Bible

5 Reminders When Preaching A Topical Sermon

5 Reminders When Preaching A Topical Sermon

Here are 5 points to keep in mind regarding topical sermons on Mother’s Day. These points also apply to other topics as well.

 

1. Keep it simple

When you are preaching through a book of the Bible, you are obviously limited to the text selected for that week. But when you preach a topical sermon, you have whatever the Bible says on that topic at your disposal—and having such a wealth of material doesn’t always work in your favor. If you try to say everything you find on the theme, you run the risk saying very little about anything in particular. So figure out what you want to say and keep it simple. Simple doesn’t mean simplistic; it means focused.

 

2. Aim for coherence

In addition to selecting from the wealth of biblical data you find from your study, you also need to arrange the information in a coherent manner that is accessible to the congregation.

 

3. Make sure it corresponds to reality

For example, preaching on Mother’s Day allows you to say and celebrate lots of wonderful things about moms and motherhood. Many experience real joy on this day. However, others experience lots of pain or disappointment because of loneliness, miscarriages, someone’s death, divorce, etc. Please keep this wide spectrum in mind as you preach. Laugh with the joyful and weep with and comfort those who are mourning.

 

4. Go for the heart

Navigate between the two extremes of either (1) giving a lecture or (2) aiming for a sentimental moment. You can do this by using great illustrations that capture your points well or by getting a bit personal about the joys or sadness of this day for you.

 

5. Preach

Your roll is not to serve as a host for a special moment or to be an armchair critic of where our culture has goofed on motherhood or viewing women. You are a preacher of Good News. Proclaim the person and work of Jesus and his gospel. The grace upon grace from Jesus (John 1:16) is the most relevant thing for you to communicate.

 

Suggested Readings

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon

Bryan Chapell, The Hardest Sermon You’ll Ever Have To Preach: Help from Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times

Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching

Death, Where Is Your Sting?

Death, Where Is Your Sting?

Sin & Its Effects

We all know we will end up dead. Because of sin’s entrance into the world, every human dies, every human suffers, animals suffer, tsunamis sweep cities and villages away, volcanoes destroy whole regions, AIDS and malaria and cancer and heart disease kill millions of people old and young, and droughts and famines cause millions to starve.

Because of sin, we also hurt ourselves and others. Because of sin, others hurt us. This is why we experience condemnation, guilt, shame, despair, pain, and filth.

 

Our Hope–God Endures

We collapse under the weight of this destruction. Only God could endure all this. And that’s exactly what God did in Jesus—who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorned its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of God. That’s the world’s one hope, and that hope is fulfilled in the resurrection.

If we don’t pin our hope for redemption on Christ, then we are left to our own feeble strategies to fight back at death and guilt. Here’s an example.

 

Death, Where is Your Bling?

A strategy for dealing with death is seen in the newest piece of art by the British artist Damien Hirst. A few years ago, he unveiled his masterpiece—a diamond-encrusted platinum cast of a human skull priced at $98 million. The skull, cast from a 35-year-old 18th-century European male, is coated with 8,601 diamonds, including a large pink diamond worth more than $8 million in the center of its forehead.

 

His explanation of his work is fascinating: “I hope this work gives people hope—uplifting, take your breath away…. It shows we are not going to live for ever. But it also has a feeling of victory over death.” Unfortunately, that’s the only hope some have for dealing with death—a feeling of victory over death.

 

What We Need

We don’t need diamond-encrusted skulls that give the feeling of overcoming death. We need substitutionary atonement and real victory over death. What we need is not myth or feeling; we need sin and death overcome. That’s why Romans 4:25 is so important: “Jesus Christ was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

He is risen! Because of the death and resurrection of Christ and your faith in him, you are declared pure, righteous, saved, blameless, holy, forgiven, and without condemnation. These are all words God uses in Scripture for those who are in Christ. This good news relates all the way down to your anxiety, the memories of specific sins, your fears and insecurities, the shame you feel because of what’s been done to you, the sinful impulses that seem to control you.

