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Original article by David Mathis at Desiring God Ministries 

 

 Twice Jesus was offered wine while on the cross. He refused the first, but took the second. Why so?

The first time came in verse 23, “they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” William Lane explains,

According to an old tradition, respected women of Jerusalem provided a narcotic drink to those condemned to death in order to decrease their sensitivity to the excruciating pain . . . . When Jesus arrived at Golgotha he was offered . . . wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused it, choosing to endure with full consciousness the sufferings appointed for him (The Gospel of Mark, p. 564)

This first wine represented an offer to ease the pain, to opt for a small shortcut—albeit, not a major one in view of the terrible pain of the cross, but a little one nonetheless. But this offer Jesus refused, and in doing so, chose “to endure with full consciousness the sufferings appointed for him.”

The second time came in verse 35. After some bystanders thought he was calling for Elijah, “someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’” Lane comments,

A sour wine vinegar is mentioned in the OT as a refreshing drink (Numbers 6:13; Ruth 2:14), and in Greek and Roman literature as well it is a common beverage appreciated by laborers and soldiers because it relieved thirst more effectively than water and was inexpensive . . . . There are no examples of its use as a hostile gesture. The thought, then, is not of a corrosive vinegar offered as a cruel jest, but of a sour wine of the people. While the words “let us see if Elijah will come” express a doubtful expectation, the offer of the sip of wine was intended to keep Jesus conscious for as long as possible” (Ibid., 573-574).

So the first wine (mixed with myrrh) was designed to dull Jesus’ pain, to keep him from having to endure the cross with full consciousness. This wine he refused.

And the second (sour) wine was given to keep him “conscious for as long as possible,” and thus have the effect of prolonging his pain. This is the wine Jesus drank.

Other condemned criminals would have taken the first (to ease their torment) and passed on the second (so as not to prolong their horrific pain). But Jesus would take no shortcuts on the way to our redemption.

At the cross, he drank the wine of his Father’s wrath down to its very dregs, and he did so for us—that we might enjoy the wine of his Father’s love, join him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and live redeemed forever in the glorious presence of the one who took no shortcuts in saving us.

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By Dr. Albert Mohler

The images streaming in from Haiti look like scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The scale of the calamity is unprecedented. In many ways, Haiti has almost ceased to exist.

The earthquake that will forever change that nation came as subterranean plates shifted about six miles under the surface of the earth, along a fault line that had threatened trouble for centuries. But no one saw a quake of this magnitude coming. The 7.0 quake came like a nightmare, with the city of Port-au-Prince crumbling, entire villages collapsing, bodies flying in the air and crushed under mountains of debris. Orphanages, churches, markets, homes, and government buildings all collapsed. Civil government has virtually ceased to function. Without power, communication has been cut off and rescue efforts are seriously hampered. Bodies are piling up, hope is running out, and help, though on the way, will not arrive in time for many victims.

Even as boots are finally hitting the ground and relief efforts are reaching the island, estimates of the death toll range as high as 500,000. Given the mountainous terrain and densely populated villages that had been hanging along the fault line, entire villages may have disappeared. The Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation has experienced a catastrophe that appears almost apocalyptic.

In truth, it is hard not to describe the earthquake as a disaster of biblical proportions. It certainly looks as if the wrath of God has fallen upon the Caribbean nation. Add to this the fact that Haiti is well known for its history of religious syncretism — mixing elements of various faiths, including occult practices. The nation is known for voodoo, sorcery, and a Catholic tradition that has been greatly influenced by the occult.

Haiti’s history is a catalog of political disasters, one after the other. In one account of the nation’s fight for independence from the French in the late 18th century, representatives of the nation are said to have made a pact with the Devil to throw off the French. According to this account, the Haitians considered the French as Catholics and wanted to side with whomever would oppose the French. Thus, some would use that tradition to explain all that has marked the tragedy of Haitian history — including now the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

Does God hate Haiti? That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God’s direct and observable judgment.

