atonement

Altar or Throne?

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Last week I started looking at what may seem an anomaly but is more typical than we'd like to accept. By we, I mean Christian believers who hold the Bible as authoritative in matters of faith.

Over many years, a cultural shift took place within the church in America. It impacted both beliefs and practices. This shift has been addressed by many, and in one instance given a term—moralistic therapeutic deism.

This cultural shift impacts the church in a powerful way because what people believe in their hearts is directly connected to how they live.

Professed beliefs don't always line up with what's held in the heart. You've likely heard the expression, "do as I say, not as I do," but the reality is that actions speak louder than words.

What people believe in their hearts is directly connected to how they live

A disconnect

Perhaps the question to answer is—Why is there a disconnect between what is believed and how one lives? What people say they believe and what they do and say in their daily lives are often incongruent. They may talk like Christians but they live like agnostics and atheists.

It's similar to what cross-cultural missionaries contend with when sharing the gospel within another culture than their own. Beliefs are often traditional, even cultural, but don't seem to have much impact on daily life.

An article I read by Dr. Philemon Yong said this about how westerners present the Gospel and why it can lead to an animistic belief—

"The gospel comes not as a story that has a beginning, middle and end. The parts, though true, are not always connected. Worse yet, the content of the beliefs is never defined, and the relation of the gospel to specific cultural practices is often left untouched, leaving the hearer to decide for himself what it means for him to now follow Jesus."

Along with articles noted in a previous post, it's not hard to see similarities to how the gospel is often presented in the US with similar results.

Is there a disconnect between what you believe and how you live?

What gospel have you heard?

How have you heard the gospel shared with you? How do you share it with others? Was it something like—"Jesus died for your sins!"—or—"God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!"?

Phrases and statements like these are certainly true, but they are just fragments of the whole truth of God's redemption. I've posted about this on many occasions (see links below) and wrote a book prompted by this concern.

When we reduce the gospel to a phrase focused on what's needed to get into heaven, we minimize the work of Christ's redemptive work on the cross. We also ignore the gospel Jesus preached (Matt 4:17; 5:1–7:28; Luke 4:18-19; 9:1-2).

Do we preach the gospel Jesus preached or a minimized version?

Why this matters

In western culture, thinking is more linear—a line of thought in a logical and systematic thought process. Piecing separate bits of information together to understand a larger truth comes more naturally for well-educated people in a western culture.

Non-western cultures, as in Asian, Mideastern, or African nations, think more globally or holistically. The parts are seen in the whole but not extracted or extrapolated apart from the whole. The details of the whole aren't separated out to consider but seen as part of the whole.

This fits with how eastern cultures put less importance on individuality, which is typically emphasized in western cultures. Non-western cultures elevate the value of a group, family, community, or national identity over individual interests.

People who are non-analytical thinkers don't piece things together the same way as analytical and linear thinkers. Consequently, the less analytical thinker hold bits and pieces of truth that can also be associated with other information or beliefs.

Global thinkers don't piece things together as analytical and linear thinkers do

Altar or throne?

When you come to God, are you coming to His altar or His throne? Perhaps you wonder if there's much of a difference. There is!

Altars are erected as places of offerings, often sacrificial offerings. Thrones are places of authority. Things offered on altars typically cost a person something. There's effort involved in presenting what's offered.

People sit on thrones—people in authority. Those who approach whoever sits on the throne acknowledge the authority of the one who sits on the throne. Their acknowledgment is shown by some type of submission, allegiance, respect, or honor.

When you come to God, are you coming to His altar or His throne?

Christian altars

As a young believer, I remember calls to "come to the altar" to give my life to Jesus or rededicate it to Him. At other times, calls to come to the altar were for repentance, healing, dedication to some service for God, or whatever else the speaker exhorted people to do.

In my early days, I responded to these calls because I thought it was expected. As I matured in my faith, I realized I didn't need to respond to these various altar calls because they often didn't apply to me.

The throne of grace

I also realized that Jesus' call to follow Him was an all-inclusive commitment (Matt 16:24-26). I didn't need to make individual or special commitments, I just needed to follow through on my initial commitment to follow Jesus.

I realized Jesus' call to follow Him was an all-inclusive commitment of my life

This singular and continuous commitment is reinforced in the book of Hebrews—

...let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)

How do you approach God?

Let me ask my earlier question again. When you come to God, are you coming to His altar or His throne? We are told in the book of Hebrews that the tabernacle under the Old Covenant was a copy of what was in heaven (Heb 8:5-6).

The layout of the tabernacle had the altar outside. This is where sacrifices were made. Only the blood of atonement was brought inside to the innermost room and only once a year by only one person (Heb 9:7-8, 11-15).

That innermost room—called the Most Holy Place—represented the very presence of God above the mercy seat with its golden cherubim (Heb 9:4-5). Jesus made His atoning sacrifice once for all (Heb 7:27; 9:12, 26, 28; 10:2, 10, 12, 14) in the very presence of the Father.

No sacrifices needed or required

God neither desires or requires any further sacrifice from us—those of us who trust in Him by faith because of His grace. Jesus invites us to follow Him in a simple way. If we choose to follow Him, He says we need to deny our selfish nature and die to our self and live for Him (Mark 8:34-37).

