Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Why Celebrating Lord's Supper Is Beneficial For Churches And Christ-followers During Advent Season


    Whenever God ordained the proclamation of salvation, He did so through the revelation of His word and the visual aids of feasts and ceremonial ordinances in the Old Testament. It is by the Spirit and the Word of God that the human soul is transformed in saving faith (Psalm 19:7; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18,21). For Old Testament believers, the feasts and ceremonies pictured for the people God's redemptive work (the one particular example I am think about is the Passover celebration). 

    When Jesus came to earth in His first Advent (that is, coming), He instructed His disciples to begin practicing two ordinances: believer's baptism and the Lord's Table (referred to also as "Communion" or "The Lord's Table" or "Lord's Supper" - see especially 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-27). The term "ordinance" refers to what Jesus commanded  or "ordained" for the New Testament Church to practice. Wherever we find Jesus commanding us to do something in the Gospels; preached and practiced in the Book of Acts; and then explained in the New Testament letters, we have then standardized ordinances. As is the nature of the case, Jesus prescribed baptism and the Lord's Table to be those ordinances.

    As we consider this time of year, Advent, we find it bringing to mind the incarnation of the Son of God to live, die, and rise again. The Lord Jesus Christ is the focal point of Advent and the reason for celebrating the Lord's Table. What I spell out below will highlight four main purposes I see for Christians and churches celebrating the Lord's Supper. 

The Purposes for the Lord's Table and main point of application

    In today's blog we want to understand the purposes for which the Lord's Supper was prescribed by the Lord Jesus Christ to His church.  Regular observance of this "meal" by the local church enables the body of Christ to maintain its corporate identity and grow closer together (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).  Below are four reasons why celebrating the Lord's supper is vital to Christians both individually and as members of the local church. I would also add that whenever a church observes the Lord's Supper during Advent, it can help God's people to focus their attention on the true meaning of the season. Our key text will derive from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. The reader is encouraged to read the text and use the headings to work through Paul teaching in that passage. 

1. The Lord's Supper is used by Christ to repair divisions. 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

    The letter of 1 Corinthians was written to a church that was fractured in its fellowship.  Jesus had prayed in John 17:21 that His church as a whole would be one as He and the Father are one.  Clearly the church at Corinth was going in the opposite direction - which is why the Holy Ghost inserted instructions about the Lord's Supper.  The Lord's supper gives the church the opportunity to seek forgiveness, heal division and fix fellowship issues that may have arisen since the last Lord's supper (1 Corinthians 11:28-34). 

    What Jesus achieved on the cross provided the ability for reconciliation between believing sinners and God. The cross is also how followers of Christ can draw from God's immeasurable grace through Jesus Christ. The Lord's Table is that glorious sign or symbol, which signifies or reminds all of Christ's followers that they are on level ground at the cross. Having such a reminder can enable followers of Jesus Christ to exercise themselves in reaching out to others with His love during this Advent season.

2. The Lord's Supper rejoices in the cross. 1 Cor 11:23-25

    The cross in the scriptures is the event that the Holy Spirit uses to point us to the source of salvation.  Additionally, the cross is the place the Holy Spirit uses to cleanse believers in their post-conversion sanctification.  The cross must never be forgotten (1 Corinthians 2:2). 

    The Lord's table intentionally focuses the entire church on all the significance and daily need for the cross (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). The busyness of Christmas can be a challenging time in focusing one's attention on the cross. The cross of Calvary is the reason for the cradle at Bethlehem. In a time where crass materialism can nearly eclipse the true intent of Advent, coming together with one's local church, composed of true followers of Christ, gathered around the Lord's Table, can reignite the desire to rejoice in the cross.

3.  The Lord's Supper repeats the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 11:26

    The Gospel of Jesus Christ focuses upon what Jesus came to do in His first coming - accomplish salvation.  The Gospel also tells us how we can be saved from the reality of God's wrath that is coming upon this world in Christ's second coming (Romans 5:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). By the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ communicates and reinforces these truths to the hearts of His church through their observance of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:26).  This is why the Lord's table is celebrated in conjunction with the communication of the scriptures. 

    Furthermore, every follower of Jesus Christ needs to preach the Gospel to themselves everyday, especially during Advent season. As we travel to see loved ones or express "Merry Christmas" to neighbors, we never know how God may open up "Divine Appointments"for us to share the Gospel. The Holy Spirit uses the Lord's Table to visualize the Gospel, to remind every Christ-follower that partakes of the bread and fruit of the vine of the necessity of the Gospel for this life and the life-to-come. 

4. The Lord's Supper urges re-examination of the Christian walk. 1 Corinthians 11:27-34

    We are told in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to "examine ourselves to see whether or not we are in the faith".  What kinds of questions are good to ask ourselves when getting ready to receive the Lord's Supper (or communion, as it is sometimes called)?  What unconfessed sin has crept into my life since I last partook of the Lord's supper?  Do I have any resentment towards anyone?  Have I grown cold in my love for Jesus, His Word or prayer?  How am I doing in the areas of supporting the local church of which I am a member through my giving of tithes and offerings? Am I mad at God? Have I done anything to grieve His Spirit?  Have I seen growth and change in my life for the glory of God?  What has God shown me about Himself since the last time I partook of His meal? 

    Such diagnostic questions are useful as we celebrate Advent. There is no cruise control on the steering column of the Christian life.  We don't coast, we aim to strive for all we can in Christ, since it is He who is working in us His perfect and pleasing will. (Philippians 3:12-13) 

Closing thoughts:

    Today we considered for purposes for the celebration of the Lord's table, and why Jesus originated this ordinance for the local church. We also made some observations as to how churches that celebrate the Lord's Supper during Advent can draw applications for daily Christian living during the Season. The four purposes we saw today are:

1. Repair divisions

2. Rejoice in the cross

3. Repeat the Gospel

4. Re-examine one's Christian walk

May every reader have a blessed Advent Season.

Monday, November 29, 2021

P1 The Son of God Became Man To Repair What Was Broken By Man


    In our last post we defined what we mean by the term "incarnation". Whenever we talk about the miracle of the incarnation, it refers to the Son of God coming into the world to become "in-the-flesh" (older theologians would sometimes call the incarnation by another term, "the enmanning"of the Son of God). We offered a concise definition of the incarnation as follows: 

the Son, being truly God, joined to himself true humanity, with all its qualities, minus sin. 

We defined what we meant by the term "incarnation", along with providing Scriptural references to show the significance of it. Readers who missed the last post can read it by clicking here:

    In today's post we want to consider why the Son of God came to be man. To see the reason for the incarnation, one must start in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. Genesis 1-2 records God's creation of the universe, all of life, and human beings. Genesis 3 records the fall of mankind and God's graceful dealings with our original parents. What precipitated from the Fall in the garden will provide the description of why Christ became man for our sakes.

