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Tag Archives: Salvation by grace through faith

Salvation in the Old Testament: by Works or by Grace?

It is often thought that the Old Testament presents salvation by works, while the New Testament presents the opposite, salvation by grace.

Not true, however – God’s way of salvation is always by grace and it has always been so. Instead, the New Testament only shows how God makes His grace available to all – through Christ’s work on the cross.

The best place to get a good understanding of how salvation came to Old Testament believers is Romans chapter 4. It happened that the sect of the Judaizers were saying that salvation came through faith in Christ and obeying the law, i.e., the command to be circumcised. But Paul shows that Abraham was saved when he believed God, and that happened before he was circumcised. He was not saved, in other words, because he was circumcised, or because he kept the law…

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”…We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  Romans 4:3, 9-13 (ESV)

This wonderful truth comes into focus in an interesting place in Revelation 15, where the saints sing a particular song…

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Revelation 15:3 (ESV)

The saints sing a song of deliverance, and it happens to be the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb.

And this points to another place we find salvation by grace in the Old Testament – God’s deliverance of His people from bondage in Egypt does not happen because they are worthy or because they have served Him faithfully. Apparently, they hadn’t. No, it happens because He is a God of grace. It is only after they are delivered that He gives them His law. In the same way, we believe in Christ and are saved, and then God tells us how to live.

So the song of Moses is the same as the song of the Lamb – it is a high note of praise from a thankful people toward their gracious and good God.

 

For Wednesday, December 23: Revelation 16

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Thanking God for the CERTAINTY of Eternal Life

Some ideas blow your world apart, and 33 years ago, I heard such an idea when I was at West Point on bivouac. Bob Maruna, an upper class cadet, stopped by my tent and told me I could know whether I was going to heaven. I had never heard such a thing before, but it is clearly biblical:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13 (ESV)

John is wrapping up his letter, and the summation of all of it is in this verse. It is possible to know if heaven is yours. And if this is true, it stands to reason that there is only one way that is possible – eternal life must be a matter of faith, not works. If it were about being good enough, how could I ever know if I had met the standard, but if “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…” (1 John 1:7 ESV) then certainty was possible.

That was the idea that revolutionized my life at West Point in 1982: I needed not fear a Day of Judgment where my good works would be weighed against my bad. John said in verse 13 that certainty of eternal life came through believing in the Savior Jesus. In the two verses previous, it’s all about whether we have Christ:

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12 (ESV)

John fills his letter with other ways we can know, clearly showing like James that works will follow our faith (James 2:22). As Martin Luther said, “Salvation is by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” So the true Christian will seek to obey the Lord and will love his brothers, but the reason all this happens is because Jesus has “cleanse(d) us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So, today is Thanksgiving. Are you giving thanks…because you know? If you don’t know for certain, you can. As Paul said to the Philippian jailer:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” Acts 16:31 (ESV)

For Friday, November 27th: 2 John 1

 

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What Does It Mean To Be “God’s Chosen People”?

For 8 years I led a Bible study for inmates at “the Walls”, the castle-like maximum security prison in the middle of Waupun. During this time, one of the most interesting characters I met was neither a guard nor an inmate but another prison “minister” like me, an orthodox Rabbi not surprisingly named Moshe (Moses). Moshe was a delightful and somewhat quirky (who knows what he would say about me?) man, and the two of us developed a blessed, if not friendship, then “acquaintance-ship”. Through the years when we passed through the metal detector and were given a “ride” (the Walls’ term for being escorted in or out of the facility), I would occasionally pump him for information about his faith, and he was a fascinating tutor.

Now, along the way in life I have known or heard of people who once considered themselves Christians but who followed Moshe and many others in converting to Judaism. When I hear of such a conversion, I often want to ask the person kindly, “Have you thoughtfully considered what you’re doing?” I don’t know if they have, but it seems to me that these folks imagine that everything must be honky-dory, even with Jesus Himself; because, after all, the Jews are “God’s chosen people” and to follow Judaism is simply to get back to the foundations of the “Christian” faith, right?

Sorry…I don’t think so, at least not according to the teaching of the New Testament.

Here’s the problem: to adhere to the tenets of Judaism, you must deny that Jesus is the Messiah. Jewish people, after all, are still looking for the One who is to come. However you shake it, in their eyes, Jesus wasn’t “it”. So, unless you are a “Messianic Jew” (code for Christians with Jewish ancestry who often observe Jewish festivals and such), you reject Jesus. John makes it clear why this is a problem…

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22-23 (ESV)

Do you see the problem? Deny that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) and you show that you do not know the Father. Deny that Jesus is the Christ and you lose any hope of God’s provision for propitiation (1 John 2:2). The Jews are “God’s chosen people,” but Paul makes it clear that being a real Jew is a matter of sharing the faith of Abraham, who “believed God, and it was counted to Him as righteousness” (Romans 4:22; Genesis 15:6).

