Archive for December, 2010

God’s Good News

December 27, 2010

Title: God’s Good News

Text: Luke 2:8-11

Time: December 26th, 2010

It’s the day after Christmas and I hope you all had a wonderful celebration of the birth of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Last week I talked about the angels and the shepherds, and I’ll continue to work that same theme this week, the last Sunday of the Christmas season. You may ask, “Why talk about Christmas now, since it’s over for this year?” Well, I acknowledge that Christmas is officially over this year, but since it’s the day after Christmas and since Sunday happens to be on the day after Christmas I thought we’d sneak in another Christmas message before moving on to other things. So today, I’ll continue to bring out the meaning of the familiar passage in Luke 2:8-11, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” Now I’ve already covered a lot of territory in this passage, but there are aspects of it that I felt we needed to go over more thoroughly. If you remember last week, I talked briefly about the fact that the angels brought good news from God, but that news wasn’t initially welcomed as good, but instead it was interpreted by the shepherds as hostile or bad.  How do we know that? They were afraid of it. They reacted negatively to it at first. The angels had to explain to them that it wasn’t bad news but instead it was good news. Finally, the shepherds could see the good news was really good news. I mentioned that this is a lot like the situation we find ourselves on earth today when we hear God’s revelation in the Bible, whether it’s the gospel specifically or whether it’s some other biblical teaching – our initial reaction to it is negative. Then, God has to explain himself to us – or more typically, God uses someone or something to explain himself more fully to us – and then we understand and believe. But it isn’t a simple process from the time God announces something to the moment we embrace it and obey it. That process takes different forms in different people. Some people seem to progress steadily from God’s revelation of himself to full obedience, while other people may initially receive God’s message, but later reject it, then later still, they may or may not return to obedience to God. It’s different in each person. But what I want to talk about today is the process of hearing and receiving and trusting God’s word to us today, using the example of the shepherds long ago. Are you receptive to the Word of God today in your life? Now before you answer that question, don’t quickly answer according to how you should answer it, answer it honestly according to how you really do react to God and God’s Word. As a pastor, I never know how people are going to react to the preaching of God’s Word. The most common reaction is apathy and indifference – people don’t care what the message is about, neither do they apply it or live its truth in their life. Then, there are some who hear it, but disagree with what is said, or reject the message from God’s Word. Finally, there are a few people who actually take it to heart and apply it to their life. The ideal reaction to God’s Word would be to hear it and obey it immediately. If we were all where we should be with God spiritually we would do that. But we are all more like the shepherds who react defensively or negatively at first usually, and then only later soften up to the message enough to think about it seriously, believe it, or act on it. Let me look more closely to this process. (more…)

The Message of the Angels

December 20, 2010

Title: The Message of the Angels

Text: Luke 2:8-11

Time: December 19th, 2010

We’ve already had the first big snowfall of the season and I’m feeling like its Christmas already. It’s fun examining all of the verses in the Gospels that relate to the birth of Jesus because it not only gets us into the Christmas atmosphere but it also helps us appreciate the Lord and his activity in our lives.  It shouldn’t be the case that the only time we think of the Lord’s birth is at Christmas time, but when Christmas time arrives we shouldn’t ever fail to think of the Lord’s birth. I know of some churches that hardly mention Christmas at all. You probably already know or have heard that the non-Christian cult, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, don’t celebrate Christmas at all because they say it’s a pagan holiday. Of course the Jewish faith has never traditionally celebrated Christmas, although more modern Jews join in some of the holiday festivities even though they don’t fully participate. As a counterbalance to the Christian holiday Jews have been elevating the rather minor holiday of Hanukah, or the festival of lights, as an alternative celebration. But what I found fascinating to learn is that early Americans, like the Pilgrims and colonial founders, often skipped any kind of Christmas celebration even though in Europe by that time Christmas had been recognized and celebrated. But one of the reasons why the Puritans in early America didn’t celebrate Christmas was because of the way Europeans had celebrated it – with drinking and over-indulging and behavior unbecoming to a Christian. These Puritans refused to get involved in that kind of feasting and festivities because they didn’t like all the extra-biblical activities that the holiday gathered. There might come a time here in modern-day America when Christians begin to take the same attitude towards Christmas, but I don’t think that day has arrived, at least I hope it hasn’t. Yes, there are some Christmas celebrations that definitely are not worthy of anything Christian, such as some office parties and even some family gatherings that get out of hand. That is a sad reality. But if we use wisdom and conduct ourselves decently and in order, as we should at all times anyway as Christians, there’s no need to boycott the holiday itself on principle. But even if we do make sure the holiday doesn’t become more about the celebration rather than the true meaning, still it’s very easy to lose the meaning and the message in all the other things that go along with the Christmas season. That’s why it’s good to continually go back to the Bible, back to the New Testament and to the Gospels in order to remind us over and over again what the point and purpose of Christmas. Today, I’d like to return once again to the Gospel of Luke, to the angel’s message to the shepherds, because it clarifies the spiritual significance of Christmas, the holiday we celebrate. Luke 2:8-11, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’ Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” Let’s look at the four points the angel makes. (more…)

