In 1949, a communist uprising and takeover within the Republic of China resulted in the Chinese Civil War. The war ended with the freedom of mainland China being handed over to the communist dictatorship that remains to this day. The original government, still called the Republic of China was forced into exile to the island off the coast of their country.
The usurping government took the name "People's Republic of China" even though the humanitarian record of the regime proved that it is not a government of the "People" and it is only superficially a "Republic". The power, size, and propaganda of the communist government has been such that the name "China" now refers to the communist regime and the Republic of China in exile has been largely forgotten. They still call themselves "The Republic of China" 50+ years later, but everyone knows them as "Taiwan".
If you say "China", people think of the communists. If you try to call Taiwan the "Republic of China" to the uninitiated, great confusion abounds. Yet the people of Taiwan remain true to their roots and look forward to the day when freedom may return to their homeland.
On this day, hundreds of years ago, a reform movement from within the western church began to restore the freedom of the Gospel to millions of Christians. The defense of the gospel met with only limited success and the reformers were expelled by imposters who stole the moniker "Catholic" (meaning "Universal") for themselves. These reformers in exile have come to be known as "Lutherans" a name as unfortunate as "Taiwanese" but a name that must exist to differentiate the tyrannical majority from the freedom-loving minority in exile.
Are the Taiwanese the Republic of China? Yes! And they are fully entitled to the name. Are the communists also called and well known as the Republic of China? Yes! ......but it is not a Republic in any real sense. Are they Chinese? Yes! ....but unfortunately they are also tyrannical communists.
By the same token the Lutheran church is catholic ("universal"). We are fully entitled to the name but it confuses the uninitiated. It is just easier to use the name "Lutheran" to tell us from those who are not Lutheran. Is the Roman Catholic church also called and well known as Catholic? Yes! ....but it is no longer "universal" in any real sense because it casts out Christians who seek to return her to the freedom of the Gospel. Are they Christian? Yes! ... but unfortunately they are also papists and legalistic enthusiasts.
Are there faithful Christians in Rome? Yes! ...but they labor for Christ under duress in spite of their church in the same way that communist government of China rules over her victimized, silenced, oppressed, and deceived citizens who are in desperate need of freedom and relief.
And so the Lutheran quest to reform the visible church here on earth and return her to the teaching of Scripture continues as she labors as an exiled, marginalized, and mocked minority. Lutheranism is in good company because--unlike the Chinese War that only occurred recently--the true church of Jesus Christ that clings to pure doctrine has always been rejected, hated, and rather small when she is compared to the false religions, persecuters, sects, heretics, and other enemies around and among her. The true church of Jesus always shares in Christ's rejection [Matt 21:42, John 16:33, Matt 10:5-42].
The Reformation of the middle ages was started by Martin Luther, but he is but one in a long line of prophetic voices of reform that have corrected error and legalism since the very dawn of the church 2,000 years ago. In fact, this lineage traces back through Christ's wrestling with the religious majority of His day, through John the Baptist, and through centuries of Old Testament prophets and judges who watched over the spiritual Isreal that was always kept by God within the visible body of the Israelites. Like those who come before us, we bold and faithful few continue to call ourselves and our neighbors back to Christ to hear the Word of the Lord and live in unity under the truth that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Let us always remain orthodox, catholic, and Christian as we hold steadfast to God's Word within the exile of the Lutheran Church... our island and last line of defense against legalistic tyranny and false doctrine.
The Church's One Foundation
Lyrics by Samuel J. Stone
Music by Charles Wesley
The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.
Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.
Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.
Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till, with the vision glorious,
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.
Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
In 1949, a communist uprising and takeover within the Republic of China resulted in the Chinese Civil War. The war ended with the freedom of mainland China being handed over to the communist dictatorship that remains to this day. The original government, still called the Republic of China was forced into exile to the island off the coast of their country.
Posted by Mike Baker at 19:28
Saturday, October 30, 2010
I used to hold that the only valid baptism was a believer's baptism (consenting confessing adult) by immersion (full dunking). Not only was that requirement not Biblical, I never stopped to consider what that means.
Using some rough estimates, here is what this accusation says when taken to its logical conclusion:
1.115 billion Roman Catholics are not properly baptized.
225 million Eastern Orthodox are not properly baptized.
75 million Calvinists are not properly baptized.
75 million Methodists are not properly baptized.
73 million Anglicans are not properly baptized.
72 million Oriental Orthodox are not properly baptized.
70 million Lutherans are not properly baptized.
...that adds up to almost 1.75 billion Christians currently living who are not properly baptized according to your particular interpretation of some pretty vague passages. It doesn't end there. Imagine if we add to that total the incalculable sum of all the Christians who ever lived and held to these denominations dating back to the early church. That is a HUGE majority of the church. This immense throng of your brothers and sisters were all baptized as infants.
You are saying they were never baptized and their rite is an erroneous violation of Holy Scripture. That's a pretty serious charge to make.... especially when you have no Biblical text that explicitly forbids the practice.