1. Christ came to repair broken communion with God = A SPIRITUAL CRISIS.

    When God originally created Adam and his wife, they had communion with Him. We read in Genesis 1:26-28 "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.' Genesis 2:15 further specifies the type of communion mankind had originally with God: "Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it." 

    Genesis 3:8 then records what was likely a common occurance between God and our original parents, along with a sad note at it's end: "They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden." The latter part of Genesis 3:6 tells us that this original communion was broken. 

    We read then of Adam's response to God in Genesis 3:10 "He said, 'I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”' With broken communion following from Adam and his wife's rebellion, we see then a second consequence.

2. Broken Law of God. = A MORAL CRISIS. 

    God gave commands to Adam. Whenever God gave commands, He was revealing His moral character in vocal form to Adam (what would then become later written form to Moses in the giving of the Law). Genesis 2:16-17 states: "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”'

    Sadly, Adam broke those commands, as recorded in Genesis 3:6 "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate." Anytime God's commands are broken, what follows is a moral crisis, which reflects the deep spiritual crisis in Adam and all of us who descend from him. This then leads to a third crisis which Christ would come to repair in His incarnation.. 

3. Christ came to repair a broken Covenant with God. = A RELATIONAL CRISIS. 

    As we see God communing with man and issuing commands, theologians come to understand such actions on God's part as the formation of an original covenant with man. A covenant is a "binding agreement" involving two parties. Covenants occur throughout the Bible and include such features as promises, blessings, commands, and consequences for obedience or disobedience. As the following passages will illustrate, this original covenant (called by theologians "the covenant of creation"or "the covenant of works") would become broken by the original Adam - he representing all humanity. 

    In Genesis 2:19-21 we read: "out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place." 

    Covenants in the Bible were God's way of relating with his creation (see for example Jeremiah 33:20, God's covenant with day and night). God never spoke nor interracted with His creation apart from the context of a covenant. The Hebrew word for covenant ("berith") has as a root meaning the act of "cutting". Such rites as shedding of blood or cutting served to ratify the covenant made between two parties (see Genesis 15 for example). As for the woman taken out of man's side, this solemnized the institution of marriage and signified what God was doing in the original covenant to Adam and his wife. 

    Sadly, Adam broke the original covenant with God. We know for certain that the events recorded in Genesis 1:26-3:14 record the issuing forth of God's first covenant with man, followed by Adam's breakage of it. We read in Job 31:33 “Have I covered my transgressions like Adam, By hiding my iniquity in my bosom." Hosea 6:7 makes this point even more explicit: "But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me." 

    This tragedy meant that with a broken covenant, God was under obligation to do one thing: carry out the sanctions He had stated in Genesis 2:16-17 "for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." Yet, Adam and Eve did not physically die in Genesis 3. Why? God had already planned to put forth a second covenant - one that He, in the sending of the Son, would pay for and guarantee. 

    This second gesture by God in covering Adam and Eve with coats of skin is called by theologians "the covenant of grace". This action of God in Genesis 3:20-21 would foreshadow what God the Father and the Son had agreed upon before the beginning of creation - that history would include the cross. 

More next time... 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

P2 The Son of God Became Man To Repair What Was Broken By Man - A Closer Look At The Second Adam


    In our last post we considered why the Son of God came to be man: to repair what was broken. In today's post I want to continue from where we had left off in the last post. We had noted three things Christ came to repair in becoming man for our sakes:

1. Christ came to repair broken Communion with God = A SPIRITUAL CRISIS.

2. Christ came to repair the broken Law of God. = A MORAL CRISIS. 

3. Christ came to repair a broken Covenant with God. = A RELATIONAL CRISIS. 

    In this post I want to conclude our discussion by looking at a fourth important truth which brings clarity to our discussions about Christ's incarnation: Christ would become the New Adam to repair what was broken. 

Christ would become the New Adam to repair what was broken. 

    We observed that as a result of the original rebellion of the first Adam, a three-fold crisis ensued: a relational crisis (loss of communion); a moral crisis (breakage of God's moral law); and a spiritual crisis (breakage of covenant). Furthermore, God would come to offer grace to Adam and Eve by slaying two animals in their place (see Genesis 3:20-21). To put forth such a covenant of grace, the broken original covenant required a guarantee by the One who made it that it might be somehow fulfilled. 

    A man, "Adam", broke it. A second "Adam-like" person would have to ensure that He could carry it out by living a perfect life. Furthermore, since God, in the Person of the Father, had issued forth the covenant of creation with the representative head of all humanity, "Adam", this same God would have to ensure its completion by a second Adam. God's solution entailed that the eternal Person of the Son would go to earth, become a man, and offer Himself as the sinner's substitute. 

The development of "two-Adam" theology in the Old Testament

    The genealogy in Luke 3:22-38 records 75 generations of human beings, all kinds of sinners, between two Adams, a sinful first Adam and a sinless second Adam. The Old Testament had "set the table"for this two-Adam portrayal. The original Adam brought about sin and death on all humanity (see Romans 5:12-20). Genesis 1-11 records the history of sin, death, and destruction by the posterity of the original Adam. Even by starting over again with the flood of Noah, the problem of man's sinfulness could not be washed away by water, but rather by blood. 

    Genesis 12 has God calling forth Abraham to bring forth from Himself and Sarah what would be the nation of Israel. Abraham, in many respects, functions as an illustration of original Adam. Abraham (and his descendants, which would become Israel), in many respects, is a replay of the original Adam. 

    Israel functioned as God's representative of the nations (just as Adam functioned as God's representative of individual human beings). Israel was tested, tried, and found wanting. Adam ended up being a disobedient created "son of God" (see Genesis 3; Luke 3:38). Israel, going forth from Abraham, would be known also as a created son of God that would disobey Him (see Deuteronomy 32;  Hosea 11:1). Both Adam, Israel, and all of humanity would require the Eternal, uncreated Son of God to come and be man on their behalf. 

    Like Adam sent from the Garden into exile, Israel was sent from the promised land into exile (Assyria, then Babylon). God dealt graciously with Adam in His covenant of grace with him. God also gave Abraham a gracious covenant (along with David much later on), which would become fully expressed in the promised New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and other passages. Adam is at one of the end-points of Christ's genealogy in Luke 3:23-38. Abraham leads off Christ's genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17.   

    The whole Old Testament narrative from Genesis 12 to Malachi 4 details the history of the creation, fall, and promised restoration of Israel. God would issue forth to Israel covenants of a gracious nature through Abraham and David. The Old Testament ends with the necessity of the predicted redeemer, the Messiah, whom God promised could restore Israel in the future. 

The New Testament's portrayal of the two Adams

    The New Testament's development of this "two-Adam" doctrine served to highlight how Jesus came to be "the New Adam", that is, "the new head"of a redeemed humanity, composed of sinners drawn in grace to receive Christ in saving faith. 

