Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Noting The Contrast Between Faith And Works Throughout The Pauline Epistles

  • Paul's Epistle To The Romans:
          -A freely received gift and an earned wage are mutually exclusive concepts (Romans 4:4).
          -Justification in the sight of God is not earned as a result of what one has done, but is received with the empty hand of faith (Romans 4:5).
          -Abraham was declared righteous on the basis of his faith rather than his circumcision (Romans 4:9-12). Faith is contrasted with circumcision, which is a type of good work.
          -The promise of God to Abraham and his descendants comes not through the Law but by faith (Romans 4:13).
          -The promises of God to those who have faith would be made of no effect if righteousness came through the Law (Romans 4:14).
          -Faith is consistent with grace in order that the promises of God to Abraham and his descendants be brought to fulfillment (Romans 4:16). The Law brings forth condemnation (Romans 4:15).
  • Paul's Epistle To The Galatians:
          -The Holy Spirit is received by faith and not by "works of the Law" or "the flesh" (Galatians 3:2-3).
          -Those who rely on faith, not the works of the Law, are regarded as children of Abraham in the sight of God (Galatians 3:6-9).
          -Dependence on works of the Law for salvation brings about a curse (Galatians 3:10-14).
          -The inheritance that we receive through the promises of God depends on His grace, not Law (Galatians 3:15-18).
  • Paul's Epistle To The Ephesians:
          -We have been saved by grace through faith, not as a result of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
  • Paul's Epistle To The Philippians:
          -We serve God in the Spirit and place no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3).
          -Even though the Apostle Paul could point to the deeds of the flesh that he performed in his days as a Pharisee (Philippians 3:4-6), he gave all that up for faith in Christ (Philippians 3:7).
          -Paul regarded his fleshly works done under the Law as rubbish in order that he be known by Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:8).
          -We receive righteousness from God on the basis of faith, not by deeds performed under the Law (Philippians 3:9).
  • Paul's Second Epistle To Timothy:
          -We are saved and called to glorify God by His grace through our faith in Him and not because of our works (2 Timothy 1:9).
  • Paul's Epistle To Titus:
          -We are saved by the grace and mercy of God, not on the basis of our works (Titus 3:5).
          -We become heirs having the confident expectation of eternal life on the basis of grace (Titus 3:7).

