By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


A significant anniversary for Christians is approaching. On October 31, five hundred and two years ago, the grace of God once again took its rightful, prominent place in Christianity. Consequently, I’m re-posting this article from three years ago, with revisions, in commemoration of what God has done.

Part of my growing up included a spiritual education, so I learned early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived, qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

That thought seems odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works, as the Church defined them. No doubt some people who were saved, gained that right standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of His free gift.

All that changed when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church, which is what he intended. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification—God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous—by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.” (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard of indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Himself as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But in this culture today we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality, and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

Deal Or No Deal — A Reprise


A number of years ago a pastor, Mike Erre, spoke at my church from Ephesians, explaining that the book can be divided into two sections—the indicative that makes statements about who the Christian is and how we relate to God, and the imperative that gives us commands to do to live up to our identity.

In the section that enumerates the believer’s standing as a child of God, there is only one command: remember. I think that’s cool! First, before all else, we need to be grounded in who God is and who we are as a result of our relationship with Him.

The book pivots in chapter four when Paul shifts to the imperatives. This, by the way, is a common pattern in the Pauline epistles.

In verse one of this section Paul says

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called

So here’s where the commands start. But it’s easy for us to get off on the wrong foot. We can take this idea of walking in a manner worthy of the calling as our marching orders to pay God back for the kindness of salvation. He gave so much to us, so now we owe Him.

No. Christ’s “death on our behalf was a gift, not a deal.”

Love that!

The pastor illustrated the point then, with the analogy of a man becoming a husband. At a wedding, as soon as the minister pronounces the couple, husband and wife, the man doesn’t start doing husbandly things in order to become a husband. He already is a husband. From that point on, he’s trying to live up to the role he already has.

Same with becoming a father. When his baby is born, he is a father. His doing his fatherly duties is not his attempt to earn his place as his child’s father. That is his already. Instead, he wants to learn to do fathering the right way.

So too with the believer. We are in Christ, part of the body of Christ, and with that position come many awesome advantages. Then Paul says, we are to walk worthy of the calling. We are to learn how to live the role, “child of God.”

One last thing. The command in Exodus 20:7 about not taking the name of the Lord in vain, connotes in the original text the idea of carrying His name. I found that to be interesting because the Jews literally did wear the Scriptures. But for us, the idea is that we bear the name of Christ, and we are not to do that in a worthless way.

I thought of several things, one being those people who will say to Christ, Lord, Lord, we cast out demons in your name and healed in your name, but He’ll say, depart, I never knew you. Those, I would think, are people who have Christ’s name on their lips but their hearts are far from Him.

But I also thought of how I live my life covering up my identity. I used to refer to my teen years as ones in which I lived as an undercover Christian. The pastor said that living worthy of our calling means we give up the privilege of being anonymous.

When I first started teaching, it was disconcerting when I was out and about with my friends and ran into some of my students or their parents. I’d flash back to what I was doing right before I realized they saw me. Had I done anything stupid or un-teacherly? Had I lost respect because I was clowning around or grousing at some store clerk?

In essence, I was living anonymously, not as a teacher who should set an example for her students, until I realized I’d been recognized.

As a Christian, if I’m walking worthy of my calling, I won’t take time out to live anonymously. I’ll happily bear the mark of Christ, carry His name with me wherever I go.

This post is a revised version of an article that first appeared here in June, 2012.

Published in: on July 16, 2018 at 4:47 pm  Comments Off on Deal Or No Deal — A Reprise  
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Believing What We Believe


Chris Ward, a guest preacher a number of years ago, spoke from Ephesians 4. He pointed out that Paul started this section of his letter about how a Christian should live by saying how a Christian should NOT live—like unbelievers.

Paul traced the problem that unbelievers have to hard hearts which spawn wrong thinking that leads to wrong actions (see Eph. 4:18-19).

He goes on to admonish the Church, not with a list of right things to do, but with how to think:

be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Eph. 4:23-24)

This is the same renewal of the mind that Paul talked about in the book of Romans:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)

The thing that stuck with me from this message is that this renewal of the mind must be a constant thing. We know what we believe, in theory, or at least we know what the Bible says, and we say we believe the Bible, but in practice, we too often believe a lie.

Chris used Eve as an example. She knew what God had said: Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Enter Satan and his questions, and suddenly Eve is believing a lie instead of the truth.

When Satan in serpent’s guise asked, Has God really said … Eve could have answered, Yes, indeed God HAS said, and He would not lie or deceive us. The end of the story would have been very different.

