The Biblical Gospel

This is third message I taught on evangelism last year, but forgot to post this one! 

You can listen to this message here.

Biblical Gospel. What is more important to those made in God’s image than being cleansed from the sin that stains and separates us from our Creator? Jesus said it’s more important than the whole world! And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:23-26.) If we take God at His Word, we will want to get this part right. Proclaiming His message of reconciliation is the only role He has given us in His grand plan of redemption. We can’t save anyone’s soul, we can’t know who God will save. All we can do, and it is a glorious privilege, is to be faithful with His Gospel, trusting Him to do what only He can do.

First, the gospel is not an urgent call to obey the Law, based on and extracted from the Mosaic Covenant. The Law of God demands perfect obedience and the Scriptures remind us of what we know to be true, we cannot do it (Romans 3:9-18). The Law demands to be answered, but, as an old Baptist hymn reminds us, the lost man senses something is wrong and often runs to the wrong place:

I felt the arrows of distress

And found I had no shield, no hiding place

Holy justice stood in view

To Sinai’s fiery mount I flew

But justice cried with frowning face

“This mountain is no hiding place!” 25

If we cannot answer Mount Sinai’s demand for justice, how can we face the Holy God who shakes the earth (Hebrews 12:18-29) with His demands? The holiness of God causes man to tremble (Isaiah 6) and that is what we hold up in the gospel. The Law may be useful to break the pride of some men, but the Law is not the gospel. Jesus Christ and Him crucified – the holy One of God sacrificed for sinners; that is the gospel!

God the judge provides the God-Man as the justifier; that is the mystery and the glory of God’s gospel. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 is considered by many to be the best summary of the gospel given to us in the Scriptures.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

This message proclaims the mighty work of redemption completed by the biblical Jesus; no pale, culturally relevant imitation will suffice. This biblical gospel is tied to a place in time and space, the hill and the grave-site near Jerusalem; where the Lamb of God was slain as a wrath-satisfying (propitiating) sacrifice to save sinners and make them presentable to God the Father. And, lastly, this God-Man was raised from the dead and seen by many people. The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most substantiated events of the ancient world, and it gives us the firm hope that He will raise us from our graves one day and make us like Himself and make His home among us (Revelation 21:3).

The biblical gospel recognizes that, as Jonah declared from the belly of the fish, Salvation is of YHWH! We are told that we can plant seed (which is the proclamation of the gospel – Mark 4:14), we can water (which is making disciples of those God has saved – Acts 18:27), but it is God Who gives the increase (which is the work of reclaiming ruined sinners, see 1 Timothy 1:15). People become the children of God, not according to blood, to the will of flesh or the will of man; but according to the will of God (John 1:10-13).

Within the pale of those Christians who agree that there is no other name, there are those who mistakenly think man has something to do with securing reconciliation with God. Mostly, this is the result of poor teaching, which takes a verse here and there out of context and settles in one’s mind as “gospel.” Since Scripture cannot be broken, it will not contradict itself. Therefore, we must seek to understand the whole counsel of God’s Word, not just a few “proof texts,” to rightly comprehend this most important doctrine. If anything man does contributes to his justification, to being reconciled to Holy God, then that man’s gospel is polluted, reducing the supreme work of redemption completed by Jesus to something that doesn’t quite save anyone. If the work of Jesus is not enough, nothing we can do can close the rift. We must think carefully and deliberately to weed out any shred of self-confidence or self-will regarding this most important change, of being made a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation is a monergistic work of God; man plays no role in being raised from the dead any more than he did in being born physically (John 3:1-8). Man is by nature spiritually dead, following after the spiritual father of fallen humanity, this according to the Word of God. Paul’s letter to the church, those who had been redeemed, at Ephesus provides an excellent summary of man’s problem and God’s redemptive answer (Ephesians 2:1-10):

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedienceamong whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This passage shows that there is no “demilitarized zone” in the spiritual realm; one is a child of Satan unless and until God gives new life and faith to the sinner, adopting him as His child. We who have been chosen by God to be reconciled to Him by His gift of grace, were chosen for this redemption before the foundation of the world, just as those who were left to serve and worship the beast, who was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 13:5-8). This is seen again a few chapters later as people who marvel at the beast are described as the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (Revelation 17:8).

