest

I will continue on
Trusting God and in His guidance rest
Listening I will hone
Find His direction and pass the test

 

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As I have mentioned several times recently, and as anyone in my area will attest, there have been more than usual number of days with gray skies and fewer of sunshine than normally. On just such a day yesterday, I began to consider.

Snow on the mountain
Wind in the trees
Frost on the pasture
Chilled by degrees

Gray sky overcast
Sun seldom guest
Trees in dark profile
Season of rest

All is damp and cold
The days are short
Food scarce for creatures
Few birds report

In this bleak season
Emotions wane
Foreboding reason
Given to pain

Now the time for faith
Let the truth ring
After these dark days
Then will come Spring

Even wintertime
Has its beauty
Seek out what is good
Fulfill duty

Embrace these gray days
Count it all joy
Draws you to Jesus
And sins destroy

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Frances Havergal wrote the following poem for New Year greeting cards in 1874, which later became a hymn:

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.
Another year of progress, another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,
Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.

Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,
Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
On earth, or else in Heaven, another year for Thee.

It is a time to reflect on the past, take stock of the present, and aspire to a better future. Much if not most of life is beyond our control, but she clearly pleads God’s provision, not for an easy time, but for a fruitful time in belief and service to God. I ask that my Christian brothers and sisters be blessed with just what this poem requests, “another year for Thee”.

There are other of my friends and readers who do not yet know God through His Son, Jesus Christ. I plead with God to choose you in this new year to be His child. Though He is the one who chooses, in some mysterious and yet simple way we must choose Him as He enables us to. The offer is there; knowledge of God and life eternal awaits. Trust Jesus to take away the guilt of your offenses against God by the sacrifice He made on the cross. It is not a complex choice, but it is a definite one. Do not reject Him for some misguided sense of fairness:

“Give us fairness,” said many voices.
“You don’t want fair,” he said,
“For then we would all be dead.”

Grace that will set you free,
Mercy to pardon, can’t you see?
You have no other choices.

And why would we all be dead? “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) There is the same sentence with the bad news, death, is the good news, eternal life. 

May your New Year be blessed with the knowledge of God and joy in serving Him.

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Today’s Sunday School lesson was about Samuel’s call from God and God’s judgment on Israel and Eli in I Samuel 3 and 4. I started with an introduction to set the stage for why Samuel was where he was when he was. I had the children read various verses in chapters 1 and 2 (1:1-2, 10-11, 20, 26-28; 2:2:1), interspersing explanation about what was going on. The point of my introduction was to show how God set the stage for Samuel’s call in God’s working in Hannah’s walk of faith. In the middle of pointing out to my 4th through 6th graders about Hannah’s journey of faith, a five point alliteration came forcefully to me (Later I increased it to seven.). In fact, as I jumped up and began to review the points I had just made, I wrote it on my new, spacious whiteboard. The pastor’s daughter said, “It’s an alliteration! I thought those usually have only three words.” (You have to be laughing at this point.) Here it is in the form of seven:

     Problem- Hannah had no children.

     Prayer- At the tabernacle Hannah poured out her heart to God.

              Petition- Hannah asked for a son.

              Promise- Hannah promised to give the son back to God to serve Him.

     Pregnant- Hannah received the gift of a son in due time.

     Presentation- Hannah presented Samuel before God to serve Him continually.

     Praise- Hannah gave praise to God for His gift, power, and sovereignty.

God used Hannah’s problem to bring praise to Him, pleasure to Hannah, and a prophet to Israel.

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I have the same question as Gideon when God’s messenger said to him, “The Lord is with you”: “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:12,13) The prophet Habakkuk feels a sense of desperation as he surveys the landscape of difficulty before him. He pleads, “LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear, O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (3:1-2) And Ethan the Ezrahite asks, How long, O LordWill You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire?” (Psalm 89:46) And he questions, too, Where are Your former lovingkindnesses, O Lord, which You swore to David in Your faithfulness?” (v.49) The sons of Korah, a designated group of Levites for praising God, wrote, O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us the work that You did in their days, in the days of old.” (Psalm 44:1) But they are discouraged and ask, Why do You hide Your face and forget our affliction and our oppression?” (v.24)

Some of the questioning that people do may well be jeering unbelief that says, “prove it”, similar to “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35) For others it may be more like Gideon, who said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground. God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.” (Judges 6:39-40). 

There is a decided difference between these two types of questioning, for The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger, but He will reject the craving of the wicked.” (Proverbs 10:3) I believe that the verse refers to both physical and spiritual hunger. God will help those with doubts who really want to believe. In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus heals a boy possessed by a demon. He is clearly frustrated by the crowds unbelief (v.19), but shows patience with the struggling father whose belief is faltering: “But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us! And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”” (v.22-24) Jesus casts out the demon and raises the son.

