Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reading List! (September 30, 2014)

Finished this month:

The Path of Loneliness by Elisabeth Elliot
I would put this in the top 10 books that have most influenced my life. While I just read it now for the first time, there are several quotes in it than alone have greatly impacted my life over the years! Loneliness is something everyone at some point experiences, some to a much greater degree than others. This has indeed been an area of suffering for me and the Lord greatly used this to remind me of His greatness and love and encourage me to trust Him. This is a gem of a book!

“If with courage and joy we pour ourselves out for Him and for others for His sake, it is not possible to lose, in any final sense, anything worth keeping. We will lose ourselves and our selfishness. We will gain everything worth having.” (p. 123-124)

Some other notable quotes from this book:

“Our hearts are lonely till they rest in Him who made us for Himself.” (p. 90)
“God may have to hurt us, but He will never harm us. His object is wholeness.” (p. 62)
“God never denies our heart’s desire except to give us something better.” (p. 32)
“God has promised to supply our needs. What we don’t have now we don’t need now.” (p. 128)
Perhaps some future day Lord,
Thy strong hand will lead me to a place where I must stand
Utterly alone.
Alone, O gracious Love
But for Thee;
I shall be satisfied if I can see – Jesus only.
I do not know Thy plans for years to come
My spirit finds its perfect home sufficiency.
Lord, all my desire is before Thee now
Lead on, no matter where, no matter what – I trust in Thee.
(p. 39)

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges
My family and I read this together on our road trip to Ohio this month. It’s my second time through this one and it’s excellent! I really like Jerry Bridges, I like his writing style and his humility is evident. It is really convicting though! There is so much in our lives that we overlook or think isn’t a big deal – but sin is sin and it all matters to God. We need the Gospel and we need to grow and change, continually putting off the deeds of the flesh and putting on true righteousness and holiness.

“…it is easy for us to feel good about ourselves and to assume that God feels that way also. We fail to reckon with the reality of sin still dwelling within us.” (p. 24)
“…as God is holy, all holy, only holy, altogether holy, and always holy, so sin is sinful, all sinful, only sinful, altogether sinful, and always sinful.” (p. 29)

Currently Reading:
I’m still working on Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare by C.H. Spurgeon – I’m halfway and the goal is to finish this big book this next month! I’m also reading What Is A Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The 5 Sola’s of the Reformation: Sola Deo Gloria!

The final “Sola” of the Reformation is Sola Deo Gloria which means, “Glory to God alone!” In the Roman Catholic Church salvation was achieved (as mentioned previously) not by grace through faith alone, but Christ/faith + works. You needed to do x or y, pray this prayer, take this pilgrimage, pay this tithe or indulgence, etc. or you could have no hope of salvation. As a result, if and when one did attain salvation, who really got the credit? Man did.

The more shocking thing about this, is that there are many protestants who would like to give themselves more credit than is due. After all, we did something didn’t we? We choose to believe, choose to follow Christ right? And we continue to choose to obey Him, to do what’s right, so we deserve some credit, some reward right?

No. You and I do not “deserve” anything. Remember our discussion on grace? It’s ALL grace, and it’s nothing that we do. Thus how can we dare presume that we deserve anything? God promises to reward us yes, but He rewards us based on His grace and mercy, not because of what we do.

According to Scripture, God’s main passion is for His own glory.There are some who have actually argued that that is “selfish,” but umm He is God you know… For God to pursue His own glory is NOT selfishness, in fact, it's the highest virtue! If He’s not concerned and jealous about His own glory then He’s not really the Supreme One. Someone has to be in charge - the problem is that we usually want it to be us. In doing so, or even by taking some credit for ourselves, we rob God of glory; we steal from the Divine One the honor due His name. But in this we find joy, because giving glory to God is what we were meant to do! Jonathan Edwards wrote, "God's purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God's glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory, and that these two are one passion."

