Hey Jude — Are You A Reformer?

Tulip daisey frameAll morning I’ve struggled with my desire to blog about Reformation Day and my commitment to produce my Monday Bible Study on Jude. Writing about the Reformation would certainly be more enjoyable for me. Furthermore,  it troubles me that very few Christians know the significance of the Protestant Reformation, and even fewer care!

But as I thought about these matters, it occurred to me that Jude’s epistle is very much a model of reforming doctrinal error, setting an example that Luther, Calvin and Zwingli would follow 1500 years later. If you’ll think back over the last two Bible Studies we’ve done together, you’ll recall Jude’s exhortation to “contend for the faith” (verse 3). Therefore, just as Luther bravely confronted the  errors of the Roman Catholic Church, Jude bravely confronted the false teachers of the First Century church.

Jude doesn’t tread softly as he exposes these false teachers. As a matter of fact, he begins his diatribe by informing his readers, quite bluntly actually, that these apostate teachers will incur judgment.

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. ~~Jude 5-7 (ESV)

This passage contains three allusions to Old Testament incidents, each of which you might want to investigate more deeply on your own. Let me briefly explain each of them, however, just to help you start thinking about Jude’s point.

Verse 5 refers, of course, to the Israelites who, despite God’s graciousness to lead them out of Egypt, rebelled against Him before they reached the Promised Land. According to Hebrews 3:16-19, God let them die in the wilderness as a judgment on their unbelief.

The interesting part of verse 5 is that these unbelievers had experienced God’s deliverance from bondage, and yet they never truly put their faith in Him. Please remember that Jude compares the First Century false teachers to the unbelieving Israelites. Both groups had experienced something of God and appeared to belong to His assembly, and yet neither exhibited genuine faith.

Having established that those who fell away were never true believers, Jude moves on to the angels who forfeited their place in heaven. Most of the commentaries I read agree that rather than than the angels that fell with Satan, these are the angels who had sexual relationships with human women (see Genesis 6:1-7).

This reference makes the  connection between unbelief and sensuality. Last week we saw that false teachers deny the Lord Jesus Christ and present grace as an excuse to indulge fleshly passions, making this illustration especially pertinent.

Jude continues with a third allusion to the heterosexual and homosexual sin that caused God to destroy the corrupt cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-22). Here he evokes images of smoldering brimstone as a warning of the devastating judgment awaiting the false teachers that pervert God’s grace into license to gratify selfish desires.

Jude, perhaps as a precursor to the great 16th Century Reformers who  condemned the unbiblical teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, boldly confronts the unbelief and man-centered ways of false teachers. He shows no hesitation in warning that those who propagate false teaching should expect terrible judgment.

Luther sought to restore doctrinal purity to the church, just as Jude writes out of his concern for doctrinal purity among his readers. No true Christian delights in  the judgment of anyone. But we proclaim it with the hope of bringing false teachers (and those who  get ensnared by them) back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Reformers from every generation must sorrow over the judgment that threatens false teachers and offer the hope of repentance and faith.

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Simply To Thy Cross I Cling

Tomorrow Protestants will (or really should) observe the event that famously triggered the Reformation. Last October, I blogged about one little German monk (Martin Luther) who stood against corrupted practices and teachings in the Roman Catholic Church because he embraced Scripture’s pronouncement of justification by faith. Because of Luther, as well as other 16th Century Reformers, God has restored the Biblical teaching that believers can be made righteous, not by our own works, but by Jesus’ shed blood on the cross.

Praise the Lord that He used men like Luther, Calvin and Knox to bring us back to the truth that nothing we can  do could possibly atone for our sin. Praise Him that, through these Reformers, He brought us back to trusting Christ, rather than our human efforts, for salvation.

As we understand our total inability to do anything in contribution towards our  salvation, we realize the preciousness of Jesus. He protects us against our own sin, but also against His judgment of that sin. As today’s marvelous hymn reminds us, we can hide ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ, confident that He has graciously covered our sin with His innocent blood. Luther rejoiced in this magnificent act of the Lord. Could there be a more fitting way to celebrate Reformation Day?

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Saturday Sampler: October 23– October 29

salsa-samplerOn her DiscernIt blog, Kim Olsen shares That’s Not Jesus Calling by Jeremiah Johnson. Johnson evaluates Sarah Young’s book, but he also warns of the larger danger that this book represents. Ladies, I pray that this article will help you understand the sufficiency of Scripture.

