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“SOLA”

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“But now we are seeing the righteousness of God declared quite apart from the Law (though amply testified to by both Law and Prophets) - it is a righteousness imparted to, and operating in, all who have faith in Jesus Christ. (For there is no distinction to be made anywhere: everyone has sinned, everyone falls short of the beauty of God's plan.) Under this divine system a man who has faith is now freely acquitted in the eyes of God by his generous dealing in the redemptive act of Jesus Christ. God has appointed him as the means of propitiation, a propitiation accomplished by the shedding of his blood, to be received and made effective in ourselves by faith. God has done this to demonstrate his righteousness both by the wiping out of the sins of the past (the time when he withheld his hand), and by showing in the present time that he is a just God and that he justifies every man who has faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 3:21-26, JB Phillips translation

“Without these five confessional statements – Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and glory to God alone – we do not have a true church, and certainly not one that will survive for very long. For how can any church be a true and faithful church if it does not stand for Scripture alone, is not committed to a biblical gospel, and does not exist for God’s glory? A church without these convictions has ceased to be a true church, whatever else it may be.”

Thus reads a quote from James Montgomery Boice, taken from chapter one of his book, “Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace”, published by Crossway Books in 2001, just short of a year after the author passed away.

I have chosen to begin this year, A.D. 2008, with a sermon teaching these five doctrines Boice listed for us for the very reason that he cited.

I don’t know how exciting it will be for the hearer.

It will not contain fanciful illustrations or humorous stories from the internet. I will lean heavily on this man’s book and also on the Godly wisdom and Biblical instruction left for us by such legends of the faith as Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Charles Wesley and others.

I will say at the outset that if the truths of these doctrines themselves do not excite the hearer in the spirit and in the heart then there is something the hearer has not grasped, and I will have failed in my task or the hearer will have not been paying attention or not been open to the Holy Spirit’s illuminating grace.

I strongly encourage you (the hearer or the reader) to determine at this moment to give your full attention and concentration to every part of this sermon and receive it first mentally.

R.C. Sproul, in his book “The Soul’s Quest for God” (Tyndale, 1992) said this:

“The Word of God can be in the mind without being in the heart; but it cannot be in the heart without first being in the mind. This point is crucial to answer the question, ‘What can I do to get the divine and supernatural light into my heart?’ …The first thing we must do is get the Word of God into our minds. That responsibility is ours, not God’s. We are required to be diligent in our study of Scripture. We cannot reasonably expect the Spirit to give us the excellent sense of the Scripture in our hearts if we are unwilling to get it in our minds. A cavalier approach to Scripture will not do. The only ‘devotional’ reading of God’s Word that pleases Him is a devout study of His Word.”

We’ll hear more statements along these lines when we talk about faith. For now I simply ask you to make a mental note of the gravity I put on this sermon. It is the most important information you will ever receive, and it is information that is widely lacking in today’s evangelical church. There needs to be a revival of it in teaching, in preaching, in the understanding of every educated Christ-follower if the church is ever to regain its Godly influence in the world as we draw near the end of the age.

SCRIPTURE ALONE

Our church’s constitution under ‘Statement of Beliefs’, reads as follows:

1) We believe and declare that the Holy Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God and is the all sufficient rule in matters of faith and practice. That the Holy Bible consists in its entirety of 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. (II Tim 3:16-17, Isa 55:11)

2) We believe and declare the historical accuracy of all Biblical accounts including: special creation in six literal days, the existence of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of all people, the fall and resultant divine curse on creation, and the world-wide flood.

What we have said here is that the Bible is the inspired Word of God given to man and that it is entirely true, entirely without error, that what it says has happened has actually happened and what it says will happen will actually happen.

The Scriptures are the only divinely inspired source from which we learn about God’s will and His ways and therefore all that we teach in regards to the Christian faith must be centered there.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

We therefore believe that the Scriptures are sufficient for evangelism, for our continued sanctification, for guidance in all matters of faith and lifestyle, and for social reformation.

The Bible does not need defense and it does not need support from any other document.

It is for these reasons that we believe that the preaching of God’s Word is the most important part of worship.

In our day the word ‘worship’ is becoming almost synonymous with singing and music. The so-called ‘worship leader’ or ‘worship team’ in the church consists of the musicians who stand up and lead a congregation in the singing of hymns and other music which, unfortunately in many cases, is framed with lyrics that are unbiblical.

Now I do not intend to get off track here, but I want to make something very clear. There is absolutely no room for poetic license in the composition of music and poetry that aims to send out a Christian message.

There are very many songs out there, on the radio, in churches, wherever so-called gospel music is heard, that have no biblical foundation and in many cases violate scripture for the sake of a rhyme or a clever line.

