No One Can Earn Heaven


The second tenet of the Reformation is “sola fide,” or faith alone. Of course atheists have a field day with such a statement. So many believe that Christians simply decide to believe in God because they like the idea of salvation or heaven and we have no actual reason behind our faith.

Nothing could be further from the truth. And though I’ve had numerous discussions about the difference between faith and blind faith, the conviction seems entrenched: Christians believe in pie-in-the-sky with no supportive reason behind their decision to do so.

In truth, faith is far from this simplistic understanding. In reality, Christians trust the source that informs them about spiritual things: the Bible. The Bible has been proved to be reliable, and in it we learn about faith that is assurance, faith that provides the means to grace:

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. (Ephesians 2:8-9; emphasis mine)

Spiritual things. Christians believe in things not seen. We believe in spiritual beings and a spiritual world that is beyond our physical senses. I know for those who don’t believe in the spiritual, they consider such belief to be akin to superstition. But here’s the difference. Our faith is not in ourselves or what we can do.

That’s the “sola” part. We can’t give any amount of money to a church or a ministry, to the poor or the orphaned. We can’t say enough prayers or memorize enough Bible verses. We can’t stand against social injustice or for life or preach about what makes a healthy marriage, or any number of other things, as a means to buy our way into God’s grace.

No. God gives grace. We can’t earn it. We can never be good enough. We can never do enough. It’s simply not possible for us to deal with our bent toward rebellion against God all by ourselves. We can’t curry His favor. We can’t change our circumstances.

We simply must believe that God meant what He said—that He has provided for us what we could not provide for ourselves.

The thing is “belief” is not enough. The book of James states that the demons also believe (and tremble). They aren’t saved for their belief. Why not? Because they persist in their rebellion against God.

The faith that saves is not faith alone. James calls that kind of faith useless and likens it to the body without the spirit—in other words, a corpse, a lifeless corpse.

Instead, the faith that is the conduit of God’s grace, is faith with teeth, faith that signs us up, that puts us all in. We can’t simply say the words. We have to live the life. So believers are people who do what Jesus said, not just give passing agreement to the idea that He was a wise teacher.

No. Jesus specified two commands: love God with all of you and love your neighbor as yourself.

The guy who approached Jesus about how he could please God did a follow-up: who is my neighbor? Jesus replied, as he often did, by telling a story. The essence of this parable which we call The Good Samaritan, is that our neighbor is whoever is in need that crosses our path, be it friend or enemy. We aren’t to step over a fallen traveler along life’s way because we want to keep ourselves from getting our hands dirty. We need to serve others sacrificially.

That’s the kind of faith James is talking about—faith in action. That’s the kind of faith that changes a life, that turns us from living for ourselves to living for God and for others. It’s no accident or coincidence that Christians were at the forefront of the establishment of hospitals and the leaders in medical practice, founding universities and pioneering nursing, advocating for abolition and any number of other social issues.

Of course, there’s a temptation to take the cart without the horse—to do the works as a replacement for the faith that God asks of us. In other words “sola fide” is not simplistic. It’s not a “say this prayer then live how you want” affair.

Paul says it in Romans 6: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”After all, the more I sin, the more God has to forgive, so lots of people will see His grace.

Paul goes on, though, and says, “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”

The next verses show our relationship with Christ, that our identification with Him means we died with Him so that, as He was raised from the dead, we might have newness of life.

Newness of life! That’s why old things have passed away. That’s why we can set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth.

In short, faith is the conduit of being “born again.” That phrase has fallen into disrepute of late, but the Bible uses the term and the concept more than once. Jesus, for example, tells Nicodemus he must be born again. Being a literalist, apparently, Nicodemus asked how he was supposed to pull that off since he couldn’t re-enter his mother’s womb.

Not that kind of birth, Jesus seems to say. This is spiritual birth, the kind that revives dead bones. “I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life (Ezekiel 37:14a)

Published in: on October 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Prevalence of the Christian Worldview


Police_brutality.svgSome in the US would say the heart of the nation was broken in Sandy Hook when a gunman opened fire on a classroom of kindergartners. That response is only one instance of many that shows the values of our society.

