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A CHOICE OF PASTORS - Whom would each of us prefer as our pastor? Part 3

A CHOICE OF PASTORS - Whom would each of us prefer as our pastor? Part 3
N. T. Wright or Martin Luther

The New Testament Speaks

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline.org
May 9, 2020

The reading of Holy Scripture requires great care and prayerful humility. The Old Testament spells out the basics of two natures - the nature of God and the nature of man. God in all his power, wisdom, and goodness is the author of creation. Man, in his creature-hood is dependent upon the strength and compassion of his Maker. God is glorious and sovereign. Man, as the spectator of divine majesty is given the capacity to admire the Deity, acknowledge his supremacy, enjoy his favor, and worship and work with him as a Friend. In this partnership the Lord is lofty and man duly lowly. The relationship is designed to be harmonious and affectionate. It is to be characterized as holy for the purpose of compatibility. God is intrinsically holy, and man endowed with pristine integrity at his origination is disposed to imitate and obey the Lord in willing likeness to him.

Genesis records the tragic rift between God and man through an act of prideful defiance on the part our first parents. The writings of the former covenant describe the continuous rebellion of our race and the opening measures of the Lord to recover us to himself. An accurate comprehension of the content of the first Testament is determinative of a clear understanding of the New. The history of redemption is one, recounted in two phases. They match in the basic matter of human salvation and vary only in the temporal details of the development of the scheme of our rescue. The central concentration of both Testaments is trained on the great Figure of our Restoration, the Messiah of Promise who is the Christ of eventual appearing.

In Christ the two installments of the drama of salvation merge in united testimony to the will and ways of the Saviour God and the formation of the Israel of God, also styled as the Body of Christ. The way of inclusion in this people, this body, is delineated in the Gospel, and the preservation and presentation of this gospel is of the utmost importance. This is why the reading of Scripture is a matter of great care and holy caution. We are to detect, as Tyndale advises, the themes, motifs, lines that run through Scripture that lead us to correct thoughts of Christ and salvation so that he might be grasped in good sense and with confidence.

Students of the Bible are notorious for forcing their own preferences of meaning upon the text. None of us are entirely clear of this tendency, but the meek are subject to kindly and judicious correction. God's word is not under the control of man, and no man has truly mastered it in its complete sense. We are always learners, and the danger is to jump ahead of ourselves, claiming maturity where we are really novices in any knowledge acquired.

When we fall in love with any particular theory, one that seems to be a fresh discovery and world-enlightening, we defend it ardently until our preference becomes predominant in our thinking. We have to check ourselves as honestly as we can before the Living God and adopt a posture of modesty before him. We want his word from Scripture and not the echo of our invented ideas. The word "heresy" comes to us from the originally innocent term from the Greek meaning merely preference or difference (1 Corinthians 11:19), but in the Church it has evolved into any theological notion that imperils salvation. Differences in interpretation are common among believers but they are usually located in the realm of "adiaphora" (things indifferent, or of the second order of belief) and do not affect eternal destiny (sacraments, millennial views, legitimacy of ceremonies etc.)

However, the word of God warns us of that dangerous distortion of vitally important doctrine that can have serious effects that may jeopardize the gaining of salvation if soul and mind are given-up and surrendered to them. Where trust is misplaced the place of safety is missed. Paul alerts us to the human perversion of the gospel and goes so far as to say that if even "an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned" (Galatians 1:8). His anxiety for the Galatians is immense, "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?"

Bewitching teaching is abroad in so many ways and from so many people of high repute in all sectors of the Christian community. Their approach is ingenious and their message plausible. False prophets will be so convincing as to be able to deceive even the elect - if that were possible. They will be so inordinately clever and confident as to win wide acceptance and acclaim. But although the bait they dangle before the people of God is enticing their deviation from the truth will soon manifest itself as their ever-so-subtle teaching veers away from the simplicity of Scripture in a welter of confusion and obfuscation. Their thoughts seem to run parallel to Scripture but their deceit is in the detail and the wiliness of their definition. Truth is never merely parallel to Scripture. It runs on the very track of biblical revelation. The parallel path breaks down in so many parts of the terrain of Scripture and is proven false by many features so clear to the eye. Error tends to jar with the resort to the analogy of Scripture. Error is discordant with the sweet melody of pure grace. There may be difficulties in Scripture, it is true, but the understanding of the essential gospel is not dependent upon the expertise of high-flying academics.

It is a principle of Holy Scripture that the elect can never finally defect from the way of salvation: "Fundamentally and finally the elect cannot possibly be deceived . . . but God in worst times reserved a remnant, and at all times will not see nor suffer any of his to miscarry"
(John Trapp, Matthew 24:24). The disposition to trust Christ exclusively is too deeply embedded in the soul even where there might be a degree mental confusion and inconsistency of expression.

