For some, a “church” is simply a building. If you punch the word “church” into Google images that’s what you get – pictures of beautiful buildings. You’ve probably been asked the question, “Do you go to church?”, as though “church” was a destination to reach, or an address to be found. If it was the middle of the night and you happened to drive by your church building you might say, “That’s my church!”, even if the lights were off and no one was there. The word “church” can be used to describe a building, but that’s certainly not the full meaning, and the etymology of the word “Church” is actually quite interesting.
EKKLESIA – “A Congregation”
The word we normally read in the New Testament as “church” is the Greek word EKKLESIA, which simply meant “a congregation of citizens called out from their homes into a public place” – there wasn’t really a religious connection to the word – it could be any congregation of people for any reason. When Jesus looked at Peter and said in Matthew 16:18, “…on this rock I will build my church…” He was used the word EKKLESIA to refer to His “called-out ones”, or His “congregation” – the special group of people that would be His followers.
Throughout scripture the word “church” is used to describe a congregation of believers, but never to describe a building. In Romans 16:5 Paul says, “Greet also the church in their house.” showing the clear difference between the congregation and the building. A New Testament believer would never have said “I go to church”, they would have said “I’m part of a church”. The church is the people, the house is the building.
HODOS – “The Way”
Another common word used in scripture to describe the followers of Jesus was HODOS, or “The Way”. When Paul was running around persecuting the church he was chasing a group who called themselves “The Way”. Acts 9:1-2,
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Jesus called Himself “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6), a word that simply meant “the path”, or “the road”, but was also used to describe “A way of thinking, feeling or deciding”. Just like today if we said we want to “walk a mile in their shoes”, we don’t their actual shoes, but their way of life. Followers of Jesus said that they were following The Way of Jesus.
CHRISTIANOS – “Christians”
“For a whole year they met with the church [Notice it doesn’t say “they met at the church”] and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
This wasn’t meant to be complimentary. The ending “–ians” simply means “belonging to the party of” or “follower of”, so it was shorthand for this crazy group of people who kept talking about this back-from-the-dead Jesus fellow who turned random people into brothers and sisters who met together regularly to eat His body and drink His blood (Christians were pretty misunderstood at the beginning – and still are today, I suppose). These “Christians” said that Jesus was the one whom the Jews called Christ, so the culture around them started calling them “Christians” – “followers of Christ”. Amazingly, and in a relatively short period of time after Jesus walked the earth, these believers went from being a small “congregation” to an identifiable group, distinct from Judaism and distinct from the Gentile religions.
KURIAKOS – “Church”
Let’s see what we have so far. We have a Congregation [EKKLESIA] of Christians [CHRIASTIANOS], who call themselves “The Way” [HODOS]. So why do many English translations of the bible use the word “Church”? Where did that come from?
The word “Church” actually comes from a different Greek word – KURIAKOS which simply means “the lord’s” or “belonging to the lord” (KURIOS = “lord”). It is used in scripture a couple of times (1 Cor 11:20, Rev 1:10), and the word could mean any human lord, but it always refers to Jesus in scripture. For Christians there really is only one Lord, so when Christians started to gather into larger groups, designate places of worship, and even build buildings, they would call them KURIAKOS – places that “belong to the Lord”.
This really took off when Emperor Constantine (circa 300AD), the first Christian Emperor of Rome, started building places of worship all over the place and wanted to set them apart from the other public buildings he was erecting and so called them KURIAKOS. The pronunciation of the word changed over the years, but now the buildings that we build which are meant to house a group of believers still have that same name –we call them Churches.
And so, to summarize, on Sunday morning you sit in a “Church”, a KURIAKOS, which is a building dedicated to the Lord. Surrounding you are Christians who make up the EKKLESIA, the Congregation of people who have been called out from the world to become followers of the HODOS, The Way, of Jesus the Christ. Don’t you love word studies‽
Word studies are so much fun, let’s do one more. We’ve talked about the names of this body of believers, but there’s another great word that describes what happens among the people who are part of this group. It’s a word that is used both to describe and to identify what the church is and does.
It’s the word KOINONIA. The Church of Jesus Christ is meant to practice, experience and be defined by their expression of KOINONIA. It’s used 20 times in the Bible and is such a wonderfully expressive word that it takes many English words to fully capture it’s meaning.
KOINONIA = Commitment
It’s first occurrence is in Acts 2:42, right at the birth of the church, shortly after the Apostle Peter has given his first sermon and 3000 are converted to Christianity. It says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship [KOINONIA], to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” It describes the group of people who had come together under the banner of Christ. They committed themselves to one another. They became a community, a group, a united front built upon faith in and love for single leader, Jesus Christ.
KOINONIA = Spiritual Unity
aul uses it in Philippians 2:1-2 as he is teaching believers about pursuing Christ like humility and how to treat other believers. He says,
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation [KOINONIA] in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
This is the spiritual aspect to KOINONIA. It’s not just about being united in our minds, wills, and decisions, but also describes how Christians are drawn together by the Holy Spirit to care for one another and worship God. It describes a group of people who are not only seeking agreement and united in their purpose, but serving God, one another, and serving alongside one another with love and joy.
KOINONIA: From Jesus to Church
This love for one another does not come from inside ourselves, but is built upon and flows from our relationship with Jesus. KOINONIA is also used to describe our relationship with Jesus. Listen to 1 John 1:6-7,
“If we say we have fellowship [KOINONIA] with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship [KOINONIA] with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
If we are in KOINONIA (loving fellowship, agreement, service, intimate communion) with Jesus, then we will have KOINONIA (loving fellowship, agreement, service, intimate communion) with the people of the church. It’s a powerful truth that the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we will feel to His people, and the further we are from Jesus, the further away we will feel from His church.
We cannot say that we are loving, serving, enjoying, and participating with Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, passionately pursuing the mission God has for us, while at the same time being distant from His people, arguing with another believer, avoiding another Christian, or sinning against a brother or sister in Christ. They work together. We express our love for God by loving His people. We express our service to our Lord Jesus by serving His people. When we are listening to the Holy Spirit, He will point us towards His people. Our KOINONIA with God flows directly into our KOINONIA with His church.
Therefore if you feel stuck in your spiritual life, if you feel a distance from God, if you are feeling dispassionate in your relationship with Jesus, if you don’t regularly see the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, one sure way to reclaim that is to pursue KOINONIA with His people.
KOINONIA = Sacrifice
Consider that another way this word is used is to describe a sacrificial gift given from one believer to another (or group of believers) who is in need. In the same section of scripture where Paul is talking about being a cheerful giver and teaching that God supplies our needs generously so we can give generously (2 Corinthians 9:6-15), he uses the word KOINONIA to describe “generously sharing” with other believers who are in need.
In other words, when you are meeting the needs of another believer, whether in friendship, or service, or through a financial or practical gift, you are exercising KOINONIA and are not only growing closer to that person, but closer to God.
KOINONIA = Communion
Allow me one final use of KOINONIA in scripture. Listen to 1 Corinthians 10:16-17,
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation [KOINONIA] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [KOINONIA] in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
When we have Communion, the Lord’s Supper, we are participating in an exercise of KOINONIA. We are expressing our KOINONIA with Jesus, and our KOINONIA with His church. I read a section from a passage in 1 Corinthians 11 every month during the Communion Service, but let’s read context:
“17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!”
So what’s Paul’s problem with the church here? The KOINONIA, the intimacy, fellowship, joy of service, unity in spirit, is broken. The church gets together to eat, to worship and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but they aren’t serving one another, they are divided, they are abusing each other, disregarding each other’s needs, not helping those who need it, letting those who need food go hungry, some eating and drinking it all before the rest can even get there!
Like many churches, they are doing their religious thing, putting in their time, going through the motions, but the KOINONIA isn’t there. They should be loving one another, serving each other, seeking unity, taking care of the ones who have needs, blessing each other, encouraging the weaker among them… but instead they come to church and pretend that it exists for them, and that their relationship with God has nothing to do with the Christians around them. They do their religious duty thinking only of themselves.
Paul looks at this church and says, “You’re not eating the Lord’s Supper, you’re just having a worldly party. Because you have lost your KOINONIA, you are no longer a church.”
He continues in verse 23,
“23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Now read to the next part carefully:
“27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”
Communion is a time for us to examine ourselves, but some ministers (myself included) may be negligent in reminding us what we are to be examining ourselves for. Consider the context, what is Paul really concerned about? KOINONIA!
An Unworthy Manner
What does it mean to “eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner [and] sin against the body and blood of the Lord”? We often assume it means just searching our hearts for sins that no one knows about, that we haven’t confessed yet, bitterness or jealousy or lust we have in our hearts… and that is only part of the meaning. We should certainly do that. But remember the context.
