January 31, 2013

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News Indeed

Good news! Good news!

Dave Sherrill

"Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. "In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, 'The Lord our righteousness.' (Jeremiah 23:5-6, NASB)
"Anyone who is acquainted with the nature of mankind in general, or his own heart in particular, must acknowledge that self-righteousness is the last idol that is rooted out of the heart: " (George Whitefield, The Lord our Righteousness, p.9)
How can a sinner stand before a righteous and holy God and receive the verdict "Justified. Righteous in the eyes of God." God is a righteous God. He is also the just judge. He does not judge with partiality nor can he overlook any sin. His knowledge about us is perfect and complete. He has known us and everything about us from eternity past. Nothing is hidden from Him. He executes perfect justice from perfect knowledge.  

So how can a sinner stand before God, guilty in himself, and receive God's pronouncement of justification? As the creator of heaven and earth and everything that exists, including us, God has decreed that there is only one way of peace with Him. That way is perfect righteousness. Not merely to be without sin, in a sort of neutral state before God. No, not merely without sin, we must possess a perfect righteousness, obeying God perfectly and doing all His will, perfectly.  

God's law is his own holy standard. It flows from him and reveals His holy and perfect nature. It is the standard God has established that, by it, true justice will be rendered. It is the keeping of that law perfectly that justifies someone in the sight of our perfect God.  
'You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God. 'So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:4-5, NASB)
"Perform My judgments and keep My statutes, by which a man may live if he does them." There is an explicit blessing here. Keep My law and you will live. But the law is a double-edged knife. It cuts both directions. It holds not only a blessing but also a curse. "Obey this law and live. Break this law and die."

So how can you stand justified before God? Simply knowing that the law exists is not enough. (for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. Romans 2:13, NASB )   No one reading this meets these qualifications which God requires. No one (except Jesus Christ) has perfectly obeyed God in avoiding sin and in performing righteousness perfectly. All of us have broken God's law. We have sinned against our creator and have violated his holiness by our rebellion against His law. We are at war with God, albeit impotently, but at war nonetheless. In our very natures we have inherited a fatal curse from our fleshly father Adam. We hate God's good commandments and we love sin. We run from the light and leap headlong into darkness.  
This is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:19-20, NASB)
So how can you, a sinner, stand justified before God?  
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered and said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." (Luke 10:25-28, NASB)
"Do this and you will live." Keep God's law perfectly, never sin, and always obey Him in everything with all of yourself. Your heart, soul, strength, and mind must be perfectly expended in obedient love to God and to your neighbor. No losing heart in time of trial. No weakness in work. No wandering thoughts leading to sin. Every fiber of your being expended in love for God and this perfectly. "Do this and you will live." This is the perfect and holy law of the perfect and holy God. But is this good news? Did the lawyer who answered the Lord rejoice in this? Did he go away feeling self-righteous, thinking that he certainly had a good standing before God? After all, he was trying his very best to obey these two great commandments.  

Note the next verse. (But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "and who is my neighbor?" John 10:29, NASB) Self-righteousness raises it's ugly head here. "Wishing to justify himself." But note, God's law is not based on "our best efforts" or "our good intentions" to keep it. You really, truly have to keep it! Perfectly! "Do this, and you will live." Not "Try to do this." Not "Give it your best shot." No, one single failure, one disobedient act, one sinful thought, one omission of any kind, one failure is fatal. Yet this expert in the law was "wishing to justify himself."  

In case you remain unconvinced let's look at another man "wishing to justify himself" in his own self-righteousness.  
And as He [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. "You know the commandments, 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10:17-22, NASB)
The Lord of the universe rehearsed with this man the requirements of the Law. What is his answer? "I have kept all these things from my youth up." Wrong! He missed it. He didn't get it. His eyes were blind, his heart was cold. He did not hear the Lord that day, but wishing to justify himself, he condemned himself by his own words.  