It's okay to make a charge that accuses so many faithful in all times and places if it is clearly supported by Scripture, but this is why the burden of proof is on the Anabaptists. The church shouldn't have to defend itself from such an unwarranted attack. Where is your clear proof? You are the ones accusing the majority of the current church and all or their ancestors of not being baptized in accordance with Christ's institution. That is a more serious charge than you realize. Since you consider baptism an ordinance of God, those who do not follow it are being disobedient. You are accusing 1.75 billion Christians and all their ancestors of disobedience to what Christ commanded of them. One should never accuse a brother of disobedience without clear proof from God's Word... especially when that blanket accusation numbers in the billions of brothers and sisters both living and dead.
Wouldn't you want to base such a sweeping accusation that effects so many of your fellow brothers and sisters on more than just mere human opinion, a few fallible lexicons and commentaries, and a textual interpretation that amounts to nothing more than the logical fallacy called "an argument from silence"?
.......if I'm going to publicly rebuke that much of the Body of Christ, I want to be absolutely sure that I am right beyond any and all doubt. I want to be able to point to some very clear passages that support my position and clearly reject all other positions.
Posted by Mike Baker at 20:49
Friday, October 29, 2010
After over a year of throwing thousands upon thousands of cluttered words into the aether of the Lutheran blogosphere I have finally managed to cobble together a single witty phrase that appears relatively popular. Feel free to use it to impress (and anger) your friends and family.
You cannot have charismatic Lutheranism for the same reason that there are no flaming snowballs or air-filled vacuums.
Be ready to back this dictum up with the Smalcald Articles (Article VIII:3-13)
Posted by Mike Baker at 22:02
If you think of the repentance that comes with sanctification as a point where you decide to start "getting back on track" with God....
...I have to ask...
...when exactly where you ever ON track before?
Examine yourself in light of the Ten Commandments and be brutally honest with yourself.
Being on a track that is laid by the abilities of mere human achievement is not a train that I would want to be on... ever.
Repentance is not "getting back on track". That is the talk of legalistic moralism. Instead, repentance is the process of being drawn to the cross by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Posted by Mike Baker at 21:35
Do not appeal to your "Bound Conscience" and be wary of those who do. To appeal to your captive conscience is pure folly. Why? Three reasons:
First, your conscience can be trained and conditioned. Your conscience is not sovereign and you exert influence (sometimes unintentionally) over your conscience. Appeals to conscience are all well and good so long as that conscience is sound, but consciences have also been appealed to for some of the most dastardly evil acts in history.
Second, you should not be bound to your conscience. Your conscience should be bound to the word of God. Do you see the subjectivism and subtle idolatry in the former and the humble piety of the latter? Your conscience is YOURS. Binding yourself to it is saying that you are binding your actions to yourself. That's not selflessness. That's narcissism. That is the road to egotistical self-righteousness.
Third, the Gospel of Christ is not about binding consciences but freeing them. A man who deals happily with his bound conscience wanders dangerously close to legalism. It is not the primary intent of the Law of God to hold people to a system of moral edicts. It is the intent of the Law to convict and kill. The Law always accuses and drives sinners to desperation and repentence.
Notice that Luther said, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God," and not "I am bound to my conscience." The Word is authoritative. The Conscience is your human opinion which is only helpful when it is conformed to the authoritative Word. You see here that Luther makes God's Word the master of his conscience and himself. Alternatively, people today make their consciences master over their actions and thereby make themselves their own god by placing their own interpretations and opinions between God and their choices. It allows other influences to shape their conscience that do not come from the objective truth of divine revelation. From there it is a very simple thing to have the conscience dictate opinions and interpretations to God as is prevelant in the liberal and enthusiast church bodies.
More often than not, when people speak of their bound conscience, they are using it to justify a false opinion or ill-conceived scheme. It is only when they say that their consciences are bound to God's Word that they are dealing with God honestly on His terms.
Posted by Mike Baker at 16:40
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
In meditating on the gospel reading for last Sunday [Luke 18:9-17], I have been wrestling with what sanctification looks like. Obviously, I'm still working through my thoughts which are still quite unrefined. :P
The tendency is to take away with one hand what you give with the other. We offer the gospel and then we take it away with works righteousness. We hold up the tax collector from this text as the ideal and cast a jondis eye at that mustache-twisting villain the Pharisee. But with the same breath, we subconsciously think that the Christian life is to be a Frankenstein's monster combination of these two people: humble and self-aware like the tax collector but independently ethical and practically minded like the Pharisee.
Obviously the Third Use of the Law is valid and necessary in the life of the Christian. We are not to be slaves to sin. The Law of God does show us what a God-pleasing good work is, but how do we apply this "guiding use" of the Law without falling into legalism and works righteous behavior like the Judaizers and the Pharisees before them? How do we keep the Law a guide without making it a whip, an idol, or a shackle? After all, isn't artificial humility really just a veiled version of pride? Isn't it all too easy to say, with words eerily similar to the Pharisee, "God, I am glad that you are helping me to become someone who is not like these other men..."?
