Second Reformed Church

Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: "Learning Change"



Learning Change:  Congregational Transformation Fueled by Personal Renewal by/compiled/edited by (it is not clear) Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor is a manual based on the Ridder Church Renewal Program.  Since this program is being offered in the Reformed Church in America, where is serve, I was interested to learn more about it.  I quickly found out it is nothing I want to be involved with.
In the first chapter, we read that God has amazing dreams for us (18).  That God created because God is “love…on a mission” (21).  We need to be missional (whatever that means – everyone who says they are and I must be cannot tell me what this means!) (23). He then recommends heretic Steven Furtick and his writings (26).
In the second chapter, the reader is encouraged to based ministry on dreams (38).
And in chapter four, to imagine and reimagine our reality into being (50).
In chapter five, the reader is urged to be authentic (65).
And so on and so on.
Each chapter begins with psychological analysis, moves onto an anecdote, then a project or craft, and further reading is suggested.
I am reminded of one of the systematic theology professors in seminary who – for the final exam – had each student paint a macaroni necklace in such a way as to reflect their theology.
As you can tell – this type of book turns me off.  The church is not merely a business and should not merely be dealt with is psychological categories.
Rather than teams and dreams, should not the church be based on the rule of the elders and deacons – founded on Christ and the Scripture?
I cannot recommend this book, as it is not based on Scripture and what God teaches us about God and man and the Church.
#LearningChange
[This review appears on my blog and on Amazon.com.  I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.]

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"Faith Alone" Sermon: Romans 1:16-17



“Faith Alone”
[Romans 1:16-17]
October 29, 2017, Second Reformed Church
            How do we receive the Grace of God – the free gift of God?  That is the question that is answered in the fourth “alone” statement of the Reformation.
            We have seen:
            The Scripture – the Word of God – alone has the authority to tell us God’s Way of salvation and how it is accomplished.
            Christ alone saves us by His works with no additions from us or anyone else.
            Grace alone – salvation is the gift of God – is given to us as a gift – with no strings attached or things we must do to receive it.
            As we turn to the fourth “sola” – the fourth “alone” – “sola fide” – we find out what the Word of God teaches about how we receive the Grace of God alone, merited by Christ alone, in accordance with the Scripture alone.
            Last week we considered what we have to do to be given a gift – and we saw that a real gift is given freely because the giver wants to give it.  The giver of the gift is not paying the receiver back – the giver of the gift is not awarding a salary or a prize for work done.  No, the giver gives because it pleases the giver to give the gift.
            We look at the other side of the gift and giver relationship this morning.  How do we receive a gift?  How are we able – by what means – do we receive a gift?  What must we do to cause a gift to come to us?
            It was this morning’s text that caused the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, through the enlightenment of God the Holy Spirit, to realize that the Roman Catholic Church had gotten the answer wrong.  And that led to his posting of the 95 theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg, and marked the official start of the Reformation.
            The answer that Luther understood in the Word of God is that we receive grace by faith alone.  We receive our salvation according to the Scripture alone, by Christ alone, by grace alone, by faith alone.
            The Roman Catholic Church taught and still teaches what is taught in The Council of Trent:
“Canon 9. If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone,[114] meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema” (https://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/TRENT6.HTM)
            The Roman Catholic Church taught and teaches that we are not saved by faith alone.  No, they say that in order to be declared righteous before God – to be made right with God – we do not just receive God’s Grace alone by faith alone, but we must first prepare ourselves by doing good works.  God will only make us right with Him if we meet Him half way – we have to co-operate in our salvation – we have to show ourselves worthy and able to receive grace by faith before God will give it to us.  And, anyone who teaches that salvation is by faith alone is anathema – “damned to Hell.”
            The Roman Catholic Church is wrong.
            And we turn to our text:
            Frist, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation.
“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.”
In the opening verses of the letter to the Romans, Paul tells the Romans how much he loves them and longs to visit with them.  However, thus far, he has been prevented from travelling to Rome.  (We know that Paul finally does make it to Rome when he testifies before Caesar Nero and then is executed.)
