Religious Toleration

Heron Channelside (5)

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A while back, I was a member of a church that joined other community churches of various denominations, in a social justice group. The idea was good. They wanted to help homeless people get cell phones, so they could leave a number on job applications. They wanted buses running later at night for people who work various shifts. My first red flag something was not healthy in the group came before one of our meetings, with a city councilman. Our social justice group was instructed by the leader not to applaud or even smile at the councilman until he agreed to all our demands. The message was basically, be ice cold towards him until he does what we want. After we manipulate him, we can make him feel loved and welcomed. To me, this was not social justice. This was bullying! I left the “social justice” group, because it wasn’t very social or just.

This is nothing new. Martin Luther thought he had a just cause for wanting Anabaptists put to death. After all, in his mind they were cutting children off from God by not baptizing them at birth. In his mind Jews were also worthy of death since they rejected Jesus. Luther had a lot of good ideas, but even he was tempted by the reasoning, that a just cause excuses us from being loving and civil to each other. Luther wanted religious tolerance for himself, because he considered his cause just. But he did not exercise tolerance towards those whose causes he did not consider just.

While the Reformers rejected the creed of Rome, they were not entirely free from her spirit of intolerance. -Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 293

Do we do the same?

While traveling through Samara, James and John did not like the way Jesus was being rejected, so in their religious zeal they offered to call down fire from heaven and burn those Samaritans up! Like Luther and the rest of us, they had a lot to learn about the love of God. Jesus said,

 “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” Luke 9:55-56 NKJV

Jesus never condoned sin, but always loved the sinner. Too often we love the sin and hate the sinner!

The same John who wanted to burn up the Samaritans, later realized, “God is love.” 1 John 4:8. Since God is love, I don’t care what you believe or how well you understand the Bible, without love your theology is incorrect! I heard Wintley Phipps say, “Our love for God is no stronger than the love we have for the person we like the least.”

Even Martin Luther and John the Beloved needed to learn how to love. Do you think we still need to learn to love? May God help us all to love!

You may read this week’s SS lesson here.

Luther’s Understanding of Grace

Rays Port Charlotte-Skyway Bridge 065

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

One day, while I was studying the Gospel Presenation with a retired couple, we read this verse.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV

The husband had been raised Catholic, and while many of my Catholic friends understand grace, he told me, when we read that passage, that it was the first he had ever heard of us being saved by grace alone, without any works. That moment was an ephiphany for him, just like when Luther read, “The Just shall live by faith” in the Bible chained to the dungeon wall.

During our studies I learned the retired gentleman wanted victory over alcohol. He understood that works don’t save us, but he also understood that grace saves us from more than just death. Grace saves us from the power of sin.

Martin Luther understood this as well. After all, Luther read that “the just shall live by faith,” not the unjust. Luther understood that faith and grace makes us just as well as declaring us just. Luther understood that grace changes our lives. While visiting Rome, Luther was appalled at the sins he found even in the church. Luther understood being saved by grace instead of works, but he also understood that grace is not a license for sin.

He [Luther] entered the city, visited the churches, listened to the marvelous tales repeated by priests and monks, and performed all the ceremonies required. Everywhere he looked upon scenes that filled him with astonishment and horror. He saw that iniquity existed among all classes of the clergy. He heard indecent jokes from prelates, and was filled with horror at their awful profanity, even during mass. As he mingled with the monks and citizens, he met dissipation, debauchery. Turn where he would, in the place of sanctity he found profanation. “It is incredible,” he wrote, “what sins and atrocities are committed in Rome; they must be seen and heard to be believed. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 125.

Luther knew full well good works don’t save us, but he also knew grace saves us from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin. The Bible clearly teaches wherever we find grace, we also find, good works, obedience, and godly living.

After Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us we are saved by grace and not by works, Eph 2:10 tells us,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works..

Grace produces the good works our strength and effort could never accomplish.

Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience….Romans 1:5 NKJV

Grace produces the obedience our human nature could never render on its own.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,  teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 NKJV

Titus 2:11-14 painted a totally different picture of grace than the one Luther saw in Rome. Actually Luther did not see grace in Rome. He saw every kind of sin, and Titus 2:11-14 tells us grace enables us to deny sin and live godly lives in this present age.