To combat this, St. Paul always presents the concept of sanctification in its proper context: in light of the Gospel that won salvation and rebirth for us through Christ's work.
In the sermon for this last Sunday, my pastor wisely directed us to the often overlooked and misinterpreted last portion of this lectionary selection: the tale of the little children coming to Jesus. Here we see the heart of the Christian life. Here the desperation of the tax collector segways seamlessly into the complete dependency of the powerless children being brought to be blessed by Jesus.
I have heard many people bemoan that Lutherans are "weak on sanctification". As a recovering legalist and enthusiast, this comment makes me feel that the people who hold this opinion have no idea what sanctification really is. I think it is because they don't know what sanctification looks like so they construct what it must be like using their own reason... which takes them back to legalism and works righteousness every time.
So before we even start looking at sanctification, we need to ask "What does the Bible say Christian sanctification even looks like?" Is sanctification a system where we become holy? Or is sanctification a gift of God whereby we are made holy?
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
Why do people not see sanctification in Lutheranism? Because, to be frank, they don't know what they are looking for. They have a preconceived notion that sanctification should be some amazing system of works or punch-list when it is not. They think that sanctification should resemble some system of improvement or enlightenment because that is what makes sense to our fallen human reason. Rather than a guide, they think that the Third Use should take the shape of some kind of ruler to judge one's spiritual progress up the ladder. This is just not true.
Instead, sanctification is in the shape of the cross. The holy life is a life that is conformed to Christ crucified. It looks like the broken and miserable sinner who is drawn to temple of God to be covered in the blood of the sacrifice to forgive his many sins. It looks like the little children being brought to receive the blessing from Christ. Sanctification is a sacramental life where God gives His gifts to His people and cares for His sheep through water, word, absolution, bread, and wine. It looks like the blind, the lepers, the crippled, the dying, the dead, the harlot, and the desperate being healed by a Savior who did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. It is an external holiness given to the unrighteous that is revealed "from faith for faith" whereby the sinner is declared righteous and "lives by faith".
The daily dying to the old self and the fulfillment of one's vocation is not glamorous. It is not what man thinks of when he thinks of holiness, but this is what sanctification actually looks like. It is the life of humble service to which the saints are called. So away with the life of veiled pride dressed up with pious intent. Let the cruciform life of the sinner redeemed by grace always be our aim.
And in this cruciform life of faith in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit performs mighty works within the sinner which are His fruit that naturally flow from faith in Jesus. Good Works are--first and foremost--His works after all. The Christian life does not excuse or tolerate sin, it exposes and forgives sin. Sanctification doesn't look like anyone or anything we do which is constantly tainted by sin. Instead it looks like the cross. That's why well-intentioned Christians overlook it and misunderstand it. That's why we get tied up in systems and methods of self-improvement that distract us from Christ and His gifts to us.
Too often, we present the Gospel as what gets you in the door and then we turn people back to a system of works that they should be doing to grow in Christ. That's just not biblical. The good works always flow from faith and are presented in view of faith. The Christian never gets away from the cross and the empty tomb. The Christian never gets past Word and Sacrament. The Christian never moves beyond the Gospel. To do so would be to get away from the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, Himself. Sanctification is not a heavy burden but is pure gift in the freedom of the Gospel. It is a work of God that is ongoing and culminates in our Glorification on the Last Day at Christ's Return.
"And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
And in this freedom of imputed righteousness, you are finally free to perform truly good works that are not self-motivated because of compulsion, terror, or duress. From this freedom, you can finally do good works with a glad and grateful heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. From this freedom, you can help your neighbor in His every need secure in the knowledge that God has provided (and will continue to provide) for your every need for Christ's sake. Do not make sanctification a cruel taskmaster in your own mind that compels you into legalistic and bitter obedience. Just like justification, sanctification is a pure gift of God. Let the Gospel reign in the life of the Christian.
"At that time Jesus declared, 'I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'"
Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify;
Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.
-Salvation Unto Us Has Come
LSB Hymn 555
Posted by Mike Baker at 22:16
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Against some of the foolishness that comes with decision theology (i.e. altar calls, acceptance prayers, etc), the following verses are often quoted:
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus our Lord." -Romans 6:23
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." -Ephesians 2:4-10
From there it is easy to discuss the difference between a "wage" (something you earn) and a "gift" (something you are given and don't earn).
The common reply is, "......well, you have to accept a gift" as if to say that a gift isn't a gift until you actively and consciously receive it.
While it may be customary to accept SOME gifts, leaning on this limited custom to defend an indefensible position that comes from deficient Biblical familiarity is just bad reasoning. It is easily refuted.
