Justification By Faith Alone

What-Does-It-Mean-To-Be-Saved-By-Grace

Whatever deeds we do as Christians we do as a result of His grace working in us. Because of the gracious character of these works, we have nothing of which to boast in ourselves.

Often the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone is misunderstood to mean that good works have nothing to do with the Christian life. On the contrary, they have everything to do with the Christian life, as they are essential to our sanctification. The doctrine of justification by faith alone teaches that our works contribute nothing to our justification. Our justification rests squarely on the works of Christ alone. But we can still say that though we are justified by faith alone, our rewards in heaven are distributed according to our works. This “according to” does not mean that our works merit a reward. They do not. Our best works remain tainted with sin to such a degree that Augustine called them “splendid vices.” Augustine also taught that when God rewards our works in heaven, this is a reward grace and is, as it were, God’s crowning His own work.

Since our election is unto conformity to Christ and unto good works, we see the love of God working in our redemption from beginning to end, from election to the divine initiative by which we are brought to Christ, to the end goal of our glorification… The author of Hebrews declared that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Yet, it is only the believer who diligently seeks God. Paul taught that by nature no one seeks after God (Rom. 3:11). The seeking of God begins at conversion; it does not end there. It is the regenerate person who seeks God and makes seeking after God the main business of his or her life.

~Adapted from Chapter  Seven of God’s Love: How The Infinite God Cares For His Children[kindle edition] by R.C. Sproul.

Advertisements

Studying and Interpreting The Bible

bible-431483__340

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 (2Timothy 2:15).

Paul writes to young Timothy his protegé instructing him on several doctrinal issues in his role as a pastor and particularly in this verse, Timothy is instructed on “rightly handling the word of truth”. Though a pastoral letter, the charge nonetheless holds true for every believer. We are all called upon to engage in a right handling of the word of truth. If the Bible is the word of God and it is, then you and I have a responsibility not to misinterpret God’s word. You don’t want your words to be misinterpreted to mean what you didn’t mean, do you? Why would you go as far as misinterpreting God’s word?

In different instances, I have engaged in disagreements over how a biblical text was handled and I have met with words as “That’s your opinion” “I  have my own opinion”. “That’s how you choose to interpret the text, I choose to interpret it differently”. You probably might have heard similar words spoken to you or you might have spoken those words yourself to someone who disagreed with you on a biblical text. In a world of subjectivity without any objective truth, this might sound appealing.

The problem however is that the bible is not left to our subjective interpretation and “opinionising”. The Bible has an objective meaning in its context. Though it is God’s word, it is written in human language and all the rules of reading, comprehension and interpretation of literature or any written document applies. The Bible is God’s word but it is a book and must be read as a book.

Do Your Best

Though it is a book, yet the Bible is the sacred word of God and we must handle it accurately and not misinterpret it. If you wouldn’t want your own words misinterpreted and given meaning you didn’t intend, it must follow then that if no human being will tolerate a misinterpretation of their words, I doubt God will tolerate same. The phrase “Do your best” gives a picture of effort, preparation and diligence.

Prior to vs 15 of 2Timothy, Paul had drawn certain analogies from the life of a soldier, athlete and farmer. These analogies help us understand well the phrase “Do your best”. The soldier seeks to please his superiors, the athlete competes according to the rules and a farmer works hard. The Christian must do same in their lives and especially the handling of God’s word. She must seek to please God in all she does and especially in the handling of God’s word. And must, as it were, live according to the “rules” that govern Christian living. And finally work hard–not be lax in Christian conduct. The phrase “Do Your Best”, in the Greek–Spoudaźo[1], speaks of zeal or being zealous. To “Do your best” therefore speaks of zeal in presenting ourselves as one approved–that is people who please God. And one of the many ways in pleasing God is handling His word accurately.

Rightly Handling The Word

Suppose you are to engage the services of any professional, what will be your standard for selection? For example, if you are to engage the services of a tailor/seamstress ( fashion designer), would you engage one who cuts clothes indiscriminately without precision and accuracy? Would you engage an architect whose drawings are inaccurate. And who would live in a house that tilts to its side? I doubt if anyone would. But if these are important, why do people leave their lives and eternal destiny into the hands of people who “wrongly handle the word of truth” and teach their followers same? If you want your shirt well cut, why don’t you want the word of God well cut? Would you rather your soul is damned than wear a badly cut shirt? “Rightly  handling the word of truth” speaks of accuracy, precision, exactness and straightness. “Precision and accuracy are required in biblical interpretation, beyond all other enterprises, because the interpreter is handling God’s Word. Anything less is shameful”[2].

An admonishing for rightly  handling the word of truth is an admonishing against wrongly handling the word of truth. The question is, how can we handle the word of truth with accuracy and precision? I will offer some

Read Your Bible

First and foremost you must read the Bible if you will come any close to rightly handling the word of truth. Many believers don’t know what the Bible teaches simply because they don’t read it. They believe the Bible is God’s word, but they can’t even tell of the last time they read the Bible. Writing about why people don’t study their Bible, R.C. Sproul in his book Knowing Scripture nailed it to one reason–laziness: “We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy” [3]

At the beginning of the year, I wrote an article The Resolution Every Christian Must Make In 2016 where I shared six points to help in reading and studying the Bible. I trust it will be helpful in this discussion. Now it is one thing to read the Bible and another thing to read it well to be able to rightly handle the word of truth.

Read It Orderly:

“…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”(Luke 1:3-4)

Luke tells us something about his gospel account which is true of every book of the Bible. The Bible is an “orderly account” of events. It is not a disorderly, haphazard, magical words appearing on a paper. God is a God of order and the word He “breathed out” was “breathed out” in an orderly manner to be approached orderly. In that sense, it must be read in an “orderly” manner.

Study Your Bible

Reading and studying are two different things. “There is a great deal of difference between reading and studying. Reading is something we can do in a leisurely way, something that can be done strictly for entertainment in a casual manner. But study suggests labor, serious and diligent work“[4].

There is a level of seriousness that comes with studying that is not required of reading. Again we turn to Luke’s gospel. He said to Theophilus:

…having followed all things closely.

This statement indicates an attention to detail and facts concerning gospel truth. This same disposition of mind is required in studying the Bible. Luke poured over– examined, investigated, scrutinised, paid attention, analysed and engaged–the facts of what was handed over by the eye witnesses of Christ’s life, i.e. the apostles (Luke 1:2). As believers, our regenerated  minds have been empowered to be able to engage the text of God’s word. We have the capacity now to “spiritually discern” God’s word in contrast to the unregenerated  man who can’t discern  or receive spiritual things. So dear believer, do just that! Engage the text! Take note of phrases, meaning of words, figurative expressions, grammatical  constructions and pray the Holy Spirit to illuminate your mind.

Present Yourself To God As one Approved

As believers we need to grow in sanctification and mature in holiness. Our effort in cooperation with the Spirit of God towards sanctification as believers is not what secures our salvation, yet it is necessary for our spiritual growth and usefulness. See the result or the objective Luke hoped to achieve with his orderly presentation of his gospel to Theophilus: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”.

This is important for us Bible readers. An orderly presentation of truth brings clarity. It gives roots to faith. It solidifies ones beliefs. Paul tells Timothy something similar to the impact Luke hopes his gospel would have on Theophilus: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed , knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2Timothy 3:14-15).

When we rightly handle the word, it makes us wise in our faith walk and saves us from error of false teachers: But avoid irreverent babble , for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.”(2Timothy 2:16- 18).

Basic Tools Of Hermeneutics

To rightly handle the word of truth we need tools to help us. At this point I will share three basic tools of hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics “…is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible…The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible”[5].