Saturday, March 27, 2021

A Commentary On Shekinah Glory

Shechinah. This term is not found in the Bible. It was used by the later Jews, and borrowed by Christians from them, to express the visible majesty of the Divine Presence especially when resting or dwelling between cherubim on the mercy-seat in the Tabernacle and in the temple of Solomon; but not in Zerubbabel's temple, for it was one of the five particulars which the Jews reckon to have been wanting in the second Temple. The use of the term is first found in the Targums, where it a frequent periphrasis for God, considered as dwelling amongst the children of Israel, and is thus used, especially by Onkelos, to avoid ascribing corporeity to God Himself. In Ex. xxv. 8, where the Hebrew has "Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them," Onkelos has, "I will make my Shechinah to among them." In xxix. 45, 46, for the Hebrew "I will dwell among the children of Israel," Onkelos has, "I will make my Shechinah to dwell," &c. In Ps. lxxiv. 2, "for this Mount Zion wherein thou hast dwelt," the Targum has "wherein thy Shechinah hath dwelt." In the description of the dedication of  Solomon's Temple (1 K. viii. 12, 13), the Targum of Jonathan runs thus: "The Lord is to make His Shechinah dwell in Jerusalem. I have built the house of the sanctuary for the house of thy Shechinah forever." And in 1 K. vi. 13, for the Heb. "I will dwell among the children of Israel," Jonathan has "I will make my Shechinah dwell." In Is. vi. 5, he has the combination, "the glory of the Shechinah of the King of ages the Lord of Hosts;" and in the next verse he paraphrases "from off the altar" by "from before His Shechinah on the throne of glory in the lofty heavens that are above the altar." Compare also Num. v. 3, xxxv. 34; Ps. lxviii. 17, 18, cxxxv. 21; Is. xxxiii. 5, lvii. 15; Joel iii. 17, 21, and numerous other passages. On the other hand, it should be noticed that the Targums never render "the cloud" or "the glory" by Shechinah. Hence, as regards the use of the word Shechinah in the Targums, it may be defined as a periphrasis for God whenever He is said to dwell on, Zion amongst Israel, or between the cherubims, and so on, in order as before said, to avoid the slightest approach to materialism. Our view of the Targumistic of the Shechinah would not be complete if we did not add, that though, as we have seen, the Jews reckoned the Shechinah among the marks of the divine favor which were wanting to the second Temple, they manifestly expected the return of the Shechinah in the days of the Messiah. Thus Hagg. i. 8, "Build the house, and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord," is paraphrased by Jonathan, "I will cause my Shechinah to dwell in it in glory." Compare also Ez. xliii. 7, 9; Zech. ii. 10, viii. 3. As regards the visible manifestation of the Divine Presence dwelling amongst the Israelites, to which the term Shechinah has attached itself, the idea which the different accounts in Scripture convey is that of a most brilliant and glorious light, enveloped in a cloud, and usually concealed by the cloud, so that the cloud itself was for the most part alone visible; but on particular occasions, the glory appeared. The allusions in the NT to the Shechinah are not unfrequent. Thus in the account of the Nativity, the words, "Lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them and, the glory of the Lord shone round about them" (Luke ii. 9), followed by the apparition of "the multitude of the heavenly host," recall the appearance of the divine glory on Sinai, when "He shined forth from Paran, and came with ten thousands of saints" (Deut. xxxiii. 2; comp. Ps. lxviii. 17; Ezek. xliii. 2; Acts vii. 53; Heb ii. 2). The "God of glory" (Acts vii. 2, 55), the "cherubims of glory" (Heb ix. 5), "the glory" (Rom. ix. 4), and other like passages, are distinct references to the manifestations of the glory in the O.T. When we read in John i. 14, that "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory" or in 2 Cor. xii. 9, "that the power of Christ may rest upon me;" or in Rev. xxi. 3, "Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them,"-we have not only references to the Shechinah, but are distinctly taught to connect it with the incarnation and future coming of Messiah, as type with antitype. It should also be specially noticed that the attendance of angels is usually associated with the Shechinah. These are most frequently called (Ez. x., xi.) cherubim; but sometimes, as in Is. vi., seraphim (comp. Rev. iv. 7, 8). The predominant association, however, is with the cherubim, of which the golden cherubim on the mercy-seat were the representation.

William Smith, A Dictionary Of the Bible Comprising Its Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, p. 878-879

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Hebrews 1:3 And The Deity Of Christ

        "And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." (Hebrews 1:3)

        This text is a very strong affirmation of the deity of Jesus Christ and is packed with meaning. The phrase "exact representation" can be illustrated using an ideal cut diamond as an analogy. The glory of Christ transcends the effulgence of even the most precious gems.

        God the Son possesses the same divine nature as God the Father. He has the same divine glory as God the Father. Christ is the wisdom of God. He is wisdom incarnate (1 Corinthians 1:24; 30; Colossians 2:3).

        The English Standard Version renders "exact representation" as "the exact imprint." No man or angel can rightfully have this kind of description applied to themselves. Christ represents God perfectly in every way. He makes known to us God the Father (John 14:9).

        We know from the Old Testament that God will not give His glory to another (Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 42:8; 48:11). Thus, Christ must be God. Commentators believe that the author of Hebrews drew from the Wisdom of Solomon in asserting the divinity of Christ:

        "She is a breath of God's power—a pure and radiant stream of glory from the Almighty. Nothing that is defiled can ever steal its way into Wisdom. She is a reflection of eternal light, a perfect mirror of God's activity and goodness. " (Wisdom 7:25-26) 

        Wisdom is personified in the above excerpt. Wisdom is a prominent exhibition of the divine glory of God. This wisdom and glory shines forth in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Is Mary The Mother Of The Church?

        One of the Marian dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church is that Mary is our spiritual mother. Roman Catholic Priest Edward Looney explains this teaching as follows:

        "Everyone has a mother. Yes, the mother who gave them birth in the physical order of life. But Christian believers have another mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the spiritual order of grace. Jesus willed to give Mary as a mother to the early Church, when, from the cross, he looked at his mother and said, “Woman, behold, your son” (John 19:26). And to the beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother” (John 19:27)."

        The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 4:26 that the heavenly Jerusalem is the mother of the church:

        "But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother."

