Archive for the ‘Heresy’ Category

Shout With The Voice Of Triumph, Part 2
Shout to the Lord

             “Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel” (Isaiah 44:23).

The Shout That Leaves No Doubt

When God says He is going to do something, you can be confident that it is going to happen!  With this confidence, we are able to shout the shout that leaves no doubt.
It doesn’t matter what obstacles or problems you are facing.  You can shout with no doubt about what God is going to do for you as His child.

    In Psalm 27:5,6, we read:
“For in the day of trouble, He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.  And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me; and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD” (NASB).

    You may be saying, “Preacher, I don’t feel like shouting.”  Shout anyway.  We are a kingdom of priests.  We are priests unto God, and we are called to offer sacrifice to Him.

    When you go into a church and hear all the people shouting, that’s a sacrifice.  This is one way in which the world outside of the church can know that something is taking place on the inside.  We have something to shout about!

    David said in Psalm 5:11:
“But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.”

    Even though you are saved and washed in the blood, you may be going through a trial or a test in your life.  Don’t let the devil steal your joy.  You may not be able to rub two nickels together, but the devil can’t touch what you’ve got under that fifth rib.  You are a child of God.

    You know what my Bible says in Psalm 34:19?
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.”
Many are the afflictions of the righteous.  Not the backslider, but the righteous.  And the phrase that makes me want to shout is, “but the Lord delivers him out of them all!”

    It doesn’t matter what you may be going through.  God has called you to be more than a conqueror.  He has promised to bring you out of every bad situation that you may find yourself in.  That should make you want to shout unto God with the voice of triumph!

If God Said It, It’s Already Done

In Ezra 3:11, we read:
“And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel.  And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.”

    The people had just returned from years of captivity in Babylon.  All hope seemed to be gone.  The great temple of the Lord that Solomon had built had been destroyed.  The great empire had been reduced to a minuscule remnant.

    But here they were, back in the land that God had given to their fathers.  The foundation for the new temple had just been laid.  God was beginning the restoration that He had promised through His prophets.  Many years had gone by, but God was right on time.

    They began shouting the shout that leaves no doubt.  They still had a long way to go.  The temple would not be completed for several more years, and they were still a small remnant of the once vast empire, but God promised them in Haggai 2:9:
“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give thee peace, saith the Lord of hosts.”

    Confidence filled their lungs as they witnessed the Word of God being confirmed before their eyes.  God said He was going to do it, and He did!

Three On-Fire Jews

I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego recorded in the third chapter of the book of Daniel.  They refused to bow down and engage in idol worship.  While many people are bowing down to false gods today, God is looking for somebody who will not bow their knee to Baal, but who will serve Him in the beauty of holiness.

    Old King Nebuchadnezzer got word that these three young men weren’t bowing down to worship the image that he had built.  Somebody got jealous.

    Even though they were in captivity, they had found favor with Nebuchadnezzer, who elevated them to important positions in his government.  When God starts blessing you, some of your best friends are going to get jealous.

    Nebuchadnezzer was overcome with rage, and he said to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “You’ll either bow down to my god, or you’ll burn.”

    Those boys said, “You’ve got it all wrong, King.  If we bow down to your god, we will burn.  We’ll burn in Hell!  If we have to choose the furnace, we choose yours.  Either God will deliver us from your fiery furnace, or He won’t.”

    This is what you call covering all the bases.  Either God’s going to do it, or He’s not going to do it!
As soon as they spoke those words, God said to Jesus, “Get down there and get in that fire.”
Nebuchadnezzer’s rage intensified, and he said to his servants, “Heat the furnace seven times hotter.  Tie them up and throw them in.”

The men who threw them into the flames could not stand the intensity of the heat, but not a hair on those boys’ heads was singed.  They still had their clothing on.  The only things missing were the bonds that tied them.

    Nebuchadnezzer looked into the furnace and counted four people.  He went back to his men and said, “How many did we throw into that fire?”

    They told him, “Three.”

    He said, “I see four, and the fourth one is like unto the Son of God.”
Now think about this: three people were thrown into the fire, and three came out.  What happened to the fourth one?

    I’m here to tell you, He’s still in the fire.  Why?  Because when you get into the fire, He’s already there to see that you get deliverance.  No matter what your predicament may be, God has a way out for you.

You Don’t Have Any Trouble

If you have ever heard my radio program, you’ve heard me say, “You don’t have any trouble.  All you need is faith in God.”  Now, that’s a borrowed statement; that’s not original with me.

    I was preaching in Buffalo, New York.  There was a gentleman who came into that meeting and said, “Brother Schambach, I’d like to invite you and your entire staff home for dinner.”

    I said, “We’ll be there.”

    At that time, I didn’t like to eat before preaching, so it was very late after the service was over before we were able to leave for his house.  He didn’t tell me earlier that he lived in Niagara Falls, so we had to travel quite a distance.

    But it was well worth the time.  The man’s wife had prepared a feast: a banquet that made Belshazzar’s feast look like a Girl Scout picnic.  She had prime rib of beef, turkey, T-bone steaks, and fried chicken.  You never invite a preacher out unless you have fried chicken.  And when people invite us out to eat, I fast all day so I can tuck it away.
I filled up my plate to gospel measure.  That’s the running over variety.  I was so hungry that when the gentleman asked me to pray, I prayed quickly, “Lord, bless this food.  Amen,” and I started digging into that food.

    I was helping myself and enjoying the food when all of a sudden this man had one of those talking spells.  But what he was saying was better than the food, and I pushed my plate back because I wanted to hear every word.

    He said, “Brother Schambach, I thought I had it made with a great job with the U.S. Government, money in the bank, and my home almost paid for.  I had never been sick a day in my life, when suddenly, I was hit with spinal meningitis that paralyzed me from head to toe.”

    Now, while he was speaking, I was looking at a man who was completely well in his body, and I knew that something miraculous had happened to him.  I listened intently as he continued on.

    He said, “I was hospitalized for three months, and then, to make matters worse, I was stricken with very painful rheumatoid arthritis which crept into all of my joints.
“I lapsed into a coma, my bank account was reduced to zero, and I had to sell my home to get equity out of it to pay the additional doctor and hospital bills.

