Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grace to Live By

It is no difficult thing to trust in something once you have confidence in that which you are trusting. What we need is confidence in God's grace - that God's grace is powerful enough to both save us and to live our lives by - and that we don't need to be constantly kept in check by law (rules). This was (and is) the main objection to the message of God's grace: "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" (Rom. 6:1) But Paul's answer is wonderful: "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace." (Rom. 6:14) Paul had confidence that grace would not - no, could not - cause sin to reign in a person's life. In fact, it was ONLY grace that would be able to free a person from the dominion of sin. Let's face it, the law hasn't done this for us, has it? We may tell ourselves 50 times a day that we are not allowed to do this or that, or vow to God a hundred times that we won't sin, and guess what? We will sin. You don't need a license to sin. We sin just fine under law. What we need is to come under the cleansing power of God's grace and of His love. This alone will free us.

The entire doctrine of sanctification in Romans 6, 7 and 8 can be summed up in two verses in Galatians:

"For I through the law am dead to the law that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. The life that I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:19-20)

This verse finally came alive to me once I realized what it meant. It wasn't a call to self-sacrifice (ie. "Crucify yourself!"). It wasn't a call to live a life of generic faith in God. It is first a teaching: "You can't live unto God until you are dead to the law." It is second a statement of fact: "You ARE crucified with Christ, and therefore it is not you who are alive anymore, but Christ who lives in you." That is a fact of identity before God, not an aspiration. By believing in Christ you have been united to Christ, and therefore His death was your death, and His life is your life. Your old identity is gone and your new identity has come. It is no longer about what you have done or do; it is only Christ and who He is and what He has done. You are perfected in Him.

And thirdly, it is an insight into the whole secret of the apostle Paul's life: "The life that I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." Paul has just told us the secret of his life. He did not live a generic "life of faith". It was the OBJECT of his faith that gave him the impetus to live. He lived everyday believing that Jesus Christ loved Him and had given Himself for him. That's how he LIVED. That was enough. It was enough to send him on his missionary journeys, to endure hardships, to love the brethren, and to love God. His entire life was a response to the wonderful news of the love of God demonstrated in the death of Jesus Christ for sinners - even for him ("who loved ME").

Try it. You will see that grace will do what law cannot. May you put your total confidence in God's grace - not only for your salvation but also for your sanctification - and experience the freedom that only Jesus Christ brings.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Christology 101

In Mark chapter 8 verse 27, Jesus asked his disciples a question that would reverberate throughout time and around the world: “Who do men say that I am?” What is incredible about this question is that it has lost none of its relevancy - that today the question is just as important as when it was first uttered from the lips of Jesus. Perhaps the only thing that has changed about it is the amount of answers that we have accumulated throughout the course of two-thousand years. In the disciple’s day the number of options for answering was comparatively small: “Some say John the Baptist. Others say Elijah. Still others say one of the prophets.” The Pharisees considered Jesus to be a demon-possessed blasphemer. At the time the question was posed, the whole Roman world outside of Israel never even knew about Jesus. Today most of the world has heard about Jesus and many conclusions have been made about him. You don’t hear too often the opinion that Jesus was John the Baptist, but we have our own set of bizarre opinions. “Jesus was a Buddha.” “Jesus was a highly morally evolved human being.” “Jesus was a prophet, like Mohammed.” “Jesus was a good teacher.” “Jesus was not the Messiah but God’s greatest test to see whether we as Jews would be faithful to the law or not.” “Jesus never existed.”

Of course, there is a profound follow up question to this first question. It is one thing to ask what others think about Jesus; answering the question can be done in a classroom. But Jesus next made the question intensely and inescapably personal: “But who do YOU say that I am?” Now it no longer matters what other people think. The question He poses He poses to you, and you must answer it. You cannot escape answering it. And if you need help answering it, there really are only three valid options: either Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord that He claimed to be. You may ask, “Why can it only be these three choices?” Because only these three choices actually take seriously the historical facts about Jesus. If we say Jesus never existed we are ignoring the historical facts that testify to the truthfulness his life and death. If we say Jesus was just a good teacher, or a prophet like Mohammed, or a Buddha, or a highly morally evolved human being, we are ignoring the historical facts about what Jesus actually said concerning Himself, and we are creating and postulating a fictional Jesus. But if we take all the facts together, of his life and his teachings, we have but three options: He was liar, or He was a lunatic, or He was the Lord that He claimed to be. Surely any man that claims to be the Son of God, that claims the worship of the entire world, and that claims power over the grave for Himself and for every one who believes in Him, is either totally out of His mind, lying, or is in truth who He is claiming to be. We can safely dismiss all other options.

