By Grace Alone and through Faith Alone

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….” Romans 3:23-24 (Read all of chapter 3)

The law makes it clear that we have all sinned and are guilty before the LORD God. None of us measures up to the righteousness God requires of us.

The Bible tells us (Rom. 3:10-18): “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat [is] an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps [is] under their lips: whose mouth [is] full of cursing and bitterness: their feet [are] swift to shed blood: destruction and misery [are] in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Cf. Ps. 14:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; Is. 59:7-8; Ps. 36:1.)

The law stops our mouths from all boasting because it reveals our utter sinfulness and failure to live up to the righteous demands of God’s commandments. It shows the judgment of God we all deserve. “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law [is] the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20; cf. Ps. 143:2).

But there is a righteousness apart from our keeping of the law (v. 21). It is an imputed righteousness which is ours through faith in Messiah Jesus.

Jesus Christ fulfilled all the righteous and holy demands of God’s law for us. He lived a holy and sinless life for us in His thoughts, desires, words and deeds. And Jesus made full atonement for our sins and the sins of all the world when He suffered and died upon the cross and was forsaken and condemned of God the Father in our stead (cf. Matt. 27:46). And Jesus rose again on the third day, proving that God accepted His sacrifice for sin (cf. Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).

The Bible tells us that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, [I say], at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:24-26).

Thus, all of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory, but we are declared forgiven, just and righteousness because of the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus in our stead. The law of God, which reveals God’s holy will for us, reveals our utter sinfulness and shortcoming in regard to being righteous and acceptable in God’s sight. The Gospel reveals the righteousness of Christ Jesus and the forgiveness, life and acceptance which are ours in Jesus’ name.

I have sinned, O God, and deserve only Your wrath and punishment. Forgive my sin for Jesus’ sake, and grant me a place in Your everlasting kingdom. Amen.

[Scripture Quoted from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

If Luther were alive today….

lrose_stainedglass300On Friday, Oct. 31, many Christians celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation. It was on All Hallows’ Eve, the eve of All Saints’ Day, in the year 1517, when a German monk and university professor named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses for debate on the door (the bulletin board of the day) of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. These statements for debate, which challenged the sale of indulgences and the authority of the Roman papacy to establish doctrine and practice contrary to the Holy Scriptures, sparked the Lutheran Reformation and reformation movements in other European lands.

Through this reformation, the Lutheran Church was born with its emphasis on the three solas (alones): Salvation by God’s grace alone for the sake of Christ and His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross; Justification by faith alone without the works of the law; and Scripture alone as the source and judge of all Christian teaching.

True Christians cherish these blessings handed down to us from Luther and the reformers. They still hold fast to these same three solas, proclaiming Christ and His cross as God’s only gracious means for our salvation. They point out the sinfulness and shortcomings of human works and proclaim salvation through faith alone in the completed work of Jesus Christ. And, they use the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, as the only source and norm for all Christian doctrine. They preach what the Bible teaches, nothing more and nothing less, even in a society and culture which views such teaching as outdated and less than loving.

On Oct. 31, or on the Sunday before or the Sunday after, many churches around the world will celebrate the Reformation and give thanks for the work God accomplished through Luther and others like him to restore to us the true doctrine of God’s Word.

My question, however, is this: What would happen if Martin Luther were alive today?

In rebuking the scribes and Pharisees of His day, Jesus said (Matthew 23:29-31): “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.” Jesus was pointing out how hypocritical it was of His hearers to honor the prophets whom their fathers killed when they were doing the same thing to those sent of God in their day.

Jesus continued (Matthew 23:32-35): “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. [Ye] serpents, [ye] generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and [some] of them ye shall kill and crucify; and [some] of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute [them] from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.”

The New Testament tells us of the persecution faced by John the Baptist, Jesus and the followers of Jesus, often at the hands of the same men who adorned the tombs of the prophets killed by their fathers. And why were these prophets killed? Because they pointed out the sin of the people and called upon them to repent and look to God and His Messiah for mercy. Why were John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ followers persecuted and killed? Because they pointed out the sin of the people and called upon them to repent and look to God and His Messiah for mercy!

This brings me to my question regarding Martin Luther. What if Martin Luther were alive today? How would he be received in those churches which are, so to speak, adorning his tomb? To be honest with you, I expect he would be defrocked, kicked out, removed from clergy rosters, not allowed to preach.

