God's Not Dead! H.C. Lord's Day 17

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 17

How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?
First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that He might make us share in the righteousness He won for us by His death.  Second, by His power we too are already now resurrected to new life.  Third, Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  1 Corinthians 15:17. These are strong words from the Apostle Paul regarding the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; the event we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Often, in church, we talk about how Jesus died for our sins on the cross.  Far too often, that’s all the further that the mention of His work goes for us.  Jesus’ death is a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  Certainly, this is true and I wouldn’t want to discount this event or the suffering that Christ endured for us in the least.  As we discussed last week, the events of the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life cannot be overstated.

However, Jesus’ death doesn’t amount to much without His resurrection from the death.  The Resurrection is the most important event in history.  Without it, Jesus’ death does not accomplish the forgiveness of sins, His sacrifice is not sufficient, and His work is incomplete.  Without the resurrection, our death is still the ultimate end for us, even if the punishment for our sins had been taken by Him.

Paul goes on to say that if Christ is not raised, not only is the Christian faith futile, those that teach it are liars and are to be pitied.  What a bold and honest statement from the most influential Christian in all human history.

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the death…” 1 Corinthians 15:20. This is the foundation of the hope that we have!  Jesus’ death paid for our sins; His resurrection conquers the ultimate punishment for our sins.  By His resurrection, we are assured that He is the all-sufficient sacrifice, that His work is complete, and that the wrath of God has been satisfied.  We know this because the consequences of sin have been removed.

C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” captures this so clearly in the conversation Aslan has with Lucy and Susan after coming back from the dead:

“…though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.  Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read a different incantation.  She would have known that when a willing victim who has committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

Yes, an innocent victim taking the place of a traitor, though the Resurrection is no magic… it is the sheer power of God on display in Christ Jesus.  It is the ultimate will of God being played out before the eyes of the entire cosmos and impacting the entire universe.  There is no place or time in which the Resurrection’s significance does not touch and is not felt.  All of this was decreed before the foundations of the earth when only the Triune God existed, and all of it was done for us.  Thanks be to God!!



Day 327: Romans 4-7; By Faith

We continue in Paul’s explanation of the Gospel as he lays out for the church in Rome the good news of Jesus Christ.  Remember yesterday how he walked through the a sort of “creation narrative” as he explained general revelation and how all humanity is without excuse for knowing God.  He also makes it very clear to us that all of humanity is sinful in its very nature and that there is nothing that we can do to get out of this sin.  Calvinists would call this “total depravity” but it might be better to say that this is a “pervasive depravity” combined with “total inability.”  While this doesn’t necessarily fit in with the TULIP acronym, it most certainly is more correct (and besides, TULIP is a poor representation of Calvinism anyway).  Sin affects every part of our being and there is nothing we can do to make it right or to make ourselves right.  No amount of good works, social status, or even ethic status as the Jews thought can save anyone from their sins.  Quite simply, Paul says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Yet it isn’t all hopeless here!  Paul also goes on to say that “and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  The good news is that God has done something about our condition!  God knew that we could not do it on our own and so He did it for us by sending His Son to live and die for us.  I added the word “all” into this because it is implied from the first half of the sentence.  It is true that ALL have sinned.  It is also true that ALL are justified.  Now this is something that people might push back on because is smells of universalism.  Our “TULIP” acronym comes back into play here with both “Limited Atonement” and “Unconditional Election.”  Again, I must point out that TULIP is really a horrible acronym for calvinism or the reformed faith because both of these statements can be confusing.  It might be better to put it this way: Christ’s death on the cross was Sufficient for all, but effective for elect.  Who are the elect?  Well… that gets into an entirely other topic…

 Election is something of a difficult doctrine to unwrap.  People often hear it as God has chosen some and not others.  Essentially, this is true… but when said like this, it makes it sound like no one gets to choose anything about anything.  You are either elect and go to heaven or you are the opposite (reprobate) and don’t.  If you throw a word like “predestination” in there, it makes it even worse for some because we think that these choices are already made.  The fact of the matter is, at least on some level, God has revealed Himself to some people in a special way (we call this special revelation).  For those in whom the Spirit is working and gives faith, which is also a gift from God mind you, when they come to faith they become one of the elect, chosen by God and forgiven of their sins by His grace alone.  The ramifications of this doctrine are that there are those who will never choose God and never turn towards Christ.  Paul says that these people are without excuse.  For them, the death of Christ is as sufficient as it is for anyone else to save them from their sins, yet because they have not turned to God in faith and accepted this gift, it is not effective for them.

I understand that these are difficult teachings, but they are clearly laid out in the Bible.  We will return to them in the future, but for now I would like to focus in on the key word here: “faith.”

As we return from this to the readings for today, check out how Paul lays out the stories of Abraham and faith.  Abraham isn’t saved, says Paul, by virtue of being the father of the nation of Israel.  He is saved because “he believed God,” because he had faith.  This didn’t have anything to do with his works or his ethnicity, it had to do with faith and Paul lays this out pretty clearly.  It all depends on faith.

He continues on in chapters 5-7 to talk about the effects of having faith in God do for our life.  It is not simply that when we come to faith our sins are forgiven and that’s that.  Paul shows us that in many ways what happens is that we “put on” Christ in many ways.  When we come to faith in God through Christ Jesus by the working of the Holy Spirit we “die” to our old self.  We are no longer who we were, but we are raised to life in Christ!  This is one of the main promises in the sacrament of baptism and one of its primary meanings as well (more on that to come later as well).  By faith we are united to Christ… in God’s eyes He no longer sees us as a sinful human, but sees us as He sees His Son: RIGHTEOUS.  For those looking for another theological term, we call this “imputed righteousness.”  Calvin, in his institutes says it like this:

“Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body–in short–, because he deigns to make us one with him.” (3.11.10)

Wow, this is a heavy post today.  My head hurts thinking about the theological ground that we covered.  Yet these things are important.  Perhaps not all the fancy theological words, but the premise is at the very core of the Christian faith.  In some ways, these are the things that we need to be able to talk about as Christians.  Granted, I think that people tend to be more open to hearing about the testimonies of people as they experience God in their lives.  However, at some point in time it comes down to faith in Christ Jesus and what has taken place in our lives.  We NEED to know these things… perhaps not the technical jargon so much… but what has happened to us… we need to know this so that we can share this Good News with everyone we meet.  One of the things about election that is so vitally important to the whole of the doctrine is the fact that, in just about every place that it is talked about, the writers and theologians say that we can never know who is elect and who isn’t.  The doctrine of election gives us no excuse to not preach, but actually encourages us to testify even more because WE ARE NOT the judges of who is elect and who isn’t… that is something that has happened in the counsel of God alone and will not be known until the end of time.  So speak boldly the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”