We don’t need the feeling of overcoming death. We need substitutionary atonement and real victory over death.

Because of the resurrection, we have the hope of heaven and being with Christ, and “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

 

Christ Conquers

The resurrection is why Paul taunts death in 1 Corinthians 15. He does it much like a child would do to his bullies when his father is behind him and he feels secure in his father’s protection: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

In the cross, God turned his wrath away from you and toward Christ. In the resurrection, God turns your eyes away from your sins and directs them to Christ. Our sins hurled him to the ground and trampled him, but God delivered Christ and made him alive. He has conquered the tyrants of sin and death. Christ is too strong for them. He overpowers them and he takes sin and sorrow captive and rules over them for all eternity. Because there is no condemnation, you can have a clear conscience—loves replaces darkness, joy replaces despair, and peace replaces fear.

 

The Bible is VERY Consistent

The Bible is VERY Consistent

The chart above represents the 63,779 cross-references found in the Bible.  A single arc depicts each cross-reference. Compare this to the 439 alleged contradictions from the chart Sam Harris commissioned (reported in Fast Company).

This cross-reference chart does not prove the Bible is not filled with contradictions, but it is a graphic representation of the unity, harmony, and consistency of the Bible.

 

Some Major Themes Throughout The Bible

God’s initiative—“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God” (Exod 6:6-7 and also see Gen 17:7, Exod 19:4-5, Lev 11:45, Lev 26:12, Deut 4:20, Deut 29:13, 2 Chron 23:16, Isa 7:14, Isa 8:8, Jer 32:38, Eze 37:27, Zech 2:11, Zech 8:8, Ezek 34:24, 2 Cor 6:16).  Christ is the embodiment of God’s desire to dwell among God’s people  (Exod 25:8, Exod 29:42-45, Lev 26:9-13, Ezek 37:26-28, Matt 1:23, John 1:14, Eph 2:21, Rev 7:15, Rev 21:3).

God’s initiative despite our disobedience and rebellion—“If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Tim 2:13 and also see Exod 34:6-7, Numbers 14:19, Ps 6:4, Ps 31:17, Ps 44:26, Ps 51:1, Ps 109:26, 1 Thess 5:24).

God’s initiative despite our disobedience and rebellion resulted in the cross—“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly….God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8 and also see 1 Cor 15: 3-6, 1 Pet 3:18, 1 John 2:2. 1 John 4:9-10).

 

Scriptures Bear Witness About Jesus

The reliability of the Bible is important, not so we feel better about having an answer to the flimsy claims of skeptics, but because the Bible contains all things necessary to our salvation.

Jesus makes it clear that studying Scripture is a means to an end (saving knowledge of Jesus Christ) and not the end in and of itself: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).

 

Commenting on this passage, Martin Luther writes about how to read the Bible:

    Here Christ would indicate the principal reason why the Scripture was given by God. Men are to study and search in it and to learn that He, Mary’s Son, is the one who is able to give eternal life to all who come to Him and believe in Him. Therefore, he who would correctly and profitably read Scripture should see to it that he finds Christ in it; then he finds life eternal without fail. On the other hand, if I do not so study and understand Moses and the prophets as to find that Christ came from heaven for the sake of my salvation, became man, suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended into heaven so that through Him I enjoy reconciliation with God, forgiveness of all my sins, grace, righteousness, and life eternal, then my reading in Scripture is of no help whatsoever to my salvation. I may, of course, become a learned man by reading and studying Scripture and preach what I have acquired; yet all this would do me no good whatever. (Luther’s Works, 51, 4)

 


 

Doug Wilson picked two randomly (#208 and #211) and deals with them to show how contrived these “contradictions” are. Matt Perman wrote a post regarding the appearance of contradictions and some of the hard texts of the Bible.

As a sidenote and just for fun, the Sam Harris/Fast Company chart on the supposed errors of the bible has a few of its own:  “contradictions” #7 and #9 are duplicates as are #263 and #264 as are #323 and #324. #404 should read “by” and not “buy.” #406 reads “When when did the transfiguration occur?” That sentence only needs one “when.”

