Are You Good Enough?

For as long as I can remember there has been a silent cultural message that “if you’re good enough” God will accept you as his own and secure you a permanent place at his side in eternity.  From Country and Western songs to Hallmark movie nights we are captured by the idea of a person realizing the error of their ways and making amends to a new status of a life well-lived.  This trend has been exacerbated in recent years by a multitude of teachers and preachers in the church who are attempting to remodel Christ as a life coach who desires to lead man to his true potential.  Turning from the old “you’re a sinner headed for judgment” model of reaching the masses, the new sentiment is “get on the wagon with Jesus and become something wonderful.”  I have to admit it has a nice ring.  It’s the stuff that after school specials were made for; grabbing oneself by the bootstraps and initiating the full potential of the human spirit in order to overcome the strongholds of one’s past.  Such stories are inspiring, entertaining and motivating.  After all, who among us could throw a stone at someone filled with good works, kindness and sacrificial service to others?  Indeed, these are the very characteristics that Jesus modeled and are the substance of the inner working of the Holy Spirit in the life of his chosen.

Such ideas represent the heart and soul of a moralistic gospel approach.  The model is simple: “Work hard, do better and God will accept you.”  And, the presumed merit of such good works is that they will somehow erase the stain of a former life that was decidedly “not good enough” in God’s eyes.  But will they really?

Several years ago I saw a news story on television about a woman who was discovered just miles down the road from where I lived.  The woman had been missing for many years.  She was not missing in the sense that she was lost, but in the sense that she did not want to be found.  This woman was an upstanding member of a nearby town.  She worked hard, had built a respectable life and was highly regarded by everyone who knew her.  She was active in her church and local schools and was known as a model citizen.  Yet, she had lived many years under an assumed name for fear of her past.  In fact, she had been convicted of horrible crimes at a younger age and had somehow escaped the custody of the state in order to assume a “new” life and identity as the person she wished she had been all along.  She had truly changed her ways.  Likened to the gospel of moralism, one might consider that she had erased her former sins by her current good life.

When this woman was discovered by authorities the television news became hyperactive about her story.  Some argued that she had lived a good and respectable life in the time since her heinous crimes and should be allowed to continue her new-found “good life.”  Others argued that this woman could not possibly have been guilty of the crimes that she had been convicted of, for she had proven her mettle publicly for so many years.  But, at the end of all such sentiment there was one thing that stood resolutely in the way of her freedom: the law.

The issue this woman had was not her inability to do well by her community.  Her issue was not that she was unfit to exist among the other humans in harmony.  It was not that she lacked the potential to fit in, be nice, get along with others or that she had failed to do any sufficient good works as deemed proper by the community.  Her issue was that she had resolutely broken the law in a major way and had been sentenced to punitive discipline by the law.  It frankly did not matter how good of a life she had lived the past number of years or how many people she had helped.  Her punishment was indifferent to her good works.  This woman had been formerly convicted of murder.  She owed a debt to society that could not be paid by simply “doing better from now on.”

This story illustrates perfectly the issue of a moralistic gospel.  The scripture says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  You’ll notice the accusation clearly: “all have sinned.” The problem man has with God is not that “you have not been good enough.”  The issue is that “you have sinned.”

Sin is a specific crime with a prescribed penalty announced from the very beginning of time: “the day you eat of it you will surely die.”  The penalty for sin is reaffirmed throughout the scriptures, being clearly shown again in Romans 6:23, “for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In short, our crime of sin is so substantial to God that we have been prescribed the death penalty for it.  We can attempt to hide, rebrand our life and/or gain the sentimental approval of everyone around us, but we will never get away from the perfect law that condemns us as sinners. Our penalty will be paid– either by us or by a gracious intercessor.

Friends, the gospel message has never been that God loved you so much he sent Jesus to earth to show you how to live better.  The gospel message is- and always has been- that God loved you so much he sent his innocent Son to earth to die for your sins and pay the sentence that you owe.

