Saturday Sampler: June 11 — June 17

Bezier Flower SamplerLike Michelle Lesley, I’d never heard of Karen Ehman, but based on The Mailbag: Did Jesus Really Teach Karen Ehman’s 3 Step Life Plan? I don’t think I’ll bother. In addition to examining questionable aspects of Ehman’s teaching, Michelle shows us the importance of keeping everything we read in context.

Praise the Lord that Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day pays attention to her Bible! She supplies Some Encouragement for Marrieds & Parents in response to the Social Gospel and its call to radical living.

Is The Bible A Love Letter From God? Stephen Altroggie of The Blazing Center says no. Find out why he disagrees with this popular view of God’s Word.

Lysa TerKeurst is, from what I’ve read, a false teacher. I’m still researching her, but I know enough about her to be very wary of her. Sadly, she’s announced this week that she’s decided to divorce her husband, alleging he’s been unfaithful. In response, Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life has written Some thoughts on ending a marriage. I appreciate Leslie’s balanced, compassionate approach to this matter. This is not a time for self-righteousness or glee, but a time to pray for Lysa’s repentance.

Highlighting two very different incidents from Martin Luther’s life, Allen Cagle writes If he is inviting me to my death, then I will come for Parking Space 23. Even if you don’t normally like history, this article is an inspiring portrayal of courage. Don’t cheat yourself out of it!

As a woman with a disability, I resonate with Elizabeth Prata’s Two or more good things about having a disability in The End Time. It’s not a typical Elizabeth Prata essay, but I love the way she points to the Lord’s goodness and sovereignty in giving us various trials.

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More Than Mere Opinion

At times, I’ve wrongly characterized blog posts I’ve written about Christian doctrine as my personal opinion. Perhaps I did so to soften offensive statements. After all, Bernie Sanders showed us recently that stating the truth that those outside of Christ will not enter heaven disqualifies someone from holding public office. Clearly, speaking with certainty about even the most basic tenets of the Christian faith has become highly dangerous. Couching those tenets as mere opinion at least offers a buffer against the world’s animosity (or so we tell ourselves).

Our postmodern culture insists that truth depends on personal interpretation. “What’s true for you may not be true for me.” The only absolute I see in postmodern philosophy is that Bible-believing Christians require silencing. If the culture fails to silence us outright, then it must characterize the Gospel as no more than opinion…and misguided, antiquated opinion at that. Once this characterization establishes itself, people have no difficulty dismissing the Lord and replacing Him with spiritual systems tailored to their own preferences.

Postmodern thought, however, really goes back to the same old humanistic rebellion against the Lord that mankind has perpetrated since Adam and Eve defiantly ate the forbidden fruit. Each of us, unless the Holy Spirit intervenes, trades God’s truth for the ideas that we concoct for ourselves.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. ~~Romans 1:18-25 (ESV)

Certainly, I hold very strong opinions on a variety of matters ranging from the alt-left’s reaction to last November’s presidential election to women covering their heads in church services. And I recognize that such matters are legitimately open to debate. But when it comes to the clear teaching of Scripture, I refuse to regard my fidelity to it as subjective opinion.

I undoubtedly misunderstand passages of Scripture here and there. When I do, the last thing I need is for people to indulge my opinion! I need people to correct my error by showing me how my ideas deviate from God’s word. Remind me that Scripture must be properly understood and interpreted in context so that I’ll correctly discern the Lord’s truth and apply His truth in accordance with His will. Don’t let me settle for my own meager opinion when I need the  firm foundation of His truth.

Senator Sanders’ clear persecution of Russell Vought signals increasing persecution of American Christians. Will we react by minimizing our beliefs as nothing more than personal opinion that we can amend if it becomes inconvenient? Or will we stand firm in our convictions, convinced that Jesus is the Truth? If Jesus indeed is the Truth, we must declare His Gospel boldly, confident that our faith goes far beyond mere opinion.

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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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Summer Wardrobes And Stumbling Brothers

Young Couple 02At the outset, let me say that a man bears complete responsibility for lustful thoughts and actions, regardless of how a woman dresses. As you read this blog post, please don’t mischaracterize me as excusing rape, sexual harassment or even lustful fantasies. Men must, in all circumstances, remain pure in their interactions with women, even when a woman dresses provocatively.

Have I made myself clear? If not, close this article right now, and maybe read Scriptures on the importance of sexual purity for both men and women. But if you understand that I by no means condone rape, sexual harassment or lustful fantasies in men, please keep reading. And remember, this blog is directed specifically at women, making it unnecessary (and kind of ridiculous) for me to address men on how to deal with scantily clad women during the summer months.

