Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Is our salvation based on God punishing an innocent man?

Yesterday, I retweeted the following from Matt Smethurst, an elder at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, and a contributor to The Gospel Coalition:
Justification: God declares us righteous in his courtroom.
Adoption: God welcomes us into his living room.

This Tweet prompted my friend Brian Preston (who has apparently been on some kind of theological journey since leaving the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) to pose the following question: “Because He punished an innocent man?”

The following is my response.

In the sacrificial system, did the high priest shed the blood of an innocent animal on behalf of the people? When providing skins for Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21), was the blood of an innocent animal shed? Was Isaac innocent when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice him, and was the ram that God provided in his place innocent (Gen 22)? Was Joseph innocent when God purposed for him to be sent into slavery and imprisonment in Egypt, so that (once he had ascended to the throne) many might be saved through him (Gen 50:20)?

In addition to these foundational considerations from the fabric of Scripture, you have the explicit biblical statements:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:4-5)


“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)


“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,” (Gal 3:13)

These biblical statements are further understood in light of covenantal and systematic considerations, which help to demonstrate why Christ’s death is in not properly analogous to a human father/king simply sentencing his innocent son/prince to death

Covenantally: according to the Covenant of Redemption, the Son freely entered into an arrangement with the Father by which, through His perfect obedience and substitutionary death, He would be awarded a people, united to Him for the glory of His name. (It was for the joy that was set before Him that the Son agreed to this arrangement, Heb 12:2.)

Systematically: the Son and the Father, though distinct persons, are yet one God; as “will” is properly attached to nature, rather than to person, it is according to the single divine will that the Son assumes His role of mediator.

According to both of the above considerations, there can be no idea of the Son unwillingly dying.

In all of these ways and more, the truth of substitutionary atonement is abundantly displayed. Did God punish an innocent man? Yes, in a very specific sense. That innocent man, before coming as a man, was one God with the Father from eternity. That innocent God-man, before coming as a man, had agreed from eternity past to die for sinful men, so that we might be redeemed, to the glory of His grace. We are naturally under a curse, and are characterized by transgressions, iniquities, enmity, griefs, and sorrows. It is these that Christ took upon Himself on the Cross. The willing death of that innocent man in our place is good news for us sinners.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

An Introduction to Martin Luther's *On the Freedom of a Christian*



I. Letter to Pope Leo X


A. Significance of the 95 Theses
Martin Luther began his treatise concerning Christian liberty with a letter to Pope Leo X. In that letter, he mentioned that he had "now, for three years, been waging war." As the letter was written in 1520, we know that the beginning of the three year period he mentions must refer to 1517. This means that, from an early time, Luther himself dated the beginnings of his public struggles for the Reformation to the posting of the 95 Theses Against Indulgences on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. So this event was seen as significant not only to historians following the time of the Reformation. Rather, in Luther's own time (as the 95 Theses had been taken by his students, translated, given to the printing press, and then distributed across Europe), these Theses were seen as causing a huge stir within the Church, thrusting Luther's teachings into the spotlight.

B. Luther's Intentions Not Ad Hominem

In 1520, previous to writing his treatise concerning Christian liberty, Luther had written his treatise To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. In that earlier treatise, Luther had been quite polemical against the papacy, going so far as to name the pope as the anti-Christ. In a certain sense, Luther's letter to Pope Leo X at the beginning of his treatise concerning Christian liberty was intended to dial the rhetoric back a bit. Luther tries to make the point in his letter to Pope Leo X that he is not attempting to personally attack Leo X himself. While Luther has problems with the Roman Church and issues with the papacy itself, he wants to make the point that the issue is not with Pope Leo X as an individual.

C. Luther's Issues With Rome Not Focused on Morals but Doctrine

Along with his assertions that his aim was not to criticize Leo X on a personal level, Luther also wanted to emphasize that the reformation he desired was not a mere improvement of morality within the Roman Church. His critique was not primarily about the lack of good works exemplified by those following the pope, nor was his major concern focused on the 'lifestyle choices' (to use our current term) of those in Romanist leadership. Luther thus implicitly distinguished his objections to the Roman Church from those of others within the Roman system, such as Erasmus (the prominent scholar who had rendered a critical edition of the Greek New Testament), who had criticized the lax morals and abuses of power of some within Roman leadership. Whereas Erasmus did not want to fundamentally change the doctrine taught by Roman Catholic theologians, Luther saw his own call for Reformation as getting more to the heart of the problems within the institutional Church. Luther's call for Reformation involved a reformation of doctrine: specifically, a clarification on the teaching about how sinners could be counted right in God's sight.