    “They called my priest in to give me the last rites of the church, extreme unction; and even though I was in a coma, I knew my priest was giving me the last rites.”

    I’ve asked several doctors about this, and they’ve told me that, even though a person is in a coma, they can still hear you, but you cannot communicate with them.

    He went on, “I wanted to let the priest know that I understood that he was giving me the last rites of the church, but I couldn’t even flicker an eyelash.  He finished with the rite of extreme unction, and he walked out the door.

    “As soon as he closed the door, another priest came walking in right through the wall.  The other priest was dressed in all black, but this priest was dressed in all white.

    This priest leaned down over my bed, put his mouth to my ear, called my by my name, and he said to me, ‘YOU DON’T HAVE ANY TROUBLE.  ALL YOU NEED IS FAITH IN GOD.’
“My first reaction was, ‘what kind of crazy priest is this?  I don’t have any trouble?  Spinal meningitis, rheumatoid arthritis, lost my home, lost my job, and the priest just walked out of the room giving me the last rites.  If this isn’t trouble, what is?’

    “The next words that came out of this priest’s mouth were, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, and I am going to heal you right now.’

    “He spoke to me further saying, ‘When I turn around and walk out of here, I want you to get out of this bed.  Go wash yourself and shave.  Walk out of this hospital.  Go to the first bookstore you can find and buy a Bible.  Begin reading the Gospel of St. John, and you will find the way to eternal life.’”

    I was so blessed listening to him relate this story that I couldn’t continue eating.
He looked at me and said, “Brother Schambach, He walked right through the wall.  Why didn’t he use the door?”

    I said, “He is the door, Mister.”  Jesus said in John 10:9:
“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

    He’ll make an entrance right into your life.  He’ll come into your automobile.  He’ll come to you on the job.  He comes with the answer to your problems.

    Jesus is still alive.  He is still performing miracles.  All He’s looking for is obedience and a little bit of faith.  Trust Him, and you will shout the shout that leaves no doubt!

The Shout That Brought Us Out

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation..” (Zechariah 9:9).

    We’ve seen the shout without the clout;  the shout that brings the rout; the shout that leaves no doubt, and now we come to the shout that brought us out.

    Brought us out of what?  Praise God, Jesus brought us out of sin.  We’ve got something to shout about!
In John 19:28-30, we read:
“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.  Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar, and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon a hyssop, and put it to his mouth.  When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.”

    Jesus was on Calvary, stretched out between heaven and earth with nails in His hands and in his feet.  He was given vinegar to drink, in fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 69:21.

    After this final indignity, Jesus shouted with a voice of triumph, “It is finished!”  What was finished?  Well, several things, actually.

    The most difficult part of the work of mankind’s redemption and salvation had been completed, satisfying the justice of God and destroying the power of Satan forever.

    Also, the ceremonial law had run its course, and man was no longer bound by a long list of ordinances.  From this time forward, God would write His laws upon the hearts of the redeemed.  All of the shadows have been eliminated by the illuminating revelation of Christ.  It’s as if God were saying, “Put out the fires and stop killing the animals!  It is no longer necessary!”

    The Old Testament prophecies and types pointing at the Messiah and His suffering were also finished.  Jesus knew that drinking the vinegar was the last prophecy that had to be fulfilled.  He wasn’t complaining when He said, “I thirst.”  He was crossing the last “T” of prophecy that would usher in a new era in God’s relationship with mankind.

    Finally, the sufferings that Jesus had to endure, in soul and body, were now finished.  All of the pain, agony, and indignities that He had gone through during His ministry had come to an end.  He had accomplished what He had come to do, and now He was going to return to His Father.

    Having fulfilled His destiny as the Lamb slain for the sins of the world, now He would take His place on the right side of the throne of God and intercede for mankind as the High Priest.

The Last High Priest

Let’s examine this title a little more.  Do you remember when John baptized Jesus?  John baptized unto repentance, but Jesus had nothing to repent of.  Then why did He get baptized in water?  You need to go back and read the first chapter of Luke.  The father of John the Baptist was Zacharias, who was one of the priests who ministered in the temple.  The priesthood was handed down through blood relationship, and he was from the family of Abiah, a son of Eleazar, who was the eldest son of Aaron.

    The mother of John, Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron.  The blood that flowed through their veins was priestly blood, and Jesus recognized John as the true high priest.
You may be thinking, “But I thought Caiaphas was the high priest.”  Caiaphas was a political appointee chosen around A.D. 18 by the Roman procurator, Valerius Gratus.  The government of Rome chose him because of his ability to compel the people to abide by the laws the Romans had imposed on them.

    But Jesus knew that John was performing the true duties of the high priest, admonishing the people to turn from their sins and baptizing them unto repentance. He knew that the right of baptism signified change and the passing from the old to the new.  He had no need to be baptized unto repentance, but He was showing that the role of the high priest had been passed to Him.  Although He would not assume that role until after His death and resurrection, this baptism by John was the ceremonial transfer of priestly succession.
John objected to baptizing Jesus because he knew that He was the spotless Lamb of God.  Indeed, he told Jesus that he needed to be baptized by Him.

    Jesus, knowing that He was fulfilling prophecy, told John, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

    So John complied and baptized Jesus.  And when He came up out of the water, the heavens burst open, and God the Father spoke and said, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”

    Do you remember what John said about Jesus when He was coming down the road?  “Behold, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

    Nobody had ever said that before.  Lambs were slain for Israelis only, but here is John the Baptist, recognized by Jesus as the real high priest, saying, “Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.”

    Not a lamb for a man; not a lamb for a house; not a lamb for a nation, but a lamb for the world.  It’s important to realize that Jesus is not an American God; He’s not an Asian God; He’s not an African God; He’s not a European God, but He is the God of the whole world.

    Jesus was crucified on the cross at Calvary on Passover.  During this feast, the high priest would sacrifice a lamb without spot or blemish for the sins of the nation of Israel.
But now Jesus had become the sacrifice!  Not only was He the spotless Lamb, He was the High Priest who would present the sacrifice before God.

    And His sacrifice as the sinless Lamb of God was not just for the nation of Israel but for the whole world.

    When He cried out, “It is finished!” the veil in the temple was rent from top to bottom.  Long and thick, it was made out of pure linen, and it was rent from top to bottom.  Do you know why?