Now I wonder, do you hear the Lord right now? "Do not murder (or be angry with your brother without cause). Do not commit adultery (or look lustfully on another). Do not steal (or envy another). Do not bear false witness (or lie)." Can you even meet the first requirement of the law mentioned here, let alone law upon law upon law?  

Don't think that Jesus was giving the man an opportunity to justify himself before God through obeying these laws. The Lord here was not implying that the man had actually followed these nor could he follow them. Jesus was using the law to demonstrate to the rich man his utter sinfulness; his total, complete poverty of any righteousness, and thus His need of a savior. He had broken every one of these commandments (as we all have - either in thought or in deed). But did the man hear? Did he really hear what the Lord said? No, even though he had physical ears and heard Jesus' words, God had not yet given him "eyes to see and ears to hear". No, he thought he had kept these commandments of God. He remained in darkness. Instead of answering "I have broken each of these countless times. How can I find righteousness before God? God, be merciful to me the sinner!" Instead of that kind of answer, he broadcasts his spiritual blindness. "Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth up."  

I expect that some of the people reading this are like these men. You wish to justify yourself in the sight of God. Your answer to the Lord would run along the same lines and that answer would miss the mark of God's righteousness to your damnation. Instead of justifying yourself, you condemn yourself by your own words.  

If the Lord were to question you now, "Why should I let you into heaven?" Will you venture your answer by starting your sentence with "I...". Or perhaps you would even be bold enough to say, "Lord, I...". You are seeking to justify yourself. You are standing on your own righteousness. To do so, even in part, even in small part, is to be self-righteous and self- condemning. The road to hell starts in your own heart with that one little word "I". I hope and pray that this tiny word leading to an eternity of separation from God would not be found on any of your lips. Oh that the Lord would open your eyes and ears today that you would hear His words and see your condition as it is.  
Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20, NASB)
Are the requirements of God's perfect law good news? To know that perfection is the required standard? Is that the gospel, the "good news"? No it is terrible news. It is the worst news possible for our pride for there is no way that we ourselves can attain to it. No, it is not good news but it leads us to the good news. It is our schoolmaster teaching us, revealing our complete and total lack of hope in saving ourselves. But if perfect righteousness is the requirement, where will we find it? How can you, a sinner, stand justified before a holy and just God?  

