Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sola Gratia (by Grace Alone)

The Price is Right. Last month, the game show turned 45 years old. It has been watched by young and old alike for many years. Of course, people like to watch the games (playing along when possible, e.g. Hi-Lo), watching the wheel being spun, and, seeing who will win what prizes. But for some the highlight of the show happens as the camera scans the crowd as the announcer calls for a particular name to “Come on down!”

At that moment, what you never see is someone pull on the sports jacket, straighten their hair, or work to keep their composure. No, for that person, the less composure you have, the better. In fact, enthusiasm is the primary factor for getting your name called. Of course, being outlandish in your dress may help some people too, but ultimately dressing like that is a part of the enthusiasm. See, while waiting in line to get into the show, the show’s crew looks for those who are enthusiastic, asks them a few questions, and then puts their name in as possible contestants.

The Price Is Right, like so many other aspects of our lives, tells us that if we do enough we can get the attention of others. Maybe the enough is standing out from the crowd. Maybe it is doing enough work. Maybe it is helping others. Maybe it is being the best. And the list goes on. Maybe the purpose is to get on a game show, to get a promotion or a raise, to be liked by a certain person or group, or to earn an award or a scholarship. But the key for most of our lives is to do enough so that we get the attention of someone and get our reward.

This mindset is the issue with today’s topic – sola gratia, by grace alone. This sola is similar to sola fide (by faith alone), but it has a different purpose. As I shared when a few weeks ago, sola fide stands against the teaching that we attempt to justify our faith by our works. That is, our faith may save us, but we need to prove it by what we do. The Bible teaches that our works have no part of our justification, therefore it is not faith+works that saves us, but faith alone – sola fide.

Sola gratia, on the other hand, stands in contrast to working to get the attention of God. That is, if we do enough, God will notice, and give us an award. That award, in this case is grace. Again, that idea is not found in the Bible, which is why last week’s topic, solus Scriptura is so important. We may read and hear many things, but what does Scripture say? That is the benchmark for a true believer! And regarding grace, Scripture is clear that nothing we do can earn favor with God in order for Him to give us grace. That is, we are not given grace by works, grace stands alone.

Of course, we should serve God because we are saved, but out of thanksgiving, not obligation.

As I have done each week in this series on The Reformation, we need to clarify a few ideas. First, although the term The Reformation is most common, the idea was considered a protest of sorts, so it is also known as The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand this idea, we need to know what reformation means.

Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
  • RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process

Let us now dive deeper into understanding grace, and specifically grace alone. I encourage you to take a moment to read the focal passage for this week – Ephesians 2.1-10.

Grace Is an Amazing Concept (Ephesians 2.1-5)

Of course, it is, you say, we sing Amazing Grace all time. But let’s take a moment to truly appreciate how amazing grace really is. Let’s begin by comparing grace to mercy.

Mercy is really a precursor to grace. See mercy is not giving someone a punishment they deserve. That is, someone deserves something negative, but mercy spares them. Because I led off this message with a game, perhaps some of you remember the game Mercy where two individuals lock hands and by squeezing and twisting both try to compromise the other. Once near a state of utter defeat, the compromised person asks for mercy.

Grace, on the other hand, is receiving something positive you do not deserve. In the game I just mentioned, grace would be that the loser received a prize for losing. The victor may or may not receive a prize, that is not the point. But the loser would not deserve a prize, and yet receives one.

This is truly an amazing concept. Mercy we can understand. But who would think up the idea of grace? Nobody – but God. But God! Most people have a hard time accepting something for nothing. But grace is not receiving something for nothing. It is far more than that. It is receiving something when nothing is so many steps higher than nothing that it is inconceivable.

And that is where this passage begins. We were children of wrath. That is, God had every right to destroy us. But God – God showed His mercy to us (by the cross). Notice verse 5 – He took dead people (you and I) and didn’t just forgive our sins – He made us alive. That is why the empty tomb is so important. Yes, we must believe Jesus died for our sins. We must appreciate His work upon the cross, but if He didn’t rise from the dead, how would we know? Would it truly matter? Verse 4 is about God’s mercy – overcoming our sin, but God didn’t stop there. No, He added grace and offered us life – eternal life, and that begins the moment you receive Jesus.

Grace Provides an Unbelievable Result (Ephesians 2.6-7)

So, now maybe you are beginning to see how amazing the concept of grace is. But as amazing as grace is, consider what the result of God’s grace is.

As I have mentioned many times before, most people ask the wrong question: “Will I go to heaven?” In the coming months, we are going to consider the problem of the question in a couple of different ways. But the essence of the problem is the focus is on a place (idolatry) not a person (Jesus).

Yet, verses 6 and 7 do talk about our present and future home. First, Paul wrote that by the grace of God we have been:
  • Raised up with Christ. We know longer have to consider ourselves in a lowly position. We are fellow heirs with Christ. He has raised us figuratively, and one day will do so literally.
  • Seated with Christ. I just mentioned that one day we will be raised literally. But notice these first two items are in the past tense. Not just past tense because Paul wrote the words nearly 2000 years ago, but Paul wrote them in past tense then. In some manner, when we die to self and begin following Christ, our address changes. Yes, Christians and non-Christians walk around this earth until their bodies stop. Yet, Christians talk about going home which is only possible if your home is elsewhere. And according to these words, our home is where we are seated with Christ.

Furthermore, Paul continues with one more result. In fact, Paul mentioned this as the very reason for God grace (notice the “so that”). What is the reason? That, in the coming ages (that is, eternity), God might show His immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us. Now, some people say that they don’t want to be with God for eternity because the place called heaven is boring. OK, that is their loss. Let me share why.

Think of the greatest sight you have ever seen. Now, try to capture the details of that scene. What made it so special? Could you describe what made it special in just a few words or might you need more? If you could describe it at all, then the sight was measurable. But God wants to pour out on your grace that is immeasurable. That means whatever awaits is better than anything we can imagine now. There is more to come – are you kidding me? We haven’t even scratched the surface of what God has in store for us. You and I, those people who were dead, who were children of wrath, but because of mercy, and now grace, have a God who has more in store for us – far better than this present world can contain. What awaits cannot currently be understood. We receive an unspoiled eternity with God. Boring. Hardly. Unbelievable. Absolutely!

