No impediment

Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan. Luke 4:1

Here is the divine pattern. The Holy Spirit is given at Baptism—filling us, empowering us to live our lives for God, But with Jesus there was no impediment to grace. He was filled with the Holy Spirit.

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A little while

A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father. John 16:16

Although Jesus was referring to his imminent death and resurrection, we may draw out a secondary meaning of the phrase, “a little while”. Our time on this earth,  however long it may be, is just a “little while”. A little while before we see Him, our Lord and God, in all His glory.! This verse could very well have been the inspiration for Eugene Bartlett’s gospel song, “Just a Little While”.  The chorus goes like this:

Just a little while to stay here,
Just a little while to wait.
Just a little while to labor
In the path that’s always straight.
Just a little more of trouble
In this low and sinful state.
Then we’ll enter heaven’s portals,
Sweeping through those pearly gates!

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A metaphor for holy Baptism

“When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.” John 9:6

A metaphor for holy Baptism. The dirt moistened with spittle and the washing were means of grace. Yet there was something for the man to do—he had to go and wash. It wasn’t the washing that did it; it was the word of the Son of God connected with the washing.

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Read, mark, learn

Blessed Lord, who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Some thoughts on baptism

When the Word comes together with the water, then the baptism is valid even if faith is lacking in the person being baptized. For my faith does not make Baptism what it is; rather faith accepts what Baptism is.

It is not the sacrament but faith in the sacrament that justifies. It justifies not because it is performed but because it is believed.

Mrtin Luther put it this way in one of his sermons: “If you believe that through this water you will be saved, it becomes a fact.”

Also Luther, in his Small Catechism, states that “baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare”.

Faith in the word of the promise to which baptism conjoins is what justifies. Therefore, baptism is the place of justification; a place where faith meets justification.

The validity of baptism must be destinguished from its efficacy. Whereas its validity does not depend on faith, its efficacy does depend on faith. 

Baptism delivers the promise that faith clings to.

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The Regensburg Agreement of 1541

Before the Roman Catholic Council of Trent met and proceeded to reject the doctrine of justification by faith alone that was being confessed and taught in the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican Churches in Europe, theologians from the Roman and Protestant sides met in Germany for study of their differences. Eventually, and amazingly, they came to a common mind on the doctrine of justification. Had this approach and agreement been accepted by the Council of Trent in 1547 then the whole history of European, and thus also worldwide, Christianity might well have been very different.

Article 5 – The Justification of Man

1. No Christian should doubt that after the fall of our first parent all men are, as the apostle says, born children of wrath [Eph. 2:3] and enemies of God [Rom. 5:10] and thereby are in death and slavery to sin [Rom. 6:16-20].

2. Likewise, no Christian should question that nobody can be reconciled with God, nor set free from slavery to sin, except by Christ the one mediator between God and men
[1 Tim. 2:5], by whose grace, as the apostle said to the Romans, we are not only reconciled to God [5:10] and set free from slavery to sin [6:18, 22], but also made sharers in the divine nature [2 Pet. 1:4] and children of God [Rom. 8:14-16].

3. (1) Likewise, it is quite clear that adults do not obtain these blessings of Christ, except by the prevenient movement of the Holy Spirit, by which their mind and will are moved to hate sin. (2) For, as St. Augustine says, it is impossible to begin a new life if we do not repent of the former one. (3) Likewise, in the last chapter of Luke [24:47], Christ commands that repentance and forgiveness of sin should be preached in his name.
(4) Also, John the Baptist, sent to prepare the way of the Lord, preached repentance, saying [Matt. 3:2]: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is drawing near’. (5) Next, man’s mind is moved toward God by the Holy Spirit through Christ and this movement is through faith. Through this [faith] man’s mind believes with certainty all that God has transmitted, and also with full certainty and without doubt assents to the promises made to us by God who, as stated in the psalm [145:13], is faithful in all his words. From there he acquires confidence on account of God’s promise, by which he has pledged that he will remit sins freely and that he will adopt as children those who believe in Christ, those, I say, who repent of their former life. (6) By this faith, he is lifted up to God by the Holy Spirit and so he receives the Holy Spirit, remission of sins, imputation of righteousness and countless other gifts.