        In that same context, the virgin birth is alluded to and Mary is only described as a woman: 

        "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law." (Galatians 4:4)

        In his epistle to the Romans, Paul mentioned Rufus' mother and said that she had been a motherly figure to him: 

        "Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine." (Romans 16:13)

        If Mary is the mother of the church, then it would seem ironic and even disrespectful for him to say nothing in regards to her.

        The Apostle John says nothing about Mary in his letters to the churches and mentions her only twice in his gospel (the wedding at Cana and the crucifixion of Jesus). This is significant because he took Mary into his home after Jesus was crucified.

        John was the disciple who Jesus loved (John 21:20). He was present at His crucifixion. Because John believed Christ to be the Son of God, he was considered a part of the true family of God (Luke 8:21). Christ's blood brothers did not believe at that point in time and hence were not a part of His true family (John 7:5). That is why Christ handing His mother Mary to John for care rather than one of His blood brothers can be viewed as appropriate. In so doing, He was being faithful to both the letter and spirit of the Law.

        "The Fathers of the Church and early Christian writers did not so interpret the words of the dying Christ [John 19:25-27]. Development of the idea of Mary's spiritual motherhood was slow and did not enter the consciousnesses of the Church until medieval times. During those early centuries, the sacred text did not immediately convey the notion. Lengthy reflection was needed to reach it." (Michael O'Carroll, cited in Cult of the Virgin: Catholic Mariology and the Apparitions of Mary, Elliot Miller and Kenneth R. Samples, p. 44)

Monday, February 22, 2021

Early Church Evidence For Sola Fide

"Victorinus separates them [justification and sanctification] when he writes, "A man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith and the faith of Jesus Christ...It is faith alone that gives justification and sanctification."

Nathan Busenitz, Long Before Luther, p. 82

Early Church Evidence For Sola Fide

"In his treatise entitled "Concerning Those Who Think to Be Justified through Works," Marcus Eremita (fifth century, also known as Marcus the Ascetic) explains that "the kingdom of heaven is not a reward for works, but a gift of grace prepared by the Master for his faithful servants."

Nathan Busenitz, Long Before Luther, p. 135

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Does Romans 3:28 Support Justification By Faith Alone?

  • Discussion:
          -The purpose of this article is to interact with a number of Roman Catholic claims regarding Romans 3:28 and justification by faith alone. Following are a few excerpts from the author along with a critique of those assertions:

          "Romans 3:28 is a key verse in the differences between traditional Protestants and Catholics. You will notice that Paul says a man is justified by faith (pistei in Greek). When Martin Luther translated the letter to the Romans into German in the sixteenth century, he added the word alone —but alone is not in the original Greek text. The phrase “faith alone” does occur in the New Testament: one time, in James 2:24. There the inspired apostle denies that justification is from faith alone. Let me quote it: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

          Romans 3:28 is part of a context contrasting faith and works. The latter is excluded by the Apostle Paul as being an available avenue of justification before God. 

          James 2:24 is part of a context about the demonstration of a saving faith. That text addresses justification from an evidential perspective.

          "Paul categorically excludes works from our salvation. But what kind of works is Paul talking about? If we believe the entire Bible, we need to see how Paul’s words fit together with James’s words, because James clearly says that “a man is justified by works.” If Paul and James mean the same thing by works, then they contradict one another. Since you and I both believe that the Bible cannot contradict itself, we must agree that Paul and James mean two different things by the word works."

          Notice how a distinction between works in James and works in Paul has to be invented in order to circumvent the implications that Romans 3:28 has on Roman Catholic theology concerning salvation. The Apostle Paul undoubtedly had the Mosaic Law in mind when he wrote Romans. However, there is much more to it than customs such as circumcision. The Mosaic Law also had commandments to love God and love neighbor. Paul brings up the prohibition against coveting, which is a part of the Ten Commandments (Romans 7:7). James would indeed have these kinds of works in view. Moreover, Roman Catholicism regards these aspects of the Law as being necessary for justification while rejecting other aspects such as circumcision and Sabbath observance. 

