Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cheap Grace vs. Biblical Grace: A Short Reminder of the Difference

Grace, as some have defined it, is 'unmerited favor.'

One commentator whom I trust even called it 'demerited favor!' That might be more accurate.

Some of our Bible translations underscore the fact that grace is free in their rendering of Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus" (ESV, emphasis added). 

But does the fact that grace is given freely also make it "cheap"? To that, we must answer decisively "No!"

The grace that we receive by faith alone--apart from works--cost our Lord Jesus His life; His willing, volitional, sacrificial, perfect life as atonement for our sins.

Let me offer this excellent reminder, from the pen of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, of the distinction between cheap grace, and biblical grace:
"Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate....Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods....Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ" (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 44-45. Emphasis in original).
How sweet He is, our treasure, our grace, our Christ. May you rejoice in this extravagantly costly, free gift today. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem. By Kevin DeYoung.

I am really glad that Crossway Books sent me a free advanced reader copy of Kevin DeYoung's forthcoming book, Crazy Busy for review. 

At this point I should make a joke about being too busy to read the whole thing. But I did. And I won't.

In fact, the moment I closed the cover for the last time, I immediately recommended it to my wife who almost never reads the same books that I read. (In fact, she doesn't always even read the books I've written!) While our interests are varied, this particular book had an immediate and personal impact on the both of us. We are, in fact, Crazy Busy.

You may be even busier than I am, but I know for sure that this is one of my greatest personal struggles. I waste very little time (usually) and still require all of the daylight hours and quite of few of the dark hours to keep my schedule manageable.  Week after week, I call out to God to strengthen my resolve or at least lengthen my days. He never answers the latter prayer, but He does give grace in the former!

In this short work (118 pages) Kevin DeYoung writes in a witty enough style that will cause you to burst out loud laughing several times--yep that's me! His  gives us both rebuke (for our time-wasting idols such our tech gadgets) and encouragement (for our sincere efforts in parenting). His section on pride was particularly diagnostic and devastating to me, in the best sense of the word.

All the while, DeYoung implores His readers to reprioritize our lives around those things which matter most, including a more robust view of keeping sabbath (chapter 8). His concluding chapter "The One Thing You Must Do" is worth the price of the whole book. Here, DeYoung pleads with us to restore God to the central position of supremacy in our lives (and our calendars).

Some Quotes:
  • Above all, I can lose sight of the good news that the universe is not upheld by the word of my power (see Heb 1:3). That's Christ's work, and no one else can do it. Hallelujah--he doesn't even expect me to try (p. 51).
  • The person who never sets priorities is the person who does not believe in his own finitude (p. 57).
  • Starting each day with eternity makes our petty problems and long to-do lists seem pretty insignificant (p. 116). 
-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Remember Your Leaders: The Apostle Paul

Perhaps no man in Christian history, save Jesus Himself, has led the way as an example of faith to be imitated as the Apostle Paul. Our understanding of Hebrews 13:7 encourages us to both remember our leaders as those who 1) spoke the word of God to  others, and 2) whose life also matched the proclamation (consider the outcome of their way of life). The greatest example of someone who spoke God’s word true and whose life was congruent with the proclamation is Jesus. He was perfect. But the testimony we have of the Apostle Paul reveals him as a sinner, as we all are, but a sinner whose entire life was transformed by his encounter with the risen Jesus, an encounter and calling that has made Paul an incredible example of faith for us to imitate. His life, though not perfect, matches the proclamation of the Gospel very clearly. He was a man who possessed the secret to life, the secret to saving faith, and he strived to make that secret public both in what he said and how he lived, he proclaimed salvation by Jesus Christ alone.

St-Paul-Preaching-in-AthensA Biographical Sketch
Paul was born Saul, a Roman citizen (Acts 22:27) from Tarsus, a city in the south of Turkey, just a few miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Though rather than worshiping Roman deities (i.e. Caesar), Saul was raised an ardent Jew. In fact he was a “Hebrew born of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:6). Not only was he a Jew, he was an exemplary Jew as He spells out in Philippians 3:5, he was “circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” His life as a Jew was of exemplary character. Indeed the pedigree he discloses here in Philippians is one that would set him apart as a real example of Jewish heritage.

