Just a brief but encouraging note about things that are happening here in Utah:
Do you remember Max who gave his heart to the Lord at the Youth Detention Center about four weeks ago? During another session with the young people, we were discussing love, and the nature of the love of God, how that God loves us despite us and not for what we can give back to Him. God's love excels all forms of humanistic love! Then we read in 1 John 4:8 that whoever does not love does not know God...
At this a young lady, who has typically been hardened against our message concerning sin, gasped, "If that's what love is, then nobody loves!" I said, "You're right that nobody loves besides God. Indeed nobody can love the way God loves. God is love, and only when He is in your heart can His love be in you so that you can love others." "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." (1 John 4:9-11)
Max raised his hand. "It's true," he said, "A few weeks ago I gave my heart to Christ and God has given me love for my parents again. I used to hate them, but since then we've been talking and now I'm going to go visit them. I know God's love is real." When I first met Max he told me that he had lost all feeling towards his parents, but now their relationship has been gloriously reconciled! It's because Max learned the true love of God for him expressed at the cross of Jesus Christ. Only once we see that God loved us despite us, and died for us when we were yet sinners, then and only then can we be filled with His love for others despite them too. Oh, the marvelous love of God!
Today I'm heading to the funeral of a young Mormon man who passed away suddenly a few nights ago. He was a student at USU where I will be spending a lot of time preaching in the future. Please pray for his family, that they would see Christ and the hopelessness of righteousness by law.
Also today, I will be attending a special lecture at USU by Richard Bushman, the authoritative biographer on Joseph Smith. I'm looking forward to learning more about Smith, the founder of the Mormon church, who is practically deified in this culture. Please pray for wisdom.
Much love, beloved. Continue to check the site for updates and thank you so much for all your prayers and support. May God do a mighty work in Utah for His own Name's sake.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The following note was in answer to a question someone asked me regarding the death of our Lord: "Was Jesus punished for our sins on the cross?" The implications of this question are far reaching and essential for us to understand.
The problem with losing the penal-substitutionary death of Christ is that we lose the power of the Gospel to save. Why else do you think Paul said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2)? Because "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The power to save sinners is found at the cross. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23-25: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood." The moment a sinner puts His faith in the blood of Christ (ie. the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for His sins on the cross) he is forgiven because the blood of Jesus propitiated the judgment that his sin had incured. Thus the wrath that before hung over the head of the sinner is gone through faith in the atoning blood which propitiates that wrath. Justice was served at the cross; pardon is obtained through faith on that basis. That's the power of the Gospel: the cross.
But if you lose that, the 'power-point' of the Gospel must shift from the cross to the individual's "repentance". If Christ's death was not substitutionary, then it doesn't matter if a sinner believes in the blood... that cannot save him because there is no longer any power in that blood. "Faith in the blood" is no longer the power of the Gospel... repentance is. Only when a sinner turns from all sin is He justified. So the Gospel becomes: "Stop sinning!" rather than, "Christ died for our sins; believe."
Of course, there is no power in that kind of a gospel, and furthermore, since no man can stop sinning without the indwelling of Christ, there's no hope in it either. "For without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5) All their repentance is filthy rags in God's sight, until they repent of the one thing they continue to flatter by their false repentance: self. Self-wisdom, self-righteousness, self-sanctification, self-redemption all must be exchanged for Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:29-31). The only offering acceptable to God by the sinner is Jesus Christ. How dare we try to bring God "the fruits of the earth" from the "sweat of our brow" when God has provided the Lamb for the sacrifice?!
We can argue and argue, but the things of God are revealed unto us by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:8-14).
That no flesh should glory in His presence,
Your brother in Christ,
Monday, February 11, 2008
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." - Romans 3:23
The following article is adapted from a conversation I had with two Mormon missionaries which really helped in exposing the fundamental error of the LDS doctrine of salvation, namely, that we must by our own effort obtain righteousness through the law of commandments before God will accept us. However, the principles expressed below reveal the demarkation between Biblical Christianity and all other religious systems this world has ever known (not just Mormonism), which is the ancient conflict between faith and works, grace and law, promise and performance; or more directly, God's way versus man's way. May we never compromise the truth of God for the fair feelings of man-centered religion.