Christians were chosen and given saving grace in Christ before the foundation of the world (1 Timothy 1:8&9; Ephesians 1:4), predestined for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to His will (Ephesians 1:5), and we were formed and predestined for good works (Ephesians 2:10). There is no biblical support for man choosing to save himself or for a saved man to continue in sin with no concern for being obedient to his Savior and Lord. When we recognize that God saves sinners, and we do not, the pressure is off us. Our mission is to proclaim His gospel. He has given us the means, planting and watering, and reserved the ends, spiritual life, to Himself. How wretched the is the Christian who thinks he failed to save some because he said something just less than perfect!

We must embrace the truth of Scripture, even if it goes against what we’ve learned from our favorite author or preacher. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word is sharp and, as wielded by the Holy Spirit, cuts like a scalpel, bringing healing to our broken souls. False teaching is seen as less threatening, like a butter knife. And it works the same way, tearing the flesh as it pierces, bringing destruction rather than healing. Good counsel presents the truth of Scripture; this is biblical love, even though our beloved traditions may have to be abandoned.

Many claim the gospel is summed up in John 3:16. Let us briefly examine this verse to see if this is so, as good Bereans. Here’s the verse, from the King James: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. That settles it for many, who do not stop to take note of the context or see if the words may have had a different meaning when written 500 years ago than they do today. But contrary to a popular hermeneutic which declares, “when the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense,” the plain sense of Scripture often contradicts the true meaning of Scripture and our common sense often makes no heavenly sense. The genre of the text we are reading will indicate how we are to read it: poetry and apocalyptic books cannot be taken literally, and even historical narratives are full of word pictures that must be interpreted rightly to get God’s view of His Scriptures. The Jews of the first century had common sense and they took certain prophecies in the plain sense. This caused them to look for a king like David, a man of war, and miss the true meaning of their own Scripture.

In regards to John 3:16, let us examine a couple of key words upon which the meaning of this verse hang. In English, the word “so” can be either an adverb or an adjective. We see it in verse 14: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up (KJV). Here, the word “so” is an adverb, meaning “in like manner” or “in the same way,” describing the nature of something. Many people think the word “so” is an adjective in verse 16, describing the degree of the thing that follows: God loves the world SO much. The problem with this view is that the Greek word translated as “so” in English (houtos – Strong’s #3779) is rarely used as an adjective. Strong’s Greek and Hebrew dictionary defines it only as an adverb. Houtos shows up more than 200 places in the Greek New Testament. In only four occurrences it is definitely an adjective: Galatians 1:6; 3:3; Hebrews 12:21 (houto); and Revelation 16:18. In more than 97% of the uses the word houtos is an adverb.6 Now looking back to John’s gospel, let us read a little more for context:

John 3:14-16 (KJV) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Is there a compelling argument that John’s use of houtos changes from the common adverb in verse 14 to the extremely rare adjective in verse16? If its use in verse 16 is as an adjective, the Bible tells us God loved the world to such a great degree that He sent Christ to die for the same world He said we are not to love (1 John 2:15). Since Jesus said Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) we must interpret Scripture with Scripture and lean not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), even if the plain sense makes common sense to us. Our common sense is our understanding, not God’s. I do not have space here to examine “the world” and how it is used; but since not everybody at all times in every nation, tribe, and tongue has been forgiven, it is reasonable and in keeping with Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17 that Jesus did not come to save the whole world in the comprehensive sense some assert. As noted in Ephesians 5:25, Jesus gave His life for the church, not everybody in the world. And since “the world” often means a region (Luke 2:1; John 12:19), or the system which lies under Satan’s rule (John 15:19; 17:13; 1 Corinthians 2:12), we have no reason to assume this term means everyone everywhere as regards salvation, as the Lamb of God died for the redeemed, not the damned.

Here’s this passage from John 3 in the Holman Christian Standard Bible:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

This is more in line with the common use of the Greek and keeps consistency within the passage and with the whole teaching of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus. The ESV has a note in the margin agreeing with the HCSB on verse 16a.

