26 March 2014

Why have you forsaken me?

Have you ever felt lonely and abandoned even by your own friends and relatives? Maybe you have experienced moments when apparently even God hid his face from you.

The Lord Jesus suffered the anguish of solitude far beyond anything we can ever know. On the cross he prayed,  “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mattew 27:46).  A more painful and mysterious cry has never issued from human lips.

Prior to this, Jesus had said, “Father, forgive them.” We immediately understand this plea because it accords with his goodness, even towards those who hated him.

Then he said to the malefactor nailed beside him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” We also understand this promise because it is in harmony with his mercy and forgiveness towards all those who repent and turn to him.

Again, he said to him mother, “Woman, behold your son.” It is unthinkable that Jesus would not make provision for his dear mother after his departure. He entrusted her to his beloved disciple, John, to take good care of her.

But the next time he opened his mouth, Jesus uttered these startling words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Many centuries before, the Psalmist had declared: “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken” (Psalms 37:25). Yet on the cross the Righteous One was forgotten by God - He who never committed the least sin, who unfailingly obeyed the whole will of God, and in whom the Father was well-pleased. In that dark hour the Father left the Son on his own.
Why? How can God the Father turn away from his beloved Son?

The Father forsook him because “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21); “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). He forsook him because God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13) – even though the sin he bore was not his own.

The sin was ours; we deserved the punishment, we deserved to be rejected from God’s glorious presence and cast into the outer darkness. But Christ took upon himself the sins of his people and suffered as our substitue. He was punished in our place.

God forsook him so that we, who trust in his Son, may not be exiled eternally from his presence. He forsook him for a time so that we may enjoy God forever – because after the darkness of that hour dawned a glorious new day when God raised up his Son.

There is no need to be alone, separated from our Creator because of sin. Christ suffered on the cross in order to deal with sin, clear it out of the way and reconcile us with the Father. God embraces us with love when we go to him through his Son Jesus.

1 March 2014

Faith Working through Love

(Gospel e-Letter - March 2014)

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything,
but only faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).

Justification is one aspect of God’s purpose in our salvation. He wants to forgive us our sins and save us from the condemnation and punishment in hell. But that is not all. God also wants to save his people from the filth and practice of sin. The Father wants his children to be holy as he is holy. So from the very moment that he justifies them, he also renews their heart and begins a life-long project to shape them in the image of his Son. This aspect of salvation is called sanctification.

In other words justification has to do with our legal standing. God declares the believer righteous for Christ’s sake. Sanctification has to do with our character and behaviour; God wants his people to become righteous.

While justification is based on the work of Christ on the cross on our behalf, and not on the merits of our works, sanctification involves the renewing of our thoughts, desires, speech and actions. God teaches and enables us to do good works in obedience to his will. We can only become righteous through our obedience, our good works, and not simply by faith alone.

These two aspects of salvation must be distinguished, but they cannot be separated. A person cannot be justified unless he is also in the process of sanctification. On the other hand, one cannot perform a single good work as long as he remains in sin. No matter what an enemy of God does (for that is what the Bible calls them who are not yet justified), he cannot please the Lord. First he must be reconciled and justified. Then God is well pleased with the good works of his children, albeit their imperfections. He must first be justified by faith, apart from his works, and only then can he begin to do good works.

So just as it would be fatal error to presume that we can add any merits of our works for justifiction, it would be equally fatal if we presume to be saved if our faith is alone, barren and fruitless. The apostle who taught us that God justifies him who ‘does not work but believes’ has also taught us that in our Christian experience what really matters is ‘faith working through love’ (Galatians 5:6). For justification faith works not; for life faith works tirelessly, loving God and neighbour in response to the amazing love the believer has received.

James says the same thing. ‘What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?’ (James 2:14). He tests faith by the fruit it produces. If works are absent faith is dead. Dead faith does not justify. Thus he concludes that ‘a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’ (2:24). The person who claims to have faith without any the evidence of godly life is fooling himself and is in peril of eternal perdition.

We have two questions before us. The first one is this, ‘How can a sinner be justified before God?’ The answer is, ‘By faith in Christ, not on account of the merit of our works.’ The second question is, ‘How do we know that faith is real?’ The answer is, ‘Faith working through love.’