Because it is our sin – our offense of the law – that condemns us before God, there is simply no manner of good works that we can live up to that will ever save us.  There is no statute of limitations on sin.  It is a crime punishable by an eternal sentence that must – and will – be paid.

The good works performed by we who are in Christ are symptomatic of our salvation, but can never be the substance of it.  Our issue before God is not a lack of good works.  It is our offense of sin.  For that reason alone, you will never be good enough.  Rather, trust Christ’s provision of atonement on your behalf to save you from the wages of your sin and you will be transformed to the worthy and “good enough” creation you need to be.

Right Questions Wrongly Answered

(Editorial Note:  This article was written prior to Sunday’s shooting in Wisconsin.  Originally published in the Fort Bend Herald, July 29, 2012.  Minor edits have been inserted for this venue and date)

While the escalation of mass homicide in recent years is truly disturbing, perhaps equally ominous is our nation’s continued denial concerning the origination of such evil.  Reminiscent of Fort Hood, Columbine and Virginia Tech, the recent shootings in Aurora have once again stirred the country to evaluation regarding the cause of such seemingly disconnected and horrific acts.  Within hours of the incident commentators were politicizing the situation with appeals for better mental health care, gun control or public education.  One analyst confidently prophesied that, “our country has failed James Holmes” (the shooter) in some unexplained manner.

While a number of theoretical culprits may have been contributing factors to Holmes’ rampage, what is troubling about such responses is that they are built upon two false assumptions.  Foremost is the notion that such raw degeneracy is impossible in rational man except for some external influence.  Related and secondary is the presumption that proper human initiative can cure such deviation.  Mankind is deemed too equitable for such a heinous deed, thus something else must be ultimately liable.  Thus, Adam blames Eve while she points at a snake.  Responsibility is imagined outside of the offender’s control.

The scriptures are far less diplomatic of human propensity; asserting that all men possess a congenital sin disorder for which they are held responsible.  No one has to teach a two year old how to hit a friend in defiance.  Every toddler instinctively knows to lie about the half-eaten cookie.  Sin is innate from birth; albeit in ways that seem innocuous when displayed from the least defiled among us.  While even minor sin condemns us as guilty before a righteous judge, sin has a tendency to grow and mature into something far less cute than an unruly toddler’s tantrum.  Romans 1 teaches that men who reject and suppress God’s truths are given over by God to a continued descent into unquenchable depravity.  Verse 28 notes, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Verse 30 affirms a further deterioration in that they become “haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil…faithless, heartless, ruthless.”

To those who affirm the trustworthiness of scripture, actions such as those taken by James Holmes are not enigmatic.  While surely he is troubled and debased beyond the normative societal rule, his issue remains the same as is common to all.  He is guilty of living out the fruition of an uncontrolled sin nature; the epitome of which is self-servitude to the exclusion of God’s supreme rule of law.  Our most obvious examples of the destruction of sin are played out in the lives of those likened to Holmes.

More appropriate than a clamor to lawmakers in light of this sort of wickedness is a resolute commitment to the restoration of sinners through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The law of both God and man quite staunchly condemned the behavior of last Friday’s murderous rage before it ever happened.  At issue is not the lack of a clear legal standard, but a rebellious soul that considered himself exclusive to it.

Christ was crucified for such sin.  He paid sin’s eternal penalty for those who trust Him alone as their reparation before God.  Those who reject His provision will continue their slide toward obstinacy to unknown depths of depravity.  Those who trust in Christ’s provision receive capacity to overcome sin in their lives, along with its eternal consequences.

Pray, therefore, for the propagation of the gospel in our increasingly wicked world.  Therein lies hope for depravity.

The Gospel Truth Pt. 6 (vlog) – Jesus: the Fulfillment of the Law

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series The Gospel Truth (Vlog)

(This is a continuation of The Gospel Truth video blog series.  This post assumes the prerequisite watching of earlier videos in the series.  Click the link above to watch the entire series up to this week’s installment.)