Saul was highly educated in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), a leader among the Pharisees, the strict educated Jewish elite. He was educated among a Jewish Ivy League school. It was his academic expertise in the Pharasaical school that blended so well with his own dedicated temperament that made him such a force of zeal, both against Christianity and later for Christianity. This zeal led him to persecute the Church (1 Cor. 15:9), which included the persecution and martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:1-3). He thought he was doing right, what the Jewish faith would commend him for as a good Jew.

However, on a road approaching Damascus, north of the Sea of Galilee, Saul had an unexpected encounter. The very founder of the religion he was persecuting appeared to him, Jesus Himself. Jesus questioned why Saul was persecuting Him and then saw fit to blind him. But with the trial he also provided the way of healing; a man named Ananias who would lay his hands upon Saul for healing, a testament to Jesus’ power and authority. It is here that Saul is called to go and proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. Saul sheds his Jewish name and takes a new Christian name, Paul. This calling takes him on numerous missionary journeys around the Mediterranean, results in imprisonment, stonings, beatings, a shipwreck, and more (2 Cor. 11:16-29). All this for the Gospel. This call to proclaim it took him eventually to Rome where many believe he was executed.

His devotion to the calling Jesus placed upon Him led to a faith that we must never forget, a faith that if we are seeking to live as disciples of Jesus, we must seek to imitate. The following are specific realities within the life of Paul that we as Christians 2000 years removed would be foolish not to learn from and incorporate into our own lives. He is a beacon pointing the way to us to the realities of grace and Christian discipleship.

By Grace Alone
One of the major tenents of the Reformation was sola gratia, by grace alone. This doctrine referred to the means by which a sinner is justified before God, thereby inheriting eternal life. Paul’s letters are foundational to this theological truth. In Pauls’ letter to the Christians at Ephesus he states, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (2:4-5). Indeed Paul’s entire ministry can be described by those two words by grace. Paul saw clearly that saving faith in Jesus Christ was only given to the sinner through grace. Our verse here makes it plain in the original Greek that God is the acting agent. The verse is filled with divine passives, stating what God has done as the primary agent, and stating that we are recipients of God’s action, of God’s bestowing of free grace.

For isn’t this how we define grace? Something that is given to another based on nothing earned but entirely based on the freewill and good desire of the individual bestowing it? This is why any notion of earning God’s grace, of earning salvation, is so preposterous according to the Scriptures. Paul makes it explicit that in order for grace to be grace, it has to be given contrary to any striving of the individual to attain it. Faith in what Jesus Christ has done on the cross is a gift given to the individual by God’s gracious will. Faith itself is not something that we can bring about on our own, for if it was then grace wouldn’t be grace. If we could believe by our own power, then the very act of faith would be an act earning salvation. But Paul’s writings are very clear that salvation is by grace alone, by God’s free decision to be gracious.

We learn from Paul the depths of God’s goodness towards us. When we see that God knows only He can rescue us, we learn to adore this God and glorify Him as the sole agent in our salvation, the sole gift giver. When we let grace be grace, and turn from any works righteousness, we rest in the beauty of God’s sovereignty and are drawn to glorify Him with thankfulness, that He would be gracious enough to rescue a sinner like me from the depths of my wretchedness. Soli Deo Gloria.

Suffering Redeemed
Paul was not a man who had an easy life. We have already alluded to some of what he had endured for the sake of his call to share the gospel with the gentiles above. But one thing that we can learn from Paul has to do with how he responds to these hardships. In his second letter to the church at Corinth he writes this particularly regarding his physical weakness, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10).

We read this verse and we think “How could Paul say this?!” We suffer in this life and have seen hardships befall us. We know they aren’t easy to endure and we come across verses like this and we think that Paul was out of touch with life. This may not be the best verse to share with someone who is suffering, but it is an integral verse for building a theology of suffering and pain. For we see in v. 9 just prior Paul states, “But [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” And I do believe this is the key to a theology of suffering that it exists for a purpose. The ultimate end of suffering, according to Paul, is so that it might lead us to rest on God’s grace alone, and not our strength. When we are reminded of how weak we are we realize how much it is we need to rest and trust in God.