Personally, I accepted the sacrifice of Jesus as perfect and complete, and that I could not nor need not offer any further sacrifice to Him. I chose to commit my life to Him many years ago and I affirm that commitment on a daily basis (Luke 9:23).

So, how do you approach God? Are you bringing Him a sacrifice of some kind or trusting in Jesus and His perfect, once-for-all atoning sacrifice?

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace!

More Than A Prophet

So much has been said and written about Jesus Christ over the centuries. Much of it is good and edifying, but not all of it.

Jesus—the man from Nazareth—had a polarizing effect on people. Many who followed Him were not those you'd expect. In fact, many theologians and religious leaders opposed Him.

But there's far more to the person of Jesus Christ than what is known historically. Who He is and the purpose of His presence on earth is often misunderstood.

Gateway to God's Heart

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Faith is simple, but it's often a mystery to many people, even believers. Why? Because it defies analysis and any effort to quantify it.

Faith is the gateway to God's heart. It's the means by which we enter into a relationship with God.

It requires no special training or expertise and children seem to get its essence better than anyone. Faith is crucial to become a true Christian.

Sola Fide

This second Sola is closely linked with Sola Gratia, which I'll look at next week. It is a second foundation and theological emphasis of the Protestant Reformation next to Sola Scriptura.

Sola Fide simply means by faith alone—a simple statement and a vital one. The theology of this Sola is what distinguishes Protestant Christianity from virtually all other religions and all pseudo-Christian sects and cults.

Here are important elements to this foundational statement—

  • A person is justified before God (reconciled and made innocent) by faith alone
  • Salvation can not be gained by any effort on our part
  • Christ's righteousness—being without sin in right relationship with God—is imputed (credited) to believers because of His grace, God's unmerited kindness and favor

The Gospel

The Christian gospel, the message of God's redemptive work through His Son Jesus Christ on the cross, can only be received and understood by faith. Not by holding to a set of doctrines or theological beliefs, nor by moral goodness, but a personal trust in God.

The confidence of believers for salvation is in Jesus taking the place of each of us on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice.  This is called atonement, an act of reconciliation between God and people.

Christ's sacrifice on the cross (atonement) enabled Him to provide the means for freedom from the penalty of sin, which is death (Rom 5:18-19; 6:23).

Jesus' reconciling act on the cross set up an exchange for those of us who trust in Him. Our sin was transferred upon Him, as the Lamb of God (John 1:29), and His righteousness was given or imparted to us. This is called imputed righteousness.

Faith that justifies

It's easy to lose sight of the essence of faith when viewing it through a theological lens or trying to define it. True biblical faith is always personal and tied to relationship with God.

The faith that justifies a person doesn't come through theological belief or knowledge of how faith works, it's a matter of personal trust.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:1, 6 NIV)

True faith can't be developed through a right set of beliefs or actions. Neither is it a feeling or a dynamic force we conjure up or make happen. It is a confident surrender of our life to God. This is seen throughout the Old Testament.

Examples of justifying faith

In chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, many examples are given of people who lived by this kind of faith. Four notable people, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, are mentioned in the beginning (Heb 11:4-8).

This justifying faith is seen most clearly in Abraham's life as God promises that He will become the father of many nations (Gen 12:1-5, 7; 13:14-18; 15:1-6). Abraham's trust in God was credited to him as righteousness—

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Rom 4:3 NKJV)

King David was considered a man after God's heart (Acts 13:22) and he had a similar faith in God and God's promise to him (2 Sam 7:18-22).

Justification by faith and the Holy Spirit

Again, it's important to understand that justification by faith, the theological term connected to Sola Fide, is not based on doctrinal or theological beliefs, nor by anything a person does or does not do in an attempt to be right with God.

The faith that justifies a person is based on a trust relationship with God. A faith that He nurtures in us in various ways—revelation of the truth, supernatural events, making Himself known through life events, or confirmations in our heart by His Spirit.

The personal work of the Holy Spirit in a person's life is too often misunderstood as some spiritual dynamic or conjured up belief, but this is inconsistent with the whole of Scripture.

Jesus makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is the One who teaches and guides a believer (John 14:15-17, 26; 15:26) and it is He who leads and points us to Jesus. God's Spirit also brings conviction about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11; 13-15).

Justifying faith is the gateway to God's heart, and He's the one who nurtures this faith in us. As Paul makes clear to the Ephesian believers—

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

A person doesn't need to be a theologian to have this faith, for as Jesus reminded His disciples we need to become like a child to enter God's kingdom.

"Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mark 10:14-15)


This is the 4th in a series of posts to consider the 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation. Here are the previous posts—

 

Why Do You Believe That?

God Won't Fit In a Box, Nor Will I

Sola Scriptura—A Simple View

 

Understanding terms—

Many of the theological terms used by Christians become like a foreign language to nonbelievers. Believers need to understand these terms well enough to put them in their own words, or as I call it IYOW (In Your Own Words).

I've tried to give some simple clarification of terms in these posts, but I encourage you to make your own effort at understanding these terms so you can explain them IYOW to others.