If Christ died for all people, either hell is not a place of wrath poured out on sins (because people there had their sins paid for by the One Whose death satisfied the Father’s wrath and wouldn’t pay again) or the blood of Christ is not truly sufficient to save anyone or does not satisfy the Father’s wrath (as not everyone gets saved). Each of these consequences of that perspective contradict clear teachings in Scripture. Therefore, we can strenuously teach and believe that when Jesus says He gave His life for His sheep (John 10:11) and He gave Himself for the church (Ephesians 5:25) He meant exactly that!

If man is free to resist, God is not free to act, for He is bound by man’s freedom. If God is to be free to act, man must be bound by the will of God. … But in a fallen world, God’s grace must be irresistible or man’s will can remain forever opposed to God, and the will of the creature overrides the will of the Creator. (Arthur C. Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace)

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44) The Greek word behind “draws” conveys the notion of dragging. The gracious act of the Holy Spirit giving life to that which was dead is overwhelming; it’s irresistible, just as when Jesus commanded Lazarus, by name, to come out of the tomb. The man, who had been dead four days, responded to the call of Christ, and rose up and came out of the grave; alive again. No one can come to the Father of his personal volition; all are useless and dead in sin. No one can refuse the call of the Father; though he may seek refuge in the belly of a big fish. God’s will shall be accomplished in this grand redemptive plan of His; Christ Jesus will have His full reward for the suffering He faced on their account.

When we proclaim the gospel to lost people, we don’t have to tell them God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. We don’t have to believe that God will save the ones we are speaking to. We have to be faithful to His gospel – Jesus came to save sinners, repent and believe on Him! His Word and His Spirit will do the work of saving souls. We are blessed to be able to participate as workers who are nothing, as Paul referred to himself and Apollos as those who planted and watered.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

As an aid in help man see the biblical case for the awesome work God does when a sinner is redeemed, theologians have developed a systematic theology (a process of taking the whole counsel of God into account) of salvation.

 

  • Order of Salvation (Ordo Salutis)

Predestination – As it refers to the elect, God did, in eternity past, chose who He would save. By default, all not so chosen are left to their sinful desires and predestined to eternal torment. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Effectual Calling (Regeneration) – While God’s choosing of His elect took place before the foundation of the world, each of us was called and born again in time, as the Holy Spirit worked by the sowing of the Word. In Mark 3:13 we see the effective call of the apostles, Jesus called those whom He selected. How much more valuable is the call to salvation, and yet many declare man chooses. Only those with ears to hear, those whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8), hear and respond to the call – our nature being changed so we could hear and joyfully answer (Matthew 22:8-14; 2 Timothy 1:9). As Conrad Mbewe put it, making sure we get the sequence right: “We’re born again in order for us to repent & believe; & not that we repent & believe in order to be born again. Regeneration comes first!”8

Faith/Repentance – The soil having been prepared, the seed having been sown, true growth – root and fruit – begin to emerge. As the Spirit of the living God gives ears to hear, so He gives faith & repentance to God’s elect only; and without fail (Mark 4:10-20; Acts 20:17-21).

Justification (Legal Declaration) – Those whom God chose and called and brought to faith & repentance, He declares to be NOT GUILTY! No, that’s not enough. He declares us to be RIGHTEOUS! Our legal system lets people off with the lower standard; God’s justice demands perfection and the earned righteousness of Christ is credited to each of our accounts, irreversible. The calling of God is without repentance; no undoing what He has predetermined to do. His will is what history records (Romans 3:27 & 28; 8:29 & 30).

Adoption – Herein is the kindness of God towards those He has redeemed. Knowing we are weak minded and forgetful, creator God adopts us into His family! No longer strangers, we are sons and daughters, joint heirs with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:14 & 15; Galatians 4:3-7; Ephesians 1:3-6).

Definitive Sanctification – That fertile soil allows the seed to sprout and put down roots and begin “above ground” growth. There will be evidence of being made a new creature in Christ. We do not have a litmus test of tongues or other gifts, but we do expect to see some evidence, as no one born again by the Spirit of God can be unchanged (2 Corinthians 5:17; Mark 4:20).

Progressive Sanctification (Preservation of the Saints) – As we mature in Christ, our appetites change. Things that used to appeal to us and draw us into sin are less attractive; the Truth of Scripture that proclaims the glories of God and sinfulness of man nourish our souls, whereas they used to repel our flesh (Hebrews 12:1 & 2; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 & 24).