Example 1: Joe is hit by a car and is flown by helicopter to the ICU. He loses alot of blood on the pavement and his kidney's are badly damaged. He wakes up months later and is told that he received "the gift of life" from anonymous donors. At one point, he was legally dead, but the doctors refused to give up and did everything they could to save him. While in a coma, he was given several blood transfusions (giving blood is called "the gift of life" after all) and a new kidney. Did he accept this gift? No. It was externally given to him without his knowledge or even explicit consent. Similarly, while we we were "Dead in our trespasses and sins" God "made you alive with Christ". (Colossians 2:13) Salvation is that kind of gift.
Example 2: Suzy is a brilliant child. She is only four years old and she can already read children's books like someone twice her age. Everyone calls her "gifted". The implication here is that she was given an extra serving of smarts. What did Suzy do to accept her abilities? Nothing. She had no say. She was born with them. Did she have to read books in order to be smart? Of course not! She's been given the gift of high intelligence and her book reading naturally flows from her gift. Salvation is that kind of gift. [John 3:1-21]
Example 3: Terrance grew up in the United States where he is free to live as he chooses. He enjoys freedom, economic prosperity, and hope. Terrance did nothing to bring this about aside from being born here. Terrance learns in history class that generations of Americans before him gave him this great life he has through hard work and sacrifice. He learns about all of the patriots who died in all of the wars so that he can remain free. He learns about all of the great minds and hard workers who built this country up from nothing so that he can have food anytime he wants it, a cell phone, and Facebook. Terrance is reminded that his own grandparents and parents worked their butts off to give him a better life. He did nothing to deserve or accept any of this. He did not consciously accept what was given to him before his birth. What did Terrance do to accept this gift? Nothing. The gift was purchased and given to him before he even existed. Salvation is that kind of gift.
The only thing that makes a gift is that it is given and not earned. This acceptance garbage is not biblical and it's barely even rational.
Posted by Mike Baker at 00:52
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Yes, folks, we finally have a study that shows that Twitter is as lame as I have always said it was.
Almost no one is really listening to you (and the few that do actually read what you say don't really care). Twitter is just playing to everyone's vanity, poor writing skills, and ADHD. Go read a book.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
In this world that is being seduced and stupefied by subjective speculation, here are two great quotes:
"Any mental activity is easy if it need not take reality into account."
"Facts, facts, facts. It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts. I can discover facts but I cannot change them."
HT: John Warwick Montgomery's lecture here.
Posted by Mike Baker at 00:57
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Here is a helpful analogy that I use when explaining goodness among men versus the goodness of God. Like all analogies it is imperfect, but I thought I'd share and get your thoughts.
The problem with descriptive words is that they are almost always relative to what you are talking about. Descriptions are relative. So the question one must always ask is, "compared to what?" Here is what I mean:
A basket ball is BIG when compared to a golf ball...... but compared to the planet Jupiter, the basket ball is TINY.
A stained, dingy rag that is straight out of the wash is CLEAN when compared to a pair of muddy boots..... but compared to a spotless wedding dress, it is DIRTY.
By the same token, descriptions of goodness and holiness are relative based on what we are talking about. According to what standard are we talking about goodness? Ours? Or Gods?
A generally nice person who stays away from scandal, gives to the needy, and pays his taxes may be GOOD when compared to a child molesting serial killer.... but when compared to the perfect holiness and righteousness of God, that good man is actually revoltingly EVIL.
This is why the "at least I'm not like that dude" excuse does not work. This is why the relative "goodness" that we see here on earth is but a tiny shadow of true holiness of God. This why "I am basically a good person" is a horrible farce when we are talking about God's expectations. We cannot try to deal with God on our terms (dirty rags and basket balls). We need to deal with our omnipotent, perfectly righteous God honestly on His terms.
...because when we are talking on terms of Jupiter, calling a basket ball big is just silly. When we are talking about the demands of perfection in God's law, calling any man good is a sad joke.
There is none righteous, no not one. [Romans 3:10]
Posted by Mike Baker at 21:47
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
My mother, Jancy, went to be with her Lord this morning only a few months after being diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. I have posted my open letter to friends and family below:
Dear friends and family with special words of consolation for my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord,
Expressing grief is good. Feelings of loss, regret, and sadness are healthy. In a world that increasingly shrinks away from anything difficult or painful and insists that every aspect of life contain at least an element of fun, it needs to be said that you are not expected to feel good all the time. It is okay to hurt. It is okay to mourn. With the example of Jesus weeping at the death of His dear friend Lazarus, we need to recognize that there is nothing sinful in feeling anguish and loss when someone dies [John 11:1-44]. We can look to the example of Jesus weeping in the Garden of Gethsemane and see that there is nothing inherently wrong with tears [Luke 22:35-46].
As flawed, finite creatures we’re understandably afraid of and shaken by death. Even as Christians, death can be a daunting thing to face… but there’s no shame in that. Funerals make us uncomfortable. We have clever euphemisms to soften how talking about death sounds to our ears. We use Botox and plastic surgery to hide the ugly signs of death creeping up on us. We put off writing our wills and we push thoughts of our own death as far away from our minds as possible. We marginalize, avoid, and impugn the dignity of our elderly and fear the day when we will be like them. We go about our daily lives and do our best to distract ourselves from the subject of death as much as possible by staying busy. We don’t want to confront the harsh idea of our own frailty will give way to a final moment when we will breathe our last breath.
