Justification by Grace

Part 6 in an 8 part series. View series intro and index.

The pillar of the Reformation was “justification by faith.” Justification is by faith alone, but if there was no grace—unmerited favor from God—there would be no opportunity for faith. God’s grace is the foundation for our faith.

Romans 4:16 makes this clear: “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring.” Justification is by faith, then, in order that the promise of eternal life may depend wholly on grace, not works.

If justification came to men by anything other than grace through faith, it would be on the basis of works. We must hold firm to this truth, otherwise this precious pillar of the Christian faith come tumbling down. Man would be exalted, not God. Man would get the glory, not God. Man would be most powerful, not God. As Wayne Grudem said in the introduction, if the gospel is to go forth in power for generations to come, we must firmly uphold this truth.

This is clear in other passages, too. Outside of the epistles, in Acts, Peter tells the Jerusalem church, “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as [the Gentiles] will” (15:11). In Romans 3:24, Paul says that people “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Later, in 4:4, he writes, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” In Titus 2:11, Paul writes, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” Later in 3:7, he says, “So that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

In Galatians 2:21, Paul contrasts works of the law with God’s grace. He says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” God’s grace cannot be canceled-out. Jesus died for our sins—this was grace. But if we could be righteous from our own good works, then Jesus’ death (i.e. God’s grace) would be null and void.

Perhaps the most popular passage on the distinctive roles of grace and faith is found in Ephesians 2:8-9. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this [i.e. faith] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Grace is the foundation for all that Christians do. It is even the foundation and reason for the faith that comes to us when we believe.

To be continued.


Solomon Dedicates the Temple

Part 3 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

After Joshua led God’s people across the Jordan, Israel entered into a time of national decline. We read about in the book of Judges. In fact, everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jg. 17:6; 21:25). It got so bad that in 1 Samuel, Israel wanted to be like the surrounding pagan nations and have a king.

God gives his people a king named Saul, and after that David. Solomon succeeds his father David, and reigns over Israel during a time of great prosperity. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom splits yet again into Judah (south) and Israel (north). Despite their unfaithfulness at times (a lot of times!), God keeps his promise to Israel—to love her, protect her, and deliver her.

After Solomon becomes king, it came time to build a temple. David had made a request to God to do this, but blood was on his hands so he was unfit for the job. In 1 Kings 6, Solomon and the Jews build the temple. In chapter 8, Solomon gives his benediction, or dedication, for God’s house.

During his dedication, Solomon prays that God would be faithful to stay with his people and that he would incline their hearts to him so they would obey his commandments. He finishes with this stirring missionary plea:

May he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, that all the people of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other (vv. 59b-60).

Did you catch that? A Jewish king who worships Yahweh just prayed that all the pagan nations surrounding his kingdom would fall in love with the God he worships.  What’s the big deal? I think it’s important for at least two reasons. First, this shows yet again that God’s intention for the world is not that his worshipers be of a single race or nation. God is the God of ultimate diversity and he desires all different kinds of people to worship him.

Second, it shows that the temple is not the point. Why do I say that? If people from all over the world worshiped the LORD God they obviously wouldn’t be able to all fit in one building, and most would not be able to travel to worship there either. More importantly, the temple is not the point because Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23).

Solomon realized that the point of the temple was not religious ceremonies and traditions. The point of the temple was to lead people to the God who was worshiped there—the God of spirit and truth. From Solomon’s prayer, we learn that God works for the good of his servants so that the world will know he is the only God! This global overhaul of religion that God is shaping did not happen, however, until Jesus came. After all, he said to the woman at the well, “The hour is coming, and is now here.”


Israel Crosses the Jordan

Part 2 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

Last time, we saw that the meta-narrative of the Bible is that God is making a people for himself from all the families of the earth.  There’s so many chapters to this story, but let’s move ahead a few books to Joshua 3-4. The background is that Moses has died and Joshua is now the leader of Israel. He has been a faithful constant in wicked Israel and now it is his opportunity to lead God’s people to the promise land. In Joshua 3, Israel is about to cross the Jordan River.

He gives instructions to the Israelites for what to do. He tells them that God is going to go before them in the ark of the covenant. As they follow, the waters will rise and where they walk will be dry ground. Joshua 3:17 says that “all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.”

During chapter 4, Israel set up two memorial stones for the Lord. Joshua said to the people, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do those stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, Israel passed over the Jordan on dry ground” (v. 21).

But did God simply do that to bring Israel into the Promise Land? Wasn’t there a greater purpose? Verse 23 begins with the word “For” to let us know why God did it. Here’s what it says:

For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.

Joshua tells the Israelites the same thing that God tells Abraham in Genesis 12. God delivered his people so his bigger purpose would take place. God wants Israel to know that it’s not about them. It’s about the God of ultimate diversity bringing all people everywhere into white-hot worship of the LORD God as the supreme treasure of the universe.

This story is going beyond Israel. Physical real estate will not be able to contain it. It won’t be limited to race or nation. It’s going to be an unshakable kingdom, and as we said last time, it will be for every kind of person in every kind of race in every of nation for all time.


All the Families of the Earth

Series Index

  1. All the Families of the Earth
  2. Israel Crosses the Jordan
  3. Solomon Dedicates the Temple
  4. Let the Coastlands Rejoice!
  5. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  6. Peter and Cornelius
  7. The Diverse Multitude

Part 1 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

Since eternity past, it has been God’s design to make a people for himself.  This people would not be bound by race, nationality, gender, age, socio-economic status, or any other physical limitation.  This people group would be a spiritual family that is united together under God as their Father.  This is taught all throughout Scripture, and over the next few weeks, we’ll take glances at God’s big story and how it unfolds from Genesis to Revelation.

