Giving Permission To The King

Cinderella's  ClosetThroughout the bulk of my Christian life, I’ve heard the following sentiments:

“God is a Gentleman; He won’t violate your will.”

“Give the Lord permission to work in your life.”

“You need to get out of the way in order for God to work.”

“Let go and let God.”

You’ve undoubtedly heard these same ideas, and maybe you’ve even said them. They sound very reasonable, and even a bit spiritual. Many celebrity evangelicals routinely teach them, urging us to partner with God as if He’s helplessly wringing His hands as He waits for us to participate in whatever He’s doing.

Now, I understand that the Lord chooses to work through human beings much of the time. He calls Christians to obedience, especially in regard to proclaiming the Gospel to all creation. The same letter of Paul that declares God’s sovereignty in determining who should be numbered in the elect (Romans 9:6-26) also pronounces His decree that the elect should come to faith by means of evangelism (Romans 10:13-17). In that sense, He indeed uses our obedience as the means of accomplishing His purposes.

But we make a grave mistake if we assume that a lack of cooperation on our part in any way hinders or prevents the Lord from carrying out His will. In truth, He has all power. Nothing any of us does, even at our highest points of rebellion, can possibly block Him from doing exactly what He wills.

From the time Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, men and women have tried to claim control over God. We cherish the notion that we somehow allow Him to have His way in saving us and then in working in our lives. Proudly, we believe He stands immobilized, waiting patiently until we grant Him permission to move.

Look again at Romans 9.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? ~~Romans 9:19:24 (ESV)

Who do we think we are? Do we seriously believe the sovereignty of God depends on our will or behavior? Does the King of kings and Lord of lords bow in subjection to us? Scripture certainly never portrays Him as such a dependent weakling, nor does it suggest that He gives us authority over His dealings in our lives.

We need to repent of our arrogant attitudes. Let’s stop flattering ourselves that anything God does hinges on our attitudes or actions. If sovereignty really belongs to Him (and it does), then He will do anything He wants to do with or without our permission.

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Hail Him Who Saves You By His Grace

Why do we worship the Lord Christ Jesus? Sometimes I wonder if we really understand His worthiness to receive glory, honor and praise as the King of all creation. Do we realize that angels fall on their faces before Him, proclaiming His holiness? Do we eagerly anticipate standing before His throne with the redeemed from all generations and all nations worshiping Him eternally?

As you listen to this magnificent 18th Century hymn, please think about Jesus as the King He is. Let the lyrics direct your thoughts to His unparalleled majesty, as well as to His inexplicable kindness in bringing you to salvation.

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Saturday Sampler: July 16 — July 22

Critter Sampler 01Too bad Summer White’s Peterson and the Ghosts in the Machine (appearing in Sheologians) didn’t reach my in-box until after I published last week’s Saturday Sample, because Summer raises some extremely interesting angles to the controversy.

Examining one of the more prevalent false dichotomies among evangelicals, Mark McIntyre of Attempts at Honesty presents External versus Internal Focus to remind us that the Great Commission involves more than just evangelism and more than just discipleship.

Speaking of good reminders, Elizabeth Prata cautions us against Lucky Dipping by her post in The End Time. Her warning isn’t particularly novel, but it can’t be repeated too often.

Interestingly, Nikki Campbell of Unified in Truth also directs us toward proper Bible study techniques in the article Rightly Handling the Word of Truth (part 2). The principles laid out can help us in our own understanding of Scripture, and they can also assist us in discerning false teaching. Therefore this post deserves our careful attention.

Regular readers of Saturday Sampler know that One Hired Late In The Day is a blog I love to feature. This week’s article, The narrow gate, looks at the Lord’s claim that salvation excludes many people — including professing Christians who show no fruit of genuine conversion. Jennifer substantiates her points with a good variety of Scripture, making this an essay well  worth your time and attention.

Those of you following the Eugene Peterson fiasco might appreciate Amy Spreeman’s  Eugene Peterson’s error isn’t about gay weddings in Berean Research. I think she gets to the heart of the matter quite effectively.

Michelle Lesley weighs in with The Peterson Predicament and LifeWay’s Peculiar Policies. She raises excellent questions that this Southern Baptist Convention publishing company should have answered years ago.

As women, none of us should serve as the pastors that John Chester directly addresses in his Parking Space 23 article, Church 101. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the principles he puts forth, however. I especially appreciate his thoughts on the purpose of the church.

Am I including Elizabeth Prata’s The Approachableness of Jesus (Reprise) because she mentions John Adams? Maybe a little (I live near Quincy, MA). But seriously, she uses Adams’ struggle with royal protocol to highlight the graciousness of the Lord Jesus Christ to receive us into His presence without  condition. Her post fills me with adoration for the King of kings!

Yes friends, it’s true. I’m really giving you two posts by Michelle Lesley on top of two by Elizabeth Prata this week. Michelle’s Throwback Thursday ~ Persecution in the Pew brings back an article Michelle wrote nearly two years ago about a sad form of persecution that I’ve personally experienced. As we stand for Biblical truth, we should expect pushback — even from professing Christians.

I’m new to Lara d’Entremont’s blog, Renewed in Truth Discipleship, so I can’t yet fully endorse it (I have a sneaking suspicion that I eventually will). Her post, 7 Mistakes You Might Be Making When Studying the Bible, certainly indicates that  she’s worth reading. See if you agree.

Tom at excatholic4christ writes Papal allies accuse American right-wing Catholics and evangelicals of joining together in “ecumenism of hate” to remind us that the Gospel is not about American politics. It’s an interesting read for many reasons.