All this is why Paul was so heartbroken over the state of his ancestral people. Speaking of his Jewish brothers, he said…

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Romans 10:1-3 (ESV)

Moshe was a great guy, and definitely sincere, but notice that it’s not about that – some people raise sincerity to an all-important level, and in fact, Paul says that many Jews have a sincere “zeal for God.” But take note…you can be sincerely wrong.

Paul describes the heart of the Jewish problem in Romans 10:3 (above), and in so doing he describes not only Jews but also followers of all other religions, and even many who today would consider themselves Christians – Paul says they are “trying to establish their own righteousness”. But the Old Testament prophet Isaiah made it clear that any righteousness we can offer is only “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Jesus Himself says that not all who call themselves His followers will be with Him in eternity; for on Judgment Day, He warns that He will reject the many who come pleading their case with what they have “done” in His name (Matthew 7:22, 23).

So, if your current plan as you approach That Day is to point to what you’ve accomplished for God, hurry and throw the plan out the window. For the teaching of the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) is clear: the only hope of the Jews and everyone else for salvation is…the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah who has already come…2,000 years ago.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12 (ESV)

 

For Tuesday, November 24th: 1 John 3

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Most Counterintuitive Truth in the Bible

I had a delightful lunch today with dear friends from our church who have become significantly involved with an underprivileged family in the area. Just listening to them describe their work in the home of this family was absolutely joyous. It made me think of the starfish story:

One day a man was walking along a beach on which literally thousands of starfish had been “marooned” by the surf. He spied a little boy who was walking along and picking up the starfish one by one and tossing them back in the sea. Realizing the futility of the boy’s work, he came up to the lad and said, “Young man, it’s a nice idea what you are doing in saving a few starfish, but you realize – I hope – that ultimately it won’t matter.” The boy was listening, but his attention was not diverted from his task, and as he picked up another starfish and flung it into the sea, he said, “It matters to that one.”

With that in mind, some years ago I decided to read Paul’s letter to Titus every day for a month. This can be a great way to meditate on a passage of Scripture, and it works especially well with shorter books and letters. Anyway, I remember one truth in particular that emerged from this extended meditation: Paul wanted Titus to help the people of Crete do “good works”. The phrase shows up a total of 6 times in what is a relatively short letter – more times than any other letter that Paul wrote

Unbelievers in Crete are unfit for any “good work” (1:16). Titus is to be a model of “good works” (2:7). Jesus saved us so that we would be zealous for “good works” (2:14). And so on.

But how do you move people to live this way? How do you encourage people to do good works? How can parents move their children to live in this way? And how can a pastor (like me or Titus) lead and preach so that the lifestyle of the couple I had lunch with becomes commonplace across the congregation?

Well, Paul gives Titus the answer to “producing” good works in chapter 3:

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. Titus 3:8 (ESV)

Paul tells Titus to insist on something – it is the saying that he has just referred to in the previous verses. Take a look – this is what Paul wants Titus to “insist” on so that the people in the church on Crete will devote themselves to good works:

He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:5-7 (ESV)

So, do you see? In order to move people to devote themselves to good works, you must insist on the truth that they are not saved…by good works…but by God’s grace in Christ. It is perhaps the most counterintuitive idea in the Bible, but it is the most wonderful and freeing idea also.

We call it the gospel.

For tomorrow, Tuesday, September 15th: Philemon

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Pray This Prayer…

2 Thessalonians chapter 1 has a prayer that I have been praying off and on for over 2 decades:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 (ESV)

It’s a prayer for four big things:

  1. Though we are saved by His grace and that salvation is guaranteed by His Spirit, the idea that we will live lives that honor Him…is not guaranteed. So Paul prays that we would live lives worthy of our salvation. In other words, either way, we are children of our heavenly Father, but we want to live as if we are His offspring; we don’t want to dishonor Him. We are ambassadors for Him – we pray to represent Him well. MAY I LIVE WORTHY OF YOU, LORD!
  2. All the things you are hoping to do for Him – whatever you are dreaming that He would use you for – pray that He by His incredible power would bring these things about. FULFILL MY DESIRE TO DO SOMETHING GREAT FOR YOU, FATHER!
  3. And all this is for His glory. In other words, the reason we pray that He would fulfill our desires is so that Jesus would be glorified. GLORIFY JESUS THROUGH ME!
  4. And the end result is wonderful too – that we would be glorified in Him – and all this is by His grace. AND I LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY IN WHICH I TOO WILL BE GLORIFIED…IN HIM, BECAUSE OF YOUR GRACE!
It’s one of many prayers of the Apostle Paul, and also one of the best ways to learn to pray for what really matters in life.

