Those who teach works must be added to faith as a condition for salvation can never tell you when you have done enough. This fact alone exposes the reason why you will never find assurance of salvation in their systems. The problems with believing our right standing before God is a result of Christ’s work plus our merit are innumerable and damning, but the inability of its proponents to answer the question, “How much work is enough?” exposes its corrupting effect on the hearts of those that adhere to it.
The reason why I refer to it as a corrupting effect is that there are only two possible responses to imbibing this theology and neither are edifying. The first is bondage to pride. Someone who is blind to their sinfulness will begin to rejoice in their goodness. After all, they are contributing some merit to their salvation. Jesus has not done it all, so there is room for boasting. To do this, they must either under-estimate their sinfulness or lower God’s righteous standard. The second response is bondage to constant anxiety. Anyone awake to his or her corruption will tend in this direction. They will strive and struggle but will never find themselves able to rest in Christ because, as long as they live, Christ’s work will never be sufficient, and their work will never be complete.
Works do play a role in salvation, but they are the result of our salvation in Jesus, not the cause of it. When we stand before the Lord, there is only one to whom we will point for our acceptance before God, and that is Jesus Christ. He fulfilled the law that we could not, he paid our debt on the cross, and he credits his righteousness to us. We will never point to ourselves. Remember, even the Pharisee gave God the credit for his assumed righteousness and all the works he did, yet he walked away unjustified (Luke 18-9-14). When we point to ourselves in any way, we point to our own condemnation. It is only when we beat our breast like the tax collector and look outside of ourselves to Jesus Christ that we find the righteousness we need.
There is no “It is finished” in faith plus works theological systems, and because of that, there is only bondage. If we want to be free in Christ, we must reject the notion that our righteousness is anything other than Christ’s perfect righteousness accounted as ours. We are justified by faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28). Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28).”
Our culture seems to be described perfectly in 2 Timothy 3:2-4. It says, “Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
As Christians, what is more important than the description of the culture is how scripture calls believers to respond in times like this. The righteous are not to be afraid of bad news; their heart is to be firm, trusting in the Lord (Psalm 112:7). Yet, many churchgoers seem to be at their whit’s end as they watch it all unfold. It is as if they believe this fiery trial is something strange (1 Peter 4:12). It seems we have had it so good for so long that we have forgotten what the Bible promised us. It says, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3-12).” In the west, Christians need to remember that the persecution of the church was not put to death; it was only made sick, and it is beginning to recover.
If you asked many believers if they would be willing to die for Jesus, they would say “yes,” yet the sad reality is more and more church members are indicating that even after COVID is no longer a threat, they would prefer to keep watching church online. Their couch and their coffee seem to be too much to sacrifice. Besides, with the world raging around us, our home feels safer, but being safe is not our calling.
If the troubles of 2020 are causing you to lose your spiritual nerve, it would be helpful to recall Paul’s words to Timothy in light of his fallen culture. Paul encouraged Timothy by telling him to “kindle afresh the gift of God that is in you (2 Tim. 1:6). That gift is the faith God has given us through the Holy Spirit. Our lives are to be marked by his presence. Instead of cowering in the corner, we are to remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).
Now is not the time to be ashamed of our faith, we must be willing to stand with those who are persecuted, and be ready to join them in their suffering if called to do so (2 Tim. 1:8): even as a criminal (2 Tim. 2:9). Remember, when the world comes after you, they will not say it is because you are a Christian, they will make up some other charge, and they will be charges of unlawfulness which will have accompanying penal codes. Countless Christians throughout history have been locked up and even put to death in such a manner.
However, there is no reason for us to fear. Jesus has abolished death, so be strong (2 Tim. 1-10). If we are unable to look at the attacks on biblical truth in our culture through the lens of the resurrection, then it is proof that we need to kindle our faith afresh. Are you spiritually minded enough that you would be willing to suffer hardship like a good soldier (2 Tim. 2:3)?
