New City Catechism – Week 34

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“Take My Life and Let it Be”
(Hymn #375 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q34: Since we are redeemed by grace alone, through Christ alone, must we still do good works and obey God’s Word? 

A34: Yes, because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, also renews us by his Spirit; so that our lives may show love and gratitude to God; so that we may be assured of our faith by the fruits; and so that by our godly behavior others may be won to Christ.

I find a certain peace in a trustworthy mechanic. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve found one and utilized them. I’m not a car guy. I like cars, but working on them isn’t a skill I possess. So when I take the car to the mechanic, I enjoy not having to take it back the next day because something isn’t right. When the work is done, it’s done. No one wants to have to take it back because the job wasn’t finished.

In all of history, there has never been a more completed work than when Christ announced from the cross, “It is finished.” There was no more work to be done to conquer sin. Death would be overcome at the resurrection, but sin was completely defeated on that day. There is no need to return to the cross. Christ doesn’t need to die multiple times for sin to be vanquished. It is indeed finished.

It seems logical then to ask the question: Since we are redeemed by grace alone, through Christ alone, must we still do good works and obey God’s Word? The work has been finished. We don’t need to keep sacrificing Christ. Our sins have been forgiven. So why are we still doing good works?

To continue the car example (which admittedly isn’t the best analogy!), not living Christ-like is comparable to intentionally ruining the work the mechanic just did. Granted, we’re not able to actually ruin anything that Christ has accomplished, but godly living shows to others our dedication to Christ and his completed work on the cross. We reveal our love for God when we live for him. Part of this is done through godly living displayed for others to see.

Show others your gratitude for Christ’s work by living for him each day!

-Pastor Jon

 

New City Catechism – Week 33

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“Not In Me”
(Hymn #405 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q33: Should those who have faith in Christ seek their salvation through their own works, or anywhere else?

A33: No, they should not, as everything necessary to salvation is found in Christ. To seek salvation through good works is a denial that Christ is the only Redeemer and Savior.

Most of us can probably guess the correct answer to this week’s catechism question. Of course, we shouldn’t seek our salvation in works. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). That is a basic tenant of Christianity, right?

However obvious that answer may seem, it’s one that is hard to grasp in practice. We must get to the point where we understand that we have nothing of value to add to our salvation. It’s not that Jesus contributes 50% and we contribute 50%. It’s not even that he contributes 99.999% and we have one little fraction of a percent. Unless our salvation is found completely, totally, in Christ, it is no salvation at all.

Tim Keller shares a helpful illustration:

Mr. A asked Mr. B to make him a wooden cabinet because Mr. B was a great cabinetmaker. Mr. B and Mr. A were friends, and therefore Mr. B said, “Well, I better make this really good . . . perfect.” So he worked and worked and worked on the cabinet till he got it to the place where it had been buffed and polished to perfection. He brought Mr. A into the workshop to see it, and Mr. A picked up a piece of sandpaper and said, “Let me just add one little stroke.” Mr. B said, “No! It is finished. It’s perfect. And there’s no way to add to it without subtracting from it.”

That’s how it is with our salvation. If we try to add something to it, we take away from the perfect nature of what Jesus Christ did, and it is no longer able to save us. We must come to him in a state of total helplessness.

And I must admit, that is difficult for me. I think it is difficult for many of us. Because we are taught to believe in ourselves, that we can do anything we want to do. Honestly, it’s offensive to my pride to say I don’t contribute to my salvation, and that I must humble myself and accept God’s free gift of salvation (Romans 3:24).

The Christian life is full of commands. We are told in the Bible to sing, pray, read, meditate, give, tell, and go. Yet we must remember that all these actions flow out of our status as children of God. They do not save us. Only Jesus does. And only Jesus keeps us saved by his sustaining grace (2 Tim 1:12, Jude 24). We obey because we are loved. The challenge is to kill the pride that sees our obedience and good works (necessary and expected elements of following Christ) as somehow making us more deserving of salvation. Instead, look to Christ alone, for “all other ground is sinking sand.”

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 32

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“Before the Throne of God Above”
(Hymn #187 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q32: What do justification and sanctification mean? 

A32: Justification means our declared righteousness before God, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection for us. Sanctification means our gradual, growing righteousness, made possible by the Spirit’s work in us.

Justification and sanctification are related aspects of our salvation in Christ. They may sound complicated, but let’s make it simple.

Justification is related to the word “just” and “justice”. Justification is the act in which God declares us “just”. We are declared righteous.

