Tag Archives: Christianity

Embracing Jesus – Repentance and Joy

Repentance

I have been reading A Quest for Godliness by J. I. Packer.  In it, Packer lays out the faith of the Puritans and the way they conferred their beliefs to everyday living.  The things that the Puritans believed were not only abstract, “out there somewhere” ideas.  They were “on the ground”, in front of you, moment by moment beliefs.  Sure, a part of their theology was seemingly abstract and was very high intellectually.  But they didn’t stay there.  Their high-level thought led to high-level application.  One area I have been wrecked by reading on the Puritans is the area of personal holiness and repentance.

The Puritans have oft been charged as legalists, or, at least way too sensitive when it comes to sin.  We might ask them today why they are so uptight.  We may wonder why they are such fun-quenchers.  But I believe that they would respond with joy.  They would respond that holiness and repentance is joy for them.  And I think we can learn a great deal from the Puritans on this note.

Embracing Jesus – From Sin to Savior

I heard repentance described once as turning from our sin to our Savior.  Certainly, this is a simple (not easy) definition of repentance, but it is a great starting point.  Often, when we call people to believe in Jesus for salvation, we only emphasize that they must confess their sin and then believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord, and they will be saved.  I mean, doesn’t the bible teach this in 1 John 1:9, which says, “if we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (ESV)?  Well, yes, this is true.  I don’t deny this.  But we must be careful that we are not calling men to “easy-believism”.  What’s that?  “Easy-believism” is simply telling someone that in order to be in heaven forever instead of hell, all they must do is say a simple prayer.  Sometimes, if we are really pressed, we will say something like “and you really have to mean it.  If you don’t mean it, it isn’t real.”

What is the difference?  The difference is eternity.  Not only does 1 John 1:9 call men to confess our sin, but it also tells us what happens when we truly come to Jesus for salvation: God will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.  This happens in two parts: 1. We are declared righteous at the moment of conversion.  We are clothed in the righteous perfection and holiness that is Jesus Christ.  2. We are called into a life of repentance and turning away from sin and forsaking our former selves and into a life embracing Jesus as better than our sin and into a life of pursuing holiness and righteousness in practice.  The first part is positional cleansing – we have been cleansed and forgiven!  The second part is practical cleansing – we continue to become clean and must continue to seek God’s forgiveness which will continue to make us more and more holy, that is, more and more into the image of Christ.

Can Someone be Saved and Not Repent?

No.  But what I don’t mean to say is that repentance saves a man.  God alone saves a man by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Ephesians 2:8-9).  But what I am saying is that repentance is the fruit of faith which necessarily proceeds after trust is place in Jesus Christ.  J. I. Packer, in A Quest for Godliness, says, “When faith has primed the pump of the human heart, repentance is the way of living that results.”  In other words, what will happen to a man when his heart is fully given over to the Lord Jesus in faith?  Repentance.  The man will no longer want his sin, but will want his savior!

Packer continues, “your souls will never be drawn from sin, or driven into a course of repentance, until God becomes your dread.”  What’s his point here?  Isn’t God loving toward His own people?  Yes.  However, it is the wrath of the father which keeps a child from doing what he has been commanded not to do.  Likewise, Packer’s point is that not only is the love of the Lord Jesus as Savior reason to repent, but so is the wrath of the Father reason to repent.  Both God’s wrath and His love ought to keep a man in a habitual pattern of repentance – turning from his sin to his savior.  It is a gracious thing to turn to the Savior out of love and devotion.  It is a gracious thing, also, to turn to the Savior out of dread, knowing that God’s wrath burns hot against sin.  Repentance, therefore, comes from both a loving and devoted heart to the Lord Jesus as well as from a dread of God’s red-hot wrath against sin.

The good news is that Jesus took the wrath of God for sin, so that, in the Lord Jesus, I am freed from the constant fear and dread of God’s wrath.  I am not freed from the fear of God’s wrath if I am in sin, even if I think I am a believer.  It is only when I am repenting into Jesus Christ’s bosom that I am completely freed from the fear of the wrath of the Father. Praise be to God!