    Only the high priest could come near the presence of God.  The veil represented man’s separation from God, but through His death and resurrection, Jesus tore down that wall of separation.  Now we are part of a kingdom of priests, and we can come boldly into His presence.

    Our High Priest is seated at the right hand of God, and He said, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23 NASB).

    We are priests of the most high God.  We offer sacrifices of praise.  When we shout unto God with the voice of triumph, we’re fulfilling our priestly duties.  We can shout the shout that brought us out because Jesus brought us out of sin and into righteousness.

The Shout That’s Going To Take Us Out

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first..” (I Thessalonians 4:16).

    Finally, I’m waiting for the shout that’s going to take us out.  Out of what?  Out of New York, Los Angeles, London, Nairobi, Calcutta, Tokyo, and every other place on this planet!
I don’t think it’s going to be much longer because there are signs all around us that we are living in the last days.

    Powerful earthquakes and other natural disasters are becoming more frequent.  More and more nations are becoming armed to the teeth with the most lethal military weapons ever developed.  Tensions are high in many areas of the globe with the potential for numerous wars and internecine skirmishes.

    Unprecedented advances in computers and other sophisticated technology are laying the groundwork for an eventual one-world economic and political system.

    All of the things that Jesus and the prophets told us to look for in the last days are being revealed on a daily basis.  Jesus is about to come!

I’m Getting Caught Up

I don’t know about you, but I believe in the rapture of the church.  I know there are some preachers who don’t believe in the rapture.  They tell me the word “rapture” is not in the Bible.  I tell them right back that the phrase “caught up” is.

    Here’s what it says in the book of First Thessalonians, chapter 4, verses 13 through 18:
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

    I’m not looking for Him anymore.  I’m listening for Him.  I’m listening for the shout and the sound of a trumpet.

    He’s coming back with a shout, and if you’re not ready, you’re going to be left behind to face seven years of tribulation.  The Holy Ghost is going to be taken out of this world.  If you can’t stay saved now, I know you won’t be able to stay saved then.

    A friend of mine was praying, and he said, “Lord, how are you going to pull this rapture off?”  God told him, “That’s easy, son.  I’m just going to call the Holy Ghost home, and everybody He’s in is going to come with Him.”

    Are you ready?  Are your sins gone?  Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?  Is your name written in the Lamb’s Book if Life?  God said in Luke 10:20:
“..rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”

    We shall not all sleep.  If you want to sleep, sleep.  But I’m waiting for that final shout.  The shout that’s going to take us out of Harlem.  The shout that’s going to take us out of New York.  The shout that’s going to take us out of London, Jerusalem, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, Sydney, Calcutta, and Tokyo.

    The Bible says in Mark 13:32:
“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

    Well, I’m going to make an announcement.  I know the day, and I know the hour that He’s coming!  It’s going to be the day of the Lord, and He’s coming back in the hour that you think not.

    I want to go on radio and television, and I want to shout it from the highest mountain, “Jesus is coming!”

    We’re so close.  Jesus is about to come, and He’s coming back for a bride that is holy, without spot or wrinkle.  He’s not going to marry up with a bride that’s flirting with the devil.  He’s going to marry up with a chaste virgin.  Those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

    You might tell me, “I shook the preacher’s hand and had my name put on the church book.”  You might as well have put your name on a barn door and shook a donkey’s tail.  It’ll get you into heaven just as quick.

    He said, “He that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out.”  It’s either Heaven or Hell.  It’s either Christ or the devil.  You’re either saved, or you’re lost.  You can’t put this decision off.

How To Get Ready

If you want to be ready for the soon coming of Jesus Christ, get on your knees right now.  Ask God to forgive you of your sins and to cleanse you of all unrighteousness.  Ask Him to give you a clean heart and to make you a new creation.  Ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior and to fill you with the Holy Ghost so that you may live the life He wants you to live.

    Start reading the Word of God daily, beginning with the book of John.  Talk to God often, confessing your sins and asking for His help and guidance in your life.  Make it an everyday part of your life so that you will grow strong in the Spirit.

    Find a Spirit-filled, Bible-believing church, get baptized, and get involved with other Christians as God leads you into the work He has called you to do.

    Then your spiritual ears will be opened, and some day soon you will hear the trumpet of God sounding and the shout that is going to take us out!

by R.W. Schambach

falseteachers

Here are eight symptoms of false teaching:

1. There is an undeniable zeal in some teachers of error. Their “earnestness” makes many people think they must be right.

2. There is a great appearance of learning and theological knowledge. Many think that such clever and intellectual men must surely be safe to listen to.

3. There is a general tendency to completely free and independent thinking today. Many like to prove their independence of judgment by believing the newest ideas, which are nothing but novelties.

4. There is a wide-spread desire to appear kind, loving, and open-minded. Many seem half-ashamed to say that anybody can be wrong or is a false teacher.

5. There is always a portion of half-truth taught by modern false teachers. They are always using scriptural words and phrases, but with unscriptural meaning.

6. There is a public craving for a more sensational and entertaining worship. People are impatient with the more inward and invisible work of God within the hearts of men.

7. There is a superficial readiness all around to believe anyone who talks cleverly, lovingly and earnestly, forgetting that Satan often masquerades himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

8. There is a wide-spread ignorance among professing Christians. Every heretic who speaks well is surely believed, and anyone who doubts him is called narrow-minded and unloving.

~ Bishop J.C. Ryle

All these are especially symptomatic of our times. They have tremendous relevance for the church today. They tend to make the assaults of false doctrine today especially dangerous and make it even more important to say loudly, “Do not be carried away with strange doctrine!”

descent

What are the elements of a Christian worldview?

Christianity teaches a set of beliefs that form the basics of our worldview.

Following is a list of some of the elements that make up the Christian worldview:

An absolute God exists

If an absolute God exists, then it means that God is self-sufficient and lacks nothing. If God is self-sufficient, then he needs no external cause for his existence. This would mean he is eternal. If he is eternal then he does not change.

God created the universe

If God created the universe, then he is all-powerful — since it obviously takes a great deal of power to create the universe. This would also mean that God is separate from creation and not a part of the created order. From the previous point where we see that God is absolute and unchanging, we could see that God’s nature would be reflected in the created order. As a painter leaves a part of himself on the canvas, so God reveals himself in creation. Creation is, therefore, ordered, predictable, and dependable. This would mean that when Christians look into creation, they would expect to find a predictable, regular, and testable world.

