After Darkness, Light

Post Tenebras Lux

Even among Christians who genuinely love God’s Word and have a passion for Him, I feel like a certifiable nerd these days. Hardly anyone outside on my blogging and Twitter associates seems aware that today marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. And the few who actually do know don’t show a great deal of concern (let alone excitement) over the matter. That was 500 years ago, they reason. They remind me that not everyone enjoys history as much as I do.

A few longtime friends have (if I correctly understand their Facebook comments) expressed hope that I’m not idolizing theology instead of loving Jesus. Certainly, dead orthodoxy poses a danger to any Christian, and therefore self-examination has a place for those of us who write zealously about the issues involved in the Reformation. I don’t want to exalt anything above the Lord Jesus Christ.

I wonder, however, if people accused Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the other 16th Century Reformers of idolizing theology.

Actually, they accused them of heresy, even though it was the false teachings of Roman Catholicism that caused the Reformers to go back to Scripture and question the Church’s teachings in the first place. Those men and women stood against the errors in the Roman Catholic Church because they loved Jesus and had a passion for His Word.

In order to appreciate their passion for Biblical theology, it helps to understand the development of the Roman Catholic Church. Outlining that history goes well beyond the scope of today’s essay, but I strongly encourage you to read What is the origin of the Roman Catholic Church? from GotQuestions.org. Suffice it to say that Roman Catholicism kept most people in spiritual darkness for approximately 600 years, withholding Scripture from all but the elite so that Rome could maintain political power.

The Reformers began reading Scripture translated from the original Greek and Hebrew, and consequently saw huge discrepancies between what the Word taught and the teachings of Rome. As I’ve said repeatedly throughout this Tuesday series, they risked their very lives (and many died as martyrs) over the theological differences between them and the Roman Catholic Church.

They rightly took the motto, Post Tenebras Lux (after darkness, light), to describe God’s wonderful work of restoring sound doctrine to His people.  The light of God’s Word had at last dispelled the darkness of Roman Catholicism, and the Reformers preferred persecution and death to compromising their theology. Does that mean they idolized theology over the Lord?

I would argue that the Reformers’ love and passion for Christ emanated from their return to Biblical theology. As they rediscovered the doctrines of grace in the pages of Scripture, the light shone brightly, leading them to know and love the Lord, Who had been in the shadows of Catholic tradition for almost six centuries.  To those Reformers, the theology that shed light on the Lord and His will caused them to rejoice in His remarkable grace. They gave Him all the glory. Indeed,  the appearance of light after darkness fueled their passionate love for Him.

Oh dear 21st Century believers, don’t let people discourage you from loving the theology that leads you to a clear understanding of Who Jesus is and what He teaches. As John said to me yesterday, we can’t really love the Lord apart from right theology. Praise God for the courageous Reformers whom He used to bring His people from darkness into light.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~~1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

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Perspectives In Titus: Faithful Words On Profitable Teachings

Titus 3 8

Once again, we’ll only get through a single verse in our study of Titus today, but in this verse Paul reaches the zenith of his letter to Titus. Given the climactic nature of Titus 3:8, I believe we need to take our time looking at it, remembering that Titus pastors several churches in Crete with two major problems.

First of all, false teachers known as Judaizers have infiltrated the churches, teaching that Gentile Christians must observe Jewish law. Second, the Cretan culture outside the church is marked by self-indulgence. Paul left Titus the task of putting that region’s churches in order so that they could resist the corrosion of false teaching and thus live in contrast to the unbelievers who surrounded them.

With that refresher on the reason for Paul’s letter to Titus, let’s look at today’s verse within its immediate context.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. ~~Titus 3:4-11 (ESV)

Verse 8 begins by telling us “The saying is trustworthy.” The saying Paul refers to is, of course, Titus 3:4-7 in its assertion that God’s justifying grace leads Christians to live in ways that reflect His holiness. Paul reminds Titus that this understanding of grace is trustworthy. Thayer’s Dictionary brings up the idea that the Greek word carries the sense that we can rely on this saying. In other words, we can rely on the declaration that grace will produce works according to God’s nature.