4. (1) So it is a reliable and sound doctrine that the sinner is justified by living and efficacious faith, for through it we are pleasing and acceptable to God on account of Christ. (2) And living faith is what we call the movement of the Holy Spirit, by which those who truly repent of their old life are lifted up to God and truly appropriate the mercy promised in Christ, so that they now truly recognize that they have received the remission of sins and reconciliation on account of the merits of Christ, through the free goodness of God, and cry out to God: ‘Abba Father’ [Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6]. (3) But this happens to no one unless also at the same time love is infused which heals the will so that the healed will may begin to fulfill the law, just as Saint Augustine said. (4) So living faith is that which both appropriates mercy in Christ, believing that the righteousness which is in Christ is freely imputed to it, and at the same time receives the promise of the Holy Spirit and love.
(5) Therefore the faith that truly justifies is that faith which is effectual through love
[Gal. 5:6]. (6) Nevertheless it remains true, that it is by this faith that we are justified (i.e. accepted and reconciled to God) inasmuch as it appropriates the mercy and righteousness which is imputed to us on account of Christ and his merit, not on account of the worthiness or perfection of the righteousness imparted to us in Christ.

5. (1) Although the one who is justified receives righteousness and through Christ also has inherent [righteousness], as the apostle says: ‘you are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified, etc.’ [1 Cor. 6:11] (which is why the holy fathers made use of [the term] ‘to be justified’ even to mean ‘to receive inherent righteousness’), nevertheless, the faithful soul depends not on this, but only on the righteousness of Christ given to us as a gift, without which there is and can be no righteousness at all. (2) And thus by faith in Christ we are justified or reckoned to be righteous, that is we are accepted through his merits and not on account of our own worthiness or works. (3) And on account of the righteousness inherent in us we are said to be righteous, because the works which we perform are righteous, according to the saying of John: ‘who- ever does what is right is righteous’ [1 John 3:7].

6. Although fear of God, patience, humility and other virtues ought always to grow in the regenerate, because this renewal is imperfect and enormous weakness remains in them, it should nevertheless be taught that those who truly repent may always hold with most certain faith that they are pleasing to God on account of Christ the mediator. For it is Christ who is the propitiator, the High Priest and the one who prays for us, the one the Father gave to us and with him all good things [Rom. 8:32].

7. Seeing that in our weakness there is no perfect certainty and that there are many weak and fearful consciences, which often struggle against great doubt, nobody should be excluded from the grace of Christ on account of such weakness. Such people should be earnestly encouraged boldly to set the promises of Christ against these doubts and by diligent intercession to pray that their faith may be increased, according to the saying: ‘Lord increase our faith’ [Luke 17:5].

8. (1) Likewise, every Christian should learn that this grace and this regeneration have not been given to us so that we might remain idle in that stage of our renewal which we at first obtained, but so that we may grow in everything into him who is the head [Eph. 4:15].
(2) Therefore, the people must be taught to devote effort to this growth which indeed happens through good works, both internal and external, which are commanded and commended by God. To these works God has, in many passages from the Gospels, clearly and manifestly promised on account of Christ a reward — good things in this life, as much for the body as for the soul (as much as seems right to divine providence) and after this life in heaven. (3) Therefore, although the inheritance of eternal life is due to the regenerate on account of the promise, as soon as they are reborn in Christ, nevertheless God also renders a reward to good works, not according to the sub- stance of the works, nor because they come from us, but to the extent that they are performed in faith and proceed from the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, free choice concurring as a partial agent.

9. The joy of those who have performed more and better works will be greater and more abundant, on account of the increase of faith and love, in which they have grown through exercises of that kind. (1) Now those who say that we are justified by faith alone should at the same time teach the doctrine of repentance, of the fear of God, of the judgement of God and of good works, so that all the chief points of the preaching may remain firm, as Christ said: ‘preaching repentance and the remission of sins in my name’ [Luke 24:47]. (2) And that is to prevent this way of speaking [i.e. sola fide] from being understood other than has been previously mentioned.

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The gospel is…

Summed up in these words from the New Testament: For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. (1 Tim 2:5)

The gospel is—simple.
You don’t have to be a mathematician to answer this question: What is the simplest number you can think of? One, of course, the number one. This  verse gives us the simple gospel, using the number one. “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the [one] Man Christ Jesus.”

The word gospel means “good news”. And the good news is simple.  Not trite, but simple. Profoundly so, though perhaps not at first glance. Let’s think about it together.  I’ll read the verse again, “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the [one] Man Christ Jesus.”

First of all, the gospel is simple in its scope.
Secondly, the gospel is simple in its basic message.
And thirdly, the gospel is simple in its response, or rather, our response to it.

