November 28, 2009

How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer's ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole
And calms the troubled breast;
'Tis nourishment to hungry souls,
And to the weary rest.

Jesus! my Savior, Shepherd, Friend,
My Prophet, Priest, and King,
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I'll praise Thee as I ought.

(a hymn by John Newton)

Resting in Jesus

Justification by Faith Alone Illustrated

Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: 7 "BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. 8 "BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT." (NASB)

One of the great truths of the Gospel that was recaptured and rightly emphasized through the Reformation was the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. Justification by faith alone was so foundational to the work of reformation that it became embodied in one of the slogans of the Reformation--Sola Fide (Faith Alone). It is not the only "sola" of the Reformation and there is a need to see it in combination with the other solas to understand the full picture. But such an examination is outside the scope of this little note. We are going to focus our attention on sola fide and will leave the broader examination for another time.

During the Reformation, "Faith Alone" was set in contrast to the Roman Catholic concept of works of merit done in a state of grace for which it was fitting (in the Catholic view) for God to judge them as worthy of reward. But the Reformers uncomprisingly held to the Biblical witness that our salvation is based SOLELY on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and not on anything done in us or by us. The Reformers held that God's judicial verdict of "righteous" in favor of us could be based solely on our sin being counted to Christ and correspondingly Christ's perfect righteousness being counted towards us. How can our sin be laid upon Jesus and His righteousness made ours? By placing our faith in Jesus as Savior, trusting Him to save us. This faith in Jesus has, at times, been described as "resting in Jesus".

"Faith Alone", like all Biblical doctrines, can be misunderstood. One way it is misunderstood is when people hear "faith alone" and think it means the following:

God does not justify us because of our good works. He justifies us because of our faith. Our faith stands in the place of good works. Our faith is what deserves our justification before God. In other words, faith becomes the one good work which we must do so that we deserve to be saved.

In such a view, faith itself is seen as being our righteousness, not as the means of connecting us with the righteousness of Christ. In this view, faith replaces the work of Christ and becomes the basis upon which God gives salvation to us. Repeatedly throughout the years, as I have discussed "faith alone" with people, I have been conscious of the danger of misunderstanding "faith alone" in such a way. As I was thinking about "faith alone" and how to overcome this misunderstanding, the imagery of resting in Jesus came to mind. Let me describe what unfolded in my mind's eye.

As I thought on the phrase "resting in Jesus", an illustration came to mind which might help us see why faith itself is not why God will justify us. Now, this is an illustration, and no illustration is perfect. Think of your bedtime. At the end of a long, wearying day you look forward to a night of restful sleep. When bedtime arrives, you sit on the edge of the bed, turn off the light, pick your feet up off the floor, and rest on your bed. When you pick your feet up and lay down, your full weight is carried by the bed beneath you. You are "resting in bed". It is the bed which is holding you up. It is bearing the burden of all your weight. You cannot lay on it harder or softer. Your entire weight is all you have and no amount of "laying down harder" will put any additional load on the bed. We don't speak of laying down hard or soft. It's not a matter of degree. Laying down is not done in parts. It's all of you. When we speak of "resting in Jesus", it is this kind of resting that is being described. This kind of "full weight laid upon another to bear the load" is what I have in mind for "resting in Jesus".

Well, if you misunderstand "faith alone" to mean that you are saved by your work of faith instead of by Jesus' righteousness, how would that change the illustration? You would probably want to do the best job you could of laying in bed. So once you pick your feet up off the floor, you may think this way, "I must lay down as good as I possibly can. I am doing such a good job of laying here. I'm certain that this bed is going to recognize the quality of my laying here and reward me for it. Others can see that I am doing my best at laying here. I will continue to do my best at laying here." Perhaps you will think you should lay down harder, bearing down on the bed with all of your might (which really accomplishes nothing and certainly does not contribute to your rest). Or maybe you become convinced that you should lay lighter, but how would that be done? Perhaps you should stand and merely lean on the bed? Once again, you will not find true rest in such a posture. Are you really contributing anything to the bed's ability to hold you up as you lay there? Of course not! It is the bed that is upholding you and not anything to do with your laying will make you to be held up any better or more than you already are.