As an aside, Psalm 19:7 assures us that the testimony of the Lord is sure, again underscoring that Scripture is trustworthy. So we can completely trust Paul’s saying in Titus 3:4-7, confident because the Holy Spirit included the passage in His Word.

Paul wanted Titus to insist on the truths of Titus 3:4-7. Pay attention to the word “insist” here, as it’s pivotal to Paul’s point. The King James Version translates it as “affirm constantly,” leading Barnes to comment that Paul’s intent was that Titus make these doctrines of grace “the constant subject” of his preaching. Indeed, our pastors should repeatedly preach on God’s sovereignty in bringing us to salvation.

The reason for insisting on the doctrines of grace is to encourage believers to good works. Barnes says that the good works here are not “merely to acts of benevolence and charity, but to all that is upright and good – to an honest and holy life.” His interpretation best fits the context of this letter. These good works, remember, don’t merit salvation.  Rather, they verify that the Holy Spirit has truly regenerated us.

Furthermore, these doctrines, being excellent because they accentuate God’s sovereignty, are profitable, in contrast to the unprofitable types of conversations outlined in the next verse. Vincent’s Word Studies cross-references 1 Timothy 4:8 as evidence that godliness is of greater value than even physical fitness because godliness holds both temporal and eternal value. As we exercise the doctrines of grace by keeping them constantly on our minds, we profit immensely.

It seems fitting that last Monday and today we’ve talked about grace, justification and the trustworthiness of God’s Word. Tomorrow marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a work of God that restored these crucial doctrines to the church. What a blessing to see that these doctrines benefit Christians even now.

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Looking Towards Reformation Day — The Real Focus

I praise the Lord for the Reformation. The courageous men and women who stood for God’s Word against the Roman Catholic Church certainly deserve to be celebrated for restoring the doctrines of grace to us. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how much I admire the Reformers.

But this weekend I discovered a modern hymn that reminded me to keep my focus on Christ. Ultimately, the Reformers sought to bring attention back to Him. Therefore, as we rejoice in this 500th anniversary, let’s rejoice even more in the Lord Jesus Christ Who deserves all glory and praise. Soli Deo gloria!

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Saturday Sampler: October 22 — October 28

Five Easter Babies

Ligonier posts R.C. Sproul’s article, What Does the Roman Catholic Church Believe About Justification? This helpful piece brings us to the core issue of the Protestant Reformation and encourages Christians to continue declaring the Gospel.

Firmly but gently, Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day answers the question, But what if my husband isn’t a believer? by opening the Bible and examining what the Holy Spirit says through the apostle Peter on this subject. I appreciate her approach to this important topic.

With Halloween coming quickly, Michelle Lesley reprises Should Christians Participate in Halloween? 7 Scriptures to Consider (which she originally published in 2014). I really like her application of Biblical principles to this controversial question.

Writing for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Rebecca VanDoodewaard outlines 5 Lessons from Reformation Women as an encouragement to us. Women don’t have to be in pulpit ministry in order to serve the Lord mightily.

In his moving blog post for The Cripplegate, Jordan Standridge writes about The American Priest who Proved the Reformation is Not Over. Please, if you’re tempted to minimize the differences between Catholics and Protestants, make time to read this eye-opening piece.

If you like impassioned writing, don’t miss Elizabeth Prata’s The Reformation shows us why we need expository preaching in The End Time. Thankfully, Elizabeth hasn’t bought into the pervasive attitude that church history is boring and irrelevant. In fact, she applies lessons from the Reformation to current evangelical trends.

Biblical counselor Lara d’Entremont of Renewed in Truth Discipleship helps us see that Letting Go of Self-Suffiency is a necessary act of repentance. It also alleviates some pretty big burdens.

