Luther And One Greek Word

Dead SaintsAs I’ve contemplated today’s essay on justification by faith alone, I   again think of arguments vivator has made in comments sections of other blog posts in this series on the Protestant Reformation. In considering various statements he’s made, it seems to me that he and I disagree on the definition of “works.”

He says that Christ has secured justification by His work on the cross. So far, so good! But then he says we must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And, my dear sisters in Christ, therein lies the problem! Although Protestants observe the sacraments (or ordinances) of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we generally regard neither as a means of grace. Instead, we view them as memorials of what the Lord has already accomplished for us.

Do I want to embroil myself in a lengthy discussion of baptism and the Mass? Not today. I suppose we should talk about those topics at some point, but I don’t want to digress too much from the central issue of justification by faith alone. This issue isn’t the only one that divides Protestants from Catholics, but it’s arguably the issue that caused Martin Luther to question the teachings on Purgatory and the consequent sale of Indulgences.

Luther, you’ll recall, struggled profoundly with the sense that he could never really please God. Despite hours spent in confession each day, followed by acts of penance and contrition, he rightly believed that nothing he did merited God’s forgiveness. None of those things gave him righteousness. But in reading Romans 1:17‘s declaration that the righteous shall live by faith in the original Greek, rather than in the Latin Vulgate, he discovered the key! As R.C. Sproul explains in Justification by Faith Alone: Martin Luther and Romans 1:17:

Now there was a linguistic trick that was going on here too. And it was this, that the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history was—and it’s the word from which we get the English word justification—the Latin word justificare. And it came from the Roman judicial system. And the term justificare is made up of the word justus, which is justice or righteousness, and the verb, the infinitive facare, which means to make. And so, the Latin fathers understood the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous.

But Luther was looking now at the Greek word that was in the New Testament, not the Latin word. The word dikaios, dikaiosune, which didn’t mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous. And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. He said, “You mean, here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”

By going to the language that Paul actually used in writing the letter to the Romans, Luther found peace.  Furthermore, he found reason to question the teachings of Rome which deviated from Scripture. He had hoped that Rome would recognize its misinterpretation of God’s Word and correct its errors. Instead, the Council of Trent doubled-down on its teachings, condemning to hell anyone who holds to justification by faith alone. (See last Tuesday’s post for documentation.)

As of 2017, Rome has not rescinded Trent. It insists that we receive grace through the sacraments, by which we cooperate with the Lord. Next time we talk about the Reformation (I may take next Tuesday off, depending on the weather), I hope to look at Romans 9 and demonstrate that salvation is not obtained, or even maintained, by our cooperation with God’s grace.

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Letting Trent Lead The Discussion

Light In DarknessFor the past two weeks, I’ve dreaded writing today’s essay. I know the blogger called “vivator” will probably be reading, eagerly looking for holes in my argument. Upon finding these holes (real or imagined), vivator will seize on them and try to use them as evidence that I don’t understand my subject matter. While this person must realize that his or her rebuttals won’t change my position on Catholicism, perhaps he or she hopes to persuade my readers that I don’t have a grasp on Catholic theology, and therefore should be dismissed.

In thinking about writing this post, I’ve decided against trying to answer the objections vivator makes. Engaging in a detailed debate on the nuances of the Catholic view of justification (at least according to vivator) would take enormous time and energy, derailing me from my purpose of showing why evangelicals should celebrate this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

For those of you who would like to read and consider vivator’s point of view, please feel welcome to investigate Viva Catholic. There, my worthy opponent explains the Catholic perspective on the issues raised by the Reformers.

As for me, I believe it will be much more productive to continue writing from a distinctively Reformed Baptist perspective. Although I don’t want to misrepresent Roman Catholic doctrine, I also realize that, while extremely well-studied in both Catholic and Protestant apologetics, vivator isn’t necessarily the final authority on Rome’s views of justification.

The final authority, for Catholics, is the Council of Trent, which convened in Trento and    Bolonga  between the years 1545 and 1563. Trent happened as a response to the teachings of the Reformers, answering to them firmly. And even though 21st Century Catholics may or may not hold to its declarations, Trent has not been officially revoked by the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, the Protestant teaching of justification by faith alone still stands in opposition to Roman Catholicism.

Canon IX  of Trent includes a decisive condemnation of anyone who believes he or she is justified by faith alone.

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

Yes, other parts of Trent affirm that Christ justifies by His merits, and yet penitents must cooperate with His grace. This line of reasoning, however, essentially gives us (not God) the ultimate authority in whether or not we attain salvation. Catholics would naturally word it more delicately than I just did, but they have to admit at some point that they are responsible for appropriating God’s grace.

The Reformers denied that humans play a part in justification. I’ve written extensively on that matter throughout this blog, and I’ll go over it again next Tuesday. This question must remain front and center as we talk about why the Reformation still matters.

