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Rightly Dividing

The Sola Fide Paragraph

This is it.

If you had to pick just one paragraph from the New Testament, it would be hard to do better than Romans 3:21-26. Here is the righteousness of God manifested, not by works but by faith (alone), as God justifies sinners through the redemption and propitiation of Jesus Christ.

And for the ones who prefer da English:

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Identity Requires Faith

Recognizing our identity requires faith.

Many of the ladies in our church have been reading and discussing a book about identity. Being a woman is part of one’s identity (if you are a woman), as is being a man. Recognizing that difference does not require wisdom, though in our day it does require honesty and courage. Some are young, some are old, and God speaks to the different glories of each kind. We are not all the same part of the body, we do not all have the same spiritual gifts. These categories, and others, belong with who we believe ourselves to be as image-bearers of God and as disciples of Christ.

I mentioned a few months ago the difference between optimists and pessimists, not regarding world history per se, but regarding personal sanctification. I want to cover that ground again from a different angle because identifying ourselves correctly affects our hope.

Christian, are you a sinner or are you saint? Are you guilty before God or justified in Christ’s righteousness? Are you a conquerer, or are you a coward, a compromiser, a loser?

Here’s the giveaway: if you are asking those questions, the answer is obvious. If you are not asking those questions, there is an obvious problem.

If you struggle to identify as a saint, knowing that you sin and that you have to repent from sin and that you hate sin, then the Bible commands you to identify as “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 5:11). This is not telling yourself a lie, it is the way you reckon with having died with Christ to sin. If you see that you are wretched, and long for full deliverance from sin (Romans 7:24), then you must acknowledge that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Are you weak, are you groaning, then you should know that in all these things you are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37).

This is not trying to convince yourself of something to make it true, this is the life of believing what Christ said is true.

It’s those who say that they don’t have sin who God identifies as liars (1 John 1:10). So speak the truth, confess your sin, as overcomers of the world by faith that Jesus is the Son of God.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Conquering Worldliness

The apostle John makes an interesting, and optimistic, argument in 1 John 5. He says:

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. (1 John 5:3-4)

The second half of verse 4 is the first sentence I remember memorizing in Greek: hay nikay hay nikaysasa ton kosmon, hay pistis haymone. “This is the victory that victories the world, our faith.” Faith is sort of a big deal.

Consider the connections:

  • Love must obey, and is made known as we obey.
  • Love for God comes from those who have been born of God.
  • The born-of-God-ers are world-overcomers.
  • World-overcomers are also believers.
  • So, we are born again by God to believe in God and love God and obey God which is overcoming the world.

Both love and faith come from God who caused us to be born again. We know love as it obeys, and we know faith as it overcomes.

Alternatively, disobedience is a sign of the world’s victory, and disobedience is a sign of faith’s faltering, or perhaps that there is no faith at all.

So, Christian, how are you stimulating your faith? You cannot conquer the worldliness in your own heart, let alone the worldliness of the world, without faith in Jesus, the Son of God.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Partial Fide

There are at least four different expectations when it comes to good works.

A man could expect that his good works will please the wrong god. Or, a man could expect that his good works, by themselves, will please the right God. Or, a man could expect that his good works mean nothing to God and that God only cares about faith. Or, a man could expect that His good works will be blessed by God because he has faith that God said so.

We know that idolatry is wrong; offering costly sacrifices in a ritual context don’t matter if those sacrifices are to a false god; prepaying for $80 worth of gas doesn’t matter if you pump the gas into the trash can. We also know that without faith it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and that the best a man can do on his own is nothing noteworthy to God (Isaiah 64:6). We are not saved by works (Titus 3:5).

But, how often do sola fide kind of people not actually have fide that God blesses obedience? We believe that God wants us to believe, but we don’t believe that God uses believing obedience as a means to His ends of giving us good.

Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8 about the life and honor and value and enduring wealth and fruit that comes from finding wisdom.

And now, O sons, listen to me:
blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors. (Proverbs 8:32-34)

The place of blessed, happy good is obedience by faith. Do you believe God about that? And then to you commit to keep His ways? What do you expect?

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Lord's Day Liturgy

By Faith We Do Stuff

Our fellowship around the communion table is in faith. What we have in common is Christ, and how we hold onto Him is also the same: by faith.

Because we rely on Jesus, when we gather around the table we like to tell stories about those who lived (and died) by faith.

I love how tired the author of Hebrews got when giving history to his readers about those “of whom the world was not worthy.” The writer got through a lot of specific stories, from Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Moses and others. But then he either was running out of papyrus or patience.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32–34)

They did their work in the world ”through faith.”

But this isn’t the only way to live in the world through faith.

