Category Archives: Faith

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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Calvin Didn’t Fit My Agenda

 

I thought I’d introduce John Calvin the way I introduced the other Reformers in my Tuesday blog posts. I’d share an account of his conversion. Based on the conversion stories of Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, John Huss and Martin Luther, I just assumed that the Lord brought Calvin to Himself through Scripture. Such a scenario, of course, would have made a nice symmetrical pattern, allowing me to emphasize the importance of God’s Word in the regeneration process.

I’m not saying Calvin’s reading of the Bible didn’t have a role in his conversion. It may well have. Before pursuing a career as a lawyer, Calvin entered the University of Paris in 1523 to study for the priesthood. Clearly, his privileged position of having educational opportunities gave him access to the Bible that very few people enjoyed in the 16th Century. So it’s entirely possible that Scripture caused his conversion.

The problem is that, thus far, I’ve read and/or heard seven or eight accounts of Calvin’s conversion, and they’re all vastly different. Some emphasize the martyrdom of an elderly evangelical man that he watched, while others go on and on about his overwhelming sense of personal sin.

And then we have this short YouTube clip from Ligonier of Ian Hamilton discussing the event:

So did the Holy Spirit use the Bible to subdue Calvin’s soul? It’s probable, based on Romans 10:14-17.

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (ESV)

But since historical record fails to offer a clear explanation of how John Calvin came to saving faith, I don’t think I’d be intellectually honest to impose Romans 10:17 on the story. Obviously, this Reformer did depend on God’s Word throughout the remainder of his life, permitting him to become probably the most recognized developer of Reformed Theology.

 
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Hus Did What For The Sake Of The Gospel?

Okay, I confess. I didn’t do my homework. I’d intended to write about John Hus today, finishing my little sub-series on the pre-Reformation reformers. Instead of studying, however, I spent time learning a different digital art program that I’d bought three years ago and subsequently neglected. I do need to invest time in my art, yes. But we can only celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation once.

October 31st isn’t that far away, and we should start covering people who actually shaped the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century. As important as John Hus was to church history, I must forgo writing about him, looking forward to introducing John Calvin next Tuesday.

But since Hus holds such a vital place in paving the way for Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other 16th Century Reformers,  I decided to post this 4 minute video summarizing his life, ministry and martyrdom.

Like Peter Waldo and John Wycliffe, Hus preached that the Bible had greater authority than Roman Catholic tradition and that justification comes through faith alone. Unlike these two men, Hus actually died for preaching Biblical Christianity. The very church that claimed to represent the Lord Jesus Christ ordered his execution, falsely convincing him of heresy.

Many more people would suffer martyrdom for espousing the Biblical tenets of the Reformation. In our own own century, when Pope  Francis declares that the Reformation is over, we need to remember why the Reformation happened and what it cost the men and women who stood for the true Gospel. Hus, and many Christians after him, chose death rather than recanting Biblical doctrine. If we now accept the Pope’s declaration, we certainly negate everything the Reformers suffered for the sake of the Gospel.

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The Gospel: Pure And Simple

3D Cross Mother of PearlProfessing Christians use the word “gospel” all the time, but sometimes we get so caught up in tangential matters that we forget the Gospel itself. I’ve been guilty of this type of spiritual amnesia many times.  As I’ve confessed before, for example, my involvement in so-called Christian psychology led me to consider the possibility that anyone who espoused the principles of pop-psychology (whether they confessed Jesus Christ openly or not) might be saved. Obviously, at that point in time, I’d forgotten the Gospel.

In recent years, the Lord has graciously used a variety of Christian preachers, teachers and bloggers to help me appreciate the importance of preaching the Gospel to myself. Doing so reminds me that, apart from the shed blood of Jesus Christ, I’m a vile sinner deserving of nothing but eternity in hell.

Simply put, the Gospel proclaims that Jesus Christ died as the substitute for all who believe in Him, bearing the wrath of God that our sins incur. He was buried, and tree days later God raised Him from the dead as evidence that He accepted His sacrifice. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we respond to this grace by repenting of sin and believing in Him.

