The Great Apostle, Paul, wrote these profound words in his masterful treatise we know as the Book of Romans:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it –the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3.21-25)
The word “justification” is both biblical and practical. Because it is a biblical word, it not a word that should be ignored or merely glossed-over. It warrants our consideation, contemplation, and understanding. More than just being a biblical word, though, the concept of justification holds a central place in the message the Apostle is proclaiming. It is like the lynch-pin that holds together the various components of salvation.
The doctrine of justification by faith alone is vital for the church:
1. It is essential for salvation: The Bible teaches that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, apart from any works we may do. Without this doctrine, we would have no assurance of our salvation.
2. It guards against legalism: Justification by faith alone guards against the idea that we can earn our salvation through good works or religious rituals. This protects us from the dangers of legalism, which can lead to self-righteousness and pride.
3. It upholds the sufficiency of Christ: By emphasizing that we are saved by faith in Christ alone, justification by faith alone upholds the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. It teaches that we cannot add anything to what Christ has already accomplished for us.
4. It promotes unity in the church: The doctrine of justification by faith alone promotes unity in the church, as it is a shared understanding of the gospel that transcends cultural and denominational differences.
5. It encourages evangelism: The doctrine of justification by faith alone provides a clear message of salvation to share with others. It encourages us to share the gospel with confidence, knowing that salvation is based on faith in Christ alone.
Overall, the doctrine of justification by faith alone is vital for the church because it is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Ecclesiastes shows that man without God is in total ignorance and inevitable misery.”
Elaborating on the message of Ecclesiastes, Pascal summarazied it in these words:
“We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists.
For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and, if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.
Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end.
So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.”
While studying the Book of Hebrews this week, in preparation Sunday’s message, I stumbled upon this recitation of Hebrews 9 & 10 by a guy named Ryan Ferguson. I was impressed as I listened to him present these chapters through oral interpretation. Ferguson’s performance of these verses offers a perspective that both resonates with my reading of the passage and yet is also distinct at the same time.. Powerful!
A humble soul sees that he can stay no more from sin, than the heart can from panting, and the pulse from beating. He sees his heart and life to be fuller of sin, than the firmament is of stars; and this keeps him low. He sees that sin is so bred in the bone, that till his bones, as Joseph’s, be carried out of the Egypt of this world, it will not out. Though sin and grace were never born together, and though they shall not die together, yet while the believer lives, these two must live together; and this keeps him humble.
Francis Schaeffer was a prophetic voice to Christianity for the latter half of the 20th Century. His treatises such as Mark of the Christian and Two Contents, Two Realities were excellent primers for Gospel-Centered & Missional Christianity long before either Gospel-Centered or Missional were coined terms.
The premise behind his philosophy has been has been summarized in this mathematical equation:
Truth – Love = Ugliness
Love – Truth = Compromise
How might this theorem, if lived out, effect the church? How could it impact your life?
In the news recently are reports that China’s Communist Leaders Fear Christian Population May Reach 300 Million by 2030. I first heard it mentioned on an episode of Breakpoint podcast, then later read about it from a couple of sources, including The Christian Post linked above. I have long been aware that the church in China was growing rapidly, exponentially. I have read that there are believed to be more Evangelical Christians in China than in the USA – more even than in the USA and Europe combined. But until this recent report, I don’t think I comprehended that the committed Christian population in China will soon match the total population of the USA! (USA estimates roughly 330 million population.) Astounding. Clearly God is doing an amazing thing among the Chinese people.
What has most grabbed my attention, however, is not the sheer number of Christians in China, but the seeming divergent tales of two cultures in response to the growing number of Christians in China and despite the growing number of Christians in China.
First, are the reports that the Communist Chinese government is aware and afraid of the growing number of Christians. They have tried persecution, executions, etc., but nothing has stopped the growth of the Church. Now realizing that the gospel cannot be stopped, and that at some point the number of Christians will lead to radical changes undermining the power of the Communist government, Party leaders fear losing their near absolute control.
Second, in contrast to the reports from China, here in the USA, many Evangelical Christians are among the Americans living in fear that the Church has lost the culture, and that China may soon take over the USA (here) – and maybe even the world! (here, here)
So here’s my question: Why is it that so many who believe the Gospel – and who believe in the God of the gospel – fear those who are afraid of the gospel that they know they are unable to overcome? Why do we not trust – and pray – that God is working out his purposes? (Habakkuk 2.14, Romans 8.28)
For those interested in learning more about what God is doing in China, check out:
Three times, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us “Do not be anxious…” (Matthew 6.25, 31, 34) The repetition is a rhetorical cue that he really means it. It could almost sound as if Jesus is doing his own version of the old Bob Newhart Stop It! sketch. Why is Jesus so resolute that we deal with our anxieties?
Anxiety bears no good fruit
Anxiety bears bad fruit
Anxiety essentially questions God’s sovereignty
Anxiety essentially questions God’s wisdom
Anxiety essentially questions God’s goodness
Finally, and ultimately, because the One who said “Do not be anxious…” solved our greatest problem at the Cross by receiving the punishment we deserve for our sins.
In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology.
In a blog post, more recently published as a book, Kruger examines the 10 core tenets of progressive (or contemporary liberal) Christianity offered by Richard Rohr, which was based on a book by Philip Gulley.
Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.
Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
Peacemaking is more important than power.
We should care more about love and less about sex.
Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (eternity is God’s work anyway).
