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Posts Tagged ‘gospel’

Amanda Criss has provided some very helpful thoughts in how to respond properly to criticism. Here’s a taste:

I realize now that my feelings were so hurt because my pride was so devastated. A proud heart like mine is shocked and offended at an accusation of imperfection. I want to be liked and admired, but instead, my desperate need for a Savior was shamefully exposed.

But the gospel frees me to receive criticism without anger and indignation. In the reflection of God’s holiness, I realize and embrace that I am much more sinful than my accuser can ever think to express. Even if the specific accusations I receive are without merit, when it comes to my deceitful heart, they don’t know the half of it.

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When you hear the term “moralism” and it is used as a negative thing, what is your reaction? After all, what can be wrong with morals? Isn’t a lot of the problem with our culture due to a catastrophic slide in morality?

There is, of course, nothing wrong with good morals and, yes, we have witnessed a tragic decline in morality in America. A culture which fights for the “right” of a boy who thinks he is a girl to use the girls’ restroom and tells the offended girls that they need to learn to deal with it is a culture which has lost almost all sense of morality, not to mention common sense.

People are rightly concerned about the abysmally low level of morality in America. The problem, though, occurs when a concern for morality is confused with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Moralism is a belief system when emphasizes the overarching importance of morality. Being a good person, emphasizing morality, being with like-minded people, and seeking to convert others to your view of morality are all characteristic of moralism. In truth, moralism is another gospel, and that should be a cause for great concern.

Moralism is what characterizes most churches in America today, and we Baptists are no exception. All moralists do not hold to the same set of moral values, but they all see morality, at least their conception of morality, as fundamental. When someone tells you, “We don’t need to get hung up on doctrine. We just need to be good people and have great relationships,” you are listening to a moralist, and that’s not a good thing.

The great danger of moralism is that it replaces the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, moralism is the antithesis of the gospel because the moralist essentially believes that he is right with God because he is a moral person, though he may deny that and invoke his need for Jesus. The gospel, however, reveals that our efforts at self-reformation and our seeking to be righteous are fraught with sin (Isaiah 64:6). Our being accepted by God is due solely to God’s counting us righteous through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ (see Romans 4 and 5; also 2 Corinthians 5:21).

In a September 11, 2012, blog post entitled “Christian Values Cannot Save Anyone,” Al Mohler writes: “Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values. If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would. Most of our neighbors have some commitment to Christian values, but what they desperately need is salvation from their sins. This does not come by Christian values, no matter how fervently held. Salvation comes only by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Mohler goes on to explain: “Human beings are natural-born moralists, and moralism is the most potent of all the false gospels. The language of ‘values’ is the language of moralism and cultural Protestantism . . . . This is the religion that produces cultural Christians, and cultural Christianity soon dissipates into atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief. Cultural Christianity is the great denomination of moralism, and far too many church folk fail to recognize that their own religion is only cultural Christianity — not the genuine Christian faith.”

“Christian moralists” will attend worship services, get involved in Bible studies, go on Christian social trips, and do short term missions. There is enough “Jesus-talk” to make it all seem Christian, but it’s not biblical Christianity. It is moralism. And it is eternally deadly: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

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Will we seek God?

By the time this column is published, the midterm elections of 2014 will be almost over. There will doubtlessly be runoffs to determine the eventual winner in some states, and the television and broadcast stations in those states will reap continued political advertising dollars. For most Americans, however, the never-ending political season will transition towards 2016.

And on and on it goes. Winners and losers, victory parties and concession speeches, but what will really change?

Some friends on occasion declare that voting is useless—nothing ever changes. Things just seem to go from bad to worse. I certainly understand the sentiment. What we need to do, according to one friend, is to vote against every incumbent. That reminds me more of a child’s temper tantrum than a substantive solution.

Our problem is not with our politicians; it is with humanity. Humans are not good by nature. As the apostle reminds us, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10–11 [ESV]). We have politicians who promote evil legislation, legislation allowing the taking of an unborn child’s life, institutionalizing same-sex “marriage,” establishing state-sponsored gambling, etc. These politicians, however, were not spontaneously generated. Neither did they forcibly take their offices. They were duly elected by the American people, most of whom are unrighteous, do not understand, and do not seek God.

We live in a fallen world, a world that is at root unrighteous. The secularists and liberal “Christians” would have us believe that humans are basically good. The Bible reveals what we experience: humans are not basically good. We are basically self-centered, self-promoting, self-indulging, and self-concerned. All sin, so it seems, has self at the center.

While we can grumble about our fellow citizens, the question is whether we ourselves seek God. This is not to say that elections are unimportant and we should bail out of our civic responsibility to vote for the best candidates on the ballot. It is to remind of us what the basic issues are, and the basic issues begin with us.

Our country’s woes are not centered upon our president’s politically convenient “evolving” on the issue of same-sex “marriage” or his insistence of a woman’s right to an abortion. While the promotion of depravity by our broadcast media and the legitimizing of almost every form of depravity by one of our major political parties are unhelpful to the state of our nation, these are not our fundamental problems. These things are simply the result of our problem. We as a people have rejected God. We will not have him reign over us.