The apostle Paul was a man who at one time believed that Jesus was a false and wicked blasphemer, and he had devoted all his human energy to putting a stop to the worship of Jesus as the Son of God. He thought that the crucifixion of Jesus was exactly what Jesus had deserved, and that all those who believed in Jesus should likewise be punished. He was convinced that he was doing God’s will by wreaking havoc of the Church. It is this same man that wrote the passage that we have before us, Colossians 1:15-18, extolling Jesus as his God and his Lord and his entire reason for existence. Paul’s mind had changed about Jesus. And if you do not believe in Jesus, so can yours. No matter how firm your conviction may be against Jesus Christ as Lord, your mind can yet be changed. You may be like Paul, kicking against the goads, fighting a hopeless battle against God Himself, until the day comes when you cry out in defeat, “Who are you, Lord?”, no longer with an attitude of defiance and skepticism, but of surrender and submission to His Lordship. Paul learned who Jesus really was: far from being a blasphemer who deserved the cross, Paul realized that Jesus was His God, and that He had died on the cross not because He deserved it, but because Paul deserved it - that Christ had died on that cross for Paul’s salvation, for the forgiveness of Paul’s sins. What a love! Thus Paul’s life was changed forever, and he lived the rest of his life captivated by the love Christ had for him.

In Colossians 1:15-18, we have, not three options of determining who Jesus is, but three declarations of who Jesus is as the Lord of all.


These three things give us a complete picture of who the man Christ Jesus really is, that by seeing we may rest complete in Him. For an incomplete understanding of Jesus leads to an incomplete Christian who looks to other things besides Christ to make up for his supposed incompleteness, but a complete understanding of Christ leads to a complete Christian who seeks for nothing outside of Christ, because he has found all that he needs met fully in Him.

“Who is the image of the invisible God.” (Col. 1:15)

Now I want to draw our attention to a few passages in the Gospel of John, which Gospel truly sets forth this truth of Jesus the Son of God revealing the true nature of God. First, John 16:2-3, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God a service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.” From this passage we can see that to Jesus it is not enough to simply believe in God, to be a theist. In fact, it is those who believe in God, who attend religious institutions for worship, who will think that they do God a service by putting you to death. We have seen this all throughout history and even today, that many horrible things are done in the “name” of God; and unfortunately this is used as an argument against Jesus and against Christianity and against religion altogether. But to reject Christ and God because of those who do not truly know God is to be greatly mistaken. Here, to Jesus, it is never enough simply to believe in God, or even to be monotheistic. It is never enough unless you know the Father. It is never enough unless you know, not merely that there is one God, but WHO that God is: His character, His Person, His nature. It is God the Father that Jesus Christ came to reveal to man. This was His mission.

Another passage in John, 14:7-10: “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him. Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast though not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, He doeth the works.” To see Jesus is to see the Father. To hear Jesus is to hear the Father. To believe in Jesus is to believe in the Father. Jesus is the revelation of the Father to men, “the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3), so that whatever you see Jesus doing you see that it is the Father’s doing it, and whenever you hear Jesus speaking you hear that it is the Father saying it. The work of Jesus was the Father’s. Jesus claimed to not do anything of Himself, but that everything He said and did was by the will of the Father. When we see Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, and saying, “Father, forgive them”, do we see Jesus trying to affect a change in the Father’s heart toward man, or do we see the revelation of the Father’s heart of love toward man? Do we see in the life and death of Jesus Christ the revelation of the One who loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life?

