28 September 2017

The Treasure of the Church


500 years ago Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed a document, known as ‘The 95 Theses’, to the church door at Wittenberg in Germany. It was an invitation to a discussion on the teaching and practice of the church on the subject of indulgences.

At that time another monk, Johann Tetzel, was in the area preaching about indulgences. The church, he taught, could grant a remission of the punishment for your sins, because it has the authority to apply to your benefit the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. The people eagerly bought ‘letters of indulgences’ from the pope, confident that by them they would escape the torment of the fire of purgatory.

Luther was worried about this practice. The 95 Theses was a call to the church to come back to the teaching of the Scriptures. One thesis read thus: ‘The right and true treasure of the Church is the most Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.’

The church possesses something of unique value. But it is not material riches – the cathedrals and beautiful churches, the gold and works of art. (Tetzel was selling indulgences to finance the building of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.)

The treasure of the church is the gospel of God! For by the word of the gospel the Holy Spirit gives life and the gift of faith, by which the sinner reaches out to Christ for salvation. By the gospel the lost is found, the guilty is forgiven, darkness becomes light, fear is replaced by joy, and despair gives way to the hope of eternal life.

The church ought to cherish the deposit of faith entrusted to her by God. She is duty bound to defend the gospel from corruption and to preach the message faithfully to all the world. The church lives by the gospel. If the church loses the gospel, she loses everything.

The same applies to every individual. What is the treasure that my heart yearns for? Do I know the true gospel taught in the Holy Scriptures? Have I learned about Christ, his death and resurrection? Have I turned from my sins in repentance? Do I believe on Christ alone for salvation? Am I following him in the way of righteousness?

We should answer these questions honestly before God. For he who ignores the gospel is poor and wretched even though he may possess the whole world. After death he will take nothing with him but a burden of sin to his eternal damnation. On the other hand, he is abundantly rich in grace who hears the good news of salvation and embraces Christ by faith.

Friend, what have you done with he gospel of Christ? Is the gospel your treasure?

(Gospel e-Letter - October 2017)

1 September 2017

God Justifies the Ungodly

Divine justice demands that the righteous person should be justified whereas the wicked should be condemned. It is a miscarriage of justice when lawbreakers are set free and when innocent people are condemned. "He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD" (Proverbs 17:15). We can be sure that God will deal justly with us. Therefore He declares: "I will not justify the wicked" (Exodus 23:7). Since God is absolutely just, He cannot let the sinner go free.

Now that is a fearful thought! For we are all sinners; we have broken God's holy Law. In this sense we are all wicked and therefore we do not stand a chance of escape from Divine justice. God will not justify the wicked!

That is why, if we had to rely on our obedience to the Law, we can never be justified before God. "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). With tears of sorrow, even the holiest Christian admits his sins ever day. As long as we remain on earth it is a sad reality that we continue to sin. Though there is nothing on earth that I hate more than sin, yet I continue to sin and offend the God who loves me so much!

If we were honest with ourselves, we would not ask whether we have obeyed the Law enough to be justified. We know we haven't! Rather, every one of us should ask: What can free me, a guilty sinner, from my sin? Who can save me from God's righteous anger and punishment? Is there hope for me?
Thank God for His Son. There is hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

The apostle Paul makes this incredible statement in the epistle to the Romans: "To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5). God justifies the ungodly! He does not say, "God justifies the righteous." That would have been perfectly understandable and just - and it would have spelled despair to all of us sinners. He does not even say, "God justifies the ungodly when he converts and starts doing good works." Paul insists that it is to him "who does not work" but "believes" that God accounts as righteous. God justifies the ungodly by faith alone.

Now that is the good news that we need to hear! Somehow God is able to justify me when I believe in Christ even though I am a sinner.

We realize that this is pure grace - something that we do not deserve. Yet a distressing question immediately springs to mind. How can a just God, who has declared that He will not justify the wicked, justify the believer even though the believer is a lawbreaker? Is God ignoring the Law to show us mercy? The apostle Paul is anxious to answer this problem:

"But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:21-26).

God demonstrated His righteousness and uprightness in His gracious dealing with sinners by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. God set forth His Son as propitiation by His blood.

The word "propitiation" basically means to placate, to pacify, to appease. God is offended and angered by sin. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18). Jesus turned aside God's wrath against us who believe when He shed His blood on the cross as a sacrifice for sin. God is appeased because Christ fulfilled the demands of the Law.

Justice and mercy met on Calvary's tree. That is why God could be both "just" and "the justifier" of those who believe in Jesus. God justifies the ungodly who believes because his sins were taken away by Jesus Christ.

(Gospel e-Letter - September 2017).

1 August 2017

Christ Preserves His Church

The Roman Catholic Church is old - it can trace its evolution all the way back to the times of the apostles. However, age by itself is not the criterion to identify the true churches of Christ. A church can start well but then it can degenerate and become apostate over the years. The acid test of any individual or community is the faithfulness to the teaching of Christ:

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31,32).