God created humanity in His image.

This means that God, who is rational and intelligent, has impressed his image upon the hearts and soul of human beings. Therefore, people can be rational and turn their attention towards the world and since they believe that the universe reflects God’s creative nature, they can have confidence to look into creation and expect order. They can also expect that since they are made in the image of God, they have the ability to unlock the secrets of the universe. In addition, if man is created in God’s image, then all people are worthy of respect and honor. This would also mean that when a new life formed in the womb, it is human from the time of conception. Therefore, abortion would be wrong. Furthermore, if we are created in God’s image, then we did not evolve from lower primates. This would mean that we have purpose and are not merely the result of random development through evolution that is, supposedly, guided by natural selection. Natural selection works on the theory of survival of the fittest and this could have a very harmful effect on society if “survival of the fittest” is transferred into a moral principle. It would justify oppressing the weak and helpless.

God gave man dominion over creation.

This means that all aspects of the created order on earth are to be governed by man according to how God has revealed himself and his will for us in the Bible. Therefore, politics, medicine, art, ecology, society, economics, exploration, philosophy, mathematics, education, etc. all fall under the domain of human responsibility and should be considered realms for man to control — under the wisdom and direction of God’s revelation, the Bible (more on that below).

Humanity is fallen

The Fall of humanity through our ancient father Adam, tells us that at the heart of every one of us is a predisposition toward sin. Sin is rebellion against God and, therefore, it is a rebellion against what is good. Sin has not only affected man’s soul and body, but it has also affected his mind. Therefore, the Christian worldview would say that even man’s best reasoning is touched by sin and cannot be perfect. Furthermore, since man is sinful and his heart’s intentions are predisposed towards wickedness, we conclude that those in power are highly susceptible to corruption. Therefore, governmental systems should be developed with Christian principles in mind to help guard against that. In fact, Christianity influenced the development of the Constitution and American government. Our founding fathers developed the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government that are there to exercise a system of checks and balances over each other. Why? Because of The Fall, man has a tendency to gravitate towards corruption.

Jesus is humanity’s only hope for redemption

Because man is fallen, he is in need of rescue from God’s righteous condemnation — which is eternal damnation. Also, since he is fallen, there is no way he can redeem himself. Therefore, Jesus, who is God in flesh, died for us and rose from the dead. We receive his righteousness and forgiveness by faith. This basic theological truth means that Christians should then preach that good news of redemption in Christ to all the world. Therefore, one of the most basic Christian principles is promoting Jesus as the means by which we are made right with God.

The Holy Scriptures (The Bible) are the Word of God

Of course, I have already mentioned the Bible, but the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God. From the Bible we derive the truths by which we govern our lives. It is from the Bible that we learn about God himself, his created order, the Trinity, redemption, about sin, salvation, hope, and what is morally correct. The Bible reveals the will of God for mankind, for the family, for raising children, for proper behavior in society, etc. It is from the Bible that we can learn the direct will of God.

God Provides for His creation

It is from the Bible that we learn of God’s loving provision for us. We know that God lets the sun and rainfall down upon both the good and the bad. We know that God causes the crops to grow and cattle to multiply. We know that though we live in a fallen world, God has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. Therefore, we can rely on God’s provision for us and should have confidence that he will continue to provide for our needs. Therefore, you can see that there are basic principles that form the Christian worldview. There are more, but the above eight items are representative of Christianity’s perspective and truth and how it influences belief and action.

the-den-of-lions-1348656076_b

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quality of the preaching in the pulpits within the Church currently, and I am growing increasingly concerned about the Church moving further and further away from the unique strengths of Gospel preaching as we have received it from generations previous to ours. I’m going to frame my concerns by referring to temptations preachers face. I’m coming at this, of course, from my perspective and convictions as a Spirit-filled, confessing, orthodox Christian, committed to the Sacred Scriptures, having vowed to preach and teach the Word of God in conformity to the Word of God. This is no mere finger pointing exercise, this is a chance for me to reflect on how these temptations impact me when I preach.

The Therapeutic Temptation
The “Therapeutic Temptation” is one that would have preachers use their sermons to give what amounts to little more than a pep talk, often in the context of cute, touching, emotional or an otherwise manipulative story, either real, or made up. I’m referring to the infamous, “There was once a little boy who…” or the, “There was a man who said/did…” These sermons will be marked by a preaching of Law that is soft and squidgy around the edges, it’s not a preaching of God’s holy, righteous wrath against sin and a warning against it and a rebuking of sin and sinners. It is Law preached in such a way that bad things, bad people or bad situations are lamented in doleful tones. It sounds often like this, “Isn’t it sad when….” or “Have you ever…..” and the tone is one of sounding “oh, so sorry about that” and “shouldn’t we all feel bad” about this problem. Then the sermon goes on to offer encouragement and support for getting out of our bad and negative feelings and circumstances. The Law is soft, the Gospel therefore comes across as antidote to feeling sad and bad. I face this temptation when I preach. I want so much to make people feel better, to feel good, to leave feeling positive. That can get in the way of good Law/Gospel preaching. I would say this is what I’m hearing more and more in pulpits. Law becomes simply lament. Gospel becomes simply encouragement and reassurance.

Let Me Entertain You Temptation
Public speaking, once one becomes fairly good at it, is a place where one’s personal ego can really get in the way of God’s Word. It is so tempting to get wrapped up in the moment and begin to feel a need to amuse, delight and entertain the listeners. Now, granted, the use of the classic art of rhetoric is important, but it is tempting for preachers to work very hard to elicit a laugh, a chuckle, to amuse, to entertain. They mistake audience reaction with effective preaching and they mistake emotionally manipulating the congregation with preaching God’s Word effectively. The problem with the entertainment temptation is that often the effort to entertain and elicit a positive emotional reaction from the congregation causes the preacher to neglect the doctrine in the text he is preaching on, to neglect, frankly, the Scriptures, and to spend an inordinate amount of time developing his story that he just knows will get the kind of response he is looking for. Public speaking is heady stuff. I have been tempted to go for the cheap line, the little quip, the comment I know will get chuckle and spend too much time on that, than on preaching God’s Word. And here again, in this context, Law is neglected, or ignored, because, after all, the Law is not “upbeat” it is not “entertaining.” It will not delight and amuse people to hear that they, by nature, are poor, miserable sinners who have nothing but wicked, evil deeds to offer to the holy and righteous God. And when the Law is neglected, the Gospel then loses the force of its power to convert and regeneration. In such a context, the Gospel is watered down to be part of an entertaining experience for the listeners.