Grace Is God’s Ongoing Gift (Ephesians 2.8-10)

These verses are at the core of understanding sola gratia – by grace alone. Clearly, verse 8 says we are saved by grace due to a gift from God. As we have already established, the concept of grace could only originate from God. But then verse 9 adds, our works have nothing to do with our salvation. Why? Because we know how we are – when we do something good, we want others to know about it. And God is one of the others in that statement. We want God to know when we think we have done something good. And this was the understanding that the reformers such as Luther were arguing against. The idea at the time was that grace did save people, but a person could get God’s attention by doing good and thus God would show that person favor. But grace is not earning favor, it is unmerited favor. When we work we expect to be paid. Grace, on the other hand, is a gift. We cannot demand payment from God; we can only cry out for mercy and pray He extends grace.

Verse 10 makes this even more clear. It says that we are His workmanship – that is, God created us – that we might do good works. OK. But He created those works that we should do them. This is critical. What this means is two-fold:
  1. God created people who would do good works for Him once they were saved (in Christ)
  2. God knew the works before they are done by those who are in Christ.

Why is this important? Because we cannot earn favor for what should be done. Think of it this way. Suppose you go to work every day for a week. Suppose you do all of your necessary tasks for the week – tasks which are a part of your job description. At the end of the week, you go to your boss and say, “Aren’t you going to thank me for doing my job this week?” What do you think your boss will say? It will probably be something like, “Well, all you did was what is expected!”

Verse 8 says that nothing we do can earn God’s favor to be saved – it is a gift. Verse 10 says that all we do once we are saved is what He intended for us to do from before time began. But let me go a little deeper because we have bypassed one very important word in verse 8.

Our grace comes through faith. The word we cannot miss is faith, but the word through is important as well. Grace is the reward for those who have faith. Again, let me paint a picture. Let’s say you are at an amusement park. You have walked from the parking lot right to the gate. You can see and hear the excitement on the other side of the gate, but unless you go through the gate, you cannot experience the fun for yourself. (pic of people standing to get into amusement park)

The same is true with grace. Grace is God’s gift and is available to all, but it can only be received through faith. But, it is important to note that grace is not a one-time gift; rather it is an ongoing gift, like a lifetime pass to the amusement park. Titus 2 says that God’s grace is given as a means for us to “renounce ungodliness and wordly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” I can’t speak for you but I still have a few worldly passions, and I am not always as self-controlled or as godly as I would like to be. Thus, God’s grace needs to be continually apart of my life. Grace is not just a one-time vaccination against sin or for salvation, it provides a boost for the ongoing training we need.

And that is where our works do enter the scene. Our works are not to earn grace, but because of grace. God created us good, to do good works, for a good Christ – all of which was done before we were created. So, how can our works help us to be saved if God created us for these works in the first place?

Grace is, indeed, an amazing concept, provides an unbelievable result, and in between is continually given so that we might become more godly and be better prepared for the age to come. And the best part about it is that grace is a gift, so, the price is right.

CONCLUSION
I began by discussing the game show The Price is Right. But our life is not a game. And the price of sin came with the ultimate cost – death. Not our death, but the death of God’s own Son. But because Jesus death covers all our sin, the price is right for us if we will just place our faith in Him. Why is the price right? Because GRACE makes it so. As has been said many times by many people, GRACE can be thought of as: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Christ paid the ultimate price so that we could gain the ultimate gift. I can guarantee you will never get a better offer than that. The price is indeed right.

JOURNEY: J – Jesus

Once again, our JOURNEY letter this week is J for Jesus. It is God that gives grace, but He does so because of the work of Jesus. It is not what we can do, it is what He has done. It is not by grace plus works by which we are saved, it is by grace alone.

NEXT STEP(S): Live. Serve God. Our work is in thanksgiving to what He has done for us. He created us for work, and He has many tasks outlined for each one of us. The tasks He has assigned me will be different than what He has assigned you, but if we all do our part, just like players on a team all must do their part, then He will do great work through us. All for His glory, and all because of His grace.

“The Diet of Worms”, A Closer Look by Rick Sons

Today we are going to talk about the Diet of Worms. No this is not some sort of fad diet, nor is this a biblical reference like John the Baptist eating grasshoppers and wild honey. I will on a side note say I have eaten earthworms and they are not that bad.

In politics, a diet is a formal assembly. The term is mainly used historically for the Imperial Diet, the general assembly of the Imperial Estates of the Holy Roman Empire, and for the legislative bodies of certain countries. The word came to be associated with Latin dies, “day”. The word came to be used in the sense of “an assembly” because of its use for the work of an assembly meeting on a daily basis, and hence for the assembly itself. (1)

Over the past few weeks we have been hearing about the different players in the reformation. And while many agreed with the idea there were those who did not agree with Luther and his agenda.

Luther posted his list of propositions (95 theses) in 1517 and burned the papal bull in 1520. A year later he was condemned by the Diet of Worms. His “95 Theses,” which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that people may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds. (2)

The Diet of Worms 1521 was an imperial diet (assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire held at the Heylshof Garden in Worms Germany, then an Imperial Free City of the Empire. This one is most memorable for the Edict of Worms, which addressed Martin Luther and the effects of the Protestant Reformation. It was conducted from 28 January to 26 May 1521, with the Emperor Charles V presiding. (3)

The main events of the Diet of Worms relating to Luther took place from April 16th to the 18th 1521.

On 16 April, Luther arrived in Worms. Luther was told to appear the following day before the Diet at 4 p.m. Dr. Jeromee Schurff, Wittenberg professor in Canon Law, was to act as Luther’s lawyer before the Diet. (4)

The imperial marshal, Ulrich von Pappenheim, and the herald, Caspar Sturm came for Luther. Pappenheim reminded Luther that he should speak only in answer to direct questions from the presiding officer, Johann Eck.

The main concern was a series of books and their content to which the diet wanted Luther to admit that they were his to call them heresy. Luther, stating he’d prayed for long hours, consulted with friends and mediators. Luther first apologized that he lacked the etiquette of the court. Then he answered, “They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort.” Luther went on to place the writings into three categories: (5)
  1. Works which were well received by even his enemies: those he would not reject.
  2. Books which attacked the abuses, lies and desolation of the Christian world and the papacy: those, Luther believed, could not safely be rejected without encouraging abuses to continue. To retract them would be to open the door to further oppression. “If I now recant these, then, I would be doing nothing but strengthening tyranny.”
  3. Attacks on individuals: he apologized for the harsh tone of these writings but did not reject the substance of what he taught in them; if he could be shown from the Scriptures that he was in error, Luther continued, he would reject them. 