We “sin against the body and blood” when we participate in the Lord’s Supper and are not in KOINONIA with Jesus and the brothers and sisters around us. This is why the Lord’s Supper is reserved for believers alone. Only those who have given their lives to Jesus can have KOINONIA with Jesus, and with the Church. This is why many churches only allow members to take Communion, in an attempt to not bring judgement upon their church for allowing people who are not in KOINONIA to participate in the Lord’s Supper.
Eating & Drinking Judgement
Look at verse 29 again to see how serious this is, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” What does it “recognizing the body of the Lord” mean?
It means two things:
First, we have to recognize the actual body of Jesus Christ, which was give up for us at the Great Exchange, made the Propitiation for our sins, and which was hung on the cross in our place. We must have that at the forefront of our minds as we partake in the bread, which symbolizes Jesus body, given for us, and the cup, which reminds us of His blood which was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
Second, we must also recognize the other way the “body of the Lord” is used in scripture. Over and over and over in scripture the Church is called the “body of Christ” (Romans 12:5, 1 Cor 10:17, 12:27, Eph 4:12…”). Jesus is the head, we are the body. We are His hands and feet in this world, the body by which He manifests His will and through whom He works the most.
When we take communion without being in KOINONIA with the brothers and sisters around us, we eat and drink judgement on ourselves. How serious is this? Verse 30 says that in the Corinthian church God’s judgement came down “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”
One of my commentaries says this,
“To not come to the table in unity and acceptance of fellow believers revealed arrogance and ungratefulness for what Christ had done. To take the Lord’s Supper – to eat the bread and drink the wine – as though it were no more than a regular meal to assuage hunger is to miss the sanctity of this spiritual rite. Those who did so were eating and drinking God’s judgment against themselves. This ‘judgement’ was severe, one of the most severe in the New Testament. The judgement was disciplinary in nature; that is, it did not refer to eternal judgment, but it was sever enough to cause many of the believers to be weak and ill, while some had even died. That some of the people had died may have been a supernatural judgement on the Corinthian church. This type of disciplinary judgement highlights the seriousness of the Communion service. The Lord’s Supper is not to be take lightly; this new covenant cost Jesus His life. It is not a meaningless ritual, but a sacrament given by Christ to help strengthen believers’ faith.” (Life Application Bible Commentary – Pg 165-166)
What’s In A Name?
There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of the word “church”, and the complexity of how it came about. The story of how we came to call this place, and these people, a “church” gives us a glimpse into the complexity of the organization and the simplicity of what is meant to do. What happens here, among us, each day, each week, while we are in service together and while we are caring for one another during the week, is unique to the Christian church. We are the only group that can experience KOINONIA with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, and with Each other.
We are the only group who has the HODOS, The Way, because we know the One who truly is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are the EKKLESIA, the called-out ones, who were once part of the world, but are no longer. We are now CHRISTIANOS, those belonging to Christ, His people. And we come here, to this KURIAKOS, this place that belongs to the Lord, this place of worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, love, joy, commitment, praise, power, unity… so that we can be KURIAKOS a people who belongs to the Lord.
Through my years as a Christian, and as a pastor, as I have learned to love Jesus, I have learned to love His church and His people too, and it is my prayer that you would do the same.
Sermon Reflection Questions:
- What do you think of when you hear the word “Church”? What positive and negative connotations does the word
- What does it mean to be part of an EKKLESIA – “A Congregation”
- What does it mean to be part of HODOS – “The Way”?
- In what ways has the meaning of the word Christian changed for you?
- What is KOINONIA?
- How serious does Jesus take The Lord’s Supper? How has today’s lesson changed your view of Communion / The Lord’s Supper?
Small Group Study:
Icebreaker: What are three things you would most like to accomplish in the next year?
Read & Discuss: 1 John 1:6-7
- Why would some say they have “fellowship with Him”, but not really mean it? What benefits are there in giving lip-service to the faith?
- What does it mean to “walk in darkness”?
- What does it mean to “walk in the light”? How can we “walk in the light as He [Jesus] is in the light?”
- Look at how the verse builds. “IF we walk in the light…[THEN] we have fellowship with one another AND the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” How does all that work together? What is the connection to having “fellowship with one another” and being “cleansed from all sin”?
There is no simple answer to this question because Christians are multifaceted: they believe certain truths, do amazing things, and they experience the power of God.
I Want What They Have
I’ve heard a lot of people’s testimonies and one common phrase that keeps coming up is: “I want what they have.”
Many people’s testimony has a scene where they walk into a church, a small group, or into a Christian’s home and see something in that person’s life that was missing from theirs. They speak of inner turmoil, addiction, frustration, fear, anxiety, depression, uncertainty, hatred, sadness, loneliness and a host of other problems. But when they look at the Christian, they see something else. They see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. They see the things that are missing from their life which they desperately want, but don’t know how to access or generate within themselves.
And very often the scene transitions to a place where they finally get alone with God in prayer and say, “God, I want what they have, but I don’t know how to get it.
I’m a mess and can’t clean myself up.
I’m addicted, and don’t have the power to clean myself up.
I’m angry and don’t have the ability to calm down.
I have no purpose, I have no reason to live, I have no idea what I’m doing here.
I’m living like it’s all about me, and I’m not enough anymore.
If you’re real… I need you to figure this out… I need you to fix me.” And as is so often the case in Christian testimonies, they finally say, “I don’t have anywhere else to turn.”
Over and over and over, testimony after testimony, we hear of the same result: God shows up. God grabs hold of the person. God changes how they think. They meet Jesus — the real Jesus. They read the Bible and the Spirit makes it new, exciting, comforting, and life-altering. Jesus becomes their Lord, their Saviour, their Friend… their Reason.
Raised in Futility and Hopelessness
Jesus provides for Christians that which meets the deepest needs of every human being. Satan and the world provide counterfeit promises and experiences all over the place which are meant to give people a portion of what they desire, but never what they really need. People turn to all sorts of places, from sex to career, food to friends, popularity to punishing themselves, in an attempt to get what God is offering in Christ, to all believers.
That’s part of the reason my heart breaks so much for young people and young families. They have gone through their whole lives being told there is no such thing as truth, that they are descended from primates, that their past has no purpose, their future has no hope, and everything they do is ultimately meaningless. They have been taught they can’t trust anyone as divorce rates have risen, church leaders have fallen into scandal, the news media is shown to be manipulative and wrong. Over and over they’ve been given reasons not to trust organizations, not to trust companies, not to trust government, not to trust teachers.
So they band together in a seemingly random order trying to find some kind of meaning and purpose and construct social systems based on the garbage they are fed by the world, willingly swallow anything just so they can feel some kind of joy, distraction and connection to community – even if it is unhealthy, addictive, and destructive.
This is why people need the gospel – why they need Jesus. This is why they need to see and experience authentic Christianity. They don’t need religion, or tradition, or Sunday school, or another sermon, or a guru who gives them three easy steps to find God and feel forgiven. They need to be shown, in the lives of real Christians, what a relationship with Jesus looks like and how it is better, more meaningful, deeper, stronger, and more right than any other choice this world offers them.
Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be many real Christians around anymore. There are lots of religious people who attend religious services and know lots of religious jargon. There are charismatic leaders who know how to whip people into a froth and promise them things that make them feel good. There are churches which are more akin to mausoleums than houses of worship, who refuse to adapt to culture, who fear change, who have no plan to grow deeper in Jesus, and wouldn’t know what to do with a person who walked through the door and was begging to be a Christian.
So many lost people. So many broken people. And millions of people sitting in churches week after week being given the answers which will give that broken person hope and meet their deepest needs. Why is it those two groups don’t get together very often?
What Is A Christian?
What these people desperately need is to become a Christian. But what is a Christian? There are dozens of stereotypes from televangelists to Mother Theresa, Sister Act to GCB. Every other blogpost on the internet is trying to differentiate the subgroups within the Christian community — Catholic from Evangelical, Reformed from Missional, and everything in between. What is a Christian?
Part of the reason I want to teach “The Foundations” is because many people can’t give a good answer to that question beyond the most basic answer: :A Christian is Follower of Christ [or Imitator of Christ]”, but what does that mean?
Let’s talk about three things that make a Christian a Christian. Of course everyone will have different expressions of their faith, different ways they meet God, will mature at different rates, and have different questions, needs and hurts that need to be addressed, but I believe every Christian will have these three characteristics.
A Christian Believes…
The first is that a Christian has certain, specific beliefs. We have already covered a lot of this during the past few weeks in Five Solas, but we didn’t cover everything. I want to give you another tool which summarizes the core of the gospel and Christian theology in only a few paraghraphs. It’s called the Nicene Creed.
The Nicene Creed
People have been trying to take apart and alter the scriptures, the gospel and the story of Jesus in a lot of ways over the years, and the response of the Christian church has often been to assemble the best theologians and to write (or reaffirm) a creed.