Glorification – At the end of all things, we will be made like our Savior, free from temptation and unable to sin (Philippians 3:17-21).

With each aspect of this Ordo Solutis, God is the one who either does it outright or enables us to cooperate with Him in the work. There is nothing we do outright; God is the source of all good and we have nothing that He has not given us (1 Corinthians 4:7).

The Biblical gospel – one of the marks of a biblical church; and that’s what a Baptist church should be.

The Doctrine of Election

B.B. Warfield came up with the TULIP acronym so many are fond of, but, as Brian Borgman will tell us, it may not be the best and most accurate way to communicate these biblical truths.

This week’s lesson is on the doctrine of election, God’s sovereign choice in determining who will be saved.

As with each of these lessons, our brother searches out the Scriptures to see what is so. He challenges us to seek a deeper, more accurate understanding of the Word of God – and which saint could not want that?

Listen to this message here.

A Tale of Two Gospels

With this penetrating look at two gospels, we begin an in-depth examination of the doctrines of grace, commonly called Calvinism. Brian Borgman does a WONDERFUL job unfolding these rich doctrines, always with an eye towards exalting Christ Jesus.

As he works through these topics, do not be alarmed if you disagree with a minor point or two. Brother Brian does assert a couple of times that redeemed saints are depraved. I find this disconcerting as we have been made new creatures with a new nature – not without sin, but not unable or unwilling to do good in the sight of God. Depraved people are unable and unwilling.

Focus on the main things. Borgman’s entire series (I’ll post one audio file per week) is truly an excellent encouragement to those who are in Christ and a fearful provocation to those who merely think they are.

Listen to A Tale of Two Gospels.

The Church of the Future

2 Thessalonians 2:3, Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion (apostasy) comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction (ESV).

1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared (ESV).”

The apostle Paul provided us an insight into what the future would hold for the church. His warnings were not written because he had nothing better to do than to try and scare the believers of the 1st century. The church was in its infancy, yet the problems were already present. Just about every book revealed another aspect of what they faced, and the issues were real.

For example, in Romans, he reveals a great deal of doctrine, but he also pointed out the reality that sin in the life of the believer was real. It would not be eradicated in this life but we could be thankful that we, as believers, would not be found to be under any condemnation. Nothing would separate us from the love of God, who had adopted us into His everlasting family.

Could anything have prepared the early church for the events that transpired in Corinth? Despite the debauchery that was a part of the Roman Empire being found in the presence of brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul had to remind these precious believers that although many had participated in various sins, they were now clean. They had been washed in the blood of the Lamb and justified. Their accounts had been settled and they were no longer enslaved to the slimepits of the world in which they once loved to wallow.

The problems that were addressed were game-changers. As each scroll must have been unrolled, read, and shared, each local body of believers had to have rejoiced that their names were truly written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Paul picked up his quill though and continued to warn each group.

persecution-1stcentury

To the believers in Thessalonica, he lovingly encourages them by pointing out that the Lord had not yet returned. In fact, one of his greatest joys was the testimony that this local assembly had before the inhabitants of the city, and yes, even beyond the region in which they lived. This was a group that did not allow their testimony to wane. Were they perfect? Were they super pious? Did they live on some spiritual plateau where they had become free from the ensnarements of sin? No, no, and no! The Thessalonians were real people facing real threats from an empire that hated the God of the Bible first.

However, Paul then gets another parchment and writes to a young pastor named Timothy. This letter is different. He gives pastoral counsel and godly wisdom for how this young man can shepherd the flock of God carefully, biblically, prayerfully, and lovingly.

In the middle of this epistle though, Paul uses a phrase to show the importance of what he is about to share. “The Spirit expressly says…” We understand the inspiration of the entire Word of God, yet, under that inspiration, his words point out a solemn truth that was meant to be a word of warning to Timothy.

When I began teaching in a ministry capacity over 25 years ago, you would not have been able to convince me that the blood-bought church would be where it is at today. Were there cults to deal with? Yes, of course. Were books being written based on, at best, shady theology? Again, we affirm that there were such books.

However, had you told me that so many churches and even entire denominations would depart from the faith in such record numbers, I would have struggled to believe such a thing to be possible.