For a slightly different take on the Reformation, read David Qaoud’s piece, 5 Common Misconceptions of Reformation Day in Gospel Relevance. I learned a few things. So might you.

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What We Don’t Know Will Definitely Hurt Us

Wood Church Bas Relief

I’ve been asking questions on Twitter and Facebook in an effort to understand what most evangelicals think about the Reformation. Having spent most of my Christian life in Charismatic and Armimian churches, many of my friends (though genuinely saved) don’t subscribe to Reformed Theology. Curiously, some of them quote  Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening Devotions, but they also quote Oswald Chambers, Rick Warren and Charles Finney, leaving me to wonder if Spurgeon makes that much of an impression on them.

Sometimes things make you scratch your head in bewilderment.

Anyway, few of my friends have responded to my questions. Perhaps their silence speaks volumes about their indifference to the Reformation. And I get that. I need to confess my own indifference to the Reformation before the Lord brought me into Reformed Theology.

I did receive one response that disturbed me. The person declared that the Reformation was indeed very important to her, citing several changes in the Roman Catholic Church. Those changes, however, resulted from Vatican II, which happened about 450 years after the Reformation, and only made surface level changes within Catholicism.

Perhaps I misunderstood my friend’s comment. If so, I hope she’ll publicly correct me and better help me understand the point she wanted to make. But the fact that nobody else questioned her apparent confusion of the Reformation and Vatican II causes me to wonder if people really make a distinction between the two events. I realize that not everyone enjoys history, but these two major events really have little to do with one another.

Perhaps my friend isn’t representative of most 21st Century evangelicals. Sadly, I suspect she just may be. If so, I fear that modern-day evangelicals are headed into new Dark Ages, every bit as apostate as the centuries leading up to 1517.

Ignorance about the Protestant Reformation explains much of the compromise among present-day evangelicals. If we don’t know at least how the issues of justification by faith alone and the authority of Scripture caused the Reformers to stand against the papacy (often losing their lives in the process), we will quite probably compromise our own doctrine and seek fellowship with people who embrace a different gospel. I pray that my friends, as well as evangelicals in general, will look at the Reformation and see the critical importance of doctrine. May they then glorify the Lord Jesus Christ for restoring His Word to His beloved Church.

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Going Outside The Lines: A Musing On Legalism

Outside the Lines

We live in an age that encourages us to think outside the box. To color outside the lines. Within evangelical circles, those of us who insist on sticking to Scripture (whether in relation to hearing God’s voice, the content of worship services or women as pastors, just to name a few examples) invariably receive accusations of legalism. More liberal evangelicals eagerly label us as modern-day Pharisees, gleefully reminding us that the Lord reserved His harshest criticism for the Pharisees of the First Century.

Occasionally, we deserve such rebukes, I’ll admit.  Sometimes our zeal to remain within the boundaries of God’s Word can indeed lapse over into legalism,  such as rejecting all contemporary praise songs rather than evaluating individual songs on the basis of doctrinal content.  We must be humble enough to recognize instances when we elevate our preferences and traditions to the level of Scripture.

Think about my last sentence for a moment. Didn’t it get to the heart of Christ’s conflict with the Pharisees? Despite the popular idea that they rigidly adhered to the letter of the law, the Lord called them out for making their traditions equal to God’s Law.

Let’s look at just one instance of their legalism:

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” ~~Mark 7:9-13 (ESV)

The Pharisees had cleverly devised a system to avoid caring for aging parents by claiming that their resources were devoted to God. Undoubtedly they worded things very carefully, convincing their parents (or at least themselves) that their tradition superseded the commandment to honor their parents. Essentially, they colored outside the lines of Scripture in order to accommodate their own selfish goals.

Both theological conservatives and theological liberals color outside the lines when we replace God’s Word with our own traditions and preferences. The real modern-day Pharisees aren’t the ones who go back to Biblical principles, but rather the ones who want to think outside the box. After all, the Lord made the lines and the box, not us.