D. A Proposed Solution

Luther called upon Pope Leo X to abolish the curia [the administrative body through which the pope governs the Roman Catholic Church]. As Luther had previously urged the German nobility to call a Church Council, he now urged Pope Leo X to call a Church Council. The idea that the pope would call a council that would in any way limit papal claims to authority or de-centralize the pope's role in the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation was highly dubious given the fact that various popes had spent centuries accumulating authority. It seems more likely that the contents of Luther's public letter to Pope Leo X were intended to help the German nobility see that they should indeed call a council, which would determine the degree of control that Rome could claim over the German churches.

E. Luther's Admission of Personal Fault

1. The Fault. At the beginning of his letter to Pope Leo X, Luther admitted that he had "a great beam" in his own eye. Luther said that he couldn't be "the first to cast the stone at the adulteress." Whereas Luther was fully convinced that he has taught no false doctrine in his struggle for reformation, he did admit that the way in which he had engaged in this struggle had, at times, been characterized by rashness, impiety, or intemperate speech.

2. A Defense. ON THE OTHER HAND, he did defend the idea that sometimes strong language IS APPROPRIATE when contending against false teachers. Luther referenced Philippians 3:2 as an example when Paul called his opponents "evil dogs." Luther wrote, "The ears of our generation have been made so delicate by the senseless multitude of flatterers that as soon as we perceive anything of ours is not approved of, we cry out that we are being bitterly assailed; and when we can repel the truth by not other pretense, we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, intemperance, to our adversaries. What would be the use of salt if it were not pungent, or the edge of the sword if it did not slay?" The idea of 'snowflakes' or being overly sensitive to 'micro-aggressions' is not new to our own day (though the terminology may be), but Luther saw the people of his time as being too weak to realize that the New Testament writers themselves labelled false teachers as wolves or vipers.

II. Body of the Treatise

A. Confronting the Common Misconception That the Christian Life is Meant to be Easy 

Whereas many conceive the Christian life as an easy thing, Luther argued that true faith is attained through trials. Concerning his own life, Luther confessed that he had been "vexed by various temptations." However, Luther viewed these temptations, along with the required perseverance over temptation, as a help, rather than a hindrance, to his faith.

B. THESIS FOR THE WORK: "A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone." 

C. The Thesis Proven through a Consideration of the Word and Faith

1. The Word.

a. Precepts and Promises. The Word gives us precepts by which we are condemned. The Word then gives us promises by which we are justified. Justification comes by the authority of the Word of God alone; therefore, the Christian man is free from all other authorities.

b. The Doctrine of Scripture. NOTICE the four-fold Protestant doctrine of Scripture present within this text. Scripture is implicitly presented as authoritative in the way that Luther cites it; a mere citation of Scripture stands as proof by itself, needing no outside proof to back it up. Scripture is implicitly presented as clear in matters concerning salvation; Luther does not feel obligated to dive into extended exegesis of various gospel passages, but he feels that they are understandable on their face. Scripture is explicitly presented as singularly necessary for salvation; as Luther wrote, “One thing, and one alone, is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty, and that is the most holy word of God.” Scripture is explicitly presented as sufficient for the Christian’s spiritual life; as Luther wrote, “having the Word, [the soul] is rich and wants nothing.”

2. Faith.

a. Justification. Justification comes by faith alone, bringing the soul of the Christian man into direct communion with God; therefore, the Christian man is free from all other authorities.

b. Faith vs. Works. Faith yields freedom for the Christian because any work that could be commanded could do nothing to bring a person into right standing before God; whereas, by faith, the Christian is already certain of right standing before God. Luther argued that works cannot be added to faith as the basis of our justification, because faith and works are antithetical; adding faith to works is halting “between two opinions.” Luther wrote, "Faith, which is the brief and complete fulfilling of the law, will fill those who believe with such righteousness that they will need nothing else for justification."

c. The Benefits of Faith. Faith takes hold of the gospel promises. Faith glorifies God, and it unites the soul to Christ. UNION WITH CHRIST was key to Luther’s argument in this treatise. Drawing on Scripture, Luther pointed to the direct analogy between the bride’s union with her husband and the Christian’s union with Christ. Luther wrote, “The believing soul may take to itself and boast of as its own whatever belongs to the soul that Christ claims as His.” Whatever riches that Christ has gained in His work, the believer has a share in those things. Luther understood a right consideration of union with Christ to PROVE both components of his thesis. In Christ, the Christian has victory over sin and death. United to Christ, who is King of Kings, the Christian is free from all other authorities. United to Christ, who was a suffering servant during His earthly ministry, the Christian is the most dutiful servant of all.

