Only If A Substitute is Provided

Can the penalty of sin resting upon all mankind be remitted? Plainly not, if God is to remain God. That penalty of sin was ordained in the law of God, and the law of God was no mere arbitrary and changeable arrangement but an expression of the nature of God Himself. If the penalty of sin were remitted, God would become unrighteous, and that God will not become unrighteous is the most certain thing that can possibly be conceived.

How then can sinful men be saved? In one way only. Only if a substitute is provided who shall pay for them the just penalty of God’s law.

The Bible teaches that such a substitute has a matter of fact been provided. The substitute is Jesus Christ. The law’s demands of penalty must be satisfied. There is no escaping that. But Jesus Christ satisfied those demands for us when He died instead of us on the cross.

J Gresham Machen, The Doctrine of the Atonement: Three Lectures (Kindle Edition)

We Do Not Preach For the Praise Of Princes

No man can say that we are seeking the favor and praise of men with our doctrine. We teach that all men are naturally depraved. We condemn man’s free will, his strength, wisdom, and righteousness. We say that we obtain grace by the free mercy of God alone for Christ’s sake. This is no preaching to please men. This sort of preaching procures for us the hatred and disfavor of the world, persecutions, excommunications, murders, and curses.

Can’t you see that I seek no man’s favor by my doctrine? asks Paul. If I were anxious for the favor of men I would flatter them. But what do I do? I condemn their works. I teach things only that I have been commanded to teach from above. For that I bring down upon my head the wrath of Jews and Gentiles. My doctrine must be right. It must be divine. Any other doctrine cannot be better than mine. Any other doctrine must be false and wicked.

With Paul we boldly pronounce a curse upon every doctrine that does not agree with ours. We do not preach for the praise of men, or the favor of princes. We preach for the favor of God alone whose grace and mercy we proclaim. Whosoever teaches a gospel contrary to ours, or different from ours, let us be bold to say that he is sent of the devil.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 397)

So, What is Universalism, Anyway?

In all the discussion of the eternality of hell ignited by a certain book,  the term universalism has been thrown around a lot, as has another question:

What exactly is universalism, anyway?

I’m reading (and listening to) John Piper’s Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved; there, Piper provides a very thoughtful description of universalism from his personal experience reading the works of George MacDonald and Madeleine L’Engle:

Since my college days, I had read three novels by George MacDonald: Phantastes, Lilith, and Sir Gibbie. I enjoyed them. I had also read a lot of C. S. Lewis and benefited immeasurably from the way he experienced the world and put that experience into writing.

I knew that Lewis loved MacDonald and commended him highly… Largely because of this remarkable advocacy by Lewis, I think, George MacDonald continues to have a significant following among American evangelicals. I certainly was among the number who was drawn to him. Then I picked up Rolland Hein’s edition of Creation in Christ, a collection of MacDonald’s sermons. To my great sorrow, I read these words: “From all the copies of Jonathan Edwards’ portrait of God, however faded by time, however softened by the use of less glaring pigments, I turn with loathing.”

Those are strong words spoken about the God I had come to see in the Bible and to love. I read further and saw a profound rejection of the substitutionary atonement of Christ: “There must be an atonement, a making up, a bringing together—an atonement which, I say, cannot be made except by the man who has sinned.” And since only the man who has sinned can atone for his own sin (without a substitute), that is what hell is for.

MacDonald is a universalist not in denying the existence of hell, but in believing that the purpose of hell is to bring people to repentance and purity no matter how long it takes. “I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem His children.” And all humans are his children. If hell went on forever, he says, God would be defeated. “God is triumphantly defeated, I say, throughout the hell of His vengeance. Although against evil, it is but the vain and wasted cruelty of a tyrant.”

I mention George MacDonald as an example of a universalist not only because of my personal encounter with him but also because he represents the popular, thoughtful, artistic side of Christianity which continues to shape the way so many people think. [Read more...]