    Paul records in Romans 5:14 "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come." He also states in 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 "So also it is written, 'The first man, Adam, became a living soul.' The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven."'

    When Jesus came to present Himself for baptism by John the Baptist, He came as the second Adam to publically identify Himself with those He came to redeem. We read in Matthew 3:15 "But Jesus answering said to him, 'Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.'” Jesus would perfectly obey God as the second Adam, undergoing temptation by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4) and being tempted at all points as we are, yet without sin (see Hebrews 4:14-15; 1 Peter 2:21-22). 

    Christ came to pay the unpaid bill left by the original Adam in the breaking of the covenant of creation. For God to forgive sins (whether of Adam and Eve, or for believers who exercised faith in the promises of God illustrated by the sacrifices in the Tabernacle and Temple, or even follows of Christ this day), there had to be the fulfillment of this first covenant broken by the original Adam. This is one of the reasons Christ came, to live a perfect life as the Second Adam in order to present Himself as the fit subsitute on behalf of sinners. 

    Christ, the new Adam, perfectly obeyed the much fuller form of the written Law of God. He paid the bills by taking His perfect life and offering it upon the cross as the sinner's substitute, bearing the curse pronounced by God in Genesis 3 (see 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:10-13; 1 Peter 3:18). We read in Hebrews 7:22 "So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant." This is why Jesus expressed the following striking words on the cross in John 19:30 - "it is finished".  

Closing thoughts:

    In these last two posts, we noted four reasons why the Son of God became man in terms of repairing what was broken by man.

1. Christ came to repair broken Communion with God = A SPIRITUAL CRISIS.

2. Christ came to repair the broken Law of God. = A MORAL CRISIS. 

3. Christ came to repair a broken Covenant with God. = A RELATIONAL CRISIS. 

4. Christ would become the New Adam to repair what was broken. 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

What is meant by the incarnation of the Son of God?


    Next to God's act of creation and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, no miracle is more central to the Christian faith than the incarnation of the Son of God. In today's post, we want to define what is meant by the term "incarnation". 

    The term itself is composed of two Latin words: "in" and "carnos". To take the latter term first, "carnos" refers to "flesh". When I was in grade school, they would sometimes serve what was called "chilli con carne" (chili with meat). If we talk about the animal kingdom, we will refer to some animals as "carnivors" (literally "flesh eaters"). As for the prefix "in", much like our English preposition "in", refers to coming to be "in" something. Therefore, whenever we talk about the miracle of the incarnation, it refers to the Son of God coming into the world to become "in-the-flesh" (older theologians would sometimes call the incarnation by another term, "the enmanning"of the Son of God). If I were to offer a concise definition of the incarnation, it would be this: The Son, being truly God, joined to himself true humanity, with all its qualities, minus sin. 

Major Biblical passages that speak of the incarnation

Key Old Testament texts on the incarnation

    To begin with the Biblical texts I use to arrive at the above definition of the incarnation, one has to start at Genesis 3:15 "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” Theologians refer to this text as the "protoevangelium" (the first mention of the Gospel). The ages-long battle between two seeds is taken to refer to Satan and Christ, and the followers of each. Whenever reference is made to "seed"', a close synonym is the term "descendant". So, even in the first mention of the Gospel, we already find a hint of God utilizing a human bloodline to bring about salvation. 

    Another Old Testament text that predicted Christ's incarnation is Isaiah 7:14 "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel." Isaiah wrote these words over 700 years before Christ came onto the scene. In Matthew and Luke's infancy narratives concerning Jesus, they both reference Isaiah 7:14 to express how the Holy Spirit would miraculously bring about the humanity of Christ in the virgin's womb (see Matthew 1:20-23 and Luke 1:35). 

    Then a final Old Testament text worthy of mention in regards to predicting the incarnation is Micah 5:2-3 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. 3 Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel." What makes Micah's prophecy so important is that we not only see whence the Messiah will derive (Bethelehm); but also He being truly God and truly man. 

Key New Testament texts on the incarnation

    We have offered a definition of the incarnation as follows: the Son, being truly God, joined to himself true humanity, with all its qualities, minus sin. The above Old Testament texts affirm the promise of incarnation. What follows are New Testament texts which explain the fact of Christ's incarnation. 

    We begin by first considering the Gospel accounts. Matthew 1:20b-21 “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Luke 1:35 "The angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.'" John 1:14 "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 

    In considering these three passages from the Gospel records, we are told "that" the incarnation took place in time and in space without an explanation of "how exactly" the Holy Spirit miraculously joined the humanity of Christ to His Person (what theologians call "the hypostatic union", that is, the uniting of a human nature to the Divine Person of the Son, who already possessed an eternal Divine nature).

    The remainder of the New Testament passages that express Christ's incarnation are found in the New Testament letters or "epistles".  Colossians 2:9 "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." Philippians 2:8 "Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." 1 Timothy 3:16a “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh.” Hebrews 10:5b “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, 'Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me.”' 1 Peter 2:22 “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.” 

    The above passages round out what we find of major passages in the New Testament on the incarnation. One more text is worthy of mention, since it connects back to Genesis 3:15, namely Revelation 12:5 "And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne." In striking brevity, John the Apostle records how Christ in His incarnation and virgin birth came the first time, ascended into Heaven, and is returning to set up His Kingdom here on earth. Note in the wider context of Revelation 12 how Satan battles to prevent the arrival of the Son of God into history - and fails. Note also how Satan will once again try to thwart the Son's return to set up His kingdom - and fail. 

Final thoughts:

    The incarnation of the Son of God is the focal point of the upcoming Advent season. Christ's coming into our world was necessary to provide salvation, the foundation for the Christian life, and by ever remaining man for our sakes.  Followers of Jesus look forward to His soon return. 

    For unbelievers, the incarnation of Jesus Christ makes history and humanity accountable to repent and believe the Gospel message about Him. Author Kevin Zuber in his book, "The Essential Scriptures: A Handbook of Biblical Texts For Key Doctrines", notes this on page 132:

"The only reason to include such a doctrine so contrary to nature and experience is that this was the truth about His birth." 

To paraphrase one notable thinker: "if it is even possible that God exists, and if this God created all that we know out of nothing, then events such as the raising of a dead man to life" (and we could easily include the incarnation) "is mere child's play." 

Monday, November 22, 2021

P2 - Comparing The Written Word, The Bible and the Living Word, Jesus Christ


    In our last post we began to comparing the Written Word, the Bible and the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Readers can read part one by clicking on the link here:    . With our summary of the teaching of “The Word of God” as expressing either the Scriptures or describing the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ (with both conveying the power of God), we can offer examples of traits between both. 

How closely the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ share certain features.

     Each have the quality of “wordness”, which we defined as that quality that makes possible the revelation of God. The Bible is “wordness” written, since it is a by-product of the Holy Spirit working in and through the Prophets and Apostles. Jesus Christ is “wordness” Personified, making known the Father (John 14:8) and representing all three-Persons of the One, Triune Godhead (see Hebrews 1:2-3). The below comparison is applicable for the reason I mentioned in the last post, as well as today's post: what you think about the Bible, you think about Jesus Christ, and vice-versa. 