A final passage in the Gospel of John, John 1:17-18: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” Here we have a marvelous statement of the utmost importance. Without Jesus, no one has a true understanding of who God really is. It is true that the law was given through Moses, and that the law revealed to us something true about God. God is just and holy and righteous, a God of wrath and of judgment, a God who requires absolute moral perfection in order to have fellowship with man because He is perfect. These things are all true about God. But understand, that to know these things is still not to know God. Yes, you know may many true things about Him, but you do not yet know Him, for without Jesus you do not know that which defines Him and makes Him who He is! It is like knowing a person’s physical features, and where they work, and how many siblings they have, and what kind of food they like, and countless other things, yet still not knowing who that person is, because you do not know the essence of that person - the thing about them that makes them who they are. And so to only know God as a God of justice is not false, but it is not truly knowing Him. To truly know God is to know Him through Jesus Christ; the God who is full of grace; the God who is seen in the bloody face of Jesus Christ, suffering and dying on the cross for lawbreakers, and extending forgiveness and mercy to those who do not deserve it because He loves them and has overcome the impossible at the cross. This is what it is to know God as He really is! To know God in Jesus Christ is to know the Father - not merely from a distance, but to know Him in His bosom.

And so Paul tells us in Colossians 1:12 to give thanks unto the Father, who has made us meet to be partakers of the saints in light by sending His Son to redeem us from our iniquities by His blood, forgiving us of all our sins, and translating us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom He loves. It is Father who is to be thanked and praised when we behold in Jesus the image, the tangible manifestation, of the invisible God.

"For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him. And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” (1:16-17)

The second declaration about Jesus the Lord in Colossians 1:15-18 is that He is the source, sustainer and purpose of all creation. The Scripture does not say that Jesus was Himself created, as some have erroneously imagined from the expression in verse 15, that He is “the firstborn of all creation”. For this notion is immediately refuted by the following verse: “For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible… all things were created by Him.” (1:16) That Christ created all things that were created is repeated twice for emphasis. If ALL things were created BY Him, then He Himself cannot have been created. If one argues that “all things” might refer to the material universe only, the apostle states that “all things” includes everything whatsoever that is in heaven and on earth, including powers and principalities and authorities and dominions. All things were created by Him. Moreover, if Jesus were Himself created, then He therefore would not be God, because God is not created. Therefore, because we known Jesus is God, we know that He was not created.

What then does it mean that He is the “firstborn of all creation”? “It signifies his dominion over all things, as the first-born in a family is heir and lord of all, so he is the heir of all things.” (Matthew Henry) That is, that Jesus has the predominance over all creation, just as a firstborn son has the predominance of status, position, blessings, rights and privileges. Christ is likened to a firstborn. The firstborn was the heir. Christ is said to be the heir of all things (Heb. 1:2). The expression itself is a Jewish one, as the Jews themselves used to call Jehovah their God the “firstborn of all creation”, not because they believed God was Himself created, but because He was superior to all things. It is this same sense which we find in Psalm 89:27, speaking of Christ: “I will make Him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.”

Jesus was not created, but God the Father created all things by Him. This was no mere man! He was the source of all creation. He is also the sustainer of all creation. “And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” (1:17) Literally, “By Him all things are held together.” What an amazing thought! Christ’s relation to creation is not merely something of the past, but of the very present (with also a glorious future). Everything that exists is presently held together by Jesus Christ. Herbert M. Carson writes, “Indeed Christ is not only the agent of creation, but of perseveration. The philosopher may seek for a principle of coherence, a unity amid the diversity of the world of sense; but in the Son the believer finds the true principle of coherence. It is His power alone which holds creation together.” Many philosophers have committed suicide on account of their Christless search for coherence and meaning in the universe which their Christless philosophies cannot produce. They who mock the Savior mock the very One who holds their atoms together. It is in Jesus Christ alone that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid (Col. 2:3), and happy is the man who possesses them.

Now all this is said to show two things: First, to show to those who think that we must worship angels because of the assumed notion that they are the source and sustainers of the world (Col. 2:18) that Jesus Christ is preeminent above even the angels, and that He alone is the source and sustainer of the world. What is more, He is the creator of the angels themselves, and by Him are they even being preserved! Christ is sufficient for all our worship, because He is God, and to Him all worship belongs.