The Nicene Creed is over 1600 years old and many churches recite it each week as part of their liturgy. It’s something of a yardstick of orthodoxy (or correct belief) where someone can quickly identify the most basic of Christian beliefs. It was put together to combat false, heretical teachers who were teaching non-biblical things about Jesus, particularly those who were saying that Jesus is a created being, not eternal, and is not One and the same with the Father.
The Nicene Creed goes like this:
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
I find it to be quite beautiful and very succinct. These are the core beliefs of a Christian. They are not religious but they do guide our religion. They are not merely traditional, but they are certainly historical. They are universally applicable and incorporate the most important parts of the Christian faith. They are the foundational beliefs of a Christian.
A Christian Does…
As important as good theology is, it’s not enough to know the right things if they are not practiced. A person can be fat and out of shape while still reading health magazines, studying exercise techniques, and even have a gym membership. The knowledge isn’t making them any healthier – they must exercise what they know. Therefore the next answer to “What is a Christian?” is that a Christian does certain things.
Part of the consequence of meeting your Creator, meeting Jesus, being forgiven by God, being shown mercy, goodness, kindness and grace, is that it has a distinct effect on how you live your life.
If you asked people what a Christian does, they might say “go to church”, “try to be good people”, “pray”, “read their bible”. But is that it? Is that the culmination of the Christian life? I think not.
I made a list a while back of the kinds of things Christians do. It was fairly substantial (and a little overwhelming), but after a while I realized that the list can be broken down into only four different categories: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, and Outreach. When someone asks me “What does a Christian do?” or “How can I grow as a Christian?” or “What is the church?”, these four words are always my answer.
A Christian Worships.
They seek God in multiple ways, all the time, in every area of their life. For a Christian, worship doesn’t just happen when music is playing on Sunday morning, but during every part of every day. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” 1 Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” A Christian’s life is a life of worship.
A Christian Fellowships.
Fellowship is just a fancy word for hanging around other people who share your interests – in a Christian’s case the chief interest is Jesus. If there is a word that encapsulates the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the motivation of all Christian endeavors, it would be the word “Love.” The most attractive thing we have to offer each other and the world beyond our doors is our love for God and for one another. As 1 Corinthians 13 says, no matter what we do, and how well we do it, if we do not have love, we are nothing.
God does not call Christians to be alone. God calls them to be part of His Church, His group of like-minded people who will support and care for each other. This is why churches spend a lot of time trying to convince people to stay, eat, have coffee, come on Wednesday nights, get into small groups, go to church functions, and find Christian friends… because a Christian who is alone cannot grow as healthily as one who is around other believers.
If you’re introverted like me, then sometimes it’s difficult – but it’s still necessary. Consider that many of the things we are supposed to do, which we are commanded to do in scripture, can ONLY happen in community. The best example are the “one another” passages (Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25; Galatians 6:2; Colossians 3:16; James 5:16; 1 Peter 4:8-9; Ephesians 4:32). They simply can’t be done in isolation.
A Christian is a Disciple.
In other words, they pursue a better and deeper knowledge of who Jesus is and how to be more like Him. Being a disciple means not only expanding our knowledge, but expanding how we apply that knowledge. It means asking hard questions, looking for answers, and then using the answers we have found to serve others, help them grow, and to draw them closer to Jesus.
I love the old blessing, “May you be covered in your rabbi’s dust”. It was a phrase which meant that as you were being discipled by your rabbi, you would walk so closely behind your teacher, and sit so close to his feet as he taught, that you would be caked in the dust that he would be kicking up. That is the desire of a Christian. To be so close to Jesus, so zealous to learn from Him and do what He desires, that we would be covered in the dust of our rabbi.
Even when that path leads to suffering, we follow. It’s not too often we would answer the question “What does a Christian do?” with “A Christian suffers well”, but it’s true. We follow our Teacher, our Saviour, our Lord, wherever He would have us go, and under whatever conditions, because we know He knows better than us what we need in order to grow to be more like Him.
A Christian Practices Outreach.
A Christian has a concern for the world beyond ourselves and a desire to obey the command of Jesus to “go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching tem to obey everything [Jesus] commanded you.”
We serve the world, pray for them, love our enemies and do good to those who harm us. (Luke 6:27-28) We have an answer prepared for those who want to know about the hope that is within us and we do it with gentleness and respect(1 Peter 3:15).
A Christian shares their faith, does not fear reprisal for giving glory to God, and is willing to look foolish in the world’s eyes for the sake of Christ. We do not fear the world, and we enjoy the good things in it, but we do not become the world. We use the tools of this world to bring glory to God and to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ.
A Christian Experiences…
“What is a Christian?” isn’t only answered by “A Christian believes…”, and isn’t fully answered by “A Christian does…”. It also requires us to remember that all Christians will experience similar things.
As a conservative, Baptist, Christian Preacher, I’m often pigeonholed by people thinking that I don’t like experiences – maybe you’ve been treated the same way. Baptists [Christians] don’t have fun, don’t laugh, don’t tell jokes, don’t dance, don’t go to parties, don’t, don’t, don’t. They study, they obey, but they don’t experience their faith.
Maybe some don’t, but I certainly believe that real Christians do – and even should – experience their faith! When a person meets Jesus they are going to have some amazing things happen. Maybe not all at once, and sometimes it will take some training, practice, and maturing before the experiences come about, but they are common among all believers. I believe some of these common experiences are summarized in Galatians 5:22-23, what the Bible calls “The Fruit of the Spirit”. Have you experienced these?
Christians experience and share love. A believer will begin to have emotional connections in places they never thought they would. Their heart will break for things they never cared about before. They will discover what it means to love and to be loved, and then what it means to be rejected by those they love. God will deepen their ability and desire to love.
Christians experience new joy. They no longer worry about being happy because they realize that being happy isn’t what the world is all about. They realize that they can have joy – deep joy – even when their circumstances aren’t happy.
Christians experience peace. Whereas before they knew Jesus, or committed their life to Him, they were all over the place, upset, angry, anxious, frustrated and fearful, they are now able to find peace in Christ. They now know how to access peace, the Author of peace, the Prince of Peace, and they have the Holy Spirit inside of them showing them things and giving them resources to draw on that they never had before.
Christians experience patience with themselves and with others. As God settles on their heart an eternal perspective, they will rise above the day and the difficult situations they have before them, and realize that God is in control, and they are not. They will remember how long it took for them to turn their lives over to Him, and how many times they have failed, and they will extend the same grace and mercy God has shown them over to others.
Christians experience what it means to be kind. Before, they lived for themselves and were very pessimistic about the world. They knew everyone was out to get them, and no one could be trusted. Now they desire to spread joy and love by being kind to people – for no reason. They extend the benefit of the doubt to people, and let them have their own way. They take the next spot in line, and don’t get upset in traffic when things aren’t going their way.
Christians experience the amazing benefit of being good. They felt bad before, guilty, judged, and dirty. Now they feel, because of the love and forgiveness of God and His new Purpose in their life, good. They desire good things. They put sinful, unhelpful, unloving, gross things behind them and they desire good things that are helpful and that build them up. The change is sometimes shocking to them, as their tastes and desires change because they now want to live an upright life and walk with a clean heart.
Christians experience faithfulness. As they learn that Jesus will never let them down, so they don’t want to let others down either. They move from being untrustworthy to trustworthy, from manipulating others for their benefit, to allowing others to actually going out of their way and doing things they don’t want to do simply because it’s the right thing.
Christians experience gentleness. Now remember that gentleness, or meekness, doesn’t mean weakness, it means power under control. It describes a powerful, wild horse that has become obedient and useful to their master. They are no less powerful, but now that power is being directed. The biggest, gruffest, scariest guy, when Jesus gets hold of their heart, makes them gentle. They turn their power, their will and their abilities over to Jesus and He teaches them how to use that power for His glory. The meanest, most manipulative person, once Jesus gets hold of them, now desires to be gentle, to bring their natural talents under God’s control and to be gentle. Suddenly, weaker people, those who can’t help themselves, become far more important. God doesn’t create weaklings, He takes the power He gives people, and shows them how to use it gently.
Christians experience self-control. A Christian experiences something most people don’t have. Because of their new nature they can make decisions and stick to them. They can put down things and not pick them up. They can go places they never thought possible. All because the Holy Spirit within them is strengthening them and forming them into the person Jesus is creating them to be.
(Sorry about the audio, we’re working on it!)
One of my favourite preachers, Mark Driscoll, had a very good, insightful Facebook update this week. He said, “All theology is cat theology or dog theology. Let’s say two pets have an amazing, kind, generous owner. The cat thinks: ‘I must be an amazing and valuable cat.’ The dog thinks: ‘I have an amazing and valuable master.’” Someone else said, “Dogs have masters, Cats have support staff.”
That’s clever, and it’s also quite true – about people anyway. People seem to have two ways to look at their religious path: I can do it myself or I need someone to do it for me. The question is, which are you?