Describing the Christmas Child

December 14, 2010

Title: Describing the Christmas Child

Text: Luke 1:31-33

Time: December 12th, 2010

It’s Christmas time and the Christmas season is in full swing now. I’m hearing Christian Christmas Carols and Hymns in the stores now, and I think it’s great that they are playing our songs out in the wider public. I especially think it’s great that they are playing songs that actually describe the identity of Jesus and the theology behind the meaning of the holiday season. For example, I heard the song, “God rest ye merry gentlemen,” the other day with words that go, “Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” That’s good biblical theology – something you don’t often hear in modern churches today. Too bad for that, but it’s nice to hear the message of Christianity broadcasted in the malls and shopping centers anyway. If there is anything people need today it’s understanding – basic understanding of the meaning and purpose of the Christmas holiday. It’s incredible the amount of biblical ignorance or biblical misunderstanding there is in society today. The most basic concepts and ideas of Christianity are almost totally unknown in the wider public, but not only that, they are often unknown in the church too, among Christians. What does the Savior Jesus mean? What is the Messiah? What did Jesus come to do, primarily, on earth? Why was Jesus born? Why did Jesus die? Simple questions that in years past would be answered quickly by most people, today draw a blank stare from most people. So with that in mind, I’d like to look at a passage from the Book of Luke that describes who the baby Jesus was and what his purpose was while on earth. It comes from the announcement of the angel to Mary in Luke 1:31-33, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Now in that short passage is a whole study, a whole course in the identity of the Messiah. We don’t have time to go through all these descriptions in detail because that would take a whole college course to cover, and we’d still have more material than we could handle, but let me cover these descriptions briefly here this morning. Christmas isn’t just a time for celebrating, it’s a time for understanding – the baby Jesus and his identity and the meaning of his mission on earth. Why study the meaning and mission of the baby Jesus? Because to properly celebrate Christmas we have to understand it’s point and purpose. Without knowing the “why” we really can’t appreciate the “what.” Or in other words, without knowing why we celebrate Christmas we really can’t celebrate it properly. O yes, there are many people, maybe most people, who just celebrate the celebration. They enjoy the party aspect of Christmas. They are like people who crash a wedding party who don’t know the bride nor the groom nor any of the guests, but they are just there for the food and drinks and the celebrating, but they really don’t know anything about the meaning and the purpose of the wedding celebration, nor do they care. Well, that’s like a lot of people in respect to Christmas – they just celebrate for the good feelings and social aspects and all the rest that goes along with Christmas, but they lack any real understanding of what Christmas is all about. Let none of us be guilty of that in respect to Christmas. As Christians we have to keep in mind the meaning above all of Christmas, and the meaning is all about the baby Jesus. Let’s now turn to the descriptions of Jesus given by the angel to Mary. (more…)