Secondly, to show that God’s purpose in creating all things and in sustaining all things is Jesus Christ. “By Him were all things created, and FOR Him.” (1:16) That is, the reason why “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” was because God desired to reveal Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ through His life, death, resurrection and exaltation. The revelation of the Father in Jesus is the reason for creation’s past, creation’s present, and creation’s future. It all exists for the glory of God - the glory that is manifested through the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

“And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence.” (Col. 1:18)

The final declaration about Jesus in this passage is that He is the head of the Church, the firstborn from the dead. The emphatic point is that HE and HE ALONE is the head of the Church, and that nothing more, and no one more, is needed to provide life and meaning to the body. It is interesting to note that in the Roman Catholic tradition, it is believed that the Church would be without a head if there were no human pope (whom they also call “the head of the church”). They explain this by saying that though Christ is properly called the head of the church, yet without the pope (whom they call the “ministerial head”) Christ role would be impotent, for the pope must act and function as his substitute! This is the very notion Paul is refuting. Christ is not only the Church’s proper head, but He is its living, functioning, all-sufficient head (see Col. 2:19). Because He is the head, we need no one else besides Him for our spiritual unity, nourishment, protection, direction, resource, and strength.

There is also here the idea of the new creation. Just as Jesus Christ is the source, sustainer and purpose of all created things in heaven and earth, so is He the source, sustainer and purpose of the new creation. He is called the firstborn of all creation; He is also here called the firstborn from the dead. Because Jesus rose from the dead, all those who belong to Him will rise from the dead too! Thus the Church can be described as made up of all those who will rise from the dead unto incorruptible newness. This resurrected body makes up the new creation of which Christ is Lord. In this way God’s intention is fulfilled that Jesus Christ would be preeminent in all things: in creation, in heaven, in earth, and in the Church, the new creation. Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person. It is the revelation of the Father that shines forth in Christ, and this revelation is the crowning head of the Church. The Church is constituted by a people who know the Father, for they have Jesus as their head, and the Church exists for the sole purpose of glorifying God and making Him known. If you don’t know God the Father through Jesus Christ, but have a mere belief in God, or a mere belief in Jesus that does not hail Him as the Son of God, then you have no part in the Church; but if you have known the Father through Jesus Christ, and truly believe who Jesus is, then you are a part of the Church, the new creation, and will live forever proclaiming His glory and the wonders of His love!

Who do you say Jesus is?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Catholics and Protestants: Can There Be Unity? (Part 3)

Hi H-----,

Sorry for the delayed response. I wanted to read through both of those articles you sent me from the Catholic Encyclopedia and then offer my comments. I'm glad you and Mike were able to talk about these things.

I'm confused about the double message I'm hearing. On the one hand you yourself are saying (as was Kreeft) that the whole Protestant/Catholic controversy is based on a misunderstanding, and that we actually believe pretty much the same thing. On the other hand, the two articles (1, 2) you gave me, which draw heavily upon the Council of Trent, denounce what I believe as heresy, and they do so quite unequivocally, in no ambiguous terms. Everything that I read in those articles makes it clear that I do not believe in the Catholic doctrine of justification, and that Catholics do not believe in the Protestant doctrine of justification. We are dealing with two totally different understandings, and I cannot see how they can be reconciled.

Now for some thoughts on what has been said:

You wrote, "Mortal sin indicates that the movement of faith has passed away." Yet notice what the Council actually said:

"In opposition also to the subtle wits of certain men, who, by pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent, it is to be maintained, that
the received grace of Justification is lost, not only by infidelity whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost." (Chapter XV)"

Even if the person
has faith, and yet sins, they have lost justification. I cannot accept this tenet as Biblical, for Scripture plainly declares, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Rom. 3:23-24, 27-28) Justification is bestowed freely upon the sinner who falls short of the glory of God, and it is bestowed through faith apart from any works whatsoever. Nor is Paul referring to a mere "Jewish Law" or to "pagan good works" but to all moral law whatsoever as is evident from the context. An abundance more Scripture can be cited that simply does not agree with Trent.