Like the liberal understanding of Christianity in Machen’s day, “Progressive Christianity” is not simply represent a different denominational perspective, nor is it just a variant version of the faith, it seems an entirely different religion altogether.
“We are not citizens of this world trying to make our way to heaven; we are citizens of heaven trying to make our way through this world. That radical Christian insight can be life-changing. We are not to live so as to earn God’s love, inherit heaven, and purchase our salvation. All those are given to us as gifts; gifts bought by Jesus on the cross and handed over to us. We are to live as God’s redeemed, as heirs of heaven, and as citizens of another land: the Kingdom of God. We live as those who are on a journey home: a home we know will have the lights on and the door open and our Father waiting for us when we arrive. That means in all adversity our worship of God is joyful, our life is hopeful, our future is secure. There is nothing we can lose on earth that can rob us of the treasures God has given and will give us. ”
All men are afraid of afflictions and troubled at affliction, but where is the man or woman that fears sin and flies from the serpent, and is troubled at sin more than any affliction?
It got me thinking. What if I borrowed and re-purposed Burroughs’ question:
All are afraid of affliction and troubled by the fear of this virus. But where is the man or woman who fears sin and is troubled by sin more than he or she is troubled by and fears the coronavirus? Where is the man or woman who is as vigorous about protecting our hearts from the infection of sin within as we are presently about washing our hands and covering our faces to prevent the virus from infecting our lungs?
An even more immediate crucial question: Am I such a man?
I admire Martin Luther’s attitude in the midst of the bubonic plague:
“I shall ask God be merciful to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me, and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person. I shall go freely… See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Note to Self: May I live to honor God by loving and serving my neighbors to the best of my abilities during our present health crisis.
A feature in USA Today this week caught my attention. They highlighted a lip dub video from Broken Arrow High School in Oklahoma. The 2017 video is a sequal to the school’s lip dub video that went viral in 2015.
Ordinarily I probably wouldn’t really care about such things. I may admire the artistry and the work that went into it, but after a viewing it’s likely I wouldn’t give it another thought. But this is different. Broken Arrow High School holds a special place in my heart. My family moved to Broken Arrow just before I started high school. I went to Broken Arrow High School for my Freshman and Sophomore years of high school; before our family moved to Nashville for my final two years of high school.
Though I did not graduate from BA, at least a part of me will always be a Broken Arrow Tiger.
Here is the link to the 2015 USA Today article highlighting the original video.
Unreasonable Expectations About Ministry Involvement
Gossip & Murmering
Attacking the (non-Staff) Spouse to Get Desired Results
Every non-staff church leader should be aware of these. Every church member should be aware of these. They are very real. I have experienced all of these in one form or another, in one church or another. I see these happen to friends serving other churches. While I am fortunate that all of my children, now grown or in college, have not only continued in their faith journeys but have actually increased ministry involvement, such patterns of behavior are common contributors to the high numbers of ministry children leaving the church, if not also the faith. The behaviors Rainer identifies are often devastating to ministry families.
For those serving in churches where you are experiencing some of these abuses, perhaps causing you concern for your spouse and children, I will share the counsel I received from a godly older minister during a time when our experience was most acute. I was told: “If you don’t let it crush you, it won’t crush them (the children). Don’t share details (with your children) – they likely already know. But do talk with them, be honest about it, and make sure they understand that those in the church are also broken and sinful, just like those outside the church.” Our children learned this lesson; they consequently have a pretty good grasp of Total Depravity and Luther’s concept of simul iustus et peccator(Simultaneously Just and Sinner) -even if they don’t necessarily know the term. But because they understand that even as believers – as those “credited” as “righteous” – we are all still infected by our own selfishness and sin, they have a greater appreciation of why we all are in need of Jesus’ redeeming grace. Though the blood of Christ was shed “once for all”, bringing forgiveness, we all have an ongoing need for the blood of Christ to continually cleanse us from our sin. Though shed “once for all”, a one-time shot of Jesus’ blood is not all there is.
I encourage you, whether on church staff or a church member, click the link above to read Rainer’s descriptions. One important thing to note, Rainer does not limit this behavior against only the Pastor’s family; it happens, at one time or another, to almost all ministry families. Check your own church to see if (where) this is happening. Then step up, and step in where necessary.
Happy Birthday, Young Life! The preeminent ministry to high school students turns 75 this year. It is worth a celebration. Faithful to their vision, “Every Kid, Every School”, Young Life has developed ministry to reach as many teens as possible: Wyld Life for Middle School; Young Lives for teen moms; Capernaum for students with disabilities; and of course YL Clubs at as many high schools as they are able – and still counting.
I am among the beneficiaries. It was through Young Life in Nashville, Tennessee during the early 1980’s that Jesus ceased to be a historical yet mythical figure in my mind, and by grace that ignited faith, I understood that not only was he a real person in history, but that he is a real person in reality. In short, through Young Life I became a Christian. My involvement continued into college, where I participated in the preparation program to become a Young Life leader to a high school campus. Due to other commitments I never did become a Young Life leader. But in subsequent years I have had the opportunity to on the local boards (“Committee” in Young Life lingo), even serving as chairman in Pittsburgh and for a brief time in Williamsburg, where I now live. Perhaps, one day in the future, I will again have that opportunity.
In the mean time, I will join the celebration; excited that both of my sons are presently volunteer Young Life leaders in East Tennessee; delighted to have several of my closest friends serving as Area Directors and Regional Directors scattered around the USA.