My retired friend took hold of God’s grace, and after praying with a mentor in the church one evening, he left the bottle behind and entered the baptistry. Grace has saved my friend from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here. 

Judged by our Works?

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Since 1981, when I began preaching in high school, I have preached in many churches from Chiclayo, Peru, to Torrington, Connecticut.  I have spoken to large and small congregations with various needs.  I have illustrated to some conservative churches the need to be a little more liberal, and to liberal churches, how to be a little more conservative, as we all seek a Christ-like balance.

One Sabbath several years ago, I was preaching in one of the most conservative churches I have been in. No, “conservative” is not the word for it. Right-out legalistic is more like it! You’ll see why I say so in a moment.

I was preaching about how we are saved by grace – fairly fundamental Adventist Bible belief, so I thought. After the sermon I barely made it off the platform before I was greeted by a woman who had appointed herself to be the theology police for the church. She had a copy of The Great Controversy in her hand. Condescendingly she asked me if I had ever read The Great Controversy. I told her I had. She retorted, “How dare you then tell these people we are saved by grace when The Great Controversy clearly says we are saved by works! Your sermon today almost deceived even me. And if it almost deceived me I know you deceived everybody else!” (Did this woman maybe have a pride issue?)

Now let me stop before I go any further. If you have never read The Great Controversy, let me assure you that it does not say we are saved by our works. I have read the book several times cover to cover, and the theme I find over and over is that we are saved by grace and not by works, and that we should worship God according to our conscience and not according to man-made traditions and regulations. One of the star characters in the book is Martin Luther, who is applauded by the author for presenting salvation by grace and not works!

So, where was this lady coming from? Sure she was way off, but she had to get her idea from somewhere. She told me where it was. She told me to read the chapter, Facing Life’s Record, and I read:

The books of record in heaven, in which the names and the deeds of men are registered, are to determine the decisions of the judgment. –Ellen White, The Great Controversy, Page 480

True. Deeds are mentioned here, but if I remember correctly from diagramming sentences in my third grade English class, which I thoroughly hated doing by the way, “books” is the subject of the sentence, and the books determine the decisions, not the deeds.

However the Apostle John mentions deeds or “works” as well:

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.  Revelation 20:12

So do we have a conflict here? Not at all. In any investigative judgment you need evidence to determine your verdict. Our works provide evidence of salvation, but grace is the source of our salvation.

Speaking of Abraham, Genesis 15:6 says:

And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

Abraham’s belief or faith was counted as righteousness. God said it is enough that Abraham believes in my saving grace.

But when Abraham’s name comes up in the judgment what evidence will there be that he believed? Especially since he lied about his relationship with Sarah in order to save him from Egypt’s ruler. He trusted a lie to save him instead of trusting God to save him. No evidence of faith there.

However if we go to Genesis 22:1-24, we will see the evidence of Abraham’s faith, when he obeyed God and offered up his son on the altar. Now we have evidence that Abraham believed in God’s grace! Abraham will not be saved by his works, but his obedience of God’s soul-shattering command later in life – his “works” – demonstrates his faith in God. And God could count his faith as righteousness.

Just like smoke is evidence of fire, works are evidence of  God’s grace at work in the life. Where there is smoke there is fire, and where there is grace there are good works. Let’s do a little detective work ourselves here, and investigate three passages.

Let’s begin with Romans 1:5.

By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name.

Hhhmm … Seems to me here that Paul is telling the Romans that the grace they received was to lead to their obedience. Hence their works of obedience are evidence of grace at work.

Our next clue is found in Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Sure enough the passage tells us that we are saved by grace and not by works, but still we find God creating good works in us at the scene of grace. Let’s move on. We need more evidence.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.  Titus 2:11-14

Just as you see smoke where there has been a fire, so we again see good works where there is grace. Just like smoke is evidence there has been a fire, likewise living soberly, righteously, godly lives zealous of good works, is evidence that grace has been here.

If we trust God we will obey Him. Our works of obedience are presented as evidence in the judgment that we trust God’s amazing grace.

