B.C. Askins

The Man With the Golden Gun

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Sermon Manuscript: Romans 2:6 (Part 8)

(This is a section of a manuscript of the first prepared sermon I ever preached, which was in 2009 at the Evangelical Church of Fairport.)

Romans 2:6, “He will render to each one according to his works…”

So, having demonstrated the errors of justification by legalism or lawlessness we return to the question: can permanent, everlasting guilt be removed? Not easily. In fact, with man this is impossible. However, with God all things are possible.

Proverbs 17:15 says that “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” So how does God justify the wicked (Rom. 4:5) and condemn Christ the righteous (Is. 53:6) without being an abomination to Himself? How does God impute evil to a sinless man, let criminals go free, even graciously rewarding them, and still be just and righteous? How can the cross on which Christ died ever be considered justice, rather than an abomination?

The answer lies in the implications of the following statement: Christ was completely God and completely human, perfectly sinless. Theologians commonly make the distinction between Christ’s active obedience (His life lived in perfect righteousness, fully obeying the commands of God in all things at all times) and His passive obedience (submitting Himself to the shame and agony of death on a cross at the hands of wicked men). It is commonly recognized that in the totality of Christ’s obedience is the foundation of the complete righteousness imputed to sinners.

Christ’s active obedience necessarily entails obeying the two greatest commandments of God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt. 22:37-40)

It is my argument that, given a world full of sinners and the law of love quoted above, the death of a perfectly obedient man given the God-like opportunity to accept the judgment of “his neighbors” would be a case of consequent absolute necessity. In other words, if the history of the world is full of sinners (and it is) and the penalty for sin is death (and it is) and the two greatest commandments are to love God and people (and they are), then the substitutionary death of Christ must occur if He is to remain truly perfect, sinless (and he is).

If Christ is to remain perfectly good He must choose to become evil; if He is to be completely sinless He must choose to become sin; if He is to remain completely obedient to God He must embody disobedience. If permanent, everlasting guilt is to be removed then it must be the case that “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

You see, in order for Christ to continue to love God with all His heart, soul and mind He must (among other things) live in such a way as to display that God is just, that no sin will go unpunished and no truly good act will go unrewarded. Christ was “put forward as a (sacrifice) by his blood… to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Rom. 3:25) God had mercifully chosen to largely “overlook” the sins of men from the time of Adam to Christ, being patient and not exacting the punishment deserved from men for their disobedience. This, however, could open the door for questions regarding whether or not God is just (not that He could be charged with being too harsh, mind you, but for being too lax in His judgments). In order for Christ to obey the two greatest commandments, He had to choose to become evil out of love for God (by choosing to accept in Himself the evils committed by all of humanity throughout history), so that God might be just in delivering his wrath upon Christ, who had become the evil of all humanity.

Christ chooses to become evil, to have our sin counted as his own, in an act of loving obedience to the two greatest commandments.

For Christ to choose to become evil, to choose the cross, was the only way for God to be just in punishing a perfectly sinless man, and Christ remains perfectly sinless in choosing to become evil because becoming evil for the purpose of proving God’s justice was done out of love for God and people, obedience to the two greatest commandments. He necessarily chose to become sin in order to remain sinless. The absolute only way for Christ to perfectly obey the two greatest commandments in a sinful world was for Him to become the sinful world and for God to punish Him for it in death. Because of this loving act of obedience, God puts all things in subjection under His feet (1 Cor. 15:27) and He purchases the chosen people for whom He laid down His life, receiving their punishment and displaying the greatest love (Jn. 15:13).

And all of this was done according to God’s eternal plan, in order that His righteousness might be shown, “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:26)
So how can permanent guilt be removed? How can God be both just and the justifier of sinners? Christ, in order to remain perfectly sinless, becomes sin and receives the just wrath of God for being evil (which was severe physical, emotional and spiritual punishment culminating in death), while the reward of His obedience is graciously given to those for whom he died, and Christ is raised again to life because of His perfect sinlessness. He pays the penalty for sin and overcomes the power of sin, proven by His resurrection. Death could not keep him, since he owed nothing and he could not be held. It’s not wrong for God to impute sin to Christ, for Christ had chosen to become sinful out of love for God and man; and it’s not wrong for God to impute Christ’s righteousness to us, since he will make us the righteousness of God. In this way we are declared righteous in Christ and we begin to progressively be made righteous by Christ.

Our justification and our sanctification are both in the gospel, in union with Christ; not by works of the law and not by adjustments of the law. Justification and sanctification are both inseparably in Christ. Just as he can’t be divided into parts (or merely be our Savior and not our Lord), we cannot have justification without sanctification. “We are justified not without works, yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness.” (Calvin, Inst. 3.16.1) We are justified by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone. Faith = Justification + Works.

Indeed, the only thing we provide in our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary. Charles Spurgeon says that we receive this justification with “the empty hand of faith.” It’s true in a sense that the hand of faith is an empty hand, in that it brings nothing of value, but I do not think that is a fully accurate description of the biblical testimony on this matter. It’s not as if we haven’t already received much from the hands of God for which we are already responsible. He has given us life and relationships and opportunities and resources and we have wasted them all. These hands we bring to him are not merely empty. We come to him with the broken hands of faith. We’ve broken them abusing ourselves and others and we’ve wasted them seeking our own glory and we are completely responsible but we run to him as children to a father, helpless, broken. “Daddy, I broke it. Daddy, I wasted it. Will you help me?” At first we think we turn to run to him, but when we become aware of ourselves, of reality, we realize that that we are too broken to do so and it was He who ran to us first. That he comes to us and justifies us, not because of anything we ever did, but in spite of everything we have ever done.

The Humility of Christ

“And (Jesus) came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22:39-43 ESV)

It’s easy to breeze right past verse 43 in this narrative: “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” The Creator of all things needs one of his creations to come and strengthen him, because he is so weakened before the task of bearing all my sin, absorbing the wrath of His Father in my behalf, on behalf of the world.

He subjected himself to so much because I am bitter with my wife for not reading my mood or I lied because it seemed “easier” than telling the truth or I’m proud. I know what it is to be tempted ever so slightly, then to fail. I also know what it is to resist temptation by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, I don’t know what it is to resist temptation to the point that I need to be directly strengthened by the presence of an angel. This is how humble Christ is. He suffered incomparably.

He knew the fury he would endure as he was forsaken by the Father – for my sake. He subjected himself to so much. Of the countless number of people we will meet in heaven, only one has ever been forsaken – Jesus Christ. And it was for your sake. And he will never leave you nor forsake you, if you trust in him.

Sermon Manuscript: Romans 2:6 (Part 7)

(This is a section of a manuscript of the first prepared sermon I ever preached, which was in 2009 at the Evangelical Church of Fairport.)

Romans 2:6, “He will render to each one according to his works…”

In fact, the statement “nobody’s perfect” exemplifies the basis for another, opposite theory of justification commonly held today. I naively used to think that when people said “nobody’s perfect” that this was a kind of tacit acknowledgement of the biblical doctrine of original sin, that everyone is sinful by nature and choice. However, as I began to ask deeper questions and listen more intently to what people were saying I realized I was completely wrong. “Nobody’s perfect” is used to justify nearly any infidelity, even when recognized as wrong, by an appeal to the universal failures of others. In fact, if you confront someone about a specific instance of wrongdoing “nobody’s perfect” is often used very basically as a “you too” deflection (tu quoque), but it is still more complicated than that.

When confronted with our own guilt the tendency is to “squirm” or deflect, to seek to justify ourselves. This self-justification, oddly enough, often comes through an appeal to universal imperfection: “yeah, well, nobody’s perfect.” “Nobody’s perfect” becomes the justification for our own sinfulness, rather than the grace of Christ. “Nobody’s perfect” becomes the practical basis for doing whatever we like as though we are in fact perfect, since our wrongs aren’t any wronger than anyone else’s. “Nobody’s perfect” is not a tacit acceptance of Original Sin, it is a practical way of shifting responsibility so that we no longer consider ourselves guilty when staring in the face of our own guilt. If “nobody’s perfect” then, simply by adjusting our ethical standard to match the level of our ethical failure, then it is as if everybody is perfect, which is sheer relativism. “Nobody’s perfect” really means “nobody can judge me.” If everyone is guilty, then nobody is guilty; or so the logic goes. It’s not an admission of guilt.

We can place this view of justification into the categories of Antinomianism or Lawlessness and the category of Relativism. It is a form of self-justification which looks outside of us to the common guilt of others as the basis for our justification. It seeks to lower the standard, since if everybody breaks the law, then the law must be wrong. If you want to see a great example of this kind of relativistic, lawless self-justification, watch the documentary “Bigger Stronger Faster.” The premise is a film about the use of performance enhancing drugs in American culture, particularly in sports; but it becomes an interesting exercise in self-justification and rationalization. Well, worth the rental.

As I said, Legalism and Lawlessness are the “two thieves” between which the Gospel is “crucified.” Legalism and Moralism look inside of us for a righteousness that isn’t there while Lawlessness and Relativism look outside of ourselves in order to declare our own comparative righteousness based on the fact of universal guilt. This is just spiritual alchemy. No amount of special pleading will turn your own guilt or your neighbor’s guilt into righteousness when God judges the secrets of men. No amount of self-deception will remove your guilt.

