Our Wretchedness, His Grace

2e38e-cross2bof2bpeaceHow frustrating! That besetting sin you thought you’d conquered has reared its ugly head yet again, and you’ve allowed it to take control. Of course you know that Christ forgives, but you also know that He saved you in order that you would walk in holiness and obedience.

You feel the same frustration that all true Christians feel. Our love for the Lord naturally causes us to hate sin. Even the apostle Paul felt disgusted with himself when he disobeyed God’s commandments (see Romans 7:13-24).

We understand — intellectually, at least — that Jesus forgives our sin at the point of our conversion. That’s a joyous realization for the sinner who correctly sees his or her wretched state and consequently appreciates the Lord’s mercy and grace to take those sins on Himself in order to extend pardon. We rightly praise Him for declaring us to be righteous before a holy Judge, all because of His blood shed on our behalf.

But will His precious blood also cover sins we commit as Christians? Many people genuinely struggle with fear that they’ve presumed on His grace once too often, or that their ongoing battle with sin gives evidence that they never experienced true salvation in the first place.

Certainly, many people who sincerely believe themselves to be Christians aren’t. I often write about false converts, convinced that evangelical churches overflow with them. And if your sin causes you to examine yourself to determine whether or not you’ve really been born again, praise the Lord!

But let’s add some balance to our self-examination, shall we? Yes, we’ve once again dishonored our Savior, and that awareness by all means should break our hearts. However, the very fact that we grieve over having offended Christ indicates that He has given us hearts like His that hate sin and love righteousness. False converts excuse sin, grieving only that someone caught them or that they have unpleasant consequences, but true Christians regard sin as the vile reason that our precious Lord suffered and bled and died.

The very fact that we experience frustration over our sin assures us that the Holy Spirit has transformed us so that we now resemble our heavenly Father. Only those who are born again have that heavenly trait. Though we rightly bemoan our wretched sin nature, we also rejoice that the Holy Spirit has regenerated our hearts so that we no longer celebrate our sin.

Finally, we don’t need to despair that our sins, as grievous as they truly are, will always cripple us or cause God to reject us. Rather than focusing on our wretched condition, we can concentrate on the Lord as our Savior, remembering Paul’s glorious conclusion in Romans 7:

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:24-25 (ESV)

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How Lent Denies Christ’s Atonement

Cross of Faith

Lent began last Wednesday, summoning all Catholics to 40 days of abstinence leading up to Easter Sunday. In recent years, some evangelicals have also started observing the season, making me want to  bang my head against the nearest wall.

In the present day, Catholic dogma teaches that Lenten sacrifice, which supposedly leads to repentance and deeper spiritual contemplation, is an act of obligation. Over the centuries, the particulars of the fast have changed, but the fact remains that during the 40 days (Sundays are excluded), one must abstain from some food or pleasure out of devotion to God.

In a blog post I wrote a year ago, I made the point that Christians should practice self-denial throughout the year rather than just during the six weeks preceding Easter. And the self-denial that Jesus requires of Christians is far more costly than giving up chocolate or Twitter for 40 days! I’ve already made my case in that post and this one, so its unnecessary to repeat my arguments today.

But in a conversation this morning, I realized that my objection to Lent boils down to the same problem I have with Roman Catholicism in general: it rejects the sufficiency of Christ’s finished work on the cross. For all the talk of Lent enhancing our devotion to Him and drawing us to deeper repentance, we can’t escape its emphasis on human good works. As usual, the attention shifts from what Christ did for us to what we credit ourselves as doing to earn His favor.

The whole mess reminds me of the Galatian church in the First Century. The apostle Paul had preached the Gospel to them, but as soon as he left their region, false teachers swooped in and taught them that they needed to observe Jewish rituals in order to truly be saved. This adoption of legalism enraged Paul.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? ~~Galatians 3:1-6  (ESV)

Lent promises to draw people closer to Christ, but in reality it distracts from Him. Evangelicals, of all people, should recognize Lent as an unbiblical practice that completely negates the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. It repeats the same basic error of the Galatian church.

Sisters, I beg you to think seriously about participating in Lenten observances. Does doing so really honor the Lord Jesus Christ? Or does it make you feel spiritually proud, as if you’re doing something to curry His favor? Above all, remember that you come to Him only because He shed His blood on the cross.

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The Sin Of False Converts

Serious Little Boy01When I first understood that someone could be falsely converted, I began wondering about the validity of my own salvation. This anxiety increased as I came to Reformed Theology and realized that I had received several erroneous teachings during the first three decades of my Christian life.

