1 October 2014

Right with God

Gospel e-Letter - September 2014
  1. The biblical doctrine of justification teaches us how guilty sinners can be declared righteous by God through faith in Christ and be acquitted of all condemnation. 
  2. We are created moral beings and are accountable to God for our deeds. We ought to obey God’s law whether written in our conscience or in the Holy Scriptures. 
  3. All people, Jews and Gentiles, have disobeyed God – first, in our representative head, our father Adam, who disobeyed God’s command and brought condemnation and death on himself and all humanity. We are also responsible for our many personal sins which pile guilt upon guilt upon our heads. 
  4. God’s ruling on humanity is fearful and true: all have sinned, all are in peril of eternal condemnation and eternal perdition. For our sins we merit death and the fire of hell. 
  5. We cannot be justified by the works of the law. The law demands perfection, and evidently we have missed the mark. The law condemns us, exposes our sins, and if rightly used, it brings us to a point where we despair of ourselves and turn to Christ for justification. 
  6. Justification is an act of God the Father. Negatively he does not count the sins of his people against them; positively he imputes to them a righteousness which they did not work for. 
  7. God can be just and yet justify sinners because of Christ, the incarnate eternal Son of God, who became the representative head and Saviour of his people. Jesus perfectly obeyed the divine Law throughout his life, and ultimately gave himself as a sacrifice to pay the full penalty for their sins. God puts their sins on Christ, for which he died on the cross; God puts Christ’s righteousness to their account that they may share eternal life with their Saviour. 
  8. Justification is given freely by grace, God’s unmerited favour, not for any merit of our own works. The payment, or redemption, for our justification was made by Christ on the cross. Justification is free for us; for God the cost was the life of his Son. 
  9. Justification is received by faith alone in Christ, that is, by faith apart from the merit of our works. Faith implies the complete rejection of any personal merit, confidence in the promise of God, a sure belief in the sufficiency of his death and resurrection, and complete trust and reliance on Christ for justification. 
  10. An idle, barren ‘faith’ cannot save because it is dead. The faith that justifies is living, working and fruitful. The works that follow justification are the indispensible evidence and necessary fruit of faith, for which God also rewards his children. Yet these works are not the basis for our justification; believers are justified on account of Christ’s work, not their own. 
  11. Justification is the legal aspect of salvation – an act of God who declares believers righteous for Christ’s sake. There is another aspect, called sanctification. It is the life-long process of making believers righteous in their thoughts, words and deeds. God changes the heart, teaches, enables and disciplines his children to shun sin and pursue holiness and righteousness. The two aspects are distinct, but inseparable; if one is absent, the other is absent too. 
  12. Every individual Christian is fully justified from the moment of faith, throughout his life and in all eternity, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, and will therefore never be condemned in judgement. 
  13. The church is duty bound to guard and proclaim the Gospel of justification by faith in Christ alone. It is God’s good news and only hope to a lost and guilty world; the same blessed truth gives liberty, life and joy to God’s people. 
  14. Every individual should earnestly apply the doctrine to himself. Humble yourself and come before God with a broken heart, admitting your guilt and shame. Plead with God for mercy and grace, that for Christ’s sake, he will take away your sins and count you righteous in his Beloved Son. 
  15. May God be eternally praised and glorified for his wisdom, justice and grace in the justification of his people, the church, through Christ Jesus his Son. Amen! 

1 September 2014

O God, be merciful to me, a sinner

Two men went to the temple to pray. When they returned home one of them was ‘justified’ – right with God – while the other remained as guilty as he was before (even though he thought he was just). We must also ask ourselves, ‘Am I justified? Am I right with God? Or am I deceiving myself?’

Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and publican (Luke 18:9-14) for two reasons; firstly that we may avoid the trap that many religious people fall into, and secondly that we may find the way that leads to life.

So what was the problem with the Pharisee? He was a religious person, well respected by everyone, he observed the law, he shunned sin, fasted and gave charity. Needless to say all these things are good. Why then did he remain unjustified before God?

Pride was his problem. He came up front in God’s presence bragging about himself while belittling other people. He supposedly went up to pray but in fact  he did not ask God for anything. He did not ask for forgiveness. He did not pray for mercy. He did not need them – or so he thought. He considered himself a good person. He trusted in himself that he was just. But God, who searches the very depth of the heart, knew that he was a guilty sinner. Religion and pride had blinded this man’s eyes to his spiritual plight and kept him from seeking God for justification.

The other man, the tax collector, had a different attitude. He humbled himself. He did not try to hide his sin from God. He stayed at the back and did not even lift up his eyes, but looked downwards in shame, beating on his chest in great remorse.

He prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ This man did not look to himself, or anything he had done, but looked away from himself; he looked upward to heaven, to the God he had offended. He appealed to him who alone could forgive his sins. He confessed that he was a sinner, that he broke God’s law, and therefore he deserved punishment. Yet he appealed to God for mercy and asked him to free him for the guilt and punishment he deserved. God, who is rich in mercy, answered his plea and justified him! God freed him from guilt and received him in his loving arms.

Sin keeps us away from God. But it does not have to be that way. Grief and shame should not prevent us from coming to God with a sorrowful heart. God will forgive us. But there is something else apart from sin that keeps us apart from God. Righteousness! Our personal righteousness can also keep us away from heaven. It is proper to do what is good, but it would be a fatal error to trust in ourselves or our works for justification. Our trust must be wholly in God alone who for Christ’s sake justifies all those who come in repentance and faith in him.

To answer the question, ‘Am I right with God?’ – we need to ask another question: ‘Where am I looking - to myself and my deeds, or away from me, towards God and the work of Christ on the cross?

1 August 2014

The Purose of Life

(Gospel e-Letter August 2014)

In the midst of our busy schedules, it is good to stop for a while and ask some really important questions about our life.

1. What is the purpose of my life? 

To love. To be loved. Physical health, wealth and prosperity are fine but dispensable. Better still is the love of my family and friends. But that is not enough. My heart yearns for more. There is an infinite space in my soul that can never be filled except by the love of my Creator. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps 42:1).

2. What keeps me from experiencing God’s love?

Sin. I know what’s good and bad, yet often I do not follow my conscience. I know God’s law and that I should be obedient to him. Yet many a time I have said ‘no’ to the God who has created me and who keeps me alive. I have challenged him. I have offended him. I am guilty. Sin has separated me from God. (Is 59:2).

3. How can I experience the love of the Father?

Through Jesus Christ, God's Son, who came to the world to reconcile sinners to God. Just as he himself declared: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). He who committed no sin bore my sins in his body on the tree. He freed me from sin, reconciled me to the Father, and made me a child of God.

4. How do I know that my sins are forgiven?

My sins are forgiven because I trust in Jesus Christ with all my heart. I place no confidence in anything that I do or in anyone else. I am confident that God keeps his promise to his people: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is 43:25). Moreover he has given me a new heart that hates evil and loves righteousness. He is teaching me to love other people, and above all, to love him, my Lord and Saviour. God is not afar anymore; his love to me is sweeter than honey.

This is how I answer these key questions; what about you dear friend, how do you answer them on your knees before God?

1 July 2014

Justification: Errors to Avoid

(Gospel e-Letter - July 2014)

While most Christians would say that faith is necessary for salvation, there is significant disagreement about the place of works.

Some would add works to faith as the means of justification. They would not say that they are saved by works alone; they still believe in Christ, and in his death on the cross and resurrection. They would also affirm the necessity of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to perform good works so that, ultimately, they will be judged to have fulfilled the law of God and that they merit eternal life. This is basically the position of faithful Catholics.

Others will exclude works completely. Justification is by faith alone, and by that they mean that works have nothing to do with salvation whatsoever. They may encourage and desire believers to live a godly life and do good works, but if such works are absent, they still say that such a person is justified. Indeed if someone has ‘received Christ by faith’ and his life remained unchanged or even dominated by sin, even so he will spend eternity in heaven. This view, sometimes called ‘easy believism’, is not uncommon among evangelicals.

Both views are in error. The Bible teaches that salvation is ‘by grace through faith’ – and it specifically excludes our works as the basis for salvation – ‘not of yourselves, it is a gift of God’. The Bible is even more emphatic, ‘not of works lest any man should boast’. A child can understand that simple statement, but then, it can also be easily twisted. So the Scripture immediately guards against the exclusion of works by telling us that the saved are ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works.’ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Works are not the means but the fruit of salvation.

Those who professes to believe in Christ but continues to live in sexual immorality, drunkenness, resentment, dishonesty or any form of unrighteousness, will not enter the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:6,10). It does not take some gross sin to keep one out of heaven. It is enough to do nothing. Christ calls such a person slothful, and these will be the last words he will ever hear from the mouth of Christ: "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:14-30).

On the other hand, it is dangerous to rest on our works, even in part, as the basis for our justification. The Pharisee who went to the Temple to pray was a devout Jew who believed in the true and living God. He thanked God and acknowledged that his righteousness was wrought in him by God. He was basing his justification on faith and works which he performed by the grace of God. However, in Jesus’ estimation, he was trusting in himself that he was righteous. In truth he was not. Pride had blinded him to his sin and guilt; he looked to himself instead of turning his eyes to God where he could find mercy.