Conclusion

In Luke 14:25-33,  Jesus explains to the large crowds following Him that there is a steep cost to pay in following Him.  In fact, that cost is a complete forsaking of one’s self and one’s rights and submitting to Christ and His commands.  Jesus says it like this, “whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  When we are doing the task of sharing the gospel and making disciples, we need to not sugar coat what it means to come after Christ for salvation.  We ought to lift high Jesus as Savior, but also lift high Jesus as Lord.

Sometimes we think that in doing so, people will be turned off to Christ.  We think, “if they have to turn away from their sin, from what they love doing, then they will most certainly not turn to Christ.”  I would respond to say that if we have won them to Jesus as Savior, but not to Jesus as Lord, we have not won them to Jesus period.  And we ought to not look at repentance and obeying Jesus as Lord as a bad thing.  John says in 1 John 5:3, “for this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome (ESV).”  Paul says this in Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish (DUNG!), in order that I may gain Christ (ESV, emphasis my own).”

Will you embrace Jesus?  Will you turn from your sin and embrace the Savior?  His commands are not burdensome, but they are life-sustaining and joy-giving.  Where does your joy come from? Repent and embrace Jesus Christ.

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The True Church & True Christianity

Cover of "Christianity and Liberalism"

Cover of Christianity and Liberalism

Recently, I (Aaron) read Christianity & Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen.  This may be the most important book I have read in the last 3 or 4 years.  In it, Machen distinguishes between the historically true Christianity and the Christianity of Liberalism.  Machen writes “In setting forth the current liberalism, now almost dominant in the Church, over against Christianity, we are animated, therefore, by no merely negative or polemic purpose; on the contrary, by showing what Christianity is not we hope to be able to show what Christianity is, in order that men may be led to turn from the weak and beggarly elements and have recourse again to the grace of God” (13).

Machen’s main goal is providing a clear difference between what the Bible says about Christianity and what modern liberals say about Christianity.  I would add not to the point, but to provide even more evidence that there is such a thread, that throughout Church history there have been those opposed to the true church by “having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5)”.  These are the “sheep in wolves clothing” that Jesus warns us about in Matthew 7:15.  Before providing any clear differences, on the outset I want to be clear about what is meant by historical Christianity and liberalism.

What is meant by historical Christianity is what Jude says in Jude 3, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”.  Jude uses faith not as some subjective, relativistic word depending on religious and moral preference, rather as a definitive thing.  Jude assumes the word true before the word faith.  Jude needs not say to contend for the true faith delivered to the saints.  He only needs to say the faith.  The faith delivered to the saints is a historical thing.  It is not made up, but rather based on things that actually happened, on facts.  Paul sums up the faith, or what I contend to be Christianity, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, (and) that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (ESV).  What does Paul mean?  He means the most important thing for the Church at Corinth is to have faith and to believe in the historical Christ, who died, was buried, and rose again.  This is the anchor of Jude’s definitive faith.  This is the foundation, the only foundation, for true Christianity.

Liberalism, however, attempts to reconcile what is perceived as science and what is historical Christianity. Machen says:

It is this problem which  modern liberalism attempts to solve.  Admitting that scientific objections may arise against the particularities of the Christian religion – against the Christian doctrines of the person of Christ, and of redemption through His death and resurrection – the liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion, of which these particularities are thought to be mere temporary symbols, and these general principles he regards as constituting “the essence of Christianity.” (5)

Machen goes on to say “Modern liberalism may be criticized (1) on the ground that it is un-Christian and (2) on the ground that it is unscientific” (6).

The modern liberal notion to have the “essence of Christianity” is really a difficult thing to define.  But it can be traced back to the early days of the Church.  In Acts 17:18, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers conversed with Paul and said “What does this babbler wish to say?” because “he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection“.   The Stoics believed in being one with nature (whatever that means), and that the best indicator of one’s philosophy was his behavior, or his way of life.  Now, this seems to be partly Christian.  But the Stoic did not charge Paul as a babbler because Paul was preaching a way of life.  Rather, the Stoic said Paul was a babbler because Paul was preaching the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Machen says “Christianity for Paul was not only a way of life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first” (20).   The liberal notion of the essence of Christianity, meaning lifestyle, is maybe the most dangerous false gospel.