God does judge the nations — all of them — and God will judge the nations. His judgment is perfect and his justice is sure. He rules over all the nations and his sovereign will is demonstrated in the rising and falling of nations and empires and peoples. Every molecule of matter obeys his command, and the earthquakes reveal his reign — as do the tides of relief and assistance flowing into Haiti right now.

A faithful Christian cannot accept the claim that God is a bystander in world events. The Bible clearly claims the sovereign rule of God over all his creation, all of the time. We have no right to claim that God was surprised by the earthquake in Haiti, or to allow that God could not have prevented it from happening.

God’s rule over creation involves both direct and indirect acts, but his rule is constant. The universe, even after the consequences of the Fall, still demonstrates the character of God in all its dimensions, objects, and occurrences. And yet, we have no right to claim that we know why a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti happened at just that place and at just that moment.

The arrogance of human presumption is a real and present danger. We can trace the effects of a drunk driver to a car accident, but we cannot trace the effects of voodoo to an earthquake — at least not so directly. Will God judge Haiti for its spiritual darkness? Of course. Is the judgment of God something we can claim to understand in this sense — in the present? No, we are not given that knowledge. Jesus himself warned his disciples against this kind of presumption.

Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young?

Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts — there would be no hope.

The earthquake in Haiti, like every other earthly disaster, reminds us that creation groans under the weight of sin and the judgment of God. This is true for every cell in our bodies, even as it is for the crust of the earth at every point on the globe. The entire cosmos awaits the revelation of the glory of the coming Lord. Creation cries out for the hope of the New Creation.

In other words, the earthquake reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real message of hope. The cross of Christ declares that Jesus loves Haiti — and the Haitian people are the objects of his love. Christ would have us show the Haitian nation his love, and share his Gospel. In the midst of this unspeakable tragedy, Christ would have us rush to aid the suffering people of Haiti, and rush to tell the Haitian people of his love, his cross, and salvation in his name alone.

Everything about the tragedy in Haiti points to our need for redemption. This tragedy may lead to a new openness to the Gospel among the Haitian people. That will be to the glory of God. In the meantime, Christ’s people must do everything we can to alleviate the suffering, bind up the wounded, and comfort the grieving. If Christ’s people are called to do this, how can we say that God hates Haiti?

If you have any doubts about this, take your Bible and turn to John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. That is God’s message to Haiti.

 

 

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Foreword:  This is the last installment on the series  from Modern Reformation, Nov./Dec. Vol. 5 No. 6 1996 issue. To see the complete list and full articles, go to ‘Categories’ from the sidebar and choose the section on The Life of A Justified Sinner. – EmmausTrekker

 

By Dr. Michael S. Horton

Everyone knows St. Augustine , that fourth-century giant, as the doctor of grace. To a large extent, the Reformation was simply a recovery of and improvement on Augustine’s system. Few quills have graced the subject of guilt and grace like the Bishop of Hippo’s. And yet, Augustine’s own conversion was not so much due to the guilt of his sins, as to their power. You see, Augustine had been a member of a heretical sect known for its immorality. The immediate point of contact for him was the indomitable tyranny of sin. Theologians have distinguished three aspects of sin: its guilt, its power, and its presence. The moment we place our confidence in Christ’s saving work, we are instantly justified, liberated from the condemnation which the guilt of our sins deserves. Further, because of the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work, we are not only given the faith to believe, resulting in our justification; we are also given the gift of repentance, resulting in a life of sanctification or growth in Christian maturity. And yet, we know the struggle of Romans 7 all too well. Though we are justified and are being sanctified, we are engaged in a war and will know no peace until we are finally delivered from the presence of sin altogether in the New Jerusalem.

Know The Enemy
The unholy trinity most often identified in Scripture is well-known to most of us: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

First, the world. Now, be careful with this one, because it is not the world per se that’s the problem, but the world as it has come to be shaped by the warped hands and minds of sinful human beings. As God created it, the world was a good place–“very good,” God said. The Creator placed Adam in the garden as the worldly custodian, to insure that all creation served and praised its glorious Maker. But we know the story: Adam and Eve failed God in this task and the entire creation was placed under a curse to bondage and decay. The second law of thermodynamics was one physical aspect of this curse. And yet, God did not leave it this way. In the very day on which God pronounced judgment, He also promised redemption (Gen. 3:15). From Eden , history unfolds in successive stages of redemptive acts pointing to the ultimate act of redemption in Christ’s self-sacrifice.