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Where Do We Find Assurance Of Salvation?

Broken Heart CrossIf you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced serious doubts about your salvation. Such doubts generally arise in response to falling back into familiar patterns of sin. As you see yourself committing the same ugly sin, even decades after your conversion, you have to ask yourself whether or not you were ever  really saved in the first place.

In one respect, you and I definitely should ask ourselves this question when we find ourselves committing the same sin habitually. Children of God at some point start to resemble the Father’s holiness (1 Peter 1:14-21, 1 John 3:4-10). Sadly, many people who claim to be Christians do persist in unrepentant sin, often rationalizing their rebellion and sometimes even believing that God approves of what they do. I know: I’ve done it.

Seeker-sensitive churches compound the problem by producing false converts who embrace an idealized concept of Jesus without submitting to the true Christ’s authority. These false converts see no need to repent and have no concern for personal holiness.

So yes, sometimes our sin should cause us to wonder if the Lord has truly done a work of regeneration in us. If we live without regard to His holy standards, some honest self-examination is most likely necessary.

But others of us, despite genuinely loving the Lord and wanting to obey Him, manage to get sucked back into sin on occasion. From our perspective, it seems like a habitual pattern because we repeat the same old sins time after time. We grieve every time we do it, fully aware that we’ve dishonored Him. Even if nobody else ever finds out what we’ve done, we know that we’ve violated His commands.

Like the apostle Paul in Romans 7:13-21, we hate our sin. We yearn to please the Lord, knowing that our sin put Him on the cross. How can we be so ungrateful? Why did we act like children of the devil, dragging our glorious Lord through the mud while we selfishly gratified our flesh?

As we fixate on the horrors of our sin, we accept Satan’s accusations that we’re nothing more than hypocrites. Because those accusations carry an element of truth, we believe his lie that we never really had salvation. We despair.

Sisters, we forget that assurance of salvation can never come from us. Paul wrote Romans 7 precisely to demonstrate that we don’t have any righteousness in and of ourselves. Looking at ourselves can never give us assurance!

Ah, but look at Paul’s  concluding paragraph in Romans 7:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 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 7:21-24 (ESV)

Paul doesn’t deny his wretched condition, but he ultimately clings to Jesus Christ as his deliverer. He remembers that Christ paid for all his sin (every ounce of it) by shedding His blood on the cross. Of course, Paul’s not excusing sin or implying that God’s grace gives Christians permission to indulge in sin. Rather, he’s encouraging us to rest in what the Lord has done for us.

Sin should trouble a Christian’s conscience. We should live lives of repentance, earnestly desiring to reflect our Heavenly Father’s holiness as we declare the Gospel to a dying world. But, when our sin breaks our hearts, let’s shift our gaze to Jesus, finding assurance in Him.

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The Reformation And Galatians

Whittenberg DoorThe Lord used the apostle Paul to bring the Gospel to the gentiles in Galatia. Sadly, after he left that region, representatives of a group known as the Judaizers descended on that fledgling church, teaching that they needed to augment their faith in Christ by following Jewish law. They especially insisted that gentile converts undergo the rite of circumcision.

Paul was infuriated that the church he had founded had so quickly abandoned the Gospel of faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross in favor of a counterfeit gospel that required human effort to assure salvation. He wrote a scathing letter, scolding them for adulterating the Gospel with doctrines of men. We see the reasons for his frustration most clearly articulated in Chapter 5 of his epistle to the Galatians.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! ~~Galatians 5:1-12 (ESV)

I imagine Martin Luther found this passage helpful as he broke free from the demands of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther rightly saw that  Rome’s elaborate system of sacraments, Purgatory, Indulgences and Papal authority produced a gospel quite different from the Good News that Jesus Christ fully paid for the sin of whoever believes in Him by His death on the cross. Like Paul, Luther sought to turn Christians back to focusing on Christ’s work instead of imagining that they could supplement it through their cooperation.

Notice specifically Paul’s firm assertion that a Christian who supplements his faith in the Lord by depending on legalistic rituals actually nullifies the effects of faith in salvation through Christ’s work on the cross. At that point, a person essentially declares that salvation ultimately lies in our power, not in what Christ accomplished on our behalf.

The sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church, despite their denials, easily parallels the false teaching of the Judaizers. As a matter of fact, the Judaizers claimed to follow Christ, just as the Roman Catholic Church does. In many respects, the Judaizers presented themselves as genuine Christians, thereby convincing the Galatians to accept their doctrinal error. Not surprisingly, then, the Catholic Church managed to convince Christians of similar errors.

But Paul’s firm refutation against the system of righteousness by works enabled Luther and the other Reformers to stand against Rome’s numerous conditions for salvation. Just as Paul proclaimed that circumcision had no bearing on anyone’s standing before God, so the Reformers proclaimed that sacraments couldn’t add to what Christ had already done. The Reformers returned to the Biblical teaching that Christ Jesus fully satisfied the Law by dying as our substitute.

Roman Catholicism gets some doctrines right, such as the Trinity, but it adds conditions for salvation in much the same way that the Judaizers did. These conditions made humans responsible for sustaining their salvation.

Human centered salvation, however, takes the glory away from the Lord Jesus Christ. It demands that He share His glory with us. Paul recognized that danger among the Christians in Galatia, and he refused to tolerate such a corruption of the Gospel! He therefore set a pattern for the Reformers to follow once they could read God’s Word and understand that Rome had corrupted the Gospel. His passion for Jesus Christ to receive all the glory inspired the Reformers to also develop that passion.

 
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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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