Now What? The Gospel.

Closing out the first year of Marc5Solas, I posted what I thought was simply my 53rd article. I expected it would be read by the same few hundred folks who had read the others. And then.. Wow. More than half a million views, interviews, quotes in sermons, newsletters and bible studies… here we are.

A dear friend asked me two very poignant questions:

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“What do you do to follow THAT?” and “What would you have written if you knew hundreds of thousands of people were going to read it?”

These questions really bothered me. I literally tossed and turned and lost sleep over them. I wish I could say that there wasn’t some pragmatic, prideful temptation to DO something to keep the large crowd, but that would be untrue.  (And isn’t that the very problem I wrote about in the Top10 article anyway?)

I know, in fact, that there is only one way to answer those questions:

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I may write this article to the same few hundred folks that read my blog before, or it may be read by a million… but I can’t let that be my focus. I’ve got to imagine that I have the same opportunity I have every time I sit down to write.. and all I have worth passing on to you is the “foolish”, “simple” gospel of faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sin.

We assume we know the gospel, and we assume our kids do as well. Yet, I see so many folks get it wrong that I can’t help but think we need to have it spelled out; Simply. Daily. Repeatedly.

So, with the help of Sister-in-Christ (and epic artist) Di Wages, here is a primer on the basics of the Christian faith.


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CREATION:

Genesis 1 teaches us that God created man, and the world, pure and without sin. (Gen 1:31)

In the illustration above, we see the following:

1. The world, signified by the blue background, is pure and without sin.

2. God and Man commune openly.

It is important to understand that this is NOT the world we live in today, as we see the pain and suffering which surround us.

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FALL:

Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, the first man, Adam, willingly broke this law.

Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and through them, we inherit this fallen nature;  We are all born dead in sin, totally defiled in soul and body,  and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, and the subjects of death.  We are broken and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.

Since all men are born in sin, their relationship to God is not like the first illustration, our relationship by nature is that of fear and despair, and because of that, hatred toward God. 

Get that.  While the decisional theology of “altar calls” in America has taught that fallen man can, of his own accord, “choose God” it is absolutely a false teaching called Pelagianism. It doesn’t matter if you are Baptist, Assemblies of God, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc. This is NOT the belief of the church or of your denomination!

In the illustration above, we see the following:

1. The world, signified by black, is fallen. We see the effects of this every day as men die, sin, and are involved in all manner of evil.

2. Man’s nature, signified by the red shading of the man, is fallen.

3. Man’s is unable on his own to “choose God”.

There are 2 common errors I want to point out here:

Man is unable to seek God in this, his natural state. The view that man is not fallen and can choose God of his own will is an error (heresy) called Pelagianism.

While some denominations believe we are sinners because we sin, while others believe that we are born in sin, there is no denying that we all hold to the view that we are *unable* to “choose God” of our own will.

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REGENERATION:

God changes the “heart of stone” to a “heart of flesh” and through this regeneration man is able to “choose God”.

This may come us a surprise to you, as you may well believe that the order is:

Faith (I believe), Rebirth (I am born again), Justification (I am saved).

However, the Bible teaches:

Rebirth, Faith, Justification

Wait, you may be thinking, that’s not what my denomination believes.  While it may not be what is articulated from the pulpit much these days as “Altar calls” and decisional theology have crept in to the American church, this is what both orthodox Christianity and your denomination believe. There may be differences in *how* this happens (extent and means), but that it happens is unquestionable.

This is an amazing source of comfort to all who believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It means that if you have repented and in faith believed, that God was at work  in you to do this very thing!  So not only is salvation through faith in Christ a tremendous gift of grace, the faith *itself* is a gift!

In the illustration above, we see the following:

1. The arrow moves in one direction, from God to man.

2. Man’s heart is changed from a heart of stone (previously red) to a heart of flesh (now green).

3. Notice that we still live in a fallen world (black background).

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FAITH:

As God has given us faith to believe, we respond to the call of gospel.

In the illustration above, we see the following:

1. Man has a heart of flesh (green)

2. Man responds to the gospel (green arrow)

3. Man is saved though the atoning work of Christ (green arrow)

There are some subtleties in verbiage regarding Christ’s saving work (extent, efficacy) that are certainly important, but this illustration will suffice to illustrate justification by faith in Christ.

4. Although we are now “saved”, we *still* live in a fallen world. The fallen nature of the world still remains during this life even for those who are regenerated. And though you are forgiven, you will still sin during this life and you will still ultimately die.

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REDEMPTION:

Remember the first illustration? It will return.  God is in the process of redeeming creation. The sickness, pain, evil, and death we see in this world will end. And for those who are in Christ will one day experience the reality of the beauty that this illustration can only hint at.

So, I’ll leave you with what I would have written had I known more than half a million people would read this blog:

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THE GOSPEL:

We are born in sin, fallen and just objects of God’s wrath.  We have sinned against a Holy God and against our fellow man in thought, word, and deed by loving things more than God and by not loving our neighbor as ourself. We were doomed.

But God, the very creator of heaven and earth in his unfathomable mercy sent Jesus, His only Son, our Lord, to be the atonement for our sin and to reconcile us to Himself. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Get that. Fully God (God’s only Son), and Fully Man (born of the Virgin Mary).  He really lived (suffered under Pontius Pilot), and really died (was dead and buried).

But that’s not where it ends:

The third day he rose again from the dead.  He was seen by hundreds of witnesses. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He will return to judge the living and the dead.

Get that. Judgement is coming for all men. It’s not a popular message, but I plead with you to let the weight of that rest on you today.

The good news? The Gospel? That Christ has paid the price for that sin. To all who would repent and in faith believe in Christ as the only means for the forgiveness of sin, their sins will be forgiven. And grace added onto absurd grace, we will not only be forgiven, but adopted. Think about that; Not only not condemned, but viewed as righteous and adopted as joint heirs with Christ Himself. Incredible!

So, in response to “what now”, “what next”? That’s it.  To the question of “How do we fix the problems you listed in the Top 10 article?” That’s it.  I don’t have another methodology for you. I don’t have a program. I don’t have a style.  Just a charge:

Preach the Gospel.

We will no doubt lose kids from the church, but let it be a rejection of the gospel we are called to proclaim and not a counterfeit message we have substituted in an effort “keep” them.

Preach the Gospel.

In season, and out of season. Preach it in hoodies, and in suits. Preach it to all men everywhere.

Preach it.

Marc

The Five Solas: Sola Gratia

What are the Five Solas, and why would I spend time reading about them on your blog instead of playing Doodle Jump? Or Words with Friends? Or watching sneezing Pandas on YouTube?

The Five Solas (sola from the latin “alone”) are the bedrock of much of what you believe if you are an evangelical christian. (Great, a history lesson.. with latin no less.) OK, before you run off and start looking for “fail compilation” on YouTube, stick with me for a minute. You need to know these things for a few key reasons:

1. Only by knowing what you believe can you identify and defend against what you don’t.

2. Really smart people have defined these truths over the centuries. I get it, they dressed funny and they’re all dead now, but in spite of the fact that they didn’t have iPhones or access to google, they did the heavy biblical, linguistic, and theological lifting that most of us have no ability (or work ethic) to accomplish.

3. It gives us an early warning capability. There is truly nothing new under the sun; every “new wave” that hits the modern evangelical church is a simple twist on a centuries old heresy. If you don’t understand them, you’re easy prey to them. (Molinism anyone?)

4. We’re called to do so in scripture:

[15] Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

(2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

With that… Sola Gratia!

What is Sola Gratia?  The doctrine of Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone)  asserts that our justification before God and our salvation are both ONLY by God’s grace and not dependent on ANY action or condition provided by man.  So, as we understand form Sola Fide that salvation is by faith and not works, we also understand that faith itself is a gift of  grace.

Why is this important?  First of all, it’s important because this is rarely, RARELY taught anymore.  In fact, in casual conversation with fellow christians, I find that MOST believers state a position which actually contradicts not only the historic christian faith, but their own denominations.  If that surprises you, please keep reading and honestly evaluate your understanding at the conclusion. Which of the three common views did you hold when you started reading?