Whether Paul’s detractors are stirring up the Romans, or whether they have just been wondering in their own minds, word got back to Paul that the idea was spreading around the Romans that the reason Paul has not travelled to Rome to meet them in person is that he is ashamed of the Gospel.  Paul knows that all this talk of a physical resurrection sounds like foolishness to the Romans, so he is ashamed to bring the Gospel to them in person and be laughed out of town.
Paul responds to this accusation by saying that nothing could be future from the truth – he is not ashamed of the Gospel.  No, he has laid aside all of his privilege as a high-ranking Pharisee to follow Jesus the Savior and suffer persecution from his own people.  Ashamed of the Gospel?  No, he would gladly die over and over to be able to continue to preach the Gospel – being ashamed was not what kept him from Rome.
No, the Gospel – the history of Who Jesus is and what He did to secure the salvation of His people – is the power of God for salvation.
How could he be ashamed of the Gospel?  It is the One Way that God has made to reconcile people to Himself.  It is God’s Work and God’s Power and God’s salvation of everyone who will ever believe – to the Jews first – God gave the biological Jews the Law and the Prophets, and by physical generation – Jesus was born a biological Jew.  The Gospel was given to the Jews first and now it is given to all people everywhere no matter what their biology or language or how they were brought up or what they have done or not done.  The Gospel is the power of God for salvation.
Paul explains to the Corinthians:
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Corinthians 1:22-25, ESV).
Now, God has chosen to send the Gospel through humans.  You and I and everyone who ever believes is called to tell everyone else that there is One Way to Salvation through Jesus Alone by Grace alone, through faith alone.  Our job is to tell people that due to our sin, there was only one way for God to make us right with Himself – God came to earth in the person of Jesus, lived a holy and sinless life – credited His righteousness to all who believe – took on the debt of all of the sin of everyone who will ever believe, and paid that debt under the Wrath of God on the cross and physically rose from the dead. 
And then, as God wills, God the Holy Spirit comes in and with the Power of God causes some to be born again, to spiritually rise from the dead, to be born anew, to believe savingly in this Gospel.
We worry today – hanging out with a friend – some of whom we know are unbelievers.  And we think if we speak, “I need to tell you something because you are my friend:  you are a sinner just like everyone else, and there is only One Way for you to escape the Wrath of God and be right with Him, and I want you to know – I’m telling you because I love you – I don’t want you to perish.”
Do we imagine them laughing at us and their drink spurting out their noses?  Or do we think they will turn in anger and ask who we think we are?
Are we ashamed of the Gospel?
We may have bad reactions.  We may have sad reactions.
I remember one of the last days of college talking with a dear friend about the Gospel and pleading with him, and he said, “Don’t worry; I’ll be fine.”
The Gospel is the Power of God for salvation.  How can we be ashamed of what God has done for us in saving us through His Power?  
Second, justification is by faith alone.
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
It is this verse that stopped Martin Luther in his tracks.  What is “the righteousness of God”?  What is it that God is revealing “from faith for faith” – from the beginning and for all time?
As Martin Luther read this text in the Latin translation, the phrase “the righteousness of God” means, “the justice (or judgment) of God.”  So, in the Latin translation, it seems to be saying that God is waiting in His Holy Might – looking for anyone He can find – and it is easy – and every time anyone sins, God seeks to swat them in His Holy Wrath – to add hot coals on the sinner’s head.  This wrathful god is really a sadistic god.  In this translation, God seems to enjoy making people suffer – in holding up a standard they can never reach – and laughing.
This is the idea that tormented Martin Luther and sent him to confession so often that his confessors thought he was trying to avoid work by confessing every little sin he could think of.
But when Martin Luther read the text in the original Greek, and he saw that what is being said has nothing to do with God’s Wrath, but “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” means that the righteousness of God is imputed – credited to those who believe by the means of faith – faith alone is the receptor – the thing by which we receive – God’s righteousness – the righteousness that Jesus Christ merited – His holiness and sinlessness – credited to us so we are accounted as holy and sinless by God.
Luther records God’s opening of his eyes:
“I was seized with the conviction that I must understand [Paul’s] letter to the Romans. I did not have a heart of stone, but to that moment one phrase in chapter one stood in my way.