Outsiders Come to Christ First

December 14, 2010

Title: Outsiders Come to Christ First

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Time: December 5th, 2010

Christmas is a time of surprises, although for many people Christmas has become a time of predictability, even boredom. From a secular perspective the holiday season can become a monotonous time, very typical and very predictable. For a secular person who has been through many Christmas holiday seasons, it can become an empty ritual of visiting family, dinners, parties, decorations, gift giving and receiving, snow and cold, over eating and over indulging, and so forth. In fact, I know of some people who simply don’t like the Christmas season very much because of what it has become. Well, I think that’s a cynical view of things that I totally reject personally. But there are even Christians who fail to see anything new and interesting in the Christmas holiday season. They’ve heard all the sermons, sung all the holiday hymns, seen so many Christmas church programs that they are ready for it to be over nearly before it begins. But again, there’s no need to be that cynical about the season because there are new and interesting things to discover, even within the familiar Christmas account itself in the Bible. I once heard a pastor of a rather large Baptist church in another state once admit that he really doesn’t like preaching Christmas messages, or as he put it “seasonal messages.” I was shocked to hear this admission from a prominent pastor, so I questioned him on it. “You mean to say you’d rather not preach at Christmas time and Easter?” He said that’s correct. I thought to myself, how funny, I take just the opposite attitude – I love to teach and preach the Christmas and Easter themes because it seems that people are more attentive during the holidays than at other times of the year. And it isn’t true either that all of the messages about Christmas have been preached before, that there’s nothing new under the sun as far as Christmas themes in sermons. I’ve been preaching and teaching in Christian churches for over twenty years now and I’ve never preached the exact same Christmas message twice; I’ve always found something fresh in the Bible pertaining to the birth of Jesus, even though I’m working from the same basic two locations in the New Testament – from the first few chapters of the Book of Matthew and from the beginning chapters of the Book of Luke. For example, today, I’m teaching out of Matthew and on an angle and aspect that you’ve probably not noticed or even knew. The three wise men were foreigners coming into the land of the Jews, Israel, seeking the Messiah, while at the same time, the children of promise, the chosen people, the Israelites, were clueless as to the Messiah. It took foreigners coming from outside Israel to alert the Jews of their own Messiah! How ironic. As it turns out, foreigners were the first ones to officially greet Jesus, except for the lowly shepherds. So Christmas starts out as a time of surprises, things don’t unfold or happen as we’d think. It’s the same today as well. Christmas is a time of surprises today, in our lives and in the lives of others. There are family and friends who have no interest in or time for Christianity. Jesus is just another historical figure lost far back in times past for them. He plays no part in most people’s lives today. Most people have no time for God today, either in prayer or in reading God’s Word, the Bible, regularly. More and more most people today have no time for Sunday church either. But don’t give up on your lost family and friends. Christmas is a time of surprises. God can intervene and change hearts and minds during the Christmas season. It’s a great time of the year to expect the unexpected, to pray for your lost loved ones. It just may be God will surprise you this year with an unexpected breakthrough. Let’s look at some very surprising things that took place during the first Christmas. Matthew 2:1-12 (read). (more…)