The Hurry Up Temptation
This is quite an insidious temptation that I think we all have fallen into, nearly totally. For many centuries, and even millennia, in the church’s history, sermons, where they were taken seriously, were thirty, forty or even sixty minutes long. The sermon was the opportunity for the pastor to preach and teach God’s Word carefully and thoroughly, from Sunday to Sunday, but then, sermons that were forty-five minutes long, became only thirty minutes, then they dropped to twenty minutes, and now it is often the case that sermons now are only twelve, or ten or even eight minutes long. Simply put, these are no longer sermons, they have become rather formulaic quick devotional thoughts. There is not enough time carefully to delve into the text, and open it up to hearers. A text become more a pretext for the sharing of what becomes quite repetitive themes: some talk of something bad, some talk of Jesus taking care of it all for us, and then there may be a reference to the Sacraments. Preachers are tempted to do this when they know that there is a full service with Holy Communion. It is tempting to skip lightly over the text and instead use the short time I have to make a couple devotional points and then get on to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I love the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and love that we celebrate it every corporate gathering on Sundays. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper must never become an excuse to make our sermons shorter and less substantial. We are the Church, the Body of Christ, and the fellowship of Word and Sacrament. I think that we are forgetting this.

The Axe to Grind Temptation
This temptation is characterized by a preacher managing to “find” in any Biblical text, a pretext for him to yet, once more, grind his axe on his hobby-horse issue, or subject, or theme, no matter what it might be. The hobby-horse might be quite correct and what the preacher says about it is quite true, but it is a temptation preachers face to turn nearly every sermon they give into an opportunity once more to repeat the same issues, over and over again. Perhaps he will be wanting to talk always about the liturgical practices in the parish, to turn every sermon into a little discourse on some point of church history, or to keep referring to some particular event or trend in society. Every sermon manages to include a reference to the issue that is really “bugging” the preacher and it comes out in his sermon. I am tempted to do this when I find myself wanting to warn people against the “feel good/health and wealth” prosperity preachers. I find that I can easily find myself bashing this error in every sermon. And while I’m perfectly correct in my warning, it is not appropriate for me to hijack every sermon on every Biblical text, to interject my own particular agenda. The Lectionary is a good corrective, and if the preacher resolves actually to preach on the subjects, issues and topics that flow naturally from the Lectionary readings, there is much less of a chance that the preacher will fall victim to the “Axe to Grind” temptation.

How many more temptations could be added to this list?

~ Originally written by Rev. Paul McCain, edited by Rev. Gary DeSha

Nikodemos

THE PASSIONS

A passion is a spiritual disease that dominates the soul. When one repeatedly falls into a certain sin, it becomes second nature – a passion – for him to keep falling into this sin. Thus, one who misuses the God-given powers of the soul of desire and anger, or one who continually succumbs to temptations of lust, hate, malice, or jealousy, or one who succumbs to pride and vainglory, acquires those passions. It is primarily through repentance, faith, obedience to God, submission to His will, and dying daily to self is one healed of the passions.

The passions are:

harshness, trickery, malice, perversity, mindlessness, licentiousness, enticement, dullness, lack of understanding, idleness, sluggishness, stupidity, flattery, silliness, idiocy, madness, derangement, coarseness, rashness, cowardice, lethargy, dearth of good actions, moral errors, greed, over-frugality, ignorance, folly, spurious knowledge, forgetfulness, lack of discrimination, obduracy, injustice, evil intention, a conscienceless soul, slothfulness, idle chatter, breaking of faith, wrongdoing, sinfulness, lawlessness, criminality, passion, seduction, assent to evil, mindless coupling, demonic provocation, dallying, bodily comfort beyond what is required, vice, stumbling, sickness of soul, enervation, weakness of intellect, negligence, laziness, a reprehensible despondency, disdain of God, aberration, transgression, unbelief, lack of faith, wrong belief, poverty of faith, heresy, fellowship in heresy, polytheism, idolatry, ignorance of God, impiety, magic, astrology, divination, sorcery, denial of God, the love of idols, dissipation, profligacy, loquacity, indolence, self-love, inattentiveness, lack of progress, deceit, delusion, audacity, witchcraft, defilement, the eating of unclean food, soft living, dissoluteness, voracity, un-chastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem, pride, presumption, self-elation, boastfulness, infatuation, foulness, satiety, doltishness, torpor, sensuality, over-eating, gluttony, insatiability, secret eating, hoggishness, solitary eating, indifference, fickleness, self-will, thoughtlessness, self-satisfaction, love of popularity, ignorance of beauty, un-couthness, gaucherie, light-mindedness, boorishness, rudeness, contentiousness, quarrelsomeness, abusiveness, shouting, brawling, fighting, rage, mindless desire, gall, exasperation, giving offence, enmity, meddlesomeness, chicanery, asperity, slander, censure, calumny, condemnation, accusation, hatred, railing, insolence, dishonor, ferocity, frenzy, severity, aggressiveness, forswearing oneself, oath taking, lack of compassion, hatred of one’s brothers, partiality, patricide, matricide, breaking fasts, laxity, acceptance of bribes, theft, rapine, jealousy, strife, envy, indecency, jesting, vilification, mockery, derision, exploitation, oppression, disdain of one’s neighbor, flogging, making sport of others, hanging, throttling, heartlessness, implacability, covenant-breaking, bewitchment, harshness, shamelessness, impudence, obfuscation of thoughts, obtuseness, mental blindness, attraction to what is fleeting, impassionedness, frivolity, disobedience, dull-wittedness, drowsiness of soul, excessive sleep, fantasy, heavy drinking, drunkenness, uselessness, slackness, mindless enjoyment, self-indulgence, venery, using foul language, effeminacy, unbridled desire, burning lust, masturbation, pimping, adultery, sodomy, bestiality, defilement, wantonness, a stained soul, incest, uncleanliness, pollution, sordidness, feigned affection, laughter, jokes, immodest dancing, clapping, improper songs, revelry, constant passion, license of tongue, excessive love of order, insubordination, disorderliness, reprehensible collusion, conspiracy, warfare, killing, brigandry, sacrilege, illicit gains, usury, wiliness, grave-robbing, hardness of heart, obloquy, complaining, blasphemy, fault-finding, ingratitude, malevolence, contemptuousness, pettiness, confusion, lying, verbosity, empty words, mindless joy, daydreaming, mindless friendship, bad habits, non-sensicality, silly talk, garrulity, niggardliness, depravity, intolerance, irritability, affluence, rancour, misuse, ill-temper, clinging to life, ostentation, affectation, pusillanimity, satanic love, curiosity, contumely, lack of the fear of God, unteachability, senselessness, haughtiness, self-vaunting, self-inflation, scorn for one’s neighbor, mercilessness, insensitivity, hopelessness, spiritual paralysis, hatred of God, despair, suicide, a falling away from God in all things, utter destruction –