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500 Years Later, And Why We Dare Not Forget

ancient-church-01

So it’s the week before the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation’s official start, and I’ve been blogging almost every Tuesday since November 1, 2016 about it. I’d hoped, when I first started this series,  to get well past Luther in order to show the Reformers who actually surrendered their lives for the sake of God’s Word.

I didn’t meet that goal.

Daily blogging left me little time to research the men and women of the Reformation.  I had good intentions, mind you, but I just couldn’t budget my time appropriately. For that reason, a few months ago I shifted my focus to merely trying to keep the Reformation before you. In recent months,  I tried to demonstrate that the Reformation impacts Christian thought today, and that ignoring its emphasis on faith alone and Scripture alone places us in grave danger of repeating the apostasy that the Reformers protested in the first place.

As I’ve written countless times throughout this series, the Reformers each stood against the distorted teachings and practices of Roman Catholicism as a result of reading the Word of God. Once they saw how far Rome had deviated from the Bible, they sought to make Scripture available to everyone both through preaching and through translating it into common languages.

Of course,  I’ve oversimplified matters. The Reformation was far more complex,  and years passed before Reformed Theology reached its full development. As a Reformed Baptist (admittedly something that would have made Calvin’s skin crawl), I appreciate the move away from infant baptism, for example. Most 16th Century Reformers actually persecuted the Anabaptists for refusing to baptize their babies, and they probably would be quite perplexed that some 21st Century Baptists claim the Reformed tradition.

I hope any Presbyterian women reading that last paragraph won’t write me off!

Anyway, my point is that,  although I realize how varied the issues involved in the Reformation are, the two primary issues of justification by faith alone and the exclusive authority of Scripture remain the watershed issues that divide Protestants from Catholics. And evangelicals dare not compromise on either.

Sadly,  we indeed have compromised. For the most part, professing Christians regard the Roman Catholic Church as simply another Christian denomination. That perspective, while it certainly seems charitable, forgets the Reformers who risked (and sometimes gave) their lives in order to stand against the erroneous teachings and practices of Roman Catholicism. The dividing lines that they once drew in reverence for the Gospel,  we now blur for the sake of a unity with those who follow a different gospel.

The Reformation, 500 years ago, brought Christians back to the Bible, which in turn lead people to the Gospel of justification by faith alone. If I continually plead with you to remember the Reformation, I do so because the purity of the Gospel depends on it. Well after next Tuesday (a glorious day of celebration), I will continue periodically blogging about the Reformation. I pray you’ll continue thinking about it and that you’ll stand firmly for the Gospel that motivated the Reformers.

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Perspectives In Titus: Grace, Justification And So What?

Titus 3 7

During this week leading up to the October 31st celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we’ll be reading a lot about justification by faith and God’s  grace. Interestingly, the verse we’ll study today discusses both topics, and then shows us how to respond to them.

Before I begin, may I offer a friendly reminder? Scripture teaches that women mustn’t teach men. I’m aware that gentlemen other than my husband and elders from my church are reading these Bible Studies, therefore placing me in a position of violating God’s Word. Gentlemen, please don’t do so. While my husband and elders from my church provide spiritual oversight for me, you do not. I respectfully ask, dear brothers, that you leave me to teach my beloved sisters in good conscience. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Now, sisters, let’s begin our study of Titus 3:8 by looking at it within its immediate context.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. ~~Titus 3:1-7 (ESV)

Again in verse 7, Paul underscores the fact that God justifies us, not on the basis of anything we do, but because of His grace. Justification is a legal term that implies acquittal. Although we are guilty in practice, the Lord judges us as being innocent on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross. For that reason, we attribute our justification solely to God’s grace, as described in verses 4-6.

The Complete WordStudy Dictionary defines grace, in part, as being “A favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor.” Paul hammers home the concept of justification by grace so that the church entrusted to Titus would maintain an attitude of humility amid Cretan society. Present-day Christians likewise must keep in mind that the Lord justifies us only by grace.