Luther is said to have declared, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” before concluding with “God help me. Amen.” Private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate. Before a decision was reached, Luther fled.

Charles V signed an edict against Luther, ordering his writings to be burned. Luther hid in the town of Eisenach for the next year, where he began work on one of his major life projects, the translation of the New Testament into German, which took him 10 years to complete. (6)

The Edict of Worms
The Edict of Worms was a decree issued on 26 May 1521 by Emperor Charles V, declaring:
“For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.” (7)

Citations:
(1) Christian-history.org
(2) Britannica.com
(3-7) Wikipedia

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Solus Scriptura (Scripture Alone)

April 19, 1993. 51 days after first attempting to raid property of the Branch Davidians, the ATF initiated a final initiative against the compound. The primary aim was to seize illegal weapons, but the result was a deadly exchange resulting in the deaths of more than 80 people killed. One of the people killed was the cult leader, David Koresh.

Koresh had become the group’s leading prophet just a few years earlier. As their leader, he imposed many rules and took many wives including girls as young as age 11. He also built quite an arsenal of weapons, but at the expense of not having running water and plumbing. The environment was described by survivors as a “‘misguided paramilitary community’ in which sex, violence, fear, love, and religion were all intertwined.” (1)

Children who were tested were found to be at a normal reading level, so they were taught to read the Bible (the only known resource available). But the interpretation was skewed as Koresh claimed that he was the Lamb of God referenced in Revelation 5.12. Thus, it was not just the Bible that was important, it was Koresh’s understanding, his thoughts, and his decrees that dictated how everything should be run.

David Koresh and the Branch Davidians are not the only examples of this sort. From a pastor/church combination, man may remember Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. Of course, cult followings do not have to be fully religious in nature as Hitler and the Nazi Party reveal, but the power of religion and a leader who is both charismatic and power-hungry, will often lead to devastating results.

How do Koresh, Jones, and other cult leaders and cults relate to our study on the Reformation? First, let me say that I am not equating the pope and the Catholic Church to these other situations. The parallel, however, is found in the importance placed upon tradition and/or one man’s interpretation against the Bible. The Catholic Church had complete control over the people for over 1000 years because most people could not read Latin, which was the language of the Bible. So, only those educated, and primarily educated by the church and for the Church had any understanding of what the Bible said.

But when the Bible began to be translated, and the invention of the printing press made mass production possible, the people were able to get a Bible in their own language. The people began to have the ability to check the teachings of their leaders against the truth of God’s Word. The ability to check is why I place Scripture references with an encouragement to read them within my posts. I always encourage others to read these passages for yourselves rather than taking my word for it. Yes, I have formal training, and I try to pass on what I know and glean from Scripture, but none of us are perfect, nor can we be, on this side of eternity.

So, today, we discuss the third sola – solus Scriptura – by Scripture alone. The point of this sola is to place our emphasis on Scripture, not on any man’s interpretation of it, and not on traditions. By keeping our focus on Scripture instead of Scripture-plus, we remain true to God and are less likely to be swayed by man. (Incidentally, that is why I have asked Susan to place page numbers on the screen for our Scripture reading rather than the actual words – holding the Bible (or even your phone) and reading it for yourself, rather than something that could have been mistyped, is one way to ensure accuracy of what is being read.)

As I have each week, let me remind us what The Reformation was. Again, The Reformation is the same as The Protestant Reformation. The word reformation was developed as follows.

Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)

  • RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process


So, if The Reformation was to return the Church to the idea of solus Scriptura, what was the benefit? Why was the idea of Scripture alone important? Let me give four reasons which come, appropriately, directly from Scripture – specifically from 2 Timothy 3.16-17.

Before I break down verse 16 let me share what Paul writes in the larger passage. Paul mentions all of the godlessness in the final days. In 2 Tim 3.2-5, he wrote that people would seek pleasure at all costs, be excessively arrogant, lack self-control, and give an appearance of being godly while only paying lip service to God (among other vile attributes). He then encourages Timothy to stay true to the path he has started – a path based upon the principles of Scripture and charges Timothy to preach these principles to others even though people will not want to hear it (4.1-4). In the midst of this passage, come the verses I will read – verses which share both that how and the why we must remain focused on Scripture.

All Scripture is:
All Christians have favorite verses and passages from Scripture. The problem is that we often ONLY gravitate to these passages and miss out on the fullness of Scripture. Perhaps it is because we find some parts boring. Perhaps, we find certain parts difficult to understand. Might it make you feel better to know that Peter thought Paul was difficult to understand (see 2 Peter 3.16)? But that is why God has provided us with teachers to help!

Breathed out by God
The word for “breathed out” has been translated in some Bibles as inspired. Certainly, God did inspire the writers of both the Old and New Testaments to write the words of the Bible. But the English Standard Version (ESV) uses God breathed, which adds so much. Just as God breathed into man, He has made Scripture living and active. The words may be ink on a page, but they come alive due to the Spirit of God piercing us to the core of our being (Hebrews 4.12).

Profitable
Not one letter is unimportant – not even the least stroke of a pen (Matt 5.18). The old adage is that Leviticus is where all Bible reading plans go to die, but that is our fault, not God’s. We may get bored with reading all of the family lineages, but these lineages show God’s faithfulness from generation to generation. All of Scripture is profitable if we just let God speak to us through His Word.

So if all of Scripture is profitable, what profit might we gain? Scripture is profitable for:

Teaching
What do you know about God or Jesus that hasn’t come from the Bible? Actually, plenty, but what of that is true. For instance, we can see the majesty of God in Creation – the stars, the mountains, etc. but those specifics are mentioned in the Bible as well. But we do take some traditions as truth from a variety of sources including traditions and hymns.

Traditions – What type of fruit was eaten in the Garden of Eden? An apple? Well, in Genesis 1.29 God says that they can eat from any fruit-bearing tree if the fruit has a seed. Apples have a seed, so it was not an apple. But you have likely believed that the fruit was an apple for so long, it will be hard to change your mind.

Hymns – I have mentioned this idea before but we firmly believe that Jesus did not cry in the manger because “no crying he makes” is a part of Away in a Manger. Likewise, we believe three kings visited Jesus. The truth is that the Bible does not mention whether or not Jesus cried, nor how many kings – although it does mention three gifts were brought.

My point is that the Bible should be our source for information about Jesus. Many tend to know more about Him from the songs they sing than from the autobiography He wrote. But the teaching here is not just about information, it is about transformation. The Bible teaches us more than just what we can know, it teaches how we should live.

