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Posts Tagged ‘Justification By Faith Alone’

Black Lives Matter protesters march through Portland, Oregon on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

  • Isaiah 1:7

Is America under the judgment of God?  Many Christians think so, this author among them. 

Some of our largest, most prosperous and best-known cities are literally burned with fire and will take years to recover, if they ever do. Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, Chicago and New York have seen massive riots and property destruction on a level that few Americans could have imagined just six months ago.  On the internet one can view the daily, destructive handiwork of Antifa in Portland and Seattle.  The Portland riots have been going on for three months now and show no sigh of abating.  In fact, the riots may be spreading, as there are reports just today (8/23/2020) that the sort of disturbances that have been going in the Portland have spread to Denver.       

Our political system is a mess.  The Democrats have veered off in a radical socialist/social justice direction.  So overt is their radicalism that it has caused concern even among some of the older, mainstream liberals in the party.  The Republicans, relatively speaking a saner bunch, have nevertheless lost their moorings in many ways.  There was a time, not all that long ago, when Republicans at least pretended to be the party of fiscal restraint.  Yet under President Trump debts and deficits have exploded and almost no one says a word.  When Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) objected to the house passing the budget busting $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill without a vote, he was denounced by President Trump as a, “third rate Grandstander.”  Trump went on to say that Massie should be thrown out of the Republican party.  That was Massie’s reward for standing up for the Constitution.

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Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence; and it is desolate as overthrown by strangers. Isaiah 1:7

“…because of Western civilization’s love of material comforts, there is an unwillingness to face unpleasant realities.”

  • Gordon H. Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, p.53

“‘How did you go bankrupt?’ Bill asked.  ‘Two ways,’ Mike said.  ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’“ So wrote Ernest Hemmingway in his novel The Sun Also Rises

Although Hemmingway’s book was a work fiction, what he said about bankruptcy is a phenomenon many of us have seen in real life.  Individuals and organizations that appear to be in robust financial health experience sudden financial collapse. 

Perhaps the poster child for sudden financial ruin is Lehman Brothers, a famous 150-year-old Wall Street investment bank.  Having earned record profits during the height of the real estate bubble from 2005-2007, early in the morning on Monday, September 15,2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.   

The collapse of Lehman Brothers to this day is still the largest bankruptcy in American history. 

Gradually, then suddenly.  That same pattern can be seen in the Scriptures as well.  In Deuteronomy 32:35 we read, “Their foot shall slide in due time.”   Some will recognize this as the text on which Jonathan Edwards based his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Wrote Edwards,

It [the saying “their foot shall slide in due time”] implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction.  As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in ‘Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction:  How are they brought into desolation as in a moment? (Psalm 73:18-19).

Sodom and Gomorrah met with destruction in a single day. 

After centuries of rebellion against God, Jerusalem was sacked in a single day. 

In Daniel’s time, the mighty city of Babylon was overthrown in a single day. 

In Revelation, the voice from heaven prophesies that the destruction of Babylon the Great will come in a single day.  The kings of the earth are said to lament her destruction, crying out, “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city!  For in one hour your judgment has come” (Revelation 18:10).  

In all of these cases, the sudden final destruction was really the end result of a process that had been going on for many years.   

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2020

Once again, I find myself looking back at the year past and peering forward at the one to come.   As is no doubt the case with many, this is for me a bittersweet annual experience.  By God’s grace, I can say that I have been partially successful in redeeming the time.  But a little honest reflection convicts me that I could have, and should have, done better.

Sin, it would seem, is ever present with me, tainting even my best works.

But thanks be to God, for it is not my own works that justify me.  Rather, I am acceptable to God “only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to [me], and received by faith [belief] alone.”

Truly, the grace of God is amazing toward sinners! It’s as if God were to say to us wretched rebels, “All your guilt, all your hopelessness, all your fear of death and of righteous judgment and of eternal punishment, these things I have taken away in my Son.  Only believe in him and be saved from the wrath to come.”

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“Hell is going to be filled with good religious people who have rejected the truth of Christ.”

  • Robert Jeffress

 

“President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at tackling anti-Semitism on college campuses on Wednesday – but one of the speakers at the event said that Jews are going to hell,” thus reported the Huffington Post on Thursday.

Yes, the HuffPo was in a state of high dudgeon that Donald Trump dared to invite to the While House a Christian minister, who actually teaches Christian doctrine.

In this case, the guilty party was none other than noted Southern Baptist minister Robert Jeffress.  At times, I have been critical of Jeffress on this blog. I stand by my criticism.  But today I come not to bury Jeffress but to praise him.