To have been told that the proliferation of local assemblies would involve being willing for many ministers to become a Judas and sell-out their testimony and the Word of God for the purposes of entertainment or for profit, I would have told you that you were crazy.

Believers have gone from a hunger for the Word of God to having itching ears. They want to hear nice platitudes that make them feel good about themselves. Churches no longer want to hear about sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment. Padded pews keep people comfortable while they learn how to have a higher level of self-esteem. We are now so full of ourselves in many churches today that there seems to be a self-imposed moratorium on the Holy Spirit’s working in our midst.

Today, an overwhelming number of pastors and churches are more interested in hearing “Judge not!” from each other than they are interested in hearing God say, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Judgment is coming!”

Above all else, we have smoothed sin over to the point where churches are looking for ways to embrace it, instead of calling sinners to repentance. Step on board a blogsite, Facebook post, Twitter feed, or whatever medium you choose and dare to speak out and proclaim the truth of God’s Word. It won’t take more than 4 or 5 minutes before people who have never spoken to you before arise from the dark mists of the internet to shout you down. “How dare you judge?” “Who do you think you are? God?” “We are called to just LURVE everybody without question!” Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

And the words of the Spirit to the church at Ephesus rings out saying, “You have left your first love. You no longer hold Christ preeminent over all others and to the exclusion of all others.”

Sadly, the clarion call to repentance has mostly fallen on deaf ears and now we have truly become closer to the model of the Laodicean church, “You are neither cold, nor hot, but you are lukewarm. I will vomit you out of my mouth.” There is not one good word that is ever said about the church at Laodicea. They had passed the point where there was no turning back. The writing was on the wall.

21stcentury

Today, I look at the 21st century church and realize that the 1st century church would not recognize us today. They would probably wail with despair realizing that we are not prepared for persecution. From the pulpit to the pew has capitulated to the world so much that some may well be willing to sit in the arena looking down on those being sacrificed to the lions.

It is heart-breaking to realize that if and when persecution comes the words of warning will fall on mostly deaf ears. Brother will turn against brother, children against parents, parents against children, and so-called believers against true believers as they ignore the reality of the dangers that were there all along.

Dear believers, if you are not willing to stand for something, then you will fall for anything. We must seek forgiveness from our Lord and with humility dust off our armor. We need to prepare for the fight of our lives and become like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress when he was willing to face the dangers of Vanity Fair.

The world mocks our “standards” when they look just like the standards to which the world adheres. Why should they want what we claim to have that makes us special if we look the same on Sunday as we did while partying with the world on the Saturday before? If our music, words, actions, and attitudes look no different week after week, month after month, and year after years, then we cannot claim to worship and adore the only One Who has the power to make us a NEW creation in Christ.

God does not save us to leave us wallowing in our sins. That simply means that the world can change to accept all the wickedness it wants. Even, the so-called church can accept all the evils of the world and call evil to be good or good to be evil. However, the day will never come when it is acceptable to God.

To conclude, the 21st century church of the future is failing as the church for the present, and they are a far cry from the church of the past. Are there any who will mourn when our children reject biblical Christianity because of the hypocrisy they see from parents? Will any be willing to weep as did Nehemiah over the sin that surrounded him? Will those who are true believers recognize that while Paul recognized the sin within his own life that grace abounds so that we no longer have to live as slaves to sin anymore than he did?

My prayer remains that God will begin a work of revival within my own life and heart so that I will be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ. Then, I want to see the Holy Spirit move in a way that helps other true believers realize that there are still 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. The end result is that when those who come after us look back, I want them to say with full confidence that the church of the past left a testimony for the true Church of the Future!

Growing Old With Grace

When I was young, old age never bothered me. In fact, I would be hard pressed to even remember a time when I wondered for a fleeting moment what it would be like to grow old. It was other people that grew old – like grandparents. However, it is amazing what almost five decades will do to one’s perspective.

Yesterday, I was reminded again of the passing of years as someone I really did not know passed away and went to be with the Lord they loved. This individual was quite elderly and known to others I love. This brother in Christ had spent years sharing and teaching the Word of God. Despite being racked at times with pain, the main diseases that was eating him away was not what ultimately took him from this life of toil and pain. He closed his eyes in sleep as his heart gave out and woke up in a place where he would never sleep or be in pain again.