So, what do we do with the times when we need direction, help, or rescue, but God seems not to show. Were His works only in the past as stated and implied by the prophets I quoted above? A somewhat frequent saying I hear among Christians is “God has to show up” or “God showed up.” I understand the sentiment in these statements, which is similar to the questions of the prophets, but it is not as though God is not continuously present.

And so Samuel places an Ebenezer; Joshua erects a monument; the half tribes of Manasseh and Reuben erect a facsimile altar. Others like Laban put up monuments for self-protection or like Absalom for self-aggrandizement, but properly intentioned markers are good to reduce spiritual forgetfulness and faltering faith. It seems as though we modern believers should have much less need for markers, because we have the completed Word of God to strengthen us. We also have far more distractions and false voices. Perhaps rather than a stone edifice,  each time we see God work, we could hang a representative picture on the wall or have a book of remembrances we could pass down to our children that reminds us of God’s faithfulness. Maybe this blog is my attempt to remind myself, my readers, and one day my descendants that our Creator and Savior is He who rescues and sustains and directs even when the path seems winding, dark, and without destination.

And God seems to like markers, too:

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’” Revelation 2:17

“you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” I Peter 2:5

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“Happy Birthday to my first love, America,” the Facebook newsfeed read. Given the picture of the young man sitting in front of an American flag and it appearing on July 4th, there was context for the content. Still it sent a shiver up my spine.

Among countries, my first love. Among homelands, my first love. Sure. But just “my first love, America?” Where is the sense of priority? How about God and country, or even better, God, family, and country?

Politics and patriotism are not the solutions to our problems. Helping our fellowman and giving sacrificially are not the solutions to our problems. Raw moral courage and consistency are not the solutions to our problems. Environmental awareness and action are not the solutions to our problems. They are part of the solution, but America, in great pride and ungodliness, has cast God aside.

It is as in the time of Jeremiah: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (2:13) Once this was a nation called to be a “city upon a hill” (Puritan John Winthrop, 1630), and declared to be “great because she is good.”, but the time has come for the rest of that quote to be fulfilled: “If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” (summation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”) Now I know that the naysayers out there will say that she never was good, and there is some truth to that (broken treaties, persecutions, immoral cities, environment abusing, etc), but there was a seeking after God and a general acknowledgement of God and His moral code, and many good things that were done, and God’s blessing upon us.

But the gig is up! Repent, America, before the judgment comes. It is determined and it will not delay if we continue to go on heedlessly. Now is the time to turn and plead with God for mercy, before He says no more and your future is sealed. Some will say, but God is always forgiving, how can you say that He will not forgive. Yes, He is, and He is also just and He hardens those who continue to refuse Him. Perhaps the atheists, agnostics, and amoralists will ignore me, but what of the church goers and spiritual crowd who claim a knowledge of God, but refuse to submit to the clear call of the Gospel and the simple moral absolutes of His Law. Repent or we are doomed.

Do you want to show allegiance to America on this 4th of July. Order your allegiance to God, Our Creator and Savior. Quit making excuses that you will take care of it later (which you probably won’t have), or it’s none of my business (more than that, my responsibility to declare the truth), or you have my own beliefs about God (not according to His Holy Word), or I don’t hurt anybody (but you offend God by keeping Him at arm’s length and sleep with your girlfriend as if that is OK since it is consensual), or I see no evidence that God exists (though the heavens declare His glory and all Creation points to His power and wisdom), or I’ve always been a good person and help everyone that I can (but refuse to turn to God in Jesus to rescue you from your coveting what belongs to others and disrespecting your parents and elders and those in authority).

God have mercy on us, as Thomas Jefferson said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

God is merciful, and because He has still given us freedom, albeit dwindling, we have opportunity to turn to Him. Jesus, “He Himself  bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (I Peter 2:24)  Don’t think that you can make it in your own goodness or by another way for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

And what does this have to do with the 4th of July? Our very survival as a country and a culture is dependent upon us turning back to God. Most of you likely to read this are my friends, many of whom agree with what I have said, though perhaps some of you think I should soften the delivery (to which I reply, “We are way too far down the road for tender pleading.”), but I plead with you to share this with others who may be in danger of ignoring the need to turn away from their wickedness to God.

I love my country; I love my family more, but my first love is and must be my God, my Savior, to whom all allegiance is due.