But we very often forget that the world itself was included in this promise of redemption. It wasn’t just for Christians that the “new creation” or the “new age” dawned. In Romans chapter eight, St. Paul informs us, “The whole creation is on tiptoe” waiting to see our redemption. “The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited–yet it has been given hope.” That’s right, even creation itself has been given the promise of redemption. “And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!” ( Rom. 8:20-21, Phillips).

Therefore, the world has now become the theater of war. Just as Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait made that state the theater of conflict, so too Satan has invaded this world through the disobedience of our first parents. The world is our enemy, therefore, not in the sense that we are hostile to its culture, its music, its science, its art, its civic and social life–for we were created to participate in these activities. Rather, it is the world as dominated by alien forces hostile to the reign of Christ which presents some of our most urgent challenges.

This is why the Apostle warned, “Do not be conformed to this world’s pattern of thinking, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind” (Rom. 12:2). Hence, we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Every method, belief, outlook, agenda, must become a POW of Jesus Christ. Our beliefs and attitudes must pass His inspection. Some years ago, the National Council of Churches, often railed against by evangelicals as liberal, made the remark that, “The world sets the church’s agenda.” But today, it is often evangelicals themselves who are taking in uncritically the popular trends and fashionable thoughts which make it difficult sometimes to discern where Christianity ends and pop culture begins.

If the conflict with the world is a war without, the conflict with the flesh is the war within. St. Paul makes it the subject of his seventh chapter of Romans. “We know,” he says, “that the Law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” At this point, Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, does not experience the “victorious Christian life” so many Christians are promised these days. He feels like a POW in the battle with sin. One minute, in Romans six, we find him fighting and overthrowing attacking forces in hand-to-hand combat. The next, in Romans seven, he is a prisoner. This is the nature of the Christian life. This is the course of sanctification. What many Christians today regard as a “carnal Christian” is really either an unbeliever or, like the rest of us–a struggling saint. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out . . . When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!” (vv. 21-24).

The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not, as is often suggested, that the former lives a “victorious life,” or that he “lives above all known sin.” Rather, it is that the Christian is at war within, while the non-Christian is not even aware of any conflict. The Christian houses two hostile forces. He is at once “justified and sinful,” pro-God and anti-God. And this war with oneself will never be resolved until we reach the Promised Land. As Alexander Whyte, the Presbyterian pastor of the previous century informed his congregation, “You will never leave Romans seven while I am your minister!”

The third enemy, archenemy, in this war, is the devil himself. Unlike the mystery religions surrounding the Jewish and early Christian cultures, biblical faith located evil in personal beings rather than impersonal forces. A revived collection of mystery religions, the New Age movement seeks to discover and manage these evil forces, but Christians know where evil comes from. It is the result of personal, active, willful rebellion by creatures brought into being as good creations by a good God.

In Revelation twelve, we read about a “war in heaven.” After our Lord ascends, war breaks out and Michael defeats Satan. The dragon is therefore expelled from heaven and is no longer given access to the court where his prosecution against Christians can be heard. And yet, “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” Thus, the theater of war moves from heaven to earth itself. Here, Satan prowls like a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He deceives unbelievers with false teaching; he entices Christians with false promises, and though he knows his time is short, his hatred for Christ and His redeemed hosts drives him to assault. Though he cannot win the war, he is happy to win battles, making common cause with the world and the flesh.

Know The Weapons
“Put on the full armor of God,” Paul’s command in Ephesians chapter six, is well-known to many of us. First up is the “belt of truth.” Before anything else, we have to know what we believe and why we believe it if we are to withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil. Another metaphor might be that of roots reaching deep into the soil of Scripture. We must read Scripture not only for devotional purposes, but to understand in a profounder way the meaning of our faith. We ought to read great Christian classics instead of light and fluffy popular books. There is a war for our mind and truth is the place to start. As a belt, it holds our pants up in battle.