Most people, as we said a while ago, are do-it-yourselfers. They want to find their own way to their own form of god. This wasn’t always the case though.
What Religion Are You?
If you were to go down to the Byward Market, or stand in Bayshore Mall in 1950 and ask the question “What religion are you?” you would probably have received the answer “I’m Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican… and a lot of ‘I’m Catholic’”. There would be a few atheists, some Jewish people and a couple eastern religions, but they would have been few and far between. People would have basically divided themselves by Christian denominations – though they may or may not have been attending at the time.
If you were to go ask the same question today you’d get a lot of people saying, “I’m spiritual, but not religious” or “I don’t go to church”. You would get a rainbow of different religious outlooks: Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Bahai, Hindus, Wiccans, Scientologists and probably a couple who practice Kabbalah.
You would find a lot of people, if pressed to give details, that have a sort of interfaith spirituality where they mix and match all sorts of practices and parts of different religions to come up with their own favourite blend.
My wife served me a tea the other day that had a mix of a couple different kinds of tea in it, and I’ve had coffee that was mixed with partly dark and partly medium roast, part decaf, part caffeinated. These people treat their religion like that – just mix some stuff together until it tastes right to them.
They read the Bible, use crystals, light candles, pray, practice meditation and have a spirit guide… and that’s their “faith”. Some will practice Native spirituality, go to a Buddhist temple, and then read The Secret so they can practice the Law of Attraction and make good things come to them. There are people who call themselves Christians, but read horoscopes, and believe in the karmic view that if you do good things then good things will happen to you. It’s all about finding their own path.
People can’t get away from their spiritual nature, because it is as much a part of them as their physical nature, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to let anyone dictate how they exercise their spirituality. In a short period of time the question you would ask to North Americans moved from “What Christian denomination are you?” to “What have you come up with as your way to practice spirituality?”
The Enlightenment Game
Take a look at this board game. It’s called “Enlighten” and its tagline is “The new board game that’s taking people on a spiritual journey to explore the world’s religions.” Let me read you the game’s description from the website: “Each individual will travel around the board, answering questions about the six major religions…. Once the players have completed their spiritual journey around the world, they enter the Enlightened Path, where players identify notable quotes from major religious and philosophical leaders…. To make this journey more fun, Enlighten summons players to debate questions in a quest to reclaim their turn. Players can also land on a Life’s Rough Patch where they lose their turn and have to atone themselves through sacred ritual. Enlighten is never dull, as players engage in renewing spiritual rituals while learning more about the world and its people.” In big red letters on the page are the words, “Open your mind, free your spirit, come play with the rest of the world!”
Very interesting, eh? This game is just replicating what perhaps you, your friends, family and neighbours are already doing. They are looking around the world at different religions, opening their mind, and they are no longer assuming that the only path is the one given in the Bible. It’s either somewhere else, or something they come up with all by themselves.
This is why the belief in Sola Christus, Christ Alone, is so foundational to Christianity. It is the belief that there is only one Saviour and one Mediator between God and man and that is the person of Jesus Christ. We reject all other mediators and all other forms of salvation, and anyone who claims to have a special connection to God.
We have already said, in previous weeks, that our salvation is because of the work of Jesus on the cross Alone, by faith in Him Alone, and because of the work that He did on the cross – something none of us could have done for ourselves. I don’t want to go over the same ground that we have covered with the previous three Solas (Scripture Alone, Grace Alone and Faith Alone), but instead want to make sure we all understand this essential belief that our salvation is through Jesus ALONE.
Arrogant, Closed-Minded Christians
I preached a series a few years ago called “They Like Jesus but not the Church”, which was based on a book by Dan Kimball, where on one week I talked about how most people in the world have no problem with Jesus, but they do have a problem with Christians who arrogantly think that all other religions are wrong. The idea is that being a Christian automatically makes you closed minded and judgemental because we don’t allow for anyone else’s beliefs and we say that everyone else is wrong but us. Which is true, but doesn’t sound very nice in the country that we live in.
Some Christians I know have a problem with this too, and really don’t like the idea that what they believe is right and what others believe is wrong. I’ve even heard them say, “I believe Jesus died for my sins, and that Christianity is the right way, but whose to say that other religions aren’t just different ways of getting to Jesus?”
Some people will talk about the basic tenants of religions and how they all have the same things in common, even though they have different names. But is that true? Are there overlaps between Christianity, Buddhism, Bahai and Islam? Are they all basically the same thing, leading to the same place?
Dan Kimball had a very helpful illustration in his book that I want to share with you to help us all understand the differences, and why Sola Christus, Christ Alone is so important.
Do All Roads Lead to God?
The illustration starts with a picture of a mountain. The basic idea that many people have about religion is that “all roads lead to God”. No matter what place you start at the bottom of the mountain, when you get to the top, everybody gets to the same peak. Now, is that true? It seems so when you are looking at it from the bottom of the mountain.
At the bottom of the mountain, there are similarities and crossovers in the path. For example, there are similar sounding teachings. For example, Jesus in Luke 6:31 said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Buddha said, “Consider others as yourself.” Jesus said in Luke 6:29, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Buddha also said, “If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words.” Sounds the same, and I would say that the person who is speaking doesn’t make it any less true. Truth is truth.
Many faiths not only have similar teachings, but similar rituals like prayer, fasting, special meetings and celebrations with food. Some are also exclusive, like Christianity, saying that their way is the only way. Many religions believe in a form of hell where non-believers go. So there are some similarities at the bottom of the mountain where some of the paths seem to cross over.
The problem comes when we get closer to the top of the mountain. Some people assume that all paths lead to God, but what they don’t realize is how different the gods at the top of the mountains really are. It is categorically impossible that all religions lead to the same place. Let’s just take three of them, for example.
On the path of Hinduism, when you get to the top of the mountain there are many gods. Jesus may be one of the gods, but is not the only one there, or the only way to get to the top of the mountain to meet God. In the afterlife, there is reincarnation to pay off karmic debt (someone sends you back down the mountain to try again!), and eventually when you finally get it right you don’t go to heaven to meet a personal God, you becoming one with the impersonal “unchanging reality amidst and beyond the world” called Brahman.
At the top of the Islamic mountain, there is one god, Allah. Jesus is a prophet, but not one of the Trinity, and not the Son of God. The afterlife is either paradise or hell, but salvation is not by grace, it is based on the weighing of the good and bad deeds done during your life. You can’t really be sure that you will get into paradise until you get there.
At the top of the Christian mountain there is One God in Three Triune Persons (Father Son and Holy Spirit). Jesus is the Son of God, and faith in His atoning death and resurrection is the way to salvation. And the afterlife is either heaven or hell, not based on anything we do, but on what Jesus did.
Certainly, there are things that different belief systems have in common, but when someone explores further, there is no way to say that all paths lead to the same place. They are three completely different mountains. And according to Jesus, scripture and Christian theology, there is only one path on one mountain that will lead to salvation – the way of faith in Jesus that leads to reconciliation with our Heavenly Father.
The Stumbling Stone
The consequence of believing in Sola Christus is that we put the entirety of our faith into one person, Jesus Christ. I think this is where a lot of people stumble. Romans 3:30-33 says that the Jewish people in Paul’s day had the same problem as many people today.
“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
People want to hedge their bets on getting into heaven by wanting to put faith into themselves or someone else, just to make sure. Some put their faith in Jesus, and then also in some superstitions. Some put their faith in Jesus, but also in their good works. Some put their faith in Jesus, and also in their denomination, their pastor, their nationality, their tribe, or something else. For them (and they wouldn’t say this out loud), they believe they will get to heaven and God will say, “Ok, now prove you are worthy to be here.” And they will need to pull out whatever they’ve got – their membership card, their charitable receipts, the list of things they’ve denied themselves, or say, “Oh, I’m here with pastor so-and-so, or prophet so-and-so.” That’s not how it’s going to work.
That’s hard, isn’t it? It’s difficult to put all our eternal eggs into one basket. But that is what Christians do. Christians put their faith into one person, Jesus.
We believe we will get to heaven and stand before the judgement seat and have nothing in our hands. When God says, “Why should I let a sinner like you into my Holy presence for eternity?” Our only answer will be, “You shouldn’t.” except that Jesus will be standing next to us as our advocate and say, “Father, this one is with me. I took their punishment on Myself and You accepted that. I have traded their sin for My righteousness, and you have already paid out the wrath they are due. I took it for them and they have put their faith in me.”
Jesus is Prophet, Priest & King
( Joel R. Beeke’s, “Christ Alone” helped me understand this better.)
For centuries, tracing all the way back to the fourth-century writer Eusibius, Christians have talked about Jesus as their perfect Prophet, Priest and King. This might be a new and challenging thought to you because it goes against a lot of what we are taught about individuality and pluralism in North America.