And so Paul can say that he is content in hardships because he knows that in the midst of them he is weak and the only strength he has comes from God. Paul says this in 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” For as FF Bruce says, “If his ministry was so effective despite his physical weakness, then the transcendent power was manifestly God’s, not his own.” (FF Bruce, 136)

We learn from Paul that the hardships that assail us in life ought to be redeemed. We should view them as an opportunity to look to God, to say to Him, “Lord please help me, I am weak, please be strong that you might receive due glory.” When we see our weakness as a vehicle for God’s strength to be supplied, God gets the glory and we are sustained by the sufficiency of His grace.

The New Self
The last key lesson from Paul that I want to highlight (there are many) is his understanding of the old and new self. In Paul’s letter to both the church in Ephesus and Colossae he makes this doctrine a key point of exhortation and encouragement. Paul explains that for those in Christ they have a new nature. The old self, which was alienated from God due to a bondage and total inclination to sin, has been put to death and instead we now stand in the new life that Jesus has given us.

In his letter to the church at Colossae Paul states, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God…for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:1,3; see Eph. 4:17-32 for a fuller exposition of this doctrine). The key encouragement that Paul brings to his Christian audience is that they have put to death the old sinful self and have been reborn and are united with Christ in heaven at this very moment. Because of this reality Paul encourages them to then live as new creations. If we are made new and our old self has been put to death we are to act like it. Knowing that we are united to Him who is at the right hand of the Father, united to Him who intercedes on our behalf, united to Him who speaks every prayer we pray to His fathers ear, knowing this enables us to live in the reality of the new life.

We learn with Paul’s exposition of the new self that we are liberated from our sinful past. We are made new. We are forever shiny and clean in God’s eyes. There is great comfort here. Out of this comfort by God’s grace we are given the strength to then live as new creations, seeking things that are above and seeking to live in the reality of our justification.

*     *     *

If you are looking for a wonderful comprehensive understanding of the Apostle Paul I would turn your attention to FF Bruce's wonderful text Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Bruce's understanding of Paul is top notch and the text is easily accessible with chapters discussing different areas of Paul's life and his influence.

**Next Week: Remembering Your Leader John Calvin

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Signs of a Suffering Church: The Garments of Persecution

Guest Commentary by Rev. Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy

We are not being alarmist, or conspiracy theoreticians, when we look at the tapestry of history, spread over time, and recognize again the signs of coming persecution for the Church of Jesus Christ. Because the persecution itself is not already upon us we may decide not to consider it, or reckon with it, but that doesn't mean that the tide of persecution is not gradually advancing. By ignoring the evidence there is a strong possibility that we will find ourselves unready and ill-prepared if persecution does come our way.

Persecution has historically worn a number of garments. It has appeared in the form of a required religious conformity, or in the persuasions of a political system that denied non-conformity. There have been times when economic stringency made being a Christian a daily struggle, to care for home and family, and to suffer discrimination. Many are the countries in which the sound of marching boots on a hard surface have been the precursor to suffering and imprisonment as the people of God have been called upon to stand firm in the truths they hold dear. The Church has had its martyrs throughout the ages and in several countries is having them even as we write.

The signs of a suffering Church are all around us. The News is replete with stories of myriad locations in which Christians are paying the ultimate price for their faith, while one type of marauder or another decimates their homes, or villages, and bombs their cities. This is not imagination. There is no fiction in the narrative. This is true. There are more Christians being persecuted for their faith, with the approval of the law, today, than ever occurred previously in the history of the world.

So why should we expect not to be included? Are we religiously protected? Do we imagine that the culture of tolerance and diversity that pervades American society will somehow protect us? Or can we anticipate that our own failure to be tolerant could lead to our persecution? Are we politically protected? A government of the people, and by the people, and for the people, must surely serve as a guardian to the freedoms of the people. Yet already our democratic neighbor to the North has discovered that a preaching Pastor will be prosecuted, under the law, if he broaches certain unapproved topics in his sermon. While further afield the defense of the Christian faith is interpreted as an offense to an alternate religion and that is not acceptable.

