Monday, July 30, 2007

Salvation Obscured in the Early Church

In the second century, Marcion, the Gnostic, was teaching that the Old Testament god who gave the law was evil, while the New Testament God who gave the gospel was good. This dualism was condemned by Tertullian who criticized Marcion for separating law and gospel. Pelikan records:

"Marcion’s ‘special and principal work,’ was ‘the separation of the law and the gospel’; his special and fundamental religious conviction was a single minded dedication to the gospel."

In response to the Gnostic heresy, subsequent generations of Christians considered the gospel to be a new law and were reluctant to distinguish between law and gospel for fear of being accused of the Marcionite heresy. Unfortunately, the commingling of law and gospel is what led the early church to misunderstand the meaning of salvation. The distinction between the law and promises in Romans and Galatians is essential to understanding Paul's doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works.

For Justin Martyr, Ireneaeus, and Athanasius, the understanding of salvation was synergistic. This was due to the fact that the prevailing thought of the culture was determinism. Pelikan writes:

"Ovid represented Jupiter as acknowledging to the other gods that both he and they were ruled by the fates. But in the period of the empire this consciousness of fate grew even more dominant, as the Stoic doctrine of necessity coincided with the incursion of the Chaldean astrologers. ‘Reason compels us to admit,’ Cicero asserted, ‘that all things take place by fate….namely, the order and series of causes.’ Stoicism identified fate with the divine will, but in the process had to surrender the freedom of the human will."

Stoicism and other deterministic ideas in the culture caused the early church fathers to emphasize the freedom of the will and moral responsibility. It was not until the Pelagian heresy that the Western Church through Augustine would have to pay closer attention to her anthropology. Through Augustine and the Council of Orange in 529, the Western Church affirmed salvation was monergisitic by grace alone, while rejecting Augustine’s more extreme doctrines such as double predestination, and the irresistibleness of grace. Rome ratified the canons of the Council and it became the official teaching of Western Christianity. However, with Pope Gregory the Great, the notions of merit and human initiative were re-introduced, and Medieval theology tended to go back and forth between synergism and monergism. Alternately, in the East, Augustine’s thought was opposed by Vincent of Lerins who stated that true Catholicism was what was believed “everywhere, always, by all (ubique, simper, ab omnibus).” Since Augustine’s doctrine of salvation by grace alone was not believed everywhere, always, and by all, Christians were free to disagree with it.

The early church’s ecclesiology was centered on the unity derived from the episcopate. Through the episcopate, the hierarchy of the church preserved unity and stability which initially, did not include the supremacy of the Pope. Pelikan writes:

"For both Ignatius and Cyprian, moreover the bishop was the key to authentic unity, and schism was identified as party spirit in opposition to him….on earth there was only one church, and it was finally inseparable from the sacramental, hierarchical institution."

Concerning the Pope, it was not Leo who furthered the rise of papal primacy in re-defining the church’s ecclesiology. Instead, it was Gregory the Great who “asserted the principle that ‘without the authority and the consent of the apostolic see, none of the matters transacted [by a council] have any binding force.’”

Further, through Gregory the Great, the doctrines of purgatory and the sacrifice of the Mass were given new meaning. On the basis of the Apocrypha which was in usage in North Africa, Augustine asserted that ‘there were temporary punishments after death’ and that it was appropriate to pray that some of the dead be granted remission of sins. On the basis of Augustine, Gregory affirmed the doctrine of purgatory. Pelikan writes, “Such men [in purgatory] were ‘somewhat deficient in perfect righteousness,’ but could be aided by the intercession of the departed saints and of the faithful here on earth.” To this was added the sacrifice of the Mass which was now seen as an offering on behalf of the departed in purgatory. Gregory the Great wrote:

"If guilty deeds are not beyond the absolution even after death, the sacred offering of the saving Victim consistently aids souls even after death, so that the very souls of the departed seem sometimes to yearn for this."