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In Celebration Of John’s Fifth Year Since Cancer Surgery

2012 was probably the most difficult year John and I have endured in our marriage. That February, his doctors found cancer in his colon. During his recovery from a colonostomy that next month, he suffered a heart attack that delayed the colon restructuring surgery for six weeks.

John, as a Polio survivor, uses a ventilator to breathe, causing everybody tremendous concern that he might not make it through surgery. I definitely struggled to trust the Lord to protect him. Yet as WordPress publishes this post, we’re attending a party at our church to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his surgery (the actual anniversary was this past Monday).

As I thought about what hymn to post this week, this simile hymn about trusting Jesus seemed the most appropriate. As you listen, please join us in rejoicing in the extra time God has given me and John. He is so faithful!

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Upon Which The Church Stands Or Falls

Medieval TowerLet me begin by saying that the controversy between Protestants and Catholics regarding justification can’t possibly be explained adequately in this single blog post. The Lord calls Christians to practice honesty, and therefore I want to represent both sides of the argument as accurately as I can.

This issue mattered in the 16th Century. The Reformers took enormous risks, sometimes even losing their lives, because they dared to stand against Roman Catholic teaching that justification is progressive and consequently can be lost when a mortal sin goes unconfessed. Although Catholic doctrine acknowledges that God initiates salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ, justification is part of the sanctification process. Mortal sins can, as a result, cause someone to lose their salvation unless they atone for that sin either in this life or in Purgatory.

Again, I’ve only given a brief synopsis of the Roman Catholic position. In future posts, I plan to expand on their view of justification in a way that doesn’t caricature their teachings unfairly. For the moment, however, let’s agree that their system of justification necessitates human cooperation and makes Purgatory a possible means of regaining justification.

The teaching of Purgatory so troubled Martin Luther that he nailed his 95 Theses to the Whittenburg Castle Church door, challenging Rome’s authority to teach that doctrine (which has no Scriptural basis). He, and the Reformers before and after hm, maintained that a person’s justification depended entirely on Christ, separate from any cooperation on our part.

Martin Luther famously said that justification by faith alone is “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” Despite ecumenical efforts to minimize differences between Protestants and Catholics, we cannot allow ourselves to believe that this is a minor issue. Bible-believing Christians must insist that adding human cooperation to God’s grace perverts the Gospel. In essence, by preaching that justification requires ongoing human cooperation, the Roman Catholic Church preaches a gospel other than the Gospel presented by the apostles.

Paul confronted a similar situation in Galatia, where a group known as the Judaizers taught the gentile Christians that they needed to observe Jewish Law, and circumcision in particular, in order to be saved. This melding of grace and law infuriated Paul, causing him to write a letter in righteous indignation. Several of his lines blazed with outrage, but one especially made it clear that any augmentation of the Gospel damned people.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. ~~Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV) 

Look, I’m not writing these essays on the Reformation out of animosity toward people in the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, I pray for the Catholics in my life to know that Christ paid completely for their sin, if only they’ll trust in Him instead of Catholic sacraments and works of penance.

However, the Roman Catholic system, by confusing justification with sanctification, has lied to these people, convincing them that they must contribute to their justification. The Reformation matters because the Protestants and Catholics teach two very different gospels. Only one can be true.

Alas, next Tuesday I have a doctor’s appointment in Boston, so I won’t be able to blog about the Reformation that day. But the following Tuesday I plan to explain the Roman Catholic understanding of justification, and how it differs from the Protestant view. Understanding both views will enable us to then defend the Protestant view as being more consistent with God’s Word. I hope you’ll hang in there with me, so you can see why we celebrate the Protestant Reformation.

 

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Perspectives In Titus: What’s A Woman To Do?

Titus 2 3 thru 5

I’m so excited to finally teach Titus 2:3-5, the passage that originally inspired me to write this Bible Study series. Today I will take you through the entire three verses, and then next Monday I plan to go over verse 5 in greater detail.

Let me quote these three verses with just enough context to remind you that Paul wanted Titus to provide different groups within the churches in Crete with specific, yet overlapping, directions in how to behave.

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. ~~Titus 2:2-6 (ESV)

Verse 2, as we saw last week, gave older men the responsibility of setting a godly standard of behavior for everyone else in the church. Next he addressed the demographic that I belong to: women over the age of 60.

Older women, we see in verse 3, are expected to live up to the same standards as older men, especially in being reverent in our behavior. The King James Version renders this word as “becoming holiness.” The Complete Word Study Dictionary applies it to this verse as “meaning to act like a sacred person.”

The verse goes on to name two examples of reverent behavior. Firstly, we must not falsely accuse anyone. I didn’t consult commentaries to find out possible reasons that Paul might have admonished us, as older women, against slander, but obviously making false accusations hardly reflects a reverent spirit.