WHAT IS THE MARK?
Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the law. If you want to see what it looks like to keep the commandments of God, look to Him, and He will show you. He is not better than the law; He is its purest example. The writer of Hebrews wrote that our Lord was "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15), and Christ Himself declared that He had not come to destroy the law, "but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Therefore we have before us a marvelous specimen! Even the most indignant atheist cannot but admire the sheer moral perfection exhibited in the personhood of Jesus. Neither Pilate, the Gentile, nor Herod, the Jew, could find any fault in condemning the man. God's righteous nature, dictated onto stone in the Old Testament, became flesh and blood in the New Testament, "and dwelt among us."
The mark, then, for which all men are commanded to hit, by law, is the mark of the Lord Jesus Christ. Keeping the law is exactly the same as being like Jesus in all His moral perfections. The necessary requirement for obtaining righteousness through God's holy law is to fulfill, at all times, every commandment flawlessly as Jesus did, being tempted on every point yet without sin, blameless and without fault before God and man, having the same unbroken moral perfection as was demonstrated by the Law-Incarnate Son of God. He is the immutable mark of God's holy law.
SIN IS MISSING THE MARK
The word "sin" in both Hebrew (chata) and Greek (hamartia) means "to miss", like an archer missing the target at which he was aiming. Thus sin can best be defined as "missing the mark". 1 John 3:4 reveals the target that the sinner misses by his sin: "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law". The very next verse establishes Christ as the indistinguishable equivalent of the law: "and in Him is no sin." Christ, the embodied Law, is the mark, and sin is missing that mark by not replicating Him.
Let us bring this picture into sharper focus. "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (James 2:10) The Holy Scriptures show us that nothing less than absolute and perfect obedience to the law of God is of any significance whatsoever. In fact, if a person were to keep nearly all the law, but was insufficiently humble, or felt the least bit of irritation toward his neighbor (or any other sin, it makes no difference), that person would have profited nothing. The same is true with positive commands: "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (James 4:17) Ceasing from doing all wrong is only half the battle; you must be doing all good as well! One sin, by breaking either a positive or negative command, causes you to be guilty of all. You must hit the mark. A chandelier will come crashing down if only one chain link is broken, even if all the other links remain intact. Missing the mark is to fail the law at any point, while hitting the mark is to be like Christ at every point, all the time.
Now to this, one might object by saying that this standard of holiness is far too high for humans to achieve. Such a mark is too good! Too moral! Too virtuous! Surely there must be room for accommodation and compromise?
No! A thousand times no! It is only once we begin to see what is the staggering awesomeness of true morality that we shall begin to see the God of Israel as He truly is: He whom Isaiah saw "high and lifted up", owning the ceaseless praise of the thrice-veiled seraphim crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty: the whole earth is full of His glory". Only such a vision of the highest moral apprehension could force the prophet to cry out in total self-abandon, "Woe is me! For I am undone! because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5) Seeing the Lord as He truly is precedes seeing ourselves as we truly are. Beholding His holiness is the prerequisite for bemoaning our own unholiness. When we comprehend that God Himself is the mark of moral perfection to which we are all commanded to hit, we then comprehend the miserable condition of our own wretchedness in "falling short of His glory." Any attempt to lower the mark to accommodate for our own shortcomings is to deprecate and devalue the very God who defines that mark, disgracing the Father for whom Christ commanded us to "Be perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) By lowering the holiness of the mark, we are in fact lowering the holiness of God.
Consider an illustration: A man is firing a rifle at a target, attempting to hit the bullseye with every shot. To his great embarrassment, he cannot cease hitting the blue zone which surrounds the center-mark to which he is aiming. With every miss his pride is wounded, until finally, to save himself from humiliation, he remarks to his friends, "I am shooting for the blue!" Rather than admitting that he is a poor shot, he lowers the standard. It is in this same way that men, rather than admitting they are sinners, lower the standard of moral acceptability to save their religious pride. All who are confronted with God's true mark of Christ-like perfection will decide whether they will confess themselves as unworthy sinners, or save their own self-righteousness by daring that God is not as holy as He claims to be.
WHY DO ALL MISS THE MARK?
