Friday, August 31, 2018

The Great Apostasy

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach (1 Timothy 4:1-11).

Paul echos Jesus’ words about the latter days. We call them the End Times, or at least popular culture does. American Evangelicalism teaches to be vigilant for the rise of the Antichrist as some national ruler (rather than arising out of the Church), to give the modern secular nation of Israel some biblical significance, and to be prepared for the rapture when the signs all align. As a consequence, well-meaning people focus on these fables and wive’s tales, rather than on Christ crucified and risen from the dead. They end up following wolves dressed in pastor’s clothing; men who teach false doctrines about Israel, Jesus’ return, and the Judgement, either because they have unwittingly strayed from the Word of God and a plain reading of it, or in order to line their pockets with the proceeds from their latest book about how the End of Days will play out.

Still others follow phony faith healers, lying prophets, and various other types of health and wealth heretics, all in an attempt to live their best life now. They want their breakthrough. They want their miracle. They want God to bless them. What they really mean, is that they want God to make them rich and give them a life free from hardship and pain. They abandon the call of Christ to take up their cross and follow Him to send money to some TV preacher in order to fix their problems. What they don’t realize, is that their main problem is their own sinful flesh; it is a problem we cannot solve by doing good works, sending money to a televangelist, or even by drinking Peter Popoff’s Miracle Spring Water. They don’t hear the preaching of the Law, and so they don’t recognize their sin; they don’t hear the preaching of the Gospel, and so they don’t know that Christ defeated sin, death, and the devil on the cross; that He washes away their sin in Holy Baptism, uniting them with Him in His death and resurrection; that crucifying our old man with Him we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

This, however, is what we were told to expect. Some would fall away. Some would depart from the faith and follow deceiving spirits and the doctrines of demons. Jesus told His disciples, us included, that many false prophets would rise up and deceive many and, because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.[1] It would be the false teachers, not the faithful ones, who would perform great signs and wonders. Jesus warned that false christs and false prophets would rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.[2] And such things do we see in the world, from the time of Christ’s resurrection and ascension even to the present day. We are living in the last days. But we are to hold fast to Christ and His pure doctrine, which He has graciously preserved for us in Holy Scripture; He transmits this doctrine to us in His body, the Church, by the faithful preaching of the Word, by faithful pastors such as Timothy, and the faithful administration of the sacraments. Our pastors teach us the good doctrine of Christ; To reject profane things and old wive’s tales. They teach us to cling to the cross of Christ, trusting in Christ alone, who is the savior of all men, for the forgiveness of our sins, and not in our own works, which are as filthy rags before God. So, rejoice in your baptism. Do not despise preaching and God’s word; that is where He gives you the gifts He has won for you by His death and resurrection. Hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it. Christ has joined you to Himself. He became the ransom for all your sins. He has given you His righteousness, and made you a new creation, so that you might go and do good works for your neighbor.

[1] Matthew 24:11-12
[2] Matthew 24:23-24

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Righteous Israel Shall Live By Faith

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:1-14).

The Jews were proud of the fact that Abraham was their flesh and blood ancestor. And, because of their connection to Abraham, they were special. God says as much; God says that Abraham’s descendants would be more numerous than the stars in heaven.[1] Abraham believed the LORD and the LORD accounted Abraham’s faith in the LORD’s promise for righteousness. After the Children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, were rescued from bondage in Egypt and were preparing to enter the Promised Land, God calls these people holy; they were chosen by God to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.[2] God did not choose them, however, because of anything they had done; He didn’t choose them because they were more numerous than other nations; He didn’t choose them because of their wealth or military might: But because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.[3]

So, the physical connection to Abraham was important to the Jews, particularly the Pharisees. They thought of their ancestry in terms American Express would appreciate: Membership has its privileges. They thought that by their physical connection to Abraham they enjoyed special status with God. What they did not understand was it wasn’t any work or physical characteristic that set Israel apart. It was faith in God’s promised redemption and in His Promised Redeemer. Abraham was justified before he received the sign of circumcision, by faith.[4] The promise that Abraham would be heir to the world was not to him or his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.[5] So the important connection with Abraham was not with him physically, having his blood running through your veins, but rather having the same faith in you, taking hold of those same promises of God. This is why John the Baptist would see the Pharisees and say: “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.[6] They had the same blood as Abraham, but not the same faith, and so they were not children of Abraham.

Jesus says the same thing. He shows up doing things only God can do; He forgives sins. He tells people that He is the Messiah and demonstrates the proof of His claim through Holy Scripture and by performing miracles that the Jews expected the Messiah, who was the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, to do. He teaches in the synagogues, pointing to messianic scriptures and applying them to Himself, like when He read the scroll of Isaiah and was rejected at Nazareth. Their response to Jesus proclaiming the year of the LORD’s favor was to try and throw Him off a cliff.[7] Jesus is consistently rejected by the leaders of the Jewish nation, the very people who were supposed to recognize Him, but instead gloried in their own works and flesh. “You search the scriptures,” Jesus says to the Pharisees, “for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. [8]“ Because they rejected Him, because they did not have faith in God’s Word and promise, they were no longer children of Abraham. They were children of their father, the devil.[9] They were branches, broken off the True Vine, withered and unable to bear any fruit, fit only to be gathered into the fire and burned;[10] Their physical lineage doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that they are related to Abraham by blood; the righteous shall live by faith. And, as many as walk according to this rule, that of boasting not in the flesh but in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to them, peace be upon them, and upon the Israel of God – all believers in Christ, regardless of their physical ancestry; This is the new, or more accurately, the true Israel of God, the household of faith.[11]