Of central importance is TRUTH. Of lesser importance is the ANTIQUITY of an institution. Indeed, from the Roman Catholic perspective, the problem with Protestants is not so much that they branched off the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century (after all the branch is still organically connected to the roots). The principal allegation against the Protestants is that they have excluded certain apostolic beliefs and included novel non-apostolic ones.

From the Protestant perspective, the reformation was a process of removing certain human traditions that had been introduced in the post-apostolic church, and restoring to prominence those truths that had been ignored, such as the centrality of Scripture and salvation by grace through faith.

On the other hand, Rome cannot justify her position by an appeal to its antiquity. Like the Protestants, Rome must prove that her doctrines are apostolic. There is always a tendency for decadence in any church or organization. The fact that it is older means that there was more time and opportunity for deterioration and the introduction of human traditions.

The Roman church is old, but older still is Judaism. Yet Judaism is a false religion. There was a time when the Jews were God's people, but since they twisted the message of the Scriptures by their traditions, and rejected the promised Messiah, they have been set aside. However God always had a remnant according to the election of grace among the apostate nation. They believe. They are part of the true Israel of God. It must be the same among professing Christians in the New Testament era.

I open the history books to search for the virgin bride of Christ. I am dismayed when I read how many professing Christians denied the Deity of the Lord Jesus during the Arian controversy. I am amazed to find the seeds of damnable heresies already present in the apostolic and early church. As early as the second century some Christians had departed from the Gospel and embraced false doctrines such as purgatory. Later on others approved of the making and bowing down before graven images, contrary to the commandment of God. I am troubled when I read about the Donatists in North Africa who were persecuted by the Catholics, not because of some heresy but simply because they upheld a different standard about church government. The church was given the Word, the Sword of the Spirit, to extend Christ's kingdom on earth. Yet the church laid aside her spiritual weapons, and took up the sword to kill and slaughter the Muslims in a series of bloody crusades to regain the holy land. I weep when I read about the deep ignorance of the Word of God among God's people and the superstition that enslaved them. I look for holiness in the lives of the leaders but instead there is often filth, corruption and shame. I look for the church preaching the Gospel and persuading man, but instead I read about the tortures of the Spanish and Roman Inquisition.

Yet even in those darkest moments, God sent precious rays of light - godly people like Waldo, Savonarola, Wycliffe and Huss. In the driest deserts there are oasis of fresh water and life. There were always true, genuine Christians, both within the Catholic churches of the East and the West, and outside, such as the Waldenses. For Christ promised that he would build his Church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it.

God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace (Romans 11:2-5).

There are genuine Christians and genuine churches today as well. They are recognized by their obedience to the truth of the Gospel.

(Gospel e-Letter - August 2017).

1 July 2017

My Purgatory

We cannot enter into the glorious presence of God as long as we are polluted with sin. The Bible warns us that nothing that defiles shall enter Paradise. We need purification!

Catholics are taught and expect that after death “they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification" (Catechism 1030,1031).

The Bible clearly teaches how we can be washed from our sin. The Word of God assures believers that "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). His blood really and actually cleanses "from all sin." God's people praise Him "who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Revelation 1:5). And again, Christ "had by himself purged our sins" (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus Christ and nothing else is the believer's purification.

Perhaps up till now you have hoped that after death you will go to a place of suffering to undergo cleansing from sin. The opportunity to experience purification and complete forgiveness is now, while you are still alive. God is kind and forgiving. He really forgives and cancels the debt of all those who turn to him. Look to Jesus the Deliverer, whose death on Calvary is a full and adequate payment for the sins of his people. His blood was not shed in vain; it actually purifies the soul from all defilement.

Do you believe in purgatory? I hope you will affirm, "Yes, I believe in God's purgatory. My purgatory is the Lord Jesus Christ!"

(Gospel e-Letter - July 2017).

1 June 2017

It is Finished

Moments before his death, Jesus said, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). What is the meaning of this word? It is not merely a statement that his life had come to its end. Having fulfilled the mission entrusted to him by the Father, Jesus declares, ‘It is finished’ – it is done, it is complete, the purpose for which I came to the world has been fulfilled!

That is why the Scripture says that Christ “had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:12). He ‘had offered’ - it is already done; ‘for all time’ – it applies to people in all generations, including our own; ‘a single sacrifice’ – he does not need to repeat what is finished and complete.

On the basis of this one perfect sacrifice, God reassures his people, ‘“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (Hebrews 10:17). God keeps his promises; his people are forever forgiven.

What then shall we say? Is there a need for more offerings for sin? Do I need to do penance, renew the sacrifice of Christ, or suffer in purgatory to be cleansed from sin? The Bible answers is definitive: “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Heb 10:18). No more offerings are needed and no other offerings will be accepted by God because the perfect sacrifice of Christ is both sufficient and effective.

It is finished – do you believe this word of Christ? Are you trusting in him and his finished sacrifice alone for the full forgiveness of your sins?

Lord, open our ears to hear an echo of your triumphant word. You have fulfilled the Father’s will to your very last breath. By your perfect obedience, even unto death on a cross, you have accomplished our redemption. Grant us faith God, that for our forgiveness, we cease to rely in the least in our works, but entrust ourselves to Christ and his finished work on the cross.

(Gospel e-Letter - June 2017).