Satan may still point at Abraham’s lie in Egypt, but,

The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.  –Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p. 57.

When your name comes up in the judgment, will there be evidence that God’s grace was allowed to penetrate your heart?

Now there is also such a thing as false evidence. Legalistic works done for the glory of self would be false evidence that the Judge can see right through.

Yet a faith that works by love (See Galatians 5:6) is the exact evidence that will convince the Judge that we have received His amazing grace. I hope the lady who confronted me that day, with the Great Controversy, understands that doing works in order to be saved is just conjuring up false evidence. The faith that saves us is the faith that is motivated by love and grace and not a hope of reward and self-glory.

It’s just like the little girl standing by the side of the pool. She can’t swim, but her father promised to catch her if she jumps in. If she jumps we know she believes in her daddy. If she refuses to jump it is clearly evident she does not believe in her daddy.

Abraham showed a lack of faith in God’s love when he trusted a lie instead of God to protect him in Egypt. Yet when Abraham placed his son on the altar the whole universe saw the evidence that God’s grace was now in Abraham’s heart.

The Bible is clear. We are saved by grace and not by works. The Bible is also clear that where there is grace, there are good works.

A smoking gun is evidence that it has been put into action. Good works are evidence of grace put into action. Where you find smoke you find fire. Where you find grace you find good works.

Good works, done out of love, are evidence that we have been saved by amazing grace.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson on the sanctuary here.

Revelation 18; The Light Of The Cross Wins!

I am writing this morning from the beautiful Tampa Bay area. I am sharing this picture I took of the sunrise at Key Largo last December.

And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. Revelation 18:1

This is my favorite verse in all of Revelation! For centuries Satan tries to keep the world in spiritual darkness but he can’t keep away the light of God’s love! After the dark ages, the light of God’s love lights up the whole world! Last Tuesday evening, I walked into our group Bible study that we have each week at Panera Bread. Not only was my study group there, but each week there is another group of people meeting at the same time and place for a Bible study. I got up to get a refill and saw a man at a table studying the Bible too! I thought to myself, what would Martin Luther think, after having to skip meals to  study the only Bible he had access to, chained to a wall in a lonely monastery basement, if he could walk into this restaurant tonight and see two different Bible study groups and a man alone, eating and studying the Bible in a public place! What would Martin Luther think, if today he could see that the Bible that was chained to the lonely basement wall is now printed around the world and is also on our computers, laptops, notebooks and cell phones! What a wonderful time to be living! Truly the world is becoming lightened with the glory of God’s love, forgiveness and mercy! Seize the moment my friends! Take out your Bibles that men, during the dark ages, shed their blood to preserve! With great painstaking effort they have made it possible for you to have the Word of God readily available so you can read and see what Satan has worked so hard to keep you from understanding. God is love! And He loves you! If you find it hard to understand, just ask for the same Holy Spirit to help you which also helped them.

Last December I went to the Florida Keys and took this picture of the sun rising on Key Largo. I thought how wonderful that after several hours of darkness, that God lets the sun simply pierce the darkness with the morning star and slight glow before letting the sun suddenly rise with all its glory. Such light all at once would be blinding and not welcomed! God in His infinite wisdom,  has allowed each reformer during the dark ages, bring us a piece of God’s light and love one by one so as not to blind us all at once. Still, God in His own perfect timing, after the dark ages, lights up the whole world with His glory and love! As I stood that dawn, watching the light pierce the Atlantic Ocean, I could not help but remember Isaiah 11:9, “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Yes we are living in an exciting time, and when I walk into Panera Bread and see people studying their Bibles, I think to myself, this can only be good!  

If you would like to join a Bible study group in the Tampa Bay area please let me know! You can contact me at LayPastor@TampaAdventist.net or 813-933-7505. New study groups are starting all the time! I even have a second study group now meeting at Panera on late Friday afternoons as well as the one I have on Tuesdays. If you are not in the Tampa Bay area call me anyway and I will find a Bible study in your area!

Romans 1; The Power of Grace and Faith

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And declared [to be] the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:  By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:  Romans 1:4-5

Romans brings out the power of grace and God’s unconditional love. We also see in Romans the power of grace. In Romans 1:5 we see that grace gives us obedience.