Rising Above the Natural at Christmas

December 3, 2010

Title: Rising Above the Natural at Christmas

Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Time: November 28th, 2010

Today is the first Sunday of the Christmas season for this year, and so I’d like to begin a series of Christmas messages. I haven’t forgotten about the Book of Galatians, and I hope you haven’t forgotten about it either, but we’ll take a break from that and spend a few weeks on holiday themes. Christmas is a great time of the year to be a Christian, and it’s also a great time of the year to attend church because we get to celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Others may enjoy the holiday atmosphere from a secular perspective, but we actually get to celebrate the season and the reason for the season! So Christmas is a special time of year not just in our society but even more so in the church. I’ll be talking about Christmas the next few weeks until the New Year, so I hope it gets you into the holiday spirit. Today, I’m talking about the supernatural announcement that Mary would give birth to a son through supernatural means, and then how Joseph reacted rather naturally to the news – he didn’t believe it. But then finally he allowed himself to believe the supernatural message and supernaturally obeyed and married Mary anyway. Now one of the biggest stumbling blocks people have today – as they have throughout all ages – to the message of the gospel, the Bible and the Christian faith, is the supernatural miracles involved. Thomas Jefferson, for example, didn’t believe in the miracles of the Bible and so edited a Bible of his own called the “Jefferson Bible” in which all the supernatural was cut out. He thought that was more reasonable and believable. But unfortunately, when you edit out the miracles of Christianity there isn’t much left except a few wise saying and a few moral examples. That isn’t the faith. No, Christianity is a supernatural faith and it requires of us to believe in the supernatural. Now nobody said that would be easy, especially in our skeptical modern secular world where science is seen as all-wise. Today, it’s popular to be agnostic or skeptical, or in other words, don’t commit yourself one way or another to any belief, but to sit on the fence and say, “Well, who knows? It’s hard to tell what’s the truth. I don’t know and I doubt anybody really knows if there’s a God, if miracles happen, if the Bible is true, and so on.” It’s easier to take a neutral position and be agnostic. But the Bible actually demands that we decided, whether we believe or not, whether we obey or not. Joseph had to make a choice in respect to his fiancée Mary, to believe or not? She told him a supernatural account of an angel of the Lord announcing to her a supernatural child. She was asking Joseph to believe it too. Would he, could he? God was putting Joseph to the test, just like he puts each one of us to the test – will we believe the supernatural message of the gospel or not? It’s not always easy to believe because there are so many possibilities of doubt. It’s also so different than our every day life experience and observations. How many of us see or hear angels? How many of us see or observe the kinds of things the Bible reports? I’ve had the privilege to see some of these kinds of miracles, but normally we don’t see this kind of activity in a typical day. So God challenges us today living in a secular and modern society to believe the supernatural, to open up our minds and hearts to powers beyond our world and natural logic. Are you a believer? Do you accept and receive the miracles of the Bible, or are you a closet skeptic? Are you really a doubter in God’s supernatural? Today we are challenged by the faith of Joseph to believe in miracles, believe in the miracles of Christmas. Do you believe? Maybe you don’t believe, but God is challenging you to believe. Maybe you believe some, but not all the miracles of the Bible, but God is challenging you to open your heart and mind to them all. Whatever the case, let’s look at how Joseph handled his doubts and finally came to believe. He was blessed because he believed, just like everyone, including us, are blessed by God if we believe.  Matthew 1:18-24 (read). (more…)

Thanksgiving In The New Testament

December 3, 2010

Title: Thanksgiving in the New Testament

Text: Luke 17:11-19

Time: November 21st, 2010

We are into the holiday season for this year and I’ve been teaching already about Thanksgiving – last week from the Old Testament, from the passage that described Israel’s thanksgiving to God for release from slavery in Egypt and from their escape through the Red Sea from Pharaoh’s army. They sang and danced their thanksgiving to God for his mighty miracles on their behalf. That’s a good example of thanksgiving for us as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday this year. Now I’d like to take a passage from the New Testament that gives us an example of thanksgiving – Luke 17:11-19, “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” As we approach the annual holiday of Thanksgiving, let’s reflect on what it really means to be thankful to God. We take so very much for granted here in the United States don’t we? We’ve grown so used to so much that we begin to take for granted the blessings that we experience in this country. But if we were to travel to another country, for example, to the country directly South of us, Mexico, we’d see grinding poverty and lack of basic and essential life resources. I had the opportunity to visit Mexico in 1987 – wow, that seems like a long time ago, and it is some twenty three years ago, although it doesn’t feel that long ago. But anyway, I visited Mexico City and some other cities in Mexico and I was literally shocked by what I saw as far as living conditions. I went to an area within Mexico City where people lived in huts with dirt floors. I saw a baby playing on the dirt floor of the shack where her family lived and in the middle of the “house” – and I use that word loosely – there was a little stream running through the middle, right inside where everyone lived. A hut with dirt floor and a stream that flowed through whenever it rained leaving it muddy and messy inside. You need to thank God today that you don’t live in a place with dirt floors with mud and water flowing through. O, I didn’t mention, the water was dirty and polluted water flowing through the middle of the house. Why don’t you take a few minutes tonight before you go to bed and thank God you don’t have to deal with that in your living situation. I could go on with accounts of what I saw, but we don’t have time. My point is, we take for granted so much that we shouldn’t. Let’s learn, if we learn one thing this Thanksgiving holiday season, to give proper thanks to God Almighty for all he’s done for us. Let me point out three things about this passage I just read, three important things. (more…)