And yet our responsibility as Christians is not to change the hearts of others. We are impotent to do that. The Holy Spirit alone can change hearts. We can and should evangelize others, pointing out that sin is self-destructive, both in time and in eternity. We should point people to our crucified and holy Savior. We can and should pray that God would be pleased to saved our families and friends and neighbors.

Also, we should try to help our unbelieving neighbors understand how sinful actions harm our people. This is a “common-grace” aspect to our being good neighbors. Non-Christians can grasp that things which contribute to the breakup of the family do great harm to one’s society.

The reality, however, is that real change begins with us. Have we repented of our sins and believed upon Christ? Do we desire his presence? Do we yearn to know him? Do we follow his Word? Do we ourselves seek God? “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6–7 [ESV]).

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To state that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is central to Christianity is to state the obvious. The Bible abounds with testimony concerning the importance of the cross. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In Matthew 16:21 we read, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Peter wrote that Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus, pointing to his forthcoming crucifixion, said, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Likewise, the apostle Paul taught that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

The question, however, is often asked: Could there have been another way for God to save sinners? Did Jesus have to die?

A lot of people have a real issue with the cross. While they see Jesus’ death as a sacrifice or an act of love, they wonder not only why he himself had to die but also why anyone has to be punished for sin.

One popular blogger has stated unequivocally that Jesus did not have to die for humans to be reconciled to God. God could have done things a different way.

The logic goes something like this: God is capable of doing whatever he wants. After all, he is God. Consequently, God did not have to require the crucifixion. As a matter of fact, God did not have to allow the Fall, Adam and Eve’s sin that got humanity into its sin predicament.

Such thinking goes on to say that there is no “must” or “requirement” with God. Saying that God “must” or “is required” to do something violates the concept of God. God is totally free from any requirements. To say that his justice requires the punishment of the sinner is nonsensical. In fact, God could have simply waved off sin, pronouncing that it is forgiven and all is well.

Orthodox Christianity has said that God’s justice requires that sinners be punished for their sin, but some professing Christians return to the idea that God can do what he wants because he is sovereign. Such an idea, though, fundamentally misunderstands the nature of God.

The fundamental mistake with such a notion is understanding what it means to say that “God can do whatever he wants.” That is a true statement, but it must be rightly understood. God’s sovereignty never conflicts with his nature. While God can do anything he wants, he cannot violate his very nature. In other words, God would never want to do that which is contrary to who he is. God can do whatever he wants to do, and he always wants to do that which is according to who he is.

God is in essence holy. Isaiah saw the seraphim announcing the absolute holiness of God (Isaiah 6:1-3). That which is unholy, that which is sinful, violates the very nature of God. Sin is rebellion against God because it violates who he is. Consequently, the sovereign of the universe must punish sin because allowing it to go unpunished would be for God to contradict his very being.

Therefore, Christ had to die or else all of humanity would face the judgment of God. God cannot allow sin in his presence. To do so would violate his very nature. He cannot simply wave off sin. Again, justice would not be served. Holiness would be contradicted. Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem to die upon the cross (Matthew 16:21).

Could there have been another way? Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Were there any other way, the inexpressible spiritual agony of the cross could have been averted. There was no other way.

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Are we amazed at grace?

Doubtlessly, one of the most widely-sung and best-known hymns of Christianity is “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

Perhaps familiarity has bred dull thinking. Have we lost the significance of the words “amazing” and “grace”?

I think that there is far too much of the Pharisee within all of us. You remember our Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. Luke records that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.” A Pharisee and a tax collector went into the temple to pray. In our culture we hold neither Pharisees nor tax collectors in esteem, especially with the nefarious activities of the Internal Revenue Service coming to light in recent months. In Jesus’ day, Pharisees were among the most highly esteems persons in Judaism. They were conservative, hard-working, and honorable men.

We often think of Pharisees as those self-righteous Jews who went around condemning anyone having a good time because some religious law somewhere was being violated. That the Pharisees were self-righteous is true. The reality of the matter, however, is that most people who condemn the Pharisees as being self-righteous are themselves self-righteous. Excusing one’s own trespasses while denouncing those of others is a ubiquitous human trait.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable does little more than articulate a pervasive human condition: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

We would not be so crass as to voice such a description of ourselves. When we observe the sinful lifestyles of others, however, how often do we have the attitude of the Pharisee?

Clay Layfield, minister of worship at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Georgia, pointed me to a new hymn entitled “Not in Me.” We plan to introduce it to our congregation one Sunday evening soon. “Not in Me” was composed by Eric Schumacher and David Ward with the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in mind, and you can hear it here. Look at the first verse:

No list of sins I have not done,

No list of virtues I pursue,

No list of those I am not like,

Can earn myself a place with You.

O God! Be merciful to me—

I am a sinner through and through!

My only hope of righteousness

Is not in me, but only You.

The hymn rightly notes that nothing in us warrants God’s acceptance of us—not the sins we have not done, not the virtues we have esteemed, not a comparison with those we deem less worthy for whatever reason. Our depravity permeates all of our being; our “only hope of righteousness is Christ alone.”

