October 31st: More than Just Halloween

Most of us associate October 31st with Halloween. But did you know that October 31st is also a very significant day in the life of the Protestant church? It is Reformation Day. It was on this day in 1517 that Martin Luther, a catholic priest nailed his Ninety-Five Theses (stated objections) to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This began what is known in history as the Protestant Reformation. For Luther personally, it began a long period of conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. Though men before him had expressed concerns with the church, the reformation movement crystallized with Luther. The word reformation means “to form again or to revive”. In Luther’s eyes what needed reviving was the supremacy of the gospel; a right theology in which to worship, a theology centered on God. Reformation theology is built on what are called the five Solas, a Latin word meaning “alone”. They are as follows: 

  • Sola Scriptura – the church looks to the Bible alone as its ultimate authority (2 Timothy 3:16) 
  • Sola Gratia – salvation is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) 
  • Sola Fide – salvation comes through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 1:17) 
  • Solus Christus – salvation comes in Christ alone (1 Timothy 2:5) 
  • Soli Deo Gloria – life is to be lived to the glory of God alone (1 Corinthians 10:31) 

            We would do well to see as clearly as Luther saw in his time because the supremacy of the true gospel needs reviving today as well. Appreciating and embracing the doctrines of the Reformation helps us to that end because they force our return to a right theology, a theology centered exactly where it belongs; at the cross of Christ. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36).

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Living the Gospel

Most of the time when we hear it said we are to live the gospel, it’s said as encouragement to live each day for God’s glory. God’s glory should be our goal and obedience to His will matters, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:14-15). The apostle Paul asks rhetorically in Romans 6:1, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” He then answers, saying “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2). So yes, living the gospel means that we are to walk in a manner that pleases God.

            But living the gospel also entails our accepting the full forgiveness we have in Christ. Though one day we will be, we are far from perfect and sin stills dwells within us. If it were not so, would Paul have written to those in the church at Rome to not let sin reign in their mortal bodies? (Romans 6:12). Would he have told the Galatians to walk by the Spirit so not to gratify the desires of the flesh? (Galatians 5:16).

            It is easy to let the moments when we are less than who God calls us to be keep us from pursuing who we are in Him and fulfilling the purpose for which He created us. We must always remember; God has saved us from the just judgment we deserve apart from Him. Our sin was cured at the cross. Christ has become our righteousness. The simple and glorious truth is that when Jesus said, “It is finished”, He meant it.     

The Christian Response to Government

             “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21). This was Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees question about whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. The question wasn’t asked out of genuine curiosity, but only one of the Pharisees many attempts to trap Jesus. Depending on His answer, Jesus would either appear to be a traitor to Caesar or have His ministry discredited. His answer in Matthew 22:21 startled those who questioned Him. Verse 22 says when they heard Jesus’ answer, “they marveled” and went away. Former pastor and commentary writer, Kent Hughes says that with His answer in Matthew 22:21, “the Lord established the validity of human government, while at the same time set its limits”. Hughes goes on to call Romans 13:1-7 the Apostle Paul’s exposition of Jesus’ answer to this question. It’s easy depending upon party affiliation or political philosophy to only accept governmental authority when its leaders meet our approval. It’s also easy to take this passage and use it inappropriately in an attempt to make it mean what it doesn’t. So, what should the Christian response toward civil government be? How are we to conduct ourselves in light of how our government conducts itself?

            When considering Paul’s teaching in these verses, it’s important to remember that at the time he was writing, Christians in Rome were living under the authority of a less than friendly government. It is also important to remember the clarity and direct nature with which Paul wrote, not only to the Christians responsibility toward civil government, but also to God’s intended purpose for government. Christians are to honor and respect governmental authority. We are to be good citizens. God’s purpose for government is to restrain evil, promote good and to punish disobedience. I think it’s safe to say that in both instances we have failed. Christians have often used governments’ immoral and irresponsible acts as an excuse for our own less than Christian response. At least I know I have. And our government has clearly run away from its God-ordained responsibilities as well. Not only are our tax dollars spent irresponsibly, but more and more our government supports policies that are contrary to God’s standards.  

            This passage of Romans doesn’t answer all of our questions, but Scripture does tell us how we are to order our priorities as it relates to obedience. We must obey God before all else. When the apostles were told by the governing authorities not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, they responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Paul also emphasized in this passage of Romans that Christians obey “for the sake of conscience” (Romans 13:5). Our conscience involves our sense of what is right and wrong, but even more our awareness that we are to do what is right. That’s why the apostles didn’t obey when they were told not to teach in the name of Christ, their consciences told them not to. God always has the final say as to what is right.  

            I mentioned above that in his commentary, Kent Hughes indicated that Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22:21 not only validated the role of human government, but also set its limits. His point was that although there is a proper role for government and all are to respect its authority, government functions only under the sovereign hand of God. “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings…” (Daniel 2:20-21). We can take great comfort in understanding that every king, every ruler or dictator, every president and every member of congress, no matter their political philosophy or party is there only because God ordained they be. And they will be there only until He determines otherwise.