Thanksgiving in the Old Testament

December 3, 2010

Title: Thanksgiving in the Old Testament

Text: Exodus 15:1-18

Time: November 14th, 2010

We are just a couple of weeks away from Thanksgiving, and so I’d like to take a few weeks to speak about giving thanks to God: one week from the Old Testament and the second week from the New Testament. This week I’ll speak from the Old Testament passage Exodus 15:1-18, where Moses and Israel gives thanks to God for defeating Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea (read). Imagine the excitement those Jews must have felt during the Exodus. They had just been freed from slavery out of Egypt. Now they had just escaped a surprise attack by the Egyptians in one last-ditch effort by Pharaoh to bring them back into slavery in Egypt – or kill them in the desert! God had done a mighty miracle by allowing them to cross over the water on dry land, then just as Pharaoh’s army was about to catch up to them, the water closed in around the soldiers and wiped out the whole force. Image the joy, excitement and thanksgiving the Israelites had at that time. As we think of Thanksgiving holiday this year, let’s think back about those ancient Jewish people and let’s look at how they celebrated blessings and victories. It’s a lot different than most people celebrate good things today. I’ll point out three important observations I see in this passage in Exodus. First, their response was God-centered. We live in a secular society that usually leaves God out of things when good things happen. We have the secular habit of thanking ourselves or thanking luck or celebrating good fortune or congratulating ourselves. For example in New Orleans a few years after Hurricane Katrina, the politicians go there and thank the “spirit of the people of New Orleans,” or the “American can-do attitude” or some such human element. But the Jews instinctively thanked God first. We’ll talk more about that. Second observation – the passage talks about how the pagan nations boast about their own strength and ability, giving thanks to themselves, like I’ve already mentioned. But the song Israel sang actually mentions how the pagans falsely give themselves credit for good things that happen. The pagans still do that, even modern pagans who look civilized. And then, finally a third observation, only the biblical God is worthy of thanks and praise. There are many religions in the world, many false gods, and none of them deserves any praise or thanks. All gods are not the same. In fact, there is no other God other than God. But there is a lot of confusion today over the nature of religion and God. People are under the false impression that all religions are the same, only different words and ideas are used by different people. But that’s false. There is only one God, according to the Bible, and all other so-called gods are false deities. People may say, “Praise Allah” or “Thank the Buddha” or “Hail Krishna” or something else, but according to the Bible there is no other God other than God. The only proper praise and thanks goes to the true God, the God of the Bible, the Christian God. So this Thanksgiving season let’s focus on the true and living God and renew our thanks and praise to him. Do you thank God for every blessing you receive? It’s easy to forget to thank the Lord when something good happens. Some people don’t think of thanking God at all, they just receive the blessing and say, “Good, that worked out nice,” instead of saying, “Thanks God, you are so good.” I hope as we think about God this Thanksgiving, we’ll be careful to give our God thanks for his blessings in our lives. Let’s turn to Exodus 15 and learn more. (more…)

