Monday, May 19, 2008

Grace Gems: True Christianity

True Christianity

(J. C. Ryle, "What Is Needed?" 1895)

(1) True Christianity has always taught the inspiration, sufficiency, and supremacy of Holy Scripture. It has told men that "God's written Word" is the only trustworthy rule of faith and practice in religion; that God requires nothing to be believed that is not in this Word; and that nothing is right which contradicts it. It has never allowed reason, or the voice of the Church, to be placed above, or on a level with Scripture. It has steadily maintained that, however imperfectly we may understand it, the Old Book is meant to be the only standard of life and doctrine.

(2) True Christianity has always taught fully the sinfulness, guilt and corruption of human nature. It has told men, that they are born in sin, deserve God's wrath and condemnation, and are naturally inclined to do evil. It has never allowed that men and women are only weak and pitiable creatures, who can become good when they please, and make their own peace with God. On the contrary, it has steadily declared man's danger and vileness, and his pressing need of a Divine forgiveness and atonement for his sins, a new birth or conversion, and an entire change of heart.

(3) True Christianity has always set before men, the Lord Jesus Christ as the chief object of faith and hope in religion--as the Divine Mediator between God and men, the only source of peace of conscience, and the root of all spiritual life. The main things it has ever insisted on about Christ, are--the atonement for sin He made by His death, His sacrifice on the cross, the complete redemption from guilt and condemnation by His blood, His victory over the grave by His resurrection, His active life of intercession at God's right hand, and the absolute necessity of simple faith in Him. In short, it has made Christ the Alpha and the Omega in Christian theology.

(4) True Christianity has always honored the Person of God the Holy Spirit, and magnified His work. It has never taught that all professing Christians have the grace of the Spirit in their hearts, as a matter of course--because they are baptized, or because they belong to a Church. It has steadily maintained that the fruits of the Spirit are the only evidence of having the Spirit, and that those fruits must be seen! It has always taught, that we must be born of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, sanctified by the Spirit, and feel the operations of the Spirit--and that a close walk with God in the path of His commandments, a life of holiness, love, self-denial, purity, and zeal to do good--are the only satisfactory marks of the Holy Spirit.

Such is true Christianity. Well would it have been for the world, if there had been more of it during the last nineteen centuries! Too often, and in too many parts of Christendom, there has been so little of it--that Christ's religion has seemed extinct, and has fallen into utter contempt!

This is the Christianity which, in the days of the Apostles, "turned the world upside down!" It was this which emptied the idol temples of their worshipers, routed the Greek and Roman philosophers, and obliged even heathen writers to confess that the followers of the "new superstition," as they called it, were people who loved one another, and lived very pure and holy lives!

Let it never be forgotten, that its leading principles are those which are least likely to please the natural man. On the contrary, they are precisely those which are calculated to be unpopular and to give offense. Proud man does not like to be told that he is a weak, guilty sinner--that he cannot save his own soul, and must trust in the work of another--that he must be converted and have a new heart--that he must live a holy, self-denying life, and come out from the world.

Yet, this is the Christianity which is doing good at this day, wherever real good is done. The only religious teaching which can show solid, positive results--is that which gives prominence to the doctrines which I have endeavored to describe. Wherever they are rightly taught, Christianity can point to fruits which are an unanswerable proof of its Divine origin. There are myriads of professing Christians who have no life or reality in their religion--and are only nominal members of Christ's Church. Except for going to church on Sundays, they give no evidence of true Christianity. If you mark their daily life--they seem neither to think, nor feel, nor care for their souls, or God, or eternity. Men and women who crowd churches on Sundays--and then live worldly selfish lives all the week--are the best and most efficient allies of the devil.

True faith
is not a mere "mental assent" to certain theological propositions--but a living, burning, active principle--which works by love, purifies the heart, overcomes the world, and brings forth much fruit of holiness and good works. Let us live as if we really believed every jot and tittle of Scripture--and as if a dying, risen, interceding, and coming Christ, were continually before our eyes!

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1 comment:

Ike said...

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray. And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” Matthew 26:36-38

Gethsemane was a garden located somewhere on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives, in which there were olive trees and olive presses. It was one of Jesus’ favorite spots, no doubt often used by Him and His disciples as a place to be alone.

Here we have a picture of Christ like no other in Scripture. Told also in Mark and Luke, this story of Jesus is one that shows us not only the glory of Christ’s death to redeem sinners such as you and I but also of the indescribable spiritual torment our Savior went through.

Christ knew His hour was near and He asked His disciples to stay awake while He went over to the garden to pray. Eyes tired from lack of sleep, the disciples quickly abandon their Savior by falling asleep. Christ will soon be left alone as the disciples run away in terror as the Roman guards approach and then all but John will have deserted Him as He is nailed to the cross.

Scripture tells us that Jesus was greatly distressed. That His soul was so deeply grieved that He was nearly at the point of death. Here we have Jesus, our Savior telling His disciples that something that is soon to happen is absolutely tormenting His soul. His only request is that they remain there and keep watch with Jesus.

No doubt the disciples had to be thinking about this statement. They had seen Christ mourn over the death of Lazarus (or rather the outcome of sin and its effects on people) and they also saw the mourning of Christ over Jerusalem as He states that He wanted to gather the children from Jerusalem together the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wing but Israel would not let Him. (Matthew 23:37)

But this had to be different. Jesus is so distressed in His soul that He says He is near the point of death. Is the Captain of our salvation distressed over the pain that He will so soon endure? Is the Captain of our salvation distressed over the long nails that will be driven into His hands and feet?