What triggered the outrage at HuffPo and several other news outlets?  I’ll let the HuffPo’s headline speak for itself: “Pastor Who Says Jews Are Going To Hell Speaks At Trump’s Hanukkah Party.”

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Unplanned

Just to dispense with one item upfront, I have not seen the movie Unplanned, nor, despite the many encouragements from various conservatives to support the film, do I intend to.

To be clear, my lack of support for Unplanned is not because I’m pro-abortion. Far from it. I’m pro-life

I actually had considered going to see the film yesterday, but elected not to. So what stopped me? A little research on the internet.

Not knowing much about Unplanned other than snippets I’d see in the press, I decided to search the web for information on the central character in the movie, Abby Johnson. In just a few seconds, I’d found all I needed to know, a headline in the National Catholic Register that read “From Abortion Worker to Catholic Apostle.” As the subheadline went on to elaborate, “A former Planned Parenthood director, Abby Johnson, tells how an ultrasound of an unborn baby’s fight for life eventually let (sic) her to the Catholic Church and a new apostolate.”

A bit more searching led me to this interview on EWTN’s Facebook page – EWTN is a Roman Catholic organization that owns and operates the National Catholic Register – in which directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzleman speak openly of their Catholic faith. At one point, they even note that the “blessed mother” has promised to end abortion.

In short, it’s fair to call Unplanned a Catholic movie.

For Protestants, this represents an insuperable problem.

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Martin Luther

Just over a month back, Protestants celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It was a noteworthy occasion. October 31, 2017 marked 500 years since a little known Augustinian monk nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door and changed the course of history.

But while as Protestants we look back with joy at Luther’s bold stand against the papacy and proclamation of the Gospel of Justification by Belief Alone, not everyone was or is so appreciative of his achievements and the achievements of the other Reformers. But to call them unappreciative is really far too mild. The truth is, Luther and his contemporaries were hated unto death by representatives of the Roman Church-State (RCS), who did everything in their power to frustrate the spread of the Gospel in the 16th century.

And their efforts to quash the preaching of the Gospel did not stop in the 16th century, but continue unabated to this day. One example of this is the way the Pope Francis and the RCS attempted to co-opt this year’s Reformation Day celebration and turn it into a great big group hugging, Kumbaya singing rapprochement between Rome and her erring children, the “separated brethren” of the Reformation.

But Rome isn’t the only false church singing a false Gospel siren song in the hopes of wooing Protestants onto the rocks of works righteousness. No, Eastern Orthodoxy wants in on the act too.

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Day 2 of The Trinity Foundation’s Reformation conference saw four separate presentations by two men whose work has long been associated with the Foundation.  Mark W. Evans, a minister from Faith Presbytery, the Bible Presbyterian Church presented a single paper in two sessions titled The Reformation:  Past, Present, and Future.

The other speaker of the day was Dr. Paul M. Elliott, president of Teaching the Word Ministries.  Dr. Elliott gave two separate talks, the first titled The Reformation is Not a Return to Pre-Reformation Positions, and the second The Reformation Is Not Co-Belligerence with Unbelievers.

For those interested, all four sessions from Day 2 plus the two sessions from Day 1 were recorded and will be available on the Trinity Foundation website.  The planned date of the posting is not known to this writer.

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Well, I just got back to my hotel room here in Johnson City.  Day 1 of the Trinity Foundation Reformation Conference, the full title of which is The Reformation at 500:  Is It Over or Is It Needed Now More than Ever?, ran a little later than expected, but this attendee isn’t complaining.

Trinity Foundation president Tom Juodaitis gave the opening talk.  In it, he focused on the two key principles of the Reformation – what some call the formal and material principles of the Reformation – Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) and Sola Fide (justification by faith alone).

Mr. Juodaitis made the important point that there is a close connection between the spiritual liberty that comes with the preaching of the Gospel and the political and economic liberty that the West has enjoyed over the past 500 years.