First, Jesus is our only Prophet. In other words, Jesus is the person from whom we get our instruction in the things of God. He is our highest authority on what God is like, what God says, how God acts, what His priorities are, and how we are to conduct ourselves in relation to Him.
We love pluralism today. No one is wrong, everyone is right. There are some who believe that eventually we’ll figure out all this religious stuff and come to one final solution where we will incorporate all beliefs and religious systems into one united religion that will satisfy everyone. We’ll put away this petty squabbling about little issues like who God is, and what eternity is like, and whose religious text is right, and we’ll just all get along – that’s pluralism.
As we just talked about, that’s not going to happen because of the exclusive claims of Christianity, and the exclusive claims of Christ. It is Jesus who is the only one who heals our blindness and frees us from our ignorance about who God is. He is our greatest Teacher, and the supreme authority on God.
Jesus is also our only Priest. He is the person through whom we gain access to God. In Scripture, particularly in the book of Hebrews, Jesus is called our “High Priest”. Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Propitiation has two basic meanings – to appease the wrath of someone, and then to make reconciliation with Him. That’s what a priest does. He brings the sacrifice to appease the wrath of God and then performs the necessary actions to bring reconciliation.
Jesus, as the perfect High Priest, not only brings the sacrifice, but became the perfect sacrifice. He, once and for all, finished the system of bringing blood sacrifices to God. He also stands before God continuously doing what is necessary to bring about reconciliation. We bring our prayers to God, through Jesus Christ. We ask things of God in Jesus’ name. We are forgiven in Jesus’ name, because of Jesus’ blood, as Jesus stands before God as our propitiation.
Jesus is the only one who makes intercession for us. There is no need for any other priest, holy man, family member, living or dead saint, or any other person, to mediate for us, because Jesus is the perfect mediator between us and God. He is God and He is Man.
We do not pray to saints because we pray to Jesus. In many religions, and in Christianity during the middle ages, the priest was thought to have special powers and a special relationship with God that no one else could have. People would have to go to the priest in order to access God and only a priest could grant forgiveness, only a priest could administer sacraments, only a priest could bring your prayers to God. Jesus ended all of that and gives every believer direct access to God through faith in Him.
How can Jesus claim all of this? Because of Jesus is our only King. He is the person who rules over all things. He is the highest authority. He is, in fact, God.
Jesus made a lot of promises that He would have to back up. He said He had the authority to forgive sins (Matt 9:2). He said he could bring people back from the dead (Jn 5:21). He said he could protect the lives and souls of those who believe in Him (John 10:28). He said He had the ability to reward people in the afterlife (John 14:2, Mat 5:12). He said He is stronger than Hell (Mat 16:18). He said He has the power to answer prayers, even those said without speaking (Matt 21:22, Jn 14:13-14)
Those are big deals! He better have the authority to back that up. And if He does, why would we ever go to any other person or created thing instead?
Jesus Said and Proved He is God
We believe in Sola Christus, Christ alone, because Jesus is God. He is our Prophet, the one who tells us about God. He is our Priest, the one who brings us to God. And He is our King, the One who is God.
Why do we believe this? Because Jesus said it, and then proved it.
In John 8:58 Jesus said, “…before Abraham was born, I AM.” and the response of the Jews was to try to kill Him for blasphemy because they knew He claimed to be God.
In John 10:30 He said, “I and the Father are one.” The Jews looked at him and said, “…you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:33).
Jesus accepts worship on many occasions because He was God, and Thomas, one of His disciples, looks at Jesus after He has died on the cross and rose on the third day and says, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) and Jesus doesn’t correct him, because he was right!
Jesus did things that only God could do! We have eyewitness testimony, and accurate historical accounts that Jesus physically healed people who were born with infirmities. He healed people from a distance. He altered time and space – consider that He changed water into good wine, and what does wine need to taste good? Time. Jesus altered time. He commanded demons to do things. And in His greatest work, He died, was buried, and then… as He predicted over and over… rose on the third day to conquer death.
Sola Deo Gloria
And this leads us to our final Sola – Sola Deo Gloria. All for God’s glory. Not for our own but His.
He is worthy of all our glory, and all things work towards His glory. We bring Him praise, and honour, and glory, and power, and dominion and everything else because of who He is and what He has done.
We are saved by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone, according to Scripture Alone, for the Glory of God Alone.
May God bless you as you find hope and peace in these truths.
Each week I write reflection questions and small group study material based on the sermon topic. I’m going to start posting here too.
Sermon Reflection Questions:
- Do you have “Cat Theology” or “Dog Theology”?
- How have you noticed the answer to “What religion are you?” change over time?
- Have you ever considered Christians to be arrogant and/or closed minded?
- Do all roads lead to God? Why not?
- What How is Jesus your Prophet? Your Priest? Your King?
- What does it mean that all things are done Sola Deo Gloria (For the Glory of God Alone)?
Small Group Study:
Icebreaker: If money were no object, what fun thing would you most like to do?
Read & Discuss: Hebrews 4:14-16
- What were the Old Testament priests for?
- What about priests from other religions?
- What descriptions from this verse qualify Jesus to be our High Priest?
- What does it mean that Jesus is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses”?
- Was Jesus tempted in “every respect”? How can that be?
- Why can we draw near to God’s “throne of grace” “with confidence”? From where does that confidence come?
- In what ways do we sometimes come before God in prayer without confidence?
- What is “grace”? What is “mercy”?
(If you would like to see the sermon video, click here.)
I’ve talked previously about the importance of having foundational, fundamental, bedrock beliefs that every Christian can affirm, no matter where they are, what tradition they come from, and what language they speak.
The central theme of this series I’m calling “The True Gospel” was the introduction of the Five Solas – five core beliefs that historical, protestant Christianity has held as the baseline from which they work out the rest of their faith. They are Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone and the Glory of God Alone.
There are many other important discussions that can be had that go beyond these five… like worship styles, membership requirements, church leadership and government options, the emphasis of the church ministries, and the location of the building (or even if the church puts up a building at all!)… but these five are the non-negotiable points that the church must be built on, or it ceases to be a Christian church.
We have already covered:
Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone, which is the foundational belief and conviction that the Bible is the “inspired and authoritative Word of God, is the only source of Christian doctrine.” (http://www.answers.com/topic/five-solas)
Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone which reminds us that we are not saved from the consequences of our sins by anything we can do, but only by the unmerited favour (Grace) of God. Today I want to explore the next one.
Grace & Justice
Let’s continue with Sola Fide, Faith Alone – We are saved through Faith Alone in Jesus Christ. Now, at first glance, this might sound like a repeat of Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone, which stated that we are saved not by works, but by the it grace of God alone.
The reason this is different is because of the emphasis of scripture on both the Grace of God and the Justice of God. It is not enough to say that we have been saved by grace, as though somehow God just dismissed all of our sins because He was being nice. No, Sola Fide has to do with the legal aspect of being saved. Let me explain:
We Are Guilty, Jesus Is Innocent
We have sinned, and are condemned. We broke the law. We stand under judgement. The Judge looks at us and says, “you did not keep the law, but have broken it, and therefore, to uphold the law, you must be punished.” God is a good God who will not let anyone get away with anything. Sin must be paid for, injustice must be set right, and unrighteous behaviour must be accounted for.
The punishment for sin is death. Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…”. It has been since the very beginning of time. God warned Adam that if he sinned, the consequence would be death, and every human being has sinned, and therefore every human being has died. We have all broken God’s law. Everyone. Everyone, that is, except Jesus.
So God, in His Grace, chose to send His Son to come to earth, to take on the form of a human being, and to live a perfect life, free of sin, free of the curse, free from punishment. He would be the only one to ever face temptation and not fall. He would be the only one to have the opportunity to sin, and never take it. He would be what Adam should have been, the perfect human, the perfect Son of God, the one who would do it right. (Romans 5)
And so, even though He had never done anything wrong, the Lord Jesus was sentenced by His own creation, and in agreement with the Father to die in the most excruciating way humanity has ever conceived – a Roman Crucifix. He could have gotten off the cross at any time. He could have made a perfect argument at any time. He could have brought down a legion of angels at any time that would have wiped out those who were judging and persecuting Him, but He didn’t. Why?
Because He was not just dying to fulfil some broken human law, but to fulfil the perfect law of God (Romans 10:4). The law that said that anyone who broke His Holy, Perfect Law must be put to death – physical and spiritual death (spiritual death is the punishment and torment in Hell).
But He wasn’t dying for His own sin… He had no sin… He was instead dying for ours. He was making possible our reconciliation to God because we couldn’t.
“The Great Exchange”
“16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)
Verse 21 that makes the point so clearly. This is what theologians call the Doctrine of Justification. Martin Luther called this “The Great Exchange”. It is this doctrine that truly separates Christianity from being a list of do’s and don’ts which attempt to appease or impress God.