The question here, the answer to which has been played out over the centuries of church history, is: How is man able, in his fallen/sinful state, to make a “good” choice (faith)?  There are three primary views: Two of which are orthodox views;  That due to man’s fallen nature, God must enable his faith (Augustinianism and Arminianism), while the third is the view that man’s will was not compromised by “the fall” and he is therefore capable of exercising faith without divine enablement (Pelagianism).

Note: While each of these men held various beliefs on this complex issue, it is important to note that these names/beliefs attributed to them are to point out specific differences. It is not unusual in church history for extensions of these beliefs (used to provide greater clarity in the differences of thought) to be assigned to a person who never held them. (For example, many things now labeled under the umbrella of Arminianism were never held by Jacob Arminius himself, but are seen as an extension of that school of thought).

Augustinianism:

As is typical in church history, much of what we believe is clarified in response to false teaching (heresy).  In other words, someone started teaching something unusual, and church leaders would meet to clear up what it is we actually believe.  These councils were important in clarifying the christian faith as well as documenting the discussions.

In the early 400’s (412-415), a teaching by Pelagius, stating that man’s fallen nature did NOT prohibit him from exercising faith, began to gain popularity. In response, Augustine responded, and Augustine’s views were affirmed during the Council of Carthage, and the Council of Orange (during which Pelagius was declared a heretic).

Augustine defended the view that regeneration precedes faith but also that it must precede faith. Because of the moral bondage of the unregenerate sinner, he cannot have faith until he is changed internally by the operative, monergistic (God working alone, without our assistance) work of the Holy Spirit. Faith is regeneration’s fruit, not its cause.

In other words, our nature is dead in sin and God must change our “heart of stone to a heart of flesh” by an act of his grace BEFORE we exercise faith.

Click here to read some of Augustines’ writings against Pelagianism:
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.html

Arminianism:

This belief is attributed to Jacob Arminius. He held that God’s work in us consisted of “Prevenient Grace” which undoes the effects of sin sufficiently that we may then freely choose to believe. An individual’s act of faith then results in becoming part of the body of Christ, which allows one to appropriate Christ’s atonement for oneself, erasing the guilt of sin.

If this sounds similar to Augustinianism, it is in many respects. The main differences (which will not be discussed in detail on this post) are: The extent/efficacy of the atonement, The “resistibility” of God’s grace, and the security of the believer.  For the purposes of man’s depravity, however, they are quite similar and orthodox.

Pelagianism:

Pelagianism is a theological theory named after Pelagius and taught during the early 400’s (circa 412-415). It is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature, and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without Divine aid. Thus, Adam’s sin was “to set a bad example” for his progeny, but his actions did not have the other consequences imputed to Original Sin. Pelagianism views the role of Jesus as “setting a good example” for the rest of humanity (thus counteracting Adam’s bad example). In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for its own salvation in addition to full responsibility for every sin (the latter insisted upon by both proponents and opponents of Pelagianism). According to Pelagian doctrine, because humanity does not require God’s grace for salvation (beyond the creation of will), Jesus’ execution is devoid of the redemptive quality ascribed to it by orthodox Christian theology.

In other words, man has (in his natural state) the ability to “make a decision” for Christ.  This is not a historical or orthodox christian view. While this is likely what you believed when you started reading this blog post, it is almost certainly not the position of your denomination.  See what happens when people stop teaching that “stuffy theology”? We fall into what has been considered heresy for hundreds of years!

Here are the creeds of the Council of Orange who condemned Pelagius’ teachings:
http://www.creeds.net/ancient/orange.htm

So, ask yourself. Before you read this did you believe that all men naturally had the ability to “make a decision for Christ” on their own?

If so, it’s a heresy. It would be outside of the beliefs of all major denominations, including; Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, etc.   All of these denominations hold that apart from a divine enablement by God, no man can come to faith in Christ.

It is my sincere hope that this post has given you a new level of appreciation for the incredible grace which God has shown us by changing our hearts to hear the gospel and to come to Christ in repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

As always, i’m available at marc5solas@gmail.com for questions and discussion!

Marc