Here in SoCal, the public rose with one voice to demand justice for a homeless man, mentally challenged, who was beaten to death by police officers. Despite the fact that our definitions have become far too murky, we stand against “cruel and unusual punishment.” We decry gang members gunning down a beloved grandmother or the drunk driver who cripples the little old man on his way home. Hospitals pledge never to turn away a sick child, and donors make that promise good. Our government has passed laws to provide the disabled with access to the same venues as everyone else.

Why? Why would we care about the poor, the sick, the weak, the needy? Because we have a Christian worldview.

By “we” I mean Western culture—the places in the world where Christianity took hold for hundreds of years. Most certainly, we can’t claim to have done Church right. The Dark Ages were called “dark” for a reason. The Reformation happened because there was a need in the Church for reform. People continued to miss what Jesus was about and tried to set up His kingdom on earth using human resources and schemes.

In addition, we are now living in the post-Christian era of Western society. I won’t say “a post-Christian world,” because as it happens, Christianity is spreading rapidly in places where it once was little more than an afterthought.

What, then, am I going on about?

The message of Jesus Christ changed who we in the West are as a people, as a society, as a culture. Love your enemy, forgive those who misuse you, becomes a creed about how to treat prisoners of war, and policy about not discriminating. Give a cup of cold water to the thirsty becomes a Salvation Army of people on a Rescue Mission to provide for the hungry and hurting and hopeless.

And not just Christians do these things, to the degree that some believe the Government should actually step in to insure that no one in America goes hungry or lacks health care or grows old with no means of support. We believe in what Jesus taught, even though many, if not most, have stopped believing in Jesus.

The sad thing is, the Western world seems oblivious to the fact that our core values have come from what Jesus Christ said. And because we’ve lost the basis for these values, it’s only a matter of time before our culture starts looking more and more like the rest of the world (unless, of course, the rest of the world becomes more and more infused with a Christian worldview).

Tolerance slips to tolerance of only those who think like us. Health care applies only to those who don’t inconvenience the rest of us. Forgiveness is supplanted by revenge.

But for now, when those who care little for God rally to provide for widows of police officers slain in the line of duty or work to stop human trafficking or give to a project to stop AIDS in Africa, we’re witnessing the effects of living in a country shaped by a Christian worldview.

Because the nations in the West are unique.

The way we look at the world is still marked by the revolutionary way Jesus lived and by the Power that inflamed His followers, enabling them to go and do likewise.

Published in: on February 26, 2013 at 7:42 pm  Comments Off on The Prevalence of the Christian Worldview  
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Luther’s Protests Go Viral


The date was October 31, 1517. Reformation Day. Martin Luther chose that day to make public the disagreements he had with his church.

The major issue dealt with the practice the church had begun regarding indulgences–“a grant by the pope of remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory still due for sins after absolution” (Oxford English Dictionary). The latest iteration of the practice included selling them, something that contradicts what Scripture says about grace being “the gift of God” and salvation “not of works.”

Luther also protested against doctrinal policies regarding purgatory, particular judgment (judgment given by God that a departed person undergoes immediately after death), Catholic devotion to Mary, the intercession of and devotion to the saints, most of the sacraments, the mandatory clerical celibacy, and the authority of the Pope.

In all, his disputation contained ninety-five points and has become known as the Ninety-five Theses.

What’s particularly interesting is that this document, written in Latin, was translated into German by January 1518. Two weeks later, it was printed and passed around throughout Germany. Within two months, it had circulated throughout Europe.

I can only imagine the despair men like Luther and John Wycliffe and Jan Hus felt at the state of the church. Corruption abounded. For example, one Pope, Alexander VI, the head of the church and according to church doctrine, God’s representative on earth, fathered seven children by at least two mistresses. Beyond that one man’s immorality was the systemic corruption which allowed the church to get rich at the expense of the common man and the increasing departure from what Scripture said.

Yet God was at work. Who knew that a little thing called the printing press would be such a powerful tool in God’s hands to bring about sweeping change. People read Luther’s Ninety-five Theses pamphlet and flocked to hear him speak.

His study, lectures, and writing in the years leading up to and shortly after he made the document public, focused on the doctrine of justification.