We are given positive examples such as Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul. And we are given negative examples such as Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul. Yes, just like us – each had positive and negative aspects to their lives. And that is why we have the perfect example of Jesus as well. And because we have His Word and example, the next item is a must.

Reproof
To reproof is to rebuke. Specifically, this relates to false teaching, but let me generalize this thought for a moment. One of the current debates is on whether it is ok to kneel during the national anthem. The answer, per the 1st Amendment of the Constitution is “Yes.” Does that mean everyone must like it? No. Does it mean that people who giving death threats are right? Absolutely not. Do I wish people would stand? I do, but I wish more people read their Bible or were part of the church too.

My point is this: people often get very angry over certain issues. But the expressed anger is often on preferences rather than truth. The first amendment guarantees freedom of speech and body language is a language, so the term speech is relevant here. The same is true with the Bible. We all have certain sins that frustrate us more than others, and therefore we rebuke others for the sins that bother us most and are lenient towards those with which we often struggle. Worse, we often let society dictate what is or is not biblically important including whether we should reproof anyone.

“Do not judge” is often shouted at Christians. But the Bible tells us we are to judge those in the church. If the person is a part of the church, then they have submitted themselves to Jesus so really, as this verse states, all we need to do is mention Scripture and let the Holy Spirit convict the person. Thus, we aren’t really judging, we are letting the person judge themselves by the words of Scripture. But reproof is not enough, that is why Paul mentions the need to correct.

Correcting
Why does Paul include the need to correct? Because the statement, “You are worthless” is a form of rebuke. However, such a statement means little (although it may hurt a lot) because it provides no measure of why someone is worthless or what they can do about it. If we look at this idea from a biblical perspective, it would be equivalent to saying, “You sinner! All you do is sin.” to someone, especially a non-Christian without telling them what the sin is or how to stop.

Correcting, then, is taking the idea of rebuking and then being positive to help the person grow. For example, let’s say a Christian has an argument with someone and the relationship turns ugly. The word “hate” is used. The rebuke might be to remind the person of the Great Commandment – to love God and love others (Mark 12.38-41). The correction could then include Scripture to show how this could be done. For instance, Jesus command to pray for (not at or against) those who persecute you (Luke 6.27-31) and His example of praying for those who crucified Him (Luke 23.34) could serve as a means of correction. Such examples also then provide training in what it means to be a Christian. Although my example may be true for anyone, the correction should be welcome by a Christian – whose goal is to be like Christ.

Training in Righteousness
The final item mentioned in this passage is “training in righteousness.”  Paul uses a similar phrase in 1 Timothy 4.7-8 when he wrote of being trained in godliness. Likewise, in Titus 2.11-12, Paul wrote of God’s grace training us to not be ungodly or worldly. The idea is that once we have been rebuked, and then having our thinking and actions corrected, we should pursue more than the minimum, we should want the best.

Consider it this way. Perhaps someone introduces you to a certain type of pie.





The pie is store bought, but it is good. Then, you meet someone who knows how to make that pie and it is delicious. They offer to teach you to make it and after a couple of tries your efforts taste as good as theirs. But you decide that the store-bought pie is satisfactory enough, so you never make the pie again.

This example typifies how many Christians live. They know the bare basics of Christianity. They know what not to do, but they do not seek to know the fullness of God’s riches and grace. It is one idea, for instance, to know “Thou shalt not murder” but it is another to learn to love. Furthermore, it is still another level of understanding that allows one to appreciate WHY the two commands are important. So, “Thou shalt not murder” is rebuking, learning to love is correcting, but knowing why love trumps murder is to be trained in righteousness.

CONCLUSION
As we move toward the end of this message, I have given reasons, directly from Scripture, for why Scripture is important. But the issue 500 years ago was, and the issue today is, not just Scripture, but the idea of Scripture alone, solus Scriptura. The issue at hand is “What do I obey?” We can obey Scripture or we can obey what we want to obey. We can observe the commands of Scripture or we can bow to the various traditions that hold us hostage.

In Jesus prayer found in John 17, He says to His Father, “Your word is truth” (v. 17). God’s Word is truth, not man’s. Man’s understanding will lead to people like David Koresh and Jim Jones to manipulate others for their benefit. Man’s opinion and understanding change frequently. More specifically, man’s opinion, even on religious matters will not reflect God’s Word. For instance, according to the Vatican website, Catholics fourteen years and older, are not to eat meat on Fridays (or perhaps some other food determined by bishops) as a part of being united in the acts of penance. The Bible speaks of fasting, but never demands such a practice, although in the Catholic Canon just mentioned, updated in 1983, it is a part of the “divine law.” (2)

Again, Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Not your word. Not my word. Not man’s word. Not the pope’s word. The only truth is God’s Word. Therefore, on issues of morality and religion, we must adhere to the principle of Solus Scriptura – Scripture alone.

JOURNEY: JJesus
One could argue that our JOURNEY letter this week could be O – Observe. But because the Bible is God’s written Word, and Jesus is the living Word, I still choose Jesus. The Reformation was about returning to the Church to the roots of the Christian faith, and it was Jesus who promised to build His Church – so, the rebuilding must take place through Jesus as well.

NEXT STEP(S): Learn: If we are to teach, reproof, correct, and train others in righteousness, it must be through God’s Word. Thus, we must first know the truths of God’s Word. Many people throughout the world gather for one or maybe two hours per week to hear, and perhaps, study God’s Word. But if we are to be the people He wants us to be, we must invest ourselves, our very lives, into knowing His Word intimately. Because as we do, we will come to know God more intimately, and that should be the goal for everyone who claims to know Christ.

Footnotes:
(1) http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/04/us/growing-up-under-koresh-cult-children-tell-of-abuses.html?pagewanted=all, Accessed Oct 5, 2017)

(2) http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_P4O.HTM, Canon 1251 (1983), Accessed Oct 5, 2017).

