The greatest miracle ever to take place was not the standing still of the sun over Joshua’s battle or water coming from the rock by the striking of Moses’ rod. The greatest miracle ever to take place was the incarnation of Almighty God, which took place when Jesus Christ was born many years ago of the virgin Mary. The magnitude of this miracle follows from its stunning implications: that the God who created the world around us, who formed each of us in the darkness of our mothers’ womb, who cannot be contained in temples made with human hands, assumed the form of a servant, took upon himself our human nature, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid to sleep in a manger! The preciousness of this miracle to every believer is found in God’s purpose in performing it. Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate, was not born to gratify our sentimentality during the holiday season. He was not born as the poster child for world peace to be displayed in nativity scenes across the nations. He was born for our salvation, which he would accomplish when he grew into the man who hung on the cross and was raised again three days later for our justification.
The believer answers, “By grace!”
Salvation is of grace because salvation is of the Lord. It is a thoroughly divine work!
From election to regeneration, and from good works to assurance, Wonder of Grace is a clear, beautiful explanation of each of the facets of grace in the lives of God’s people.
God cannot be mocked.
He may not be mocked; but he cannot be mocked either.
And when one departs from the straight line of the truth, he must come back to the point of departure or else continue still further away from the truth.
“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Luke 23:42
Everyone mocked the Christ when he hung on the cross.
The people stood beholding.
The rulers derided him, but also with them, that is, the people.
The soldiers mocked him.
Even the written word meant to deride him. The superscription on the cross was meant as a taunt of the ruler, the governor: This is the King of the Jews! Imagine: a King on a cross??!!
Yes, and even a man who was in the same judgment with Jesus mocked him, saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us!
Everyone derided and mocked Jesus.
But wait! There is one solitary exception: the other murderer.
He turns his tortured body toward the other murderer and after chiding him for mocking Jesus, he turns to Jesus and says: Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom!
Marvel of marvels!
There is one in the whole universe that believes in the crucified one!
And he is a murderer.
“As to our good works” (2): The nature of good works as works
Works occupy a prominent place in Scripture; in fact, Scripture is from beginning to end a book of works. Scripture attributes works to the triune God, Christ, angels—wicked and holy, and men—wicked and holy. We begin our examination of the good works of the believer by considering the nature of good works and noting five general characteristics of our good works as works.
A conscious, acting subject
First, works are those deeds consciously and volitionally performed by rational, moral beings. Strictly speaking, a creature like the sky is not capable of performing works. Psalm 19:1 teaches, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” The visible expanse of the heavens above us gives glory to God; however, it is not an intelligent creature consciously and willingly producing “works” of praise unto God as holy men and holy angels can do. We men are different than the creatures in the heavens above and in the earth beneath and in the waters under the earth, for God created us as personal beings with an intellect and will so that we are able to live consciously before His face performing works of service in love for Him and our neighbor. In marriage, a husband and wife are called to love each other and show it in word and deed, but if a whole week has gone by and they have not consciously performed even one considerate act towards each other, living as intimately as two stars twinkling side by side in the heavens, something is dreadfully amiss. God created us, and in Jesus Christ has recreated us, as new creatures able to do good. Consciously! Willingly! Cheerfully! Lovingly!
I am glad to read that you find between us areas of agreement. Especially important is that you can accept calling faith a ‘doing,’ though only “as long as calling faith a ‘doing’ only means that faith is an activity, but in no way, shape, or form means that faith is a work."
Agreement and objections re faith and works
Thank you for publishing my letter and revised letter in the March 1 and March 15, 2019 issues of the Standard Bearer, even though the letter exceeded the length allowed by SB policy. (As for your apology for publishing the wrong letter originally, apology accepted—no harm done and no hard feelings.) Thank you as well for your thorough response to my letter in two installments in those same issues. We are agreed that these matters are of greatest importance and are worthy of the space devoted to them in the pages of the SB. I ask for your indulgence in allowing me to respond once more, since this letter again goes beyond policy.
So what is the status of a baptized person in the Roman Catholic Church? His sins have been removed, but “concupiscence” remains. In Roman Catholicism, concupiscence is a moral weakness, a tendency toward sin, which is itself not sin and which can be resisted by grace (grace that God gives to everyone through the sacraments and through the good works of piety of a faithful church member). But the Bible teaches that all sinners (even believers) have a sinful flesh, a totally depraved and corrupted nature, which is not only inclined to all evil, but is itself evil, and which can do nothing good. This sinful nature exists in all sinners, although in believers it has been dethroned. Nevertheless, even in believers the flesh is still very active and produces in us all kinds of evil. Without a biblical understanding of sin, the Roman Catholic will lack a proper understanding of salvation: neither water baptism nor the power of free will (even when coupled with God’s grace) can deliver us from the “filth of the flesh.”
Why then does the Bible speak this way, linking the reality of salvation to the sign of baptism? Reformed theologians speak of the sacramental union, for in the Bible there is a close connection between the sign (baptism) and the thing signified (the washing away of sin in the blood of Christ). The Heidelberg Catechism asks about this sacramental union, “Why then doth the Holy Ghost call baptism ‘the washing of regeneration,’ and the ‘washing away of sins’? God speaks thus not without great cause, to wit, not only thereby to teach us that, as the filth of the body is purged away by water, so our sins are removed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ; but especially that by this divine pledge and sign he may assure us that we are spiritually cleansed from our sins as really as we are externally washed with water” (Q&A 73).
The relationship between the sign (baptism) and the thing signified (salvation) is not one of identity. They are not the same, nor does the sign become the reality. A sign cannot be the reality; otherwise, it is not a sign. A sign cannot become the reality, otherwise it ceases to be a sign. Nevertheless, sometimes the Bible gives the name of the thing signified to the sign itself, because God would have us associate the reality with the sign.
There are therefore, two figures in 1 Peter 3:21: the flood, which is an Old Testament type of baptism; and water baptism, which is the New Testament picture (or the sign and seal) of salvation in the blood and Holy Spirit of Christ. The reality is salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Heidelberg Catechism elucidates: “Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself? Not at all; for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Ghost, cleanse us from all sin” (Q&A 72). Water baptism, and its type, the flood, point to one great reality: the washing away of our sins by the blood and in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Peter teaches this when he writes: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (v. 21). Peter connects salvation not to water baptism, but to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and therefore also to the cross. There is no resurrection without the cross, for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is his bodily resurrection from the grave three days after his death.
Peter has already explained the death of Christ in verse 18: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” Christ’s death was a substitutionary death, an atoning sacrifice to satisfy God’s justice. We are unjust or unrighteous, and Christ, the just one, paid for our sins. Thus Christ died both for our benefit and in our place, and by his resurrection God proves that he is perfectly satisfied with his Son’s work of atonement.
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