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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Pardon There Was Multiplied To Me

One of the saddest aspects of evangelicalism is that people make professions of faith without genuinely understanding why they need salvation. Evangelicals often present Jesus as an agent of life enhancement rather than the One Who bears the wrath of a holy Judge on our behalf.

But how thankful I am that the Holy Spirit confronted me with my sin 46 years ago! Knowing that I deserve eternity in hell has made me so appreciative of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross for my sin! Only those who see how terrible their sin is realize what a wonderful thing the Lord did for us on Calvary.

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God Saves Whether We Cooperate Or Not

Hope in the LordLast Tuesday we saw that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that, even though Christ died to forgive our sins, we need to go through various sacraments in order to receive His grace. And yes, I understand that I’ve oversimplified the matter in one respect; the Catholic system for obtaining salvation is highly complex and confusing. Yet the primary message of the Protestant Reformation declares that Christians needn’t go through all the sacraments, penances, indulgences and rituals prescribed by Catholic tradition. Returning to Scripture, the Reformers brought us back to the Gospel message that Christ alone accomplished our redemption by His finished work on the cross.

The idea that God does all the work of justification caused Rome to proclaim, at the Council of Trent:

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.

I can go to a variety of Scriptures which refute Rome’s assertion that justification requires human cooperation, but today I want to limit myself to Paul’s teaching in Romans 9 regarding election. (Please read the entire chapter before continuing.) I’ve chosen this chapter because it emphasizes that God chooses His elect on the basis of His sovereign will rather than because of any performance on our part.

Paul’s main argument in Romans 9 centers around God’s choice to save believers, whether Jew or Gentile, as opposed to saving physical descendants of Abraham. Within this framework, however, we can reasonably apply the embedded principles to individuals, concluding that He brings some to salvation while leaving others to die in their sins. Notice, in the passage below, that His determination of who receives His mercy has nothing to do with human performance.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. ~~Romans 9:6-16 (ESV)

Verse 12, in particular, holds the key to our discussion because God chose Jacob without considering Jacob’s works. Indeed, the Lord didn’t even take Jacob’s future works into account. Jacob was pretty much of a scoundrel, after all. Very little about him could have possibly warranted God’s favor!

Applying this passage to Catholicism, we see that the concept of cooperating with the Lord to achieve justification is absolutely foreign to how He dispenses mercy.  When a person, by the grace of God, trusts completely in Christ’s atoning work on the cross for his or her justification, salvation needs no augmentation. Sacraments and penance become unnecessary, as does Purgatory, because the Lord Jesus Christ has completely accomplished our salvation! He has mercy, not because we contribute to His grace with our obedience to Rome’s rituals, but because He is compassionate to those He chooses.

I’ve belabored this point because Pope Francis world have us believe that the Reformation is now over, and that Protestants can now consider the issues that divide us from Catholics as inconsequential. Next time, we’ll look at Galatians to see what the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, said about adding human works to Christ’s work, and we’ll apply the principles there to Catholicism’s sacramental system. I believe we’ll realize, from that study, that the Reformation continues.

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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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A Prayer We All Should Pray

Recently I read that someone, in a critical tone, asked why so many Christian songs and hymns focus on the cross. I’m not quite sure what the point of the question was, so I’ll resist the temptation to speculate on the motives behind the question. But it saddens me that the person didn’t know how Christ’s atoning sacrifice has purchased God’s pardon, allowing wretched sinners like me to enter heaven to live eternally with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hymn writer Fanny Crosby certainly understood the value of the cross, as well as the necessity of constantly reminding ourselves that Christ’s work on it is the only basis for our salvation. In the hymn featured below, she prayed that Jesus would keep His cross always before her. Perhaps more  of us should pray that sort of prayer. And then sing hymns that remind us that we mustn’t glory in anything other than the cross.

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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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