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

“John Knox,” A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

Knox’s Early Years In Scotland
  • 1514 – born in Haddington
  • 1536 – graduates from St. Andrew’s University; ordained as a priest
  • 1540 – becomes a notary (a legal official) and a tutor
  • 1543 – converted to Christ and embraces the Reformed faith
  • 1545 – becomes follower of and bodyguard to George Wishart
  • 1546 – Wishart martyred in St. Andrew’s; Cardinal Beaton murdered; Protestants besieged in St. Andrew’s Castle
  • 1547 – takes refuge in the castle; preaches first sermon; castle falls; Knox becomes galley slave in France for 19 months

Knox Ministers In England
  • 1549 – Berwick, England; preaches with much power and success
  • 1550 – meets Mrs. Elizabeth Bowes and her Daughter Marjory
  • 1552 – London; disputes practice of kneeling at Communion; refuses Bishopric of Rochester
  • 1553 – forced into hiding when Catholic Mary Tudor is crowned

Knox Flees Persecution and Ministers in Europe
  • 1554 – flees France, then Zurich and Calvin’s Geneva; pastors an English congregation in Frankfurt
  • 1555 – liturgical dispute forces him out; goes back to Geneva and pastors an English congregation there; returns to Scotland secretly; marries Marjory Bowes and preaches idely
  • 1556 – condemned for heresy in Scotland; returns to Geneva with wife and mother-in-law
  • 1558 – writes The First Blast of The Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (advocates rebellion against ungodly rulers)

Knox’s Last Years In Scotland
  • 1559 – returns to Scotland; preaches sermon condemning idolatry; leads rebellion
  • 1560 – Reformation Parliament adopts Protestant Scots Confession; Marjory Dies
  • 1561 – Knox helps write First Book Of Discipline; Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots returns; Knox preaches at St. Gile’s in Edinburgh; first interview with Mary, Queen of Scots
  • 1564 – marries Margaret Stewart
  • 1566 – writes much of his History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland
  • 1572 – dies in Edinburgh; buried at St. Gile’s Church

John Knox is regarded as the “Father of the Scottish Reformation” and the “Founder of the Scottish Protestant Church.” It has been said if Martin Luther was the “Hammer” of the Reformation and John Calvin the “Pen,” John Knox was the “Trumpet.”

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, spiritual darkness covered Scotland. The religious superstitions of Rome gripped the nation. The Bible was essentially a closed book and the belief was that righteousness come by works, not by grace. The religious leaders did nothing to spur spiritual growth but were ignorant of it. There was a great loss of hearing the Word of God which left the nation impoverished and very, very weak. This is the condition of Scotland that John Knox entered.

John Knox was born in Haddington, Scotland (15 miles East of Edinburgh) to Roman Catholic parents. He enrolled in the University of St. Andrew’s at age fifteen and graduated with an M.A. degree at age nineteen. Later that same year, he was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Unable to find a parish to serve in, he became a papal notary who authenticated documents. He also served as a tutor for well-to-do families that held Protestant beliefs. This is where he was exposed to Protestant doctrine.

Then in 1543, Knox converted to the Christian faith under a Dominican friar and chaplain who went deep into Reformation doctrine with him. Seeing how corrupt and contaminated the Catholic system was, Knox spent the next two years devoted to in-depth study of Scripture. Knox was given even more intense exposure to Reformation doctrine by becoming a bodyguard to George Wishart, a very powerful Reformed preacher. Knox learned boldness courage, and faithfulness in ministry.

In 1545, religious persecution reached a fever pitch and Wishart was arrested and taken to St. Andrew’s Castle where he was burned at the stake in 1546. This is when and where the torch was passed on to Knox. Previously a Catholic stronghold, the St. Andrew’s Castle became a rallying point for those who embraced Reformation teaching.

From Knox’s inital preaching in 1547, he daringly upheld the truth of Sola Fide – justification by faith in Christ alone. He was a staunch defender of salvation by grace alone. Here Knox denounced Rome’s teaching on purchased indulgences, holy pilgrimages, forced fasts, and clerical celibacy. He declared them to be blasphemous and openly pronounced the Pope to be an antichrist. He went on to assert that the Catholic ceremonies went beyond the commands and instructions of Scripture, insisted that mass was idolatrous, and decried the church’s teaching on Purgatory.

In June of 1547, St. Andrew’s Castle came under siege. Knox and 120 defenders were captured and made to row in the hull of a Frnech battleship for nineteen months. They were released but could not return to Scotland at this time because of severe persecution. Knox went to London for the next five years and established reform in the Church of England. Knox traveled throughout England preaching at various churches and spreading the Reformation doctrine.

This Protestant cause came to an abrupt halt in 1553 when Queen Mary I (known as “Bloody Mary”) was crowned. 288 reformers, including women, children, and other prominent spiritual leaders, would be burned at the stake. This caused Knox to flee and go to Europe for the next five years for safety. Knox traveled to England, France, and Switzerland, preaching and upholding Reformation doctrine and denouncing the Catholic Church. In Switzerland, Knox traveled to Geneva where he sat under the teaching of Calvin. Then he traveled to Frankfurt, Germany establishing an English-speaking congregation in 1554.

One achievement that stands out is in 1558. Knox worked on an English version of the Bible known as the Geneva Bible. This translation would be the Bible of choice for the Reformers and Puritans. It would be the Bible the Pilgrims took to the New World in 1620.

John Knox finally returns to Scotland in 1559 after twelve tumultuous years in England and Eurpoe. By now his goal was to uproot Roman Catholicism and plant biblical Christianity in its place.

Another achievement came in 1560. The Parliament passed legislation that abolished Catholic religion in Scotland and adopted a document, the “Scots Confession.” It states the infallible Word of God is to be the exclusive authority of the Church – Solus Scriptura.

After his return to Scotland, Knox continued his preaching until his death in 1572. He continued to denounce the Roman Catholic Church’s practices and even went before the Queen many times to argue about Catholic practices and explain Reformation doctrine. Knox died in 1572, having been anchored to Jesus Christ by faith alone.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Solus Christus (Christ Alone)

Do you remember a time when you did something that upset someone and you asked a friend to talk to the other person to see how bad things really were? You would tell them a question to ask the other person, they would do so, and then report back later. Depending upon the answer, the process would repeat. But eventually, to make matters right, you had to talk to the offended person. Occasionally, when you finally approached this person, you may have heard, “Well, why didn’t you just come to me in the first place?”

This is the question that Jesus asks us. Many people do a lot of work in an attempt to get to Jesus. Whether this work is an attempt to catch His attention or an attempt to complete their faith and earn approval, many use a roundabout path to try to get to Jesus. But Jesus says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28). This verse is not about getting a break from work, it is about trusting Him for our salvation – we cannot earn it!

Likewise, when we sin, many go to a person (such as a priest) to seek forgiveness through confession. The thought process is that if we talk to the right person (again, a pastor or priest), then they can pray for my forgiveness. A few weeks ago, I showed that Scripture dispels this myth because the Bible says we are all priests (1 Peter 2.9-10). Human mediators are not who or what is important, Jesus is (1 Timothy 2.5).