Why would I say this? Because it is happening today to those who preach and proclaim nothing other than the doctrine Luther proclaimed and probably with a lot less graphic and abrasive language. Of course, the same is true of other Biblical theologians – C.F.W. Walther, Francis Pieper, Theodore Engelder, Wallace McLaughlin and others come to mind – who held fast to the Scriptures, proclaimed sin as sin and championed the grace of God in Christ Jesus, who preached that a man is justified simply by believing the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ Jesus and not by his own sin-tainted works.

Churches today – especially Lutheran – proclaim such men as heroes of the faith and founding fathers of church bodies and synods. Yet, if they were to preach the sermons they preached in pulpits today, or teach the strict Biblical doctrine they taught and proclaimed, they would more likely be viewed as a scourge to be removed and silenced lest they disrupt the tranquility of sleeping and luke-warm churches.

Such men most certainly would not be regarded as politically correct or sensitive to the views of modern society, but then the same thing could be said of Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees were leaders in the visible, outward church of Jesus’ day. And what did Jesus tell them? He called them white-washed tombs (beautiful on the outside but full of death and uncleanness on the inside), hypocrites (saying one thing but doing another), serpents (in the likeness of the serpent in the Garden), and said they were headed to hell. Yes, Jesus said it like it was, with the desire that His hearers would repent and look to Him for mercy and forgiveness!

And so, how will we as Christians remember Luther and his Reformation doctrine? And how will we honor others who have walked in the steps of Luther and proclaimed true Biblical doctrine? If we just adorn their tombs and memories, it’s a sham and will do us no good. But if we return to the Scriptures and teach all that the Bible says (nothing more and nothing less), if we proclaim salvation by God’s grace alone for the sake of Christ crucified and risen again, and if we proclaim justification through faith alone and apart from human works or merits, then our observance of Reformation Day and the blessings God has given us through it will be genuine and a blessing of God upon us. If we repent of our own sinful ways and look to God for mercy and forgiveness solely for the sake of the atoning sacrifice of His Son, Christ Jesus, then we will indeed be blessed!

Pastor Randy Moll

Prayer of Asaph in a time of judgment

“O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.”  Psalm 79:1 (Read Psalm 79)

What happened in Judah and Jerusalem to move Asaph to pen the words of Psalm 79, in which he pleads with the LORD God for mercy upon God’s people and judgment upon their enemies? Could it happen here?

We learn from the Scriptures that Asaph was a musician and prophet who lived during the reigns of Kings David, Solomon and Rehoboam (cf. 1 Chron. 6:31ff.; 16:4ff.; 25:1ff.; 2 Chron. 29:30; Ezra 2:41) and wrote a number of the psalms (Psalms 50 and 73-83). He led the children of Israel in their worship of the LORD in Jerusalem. And, after witnessing the greatness of the kingdom of Israel under David, Asaph then began to see things come apart under the reigns of Solomon and Rehoboam.

We read in 1 Kings 14:21ff. that God’s people turned aside from following after the LORD and worshiped other gods. We also read that sodomites were in the land and the people lived according to the abominations of the nations that God had cast out of the land of Israel before them. 2 Chronicles 12:1-4 tell us: “And it came to pass, when Rehoboam had established the kingdom, and had strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him. And it came to pass, [that] in the fifth year of king Rehoboam Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed against the LORD, with twelve hundred chariots, and threescore thousand horsemen: and the people [were] without number that came with him out of Egypt; the Lubims, the Sukkiims, and the Ethiopians. And he took the fenced cities which [pertained] to Judah, and came to Jerusalem.”

When Rehoboam and the people humbled themselves before the LORD, God spared Jerusalem from utter desolation. But “Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took away the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king’s house; he took all: he carried away also the shields of gold which Solomon had made” (2 Chron. 12:9).

Thus, the prayer of Psalm 79 from a man of God and his petition: “O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake” (v. 8-9).

As we see our own nation turn from the LORD and serve other gods, as wickedness (including sodomy) increases, we can expect God’s judgment to fall upon our land – unless we heed God’s word: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). Only in Christ Jesus, the Son, is there pardon, forgiveness and life (Psalm 2). Let us humble ourselves and look to Him!

Have mercy upon us and our people, O LORD, for we have sinned and gone astray. Bring us to repent of our sins and look to You for mercy. Amen.

 

PSALM 79
A Psalm of Asaph.