The Old Testament in a multiplicity of ways prepares us for the thrilling concept of justification by faith. However much Paul may have been familiarized with the thought of other cultures at the University of Gamaliel, and from other possible sources, it is indisputable that in his complete fascination with the Lord Jesus as the substance of the Promise made to Israel, the word of God conveyed to his ancestors through the writings of the former covenant would have been supreme in the shaping of his mind and message. "Paul's basic concepts are drawn, as we have seen, from the Old Testament, and Paul had learned the Old Testament in the context of the Judaism of his day" (Paul : The Man and His Letters, An Introduction to the New Testament, Carson, Moo, and Morris, Zondervan).

What is pre-eminent in our consideration of the source of Paul's gospel is that it was not determined by any tradition of interpretation per se, any human individual however influential, or from his own inventive mental powers: "I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). Paul strenuously counsels the Galatians not to exchange his gospel for any alien ideas imposed upon it. His authority is Jesus Christ, which tops any other authority.

It is impossible, utterly futile, to attempt to obliterate the now "protestant" teaching on justification by faith from the letters of St. Paul. Any impartial, objective, cumulative perusal of the texts makes it plain that the apostle is asserting that the believing sinner is pardoned and declared righteous by virtue of trust in the shed blood of Christ on their behalf. Imputation of the merit of Christ to the penitent offender appealing for mercy before the Lord is a necessary and inevitable conclusion from a fair scrutiny of the teaching of Paul as we encounter it. It is too much of a strain to argue otherwise. There is only one mean by which we are put right with God. Any muddying of this divinely revealed fact is unholy mischief to be shunned.

Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Acts13:39.

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." Romans 1:17.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through his blood. Romans 3: 21.

However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven; whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." Romans 4:5-8.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." [The curse is leveled against a serious moral offense. It is deadly condemnation preceding doom. Jesus lifts the curse from God's people evidenced as such by faith]. Galatians 3:13.

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. Philippians 3:8-9

So that being justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:7.

After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty of Heaven. Hebrews 1:3b.

So that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free all those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2: 14-15.

For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful high priest in service of God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17

The above selection of biblical quotations makes it absolutely clear that human nature is condemned as evil; that we are enslaved by the Evil One; that mankind needs a work of atonement wrought on its behalf by a blameless High Priest; that an alien righteousness is necessary for its reattachment to God; that an advocate is essential to commend us to God. That access to complete and permanent salvation is only available through a grace that bestows repentance and faith. Sin is a profoundly grave matter; it emanates from our heart and courses through our veins; it pollutes our minds totally; it degrades our affections; it collides fatally with the beautiful holiness of God; our guilt merits eternal death; our condition is utterly hopeless, our capacity to make amends is nil. What else can avail? Only Christ Jesus in whom alone we can trust if God grants us the confidence to do so. There is no other alternative. It must come from gracious divine intervention. Nothing within, nothing under the sun can help us. Aid is beyond our reach. Assistance must reach out to us and fix its grip upon us. Christ is our only hope. He donates the good sense to call upon him, and then there follows the full range of mercies that confirm us in salvation. God places us in the strong and enfolding arms of his Son for full deliverance and safety for evermore: "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption." 1 Corinthians 1:30. [Divine initiative; Divine inducement; Divine provision]

The most compelling statement in which justification by faith is averred is in Luke's retelling of a parable of Jesus. It has nothing to do with NPP*, or NTR's* cockeyed and faddish point of view. It is Jesus' pronouncement on this vital topic relayed by Luke. Luke, who was Paul's devoted and constant companion, no doubt discussed many things as a fellow intellectual with the apostle, including the teaching of Christ and the philosophies of the pagans. Having most likely completed his writings circa AD62, and knowing the mind of Paul (died approximately AD 64), that it was shaped by Christ (Gal1:11-12) the evangelist must have observed the perfect agreement between apostle and Redeemer on the nature of justification, and also known, as a Gentile, precisely the teaching on Justification that Paul presented to the non-Jewish world of the first century.

Comparing the dispositions of the Pharisee (self-righteous) and the tax collector (unrighteous) in the temple before God (Luke 18:9-14) Jesus remarked of the spiritually bankrupt tax official, "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God."

And how Luther-like the tax collector was under the weight of his sin. At a distant point in the temple and miserable in his unworthiness. Downcast and not daring to look heavenwards. Beating his breast as Martin would have beaten his in the monastery. Conviction of sin was anguished and pain of conscience acute. And the medieval era was centuries away! All the tax collector could do was admit his debt of sin and, like very awakened offender before God cry, "God have mercy on me a sinner."

*NPP - New Perspective on Paul
*NTW- Nicholas Thomas Wright.


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