But ladies, I certainly can talk to you about our responsibility toward our brothers in Christ. The fact that the Lord holds them responsible to control their responses when they see too much skin or silhouette doesn’t negate our responsibility to dress modestly and carry ourselves in a manner that doesn’t call undue attention to our sexuality. Our brothers in Christ deserve the same respect from us that we want from them.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. ~~Romans 14:13 (ESV)

God created men to respond to visual stimuli, just as He created us to respond to emotional attention. When I was single, I was constantly falling for guys who, out of  compassion for my disability, treated me tenderly. They didn’t intend to communicate romantic interest, but they almost always set my heart fluttering.

I failed to control my fantasies when those brothers gave me emotional attention. I had the responsibility to guard my heart, and I very well knew that I shouldn’t have read things into their actions that they never intended to convey. But they needed a man to teach them how women are wired. They needed to understand that their behavior (although well-meaning) led me into sin.

Similarly, we need to understand that God created men to respond to visual images. Within marriage, they quite appropriately respond when they admire the bodies of their wives. God designed them that way.

But precisely because God designed them to respond to visual stimuli, women bear a responsibility to dress in ways that discourage men (other than their husbands) from looking at us in inappropriate ways. Certainly, I get that some men will look no matter how modestly we dress, and they will have to answer to the Lord for doing so. That said, that same Lord holds us accountable if we deliberately dress for the purpose of attracting attention to our bodies.

I’m not suggesting that we dress like frumps. Rather, I want to remind you to be careful, during these hot summer months, not to expose our body parts in ways that could cause our brothers to stumble. Our wish to stay cool, while important, mustn’t supplant their need to remain pure.

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Saturday Sampler: June 4 — June 10

Bertucci Sampler
Sampler plate at Bertucci’s

Clint Archer posts Running for the  Reward: Comrades Marathon and the Bema Seat in The Cripplegate. Sometimes we Christians forget that rewards await us when we finish this life.

Reprising a column that she originally wrote in 2011, Marsha West of Berean Research chronicles the Purpose Driven dismantling of Christianity as  a testament to the many corrosive influences on the 21st Century church. Her comments on psychology particularly interested me.  In addition, she unmasks the resurgence of Gnosticism among evangelicals and explores Rick Warren’s affiliation with Robert Schuller.

Sometimes we ignore seemingly inconsequential sins, assuming the Lord also overlooks them. Tim Challies directs our attention to one such sin (grumbling about fellow Christians) in The King Is Within Earshot.

People commonly object to the doctrine of election because they infer that, if God elects some to heaven, He conversely elects others to hell. In The Cripplegate, Jesse Johnson writes Reprobation: Does God elect people to hell? as a way to demonstrate the logical fallacies of this argument. After you’ve read this piece, however, I strongly suggest that you read Reprobation Rejoinder by Mike Riccardi, also in The Cripplegate.

I’ve been disturbed, for the past few years, about the common perceptions professing Christians have regarding heaven. So it encourages me to read Heaven: The Biblical Version by Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day. I feel less alone in my understanding of what the Bible teaches on the subject.

Denny Burk provides a sobering reminder that American Christians have already begun to face persecution. His article, Watch Bernie Sanders tell  a Christian that his faith disqualifies him from office, reminds me that we can no longer expect to be embraced by our culture. But Jesus repeatedly warned us that the world would reject us, so we really shouldn’t be surprised.

If you want to read something both fun and educational, look at The Mischievous Protestant’s Guide to Catholic Rome by Tim Challies. Now, why do you suppose my art history professor at Dominican University of California  (a school started by Catholic nuns) never mentioned the items in this piece.

In her essay for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Kendra Dahl shares The Lesson That Saved My Marriage to help us adjust our expectations of our husbands. I definitely needed to read her wisdom this week!

 

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Summer Blogging Schedule (Or Lack Thereof )

Headstick 2013This has been a week of interruptions. I won’t go into detail about the negative ones, but John and I very much enjoyed going into Boston yesterday. We now anticipate a busy summer that alternates between fun day trips and medical visits. Which naturally means less time for blogging.

We’ve concluded that I should take a complete break from my Perspectives In Titus series for a while. My inclination right now is to resume it after Labor Day, but don’t be surprised if I end up getting back to it sooner. Its low volume of readership disappoints me (as of this afternoon, Monday’s installment only received ten views), but I don’t want to discontinue it because Christian women desperately need verse-by-verse Bible Studies. Such studies assist true discernment much more effectively than calling out popular teachers, I believe.

But writing these studies demands tremendous time and energy. Quite frankly, this granny needs a break.

The Tuesday series on the Protestant Reformation will continue throughout the summer, but probably not every week. October 31st will come before we know it, and I so want all of you to understand why it’s a big deal. The Reformers provide vivid examples of true discernment. Really, if you want to discern truth from error, studying the Protestant Reformation can be an invaluable tool!

Saturday Sampler will appear each week. This Sunday I’ll take a break from posting a hymn, but I’ll start back up on Father’s Day.

Expect blog posts most days, but remember that we’ll be in and out often during the summer months. I do take this blog seriously, but I need to keep it from dominating my life. Truthfully, I’m getting older than I want to be, and blogging takes its toll. It’s time to pace myself.

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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