Machen says about this notion of liberal Christianity:

It may appear that what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.  It may appear further that the fears of the modern man as to Christianity were entirely ungrounded, and that in abandoning the embattled walls of the city of God he has fled in needless panic into the open plains of a vague natural religion only to fall an easy victim to the enemy who ever lies in ambush there. (6)

Machen goes on to add:

Our principle concern just now is to show that the liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity, so that what remains is in essentials only that same indefinite type of religious aspiration which was in the world before Christianity came upon the scene.  In trying to remove from Christianity everything that could possibly be objected to in the name of science, in trying to bribe off the enemy by those concessions which the enemy most desires, the apologist has really abandoned what he started out to defend.  Here as in many other departments of life it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending. (6)

I believe that what Machen writes is as indicative, if not more so, with our church culture as much as it was in his day when he wrote this book (1923).  The main problem, and the most potent enemy of the true church, is the enemy within, the man who simply moralizes Christianity and fits the realm of moral teaching into modern scientific thought and calls it Christianity.  Michael Horton wrote a book titled “Christless Christianity”.  Horton has several similar thoughts throughout this book, dealing much with history and statistics, and relates our Americanized version of Christianity as one without Christ Himself.  Horton calls the modern liberalistic version of Christianity, the one very popular in our American Church, “moralistic therapeutic deism”.  It is moralistic in that a modern common assumption is that good people, or moral people, will go to heaven when they die, and bad people, or immoral people, will go to hell when they die.  It is therapeutic in that a modern common assumption is that God exists for my benefit, for my happiness, and wants me to have my best life now.  Religion is kind of like therapy, it can give me peace of mind and God exists for my well being.  It is deism in that God is really out of the picture.  Religious, moral, theological differences are not big deals, but as long as God is there to be “turned on” when I need Him.

This is the danger lurking in our pews.  Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, or the modern liberalism religion they call Christianity, is not the Christianity of Jude, of Paul, of Peter, of John, or of Christ.  The resounding message of true Christianity, found in the Bible, is that we are all not good.  We do not have a neutral bent towards God, rather we have a naturally bad bent towards God.  The liberal idea of sin is one of failure to live up to all that we are intended for, rather than an offense against an Almighty God worthy of eternal punishment, by which we will be sent to Hell to experience the full weight of the wrath and punishment of God for all eternity.

One of the more popular phrases I read and hear from people is that a sin is a sin.  In dealing with certain cultural issues, the pushback is always that their sin is no worse than the sins of others.  I am told often to “take the plank out of my eye first”.  Here’s the issue: they are right only in the true statement that sin is sin.  But I fear that what is intended by that message is one of softening the idea of sin rather than trembling as a result of our sin.  If sin is sin, and sin is bad, and my sin sends me to Hell for all eternity by the Just and Good Judge of the universe, then I ought not to trifle with quaint sayings and clichés such as sin is sin and love the sinner hate the sin.  The greatest expression of love towards sinners that a Christian can make is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, which must start out with the proclamation “you are a sinner!”.  How much do I hate those sinners who do not know Christ if I “accept” them in their sin and simply try to love them to Jesus, without having told them the most damning and indicting news against them, namely, they are sinful.  Jesus DIED for sin!  He DIED.  Let that sink in.  It is the reason Martin Luther, the great reformer, when giving his first mass, held the elements of communion in his hands, and trembled, because he realized that he was not good, and if he was handling Christ Himself, he ought to not be full of sin!  Luther’s tremble came at the realization that he wasn’t good!  In order for someone to be converted to Christ, he must know of himself that he is not good, but sinful!