When you hear the word “sanctified” you may relate it to the word “sanctuary”. The sanctuary is an area of the church that we have set-apart (holy) for the purpose of worshipping God. Sanctification is similar. It is the ongoing work of Christ in us by the Holy Spirit that sets us apart as holy unto God.

Justification is to be declared “just” (righteous and holy).

Sanctification is the process by which holiness shapes how we live.

Justification is instantaneous at the moment of our salvation when we put our faith in Christ.

Sanctification begins from justification onward, and continues progressively throughout our earthly lives.

Justification is by grace through faith. It is a work of God in which we contribute nothing. We are justified entirely through the grace of the gospel of Christ. We do not earn it. We do not deserve it.

Sanctification is also a work of God, but we are to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and make every effort in Christ to grow in holiness.

Justification is positional. We have Christ’s righteousness credited to our account.

Sanctification is practical. We see genuine growth in holy living. We are conformed into the image of Christ.

As you see, the words “justification” and “sanctification” are not hard to understand. But understanding their meaning is meaningless if we have not entered the reality of them.

Are you justified? Have you repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus Christ and Him alone for salvation. Are you now a justified sinner?

Are you growing in holiness? Are you growing in conformity with the image of Christ? Every true Christian should see evidence of the ongoing work of sanctification. Every true Christian should give himself or herself over to that process.

Justification and sanctification, though different are paired together. They cannot be separated. If a person claims to be justified, there should be evidence of accompanying sanctification.

Scripture passages concerning justification: Romans 3:23-31; 4:1-5; 5:1, 9, 16, 18; 10:10; 1Cor 6:11, Galatians 2:6; 3:8, 11, Titus 3:7

Scripture concerning sanctification: 1Thess 4:3; 5:23, 1Peter 1:2, 14, Romans 6:11-14, 12:1-2; 8:13, 1Peter 2:2; 2Peter 1:5, 3:18, Philippians 2:13-14.

*Sanctification is also used in some passages to mean that we have been set apart for God to God. When used in this way it is regarded as already accomplished, cf., Acts 26:18, Hebrews 10:10.

 

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 31

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“God, Our Father, We Adore Thee”
(Hymn #324 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q31: What do we believe by true faith?

A31: Everything taught to us in the gospel. The Apostles’ Creed expresses what we believe in these words: We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 

I have yet to go to a restaurant where I loved everything on the menu. I have a few places that I go to where I enjoy almost everything they serve, but I find certain meals less appealing than others. That’s one of the nice things about places that offer a good buffet. You can pick and choose what you’d like to eat. If you don’t feel like grabbing any vegetables (and mom isn’t looking!), then go ahead without them. If you want extra meat (and who doesn’t??), then you grab some extra prime rib.

Not everything in life is quite like buffets though. Sometimes, you have to take what you don’t always love along with what you like. Driving is great, but having to follow the speed limit isn’t always what I want to do. Owning a home can be wonderful, but there is always work to be done and things to be fixed.

It’s easy to want to treat the Bible as a buffet. Take in and mediate on what we like (God is love), but ignore the passages which are more difficult (sections regarding hell). I think I’d be more prone to treat the Bible like that if I didn’t believe it was the Word of God. If it were only written by men, I’d be less inclined to accept it all.

What then do we believe as Christians? Only the parts of Scripture that we like, or all of it? What can we believe in? Are we supposed to take every part of the Bible as God-given truth? If it’s like a buffet, what part should we eat and what part should we leave? God takes the guesswork out of it. He says all Scripture is from him. We don’t have to try to pick the good from the bad.

Admittedly, that doesn’t always make it easier to read. Some parts of the Bible are really hard to work through. But there is an assurance that what is in there is there for a purpose.

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 30

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“My Faith Has Found a Resting Place”
(Hymn #404 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q30: What is faith in Jesus Christ?

A30: Faith in Jesus Christ is acknowledging the truth of everything that God has revealed in his Word, trusting in him, and also receiving and resting on him alone for salvation as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Faith is a common enough term, isn’t it? You gotta have faith in your sports team. It was the subject of pop song in the 80’s. It’s the topic and title of several movies throughout the years. When asked for a definition of the word though, I think most people don’t realize what they’re really referring to.

Faith is more than mere hope. It’s not just wanting something to happen or even believing it will happen. I once heard someone describe faith as confidence in a chair to hold you since you don’t check first. That’s such a surface description of faith though.

Faith isn’t merely hope or even trust. It’s putting everything on the line for something. True faith follows with abandon when every fiber in our being says it’s a bad move to make. For the Christian, it’s trusting in God’s plan that he spelled out in his Son’s death on the cross and resurrection. It’s knowing that I cannot prove beyond the shadow of a doubt to anyone that my eternal home is isn heaven as a result of that death. It’s quite literally betting my life on God being real and not being a liar.