“God made him who had no sin…” Who’s that? Jesus Christ. He had no sin. And he “made him… to be sin”. In other words, God the Father, the perfect Judge of sin, make Christ to be regarded and treated as though he was a sinner, as though He was the absolute personification of sin, even though He had never sinned. Why? “…so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
You, the moment you had faith and believed in Jesus as the one who saved you from Sin, became “the righteousness of God”. I know that you may not feel like it, or even act like it, but that’s your nature now. Before, you had a nature of sin and rebellion, now you have a nature of righteousness. That’s why you don’t want to sin now. It didn’t bother you before, but now it bothers you. You used to have a lot of go-to excuses for why you sinned, but now, because of your new nature, your excuses are thin and instead you have conviction. That is your new nature crying out and showing you how different you are now!
This is so crucial to understand. When Satan comes to you and says, “You did something so bad that God won’t forgive you” or “You need to punish that person because they did something to you” – either side of that coin – the one where you feel as though you can’t be forgiven, or where you won’t forgive someone else – remember The Great Exchange.
Isaiah 53, a prophecy written 700 years before Jesus walked the earth, describes in detail, what Jesus would go through for us, and why.
1“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Jesus, who had done nothing, became the personification of sin, taking the full wrath of God for all of humanity’s sin. Is it any wonder he was sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane? Is it any wonder why He asked for the cup to be taken from Him – that if there was any other way, to take it? But there was no other way. In order to free those who would believe from the consequences of their sins, He would have to be punished in accordance with the Law, and according to the severity of the Law, pour out “his life unto death” and be “numbered with the transgressors” (in other words, treated like a sinner), for the sake of all who would believe.
Diminishing the Cross
Therefore we do not say that we must punish ourselves to be forgiven, or that we have done something too sinful to be forgiven, because that diminishes what Jesus did on the cross. We also do not punish others for their sins, because that too diminishes what Jesus did for them, as though His punishment wasn’t enough.
Sola Fide is an amazing truth because it explains to us how we can be justified by Grace. God doesn’t let people get away with their sin and merely forget about it, but instead, pours out His wrath on the one person who never deserved it, and the only person who could have stood as our substitute. That’s why Jesus came. That’s was His greatest work for us. That is why we can pray, and sing, and be forgiven. Because of His work for us on the cross… not because of any work we do for ourselves.
Consequences of Faith
Now, there are some natural consequences of Faith too. When God affects our hearts, opens our eyes to see our sin and our need for a Saviour, shares with us the Gospel of Salvation by Grace, and then gives us the gift of faith to believe it – our lives change forever. Here are two of the changes that happen after we have been justified by faith and the work of Jesus on the cross.
Made New by Faith
I, and many here, love quoting verse 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We say that all the time, but we must believe it and let that truth take hold of our hearts. It is not, as some people believe, that we are saved by grace and then we have to work hard and fight tooth-and-nail to stay saved or try to be good. No, once we have faith in Jesus, we are made new.
You know what Christians are called throughout the New Testament? “Saints”. You who are saved are Saints. Holy Ones. Consecrated people. That’s your title, even if you don’t believe it, or if you don’t feel it right now. You have been justified by faith and now have the same righteousness as Jesus. You don’t have to act like your old self. You don’t have to live and think the way you once did, because you have a new nature.
Your Old Self Died
Satan and His demons will continuously come to us and say:
“You are still dirty”
“You are a mess”
“You sin because you are a sinner”
“You are still broken”
“You’ll never be really right with God or others.”
But the truth of scripture is that you have been completely changed, the very moment you had faith. We can say, “No, I don’t have to do that, I’m not that person anymore. That person is dead.”
Read Romans 6:1-7:
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Look closely at verse 6:
“6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”
Do you see that? That’s the power of faith in Jesus Christ and what it means to be justified by grace and the power of God. You are no longer a slave to sin. When you died to sin, you died to the requirement of being the servant of sin. There’s not much a slave-master can do with a dead servant, and so upon the death of your old nature, your former master released you. Now you live with a new nature, one that, because of your faith in Jesus, is no longer bound to sin. You won’t like it. You may fall for temptation now and again, but now you see the temptation, and you hate the sin, and you have the power to walk away from it. That is something you didn’t have the power, or the will, to do before.
You may contend with what Ephesians calls the “Old Man”, your old nature that you lived in before, because you are still part of this fallen world, in fallen flesh, living with the physical and emotional consequences of your choices and the choices of those around you, but the point is that you are now contending, or fighting against, your old nature – not succumbing to it and living out of it.
That is the first consequence of faith – a new nature.
Working Out our Faith
The other consequence of having faith is it will create a need to work out that faith. This is important to understand properly because somewhere within you will believe that now that you have accepted the free gift of salvation you should either – 1. Not work at all because you are saved and can’t get any more saved, or 2. Work like crazy because you are afraid you might lose your salvation if you don’t do enough to show how thankful you are.
Neither is Christian. In the first place, the bible warns Christians, in 2 Thessalonians 3, against idleness (not working and being a helpful, productive member of society and the church). On the other hand it also says, in Romans 8, that God will never let us go, will never revoke His gift of salvation, and no one in the universe can take it away from you.
The proper response to faith is to work it out. We are not saved by our good works, we are saved unto good works. Do you see the difference? We are not saved by anything good we do, but we are saved so that we can do good things.
To help us understand this, let’s define faith. (I borrowed some of this outline from Reformation Study Bible, Pg 1804.)
Faith is incorporated into your entire being. Faith is not a feeling, nor is it an optimistic decision where you choose to hope something good will happen. Faith is far deeper than that.
Faith is responsive. It is a response to something already defined, not a feeling about something without substance. God made promises, Jesus secured those promises, the Gospel explains those promises, and each is grounded in reality and is able to be understood. Believing those promises, having faith, involves the mind, the heart and the will and is directed towards a very real, very personal God… not an idea, but a person.
Knowledge, Agreement & Trust
There are three words that smarter people than I use to describe faith: Knowledge, Agreement, & Trust. First we gain Knowledge and understanding of something – in this case, the Gospel. Then we Agree with it, we recognize that it is true. And then we Trust it and make a step of commitment that requires us to act on what we now know and agree with.
We’re talking about the gospel, but we could just as simply be talking about a chair. Say you are looking at a chair and you want to sit down. It’s not a kind of chair you’ve ever seen before, and you don’t know if it will support you. So you learn about the chair, read the specs and find out how it is built. Now you have Knowledge.
But now you need Agreement. Do you agree with what you have just learned? Have you seen others sit on it? Are you prepared to agree with the manufacturer that they can make a chair you can sit on? What’s their track record? So now you have come into Agreement with the person who made the chair and wrote the specs… what is next?
Sitting down! You have to trust what you know, what you’ve agreed with, and then sit down! This is the action of faith. You trust it. It’s all just an idea until you sit down.
In the same way, Faith isn’t faith until it is worked out. Through faith we are justified, and then we “walk by faith” (2 Cor 5:7). We step forward and live our lives in the new reality we have just accepted and make choices based on that Knowledge, Agreement and Trust relationship with God.
Faith & Works
James 2:14 says quite simply, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” The answer is simply “no” because they have not demonstrated real “faith” – they haven’t sat down in the chair yet. They’ve talked about sitting down, know about sitting down, read the books about sitting down, told their friends that they want to sit down, sang songs about sitting down, listened to lots of sermons about sitting down, have wandered around the chair, can describe the chair… but they have not sat down. Therefore they do not have faith.
James continues in verse 17 saying “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” In other words, knowing something and living something is not the same thing. In verse 24 he says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”, which seems exactly opposite to what we’ve been saying, but remember the context. Remember that we are not saved by good works, but for good works. When James says “faith alone” he means the bogus faith where people are only in intellectual agreement (as he said before), but not putting boots to their faith and showing that their faith in Jesus is bearing fruit in their life.
It is my deep and great hope that you will find peace and a reason to worship because of these Five Solas. As Paul did, I “implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled with God.”
I pray that Sola Fide, Faith Alone, gives you comfort when Satan attacks and makes you doubt your salvation and your new nature.
I pray it gives you strength to combat temptation as you say to Satan, “I’m not who I was, that person is dead, I am new.”
I pray that Sola Fide will relieve you of the stress of having to try to impress God, or the fear that you have not done enough.
And I pray that it will also drive you to exercise your faith and divine purpose through good works in your home, your church and community.
My nephew was asked to put together a report on Mardi Gras which reminded me of a reflection piece I had written that might be of help to him, and hopefully you too.
Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath Water
The traditional Christian season of Lent starts on February 13 this year. Christians have been practicing the 40 days of Lent for literally hundreds of years, since the third century. It’s only recently, in the grand scheme of things, that many believers have decided that they are not going to participate anymore. Some avoid it because it’s associated with the Catholicism or old-school Christianity, and I can understand that, but as with many other modernizations of the practices of our faith, I believe we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater and have lost a lot of traditions that were very powerful tools in Christian discipleship.