[1] Genesis 15:4-5
[2] Deuteronomy 7:6
[3] Deuteronomy 7:8
[4] Romans 4:9-12
[5] Romans 4:13-18
[6] Matthew 3:7-9
[7] Luke 4:16-30
[8] John 5:39-40
[9] John 8:39-47
[10] John 15:1-8
[11] Galatians 6:10

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Well, I'm not as bad as Hitler

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

No one wants to believe that they are evil. We aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. We want to do good, but we fall short. Sometimes we even admit that we are sinners; we miss the mark, so to speak. But are we evil? Surely we are not. I mean, I may not be perfect, but I wouldn’t classify myself as evil. I have done bad things, but I’ve never murdered anyone. I’m not as bad as Hitler, for example. He was evil. I may not be perfect, but I am good, and I’m certainly no Hitler.

Yes, you are. You are Hitler, and so am I. No, we are not good; no one is righteous, not even one.[1] Mankind is called to be perfect: Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.[2] You are a murderer, at least by the standard of Jesus. He said that murder begins in the heart: But I say to you whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment.[3] You and I are serial murderers of the greatest magnitude by this standard. Much to our consternation, this standard is God’s standard; being merely “not Hitler” certainly does not come close to hitting the mark. We are, by our very nature in fact, sinful and unclean. Children of wrath, scripture calls us. We were, by nature, children of wrath, walking according to the course of this world, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.[4] We were conceived in sin and born in iniquity;[5] the inclination of the human heart is toward evil from youth.[6]

Don’t believe me? Consider a baby; we like to think them innocent, just as we like to imagine ourselves to some degree. They haven’t done anything yet. They haven’t even developed the capacity to think rationally. Yes, and do they need to be taught anger and selfishness? From their first breath they think only of fulfilling the desires of the flesh; the mind will come later. They are acting according to their corrupt sinful nature. They are curved inward, focused only on themselves. And, from the time of our conception, we are subject to death, which scripture calls the wages of sin. Such is the case with every man born into this world. So immersed are we in our own sinfulness, so thorough is our corruption, that we must be taught how corrupt we are from Holy Scripture; we cannot grasp the severity of our situation by our senses or reason. Through one man, Adam, sin entered the world, and death spread to all men, because all sinned. By what action did all men sin? By coming into existence; by taking on flesh, a human nature which had been corrupted and cursed because of Adam at the fall.

We don’t like this assessment of our situation because we don’t like the idea of imputed guilt. We don’t want to be held responsible for the sin of another. We didn’t sin, Adam did; why should we be condemned? The reason is that we are sinners just like Adam, because we are of his corrupt substance. We inherited his fallen nature: Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD…” Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Able his brother and killed him.[7] The proof of this is in the fact that death is a reality for all people, from the youngest infant to the oldest person living. Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam.[8] By Adam’s offense, we all died; by Adam’s disobedience we were made sinners.[9]

So we are all utterly corrupt and sinful creatures. What can we do about it? Some would say we have the ability to do something to atone for our sins. The reality is that there is nothing we can do. Since the time of the fall of man we have been trying to do something to fix our sin problem; Like Adam and Eve we have been trying to cover the nakedness of our sin, not with fig leaves, but with imagined works of penance. The gimmick is simple: we prescribe some work for ourselves to perform that seems difficult, pious, and sacrificial; but these works always seem to be something that we are capable of doing, or at least we think so when we dream them up. Most of the time we can’t even live up to the man-made rules, whether it’s prayers, pilgrimages, acts of charity, or self-flagellation. We end up going back on our promises to make up for our sins, or at the very least, changing the terms so that our penance is a little more “doable”. Eventually we get tired of doing the good deed, of giving the money, of going to church, of saying our prayers, of walking old ladies across the street, or whatever we have come up with to make ourselves look good to God. The end of this road of self-justification is failure and despair. The devil is more than happy to help us down this road, and to supply us with false methods of atonement, so we stay focused on ourselves, and our sin.

But God tells us that the gift is not like the offense. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many trespasses resulted in justification.[10] Through Adam’s offense judgment came to all men; through Christ’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.[11] Before the foundation of the world God the Father resolved to reconcile that world to Himself through the Son. Atonement for us comes through the death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He is the propitiation for our sin, and the sin of the whole world.[12] While we were God’s enemies, Christ died for mankind. Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures; He was buried, and He rose again the third day, according to the scriptures;[13] He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

The gift of forgiveness and life comes through Christ by His death and resurrection. We are connected to Christ, and His death and resurrection through Baptism. Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. And, just as the work of atoning for sin is Christ’s alone, so is the work of baptism. In baptism, God’s promise of forgiveness, coupled with the physical element of water, washes away our sins.[14] It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

[1] Romans 3:10
[2] Matthew 5:48
[3] Matthew 5:22
[4] Ephesians 2:3
[5] Psalm 51:5
[6] Genesis 8:21
[7] Genesis 4:1, 8
[8] Romans 5:14
[9] Romans 5:15, 19
[10] Romans 5:16
[11] Romans 5:18
[12] Romans 3:25; Titus 2:14; 1 John 1:7; 2:2
[13] 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
[14] Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5; Revelation 1:5