Who ALONE gets the glory? “Well, yes, God” is usually the reply. But do you really live as though that were true? Does how you live your life and use your words line up with this truth? Or do you see your salvation as being mostly God and a little bit of me?  How about your sanctification, is it something God starts but you have to finish? Now, I’m not saying we don’t have responsibility, we clearly do, but my questions are probing to find out who really gets all the credit for all of this. Jesus counseled his disciples, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ” (Luke 17:10) We have merely done our duty, and even that ability was given to us by His grace. Do you realize that there's nothing you can do to make God love you more and there's nothing you can do to cause God to love you less? Our salvation is based on His grace in Christ - it's not our work, it's no credit to ourselves. Paul writes, "But 'he who glories, let him glory in the Lord' " (2 Cor 10:17). He is our "boast" as other translations put it, He is our glory and our praise. To God be the glory - great things He has done! 

For more about this I'd encourage you to watch this short clip from Louie Giglio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3sWGlJMj4Q

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The 5 Sola’s of the Reformation: Sola Gratia & Sola Fide

The concepts of these 2 sola’s were often grouped together. The reason is that one flows from the other. It’s by grace, through faith that we are saved.

The Roman Catholic Church taught (and still teaches) that it is not grace alone that saves us, its God’s “grace” + our work. Their definition of grace makes salvation possible – more like a general or common grace. It’s not a grace that actually and completely saves. But grace is the wellspring (source) of our salvation. Further, to spring from the previous post, Christ’s life, death and resurrection are the grounds to our salvation, but faith is the means. We attain this salvation not through our good works or merits, but simply by the grace of God and through faith in Christ’s atonement.

Grace has been defined in many different ways. Unmerited favor, or de-merited favor.  Simply put, grace is receiving what you do not deserve. The fact of the matter is that we do not deserve God’s mercy even to the degree that we live and breathe. But then there’s justification from sin which we can in no way earn as it’s outside of our ability to accomplish. This saving grace is an active grace that brings about new birth.

Here’s where even many Christians split. The Catholic church along with many protestants today believe that this saving grace is only active after an individual puts their faith in Christ. It’s a long-debated question: Which comes first, faith or salvation?

To find the answer we need to go to Scripture - as it is our "sola" authority! Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” We are saved BY grace, THROUGH faith. It is very clearly the grace that saves us, but it’s through our faith that this becomes real to our experience. Thus, I believe salvation does theoretically precede faith. Our faith springs from the saving grace that God gives us through the new birth. We were dead in sin then “made alive” as Eph. 2:1 says. And that life in Christ gives birth to faith.

This is key as we remember that our salvation is not dependent upon our faith, it’s dependent upon God. Too many people look to their past, to a moment of “faith” they once had and that gives them their assurance. Many also look at their Christian life and think their standing with God is dependent on their continued efforts and faith. But those are both faulty. That is works-based justification and sanctification. We cannot depend on what we did (or did not do) in the past we must be looking to Christ! Yes, our faith may waver, it’s not perfect, but it’s through persevering in faith that it proves to be genuine. This process is called sanctification and that involves more of us cooperating with the Holy Spirit to grow and change. But justification (our salvation) is all (sola!) of grace not of ANY of our work or effort. And it’s realized all through faith not through any independent effort on our part.

Since it is grace is the source of our salvation and not our faith it gives us nothing to boast in, rather it paves the way for the last “sola” on the list… Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The 5 Sola’s of the Reformation: Sola Christus

“Christ alone”. For most reading this, that is rather obvious… of course we’re saved by Christ alone. But the Roman Catholic Church (not to mention EVERY other religion out there) did not (and still does not) really teach that. They believe and teach that Christ died for sin yes, but His sacrifice alone was not sufficient to take away sin. It’s Christ + works. However, the Reformers believed from Scripture that it was Christ’s sacrifice for sin that alone could justify us before God and that our own righteousness and works could have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Christ, His person, His work, His life, death and resurrection are the grounds for our salvation. There is no hope without them. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Why Christ? Because God demands a perfect sacrifice, and no mere man could suffice. Why blood? Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23). It is only through the sacrificial death of a perfect “second Adam” that we could have the hope of forgiveness of sin. In the Old Testament the Israelites offered the blood of lambs and oxen, but they were shadows of the perfect sacrifice that was coming. They were only a temporary covering of sin – they could not take it away. The author of Hebrews argues this throughout his letter as He shows the supremacy of Christ, His person and His work. He wrote,