Women do tend to struggle with guilt differently, and perhaps more intensely, than men do. Abigail of Hope and Stay writes about our battle in her blog entry, Unraveling Guilt With God’s Holiness. I love her Biblical perspective on this matter!

As part of her current Bible Study series, Lisa Morris of Conforming to the Truth asks Do We Have a Paul Heart for the Lost? Her challenging post serves as an overview of Romans 10. For deeper study, sign up from within the blog post to participate in Lisa’s online study of Romans.

I’d never heard of Ted Dekker. And after reading Ted Dekker’s The Forgotten Way: Book Review and a Discernment Lesson by Elizabeth Prata of The End Time, I gather that I’m not missing anything. Elizabeth teaches us valuable principles of evaluating books, and for that reason  I want to recommend this blog post as a practical example of how (and why) women should exercise discernment.

In For The Church, Zach Barnhart shows us the 2 Words That Kill Effective Bible Study. His points can’t be overstated!

Mark McIntyre has been writing daily posts bringing us through the questions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism on his blog, Attempts at Honesty. His treatment of Question 6, How many persons are in the one God?, emphasize the marvelous mystery of the Trinity. After reading this post, you might want to read the whole series!

Wow! Michelle Lesley has written the absolute best commentary on this year’s election that I’ve read to date! Revival: In America We Trust turns our minds back to the Lord Jesus Christ. But Michelle does it with a level of passion that bloggers rarely manifest, leaving me shaking my head in delighted admiration. Wow!

Monday, October 31, 2016 will mark the accepted 499th anniversary of the Reformation. In recognition of the occasion, the Ligonier blog features W. Robert Godfrey’s article, Why Did the Reformers Conclude that Reformation Was Urgent and Necessary in the 16th Century? Godfrey provides wonderful historical background to explain key theological reasons for the Reformation.

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They Think Sodom Married Gomorrah

old-bibleThe Word of God has never been as available, especially in developed countries,  as it is today. In addition to a wide variety of print Bibles, people can find a wide  range of Bible software as well as an astronomical amount of online Bibles and Bible Study websites. Thanks to modern technology, Christians (and non-Christians) have never enjoyed so much access to God’s Word.

The availability of Bible software and study materials has definitely benefited me, particularly with respect to my disability. Now, instead of having to depend on others to hand me commentaries, concordances or dictionaries,  I simply tap a few  computer keys with my handy-dandy headstick and voila! What a blessing to use the abundant resources that have been made available (at little or no cost) over the last few decades.

It bothers me, precisely because God has made it so easy to read and study His Word, that so many evangelicals have become Biblically illiterate. Al Mohler, in The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem , writes:

Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.

Secularized Americans should not be expected to be knowledgeable about the Bible. As the nation’s civic conversation is stripped of all biblical references and content, Americans increasingly live in a Scripture-free public space. Confusion and ignorance of the Bible’s content should be assumed in post-Christian America.

The larger scandal is biblical ignorance among Christians. Choose whichever statistic or survey you like, the general pattern is the same. America’s Christians know less and less about the Bible. It shows.

How can a generation be biblically shaped in its understanding of human sexuality when it believes Sodom and Gomorrah to be a married couple? No wonder Christians show a growing tendency to compromise on the issue of homosexuality. Many who identify themselves as Christians are similarly confused about the Gospel itself. An individual who believes that “God helps those who help themselves” will find salvation by grace and justification by faith to be alien concepts.

We want to laugh at the idea that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and  wife, and warped minds like mine might even quip something about them having the only same sex marriage in the Bible, but biblical illiteracy is no laughing matter. When Christians don’t know the clear teachings of Scripture and neglect sound doctrine, they easily believe false teaching and fall for unbiblical practices that lead them into counterfeit religion and, consequently, away from Christ.

As we approach the 499th “anniversary” of the Reformation this coming Monday, we should bear in mind that Luther stood up to the Roman Catholic Church because they had corrupted Scripture. As a result, he devoted himself to translating the Bible into German so that anybody could read it. A few years later, William Tyndale began working on a English translation, an illegal activity (neither the Roman Church nor the Church of England wanted the general public to read Scripture) which caused him to be brutally executed. These men, as well as other Reformers, valued God’s Word above their own lives, risking everything to make it available to us.