The soft under-belly of the Church is economic. She is seriously vulnerable where giving to the Church is tied to a tax benefit, and the local church itself is tax exempt, and Ministers of Religion have other certain tax advantages. Do we hope or imagine that this situation can continue unhindered for generations to come? Recent American history would deny that possibility. Already close scrutiny is being given to the economics of Christian organizations, and that will doubtless continue until a workable resolution is found ... one that can be implemented without too much of a national outcry. The squeeze to the family in the pew and to the organized church, will produce widespread economic hardship, forcing smaller congregations to close their doors.

This writer recalls a conversation with a Nigerian Pastor, some fifty years ago, in which the gentleman was startlingly prophetic when he stated that he believed that the primary task of a Minister in his country was to prepare the Church for persecution. This has been proven true in West Africa and is also true in many other countries of the world. Will it prove true in America? The signs are all around us. We must learn from history. We who stand week by week before the people of God who listens faithfully to our prepared messages from the Lord, must begin now, if we have not already done so, to prepare our people for persecution. We must so ground them in the truths of the Word of God, that by His grace, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, when they are called upon to stand, they will do so with indomitable courage and fortitude for Christ and His Gospel.

--Wilfred A. Bellamy, Ph.D. is the preaching supply pastor of Thomson Presbyterian Church in Thomson GA, an ordained minister, a former missionary to Nigeria, and the former Coordinator of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review:: William Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry

Overview: This work is likely one of the best books that I have read by a pastor or theologian from the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition in quite some time. Willimon holds a very solid and historical understanding of the person and office of the ordained pastor. Throughout, Willimon attempts to yoke modern pastors to our ancestors and forbearers in the faith by connecting pastoral work to our ancient moorings. He does this especially through his use of the book of Acts and the early ministry of the apostles. Willimon seemingly is little impressed with modern evaluations of ministry by “success” and “growth,” in deference to a higher view of ministry as the role of leading, guiding, and shepherding the baptized. Willimon’s appreciation for the church as the called-out resistance and counter-cultural movement in a world of darkness was deeply moving at points. In particular, I appreciated the Bishop’s use of quotations and historical anecdotes from the Early Fathers, and the Reformers.

Critique: Although Willimon surprised me by quoting from several of the Reformers (Calvin and Luther) as well as even the Westminster Confession of faith, some of his more liberal United Methodism showed forth in his constant references and applications to female pastors. The Bishop went well out of his way to include female ministers and priests in most discussions, but did little to justify his view of gender and ordination. For this reason, Willimon might deserve some “push back” for not defending the controversial position of open ordination. This might be surprising, since he so clearly labors to connect modern pastoral work with that of the ancients and Reformers.

Application: Willimon opened my eyes to a broader understanding of baptism as a delineating mark upon the minister’s role of leading the covenant people of God. Although he does not give a full-fledged theology of baptism as a sign and seal of faith (I’m not sure he would even use those terms), he did find occasion to draw baptism into almost every pastoral discussion on the love, labor, and responsibility of the ordained person to tend especially to those who have openly identified with Christ by the covenantal sign of water. I found his incessant references to baptism refreshing, and it reminded me to speak more often of baptism’s ongoing significance for the Christian life.

Best Quote: “The church itself forms a culture that is counter to the world’s ways of doing things. The church does not simply reach out to and speak to the dominant culture, it seeks to disrupt that culture by rescuing some from it, then to inculcate people into the new culture called the church” (p. 209). 

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida

Monday, August 12, 2013

Remember Your Leaders: Aurelius Augustine

[Augustine] has been strikingly called incomparably the greatest man whom, “between Paul the Apostle and Luther the Reformer, the Christian Church has possessed.” --Adolf Von Harnack quoted by BB Warfield

Christian history is saturated with leaders whose impact has drastically changed the shape of Christian thought. Perhaps no leader, as Adolf Von Harnack has suggested, has transformed our understanding of God as much as that of Augustine. He may very well be the greatest theologian apart from Paul and Jesus that this world will ever know. He is of utmost importance for Christians today to know. We must remember this man of God and the influence he has had and continues to exert in our time. And again, our call to remember leads to imitating the faith exhibited by these Christian leaders. Augustine, a man who lived in the 4th and 5th century, has much to offer us here in the 21st century if we would but remember and seek to imitate his faith.