Jesus’ ministry was one of teaching primarily.  The first thing he did, after being baptized, in his pubic ministry, was to proclaim repentance to people.  The word repent literally has the idea of being holistically new and having a new mindset.  Jesus proclamation in his teaching ministry was that the mindset of His followers would be new.  Jesus trumps the Old Testament version of commandments in that He deals with the inner man and not just the outer man.  Jesus moralistic teachings, such as the sermon on the mount, is moralistic in the sense that it deals with seemingly “outer man” issues.  But Jesus point in all of those is that He sets a new standard, perfection.  Each time Jesus speaks of “old commands”, He will say “you have heard it said”  but then Jesus says, “but I say to you”.  Jesus is not replacing old commands with different commands.  Jesus reinforces that those old commands are good.  But He also trumps them by dealing with the “inner man”.  Jesus says later in His teaching ministry that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” (Matthew 22:37).  Jesus deals with the inner man primarily.  Repentance is not accomplished by the modern notion of being good.  Repentance is accomplished by the justification and regeneration of Jesus Himself inside the sinful mans heart, soul, and mind.  The natural outcome of that to Jesus is the second greatest commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself.

It is obvious that our culture is confused about Christianity, sometimes even the Christian cultures in which we live are confused about what true Christianity is.  Secular culture is confused about Christianity by Christianity.  But make no mistake, the (true) faith that was delivered once for all to the saints is prevailing and will prevail in the end.  When we read the final pages of Revelation, we see that the true church, the bride of Christ, will be gloriously ushered into eternal dwelling in the heavens and the new earth, with God dwelling with His people and His people dwelling with their God.  This picture in Revelation 21 causes joy in my heart.  I am reminded of the hymn It is Well.  The opening line of the last stanza says “and Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight”.  Oh what a day that will be!

The modern liberal idea of Christianity will indeed prevail in our secular culture.  Its easy and it requires only that sinful people continue to be sinful people.  Moralistic-Therapeutic-Deism makes sinful people believe they are good, that they need God when life becomes difficult, and the end goal of life is to be happy.  It is only true Christianity which calls sinful men out to confessional faith, faith in the only begotten Son of God, faith that Jesus indeed died for my sin, was buried, and on the third day rose again in a glorious resurrection.  I have faith that I too am raised with Christ in newness of life.  This new life, however, is based not on feeling or on my own notions of what is good and good for me.  This new life is based only in the doctrines, the facts, of historical Christianity, that I am Christ’s and He is mine, and that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Post Written By: Aaron Hale

 

Machen, J. Gresham Christianity & Liberalism. 1923, 2009 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI 49505

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Early Christians and the Sanctity of Human Life

Plutarch was a first century historian who wrote that the Carthaginians “offered their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan.” Cicero (106-43 B.C.) said that “deformed infants should be killed.” This was the worldview of the Greco-Roman world in which the early church lived. If this sounds like the extreme practices of an ancient barbaric society long forgotten, then you need to wake up.

The more we learn about the horrors of the abortion culture, more accurately described as the culture of death, the more disturbing it becomes. In the past couple of weeks the issue of infanticide has become a major discussion in the world of social media. Remember, infanticide is the killing of an infant that is alive after birth. Recently a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood defended the horrific practice before the Florida House of Representatives. Even more disturbing than the Florida case is a murder case in Pennsylvania involving an abortionist who is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of third-degree murder. The seven counts of first-degree murder involve babies that had survived abortions and were subsequently put to death. What makes these cases even more shocking is the lack of media coverage that the cases have been given since the trial began last month. The media has been virtually silent.