The judgment of our souls still looms over us and that makes us afraid. We all know that there are evil things that we have done for which we will have to give account and there are good things that we’ve failed to do that we will have to answer for [Romans 2:1-16]. Somehow we know that “Well, I tried the best I could with the opportunities that I had… most of the time” is just not going to be enough on the Day of Judgment [Matthew 25:41-46]. Regret, shame, and guilt set in. We all have a sense that perfect justice should—and will—prevail in the end. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to recognize that we are all criminals in God’s court who have committed so many wrongs against so many people. If we are honest, we are all terrified of facing the end and what lies beyond it.
So we lie to ourselves and assume that death is—while terrible and inevitable—at least distant in the far off future and not something that could happen to us at any moment. Our relatively safe and long-lived culture makes it easier to believe these misconceptions about death, but this man-made illusion is not how Scripture describes our situation. Our end comes like a thief. It interrupts our plans and it comes unexpectedly [Luke 12:22:31]. Every death, no matter how much or how little warning we may have, seems to shock and trouble us. It is abrupt, unnatural, and does not ever feel like this is how things are supposed to happen. Death is just a bad deal.
Death was not originally a part of the human condition as God created it. Instead, the creation account in Genesis describes Death as a curse, a corruption, which was not part of the creative work of God who originally made Adam and Eve sinless, eternal, and very good [Gen 1:26-31; 3:14-24]. The temptation is to blame God in times like this, but we were not created by God to suffer and die. That came later when Satan entered the picture. Deceived and tempted, Adam and Eve chose the path of disobedience, ate the forbidden fruit, and fell into sin. Through that sin, death entered the world [Romans 5:12-21].
But we’d rather not even think about all that. Our relative security and affluence here in western civilization clouds our judgment and lulls us into a false sense of apathetic comfort. Undaunted by sin and death, we have turned modern Christianity into a shallow system of vaguely Judeo-Christian moral suggestions; an entertaining, satisfying subculture where many of us think that “being a spiritual person” is little more than a system for enjoying life to its fullest and serving a God that can be summoned or invoked to serve our whims exactly like the New Age philosophy of the power of positive thinking or pagan white magic.
Christianity has cheapened itself to such a degree that we seem obsessed with living our best lives now, our spiritual progress now, and realizing our God-given potential now. We have trivialized the essence of our faith so that it is little more than drinking a spiritual energy drink or cashing in all of our frequent flier holiness miles for well-deserved prizes on occasion. The problem with this naive approach is that it is incomplete, false, and only pseudo-biblical. Authentic Christianity has always centered itself on the firm foundation of nothing less than the bold and unwavering proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins through Christ.
When we ignore Christ or minimize His role throughout the entire Christian life, we place our faith and trust in the shifting sands of our own works, feelings, empty prayers, and achievements rather than in the immutable power and promises of Almighty God [Matthew 7:21-29]. It should come as no surprise then when we become frustrated by the fact that all of our hard effort is rendered futile, we fail time and time again, and the storms of life constantly remind us that so many things remain far beyond our control. It is not enough to hope if that hope is misplaced in something that is incapable of delivering on our expectations. Our hope and trust must be placed on a firm foundation that does not fail us.
Rather than learning and submitting to what God’s foundation is according to His own words in Holy Scripture, we like to make up divine promises that He never made and are surprised when God does not deliver on what we decided that He should do for us. A faith and confidence in ourselves and what we are doing rather than what Christ does for us is hopelessly weak and doomed to fail when it is tested. It is no wonder then that so many of us have a spiritual life characterized by ecstatic emotional highs at first that quickly fade and give way to dark crashes of prolonged confusion, depression, isolation, abandonment, and agony.
Obviously not all of the other things that we get distracted with in this life are bad. Many could be good things in moderation and proper context. It’s good to have fellowship with fellow Christians. It’s good to enjoy God’s gifts to us. It’s good to have a good time. It’s good to be optimistic and have a vision for where life could be going. It’s good to train disciples who understand good morals, productivity, and life skills. The desire to grow the church can be a good one. The problem comes when we allow the merely good works and things in life to take the place of the one best thing: The historical events that make up the saving, freeing message of the gospel of Christ [Galatians 3:1-14].
In the First Letter to the Corinthians chapter 15, St. Paul writes to the church in Corinth and makes clear what the church’s priorities should always be:
”Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you now stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
"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, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [also called Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
This passage echoes what St. Paul writes earlier in the letter where he reminds the Corinthian believers that the entire Christian life from start to finish is tied up in a humble, single-minded focus on Christ alone. In Chapters 1 and 2, he writes:
“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
The story of salvation through Christ and Him crucified is the Biblical definition of the gospel. The gospel of Christ crucified for the sins of man is true. Anything that could be false cannot be a part of the gospel, and, while other teachings or ideas may be true and good, they are not the gospel. The gospel is what we are to be about as Christians. We need to hold fast to the message of eternal salvation. It is always to be of first importance among us especially at times like this when death causes all other approaches, strategies, and plans to fail.