Secondly, we must not be drunkards. You’ll recall that Paul required that elders not be drunkards  (Titus 1:7-8), and that he insisted on self-control in older men. Although all Christians should avoid drunkenness, Paul particularly emphasized this point in reference to Crete because of its reputation for an undisciplined lifestyle.

In contrast to the wildness of their surrounding culture, older women are commanded to teach what accords with the Gospel. When we get to verse 4 momentarily, we’ll notice that we are to teach other women, not to teach the general congregation (1 Timothy 2:12). Rather than go into a lengthy explanation of Paul’s reasons for prohibiting women from teaching men right now, I’ll refer you to the Women’s Ministry link in the Categories section on the sidebar of this blog, where you can find several articles on the topic.

Verse 4 doesn’t lend itself to much exposition. All it does is summarize who older women should teach, and what we should teach them. Specifically, older women should teach younger women to love their husbands and   children. This training aims at practical living.

Thankfully, verse 5 expands on the principles of loving one’s husband and children. It begins by saying that older  women should teach younger women the art of self-control. We teach this art by example, though our example should be accompanied by explanation and instruction.

Similar to self-control, we must teach purity. This purity can refer to sexual purity, which should be a given. It might also extend to purity in the Christian faith,  or doctrinal purity. If indeed it does extend to doctrinal purity (as I believe it does), the work of women’s discipleship falls under that umbrella.

The instruction that younger women be workers at home doesn’t prohibit them from outside employment. Lydia, for instance, worked as a seller of purple goods (Acts 16:14) and Priscilla shared her husband’s trade as a tentmaker (Acts 18:2-3). Paul’s point here focuses on women tending to their responsibilities at home rather than being idle busybodies. Please look at 1 Timothy 5:12 to clarify Paul’s meaning.

Older women must also  teach younger women to be kind. In a self-indulgent environment like Crete, people often used anger to accomplish their goals. Kindness, therefore, would stand out as a different way of life.

Lastly, older women should teach our younger counterparts to submit to their own husbands. That’s never a very popular idea, and it definitely needs to be carefully and consistently taught. Yet submission in family structure, as Paul demonstrated in Ephesians 5:22-33, models how the church relates to Jesus Christ. It serves as a testimony to a rebellious culture.

In summary, Paul wanted older women to teach each of these things for one overarching reason. He didn’t want women to live in ways that discredit God’s Word. All the behaviors he listed in this section align with sound doctrine, and a refusal to employ them indicates that we don’t take Christ seriously. Consequently, unbelievers will understandably dismiss us as hypocrites and conclude that they also have no reason to consider the authority of Scripture. Ladies, our behavior means something.

 

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The Grace Of Absolute Truth

2th 3v5The continued exodus from Biblical Christianity doesn’t shock me as much as it used to, but it saddens me. Friends whom I once greatly respected as sterling examples of Christians, both for their doctrinal fidelity and their moral purity, have been embracing liberal theology and/or moving into blatantly sinful behavior patterns. A few, but only a very few, are honest enough to acknowledge that they aren’t following the Lord. Most, however, foolishly believe that He has led them to make these tragic choices.

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

There have been far too many times I’ve looked down my sanctimonious nose at erring friends, not so secretly congratulating myself that I would never go into sin like they did. Really? In my eagerness to judge them, I’d conveniently forget the times I’ve tried to rationalize certain beliefs, attitudes and behaviors with the Bible, knowing full well that I violated God’s standards.

At other times, I admitted my deviation from the truth, and seriously considered turning my back on Jesus in favor of following my selfish desires. Sometimes I still feel that way. No room for self-righteousness here!

But I always come back to the Lord, repentant and convinced that He is my only hope of salvation. You see, when all is said and done, I actually believe everything the Bible says. As a result, I believe I’d spend eternity in hell if I embraced my sinful desires in rebellion against Him.

I’d also miss the joy of fellowship with Him and His people. Sin just doesn’t offer the deep satisfaction of a right conscience before Him. Sacrificing my relationship with Christ for the transient pleasures of sin simply isn’t worth it. I’ve seriously tried to compromise my faith, and I’ve tried to abandon it altogether, but I’ve always come back to wanting the Lord and knowing that He is the Truth.

I can’t leave Jesus, even when I’d very much prefer going my own way, nor can I reassemble my understanding of Him to accommodate my rebellion. Despite the prevailing philosophy that all truth is relative, I am sure that Jesus is the Truth. His Word, the Bible, is absolute, and therefore not subject to personal interpretation. Simply stated, Jesus has a hold on me.

As I watch dear friends pervert Scripture and distort their lives, I must credit the Lord for keeping me anchored in Him. Why He hasn’t given me over to deception puzzles me. I can’t take credit for my steadfastness, though I’d like to believe I’m that much of a spiritual giant. Jesus keeps me following Him, however imperfectly, by convincing me that Truth is exclusively in Him.

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” ~~John 6:66-69 (ESV)

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