Repentance starts at home. The Lord knows who are his, and everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness (2 Tim. 2:19). Even if the world calls us a danger to society for doing it. If we cleanse ourselves from these things, we will be a vessel of honor, sanctified, useful to the Lord (2 Tim. 2:21). As we see what appears to be the slow collapse of the culture around us, it is time for the church to be a city on a hill. It is time for Christians to be salt and light. The way we do that is not by following the world’s pattern of grasping for power. We are to confront the culture with the love of Christ. This means to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, be meek, humble of heart, and be willing to be persecuted for his name’s sake.
Why would we do that? The love of Jesus. We love our great Savior, and we love the ungodly. We understand them because we used to be them. We have been lovers of self, unholy, ungrateful, and unloving. We know that the sexually immoral, the idolater, the adulterer, and those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). More than that, we understand that such were some of us, but we were washed, we were sanctified. The wrath of God that stood over us for our sins, Christ bore on the cross as our substitute. We have been justified in the name of Jesus (1 Cor. 6:11).
Jesus has blotted out our iniquities and removed our death sentence. What else could we need? What else could we want? What else do we have to fear? Because of his great love for us, we deny ourselves, take up or cross, and follow him (Matt. 16:24). We are no longer debtors to the flesh to live according to its dictates (Romans 8:12). By the spirit, we resist our sinful desires because we have a greater love: Jesus Christ. The world is living according to the flesh, and those who live according to the flesh will die (Rom. 8:13). The wages of sin still hangs over them. We cannot, and we will not participate in their ways. We will not go back to the bondage now that Christ has set us free.
We will call the lost world to salvation in Jesus, even if many in this world hate us for it. We will continue to the point the way because it is what they need more than anything. If they must go to hell, let us make them leap over our dead bodies to get there (C. Spurgeon). Greater love has no one but this, that someone would be willing to lay down their life for them (John 15:13). As we share in the suffering of Christ, our pain will be a present reality of how much he loves them. There is no wrath or torment that man can throw our way to make us move. There is no peace this world can offer that can compare to the peace of God and the eternal glory that awaits.
The world may do terrible things to the Church, but, in a fallen world, times of trial and persecution are often when the gospel shines the brightest. Persecution will indeed blow away the tares among us. I fear many professing Christians have forgotten our calling. They have lost the plot and traded it in for a life of pursuing earthly pleasures. In times of trouble, we will see many go out from us because they were never really of us (1 John 2:19). At that point, we will not hate them for their betrayal; we will see their lost spiritual condition, love them, and call them to find salvation in Jesus in the same way we do for all the lost. The chaos of our culture is not a threat to our witness; it is a prime opportunity for it. Indeed, all who desire to live for Jesus will be persecuted, and through it, our great God will be glorified as we confront the world with the love of Christ.
I recently had the privilege of preaching at First Artesia Christian Reformed Church. In this clip from the sermon, we take a look at how Christ’s righteousness imputed to us is better than the guiltlessness that Adam lost. Below is the transcript of the video with a few edits to better fit this format.
When we talk about justification, the biblical and theological term of justification, we are talking about two imputations. First, as I already mentioned, our sins are imputed to Jesus. He bears our punishment on the cross, but the second part is that his righteousness is imputed to us and, we are counted righteous in Jesus.
Now some may say, “Well, isn’t guiltlessness the same as righteousness? I mean, if I haven’t sinned, am I not righteous? Well, it is much deeper than that. Let me give you an analogy.
Let us say a mom walks into her son’s room, and her son’s room is a mess. It’s been a mess for a week, and she is kind of getting tired of it. It is morning time, and she says, “Son, you will clean this room by five o’clock today. If you have it clean by five o’clock today, I am going to give you movie tickets for you and your two friends so you can go see that movie you have been wanting to see. If you do not have it cleaned, you’ll be grounded for a week.