May God help us avoid both deadly errors – I will not depend at all on my works for justification, not now, not ever; I entrust myself solely to Christ by faith for I am convinced that God justifies me on the basis of his Son’s righteousness and the sacrifice on the cross. And since I am accepted by God and given a new heart, I dedicate myself to good works for his glory, thus showing that my faith is alive and that his saving work in me is real.

1 June 2014

The Final Judgement

(Gospel e-Letter - June 2014)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

God has fixed a day when he will judge all people according to our works.

Those who die without a Saviour need not wait till that momentous appointment to know the divine sentence on their head. God warns them in Scripture that ‘whoever does not believe (in the Son) is condemned already’ (John 3:18). They are condemned already because their sins remain on them. That Day will simply seal their doom forever and they will be punished according to their evil deeds.

Among the damned there will be those who called Jesus ‘Lord’ but who had continued to live in sin. These ‘Christians’ claimed to have faith in Jesus but their life was devoid of good works. ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ - these will be the last words they ever hear from the mouth of Jesus. (Matthew 7:23).

On the other hand God’s children are recognized by their good works. There will be ‘glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good’ (Romans 2:10). The Lord will also reward us according to our works. ‘Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done’ (Revelation 22:12). Today is our opportunity to work fervently for the Lord; he will not forget our labour of love on that Day.

This does not mean that we are justified on account of our works. For us who believe in Jesus, God has already pronounced a sentence in our favour during our life on earth. ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1). Justification is a present reality. The Scriptures reassure us that we are already right with God. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).

But what about our sins – for we readily admit that we also often break God’s law. Will he accuse or punish us for them? No, not at all, for God will not go back on his word; he has forgiven our sins and promised not to bring them up again. ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more’ (Hebrews 10:17). He will not remember our sins on that day.

Though we are guilty and deserve punishment, yet we will escape the wrath of God because we are justified by the blood of Christ. God did not forgive our sins capriciously but on account of the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.

God’s children are not terrified by the Day of the Lord. For us who believe and love the Lord Jesus, it is not the day of condemnation and doom, but our graduation day, or even better, the long-awaited meeting with our beloved Spouse. The church eagerly prays for the Lord to hasten his return, ‘Come Lord Jesus,’ and rejoices when she hears his promise, ‘Behold I come quickly’.

1 May 2014

Faith and Baptism

(Gospel e-Letter - May 2014)

Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? (Acts 10:47).

How is a person justified - is it through faith or by baptism? Clearly it is the duty of every new believer to submit to the rite of baptism as ordained by the Lord Jesus. But we ask, did the Lord institute baptism as the means to obtain justification or is it a sign of spiritual cleansing which is accomplished by faith in him?

While there are several scriptures that teach plainly that we are justified by faith, it never said that a person is justified by baptism. So it seems reasonable to suppose that baptism signifies justification which had been previously received through faith.

It is profitable to look at Cornelius’ conversion experience as a ‘test case’ in this regard. Is salvation preceded and obtained by baptism, or is it received by faith, and followed by baptism? Cornelius’ story is emphasized in Acts because he and his relatives were the first Gentile converts admitted into the church. (Please read Acts chapter 10; 11:1-18 and 15:7-11).

An angel told Cornelius to send for Simon Peter, who “will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (Acts 11:14). At first Peter was reluctant to step in a Gentile’s house but he was persuaded by the Holy Spirit to go. When Peter and his Jewish companions entered the house, Cornelius’ family and friends were gathered together, eager to hear what he had to say.

Peter preached the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, promising that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). As he spoke, the Holy Spirit came upon the group. Peter and the Jewish Christians were amazed because they realized that God had welcomed the Gentiles into the church.

After visiting Cornelius, the apostle Peter had to defend his action before the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem to explain why he had entered a Gentile’s house and received Gentiles into the church (Acts 11). Several years later Peter refers again to that historical event at the Council of Jerusalem:

“Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us (Jews), and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:7-9).

So, while hearing the gospel, Cornelius and the Gentiles believed in Christ, and God purified their hearts by faith. What should the apostle Peter have done in that situation? He reasoned: “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47). Naturally Peter ordered the baptism of the new converts.

Please note that they were baptized after hearing the Gospel. They were baptized after believing in Christ. They were baptized after receiving the Spirit. They were baptized after their hearts were purified by faith.

We cannot dismiss this clear example as an exceptional case. The apostle Peter himself presents it as the model of salvation to all people.  He declared before the Jerusalem council: “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we (Jews) shall be saved in the same manner as they (Cornelius and the other Gentiles)” (Acts 15:11). This then is the biblical pattern for all people, whether Jews or Gentiles. We are forgiven and purified by faith in Christ, followed by baptism to signify this amazing truth.