A. Jesus Christ is Fully Divine and Fully Human as One Person. (Colossians 1:16; 2:9)

    The Bible is fully Divine and Human Book. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21)

B. Jesus Christ is the source of the Christian life (John 11:25).

    The Bible is responsible for the beginning of the Christian life (James 1:18).

C. Jesus Christ leads and guides believers (John 10:9; John 14:6).

    God leads and guides believers through the Bible. (Psalm 119:124)

D.  Jesus Christ is without error in His humanity or Deity (1 Peter 1:20-21; Heb 7:26).

    The Bible is without error in its literary and Divine qualities (Ps 119:96; Proverbs 30:5).

E.  Jesus Christ is complete, needing nothing added nor subtracted as Savior and Lord (Hebrews 7:24-25).

     The Bible is complete, needing nothing added nor subtracted as God’s saving and authoritative Book (Rev. 22:18).

F. Jesus Christ alone is sufficient to be our Savior, without peer in any other mediator or tradition (Acts 4:12).

    The Bible alone is our sufficient authority, by which any authority is judged (2 Tim. 3:16-17). 

Final thoughts:

As we close, I’ll quote at length John MacArthur’s study: “You Can Trust The Bible”, page 16:

“Your response to the Bible determines the course of your life and your eternal destiny. First Corinthians 2:9 says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (NIV). Man could never conceive of all that God has to offer on his own! Every time we pick up the Bible, we pick up the truth. Jesus said, "If you continue in My word . . . you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31-32). What did He mean by that? Think of the person who is working diligently on a math problem. As soon as he finds the answer—he's free. Or consider the scientist in the lab pouring different solutions into test tubes. He stays with it until he says, "Eureka, I found it!"—then he's free. Man will search and struggle and grapple and grope for the truth until he finds it. Only then is he free. The Bible is our source of truth—about God, man, life, death, men, women, children, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends, and enemies. It shows us how to live. The Bible is the source of everything you need to know about life on earth and the life to come. You can trust the Bible. It is God's living Word. the Living Word.”

Thursday, November 18, 2021

P1 - Comparing The Written Word, The Bible and the Living Word, Jesus Christ



In the booklet “You can trust the Bible”, John MacArthur surveys three main headings which convey why we can trust the Scriptures (the link for the booklet is accessible through the following link - The first two, "The Authenticity of the Bible" and "The Power Of The Bible", explore how the Scriptures are respectively demonstrated and experienced as trustworthy. The final section of the study, “The Attributes of the Bible”, consider five attributes of Scripture: infallibility, inerrancy, complete, authoritative, and sufficiency. 

    In this post I want to approach the attributes of the written Word, the Bible, by how they also describe Jesus Christ, the Living Word. By noting the commonality between the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ, we can grasp whatever attitude we have toward the Bible will invariably reveal how we think of the Lord Jesus Christ. Conversely, what thoughts we hold to be true about Jesus, lead to making plain our views of the Bible. This particular thought is the take-away as to why I wrote this first part and why I will write a future second part in the next post. Let us first though lay out the reasoning behind why there is such a close relationship between the Bible, the written Word, and Jesus Christ, the Living Word. 

The wordness of the word “word” in the Bible 

The word “word” in the Old Testament and New Testament was used to describe three truths: God’s revelation of either His will, His power or Himself (particular to the Person of the Son). Once God spoke, what was previously unknown became known – thus, revelation. Much like how we make known the thoughts of our minds through words, God did as well. I call this feature of God’s revelatory activity “wordness”. When I say “wordness”, I mean that quality that makes possible the revelation of God. This quality of “wordness” is tied to the words of Scripture, making them to be the very words of God. Put another way, the words of Scripture reveal His will and thus are God’s words (see 2 Peter 1:20-21). 

Similarly, whenever God would make known His power, the act of creation involved this quality of “wordness”, resulting in Him speaking all of creation into being (see Genesis 1:3; Romans 4:17). Then of course whenever Jesus is described as “The Word of God”, He Himself, by act and nature, is “wordness” personified. He has revealed what God is like - He being God - and because of His incarnation, what humanity was meant to be (see John 1:18 and Colossians 3:10).  Below is an unpacking of how the phrase “word of God” describes Scripture, God’s power, and Jesus to set up the reasoning for our comparison of Jesus the “Living Word” and the Bible “the written word”. 

A. The “Word of God” revealed the will of God through the words of Scripture.

We read the following in Exodus 24:4a “Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.”  Moses also wrote in Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Amos records in Amos 3:7 “Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets.” 

    The New Testament similarly uses this phrase “Word of God” or its counterpart “Word of the Lord” to describe God’s revelation of His will through the words of Scripture. Paul writes in Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The writer of Hebrews affirms in Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Apostle John notes in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  These examples demonstrate that the Bible does not become God’s word when I agree with it. Instead, the words of Scripture are the very words of God by virtue of their quality of “wordness”.

B. The “Word of God” as the revelation of God’s power, shows us the written Word and the Living Word.

A second closely related category to describe the word “word” in the Bible has to do with how God demonstrates His power. God’s power in creation is expressed by His words in Genesis 1:1-3 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” 

    Remarkably, it is in this second category of God’s power we begin to see a glimpse of the relationship between God’s words and God so-described as “The Living Word”. Take for instance Psalm 33:6 “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.” We know from Genesis 1:1-3 that God indeed spoke all of creation into being. Yet Psalm 33:6 reveals that God did what he did through “the Word of the Lord”. John 1:1 of course reveals to us exactly who this “Word” is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

God’s work of salvation involves the revelation of His power as described by the phrase “word of the Lord”. Again, notice how the revelation of God’s power links the phrase “word of God” to Scripture and Himself. David writes about the written Word as God’s power of salvation in Psalm 119:41 “May Your lovingkindnesses also come to me, O Lord, Your salvation according to Your word.” Paul too speaks of the power of salvation conveyed through the Scriptures in Romans 10:17 “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” But now notice how Biblical salvation is dispensed through Jesus Christ, the living Word, as in John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

C. The Word of God as none other than the Living Word, the Second Person of the Trinity. 

The Bible, the "written Word of God", centers upon "The Living Word" - Jesus Christ. We observed already how the Old Testament hints at the phrase “Word of God” (or the closely related “Word of the Lord”) as referencing God Himself. A review of a few Old Testament texts sets up this idea. In Genesis 15:4, Moses writes of Abraham’s experience with God “Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.”’   The prophet Samuel has an encounter with the pre-incarnate Son of God in 1 Samuel 3:6 “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor had the word of the Lord yet been revealed to him.” Note in these passages how “the Word of the Lord” is both “coming’ and “speaking” to these men. 