A Biographical Sketch
augustineAugustine was born on November 13, 354 AD, in Thagaste, a town in northern Africa (modern day Algeria). His mother Monica was a devout Christian, she is a patron saint to many of motherly prayers since throughout her life she prayed earnestly for her son to become a Christian. His father Patrick was not a Christian in whose footsteps Augustine followed. He was a master of rhetoric and finished his doctorate at the age of 21. For the first 31 years of his life he lived far from what we should consider an example of faith. He was chief among womanizers by his own profession. The love of women was the biggest hindrance to his profession of faith. By the age of 16 he had a concubine whom he loved and eventually a son with her, Adeodatus.

As a learned man Augustine sought truth steadfastly in his life. He probed the depths of Manichaeism and platonism (and other philosophies) only to find that they were all but half-truths that he could dissect and debunk. His chief goal in life was to find lasting truth, the bedrock of all other shadows of truth. And so his search for this truth led him eventually to cross paths with many Christian leaders of his day. Chief among these was Ambrose of Milan, another leader in Christian history worthy of remembering. Ambrose directed Augustine by varying degrees towards Christian truth. One afternoon, after many days and weeks of deep struggle with his lifestyle and the incompatibility of the Christian truth he was wrestling with, he came to faith. It happened in a garden in Milan in August of 386 at 32 years of age.

In this garden Augustine wrestled with God was doing by his sovereign hand. He found himself broken, crying beneath a fig tree, when he heard some children next door singing a song with the words “pick it up and read it, pick it up and read it” (Confessions 8.12). Taking it as a sign from God he grabbed the open Bible before him and read feasted his eyes and soul upon Romans 13:13-14: Not in riotousness and drunkenness, not in lewdness and wantonness, not in strife and rivalry; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh and its lusts. Augustine then stated, “I neither wished no needed to read more. No sooner had I finished the sentence than it was as if the light of steadfast truth poured into my heart, and all the shadows of hesitation fled away" (Confessions 8.12). By God’s sovereign hand in a Garden a would be giant in the faith came to faith.

Augustine was baptized by Ambrose, his father in the faith. At his conversion God reclaimed one of the most brilliant minds ever to think on this earth for his purposes, to lead the church as an example of faith. He returned to Africa, now Hippo, where he wrote and preached as a life transforming tool of grace for God in a world of unbelievers. It is here that Augustine made a lasting impact through the ages, books such as the City of God and Confessions that have never been out of print. In his lifetime he wrote 5 million words comprising some 113 books. He was an intellectual giant. He died in 430 in Hippo, a year before the Goths sacked the city. It is here that Augustine became a primary tool of God in reshaping Christian history. Sixteen hundred years later there is much we are called to remember and imitate from him. Here are three examples of his faith for us to consider to imitate:

A Language and Life of Delight
Throughout Augustine’s writings and sermons he constantly exhibits a person of faith who utterly delights in his God. Few have written with such genuine passion that God alone is their highest delight and sweetness. In the Confessions in particular Augustine exhibits this with language such as this: “Come, O Lord, I pray. Stir us up and call us back; kindle us and take us to yourself. Set us ablaze, and cast your sweetness over us. Let us love you and run to you” (Confessions 8.4). Few talk like this. Few live like this.

Yet it is our calling as men and women of faith to seek God with our entire heart, to love Him, to praise Him, to delight in Him, to savor Him above all else, and to find Him as the only lasting sweetness in our lives. We miss the mark when we find this kind of satisfaction in things other than God: sex, money, alcohol, personal comfort, health, fulfilling relationships, sports, etc. Augustine in the display of his faith through his writings is a leader that we are called to imitate. On this point in particular we would benefit greatly to have our hearts stirred to make God alone our all-satisfying sweetness and uproot anything that has taken His rightful place on the throne of our hearts. When was the last time you referred to God as your sweetness? Maybe if we talk in this manner, if we seek and ask God to set us ablaze, he will become the passion that we all long for deep down. May we delight in God and may He be our only satisfaction in this life and the next.

Realizing the Reality of Grace
As a champion of biblical theology, Augustine fought for the true reality of grace as we see in Scripture, a free sovereign gift from God that has nothing of our earning mixed in with it. For Augustine this understanding came through a long theological battle with Pelagius. Pelagius believed that a person was not completely sinful in every sphere of life. And since this was the case he believed that it was possible for any man or woman to live in righteousness and earn their own salvation. Against this unbiblical notion proposed and maintained by Pelagius, Augustine became an ardent apologist for the teaching of Scripture on sin, grace, and salvation.