Altogether 298 passions……….

These, then, are the passions which have been found named in the Holy Scriptures. St. John Climakos states: “If you seek understanding in wicked men, you will not find it.” For all that the demons produce is disorderly.

In common with the godless and the unjust, the demons have but one purpose: to destroy the souls of those who accept their evil counsel.

Yet sometimes they actually help men to attain holiness. In such instances they are conquered by the patience and faith of those who put their trust in the Lord, and who through their good actions and resistance to evil thoughts counteract the demons and bring down curses upon them.

From A LIST OF THE PASSIONS, Saint Peter of Damaskos The Philokalia; The Complete Text compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth. Volume Three, translated from the Greek and edited by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherard, Kallistos Ware, Faber and Faber, 1984

Narcissism, Social Media, and the Church

A definition of narcissism: The inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.

“The true destination for most of our online endeavors really are the new media equivalent of the biblical statues that were presented as deities. These digital shrines {idols} that we create to ourselves.” ~ from Confessions of a Narcissist, by Mitch Joel

Social-Media-Make-Us-Narcissistic

 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Matthew 23:25 (NIV)

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” Romans 2:6-8 (ESV)

“You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” James 5:5 (ESV)

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NIV)

“What kind of impact could Christians have if we were more interested in helping a world in pain than in how good we look  to our digital friends? How can we {the church} redeem our online presence without becoming weird, obnoxious or confrontational?” (Shraeder & Hendricks, pp. 170-171)

References:

Schrader, T., Hendricks, K. (Eds.). (2011). Outspoken: conversations on church communication. Los Angeles, CA.   Center for Church Communication.

Does Social Media Make Us Narcissistic? Retrieved from: http://brandongaille.com/does-social-media-make-us-     narcissistic/

 

The Promise-Driven Life

Image for Article

Christ lived the purpose-driven life so that we would inherit his righteousness through faith and be promise-driven people in a purpose-driven world.

What are you driven by? The last time I was sick, it was a Saturday and I flipped on the TV for an extraordinary long time. The whole day was exercise equipment, how to become real-estate rich with no money down, and Suze Orman gave me her steps to financial security. As much as we all make sport of this sort of thing, it attracts us. That’s because we are “wired” for law: tell me what to do and I’ll get it done. That is not just the American spirit, but it is human nature. God’s law is inborn, in our conscience, part of our moral makeup. The average person on the street will tell you that the role of churches and other religious institutions is to provide moral instruction-practical suggestions for successful living for the spirit, just as Suze Orman and Jake are there to help us out with our banking and bodies.

Even human imperatives can be enormously effective at laying out a course of action. If I am sufficiently motivated, a good diet-and-exercise plan can help. I’ve never even come close to being credited with any financial planning wisdom, but even I can recognize that if I follow half of what Suze says, I’ll be a much better steward. (I bought the video. Don’t ever leave your credit card within reach if you spend a Saturday watching TV. I nearly bought three separate gyms and a few things for my wife.) Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura don’t even have to be Christians to provide good, commonsense instruction in daily affairs. At least in terms of raw, general principles, non-Christians have law down. When Christians talk law (“How to … “), non-Christians know that we’re speaking their language. I guess that is why such preaching and teaching dominates in the church today, since “law” (however watered down) is perceived as relevant. However, it is only when we encounter God’s law in its full strength that we are knocked off our horse. Instead of being in charge, answering with Israel and Mount Sinai, “All this we will do!”, we find ourselves in the hot seat, the charade exposed, the spin unmasked. Church shouldn’t be a place where the old self is revived for another week, but where it is killed and buried and the new self is created in the likeness of Christ.

Even as Christians, the law (in its third use) can direct us, but it cannot drive us, except to either despair or self-righteousness. Christians are not purpose-driven, but promise-driven. Purposes are all about law. To be sure, at least in Christian discourse, some promises may be mentioned, but they are usually dangled as the carrot for fulfilling the conditions that have been laid out. If you did that with the real Ten Commandments-something like, “Do this and you shall live” (Lev. 25:18), people would catch on: “That’s legalism!” But the therapeutic version (easy-listening law) flies under the radar: “Hey, here are a few helpful principles based on God’s instruction manual that will help you get victory in your life.” Although Rick Warren’s phenomenal best-seller, The Purpose-Driven Life, for example, differs from the usual pattern of self-help books by insisting that we were created for God and his glory, it offers Fifteen Principles-all of which are imperatives (commands, or rather, suggestions) that promise a life of victory for those who follow them. That, I would suggest, confuses law and gospel. And that eventually leaves resentment of God, not delight, in its wake.

The fact that purposes are about law does not make them wrong. We need purposes! Nobody can live without goals. Yet purposes and goals are always something to be reached, to be achieved and be attained by us. They require tactics and strategies. All of this is fine as long as we realize that they are law, not gospel: commands and promises are both necessary, but they do different things.

Law tells us what we should do, whether we’re faced with the wrath of God (full-strength law) or by the fear of not reaching our full potential (the watered-down version). God’s promise, by contrast, creates true faith, which creates true works. The church father Augustine defined sin as being “curved in” on ourselves. While imperatives (including purposes) tend by themselves to make us more “curved in” on ourselves (either self-confidence or self-despair), only God’s promise can drive us out of ourselves and our own programs for acceptance before ourselves, other people, and God. While the Christian life according to scripture is purpose-directed, it is promise-driven. Both of our passages-Genesis 15 and Romans 4-bring this point home powerfully.