Justification causes us to become heirs of God’s promises. Romans 8:17, as John MacArthur points out, calls Christians “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” He cross-references 1 Peter 1:3-4 as documentation. According to Ephesians 1:13-14, the Holy Spirit Himself acts as the guarantee of our inheritance!

In regard to the phrase, “according to the hope of eternal life,” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown state that the position of the Greek words would be better understood as “agreeably to the hope of eternal life.” The idea is that the promise of eternity should influence how we live in the present world. Not that “being good” earns salvation, but that salvation motivates how saved people behave.

You may recall Titus 1:1-2, where Paul stated that the Lord had commissioned him to minister to the elect “in the hope of eternal life.” In that passage, Paul already made the connection between teaching that accords with godliness and that hope of eternal life. Indeed, their understanding of this phrase is consistent with the overall purpose of Paul’s letter. Since the Cretan Christians were heirs of God’s kingdom, their conduct needed to reflect that hope of inheritance.

So, although we neither earn or maintain our justification as a result of good works, God’s grace causes us to behave in good manner that reflects His holiness. In that way, we stand in contrast to the non-Christians around us. Next Monday we’ll see that the Lord, through the apostle Paul, desires us to demonstrate His grace by performing good works.

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Amazing Grace And Why I Love Verse 2

Imagine being a 17-year-old girl who read just enough of the Bible to know she was a hopelessly wretched sinner deserving of eternity in hell. Imagine her not understanding that the Son of God took her place on the cross, shedding His innocent blood to satisfy the Father’s wrath towards her selfish, wicked thoughts. But then imagine her profound relief when she finally heard the Gospel and gratefully received God’s grace.

I don’t have to image that scenario. I lived it almost 47 years ago.

Looking back on that time, I praise the Lord for allowing me to sense my wretched condition, despite the pain of knowing that I belonged in hell. As strange as it sounds, God’s grace opened my eyes to see my sin. Until He did that, I was blind to my need for a Savior.

The hymn, Amazing Grace, always brings me back to that 17-year-old girl who experienced both the terror of her sins and the joy of God’s forgiveness. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved beautifully encapsulates my testimony. Does it describe yours?

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Saturday Sampler: October 15 — October 21

Wing Ding Sampler

To discover A Surprising Barrier to Personal Bible Study, check out Knowable Word for Ryan Higginbottom’s interesting challenge. I pray that you’ll then accept his challenge. Believe me, you won’t regret doing so!

Read 5 Reasons Jesus Doesn’t Want us to be Like the Good Samaritan by Jordan Standridge of The Cripplegate. Your second grade Sunday School might be shocked by this article, but I believe Standridge has a grasp on the real point of this parable. Feel free to use my comments section to tell me whether you agree or disagree with him.

Those of us who don’t always appreciate the Bible’s restrictions regarding ministries women can perform will find comfort in Women Can Trust God’s Design for the Church by Candi Finch, a regular writer for Biblical Woman. It’s interesting what one learns from assembling bookcases.

Continuing her latest series on Do Not Be Surprised, Erin Benziger writes Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Impatience. Does this woman read my diary? At any rate, she accurately handles the topic of impatience, skillfully applying Scripture as she deals with its many facets.

You moms out there might appreciate these Last Minute Reformation Day Resources for Kids courtesy of Jessica Pickowicz at Beautiful Thing. She offers a splendid selection of materials for both young children and teenagers.

Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life provides a wonderful, easily read, overview of the Reformation with her blog post, Remembering the Reformation: A Timeline. If you need help understanding the Reformation and its effects on Western Civilization, this is the article for you!

Okay, Michelle Lesley is quantitatively more conservative than Martin Luther, offering only 8 Theses for Women of the Modern Day Reformation, but her tips on how we can appropriately serve the Lord lay out a good track for us. As an added bonus, she begins her essay with an enticing book recommendation.

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