As we can see, doctrinal development occurred in the Church that was not always on the basis of Scripture. In addition, not everything confessed by the Roman Catholic Church today was confessed by the early church.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Justified by Faith

Romans 5:1-11

The Apostle Paul begins this passage with the transitional conjunction translated “therefore.” The first question is: what is “therefore” there for? The answer is that Paul has spent the last chapters (3:21-4:25) showing that we are justified by faith in the work Christ and not by the works of the law. From 1:18-3:20, he shows the universality of sin in the world. He concludes that no is righteous before God because of sin: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). He then goes on to teach in 3:23-24 what he will expound upon in 5:1-11. That is: the Christian receives God’s love in Christ undeservedly. The Apostle Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified (dikaiou) by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:23-24). This point is taken up again in 5:1-11. To conclude 3:21-28, Paul maintains that a person is justified by faith apart from his attempt to satisfy God’s law (Rom. 3:28). He then teaches that Abraham was justified by this same faith in the Old Testament (4:1-12), and teaches that the promise of salvation is realized by us through faith (4:13-25). The conclusion then leading up to 5:1-11 is this: A man is justified by grace which is a gift, received by faith, in the promise of Christ, apart from man’s attempt to fulfill God’s law. “Therefore” or “consequently” we have peace with God.

What does it mean to be justified? After examining Paul’s usage in Romans (2:13; 3:20; 3:23-24; 3:28; 4:2; 4:24-25; 5:1; 5:15-17; 8:30; 10:10) I conclude that to be justified means a person is “pronounced,” “counted,” or “declared” righteous before God. Paul does use forensic or legal language by using the word dikaiou. The imagery is that of a courtroom and Paul uses this imagery in Romans because he is dealing with the law. The transgressor of the law is found guilty before God because of sin (3:19). He has no case and no defense for his transgressions (3:19). But through faith in the work of Jesus Christ who has fulfilled the law and suffered the penalty of breaking it, the believer is declared righteous. This is no legal fiction, but a joyful legal reality which gives the believer freedom!

The believer who has been justified by faith in Christ now stands in the grace of God. The verb translated "to stand" focuses on the resultant state of a past action. That is, the Christian is currently in a right standing before God by faith. This relationship between God and the believer is no inward process of gradual justification by which he co-operates with God. Faith gives the believer access into grace by which he stands.

Romans 5:2b-5 moves from peace to the joyful hope we have as believers in Christ. The believer has hope in the glory of God. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (3:23), but now through Christ the believer has hope of future glorification. In fact the believer has already attained glorification (8:30). But like redemption, and justification, the final consummation will not be fully realized until the Last Day (parousia). Paul uses this hope to lead into the question: Why do we rejoice in tribulations? The answer: tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance character, and character leads us back to hope. Tribulations were seen as an inevitable part of the Christian life (Acts 14:22). To be conformed to the image of God’s Son (8:29) was to share in His sufferings for the purpose of being glorified with Him (8:17). So then the movement in Paul’s thought is from hope to hope. And this hope we have still brings believers assurance of their salvation because hope is a gift from God. Stanley Hauerwas writes:

"Thus the movement is from hope to hope as we discover we can hope only because, as Paul says, we discover we stand in grace. More exactly, we do not begin in hope, but we rejoice in our hope as we learn that our hope is possible only as we learn to acknowledge it as a gift."

To conclude this thought from hope to hope Paul asks another question: Why does not hope disappoint us or put us to shame? The answer: Because the love of God has been and is constantly being poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The love of God is God’s love which creates love within us which leads us to delight in Him (7:22). However, the focus here is not on the love that becomes ours but on God’s love in Christ poured out into our hearts.

Paul in 5:6-11 describes the believer as one who has been reconciled by the undeserved death of Christ to emphasize the point that the believer has peace with God. Paul moves from describing the relationship between the believer and God with the word "justified" (5:1), to the word “reconciled" (5:10, 11).” He continues to drive home the important emphases of the text: Peace with God through the death of Jesus Christ. The term “reconciliation” emphasizes something different then the term “justification.” Legal language can seem impersonal since usually the defendant has no personal friendship with the judge before or after the case. However, the term "reconciliation" refers to God as laying aside his anger and establishing a friendly and personal relationship with the antagonized. By using the term "reconciled," Paul seeks to persuade his believers of their friendship with God that results in peace.

How does Paul persuade believers of reconciliation and peace with God? In verses 6-8 Paul says that even though we were weak (5:6), ungodly (5:6), and sinners (5:7) Christ died for us! This verb translated as "died" is emphatic. Paul is saying that the God he described in Romans 1:18-3:20 as an uncompromising wrathful judge, died for sinners! Even while we were ungodly, the infinite almighty God sent Jesus Christ to die for us! Even while we were busy transgressing God’s law, Jesus Christ died for us! The reason the believer has peace is because God’s love through Christ is an undeserved gift! It was not given to us on the basis of anything we have done nor will do. Christ died for sins on His own accord to reconcile us to the Father. The fact that our salvation has nothing to do with our actions is what gives the believer assurance of the peace they have with God. Romans 5:6-8 parallels Romans 3:23-24. All have sinned, and those who have faith are justified by God’s gift through the death of Jesus Christ.