Why Fast Company & Sam Harris need to do their homework

Why Fast Company & Sam Harris need to do their homework

Referring to the claims of the above chart, Fast Company said, “So to anyone who thinks the Bible’s the last word on anything, remember this: It isn’t even the last word on itself.”

Professional skeptic, Sam Harris, commissioned this infographic chart titled “Contradictions in the Bible” through his foundation Project Reason.  It is an impressive form of presentation, but filled with misinformed content.

This is not new.  This chart just wraps-up old claims, which have already been answered, in an awesome piece of design and presentation.

 

Ignorance or Intentional Misrepresentation

  • The claim that the Bible is full of contradictions is ignorant, at best, of Christian theologies of scripture.  But it seems more like an intentional misrepresentation, which is prejudiced propaganda, of what Christians actually believe about the Bible. The claim by Project Reason is intellectually disingenuous, which is something that fundamentalists do.  Harris knows all this because he wrote a book about it. Ironic, eh?

Christians do not believe that the Bible dropped out of heaven or was dictated to men who scribbled down furiously to catch every word from God. Christians believe that the Bible is both fully inspired by God and fully written by humans. Christians believe that scripture is inerrant in its original manuscripts, not the copies and translation.

Christian doctrines of scripture allows for the human elements of style to be present in the writing process and accounting for the inevitable human error that occurs in textual transmission.

Some of the supposed contradictions are because of obvious copying errors. But many of the others are because Project Reason doesn’t seem to know the basics of how to read an ancient text.

 

Creating Contradictions

  • The claim that the Bible is full of contradictions ignores the variety of genres of literature in the Bible.  Fundamentalists interpret religious texts in only one way—the literal way—and so does Project Reason. You can make up lots of supposed contradictions by interpreting this way. Not interpreting a text with the awareness of the genre lacks the basic principles of reading and interpretation.

The Bible is filled with historic narratives, poetry, songs, apocalyptic literature, promises, stories, commands, wisdom literature, and letters. Interpretation should be influenced by the genre, not some fundamentalist everything-must-be-literal approach that we see in the chart.

Varied Genres
The Bible is varied in its genres and this fact should not be ignored, but frequently is. The Bible is intentionally precise sometimes and vague at other times.  It uses overstatements and understatements as well as making clear propositions and sometimes communicating poetically.

Assuming a modern standard of precision and applying it to an ancient text that purposefully communicates using propositions, vagueness, historical narrative, wisdom literature, poetry, or hyperbole is to build on faulty assumptions and perceive contradictions where none exist.

Intellectual honesty
Since accounts in the Bible are rarely intended to be exhaustive and precise descriptions, it would be intellectually honest to see if differing accounts complement, rather than contradict one another.

But Project Reason would rather ignore this and create contradictions by violating the context of the passages under consideration.

 

So, what do Christians believe?

Here is a series on past theologies of scripture. But let me offer a summary statement on scripture with which I think most evangelicals would agree:

When all the historical facts, literary genres, and issues of textual transmission are investigated and considered, and when properly interpreted, the Bible never contradicts itself and does not misrepresent the facts.

A more robust explanation of evangelical Christian belief about the trustworthiness of the Bible is found in The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Here is the short statement summarizing the 5 main points.  But be sure to also read the 19 Article of Affirmation and Denial.

 

Summary of the 5 main points of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy

  1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
  2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.
  3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
  4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.
  5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

Sam Harris and Fast Company should have researched how we got the Bible, the basic teachings of the Christian doctrines of scripture, and any of the helpful books answering the supposed contradictions in the Bible.

It would have made the cool chart much more accurate and precise.

 

 

World Domination

World Domination

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26) 

What It Means to “Have Dominion” Over Creation

One reason Christians have been particularly weak in dealing with ecological issues and the deterioration of the natural environment is a misunderstanding of what it means to “have dominion” over creation.