I am not trying to be combative. From what I read in those articles, the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification is convoluted and lacks the savor and freeing power of the plain Biblical gospel message. It did not feel like I was reading the apostles; it felt like I was reading Roman Catholic apologists, complete with their own literary aura and Latin fetish. Protestant writings possess the savor of the Jesus I know from the Bible, the realistic and life-giving power of the gospel message. The gospel proclaims forgiveness for the sinful, not on account of their becoming not-sinful first, nor on account of a coinciding not-sinful renovation, but that the forgiveness from God pours down abundantly upon the heads of the wicked and the filthy through unmerited favor. If we are only assured that we are forgiven after we stop sinning then there will never be the assurance of sins forgiven (as the Catholic doctrine so forcefully conceded!). What sort of good news is that? It is not the good news I am familiar with in the Bible, where such powerfully freeing verses as these are found:

"Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:12-14)

"And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses." (Colossians 2:13)

"Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Happy are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Happy is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." (Romans 4:6-8)

These are glorious statements of assurance which makes happy the believer. Far from forgiveness being a thing that is "uncertain", the entire force of the gospel is that it brings to sinners hope, joy and peace in believing, that
thereby they may produce good fruits. As I have said before, it is not works that bring assurance, but it is assurance that brings works, and assurance can only come when we cease looking to our own works and righteousness for assurance but look only to the righteousness that is accounted to us by faith in Jesus Christ because of His atoning sacrifice.

is a forensic thing. It is something that is accounted to us in the heavenly books. When the Scripture talks about sins being "blotted out" it does not mean from our behavior but from the books in heaven, where God keeps a record of all men's deeds (Job 10:14, Rev. 20:12). If it were not so, who then is justified? Who can say their sins have been blotted out from their behavior? If one's own personal righteousness is the measure of one's justification before God, then who can stand? This is why the belief in purgatory is a necessity for Roman Catholics, and what a sad dis-annulling of the atonement of Christ it is. If you yourself must pay for your own sins, what is the point of the One who paid for our sins on the cross?

"If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared." (Psalm 130:3-4) Indeed, God does not count our sins against us, but forgives us. If He did count our sins against us none would stand. Forgiveness does not mean that if God were to judge us we would be found actually sinless. Forgiveness means that though we can not stand before God, He has not counted our sins against us. This is the glorious truth of the cross of Christ: "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21) Christ, who was actually not sinful, was treated as a sinner for me on the cross (became sin for us), so that I, who am actually not righteous, can be treated as righteous by faith in Him (made the righteousness of God in Him). This is the mystery of the gospel. We were each treated in the way we did not deserve.

Rather than opening the doors for sin and reckless behavior in the believers, this doctrine of justification by faith actually is the only thing that has the power to put a stop to sinning. This is the entire argument of Paul in Romans 6, 7, and 8 when he is confronted with that most common of all objections: "If this doctrine be true, will we not continue in sin that grace may abound?" Paul's answer is heavenly and mysterious:
"Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Rom. 6:14) It is precisely because we are not under obligations to keep the commandments that sin shall not have dominion over us, for it isthe law itself that causes us to sin (Rom. 7:5), and grace alone severs that root and arouses in us a life of thankfulness and holiness. This teaching of Paul on sanctification by grace is so profound it is probably even more misunderstood than his teaching on justification by grace, which itself is incredibly profound. They are profound because they grind against our natural religious intuitions and have their source in the cross, which is of God and not of man, whose thoughts are higher than the earth. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are myways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9) God brings the wisdom of man to nothing (1 Cor. 1-2).

As for Luther and how the Catholic Encyclopedia says that he originated the doctrine of justification by faith because of his fearfully convicted conscience, I only have two things to say. One, the doctrine of justification by faith never originated with Luther but, as the article itself testifies, many "heretics" before him had believed it (most of which were persecuted) simply because that is what the Bible itself teaches. As one theologian well-noted: "Protestantism as it emerged in the 16th century was not the beginning of something new, but a return to Bible Christianity and to the simplicity of the Apostolic church from which the Roman church had long since departed." Second, if Luther found peace of conscience through the gospel of grace,
that is precisely the point of the gospel! It brings peace of conscience to those who are burdened down by the weight of guilt. One in-obscured look to the crucified Savior and at once the sinner is relieved, just like the Israelites who looked to the bronze snake in the wilderness. That's the whole point. Perhaps this is something self-righteous people who think they are good will never understand. If we saw our sins as Luther saw them, as we should see them, we too would rejoice in the gospel of justification by faith. Luther discovered the truth about the gospel and couldn't help but share it with others. And he was not the only one.