Augustine understood according to Scripture that all humanity is totally sinful (Rom. 3:23; 6:23) and therefore completely incapable at any point of living the life required to attain salvation and relationship with God. The bedrock of orthodox Christianity was defended here by Augustine, that we are totally depraved as Calvin and the Synod of Dort would later articulate. With this theological truth in view, Augustine argued that we can earn nothing but death and separation from God. Instead the biblical model of salvation includes grace as grace, a free gift given by God that no one can earn. Augustine thus paints God as completely sovereign and gracious to the sinner in Jesus Christ. As an apologist Augustine fervently fought for this and recovered and defended a truth that we as Christians stand upon as orthodox.

With this in mind, to imitate the faith of Augustine would lead us to renounce any taint of works righteousness in our understanding of justification. Instead we should look to our own sinfulness, how far we are from God’s created design, and be overwhelmed with the utterly free grace that God gives us in His Son Jesus Christ. To imitate this faith is to rest each and every day in the promises God gives us by grace alone. This causes us to live lives of constant thanksgiving to God, glorifying Him. To imitate this faith is to daily live out of grace, not of works. Let us feel grace as Augustine did.

Witness to God's Grace and Glory
Augustine’s Confessions was one of the first true autobiographies to be written. He created a new genre with its conclusion. It is a prayer, written to God, but also written to man by which Augustine’s “reader may reflect upon the depths from which we must call upon [God]” (Confessions 2.3). It is primarily a testimony to the power and glory of God in how He had worked in Augustine’s life up until it was written. As such, the pages of the Confessions are strewn about with a constant love for God, lifting Him up as the only one worthy of being glorified. And so he wrote to do just this, to testify to the great reality of our good, sovereign, and gracious God.

Augustine should encourage us by his faith to imitate his testimony, to seek with how we live and what we say to reveal to others around us the saving power of God in Christ. Augustine states regarding his readers, “Let them love you not less, but more. Let them see that it is through you, who have saved me from the sickness of my sins, that they too do not suffer the same degree from the sickness of their own.” Our call to imitate his faith leads us to show the world around us that our salvation from our sins comes only through the grace of God. How often do we tell neighbors and friends (Christian or not) what it is that God has done for us? This goes hand in hand with seeing God as sweet to us. For if we delight in God it will exude out from our lips and actions and people will see that we are a living testimony for the grace and love of God. Let us testify that there is none greater, none more loving, none more willing to save us than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If you are looking to read something of Augustine, which I believe Hebrews 13:7 would suggest, I would begin first with his Confessions. It is a wonderful entrance into Christian biography and his grand language of delight while upholding orthodox theology. John Piper also has a wonderful series of biographies in his The Swans are Not Silent series, of which the first book titled The Legacy of Sovereign Joy contains a great succinct chapter on the influence of Augustine. If you would like to go deep theologically with Augustine may I suggest On Christian Doctrine.

**Next Week: Remembering Your Leader The Apostle Paul

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Remember Your Leaders: Martin Luther

The call to remember our leaders and imitate their faith in Hebrews 13:7 is not a suggestion for the Christian, it is a command. Both "remember" and "imitate" are in the imperative mood as verbs. In the same way as parents might tell their children to "stop running!" or to "eat your vegetables" or as a friend might say to another "don't move!" when she spots a spider crawling across her. These are imperatives. They are commands. We are called to remember and to imitate the faith of our leaders (those who spoke the Word of God to us and whose lives reflect the faith they profess) not as optional, but as essential for our sanctification and endeavor to glorify God with our lives. And so we continue this week in seeking to remember for the purpose of imitating by looking at the faith of Martin Luther.

A Biographical Sketch
Luther is the prototypical German reformer. He was born in Eisleben and died in Eisleben. His devotion to the reality of the Gospel was focused on his people, the Germans. At the age of 21 Luther found himself caught in a lightning storm. In a moment of desperation he called out to his father's saint, "St. Anne help me! I will become a monk." (Bainton, 25) Out of fear he entered into vocational ministry. It would be this fear that drove much of his movement to reform. He found himself tormented by a God of wrath and confessed daily, for hours on end, so that God might not be mad with him. But as he taught New Testament in Wittenberg "justification by faith" dawned upon him, instead of by works, and the terror that had attended him was replaced by the joy of the gospel.