The Reformation was all about combatting the false teachers in the church who were telling people that they had to do certain things (like pay money, go on pilgrimages, say so many prayers, do penance before God would forgive them) and had moved away from the true message of salvation which says that we are saved only and fully by the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ – the exchange of His life for ours on the cross. In correcting this error and walking away from this corrupt teaching they also walked away from many of the practices and disciplines that were part of the church.
Ancient practices like Advent, Lent, and Good Friday, were given up because they had been corrupted by false teachers who were using them to manipulate the faithful. They were started with the best intentions to be regular times on the calendar where Christians would remember and celebrate the life of Jesus and practice various spiritual disciplines, but then the false teachers started saying that Christians had to do them in order to be saved. Protestants rightly said, “No we don’t.”, but then many stopped participating in the holidays and disciplines surrounding them.
It is my belief that we should recapture some of the old ways because many of them are still good ideas, and powerful ways to experience God.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and goes until Easter. It is a period of 40 days, which is a number we find all over the bible. The rains that brought the flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights, the Hebrews spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Moses fasted 40 days before receiving the 10 commandments, Goliath came out and insulted the Israelites for 40 days before David came, God told Jonah to give Nineveh 40 days to repent, and Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and confronting Satan. It’s a spiritually significant number.
Lent is to be a time of reflection and preparation before we get into the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. Instead of being like the world and avoiding sadness, lamenting and sacrifice, we choose to embrace it and seek to be more like Jesus as we meditate, mourn, repent and fast. We stop eating certain foods and avoid parties and celebrations for a time, so we can contemplate the meaning and significance of crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Instead of skipping straight to the resurrection, we take a long time to think about why Jesus was crucified, what He went through, what our personal salvation cost, and what consequences that has for us, our family and our church.
It is a time of prayer and repentance, of fasting and meditation, of consideration and mortification of sin, a time to think less of ourselves and more about Jesus, a time to give a sacrifice of our time, energy, and efforts to God in a special way. To practice self-discipline and open ourselves for God to show His amazing provision for our souls.
The Corruption of Shrove Tuesday
The day before Lent is called Shrove Tuesday and the story of the corruption of this day emphasizes a serious problem in the Church.
Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the word “shrive”, which means to confess sin. It was a day set aside to clean out our hearts before the special season of Lent began. To prepare ourselves for this very serious and spiritually significant time of the year. It was a day of becoming real with ourselves and our sin. A day to pray to God with David in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Pancake Day = Fat Tuesday = Mardi Gras?
But here’s what happened. There were certain foods that people would traditionally give up for Lent, foods like meat, fish, fats, eggs and milk. Like the Israelites with their unleavened bread, they would let their diet show what was going on in their hearts. And since they were going to give them up, and they would certainly spoil before the 40 days was over, Shrove Tuesday became the day that people would use up these foods.
And what’s the best way to get rid of fats, eggs, milk and meat? A pancake meal. So it became tradition that on this day of confession and repentance, of getting right with God, there would also be a large feast where families would get together on Shrove Tuesday and eat up all the foods they wouldn’t be eating during Lent.
And so Shrove Tuesday became Pancake Tuesday… or Fat Tuesday, because it was the day you would eat pancakes and use up your fatty foods. The French name for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras — maybe you’ve heard of it.
And when you and I think of Mardi Gras, the first thing that comes to mind is Repentance, Confession, and getting right with God, right? No, it went from a day of getting right with God to a day to tell God to get lost so we could indulge in as much sinful behaviour as we can!
It’s incredibly ironic what some of the customs for Mardi Gras have become. In place of opening our hearts to God, coming clean, and letting God shine His light on our lives, we have the “Mardi Gras mask” where people cover up their identities and be someone else for a day so they can get away with whatever they want without people knowing who they are.
Instead of preparing ourselves for a time to remember the sacrifice of Christ and to fast in His name, Mardi Gras has become a time to indulge ones self, to go overboard, to do everything to excess!
Where Shrove Tuesday was a time to confront temptation and sin, Mardi Gras has become an overly sexual, hedonistic day where men and women give up their dignity and “flash” the crowd to win some beads.
A Mardi Gras Heart
Now, believe me, I would love to spend the rest of our time pointing out other people’s sins, pointing out what’s wrong with the world and everyone one else… and say “Wow! Those guys are really bad!” But I can’t because you know what? I do the same things they do. Except I’m worse because I’m supposed to know better.
This is classic human, sinful behaviour, and something we all need to watch ourselves for! How many of us really act the way we are supposed to act as a Christian? How many of us are truly walking the walk of faith? The truth is that not many of us are. Not really.
Please understand that I’m talking to the more mature believers, not the new believers and the non-believers. Right now I’m talking to the people who have claimed to be believers for a while. Those who should be remarkably different after a long walk with Jesus. Those who claim that Jesus resides in their hearts, and who have listened to the Holy Spirit for a while. And that’s me included.
The “Christian Atheist”
Pastor Craig Groeschel wrote a book a while back called “Christian Atheist” which is all about people who claim to be Christians, but live as though God doesn’t exist. In other words, Christians who talk about Shrove Tuesday, but live with a Mardi Gras heart.
He begins with a very common story about two different kinds of atheists. The first are common atheist who doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t claim to. He then introduces another kind of atheist – the Christian Atheist. Check out this story from the book:
“Before our plane took off, Michelle struck up a conversation. Somewhat nervous about flying, she seemed eager to talk, as if our chat might make the flight pass more quickly. After describing her difficulties with balancing her checkbook and handling her divorced parents and her live-in boyfriend— who’s scared to death of marriage— she asked me about my life.
Creating a diversion from my “I’m a pastor” answer, I explained that I am married and have six children. “Six kids?! Don’t you know what causes kids?” she joked. After some more small talk, Michelle asked me what I do for a living. No longer able to dodge the inevitable, I answered, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m the pastor of a church.”
This revelation gave Michelle permission to unleash a stream of Christian words and stories. Dropping the occasional “God told me” and “God is good,” she smiled softly as she described how she “gave her life to Jesus” at the age of fifteen at a Christian youth camp. After praying sincerely, she was eager to get back to school to share her faith and live a life of purity and spiritual integrity.
Michelle held on to her new belief in God but soon slipped back into her old way of life. As if in a confessional, Michelle continued pouring out her life’s darker details. She looked down as she admitted that she was doing things with her live-in boyfriend that she knew she shouldn’t. She told me she wanted to go to church but was simply too busy working and studying. She did pray many nights— mostly that her boyfriend would become a Christian like she was. “If only he believed in Jesus, then he might want to marry me,” she said, wiping her tears.
At last, Michelle expressed one final confession: “I know my life doesn’t look like a Christian’s life should look, but I do believe in God.”
Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist.”
I really understand where that girl is coming from, because I often act the same way. I see this kind of Christian Atheism — this Mardi Gras Heart — in myself quite often. I can’t speak for you because I don’t know your heart – but I know mine. Saying one thing, and doing another. Struggling with the same sins and temptations, time after time. Going days without praying or reading my bible. Going through the motions in worship and my devotional times. I may not have a huge, public sin to confess that would cost me my position as pastor… but I can certainly understand what it means to be a hypocrite in my own eyes – and in the eyes of God.
A Holy, Different People
God has been teaching me something over the past while, and I encourage you to ask yourself these questions: How are Christians different than other people? Why are we different? What makes you different than you were before you met Jesus? What does being a Christian look like on the inside and the outside? How do we keep from turning the parts of our life that are supposed to look like Shrove Tuesdays into the self-indulgent hedonism of Mardi Gras?
God describes His chosen people in Exodus 19:4-6 saying, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Some of us think, “Well sure, Israel was special! They were the people of God! They had Mt. Sinai, the 10 Commandments, and were the people God chose to bring the Messiah Jesus Christ through. That’s true, but read 1 Peter 2:9 which was written to Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
That’s what a Christian is:
A Prayer of Confession
Lord, you have made me special. You said you knitted me together in my mother’s womb, set me apart from before creation, and have appointed good deeds for me to do in advance. You are the giver of good gifts, the author of salvation, and my personal redeemer. You bought me back from death, from captivity, from the rightful consequences of my sin. I rightly deserved Hell and you came for me. Lord, you demonstrated your love for me in this: while I was yet a sinner, you died for me.
And yet, in so many ways I live as though you don’t exist. In my daily life, I forget about you. I reject you. I disappoint you. I refuse to listen, and sometimes even ignore you. I take control of my life when I should be giving it to you.
I know that it is not my deeds, my good works, or anything that I do, that saves me. Yet, I also know that faith without works is dead. I know there is nothing I can do to make you love me more or love me less. But I also know that your love should spur me on to good deeds, and that your Son’s life is the perfect example of how I should live.