I make this statement here, because in so many of our churches the music and singing time has become the central focus and preaching is diminished in the minds of both leadership and congregation. It is something to be endured, and unfortunately much of it is barely endurable, because there has been a drift away from sound, Biblical preaching that would ever stir the heart and speak to the spirit in a way that has any eternal value whatsoever.

Christians, the Holy Spirit does not use music, He does not use charismatic personalities, He does not use cutesy internet-surfed illustrations or the teary-eyed testimonies of celebrities to accomplish His regenerating and saving work among sin-ruined mankind. He uses the Word of God.

That is why Jesus put preaching above healing, it is why Paul said “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel…” (1 Cor 9:16), and it is why God has raised up so many men through the ages who have literally felt they would wither away and die if they could not preach.

“But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; Romans 10:6-9

That is why we say Scripture alone is sufficient to complete the saving work of God; regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification, and it must be preached with reverence, with clarity, with authority, with finality, because all else we do in the framework of worship is secondary and useless without it.

CHRIST ALONE

A document called the Cambridge Declaration, the complete text of which can be found at www.AllianceNet.org, makes this statement:

“As evangelical faith has become secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and His cross have moved from the center of our vision.”

The focus on Jesus in many evangelical churches has turned to a false Jesus who coddles and pampers, meeting our perceived needs and comforts, boosting our self-esteem, helping us climb the ladder of success and helping us keep a good mental and emotional attitude about life.

Boice declares that ‘evangelicals have fallen prey to the consumerism of our times. A therapeutic worldview has replaced the classical Christian categories’ of sin, hell judgment, the wrath of God, and the doctrines of grace, redemption, atonement, propitiation, justification and faith.

He finishes, ‘To the extent that Christ and His cross are no longer central, modern evangelicalism has become a movement shaped only by popular whim and sentimentality.”

The cross of Christ is the hinge upon which eternity turns. His work of atonement there is the very center of both history and theology.

There He satisfied the Holy wrath of God against sin.

Martin Luther wrote: “Since all of us, born in sin and God’s enemies, have earned nothing but eternal wrath and hell so that everything we are and can do is damned, and there is no help or way of getting out of this predicament…therefore another man had to step into our place, namely Jesus Christ, God and man, and had to render satisfaction and make payment for sin through his suffering and death” What Luther Says; An Anthology, comp. Ewald M. Plass (Saint Louis; Concordia, 1959) vol 3, 1423

This is what is meant by Jesus’ own words when He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45

On the cross Christ was our substitute. He bore the punishment for sin in our place. He paid our debt in full by taking in His body the judgment we deserved so that all who believe in Him can look forward with confident assurance to Heaven.

Calvary is the very center of Christianity. There can be no gospel without it; there can be no Christian life without it.

Christ alone is our salvation and He alone deserves our adoration, our worship, our very life, nothing held back. As Watts so aptly wrote:

“Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all”

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross – Isaac Watts

GRACE ALONE

Sinners have absolutely no claim on God.

The only thing God owes man is punishment for sin, and the only fit punishment for sin is death. Let me say that more clearly. Sin brings both spiritual and physical death, and the final consequence of sin is eternal death. That does not mean oblivion, it means eternal separation from God in a place of eternal torment and misery beyond description.

Many of today’s evangelical churches avoid that topic. They teach a doctrine that humans are basically good and that they are saved because they make a wise decision to ‘receive’ Jesus into their heart. By the way, there is no New Testament text that admonishes anyone to receive Jesus into their heart.

They teach that because God is good the only right thing for Him to do is eventually save everyone.

Quoting Boice again, “If God were motivated only by what is right, without any consideration of a grace made possible by the work of Christ, all would be condemned and all would spend eternity in hell. This is because ‘there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God’. (Rom 3:10-11)”

Another section of the Cambridge Declaration I quoted earlier says:

“Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of fallen human nature. This false confidence now fills the evangelical world – from the self-esteem gospel to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat Christian faith as being true simply because it works. This silences the doctrine of justification regardless of the official commitments of our churches.

God’s grace in Christ is not merely necessary but is the sole efficient cause of salvation. We confess that human beings are born spiritually dead and are incapable even of cooperating with regenerating grace.”

It is God’s grace and grace alone that delivers us from His wrath, brings us to Christ, releases us from bondage to sin and raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life. To deny this or to add any human effort or merit is to deny the gospel.

In order to understand God’s grace there are some truths that need to be comprehended.

First, the sinfulness of sin. By that I mean the complete and devastating ruin that sin brings.