Paul Questioning the Christians of Galatia

December 3, 2010

Title: Paul Questioning the Christians of Galatia

Text: Galatians 3:1-9

Time: November 7th, 2010

Last week I summarized the Apostle Paul’s answers to questions from the Christians of the church of Galatia, but this week we’ll hear Paul ask some questions of his own to the Galatian church. Here is a Christian community that Paul had raised up from scratch. He had recruited, taught and discipled these people over the years, but when he was away on other missionary journeys he heard that they had turned aside from the key belief of salvation by faith alone. He heard that they were embracing a Christian legalism that required obedience to the law – or at least some parts of the law – in order to be saved. In other words, they were heading in a more consistent traditional Jewish direction rather than  the unique Christian direction. So Paul writes a letter, the book that we called the Book of Galatians, in order to persuade them to return to what they had been taught by Paul from the beginning – that salvation is by faith alone, not through works of obedience to the Law of God. Now Paul wasn’t saying that the law isn’t important in giving us the will of God, nor that following the basic moral teachings of the Old Testament were optional for a Christian, because he certainly lived an upright and moral life as a Christian and expected others to do the same. What he objected to was the use of the law as a means of salvation. As far as the Christian gospel message is concerned, the Law of God can’t save us but only show us how far lost we are and how badly we need God’s grace through Christ’s sacrificial life and death on the cross on our behalf. The law is really great at showing us how far lost we are, but really bad at actually saving us from our bad position. The unique message of the gospel is that it furnishes us with a new way, a saving way, apart from the law, that relies on Christ’s perfectly righteous life and Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf to save us. We don’t have to live an obedient life – that’s good because we couldn’t anyway – because Christ’s perfect life counts on our behalf and fulfills the Law of God on our behalf. Any good works that we do in life – and there is some good that we do sometimes, although even our so-called goodness is mixed with sin – our works don’t contribute or count towards our salvation because they utterly fail to even remotely approach the standard of perfection required to obtain salvation. In other words, it’s impossible to be almost saved by our good works, as it is impossible to be almost saved by any other means. Salvation is an either/or situation. Either we are saved, perfectly saved, or we are lost, utterly lost. There is no middle or half-way position with salvation. It’s like the old saying, “Nobody is a little bit pregnant; you are either pregnant or you aren’t.” Well, that’s the same with salvation. Nobody is a little bit saved or almost saved. We are either saved – forgiven of all our sins and possessing the perfect righteousness required – or we aren’t saved, lacking forgiveness and the required righteousness. The Galatian Christians were being led astray by teachers who were teaching that faith and works mix together to save us. They were teaching that it’s important for Christians to have faith but also to work hard to be saved by obeying the Law of God. This is the opposite of what the Apostle Paul taught these same Christians earlier. So it’s understandable that Paul would be upset about the situation. His whole work and ministry was at risk. If he couldn’t keep these Christian converts from going astray how could he be sure that all of his converts wouldn’t eventually go astray, or that his whole ministry to the Gentiles wasn’t all in vain? No, this error had to be stopped, so he writes a long letter in an attempt to win these Christians back to the truth. This morning we’ll look more at what he says. Galatians 3:1-9 (read). He asks some questions of them. (more…)

Answering Objections to Salvation By Faith Alone

December 3, 2010

Title: Answering Objections to Salvation By Faith Alone

Text: Galatians 2:17-21

Time: October 31st, 2010

For the past two months I’ve been teaching from the Book of Galatians and we’ve seen the Apostle Paul trying to communicate the very important doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Just to summarize it a little bit, what Paul is saying is that no goods works can satisfy the justice of God; no acts of obedience fulfill the Law of God. Why not? Because nobody in fact does fully obey the Law; at best we only partially fulfill the requirements of God. That leaves us in the dilemma of being under obligation to obey God’s Law fully, yet being in the situation of never in fact fulfilling it and in fact not being able to fulfill it due to the sinful human condition and our own desire to do things our own way and live independent from God. That’s why if we are saved we must be saved by God’s grace and by faith alone, because if we could save ourselves by anything we do in the way of obedience to the Law of God, then that would require that we obey the whole law, fully and completely. But since nobody can or could fully obey the whole Law of God fully and completely, salvation by human effort or human obedience is an impossibility. That leaves us with only one alternative – we must be saved apart from works or obedience to the Law. That’s where salvation by faith alone comes in. Because Christ perfectly fulfilled the Law of God with his perfect life of obedience to the Father, he can impart his perfection to us, to our account. Because Christ died on the cross as payment for our sins and disobedience, we can be forgiven of our sins, our record can be wiped clean, and we can be free and clear from any charges against us, and free from any judgment of sin leveled against us. So when you combine Christ’s righteousness given to us as a free gift by faith and when you also include forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf, which we receive freely also by faith, when you combine these two benefits, we are counted as righteous and forgiven in the eyes of God the Father. That means we are given a place in eternal life, in heaven, through faith in Christ alone. We can’t try to include anything of our own, like so-called righteous acts or obedience, because these contribute nothing to our salvation because even these are tainted with sin and unrighteousness on our part. Only Christ and his righteousness satisfy the requirements of God the Father. Only through faith, faith alone, can we benefit from the work of Christ on our behalf. Now since this is the case, this is how we are saved, some people raised the objection – doesn’t salvation by faith alone destroy any motivation to live a holy life? If you tell people that they can be saved by faith alone without any of their own contribution to the equation, doesn’t that give people a license to sin? Doesn’t that open the floodgates to sin, since if we are saved apart from our works, then what’s to stop someone from just going out and sinning but claiming that it’s faith alone that saves them, not their works? This objection has been voiced not only in ancient times but is still raised today. So today, as we work our way through the Book of Galatians, we encounter this objection and then we also hear Paul’s answer, or at least, his partial answer to the objection. The Apostle Paul was no dummy. He understood perfectly well that for some people who heard his teaching on salvation by faith alone, it would be a problem for them because they would interpret it as a license to sin. So Paul tries to respond to some of these objections. If we listen carefully, we can hear these same objections today to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. I hear them all the time as I share God’s plan of salvation with people; sometimes I even hear them from church people. If you listen you’ll probably hear them too. Maybe you’ve even thought something similar. But let’s hear what Paul says in response to objections to salvation by faith alone. Maybe they can help us in sharing our faith today. Galatians 2:17-21 (read). (more…)