1 O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.
2 The dead bodies of thy servants have they given [to be] meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.
3 Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and [there was] none to bury [them].
4 We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.
5 How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever? shall thy jealousy burn like fire?
6 Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling place.
8 O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.
10 Wherefore should the heathen say, Where [is] their God? let him be known among the heathen in our sight [by] the revenging of the blood of thy servants [which is] shed.
11 Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die;
12 And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord.
13 So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations.

[Scripture Quoted from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

Jesus’ answer to a crossless Christianity

“And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and [of] the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” Mark 8:31-33 (Read 27-38)

Many churches preach Christ, the Son of God, but fail to preach the cross. They proclaim Christ’s love and His acts of compassion on the suffering and downcast but fail to preach His greatest act of love – bearing upon the cross the guilt and condemnation for the sins of the entire world.

Perhaps it’s because they fail to accept and preach God’s law in all its severity and do not see mankind’s utter depravity and guilt before God and our need for the cross of Christ and the redemption He accomplished for all when He suffered and died there for the sins of all people. Perhaps it’s because they fail to understand that, without the cross of Jesus and His blood shed there for the sins of the world, we all stand condemned to the eternal torments of hell for our sinfulness.

When Jesus asked His disciples who they believed He was, Peter rightly answered for all the disciples: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16). As Jesus said, Peter knew and believed this only because it had been revealed to Him by God the Father in heaven (Matt. 16:17). But, when Jesus began to speak of His coming sufferings, death and resurrection in Jerusalem (Mark 8:31), Peter took Jesus and began to rebuke Him, saying: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (Matt. 16:22).

How did Jesus respond? We read His answer in the Gospels: “But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” (Mark 8:33). Peter’s understanding and desire was not in accord with God’s plan for our salvation but with the thinking and understanding of man and, as such, Peter was not speaking for God but for Satan.

What of churches which preach Christ but not the cross? Are they not doing the same thing? If they fail to preach the law so people know their utter sinfulness and the gospel so people hear and come to know of the redemption Jesus accomplished for all when He suffered and died upon the cross, are they not speaking for Satan rather than for God? Are they not saying the things which appeal to man rather than saying what God has said and done?

St. Paul wrote: “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). And, indeed, it is true: “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18; cf. v. 23ff.).

And, it is also true that churches like to preach Christianity without the cross of suffering. Some even go so far as to say that once a person becomes a Christian the hardships and troubles in his life will be over.

Again, what does Jesus say? “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

One cannot become a Christian and avoid the cross. Jesus calls each of us to deny ourself, take up our cross and follow Him, wherever He leads. We are called to lay down and give up the things this world offers and gives and seek after Christ and His kingdom (Matt. 6:33). And, of what benefit will all the blessings of this world be if we lose our own soul?

We are called to follow Christ and hold fast to His Word even though it brings suffering and persecution in this world. Jesus said: “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

And so we see, one cannot really have Christ without the cross. It is only through the cross of Christ that we are made acceptable to God and have pardon, forgiveness and life everlasting. And as followers of Christ, we too will have crosses to bear – death to self and this world, and persecution and suffering for the sake of Christ and His Word. But the way of the cross is the way of life. Only in Christ and the cross do we have the eternal joys of heaven.

Grant that we know You, O Lord, and trust in Your blood shed upon the cross for our sins. Help us to preach the cross that others too might know You and the salvation You have won for all. And make us willing to take up the cross and follow You, wherever You lead us. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]

Making Known God’s Covenant to Our Children

“For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.” Psalm 78:5-8

In the opening verses of Psalm 78, Asaph reminds God’s people of the covenant and doctrine which God had given to their fathers and which had been passed down from generation to generation. He says, “Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us” (v.1-3).

And he tells why it was so important that God’s merciful dealing with Israel be shared with future generations: “That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.”

This is why God commanded His people: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deut. 6:6-7; cf. 2 Tim. 3:14ff.). It is also why the apostle Paul wrote: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

How important it is for us to continually remind our children and grandchildren of the doctrine committed unto us by God and taught to us by our parents and grandparents – to share with them the truth revealed to us in God’s Word, that God graciously called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9), that God graciously forgave all our sins and accepted us as His own dear children for the sake of the innocent sufferings and death of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, in our stead (cf. Eph. 1:6-7)!