You see, "faith alone" is "resting in Jesus". This resting is a placing of all your weight on Jesus for HIM to bear you up. This resting, like physical resting, is not something which can be done more fully through exertion. It is a trust in HIM to uphold your full weight. It is a resting in HIM from the weariness of sin. Who does the work? Jesus does the work in holding you up, just as the bed alone holds you up and you contribute nothing to it without ruining your rest. And when people look to your resting in Him, what will they see? Not the fact that you are resting so well that God should forgive you, but that Jesus is holding you up entirely and perfectly. When you look to your own resting, what will you see? Not your resting, but the Beloved One who holds you up.

Do you see that faith alone does not point to your resting or to your faith but to the one upholding you. He is the one bearing you up fully and completely. This is "faith alone". This is for His praise and glory. Amen.

November 27, 2009

A Better Declaration By Far

This evangelical-authored, evangel-oriented declaration far exceeds other declarations of the past 20 years, including ECT I, II, and Manhattan. Since the collective evangelical mind thinks 'church history' extends clear back to last Sunday's sermon, it might be a bit of a stretch to consider something from ten years ago as relevant. But it is. It is.

Sola Scriptura: The Belgic Confession

Article 7: The sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, to be the only rule of faith.

We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein. For, since the whole manner of worship, which God requires of us, is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul saith. For, since it is forbidden, to add unto or take away anything from the word of God, it doth thereby evidently appear, that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects. Neither do we consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore, we reject with all our hearts, whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule, which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God. Likewise, if there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house.

November 26, 2009

Speaking of the Manhattan Declaration...

There is a lot of buzz in the evangelical blogosphere about the Manhattan Declaration. Several folks have chimed in, both pro and con, including Justin Taylor, Al Mohler, Dave Doran, Dan Phillips, John Macarthur, and Alistair Begg.

The declaration is eloquently worded, yet everyone is not coming to the same conclusion about it. Some of us remember earlier declarations that also found evangelical leaders landing on both sides of the coin. Why?

I strongly recommend a book that R. C. Sproul wrote a decade ago that walks through ECT II and shows in vivid, high-definition resolution how to read carefully. It's not a long read but can make a real difference in how you read religious declarations.

A Prayer On Redemption

Grant, Almighty God, that as we now carry about us this mortal body, yea, and nourish through sin a thousand deaths within us; O grant that we may ever by faith direct our eyes toward heaven, and to that incomprehensible power, which is to be manifested at the last day by Jesus Christ our Lord, so that in the midst of death we may hope that thou wilt be our Redeemer, and enjoy that redemption which he completed when he rose from the dead, and not doubt that the fruit which he then brought forth by his Spirit will come also to us when Christ himself shall come to judge the world; and may we thus walk in the fear of thy name, that we may be really gathered among his members, to be made partakers of that glory which by his death he has procured for us. Amen

--John Calvin

November 24, 2009

"Come Unto Me"

I had the blessed opportunity to preach in my home church last Sunday. For those interested in listening, you can download the mp3 here. It is right at 35 minutes long.

November 20, 2009

True Freedom

Now that the Christian message is so generally disbelieved or forgotten, the human race is sinking gradually into bondage; the advance in material things, extraordinary though it is, is being dearly purchased by a widespread loss of human freedom. But when the gospel is brought to light again, there will again be life and liberty for mankind.

November 2, 2009

Continue In Your Work...

Continue in thy work. Thou who art a minister, it is a work for thy lifetime; and not to be taken up and laid down again, according as it may best suit a man's carnal inclinations, and outward conveniences. The apostles that laboured with their hands, have, by that example, set the conscience of a minister at liberty, to provide for the necessities of this life by other employments, when he cannot live of the gospel; yet certainly no man that is called of God to this work, can with a safe conscience abandon it wholly. Paul, for example rather, than necessity, both preached, and wrought in a handy-craft. As preaching doth not make working unlawful, so neither should any other business of a minister make preaching cease.

--Robert Traill, taken from his Works, Vol I, p.236