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What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his scenario in his weekly sermon…Barnhouse speculated that is Satan took over Philadelphia,
all of the bars would be closed,
and the pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other.
There would be no swearing.
The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,”
and the churches would be full every Sunday
…where Christ is not preached
-Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 15. Emphasis his.
This is a good reminder that we do not proclaim good morals. We proclaim Christ! “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)
He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grudge against us; instead he was patient and forbearing; in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in the one righteous person, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!
-The Epistle to Diognetus (written ca. 150-225)
Since the radical powers of the soul are thus enfeebled and disordered, it is not to be wondered at that the best of men, and under their highest attainments, have found cause to make the acknowledgment of the Apostle, “When I should do good, evil is present with me.”
But, blessed be God, though we must feel hourly cause for shame and humiliation for what we are in ourselves, we have cause to rejoice continually in Christ Jesus, who, as he is revealed unto us under the various names, characters, relations, and offices, which he bears in the Scripture, holds out to our faith a balm for every wound, a cordial for every discouragement, and a sufficient answer to every objection which sin or Satan can suggest against our peace.
- If we are guilty, he is our Righteousness;
- if we are sick; he is our infallible Physician;
- if we are weak, helpless, and defenceless, he is the compassionate and faithful Shepherd who has taken charge of us, and will not suffer any thing to disappoint our hopes, or to separate us from his love.
He knows our frame, he remembers that we are but dust, and has engaged to guide us by his counsel, support us by his power, and at length to receive us to his glory, that we may be with him for ever.
-John Newton, The Utterances of the Heart, in the Course of a Real Correspondence.
HT: Justin Taylor
The hope we offer people is more than a set of strategies. Our hope is Christ! In him alone do lost, confused, angry, hurt, and discouraged people find what they need to be and do what God intends. We are not gurus. We are nothing more than instruments in the hands of a powerful Redeemer. The hope and help we offer is always focused on him. The most important encounter in ministry is not the person’s encouter with us, but his encouter with Christ. Our job is simply to set up that encounter, so that God would help people seek his forgiveness, comfort, restoration, strength, and wisdom.
Paul David Tripp, Instruments In The Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002), 138.
Question: How are you right with God?
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.
Even though my conscience accuses me
of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments
and of never having kept any of them
and even though I am still inclined toward all evil,
without my deserving it at all,
out of sheer grace,
God grants and credits to me
that perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,
as if I have never sinned nor been a sinner,
as if I had been as perfectly obedient
as Christ was obedient
All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.
–Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 60
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)
he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14)
I remember a few weeks back when accusations were pounding my mind. I saw my weakness and sins so clearly. The voice said to me that there was no way that one as sinful as I could every hope to minister to others. Whether it was the struggle over sins I have had for years or new sins I saw in myself the voice seemed to be speaking truth. How could one who had so many problems be presentable to a holy God for service?
Thankfully the Lord spoke Hebrews 9 to His people. I came across this section in the midst of this trial and was so encouraged. For here the Lord makes clear that the the foundational purity for our service to God does not come through us but by the sacrifice of Christ. He was sacrificed to “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
According to the section Jesus came as the Great High Priest of the New Covenant. One of the roles of the priest was to purify people and things so that they could stand before a holy God. Yet, in the Old Covenant they only had the blood of goats and calves to do it. very temporal in its effect. Yet, Christ, when he came as High Priest, gave the blood of God himself. His blood gives security which last eternally! The sacrifice of Christ on the cross makes a purchase which lasts forever. And so think, if the blood of goats and calves made one pure before God, how strong, deep, and lasting is the purity which Christ’s blood gives!? Thus, the arthur of Hebrews declares that because of Christ our consciences are purified from dead works. And now we can serve the living God.
The Christian’s works are not dead before God. To be dead is to be useless. At one point our works were useless to God. Outside of Christ there is no acceptable sacrifice. But now dead works are cleansed away. We can be useful to the sovereign God of the universe!
We can serve Him. The purity for service comes from the blood of Christ. In Him and through him sinners can offer up acceptable services to God. How wonderful this is. The level of the believer’s sin can be so deep that there is no tracing. Very pure actions can still be tainted with wrong motives in the midst of good motives. But what makes these actions pleasing to God is not the perfection of the believer but the perfection of the sacrifice which has been given for him.
How does this affect us as believer’s in Jesus?
1. We are freed from guilt to serve our God. The Lord is not waiting for us to be perfect in our service. For our imperfect offerings come to the Father through the perfect mediation of Christ. You can step out and serve in the little or big ways not worrying if God will take notice or not. He does! Our works are alive to God through Christ. Serve boldly!
2. Our works are real. The small acts of talking to the unpopular or different person. The hospitality shown to believers and unbelievers. The street preaching of the gospel that does not bare any immediate fruit are not dead! They are alive! We are cleansed from dead works and by Christ our offerings are real. We serve the living God and He is pleased!
3. We are freed to worship. When we come to worship we do not tally up our obedience to see if we can stand before Him. We confess our sins and trust in the perfect atonement of Christ. Our service of worship is purified before the Lord because we offer our praises through the perfect worship of Christ. We do not have to have everything right in our lives and with our worship practices. Because the believer is clothed in the righteousness of Christ he can worship before a holy God. And it will be accepted!
