I have been thinking for a while now about what an episode in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation would look like. After all, there are so many things that can be discussed, and are being so discussed in churches, podcasts and blog posts around the world: the fives solas of the Reformation, the history of the church that led up to and resulted from the actions of the reformers, and the finer points of the theological debates that produced such massive change throughout Western civilization and the church worldwide.
I decided, however, to get down to what I see as the real “why” of the entire issue: What was so important that Martin Luther decided to pursue an open debate on the subjects that he did, 500 years ago? What motivated so many people to buck against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and pursue the Scriptures without layering them with Vatican magisterial tradition and teachings? It was the realization that peace with God lay not in the repetitious taking of the mass, not in plenary indulgences or penances performed, not in any deed a man can do, but in the perfectly atoning and transforming blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross of Calvary.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.–Hebrews 10:19-25
Hebrews 10 contrasts the constant working of the Israelite priests, with the finished work of Jesus. The high priest of Israel entered the Holy of Holies once a year to perform the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, and even then before he entered he had to ensure that he had observed the sacrifices to cover his own sins, lest he fall down dead while in the holy place. But when Jesus died the veil separating that holy place in the temple from everything else tore. The types and shadows of the Old Testament that, as Hebrews says elsewhere, could not truly pay for a single sin, gave way to the weight of the real and final sacrifice of Christ Himself.
Because of that we can walk into that holy place ourselves–not simply wherever that place might have been on the planet, though the temple itself has long since fallen, but into the throne room of God. We can speak with him in prayer. We can trust in His providing hands to give perfect gifts to us in life. And we can go to Him with our sins, fears, failures and weaknesses, because Jesus did exactly what He intended to do:
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.–Hebrews 9:24-28
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg castle church, he wasn’t challenging the authority of the pope, at least not yet. He was acting on conviction of the words of Scripture, as he had been teaching through Galatians for the last year and had, as he had examined the Greek text, come to believe that certain traditions of the Roman Catholic Church did not seem to line up with them. Indeed, the reality was that the Catholic Church had set aside its duty to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in and out of season and disciple its people, and instead had become a world power that held great authority over many kingdoms in Europe.
Luther wanted to see debate happen on these theses, these specific statements based on the conviction put on his heart through the Word of God. He challenged the culture that was holding onto false, unbiblical ideas about the nature of our relationship with God, in this case over the issue of buying indulgences that can supposedly help free one from time spent suffering in purgatory before being able to go to heaven. That was only the beginning, of course, but that was the spark that set off the firestorm of the Reformation across Europe.
And it is in that same spirit today that, as Christians, I believe the Reformation must continue. The Reformation did not end when the last of the original reformers died, or when the pope stopped allowing the sale of indulgences.
The Reformation continues today, as we must still hold our cultures accountable to the testimony of the Scriptures. There is a great deal of confusion and deception within elements of the church: the Roman Catholic Church still teaches as official doctrine that you can have right standing before God by taking part in their sacraments. There are many counterfeits of the faith, such as Mormonism and the Watchtower Society’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, that attempt to use Christian lingo and Christian Scripture but use them to arrive at decidedly non-Christian ends. And there are entire denominations that have been taken over by secular humanism and have no gospel to preach, ultimately to shrivel up and die.
Being a Reformed Christian is not simply about believing in the truth of the doctrines of grace or understanding the meaning and importance of the five solas of the Reformation, though certainly those are important and foundational. Being a Reformed believer means you are living out and holding up the truths of Scripture against those inside and outside of the church that would draw us away and distract us from the mission to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the corners of the earth.
That spiritual battle continues, and we must persist exactly as the reformers did in calling for a return to the fundamental truths of Scripture as the ultimate rule of truth, and in pointing to the blood of Christ alone as the perfect and complete atonement for the sin of all who believe in His great Name.
