“The Church Stands or Falls…”

January 30, 2012

I have been talking recently with other men about a Reformed ecumenical movement in our area centered around the historic faith. We have been considering the Cambridge Declaration as possible means of a doctrinal unity to what we are considering. One of the elements within it is the emphasis on justification by faith alone or what Martin Luther called, “the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.” I thought it might be helpful to consider then what exactly justification is if it is so important. On that note, consider question 36 of the Baptist Catechism, which asks:

“What is justification?”

The answer is:

“Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

Here are my thoughts on this:

The doctrine of justification, being “declared righteous before the law”, is of critical importance to understanding our salvation. The great Reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) once said called it the “doctrine by which the church stands or falls.” So, let us make sure we get this right!

First, we see that justification is an act of God through his free grace. We have done nothing to earn this declaration of our innocence before the law. God justifies the unrighteous purely by His own desire. But what exactly is happening in justification? Our answer says it is where God pardons all our sins. All of our sins, past, present, future, are declared to be pardoned by God, as if we have never committed them. Paul writes in Romans 3:24–25 that we are “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” God is righteous and cannot simply ignore sin. Instead, Jesus Christ died so that through His death we could be declared righteous, even though we are guilty before the law. Elsewhere in Romans 4:6–8, Paul continues by saying, “just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:  ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’” The beauty of the doctrine of justification is that through it we are now said to be innocent before the Lord.

Second, we see that God accepts us as righteous in His sight. Paul talks about how we have become righteous because Christ became unrighteous for us in 2 Corinthians 5:19–21. He writes, “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Christ, in reconciling the lost to God died so we might live and not have our sins counted against us. He became sin so that we might be righteous. So when God looks upon the believer, He sees only the righteousness of Christ. Take heart Christian, you are not guilty! Your sin has been forgiven through Christ!

Third, we note that it is only through the imputed righteousness of Christ that God sees us as righteous. It is not because of our righteousness, but because Christ has given us His righteousness. Through faith it is as if Christ’s righteousness is our righteousness. Paul addresses this in Romans 5:17–19 where he writes, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Just as we became sinners because Adam’s sin was given to us, we are righteous because Christ’s righteousness has been given to us!

Finally, this justification is by faith alone. Paul writes in Galatians 2:16, “yet we know that person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Again Paul writes in Philippians 3:9, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” No works that we can do can make us righteous, in contrast to what Roman Catholicism teaches. We are only declared righteous by faith.

The Baptist Catechism – Exposition of Question #3

February 18, 2010

Question: How may we know there is a God? Answer: The light of nature in man and the works of God plainly declare there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do it fully and effectively for the salvation of sinners.

The first questions we have addressed in The Baptist Catechism have to do with the question of the existence of God. These are questions to answer atheists who deny God exists. Question #3 is an answer to agnostics, those who believe we cannot know God exists. How can we know there is a God? From both a general and a special way.

By general, I mean, general revelation. By this we mean that in the heart of man and in nature there is truth about the existence and nature of God sufficient enough to condemn man for that knowledge. We saw last week in Romans 1:18–23, that Paul says that all men have the knowledge of God in their hearts but suppress the truth. Specifically v. 20 reads, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Psalm 19:1 also reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Man is without excuse as to knowledge of the existence of God because inherently they possess this truth and suppress it and the creation itself reverberates with the beauty and majesty of the glory of God!

So, in the light of nature in man, and the works of God plainly declare there is a God. But, this general revelation is not sufficient to save people. This knowledge is general in nature. It simply communicates enough about God and His nature to know that He exists, He is sovereign, and He is the creator-judge. Thus, it is enough to condemn man to sin. That is why when the question is asked, “What about those who have never heard the Gospel,” they are without excuse because the knowledge in them and in creation is enough to condemn. But to save, we require special revelation.

By special revelation we mean that there is a special knowledge about God, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, necessary to be saved that is available only in the Bible. Without the Word of God men are doomed to remain in darkness. For while they have knowledge sufficient to condemn, only in the Bible do they have knowledge to be saved. Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:19, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The Word of God is a lamp shining in a dark place. Apart from the Word there is death and doom and Hell. The Word provides the light to shine into the darkness and bring men to faith!

God takes the Word of God preached and by the ministry of the Holy Spirit brings people into knowledge of sin and the understanding of the existence of God and the provision of salvation in Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 2: 12 reads, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”

Apart from the Spirit of God, the Word does not effect the change in man necessary to accept the existence of God. The natural man might be able to understand the “meaning” of God’s Word but the Spirit of God helps to understand the “significance” of God’s Word. So apart from the Word of God and the Spirit of God there is no knowledge to save. Thus we echo then with Paul, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” Let us preach the Word to bring men to faith!

The Baptist Catechism – Exposition of Question #2

February 10, 2010

Question: Ought everyone to believe there is a God? Answer: Everyone ought to believe there is a God; and it is their great sin and folly who do not.

This second question of the Baptist Catechism works from the first. Now that we know God exists and that He is the first and chiefest being, should all people everywhere believe that God exists? The answer is yes, all people everywhere should believe God exists.

There are many who claim that there is no God. Psalm 14:1a reads, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Yet, we must counter that by knowing that truly all men everywhere are responsible for their sin because inherently they know God exists.