Second, the “breastplate of righteousness” is listed. According to the Cambridge Biblical Commentary, “Most likely, this refers not to the believer’s moral character, but describes God’s rescue operation in Christ, bringing the assurance that the Christian is right with God.” In other words, our protection in battle is the confidence that we are justified–that is, already declared righteous. Whenever Satan comes to tempt us, we hold up the cross. Whenever the flesh threatens to bring us back under the dominion of Adam, we remind ourselves of our union with the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Whenever the world tells us about self-esteem or self-confidence, or takes a short-cut around dealing with the real problem of guilt, we respond with this doctrine of justification.

Third, there are the “ready feet.” Once armed with truth and the knowledge of our justification in Christ, we are now ready to zealously act. This is of great importance. St. Paul refers in Romans to his legalistic friends as those who “have tremendous zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” This zealous ignorance was especially disastrous, he says, because what they failed to understand was essential to the gospel: “For not knowing about the righteousness of God which is by faith, they set out to establish their own righteousness.” Zeal must be led and directed by the truth and justification which have already been discussed. That being said, many of us are so content with the belt and the breastplate that we forget our shoes. Zeal without knowledge is misguided energy, but knowledge without zeal is a profound waste of good news.

Fourth, we have the “helmet of salvation.” What is important to note in all of this is that every weapon with which we have been provided is outside of us. In other words, whether it’s truth, or salvation, the weapons with which we fight the world, the flesh, and the devil are not inner resources. So much of the emphasis I see these days on “spiritual warfare” calls believers into themselves through spiritual exercises like “spiritual breathing” or other forms of subjective, mystical navel-gazing. But this is just what Satan’s strategy has been. In every pagan folk culture, mysticism dominates. Techniques are provided for dealing with the forces within. Sin becomes a matter not of personal rebellion as much as demonic conflict (such as Jimmy Swaggart’s insistence that he was fine now after Oral Roberts cast the demons off of the evangelist’s back), and the war becomes a “good force” vs. “bad force” nonsense. This is folk religion rather than Christian warfare and it certainly has nothing to do with Ephesians six.

One should also notice that the helmet of salvation is given at the beginning of the war, not the end. Salvation is never a carrot God dangles in front of us to keep us going, but is a declaration already made at the beginning of it all. What commander would send his forces into battle without a helmet, merely promising them one as a reward for their success? God gives us the “helmet of salvation” right from the start, not if we win, but so that we will win.

Know The Captain
Each of these weapons mentioned in Ephesians six is first listed in the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah 11. Of the Messiah it is promised, “Truth will be the sash around His waste.” “Righteousness will be His armor . . . His own arm worked salvation. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, He put on garments of vengeance and wrapped Himself in zeal as a cloak.” Further, He is even the shield and the helmet: “He is my shield behind whom I take refuge” (Ps. 144:1-2); “He will wear the helmet of salvation upon His head” (Is. 59:17). And He is the sword, known to John’s Gospel as “the Word of God.”

In all of our battles with the enemy, we reach for nothing that Christ has not already won for us. Even when we win a personal battle, it is because Christ has already fought and successfully won over His trials and temptations. In Christ, the war is already won, so the battles are real but the outcome is already known.

I hear someone saying, “Wait a second, even when you guys do talk about sanctification and the pursuit of godliness, you end up talking more about justification and ‘alien righteousness’ than practical steps of holiness.” That’s correct, and any method that does not do that is not Pauline, evangelical, or Reformational in any sense. Let me give an example of how genuinely practical this approach is even for godliness. In Shakespeare’s “MacBeth,” the witches’ prophecy that “no man born of a woman will conquer you” inspires MacBeth to fight even the dreaded MacDuff. In the heat of battle, MacBeth taunts his enemy with the prophecy and confidently wields his sword because of it. But then MacDuff informs the usurper that he was not, technically speaking, born of a woman, having been torn from his mother in her death. Just as soon as the news reaches MacBeth’s ears, the strength leaves him and he is immediately taken in battle.