Luther and Tyndale would undoubtedly rejoice to see the amazing variety of print and digital Bibles in existence 500 years after their labors. For that reason, however, they would quite likely be distressed by the apathy evangelicals demonstrate toward the Bible. They’d find nothing funny about mistaking Sodom and Gomorrah for a  married couple.

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The Ultimate Ruler

king-jesusAgain, don’t expect me to say anything original about the election in this blog post. So many bloggers, teachers and pastors (including my pastor in his sermon this past Sunday) have already made it clear that God is sovereign. Whether or not we like the person who wins the White House week after next, we can trust His purposes in putting that person there.

To put a finer point on it, He will most likely place either Hillary or Trump in the office of United States President, just as He placed Nero as Emperor of Rome in the First Century. He will order the votes of the American people just as He ordered Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem that took them into the Babylonian Captivity.

The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord. ~~Proverbs 16:33

But, we ask as we wring our hands, why would the Lord put either Trump or Hillary in arguably the most powerful position in the world? Both, as we noted last time, are notoriously wicked people who demonstrate absolutely no regard for God or His ways. Why hasn’t He given us a president, during the 43 years that abortion has  been legal, who would appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court?

To be honest, God looks pretty impotent when we survey the leadership of the United States of America over the past 50 years. Even Ronald Reagan, who has practically been canonized by conservative Republicans, failed to make any strides toward overturning Roe v. Wade. And just over a year ago, God allowed the Obergefell decision, opening a Pandora’s box normalizing all sorts of sexual perversion.

Yet Daniel, while living in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace as a slave, affirmed that the Lord sovereignly appoints every ruler, regardless of that ruler’s knowledge of or obedience to Him. King Nebuchadnezzar commanded young Daniel to not only interpret a dream he’d had, but to tell him what the dream was. Failure to do so would result in Daniel’s execution.  Remarkably, although Daniel knew he couldn’t fulfill the king’s demands apart from God’s miraculous intervention, he didn’t complain that God had mistakenly put an unreasonable tyrant on the throne. Instead, he worshiped the Lord for His sovereignty:

20 Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
    to whom belong wisdom and might.
21 He changes times and seasons;
    he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to those who have understanding;
22 he reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what is in the darkness,
    and the light dwells with him.
23 To you, O God of my fathers,
    I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
    and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
    for you have made known to us the king’s matter.” ~~Daniel 2:20-23 (ESV)

Did you catch that second clause in verse 21? “He removes kings and sets up kings,” it says.  As heathen and overbearing as Nebuchadnezzar was, Daniel believed God had established him as Babylon’s king.

I’m well aware that Hillary Clinton’s presidency would severely limit religious liberty in this country. I have little confidence that Donald Trump would protect religious liberty. Neither one exhibits signs of a genuine faith in Christ, or even an interest in appearing to be Christian. But, whether we understand it or not, the Lord has a purpose for placing one of them in the Oval Office.

Mourning over our country’s rebellion is absolutely appropriate, so please don’t misunderstand me as rejoicing that a wicked person will once again be its president. We should grieve at the further increase of sin, brought on by legislation and public policy that actually celebrates that sin. At the same time, however, we certainly can rejoice in knowing that the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, remains in complete control.

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Neither Donald Nor Hillary, Thank you

american-flagWhat could I possibly say about this year’s dismal election that hundreds of Christian bloggers more articulate and knowledgeable than I haven’t already said? I come down, after months of prayer and reading, on the side of believing that God has sovereignly placed America under judgment, no matter who wins.

So why am I writing about it today? Perhaps just to satisfy myself that I’ve made a responsible decision in choosing not to vote for president this time around.

Marking my ballot for a woman who militantly  supports abortion simply isn’t going to happen. Even without her Benghazi debacle and email server putting national security at risk, Mrs. Clinton’s position on strengthening Roe v. Wade precludes me from  voting for her. If other Christians vote for her, okay. I’ll trust that they’ve prayed about it and have clear consciences. But my conscience absolutely forbids me to cast my vote for her.

Enough said about Hillary.

Some of my friends cling to the belief that Donald Trump, despite his many character defects, wouldn’t be as bad as Hillary Clinton. They assure me that he would appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court, possibility overturning Roe v. Wade. For a few weeks in August and September, their reasoning tempted me to consider voting for him. I thought back over the 36 years that I’ve vehemently opposed abortion, and imagined the sweet taste of  a SCOTUS that started protecting the unborn. I thought maybe voting for Trump might be worth the moral compromise.