Romans 1:18–23 reads, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” While the fool says in his heart “there is no God,” in reality, he knows God exists, suppresses that truth, and is condemned! This is why the answer is not simply “Everyone ought to believe there is a God.” The reality is to those who deny the existence of God it is to “their great sin and folly.”

The existence of God is a requirement for all to believe. It is the foundation of our Christian faith. One cannot be a Christian by definition without believing in the existence of God. Hebrews 11:6 reads, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” And Romans 10:14 reminds us that, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?” One must believe in the existence of God! To not, is folly and sin.

The reality is, it is complete foolishness to argue that there is no God. James 2:19 reminds us that even the demons believe in God and shudder at the fact! Their knowledge of God does not save but at least they acknowledge God exists! The recent increase of the so-called “New Atheists,” men like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens have really offered nothing new to disbelief in God. In reality, they repackage all the old arguments but with a tenacity like never before and try to tell the world it is impossible for God to exist. Instead, God does exist, and to all those who claim otherwise, they are destined to eternity in Hell!

Job 18:18–21 reads, “He is thrust from light into darkness, and driven out of the world. He has no posterity or progeny among his people,
and no survivor where he used to live. They of the west are appalled at his day, and horror seizes them of the east. Surely such are the dwellings of the unrighteous, such is the place of him who knows not God.”

Do you believe in God? Unless you believe in the God of the Bible, your are doomed in sin for all time. Repent and believe in God today!

The Baptist Catechism – Exposition of Question #1

February 3, 2010

Question: Who is the first and chiefest being? Answer: God is the first and chiefest being.

This first question of the Baptist Catechism starts at the very beginning. Who is the first and chiefest being? Who was here first and who is chief among beings? The obvious answer is God Himself.

Isaiah 44:6 reads, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “’I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’” God Himself is the only one who has existed for all time. He is the first, and Isaiah reminds us, also the last. The phrase “first and last” implies eternity. God has existed for all time and will exist for all time.

Not only is He the first being but He is the first cause of all beings. 1 Corinthians 8:6 reads, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Through God came everything else. The universe, animals, and man did not come into existence from random fate, but from the sovereign, loving hand of God!

It is not only that He is first in existence but first in so many functions. Benjamin Bedomme (1717–1795), famous hymn writer, and the great Baptist pastor of the church at Burton-on-the-Water in England, who wrote an exposition of this catechism lists a number of ways that God is first. He is first in creation (Ps 33:9), providence (Acts 17:28), government (Ps 93:2), grace (2 Cor 5:18), and love (1 John 4:19).

As a result of God being first, he should be first in our minds, hearts, and spirits. If God is the first being, that naturally leads to the second point that He is the chiefest being. If He is the chiefest being, God desires our complete submission and allegiance to Him.

God is indeed the chiefest being as the Scriptures reveal.

Exodus 15:11 reads, ““Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” The Psalms in particular illustrate how God is above all other beings in life.

Psalm 89:6 reads, “For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord.”

Psalm 97:9 reads, “For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.”

Psalm 92:8 reads, “but you, O Lord, are on high forever.”

If God is the chiefest being, what does that mean for us? It means He should be chiefly loved (Luke 10:27) and chiefly feared (Matthew 10:28).

For those who understand and truly make God the chiefest being in life, they are the truly blessed ones! Psalm 144:15 reads, “Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!”

Do you recognize God as both first and chiefest being? Does your life evidence that reality? Do you love the Lord your God with all you are? Do you submit yourself fully to Him in everything? Do you obey Him completely in your life? We worship not just any god, but we worship the true and real and living God. The only God of the universe! The first and chiefest being!

What is a Catechism and Why Use it in the Church?

January 20, 2010

At our church we have begun working through the Baptist Catechism in our Pastor’s Corner bulletin insert. In light of our working through this catechism, I decided to share here what John Piper wrote concerning the what and why of using the Baptist Catechism in the church. This is found here but here it is reproduced here:

I. What is a catechism?

In 1 Corinthians 14:19 Paul says, “Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” In Galatians 6:6 he says, “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.” Acts 18:25 says that Apollos “had been instructed in the way of the Lord.”

In each of these verses the Greek word for “instruct” or “teach” is katecheo. From this word we get our English word “catechize.” It simply means to teach Biblical truth in an orderly way. Generally this is done with questions and answers accompanied by Biblical support and explanation.

II. What is the history of this catechism?

This is catechism is known as “The Baptist Catechism” first put forth by Baptists in 1689 in Great Britain. It was adopted by the Philadelphia Baptist Association in 1742. It is patterned on the well-known reformed Westminster Catechism.

III. Is there a Biblical pattern of doctrine?

Several texts teach that there is. For example, in Romans 6:17 Paul gives thanks “that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed. 2 Timothy 1:13 says, “Follow the pattern of sound words which you heard from me.” Acts 2:42 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15 says, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us.” And Acts 20:27 says, “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

So it appears that there was a body of authoritative instruction and even a way of teaching it in the early church.

IV. Why is it important?

1) We are required to “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast” (Col. 1:23).

2) We are urged to “attain to the unity of the… knowledge of the Son of God…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:13–14).

3) There are many deceivers (1 John 2:26).

4) There are difficult doctrines “which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

5) Leaders must be raised up who can “give instruction in sound doctrine and also confute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

V. How shall we begin?

Make them part of your family routine or just use them for yourself. I am excited about being a partner with you in building a “stable and firm” generation who hopes in God.