And that is the point of the second sola (or solus in this instance) – solus Christus, in Christ alone. It is in Christ that Christians have our identity (read Ephesians 1 and notice how often the preposition “in” is used). It is through Christ that we will be with the Father for eternity (John 14.6). It is with Christ that we have died, but now live (Galatians 2.20). And I could continue. However, I want to paint a contrast to show why the “alone” is necessary. Sola fide may have been the catalyst for The Reformation, but Solus Christus was the very core of it. That was true when The Reformation began in in the 16th Century and it must remain true today.

BODY
As I prepare to discuss this second sola, I first remind us of what The Reformation was. First, although the term The Reformation is most common, the idea was considered a protest of sorts, so it is also known as The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand this idea, we need to know what reformation means.

Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
  • RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process

As the second of the five solas we are reviewing in this series, solus Christus was certainly the most important part of The Reformation. For instance, it is faith alone in Christ alone that saves us. And as we saw last week, the word “alone” is critical. Again, the “protest” was against the Roman Catholic Church. The Church certainly believed that Christ’s work on the cross was necessary for salvation, but Christ’s work alone was not. This is the essence of the second sola. Let me briefly explain.

The Power of One

Let me begin with the word monergism. Monergism simply means to work alone. In theological terms, it means that God works alone on behalf of our salvation. Consider a verse such as Hebrews 12.2 which calls Jesus “the Author and Perfecter of our faith.” What does that mean? Jesus (God) laid the foundation for you to have faith and is perfecting your faith. In a sense, you need do nothing. However, in a very real sense, one must respond to that faith and then partners with God in becoming perfect. We play the secondary role, but we do have a role to play.

But, and here is the importance of this term, nothing you or I have done, will do, or can do adds one ounce of anything to our salvation. God worked alone to affect our salvation in Christ. Catholic belief was, and is, that we must contribute to our salvation. This understanding is very agreeable, but it is not biblical. That is, it makes a lot of sense that I should do something towards my salvation given how much Jesus did for it. But the Bible does not teach that. Rather, the Bible teaches that it is the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus (the blood of Jesus), and the resurrection of Jesus that brings salvation to all who believe.

Let us review two specific areas how the idea of in Christ alone goes beyond the Catholic understanding of in Christ.

One Mediator

If most Christians, and people for that matter, know one thing about Catholics, it is probably the idea of confession. Certainly, the veneration of Mary, the celebration of the Eucharist, the idea of a pope, the place called the Vatican, and other aspects of Catholicism are known by some, but little if any of those details are known by those outside the Catholic tradition. But the idea of confession is a little better understood, in part because it has been depicted (even if inaccurately) on television and in movies.

But 1 Timothy 2.5 specifically states that only person mediates between God and man – and that person is Jesus. Catholics will rightfully claim that the verses surrounding this verse describe praying for others. Indeed. However, 1 Timothy 2.3-4 transitions to why we should pray for others – because Christ died for all, and therefore stands as the way to God (c.f. John 14.6). That is, Christ stands as the mediator between us and God. We do not need a priest (or a pastor) to do that for us. This idea goes back to my opening scenario – Jesus wants us to come to Him ourselves, not use some back channel to seek forgiveness.

In fairness, the Catholic Church deems that Christ instituted the idea of penance (confession) with the apostles. However, the first written declaration came in 1215 AD (4th Lateran Council) requiring that all who are faithful should confess once per year. It should not be considered ironic that the idea of indulgences began around this same time. Let me read the definition of an indulgence directly from the website – catholic.com. 

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain defined conditions through the Church’s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints.”
(https://www.catholic.com/tract/myths-about-indulgences)

What does this mean? Essentially, that the Church can help to reduce the punishment of sins (sins already forgiven by God), because of the work of Jesus and the saints whose good works more than make up for the average sinner. Thus, if you pay money, then you can either free someone else from purgatory earlier, or pay in advance for yourself.

The idea, and abuse, of indulgences was a primary aspect for Luther in the writing of his 95 theses. Luther and others began to see the need to return to the idea that salvation is from Christ alone, not through man (the pope), and not through the Church. Jesus is our mediator – there is no other.

One Name

Let me quickly review a key verse for the idea of Solus Christus, in Christ alone. In Acts 4, Peter and John are standing before the Jewish authorities. Why are they there? Because they healed a lame beggar. As the people gathered around the man, the authorities took notice and became frustrated that Peter and John would preach about this Jesus whom had been killed. Peter and John were arrested and then the next day had a chance to share the truth with the full council including the high priest! I encourage you to take a moment to read Acts 4.5-12.

Salvation comes from no other name. All Christians should affirm this, and certainly Catholics do. However, most of humanity does not. Many seek salvation in (or through) Mohammed, Buddha, and many other religious figures. But even Christians tend to slip here. Earlier this summer, I shared how the church at Corinth was focused on following Paul, Peter, or Apollos, not Jesus. Many are led aside in our day as well. Churches become defined by their pastors or leaders. Granted, a pastor is called to lead the church, but this church is not about me, nor is it about you. It is about Jesus – that name that provided salvation, the name that secured salvation, and the name that will one day complete our salvation when we see Him face to face.

CONCLUSION
When I began preparing for this message, I had difficulty zeroing in on my approach. One idea I had was to spend most of the time reading various verses which relate to the supremacy of Christ and what He has done. We heard from Colossians 1 earlier. Philippians 2 has, perhaps, the fullest representation of Christ in one uninterrupted passage. And, certainly, many other verses or passages exist. We must understand that every verse of the Bible points to Jesus in some way. Jesus says so in John 5.39-40. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them is eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” It is important to note that when Jesus mentions the Scriptures here, he is only talking about the Old Testament, because Jesus was still living what would later be written down as part of the New Testament.

But, I do want to share one more verse with you. 1 Corinthians 2.2 says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” In other words, Paul didn’t get caught up in story-telling, in current events, in making himself look good, etc. He had one message and that message was enough – “Jesus Christ died for you. What will you do about it?”