But I can’t make that Faustian deal with the devil. As abominable as abortion is, it’s not worth knowingly casting my vote for a man who essentially embodies immorality in every aspect of his life.

Donald Trump can declare himself to champion pro-life causes all he wants, but he can’t convince me of his  virtue. James Dobson insists that Trump recently became an evangelical Christian. Would that be the same James Dobson who introduced psychology into evangelical churches? Um, yes. He’s hardly a poster child for Biblical discernment! Methinks the good doctor is letting his politics cloud his spiritual judgment. Since his proclamation of Trump’s conversion, I’ve seen no evidence of repentance or faith.

And how many of Trump’s sexual partners (consensual or otherwise) may have aborted babies that he fathered? How many women working in his strip clubs and casinos? Maybe none, but certainly his establishments fostered other types of sin. Additionally, he made his millions exploiting workers that he often didn’t pay, swindling those who enrolled in his bogus “university” and taking advantage of tax loopholes.

Frankly, I’m highly skeptical that he sincerely embraces the pro-life position anyway. In my opinion, he has temporarily adopted it to attract Republican voters. Would he really nominate pro-life justices to the Supreme Court? Possibly. In his first term. To get re-elected. After he figures out that Mexico really won’t pay for his Wall.

If I voted for Hillary, I’d knowingly vote for an extremely wicked woman. If I voted for The Donald, I’d knowingly vote for an extremely wicked man. My vote represents my Christian convictions, and the Lord holds me accountable for it.  Consequently, I believe I should abstain from voting for either.

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Hey Jude– They Live Life On Their Own Terms

dark-crossLast week we introduced Jude’s concern over false teachers who worm their way into Christian assemblies. We began examining verse 4 to determine the characteristics of false teachers, and learned that they typically assimilate into churches so that they seem indistinguishable from true believers. Additionally, we noted that God would ultimately condemn them.

Today I want to look at the ungodliness of these stealth teachers, which we find in the last two points of verse 4: their perversion of grace and their denial of Christ’s authority. So let’s review verses 3 and 4 to remind ourselves of Jude’s purpose  in wanting us to identify these people.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

The ungodly nature of false teachers manifests itself first through their distorted representation of grace. Before we get into this aspect of their characters, however, I want to mention that Paul addressed teachers who were equally false, but who err on the side of legalism (see, as an example, Galatians 2:4-5). Jude’s epistle doesn’t give an exhaustive description of false teachers, therefore, but it instead emphasizes arguably the most prevalent type.

So Jude gives us people who regard the wonderful grace of God as a license to continue living sinful lives. The apostle Paul also encountered such people, and boldly repudiated their heretical thinking (look up Romans 5:18-6:4 to see his argument). Peter likewise recognized that false teachers presented a libertine mischaracterization of grace.

18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. ~~2 Peter 2:18-19 (ESV)

Peter more clearly shows that the false teachers appeal to fleshly desires, sexual or otherwise, promising a type of freedom from God’s expectations. They ignore the true benefit of grace, which actually empowers Christians to  resist ungodliness (as Titus 2:11-14 makes plain).

Their abandonment to sensuality leads to the second characteristic that Jude brings up. By advocating (as well as modeling) a distorted “grace” that embraces sin, false teachers deny that Jesus Christ has authority over how they conduct their lives. Jude strongly counters this self-serving attitude by emphasizing Christ’s deity (in the word translated “Master”) and authority (in the word translated “Lord”). While they may give lip-service to the  lordship of Jesus Christ, their doctrine and lifestyle betray their rebellion against Him. Again, Paul offers insight into this denial:

They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~~Titus 1:16 (ESV)

Jude highlights, then, the hypocrisy of these false teachers. Their pretense of devotion to God crumbles when we measure their gospel of self-fulfillment against the true Gospel of repentance and faith that leads to obedience.

Next week, we’ll move on to Jude’s finer details concerning these heretics. But for now, maybe we can take stock of our own response to the Lord’s grace. Does His grace so fill us with gratitude that we joyfully submit to His ownership of us? Or do we mumble an obligatory prayer of thanks before rushing back to our sin with a giddy sense of entitlement? I pray we’ll bow before Him as our loving Master and Lord.