The sinfulness of sin is that it denies Glory to God. Man is created to worship and to bring glory to God and sin puts a halt to that. This fact alone makes everyone of Adam’s race deserving of death. But there is more. Sin brings spiritual death to men so that they are rendered incapable of understanding spiritual things. They do not understand the nature and character of God. They do not desire Him; in fact they hate Him and do not want to find Him. When Paul wrote to the Romans that no one seeks for God he did not mean that they do not seek Him because of ignorance or neglect. He means they would go in the exact opposite direction from seeking Him, to hide from Him.

Sin utterly ruins the possibility of any relationship between man and God, except as Judge to guilty criminal.

Next, we must understand man’s complete spiritual inability. In a culture that screams out at us from commercial advertisements to motivational speeches in the workplace and even from many pulpits that we are ‘ok’, we can do the impossible if we only conjure up enough determination, that we can ultimately take care of ourselves in any situation, it is difficult for people to grasp and accept that without God we can do nothing of a spiritual and eternal value.

The fact is that we are turned around backward by sin. We cannot even think rightly about God, much less come to Him or even know how to come to Him in our fallen thinking and strength.

Then there is God’s judgment to consider. There will be a future day of reckoning for all people. Folks don’t want to think about that. Try approaching someone at Blockbuster or Starbucks or wherever you find people milling about, and saying, “You know, there is a day coming when God will judge the actions and the works of all people, you included”.

I would only suggest standing farther than arm’s reach when you say it, and don’t say it to anyone bigger than you. They won’t like this and they will not accept it unless they are a born again believer who has understood God’s grace. In that case they will agree with you with some sadness, and they will respond, ‘But for God’s amazing grace I would have to fear that day. But Christ alone rescued me from wrath’.

God’s grace alone frees His elect from all consequences of sin. The Father chooses, “He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight”, (Eph 1:4), the Son Redeems, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (Eph 1:7-8), and the Spirit effectively calls “In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:11-14).

Because of those actions and because of God’s sovereign grace, even the vilest of blaspheming sinners may be saved. Why? Because it is God’s grace alone that accomplishes it all.

I have heard somewhere that Newton, a former slave trader and blasphemer against God, who wrote the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, placed a sign over his fireplace with the words of Deuteronomy 15:15.

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you”

He said he wanted to see that in the morning when he came for breakfast, in the mid day when he stopped for lunch, in the evening when he stepped in for dinner, and again as he passed through to go to his bed at night; so that he would never forget what God’s grace alone had done for him.

Since grace is the source of the life that is mine –

And faith is a gift from on high –

I’ll boast in my Savior, all merit decline,

And glorify God ‘til I die.

- J.M. Boice

FAITH ALONE

The doctrine of Justification by faith, says Luther, is “the master and prince, the lord, the ruler, and the judge over all kinds of doctrines.” IBID

The most important question any man or woman can ever ask is ‘how can I be made right with God’, and the doctrine of Justification by faith is the only answer. To the degree that evangelical churches are neglecting or in their teaching denying this doctrine they are ceasing to be Christian churches.

Listen again to how Paul defined it in the verses I used to open this sermon, Romans 3:21-25

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”

Most of you know my definition of this doctrine.

Justification is having been declared right with God by His grace through faith in the shed blood and resurrection of Christ alone.

Here is a definition by Boice:

“Justification is an act of God by which he declares sinners to be righteous by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.”

You may feel free to quote either of us.

The source of our justification is the grace of God, the basis of our justification is the work of Christ, and the means of our justification is faith.

Faith is not a work. It is a gift. As the commentator put it, “It is only the channel by which we are justified (but) it is also the only channel.” Boice, IBID

Moving through verses 21-31 of Romans 3 we see Paul affirm over and over that it is faith alone that saves.

Vs 22, “This righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

Vs 25, “God presented Him has a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.”

Vs 26, God “justifies those who have faith in Jesus”

Vs 28, “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the Law”

Vs 30, “there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith”

But what is faith?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, agreeing with Spurgeon, noted that saving, Biblical faith has three elements.

Knowledge (or awareness), belief, and trust.

We start with knowledge because faith starts here. Quoting R.C. Sproul again,

“I cannot have God in my heart if he is not in my head. Before I can believe in, I must believe that.” Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification Sproul, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1995

The second element is belief or assent. It is possible to know the Bible, and know it very well, and be lost.

John Wesley was a Methodist evangelist who was an active preacher long before he was saved. One evening he attended a meeting in Aldersgate Street in London where someone was reading Luther’s ‘Preface’ to the epistle to the Romans, and Wesley’s later testimony went like this.

“About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation. And an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” John Wesley, The Works of Wesley, vol 1 Journal from October 14, 1735 to November 29, 1845 (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, n.d.)

Faith in the mind can float around for a long time before it accomplishes a spiritual work, but there must eventually come belief in the heart, and the …

Third element; Trust.

Lloyd-Jones calls it ‘commitment’. It is a final yielding of oneself to Christ, moving beyond head knowledge and belief. This is absolutely essential.