The second and third verses continue the theme:

No humble dress, no fervent prayer,

No lifted hands, no tearful song,

No recitation of the truth

Can justify a single wrong.

My righteousness is Jesus’ life,

My debt was paid by Jesus’ death,

My weary load was borne by Him

And He alone can give me rest.

 

No separation from the world,

No work I do, no gift I give,

Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;

I cannot cause my soul to live.

But Jesus died and rose again—

The pow’r of death is overthrown!

My God is merciful to me

And merciful in Christ alone.

Only an awareness of ourselves in our sinful state and an awareness of what God has done on our behalf can help us understand that God’s grace is indeed amazing.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

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The Associated Press welcomed us to January 9 with this bit of news: “The Washington National Cathedral, where the nation gathers to mourn tragedies and celebrate new presidents, will soon begin performing same-sex marriages.”

We aren’t surprised. Its denomination, the Episcopal Church (the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America) has been a leading voice for decades for professing Christians who reject the Scriptures. In 2003, for instance, the Diocese of New Hampshire elected the Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly homosexual priest lauded for his “long-term committed relationship,” as Bishop.

What is particularly disheartening is the scriptural justification put forth for performing same-sex marriage. The Very Reverend Gary Hall, the dean of the cathedral, maintained that “performing same-sex marriages is an opportunity to break down barriers and build a more inclusive community ‘that reflects the diversity of God’s world.'” The article goes on to say: “‘I read the Bible as seriously as fundamentalists do,’ Hall told the AP. ‘And my reading of the Bible leads me to want to do this because I think it’s being faithful to the kind of community that Jesus would have us be.'”

The Rev. Hall lives in a state of self-delusion. He doesn’t read the Bible seriously at all. A serious reading of the Bible reveals homosexuality as the height of human rebellion against God and as a judgment from God:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:24-27)

The only sexual relationship which God condones is between a man and a woman within the bond of marriage (Matthew 5:27-28; Matthew 19:4-6; Hebrews 13:4). And the only homosexual whom God receives is akin to the only thief, the only liar, the only adulterer, the only murderer (or whatever sinner one may be) whom God receive: the one who repents of his sin and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Christ who voluntarily suffered divine justice on behalf of those who would repent and believe upon him (2 Corinthians 5:21). To bless homosexuality is to scoff at the cross of Christ.

The AP story closes with this: “‘For us to be able to say we embrace same-sex marriage as a tool for faithful people to live their lives as Christian people,’ [Hall] said, ‘for us to be able to say that at a moment when so many other barriers toward full equality and full inclusion for gay and lesbian people are falling, I think it is an important symbolic moment.'” Rev. Hall will find himself applauded by millions of Americans for his bold declaration seeking to aid homosexuals “to live their lives as Christian people.” The general public usually applauds those who condone what God condemns. The world loves apostates.

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A blue Christmas?

Christmas seems to be a particularly depressing time for many people. Statistics reveal increased numbers of suicides and attempted suicide when compared to other times of the year. Mental health professionals report an increase in cases of depression.

Many reasons for increased depression are offered. Folks get overwhelmed with trying to find the “perfect” Christmas gift. All the festivities can crowd needed rest out of one’s calendar. Expecting one’s Christmas season to match a Hallmark movie doubtlessly produces a blue Christmas for many. Gatherings that force folks to be around others they dislike can be a downer.

Perhaps more persons need to feel blue at Christmas, though not for any of the reasons often offered. The thrice-holy Christ entered the world. Juxtaposed against his holiness, any human should be filled with dread and shame, a state of the darkest blue.

In Isaiah 6 we find the prophet in the presence of the Almighty. Confronted with perfect holiness, Isaiah shrinks, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5). Isaiah saw himself and his people as they really were: wicked and evil. “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45) correlates what a person says with what a person is. That is not a comforting thought.

One might ask, “Well, that’s all well and good, but we’re talking about Christmas. What does Christmas have to do with Isaiah’s experience with the holy God?” The apostle John records this account in his gospel: “Though he [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:37–41, ESV; emphasis added).

Isaiah saw Christ in his glorious holiness and saw himself as wicked and unworthy. Somehow, that’s a reality we need to grasp during the Christmas season. We are not celebrating the miracle of a birth, though the Virgin Birth was certainly that. We are not celebrating the innocence of a little child, though this Child is the only one who has ever been born as innocent after Adam’s fall. Too much of Christmas in our culture borders on sappy emotionalism, and a lot of it is thoroughly baptized in sappiness. Even the “Put Christ Back into Christmas” campaigns miss the mark, because most people would be aghast at who Christ really is. Perhaps beside manger scenes should be a depiction of Revelation 19:11-15: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”

Seeing Christ as Scripture depicts him should drive us to the cross, for there “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). Seeing Christ in his holiness reveals us in our sinfulness and lawlessness. By his grace, we loathe our sin, repent of it, and embrace his atonement for us. And, yes, we celebrate Christmas, but for no sentimental reason. We celebrate because our kind, benevolent, gracious, holy Savior God has satisfied divine justice due our sin and has clothed us in his righteousness.

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