          "A careful reading of Galatians will show that Paul is using works of the law to refer especially to the law of circumcision. He is so strong about this that he says in Galatians 5:2, “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” Paul’s opponents in Galatia wanted to bring the Gentile Christians back into the Old Testament law. These are the works of the law that Paul is fighting against, and they have no place in our justification. Paul is saying in essence that Gentile Christians do not have to be circumcised and live like Jewish Christians in order to be saved."

          No reason has been given as to why we should limit Paul's focus to ceremonial and dietary laws when he speaks of "works of the law." His only point of emphasis when discussing the instance of justification before God in Romans and Galatians is faith. Hence, we see the reason for such passages being appealed to as evidence of justification by faith alone. Assume for the sake of argument that the Apostle Paul had the narrow focus of the Mosaic Law (not including good works in general) in mind when he mentions "works of the law." The Roman Catholic Church would still stand condemned according to his teaching.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Does The Roman Catholic Church Teach That We Are Saved By Grace Alone?

        "If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema." (Council of Trent, canon 1)

         Rome does not maintain that a man pulls himself up by his own bootstraps but speaks in terms of "cooperating with grace." In Roman Catholic theology, a person has to do good works in order to get justified in the sight of God. One keeps his right standing before Him by that same means. Rome teaches that one must attain an inherent righteousness in order to be accepted by God. However, these ideas run contrary to the teaching of Scripture. 

         The grace of God does not come about as a result of the doings of man (Romans 11:6). Grace and works are at odds with each other in the context of justification. Simply put, to speak of grace being infused at the moment of water baptism (which is a work) and being maintained through good works is a contradiction of terms. Paul would have understood grace to be an unmerited favor of God.

         We have failed to meet the standard of moral perfection that God requires and so have incurred for ourselves condemnation (Psalm 14:2-3; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:9-23; Galatians 3:10). If He kept a record of our sins, we could not stand and say that we are righteous (Psalm 130:3). No one could be saved if God chose not to be merciful toward us. We do not look to ourselves for righteousness. We look to Christ alone and the righteousness that He gives to us (Luke 18:9-14; Philippians 3:3-9). 

        The point of contention with Roman Catholicism is not whether our lives as Christians should be characterized by obedience to God. It does not at all center around whether we perform good works. They are a display of His grace in our lives. However, good works are not to be viewed as meritorious in the sight of God. Our grounds for justification before Him is the shed blood of Jesus Christ alone (Romans 5:19).

        If justification is "not of ourselves" and "not as a result of works" (Ephesians 2:8-9), then that means faith alone is the instrumental cause of justification before God. It is not obtained by both grace and works because it cannot be done that way. There are no good deeds that can save us from eternal condemnation, including those done in a state of grace. The Roman Catholic Church views grace as being necessary for salvation, but not sufficient. 

        Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul says, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we did in righteousness..." (Titus 3:5). He continues on that thought with a stark contrast, "but according to his mercy he saved us." Thus, Paul would most definitely have condemned the sacramental system of justification taught by the Church of Rome. Some people ironically use this verse to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation, but that would be a self-contradictory interpretation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Freedom And Liberation From The Law

[Romans 7] 7:25 The Law is holy and its commandment is holy and just and good (12). But sin, that diabolic power, manifests itself in its true colors (12) by using just that good Word of God to rouse in man the dormant will of opposition to God which destroys him. Paul illustrates this working of the Law (as misused by the power of sin) from his early life (7-13). Paul also shows us the working of the Law from his own experience with the Law as a Christian (14-25). It was contact with the Law, confronting him as the commandment, that first gave sin its deadly power in his life (9-11). Paul as a Christian, when confronted by the Law, becomes a man rent by an agonizing struggle (14-24) from which only Christ can and does release him from this hard fought struggle (25).

Martin Franzmann and Walter H. Roehrs, Concordia Self-Study Commentary [commentary on Romans], p. 131

Monday, October 19, 2020

How The Gospel Brings About Unity

"One of the defining characteristics of modern cults is the turning of the convert against his family, and the cutting off of that convert from his parents. The true gospel does not do that. We teach young converts to honor their fathers and mothers, even when those parents oppose the Gospel. Unlike the modern cults, the alienation comes only when unbelieving parents disown, expel, or disenfranchise believing children. In such cases, the family of the local assembly is all the more important. The original family has cast out the new believer."

Understanding the Church, by Joseph M. Vogl and John H. Fish III, p. 98