From 1510 to 1520, Luther lectured on the Psalms, the books of Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. As he studied these portions of the Bible, he came to view the use of terms such as penance and righteousness by the Catholic Church in new ways. He became convinced that the church was corrupt in its ways and had lost sight of what he saw as several of the central truths of Christianity. The most important 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.” (Martin Luther)

Why did the Reformation take off? The time was ripe. People were ready for an end to the corrupt practices of the church, more so once the Bible was translated into vernacular languages. In addition, the means was available to disseminate information widely. This was something new. Because of the printing press, people in England or Italy could read Luther’s thoughts about salvation.

It was the Medieval equivalent of going viral.

I find the story of the Reformation encouraging on many levels. No, the men involved in initiating change were not perfect–not by a long shot. But God used them. That’s one of the encouraging things. He also brought change when it looked like the church couldn’t get much worse.

From time to time, I’ve decried the abundance of false teaching that seems to flood Christianity today. Sometimes it seems like revival is the only thing that could stop the tide, and yet revival seems remote and unlikely. As it undoubtedly seemed October 30, 1517. A day later, the tide turned.

It’s Not The Holiday You Think It Is



October 31 — what’s the first thing that comes into your mind?

In all likelihood, it’s Halloween, with it’s spooky traditions and candy goodness. That is completely understandable because it’s the one that gets all the press. Who hasn’t seen commercials and store displays luring customers to buy this goody or that accessory.

But in truth, October 31 marks something vastly more important.

From my church newsletter:

Nearly 500 years ago, God moved across Europe through courageous men and women to restore to the church the truth of the Gospel, the primacy of the Word of God, the importance of expressing faith in great songs and music as well as a renewal of the personal walk of a believer with his Lord. This is the REFORMATION!

And the holiday is Reformation Day, most often celebrated the Sunday prior to October 31 as Reformation Sunday.

In part here’s what Wikipedia says:

According to Philipp Melanchthon, writing in 1546, [Martin] Luther “wrote theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517”, an event now seen as sparking the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther's seal now know as the Luther Rose


According to an article at the web site Sunday School Lessons, Luther’s concerns emphasized two key points: justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.

I have to admit, I take for granted those tenets of the faith. After all, Scripture makes them so clear … except, the common ordinary people of Luther’s day didn’t have Bibles. They depended on their church leaders to tell them what was in God’s word.

A corrupt church and priests interested in lining their own pockets weren’t concerned with trivialities such as what the Bible actually said, so salvation by faith alone was not a concept widely known. The idea of “no distinction … but Christ is all and in all” was for all practical purposes unheard of.

Chaplain R. Kevin Johnson explains it this way in his article “Reformation Day”:

[Martin Luther’s] aim was to protest the assertion by the Church that God’s favor could be gained by the purchase of indulgences. Luther taught that salvation and the remission of sin are available by grace through faith in Christ alone and that no monetary offering or good deed would or could achieve the same result. With this bold act of conviction, Luther set in motion a full revolt against the Church known as the Protestant Reformation.

Luther challenged church doctrine by teaching that all Christian believers have both the right and responsibility to carry forth the gospel (a principle we call “the priesthood of the believer”). To prove his point, Luther looked to the scriptures and cited 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries;” Revelation 5:10, “you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth;” and 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Luther also taught that no extra-biblical means was necessary to obtain divine truth.

Justin Taylor has a great post chock full of resources for those who wish to learn more about Martin Luther and his part in the Reformation, but most powerful I felt was his closing paragraph:

Luther—like all of us—was a flawed man with feet of clay. He didn’t see or say everything right. But God used him to recover the gospel and to reform the church, and it is fitting to thank God for this remarkable man and God’s grace to him and through him.

Perhaps Reformation Day is the most pivotal holiday ever that few remember or celebrate. Not that churches don’t acknowledge it or perhaps even do something special on Sunday to commemorate it. But it doesn’t quite crowd out Halloween, now, does it?

Not that I’m suggesting Christians should have “our holiday” and non-Christians, “theirs.” But it seems pretty clear, if Christians don’t celebrate the Reformation, no one else will.

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