“And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39

Jesus goes a little deeper into the garden and fell down to the ground praying fervently to His Father in heaven asking for the cup to pass from Him. He asked “if it is possible”. This statement by Jesus is absolutely profound given light that after Jesus shares the Gospel message with the rich young ruler in Matthew chapter 19, His disciples were were there listening intently. While the rich young ruler’s heart was hard and unable to respond to the Gospel the disciples understood the absolute impossibility of being saved. Let’s see the passage about the rich young ruler in it’s entirety…

Matthew 19:16 “And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Here we see Jesus telling His disciples that something is impossible in human terms - the ability to be saved on your own merit through following the commandments, doing good works, etc. In fact, the miracle of salvation in itself is just that - a miracle. God must take a heart of stone, a person dead in their sins and transgressions and cause that person to be born again with a new spirit and a new heart. The disciples understood this dilemma and asked Jesus, “who then can be saved?” Jesus answers that with man it is impossible but with God all things are possible.

So this brings us to the heart wrenching prayer of Jesus in the garden as He is lying face down in torment crying to His Father in heaven. Jesus cries with the statement, “if it is possible”. All things are possible with God - as long as the thing God wants to do does not go against His own Holy character. If it were possible, the moment God does something against His character He is no longer God. For example, Scripture clearly states that it is impossible for God to lie. (Hebrews 6:18) If God were to lie He would stop being God. So looking deeply at the plea of our Savior we see clearly that God is answering His Son sweetly from heaven that there is no other way.

But couldn’t God just forgive sinners without Christ having to be nailed to a cross? Couldn’t God spare His innocent Son from the cross to come? Isn’t God a forgiving God and a God of love? Yes, God is a forgiving God and God is love (1 John 4:8). But that is not all of God. Stopping there would be creating an idol - an image of a god you would simply be creating in your mind and not the God of Scripture - not the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. Much of the American church today is guilty of idolatry. God is good. God is holy. And with pure goodness and holiness comes righteousness, sovereignty and justice. And with justice comes the need to punish wrongdoing and wickedness.

Let us study a passage in Proverbs that many may not consider when studying the atoning work of Christ on the cross. I was listening to a powerful sermon by Paul Washer recently and he draws such a valid point from this verse in Proverbs. This verse, however, is instrumental as it sets up a problem. It sets up a scandal.

Proverbs 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.

According to God’s own word, justifying the wicked is an abomination to God. So His own decree in Scripture illustrates that God is a holy, just God who must punish sin. He cannot just forgive sinners without their being a propitiation (satisfaction) for His wrath against that sin. Someone must take the punishment and bear the wrath of God against lawbreaking - against sin. Only God Himself could endure such a punishment and atone for the sins of all the elect.

This brings powerful light to the cross. We understand from the verse in Proverbs that God cannot just forgive or justify the wicked. There must be a propitiation or satisfaction to God to appease His wrath against the sins of man. Christ is that propitiation. On the cross, the full wrath of God was laid on the sinless Lamb of God - all the wrath that you and I so deserve was laid in all fullness. Christ was our substitute - He took our place. Christ’s work on the cross is a vicarious penal substitution. He took on the wrath of God and thus satisfied the righteous requirement of God to punish sin.

There have been many books written and sermons preached on just what the cup Jesus was praying so fervently about. In my opinion, anything other than the wrath of God would be incorrect and possibly even blasphemous. Do we really think that the Captain of our salvation, God in the flesh, was sweating drops of blood and crying out to the Father for deliverance from a cup that was the physical torment of the cross? How many thousands before and after Christ, including many of the disciples were crucified? Tradition has it that Peter was crucified upside down because he would dare not be crucified in the manner of his Lord.

You see, what Christ knew He would soon experience cannot be explained with human words. Christ prayed three times to the Father asking “if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Matt. 26:42b) No song, no book, no sermon could possibly describe the grief that Christ experienced looking to the cross where the sins of all who have and will believe in Him will be imputed to Him, where the wrath of God will be placed on Christ for every thought, word and deed of sin of the elect. This is exactly what Christ was dreading. The cup that Christ asked to be removed was none other than the wrath of God. Many times in the Old Testament the cup described God’s wrath and here this cup was the wrath of the Almighty that was laid upon the sinless Lamb of God. Jesus took on the wrath for our sins and became our substitute. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We cannot work our way to heaven and we can’t do anything on our own merit to earn salvation. No one has gone up to heaven to gain salvation. God left His throne in heaven and became veiled in flesh as a babe in a manger to show us that He must provide a way for us to be reconciled to Him. All glory goes to God. All glory goes to Christ for our salvation. Through faith in the person and work of Christ and repentance of our sins, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, we are redeemed, and our sins are forgiven by the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross. God provides the way - to each of us who so deserve wrath and punishment the grace of God is shown in the face of Christ Jesus.

Good Friday is the day our Savior was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God [and] nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men [who] put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). God used the most evil act in history to redeem a people for Himself to present to Christ as the unblemished Church of Jesus Christ. Three days later God raised Christ from the dead showing His approval of the sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God (Romans 4:25) and giving the saints a blessed hope of a new heaven and a new earth with new, glorified bodies that will live with our King forever at His glorious second advent. As Revelation 22:4 says, “we will see His face.” To me, this is the perfect, most glorious description of heaven in all of Scripture.

Christ drank of the cup so that we do not have to. Christ took our place. Through faith and repentance we are no longer our own, but Christ’s. Reflect on this truth and go serve your King! Solus Christus!

Thank you Lord Jesus! You saved me!