Remarkably, it is from verses such as these (as well as Psalm 33:6, which we saw already) that John alludes in His argument for Jesus Christ being the “Living Word” in John 1. Similarly, the same Apostle John introduces his short letter, 1 John, we these words in 1 John 1:1-2 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (compare also Jesus as “The Word” in Revelation 19:13). 

Is it no wonder that Jesus speaks of the Old Testament scriptures as pointing to Himself (Luke 24:44).  Christ came to fulfill the written Word by being Himself this “Living Word”, the very revelation of God. The Apostle Peter notes in 1 Peter 1:10-11 "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." Thus, we cannot separate the ministry of God's "written Word" and the majesty of Christ “the Living Word”. 

In the next post we will continue this dicussion, noting common traits shared between “the written Word”, the Bible and “the living Word, Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Scripture Alone: Words Of Power.


    When I was a boy, I recall touring a cave with classmates. The guide turned off the lights to show us the darkness underground. I was struck at how “dark”, dark could be. I was relieved when the guide called for the lights. That tour guide's "calling for the lights" relieved me, because I had a dreadful fear of the dark as a child. As I reflect on that memory, I come to grasp the phrase which captured the 16th century Protestant Reformation: "After Darkness, Light" (post tenebras lux). 

    The Reformation was all about recovering not only the moral life of the church, but moreso the doctrine of the church taught by Christ and the Apostles. In the last few posts, I've commented on what those key doctrines were, as summarized by the Reformers and historians:

1. Christ alone (solus christus) = that is, Christ is the only source of salvation, in contrast to the addition  of Mary, the saints, or treasury of merits (as still taught by Roman Catholicism today). The post for this truth is found here:

2. Grace alone (sola gratia) = that is, God's unmerited favor to the bringing about of salvation to sinners is of His own mercy mercy, and Sovereign intention (see John 1:12-13; Romans 9:15-16). Man does not already have some measure of his own grace, due to merit, to combine with God. Instead, God's saving grace is conveyed, by the Holy Spirit, through Scripture alone (Romans 10:17). Such grace reaches the sinner in the proclamation of the Gospel, whereupon they respond in faith as a result of the Spirit's work in their hearts (see Acts 16:14; Romans 10:8-10, 17; 2 Thessalonians 2:12-13; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). Jonah 2:9 tells us plainly, "salvation is of the LORD". The post for this truth is found here:

3. Faith alone (sola fide) = that is, faith is necessary and enough, on its own, to receive salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Roman Catholicism would agree that faith is necessary, however, it denies that faith by itself is sufficient. 

    Rome adds baptism and the remaining sacramental system of confession, penance, Mass, and its traditional teaching of purgatory to its view on how God declares a sinner "just". The act of God in declaring someone "just" is called "justification". New Testament passages such as Romans 3:28, Galatians 3:24, and Ephesians 2:8-9 teach that sinners are justified by faith, apart from works. The Biblical view of justification teaches that Christ's merit, work, life is "credit" or "imputed" to the sinner upon their confession of faith in Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). To read more about this truth, click on the link for my last post here:

Today's post: Defining and Explaining the doctrine of Scripture Alone (sola scriptura)   

     In today's post, we will consider Jesus' miracle of bringing to life the daughter of Jarius (Mark 5:21-24 and Mark 5:34-43). We will discover that Christ's words alone, not ritual, not man's efforts, resulted in the young girl becoming alive once again. We will also briefly note what happens whenever the doctrine of "Scripture alone" (sola scriptura") is denied by observing the Roman Catholic Church's view of the Mass. 

    Readers may had noticed that the truths recovered by the Reformation have peculiar Latin phrases attached to them. Latin was the language in which theologians wrote for hundreds of years. Thus, whenever we speak of the doctrine of "Scripture alone", the little phrase sola scriptura is used. Why emphasize "alone" or "sola" when talking about grace, faith or Christ (respectively: sola gratia, sola fide, solus christus)? Human beings tend to add to God's perfect plan of salvation and revelation. 

    Not only does Roman Catholic theology "add" to Christ, grace, faith and Scripture their system of tradition and sacraments, but the American Evangelical church frequently can do this through attaching worldly methods or pragmatic (whatever works must be true) efforts to these truths. Whenever we speak of the doctrine of "scripture alone", we mean:   Scripture is the only perfect standard that God uses to work salvation in the soul, unfailingly guide the soul, and regulate any other imperfect authority."

    Now let us turn to a desperate situation involving a father and his dying daughter, and why the words of Jesus alone could remedy the situation.  

Desperate men and women need God's Word. Mark 5:21-24

    What follows is an explanation of Mark 5:21-24. The first part of this account has over it "the shadow of death". The father's insistence upon Jesus getting to his daughter before she "reaches her end" is the tone of the these verses. We want to understand why God's Word alone is needed in today's world. Mark 5:21-24 reads as follows:

"When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore. 22 One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and on seeing Him, fell at His feet 23 and implored Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.” 24 And He went off with him; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him."

*Jesus miracle-working power pointed to the need for the Scriptures.        

    Notice, Jarius was not looking for ritual (though there was plenty of that in his day). It is striking to note that Jarius was not looking to men. Not his position. He fell on His knees before Jesus. He needed what he thought was his ultimate need - a miracle. No doubt, he needed a miracle, yet, he had a greater need, a need which Jesus alone could bring - a word from God. Miracles pointed to Jesus’ words. John 10:38 states: "but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father."

*Jesus’ majesty in our world clarified the need for the Scriptures.

     We are living in a dark world, in which what is precious to us, or who is precious to us, has reached its end. Feel the weight of this desperate father, crying out to the Lord on behalf of his little girl. This was a most desperate hour. Jesus came to bring, as the radiance of God’s glory, fulfillment of the Scripture and the preaching of it as the mark of His ministry to a desperate people. Matthew writes of Jesus, quoting Isaiah 9:2, in Matthew 4:16-17, “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.” 17 'From that time Jesus began to preach and say', “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.''”

*Jesus ministry in difficult times modeled why we need the Scriptures. 

The "last days" of this present time began when Jesus came into this world, and especially, upon His ascension in Heaven, He poured out His Spirit to begin the church at Pentecost (see Acts 2:17). We could say that the clock for God's prophetic purposes before Christ's return has been at "11:59:59" since the days of His ministry, death, resurrection and ascension - thus we are in the last days. More to the point, as one reads further into the New Testament, it becomes apparent that "the last-of-the-last-days" come to bear as we go further along into history. 

    The need for faithful preaching and teaching of the Scriptures is more needed than ever. Paul writes of these last days in 2 Timothy 3:1-5,

"But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” 

    Paul then drives home how increasingly difficult times will need the preaching of God’s Word, 2 Timothy 3:12-17,

"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Paul then later writes in the same chapter: 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 

    Peter too reinforces this need for the Scripture in these last days in 2 Peter 1:19, 

"And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."