That is the message of the Bible. The Bible says that we are saved from sin by the blood of Jesus, not by the works of man, not by the words of man, and not by the church – only Jesus. People may argue, but tell me, what could you or I possibly do to help ourselves that the blood of Jesus couldn’t do? It is in remembrance of His gift that we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper in just a short while. It is in honor of what He has done that we must again make our JOURNEY letter:

JOURNEY: J – JESUS

NEXT STEP(S):  Lord’s Supper

Our next step was to partake of the Lord’s Supper together. Before we did, I briefly shared the four viewpoints relating to understanding the place of Jesus’ in the observance. You may see this brief synopsis here.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

“The Lord’s Supper,” A Closer Look By Andy Braams

This week’s primary message was on Solus Christus – in Christ alone. Even if one agrees with in Christ alone (over in Christ), the application for that understanding may differ. For centuries, the Catholic Church celebrated the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) with a primary understanding that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ. At the time of the Reformation, three new ideas were put forth. The following information provides a brief insight into these four distinct understandings.

Catholic (Transubstantiation)
Bread and wine “really and substantially” become the body and blood (cf John 6.53-55)
  • The church and the priests had the power to make this happen
  • The church had the power to give grace to the people

Luther (Consubstantiation)
  • Presence of Jesus is at Lord’s Table in a virtual sense, but not a literal sense
  • Luther objected to the idea of mass being offered by the priests as a sacrifice to God (a part of the idea of sacerdotalism)

Zwingli (Remembrance)
  • Do this in remembrance of me – THIS points the person to Christ, it is not Christ
  • Jesus is present spiritually, not physically.
  • The Lord’s Supper is a testimony of faith in Christ, not a way to receive Him

Calvin (Promise)
  • Jesus is indeed in the elements by the operation of the Holy Spirit – connecting us in a mysterious way.
  • God is the agent, not the elements!

While these four understandings are presented here briefly, I encourage you to research each further. Ultimately, what matters is your understanding of what Christ did on the cross, not how the Lord’s Supper should be understood. However, theology and application are important, so how we apply our beliefs does matter. Therefore, it is important to consider what we truly believe.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sola Fide (Faith Alone)

Keep the faith is a saying is as old as the Bible. Paul said as much in 2 Timothy 4.8 that he kept the faith, encouraging Timothy, in this context, to do the same. But the phrase has come to mean far more (or perhaps, I should say, far less) than it originally did.

“Keep the faith” is a rallying cry for various athletes and teams and their fans. For instance, if I were to say “ya gotta keep the faith” in a certain tone, some of my college friends would think of one specific moment after a Kansas City Chiefs loss in 1990.

Some here might be fans of Billy Joel. In 1983, Joel released a song entitled, “Keeping the Faith.” It was moderately popular reaching #18 on Billboard’s chart. But the song epitomizes a lack of emphasis on where our faith should lie – and I am not talking about Jesus, although that is where I am heading soon. In Joels’ song, he does mention being lost (but in the idea of reminiscing) and being saved (by music), and even revival (mentioning drinking beer while listening to rock and roll). But much of the song is about how he dressed and what he did and learned as he grew up in the 1960s, and apart from the three words I just mentioned, and the phrase “Keeping the Faith”, the song contains nothing related to the faith I will speak of today.

Why do I mention athletes and Billy Joel in a message related to faith? Because many people talk of keeping the faith, or having faith, or having a strong faith without considering what the idea really means. For instance, let me pose this question, “Would you rather have a little faith in something strong or a strong faith in something weak?” Consider it this way, would you rather step out on a frozen lake with a lot of faith but with very thin ice, or with very thick ice but only a little faith?

To have faith is important, but it is not what is most important. The object of our faith is what is important. You can have a lot of a faith in yourself or a little faith in Jesus. You are the thin ice; Jesus is the thick ice. So, how does this all of this talk of faith relate to our series on The Reformation? Well, the first of the five solas is sola fide, by faith alone.

RE-FORM-ATION

Before I get into the idea of sola fide, let me remind us of what the term reformation means. Last week, on my personal blog, I discussed the difference between a revolution and The Reformation. The action and the intent is quite different. So, what does re-formation mean?

Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
  • RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process

If The Reformation is about returning to a previous understanding, we must establish (at least) two points of reference. We need to understand the correct line of thinking (what faith originally meant) and the faulty line of thinking (what faith meant in the 16th Century). Once we see this picture, then we can compare our understanding of faith today. Because we are talking about a need to reform, I want to cover these beginning with the 16th Century, then backing up to the early church before moving into the present.

The theological issue really comes down to a difference in an understanding of justification. Earlier this year, in an interview format, I talked about salvation. One part of the discussion related to a multi-step process for what we commonly refer to as being saved. In basic form, salvation includes being justified, being sanctified, and eventually when we are on the other side of eternity, being glorified. But the issue at hand for today is justification.


16th Century Justification
The basic argument of the Catholic Church is that faith in Christ does save us, but to be truly justified, we must add works. A key verse for this concept is James 2.24, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Thus, according to the Catholic’s viewpoint, our salvation may begin by faith, but our works make us justified. This has been the official Catholic position on justification since it was confirmed at the end of the Council of Trent in 1547 and was the position prior, just not in written form. In essence, Catholics believe that faith in Christ saves us, but works (especially those like baptism, the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) and penance (confession to a priest) fully justify us. Martin Luther, as a priest being trained by the Church would have been taught this very idea.

However, while reflecting on Romans 1.17, his mind began to question the Catholic understanding of justification. Romans 1.17 says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “‘The righteous will live by faith.’ This verse served as the catalyst to The Reformation. If that is true, what did it mean – not to the 16th Century Church, but to Paul and the ancient Church – to those whose faith in the early centuries were distanced only by a generation or two from the time of Jesus?

Quickly, let me break down this verse. (Romans 1.17)

For in it – What is the it? In verse 16, three possibilities exist – the gospel, the power of God, and salvation.

So which is it? I firmly believe the “it” refers to the gospel – the hope in Jesus which leads to salvation, all of which stems from God being mighty and powerful. The gospel is what makes salvation known to us and available for us.

The righteousness of God is revealed – God’s goodness is known because of the gospel. God certainly loved His people in the Old Testament. But that love was made manifest in Jesus – showing God has never been some sort of aloof God, but a personal and caring God.

From faith for faith – Many varied explanations exist for this phrase. The Greek phrase is difficult, in itself, causing interpretation differences as well. One common interpretation is “faith from first to last” – meaning our righteousness begins and ends with the gospel and allows us to understand what has been revealed by God.