For Monday, August 24th: 2 Thessalonians 2

 

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Trade You Must Make To Get Into Heaven

Priest is a blessing to the faithful

(A loose and modern-day paraphrase of Philippians 3:4 – 9)

“Years ago, I had my confidence in all the wrong places. I assumed that I could know God and go to heaven on the basis of what I had done. For instance, I was extremely religious. It came naturally. My grandfather was a deacon and my father was too. My parents baptized me right after I was born and took me to church every Sunday. In fact, we never ever missed. Ever.

“Yes, even as a young person, I was very ‘into’ God. I prayed every day…I read the Bible…I almost never sinned.  Almost.

“But then I came to understand the impossibly high standard to get into heaven: PERFECTION – God required that there be no sin whatsoever in His presence. And I knew I had a momentous choice to make. I could make plans to present my personal record of ‘righteousness’ to God on Judgment Day, which, though it was pretty good, still had a few holes.

“Or I could make a trade. I could give up all my own so called ‘holiness’, my prayers and church attendance and all around nice-guy behavior, counting it all worthless so that I could grasp the righteousness of Another.

“So…I did it! I gave it all up. Every last good deed. I began to consider all my so-called goodness as totally useless, so that by faith I might count Christ’s perfect record as my own. And glory to God, He was as good as His word…and made me fit for heaven. Hallelujah!”

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. Philippians 3:8-9 (ESV)

For tomorrow: Friday, August 7th: Philippians 4

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Just Give Me Jesus

The Bible clearly teaches that salvation comes only by grace through faith, but sometimes we come upon certain sections of the New Testament that seem quite the opposite…downright works-oriented. Take for instance, Luke 14:25 – 33. Here, as a requirement for being his disciple, the Lord Jesus requires hatred toward father and mother, children and brothers. And he ends this challenging section by saying,

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:32-33 (ESV)

So, first you have to hate your daddy and then you have to give up your stuff. Sounds like works to me.

Or not.

Actually, what’s happening here is a contrast. Jesus is saying that being his follower will mean placing a huge value on Him. Of course, your mom and dad and kids will remain important to you. Other places in Scripture help us to interpret the “hate” passage here. (Always allow Scripture to interpret Scripture.)

But what it means to be a Christian is that your precious family and certainly your stuff will, in contrast to Him, not be all-encompassing, not at least the way He is. I love my family and I would be devastated to lose my wife or one of my children, and yet, I would survive by the grace of God. However, losing Christ would not only be devastating to me – it would be disintegrating. Jesus is my very identity in a way that nothing else is, and in case you’re thinking that this is a professional thing as regards my work in ministry, it’s not. This would have been true of me long before I was a pastor. More than that, I am not trying to boast spiritually here of my “deep relationship” with Christ. According to this passage in Luke, I’m not remarkable in this. Jesus’ very point is that all true Christians will be just like this, because being a Christian means your life revolves completely around Him. Everything else is peripheral.

Now, it’s funny – true Christians tend to forget this, because their lives do actually center around Christ, and they get used to it. Everywhere they turn they see Jesus and they don’t feel it’s strange anymore. We are like the fish that never thinks about the water because everything in its existence is water-oriented. In the same way, we don’t think about how Jesus is everything to us, but if you are a Christian, make no mistake about it…he is.

John Piper calls people to faith in Christ by calling them to “make Christ your treasure.” That’s good…because everyone who is a Christian does just that. Christ becomes a priceless treasure.

By the way, don’t be confused. I’m not claiming sinlessness here, and Jesus doesn’t even mention that in this passage. True Christians struggle with sin – I sure do – but everywhere I struggle, like every other place in my life…joyfully, I see Jesus.

Why is Jesus so all-encompassing for us? That’s easy – because of what He’s done for us. “The love of Christ (displayed on the Cross) controls me,” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:14. It’s not works righteousness after all – the true believer understands the love and grace and forgiveness of Christ and is forever transformed.

Now, here’s the question you need to ask going forward – do the above words seem strange and unfamiliar to you? Has Jesus been a compartment of your life, instead of…your life? If so, watch this video below, and ask Him to do a work in your heart to allow you to see what Ruth Bell Graham saw – the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ. And allow the words of this song to call you to the most wonderful life you could ever imagine – the life that has Christ as Treasure.

 

 

For Tuesday, July 21st: Luke 15

 

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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