Analogy Of Faith

This rule holds that Scripture is its own interpreter: “Sacra Scriptura sui interpres“. What this teaches basically is that no interpretation of a Scripture or Scriptures must contradict any other Scripture. Since God doesn’t contradict Himself, we must expect His word to also be in harmony as a whole. Biblical interpretation therefore must be approached with the whole body of biblical revelation in mind. When we interpret a Scripture, we must be sure that our interpretation agrees with other Scriptures rather than contradict. Where a Scripture is contradicting another, we must solve the contradiction or throw away our interpretation.

Literal Translation

It has been said already that the Bible is a book and as such must be read as a book. When we are told to read the Bible literally, what is being spoken of here is that we must  “…interpret the Bible literally… as literature. That is, the natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax and context”[6]. So the next time you approach the Bible, take notice of the words you are reading

Genre Analysis

Bible is a Greek word biblio which means book. So the Bible is a book. It is not only a book but a book made up of different collection of books of different genres. The genres of the Bible includes historical narratives, wisdom literature, Psalms, Letters (epistles), Gospel, Prophetic writings,  Apocalyptic writings and each of these  genre must be identified and read with the rules governing a particular genre. Now genre analysis involves the study of figures of speech and style, literary devices and any other literature forms. This tool goes hand in hand with literal translation. So in genre analysis, we consider the literary style of every particular genre and how to interpret it.

There are many other tools of hermeneutics. But these three are basic and a good foundation for further reading.

Notes

1: Study notes on 2Timothy 2:15, ESV Study Bible, ©2008, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois

2: Study notes on 2Timothy 2:15, THE MACARTHUR STUDY BIBLE Copyright © 2006 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE (kindle edition)

3: Sproul, R.C Knowing Scripture, © 2009, InterVarsity Press[kindle edition]

4: ibid

5: http://www.gotquestions.org/Biblical-hermeneutics.html

6: Sproul, R.C Knowing Scripture, © 2009, InterVarsity Press[kindle edition]

Suggested Reading:

R. C. Sproul,  Knowing Scripture, © 2009, InterVarsity Press

http://www.gotquestions.org/Biblical-hermeneutics.html

Originally posted on http://www.sovereigngracegh.wordpress.com

A Craving For Miracles

dd_09-02b-
C. H. Spurgeon

Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.
John 4:48

A craving for miracles was a symptom of the sickly condition of men’s minds in our Lord’s day; they refused solid nourishment and longed for mere wonders. The Gospel that they so greatly needed they would not have; the miracles that Jesus did not always choose to give they eagerly demanded. Even today there are many who must see signs and wonders or they will not believe. Some have said in their heart, “I must feel deep horror of soul or I never will believe in Jesus.” But what if you never should feel it, as probably you never will? Will you go to hell out of spite against God because He did not treat you like someone else?

One has said to himself, “If I had a dream, or if I could feel a sudden jolt of something, then I would believe.” You undeserving mortals dream that my Lord is to be dictated to by you! You are beggars at His gate, asking for mercy, and you are drawing up rules and regulations as to how He will give that mercy. Do you think that He will submit to this? My Master has a generous spirit, but He also has a royal heart. He rejects all orders and maintains His sovereignty of action.

Why, dear reader, if this is your case, do you crave signs and wonders? Isn’t the Gospel its own sign and wonder? Isn’t this the miracle of miracles, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish”? Surely that precious word, “Let the one who desires take the water of life without price”1 and that solemn promise, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out”2 are better than signs and wonders! A truthful Savior ought to be believed. He is truth itself. Why will you ask the One who cannot lie for proof? The devils themselves declared Him to be the Son of God; will you mistrust Him?

1) Revelation 22:17
2) John 6:37

Family Bible Reading Plan

Ezekiel 5Psalms 42, 43

Devotional material is taken from “Morning and Evening,” written by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg. Copyright © 2003, Good News Publishers and used by Truth For Life with written permission.