The illustration that Paul uses comes in verse 7: “For one will rarely die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man one would dare even to die.” The sense is that it is possible that one would die for the sake of a just and well loved man, but even that is rare. Further, it is not less rare that one would die for his benefactor. But even while we were unrighteous sinners, Christ died for us! C. E. B. Cranfield of the University of Durham captures this very well:

"We understand Paul’s meaning then to be that, whereas it is a rare thing for a man deliberately and in cold blood to lay down his life for the sake of an individual just man, and not very much less rare for a man to do so for the sake of an individual who is actually his benefactor, Christ died for the sake of the ungodly."

The reason the believer has peace is because of the work of Jesus Christ. Christ is mentioned six times in these eleven verses alone (5:1, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11) and His death is mentioned five times (5:6, 8, 9, 10). The blood of Jesus Christ (5:9) is why the Christian has justification (5:1), peace (5:1), reconciliation (5:10, 11), and salvation (5:9, 10). Verse 9 asks the question: Why shall we be saved from the wrath of God? The answer is: Because we have been justified by Christ’s blood. To illustrate this truth, Paul says that if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God, then this should give believers assurance of their salvation.

In summary, the believer has peace with God because He has been reconciled, justified, and saved through the blood of Christ. The believer has assurance of his peace because Christ’s gift of reconciliation is undeserved. Even while we were weak, unrighteous, sinning, and God’s enemies, Christ died for us! This assures the believer of their peace with God and their salvation on the last day. The legal declaration we receive as Christians justified by faith today is the same declaration we will receive at the final judgment. There is no such thing as an initial justification by faith alone, and a final justification by faith and works. This position, which was taught by John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Church) conflicts with the teaching of the Apostle Paul in this text. Further, the belief that our works have anything to do with entrance into heaven at the final judgment (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Wesleyans, and Restorationists believe this) also conflicts with the Apostle Paul. The effect Paul wants to have on his hearers/readers is assurance of their salvation through the death of Jesus Christ. The reason why the believer has assurance of their salvation is because of the undeserved death of Jesus Christ!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Reading the Bible

Take a look at these wonderful meditations on reading Scripture from Psalm 1 and 119!

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2).

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97).

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (Ps. 119:9).

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11).

“Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word” (Ps. 119:17).

“I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word” (Ps. 119:101)

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105).

“Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word” (Ps. 119:169)!

How great it is when the people of God are meditating and reading Scripture so that they receive the forgiveness of sins that comes through faith in Jesus Christ! How great it is when the people of God are meditating and reading Scripture so that their minds can be renewed and transformed! Their hearts and lives can be changed! Their lives can be directed! They can fill themselves up with the Holy Spirit! They can have spiritual discernment! They can smell a false teacher from afar! They can call on congregations to repent! They can affirm good things when they are pleasing to the Lord! They can share the gospel with great boldness! They can be in fervent prayer! They can orient their lives around serving the Lord! They can love their neighbors as themselves! They can maintain the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Work of Jesus Christ

The Holy Scriptures say:

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).

Through the law of God we come to know that we are sinners. As sinners, we transgress God’s law and fall short of His glory. Although Paul was considered blameless under the law, the above statement includes him as well. Through the law, Paul too was shown his sin, and through the law even he could not be justified. In Romans 7, Paul expresses his struggle with sin even after his conversion. Paul also says:

“For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15).

Sins are transgressions against God’s law. Where there is no law there is no transgression. Because there is a law there are transgressions.

Did our Savior need to be without sin? Did our Savior need to keep the law perfectly? Would it have made a difference if our Savior was a sinner or not? Of course it matters! A sinner/law breaker is not a savior of sinners, but is a sinner himself. Jesus is our Savior and He knew no sin. Paul says:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Why did the Apostle Paul say that Jesus “knew no sin?” If the perfect life of Jesus Christ was not important why does he include it here? If as preachers we are not to include the perfect life of Christ in the preaching of the gospel, are we following the example of Paul? This is the verse that inspired Martin Luther to coin his famous words: the “wonderful exchange.” Jesus takes our sin in exchange for His righteousness. By grace through the faith in the work of Christ, God the Father remembers our sins no more and only sees Christ! More then once the writers of the New Testament remind us that Jesus Christ knew no sin and never transgressed God’s law.

“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).

“You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5).

