Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Christ will do everything or nothing..."

We ended the last post with the words of Martin Luther from his Galatian's commentary:  "This allegory teaches that the church should do nothing but preach and teach the Gospel truly and sincerely, and by this means should produce children... Everything is done by the ministry of the Word."

Let me ask - why is it that the gospel is so infrequently proclaimed from Scripture in a clear and unambiguous manner when the church gathers?  Is it that the content of God's good news in Jesus Christ is not really understood?  Is it that its regular proclamation is not considered central to the sanctification of the Lord's people?  Is it that the gospel is obscure in too many parts of Scripture?  Though indispensable to becoming a Christian, maybe the gospel is thought to be, more or less, an elementary or introductory aspect of the Christian life.  After all, at some point believers have professed belief in the gospel!  The gospel gets us in the door, so to speak.  Been there, done that...  let's move on to the how-to parts of living the Christian life.  Studying Scripture, praying, trusting God for situations in my life, witnessing, learning to love my neighbor as myself (talk about needing a lifetime or two...).  All godly things, things to be found in a Christian's life.  But it overlooks one great big thing, the thing most common in Christians' lives - sin, i.e. our falling short of the mark in everything that we ought to do and ought not to do.

According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Scripture teaches that believer's do remain very much sinners:
6.5 - This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin; and 13.2This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. 
Though pardoned through faith, we remain sinners who sin.  And united to Christ by faith, the dominion (reigning power) of sin has been overthrown.  Yet we still remain sinners who still sin, though now as new creatures we have entered the battle.  Having indeed received a new heart and new will, we now embrace God's law and are now children of our Father in heaven.  So now it distresses us deeply when we see our sin, which is often... an evidence of God's work in our lives.  Opening our eyes to see our sin is very much at the center of the Holy Spirit's's work in us.  And hand in hand with the Spirit's diagnosis and exposure of sin in our lives is also the work of God's remedy.

And what is the remedy for sin but the gospel of Jesus Christ?  The gospel is the divine means by which the Holy Spirit creates and increases faith in the Savior in the hearts of those that hear.  The gospel is the only power given by God for the forgiveness of sin, the only heavenly weapon supplied by God with which to diminish sin's power and defeat it. The apostle Paul, again and again, stresses the power of the gospel to save from sin.  Not just once upon first belief, but continually throughout our lives we are being saved by the gospel:
And I make known to you, brethren, the good news that I proclaimed to you, which also ye did receive, in which also ye have stood, through which also ye are being saved, in what words I proclaimed good news to you... (1 Cor. 15:1-2a) YLT.
J. Gresham Machen stated it this way:
"Christ died for our sins," said the primitive disciples, "according to the Scriptures; he was buried; he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name "gospel" or "good news" implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine. "Christ died"--that is history; "Christ died for our sins"--that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity (Christianity and Liberalism).
Can we say with Luther that "the church should do nothing but preach and teach the Gospel truly and sincerely?"  Some might ask, is Christianity to be reduced to simply proclaiming and hearing the basic message of the gospel?  Paul again,
For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God... it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe... Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1: 18, 21b-24) ASV.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Rom. 1:16) ASV.
Here's a suggestion for a new church growth program:  more workers who are willing to become foolish and preach a foolish message, a message that presents the Scriptural record of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, the One who is the complete and perfect satisfaction for sins and fulfillment of God's law; the One who is the ever present and eternal righteousness, sanctification, and redemption of sinners.  Again from Machen's book:
If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.
We continually need to be taught this and pointed to Christ alone.  To close with Martin Luther:
Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.

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