When I heard the news, I was reminded again that time is creeping up on us and flies back so quickly. James put it so succinctly when he said in James 4:14, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

vapor

As I write this, it is a special day for another reason. Forty-four years ago today, in the cold, wind-swept, bone-chilling landscape of the country of Iceland, a healthy young boy was born. Almost from the first day my brother was brought home from the hospital, he was happy. He was the life of the party and often the clown. Yes, we had our ups and downs, but John David made the most of whatever oppositions got in his way.

In late 1995, John had just left the USAF with an honorable discharge and was making a home for himself in North Carolina. He had found a body of believers that he dearly loved and he had spent time with the men on a retreat where his heart was stirred to be more like the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, all of that changed when he went to work one cold November morning. I received a call that I should meet at the hospital. Arriving, I found out that my brother, who was less than 5 years younger than me had passed away at the young age of 22. He had acquired an infection in his heart and when his heart exploded, he was gone before he hit the floor.

That was 21 years ago. There are still times the pain and loneliness of not hearing his voice or the endless jokes is emotionally difficult. Even back then, we spoke of him lovingly at the funeral and afterwards, but old age was still a long ways off. I didn’t really dwell on the reality that it was still going to come for all who are left to face the world.

Far from this maddening world, my brother no longer has to walk the dark paths of these Shadowlands, as C.S. Lewis called them. John’s path led him to a promotion that is far better than anything he could have experienced in this life. In fact, the moment he crossed from death into life, the joys he would have known would have been crowned by meeting the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. That is not something that any true believer would want to take away from another believer. Yes, we miss those who have gone before us, and we can hope that others will miss us when it comes time for us to depart this life.

However, until it is time for us to close our eyes to sin, death, and the grave, we must focus on living our lives in such a way that we will hear, “Well done, you are a good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of the Lord!” We have no reason to fear the door of death. For the believer, the door is only the opening to the wonders of what eternity holds and the half can never be told this side of heaven.

To me, this world is not really my home. I grow tired of the pain and the struggles that assail the flesh and the heart. If I should be left another 10, 20, or 30 years, I struggle to accept that more illnesses and heartache may well be my lot in life as it has been for much of my life.

inheaven

Each year that passes, I strangely find that growing old is something that did not really sneak up on me. Each year was filled with memories that resonate in my mind and heart. Each memory, whether good or bad or indifferent or sad or happy, was created as I lived the path that God had ordained for me to walk. One day, those memories may be forgotten as I get even older, but it will not diminish what I have been allowed to do by a gracious God who has been more merciful and gracious to me than I have or will ever deserve.

We live from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, month to month, and year to year. The time is precious and should be spent without regrets before the Lord. I do not fear the age I have become, but I welcome it because it puts me closer to the day when I will see the saints who have gone before me. I will see my grandparents, my brother, and friends who loved the Lord as well.

Growing older does have both advantages and disadvantages, but knowing what comes next makes the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. As believers, we are called to endure this race. Whether we are called to go at a young age or at an elderly age, our race is being encouraged on the sidelines of heaven by the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. Therefore, it behooves us to run the race while looking to Jesus Christ alone!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1, 2

The Confession Alone: The 6th Sola

The Confession Alone: The 6th Sola

Confessions and formalized creeds have been an edifying edition to the Christian faith. Since the beginning of the New Covenant (and even further back since the dawn of teaching), mankind has formalized and rehearsed many sayings, creeds, idioms, and other phrases that have refreshed our minds about a how we ought to think or understand life. Within Christendom, there are certain flavors of creeds and confessions that we Reformed folks hold to very dearly. Assuming that you understand which confessions exist, I seek to make my point quickly. If you have never read a creed, confession, or catechism, I highly suggest you do some research and learn from them.