    Whenever we read of accounts like Jesus'raising of Jarius' daughter, it was to show His audience and us that otherwise impossible situations can only have their resolution in the life giving power of God's words.  

Dead hearts and hope need life from Scripture alone. Mark 5:35-43

    When I say dead hearts, in the spiritual sense, I'm talking of those who are not yet converted. When I say dead in hope, I speak of those who are saved but are struggling. This father believed, but he was, understandably struggling. What Jesus said would make more ultimate impact than even the miracle. The girl here, like Lazarus, pictures for us in the physical realm those whose state of death is terminal. Unless the voice of the Son of God comes through the words of God, no spiritual life will come. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us, 

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

    Beautifully and magnificently does Mark 5:35-43 contrast with the "shadow of death" which hung over the scene in Mark 5:21-24. As I remarked at the beginning of this post, the Protestant Reformation was a cultural experience of "after darkness, light" (post tenebras lux). Quite literally, Jesus' words alone spoke life back into this girl. A father's darkened world was given the open heaven of hope in Christ through His words - alone. The word of God alone prevailed to cut through the otherwise impending gloom. Note what God's Word does and can do for you:

*God’s words alone connects you to Christ to become a Christian. 

You will notice that Mark in particular preserves the original Aramaic words of Jesus to this sweet child: “Talitha Cum”. I count around 15 total Aramaic words preserved in the New Testament, most of which highlight words spoken by Jesus. When he uttered, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”  (my God, my God, why have you forsaken me) in Mark 15:34, we are quickened to focus on Christ as our sin-bearer. That is, He as man experienced the utter forsakenness of the Father. 

    Understand, Jesus as God upheld His work of bearing Divine wrath for sinners. The words of the Savior are the Words of God. R.C. Sproul comments on this miracle of Jesus as to the power of God’s words:

“God brought the whole world into creation by the sound of his voice by Fiat by imperative. Christ brought Lazarus out of the tomb by his oral command. In the same way he spoke Aramaic to this little girl in her state of death and commanded her to rise and again his almighty word was effective immediately the girl arose and walked. All of her strength returned immediately she was returned not only to life but the full health.”

    It is tempting to take the Scripture for granted. What happens whenever well-meaning people attempt to "add-to" or virtual displace Scripture from its sole place of authority? 

*Scripture alone, not rituals, saves and feeds the Christian.  

We know that no other ritual of the Jews, no traditions of the Pharisees, could had combined with Jesus'words. Sadly, whenever human beings think of adding something to God's already perfect work (whether saving grace or scripture), God's work become eclipsed. 

    When Roman Catholicism began to take the Lord's Supper and turn it into its version called "Mass", it would not take long before the sole authority of Scripture in being the sole avenue through which the Holy Spirit conveys saving and sustaining grace would be diminished. 

    The term "mass" derives from the Latin "missio", indicating that the faithful, in partaking the Mass, are to go forth in a mission to declare the mystery of Christ crucified for them, as claimed to have occured in the Mass itself. When Rome performs a mass, they believe that the bread and wine, though outwardly remaining bread and wine, become in substance the literal body and blood of Christ (what Roman Catholicism itself calls "transubstantitation"). The faithful are told that it is the mass, not Scripture alone, that feeds them. In paragraph 1393 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read: 

“for this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins”. 

    The Protestant Reformation rightly opposed the Mass, since it presupposed the repeating of Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice (contrary to what Roman Catholic Theology may say, this is, in practical effect, what occurs in every Mass). John Knox, the great Scottish Reformer, opposed this teaching by raising the question: “Of what spirit is it invented that the Mass shall signify a sacrifice for the sins of the quick and the dead?” 

    If someone were to watch a Roman Catholic service or attend one, they would note how attention is given to the reading of an Old Testament passage and a New Testament text, followed by what is called a “homily”, a series of short comments and moral applications. On average, barely a tenth of the whole service features the Bible, while well over half the service is devoted to the Mass.  

    When I watched Pope Francis perform his first Mass in 2013, I noted how he focused on the Scripture for 10 minutes. The Mass, on the other hand, comprised over half the nearly 80-minute service. When he prayed, he did what was called an ”epiclesis”, a “calling forth” of the Holy Spirit to transform the elements of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Whenever a priest does this, and raises the “host” or bread, you will hear a tiny bell ring, signifying the alleged transformation of bread to Christ’s flesh and the wine to His blood. 

     The Mass is a central representation of the entirety of Roman Catholic teaching, doing away with the central teachings of the New Testament and what was recovered by the Reformation. The celebration of Mass is a continuation of Christ’s sacrifice, hence, this takes away from the truth of “Christ alone”. The Apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." The Mass also claims to convey ongoing grace, which washes away sins, and feeds the faithful, which takes away the truth of “Scripture alone”. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 4:4, 

"But He answered and said, ''It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

The Roman Catholic is told that they must continue observing the Mass at least once a year. Through observance of the sacraments, such saving grace is infused and poured into the soul. After death, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Purgatory is required to purge away remaining sin.1 It is hard to imagine, but nonetheless true, that this teaching of the Mass would not come into being until almost 1,000 years after the days of Christ and the Apostles.2

     As to His institution of the Lord’s Supper which we find at the end of all four Gospels, whenever Jesus said: “This is my body”, He said so before He was crucified. He never meant for the bread and fruit of the vine to become literally, somehow, His body and blood. If you notice the extended version of Jesus’ instituting of the Lord’s Supper in John 13-17, we find four and one-half chapters of the five focused on Jesus’ teaching, giving explanation of not only the supper but also preparing the disciples for what laid ahead, including the promise of what would be the New Testament. 

Scripture alone is what saves and feeds the Christian

    So why take the time to belabor the contrast between the Biblical teaching of the uniqueness of the Bible's authority over against the Mass? If readers choose to consult the endnotes of this post, they will see that the Reformers had to oppose
the Mass if efforts of Reform were to succeed. To alter what Christ taught on the communion service was to assault the authority of Scripture itself. The principle of "scripture alone"", which we saw in our explanation of Mark 5, would be undermined if we were to follow the lead of Roman Catholic Theology. Let me cite some additional Scriptures which carry forward what the Apostles themselves taught about "sola scriptura ".

    Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians  2:13, "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers." (See also Hebrews 4:12; James 1:21; 1 Peter 1:23).
    There is no question that the Bible has the power to lift you from despair to hope in Jesus, The Apostle John wrote in John 20:31, "but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." Similarly, John also wrote in 1 John 1:4, "These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete." 

    There is no question, it is by Scripture alone that Christ spiritually nourishes his church, as we saw in Matthew 4:4. Paul writes about how God's Word alone nourishes the church in matters of final salvation, ongoin sanctification, and perseverance into eternity, in Ephesians 5:26 - "so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word."