Faith is a huge risk. It’s putting my trust in a God whom I can’t see, and his words which I wasn’t able to hear directly.

It’s also an admittance of shortcoming. With faith in God, in his words, in his plan for salvation, and in his love for me, I’m admitting I’m not the center of the universe. I can’t do life on my own, and I certainly can’t do anything about eternity.

Where is your faith placed?

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 29

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“In Christ Alone”
(Hymn #177 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q29: How can we be saved?

A29: Only by faith in Jesus Christ and in his substitutionary atoning death on the cross; so even though we are guilty of having disobeyed God and are still inclined to all evil, nevertheless, God, without any merit of our own but only by pure grace, imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Christ when we repent and believe in him.

In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul explains concisely that we are saved by grace through faith. Grace is from God. This is God’s doing. It is a gift. Salvation is entirely from God. The grace that comes to us in the gospel is supplied by the work of Christ on the cross. We do not deserve it. We do not earn it. It is not of works or we would have bragging rights. We do not.

Faith is the means or channel through which a sinner receives that grace of God and is saved. Paul says that this too is of God. God supplies even the very faith by which we take hold of his grace.

Faith is a turning away from sin and a full turning toward Christ. It is a confidence in the gospel of Christ and the person of the savior. Faith trusts that God exists, that he is good, and that his promises in Christ are true. It is a casting of oneself wholly upon the merits of Christ and his atoning death.

Repentance accompanies genuine, saving faith. Turning to Christ always involves a turning away from our own path, our own sin, and our own lives. Repentance is not what saves us, but every one who truly comes to Christ comes with a repentant kind of faith.

When we therefore preach the gospel, the message should always be, in effect, “repent and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15, Acts 20:21, Luke 24:47)

Sin continues to be an issue for the Christian until we pass from this corrupted earthly life. The struggle with our inclination to sin is a battle that is part of the Christian life. We are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” By the Spirit we are to “put to death the deeds of the sinful flesh.” The grace that saves us is a grace that must continue to work in us until Christ comes or we go to be with Him.

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 28

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“How Sweet and Aweful is the Place”
(Hymn #350 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q28: What happens after death to those not united to Christ by faith?

A28: At the day of judgment they will receive the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them. They will be cast out from the favorable presence of God, into hell, to be justly and grievously punished, forever.

I once watched a guy get dumped by a girl. It wasn’t like I was trying to eavesdrop, but when things happen in a public place in a louder volume, you tend to take notice.  She made it clear to everyone within ear shot that she was disappointed in his lack of commitment to the relationship. I remember hearing something about his time spent with work, friends, etc., but it was obvious that he didn’t seem to have enough time for her, so she announced she no longer had any time for him.

If everything she was saying was the truth, I’m not sure anyone would blame her for ending the relationship. I’m assuming she tried. If that’s the case, and she really gave it an effort, who would judge her for her decision? Who expects someone to continue on in a relationship, friendship, employment, or anything similar when only one side is pushing for the relationship to work?

When we look at our relationship with God like that, it’s no wonder there is a consequence for our decision to push him aside in our life choices. That’s one of the main issues most people take with the Christian view of the afterlife. How can a loving God send someone to hell? How can those who don’t have a relationship with Christ be sent to an eternity away from him?

God has set up a time for us to be able to work on our relationship with him. Peter makes it clear in his second letter that God is being patient and waiting for his final judgment so others can come to know him (II Peter 3:9). Once that time has passed, the world will get what it has always wanted: life without God.

In a way, God is really giving unbelievers what they’ve always desired. The opportunity was given to follow him. Time will be up, and God basically says, “You didn’t have time for me, now, I no longer have time for you.” It’s the ultimate break up. But it also appears logical when we realize just how much he loves us. He is the one who literally gives his own Son for the benefit of the other. He has given us so much. It’s only fitting that we give him our love in return.

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 27

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“All I Have is Christ”
(Hymn #389 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q27: Are all people, just as they were lost through Adam, saved through Christ? 

A27: No, only those who are elected by God and united to Christ by faith. Nevertheless God in his mercy demonstrates common grace even to those who are not elect, by restraining the effects of sin and enabling works of culture for human well-being.

Will all people receive the benefits of Christ’s sacrificial and saving death on the cross for sins? Through the ages, there have been many who have devoutly wished to say “yes” to that question.