Wrestling with the Promise (Genesis 15)

Even after his military victory and the remarkable event of being offered bread and wine with a blessing from Melchizedek, Abram’s greatest problem is that he has no heir, no one to carry on the calling that God has given him. His world, as he sees it anyway, is bleak. “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great'” (Gen. 15:1). Abram and Sarai had been called out of the barrenness of moon-worship in the city of Ur by God’s powerful Word, which created faith in the promise (12:1). There is the reward of the land of Canaan, but ultimately the whole earth (“father of many nations”), of which the land of Canaan will serve as a type. The New Testament even tells us that Abraham himself was looking through the earthly promise as a type to its heavenly reality (Heb. 11:10, 13-16).

Notice in this opening address, it is sheer promise. This covenant is not like the one that God made with Adam or with Israel, which made the promise conditional on their future obedience. It was a gift to be received, not a task to be undertaken. God simply declares, “I am your shield. Your reward shall be great.” This is what ancient Near Eastern lawyers would have called a “royal grant.”

Yet Abram wonders, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezar of Damascus? … You have given me no son, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir” (vv. 2-3). The empirical facts of the case-what Abram sees, appear to be overwhelming evidence against the testimony of the promise. Nevertheless, God counters again with the promise, offering the innumerable stars as a sign of the teeming offspring who will come from his loins. “And [Abram] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (vv. 5-6). Abram’s response is not one of blind optimism or positive thinking. Abram finds himself believing.

Faith does not create; it receives. It does not make the invisible visible or the future present or hope reality. It receives that which is already given. Grace precedes faith. It is not finally accepting the goodness of the world, or my own goodness, but receiving God’s goodness toward me in spite of the way things really are with me and with the world. Further, there is no way around the forensic or legal character of this Hebrew verb, “declared.” It is chashav, referring to a courtroom judgment, not a process. There Abram stood, wicked and helpless, and yet at the same time-by virtue solely of the promise declared to him, received by faith, was declared righteous. Commenting on this passage, Calvin reminds us, “In all ages, Satan has laboured at nothing more assiduously than to extinguish, or to smother, the gratuitous justification of faith, which is here expressly asserted.” Justification is at the core of the divine paradox: How can I have the assurance that I am accepted before God as righteous when I continue in sin? I see my life. Nevertheless, by pronouncing Abraham just, Abram is just. The promise makes it so. If we can get this right in our understanding of justification, it will radically alter every other aspect of our relationship with God.

Abram goes on to ask how he can know that God will give him the land and God responds in this vision by passing through the severed halves of animals (a treaty-making event of calling down judgment in case of violation) alone (vv. 12-21), foreshadowing the cross of Christ. As Paul would later attest in Galatians 3:19-20, specifically referring to this covenant with Abraham, no covenant could be more firmly anchored in God and his promise rather than in the faithfulness of the human partner than one that God swears by himself.

The preaching of the promise created justifying faith and this sign and seal now confirms and ratifies it. No wonder question 62 of the Heidelberg Catechism confesses, “The Holy Spirit creates it [faith] in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.” Out of his confession of faith, Abram now continues his pilgrimage not on the basis of his physical vigor or Sarai’s fertility, but on the sole basis of the Word (again, in anticipation of his greater Son in his temptation). We will either rely on the visible realities we see or the invisible realities we hear preached to us, but we cannot rely on both. Unbelief is unavoidable: either we will doubt the credibility of the divine word in the face of life’s realities or we will doubt the credibility of this world’s so-called “givens” in the face of the divine promise. Faith ignores statistics. The world says we have to save ourselves (and it), offering countless strategies of striving, while the Word slays us in our self-conceit and raises us up together with Christ. God’s promise creates a new world out of darkness and void, fertile pastures of fruit-bearing trees out of the infertile soil of unbelief and ungodliness. This covenant is not a call to claim a future he can control, but to receive a future that God has spoken into being. Sarai’s infertile womb is the canvas upon which God will paint a new creation. And they both get renamed. The promise gives them a new identity.

The Fulfillment of the Promise (Romans 4:13-25)

These passages from Genesis 15-17 form the backdrop for much of Paul’s teaching. Israel had confused the promise-covenant made with Abraham and the law-covenant that Israel made with Yahweh at Sinai. Nobody can be justified by means of a law-covenant, Paul insists, but only on the basis of a promise-covenant. So Paul brings Abraham to the witness stand as an example to us, not chiefly as someone whose holiness we can emulate (have you read the story?), but primarily as someone for whom the promise worked even though he didn’t. If Abraham could not be justified by his own righteousness, how can the rest of us who claim Abraham as our forefather?

Paul is contrasting law-logic with promise-logic. The law is not the problem, but we are, and the law simply points that out. We know the law by nature; nobody has to teach at least its rudimentary principles to us (Rom. 1 and 2). When we turn to our common sense, reason, experience, or what we see in order to determine our relationship to God, it is always the law that has the last word. Law-logic is entirely appropriate for those created in God’s image, designed and equipped to reflect God’s righteousness in every way, but it says nothing about how law-breakers can be saved from its judgment.

In Romans 3:21-26, Paul announces that law-logic can only announce the righteousness that God is and which therefore condemns us who have failed to conform to it. Then we arrive at chapter 4. The question that throws law and promise into a sharp contrast is this: How does one obtain the inheritance of the heavenly rest? The barrier between Jew and Gentile is broken down not merely because the laws of ethnic separation are set aside but because law as a principle was never intended to be the way of inheriting the Abrahamic promise. “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works” (vv. 5-6).

If we read Romans 4 in the light of Paul’s argument in Romans 10, the contrast is even clearer: law-logic ascends to bring Christ down or up from the grave, while gospel-logic receives Christ as he descends to us in the preaching of the gospel. Because the law is innate (in creation) and the gospel is a surprising announcement (after the fall), climbing, ascending, attaining, doing whatever “ten steps” or following whatever “fifteen principles” is natural to us. It is not natural for us, like Abraham, to simply receive a promise, the hearing of which creates faith (Rom. 10:17). But God is never closer to us, says Paul, than when Christ is being preached to us (v. 8). Law-logic strives for what it sees and can possess; promise-logic sits down and listens to the covenant attorney reading the last will and testament, legally enacting the bequest.