In the 16th century and up to today the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith has set millions of souls free from guilt and set them off worshipping Jehovah with ardent desire. Far from producing slothfulness in holiness, men and women who have known the grace of God in truth (not merely who have been catechized) are witnesses of the freedom from guilt Jesus Christ's blood brings and the transformation of life that accompanies such a faith. It is no small sect that broke off from the Roman Catholic Church, but a movement that continues to grow and bear fruit, though it be not institutionalized. That's because the power is in the good
news, not the institution.

Take care, H-----.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Catholics and Protestants: Can There Be Unity? (Part 2)

Thanks, H-----, for the thoughtful response. I enjoyed Kreeft's article on justification by faith, but I disagreed with him and feel that such a stance sweeps the real issues under the rug instead of dealing with them. I don't believe the difference is merely a matter of terminology or emphasis, but a fundamental difference in thinking, though the common terminology adds to the confusion and makes it appear that there is agreement when there isn't (the same can be said about Mormonism). The clear difference in thinking can be seen here, for example, in the Council of Trent:

"In opposition also to the subtle wits of certain men, who, by pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent, it is to be maintained, that the received grace of Justification is lost, not only by infidelity whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost; thus defending the doctrine of the divine law, which excludes from the kingdom of God not only the unbelieving, but the faithful also (who are) fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, liers with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, railers, extortioners, and all others who commit deadly sins; from which, with the help of divine grace, they can refrain, and on account of which they are separated from the grace of Christ." (Chapter XV)

Here a few things are said: 1) justification by faith without works (Rom. 4:5-6) is false, for even if a person has faith, but sins, they are lost. 2) Divine law is incumbent upon a person for justification, and their sins will keep them out of the Kingdom of God, even if they have faith in Christ. 3) Sins separate them from the grace of God.

Such a belief of justification really eclipses the glory of the love and grace of God, because it really doesn't matter that Jesus loves you and gave Himself for you... if you commit a mortal sin you are lost. So the mind will never be resting and rejoicing in the love and grace of God, but will always be concerned about obedience. If a person is doing well then can be glad. If they are not doing well they can't be glad. But the true gospel frees us to be glad in Jesus Christ at all times, in no way dependent upon our performance (Phil. 3:3, 4:4). This is so freeing!

Have you ever wondered what the emphasis the New Testament places upon freedom is all about? "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36) "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2 Cor. 3:17) "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." (Gal. 5:1), etc. Is it freedom from governmental tyranny? No, of course not. Is it freedom from sinning? Some would think so, but there is no sense of this whatsoever in the text, and if it were true there would be no Christians, for who has been freed from sinning? What is it then? It is this: the glorious freedom of being free from all performance obligations so that our standing and relationship with God is determined no longer by our own works and obedience, but by the righteous grace of Jesus Christ alone. It's the feeling you get when you don't have to take an exam, on a Divine scale! That's true freedom!

Another obvious difference between Catholics and Protestants is seen in the statement made by the Council of Trent about "divine law". The Scripture states that Christians are not under the law any more, that is, that as Christians we have no obligations keep the law for whatever reason. We are dead to it in every respect - to its injunctions and punishments (Rom. 6:14, 7:1-6). If what the Council of Trent says is true, and we are still indeed under the law, then we are all also under the curse of the law, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." (Gal. 3:10) If the law determines our justification before God, then no one shall be justified, "for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." (Gal. 2:16b) This was the great contention during the Reformation.

To say that Luther, the Reformers and the Roman Catholics misunderstood is not right. They understood all too well. Luther was not ignorant of Catholic theology but was a doctor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. If it were merely a matter of semantics, why were the Reformers condemned as heretics, and the pious William Tyndale, for example, burned at the stake for believing that a man was justified by faith without the works of the law (one of two charges that led him to the flames)? I'm just raising the question because of what it reveals.