Your Witness Matters

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to our usefulness is the false belief that our witness does not matter. This is especially a danger if we think a previous witness has been ineffective. I suppose even John might have thought that. After all, few people went to follow Jesus after John pointed him out. But there is a detail later in John’s Gospel that helps us to understand better. John 1:28 says, “These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” In John 10, we learn that Jesus at one time took His disciples back to that place: “He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.’ And many believed in him there” (John 10:40-42). Despite his apparent failure, John the Baptist’s witness was not wasted; in God’s timing, it led many to be saved.

One person who might think poorly of her witness is a woman whose words were instrumental in my own salvation. I do not know her name and doubt that I could recognize her. One day, as I moved into an apartment, she was moving out next door. I carried one box of books to her car. After thanking me, she asked whether I was looking for a church to attend. My body language made it clear that I did not appreciate the question. So she quickly stammered, “If you are ever looking for a church, I would recommend this particular church a few blocks away.” With that, she drove off and I never saw her again. I have often imagined her kicking herself for her weak attempt to witness. But a few months later, when the Holy Spirit had prepared a way for the Lord into my heart, I remembered her words, went to that church, and, hearing the gospel there, I believed and was saved.

You may think you are just one “voice” and that your witness doesn’t matter. But if Jesus is the Word your voice brings-and if He is living in you and you know Him-then your witness is mighty to cast down strongholds and lead dying sinners to salvation.

Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Kindle Edition—location 343)

What Good Will Come From the Bell Brouhaha?

Over the last few weeks, since Justin Taylor brought everyone’s attention to the trailer for Rob Bell’s new book, there’s been a good deal of debate, discussion… and a bit of name calling. Bell’s been making the rounds with the media, including a story in USA Today, a live webcast with Newsweek editor Lisa Miller, and even a stop with Martin Bashir at MSNBC.

Particularly in the last two events cited, it’s been fascinating to see how Bell reacts to pointblank questions. Lisa Miller asked him outright if he was a liberal mainline Protestant posing as an Evangelical, stating that everything he’s writing in this book has been said in the mainline denominations for the last 50 or 60 years. And he squirms for a moment before answering that he believes he’s totally an Evangelical and orthodox. And while some might think that Bashir was being uncharitable, he took the opportunity to ask the hard questions that many have been wanting to ask Bell for years, giving him ample opportunity to clarify. Again, he squirms and fails to ever give a simple or straight answer, which is incredibly frustrating.

Regardless of where you stand on the Rob Bell-arama of the last month, whether you’re for or against what he’s teaching, a question we all should be asking is, “What good is going to come of all of this?”

My wife and I have been talking about this since for weeks now and she made much the same point as Kevin DeYoung in his monster review/response:

Love Wins has ignited such a firestorm of controversy because it’s the current fissure point for a larger fault-line. As younger generations come up against an increasingly hostile cultural environment, they are breaking in one of two directions—back to robust orthodoxy (often Reformed) or back to liberalism. The neo-evangelical consensus is cracking up. Love Wins is simply one of many tremors.

This point is bang on. There is incredible division underlying the whole evangelical movement and this is only going to make it more evident. Because the place of the Bible within corporate worship and within the lives of so many of us has been downplayed in favor of entertainment or having a good experience, we’ve forgotten what it says, why it matters and who is in authority over us (that’s Jesus, if you’re wondering where I stand on that).

So as this divide becomes more and more evident, here are a few positive things that I can see coming:

1. People will eventually have to put their cards on the table. As Jared Wilson put it well, “Thanks to the inevitable picking of sides, we get to see who aligns with heterodox views and who doesn’t.” This will actually help us all to understand how to talk to one another if we actually want to have meaningful dialogue, as many profess is their desire.

2. People will learn the difference between asking questions and questioning. This, ultimately,has to do with motivation. If asking questions about essential doctrines is based on a desire to understand how they came to be and why they matter, it’s a good and God-honoring thing. If questions come unceasingly and answers are never accepted, perhaps there’s something more going on than wanting to know the answer.

3. Doctrinal clarity will emerge. Heresy and scandal have had a way of helping the Church come to a clear position on the key doctrines of the faith. It happened with Athanasius and Arius over the eternality of Christ. It happened with Augustine and Pelagius over the sinful nature of man and our ability to attain salvation on our own. It happened with Marcion and his dualistic view of God that ultimately led to the solidifying of the biblical canon. These weren’t mere dialogues over different perspectives. They were efforts to contend for “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This debate opens the door for the Church to regain a robust understanding of, and appreciation for, the essentials of the faith and an opportunity for us to repent of being like the church at Pergamum and turning a blind eye to the false teaching in our midst (cf. Rev. 2:14-15). The Christian faith, if we really believe it’s true, is worth contending for and conforming to.

That, in a nutshell, is the good that I hope will come from the Bell brouhaha. How about you?

Honor Your Father by Being in Awe of Him

We show our honour to our Father in heaven, by having a reverential awe of him upon us. ‘Thou shalt fear thy God.’ Lev 25: 17. This reverential fear of God, is when we dare do nothing that he has forbidden in his Word. ‘How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ Gen 39: 9. It is part of the honour a son gives to a father, that he fears to displease him. We show our honour to our heavenly Father, by doing all we can to exalt him and make his excellencies shine forth. Though we cannot lift him up higher in heaven, yet we may lift him higher in our hearts, and in the esteem of others. When we speak well of God, set forth his renown, display the trophies of his goodness; when we ascribe the glory of all we do to him; when we are the trumpeters of his praise; this is honouring our Father in heaven, and a sure sign of a childlike heart. ‘Whose offereth praise, glorifieth me.’ Psa 123.

Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (Kindle Edition, Location 177)

Is God’s Victory Over Sin Thwarted?

From Sam Storms’ booklet, The Restoration of All Things:

Our sin is deserving of infinite punishment because of the infinite glory of the one against whom it is perpetrated.

To suggest, as some do, that eternal suffering means that God does not achieve consummate victory over sin and evil fails to realize that only sin that goes unpunished would indicate a lapse in justice and a defeat of God’s purpose. The ongoing existence of hell and its occupants would more readily reflect on the glory of God’s holiness and his righteous opposition to evil than it would any supposed cosmological dualism.

Perhaps the idea of endless punishing is less offensive when the idea of endless sinning is considered. If those in hell never cease to sin, why should they ever cease to suffer? If one should argue that people pay fully for their sins in hell and at some point cease to sin, why can’t they then be brought into heaven (thereby turning hell into purgatory)? If their sins have not been fully paid for in hell, on what grounds does justice permit them to be annihilated?

Crossway has made this booklet available as a free download.

You can get your copy here.

This resource is extremely timely, especially in light of the questions surrounding Rob Bell’s new book. I hope you’ll download and find it’s content beneficial.

Around the Interweb

Faithfulness Means Full of Faith

Wisdom from Jared Wilson:

I’ve already been taken to task by some inclusivist types for misunderstanding the theology here: Ghandi would not be let into heaven on the basis of his good works, they say, but on the basis of Christ’s righteousness which he unwittingly was exhibiting. (This probably makes Angelina Jolie a better Christian than you, although making such judgments is silly, of course.) Aside from the idea that one can do good works unwittingly to Christ while explicitly rejecting Christ’s gospel – as Ghandi did — being utterly unbiblical, it makes nonsensical both the Bible’s passages on justification by faith alone and the passages on good works. For instance, Paul should have saved his breath with that letter to the Galatians.

The means of condemnation in the Scriptures is simply this: rejecting Christ. The idea that rejecting Christ while doing all sorts of charity — which the Bible calls self-righteousness, which is idolatry, which God forbids and for which he promises wrath — is still in keeping with the righteousness of Christ is ludicrous.

Read the whole thing.

Also Worth Reading

Biblical Education: So You Are Thinking of Going to Seminary?

Free Books: This month’s free book at ChristianAudio.com is The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. Don’t let this one pass you by!

Cheap Books: Get Tim Challies’ next book, The Next Story, for cheap

A Head’s Up: I’ve finished reading Rob Bell’s new book. A review will appear this week.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Richard Baxter: Orthodox Heads and Unorthodox Hearts

Book Review: The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask by Mark Mittelberg

Archaeology and the Seven Churches

Bear Testimony Not To Yourself, But To Christ

My Memory Moleskine: Jesus’ Righteousness, Not Rubbish!

Thomas Watson: The Lord Keeps Mercy For Thousands

Around the Interweb

Should We Baptize Small Children?

Trevin Wax:

Because Scripture does not shackle us to a certain age or make clear prescriptions in this area, we must exercise restraint in making dogmatic assertions regarding the “proper age” for baptism. It’s wisdom we are after, not uniformity. Faithful pastors may disagree.

To be clear, I do not consider childhood baptisms invalid. I myself was baptized when I was eight.

But I do believe that we should be very careful in how we handle the precious little ones that the Lord has entrusted to our care – neither discouraging them from believing in Christ nor giving them false assurance of their decision by speedily baptizing them.

Read the whole thing here.

Also Worth Reading

Humility: The Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person

Answered Prayer: Said Musa Released from Prison!

Wisdom from Saints of Old: The Reality of Hell

Ministry: Does Preaching Make Disciples?

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Sermon Audio: Delighting in Devotion

(Audio)Book Review: Jesus in the Present Tense by Warren W. Wiersbe

(Audio)Book Review: Justified by Faith Alone by R.C. Sproul

My Memory Moleskine: Jesus Plus Anything Equal Nothing

Bid Them To Count the Cost

(Audio)Book Review: Justified by Faith Alone by R.C. Sproul

Justified By Faith Alone by R.C. Sproul

Title: Justified by Faith Alone
Author: R.C. Sproul
Publisher: Crossway Books/Christian Audio (2010 edition)

Martin Luther famously said that justification by faith alone is “the article by which the church stands or falls.” So certain of its importance to the Christian faith was Luther that it became the crucial dividing issue between the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.

Today, however, many evangelicals “know” that we are justified by faith alone but are not entirely sure what it means. And because of this uncertainty, we begin to ask—does it really make sense? And is it really that important?

In his (very) short book Justified by Faith Alone, R.C. Sproul answers that question with a resounding yes as he lays out the Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines of justification.

One of Dr. Sproul’s greatest gifts as a teacher is his ability to clearly and charitably examine positions with which he disagrees. In doing so, he manages to clear up a great number of misconceptions that Protestants have regarding Romanism.

A key example is whether or not Roman Catholicism offers a works-based salvation. Sproul argues that it is, in fact, not accurate to make this claim. As he examines Roman Catholic teaching, he reveals that faith in Christ is essential to salvation… it’s just not all you need. The congregant’s works of penitence, his acts of contrition, are also required. In essence, the Roman Catholic position is that of faith in Christ plus works equal justification (Justification = Faith + Works).

The Protestant position, however, is that faith in Christ alone brings justification, and our works are our response to and the evidence of our right standing before God (Faith=Justification + Works).

Sproul is also quick to address the common complaint against the Protestant position, which is that it is Antinomianism. In this error, we are saved by faith in Christ alone (justification), and there need be no evidence of saving faith (Faith=Justification – Works). However, the Scriptures are clear that one who says that he has faith, but there is no evidence of it in his life is a liar (cf. James 2:14-26).

Moving from the content to the audio production, this is one place where I find that the book falls a bit flat. Sean Runnette is a wonderfully clear narrator and I’ve enjoyed his work on other productions, but in this instance, I found his reading to be a bit bland. His reading seemed to lack the passion that tends to come out in Sproul’s text (as well as in his speaking). This is only a minor criticism, but it was bothersome enough that I felt it warranted mentioning.

Justified by Faith Alone is an important book, one that I believe readers of all ages and stages would benefit greatly from. Read (or listen to) the book, and gain a greater understanding and appreciation for this crucial doctrine—and praise God that it is by faith in Christ alone that we are saved.

A complimentary download of this book was provided for review purposes by ChristianAudio.com

20 Things God Does When He Saves You

A helpful breakdown of 20 things that God does when He saves you, courtesy of Norm Millar, Senior Pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel London.

When God saves you, He…

  1. Regenerates you, moving you from spiritual death to life. (John 3:1-8)
  2. Redeems you, buying you out of slavery to sin. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
  3. Justifies you, declaring you innocent in His sight. (Romans 5:1-9)
  4. Sanctifies you, setting you apart as holy. (1 Cor 1:2,30)
  5. Forgives you of all your sins. (Ephesians 1:7)
  6. Cleanses you, removing from you the stain of sin. (Hebrews 9:14)
  7. Reconciles you to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
  8. Seals you with His Spirit as a guarantee of your future hope. (Ephesians 1:13)
  9. Indwells you, sending the Holy Spirit to live in you. (Romans 8:9)
  10. Adopts you, making you His child. (Romans 8:14-17)
  11. Baptizes you into Christ’s body, the Church. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
  12. Illuminates your mind so you can understand the Scriptures. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
  13. Makes you a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  14. Reveals you as one of His elect. (Ephesians 1:4, Romans 8:29-30)
  15. Grants you eternal life. (John 11:25-27, 1 John 5:11-13)
  16. Names you an heir with Christ. (Romans 8:17)
  17. Grants you an inheritance. (1 Peter 1:3-4)
  18. Declares you a saint. (Romans 1:7, Colossians 1:2)
  19. Grants you new citizenship, making your home heaven rather than this world. (Philippians 3:20)
  20. Makes you a slave of Christ, a slave with the greatest, most glorious Master that any could ask for. (1 Corinthians 7:22-23)

Praise God for the assurance that comes from these great truths.

Complete message audio: : (Download to listen later.)

Assurance Ministers Mightily to His Comfort

Now assurance goes far to set a child of God free from this painful kind of bondage, and thus ministers mightily to his comfort. It enables him to feel that the great business of life is a settled business, the great debt is a paid debt, the great disease a healed disease, and the great works a finished work; and all other business, diseases, debts, and works, are then by comparison small. In this way assurance makes him patient in tribulation, calm under bereavements, unmoved in sorrow, not afraid of evil tidings, in every condition content, for it gives him a FIXEDNESS of heart. It sweetens his bitter cups; it lessens the burden of his crosses; it smooths the rough places over which he travels; it lightens the valley of the shadow of death. It makes him always feel that he has something solid beneath his feet and something firm under his hands—a sure friend by the way, and a sure home at the end.

J.C. Ryle, Holiness, p. 68

All Who He Has Saved Are His Brothers

The second connection in which the New Testament speaks of God as Father has to do wiht the believing sinner’s adoption into the life of God’s family. This is a supernatural gift of grace, linked with justification and new birth, given freely by God and received humbly by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. “To all who received him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born . . . of God . . .” (John 1:12ff). The message Jesus sent to his disciples on rising from the dead was: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). As disciples, they belonged to the family; indeed, in that very sentence Jesus called them “my brethren.” All whom he has saved are his brothers.

When the Christian says the first clause of the [Apostles'] Creed, he will put all this together and confess his Creator as both the Father of his Savior and his own Father through Christ—a Father who now loves him no less than he loves his only begotten Son. That is a marvelous confession to be able to make.

J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ, p. 29

All Whom He has Saved are His Brothers

The second connection in which the New Testament speaks of God as Father has to do with the believing sinner’s adoption into the life of God’s family. This is a supernatural gift of grace, linked with justification and new birth, given freely by God and received humbly by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. “To all who received him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God who were born . . . of God . . .” (John 1:12ff). The message Jesus sent to his disciples on rising from the dead was: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). As disciples, they belonged to the family; indeed, in that very sentence Jesus called them “my brethren.” All whom he has saved are his brothers.

When the Christian says the first clause of the [Apostles'] Creed, he will put all this together and confess his Creator as both the Father of his Savior and his own Father through Christ—a Father who now loves him no less than he loves his only begotten Son. That is a marvellous confession to be able to make.

J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ, p. 29