Lord, there are some areas of my life that I need you to deal with. Areas that I’m not proud of… and, in fact, I’m ashamed of. Areas of sin, rebellion and pride, idolatry and disobedience. Lord, you say in your word that if we confess our sins, that you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I want to confess to you because I need cleansing.
I pray with David the words of Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment….”
Lord, there are areas of my life that are not pure, and times when I have chosen filth over purity… I’ve chosen to look upon sin… to listen to sin… to touch sin… to taste sin… to revel in and think about sinful things… and I’ve gone back for more… forgive me. Cleanse me.
Lord, I have made places of my heart and life off limits to you. I’ve heard you knocking on the door, and I’ve refused to answer. I’ve loved my secret places more than I’ve loved you. Please open up those doors and let your light in… no matter how painful it might be. I need you to clean those areas out.
Lord, I have lived dishonourably, and dishonoured others. I have taken the reputation of Christ and dragged it through the mud. I have been dishonest and disloyal. I have not let my yes be yes, and my no be no… and I have broken promises. Forgive me. And help me make it right with those I’ve hurt.
Lord, I have rejected your word. I have read parts of your bible and argued with you. I’ve even chosen to avoid parts of your word because they make me feel uncomfortable. When someone has asked me about what I believe, I have told them my opinion, which was not in line with your word, because I was ashamed of what you said. Forgive me for my arrogance and my fear of man.
Lord, You have given me opportunities to share my faith, and I have not taken them. You have given me chances to inject your truth, and I have kept my mouth closed. You have stirred my spirit to speak, and I disobeyed and walked away. There were chances to give you glory, to give you credit, to say that you are the one who did it… and I stole your fame… or I gave it to someone else… or simply didn’t say anything. Forgive me.
Lord, there are times when I have sought out the darkness. You call me to live as a child of light, but there are times when I have closed the blinds, locked the doors, turned off the lights, and preferred the darkness because it covered my sin. I have hidden my sins from my brothers and sisters in the faith. They have asked me, and I have lied to their face. You have given me chances to flee temptation, and I have dismissed them, and continued to walk towards sin, invited you to leave… and then I committed sin, on purpose… in the darkness of my private life. Forgive me.
Lord, I have rejected your church. I don’t really love your people, the body of Christ, as I should. In fact, I avoid them. I prefer the company of non-believers. I give my service to other places. I give my time to other people. I have come to church time and again, and then left quickly to avoid your people. I don’t ask how other people are doing because I don’t want to get involved. I make myself busy so I have an excuse to stay away. I do not treat other believers as my family. I have even mocked them, ridiculed them, and gossiped behind their back. Lord, forgive me for how I treat your beloved bride… your church.
Lord, I life too much as a citizen of this world, and not of your kingdom. I embrace many worldly things unquestionably. I have put idols in my home, idols in my work, idols in my car. I live by the world’s standards, not yours. I have spent money I don’t have, on things I don’t need, to impress people I don’t even really know. I am in debt because I want to be more like the world. I’m not different than the non-believers around me… in fact there is almost no discernible difference between me and them. Lord, forgive me for not living as the salt and light I should be.
Lord, I don’t acknowledge the spiritual realm. I live as though what I see is all that there is. I do not store my treasures in heaven, but instead spend time building bigger and bigger barns here on earth. I do not put on my spiritual armour… the armour of God which you have given me… but leave it off to the side every day as I go into the world. And then I blame you when I fall. When a battle is waged in my soul, I give up far too easily because I do not want to fight… I am too lazy… too selfish… too worldly. I love my flesh and the god of my stomach too much. Forgive me for not thirsting for You alone.
Lord, I ask you to “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit…. to sustain me”
(This is a follow-up post to The Foundations: The True Gospel)
The Second is Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone, was the overarching theme of the Reformationists, not because the Roman Catholic Church was teaching that salvation isn’t from the Grace of God found in Jesus, but because they teach that other things must to be done as well. They teach that it is Jesus PLUS something that equals salvation. They teach that humanity is saved by the grace of God, and by our own merit.
Some people paint the picture of salvation of being someone who is drowning, and all they need to do is reach up their hand, and God will grab them and save them. They say it’s mostly God’s work, but it requires us to do a little something.
Others will say that God requires certain steps. A Catholic sees salvation as a decision made by faith in Jesus, but also something that has to be maintained through good works, participation in church, and taking the sacraments. An Islamic person is taught that Jesus is a good man, and a great profit, but the only way to get into paradise is to earn it through keeping the Five Pillars of saying the creed, daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting, and going to Mecca. Buddhists and Hindus have to build good karma through positive actions that will eventually lead them to a better state of being. Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons have to work towards trying to be saved too.
It is only the teaching of the True Christian Gospel that has this idea of Grace Alone. Anything outside of this will not lead to being saved! Believing we are saved by works will either lead to pride where we think we save ourselves and are in the place and doing the work of God, or will lead to depression because we never know if we’ve done enough to warrant salvation.
Grace Alone in Scripture
Look at Paul’s explanation of our spiritual condition in Ephesians 2;
“1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Look how we are described here! We are “dead in our trespasses and sins”. When we sin, the consequence is death. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…” We are spiritually dead because we have all broken God’s law. Not one of us can look at even the 10 Commandments and say that we have kept them perfectly in our heart, soul, mind and body.
We “follow the prince of the power of the air”, which is another name for Satan. The Bible says there are only two teams – Team Jesus and Team Satan, and you are (or were, by God’s grace) on the wrong team.
We are “disobedient… lived in the passions of our flesh”. We live for ourselves, do what we want, and don’t obey God unless it suits us and our own desires.
We are “children of wrath”. The NIV says it this way, “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” That is the word for God’s enemies. We were under judgement – guilty and sentenced.
Then comes verse 4:
“4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Saved by Grace, Grace Alone. Dead people can’t save themselves. Enemies don’t become friends. Team Satan doesn’t change sides. We love our flesh and our desires too much to put them aside to follow anyone but ourselves.
But God, in His grace, though we were in a state of total deprivation, decided to change our hearts, redeem us from the consequences of our sin – which we rightfully deserved, and in an amazing act of love, exchanged the life of His Perfect Son, for the lives of worthless wretches like you and me.
“Because of the great love with which he loved us… so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”.
Sola Gratia, Grace Alone, is the answer to the deepest question of our heart: How can I know that I’m saved? The answer is that there is nothing we can do to be saved, and if we have acknowledged we are a sinner, asked for forgiveness, believed that it was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which paid the penalty for our sin, and then accepted the free gift of salvation… we are saved. There is nothing more we can do. There is nothing we ever did.
God changed our hearts. Jesus died on the cross. The Holy Spirit seals us and reminds us and lives in us. None of that is us, and it is all for His glory! Christians worship, pray, read scripture, do good works, tithe, evangelize… not because we have to, but because we want to, in response to the Amazing Grace God has shown us.
(Thanks to Guy Waters who wrote an amazing article for Ligonier Ministries which inspired this blogpost)
(This is a follow-up post to The Foundations: The True Gospel)
Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone, is the principal and belief that The Bible is the supreme authority in all spiritual matters. It is the acknowledgement that the Bible contains the very Words of God. They are not, as 2 Peter 1:16 puts it, “cleverly devised myths”, but are divine revelations and eye witness accounts which contain, as 2 Timothy 3:15-17 says, “sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
It is not A BOOK about God, it is THE BOOK about God.
It is not A BOOK about humanity’s history, purpose, worth and destiny, it is THE BOOK about humanity’s history, purpose, worth and destiny.
It is not a confusing book because it was intended to be read and understood.
It is not a simple book, because it contains immense truths about everything that truly matters to the human heart.
It is not a nice book meant to make us feel happy all the time, it is a truthful book that will bring us face-to-face with who we really are, the depravity of our souls, and our desperate need for a Saviour, and then bring us elation and joy beyond any other human experience as it teaches us how to restore our relationship with our beloved Creator who did everything possible to restore us back to Him when we would not and could not.
Some will tell you this is one book of many religious books that point to God. That’s an impossibility because this book and it’s author claim absolute exclusivity.
Some will tell you that this book is full of ancient truths for a different time. That’s wrong because this is the living, breathing, perfect for every human being ever, Word of an Eternal God who chose every single word, and has protected from corruption for generations.
Some will argue that since the bible is not a scientific textbook, it must be wrong, but it was never intended to be and it has been proven right and accurate in every area it has been tested against.
Certainly Christians are helped by many other kinds of books, but every Christian must believe in Sola Scriptura, that Scripture Alone is the source of the perfect revelation of God, or they will open themselves to falsehood, lies, and deception. Everything is tested by scripture. God is absolutely clear that no one is to add or take away from what He has written (Rev 20:18-19, Deut 4:2) and the true church has been vigilant to correct and combat anyone who has tried to do so because within this Book are the words of life.