3. The Faithful Preaching of the Word. The right manner of preaching is NOT teaching the life of Christ as mere historic fact. It is NOT teaching the “laws of men and the decrees of the Fathers.” It is NOT an attempt to move our affections to sympathize with Christ. INSTEAD, the faithful preacher promotes faith in Christ, through teaching why He came.

III. Conclusion to the Treatise

A. Consideration: What role do works play in the Christian life?

B. Objection from Luther’s Opponents: “If faith does everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded. Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?”

C. Flesh and Spirit

The outer man must be brought into conformity with the inner man. The inner faith of the Christian must impact every aspect of the Christian’s life. The flesh struggles against the spirit. The flesh must “be purified from its evil lusts.”

D. Similes for Understanding the Relationship of Faith and Works

1. Adam in the Garden. The state of the working believer is like unto the state of Adam working in the Garden. When Adam was placed in the Garden, before he fell into sin, he was in a right relationship with God. He did not have to perform some work to bring himself into a right relationship with God. Yet, before sin entered the picture, he was given works to perform (in naming the animals, tending the garden, etc.), and he would have performed those works out of loving obedience to his Lord.

2. A Pastor in the Church. The state of the working believer is like unto the state of a pastor serving his church. Having been ordained to the pastorate, the pastor does not do his works in order to earn his position in the church. Rather, the pastor’s good works are an outworking of his calling.

E. Further Examples of Luther’s Thesis

1. The purification of the Virgin Mary (Luke 2:22-23; 39).

2. The circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16:3, though Titus was not circumcised, Gal 2:3-5).

3. Peter paying tribute money (Matt 27:27).

4. In each of the above cases, the works mentioned did nothing to bring the person performing them into a right standing before God; rather, they were performed out of love for God and consideration toward others.

F. Works Proceed from Nature

A good tree produces good fruit, not vice-versa. A good builder makes good houses, not vice-versa. People are justified in the sight of other people by good works, but many are deceived [and deceiving] by appearances. “[H]e who wishes to do good works must begin, not by working, but by believing, since it is this which makes the person good.”

G. Our Works Are NOT the Grounds for Our Justification Before God

Works are condemnable when they are taken as “grounds for justification.” The wrong view, that works are grounds for justification, is “invincible when sincere faith is wanting” (sinners naturally tend toward this wrong view), and the wrong view is strengthened by wrong tradition. True Christian works are performed for the purpose of bringing the body under subjection to the spirit or for serving our neighbors; they are never for the purpose of obtaining justification. The person with faith is “free from all law, and in perfect freedom does gratuitously all that he does.” The Christian freely works for, and subjects himself to working for, the good of his neighbor (cf. Phil 2:1-4). Luther resolved, “[I] will do nothing in this life except what I see will be needful, advantageous, and wholesome for my neighbor, since by faith I abound in all good things in Christ.” This is what it means to be a Christian [NOT seeking after merit].

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Monday, May 01, 2017

Jesus' View of Scripture Revisited

Introduction
"How do we know the Bible is the inspired Word of God? Is it because the Bible claims to be the Word of God? The Koran and the Book of Mormon also make the same claim. What other source can we rely upon to prove the inspiration of the Bible? The answer is simple: Jesus tells us the Bible is God's Word. But is this circular reasoning to use Jesus, whom the Bible speaks of, as evidence that the Bible is the Word of God? Aren't we using the Bible to prove the Bible?"
(from The introduction to "Is the Bible Inspired by God?" radio broadcast of Ligonier Ministries, 10/26/2005)

In the radio broadcact quoted above, the late Dr. John Gerstner explains how the authority of Jesus can be properly invoked to authenticate the Bible as the Word of God with the following four propositions, to which I will add some commentary and evidence that Gerstner was not able to present under the time constraint of the program.

Proposition One: "There was a being called Jesus of Nazareth as a matter of historical fact."
Even nonChristian historians recorded facts concerning the life of Christ. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (born A.D. 37) wrote,

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and (He) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who became his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive; accordingly, He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. [from Kitab Al-Unwan Al-Mukallal Bi-Fadail Al-Hikma Al-Mutawwaj Bi-Anwa Al-Falsafa Al-Manduh Bi-Haqaq Al-Marifa]

The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (born circa A.D. 53) in addressing the subject of Christians persecuted by Nero wrote,

Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through Rome also. [Annals XV.44]

[The above quotes are found in Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell.]