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Saturday Sampler: October 16 — October 22

balloon-turtle-samplerI largely avoid the topic of politics in this blog because I want to keep the emphasis on the Lord Jesus Christ. However, submission to Him certainly affects how I’ll mark my ballot this year. So Stephen Altroggie’s excellent essay in The Blazing Center, Why I’m Willing To “Waste” My Vote, reassured me that I’m doing the right thing for the  right reasons.

Ryan Higginbottom makes an excellent point about personal Bible Study on the Knowable Word blog with his article, Not Every Interesting Detail is Important. As I’ve been writing my study on Jude, I’ve realized the impotence of focusing on the main message.

In a blog post for The Cripplegate, Eric Davis reminds us of The Grotesque Reality of Apostasy, based on Hebrews 10:26-31. This isn’t a pretty article to read, but it helps us take our commitment to Christ seriously. Please don’t skip over this one.

Doctrine can always lead us to deeper worship. For that reason, I appreciate Erin Benziger’s blog entry on Do Not Be Surprised, Consequences of the Cross: Propitiation.

Writing for Satisfaction Through Christ, Lisa Morris asks the rhetorical question, Why Do We Study Everything But the Bible for Bible Study? Not only does Lisa answer this question, but she  encourages women to open their Bibles and study them directly before picking up Bible Study books (or blogs). After you do some study on your own, however, you might augment your  study by visiting her personal blog, Conforming to the Truth.

If you’re married or engaged, you’ll find Michelle Lesley’s article, 9 Ways NOT to Fight with Your Husband helpful. And possibly encouraging. I logged on to it with fear and trembling, fully expecting to be convicted, but (much to my surprise) found only one area where I consistently sin. Perhaps the Lord will pleasantly surprise you also.

John and I love our church history class in Adult Sunday School. It has definitely clarified a lot of matters that have puzzled me. So I appreciate Jon Payne’s post for Ligonier, Why Study Church History? Payne makes a compelling case for knowing the successes and, yes, the mistakes of our predecessors.

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Faulty Measurements


Leonardo da Vinci  Self Portrait

My first semester as a college freshman consisted of a Latin class and four inter-related classes (called a Colloquium) on the Renaissance. Within this Colloquium, my classmates and I took Political Science, English Literature, Art History and Philosophy. Our Philosophy class also served as a sort of “home base” where we synthesized the four disciplines. Early on, the Philosophy professor taught that the cornerstone of Renaissance thought hearkened back to an ancient Greek philosopher, Protagoras, who said “Man is the measure of all things.”

This revival of viewing man, rather than God, as the focal point of life has continued, in varying degrees, to permeate Western Civilization since the Renaissance. It seems to me that the idea enjoys a present resurgence in our postmodern culture. The current twist to this ancient maxim presents personal experience, as opposed to objective fact, as the means of determining “truth.” Hence the familiar saying, “What’s true for you may not be true for me.”

That subjective measuring rod frequently offers non-Christians a convenient buffer against the Gospel’s authority. If they can discount Jesus’ claim of being Truth Himself (John 14:6), they can dismiss His right to command their obedience. They essentially declare themselves as lords over their own lives (while rarely using that terminology, of course). Like Protagoras, and the Renaissance scholars who dredged him up, they reject Him as Lord in deference to their own self will.

The Christian response, however, must stand firm against man-centered philosophy. We have the responsibility to firmly stand for the truth of God’s Word, which has always contradicted humanistic thought. Paul’s charge to Timothy applies to all Christians since we each bear the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ~~2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)

As Bible-believing Christians, we understand that humanity has fallen because of sin. Every aspect of our being has been corrupted, taking us far away from the holy beings that reflect God’s holy standards. If we are the measure of all things, we surely deny the goodness of God’s creation. Obviously, our very sinfulness gives evidence to the fact that we must never flatter ourselves with the myth of Protagoras. We must reject such pride and humbly confess our desperate need for a Savior .

And we must boldly preach the truth that men and women need salvation from their inherent sinfulness. As I’ve said so often, the Good News of the Gospel begins with the bad news of our unrighteousness.

The Renaissance may have accomplished many wonderful things, and I will always love Italian Renaissance painting. But my love for Christ necessitates that I believe His Word…even when it is “out of season.” Only one Man, because He lived a sinless life, died in the place of sinners and rose from the dead, possesses the ability to be the Measure of all things. Please look to Him as your Standard.

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