We share these wonderful truths with our children and grandchildren that they might place their hope in God and His mercy toward them in Christ Jesus and that they might continue in the covenant He established with them at their baptisms – to wash away their sins for Jesus’ sake and to give them a place in his everlasting kingdom – and not harden their hearts against Him in unbelief.

We thank Thee for Thy mercy, O Lord, for granting us forgiveness and life in Christ Jesus. Enable us to remind our children and grandchildren of Your Word and Your mighty working to accomplish our salvation. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

[Scripture Quoted from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

Why do I Believe in Jesus?

Why do I believe in Jesus? Why do I follow after Him and read His Word? My answer is quite simple. I believe in Jesus because I am a sinner and because Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

I am a sinner – there’s no doubt about that! I haven’t kept all of God’s commandments perfectly as He demands. I haven’t loved God with all my heart, soul and mind; and I haven’t loved my neighbor as much as I have loved myself. I haven’t always put God first in my life, and I haven’t always used God’s name in an honorable way or eagerly listened to God’s Word. I’ve disobeyed my parents. I’ve hated and spoken evil of others rather than loving and helping them in their needs. I’ve had evil thoughts and desires, and I’ve desired things which were not mine to have.

God’s Word is right when it says of me: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”; and, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23, 6:23a). I know that I am a sinner and, in God’s judgment, deserve to be condemned to eternal punishment in hell for my sins!

So, why do I believe in Jesus? Because He came into the world to save sinners!

The Bible says: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).

All of us are sinners, and God provided a way for sinners like me to be saved when He sent His only begotten Son into the world as a true man to keep God’s commandments for me and then to die upon the cross and bear the punishment for my sins and the sins of the whole world of sinners.

Again, the Bible says that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures … He was buried … He rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4); and that “Jesus Christ the righteous … is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2).

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the third day is proof that He paid in full for all my sins – He made atonement for the sins of all people – for He was suffering there, not for anything He had done amiss, but for our transgressions and disobedience to God’s perfect law. The Bible says of the Lord Jesus that He “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

I believe in Jesus because God has forgiven all my sins and made me, a sinner, acceptable in His sight through Christ Jesus. The Bible says: “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved. In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:6, 7).

Because of Jesus’ life and death for me, I know that God will not condemn me to eternal suffering in hell for my sins, but will, instead, grant me a place with Him in heaven! Jesus Himself says: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).

Yes, I am a sinner and have come short, but I am “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

When I stand before God in His great judgment on the Last Day, I need not be afraid. Though a sinner, Jesus shed His blood for me! His cleansing blood will be my only plea!

I pray that you, too, will believe in Jesus, for He came into the world to save sinners like me and like you!

Pastor Randy Moll

Ammi or Lo-ammi? God’s people or not God’s people?

“Then said [God], Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye [are] not my people, and I will not be your [God]. Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, [that] in the place where it was said unto them, Ye [are] not my people, [there] it shall be said unto them, [Ye are] the sons of the living God.” Hosea 1:9-10 (Read Hosea, chapter one)

God sent Hosea the prophet to warn the people of Israel of His coming judgments for their unfaithfulness to Him. Like a wife who had played the harlot and been unfaithful to her husband, so the people of Israel had been unfaithful to the LORD God who had redeemed them and taken them as His own people and bride.

God had Hosea illustrate His message by taking a wife who had been a prostitute and have children by her, giving them names which testified to God’s judgments: Jezreel because God was about to avenge the blood of Jezreel on the house of Jehu; Lo-ruhamah because God was no longer to deal with the house of Israel in mercy but, instead, exercise His judgment upon them for their unfaithfulness; and Lo-ammi because God no longer regarded the people of Israel (the northern kingdom) as His people.

But God also said: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, [that] in the place where it was said unto them, Ye [are] not my people, [there] it shall be said unto them, [Ye are] the sons of the living God.”

Though the people of Israel were being cut off for their unfaithfulness, the LORD was going to fill His kingdom. Where it was said of people that they were not God’s people, they would be called sons of the living God. People who were not God’s people would be called God’s people (cf. 1 Peter 2:9-10).

Though God’s judgment came to pass and the people of the northern tribes of Israel were swept away by the Assyrians, yet God has shown mercy unto us. We, for the most part, are not physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We were not among God’s chosen people. Yet the LORD God has shown us great mercy in revealing to us His Son and all Christ Jesus has done for us by His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross. He has graciously adopted us as His own dear children, bringing us to faith in Christ Jesus through the hearing of the Gospel (cf. Eph. 1:3ff.; 2:11ff.; Col. 1:19ff.; Gal. 3:26ff.).