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35–38)

By faith we do stuff. We try to win, and sometimes we do when God gives the victory. We try to win, and sometimes we don’t when God grants us not only to believe in Christ but also suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29). We try to win, and sometimes, the way of victory is to die to bring life, the story we remember at the Lord’s Table.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Top of the Faith Chart

When we co-opt the apostle John’s language and talk about faith as victory that overcomes the world, we do so without smirking or crossing our fingers behind our back because our faith is in victory that overcomes death. If your god can’t do something about death then he can only offer so much.

Abraham believed in the God who overcomes death.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

Faith that believes in resurrection power is at the top of the faith chart. What is more impossible than being raised from the dead? In Abraham’s case, he was prepared to act based on it. In our case, we are prepared to eat and drink based on it.

There is no “figuratively speaking” with the resurrection of Jesus because He died. He wasn’t almost sacrificed. He carried the wood of His altar, was bound by nails to it, and though God could have sent 10,000 angels to take Him off the cross, a “close to death” would only made us close to salvation. He died and was three-days-buried dead.

But then He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. The angels told visitors to His tomb: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” This is literally speaking.

When we eat the bread and drink the wine we proclaim His death but not because He’s dead. He lives! Our faith is in the resurrection and the life! May your faith be nourished by such a meal in such a powerful Savior who has overcome death for us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Close to Home

God will test our faith. The apostle Peter wrote that various trials cause heaviness:

so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)

Solid faith, not faith-leaf—like gold leaf, a thin layer of faith hammered around the outside—solid faith now will result in our being esteemed and rewarded by God when we see Jesus Christ and will no longer need faith.

In the meantime the “various trials” that do this testing are manifold. One could translate the Greek adjective “multi-colored.” The trials come in different shapes and sizes. They also come in different degrees of importance to us.

God tests our faith through national elections, but that doesn’t hit quite as close to home as, say, losing your home. Or if He’s given you a job, you know it was by His grace that you got the job, and now He appears to be taking that job away by requiring you to stand up for righteousness. Or if a child or a spouse gets very sick. Or if the plans you had, plans to be productive and minister for Him, get interrupted. These and more will test your trust in God.

I’ve heard it said, “Put your Isaacs on the altar.” If God wants you to surrender something you think is important, even crucial, for His mission, then You must trust Him that He will bless you as He takes it away. This is a test of faith, a purifying of faith, and a strengthening of faith. We need it. And if we fail a test, we don’t have to wait a certain amount of time before we try again, we just need to repent and turn back to Him in trust.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not in Remembrance of You

Of all the good gifts of God that have been abused, perhaps nothing has been more abused than the gospel. Salvation is not by works. No man can do anything, give any amount, or feel any emotion enough to earn favor with God. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). That’s it. We are declared righteous by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Paul knew that such a good gift would be abused. “So, you’re saying that it doesn’t matter at all what I do? Actually, more sin on my part makes for more glory on His part?” Sort of. After more than two chapters in his letter to the Romans about justification he addressed those who thought they should sin more, sin on purpose so that grace would be seen as more great.

That’s not how it works, of course, because the grace that justifies is grace that changes. But if someone can’t misunderstand the gospel that way, then it probably hasn’t been presented truly.

Let’s try it out. What do you need to do so that you can eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord? How much or how long do you need to have obeyed? What sins for what duration do you need to have avoided?

It does not matter how many good works you did or didn’t do this week. It doesn’t matter what sins you avoided or didn’t. If you believe in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, then you are righteous by faith and the Father receives you into fellowship. Communion is in remembrance of Him, not in remembrance of you.

This means that even if you’ve been thinking about communion wrongly, if you’ve been fearful rather than celebratory, even that doesn’t change your invitation to the Table. There is a seat at His Table for everyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Christ from the dead. He has made all of the arrangements, and that is a reason for our hearts to be glad in remembrance of Him.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Certain Way

I’ve posted about Enoch a few times the last few weeks. Though he is exceptional, he is also an example.

The author of Hebrews includes Enoch in the Hall of Faith.

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5)

Genesis doesn’t explicitly state the part about pleasing God but it makes sense. It also sets up the inductive conclusion in the next verse. The particular instance of Enoch leads to this general principle.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Enoch believed that God is and that God is a certain way. Namely, God is eternally and unchangeably a giver to those who depend on Him.

The communion meal is an expression of our faith, not our works. We eat and drink in dependence on God through His Son. And we know what to expect. We’re not obligating God to do anything. We don’t demand wages. But we know that He loves to provide for and fill up and bless His people. He has given us His own Son. How will He not with Him graciously give us all things?

Leave your righteousness, leave your strength, and leave what you counted as gain. Receive by faith His righteousness, His strength in your weakness, and His reward for seeking Him.