‘I hated the idea, ‘in it the righteousness of God is revealed’ . . . according to which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
“I lived without reproach as a monk, but my conscience was disturbed to its very depths and all I knew about myself was that I was a sinner.
“I could not believe that anything I thought or did or prayed satisfied God. I did not love, nay, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.
“Certainly, and with intense grumbling (perhaps even blasphemy), I was angry with God and said, ‘As if it were indeed not enough that miserable sinners who are eternally lost through original sin and are crushed again by every calamity through the Ten Commandments, God Himself adds pain to pain in the gospel by threatening us with His righteousness and wrath!’
“At last, meditating day and night . . . by the mercy of God, I gave heed to the context of the words, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’
“Then I began to understand that the righteousness of God is . . . a gift of God, namely by faith . . .
“Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.
“An entirely new side of the Scriptures opened itself to me . . . and I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the loathing with which before I had hated the term ‘the righteousness of God’.
“Thus, that verse in Paul was for me truly the gate of paradise” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2008/12/luthers-moment-of-conversion/).
And then Paul quotes from the book of Habakkuk, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Habakkuk was a prophet about six hundred years before Jesus.  At that time, the evil King Jehoiachim ruled over Judah, and the people followed after the king’s evil ways.  Habakkuk cries out to God and asks Him why evil people keep getting away with the evil they are doing.
And God responds:  the righteous shall life by faith alone; the just shall live by faith alone.  “You’re asking the wrong question, Habakkuk.  The question is not why is so much evil allowed to continue – the question is how can a person become right with God – and the answer is to received God’s gift of grace by faith alone.”
We saw last week, that when we talk about salvation being by grace alone, we are confessing that salvation is the Gift of God.  The salvation promised in the Word of God alone, accomplish in history by Christ alone, is given to all we who believe as a gift – a true gift – something that God gives us because it pleases Him – not due to anything we do or are or will ever be.  And the way we receive the gift of grace is by the means of faith alone.  Faith alone is the apparatus by which we receive God’s Grace.  Faith alone is the whatsit we use to receive God’s Grace.
I have described faith as being like the gutters and leaders on our homes that guide the rain from the roof to other places.  Faith is the gutters and leaders that receives the Grace of God.  Faith – as it were, belief and hope – alone can receive the gift of salvation which is grace – and which continues to be received throughout our lives until we are received into glory.
And some say to this, “Well, there, that is what I contribute to my salvation – the faith which receives God’s Grace!”
Ah, but no, as Paul writes:
“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 2:8-10, ESV).
As we saw last week, we are saved by grace alone – the gift of God through Christ alone, through – by the means of – faith alone.  And this is – not your own doing – it is the gift of God.  What is not our own doing?  What is the Gift of God?
Is Paul being redundant, grace is the Gift of God – the Gift of God is the Gift of God?  No, Paul is telling us that the faith to receive God’s Grace is also a gift.
God does all the work of salvation.  God the Son comes to earth in the person of Jesus Christ – as it is foretold in the Scripture.  He takes on our sins and pays the debt for them and gives us His holy and sinless life, so we are accounted as being holy and sinless – this is the grace of God, and we receive this gift of salvation through the give of faith – through which – by faith alone – we receive salvation – and then we respond with confessions of faith and actions – fruit – that produce good works.
This takes away every reason for pride, does it not?  There is no strutting about in the Body of Christ – the Church.  There is no boasting except in what Christ does through our weaknesses.
The Gospel is the power of God to salvation, and we receive the Grace of God – the merit of Jesus Christ through faith alone – all of which is a gift to us, according to the Plan and the Will, and the Pleasure of God.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, as we look at Your Law, we see that we are sinners and incapable of being made right with You by anything that we do.  We thank You for the Reformation leaders who looked to Your Word alone for the Way to Salvation and found that it is in Christ alone, through grace alone, through faith alone.  We are born dead in sin, but You lovingly chose to raise us from the dead by Your Son’s Work and His Work Alone – it is all of God – we contribute nothing to our salvation.  Lord, teach us to be humble as we consider these things, and may we raise our soul to You in praise, for You have done what You Alone can do:  You have made us right with You.  What glory.  What glory.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.