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I hugely enjoy fellowshipping in other churches on the rare occasions that I travel. This Memorial Day weekend was just one of those times. I am encouraged by God’s universal church worshipping God and the teaching of God’s Word, interpreted by the same Holy Spirit, sounding forth. God is at work in many and various places to accomplish His work, and God’s people are seeking Him.

Visiting a small church called “Grace…” [only part of the name I could remember, or needed to know] in New Port Richey, Florida, the pastor’s son-in-law, who is a policeman, preached on trials from James 1:1-12. Following are a few paraphrases of his words on purpose and perspective in the midst of trials:

“We don’t have it in us to have joy” [deep, light-hearted confidence]; it comes from the Holy Spirit within us enabling us to “delight in the

       1) person of God,    

       2) the purpose of God, and

       3) the people of God.”

“Our life purpose is to portray the superiority of God in our lives”, giving glory to God.

The purpose of our trials is to glorify God by our winning when it looks like we are losing [because of trials].

Trials test our faith: pop quiz:

1) “Do you believe God is in control?”

2) “Do you believe God is good?”

3 “Are you willing to wait on God’s perfect timing in every area of your

    life?”

The endurance or steadfastness referred to in verse three means to ‘remain under’. Trials are a stress, a pressure, an uncomfortable force in our lives. ‘Everything God wants to do in our lives and use to bless us comes through us remaining under God’s control’ in the midst of trials.

This spattering of my sermon notes does not convey the full weight of the sermon, but it does give you pieces of wisdom that I think are worth reading over several times. Trials are for believers to test and strengthen their faith and give glory to God. We are not spared trials because they are what are best for us and give the most glory to God. May His name be praised in all that I do.

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“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19

There is peace and rest and joy for the anxious soul here. But how do you or I access it?

I don’t know if I have ever had what would be clinically considered to be a panic attack, but I have had significant feedback loops where disturbing, worrying, debilitating, anxious thoughts accelerated in my mind, even giving me the shakes or rendering me sleepless. These are rare events for me, as I usually keep very busy and my family can attest to how fast and how soundly I sleep. But I do have garden variety worries and feelings of inadequacies for tasks at hand. Some people genuinely don’t have trouble with anxiety. I say honestly, good for them. I am told that I come across as a confident person. I am not intending to fake confidence. I know what I believe and “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 2:12) But even so, I have anxious thoughts, and particularly thoughts of inadequacy. I think that it is a residual of my upbringing that will never go away.

Does that mean I can never have victory over it? Not in the least. And that is where this verse comes in. If there was reason for worry the psalmist had reason. Evil people were being arrogant in every way and harming God’s people and the destitute and there was no visible evidence that God was paying attention. The psalmist goes on to declare that he does believe that God hears and will act in judgement and will support the righteous, but that doesn’t negate the present difficulties nor the “anxious thoughts” that “multiply” (v.19)

For any activity or thought pattern that needs to cease, there needs to be a replacement. To just say to someone or to yourself, “Stop that,” and not give an alternate path for thought or deed is useless. But what is the replacement? “Consolations”? What are those? I understand that God provides them in at least three forms (that are significantly overlapping): promises, practices, and presence.

Following are but a few examples of each one:

     Promises

“Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up.” Psalm 94:18  

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” Psalm 34:18      

” Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10                

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:7-11                                                                                                                     

   Practices

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is ]lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” I Timothy 6:11-12

   Presence

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

” But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all the I have said to you.” John 14:26

“He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraidWhat will man do to me?”” Hebrews 13:5-6

” then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”                   I Thessalonians 4:17

God’s consolations are many and ever present to those who by His grace belong to Him. When you and I get caught in moments of worry or waylaid by anxiety, replace it with the promises of God, the life giving practices He has provided for us to live before Him, and the knowledge of His continual and intimate presence as we call upon Him.

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Grace Enough

I was forced to stand in silence for an hour and a half today, so I occupied my mind with thoughts of God’s grace. I was trying to decide if I should use the pronoun me, you, or us in the poem I wrote. I began with a mixture of me and you. That didn’t seem right to me. Me would be more personal, but you would be more inclusive. I decided on us, even though I was concerned that it might imply to readers that everyone has access to this grace. Believers in Jesus have been gifted with faith by God’s grace and now have access to that grace. But I wanted to use us in order to group together the body of Christ as we struggle and celebrate together. Here is the result:

 

 

Grace for us in every trial
In every hurt, for every mile
Grace enough for each new day
Through the flood and the fray

When days are up or days are down
Skies are bright or grey and brown
Days of hope or dread and fire
Grace enough for the smooth and mire

Grace enough to rescue from hell
To raise us up when we fell
Joy where we would think there is none
Rest now and when life is done

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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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