So today we say, for example, that God answers prayer, but in practice we don’t pray much.

One of my favorite, favorite ministries illustrates this point. I’m listening to a great series of sermons on prayer, but at the end of each, instead of asking listeners for prayer, they ask for money because this, they say, is what keeps them on the air.

Really? Not God answering the prayer of His people? It’s actually promotional ploys and slick appeals?

I know these fine folk would never say that’s what they believe, yet that’s the way they act.

I do the same kind of thing.

Charles Blondin crossing Niagara Falls

Another illustration, possibly true, possibly apocryphal, is the story of tightrope walker Charles Blondin who was known for his stunts as he crossed dangerous terrain like Niagara Falls (See “Walking The Tight Rope.”) One of those feats was to push a wheelbarrow across the wire.

After successfully completing the trek, to thunderous applause from the hundreds of onlookers, so the story goes, he turned to the crowd and said, Do you think I can do it again?

Yes, absolutely, of course you can, they shouted, clapping and urging him to push the wheelbarrow across again. He waited for them to quiet.

I’m touched by your faith in me, he said, so I’ll make the return trip. I just need a volunteer, someone who will get into the wheelbarrow.

No one stepped forward. The crowd all believed in theory that he could push the wheelbarrow back to the other side, but they didn’t believe with their lives.

As Christians, we need to believe with our lives, and that comes as we renew our minds. We need to recall moment by moment the truth about God–who He is and what relationship we now have in Him–and bring it to bear in any and every circumstance.

We believe, for example, that God is good. Consequently, when I experience a disappointing result or a hurtful comment or a life-threatening situation, I need most of all to renew my mind and recall that these circumstances don’t mean God is not good. Rather, because He is good, I need to understand that He has allowed, in His goodness, what feels so hard to bear.

Why would He do that?

If I am to believe what I believe I must continue to search the Scriptures and to pray in order to think aright about what is difficult. The alternative would be something like shaking my fist at God and demanding that He fix things–essentially saying, He is not good, that He’s messed up, that I know better than He, and that He owes me better than what I’m getting. It would be to say with the people of Israel, I want to go back to Egypt.

Yet I say I believe God is good.

Only by renewing my mind can I live as if I believe what I believe, and jump into the wheelbarrow.

This post first appeared here in June 2012.

Published in: on July 14, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments Off on Believing What We Believe  
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Believing What You Believe


Sunday our guest preacher, Chris Ward, spoke from Ephesians 4. Great message from a young pastor headed for the teaching team at Yorba Linda Friends Church, I believe. Anyway, he pointed out that Paul started out this section of his letter about how a Christian should live by saying how a Christian should NOT live–like unbelievers.

Paul traced the problem that unbelievers have to hard hearts which spawn wrong thinking that leads to wrong actions (see Eph. 4:18-19).

He goes on to admonish the Church, not with a list of right things to do, but with how to think:

be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Eph. 4:23-24)

This is the same renewal of the mind that Paul talked about in the book of Romans:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)

The thing that stuck with me from this message is that this renewal of the mind must be a constant thing. We know what we believe, in theory, or at least we know what the Bible says, and we say we believe the Bible, but in practice, we too often believe a lie.

Chris used Eve as an example. She knew what God had said: Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Enter Satan and his questions, and suddenly Eve is believing a lie instead of the truth.

When Satan in serpent’s guise asked, Has God really said … Eve could have answered, Yes, indeed God HAS said, and He would not lie or deceive us. The end of the story would have been very different.

So today we say, for example, that God answers prayer, but in practice we don’t pray much.

One of my favorite, favorite ministries illustrates this point. I’m listening to a great series of sermons on prayer, but at the end of each, instead of asking listeners for prayer, they ask for money because this, they say, is what keeps them on the air.

Really? Not God answering the prayer of His people? It’s actually promotional ploys and slick appeals?

I know these fine folk would never say that’s what they believe, yet that’s the way they act.

I do the same kind of thing.

Charles Blondin crossing Niagara Falls

Another illustration, possibly true, possibly apocryphal, is the story of tightrope walker Charles Blondin who was known for his stunts as he crossed dangerous terrain like Niagara Falls (See “Walking The Tight Rope.”) One of those feats was to push a wheelbarrow across the wire.

After successfully completing the trek, to thunderous applause from the hundreds of onlookers, so the story goes, he turned to the crowd and said, Do you think I can do it again?

Yes, absolutely, of course you can, they shouted, clapping and urging him to push the wheelbarrow across again. He waited for them to quiet.