    I close today's post on "Scripture Alone: "Words of Power", by citing a wonderful hymn I sang as a boy, "Wonderful Words of Life":

"Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life,

Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life;

Words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

Christ, the blessèd One, gives to all wonderful words of life;

Sinner, list to the loving call, wonderful words of life;

All so freely given, wooing us to heaven.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

"Sweetly echo the Gospel call, wonderful words of life;

Offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life;

Jesus, only Savior, sanctify us forever."

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life."


1. The beliefs about the Mass were not given formal expression until the 9th century by a monk named Paschasius Radbertus. Through the ensuing centuries following, Roman Catholicism would come to make the Mass central to its worship. The Reformer Martin Luther wrote in his book "Babylonian Captivity of the Church", 2:37 wrote: “the mass is a good work and a sacrifice.”  Another Reformer, John Calvin in his "Institutes of the Christian Religion", Book 4, ch 17, sec. 1, comments on how the enemy of our souls: “blinded almost the whole world into the belief that the Mass was a sacrifice and oblation for obtaining the remission of sins.”

The Jews in Jesus day had done a similar thing Roman Catholicism has done – equating their tradition with Scripture. He stated in Matthew 4:4 about “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” In Matthew 15:8-9, he denounces this misuse of tradition: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” 

2. In (1371) of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Mass is performed during Roman Catholic funerals, with the idea that it aids in further cleansing away the sins of dead loved ones in purgatory so that they can go to heaven. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Faith Alone: Necessary & Enough For Salvation


    When I was a little boy, I made it my aim to be the worst behaved child in Sunday School. I knew I could never be good enough to get a prize from the toy chest. I saw though that this did not go well for me. I decided to change my approach by trying to be perfect in my obedience of the ten commandments. I became miserable. Then I heard the Gospel, the "good news" that Jesus Christ lived the perfect life that I knew I could not lived and died on the cross to absorb the judgment of God on behalf of my recklessness. Christ alone was "perfectly righteous" or "just" in his humanity to provide the perfect righteousness a sinner like myself needed to ever have relationship and fellowship with an infinitely holy God. Amazingly, Jesus Christ is also, by nature, this very same God, who being infinitely just, is the source of the perfect righteousness without end, as well as reconciling in Himself all those who come to and and through Him in saving faith. Paul summarizes this truth of what we call "justification by faith alone" in Galatians 3:23-24 "But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." 

    We have noted in recent posts that October 31st is Reformation Day. We’ve looked at Christ alone – salvation’s Savior. Also, grace alone – salvation’s work. Today, we shall explore "faith alone" (sola fide), salvation’s reception. 

What is meant by "justification by faith alone"?

    John Owen’s work, “Justification by Faith”, defines Biblical “justification”: “So by justification, a man is only esteemed, declared, and pronounced righteous, as if he were completely so.” 

    The righteousness or “rightness with God” which is declared by God about the believing sinner is the accrediting of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. The means through which God’s judicial declaration of the sinner as being as righteous as Christ is faith, apart from works. Romans 3:28 "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."

How is it that a sinner is regarded good enough to be in relationship with God (i.e. righteous)? Must they do enough good works to be actually righteous? Or is this state of “being in the right” with God received by faith apart from good works? This was the issue that occupied the minds of many in the 16th century and is at the core of what the Bible terms: “justification”. 

    When we turn to the account of the woman who hemmoraged for twelve years in Mark 5:25-34, we observe a situation in which a poor, miserable soul was in desperate need. She had nothing left. The woman in this account had "spent all she had". Her one desire was to somehow touch the hem of Jesus' robe - the man whom she had heard so much about. The entire account, which we can also read of in Matthew 8 and Luke 9, is most detailed in Mark 5:25-34. Notice the underlined terms I highlight in the text, since we will reference them in grasping how the truth of "justification by faith alone" is underscored in this passage:

"A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26 and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— 27 after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. 28 For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” 29 Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31 And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32 And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. 33 But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

    Certainly, this woman in our account knew she did not have what it took to be right with God – for as we shall see, she lived a life of unrighteousness. 

    To contrast the woman in Mark's text, we can note the sixteenth century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. Luther was a Catholic Monk, who attempted to be right with God, but fell short, knowing that despite trying to be self-righteous – He could not get hold of the righteousness of God needed for salvation. Whether someone lives a life devoid of any evidence of "rightness", or if someone lives a life of self-righteousness, both approaches result in the person falling short of the glory of God. 

    If good works cannot make me right with God, nor avoiding good works all together (as I had discovered in my own little childish way or as we shall see in the lives of this woman and Martin Luther), what then is necessary and enough for salvation, if every sinner neither possesses righteousness nor can attain it by being self righteous (as I had)? Consider these three thoughts that will help us answer this most vital of all questions: object of faith is Christ alone; reception of salvation is faith alone; faith in Christ is never alone.

1. Object of faith: Christ alone. Mark 5:25-27

Faith is only as strong as its object. Justification by faith alone tells us that Christ alone is the object of faith (Acts 16:31). What happens though whenever you see yourself very far away, unworthy of Christ’s love and forgiveness, and yet you see Him as the only solution to your deepest need? Before we can be brought to the point of saving faith, we first must be made desperate by the working of the Holy Spirit in saving grace. John 16:8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”


Mark 5:25-29 gives us some clues as to the sort of life this woman had lived, and what it took for God to get her attention. 

*Confidence in man, not God (Mark 5:26). 

    Mark 5:26 states:“and had endured much at the hands of many physicians.” The underlying Greek text reads: "πολλὰ παθοῦσα" (polla pathoosa), literally, "many continual sufferings". This woman had placed all her proverbial apples in the carts of men - men failed. Psalm 118:8, the middle verse of our English Bibles reads: "it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men".

*Careless living in unrighteusness. (Mark 5:26). 

    Mark 5:26 goes on to state: had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse” In Luke 15:14 we read of the prodigal son:“Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.” Notice the underlined phrases in both texts. Both underlined phrases employ the same identical Greek verb, meaning that like the more familiar "prodigal son", this woman had become reckless in her pursuits. We are not told of course what all she may had done. We do know from ancient reference works pertaining to medical treatments, it was quite common for the wealthy in the ancient world to get "addicted" to the latest fads in medicine. 

*Call of the Gospel. (Mark 5:27) 

    Mark 5:27 tells us: “after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak.” God in His providence, His common grace which He supplies to all people, made available an opportunity for this woman to somehow hear about Jesus. In so doing, God positioned her to then become a recipient of His "seving grace", wherein it would arise within her heart to desire to seek Jesus for the healing of her soul and body.

Now lets consider this same sort of desperation in a man that was self righteousness.


    I won't go into too much detail pertaining to Luther's life. Instead, I will only highlight his achievements before his conversion. Note how old he was, how much he had achieved, and yet how miserable and wretched he was in his heart. Also notice too how similar his story is to the woman in Mark. Although he and she had different lives, yet the underpinnings of why they did what they did are very similar.