For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.  Romans 1:17

While grace gives us the power to obey, faith gives us the power to be just and right with God. Many try to teach that faith and grace release us from the obligation to obey the law. If that was true, then this verse would read that the UNjust shall life by faith. It does not say that. It says the Just shall live by faith. Faith and grace are not a license to sin. Martin Luther, the champion of grace and righteousness by faith, beheld sins in the church that he knew did not belong. “At last he beheld in the distance the seven-hilled city. With deep emotion he prostrated himself upon the earth, exclaiming, “Holy Rome, I salute thee!” He entered thecity, visited the churches, listened to the marvelous tales repeated by priests and monks, and performed all the ceremonies required. Everywhere he looked upon scenes that filled him with astonishment and horror. He saw that iniquity existed among all classes of the clergy. He heard indecent jokes from prelates, and was filled with horror at their awful profanity, even during mass. As he mingled with the monks and citizens, he met dissipation, debauchery. Turn where he would, in the place of sanctity he found profanation. “It is incredible,” he wrote, “what sins and atrocities are committed in Rome; they must be seen and heard to be believed. So that it is usual to say, ‘If there be a hell, Rome is built above it. It is an abyss whence all sins proceed.”  {Great Controversy, p. 124} Martin Luther knew that grace was not a license to sin. He knew that while grace justifies, and frees us from the penalty of sin, that it also sanctifies and frees us from the power of sin.

As Voltaire said years later, “If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, you’re going to have to start looking a lot more redeemed.”

The Fruit of the Spirit, Lesson 7

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Wednesday’s section of this week’s SS lesson asks the question, “It’s one thing to acknowledge that we are sinners, in need of grace, and that our good works cannot save us. At the same time, why must we be careful not to use this teaching as an excuse to live in the flesh?”

 

The first thing we must remember is Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” So while we are saved by grace it is those who live after the Spirit who escape condemnation. There is still condemnation for those willfully walking after the flesh.

 

Secondly, while it is true we are saved by grace, what is it we are saved from? Many want to say we are saved from the penalty of sin which is true. However, Grace is so much more powerful and actually saves us from a life of sin, and following after the flesh. We are very familiar with Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” So there you go, we are saved alone by grace. However Paul does not stop there. He writes on in verse 10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” So God’s grace also creates in us good works.  “When we live by faith on the Son of God, the fruits of the Spirit will be seen in our lives; not one will be missing.” –Desire of Ages, p. 676 

 

By reading the verses in Ephesians 2 prior to verses 8-10 we read that God’s grace saves us from living after the desires of the flesh. Many want to use God’s grace for a cloak to cover sins they are willfully and knowingly committing. “No repentance is genuine that does not work reformation. The righteousness of Christ is not a cloak to cover unconfessed and unforsaken sin; it is a principle of life that transforms the character and controls the conduct. Holiness is wholeness for God; it is the entire surrender of heart and life to the indwelling of the principles of heaven.” –Desire of Ages, p. 555

 

In Zechariah 3 Joshua has his filthy clothes removed before the robe of righteousness is put on him. No, he does not remove the filthy cloths himself, grace does it for him, but they are removed nonetheless before the righteous robes are put on.

 

So grace and grace alone justifies us and frees us from the penalty of sin which is death and is our title to heaven. Grace and grace alone also sanctifies and frees us from the power of sin and is our fitness for heaven.

 

When Martin Luther wrote the favored Christmas Carol, Away in a Manger, he added in the final verse, “And fit us for heaven to live with you there.” Martin Luther, who is the champion of grace, understood sanctification by grace as well as justification by grace.

 

Grace is not a license to live in the flesh. Grace is a license to escape the flesh and live in the Spirit! Paul illustrates the point in Romans 1:5,By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name.” and Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 

Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” So in Ephesians 2:10 Grace gives us good works. In Romans 1:5 grace gives us obedience and in Titus 2:11-12 Grace denies worldly lusts and helps us to live victoriously in the Spirit even in this present world! Praise God for His amazing Grace!

 

You may find more studies and devotionals at In Light of The Cross.