Get the analogy here. Here is the law. There are blessings if you do it, and cursings if you do not. Now, imagine the mom comes back at five o’clock, and he hasn’t even started on it. The room is still a mess. She would say, “Okay, you are grounded for a week.”
Now imagine a week goes by, and he has paid his penalty. The son comes back to the mom and says, “Mom, I have paid my penalty. You can no longer punish me for this act.” The mom would say, “That is correct, that was the agreement. Imagine the son then saying, “Now give me my movie tickets.” You would say, “Wait a minute, you never did what was required to get the reward. I cannot punish you anymore, but you do not get the reward.”
Now think about Christ on the cross. We are not just in a place where we cannot be punished anymore. Christ lived the perfect life. He fulfilled all the requirements of the law. He has justly received the reward, and his righteousness is now counted as ours. We are co-heirs with him. That is the beauty of the holiness and the righteousness of Christ. Take that to heart. We are declared righteous in Christ as if we have fulfilled the law.
Thomas Brooks, a great Puritan, said this, “Christ provides a better righteousness than Adam lost.
A stranger to the life of faith makes a snuffle at believing, and thinks no work so easy, or so trifling. He wonders why such gentle business should be called the fight of faith, and why the chosen twelve should pray for faith, when, as they believe, every human brain might quickly furnish out a handsome dose.
For my own part, since first my unbelief was felt, I have been praying fifteen years for faith, and praying with some earnestness, and am not yet possessed of more than half a grain. You smile, Sir, I perceive, at the smallness of the quantity; but you would not, if you knew its efficacy. Jesus, who knew it well, assures you that a single grain, and a grain as small as mustard-seed, would remove a mountain; remove a mountain-load of guilt from the conscience, a mountain-lust from the heart, and any mountain-load of trouble from the mind.
The Saviour’s word to his people is, Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of God. (Exodus 14:13). In quietness and confidence shall be your strength (Isaiah. 30:15). Cast thy burden on the Lord, and he shall support thee (Psalm 55:22). Look to me for salvation, all the ends of the earth (Isaiah 14:22). Call on me in time of trouble, I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me (Psalm 50:15).
Many people believe the punishment of a crime should not be viewed as a penalty the criminal deserves; it should be understood as rehabilitation that works to cure the criminal. These people believe this way is more humane and will keep people from being treated unjustly. However, it is important to remember that if you remove the idea of penalty from the corrective action, you also remove the possibility of justice. In treating criminals as patients, any treatment can be justified, as long as necessary, in the name of a cure provided it is done with the “best interest” of the offender in mind.
Another belief is that this theory tends to be more merciful, but in reality, just as it destroys the concept of justice, it also destroys the possibility of mercy. For if a just penalty was deserved, then an actual pardon or mercy could be given, but if we view the criminal as ill, then it would never be merciful to withhold treatment.
The following quote by C.S. Lewis also provides us with a glimpse of how quickly this theory can spiral downward. “If crimes are diseases, why should diseases be treated any differently from crimes? And who but the experts can define disease? One school of psychology regards my religion as a neurosis. If this neurosis ever becomes inconvenient to Government, what is to prevent my being subjected to a compulsory ‘cure’? It may be painful; treatments sometimes are. But it will be no use asking, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ The Straightener will reply: ‘But, my dear fellow, no one’s blaming you. We no longer believe in retributive justice. We’re healing you.”