Back to chapter 4, then, where Paul uses the same phrase-“through the righteousness of faith” (v. 13) that he will use in chapter 10, where he contrasts the law-logic of our ascent (“go get it”) with the promise-logic of God’s descent (“God gave it to you”). So when it comes to how we are justified-that is, set right before God and made heirs of all the gifts that he has for us, Law and Promise represent antithetical means of inheritance. We know the difference between a contract (“I’ll do this if you do that”) and a bequest (“I hereby leave my estate to … “). That’s the difference here between employees and heirs (v. 4). Christ’s active obedience is the basis and his death is the legal event that distributes the royal estate to all of his beneficiaries. God doesn’t just give us more good advice and exhortation, but the most amazing news in the world: “But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness” (v. 5).

The contrast is either/or again in verse 14: “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect.” It’s not just that faith is also necessary, but that faith and obedience are absolutely antithetical as means of attaining that which the promise promises. The last part of the sentence (v. 15) reads, “because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” It is the law that exposes our sin and makes it utterly sinful, counting our wrongs not as “mistakes,” “self-expression,” “foibles,” or even “not being all that we could be,” but as a wicked transgression of God’s explicit command. The law speaks and the old self dies. The law cannot create faith because it tells us what is to be done. It can only announce what we have not done. The promise, by contrast, tells us what has been done by someone else. That is why it brings life.

Then in verse 16 Paul says, “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure toall the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” See the logic of the promise? Paul will add one more pearl to the string later.

It is important to recognize that God’s promises are not simply a pledge of a future reality, but bring about that reality in the present. We see this clearly in the way Paul talks about the law doing certain things and the promise doing certain things. In verse 14 of our passage he says, “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of noeffect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” The promise (or gospel) preached creates faith, just as the law actually brought about our condemnation. The law not only warns us of God’s coming wrath, it “brings about wrath,” just as the judge’s act of sentencing a criminal actually effects the criminal’s condemnation.

Throughout Scripture we are taught that God’s Word is effectual: it brings about whatever God speaks, whether in creation, providence, or redemption. God’s speech is “active and living,” Scripture says. The law is successful in condemning, driving us to despair of ourselves, to seek salvation outside ourselves. The gospel is successful in giving us faith to receive Christ and all his benefits. The gospel doesn’t just talk about a world that might come to be if we all just got our act together; it creates a new world where no capacity existed, and that is exactly the language that Paul uses in verses 17 to 22. God creates death and life by speaking.

This is why Paul returns again to the example of Abraham and Sarah as the construction site of a new creation, produced by the promise. Here is the logic: “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all of his descendants,” both Jew and Gentile (v 16). He adds, “As it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’-in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (v. 17). Just as God spoke the world into existence without any contribution from the creation itself, God speaks a new world of salvation into being. And just as Abraham is declared righteous by this proclamation then and there, Paul observes, he was declared then and there “father of many nations” despite all appearances to the contrary. “Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be'” (v. 18). God’s saying makes it so. Salvation comes, then, not by doing certain things but by hearing certain things and embracing them by faith, which is itself created by the Spirit through the preaching of the promise. Not all parts of the Word give life, as Paul says later in chapter 7 (v. 10): “And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.” If Paul were not a transgressor, the law would pronounce him just, but as it is, it can only bring death. The promise, by contrast, brings life-out of nothing.

This is the scandal of justification: How can God declare us righteous if we are not inherently righteous? Isn’t this a legal fiction? Doesn’t it make God a liar? But that’s like saying God cannot say, “Let there be light” unless there is a sun to give it. God himself creates the conditions necessary for the existence of his work. When he says, “Let there be light!”, the sun exists. When he says, “Let this ungodly person be righteous,” “this barren woman be pregnant,” “this faithless person embrace my Word,” it is so. When we really understand justification, we really understand how God works with us in every aspect of our lives before him. Christ lived the purpose-driven life so that we would inherit his righteousness through faith and be promise-driven people in a purpose-driven world. He did gain the everlasting inheritance by obedience to everything God commanded, driven by the purpose of fulfilling the law for us, in perfect love of God and neighbor.

Relinquishing hope in the ordinary powers of human nature, he was given genuine hope in God for the first time. The future was now God’s future, not his own. He didn’t have to work it all out, plot and plan, scheme to bring about the inheritance (as he had done before). Thus, because of the power of the promise, not his own goals or resolve, Abraham could turn his eyes away from “his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Rom. 4:19). “He did not waver,” again, not because of any inherent virtue of his faith, but because he “was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (v. 21). In other words, it was because of the object of faith, not the act of faith itself that Abraham could stand firm.

As anticipated above, Paul adds here another pearl in the chain of the promise-logic: If the inheritance comes by faith in the promise and not in the works of the law, then faith gives all “glory to God” (v. 20). Faith gives no glory to self, even to our act of faith. It is directed entirely to God and his promise. Faith is strong only to the extent that the promise is strong. Abraham knew that God could perform what he had promised. “And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness'” (v. 22).

Conclusion: What Really Drives You?

In the concluding verses of this remarkable chapter (vv. 23-25, and the first verse of chapter 5), Paul writes,

Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not only for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Faith is defiance. Abraham’s faith defied every possibility that he saw, in favor of the “impossible” word that he heard. This is why “faith comes by hearing … that is, the word of faith which we preach” (Rom. 10:17). To trust in God is to distrust every other promise-maker. The world makes a lot of promises: “Try this product and you’ll be ….” Constantly buying into new fads or makeovers as so many fig leaves to hide the seriousness of our condition, we hand ourselves over to marketers who persuade us that we can attain salvation, however we define that. Even the church can become a place where people get the idea that they exist merely to usher in the kingdom by serving on committees and being involved in a thousand programs. We have a lot of purposes, a lot of goals-some of them noble. Desperate to save ourselves and our kids from everything but the wrath of God, we fail to realize that, however watered down, these are all nothing but law rather than promise. Eventually, we will become burned out on good advice. What we need is good news.