Proposition Two: The Gospel accounts offer (at least) basically reliable information about Jesus of Nazareth.
This is clear especially from the Gospel account of Luke, as Luke is writing as a historian. As a historian, Luke makes record of geographic locations and political events that can be examined through archaelogical examination and Roman governmental records. On the reliability of the geographic and political information presented by Luke, Sir William Ramsay (who is regarded as one of the greatest archaelogists ever to have lived) has written,

Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy...this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians. [Quoted in McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands A Verdict. San Bernardino: Here's Life Publishers, Inc, 1979. 71.]

Together with Luke, the other Gospel accounts give similarly verifiable historical information. And there is no reason to suspect that the Gospel writers become any less reliable when relating information about Jesus, especially as their writings on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ are based on direct eyewitness accounts.

Proposition Three: The Gospel accounts present persuasive evidence that Jesus is the Son of God.
If the Gospel accounts offer (at least) basically reliable information about Jesus of Nazareth, then we can be certain that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. This is obvious from the record of Jesus' testimony at His trial (Mark 14:61-62), from the record of Jesus' acceptance of worship as the Son of God from His disciples (Matthew 14:33), and from the record of Jesus' testimony concerning Himself (John 3:16-18).

But how can we know that Jesus' testimony is true?

Again, taking the proposition that the Gospel accounts offer (at least) basically reliable information, we have all the support we need to verify Jesus' claims to deity (and thus ulitimate authority) in the account of His resurrection.

Christianity is not just a religion of ideas, but an account of God's activity in the actual world in which we live. God has created the world that we live in and has impacted the world in concrete historical events. The Gospel writers understood the importance of establishing verifiable truth claims in order to persuade their readers that they were not just trying to spread some new myth that could be equated with other ancient beliefs or new mystery religions. This is why Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are so very careful to base their report of the most import events that they record- the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus- on eyewitness testimony.

In the resurrection of Jesus in particular, the Gospel writers appeal heavily to historical evidence to verify that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the grave. They seem especially sensitive to the doubts of their listeners on this point and so they give the names and testimonies of several people who actually saw and spoke with Jesus after He was risen from the dead. These witnesses include Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:1-10), Mary the mother of James and Salome (Mark 16:1-8), Joanna (Luke 24:1-11), Cleopas (Luke 24:13-35), as well as the Eleven apostles, as declared by all the Gospel writers. The Apostle Paul also, in his letter to the Corinthian church, which was probably written down before the Gospel accounts were written, mentions that after His resurrection Jesus "appeared to over 500 brothers at one time, most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:6 HCSB). By this statement the Apostle demonstrates that there were many living witnesses to the resurrection at the time he wrote his letter.

Again, one outcome of Jesus' resurrection is that His self-testimony was validated- Jesus is the Son of God (as He testified numerous times) and as the Son of God, He has ultimate authority in whatever pronouncements that He makes.

Proposition Four: "Jesus taught that the Bible (the Old Testament canon completed and the New Testament canon that He was going to bring about by His inspired apostles is the Word of God."

Conclusion
This is not circular reasoning, but rather a linear, progressive argument: "Proposition Two" is that the Bible is basically reliable; "Proposition Three" is that the Bible offers reliable, convincing proof that Jesus is the Son of God and is therefore Himself authoritative; "Proposition Four" is that on the basis of Jesus' authority, the Bible is supremely reliable as the Word of God.

[AFTERWORDThis blogpost was originally published on 11/14/05. I do think that this is a valid argument, and it is helpful to demonstrate why, on the basis of historical data as usually accepted, we should have confidence in the facts of Jesus' view of Scripture and of His resurrection. One thing that I would want to add is a frank confession that no person is neutral concerning the facts presented; it was NOT a disinterested examination of the evidence that led me to believe that the Bible is God's Word. Rather, through the preaching of the Word, I was convicted of my sin, and I heard the message of Christ as the good news, offering me salvation in Him. It was only after I entered college, when professors and fellow students started questioning how I could know that the Bible is God's Word, that I started looking for additional confirming evidences like the argument detailed above. 

HOWEVER, I recognize that nobody will be convinced by such argumentation alone. This is not because the above argument is lacking in itself. Rather, people WILL NOT be convinced by such argumentation because they DO NOT WANT to be convinced. It takes a work of the Holy Spirit, convicting of sin and granting faith in the Savior, which allows people to trust in His Word.]

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