As I said before, a person can have an excellent knowledge of the Bible and be lost. James tells us (2:19) that even the demons believe that there is one God and they shudder. Boice adds that ‘believing the truths of Christianity itself, if we do not go on to this third necessary element, only qualifies one to be a demon!”

He wasn’t trying to be funny. It is a terrible and dangerous thing, for a person to be filled with knowledge of the Bible and of Christian beliefs and not be saved; especially when because of that knowledge he thinks he is saved.

Pastor Alistair Begg uses the term ‘tadpole Christians’; people who are so stuffed with knowledge they have great big heads and tiny little undeveloped bodies, and every Sunday afternoon they just go swimming out into society getting in the way and no help to anyone.

Commitment is when we believe and trust in that knowledge and it moves down and develops us and we become no longer our own, but Christ’s true followers.

Before this happens a person despises God and wants nothing to do with Him; even if he is a religious person and knows and uses all the right terminology. He may be comfortable in church, and that is to the shame of the church, but he is empty and lost. When Faith does its exclusive work and moves to committed trust, He suddenly loves God and Christ and can’t get enough of Him.

We must move on but let me reiterate; this saving faith is knowledge of, belief in, and absolute commitment to the word of truth, which is the gospel of Christ – and let us never forget that it is a gift.

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to Thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress,

Helpless, look to Thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly,

Wash me, Savior, or I die!”

- Augustus M. Toplady ‘Rock of Ages’

GLORY TO GOD ALONE

The first lesson of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” The faithful student then replies, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

In one of his earliest sermons, 20 year old C.H. Spurgeon said this:

“The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” The Immutability of God, in The New Park Street Pulpit, (Pasadena, Tex; Pilgrim, 1975) original edition 1855

Boice makes the observation in his book that ‘no people ever rise higher than their idea of God’.

The problem in today’s church is that we have developed a low concept of God and are guilty of wanting to make Him into our image. Let me repeat, I am talking about the church, not the unchurched and unsaved. When I hear them talk of God for the most part their ideas are so silly and so far-fetched and so backward, they are laughable. But we cannot laugh at the view of God very many evangelical Christians have.

It can be discovered in people’s praying and their prayer requests, in their speculations and their pursuit of fanciful new doctrines that scratch them behind the ear, by the mass lemming-like suicidal rush to false teachers and celebrated personalities and by the pandemic of Bible ignorance present in our entire counter-culture.

I will quote the Cambridge Declaration only one more time here:

“Whenever in the church biblical authority has been lost, Christ has been displaced, the gospel has been distorted, or faith has been perverted, it has always been for one reason; our interests have displaced God’s and we are doing his work our way. The loss of God’s centrality in the life of today’s church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful. As a result, God, Christ and the Bible have come to mean too little to us and rest too inconsequentially upon us.” IBID

God created for His own glory. The universe…

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Ps 19:1-2

And man…

“Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” Isa 43:7

The universe wasn’t made for us. It is this shallow, backward thinking I mentioned earlier that makes everything for and about us. As Paul told the Athenian philosophers, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things.” Acts 17:24-25

God did not need anything. He is eternally complete in Himself. He created the world to manifest His glory and no man lives a completed life who does not worship and glorify the God who made him for that very purpose.

The entire creation is from God, through God and to God, as is the way of salvation. It is all His and for His glory.

I’ve gone long so I’ll close with just one more quote from this man of God gone home, on whose book I have relied so heavily and so delightfully for this sermon.

“I believe that good times are ahead. I find many throughout the church, particularly young pastors, who are dissatisfied with the shallow consumerism of our times – our crass evangelical marketing of the gospel, our sad self-preoccupation – and who want to recover a gospel of substance whose end is the glory of Almighty God. I join with them. I rejoice with them and in them. But we have a long way to go to that end. Can we get there? Not by ourselves certainly. But God will lead us to those better days if we do actually repent of our sin and seek to make Him truly preeminent in everything.” Boice, IBID

That voice is now silenced to the world. His written works are left for us, but let us pray to the end that he so clearly saw as vital to the future of the church if she is to survive and effectually serve in these final days of earth.

Boice declared that we need a new reformation and I have to agree. But it has to start with men who will preach now the way the legends before us did. And they are out there. I know of some but I will not name them because they are humble men and wouldn’t want the acclaim, and besides, it wouldn’t be fair to the lesser-known whose names I do not know, but I know they’re out there. There just needs to be many, many more.

Let us pray for preachers…an army of preachers, who will faithfully proclaim the Scriptures alone, Christ alone, Grace alone, Faith alone, and glory to God alone, to the great benefit of the church and the clear and accurate offering of the good news to a world dark in sin.

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36

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