Dominion does not mean destruction, but responsibility. It is important to avoid flawed convictions about the right and power of humankind in relation to the rest of the natural world. Francis Schaeffer elaborates:

    Fallen man has dominion over nature, but he uses it wrongly. The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly: treating the thing as having value itself, exercising dominion without being destructive. The church should always have taught and done this, but she has generally failed to do so, and we need to confess our failure . . . By and large we must say that for a long, long time Christian teachers, including the best orthodox theologians, have shown a real poverty here.

Dominion does not mean destruction, but responsibility.

How We Image God in Dominion

It is true that a false view of dominion has played a role in the mistreatment of creation, but a correct understanding of the concept can lead to service, responsibility, and stewardship.

As Genesis 1:26 tells us, our being the image of God is directly connected to our “having dominion.” The image of God is a quality that pertains to our relationship with God. All creatures have their common origin in God, who not only created all that is but who continues to be active in the world, seeking their shalom.

Imitate Jesus

Our calling within the created order is to image the Creator. When this is applied in a serious and consistent manner, the idea of human dominion over all creation must be reinterpreted as something other than destruction. The lordship of Jesus should be our model for understanding how we relate to the natural order. This means that dominion should be expressed as service—sacrificial service of the others with and for whom we are responsible—rather than mastery.

The lordship of Jesus should be our model for understanding how we relate to the natural order.

To be the image of God implies that, standing within the relationship with God, the human creature reflects God’s vicarious and gracious relating to other humans and creation. To image and love God means to love others and care for creation. This is why the Anglican tradition prays, “Lord, give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.”

Love Your Neighbor

Theologian Douglas John Hall asks, “What kind of love for the neighbor would manifest itself in greedy and rapacious attitudes toward the earth, its resources, and its species? Can one possibly be said to love God and one’s own kind if one treats God’s creation and one’s neighbors’ habitat with disrespect?” The question becomes all the more significant if it is asked with the understanding that our “neighbor” includes a global community and the generations yet to come who will inhabit and inherit the kind of biosphere that is left after we are gone.

Making All Things New

God gives us the opportunity to reflect him in his work of caring for and transforming all of creation. To follow this aspect of our multifaceted calling as humans is to image in our lives the One who is at work in the world and in human life, creating, sustaining, and liberating creation. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s first step in making all things new, which will culminate in a renewed world that completely honors Jesus, who rules it.


How Jesus Makes Unclean People Clean

How Jesus Makes Unclean People Clean

Women have significant roles in Luke’s Gospel, despite their low social standing during the time of Jesus’ ministry. This was very countercultural, as women were not even allowed to be trained by rabbis in those days. In Luke 8:40-56, not only does Jesus heal a woman and a girl, but he heals the bleeding woman who was religiously unclean and a social outcast.

God Loves the Oppressed

This serves as one more example of God’s heart for the oppressed, and of the universal scope of the gospel: It is for all men and all women. No one is excluded from the reach of God’s love.  Throughout his gospel, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ tendency to hang out with the unfavorable within Israelite society. The prostitutes, drunkards, and tax collectors received more attention from Jesus than did the Pharisees and scribes. Luke shows us that Jesus did not come to be honored, respected, or successful, but instead, to show that God does indeed love all of his people, even though the religious establishment does not. As Howard Marshall writes, “Jesus brought salvation to the people who were under-privileged in Judea—to the poor, to women, to children, and to notorious sinners.”

Blood and Bravery

The bleeding woman was considered unclean, and everything she touched would have been unclean. She would not have been accustomed to touching or being touched by people, which may be why she tried to “sneak in” and touch Jesus. She had attempted to seek medical help but nothing worked. Bleeding for 12 years, this woman would not have been able to get pregnant. An inability to bear children in that time would have brought a social stigma on her, and if she were married, this would have had a large impact on her family. Over a decade of bleeding would have left her physically weak, too. Moreover, it was rare in that day for a woman to speak in public. So, when Jesus calls for the person who touched him to say why he or she touched him, it was an act of bravery for the woman to speak. It then required further bravery from her to explain why she touched him and the awkward condition she was healed of. Her lunge toward Jesus was a last resort, desperation, and also demonstrates the magnitude of the woman’s faith and trust in Jesus.