Some have taken scriptures out of context to arrive at this conclusion. Others have been convinced by logical inference that a loving God must save all, because only this would fit his character. This latter view is called universalism, and some speak of this final reconciliation of all as even extending to the devil and his demons.

However, the scripture does not teach a universal salvation of all creatures. As the catechism states, “only those who are elected by God and united to Christ by faith” will reign in life through Jesus Christ.

Salvation is utterly of God, entirely by grace through faith. This sovereign choosing of God is referred to as “election” (elect means choose). All who come to saving faith in Christ are referred to as God’s elect throughout the New Testament (cf. Matthew 24:22, Luke 18:7, Romans 8:33, Colossians 3:12, 2Tim 2:10, Titus 1:1, 1Peter 1:1, 1Peter 2:9, Revelation 17:14)

To have eternal life in Christ, we must be chosen of God and believers in Him. We cannot know that we are chosen until we know we have trusted in Christ for salvation. Those who do not believe are condemned, (not for failing to be chosen) but because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

As Paul says in Romans 5:17, this gift of righteousness is for those who “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift… through one man, Jesus Christ.” We must receive it by faith.

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 26

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“All Creatures of Our God and King”
(Hymn #11 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q26: What else does Christ’s death redeem?

A26: Christ’s death is the beginning of the redemption and renewal of every part of fallen creation, as he powerfully directs all things for his own glory and creation’s good.

Most of the time, when we think about the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are focused on our eternal salvation. This makes sense, because the condition of our eternal soul is an important concern. Whether we spend eternity in heaven or hell should matter more than anything else.

However, there is another aspect of Christ’s redemption that we shouldn’t forget. To understand that, we first need to understand the nature of the fall. When Adam and Eve sinned, humanity was affected. The Bible says that “death spread to all men” (Romans 5:12), and all humans now have a corrupted nature—we are sinners by “nature and choice” as the EFCA statement of faith says. That is what we usually focus on when we talk about the fall.

But there is more. Not just humanity, but all of creation was affected by the fall. The death and corruption that was unleashed into the world had cosmic implications. What was created good was now spoiled. Romans 8:22 puts it this way, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” We now observe a fallen world with natural disasters, death, predation and scarcity. Groaning.

The good news is that just as God made a way for humans to be reconciled to him through Christ, he is also powerfully working to restore his creation. C. S. Lewis expresses this concept in his book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when he writes that “death itself [starts] working backwards.”

God’s plans for his creation are ultimately good plans. The earth is not simply disposable, and when we exercise good stewardship of creation we express our faith in that fact. Eventually, God will make all things new (Revelation 21:5), in a glorious new heaven and new earth. We will live with him, experiencing the fullness of God’s good creation, no longer fallen, but redeemed through Jesus Christ. Let’s anticipate that day with constant expectancy and hope.

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 25

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“His Mercy is More”
(by Matt Boswell & Matt Papa)
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Q25: Why was it necessary for Christ, the Redeemer, to die?

A25: Yes, because Christ’s death on the cross fully paid the penalty for our sin, God graciously imputes Christ’s righteousness to us as if it were our own and will remember our sins no more.

I need to get something off my chest: the statement “It’s better to give than to receive” never really made sense to me. On one level, it does. I think most people enjoy giving to others and knowing it meets a need or a desire. However, I really like getting stuff too! I realize that makes me sound selfish, but before you rush to judgment, make sure there isn’t something inside you that might agree with me a little.

The best presents are the ones you didn’t expect or really even deserve. I can still remember fondly when my father bought an army figure I had begged him for. The local hardware store used to sell a few of them, and they carried one specific one I hadn’t seen at any other stores. I tried to explain (as an eight year old) how rare that figure was and how valuable that made it. None of my friends had it, so I would also be the envy of them.

I think I finally broke him down and out of the blue, he came home with it one day. It’s weird how those little things stick in our minds through so many years. I can recall there was nothing special about that day. I hadn’t done any extra chores. I didn’t express my love for my parents anymore that day than usual. And we didn’t even have a dog that I could have walked. He just came home with it and smiled as he handed me the bag.

The unexpected or undeserved gift is not a foreign concept to a follower of Christ. Paul makes it very clear in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that Christ’s sacrifice is an all-encompassing gift from God. It was nothing we deserved. In fact, we deserve quite the opposite. Paul emphasizes that point in Romans 5. In our helpless and completely sinful state, Christ died for our sins.

This gift extends to even the vilest of offenders. Paul called himself the chief of sinners. Even the most godly among us, though, must never take advantage of the grace of God. We’re reminded this week of how complete Christ’s death was. It covered all sins. It’s a gift we don’t deserve.

-Pastor Jon