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (Heb 10:11-14)

This is how Jesus just before he died could cry out “It is finished!” (John 19:30) – the work He had come for, to “seek and to save” sinners was completed. And by finished He meant just that – there was no more work to be done.  “Now where there is remission of [sin], there is no longer an offering for sin.” (Heb 10:18). What offering or sacrifice can we offer for our sin? There is none, because first of all, no sacrifice or work could be enough, and secondly, Christ has already offered it!
Paul writes, “In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace…” (Eph 1:7)

Also Romans 3:21-25:

“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith…”

Does this put you in awe of Christ? In amazement of His life lived and death died on our account? This is indeed a great Savior and although we may be great sinners, we can run to Him and find forgiveness! How does one attain this forgiveness? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Believe; trust; put your faith in Christ as sufficient to take away your sins and make you righteous before God! And what this faith is we shall discover more in my next post.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The 5 Sola’s of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura

(This is part 2 of a series on the 5 Sola’s of the Reformation)

One of the cries during the Reformation was later termed “Sola Scriptura!” which means “Scripture alone”! Again, the Reformation was an awakening of the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, and one thing that they taught was that Scripture alone was not the ultimate authority. While they didn’t say this out rightly, it was clear that Church tradition was esteemed just as highly as Scripture (if not more), there were several apocryphal books added to the 66 original Canon, and in addition, the Pope could speak “ex-Cathedra” and it was considered equal to the authority of Scripture. In so doing the Church could supersede Scripture and “interpret” it as they saw fit. Martin Luther took issue with that, and rightly so. The Scriptures were not their final and ultimate authority for doctrine and life and it claims to be just that:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Scripture alone! “Canon” means rule or standard. It’s a measuring rod if you will, one that everything else must measure up to. The 66 books of Scripture have met this standard and have stood the test of time for the last 2,000 years.

The question of the Bible’s authority is not just a problem within Catholicism; many Protestants, while claiming the Scripture is their authority, unfortunately can end up placing more weight on their feelings or experience than on the Word of God. I could name a lot of names right now of teachers who claim “God told me” or share visions or ideas, but yet they don’t measure up to what Scripture teaches. Since Scripture is the standard we do not compare Scripture to our thoughts, interpretations or opinions we compare them to the standard of Scripture. It alone is our rule for faith and practice. To follow any other thing before or above this - whether it be a person, a dream or our feelings, is to practically deny the authority of Scripture.

*Picture: Martin Luther’s pulpit, Wittenberg, Germany. Amelia Arnold, 2008.

All that being said, I’m going to add a bit of a twist to the discussion. Is Scripture itself alone sufficient to make us “complete”, alone sufficient for “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3)? I would say, well... not quite. While Scripture must be our final authority, I would argue, it is not all we need.

Now you pick up stones to throw at me please review what I said previously. The Scripture ARE our final and ultimate authority. BUT – there is something we are forgetting.

The Bible says that the Word of God gives life (see Ps 119:50). But what is it exactly that gives these ink-on-paper words life? They were breathed-out by the Holy Spirit. Notice what Jesus says gives life: “It is the spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63). There are two things that give life: the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. These two cannot be separated! The Word of God is the means to our becoming “complete” (1 Tim 3:16) but the Holy Spirit is the agent through which this is brought about. To have the Word without the Spirit is empty religion, to have the “Holy Spirit” without the Word is mere spirituality or mysticism. We must have truth based on Scripture, and we must have the Spirit to bring that truth to life.

There are many in charismatic circles who place their emphasis on the Holy Spirit at the expense of the Word of God, but I have also known of solid, Biblical, evangelical, even Reformed churches who emphasize and centralize the Word of God but at the expense of nearly entirely ignoring the Holy Spirit. It’s as if it’s our own feelings/experience + the Holy Spirit = life, OR our own intellect + Scripture = life. While both groups have something valuable I would say both are unbalanced.