"What good does it do to me to tell me that the type of religion presented in the Bible is a very fine type of religion and that the thing for me to do is just to start practicing that type of religion now? ... I will tell you, my friend. It does me not one tiniest little bit of good. ... What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question that I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?" (Machen cited in Horton, Trust and Obey, p.40)  
"Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. "In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, 'The Lord our righteousness.' (Jeremiah 23:5-6, NASB)
The Lord our Righteousness!  
Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:1-3, NASB)
God's righteousness! Not ours, God's!  
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:21-24, NASB)
The righteousness of God! How? Through faith in Jesus Christ. Why? It is a gift by God's grace! Good news! Good news! The demand of God's law for perfect righteousness has been met in Jesus Christ, the Lord our Righteousness!  
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4, NASB)
What the Law could not do, God did! What we cannot do for ourselves, God has done for us. "The Lord our Righteousness." The Lord himself has undertaken to provide the qualifications necessary to meet His own just judgment.  
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4, NASB)
"Justification means more than mere pardon for sin; it means that the justified person is regarded as having kept all God's laws perfectly." (James Buchanan, Not Guilty, p.25)
The Lord our righteousness. Who is this Lord and what does it mean to say he is our righteousness? The Lord is clearly Jesus Christ. How does His righteousness become ours? By God's grace through faith.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, (Romans 4:5, NASB)
We must be careful here in what we understand about this "faith".
"Yet, as we have seen, this obedience of faith is not the righteousness by means of which we are accepted by God. Obedient faith is the means by which we receive Christ's righteousness. Faith is the instrument by which righteousness is procured. Eating is necessary for the nourishment of our bodies, but it is the food we eat that actually nourishes us. Likewise, faith is necessary to receive righteousness but it is the righteousness of Christ which actually justifies us. Faith is the only means for the receiving of justification. Justification is not by faith plus the knowledge that one is among the elect of God. Justification is not by faith plus a certain amount of conviction of sin. True, none will believe unless they are the elect of God and are convicted of their sin and need of a Savior. But it is primarily our faith in God's promise of salvation in Christ for sinners which brings justification, not anything else we may know or feel. The reason why faith alone is the instrument by which we receive justification is that it is by believing -- and in no other way -- that we can rely on Christ's saving work. It is not sorrow for sin that unites us with Christ. It is not the spiritual graces of love and hope which make us partakers of Christ's righteousness. It is by the use of faith that sinners rely on Christ for salvation." (James Buchanan, Not Guilty, p.88)
Or said another way,
"Our faith, however, is not the reason for our justification. Believers are said to be justified by faith, not because of faith. No man has perfect faith. If faith were the reason for justification, them some believers might be justified by a more perfect faith; others by a less perfect faith. Or else, some are more justified than others! All this is absurd. And it makes faith into a way of earning justification. No! The righteousness of God is said to be "revealed ... to faith" (Rom 1:17). Faith therefore cannot be what makes us righteous." (Abraham Booth, By God's Grace Alone, p.39)
What makes us righteous is Christ's righteousness imputed to us, received by faith.  
All of life is designed by God for the purpose of glorifying God, including our salvation. "God is the only hero of these stories." (Michael Horton, Trust and Obey, p.20)
"My soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels." (Isaiah 61:10, NASB)
"Perhaps the greatest evidence of our sinful nature is not found in the horrible acts of immorality, violence, or selfish ambition, but in the fact that even when God offers us in the wedding garment of perfect righteousness we persist in our self-vindication! Whatever the fig leaves, whether made of self-esteem therapy or of energetic moralism, we refuse to see our filthy rags as insufficient to appear in the presence of a holy God. As one grand old Puritan said, "We attempt to cover filth with filth." (Michael Horton, Trust and Obey, p.24)
God imputes [or counts toward us] righteousness apart from works. (Romans 4:6) God's reckoning of righteousness to us is not a matter of him searching out our hearts and finding righteousness within us. That is not imputation. If he were to investigate our "righteousnesses" He would not find 'righteousness'. He would find only filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) Note that it is not merely our acts of disobedience, but "our righteous acts" that are so described.  

Imputation is a reckoning or a putting to the account of. The idea is one of an accounting of righteousness from one who is truly righteous to one who is bankrupt of all righteousness. So if God is imputing righteousness to us, it is not our own but another's. But whose? Christ's! God does not whip up righteousness out of thin air. It is Christ's real righteousness that is imputed to us by faith.  

Some dare to call this a "legal fiction". They accuse us of making God a liar by calling one "righteous" who is not righteous in themselves. But this is no "legal fiction". This is our life! (For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16, NASB) It is the true, real, existing righteousness of Christ and not a lie! This is the gospel, the good news!  

For what does God's word say? (But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, Romans 4:5, NASB) Him who justifies the ungodly! Are you ungodly today? Then this is your good news, that God in Christ has done for you what you cannot do yourself. He can make you stand justified before Him today, and that by the perfect righteousness of Christ which is counted to you by faith.  

How can you, a sinner, stand justified before a righteous and holy God? By God's grace, Christ's righteousness is accounted to you through faith. Your sin is reckoned to Christ and was punished in Him on the cross. You then stand before God clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ and God's pronouncement over you is "Justified". Christ's righteousness is reckoned to you, and you stand in Christ, justified before God.  

The cross of Christ simultaneously presents both the justice and mercy of God. Justice in that the sins of those who Christ died for were punished in Christ on the cross. Mercy in that those same ones who Christ died for may now be reckoned as fully righteous, fully obedient, perfect in respect to God's holy law, because Christ's perfect righteousness is imputed to them, reckoned to their account by faith. May today be the day when you hear and believe this glorious gospel, the good news of God's salvation in Christ.  
'Behold, days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 'In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 'In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the Lord is our righteousness.' (Jeremiah 33:14-16, NASB)

January 26, 2013

Fighting the Good Fight: The Life and Legacy of J. Gresham Machen.