Secular ideas like this rarely stay in the political realm. They either originate from bad theology or find there way there. In denying a just penalty for crime, most people will also deny a just penalty for sin, thus denying the gospel. Jesus was our substitute. On the cross, he bore just penalty for our sins, the wrath of God. Yes, it is true that he also heals us, but the healing of our sin-sick soul is not the basis of our salvation. The atoning work of Christ on the cross is the root, and our new life in Christ is the fruit. Since our Father is a just God, our sanctification would not be possible had his wrath not been satisfied.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5
May my prayer be set before you like incense. – Psalm 141:2
Throughout the Old Testament, we see incense playing a significant role in the worship God had prescribed for his people. It was so essential that there was an altar of incense in the Holy Place. As we consider this topic, it is important to remember the ceremonies of the old covenant were pictures and shadows of what Christ would accomplish in His atoning work on the cross, and incense is part of that picture. Ultimately, incense is a picture of the sacrifice of Christ, which is the sweet aroma that goes before the Father on our behalf. Still, in another sense, incense also typifies prayer. John Owen, in his commentary on Hebrews, lays out four ways incense is like prayer.
1. The incense was beaten and pounded before it could be used. Likewise, acceptable prayer proceeds from a broken and contrite heart.
Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Elsewhere we are told that God “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” For our prayers to be as incense, we must approach the Throne of Grace in poverty of spirit, knowing that our sinfulness has separated us from God and that only through Christ our mediator do we have peace with Him. This is biblical brokenness. If we approach God in any other way, we are like the tax collector trusting on our own righteousness, and he went away unjustified. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.
2. Incense rises toward heaven, and the point of prayer is that it ascends to the throne of God.
One of the significant points made in the book of Hebrews is that Christ is exalted and sitting at the right hand of the Father. Yet, we are encouraged to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence. When we pray, we are doing precisely that. We are bringing our praises and petitions to the throne of God. Though we have no merit of our own, God still embraces us with love because of the merit of Jesus and His righteousness. For our prayers to be as incense, we need to be aware of the great heights they are reaching as we commune with the exalted Christ. This goes hand in hand with our brokenness. Pray with confidence. Despite your sinfulness, your prayers rise to the Most High, maker of heaven and earth, and there is no one above Him.
3. Incense requires fire for it to be useful, and prayer has no virtue unless it is set on fire by the power of the Holy Spirit.
By this, we are not referring to some mystical experience. The fact that a believer desires to go to the Lord in prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is not the natural man’s disposition. The only prayer that can take place without the Spirit is prayer that is not in accord with the Word of God. For example, prayers to false gods, and ritualistic prayers by those who believe they will be heard because of mere formality and many words. We must pray in accordance with the Word of God. When this happens, it is because the Spirit is moving. When you feel the urge to pray, do not neglect that desire because your incense is being set on fire by the power of the Holy Spirit.
4. Incense yields a sweet aroma, and our prayers are a sweet fragrance to the Lord.
This seems to be at the heart of the Psalmist’s cry. “May my prayer be as incense,” means, may it be a sweet aroma to the Lord. In Revelation 8:4, we see that the smoke of incense rose with the prayers of the saints. This seems to signify that there is a sweet fragrance associated with our prayers, and the sweet scent is because we approach the Lord in Christ’s name. Our prayers are pleasing to the Lord, and the fact we can bring pleasure to God is something that should cause us to drop to our knees with joy. Pray boldly in Jesus’ name, because it brings pleasure to God almighty.
May this short study encourage you to spend more time on your knees this week. You may not feel worthy to approach him, but that is the only proper way to draw near to the Throne of Grace. From there, your lowly supplications will rise to the heavens where Christ is exalted. If this encourages you to pray, know that it is the Holy Spirit who is encouraging you to do so. Finally, as you pray, you will bring pleasure to the only King of Heaven as the offering Jesus made for sin is presented to the Father on your behalf.
When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment! – John 16:8
The Holy Spirit is the only effectual reformer of the world! If He is absent, legislators may make laws against crime; philosophers may reason against vice; ministers may preach against sin; conscience may remonstrate against evil; the divine law may prescribe, and threaten Hell; the gospel may invite, and allure to Heaven; but all will be in vain!
The strongest arguments, the most melting entreaties, the most alarming denunciations from God and man, enforced with the highest authority, or the most compassionate tears, all will have no effect, all will not effectually reclaim one sinner, nor gain one sincere convert to righteousness!