Many Christians live defeated lives, not because they are failing to follow certain steps or are not living up to the “victorious Christian life” (whatever that is), but because they do not have the confidence that no one, not even Satan, can “lay any charge to God’s elect” (Rom. 8:32). In the heat of battle, the strength we have to keep on going is knowing that our Commander has already determined the outcome of the war by His victory. His ascension into heaven and the devil’s expulsion from the same guarantees that our skirmishes, serious as they certainly are, will nonetheless not bring us ultimate defeat. Knowing that already makes all the difference.

Conclusion
Having said all of that, I wonder if we really want to be rid of our sins. In Romans six, Paul cheers us on: “Do not let sin reign, therefore, in your mortal body.” In Romans seven, he is more sober, reflecting on his own personal struggle to “practice what he preached” in the previous chapter. In the eighth chapter, he goes on to encourage us that even though we lose battles here and there, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1).

As believers, we live between those three poles–energetic zeal, struggle/failure, gospel. But I wonder if we take the first two poles as seriously as we really ought. Knowing that our salvation is sealed in the courts of eternity, do we eventually ignore the challenges of Romans six because of the failures of seven and the unconditional “no condemnation” in eight? I guess what I’m saying is: What do we have to lose? If we’re afraid of losing a battle, of being disappointed with a failure out on the field, we need only remember that our success or failure on the battlefield does not determine the outcome of the war. We can fight with confidence.

John Owen once said of Christ, “When He comes to war, he finds no quiet landing place. He can set His foot on no ground but that which He must fight for.” We will not grow without a fight, without sharing in His sufferings. Unlike justification, our sanctification is a lifelong struggle–so much for “let go and let God.” Small victories are prized; battles lost are soon forgotten, extracting lessons for the next. None of our enemies–the world, the flesh, or the devil, will simply move aside and put up a white flag. And yet, in our fighting we fail to hide our unrestrained anticipation prefigured in the arrival of Israel in the Promised Land: “Then the land had rest from war.”


Dr. Michael Horton is the chairman of the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and is associate professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California . Dr. Horton is a graduate of Biola University (B.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.) and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (Ph.D.). Some of the books he has written or edited include Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Beyond Culture Wars, Power Religion, In the Face of God, and We Believe.

 

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Foreword:  This is the 3rd installment on our series on “The Life of a Justified Sinner” from the Modern Reformation magazine Nov./Dec. Vol. 5 No. 6 1996 issue. For articles uploaded earlier, click the series title on the sidebar under ‘Categories’.

EmmausTrekker

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By Michael S. Horton

 

Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth.” – John 17:17

Those words from our Lord’s high priestly prayer in John 17 frame our discussion of a most important subject in this issue. What do you think about when you come across that verb, “to sanctify” or the noun, “holy”? Especially in our day, images of a prude come to mind-a narrow-minded, somewhat bigoted kill-joy who is worried that someone somewhere is having a good time. But, of course, that caricature is not only superficial; it’s the opposite of the biblical portrait.

First and foremost, sanctification is God’s work. He takes us for himself, as he did at Mount Sinai after he had delivered his people from slavery. Like the vessels used in the temple, God has taken common, unclean, unholy people, and has set them apart to belong to him and to be used in his service. It is he who sets us apart, not we. Furthermore, we are not simply set apart from the world, but (more positively) for God. This is why Reformation theologians speak of two uses for the term “sanctification”: definitive and progressive.