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Being judged by the standard of the glory of God, no person past, present, or future, has ever, or will ever, hit the mark of obedience to the law except the one and only God-man, Jesus Christ. Thus the Scripture's declaration concerning all men is true: "There is none righteous, no not one." (Romans 3:10)
"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:19-20) The knowledge of sin is not merely the awareness that one has missed the mark, but also the understanding as to why one has missed the mark. It is the keen realization of the sin that "dwelleth in me" which drives the guilty man to cry out in self-abhorrence, "O wretched man that I am!" (Romans 7:17, 24) What the Scripture means when it says that "every mouth may be stopped" is that all excuses a man might give to justify himself are dried up, because all concealments that a man might hide behind are gone. The law has revealed that the man is not only guilty, but wicked. As long as a sinner continues to justify his sin, he only continues to expose his own wickedness.
Why, then, do all miss the mark? Because all are sinful, selfish, conceited, proud, egotistical, depraved, immoral, profane, licentious, unrighteous, uncaring, ungodly, insensible, brutal, adverse, destructive enemies of God. This, as shocking as it may seem to the unenlightened eye, is the Bible's description of authentic man.
We must come to accurately confess ourselves as sinners in light of the holy mark of God's law, which was embodied in the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Unless we are like Christ, wholly like Christ, in all His moral purity and perfection, we do nothing but fall short of God's glory, missing the mark of the righteousness that is by law; and as long as we refuse to acknowledge this bitter but necessary truth, we shall go no further upon the road of reconciliation with God.
Have you hit the mark? If not, have you confessed yourself a sinner? Or are you lowering the standard to fit your wounded self-righteousness?
"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isaiah 64:6)
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Brother Leonard from Salt Lake City preaching the gospel.
Brad speaks to four young kids about the reality of God. One of them was seriously considering what was being said.
Much has been happening since my last update, of which I am eager to share with you. God has been graciously providing His strength to accomplish His will in Utah; apart from Christ we can do nothing, but "I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)
Last weekend, Alan, Brad, Jade, and I drove down to Park City to join several brothers from Salt Lake City in sharing the gospel at the famous Sundance Film Festival. God granted to us a beautiful warm sunny day (unlike the usual cold and cloudy days we've been having) to spread His Word to the many that were there. We preached open air and handed out hundreds of tracts, engaging in plenty of conversations with the film-going people.
For those of you who are scared about sharing the gospel, there were two boys about 14 years old who joined us in handing out tracts and talking to people. There's no excuse! As Oswald J. Smith would often say, "No one has the right to hear the gospel twice while there are people who haven't even heard it once!"
Brad and I also recorded our first television program for the local cable station in Cache Valley. We discussed how living as a Christian is simply the overflow of the life of Christ that is within you. The woman who was running the camera spoke with us more about it afterwards and we were able to talk with her about sin, repentance and Christ. We will be seeing this lady once a week as we record so please pray for her, that the words we speak would lay hold upon her heart so that she might be saved. This week on our program we will be discussion what it is to be risen with Christ, and how salvation is the precursor for doing good works. Please continue to pray for the program as well. Lord willing, I will make all the shows available online as I receive them.
Today (Sunday), after church, I went with two brothers to a youth detention center and had the great privilege of speaking to about fifteen youth about sin, hell and the cross. The gospel of God is that all have sinned and are by nature children of wrath, but God loves each of us DESPITE us, not because of us. The definitive expression of God's love for sinners is the cross, where Jesus suffered and died in our place to pay for sin and reconcile us to the Father. One young man named Max, in tears, prayed with brother Tom for the free gift of salvation. Another young man, Michael, asked for prayer to see Christ. Many others were convicted for their sin and awakened towards hell. Please pray that all of them would receive forgiveness and a new heart in the coming days ahead. Jesus Christ saves! "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." (1 Corinthians 1:21)
All your prayers are coveted during this very exciting time. Just recently, the main 'prophet' of the Mormon church, Gordon Hinckley, died at 96, and the entire Mormon community is very emotional right now. Pray that God will open doors for the Truth to be proclaimed in this desperately needy State.
Grace and peace toward all the saints, and glory and honor to God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who does all these things.
Your brother and servant in His Kingdom,