I want to leave you with some recommended reading that I feel is very much on this theme. Firstly, is an article at the Gospel Coalition called “Thank God for Flawed Heroes.” It discusses some history about the reformers and the fact that God used very flawed and imperfect men to effect such a tremendous moment in the history of the church. I also want to link to an article at Desiring God, called “Prisoner Number 2491: The Inspiring Story of the First Nazi Martyr.” It is the story of Paul Schneider, a Christian pastor who stood firm in the heyday of Nazi rule over Germany and refused to bow to pressure to change his teaching of the Christian gospel. As a result he was arrested, horribly beaten, and eventually died in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Schneider’s story reminds of many important truths, but for just a moment I want to mention this one: suffering will come, in one form or another, into the life of every Christian. We know that is true because our Lord suffered, and if we are following after Him, we can very much count on the world and the enemy despising us and seeking to harm us. Schneider, however, did not respond with vitriol. He sought to live and love faithfully in line with the Word and with the example of Christ, and just like the reformers before him, he knew that eternity was so very close and so very much more important that this brief and troubled life.
So many today suffer in the same way. My friends, my brethren, let us take this day of remembering the 500th anniversary of the Reformation not simply as an occasion to think of the job as being done back then, but to think how we can continue to pursue the same goal the reformers had in our own day. Let us worship our King boldly and with all love. Let us serve and love our neighbors faithfully, and seek to see the best for our cities. And let us respond to hatred given by those who despise the word of the gospel of Jesus Christ with the same love and humility that Christ himself showed on the cross, trusting as the reformers did that God will accomplish His work perfectly as He has intended to since before the world was founded.
Check out the Norton Hall Band’s recording of There is a Fountain Filled with Blood on Youtube.
Reminder if you’ve forgotten: you can read Dr. Boa’s paper in full here.
There is a greater issue that must be addressed in light of all this, and is the larger reason why I felt this response was necessary: this is an issue of how we, as believers, view Christ’s work on the cross. As Dr. James White writes in his book The Potter’s Freedom:
[T]he ransom that Christ gives in His self-sacrifice is either a saving ransom or a non-saving one. If it is actual and really made in behalf of all men, then inevitably all men would be saved. But we again see that it is far more consistent to recognize that the same meaning for “all men” and “all” flows through the entire passage [referring to 1 Timothy 2:4], and when we look at the inarguably clear statements of Scripture regarding the actual intention and result of Christ’s cross-work, we will see that there is no other consistent means of interpreting these words….
The doctrine of justification by faith is one that requires an understanding of the nature of Christ’s work on the cross. The book of Hebrews discusses this at length, and while I won’t walk through the multiple chapters of argumentation here, I want to discuss some key texts and encourage my readers to read the whole book for themselves, to see the majestic work of salvation accomplished perfectly for God’s people in Jesus Christ.Continue reading “A more excellent ministry: A response to Dr. Ken Boa (part 3)”
In this next section I will address what I view as an incorrect use of Scripture to support his assertion, and show how it has led to a conclusion that is arguably not defensible scripturally. Dr. Boa writes:
Finally, God’s plan is not always the same as His desires. Although His plan controls what men will be, the product often is not what He desires. This is partly because God has chosen to allow human will to operate. For instance, God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4; see also 2 Peter 3:9). Yet He has not elected all men: “… The elect obtained it. The rest were hardened” Rom. 11:7).
Thus, God’s plan and desires are two different aspects of His will. He has revealed His desire (what men ought to do), but His plan for what specific men will do has for the most part been hidden. This is almost a mystery within a mystery, because there is no way we can conceive of how these two aspects of God’s will relate together in His mind.