His reforming call branched at every point from this doctrine of justification by faith. It propelled him to vehemently oppose the current Catholic practices that attended justification with works. Chief of these were the papal indulgences being sold for varying forms of justification in order to help pay for St. Peter's in Rome. His opposition to the Catholic abuses landed him eventually before a tribunal in Worms (Vorms) where cardinals and officials required that he recant his writings or he would be excommunicated. He did not recant. He went on to translate the Bible into the common German language and gave feet to the protestant reformation and break with Rome. Protestants are indebted to no person more than this man for his ardent pursuit of truth. So what can we learn from him 500 years removed? 3 things:

Luther's Only Authority 
Martin Luther had one authority in his life, the Word of God. However it wasn't always that way. Luther had many authorities in his life who were vying for his allegiance (the Catholic Church, the Pope, Abbots). But as he grew in his understanding of the Christian faith, really as he read the Scriptures and studied them for himself, he found that nothing should take an ultimate place of authority in our lives save Scripture alone since it is there that God alone speaks and reveals Himself. Whereas the church and pope had been the ultimate authority for years, Luther began something new. As Heiko Oberman says, "What is new in Luther is the notion of absolute obedience to the Scriptures against any authorities; be they popes or councils." (Oberman, 78)

For him there was no greater authority and director in life than God Himself revealed in His written word. Even when Luther knew that his stance on Scripture would bring persecution, he stood his ground. Before the Diet of Worms, fearing excommunication and all that it entailed, he said famously: "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen." (Bainton, 144)

We learn from Luther that nothing should hold our allegiance beyond the Word of God itself. This was Luther's conviction and it is our conviction as well. Scripture truly is the only rule for faith and life for the Christian. We cannot neglect to submit to it daily.

Relentless Proclamation In Luther we also see a relentless drive to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. He was driven as a preacher and teacher to proclaim Truth, the love of God for His creation in Jesus Christ. If Scripture was his authority, then this relentless proclamation was the natural response to what Scripture said. It must be told! Look at his rhythm as a preacher, it's astounding:

"On Sundays there were the 5:00 AM worship with a sermon on the Epistle, the 10:00 AM service with a sermon on the Gospel, and an afternoon message on the Old Testament or catechism. Monday and Tuesday sermons were on the Catechism; Wednesdays on Matthew; Thursdays and Fridays on the Apostolic letters; and Saturday on John....Luther was one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christendom...between 1510 and 1546 Luther preached approximately 3000 the average in [his pastorate] was one sermon every two and a half days." (Piper, 86-87)

We learn from Luther than an obedience to the truth of the Gospel should naturally work itself in us in our proclamation of the Truth. To hold onto the greatest Truth this world has and ever will know and not share it would be utter selfishness. We may not be vocational preachers like Luther, or maybe we are, but nonetheless it is our call to proclaim this news with relentless fervor.

Justification By Faith Alone 
Lastly we see from Luther the central doctrinal tenant of salvation, Justification by Faith alone. As one whose life completely opposed anything of works mixed in with our justification in God's sight, he championed that it was by faith alone that one is redeemed and reconciled in God's sight. Where God originally for Luther was a God of vengeance ready to condemn us for the smallest sin, Luther then after reading Paul's letters found an inexpressible joy that came from the reality that it's not by works but by faith alone that one is saved. And so Luther said:

"Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that "the just shall live by his faith." Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise." (Bainton, 49)

Above all from Luther's influence in the history of Christianity, we learn that our right standing before God rests upon nothing other than God's own sheer grace towards us and the gift of our faith. Our salvation has absolutely nothing of works mingled in with it. It is solely by God's sheer grace that one is saved. This is the Truth that we stand upon as Christians, this is the Gospel.

There are many wonderful resources on Martin Luther today. Desiring God has some free resources, sermons and biographies here. The texts I have referenced for this article are worth a read if you are interested in knowing more about this man of God:

Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Penguin Books, 1955). Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New York: Doubleday, 1992). John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God's Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000).

**Next Week: Remembering Your Leader Augustine of Hippo