Paul, Apollos, and Peter, with all their apostolic abilities, can do nothing, without the Holy Spirit. Paul may plant the seed, and Apollos may water it; but God alone can make it grow! “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow!” (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7)
Never will peace and harmony be established in this jangling world until this Divine Agent takes the work in hand. It is He alone, who can melt down the obstinate hearts of men into love and peace! It is He alone, who can soften their rugged and savage tempers, and transform them into mutual benevolence!
It is He alone, who can quench those lusts that set the world on fire, and implant the opposite virtues and graces. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are mentioned by Paul, as the fruit of the Spirit, because the Spirit alone is the author of them. And if these dispositions were predominant in the world, what a serene, calm, peaceful region would it be, undisturbed with the hurricanes of human passions!
Oh, how much do we need the influence of the blessed Spirit to break the heart of stone, to enlighten the dark mind, and to comfort the desponding soul!
For many evangelicals, it seems goosebumps are the litmus test as to whether a song is anointed, but an emotional reaction can be misleading. I once had a co-worker who loved just about everything Disney. He put a sticker on his car, and he would proudly wear Disney hats and shirts. He was one of the managers at the store where I was working at the time, and I remember one day when everything was going wrong, he said to me, “when this day is over I am going home, and I’m going to watch an old Disney movie.” When I pressed him a bit as to why he chose to watch an old Disney movie as opposed to anything else, he said, “Disney things just bring me back to when I was a kid.” Ultimately, there was a sense of nostalgia from all the memories of growing up, and these things moved his affections in a way that made him feel a bit better after a hard day.
On another note, music has a way of doing the same type of things for us. I can remember in high school and college when I would be listening to secular radio, and that new song that I had been waiting to hear would come on. Immediately, I would turn up the volume, and I would be energized by what I was hearing. I would sing along with all the passion I could muster, sometimes to questionable lyrics.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia and being energized or moved by some piece of music, provided the context is not sinful. Still, when you put these things together with a Christian worship service or program, we must be careful to discern our emotions. I bring this up because sometimes we can be misled to think that we have had a time of worship, or that we have heard a great sermon, on the sole basis that it moved our affections.
We must pay close attention to what is stirring our hearts to discern whether what we are experiencing is worship or even spiritual. When the worship leader plays the first chords of our favorite praise song, are we being energized much like the natural man who hears a secular song that causes him to turn up the radio, or are we genuinely worshipping? When grandma’s favorite hymn starts to play and causes us to experience a time of peace and contentment while thinking back to when she used to sing it to us as a child, do we sometimes confuse that with worship?
Now, I am not saying we should only sing dull songs or songs that do not remind us of anything, or that it is impossible to be genuinely worshipping during these times. On the contrary, I think it can be helpful to remember our family worship from when we were growing up, and I believe it is good that we still have people today writing new psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for us to sing that gets us excited. What I want to stress is that merely because we have these moments, does not mean we are worshipping or that we have drawn near to God in adoration.
Charles Spurgeon once said that if he wanted to, he could move congregations to tears by telling them sad stories of mothers with sick children or energize them by telling them stories of men and women who accomplished great things. He then went on to say, it would be a waste of time unless they were moved to cry over their sin and take joy in Christ and the cross. In other words, were their hearts and attention drawn to Jesus?
Even the natural man’s affections move in powerful ways, but those emotional stirrings will never be worship unless the truth of scripture moves us as the Holy Spirit points us to Christ and what He has done for us. Whether we attend a modern or traditional worship service is not the biggest issue, but we must be sure to seek out worship and preaching that convicts us of sin and shows us the remedy in Christ, which is the foundation of all true spiritual worship.
We have history’s greatest sermons at our fingertips. I have recently discovered a new edifying podcast called Revived Thoughts. I was able to connect with Troy Frasier, one of the men who produce the content, and I asked him if he would be willing to write a guest post to let us know what Revived Thoughts is all about, and he graciously agreed.