Jesus Makes Unclean People Clean

Others would have avoided this woman—and everything she touched—because she was unclean. Except Jesus. In the Old Testament, people became unclean by contacting what was unclean. When the clean touch the unclean, they become unclean. But when the holy touches the unclean, it can be made clean. When this “unclean” woman touched “holy” Jesus, she was made clean not only physically, but societally and spiritually. When comparing this story with the story of Jairus’ daughter, we find an important contrast: This woman had no advocate or companion, while Jairus’ daughter was surrounded by people and family. Jesus heals the unclean and clean, the lonely and befriended, the defended and the defenseless, the woman without companion and the child of noble birth.

Know Your Heretics: Marcion

Know Your Heretics: Marcion

The Most Formidable of Heretics

Marcion is one of the most significant heretics in Christian history. His teachings captivated many for centuries after him. Henry Chadwick called Marcion “the most radical and to the church the most formidable of heretics.”

Marcion’s Two Gods and Gutted Bible

Marcion taught that there were two Gods: Yahweh, the cruel God of the Old Testament, and Abba, the kind father of the New Testament. Because of this belief, he eliminated the Old Testament as Scriptures and kept only 10 letters of Paul and two-thirds of Luke’s gospel for his version of the New Testament. He also deleted all references to Jesus’ Jewishness. Marcion’s “New Testament”—the first to be compiled—forced the church to decide on a core of what was considered Scripture: the four Gospels and the letters of Paul.

Making the Bible “More Spiritual”

Marcion’s heretical teachings destroyed the humanity of Christ and assaulted the Christian Scriptures. Because Marcion interpreted Christianity through the lens of a Gnostic philosophy that saw all created things as evil, he wanted to dismiss anything from the Bible that was concerned with the earthly realm. This caused him to cut from the Bible most of the Old and New Testament birth narratives. In his book Antitheses he made a list of what he saw as contradictions between the Old and New Testaments. He saw the God of the Old Testament as the creator of a miserable world, as the author of evil, and as nothing like the Father of Jesus. Because of his disdain for the material world, Marcion argued that any divine redeemer could not be born of a woman. For this reason, he rejected the story of Jesus’ birth.

Tertullian and Irenaeus Lead the Charge Against Marcion

Marcion’s heresy prompted the church to push back and officially recognize the Old Testament as Scripture. Furthermore, his rejection of the humanity of Jesus energized the church to develop a complete defense of it. Tertullian did exactly this in his work Against Marcion in 207-208. Tertullian saw Marcion’s denial of Christ’s humanity as detrimental to Christianity: “The sufferings of Christ will be found not to warrant faith in him. For he suffered nothing [if he] did not truly suffer; and a phantom could not truly suffer. God’s entire work therefore is subverted. Christ’s death, wherein lies the whole weight and fruit of the Christian name, is denied.” Irenaeus also challenged Marcion, saying,

    He mutilated the Gospel according to Luke, removing all the narratives of the Lord’s birth, and also removing much of the teaching of the discourses of the Lord wherein he is most manifestly described as acknowledging the maker of this universe to be his father. Thus [Marcion] persuaded his disciples that he himself was more trustworthy than the apostles, who handed down the Gospel; though he gave to them not a Gospel but a fragment of a Gospel.

Irenaeus writes, Marcion “says that salvation will be of our souls only, of those souls which have learned his teaching; the body, because… it is taken from the earth, cannot partake in salvation.” While Marcion was excommunicated from the church in Rome in 144, because he was a wealthy man, he was able to establish quite a following through the next several centuries.

Marcion’s Views Alive Today

Marcion is relevant today because some contemporary wacky teachings about Jesus and the Bible are merely a restating of his ancient heresies. In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes,

    The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

This view is quite similar to that of Marcion and still wreaks havoc in the church today. Tertullian was right that if Christ was not truly human then he could not truly suffer, and if he did not truly suffer, then he cannot be the one who has identified with us as fallen human beings, winning our salvation by his atoning death and life-giving resurrection.