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

In God’s perfect timing God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, fully divine and fully human. This fully divine and fully human person, Jesus Christ, fulfilled the law on our behalf, was cursed for us on the cross, and arose bodily to redeem us from our transgressions of God’s law. The Apostle Paul says:

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

Does it matter that Jesus Christ was born of a woman? Does it matter that Jesus fulfilled God’s law on our behalf? Absolutely! Jesus Christ was fully human and he was born under God’s law. By keeping it for us he redeemed us who could not keep it. He who knew no sin became sin for us on the cross so that we might receive the adoption as sons. He who knew no sin took upon himself the sins of the whole world on the cross. On the cross Jesus received the punishment for the sins every person on this earth! And in exchange, by grace through faith, we receive his righteousness! Martin Luther said:

“When the merciful Father saw that we were being oppressed through the Law, that we were being held under a curse, and that we could not be liberated from it by anything, He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: ‘Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that you pay and make satisfaction for them” (Lectures in Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, Luther’s Works, vol. 26 (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1963), 280. Also quoted in Kolb, Robert. The Christian Faith: A Lutheran Exposition (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1993), 143.)

Although Jesus Christ knew no sin He became sin for us so we might become the righteousness of God. He could not have become sin for us if He were a sinner. We could not be redeemed by a sinner. We could not be redeemed by a law breaker. We could only be redeemed by Jesus Christ who is our Savior.

The Old Testament Prepared the Way

Under the sacrificial system, the Israelites were told to sacrifice a ram or lamb without spot, wrinkle, blemish or defect (Leviticus 5:14-6:7; 7:1-6). This prefigured Jesus Christ: “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Apostle Peter says:

“…you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).

One problem with the Old Testament sacrifices is that a sinful priest made the sacrifice. Of course, anytime a human being is involved in making atonement for other people’s sins there is going to be a problem. However, the good news is that Jesus Christ laid his life down on His own accord (John 10:18). In addition, Jesus Christ is our High Priest! The writer of Hebrews says:

“For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:26).

“For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:13-14, my emphasis added).

The Work of Jesus Christ in the Lutheran Confessions

(All quotations from Kolb, R. 2000. The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, my emphasis added in quotations.)

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human being, born of the Virgin Mary, is my LORD. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent [Unschüldigen: literally, “not owed” or “not guilty”] suffering and death (SC, 2nd Article of the Creed).

That is to say, he became a human creature, conceived and born without sin, of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin, so that he might become Lord over sin; moreover, he suffered, died, and was buried so that he might make satisfaction for me and pay what I owed, not with silver and gold but with his own precious blood (LC, 2nd Article of the Creed).

However, because, as has been stated above, the obedience is that of the entire person, it is a perfect satisfaction and reconciliation of the human race, which satisfied God’s eternal, unchangeable righteousness, revealed in the law. Thus, it is our righteousness before God and is revealed in the gospel. On this righteousness faith relies before God, and God reckons it to faith, as is written in Romans 5[:19; Luther’s translation]: “For just as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience will the many be made righteous,” in 1 John 1[:7]: “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin,” and in Habakkuk 2[:4]: “The righteous will live by faith.”

For this reason, neither the divine nor the human nature of Christ in itself is reckoned to us as righteousness, but only the obedience of the person, who is at the same time God and a human being. Therefore, faith looks to the person of Christ, as this person submitted to the law for us, bore our sin, and in going to his Father performed complete and perfect obedience for us poor sinners, from his holy birth to his death. Thereby he covered all our disobedience, which is embedded in our nature and in its thoughts, words, and deeds, so that this disobedience is not reckoned to us as condemnation but is pardoned and forgiven by sheer grace, because of Christ alone (Solid Declaration, III, 55 p. 572).

Thus, the righteousness that out of sheer grace is reckoned before God to faith or to the believer consists of the obedience, suffering, and resurrection of Christ because he has satisfied the law for us and paid for our sins. f For since Christ was not only a human being but both God and a human being in one inseparable person, he was thus as little under the law—since he was Lord of the law—as he was obligated to suffer and die for himself. Therefore, his obedience consists not only in his suffering and death but also in the fact that he freely put himself in our place under the law and fulfilled the law with this obedience and reckoned it to us as righteousness. As a result of his total obedience—which he performed on our behalf for God in his deeds and suffering, in life and death—God forgives our sin, considers us upright and righteous, and grants us eternal salvation [This was directed against the position of George Karg, the leading theologian of Brandenburg-Ansbach, who taught that the active obedience of Christ had no vicarious value since Christ was obligated to keep the law] (SD, III, 15, p. 564).