This is a teaching that St. Paul reminds us of again in his letter to the Galatians. In chapter 1, He writes:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Why is this Christ-centered focus on the gospel so important for believer and nonbeliever alike? Because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:21-25]. Because “the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:19-25]. Because “If we think that we are without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us [1 John 1:8-10].” No man receives the Holy Spirit by works of the law. [Galatians 3:2] Our “…heart[s] [are] desperately wicked…” [Jeremiah 17:5-10] and our tongues are “...a restless evil, full of deadly poison…” [James 3:1-12]. We all love evil and hate good [Romans 7:15-25]. In our natural state, we are evil, alienated, hostile in mind, and enemies of God [Colossians 1:21-23; Romans 5:10-11].
In this desperate situation, Christ Jesus came down from heaven and took on our flesh to redeem a lost and fallen mankind [John 6:35-40]. In His perfect, sinless life He achieved every one of God’s requirements in our stead so that His holiness could be credited to our account [Romans 3:22; 4:3-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 10:10-14]. Moreover, He died on the cross for us so that the judgment and wrath that we so justly deserve was inflicted upon Christ in our stead [Isaiah 53:1-12; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18].
On the third day, He rose from the dead and in doing so overcame death so that it no longer has any power over us [2 Timothy 1:8-12]. He mercifully sends and bestows upon us the Holy Spirit so that we can come to this knowledge of Him by faith alone apart from works so that no man can boast [John 16:6-15; Ephesians 2:8-10]. This faith in Christ comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God [Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2]. With His Word, God graciously draws us to Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit so that our sins may be forgiven and so that we may be continually renewed and strengthened [John 6:35-46]. In baptism, we are crucified into Christ’s death so that we might rise in newness of life [Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27].
These truths are not just an evangelistic recruiting tool that applies only to heathen folk, backsliders, or something that we only teach to new Christians and little kids. It’s the foundation and essence of the entire Christian faith for all people [1 Corinthians 15:3-5]. It is a message that we all need to hear constantly because we all are in constant need of God’s forgiveness and restoration. God extends love and forgiveness to everyone in Christ—even you [John 3:13-18].
We learn from Scripture that divine forgiveness is not some abstract concept that we pull out occasionally for nostalgia’s sake and it is not something that we can just gloss over. We need to constantly revisit it and be transformed over and over again by what Christ has done for us. This constant returning to repentance under the cross of Christ is what it means to be a Christian and not all these other things we get distracted by. Rather than arrogantly writing off any evangelistic message as something we have no use for because we have already heard it before, we are called to recognize that everything that is good in our lives in the Body of Christ is caused by, springs out from, circulates around, finds inspiration in, is vivified through, speaks explicitly about, and draws us back to this amazing life-giving message of the cross and the empty tomb.
In times like today, it alone is the only true comfort for our grief and fear because the proclaimed word of the gospel is the only message that carries in it the Holy Spirit and the very promises of God that offer true relief, faith, and salvation to hurting sinners in need and the means by which those sinners are forgiven, restored, and uplifted [2 Peter 1:16-21]. The gospel is for the whole world—including you [Matthew 24:13-14; 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-16].
Christ said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance [Luke 5:31-32].” Christ said, “Does [a shepherd] not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and search for the one [sheep] that went astray [Matthew 18:10-14]?”
We need to remember that what we consider to be the great “evangelism” letters like Romans and Galatians were actually written directly to specific groups of Christians and churches [Romans 1:7; Galatians 1:2-5] as the rule of expression for the faith so that the explicit gospel messages that they contain would be a divine promise that should be read aloud and declared constantly to all people: believer and unbeliever alike. This is where we find a true mystery of the faith: that the work of Christ on the cross is for everyone because it is in Christ that each one of us lives and moves and has our being [Acts 17:28].
This centrality of the gospel message in the life of the early church was so important that nearly all of the letters in the New Testament take great pains to explicitly remind believers of what Christ has done and they present this truth of gracious mercy as the foundation and standard of the life for the Christian so that the gospel message is presented as the fount from which all other teachings flow and the reality by which all other teachings and good works are to be framed. It is not as though this teaching appears in only a few places so that it can be safely ignored or trivialized [2 Cor 2:14-4:6; 5:11-21; 13:1-10; Eph 2:11-22; Philippians 1:27-30; Col 1:11-24; 2:6-15; 1 Thess 1:2-8; 2 Thess 2:13-17; 1 Tim 1:15-20; 2 Tim 1:8-14; 4:1-5; Heb 2:1-18; 10:19-25; 1 Peter 1:3-25; 2 Peter 1:8-21; 1 John 1:5-2:6; 4:1-6; 5:1-12; 2 John 1:7-11; 3 John 1:1-4; Jude 1:1-8; 17-23; etc, etc]. It is this faithful clinging to the message of Christ crucified for our sins that is presented by the apostles as the standard by which the health of any Christian, pastor, or congregation is to be judged (and not by merely by outward things such as wondrous signs, clever presentations, worldly wisdom, external growth, or zealous piety.)
