How Justification by Faith Alone Works: Remembering the Reformation as We Enter 2018

samuel-zeller-432101.jpg8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
— Ephesians 2:8–10 —

Few things are more important than getting the doctrine of justification right. Because we are made by God, for God’s glory, and yet find ourselves as objects of his wrath by our very nature, there is no more important question than this: “What must I do to be saved?” How one answers that question will do more to determine the course of a person’s life, not to mention eternity, than anything else.

Indeed, one’s standing before God is what the Protestant Reformation was all about. And though 2018 leaves behind the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the Reformation’s recovery of the gospel is as important today as at any time in history. Mass confusion remains about how one is reconciled to God—both inside the church and out. And thus it remains wise and good to learn from the Reformers about justification by faith alone and to learn how justification by faith alone is the engine to a life of good, God-pleasing works. Continue reading

Growing up with “Papa”: A Personal Testimony of Saving Grace and Protestant Reformation

Vatican, RomeIn reading some of Martin Luther’s writing recently, I came away with the distinct impression that Luther talked like the Bishop of Rome was always in the room with him. While not thinking much about church until I came to faith at seventeen, my Protestant heritage couldn’t quite make sense of the seeming ubiquity of the Pope in Luther’s writing. And I wondered, “Is that something that modern Catholics still experience?”

To an answer to that question of experience, I asked one of our elders, Jeff Dionise, about it. And thankfully, he took the time to share with me his insight into what it might ‘feel’ like to growing up Catholic. Even more though, Jeff shared a testimony of his own ‘Protestant Reformation,’ where he left the Catholic Church to find in Christ what the Pope could never give—eternal salvation and true grace in his hour of need.

Here’s a transcript of that conversation. Continue reading

Martin Luther: Rediscovering the Gospel and Reforming the Church (A Biographical Sermon)

reformation

Martin Luther: Rediscovering the Gospel and Reforming the Church

As we gathered at church this Reformation Sunday, we did so with the fruits of the Reformation still impacting our lives. From the Bibles in our laps (or on our phones) to the message justification by faith alone in Christ alone, we who know the true gospel of grace are, in so many ways indebted to the men and women of the Reformation. Through their suffering, couple with the faithful who have gone before and after them, we have received an incredible heritage.

Accordingly, it is appropriate to spend time learning from their example. Indeed, it is even biblical. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember those who taught you the word of God, consider the outcome of their lives, and imitate their faith.” This morning, that is what our church did, setting our series of Ephesians aside for one week, in order to remember the life of Martin Luther and to learn from his faith.

Indeed, any study of Martin Luther requires a specific topic. His writing is so voluminous and his impact, not to mention his personality, is so vast, it requires any biographer to hone in on some aspect of his life. When John Piper preached a biographical sermon on Luther, he chose his relationship with God’s Word. For me, I chose to focus the church he aimed to reform with the gospel he reclaimed.

In this biographical sermon, I considered how Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel led him to fight for the purification and replanting, if you will, of the church. In truth, he never abandoned the church, but with the key of the gospel, he sought to unlock the church from its captivity to Rome. Therefore, there is much to learn from Luther about the gospel and the church, and how we can and ought to be gospel-centered churches.

To find out what we can learn from the life and legacy of Martin Luther, you can listen to the sermon online, or you can read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are included below. Continue reading

What is the Protestant Reformation? 4 Reasons and 9 Resources for Digging Into This Recovery of the Gospel

lutherFive-hundred years ago, on October 31, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door. This action launched a series of disputations about the Bible, the gospel, and the church—to name only a few. In time, Luther’s action would be considered the spark which ignited the Protestant Reformation.

But what is the Protestant Reformation? And why do we need to know about it? And what is there to learn?

To answer those questions and others like them, let me give four reasons why the Reformation should be highlighted and then a series of multi-media resources that might help you better understand the history and value of the Reformation.

Four Reasons to Highlight the Reformation

1. The Protestant Reformation is the largest revival in church history.

When American Christians think of revivals, they might think of big tents and saw dust trails. Or, if they are more historically inclined, the First or Second Great Awakening may come to mind. Still, in church history no genuine revival and outpouring of the Spirit (as evidenced by gospel proclamation, genuine conversions, and churches planted) outpaces the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century.