We will do well to ponder these questions before God. Let us not rest until we discard all self-confidence, and rely by faith on Christ alone and in his cross for our justification. But let us not think that we have faith unless we experience God’s transforming power in us as evidenced by sincere love, holiness and abundant good works.

1 February 2014

Children of God

The world longs for peace. Every new year brings with it a renewed hope that finally the people of the world will somehow learn to live together in peace and harmony. However as long as humanity continues to reject the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, jealousy, hatred and wars will continue unabated along with the trouble, sorrow and misery in their wake.

Pope Francis spoke about world peace in his message for the New Year. He said that peace should be built on the recognition that all people are all brother and sisters. The media reported:
Francis called on people to “work so that the world becomes a community of brothers who respect each other, accept each other in one’s diversity, and take care of one another … We are all children of one heavenly father,” he said. “We belong to the same human family and we share a common destiny.” (Ref)
Is it true that all people are children of God the Father? The idea of the universal Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man comes from the liberal theologians of the late 19th century, not from the Bible.

The Scriptures teach that we are all created by God, and in that sense, we are all his offspring (Acts 17:28, 29). Moreover the Bible also teaches that we are all neighbours, and we should seek to help each other just as the Good Samaritan assisted the injured man despite the difference in nationality and religious background (Luke 10:25–37).

The Word of God makes a clear cut distinction between those who are God’s people and those who are not; those who are members of his family and those who are outside. This teaching is not very popular, of course, but it is true nonetheless. Those who are ‘without Christ’ are ‘without God in this world’ and ‘strangers and aliens’ in the household of God (Ephesians 2:12, 19).

In the Gospel we read about certain unbelieving Jews; they considered God to be their Father. “We have one Father—even God,” they told Jesus. But the Lord corrected their error, “If God were your Father, you would love me.” Their lack of love for Christ proved that God was not their Father at all. Indeed the Lord stated plainly to them, “You are of your father the devil.” He certainly did not tell them that they were brothers with his disciples or that they all had the same Father.

We often read in the Bible that Christians are the children of God, brothers and sisters in God’s family, and that God is their Father. Indeed the Lord taught his disciples to address their prayers to “Our Father in heaven.” These scriptures are speaking of all who are “in Christ” and it would be wrong and misleading to apply them to those who are still outside the fold.

But they need not remain outside! The door to God’s family is wide open to all who would come through Jesus Christ. The gospel promises that “to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). As long as they continue to reject Christ, they are not God’s children; but when they receive him by faith, then they too have the privilege to call God, “Our Father”.

It is through Christ that believers ‘have access in one Spirit to the Father’ (Ephesians 2:18). There could be no peace among us before we are at peace with God, and that can only be obtained through the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 January 2014

In the Beginning God

(Gospel e-Letter - January 2014)

“In the beginning God” – the first words of the Bible give the reason for the existence of the universe as well as the right perspective for our life.

The world is becoming increasingly securalised. God has been put aside; his place is taken by man himself. Many people imagine that they can regulate their life without any reference to the law of God and without divine help. They imagine that by human wisdom and their efforts they can solve every problem and achieve success. They are fooling themselves.

I do not want to point my finger at society without an honest look at myself. I believe in God but in practice I often behave like an atheist. Engrossed in my busy schedule, many a day passes by without giving much thought about God; it is as if he does not exist at all.

But by myself I cannot do anything right. I was born yesterday; God was “in the beginning” before anything else existed. I did not give life to myself; it was God who in the beginning created the wonderful heavens above and the earth below; it was he who gave and sustains my life.

I depend completely on God; therefore I am obliged to obey him with a grateful heart and to worship him with all my soul.

I admit though that I did not always honor him as I should and that I have often broken his law. Yet God who is rich in mercy sent his Son Jesus to save people like us. Once again he took the initiative to create in us a new heart and give us eternal life by his Spirit. “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5).

Therefore as God’s children we have a double reason to thank and obey him; he made us and renewed us; he is our Creator and our Saviour. God knew us even before we existed and loved us even when we were sinners.