The Judaizers: Know Your Heretics

The Judaizers: Know Your Heretics

The Rise of the Judaizers

A problem arose in the early church when the apostles took the gospel of Jesus to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. When Gentiles responded to the gospel, a conflict arose that threatened to divide the church. A group called the Judaizers opposed Paul and Barnabas at the Council of Jerusalem (AD 50) in Acts 15. They were uncertain that the benefits of the covenant people of God were to be extended to the Gentiles, thus doubting their conversion by the gospel. Paul’s response assures them that the Gentiles had indeed been made partakers in the blessings of the covenant, namely, the Holy Spirit: “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).

The Judaizers’ View of Salvation

The Judaizers were teaching that God still required everyone to observe certain rituals and statutes in order to be accepted by him as Father. Paul, in recounting his confrontation of Peter before the Judaizers, gives us an insight into the teaching of this group (Gal. 2:14). Apparently, the Judaizers were attempting to force Gentile Christians to live under the regulations of the Mosaic Law. They are also called the “circumcision party” (Gal. 2:12), because one of the specific elements of the Law that the Judaizers were forcing the Gentile Christians to live by was the practice of circumcision. Peter had withdrawn himself from eating with Gentile Christians, fearing the opposition that would come from the Judaizers who would never do such a thing out of fear of acidentally eating unclean food. However, Paul said Peter’s conduct was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).

The Orthodox Response

Paul’s response is given in Galatians 2:16: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Paul’s other response is found in Galatians 5:12: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” He suggests self-castration for those who require circumcision for others. Paul made his point clearly. According to Paul and the response drafted at the Council of Jerusalem, the Gentiles were not obligated to follow the restrictions of the Law. They were free in Christ, who had fulfilled the demands of the Law. Paul exhorted the Gentiles to abstain from practices associated with pagan idol worship, not to earn their salvation, but as a response to the life-changing message of the gospel and in gratitude for God’s gift of salvation.

Why Does All This Matter?

While the heresy of the Judaizers was put to rest by the Apostle Paul, the idea behind their erroneous belief still permeates the church today. The issues are no longer circumcision or ceremonial uncleanness, but the question of how the law relates to salvation—or how works relate to righteousness—is still something that many Christians remain confused about today. Paul’s exhortation to the Judaizers remains as important as ever. It is not by works that we are saved, but solely by the grace of Christ. In fact, to add anything to the work of Christ for salvation actually negates God’s grace. Paul says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).

Mercy & Merit

Mercy & Merit

The clearest message of Jesus and the deepest message of the Bible is “God’s mercy, not our merit.” When it comes to our salvation we are neither saved by our merits nor justified by works. We are justified—declared righteous before God—solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s mercy and Christ’s merit Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leading figure of the English Reformation, describes justification by faith in his sermon entitled A Sermon of the Salvation of Mankind by Only Christ Our Saviour from Sin and Death Everlasting:

    This justification or righteousness, which we so receive by God’s mercy and Christ’s merits, embraced by faith, is taken, accepted, and allowed of God for our perfect and full justification… For all the good works that we can do be imperfect, and therefore not able to deserve our justification: but our justification doth come freely, by the mere mercy of God; and of so great and free mercy that, whereas all the world was not able of their selves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father, of his infinite mercy, without…our…deserving [it], to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ’s body and blood, whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied. So that Christ is now the righteousness of all them that truly do believe in him. He for them paid their ransom by his death. He for them fulfilled the law in his life.

Cranmer died for this belief. At age 66, on a rainy Saturday morning, March 21, 1556, he was taken down from the pulpit at St. Mary’s Church in Oxford as he was preaching and driven to the center of town where he was burned at the stake for his convictions. Our justification is due solely and completely to the mercy of God, a mercy Cranmer described as “great,” “free,” and “infinite.”