Now, the Gospel definitely has ramifications. True believers can’t remain in sinful lifestyles, for instance, because we understand what our sin cost the Lord. Titus 2:11-14 makes it clear that the Lord saved us with the purpose of making us holy.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (ESV)

Throughout this blog, I write about various aspects of walking in holiness as redeemed women. And that’s definitely fitting. But all week, I’ve felt convicted that I needed to remind my readers (and  myself) of the basic Gospel. If we allow anything to obscure the fundamental truth that Jesus Christ died and rose again on our behalf and for His glory, we risk embracing a false gospel that, left unchecked will inevitability bring us to damnation.

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What Choice Will My Heart Make?

Let’s do something different this week. After all, not all contemporary praise songs lack good theological content, just as not all hymns are doctrinally sound. And the song I’ve selected for this week reminds me of Job’s commitment to bless the Lord’s Name, even amid horrendous suffering. It challenges me to the core, honestly. Next time I walk through a trial, will my heart choose to bless His glorious Name? I hope so.

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Sola Fide — A Reformation Essential

On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, hoping to restore the Roman Catholic church to the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. Rome was not amused. Martin Luther, who loved God’s Word more than he feared the pope, began a Reformation that would restore a Biblical understanding of salvation. To understand why the Reformation remains essential to 21st Century Christians, let’s look at one of its most important tenets.

Luther insisted that the doctrine of sola fide (Latin for “faith alone”), formed the bedrock of the Gospel. The system that Rome had developed over 1500 years had morphed Christianity from a glorious Gospel of the Incarnate God taking our place on the cross and shedding His blood for the remission of sin to a man-made system that dispenses “grace” in return for human performance. Thus, man once again assumed ultimate responsibility for salvation.

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Most Catholics who study their religion try to argue that they look to Christ as their only Savior. Now, largely taking cues from Pope Francis’ attempts toward ecumenical reconciliation, they insist that they also believe in justification by faith.

Yet faith, according to Catholic theology, requires human cooperation. Catholics  believe that they receive “grace” as they observe various sacraments, such as confession and penance. These sacraments, as much as Catholics might insist otherwise, incorporate human effort into the acquisition of salvation. Furthermore, the Council of Trent (which convened from December 13, 1545 to December 4, 1563 to repudiate the  teachings of Luther, Calvin and other Reformers) boldly condemned the doctrine of justification 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. ~~Council of Trent, Chapter XVI, Canon 9

Scripture, in contrast to Catholic doctrine, convinced Luther that Christians need nothing more than faith in the finished work of Christ for salvation. Critics of the Reformation either ignore this pointedly or don’t understand it, often asserting that the Reformers “started a new religion.” The 16th Century Reformers, however, simply recovered the Biblical teaching on this matter.

To demonstrate that the concept of sola fide comes directly from the Word of God,  allow me to take you back to the apostle Paul’s teaching on the subject. Paul’s letters very frequently repeat the theme of justification by faith alone, and his letter to the church in Rome (ironically) first offered Luther a taste of this liberating doctrine. The phrase, “The just shall live by faith” from Romans 1:17 set Luther free from his constant striving to secure salvation. I believe, however, that we need to look at Romans 3:21-26 for a glimpse of how justification by faith comes about.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (ESV)

Paul’s letter to the Galatians further emphasized that human works could not add to Christ’s atoning work on the cross. False teachers had been advising the Christians in that region to become circumsised and adopt Jewish laws in order to really be saved.  Paul rejected such teaching as another gospel.

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. ~~Galatians 2:15-16 (ESV)

The letter to the Galatians certainly applies to the question of whether or not the Catholic Sacraments are necessary for salvation. I wish I had time today to take you through that letter to help you understand how it applies. I hope, at a later date, to look at Galatians in detail, but for now I encourage you to read it for yourselves. I believe you’ll see the parallel between the situation in Galatia and the errors in the Roman Catholic Church that spurred Martin Luther to maker his stand.

As Luther learned, Christ made complete atonement for sin through His blood, requiring only that we trust in Him. Contrary to the Council of Trent’s declaration, the real damnation for professing Christians happens when we presume to augment His work on the cross with our own actions. 21st Century Christians absolutely must stand with the Biblical teaching that justification comes through faith alone, without any human cooperation. May we learn from Luther to cling to the witness of Scripture on this crucial teaching.

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