I want Him who was “in the beginning” to be first in my life also, that he may lead and take me wherever he desires. I trust that you too have the same vision for your life.

26 December 2013

The Gift of God

Dear friends, Christmas is all about gifts. When I was a young boy my parents used to tell me that Baby Jesus will give me a toy if I was a good boy. Christmas morning was fantastic, waking up to find a toy and sweets on my bed. But then someone at school told me that it was not Jesus but my parents who brought me the gifts. The magic of Christmas was gone!

Later on I learned from the Scriptures that Jesus gives us life, our daily bread and everything we have. It was Jesus after all who gave me the gifts on Christmas morn! Moreover I discovered that the greatest Gift is Jesus Christ Himself. God so loved the world that he gave his Son. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Christmas day is too short to celebrate the grace and goodness of God. If we have received Jesus by faith, we have all life and eternity to enjoy and praise God for his amazing Gift.

May the peace and joy of Christ be with you and your loved ones. Joe and Joanne, and our kids, John, Elizabeth and Mari

1 December 2013

The Sufficiency of Faith

(Gospel e-Letter - December 2013)

To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:5).

The Bible teaches clearly that a person is justified by faith. But is faith sufficient? Is it enough or do we need to add something more – such as the merits of our work?

The Bible answers this important question directly. ‘We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law’ (Romans 3:28), and again, ‘Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness’ (Romans 4:4-5).

What an amazing statement! It is he ‘who does not work but believes’ who is justified. He does not say that God justifies the man who both works and believes. He justifies the one who believes and does not work!

Surely the apostle does not mean that a Christian should not do good works during his life. That would be a contradiction to what he himself and the rest of the Bible emphasize over and over again. But what does he mean? In what sense then are works excluded?

The apostle leaves out human works as the basis for justification. He does not allow the addition of a single tiny bit of human effort for that purpose. This is hard for human pride to accept! If I want to be justified I need to come to God empty-handed, believing in him, without claiming any merit for any good that I may have done or any good that I will do during my Christian life. If it was not so justification would not have been by grace.

Faith corresponds exactly to grace; the Christian trusts God to give him the free gift of righteousness rather than attempt to earn it by his efforts. ‘That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace’ (Romans 4:16). Whereas works done with the intention to gain justification deny grace. The Scriptures warn us: ‘You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace’ (Galatians 5:4).

Imagine a poor beggar sitting in a corner, destitute, hungry and thirsty. You pity him. So you go to a food outlet and buy him a meal and a warm drink. When you offer him the gift this man insists on giving you a few coins. You would not accept any money, would you, because you want to help him as an act of generosity and kindness. You simply want him to take the food, thank you and eat! God wants us to receive the gift of righteousness by faith and enjoy it. He is not asking us any payment whatsoever.

Faith points away from ourselves and our merits unto Christ, who by his sinless life and sacrifice on the cross had procured the gift of righteousness for his people. Faith says: though I’m not worthy, though I am guilty, I am fully convinced that Christ takes away all my sins, and therefore God declares me righteous for his sake. With all my heart I trust in him alone.

Faith is the hand that receives from God the gift of righteousness of Jesus Christ. Faith is sufficient because it takes hold of Christ, and he is all we need to stand righteous before God. The Lord himself is our righteousness.

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A Christian friend wrote about this article: "Did not another part of Scripture teaches that faith is dead faith without works? Dead faith does not save or does it? Might not countless Christians be self-deceived by 'no works is just fine for me'?"

He is right: Dead faith does not save!

But living faith in Christ saves!

It saves because of what Christ did on the cross, on not on account of the merit of the works that accompany it (as the Roman Catholic Church teaches).

At this point I’m concerned about the millions of Catholics who have been taught the false gospel of salvation by faith plus the merit of their works. They do not rely completely and exclusively on Christ and the merits of his cross for salvation because they have been told to add their own. That is deadly.

On the other hand I’m equally concerned about the false gospel in many evangelical circles who preach faith alone but care not whether the faith is real or not. The fruitless faith will not get them within sight of the eternal city. That is the subject of February gospel e-letter. DV.