The gospel is simple in its scope.
The word scope means, “Who’s it for?”
It’s for everybody.  Jesus commanded his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel (i.e., the good news) to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) To everybody.  How complicated would it all be if the gospel was only for those of a certain race, or nationality, or ethnic background. “God has made of one blood all nations of men…to dwell on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:26) None of us have an “in”, so to speak, where the gospel is concerned.  We are all in the same boat.  We are all creatures.  There is only one Creator. “For there is one God.”

The gospel is simple in its message.
“For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the [one] Man Christ Jesus.” Now when we think of a mediator, we usually think of a labor dispute, and a go-between person, an arbiter, someone who can bring both sides together, sit down at the same table, and work out their differences. But that’s not what is meant by the word Mediator in this context, for two reasons.  1) Our notion of a mediator is someone who comes in between two parties in conflict.  The two sides sit down at the same bargaining table, but they are “very far apart”.  Now it is certainly true that God is above us, beyond  uSo. “Transcendent” is the word the theologians use.  God is transcendent, but He is not distant.  “Am I a God near at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off?  Can anyone hide himself in secret places so I shall not see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:23-24) Transcendent, but not distant. How complicated would it all be if we had to set out to find an infinite, transcendent God. No one could do it.  The simple message of the gospel is that He is not distant from us. We are distant from Him.  All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)  It might be stretching the metaphor a bit, but God is already at the bargaining table. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them. [It is as] though God were pleading through us, we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) My God is reconciled! Wonderful words from a wonderful hymn of the faith.  “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” There is a second reason why this Mediator, this mediation, is so different.  Think again of a labor dispute, and the need for a mediator.  Both sides bring something to the table, so to speak. Both sides have what they call bargaining chips.  But where God and our salvation is concerned, we have no bargaining chips. We are in no position to give and take with God.  We are, spiritually speaking, bankrupt. If we know ourselves at all, we know that we are self-centered, prideful, sinful. And if we don’t know that, the Scriptures point us to the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus Christ reminds us, in stark fashion, of the love God has for sinners, and the bankruptcy of our sinful condition. Why else would the very Son of God die in our place? Bearing our sin? “[He] bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24)

And finally, the gospel is simple in its response, or rather, in our response to it.  “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the [one] Man, Christ Jesus.”  So we come to the bargaining table, not to bargain, but only because we have been graciously invited.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:16-18)  Whoever believes in Him. How wonderful! How simple! How complicated it would all be if we had to first turn in a checklist. Or fill out an application. Or take a special test.  Or jump so high off the ground.  Or have a certain amount of money in our bank account.  None of that.  Believe.  Believe what?  That Jesus died for the sins of the world. No, that’s not enough.  Listen carefully, it is not enough to believe that He died for the sins of the world, in some general far-off way.  You must believe that He died for your sins.  Yours.  Believing means turning your back on some things.  Repentance.  Believing means asking for forgiveness, or perhaps better, receiving the forgiveness that is already there for you, for the asking. Believing means desiring to live for Jesus. Give Him your past.  Trust Him for the present.  And hope in the bright future He has promised to all who believe in Him.

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A heart surgeon 

May He grant you according to your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your purpose. Ps 20.4.

God is for me. That is a comforting truth. But it is also a sobering truth. God is a Surgeon. A heart surgeon. He will surely grant us our heart’s desire—after He operates.

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An Irreducible Statement of Faith

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe that God created the universe freely, and out of nothing.
  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that all mankind are sinners, inherently from Adam and individually by choice, and are therefore subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is essential. Justification is by grace alone through faith alone in our Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross alone.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit to empower the Christian for witness and service.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.
  • We believe that the term “marriage” has only one meaning: the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture. We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other.
  • We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God.
  • We believe that all human life is sacred and created by God in His image. Human life is of inestimable worth in all its dimensions, including pre-born babies, the aged, the physically or mentally challenged, and every other stage or condition from conception through natural death. We are therefore called to defend, protect, and value all human life.

This statement of faith does not exhaust the extent of our beliefs, but rather identifies those doctrines that merit greater attention. The Bible itself, as the inspired and infallible Word of God that speaks with final authority concerning truth, morality, and the proper conduct of mankind, is the sole and final source of all that we believe.

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Behold on Christmas a new and wondrous reality

Behold on Christmas a new and wondrous reality….He Who is above now for our redemption dwells here below, and we who are lowly are by divine mercy raised up. Bethlehem this day resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices. Ask not how. For where God wills, nature yields. For He willed. He had the power. He descended. He redeemed.

St. John Chrysostom

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