Let’s look at this text for instance:

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Heb 4:12-13)

Is this saying that the words on the page themselves have this power to convict and judge? Well, yes, but again, it's not just the words themselves that challenge us it’s the Holy Spirit that works through the words of Scripture (written or spoken) that brings about conviction. Words themselves can not convict, only the Spirit can do that.

So, Scripture alone, period? If you’re talking about final authority than yes, absolutely! But we would do well to remember that Scripture is made alive “sola” through the work and power of the Holy Spirit. The means of Scripture and the involvement of the Holy Spirit is what gives us all we need for life and godliness. Perhaps we should add another “Sola” to our list: Sola Spiritus. It is the Spirit alone who gives life, light and power - BUT this He does through the Word of God and more specifically, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must have “both and” my friends!

For more on this subject, here are some great messages to listen to:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The 5 Sola’s of the Reformation (Introduction to Series)

Most of you have probably heard of the 5 Sola’s of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Deo Gloria, but do we even know what these really mean? It seems that a lot of the time we just like our little cliché’s and don’t really understand their importance. These were crucial doctrinal stances concerning Scripture and what it teaches us about God and salvation. It’s important to realize that they mean sometimes mean different things to different denominations and that while Catholics may sometimes claim agreement what they mean is not the same. This is a lot about definitions which can seem nitty-gritty, but definitions matter when it comes to truth. What is grace really? What does the sufficiency of Scripture actually mean? Exactly what role does faith play in our salvation?

The Reformation was a spiritual renewal/revival that occurred in Europe in from the mid-1500’s to mid-1600’s. Prior to this the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) was the very dominant (and often the only) “Christian” church in Europe. The problems were many: salvation was attained through works (prayers, confessions, tithes, use of the sacraments, doing good deeds), false teaching (salvation by works again, the sinlessness of Mary, praying to saints) and there was a lot of corruption and abuse of power. Martin Luther is credited with officially kicking-off the Reformation. Originally a committed Catholic monk, he was studying the book of Romans when he realized that salvation was not of works, and that man could not attain salvation through works. Rather it was all of the grace of God through faith in the work of Christ alone. His conversion led to him speaking and writing against the false teaching of the RCC and when he nailed his 95 Theses (statements of disagreement with teachings of the RCC) on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 the Reformation had begun. It then spread to surrounding countries (Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin in Switzerland) and to England through the preaching of John Knox and under King Henry VIII (although he personally had different and very wrong reasons for rejecting Catholicism).

*Picture: The 95 Theses’ Door, Castle Church, Wittenberg, Germany. (Amelia Arnold, Spring 2008)

While these 5 solas were not collectively put together until the 20th century the concepts were used by the Reformers themselves in their writing. The two that most often appear together are “Sola Gratia,” (Grace alone) and “Sola Fide” (Faith alone). For example, in 1554 Philip Melanchthon (a friend of Martin Luther) wrote, "only by grace do You justify and only by faith are we justified". All of them, of course, are truths taught in Scripture and you can find all 5 Sola’s in one passage! Check out Romans 3:21-25:

“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law (note- it’s not by the law/works) is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (there’s the Scriptures) even the righteousness of God, through faith (there’s faith) in Jesus Christ, (there’s Christ) to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (OK, maybe a stretch here? But at least we can see here God’s glory as the supreme end) being justified freely by His grace (there’s grace) through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, (Christ again, but here clearly it’s His work on the cross)…”

In a response to the RCC teaching that salvation = God + man’s work or effort, men like Luther, Calvin and Knox sought to call people to come back to these key truths - that God’s Word alone is our authority, that we are saved not by works but by Christ’s work, and that by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, and all this for His glory alone. These men certainly had their flaws and all their theology was not completely accurate; nevertheless, we should always be grateful they have left us this legacy. In this series I will examine each of these (Grace & Faith together probably), what the Scriptures teach about each one and why they are  important, in fact, why they are worth dying for as many protestants did in the 16th century. Hope you'll enjoy!

To read more on Reformation history see below: