Thursday, July 28, 2022

Saving Faith

Question 86: What is faith in Jesus Christ?
Answer: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel. (WSC)
Saving faith is faith in Jesus Christ. It is not a mere sense of dependance or optimism. The object of our faith matters greatly. Those who place their faith in false gods, money, or themselves will be disappointed and put to shame. Those who believe in Jesus Christ shall be saved (Acts 16:31).

Saving faith is not always equal in relative strength - it may be weak or strong, small or great. We pray that God would increase our faith (Mark 9:24). But whether weak or strong, this faith is equally precious in its nature, object, and saving efficacy, giving an equal share in Christ and his promises (2 Peter 1:1). In this respect, the weakest believer can take heart that he or she has a faith of equal standing to that of the apostles, a precious faith of great worth - not because of its virtue, but because of its object: Jesus Christ and his promises.

Saving faith is not a mere awareness of Christ and his claims about himself. Nor is it merely assenting to the truth of his claims. The demons recognized that Jesus was the Son of God, and yet they remained his enemies. Saving faith is not only knowledge and assent, but also trust. A believer not only recognizes that Jesus is the Savior, but owns Jesus as his Savior and entrusts himself to Jesus (John 1:12, Acts 10:43, Matt. 10:32).

Saving faith does not take hold of some invention of the imagination, but it takes hold of Jesus as he is offered to us in the gospel, as God presents him to us. In the Old Testament, God presented this Savior to his people by promises, sacrifices, and other types and ceremonies. In the New Testament, the Christ who has come is offered in the gospel and the new covenant sacraments with greater clarity and efficacy to all nations. But in both administrations, sinners have been saved by faith in Christ, by whom they have had full remission of sins and eternal salvation.
“Accordingly, faith is nothing else than trust in the divine mercy promised in Christ, and it makes no difference with what sign it has been promised. This trust in the goodwill or mercy of God first calms our hearts and then inflames us to give thanks to God for his mercy so that we keep the law gladly and willingly.” (Philip Melanchthon, Loci Communes, 1521)

Friday, July 15, 2022

The Problem and the Solution

Q. 84: What doth every sin deserve?
Answer: Every sin deserveth God's wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.

Q. 85: What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin?
Answer: To escape the wrath and curse of God, due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption. (WSC)
While some sins are more heinous in the sight of God than others, every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse. As the catechism has already explained, the moral law of God requires perfect conformity and, falling short of that, mankind has fallen into an estate of sin and misery. All mankind has lost communion with God and has been condemned to temporary and eternal judgment for Adam’s first sin, for the depravity of our hearts, and for the sins which proceed from it. Every sin we commit deserves death, temporal and eternal (Jam. 2:9-11, Gal. 3:10). Those who continue in this way are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath (Rom. 2:5). “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6).

So then, how may we escape from God’s wrath and curse? As the people asked the apostles on the day of Pentecost, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Or as the Philippian jailer asked Paul, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

The gospel proclaims the saving work of God in Christ (see questions 20-38 of the catechism). It also calls sinners to respond to the message and receive this salvation. The gospel does not merely state the facts. It also urges people to respond. “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God ... Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 5:20, 6:2). In particular, God calls us to respond to the gospel with faith in Jesus, repentance unto life, and a diligent use of the means of grace. In other words, if you want to escape God's wrath and curse, you should receive and rest upon Jesus alone for salvation and turn from sin unto the service of God, diligently making use of the preaching and reading of Scripture, the sacraments, and prayer.
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:38, 41–42)

“And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” (Acts 16:31–33)

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

We look to the space above and find great forces in an orderly system that displays beautify and usefulness. God has provided you this a vast display of overwhelming size and force at a safe distance for your observation. He has provided a seemingly inexhaustible realm of discoveries. Even though those in the ancient world had a better view of the night sky with the natural eye, we have a better ability to see and understand the stars through technology, and we continue to learn more and more.

From what we have found through modern scientific observation, our solar system has eight planets and five dwarf planets that rotate around the sun, with at least 200 moons orbiting those planets. The sun is over 100 times the diameter of the earth and is 93 million miles from us. The sun is one of an estimated 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Our whole solar system is orbiting around the center of the galaxy. And astronomers have most recently estimated there are 2 trillion galaxies in the universe. Truly, while only God is infinite, the wonders of the heavens seem inexhaustible.

Did all of this come about on its own from nothing? No, simply adding billions of years does not solve the issue, and it creates as many problems as it seems to solve. We are told in Scripture the answer that accords with the vast power and design we see: God created all of this by his powerful word - “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens…” (Genesis 1:14).

God brought them into existence, set them in order, and put them on their circuits. He directs each one of them and they do his bidding. As Psalm 147:4-5 says, “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.”

As Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Their speechless voice extends to all the earth. Their words go to the end of the earth. There is nothing hidden from the heat and light of the sun. Their regular course in joyful obedience to their Maker proclaims his existence, wisdom, and power. These lights are a witness to all the earth, calling all people to worship their Creator.

And they put man’s pride to shame. As God asked Job in Job 38:31–32, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children?”

God has appointed the ordinances of the heavens. He created gravity and the forces and patterns we discover through science. He has given his law to all the lights of outer space. He commanded, and they came to be; he set them in the expanse, and they go as he directed. The sun, moon, and trillions of stars follow his decree in glory and splendor and order, and thereby fulfill their purposes and bring glory to God. And so should you and I! As a creature with reason and will, you ought to do so with knowledge and delight.

God’s law is not a checklist, but a way of life. His sovereignty over his creatures is comprehensive, and so is his law. It says, this is the way, walk in it! It does not give you a few things to do, but it directs your whole life. It directs the whole life of man and his society. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” There is no neutrality, no room for autonomy from God. Your whole being is designed to move in accord with his moral law, directed by love for God and neighbor.

This may sound like a burden to some, but look up! Is the moon burdened by the orbit God has given it? Is God’s command a burden to the sun? Does the earth wish to be free of its rotation? No! The sun comes out in the morning “like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy” (Psalm 19:5). He sets them in honor and glory, and we admire the beauty of the spheres. His law is a blessing and a glory to them. So likewise for us, the law of God is good and wise. By it, we live according to our design, fulfilling our purpose and bringing glory to God.

But you go off the path appointed for you into the destructive ways of sin. You abandon your appointed course and rebel against the King of the cosmos. You treat the Ruler of the galaxies with contempt. You treat his appoint way with contempt and seek out your own ways, foolish ways, evil ways, ways of death.

And so what has God done about this? The one by whom all these stars and lights were made was made flesh and dwelt among us. And when the mighty Maker was dying for man the creature’s sin, the sun was darkened and the moon was turned to blood and our earth was shaken. He died that you and I might be reconciled and restored to the Triune Creator of all. So hold fast to the mercy of God in Christ, receiving this salvation by faith. And let your heart break with sorrow for your sin and joy at his power and love.

For the lights of the heavens do not only display God’s power and wisdom. They display his love. Look up and say with Psalm 8:3–4,
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
Even before sin, God was incredibly generous to draw near to man and give him glory and honor, to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden. And how much more now does his vast power displayed in the heavens magnify the graciousness, steadfastness, unmerited generosity of his love for you. “Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, my God, should die for me!”


Image Credit: NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Are All Transgressions of the Law Equal?

Q. 83: Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
Answer: Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. (WSC)

There is a popular misconception out there that all sins are equal and that no sin is worse than another sin. Many Christians have picked this up from a misunderstanding of James 2:10, which says that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” But this verse, as the preceding and following verses explain, means that to break one commandment makes a person a transgressor of the law and liable to judgment (James 2:9, 11). Apart from the mercy offered in Christ, the law demands perfect obedience.

But while all sins are the same in how they violate God's law, are contrary to his character, and deserve eternal judgment, yet in other respects they are not the same. The Bible regularly speaks of sins that are greater than others (e.g. Ezek. 8:6, John 19:11) and which deserve greater judgment than others (e.g. Matt. 11:22, Luke 12:47-48). The Westminster Larger Catechism summarizes the biblical material on this point in helpful detail in questions 150-152, which you can read at this link. It describes how sins receive their aggravations from the persons offending, from the parties offended, from the nature and quality of the offense, and from the circumstances.

To believe that no sin is worse than another sin is an unbiblical concept. I believe many people hold to this idea with good intentions, but it often leads to bad consequences in practice and a superficial understanding of sin. A wise person knows how to evaluate sin and perceive various aggravations which can make a sin worse. In this way, not only is he able to address the sins of others more appropriately and justly, but he also gains a better sense of the depravity of his own sins and a better sense of the mercy of God in Christ.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Man's Ability to Obey God

Q. 82: Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God? 
Answer: No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed. (WSC)

Notice that this question begins with two qualifications: (1) “No mere man,” which excludes Jesus, the Son of God who became man, and (2) “since the fall,” which excludes Adam and Eve before the fall. After Adam’s sin plunged humanity into an estate of sin and misery, mankind has been unable to meet the requirement of the covenant of works, which is perfect obedience. His nature is corrupt and his desires are hostile to God's law (Rom. 8:7-8). 
“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
“‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’ … For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” (Romans 3:10–12, 23) 
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
Not only is no mere man able to keep God’s commands perfectly, but all of us break his commandments daily. Is it fair to say we break his commands daily? Yes, because Scripture teaches us to ask for the forgiveness of our sins daily. The Lord’s Prayer, whether as a prayer or a pattern, is designed as a daily prayer (“our daily bread”) and includes the petition, “forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12). How much more was this the case for us in our unregenerate state! Even as those who are delivered from the dominion of sin, we are engaged in a constant struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:17) and have need to mortify sin and live in grateful dependance upon God’s mercy and grace. Those with faith in Christ will be able to obey God perfectly, not in this life, but in the estate of glory. 

If anyone has a hard time seeing his sin, let him remember that God’s law requires conformity in thought, word, and deed and in motive, manner, and purpose. Let us not rely upon our works for salvation, but upon our Savior, Jesus Christ.