I’m touched by your faith in me, he said, so I’ll make the return trip. I just need a volunteer, someone who will get into the wheelbarrow.

No one stepped forward. The crowd all believed in theory that he could push the wheelbarrow back to the other side, but they didn’t believe with their lives.

As Christians, we need to believe with our lives, and that comes as we renew our minds. We need to recall moment by moment the truth about God–who He is and what relationship we now have in Him–and bring it to bear in any and every circumstance.

We believe, for example, that God is good. Consequently, when I experience a disappointing result or a hurtful comment or a life-threatening situation, I need most of all to renew my mind and recall that these circumstances don’t mean God is not good. Rather, because He is good, I need to understand that He has allowed, in His goodness, what feels so hard to bear.

Why would He do that?

If I am to believe what I believe I must continue to search the Scriptures and to pray in order to think aright about what is difficult. The alternative would be something like shaking my fist at God and demanding that He fix things–essentially saying, He is not good, that He’s messed up, that I know better than He, and that He owes me better than what I’m getting. It would be to say with the people of Israel, I want to go back to Egypt.

Yet I say I believe God is good.

Only by renewing my mind can I live as if I believe what I believe, and jump into the wheelbarrow.

Published in: on June 25, 2012 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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Deal Or No Deal – Notes From A Sermon


Mike Erre and Family

My church has been in the process of selecting a new senior pastor. Or maybe he’s going to be called the teaching pastor now. At any rate, Mike Erre, the candidate which the selection committee unanimously chose, preached on Sunday. Good message. Really good. A couple things stood out.

He spoke from Ephesians which more or less fit with a series we’ve been doing in the book. He opened by explaining that the book can be divided into two sections–the indicative that makes statements about who the Christian is and how we relate to God, and the imperative that gives us commands to do to live up to our identity.

I haven’t checked this out, but he said in the section that enumerates the believer’s standing as a child of God, there is only one command: remember. I think that’s cool! First, before all else, we need to be grounded in who God is and who we are as a result of our relationship with Him.

The book pivots in chapter four when Paul shifts to the imperatives. This, by the way, is a common pattern in the Pauline epistles.

In verse one Paul says

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called

So here’s where the commands start. But it’s easy for us to get off on the wrong foot, said Pastor Mike. We can take this idea of walking in a manner worthy of the calling as our marching orders to pay God back for the kindness of salvation. He gave so much to us, so now we owe Him.

No, Pastor Mike said. Christ’s “death on our behalf was a gift, not a deal.”

Love that!

He illustrated the point then, with the analogy of a man becoming a husband. As soon as the minister pronounces the couple, husband and wife, the man doesn’t start doing husbandly things in order to become a husband. He already is a husband. From that point on, he’s trying to live up to the role he already has.

Same with becoming a father. When his baby is born, he is a father. His doing his fatherly duties is not his attempt to earn his place as his child’s father. That is his already. Instead, he wants to learn to do fathering right.

So too with the believer. We are in Christ, part of the body of Christ, and with that position come many awesome advantages. Then Paul says, we are to walk worthy of the calling. We are to learn how to live the role, “child of God.”

One last thing. Pastor Mike said that the command in Exodus 20:7 about not taking the name of the Lord in vain, connotes in the original text the idea of carrying His name. I found that to be interesting because the Jews literally did wear the Scriptures. But for us, the idea is that we bear the name of Christ, and we are not to do that in a worthless way.

I thought of several things, one being those people who will say to Christ, Lord, Lord, we cast out demons in your name and healed in your name, but He’ll say, depart, I never knew you. Those, I would think are people who have Christ’s name on their lips but their hearts are far from Him.

But I also thought of how I live my life covering up my identity. I used to refer to my teen years as ones in which I lived as an undercover Christian. Pastor Mike said that living worthy of our calling means we give up the privilege of being anonymous.

When I first started teaching, it was disconcerting when I was out and about with my friends and ran into some of my students or their parents. I’d flash back to what I was doing right before I realized they saw me. Had I done anything stupid or un-teacherly? Had I lost respect because I was clowning around or grousing at some store clerk?

In essence, I was living anonymously, not as a teacher who should set an example for her students, until I realized I’d been recognized.

As a Christian, if I’m walking worthy of my calling, I won’t take time out to live anonymously. I’ll happily bear the mark of Christ, carry His name with me wherever I go.

Good stuff. Memorable truth.

Published in: on June 4, 2012 at 6:07 pm  Comments Off on Deal Or No Deal – Notes From A Sermon  
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