Now, the concept of the two wills of God–His decretal will, or God’s plan He will carry out in creation, and His prescriptive will, what Dr. Boa calls “what men ought to do”–are not at all foreign to the reformed believer. One of my first introductions to reformed theology was through a sermon of Matt Chandler’s when I was first in the process of joining the Village Church some years ago called “Are there two wills in God?” John Piper has a similar teaching available, and of course there is much discussion of this subject in the extensive writings of the reformers, all available for free online. The difference, however, is that where Dr. Boa sees a conflict, the reformers saw harmony, and this is arguably a key part of the issue of compatabilism. That is a subject we shall address later, but I argue that Dr. Boa has created division within God that is not warranted. A big reason for that is the way he is handling some commonly abused texts here. 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 are cited here in support of the idea that God’s true desire is to save all of mankind, but I want to demonstrate here that this is not an appropriate exegesis of this text.Continue reading “The importance of context: a response to Dr. Ken Boa (part 2)”
This began as a single post I started some time ago, but it has grown until it has simply become far too long for a single blog post, so I’ve decided to carve it up into parts and post more of it as I write it.
I’ve had the opportunity to teach for an ongoing discussion group/class my church has been hosting, going through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I recently was given the opportunity to teach on the doctrine of the Trinity, an opportunity I was extremely excited to take advantage of. The discussion was good and I was very gratified to spend an extended period walking through large chunks of the Gospel of John to see how the doctrine is revealed by God’s Word: not in a singular verse that says “God is one being made up of three persons,” but by the manner in which God reveals Himself, the perfect cooperation of Father, Son, and Spirit in calling God’s people to Himself in salvation and completing that work perfectly.
And it is about that work, and about that call, that I wish I write. In our discussion group our leader posted a link to this paper by Dr. Kenneth Boa on the question of God’s sovereignty in salvation versus human responsibility before God. Dr. Boa says much with which I can agree; it is by no means a thoughtless screed like those so often written against the reformed position, and he goes to great lengths to insure that Scripture is looked at as a whole. He does not deny God’s election of His people, nor the power of God to save.
Nevertheless, there are a few things I wish to consider in this paper, to discuss at some length and respond to in good faith and brotherly love. I will argue that Dr. Boa has a tradition that is driving him to certain positions in opposition to what the Scriptures reveal, and I want to try to walk through the relevant texts to demonstrate that. Not because I have a driving desire to spend my every moment defending reformed theology, but because I take the doctrine of God’s freedom to save His church to His own eternal glory very seriously, and I take just as seriously the doctrine of the depravity of man.
These two doctrines are analogs, they inform each other and are seen, I will argue, very clearly in Scripture: man’s complete inability to turn from his sin and the rule of his desires over his heart to his own ultimate destruction, and God’s perfect ability to take a man in that state of slavery and spiritual death and turn him into a man whose heart beats for the glory of Christ. I consider myself an example of this by God’s grace, and therefore will say before any reader that the only boasting that will be done here will be done in the cross of Christ. I believe that Dr. Boa would agree to this as well, and I hope that, should he actually read this, he sees that this is written in a tone of respect and a desire to glorify God by honoring the full measure of God’s revelation.Continue reading “Salvation belongs to the Lord: A response to Dr. Ken Boa (part 1)”
Sermon text here.
I have decided to try, as a new addition to the podcast, a portion after the sermon which will serve as sort of a devotional time of my own, to talk about what led me to choose this sermon and to give my own thoughts on the subject. This will not supplant discussion episodes, but I wanted to try doing this to begin generating my own original thoughts on Spurgeon’s words and the Scriptures at hand.
By the way, the transition music is a new arrangement of A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Jarod Grice, whom you may recall from discussion episode 8A. You can download his song and many others he’s written at his Bandcamp page.