*Confidence in man, not God. 

-Born: 1483. Died: 1546

-teens to 22 Luther trained as a lawyer

*Careful living in self-righteousness

-22 yrs becomes a monk, July 2, 1505

-24 yrs Ordained priest, May 2, 1507

-mid-twenties, he could not obtain peace in the soul

-26yrs, Bachelor of theology, 1509

-27 yrs, Pilgrimage to Rome. 1510

-29 years, Doctor of Theology, taught Psalms and Romans.

*Call of the Gospel.

    Luther would later reflect back on his life before salvation: 

“My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit (of good works) would satisfy Him. Therefore, I did not love a just, angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet, I clung to the dear Apostle Paul and had great yearning to know what He meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the statement: ‘the just shall live by faith’” 

    I do not find it a mystery that Martin Luther identified with the Apostle Paul. Paul too was, by all human accounts, quite an accomplished fellow by the time he reached thirty years of age (that is how old someone had to be before having the chance to join the coveted ruling body of the Jews, "The Sanhedrin"). Paul notes in Philippians 3:7 "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ."

2. The reception of Christ: Faith alone. Mark 5:27-32

    So the object of faith must be "Christ alone". We once again compare the woman in Mark 5 to Martin Luther. Notice now how each of them received the grace of salvation in Jesus Christ alone through faith alone.


*Mark 5:27-29. As we turn once again back to the woman, we see her faith come forth in response to the Gospel. What is faith? Faith is firm persuasion and trust (Hebrews 11:1). Mark 5:27-29 gives us what I call “the working forth of faith in the heart”, that is, there is that working of the Spirit in the heart and on the mind that brings me to freely draw the conclusion that Christ alone can save me from my miserable condition. Jonathan Edwards in his “Religious Affections” notes it this way: 

“Their conviction is an effectual (conclusive) conviction; so that the great, spiritual, mysterious, and invisible things of the Gospel have the influence of real and certain things upon them….and govern them through the course of their lives.” 

*Mark 5:30-32. We know it was the power of grace through the Lord Jesus Christ that reached this lady, as seen in His comments in Mark 5:30-32 

"Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31 And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32 And He looked around to see the woman who had done this." 

    This lady was physically healed, but more importantly, her soul was saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Jesus speaks to her these words in Mark 5:35 "And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”


    Martin Luther writes about his marvelous conversion experience- 

“Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before "the righteousness of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven...".

3. Faith in Christ is to be never alone.  Mark 5:33-34

So we have seen how the object of saving faith is Christ alone. We then observed how salvation is received by faith alone. Typically people who contest that there must be something more we can do to merit salvation accuse those who proclaim the Biblical Gospel of "justification by faith alone" as advocating a reckless gospel. "Afterall", they counter, "if salvation is a simple matter of faith, then it must not matter how one lives! Where does ones works or deeds fit into the Gospel?" 

    As we look at this woman once more, Mark’s version is the most detailed of the Gospel records of it (compare Matthew 9:20-22; Lk 8:43-48). As we noted already, Mark 5:34 is the key verse: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” Peter writes of the healing of the soul that occurs at saving faith in 1 Peter 2:24 “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” You may notice that justification by faith alone, true saving faith, leads to a life of faith that puts forth works. 

    It must be underscored that in the case of the woman and the man, Martin Luther, their lives were changed and did abound in good works following their justification. To quote John Owen once again, he writes about the relationship of works to saving faith: “We are saved by grace through faith alone unto a faith that is never alone.”  In other words, if you have been justified by faith alone, there must be fruit which follows. Take note of our final comparison between the woman and Martin Luther below.


    Almost immediately, Mark 5:33-34 displays fruits flowing from this woman's newfound faith in Christ. 

*She had an awareness of change, seeing Christ as her Lord, drew near to Him, rather than hiding from Him. 

Mark 5:33 “But the woman, fearing and trembling aware of what had happened to her”.  

*She hungered for truth. 

Mark 5:33 “came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.” This reflects what we read of in John 8:31-32 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

*She had the assurance of having been adopted into the family of God. 

Mark 5:34 “And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” Whenever one reads Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:4-6 and Hebrews 2:11-14, the rich truth of the believer's adoption is spelled out as follows: God the Father becomes my heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, per his humanity, becomes my elder brother. 


*Luther had an awareness of change. 

    A few years after his conversion (which historians refer to as his "Tower Experience"), Luther would nail his famous "95 theses" on the church door at Wittenburg on October 31, 1517, wherin he protests the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church in their selling of indulgences (what I call "get out of purgatory free cards"). In Thesis #62, Luther wrote: “The true treasure of the church is the Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.”

*Luther had a hunger for truth and would have the assurance of being an adopted son of the Father. 

    Luther evidences the fruit of faith when defending the Gospel against opponents at his trial during the Diet of Worms in 1521 (note:"diet" was a German term to refer to an official meeting, "Worms" was the name of the town in Germany where this confrontation with Luther occured). Would he recant everything he had come to embrace? His reply was as follows:

“Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted one another-my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen”. Diet of Worms 4/16/1521


    In today's post we have looked at the important truth of "justification by faith alone". To remind ourselves of what this means, let's once more consider the definition offered by John Owen: “So by justification, a man is only esteemed, declared, and pronounced righteous, as if he were completely so.”

    We saw this marvelous truth illustrated in the lives of the woman who had hemmoraged for twelve years and from the life of the 16th century Reformer, Martin Luther. We noted three important points regarding justification by faith alone:

1. Object of faith is Christ alone. 
2. Reception of salvation is faith alone. 
3. Faith in Christ is never alone.

    Faith, by itself, is certainly necessary to receive God's salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church, in the 16th century and today, would agree. However, contrary to what Roman Catholic teaching espoused, and the reason too why Luther protested so strongly against them, was that faith by itself is also enough for salvation. Praise be to God, one need not to add participation in the sacraments, nor the merits of saints to faith to receive God's declaration of being "right" or "just". The woman who hemmoraged evidenced this. Martin Luther experienced this. Anyone who by the wonder of God's saving grace places their trust in Jesus Christ will be, in an instant, made right with God. I close with a wonderful hymn the 19th century hymn writer E.E Hewit that captures what we explored in this post:

"My Faith Has Found A Resting Place"

1 My faith has found a resting place,
from guilt my soul is freed;
I trust the ever-living One,
his wounds for me shall plead.


I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
it is enough that Jesus died,
and that he died for me.

2 Enough for me that Jesus saves,
this ends my fear and doubt;
a sinful soul, I come to him,
he’ll never cast me out. [Refrain]

3 My heart is leaning on the Word,
the written Word of God,
salvation by my Savior’s name,
salvation thro' his blood. [Refrain]

4 My great Physician heals the sick,
the lost he came to save;
for me his precious blood he shed,
for me his life he gave. [Refrain]