Having said all that, there is an authoritative flaw in our Reformed circles. I call it he Sixth Sola: Confession Alone. It is this idea that if it is not a part of your confession, it cannot (or in some cases should not) be taught or even considered as biblical. Or, practically speaking, although we do not verbally admit this, when we are discussing Scripture with someone, and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is “X confession says…” when making their case, it is making the confession the ultimate authority in the conversation (unless they are just using the confession as a springboard to talk about Scripture). I am aware that this last statement may have ruffled more feathers than the first, but understand what I am actually saying and do not misinterpret my words. If your first or final authoritative response in any discussion about theology or what the Bible teaches concerning what you believe and why is “the confession says” you have turned a guidepost into a destination.

Most, if not all, creeds, confession, and catechisms are reactive. That is, they are written and formed based off of some other creed or confession that is in opposition, and those forming it wish to distinguish themselves for the opposing party. It can be in response to false teaching (or perceived false teaching), or it can be simply trying to make a stand about a certain belief within a specific community that affirms X belief(s). As I already said, this is not inherently wrong. These are great ways to find out where your stand in your faith. i would argue that it is impossible to say anything without it being “creedle” in some way. But if you do not study the Scriptures and seek to understand why you believe what you believe, and whether or not you think you can agree with these confessions, you are placing the cart before horse. The confessions can point you in a specific direction (guidepost), but they are not the final authority (destination). Our first response in any discussion should be Sola Scriptura, not Sola Confessio (Latin check). Yet, time after time, when I dive into the Scriptures with particular pastors, preachers, and believers who ascribe heavily to confessions and creeds, whenever there are any disagreements or whenever I make my points from Scripture, I am faced with “but the Confession says…” How can this be within a Reformed world whose foundational mindset is supposed to be Scripture Alone?

There can be many reasons why one authoritatively appeals to the a confession more than Scripture. But I think I have narrowed them down to two main roots: Traditionalism and laziness. There is nothing wrong with tradition. Every denomination and person has them. It is when that tradition begins to have authority over Scripture that we have a huge problem. Some people find great joy in holding to the long standing tradition that some of our creeds and confessions teach. Nothing wrong with that if you understand what you believe and why. But it seems that this is not the case with many. By proxy, if you are a traditionalist in this area, you will quote the confession better than you can quote Scripture because you are relying on the confession to approve yourself before God (or men). Unless for whatever reason you don’t have any access to Scripture, or in some way you are only able to memorize Scripture by categorizing them via the confession, there should be no reason why you cannot study for yourself what the Bible teaches within the pages that the confessions are pointing to. Which brings me to my next point.

I find that it is easier to quote a saying, phrase, creed, etc., in place of actually making a verbal argument concerning what you actually believe and why. Nothing wrong with summarizing what you believe, or repeating a summarization of something you would affirm. But If I believe that the reason why man exists is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, why? Because the confession says so? Or because the Scripture quoted in the confessions says so? Have I looked at the listed Scriptures? Have I taken the time to study and reform my thinking in light of the Scriptures that a confession teaches? Will I be courageous to practice Semper Reformanda if I discover some nuance in the Scriptures? Or will I be taking the confession at face value because my community of believers/churches do? Or because the men before me were theological giants who were totally incapable of error even in the minutia? Laziness is what causes us to use the confessions as they were not meant to be used. These are guideposts, not destinations.

Notice, I am not challenging the confessions. Nor am I exhorting anyone to cast away the didactic luxury that they bring to our lives. I am challenging how we think concerning them. We all have a tendency to elevate anything good over God. That is evident in Scripture and in our daily lives. If we find ourselves running to the confessions and creeds as our primary authoritative source for understanding and assurance of our faith in Christ, and we can quote and explain a confession easier than we can explain Scripture and the gospel, we must immediately eject ourselves from the seat of traditionalism and laziness, and we must diligently seek God through the Scriptures for our assurance and understanding. This doesn’t mean we cannot use the confessions to help us in this direction. But once again, where does your affection, affirmation, and assurance of your faith lie? In Scripture Alone, or in the Confession Alone? Is it because the confession says so that you believe X, Y, Z, or is it because you have studied and affirmed that the Scriptures teach it?

One last time, I am not bashing any confession, or the use of them in discussion. But I am standing against any form of authoritative proclamation or behavior that insists that the confession is the first and final say so in any biblical discussion and practice. If your “go-to” argument and assurance of your belief is “the confession says,” you’ve lost all credibility. And if the confession is your main source for approving yourself before God, your credibility may not be the only thing that is lost.

-Until we go home