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Lutheran_RCCS Declaration

President of the Lutheran World Federation Bishop Munib Younan, left, conspires with Pope Francis, right, to overthrow the Reformation at a service in Lund Lutheran cathedral , October 31, 2016 (L’Osservatore Romano/AP)

 

You say you want a Reformation? Well, according to a recently released Pew Research Center survey of Western Europe and the US, many Protestants answer “Not so much.” Here are a few key findings:

  • About half of U.S. Protestants (52%) say both good deeds and faith in God are needed to get into heaven, a historically Catholic position. The other half (42%) say that faith alone is needed to attain salvation.
  • U.S. Protestants also are split on another issue that played a key role in the Reformation: 46% say the Bible provides all the religious guidance Christians need, a traditionally Protestant belief known as sola scriptura. But 52% say Christians should look for guidance from church teachings and traditions as well as from the Bible, the position held by the Catholic Church.
  • Just 30% of all U.S. Protestants affirm both sola fide and sola scriptura.
  • In nearly all of the European countries surveyed, majorities or pluralities of both Catholics and Protestants adhere to the traditionally Catholic view that both faith and good works are necessary to attain salvation. In fact, in every country except Norway (where 51% of Protestants say salvation comes through faith alone), belief in sola fide is a minority view even among Protestants.

The results of this survey, though disappointing, are hardly surprising. The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy among Presbyterians in first half of the 20th century ended with the liberal social gospelers seizing control of the mainline Presbyterian church and the subsequent purging of those who believed the Bible. Other Protestant denominations experienced upheavals. As a result, where Protestant churches once spoke with one voice on the critical issues of the source of authority in the church (scripture alone) and the means of justification (justification is by faith alone), Protestant witness has become greatly confused.

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Dad and I at the Reds game, 6/17/2017.

“See that yellow foul pole,” dad said to me. “Yes,” I replied. “When Johnny Bench hits his home runs,” dad continued, “they have to stay inside of it.”

Memory is a funny thing. It’s strange what we forget, and perhaps even stranger what we remember with crystal clarity, years or even decades later.

That snippet of a conversation between dad and me took place over 40 years ago. The year, I think, was either 1973 or 1974. I was just a kid and was at the ballpark for my first ever major league game. It was the Reds versus somebody at Riverfront Stadium.

I recall a couple of other things from that day. I remember we sat in the blue seats, just a few rows behind the Reds dugout. I also recollect a foul ball coming pretty close to us, but not quite close enough to catch.

They say baseball has a way of uniting fathers and sons in a way different from other sports. That certainly was true in our case.

Growing up in Cincinnati in the 70’s as I did, I had the privilege of watching the Big Red Machine at its finest. All of us in my family naturally were big Reds fans. So there was that.

Further, there was little league. My dad was either a coach or manager of my team for several seasons, and we spent a lot of time together practicing, especially pitching.

I wasn’t a great natural talent, my brother has all the real athletic talent in the family, but dad taught me how to throw strikes and spot my pitches where I wanted. With his help and patience, I managed to be one of the better pitchers in my league for a few seasons. To this day, I still remember the rush of striking out hitters.

And although my baseball career, such as it was, ended long ago, one thing hasn’t changed. Dad and I are both still big Reds fans.

But baseball lessons we’re the only thing dad taught me. You see, dad was Tim the Toolman long before there was a show called Home Improvement. And as you would expect from any good do-it-yourselfer, he was constantly in need of a gopher. My labor was cheap and available, so as you can probably imagine, I was constantly involved in one of his projects or another.

When I was helping him build a piece of furniture, I remember the painstaking effort he put in to making sure the legs of the table he was building were strong and stable. He expertly cut the joints in the wood, glued them in place and clamped them together so they would dry n place.

But then he did something that puzzled me. He had me help him drill countersunk holes for woodscrews and put in crews to hold the legs along with the glue.

So I asked him, “Why are you bothering to put screws in to hold the legs in place when you’ve already glued them in.” Replied dad, “Because the screws make the joints stronger, and I don’t want this table just to look well-made, but actually to be well-made.”

That made a big impression on me.

To have true quality, it wasn’t enough for something just to look good on the surface, but it had to be thoroughly good, possessing quality both where it is seen and where it is not.

It was no accident that dad believed as he did about his carpentry and other pursuits. For his philosophy of craftsmanship really was just an extension of his faith in Christ.

As the apostle Paul teaches, God’s people are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. And great master craftsman that he is, God is not satisfied with a surface morality that appears good on the outside but is full of rottenness on the inside. No. But when God calls his people to saving faith, he effects a radical change in them from the inside out.

In Christ, God’s people are pronounced righteous at the bar of his perfect justice through faith in Christ alone and sanctified by his Word and Spirit. Christians are not just to look good, but to be good.

So thanks, dad, for a lifetime of lessons. You taught me to throw a fastball and to hammer a nail. Most of all, you taught me in word and in deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Happy Father’s Day.


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