While the children of Israel were ammi (God’s people), through their whoredoms and idolatry they became lo-ammi (not God’s people). And we, who were lo-ammi, are now ammi and have obtained unfathomable mercy from the LORD God in Christ Jesus our Savior!

The prophecy of Hosea is a warning to all who turn away from the LORD that His mercy can be taken from them. Instead of dealing with them as sons, He may finally have to judge them as His enemies.

But the prophecy brings great comfort to us in that God has shown us, who were not God’s people, great mercy, forgiving all our sins for Jesus’ sake. Instead of dealing with us as our sins deserve, He graciously forgives and accepts us as His own dear children for the sake of Jesus’ sufferings and death on the cross in our stead (cf. Ps. 103:8-12).

O gracious and merciful God, keep us from unfaithfulness to You and grant us Your mercy and grace for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[Scripture from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

What makes us clean or unclean in God’s eyes?

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Mark 7:21-23 (Read Mark 7:1-23)

Can we be saved by observing the traditions passed down to us from our fathers? Is it enough if we observe their worship forms and abstain from practices which go against those traditions? Are we acceptable and clean before God through such observances?

What did Jesus say when His disciples were accused by the Pharisees of breaking a tradition of the elders which required a washing of the hands before eating? He pointed out how they had elevated their man-made traditions to such a level that they were depending upon them for their standing before God rather than drawing near to God with their hearts (v. 1-6). And, as a result, their worship was vain and empty.

They elevated their traditions to such a level that they used them to avoid obedience to God’s commandments (v. 7-13). As a result, they were setting aside and disregarding God’s commandments.

And yet, what they failed to see was that their uncleanness came from within. It wasn’t something that came from outside them by eating with unwashed hands; it was from within, from their evil hearts. Jesus explained (v. 20-23): “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Thus, while they appeared clean and righteous outwardly, their hearts were still evil and full of sin. They were still unclean and unacceptable to God.

And what about us? Are we depending on outward forms or traditions? Do we teach for doctrines the commandments of men? Do we even set aside God’s Word to hold to our traditions? Is our righteousness outward only while our hearts are far from the LORD? Cf. Rom. 3:9ff. Do we not realize that our uncleanness comes from within? That our hearts are, by nature, since the Fall, inclined to evil and sin (cf. Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Ps. 51:5; Jer. 17:9)? Out of our hearts “proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies…” (Matt. 15:19).

That is why we need Jesus. “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world” (1 John 2:2). When we see our utter sinfulness and look to God for mercy, “He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).

Our hearts need cleansing and healing. That is why David, after confessing His sin and looking to God for mercy, prayed: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin … Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

[Scripture Quoted from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

Will there be politicians in heaven?

Will there be politicians in heaven? Perhaps another way to ask this same questions is: “Can politicians, too, be saved?”

There is a Bible verse in the Book of Revelation, chapter 21, verse 8, which raises questions, especially now, during campaign season when the airwaves and Internet are filled with political ads bashing the opposition and grossly misrepresenting the truth. That Bible verse, which describes the final outcome of God’s judgment, reads: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

We read that verse and can understand why God would condemn those who commit abominations and murder. We understand why those who make use of prostitutes will be in the lake of fire. We agree that those who practice sorcery and idolatry will spend eternity in hell. But then we come to that last group who will be condemned: “all liars.”

Since one of God’s commandments forbids bearing false witness against our neighbor (Ex. 20:16; Deut. 5:20) and God clearly says all liars will be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death, can politicians be saved?

For so many, their terms in office begin with a lie. They swear on the Bible to uphold the United States Constitution and then begin to violate its clear and plain words at almost every turn in order to gain power, wealth and political ambitions.

And, as I said in the opening paragraphs, can politicians be saved if they lie, twist and misrepresent the truth and smear others? The Word of God tells us where such politicians will be: “in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” It won’t matter if they claimed to believe or claimed to be guided by God’s Word.

By the way, we really won’t need politicians in heaven because everyone will be perfect and without sin – no laws and rulers will be necessary.

So, how can politicians be saved? The answer, of course, is the same for all: Repent and believe the Gospel. Put another way, that simply means to acknowledge and turn from sin to Christ Jesus for pardon, forgiveness and eternal life.