In one respect, Scripture commands such introspection (2 Corinthians 13:5, 1 Peter 1:10). Many who consider themselves to be Christians don’t exhibit the qualities of those who have been transformed by the resurrected Lord. We’ll elaborate on that point momentarily.

But that introspection should never make doctrinal perfection the measuring rod for judging salvation. Although I rejected the doctrine of election for quite some time, for example, I believed that Jesus died for my sin and therefore I owed Him my life. I trusted Him as my Savior. He had elected me whether I believed in election or not, as evidenced by the faith He gave me to trust in His work of atonement.

Yet I struggled greatly to believe that my repeated sins wouldn’t eventually cause the Lord to revoke His saving grace. His own words troubled me:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ ~~Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

Had all my supposed ministry for the Lord been meaningless because of my sins? In my case, no. As much as I allow myself to sin, the Holy Spirit faithfully convicts me until I repent.  I then cling to the cross, assured that Christ has given me His righteousness. My trust reverts to His work rather than my own.

False converts, on the other hand, point to their apparent good works in an effort to distract God from their sinful lifestyles.  Jesus rightly calls them workers of lawlessness, cutting through their self-righteousness to expose their lack of repentance and trust in Him alone.

Dear reader, if you attribute your salvation to anything you’ve done (even saying a prayer or walking down an aisle too respond to an altar call), please examine yourself today. Are you trusting Christ’s shed blood on the cross, or do you proudly point to something you’ve supposedly done to merit His favor. If you dare to base your salvation on anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ, prepare to hear Him declare that He never knew you.


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Facets Of Redemption

The hymn I’ve selected today has a simple melody, but a deep and profound theology of Christ’s redemptive work. I love the way it takes us through the various ramifications of salvation while keeping our attention squarely on the Lord!

As I listened to this hymn in preparation to post it, I thought of a beautiful diamond with all its intriguing facets. It reminded me that salvation involves so much more than sparing us from the torments of hell (although that alone would be wonderful). The more we see the different facets of redemption, the more we want to sing of our glorious Redeemer.

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Our Wrathful, Loving Father

John 3 16a

Typically, Christians think about salvation in terms of Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf. Certainly, that ought to be our primary focus. God’s Word indicates that we will spend eternity praising Him for shedding His blood for the remission of our sins.

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.” ~~Revelation 5:9-10 (ESV)

Of course we should regularly praise and adore the Lord Jesus Christ for taking our place on the cross, where He took the Father’s wrath that rightfully belonged to us.  How could we not worship Him for such a profound demonstration of selfless love? It will be both a joy and a privilege to kneel before Him in gratitude for bearing those nail scars!

But lately I’ve also been amazed and thankful to the Father for His role in my salvation.

At first, it seemed a bit strange to draw a connection between the Father and salvation, especially in light of the doctrine of propitiation. Propitiation means an offering made in order to appease wrath. Therefore, Jesus accepted the task of serving as the propitiation for our sin, appeasing the Father’s wrath that we deserve.

Again, we naturally focus on Jesus’ gracious obedience to make Himself our substitute, and so should we! But as we do, perhaps we should also remember the most famous New Testament verse of all time:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~~John 3:16 (ESV)

Think through the first two clauses of that verse with me, keeping the doctrine of propitiation in mind. The same Person of the Trinity Whose wrath against our sin demands appeasement actually gave His beloved Son as the offering to turn away His righteous indignation! I don’t know about you, but I think that’s mind boggling!

The Father, in extremely real terms, actually provided His own offering for our sin, ladies.

If I had more skill as a writer, maybe I could express the enormous impact of the Father’s generosity in giving His own Son as the means of sparing us from His wrath. I wish I could describe how I tremble with a strange mixture of awe and joy when I praise God the Father each morning for His part in bringing about my salvation.

Instead, allow me to challenge you to start thinking about this incredible love that God the Father has demonstrated to whomever believes in Him. Like me, you might want to incorporate this concept into your daily prayer time. See if the Holy Spirit  doesn’t get you excited about the Father’s wondrous role in your salvation.


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Veiled In Song, Good Teaching See God’s Incarnate Deity

Few Christmas hymns are as beloved as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Featured in A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s A Wonderful Life, this hymn reaches millions of people each year, enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike.

The almost universal love for this hymn delights me because it teaches a boatload of Biblical doctrine easily and in a pleasurable manner. In particular, it proclaims with incredible clarity that God came to earth as Jesus, the newborn King.

The various repercussions of His Incarnation dance throughout the song, teaching us so many glorious truths about the Lord. How many doctrines can you find?

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