For close to a century, two generations of Reformers preached the gospel, translated the Bible, and planted churches, such that their effects are still felt today. For instance, Martin Luther and John Calvin’s writings continue to feed the church. The churches begun in that period continue to preach the gospel—sadly, with many deviations and perversions included. But most importantly, the Reformation principles that recovered the gospel—Scripture alone, Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, and God’s glory alone—continue to motivate and instruct the Protestant Church today.

In its day, the preaching of the gospel, with its emphasis on grace over works, justification by faith, trust in the finished work of Christ, and the sufficiency of God’s Word, led to mass conversions. Protestant churches sprung up in urban centers throughout Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In short, the Reformation recovered the gospel and with it freed thousands (and in years to come millions) of souls from the enslaving doctrines of the Catholic Church.

Thus, we should consider the Reformation because it is the largest revival in church history. Continue reading

The Warfare Worldview of Ephesians

kingWhen was the last time you prayed against the devil? Or, attributed your physical pain or emotional vexations to a demonic spirit?

If it has been some time (or never), it’s probably because you live in the 21st Century America, where the evils of the world—moral and natural—are explained by biological factors and scientific calculation. But if you lived in 16th Century Europe, it would be a different story.

In the Medieval period, ghosts and goblins, spirits and demons were regularly blamed for spiritual and physical tribulations. In that world, God and the angelic realm were not excluded from visible world. Sovereign over all spirits, God ruled the world and nearly every struggle in life could be connected to spiritual realities. Today, faith in God, especially Christian faith has demystified. Religion is a private affair. And God, in the public square and in the halls of learning, is an unwelcome guest.

As a result, Bible-believing Christians must fight against the prevailing, scientific worldview handed to them by television and education. Whereas leading scientists once gazed into the heavens to worship God, now scientifically-minded man is blind to the enchanted world in which we live. This is not to say we should go back to pre-scientific age of vain superstitions, but as Scripture testifies, we should see that the event on earth are part of God’s cosmic conflict with evil.

This fall, as we remember the Protestant Reformation, the supernatural makeup of the world and the spiritual warfare that the God’s Word invites is but one unified truth we need to recover. As John Calvin commented in his words to King Francis, “When the light shining from on high in a measure shattered his darkness, . . . [Satan] began to shake off his accustomed drowsiness and to take up arms.” Indeed, faithful preaching of God’s Word will be met with spiritual opposition, and thus we who seek to make Christ known must be steeled by the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit.

For that reason, we come to the book of Ephesians and the faithful examples of the Protestant Reformers. Continue reading

Martin Luther on Christ’s Resurrection and Ours

harvestBut in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . 
But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits,
then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
— 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 —

First Corinthians 15:20 is a glorious passage, full of insight into Christ’s resurrection and ours. As the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. He is the proof that resurrection is possible, permanent, and secure. Unlike Lazarus and the saints raised to life by Elijah and Elisha, Jesus resurrection was of a different order—it literally began a new creation.

Accordingly, Paul speaks of Christ’s resurrection in harvest terms because it both inaugurates God’s long, foretold eschatological resurrection (Ezekiel 37; Daniel 12:1–2), and it promises that the rest of the harvest—an eruption of redeemed saints from the earth—is forthcoming (1 Corinthians 15:35–38). Just as the festival of firstfruits celebrated the beginning of the harvest, portending to a bounty to come, so Christ’s resurrection promises bodily resurrection for all those who fall asleep in Christ.

This reality stands at the center of the Christians future hope, but it also promises resurrection life today. Indeed, multiple places in Scripture besides speak of the resurrection as a present reality (see John 5:26–29; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 3:1–4). This does not deny the need for or anticipation of a future bodily resurrection; it only reiterates the ruling power of Christ in heaven and the work of his Spirit on the earth.

To this point Martin Luther once commented on the present effects of Christ’s resurrection. His words are worth quoting in full. Let his always-colorful language stir your heart to worship as you remember the glorious working of Christ’s resurrection—both a future hope and present power.