To find the first chapter in this story, we have to go all the way back to Genesis 12 and the call of Abram.  God tells Abram to leave his country and go to a land that God will provide.  In verses 2-3, God says to Abram,

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Notice that God doesn’t just say that Jews will be blessed, or Arabs (who derive from Abram), or Abram’s own personal family.  God tells Abram that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” through him.  That means every kind of person in every kind of race in every nation for all time.

There is a problem in Genesis 12, however.  There are still racial and ethnic and national issues that are keeping all the families from being blessed.  Abram soon becomes “Abraham” (Gen. 17), and the Jewish line is started with the covenant of circumcision.  The issue is that not everyone is Jewish.  Not everyone follows or knows about Jehovah God.  Not everyone is part of this special promise.  This is a huge problem.

If the story ended here, all the families of the earth would be doomed, not blessed.  It would not be a happy ending.  But the story doesn’t end here.  God does provide a solution.  The solution is that something greater than Abraham and this first covenant is coming.


Baptism, Communion, and Ignorant Sin, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about the developing debate in the blogosphere regarding Mark Dever’s comments that a proponent of infant baptism is sinning (though unintentionally and with sincerity of heart) and is therefore not welcome at the communion table.   I will first address whether or not being a paedo-baptist is a sin, then I’ll talk about whether or not paedo-baptists are welcome at the Lord’s table at a credo-baptist’s church (such as Capitol Hill Baptist where Dever preaches).

In his original post, Dever wrote that practicing paedo-baptism was sinful.    I agree with Dever for the simple fact that if the Bible teaches something clearly then we must obey what it says.  I believe the Bible is clear on the issue of baptism and that paedo-baptists are unintentionally sinning for at least three reasons:

  1. The Greek word baptizo means “to submerge, dunk, immerse in water.”  The word alone does not allow for a baptism by sprinkling, which is the method of baptism performed by paedo-baptists.
  2. Jesus’ command in the Great Commission is to make disciples and baptize them.  The New Testament practice shows that people who believed and followed Jesus were baptized.  Paedo-baptists will say that passages like Acts 16:15 support infant baptism.  In that passage, Lydia was baptized “and her household as well.”  But this baptism followed an opening of “her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (v. 14). Babies cannot be disciples for obvious reasons.  A baby’s heart cannot be opened to the things of God.  A baby cannot confess and believe in Jesus.
  3. Infant baptism is not the New Testament equivalent of circumcision.  The paedo-baptist will say that baptism equates to circumcision and since circumcision was done on infants, baptism should be performed on infants as the sign of the covenant between God and his people.  I’m unconvinced for two reasons: 1) Girls weren’t circumcised, so why wouldn’t we just baptize baby boys? 2) More importantly there is a New Testament version of circumcision and it’s the circumcision of the heart that God performs.  Colossians 2:11 says, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (cf. Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:26; 4:9, 12).  So circumcision is something God does through Christ to our hearts, and an outward symbol of what God has done in the heart is that we are “buried with him in baptism.”  This again showing that baptism is a burial — that we go “under the water” — which symbolizes our death and burial with Christ.

The other part of Dever’s post that I’d like to address is the issue of whether or not a paedo-baptist could partake of communion at, say, a local Baptist church.  Dever wrote, “I simply lack the authority to admit someone to the Lord’s Table who has not been baptized.”  I disagree with him on this for three reasons:

  1. I find no evidence in Scripture for keeping someone from the Lord’s Table for an unintentional sin.  If someone is knowingly and happily sinning without seeking to kill the sin, we will enact church discipline on them, and if they are unrepentant we must remove them from fellowship.  The Lord’s Table, however, is for all of us wretched sinners who battle the inconsistencies and errors in our lives while at the same time confessing the death of Jesus as the payment for our sins (1 Cor. 11:26).
  2. I find no connection in the Scripture between being baptized and partaking of communion.  As far as we know, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, they had not even been baptized with water!  There is no Scripture that says they were.  Of course we know Jesus was, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that his disciples were.  Before I was baptized (at age 13), I had taken communion at church because I had received Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Was I living in sin by partaking without yet being baptized?  You’d be hard pressed to find biblical support for that view.
  3. There are other sins that are committed because of a willful disbelief or an ignorance of biblical doctrine that would not keep someone from the Lord’s Table.  Let’s take disbelieving in the doctrine of election.  I know many sincere Christians who love Jesus, are saved, and yet are firmly committed to Arminian theology, which I find unbiblical.  This person is wrong in certain parts of their theology, yet is sincere in their love for God, their doctrine, and their pursuit of holiness.  Would it be a right thing to say to this person, “Your theology is off.  You are not welcome at the Lord’s table”?  Of course not!  That would be legalistic, proud, and unloving.  Furthermore, there are others who do not hold to the doctrine of election because of a preconceived notion of Reformed churches/preachers.  They are willfully not believing in the doctrine of election whether or not they have studied the Scriptures for truth.  Our goal should be to love these people and shepherd them and teach the truth, while encouraging them to examine themselves while partaking of the Lord’s table.

Despite this whole tiff, Dever admits that he is far from perfect in his own theology.  He said that both paedo- and credo-baptists have errors and inconsistencies in their theology.  That’s a good word, Mark, and for that reason alone, if our confession is Jesus by grace through faith alone, then true believers of any denomination, practice, and theology should be welcome.

And now I say to all my paedo friends: I disagree with your stance.  I think you are unintentionally sinning by not being baptized as a believer.  You are free to believe I am sinning as well (it would be odd if you didn’t!), though of course I’d disagree.  However, when I take communion before God and with his people, you are more than welcome to join me and proclaim Jesus and his death as the propitiation for our sins.  And when we do, may we examine ourselves, and all our theological inconsistencies, so we do not drink judgment on our heads (1 Cor. 11:29)