That is, after all, what Jesus preached (Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47). It’s what John the Baptist preached (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:1ff.). It’s what Peter and the apostles preached (Acts 2:38-39; 3:19; 20:21; 1 John 1:8 – 2:2). That is also why Jesus suffered, died and rose again – to pay the penalty for all our sins that we might repent and trust in Him for forgiveness and life eternal in His kingdom.

And, if politicians do repent and trust in the Lord Jesus, not only will they be saved, the lying should stop and the truth be clearly spoken.

And, to be fair as a preacher, perhaps I should ask the same question in regard to preachers and pastors? Will they be in heaven? After all, they will be out of a job there, too, because everyone in heaven will know the LORD and know His Word.

Truth is that ministers, too, ought to be concerned about lying and misrepresenting the truth. They claim to speak for God and to be instructing people in the doctrines of His Book – the Bible.

If they purposely alter the clear teaching of the Bible for the sake of earthly gain, power or wealth, isn’t that the same as what the politicians are doing? What if they teach some parts of the Bible and ignore others? Isn’t that a misrepresentation of the truth? And the cost is eternal – souls are misled and lost forever to God’s kingdom.

And, if it is done in ignorance, perhaps because ministers were taught errors in doctrine through other preachers, professors or church bodies, does that excuse teaching falsehood in the name of God? The end result is still just as devastating for the lost and misled.

Ministers have a responsibility greater than any other when they preach and teach because they represent God and are responsible to Him for faithfully speaking His words and not their own. People’s souls depend upon their faithfulness. Ministers are not to preach their own thoughts and opinions, or even those of church leaders and theologians. They are to proclaim the clear and plain words of the Bible. They are not to give their own interpretations of Scripture to the people, but to use Scripture to interpret Scripture for the people.

The Bible says of ministers (1 Cor. 4:1-2): “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”

So, can preachers, too, be saved? Will there be ministers in heaven? Only if ministers repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! There is no other way.

And if ministers repent and trust in Christ, not only will they be saved from that lake of fire, we should be able to see the fruits of repentance: great respect for God’s Word, care to preach all of it faithfully, letting Scripture (not church bodies and church leaders, not so-called theologians, not popular opinion) interpret Scripture.

Are our hearts too hard to see?

“And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not [the miracle] of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.” Mark 6:51-52 (Read Mk. 6:30-56; cf. Jn. 6:1ff.; Mt. 14:13ff; Lk. 9:10ff.)

Should we be fearful when trouble comes our way? Or should we be amazed when Jesus meets all our needs?

Jesus’ disciples were fearful when caught in a storm as they rowed their boat across the Sea of Galilee. And, when Jesus, who walked to them on the water, entered the boat and the winds stopped, they were amazed. Why? Because they hadn’t considered and grasped the miracle they had just seen: the feeding of more than 5,000 with a few small loaves. Their hearts were hardened and they failed to recognize who Jesus is and to trust in Him, the Bible tells us.

What about us? Are our hearts hardened? Are we fearful when we have bills to pay and not enough to pay them? Or, when we become sick or face death? When troubles come? Or storms? Or threats of war and trouble?

Do we look at things with our hearts hardened? Or, do we remember who it is who is with us always even to the end of the world (Matt. 28:20)? Do we say on the basis of hardened hearts, “What are they among so many?” (John 6:9) or do we give thanks and leave the rest to our God and Savior?

Do we not realize that Jesus is God the Son in human flesh? He created all things with His almighty Word and there is nothing too hard for Him (John 1:1ff.; Jer. 32:17). He fed thousands with a few loaves and fish. He healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, cleansed lepers, made the lame whole and even raised the dead. When He tells us not to worry but seek first His kingdom (Matt. 6:25ff.), should we be afraid? Should we be full of doubts and fears?

And when He intervenes and grants us help, healing, strength and all that we need, do we see and recognize His helping hand? Or, are we astonished and surprised when we do see Him at work?

Have we considered what He did for us upon the cross? Do we doubt that all our sins are forgiven? That He gives us to partake of His sacrifice for us? That all our sins are washed away and we are God’s children through our baptism? Consider the price He paid? Consider that it is finished as He said. That in Him we are “accepted.” “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:6,7).

O Spirit of God, open our hearts and minds to see Jesus, to recognize Him for who He is and to trust in Him and all He has done for us. Grant that our hearts not be hardened, but accepting and trusting of the truth. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[Scripture Quoted from the King James Version of the Bible]