As it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Again, some debate exists on how this should be translated. Consider a reordering of the words: “The righteous by faith shall live.” In this rearrangement, the point seems clear that Paul is not writing about how a person will live, but THAT a person will live eternally. How is this done? By having faith in the gospel which brings about salvation to all who believe. (Although the KJV uses the same order as the ESV, the word just is used in place of righteous which makes the idea of justification – a central theme in Romans 1-4 – all the more clear.)


1st Century Justification
For Paul and the early church, let me provide an important piece of evidence relating to the judicial process. The Roman Emperor would sit on the “bema seat” (judgment seat) to hear cases and render a verdict. Once the Emperor passed a verdict, no appeal was left; the decision was final.

The same is true for justification. Once faith in Christ is realized, it is final. The gavel has fallen, the decision is made. The Bible speaks of this moment as the dead coming to life, and those at odds with God becoming His children. This is the meaning of justification in the first century. But even then, some would challenge what that justification meant. Paul facetiously asks the question in Romans 6, for example, if we should abuse the grace of God because the verdict has already been declared. His answer is that such a question does not denote an accurate understanding of God’s grace.

Perhaps, this abuse regarding the idea of faith is why the Catholic Church has tied sanctification to justification over the years. According to Catholic doctrine, by combining the need for works to what God has already provided, a person can show themselves to be justified. However, Luther and others began to see the Bible as saying, we are made righteous by God, and therefore our works should be for God, not for ourselves. In other words, we work because we are saved as an expression of giving thanks, rather than trying to add to something that has already been provided for us.

This truth is made clear in John 3.16. God loved us so He gave to us and if we believe we are with Him. Now, the word believe requires a little more explanation. In our time, to believe in something primarily means to know, or at least presume, something to be true. Belief, understood in this way, is about a mental understanding of something, or in the case of Christian faith – Someone. However, the Greek word used for belief in John 3.16 is a form of the Greek word pisteo which is the word for faith. So, the original verse would have read like this: For God so loved the word that He gave His only Son that whoever faiths in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Here faith is a verb, not a noun. So faith must be more than simply thinking something is true, it is to act on that truth. Again, this should cause us to serve. We “work” not to be saved, but because He has saved us.


21st Century Concerns
So faith is important, but does faith alone justify? Honestly, that is what most people are concerned about: “If I die today, will I go to heaven?” Well, that is the wrong question, but let me address it first anyway?

Romans 3.28 says, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” So yes, you are justified by faith, not by trying to keep God’s law. I realize the fullness of the phrase “apart from works of the law” might lead some to believe that other types of works can be beneficial, but verses such as Philippians 2.12 clearly state to “work out” your salvation, not work for it. In other words, do work, but because you are saved, not as something to put towards it. So yes, if you truly believe – if your faith is real, then you will go to heaven.

And the idea of faith is the first sola – sola fide – by faith alone. By faith, yes. Catholics and Protestants both affirm that statement. But adding the word alone brings us to the first dividing point of this study. It was the first reason reform was needed. It was the first burst of light breaking through the darkness. The light would continue to burst through as people captured the truth of the Bible above the teachings of the Church and the cries rang out all the more, “post tenebras lux!”

Before I go on, I mentioned a moment ago that most people ask the wrong question, “If I die today, will I go to heaven?” Many reasons might be given for why this question is not the right one. (I will post a few thoughts on my personal blog later this week.) The one I will focus on for this message relates specifically to faith. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, why are you wanting to wait to experience Him until you get to heaven? That is, if you believe that a “personal relationship with Jesus” is important, then why are you shoving that relationship aside until you reach eternity? Matthew records the final words of Jesus to be: “I will be with you always,” (Matthew 28.20) but too often, Christians act as if that means once we die. No, it is true now – or, at least it can be, if you have faith?

So, faith is important, and means we don’t have to wait to experience Jesus until later. Furthermore, I have established per Romans 1.17 and 3.28 that faith alone is sufficient. But what does it mean to truly have faith? The two verses below can help us to begin to understand.

Hebrews 11.1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things to come.”

2 Corinthians 4.18 – “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

To answer the question about what it means to have faith, based upon these two verses, ask yourself this: Are you more focused on your day to day experiences, or knowing that something far better exists and you haven’t fully realized it yet?

Now, someone reading this may have just connected a few dots to what I just wrote about waiting for heaven. I said don’t wait for heaven, and then just asked you if you know that something far better exists and you haven’t fully realized it yet. But that something better is not heaven – it is the Kingdom of God – the one we pray about when we say, “Thy Kingdom come”, not “to heaven I wish to go.”

Let me remind you of a song lyric many of you will know well.

“And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.”

Whomever is here on earth on that day, it will only be well with your soul if you soul is right with God. And you are only right with God if your faith is truly placed in Jesus. How can you know? Because you want the words of that song to be more true than anything else. I have goals and dreams in my life, but none of them mean anything in comparison to seeing Jesus face to face.

When that happens, when faith becomes sight, it is no longer sola fide, it is sola optica – by sight alone. Until then, I must, we must, keep the faith and realize it is by faith alone that we are saved.


CONCLUSION

I began this sermon with a mention of Billy Joel’s song entitled “Keeping the Faith.” I grew up in the 80s and love the style of music. As a teenager, I could sing along with most any song, but as I have aged and better listened to the lyrics, and find it hard to support so many of the songs I previously enjoyed.

And that is my point about faith. Just as I sang songs without really considering what I sang, we can talk about faith without really having any meaning behind our thoughts. Billy Joel is a talented musician, and I like a good amount of his music from the 1970s and 1980s. But, he has no place in his life for Jesus, and has stated publicly that he is an atheist. (See http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/25/living/gallery/atheists/index.html)  Like many, Billy Joel has commandeered a religious phrase for personal use. I do not blame Joel, nor do I condemn him in any way. I will still listen to much of his music, but we must take a warning from his example, especially, as I see it regarding this song’s lyrics. We can say we have faith, or that we are keeping the faith, but unless that faith is properly placed, and its implications properly understood, it will mean nothing. Let us never forget that our faith only matters if it is in Jesus. Therefore, our JOURNEY letter today is:

JOURNEY: J – Jesus


NEXT STEP(S):

Learn. Consider your understanding of faith. Do you believe you must add something (e.g. works) to your faith in order to “be saved” or is faith alone enough? If you are not certain, truly examine this issue in the Bible to become convinced in order that you may truly know God’s truth on the matter for yourself.

OR

Live. If you are convinced that your faith is real, what will you do today because of it? What can you do this week? Faith without works is dead and Jesus wants us to be alive. Live out your faith this week!