We are already “holy and without blame before him,” by his choice, redemption, calling and justification (Eph. 1:4-13). “He has been made for us our righteousness, holiness, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). But because we are already holy in Christ, we are responsible to grow in the progressive sanctification that characterizes the Christian life. Although we can do nothing to give ourselves new life, once we are made anew in Christ by the Holy Spirit, we are able for the first time to love and serve God, however imperfectly, and to love and serve our neighbor. We are not active in our new birth, but acted upon, but this does not mean that after we are made alive that we are still passive toward God! Quite the contrary, we are actively seeking out the light that once caused us such revulsion. Although this sanctification “is never perfect in this life” (Westminster Shorter Catechism), it is always growing and increasing and no Christian-regardless of how his or her experience might contradict this fact-is justified apart from also being progressively shaped into the likeness of Christ.

How can we neglect such an important topic, especially when there is so much confusion over sanctification in our day? So we hope it will be a profitable read, and if so, please share it with a friend.


Dr. Michael Horton is the chairman of the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and is associate professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California . Dr. Horton is a graduate of Biola University (B.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.) and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (Ph.D.).

 

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In the foreword on my post last October 12, I mentioned of uploading in this weblog a series of articles from Modern Reformation’s 1996 out-of-print issue entitled ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress – The Life of a Justified Sinner’.  The Reformation that began God began through Martin Luther in the 15th century brought the centrality of the triune God (Theocentric) back into theology. Despite downgrade controversy (borrowing the term from the 18th century English prince of preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon) in the last 2 centuries as church doctrines became more and more man-center (anthropocentric), by the grace of God, today a resurgence of the biblical doctrines espoused during the Reformation period  are grounding Christians again to a wonderfully Christocentric faith.

Herebelow is a short article on the key concepts in Reformation spirituality. At the bottom of this post, I have a footnote (*) expanding item #5 a bit further in order not to confuse the  terms and their biblical significance vis-a-vis the Roman Catholic traditional understanding and practice  of infant regenerational baptism and transubstantiational eucharist.

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1. Union With Christ

Every doctrine related to salvation and the Christian life must be oriented around this touchstone of faith. No theory of Christian growth or development can obscure or ignore this central fact. In Reformation spirituality, the objective and subjective, external and internal, are linked inseparably by this reality. “In Christ” we are justified and are being sanctified.

2. Justification By Faith Alone

“To declare righteous,” this courtroom term is the core of the Good News. If we seek to attain divine favor by our own willing and running, we will quickly end up in either self-righteousness or despair. Progress in obedience comes only as we acknowledge Christ to be our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.

3. Sanctification

Here is another essential biblical word. Once declared righteous by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we now grow in personal righteousness in union with Christ and his righteousness. In our salvation we contribute absolutely nothing except sin. But once regenerated by God’s grace (apart from our cooperation), we are free to cooperate with the Holy Spirit for the first time. Sanctification, therefore, unlike regeneration, justification, etc., requires our energies and participation. We grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, actively animated by the gospel. Both justification and sanctification are the gift of God by virtue of our union with Christ.

4. Calling/Vocation

Also related to the “priesthood of all believers,” this Reformation doctrine emphasized the fact that everything we do honors God if done in faith. A ditch-digger is no less spiritual than a missionary. God has created each of us with certain gifts and we are meant to find meaning and fulfillment not only in church-related things, but in our work and leisure as well. This doctrine, more than any other, was responsible for what has come to be identified as “the Protestant Work Ethic.”

5. Means of Grace(*) 

Baptism and Holy Communion, in Reformation spirituality, figure prominently as “means of grace.” Baptism is the beginning of our life in Christ, and in Communion we feed on Christ–the Bread of Life–throughout our wilderness journey.

  

  

(*) originally termed as ‘sacraments’; the means of grace mentioned in item #5 above pertain to the biblical significance of water baptism of persons who have repented and turned to Jesus Christ in faith, and the commemorative purpose of the Lord’s Supper, commonly referred to as the breaking of the bread – both of which were instituted by the Lord in the New Testament. In these sacraments, the Lord, through the mediation of the Holy Spirit, appropriates upon the believers the grace necessary for our sanctification and preservation until the day of His return (see Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:41-42; Romans 6:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32).