Bethlehem Bible Church, Conference Series 2012, Dr. Stephen J Nichols, Research Professor of Christianity and Culture - Lancaster Bible College (PA).

Dr. Stephen J. Nichols is a professor and Bible and Theology department chair at Lancaster Bible College (PA) and Graduate School. This message is Session 7 of 7 from Bethlehem Bible Church's Conference Series held on March 30 – April 1, 2012 at Bethlehem Bible Church in West Boylston, MA.

January 1, 2013

Jesus Christ / Jehovah's Witnesses Q&A, part 1

Jesus Christ - The Answers to Our Questions

An Evangelical Response to the April 1, 2012 Watchtower

As an evangelical Christian, I count it a precious biblical truth that Jesus Christ is the Savior sent by the Father.  Jesus is a life-changer in the most profound sense. As a Christian, one of the deep impacts Jesus has had on my life is to give me a desire to speak truthfully about him. And so we arrive at the reason for this series of blog posts - a heartfelt desire to portray Jesus in the awesome light of truth contrasted with the tiny, confused, inaccurate picture of Jesus presented by the Jehovah's Witnesses.

The April 1, 2012 edition of the Watchtower magazine focuses on Jesus Christ and presents the unique understanding of the Jehovah's Witnesses concerning who he is.  Or as they have named the edition, "Jesus Christ - The Answers to Our Questions".

The answers given in the Watchtower magazine are very condensed, too brief to be truly helpful.  God willing, I will seek to provide responses that are full enough to be helpful in seeing the truth about Jesus Christ. Rather than create an overly lengthy blog post, I will be breaking my response up into a series of shorter posts. I hope the format proves to be helpful to you, dear readers.

Before Getting To The Questions

In the introduction of their magazine, the editors of the magaine spell out their method for answering the questions that will follow.

"The truth about Jesus can be discerned in his
words and actions, which are recorded in the four
Biblical Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
That inspired record is the basis for answering our
questions about Jesus."  (Watchtower, 4/1/2012, p.4)

Before we get to the questions, let's spend a little energy considering the impact this method could have. The Watchtower has effectively truncated the full testimony of Scripture by exclusively focusing on the four Gospels.  Is this a wise approach?  Are there important truths about Jesus Christ presented throughout the Bible?  The Watchtower leads the reader to believe that their answers to the questions are well-grounded and fully-formed.  Later in the publication, they emphasize that what we believe about Jesus really does matter (and I wholeheaertedly agree with them on that point - it truly does matter what we believe about Jesus).

Has the Watchtower decision to restrict the source material to the Gospels short-changed their answers in this issue of their magazine?  Yes.  Yes.  A thousand times, yes!  When we dive into the Biblical record, we find a rich palette painted across the canvas of the Old Testament concerning his unique sonship (Proverbs 30, Psalm 2, Isaiah 7 & 9); his unique Messiahship (Genesis 3, 9, 12, 49; Deut 18; and many others); many types and figures foreshadowing his multi-faceted uniqueness (Melchizedek, Abraham & Isaac, Boaz, Jonah, Moses, David, the entire Jewish priestly and sacrificial system, the Day of Atonement) and the list goes on.

In the New Testament we find the length and breadth revolving around Jesus Christ, bringing forth treasured view after view of his person, ministry, kingship, and Deity. It would not be unfair to describe the entire Bible as the book of Jesus Christ; for it either prefigures, predicts, or proclaims his greatness.

The Watchtower's approach in this issue of their magazine is overly-restrictive.  The truth about Jesus reaches far beyond the four Gospels, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation.  The Watchtower limits its investigation unwisely and, in so doing, creates an incorrect caricature of Jesus Christ. 

We will see where the Watchtower misses the mark in subsequent posts in this series.  Stay tuned.