And what is more than that, by calling Christ “the Firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” Paul wishes to signify that the resurrection is to be viewed and understood as having already begun in Christ, indeed, as being more than half finished, and that this remnant of death is to be regarded as no more than a deep sleep, and that the future resurrection of our body will not differ from suddenly awaking from such a sleep. For the main and best part of this has already come to pass, namely, that Christ, our Head, has arisen. But now that the Head is seated on high and lives, there is no longer any reason for concern. We who cling to Him must also follow after Him as His body and His members. For where the head goes and abides, there the body with all the members must necessarily follow and abide. As in the birth of man and of all animals, the head naturally appears first, and after this is born, the whole body follows easily. Now since Christ has passed over and reigns above in heaven over sin, death, devil, and everything, and since He did this for our sake to draw us after Him, we need no longer worry about our resurrection and life, though we depart and rot in the ground. For now this is no more than a sleep. And for Christ it is but a night before He rouses us from the sleep.

Now if I know this and believe it, my heart or conscience and soul have already passed through death and grave and are in heaven with Christ, dwell there and rejoice over it. And in that way we have the two best parts, much more than half, of the resurrection behind us. And because Christ animates and renews the heart by faith, He will also surely drag the decomposed rascal after Him and clothe him again, so that we can behold Him and live with Him. For that is His Word and work on which we are baptized and live and die. Therefore this will surely not fail us, as little as it failed Him. No matter when or how God ordains that we die, whether in bed or in the fire, in the water, by rope or by sword, the devil, death’s master and butcher, will surely see to killing us and carrying out his trade, so that we will not be able to choose or select a mode of death. But no matter how he executes us, it shall not harm us. He may give us a bitter potion, such as is administered to put people to sleep and make them insensitive, but we will wake up again and come forth on that Day, when the trumpet will sound. That the devil shall not prevent, because even now we are more than halfway out of death in Christ, and he will not be able to hold back this poor belly and bag of maggots either. (“Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15,” in Luther’s Works, 28:110–11)

Come what may of our earthly tents, whatever the devil aims to do to destroy us, the resurrection of Christ is already at work in the world and at work in his saints (2 Corinthians 4:1–11). Let us take heart in that, and with the power of Christ’s resurrection, put to death the deeds in the body by means of the Spirit which seals our own future resurrection (cf. Romans 8:11–13).

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Let Us Meditate On the Cross

crossThis morning I continue to teach The Work of Christ to a group of students at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. Few things are more delightful than spending hours meditating on the finished work of Christ and contemplating the way Scripture portrays Christ’s substitionary atonement on behalf of sinners.

To be sure, this is not an undisputed view today. But it is vitally important truth and one worth defending and declaring boldly: Christ’s death is not one of many options for reconciliation with God; it is God’s eternal plan and necessary means for justifying sinners, reuniting image-bearers with their Maker, and putting all things under his feet so that in the age to come.

For our consideration of this glorious hope, consider five quotes from Emil Brunner, Martin Luther, and John Stott.

Emil Brunner

The whole struggle of the Reformation for the sola fide, the sola deo Gloria, was simply the struggle for the right interpretation of the Cross. He who understands the Cross aright—this is the opinion of the Reformers—understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ. (Emil Brunner, The Mediator, 435)

Martin Luther

Because and eternal, unchangeable sentence of condemnation has passed upon sin—god cannot and will not regard sin with favor, but his wrath abides upon it eternally and irrevocably—redemption was not possible with a ransom of such precious worth as to atone for sin. This no creature was able to do. There was no remedy except for God’s only Son to step into our distress and himself become a man, to take upon himself the load of awful and eternal wrath and make his own body and blood a sacrifice for sin. And so he did, out of the immeasurably great mercy and love towards us, giving himself up and bearing the sentence of unending wrath and death. (Martin Luther, “Epistle Sermon: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity,” cited in John N. Lenker, ed., The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, 9:43­–45)

John Stott

Christianity is Christ, and the crucial fact about Christ is his passion on the cross… Scripture portrays the Savior’s death as the basis of every spiritual blessing (Rom 8:31–32), as the source of true Christian living (Rom 6:1­–11; 8:3–4), and as the foundation of the church’s sacraments (Rom 6:1-4; 1 Cor 11:26). John tells us that throughout eternity the inhabitants of heaven will sing the glorious praises of the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:9–14)” (John Stott, The Cross and Salvation, 167–68).

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely ‘hell-deserving sinners,’ then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we astonished we never saw it before. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 109)

Substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement.’ Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others.  It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself.  None of the images could stand without it. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 202–03).