 

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A major Philippine e-newspaper announces, “Christmas came early this year for a lucky bettor who hit the P150.9 million jackpot in Sunday night’s 6/49 SuperLotto draw…” Christmas has been traditionally associated with the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 since Rome adopted it for a pagan holiday (winter solstice) around 354AD. How the world has denigrated the message of Christmas is never more pronounced than this headline! Idolatrous consumerism, materialism, self-indulgence and greed became the symbols of this most significant day. One may suppose that I am a romish traditionalist, which I am not, but we evangelicals must admit that many among us too are smitten by a worldly orientation of Christmas, mixing into it shades of the Gospel. But wait a minute! Why am I writing about Christmas when its only the beginning of September???

The Bible nor any secular source do not have records of the exact date of Christ’s incarnation. Neither was the gregorian calendar existing at that time. We do have bits and pieces of biblical information that may give us an idea, like the rulership of Caesar Augustus in Rome and Governor Quirinius in Syria (Luke 2:1-2), or the time of census which necessitated Joseph to take the pregnant Mary with the unborn incarnate Messiah from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-6). Perhaps even the climate that allowed shepherds to stay out in the night to guard their flocks might provide us some clue (Luke 2:8). A number of bible commentators put the Lord’s birth between 6–2 BC (based on the gregorian calendar) and perhaps, after the harvest season (similar to Israel’s September to October), not considering global warming, of course.

Contrast now the announcement made on that particular moment of human history, when an angel appearAnnouncemented to the shepherds in a field in the region of Bethlehem, and the glory of the Lord surrounded them, proclaiming the arrival of the promised Messiah. Then the dark of the night sky was opened to reveal a heavenly host giving praise to God Most High (Luke 2:1-14). “Fear not, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” was the initial declaration of the first angel, while the chorus of angelic hosts that followed praised and said “Glory to God in highest and on earth peace among those whom He is pleased!”

Good news and peace! This is the headline that marked the message of the  incarnation of the Son of God whose name is Jesus (Matthew 1:21) because He will accomplish salvation and the forgiveness of sin for  a particular group of men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation to be at peace with God in Him. And so goes Christmas redemption story that Jesus Christ was born into this world as foretold by God in Genesis 3 :14-15, and through the prophets in many generations down Israel’s history while in these last days, in the Son Himself (Hebrews 1:1-2; note that the Greek says en huio, literally ‘in Son’ – meaning Jesus is more than the final herald of the message, but the message Himself).

To infer then that the biblical ‘Christmas’ message has come early into a person’s life is to mean that the good news (euanggelion, Gospel) of Christ’s redemption has reached him . The only gift that will matter to all men is the message of the Person of Jesus Himself who gave His life as a ransom for many. Salvation was realized during His birth, fulfilled at His death on the cross, and affirmed in His resurrection from the dead. This is the good news of great joy for anyone who believes!

Should a man look somewhere or for something else to bring him great joy and peace, he won’t find it and end up with the bad news of unspeakable misery in the fiery pit, weeping and gnashing his teeth, forever banished from presence of the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:16-18

Redemption story does not wait for December 25. As the Scriptures say, “Behold now is the favorable time, behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

 

GOSPEL SUMMARY

by John Hendryx, contributor to Reformation Theology and founder of Monergism.com

  • Man was created to glorify God & Enjoy Him forever “Worthy are you, our Lord and our God to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things.” (Revelation 4:11) “Do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
  • Man has failed to glorify God & is under His just condemnation “For all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
  • Jesus fully bore the wrath and suffered the punishment sinners deserve. Not wishing that sinners perish forever, God determined to save a people for Himself in the Eternal Son who became a man and lived the life we should have lived and died the death we justly deserve. God loves sinners and sent His Son to be the wrath absorbing sacrifice for their sin (1 John 4:10; John 6:37) he “…gave His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) & “rose again” from the dead (2 Corinthians 5:15) on their behalf.
  • All who, by the grace of God, turn to Jesus in repent submissive faith are forgiven & begin a life-changing, eternally satisfying relationship with God! “Repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:5). “In Your presence is fullness of Joy (Psalm 16:11)

For a more detailed analysis of the Gospel click here

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