Most people serious about their faith are familiar with some of the great theologians of the past. It’s not uncommon to hear a quote by Charles Spurgeon dropped in a sermon. Or maybe you have seen a quote go by on your social media of Jonathan Edwards or Martin Luther. These men continue to inspire us, and their books continue to be read by those seeking insights into their faith.
One thing we often forget is that before they were famous theologians they were preachers. To their congregants, they were often tender-hearted pastors who preached a passionate and accessible Gospel on how to live out the theology that they expressed in their books. It was there that their thoughts met real world-application.
Today it is not uncommon for Christians to listen to sermons from preachers all over the country. Sermons by pastors that have made names for themselves such as John Piper, Francis Chan, or John MacArthur. Before the age of podcasting and live streaming, preachers could be heard on the radio. Famous names like Leonard Ravenhill and Billy Sunday could be heard by tuning the dial. Through technology, these radio evangelists had replaced the original way of finding out what was preached: reading the sermon.
We have sermons going all the way back to the doorstep of the Apostles, with 2 Clement possibly preached within just a few years of John the Apostle’s death, all the way up to the mid-1900’s that were written down. Yet all these sermons, filled with magnificent truth, have been forgotten. They have been left on bookshelves to collect dust, and with them, the stories of the amazing preachers that delivered them.
When I was a teacher at a Christian school, I asked the middle school students to name any famous Christians they could think of. They named “Martin Luther King,” “Malcolm X,” “Mother Theresa,” and “Ghandi.” Now, besides the fact that half of that list is not even Christian, it shows a complete lack of awareness of Christian history. Of course, I may have had a bad survey sample, but I think it is also true that most Christians in the west hardly know how they got here. They may have a distorted memory from High School about the Reformation and Martin Luther nailing theses. They may know of some Puritan names, but they usually have little understanding of the lives of each of these men and how many of them interacted with each other. What were they up against? How was their family life? What great historical events did they experience, and how did that change their perspectives?
We are missing incredible testimonies and assurances of our faith! Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Andrew Gray, and so many other Puritans spent time in prison for their faith. They were told not to gather, yet they did it in secret and in barns in the woods. They show us a church that can grow and flourish despite cruel persecution and that can still be well-read through it all.
John Wycliffe lived through the Black Death. When he watched 60% of his village, people who looked healthy but were the sickest they had ever been drop dead a day later, he turned to God’s Word. When Hudson Taylor arrived in Shanghai during the start of the Taiping Rebellion, the fourth bloodiest event in human history, and saw the city on fire he stayed and created one of the biggest missionary organizations in Christian history.
These men were more than just scholars. They were people with lives that shine the glory of God. Even with their flaws, we see the amazing glory of God using broken individuals to accomplish incredible purposes.
These men were pastors. They preached and loved their congregations and labored week after week on sermons. Sermons that we have put aside, but technology is bringing them back to life! Their biographies and the best research on who these men were is now readily available online. Internet libraries have placed all their old catalogues within reach again, including books which contain these old sermons. Speakers from around the world can record these sermons and send them out to be published alongside the biographies of these great people of God.
You can download all of these sermons and biographies with the simple click of a button. Technology, the very thing that buried these incredible preachers of the past, is now bringing them back. Revived Thoughts is a podcast that exists to bring history’s greatest sermons back to life! Each Thursday, we publish a new sermon by a different preacher, and we also give you their back-story. We have released over 60 sermons by men ranging all across history. Not just those that you have heard of, but probably some that you’re unfamiliar with. We hope these sermons will all encourage you in your walk with God.
Check us out by subscribing to us on any podcast player or by going to our website, “Revived Thoughts.” We also run a sister podcast Revived Devos that takes devotionals from 7 great men of God and deliver them to you in 2-3 minute bite sized listens every single day.