One thing that is important for us to consider as Christians thinking through the issues involved here is that this is nothing new. Our forefathers in the Christian faith faced similar cultural horrors in their day. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph society has not changed as much as some would have us to believe. This is because we live in a Genesis 3 world. Ever since Genesis 3 sin has dominated the human heart. This is was true in Rome, Athens, Germany, and is still the case in Philadelphia and Florida. Nevertheless, Christians fought against the unjust practice based primarily on two principles from Scripture: “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13) and “Be not conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). The early Christians without reservation put infanticide within the context of the command not to murder. They did not shy away from the controversy and condemned it in their writings. The author of the Didache (perhaps AD 90) has this to say: “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not corrupt children; you shall not be sexually immoral; you shall not steal; you shall not practice magic; you shall not engage in sorcery; you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide (lit. you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one that was born)” (2:2). The author mentions killing children again in 5:2 as something that is characteristic of the way of death. Similarly, The Epistle of Barnabas (2nd century) condemns abortion and infanticide in 19:5, “You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide (same wording except for the word). At first Christians did not have the kind of influence to impact policy on infanticide. This was true for a long time. They opposed it where they encountered it, they patiently endure persecution, and they continued to preach the gospel. As they did this Christianity spread throughout the Roman world and evetually was made a legal religion in AD 313. The problems that arose from Christianity being legalized notwithstanding, the Christian emperor Valentinian outlawed infanticide in AD 374.

But what about abortion? Perhaps you are thinking, “I am a Christian who opposes infanticide, but I think that a woman has the right to choose an abortion under certain circumstances.” My question would be, what is the difference in the baby traveling a few inches? What is the difference in a few weeks or months? When does a fetus somehow become a human being deserving of life? As I have demonstrated in the above quotes early Christians also opposed abortion. They viewed the fetus as a human being, and thus considered it murder to end the pregnancy. “You shall not murder a child by abortion” (author’s translation). Someone at this point may respond that the actual Scriptures do not teach what the Didache is here teaching. The fact that babies are human and deserve the right to life is established in the Old Testament. A baby does not become a human being when the State says that it does. Rather God creates the baby in his image from the moment of conception. Even before conception God has a plan for the baby. These truths are taught beautifully in Psalm 139:

For it was you who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I was fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. – Psalm 139: 13-16 (HCSB).

If this is the case then clearly abortion falls under the definition of murder, which is an assault against the image of God. But again someone may respond that the Old Testament uses poetic and exaggerated language when describing the process of the infant in the womb. No where is the practice of abortion forbidden in the Bible. However, this may not be the case. In Galatians 5:20 Paul lists sorcery in his list of the works of the flesh. Also in Revelation 21:8 John lists sorcerers immediately after murderers and the sexually immoral. Alvin Schmidt in his book How Christianity Changed the World makes a strong case that what Paul and John may be referring to is the practice of abortion. The standard Greek lexicons define the word cluster that Paul and John use (pharmakeia and pharmakos respectively) as involving magic potion, medicine, or even poison. Abortions in the ancient world were often caused by medicinal potions. Schmidt also points out that Plutarch used pharmakeia with respect to contraception. Thus, a very good case can be made that Paul did in fact condemn medically induced abortions. History also demonstrates that Christians continued to oppose abortions caused by potions, and in 374 abortion was also outlawed.

As I have attempted to demonstrate Christians from the beginning of their existence have contended for the rights of children. The society in which they had a very low view of life, especially the lives of children. These should be the very lives most precious to us. We should give glory to God for the children that he blesses us with. But sadly our society is very similar to the Greco-Roman society. Human life is counted as cheap, and often it is considered a burden to society. As Christians we cannot conform to our culture, especially in this area. Human life is one of the most precious gifts that God has given us. He values it and so should we. However, we must remember that we are not called to be politicians or vigilantes. We are heralds of the sacred message that our king has given to us to proclaim. The earliest Christians did not respond to their culture with violence and neither should we. Instead, we are to preach the gospel of Christ. We must never forget that the people going into abortion clinics are hurting people that desperately need the gospel. We fight this battle with the message that we are sinners under the just wrath of God, and that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death, and rose from the dead to secure freedom from sin, guilt, and death. The only thing that will ever impact the culture of death is the good news that Jesus saves.

Post written by Matthew Gay

Sources cited in this article:

Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

Holmes, Michael W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.

Baur, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited and Translated by Frederick W. Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilber Gingrich [BDAG] 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2000.

Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida, A Greek-Engish Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains 2nd ed. New York: United Bible Society, 1989

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