Let us not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, for it is the power and wisdom of God. And may these reflections help us marvel at God’s great gift, the voluntary sacrifice of his Son in the place of sinners. There is no other way of salvation, and no more glorious truth to contemplate.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Seven Truths about the Doctrine of Vocation

vocation In 1 Corinthians 7:17–24 Paul speaks of our calling before God. In all of his writings, this may be one that most directly deals with the doctrine of vocation. On Sunday, we will consider this subject at length. In preparation, here are seven truths that relate to “vocation” and our calling to live for and before God in all we say and do.

1. Your vocation begins with the Lord’s calling unto salvation.

Made in the image of God, there’s a sense in which everyone has a “vocation.” The world’s bounty is not cultivated by Christians alone. God has blessed the world with the lives and services of many non-Christians.

That being said, only Christians can pursue their work for the glory of God. Only Christians can give thanks to God and pursue their vocations motivated by God’s love. In this way, a true vocation stands in continuity with one’s calling to Christ. The Father effectually calls his children and then assigns them to do good works.

Ephesians 2:10 says that believers are “created in Christ for good works, prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Likewise, 1 Corinthians 7 defines our assignment in life by God’s effectual calling. In 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, 24, Paul tells the Corinthians to abide in their earthly status and serve God, not worrying about changing their position. In truth, this way of thinking (and living) can only be achieved by those who have the Spirit of God. Therefore, the Christian homemaker or construction worker are animated by the same principle—God’s effectual call (re)defines your earthly occupation. Continue reading

Noonday Light: Reformation Day

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
– Colossians 3:2 –

Luther

Yesterday, most of America (and beyond) celebrated Halloween. But for Bible-toting, Bible-quoting Protestants, there was another more significant ‘holiday’: Reformation Day.

On this day (October 31) in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Castle Door. In lieu of that great day, here are a handful of links to spur on your love for God’s word and to give thanks to God for the ‘monk with a mallet.’

October 31, 1517. Here’s a synopsis of what happened on the day now called “Reformation Day” 496 years ago. (History Channel)

Luther’s 95 Theses. Here are Martin Luther’s ninety-theses condemning the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. (Spurgeon.com)

An Interview with Carl Trueman on Luther’s 95 Theses.  Carl Trueman answers a number key questions about Martin Luther, the 95 Theses, indulgences, and the Protestant Reformation. (Justin Taylor)

Finally, here is a scene from the movie Luther which depicts Luther’s bold stand against Rome. It captures Luther’s famous line stand:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sin Boldly: Because Only Sinners “Get” Amazing Grace

I am preaching on Luke 7:36-50 this Sunday, a message entitled, “Only Sinners ‘Get’ Amazing Grace!”  In preparing, I was struck again by the radical nature of grace and the very fact that what qualifies us for grace is sin (cf. 1 John 1:9).  In fact, if you are not a sinner, you won’t “get” grace.  Only sinners get it!

As Jesus said in Luke 7:34, He is a friend of sinners!  Earlier in Luke, Jesus said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:31-32).  The wonder of Jesus and the appeal of his ministry, was that he knew how to pierce hearts and heal them with the grace of God.

Oh what good news, that my sin does not have to drive me away from God (cf. Psalm 103:9-10).  Rather, in this age, it is the very thing that qualifies me for grace.  As Paul said, Paul who was a murderer of Christians, “Where sin has increased, grace has increased all the more” (Rom 5:21).  Grace is truly amazing, but only for sinners!

Law-keepers do not get grace, because law-keepers do not need grace.  Only law-breakers get grace, because only those who have stopped trying to justify themselves see their need for it.  As the publican said, “Have mercy on me, THE sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

Meditating on God’s amazing grace reminded me of Martin Luther’s quote on the subject of man’s sin and the Messiah’s mercy.  Consider his words, place your faith in God’s grace, if you are a preacher proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ this Sunday, and sin boldly!  You have a sufficient savior, who is a friend of sinners!

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.

It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner. (“Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon,” Letter 99, Paragraph 13. Erika Bullmann Flores, Tr. from: Dr. Martin Luther’s Saemmtliche Schriften, ed. Johann Georg Walch (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15, cols. 2585-2590).

Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss