Why is justification by faith so important?

Wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown.

– John Calvin in a letter of reply to Cardinal Sadolet of Carpentras.

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Why is justification by faith so important?

Cherish Love

Earlier this evening at out midweek meeting for prayer, we considered Paul’s thankfulness in 2Th1:3,4 for certain things in the lives of these Christians. One of those things was that “the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” It is a great encouragement to us to expect increasing love in our church and indeed to pursue it.

Later, I was reading Jonathan Edwards’ third lecture in Charity and Its Fruits and he concludes by way of application with a paragraph which has rounded off the evening nicely!

Here it is:

If it be so, that this [i.e. Christian love in the heart] is of such great and absolute necessity, then let it be the one great thing that you seek. Seek it with diligence and prayer, and seek it of God, and not of yourself. He only can bestow it. It is something far above the unassisted power of nature. For though there may be great performances, and great sufferings too, yet without sincere love they are all in vain. Such doings and sufferings may indeed be required of us, as the followers of Christ, and in the way of duty. But we are not to rest in them, or feel that they have any merit or worthiness in themselves. At best they are but the outward evidence and the outflowing of a right spirit in the heart. Be exhorted, then, as the great thing, to cherish sincere love, or Christian charity, in the heart. It is that which you must have; and there is nothing that will help your case without it. Without it, all will, in some respect, but tend to deepen your condemnation, and to sink you to but lower depths in the world of despair!

Cherish Love

Separation of Faith and State

Something I wrote for the “Faith Matters” column in our local rag last month. It was written in a hurry because I was going on holiday, so it is a little rough round the edges!

Historically, the mantra, “Separation of church and state!” (SCS for short) was argued by parts of the church to prevent inappropriate interference by the state into the church’s affairs. However, in recent years it is more likely to be heard from the lips of humanists and secularists who want to get rid of any interference by the church into the affairs of the state. All well and good. Both institutions are answerable to God in for their government in respective spheres.

However, I believe advocates of SCS often confuse it with something may seem to be the same thing, but isn’t: “Separation of faith and the state!”.

We are seeing a growing number of cases across the country of Christians who work in the state sector being taken to employment tribunals for gross misconduct. Their crime? Expressing a faith-informed opinion in the workplace, at which someone else takes umbrage. For many people in the UK, a Christianity-informed opinion has no place in the workplace, either professionally or privately. This is separation of faith and the state.

This is a dangerous state of affairs and will force one of two things. On the one hand, Christians at work in the state sector will be forced to become “dis-integrated” people – having to hold to one set of beliefs at work and another set at home. On the other, Christians will no longer be able in good conscience to work for organisations that are there to serve the community as a whole – a distasteful form of faith-based segregation.

Segregation and/or disintegration of people is a dangerous direction for society to go. The church and state must operate in their respective spheres. But surely in a society that truly tolerates diversity we want integrated people contributing to its structures and institutions even if their lives are faith-based.

Stephen Dancer

Minister,

Solihull Presbyterian Church

Separation of Faith and State

Preach Christ

 

The longer I go on in ministry, the more I realise the great and pressing need for people to know Jesus Christ. That may seem like an obvious thing – “Duh, you’re a minster of the gospel!”, you might be saying.

I know. But don’t you ever have those times when the obvious things take on a new importance? This is one of those times. I see the need in myself; I see the need in the people at SPC; I see the need in and around Solihull.

Yet again, last week, I met an elderly lady who goes to church. She enjoys the social aspects of church life. She also had a sense of comfort in her trials which she attributed to God. As I often do, I asked her what Jesus Christ meant to her. She spoke of him in terms of the comfort she felt. I asked her more pointedly, what she thought Christ had done for her. Still, the experience of comfort she was receiving.

This nebulous idea of a Jesus who is “up there” somewhere giving us comfort (how?) is very common. The idea of Jesus can be very therapeutic.

Of course, there are two big things missing. The first is any sense of the real identity of Jesus. People will attach the labels – “Son of God”, “Saviour” but the real significance of those terms is lost on them. What on earth do those things mean?  Some will describe him as a good, moral teacher or a prophet or even a healer (especially if someone is a Muslim). These are just attempts to fit him into known categories alongside Buddha or Gandhi or Bono or Mother Teresa. I guess you have to start somewhere. The essential thing about Jesus’ identity is his divinity.

John the Apostle has this as a thread through his book. He starts with a bang: “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” (John 1:1). Last Sunday at SPC, we looked at the rather surprising conclusion that “the Jews” came to in John 5:18 that he was “making himself equal with God”. Jesus did not try to correct them. John the writer does not point out that they were in error. Jesus was indeed claiming divinity.

Here’s the second big thing that seems to be missing from the consciousness of anyone who knows anything about Jesus – his saving work. Through John’s gospel he records Jesus declaring his intentions:

  • to make the blind see (John 9:39)
  • to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37,38)
  • to give life (John 10:10)
  • to be “lifted up” (John 12:32) – a reference to his future exaltation through suffering
  • etc, etc

preachersmIt baffles me that so often I meet people who go to a church somewhere (some of them supposedly gospel-preaching churches) and they have to be prompted to remember that Jesus died and rose again from the dead! Now to be fair to some poor church members, I have met pastors who will not preach the death and resurrection of Jesus as having saving significance. Instead they preach the moral content of Jesus teaching as they see it. The hearers effectively are invited to put faith in themselves and their abilities to conform. Their teachers are blind guides who will answer to God for their evil works. But sadly the people are left build on sand.

But is not just the liberals I am concerned about. Evangelicals too seem to suffer from a lack of a sense of the significance of Jesus and his work. If this were not true, I would expect churches to be busier than they are because

  • Christians want more of Jesus Christ in his word as it is preached to them (yes, I am thinking of people coming twice to church on Sundays because they can’t get enough of him)
  • Christians want more people to hear about him and are willing to take risks to help them do so (yes, outreach, witnessing, evangelism)

That means there is work to do for us pastors. As shepherds of our flocks we are  called to minister the word to the people that God brings. We must preach Christ – I must preach Christ – and pray for the converting power of the Holy Spirit.

Preach Christ