I really appreciated Kreeft's explanation of faith, hope and love as a plant's root, stem and fruit (an excellent analogy). But I believe the real misunderstanding and the issue that never seems to be considered is the matter of the object of faith: what a person is believing. We use the word "faith" like there is only one kind, but a Muslim's faith is quite different than a Christian's. A Muslim's faith does not produce hope and love simply because it is "faith". The Bible's teaching on faith and works requires first a correct faith, for faith is not this generic thing, but a conviction about something that is not seen (Heb. 11:1). But what is that conviction? What is that thing that is not seen? It is the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is in truth. It is that God came into the world to save sinners as sinners by grace through faith. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us." (Titus 3:5) If this gospel is believed then the fruit of love is born. I mentioned this in my last email. When a person believes the good news that he is justified and saved by pure unmerited favor because of the loving sacrifice of God's Son, and that there is no works required for him to do whatsoever, that God freely forgives Him of all his sin because God desires to and has enabled Himself to do so, and not because of the man's performance... when this gospel is believed it does something to you... it affects you, it melts you, it changes you by the wonder of such unconditional, relentless, incomprehensible love. But if the gospel is eclipsed by conditions other than faith, then we lose the only power of fruit bearing and find ourselves desperate to produce fruit which cannot be born by a generic "faith", and the impossible rat race of making ourselves acceptable to God begins. Christianity is all about assurance and security, not striving to arrive. Good fruit is born from a tree that is planted safely by the rivers of living waters, the rivers of God's grace and love in Christ Jesus.

Much more to be said. Looking forward to our continued dialogue.
Your friend,

Friday, October 01, 2010

Catholics and Protestants: Can There Be Unity? (Part 1)

The following is a response to a question I received about Roman Catholics and Protestants putting aside their differences and standing together as one body in Christ. Can it happen?

Hey H-----, good to hear from you. It was great chatting with you the other day in the T.S.C.!

I believe that Catholic/Protestant disagreement on the peripheral issues of unity (ie. not evangelizing each other; evangelizing together, etc.) reveals that there is a far deeper disagreement at a more fundamental level, and until we acknowledge and address that deeper issue we are setting the axe at the branches and not at the root of the disunity. When someone like me reads this article by Beckwith, or better, the article you sent me a while ago on Evangelicals and Catholics standing together in the 21st century, I cannot, on the conviction of my faith, help but have hesitation. And the fact that one person cannot understand why the other person would feel such a way reveals the disconnect at the deepest level. I believe there are two fundamentally (not superficially) different understandings of what Christianity is taking place, and it is for this reason that there really can be no essential unity between Catholics and Protestants until this is settled. Granted, we may experience a superficial unity if we set aside the essential, but what kind of unity is that? And if we set aside the essential do we even have Christianity any more or merely an oyster without it's pearl? Such a unity can be attained with Muslims and Mormons if we really desired it. You know what I mean?

If I can happily do community projects with a Mormon or an atheist I can more so happily do theistic apologetics with a Catholic against the growing tide of secularism. I can even argue for the monotheistic truth of God with a Jew, or the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus with a Catholic, and stand together with them against the blasphemous doctrines of Mormonism; but I cannot stand with any of these as my brother in Christ contending for the gospel of Jesus Christ unless there is a true and essential unity at the deepest level concerning the gospel of Christ as it is in the Bible. In defense of my stringency I can only point to the apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians. There, in the most vehement way possible, Paul condemned to hell anyone who preached a gospel other than what he preached, even if they believed in the divinity of Christ, the oneness of God, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and the forgiveness of sins that comes through Jesus Christ alone. It was not these things that Paul had a contention with, but it was with any other condition for salvation other than faith alone in Jesus Christ, whatever the addition may be. This doesn't mean that faith doesn't have it in it to produce love, but that even love is no condition to be imposed upon the sinner for salvation, for the forgiveness of sins is freely bestowed by unmerited favor upon the unworthy. In fact, it is only by the comprehension of this grace - that it is totally free and without the condition of works - that we realize the incredible love that God has for us and thus are effected by it to love (1 John 4:19, 10)! True unconditional love is produced only by faith in true unconditional grace.

I hope this makes sense. I would love to continue a dialogue with you about these things as we bump into each from time to time. Your thoughts on things are very important to me. I believe we all need to talk about the gospel, for until there is unity there, there is no unity.

Take care, H-----.