I say all of this so that, as you mourn, you keep this same gospel message in mind and realize that you don’t need to worry about my mom. She is in a better place. And I don’t say that because I’m some sentimentally religious sap who desperately wishes to feel better by imagining or hoping that maybe there could be something good after all this but I lack any clear evidence to prove it. Unfortunately, there are many funerals where I cannot truthfully say such a thing because the deceased was not in the one faith that saves sinners from hell. Thanks be to God, this is not one of those times. Eternity is as daunting and terrible thing. I do not believe in life after death because it is therapeutic or useful to me here and now. I believe it because it is true.
I know that eternal life for Christians is a fact. As evidence for this claim, I am able to present the corroborated actual testimonies of multiple eye witnesses to the life, death, and miraculous resurrection of the historical man Jesus of Nazareth who demonstrated His divine authority by performing miracles that no contemporary witness was able to refute and modern science still cannot duplicate. This man claimed to be God in human flesh and that He had come to save us from hell by faith in His all-atoning sacrifice on the cross. His coming had long been foretold by hundreds of years worth of prophets [John 5:37-47; Luke 24:25-35] and from the very mouth of God Himself in the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3:12-15].
While all other religions depend merely on human opinion where you have to take the prophet’s word for it, this Jesus proved His authenticity, truthfulness, and ultimate power over all created things by His crucifixion, death, and miraculous resurrection from the dead just as He had predicted about Himself on numerous occasions. As much as His detractors and enemies hated this Jesus, they could not find persuasive evidence to discredit Him during His public ministry and could not present any evidence or witnesses to disprove His bodily resurrection despite their enormous influence, wealth, and authority in Judea, Greece, and Rome.
After He ascended into heaven, His apostles and disciples went on to perform similar miracles, signs, and wonders in the name of this Jesus and proclaimed the story of Jesus that they had witnessed to anyone who would listen. They encouraged anyone who doubted their story to go speak to all of the other witnesses who were still living at the time confident that the truth would be made apparent as one investigated deeper into what actually happened. With nothing to gain by their insistence on the factual accuracy of these events and everything to lose, they each went on to endure torture, imprisonment, exile, and unspeakable methods of execution and none of them wavered in their accounts of what they saw take place. These testimonies still ring true in spite of two thousand years of skeptical criticism and vain attempts to discredit their veracity. None of the other hundreds of actual witnesses to the resurrection of Christ ever came forward and presented an alternate explanation to refute the claim that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.
This dedication to the truth continued after the death of the apostles. The converted followers who remained, many of them first hand witnesses themselves, were equally stalwart in the face of religious purges and willingly submitted to being burned alive on poles or fed to wild animals rather than renounce the events that they had seen and experienced. Speaking from a purely intellectual standpoint in view of all of the historical, textual, and archeological evidence, we can be as sure that Jesus Christ lived in first century Palestine and rose from the dead with the same degree of certainty that we can have regarding any other historical event that ever took place.
So I am not guessing, speculating, or grasping at straws here. My hope is not misplaced. Christ rose from the dead. I know for a fact that He has saved Jancy and that she is now in heaven because the testimonies about Christ and His promises are trustworthy.
And it’s not as if Jancy went to her grave foolishly thinking that she going to go there because she was “basically a good person” or “faithful and dedicated enough”. Not at all! Rather she has been rescued from death’s grip solely because the crucified and risen Jesus purchased her with His blood; not because she had some desirable quality, inner strength, pious decision, or secret spiritual discipline, but because of His great mercy in spite of her undesirable sinfulness and frailty [Titus 3:3-8]. We serve a God who says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness [2 Corinthians 12:8-9].”
Of all the blessings, valuables, and gifts that she enjoyed in her life, my mother possessed a single treasure, a pearl of great price [Matthew 13:45-46], and she cherished it: She had her Savior, Christ Jesus. Let all other treasures pass away and be rendered worthless by comparison. She’s in paradise right now because of Jesus.
I say all of this so that, as you consider that your own death is approaching, you will resist the lies of the Devil and remember that the assurance of your eternal salvation does not require that you hit a set “heavenly entrance standard” regarding your own worth, morality, or dedication to God. Rather assurance rests solely in the promises of God and the faithfulness of the same Jesus who didn’t abandon His apostles even though they abandoned Him [Matthew 26:55-56].
Jancy was purchased and cared for by the same Jesus who reached down and pulled St. Peter up out of the sea when the disciple miraculously walked on the water out to meet Christ only to sink because of his “little faith”. As Peter cried out “Lord save me!” Jesus did not abandon him to his pitiful fate, but pulled His beloved sheep, Peter, to safety [Matthew 14:22-40].