Hold to the Gospel Consistently

December 3, 2010

Title: Hold to the Gospel Consistently

Text: Galatians 2:11-16

Time: October 24th, 2010

This morning we find ourselves again in the Book of Galatians, continuing our study about salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. The Apostle Paul is trying to teach the Christians in Galatia about salvation by faith alone as opposed to salvation by human works or any mixture of faith and works. It’s important for him to make this very important point so that the church isn’t led astray from the truth. To the Apostle Paul truth isn’t very important. That’s different from our day and age, where many people act as if truth isn’t very important, just as long as they get what they want in life. In other words, many people – it seems more and more people as the years go by – simply don’t care very much about what is right or wrong, or true or false, just as long as they can live a comfortable life and get more or less what they want in life. In other words, relativism, or the belief that there are no absolute right or wrongs, or true or false. Relativism is rapidly becoming the dominant philosophy in the modern world. Absolute truth is laughed at, at best, or ignored at worse as simply impractical or impossible to know or live by. So people simply forget about questions of ultimate or absolute truth. Most modern people wouldn’t understand what the Apostle Paul is all upset over when addressing this church in Galatia. People today might say, “So what’s the big deal? These church people are starting to mix faith and works in their doctrine of salvation, so what? What difference does it make? Live and let live. To each his own. Let people believe what they want to believe. Who really knows the real truth anyway? Like Pontius Pilate said to Jesus, “What really is truth? Who really knows what is true?” This skepticism today is all around us, led by no higher authority than the federal government. For example, as far as the government is concerned, it doesn’t make any difference what people believe, just as long as they pay their taxes and keep the peace. The government is agnostic concerning specific religious beliefs, in fact, it goes out of its way to avoid any religious issues if at all possible. This government attitude towards religion filters down to all the social institutions that are under it, like the public schools and state and local governments, and colleges and universities run by the government. So our society is being filled more and more with this kind of skepticism towards ultimate right and wrong, or towards true and false. It’s to the point where people are following the lead of government institutions and becoming skeptics themselves. Of course, the popular culture and media and the entertainment industry are already into relativism, but for other reasons – the best way to justify living an immoral lifestyle is to deny that there is any truly moral life to be lived. The best way to avoid a guilty conscience is to deny that there is any absolute moral truth to follow, or that there is any true absolute law or anything ultimately true to begin with in the first place. So most people today wouldn’t understand what all the fuss is over salvation by faith alone versus salvation by works, or a mixture of faith and works salvation. But for true Christians, for those who take truth seriously – and the Bible is a book from God that teaches absolute truth – we must pay attention to the distinction Paul is making here in the Book of Galatians. It’s the Word of God, it’s God’s Word to us Christians – and really it’s for all men and women – but especially for us who desire to follow the will of God, and so we must trust that whatever God says through the words of the Bible, he says for a purpose, for our good. That’s why we must listen and learn. Today’s passage is Galatians 2:11-16. Let me point out three important points. (more…)