            In short, Christians should be our nation’s best citizens. Our respect, honor and submission to governmental authority should be above reproach, stemming from the recognition that government is a divine institution. However, this passage doesn’t require Christians to be passive toward sinful and immoral actions by our government. And it doesn’t teach blind loyalty to government. Our hope should always be that we are able to obey both God and men. However, when man’s law or command conflicts with God’s, we must choose God’s. As Scriptures makes this point, it also teaches the appropriate manner and tone in which we disobey.

            Lastly, like all institutions, sinners occupy the seats of our government and our leaders must remain objects of our prayers. These prayers should not be conditional of who they are or what political party they belong to. Jesus changes everything for those touched by His grace. We must believe in the power of prayer.           

            As Hughes concluded his commentary on this passage of Romans, he said it is only through Jesus Christ that we can live out our duty to obey as described in God’s Word, but that it is also only through Christ that we are able to fulfill our duty to disobey when it is the will of God for us to do so. Remember, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)

            Below is a prayer offered by an early church Father, Clement of Alexandria. Our nation’s leaders need these prayers today.   

“Thou, Master, hast given the power of sovereignty to them through thy excellent and inexpressible might, that we may know the glory and honour given to them by thee, and be subject to them, in nothing resisting thy will. And to them, Lord, grant health, peace, concord, firmness that they may administer the government which thou hast given them without offence. For thou, heavenly Master, king of eternity, hast given to the sons of men glory and honour and power over the things which are on the earth; do thou, O Lord, direct their counsels according to which is “good and pleasing” before thee, that they may administer with piety in peace and gentleness the power given to them by thee, and may find mercy in thine eyes.”

Let the Children Come

“But Jesus called them to Him, saying ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” (Luke 18:16) 

There are moments that cannot be described any other way than as just precious. Once a year at Hunter Street, the first graders are presented with Bibles during the worship service. As they walk across the stage to receive their Bibles from our pastor, it’s always interesting to watch the manner in which they go to get them. Some go briskly, some very seriously while others go meekly. On this particular year, after the presentation of their Bibles, the children were led out as the congregation sang Jesus Loves Me. This song is probably familiar to most of us. It may even be the first song you ever learned in church as a child. If you’re not familiar with it, the chorus goes, “Yes Jesus love me. Yes Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so”. What great words to teach life altering lessons, not only to children, but to each of us.   

            “But Jesus called them to Him, saying ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” Jesus’ attitude towards children was unique and quite different from many religious leaders of His day. In many ancient cultures, until children were of an age to actively contribute to the family, they were seen as somewhat of a burden. The disciples seemed to even believe this as they rebuked those who tried to bring their children to Jesus for blessing. Jesus in turn rebuked them for keeping the children away. He saw children as a model of humility and trust, taking this occasion to make a point, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:17). 

              Though Scripture teaches that all of us are brought forth in iniquity (Psalm 51:5) there was a certain innocence to this moment of when these children received their Bibles. They may not know all the theology that will serve them as they age, but they don’t possess all the clutter either. That is not to say that theology is unimportant. Correct theology is critical. It is only to say that children’s hearts and minds are wide open to God’s shaping. Is yours? God will reveal great things to those who approach Him like a child. A humble and teachable spirit is fertile ground for the Holy Spirit’s work. Let us approach Jesus like a child. The words of the song, Jesus Loves Me may be simple, but they are also powerful and true. No one loves you more than Jesus. And just as with the children, it’s the Bible that tells you so.         

 Prayer

Father God, thank you for your Word and its expression of love for us. Thank you for the cross that saved us from our sins. Thank you for the empty tomb by which we are justified. As children grow, let them hold fast to what the Bible teaches. It will not be easy. Help all of us to hold fast to your Word. Keep us humble before you, trusting in all that you are.  

Knowing the True God

“No religion is stronger than its god, and in the case of Christianity, no Christians have ever been stronger than their knowledge of the true God and their desire to obey and glorify Him.”

                                                                                                 – James Montgomery Boice –

             What keeps us from having a greater passion to know the true God? Are we just too busy to spend time getting to know Him? Could it be because we’ve made up a god of our own choosing; one that conforms His will to ours instead of the other way around? James Montgomery Boice’ quote above is found in the introduction to his commentary on Romans 9-11. In many ways, these are three of the most difficult chapters in Scripture. They are difficult because they make it abundantly clear that God, not man, is the center of all things. He is above us in every way. Paul concludes Romans 9-11 by expressing the depth of God’s wisdom and the impossibility of our complete understanding of His ways (Romans 11:33-36). We can never separate our desire to obey and glorify God from our knowledge of Him. That knowledge comes as we submit to His authority and allow free reign of the Holy Spirit in our lives. All of it is by God’s grace. Let us pray that our hearts would be open to His work, that we would have a greater desire to seek to know the only true God. Let us see His greatness, obey His will and glorify Him more and more each day.