I chose this sermon for three reasons. Firstly, this is probably one of my favorite psalms, and there have been many days since the Holy Spirit broke my heart for Christ that I have found myself feeling exactly like King David in this psalm, aching deeply for closeness with my Lord. My desire has been to have a heart that is fully in sync with Paul’s words of Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” But it seems like that is often beyond my grasp, and I am forced to be reminded of something else Paul wrote, a word from God in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
And that feeds into my second reason, and one that Spurgeon acknowledges early on: the deadly effects of sin on our communion with God. Like all believers who still live, I have had to do a great deal of battle against the sins of my past, against my fleshly will to rebel and against the enemy that tempts and accuses. I have struggled with the truth that God’s grace is sufficient for me, that the sacrifice Jesus made of Himself on the cross is truly vast enough to cover what I am guilty of. Most of all I have had the bittersweet experience of having my eyes opened to an idol I have been holding back; over the last few years God has walked me through this same process in gentleness but with discipline, in showing me things that I am holding onto in such a way that I have made it clear that I don’t truly trust God fully. Then in that same sense of joyful, repentant weeping that Spurgeon talks about, I have had to release my grip…and in that release, God has been faithful to bring healing, renewed life and rest, and to remind me that He loves me. That is, after all, one of the reasons I started this podcast, to be able to share material that God has used in my life for exactly that purpose so many times.
And finally, that leads into my third reason: my wife returned from a mission trip to Asia and had amazing opportunities to share the Gospel with many and to meet people who had become believers in a place where proclaiming the name of Christ is at best, severely frowned upon, and at worst met with death. She spoke about one man who shared his testimony; after becoming a believer his family had disowned him. For years he had been unable to speak with them, and this in a society which is far more communal and collectivistic by nature than the West; losing contact with your family is like losing contact with your context for the world. His father passed away and he tried to return and see him one last time, but he was kept out, unable to attend his own father’s funeral. She recalled that his closing words were, “Christ is my only asset.”
And as I heard this, I was deeply convicted of this truth: the same is true for me. I live in a society where we do not have this same level of persecution; becoming a believer was not something that destroyed my connections with family and friends. Yet the truth is that even with all the things I do have here, Jesus Christ really and truly is my only asset. If I live, it is for Christ and through Christ; if I die, I go to Christ. Yet how many times, even in just the last few days, have I been guilty of living as though Christ were simply one of several fungible assets I can choose from? Too many to count, enough to make me cry out to the Father just like the blind man, “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!”
But thanks be to God, that mercy is given, and given readily. My friends, I pray this podcast is a blessing to you. If you know Christ, then I pray your spirit has been strengthened by this mere echo of a great preacher of years gone by. If you don’t know Christ, then I pray you have felt a conviction that you are in need. I hope that you are driven to ask questions, and to seek answers. The answers are there to be had, and Jesus Christ is there to know you, to cover the sins you and I and all people are guilty of, and to give you the only real, meaningful, lasting asset any human can ever possess.
Love is in the air and in the news, and I wanted to do a sermon on love with its truest center in our human experience: God’s love, and the great display of it in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Listen above, and stay tuned for our next discussion episode featuring a very special crossover!
Meanwhile, I am also posting my own writing on the subject, crossposted from my own blog. Check it out below the fold:Continue reading “Episode 9: Herein is Love”
Sorry for the production delay, but we are finally here with episode 8! Thanks to all our amazing fans for following us on Facebook and Twitter, and the sermon you helped us pick was number 266, The Blind Beggar. This one made me consider my own testimony as I recorded it, and it was a stark reminder of God’s grace in my salvation. It is also a reflection on our own society and the need for those to go forth and preach: this man, as the preacher says, was not someone who had watched Jesus perform miracles, or followed him around as a disciple. He probably sat in the same area day in and day out, begging, maybe hearing stories about Jesus, yet when he was told that Jesus was walking by, he knew to do nothing less than run straight to the only one who opens eyes and transforms hearts. I pray this episode blesses you, and I hope you’ll watch for the next one–possibly a new discussion episode!
Short sermon this time, but on one of the crucial truths of Christianity: sola gratia is not just a Reformation slogan, but the life-transforming truth that brings so many to their knees in repentance–myself most of all! No matter who you are, no matter your struggle or fear or sin weighing on you, God’s grace is the path to freedom, and we can hold it firmly by faith in the work and person of Jesus Christ. Friends, brothers, I pray that in listening to this you will be edified.