It is this same Jesus who is faithful to His sheep [John 10:11-18]. Jesus Christ freely handed Himself over to evil men to be killed on our behalf. “…God made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God [2 Corinthians 5:18-21].” The wage of death that we have all earned for our many sins has been paid in full so that we no longer bear our damning guilt in the eyes of God [Romans 6:20-23]. Instead, His own perfect Son, Jesus, willingly received our punishment on the cross [John 3:10-16].
And all of the good that Christ did on our behalf has been credited to our account so that God looks at us and sees RIGHTEOUS instead of SINFUL, PERFECT instead of FLAWED, HOLY instead of WRETCHED, and ETERNALLY SAVED instead of WORHTY OF ETERNAL DAMNATION. There’s nothing left for us to do to win God’s favor, prove ourselves worthy, or merit this divine favor from God. Jesus has done it all for us already.
We need to do away with all this unbiblical, foolish talk that always seems to place the ball in our court, hang the heavy lifting in our human hands, and cause us to doubt when adversity strikes. In whose strength and faithfulness should we place our trust: in Christ or in our own abilities? Do we hope in a false hope or is our hope in Christ? In many ways this “me generation” has gotten the person doing the work and the person for whom the work is done completely backwards so that we are expected to hope and trust in what we have done or are able to do to cause God to love and forgive us. This is wrong.
Times like this demonstrate why we must place our faith in Christ Jesus alone and return Biblical Christianity back to its proper way of speaking.
He is the one who has chosen you [2 Thessalonians 2:13; John 15:16]. He has revealed God the Father to you [Matthew 11:27]. He has dedicated Himself completely to you [Isaiah 53]. He has granted the gift of repentance to you [Acts 11:18]. He purchased you [Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. He brings you to faith [Ephesians 2:8-10]. He will never leave or forsake you [Hebrews 13:5]. You have been invited into fellowship with Him [1 Corinthians 1:9]. It is He who works sanctification in you [Philippians 2:13]. He invites the weary and heavy burdened to come and receive rest in Him for His yoke is easy and His burden is light [Matthew 11:28]. He is the one who has done all the work. “It is finished [John 19:30].”
My mother knew this to be true and clung to it even in the final, difficult days of her life. These things were proclaimed to her and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the gift of faith was given to her, she came to believe, and was held fast in that faith until the day she died. While many of us who knew her were hoping and praying for some spectacular miracle that could only delay her inevitable death for a few decades, God had already performed the greatest miracle in her heart which few bothered to recognize: the miracle of salvation by faith in Christ Jesus.
The lesser miracle that did not happen would have restored her physical body to some semblance of temporary health only to face death again later on in the future, but the greatest miracle—the perfect healing—that did happen restored her body and soul to a healed relationship with her Lord through the cross. The lesser miracle that did not happen would have seemed spectacular as it would have returned her to temporary health for a short period of time only to face death again later down the road, but the greatest miracle that did happen was mysterious and unseen as the Holy Spirit gave her life eternal in heaven so that the grave had no victory over her because the gift of faith in Jesus.
This perfect God-Man, Jesus Christ, overpowered the grave. United with Him in His death, we who are poor miserable sinners are also united with Him in His resurrection [Romans 6:5-11]. The grave stands defeated, bound, and killed by Christ. Death has been swallowed up in victory [1 Corinthians 15:50-58]. Death, that terrifying thing that breathes down our neck every day as a specter, a thief, a sudden destroyer, and an unknowable pit, is now a toothless doorway into life everlasting in heaven for all who believe in God’s promises by faith.
What a blessed hope it is in all circumstances to know that in the face of our overwhelming sin we have an advocate, Jesus the righteous, who now sits at the right hand of the Father [Hebrews 12:1-2]. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words [Romans 8:26-27].” By the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ Jesus, God has adopted us as dear children and heirs of the kingdom of heaven [Ephesians 1:3-10].
What a wondrous miracle of healing and life! By faith, my mother is resting with her Lord as I speak. By faith, she has been rescued from sin, death, and the devil. Where she is now there is no weakness. Where she is now there is no cancer. There are no tears. Instead there is the Holy City where the triune Godhead dwells surrounded by the angelic host. My Granny Baker is there along with all of the saints of God from every time and place to include all of your loved ones who have died in the apostolic Christian faith [Revelation 7:15-17].
Dear friends, take comfort in this: Goodbyes between Christians are not permanent. Those of us who are in Christ will see Jancy again.
And we must never forget that the Last Day will come where Christ will return as a triumphant, conquering king. On that glorious day of days, Jancy will be raised from the dead and will live again in the flesh just as Christ rose from the grave though He was stone-cold dead in the ground for three days. Her flesh will be perfected and glorified and she will live body and soul for all eternity in heaven.
1 Thessalonians chapter 4 says:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
We will remember Jancy and everything that she has done for us. We should celebrate her life. More importantly, we should above all celebrate the God-given gift of eternal life that she now enjoys in Christ Jesus Our Lord [1 John 1:1-3].