Now, keep clear in your mind that there are Christianized forms of Legalism and Moralism, which give lip-service to the idea of being justified by faith in Christ, while still practically looking inside one’s self for the righteousness of doctrinal orthodoxy or church attendance or adherence to extra-biblical standards of goodness as the basis for God’s favor. “Run, John, run. The law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands. Yet sweeter news the gospel brings. It bids me fly and gives me wing.”
And there are also Christianized forms of Lawlessness and Relativism which give lip-service to the idea of seeking an “alien righteousness” outside of ourselves in Christ, but uses the idea of that righteousness as the basis for continuing to love sin, to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. “Free from the law, Oh blessed condition. I can sin as I please and still have remission.” I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that someone who views being rescued from a burning building as a good reason to rush back into the building is stupid. Lawlessness is stupid.

Here’s a quick check for believers: Do you tend to justify yourself? When your co-workers or parents or spouse or friends confront you about a mistake or a failure or a sin, do you look for ways to excuse yourself or do you live a life of repentance, as if your justification for all of your life is entirely outside of yourself in Christ alone? If in even the simple, basic interactions of daily life you seek to justify yourself, what evidence is there in you that would lead anyone to conclude that you have been justified in Christ alone? Live and breathe and laugh and weep and suffer and die as if you can only ever be justified in Christ alone. And when confronted with your failures, don’t justify yourself; repent and be justified in Christ.

Erasmus’ Principles on How to Be Strong While Remaining Virtuous in a Dangerous World: 22

REPENT YOUR WRONGS.

Those who do not admit their faults have the most to fear.

Sermon Manuscript: Romans 2:6 (Part 6)

(This is a section of a manuscript of the first prepared sermon I ever preached, which was in 2009 at the Evangelical Church of Fairport.)

Romans 2:6, “He will render to each one according to his works…”

So can permanent, everlasting guilt be removed? The answer to this question is something into which angels long to look.

Some turn to the statements of the immediate context of our text for the answer, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” (Rom. 2:13) “Those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.’ (Rom. 2:7)

“They who pervert this passage for the purpose of building up justification by works, deserve most fully to be laughed at even by children.” –John Calvin, Commentary on Romans 2

Every philosophy of life, every worldview, no matter how mismatched and cobbled together or sophisticated and self-consistent, has a theory of salvation, which contains a doctrine of justification, a way that humanity can respond to the prescribed problems of the human condition, of dealing with guilt. The President tells us that we can be saved from the apocalyptic judgment of global warming by minimizing our carbon footprint and recycling (among other things). The Buddha told us that we can be freed from the wheel of reincarnation by attaining self-awakening through the Noble 8-Fold Path of having the right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration which lead to attaining right knowledge and right liberation. These different worldviews contain different doctrines of justification, different ways for dealing with human guilt and failure. Essentially, one answer offered is that we can make up for our guilt by believing and doing the right things. Justification = Faith + Works.

June 28, 2009 marks the completion of the Anno Paulino or the Pauline Year, which the Pope instituted in honor of the 2000th anniversary of the apostle’s birth. In the papal decree Urbis et Orbis it states: “The gift of Indulgences which the Roman Pontiff offers to the universal Church, truly smoothes the way to attaining a supreme degree of inner purification which, while honoring the Blessed Apostle Paul, exalts the supernatural life in the hearts of the faithful and gently encourages them to do good deeds… Each and every truly repentant individual member of the Christian faithful, duly absolved through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and restored with Holy Communion, who devoutly makes a pilgrimage to the Papal Basilica of St. Paul on the Ostian Way and who prays for the Supreme Pontiff’s intentions, will be granted the Plenary Indulgence from temporal punishment for his/her sins, once sacramental forgiveness and pardon for any shortcomings has been obtained. The Christian faithful may benefit from the Plenary Indulgence both for themselves and for the deceased, as many times as they fulfill the required conditions but without prejudice to the norm stipulating that the Plenary Indulgence may be obtained only once a day.”

Best known for his rich proclamation of free grace and severe condemnation of any church that would preach a different gospel, Paul’s birth being celebrated with indulgences is the irony of the century.

Biblically, we can place these varied but similar perspectives in one of two categories: in its narrower and more stringent form we can categorize it as Legalism, that we are justified by our obedience to a strict code of belief and ethics. In its more general, liberal form we can call it Moralism, which does not require strict adherence to a law of some sort, but general adherence to moral principles of one kind or another. Moralism is just Legalism’s lazy little brother.

The problems for the Legalist and the Moralist are two-fold. The first problem is that obedience to law and morality in one instance does not remove the permanent guilt for disobedience in any other instance. There is no justification for stealing a candy bar earned by offering to mow your neighbor’s lawn. That idea is just sheer nonsense. The idea that there is a balance on one side of which are weighed your good deeds and the other of which weighs your failures is wrong because it fundamentally misunderstands the nature of guilt and responsibility. Doing good in one instance cannot negate doing evil in another instance, even if it mitigates the consequences of evil, since everything you do is permanent.

The second problem is that fulfilling your duty to obey the law does not earn you any rewards, and obeying God’s law is our duty. Luke 17:7-10, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Since there is no merit in performing one’s duty and only guilt is incurred by failing to do so, the scale of good would be empty and the scale of evil would be full. Let’s be perfectly clear that there is no justification in that.

Legalism and Moralism are forms of self-justification which rely on a goodness, a righteousness inside of ourselves where only guilt and sin exist. It is self-delusional to look to the source of a problem in the hope of finding the solution to that problem. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” (Mt. 7:18) Permanent guilt is not removed by obeying the law, unless it is obeyed perfectly. And it has become an almost cliché truism to recognize that “nobody’s perfect.”

Erasmus’ Principles on How to Be Strong While Remaining Virtuous in a Dangerous World: 21

LIFE CAN BE SAD, DIFFICULT, AND QUICK: MAKE IT COUNT FOR SOMETHING!

Since we do not know when death will come, act honorably every day.

Sermon Manuscript: Romans 2:6 (Part 5)

(This is a section of a manuscript of the first prepared sermon I ever preached, which was in 2009 at the Evangelical Church of Fairport.)

Romans 2:6, “He will render to each one according to his works…”

The final judgment resolves the many injustices that occur in this world that have not been rectified on earth. There are wicked people who live and die in the lap of luxury. There are murderers, rapists and thieves who are never caught, exposed and punished for their crimes. There are dictators who oppress the poor, torture and murder innocent people, and yet live in palaces and die at a ripe old age. There are many people who have been severely wronged and have not experienced vindication, closure or justice in this life. There are millions of God’s children who have been slandered, beaten, imprisoned and even murdered for their faith. Will a righteous and holy God allow such inequities to go unpunished? Will the God of perfect justice allow injustice to continue interminably in His universe? Will the Lord allow evil people to get away with their sins and crimes? God’s holy nature requires that all injustices be resolved. God displays His perfect justice by publicly exposing all sins and crimes, by publicly declaring the guilt of the offending parties and by publicly meting out the sentence of condemnation. There is a day of perfect justice and closure because God’s nature demands it. There are no ethical loose ends in Christ’s kingdom.

Every mother and every father of every little boy and every little girl kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery will finally witness the perfect wrath of Almighty God poured out in full fury on all those guilty of such wickedness, from the civil magistrate who fails, out of laziness, incompetence or bribery in his duties to enforce the law and protect the most helpless, to those who buy and sell and trade in the rape of the most innocent among us. Every mouth will be stopped and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, in heaven and on earth and, yes, even under the earth on that great and terrible day of the Lord’s judgment.

And you and I will be judged according to how we have responded or not responded to such tragedies. “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to (Christ).’” (Mt. 25:44-45) Oh Lord forgive us for endlessly quibbling over the logical order of the divine decrees or drawing lines of division among ourselves over the difference between a “universally sufficient atonement which is particular in scope” and a “universally accomplished atonement which is particular in its application” while our children and our neighbor’s children are used like Kleenex and thrown away, while there are still places on this planet where the glorious name of Christ has never been heard. Oh Lord forgive us… and help us to obey.

Everything you do is permanent and you are responsible for everything you do. There must be and there will be a day when God will judge the world and bring an end to all rebellion against Himself forever. Hell is eternal because everything you do is permanent and you are responsible for everything you do. Just because you are no longer ashamed by the guilt of your past sins doesn’t remove your guilt for committing them. The passage of time doesn’t remove guilt. The punishment in hell is varied in severity, since “that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Lk 12:47-48). But the punishment received according to the works you have done will continue so long as your guilt remains. And your guilt is permanent. “Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Rom. 2:5) Hell is everlasting because your guilt is everlasting.

So can permanent, everlasting guilt be removed? The answer to this question is something into which angels long to look.

Erasmus’ Principles on How to Be Strong While Remaining Virtuous in a Dangerous World: 20

VIRTUE HAS ITS OWN REWARD.

Once a person has it, they would not exchange it for anything.

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