4. We can be patient with the imperfection of others. The Lord is patient with His people. He has cleansed them by Christ and yet is working to conform them in person from one degree of glory to the next. If this is the Lord’s attitude it should be ours as well. We can still love the brethren when worship and service is not perfect. Just because we see problems in some areas does not mean that God is not pleased and things must change instantly. Our perfection is in Christ and not in a local body having every line perfectly straight. Imperfect sinners can serve the living God because of their trust in Christ.
In know that one can take these points in very unbiblical directions. In no way am I say that personal holiness does not matter in service and that one does not have to be qualified to be an elder. Nor am I suggesting that one cannot hurt others by unbiblical and foolish actions being called service. Neither would a say that a church can sin as much as they want and/or teach heresy and God does not care.
What I am trying to do, as the arthur of Hebrews is doing, is putting the gospel as the foundation of service. As Paul said in Romans 6 if the gospel has gripped one’s heart they do not want to sin. They do not want heresy preach and they want to be truly loving and helping in their deeds of service. What the gospel does is give the building where these things can grow and flourish. So let the grace of Christ train you “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 3:12)
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:12)
One of the core distinctives of Christianity, especially in the culture of secular America, is the claim of exclusivity. The Lord has established one means for separated sinners to become reconciled to God. There is one God and only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. Only by repenting of sins and putting faith in the atoning work of Jesus is one forgiven of sins and given eternal life. If one does not adhere to this singular way then they are lost.
How can such a claim be made!? Such a claim is charged with the height of arrogance. Would not this make us a mean, hateful, and boastful people? Taking our claim and lifting our heads above all those who, “don’t have what we have.” How can we believe such a thing?
Against this, I believe that when we look at the cross we can understand Christ’s call of exclusivity.
When we look at the cross we see the greatest demonstration of love towards those who did not deserve it. “But God demonstrates His love towards us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). And this demonstration of love comes with the greatest pain. The perfect Son torn from the the most glorious and enjoyable relationship (the Son and the Father) on account of wrongs He did not do.
The absolute truth of Christ’s death, when believed rightly, makes loving people. It makes those who would still love in the face of wrongs done against them. It makes people who love in the face of opposing ideas. If Christ is so loving then the more I trust in His work and His character the more I am going to demonstrate His love. The lack of love that can come from Christians is not because of Christ but because of the lack of Christ. Thus, to magnify the cross is to dethrone pride and arrogance.
But to come around to the flip side, because Christ’s death is the great demonstration of love it would be an insult to say that it was pointless. The exclusivity of Christ’s death, that there was no other way which it could be done, is the reason that it was the greatest demonstration of love. If Jesus’s death on the cross is not the only way that sinners become right with God then Jesus was a sad fool who gave up everything for nothing. Think about it. If I could obtain God’s pleasure and eternal life by my good works or sincere worship of something else then Jesus’ death is completely pointless. For why would it be needed? And since it is not needed it is not love but ignorance (at best) which took Jesus to the cross. Why would He need to die for me if I get everything through something else besides the cross? It is to insult the act of love its self to suggest that there is another way.
Jesus is either the only way or only a fool. But since Jesus’ death was of love it is the only way.
This is what make Good Friday good,
…the whole thought of redemption and ransom rests on the awful reality of the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13; 4:5), a curse that one may not understand as an independent, blind force detached from God, but as the fulfillment of the divine threat against sin (Gal. 3:14). There is here in fact, however inadequate human words may be, a case at law between God and men, both Jews and gentiles. In this Christ makes his appearance as the Mediator, who gives the ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:6). His death is the costly price in this case…
…God is the one whose holy curse is executed on Christ in their place. Justice is not thrust aside, but justice is satisfied…Salvation consists in the possibility, given by God and realized by Christ, that justice is victorious in love and love in justice.
-Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, translated by John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans, 1975), 196-197.
“When Jesus judges our imperfection, he does it with such compassion that he releases us from the fear that we must pretend to be better than we are. He assures us that if we will be honest with God, God will be gracious with us. And the moment we enter into a gracious relationship with God, we not only fall heir to the promises of the gospel, but we are also ready to accept our present duties in the kingdom of love.
With pride dethroned, we are able to accept a much more modest concept of the self. We are delivered from the error of thinking that we must prove ourselves all the time. Kindness and truth become acceptable signs of status. Destructive anxiety cannot overwhelm us, for we are content to leave the work of salvation to God.”
-Edward John Carnell, The Kingdom of Love and the Pride of Life (Grand Rapids, 1960), pages 152-153.
HT: Ray Ortlund
…Are not you amazed sometimes that you should have so much as a hope that, poor and needy as you are, the Lord thinketh of you? But let not all you feel discourage you; for if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate; and if He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear? Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power. Most of our complaints are owing to unbelief, and the remainder of a legal spirit; and these evils are not removed in a day. Wait on the Lord, and He will enable you to see more and more of the power and grace of our High Priest. The more you know Him, the better you will trust Him; the more you trust Him, the better you will love Him; the more you love Him, the better you will serve Him. This is God’s way: you are not called to buy, but to beg; not to be strong in yourself, but in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. He is teaching you these things, and I trust He will teach you to the end. Remember the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom, but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed, but surely. Many suns, showers, and frosts pass upon it before it comes to perfection; and in winter, when it seems dead, it is gathering strength at the root. Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavour to look through all, and fix your eye upon Jesus, and all shall be well. I commend you to the care of the good Shepherd, and remain, for His sake,
-John Newton, from a letter wrote on March 18, 1767.