I’ve often said that “the gospel is simple enough for a five year old to receive but complex enough for a lifetime of study.”  For many, the simplicity of the gospel message – that Christ died for the remission of sins – leaves them with probing questions as to the why and how of it all.  Why did Jesus have to die?  How was it exactly that his death satisfied God’s wrath and brought justification to sinful man?

The past few weeks of this series have sought to lay the groundwork for this answer by examining the unfolding of redemptive history; a roadmap of atonement that God developed from the Garden of Eden to the coming of the Christ.  The redemptive picture fleshed out in the Law of Moses, however, was only a foreshadowing of what was to come.  For, in Christ’s own words, he “did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.”  (Mat 5:17)  What the law and the prophets had written as a promissory note, Christ paid in full – with blood.

The Gospel Truth Pt. 6 – Jesus: the Fulfillment of the Law from Jeff Kluttz on Vimeo.

The Gospel Truth: Atonement in the Old Testament Pt. 2

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series The Gospel Truth (Vlog)

(This is a continuation of The Gospel Truth video blog series.  This post assumes the prerequisite watching of earlier videos in the series.  Click the link above to watch the entire series up to this week’s installment.)

Last week’s post examined the general nature of the Old Testament sacrificial system.  Yet, the heart and soul of the application of blood atonement rested in a very specific Holy observance: Yom Kippur, “The Day of Atonement.”

It was on this day, and only this day, that the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and made application of blood in the God’s own presence.  And, it is the understanding of this observance, which Hebrews will demonstrate in next week’s post, that best reveals how Christ’s actions both fulfilled the law and provided vicarious atonement – once and for all – to vindicate God’s wrath and uphold his just cause to punish sin.

The Gospel Truth: Pt. 5 – Atonement Pt. 2 from Jeff Kluttz on Vimeo.

Gospel Truth: The Wrath of God Toward Sin (Vlog Series)

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series The Gospel Truth (Vlog)

A popular message today attempts to discredit the notion that God has wrath toward sin.  The proponents of this message claim that because God is love, and everything God does is motivated by love, that God cannot have wrath. 

Today’s post in the Vlog series “Gospel Truth” will examine a host of scriptures which clearly and articulately demonstrate that God’s wrath not only exists toward sin, but that such wrath is the epitome of God’s justice and love.

The Gospel Truth: Pt. 2 – God’s Wrath Towards Sin from Jeff Kluttz on Vimeo.

The Gospel Truth: Man is Sinful (Vlog Series)

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series The Gospel Truth (Vlog)

New Vlog Series, Updating Weekly:  The Gospel Truth

See the entire series as it is added at our Video Teaching Series page.

The gospel message is a unique one in scripture.  Never is it open to individual interpretation or denominational packaging.  The message of the gospel is so important and well defined, in fact, that Paul noted 

Galatians 1:8 (ESV)
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Ironically, we live in a day when the “gospel-lite” message frequently preached is one which is devoid of its substance.  In particular, sin is now off the menu. 

The liberal emergent types do not discuss sin.  The gospel to them is about what we are going to do – not what we’ve done.  Many Word of Faith types eliminate sin from their estranged gospel as well.  Joel Osteen proudly exclaims “we don’t talk about sin at our church” while Robert Schuller notes that one of “the biggest mistakes” churches make today is insisting on pointing out everyone’s sin.

So, today the question is asked – and answered: is there a gospel message at all without the mention of sin?  Or is the fact that man is sinful the very issue of the gospel message?

The Gospel Truth: Pt. 1 – Man is Sinful from Jeff Kluttz on Vimeo.

The Penal Substitution Theory: On the Mark

This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series Pastoral Soteriology

The Penal Substitution Theory

While all atonement theories examined thus far have failed at producing a biblically-based portrayal of the doctrine of salvation, Anselm had at least gotten close with his Necessary-Satisfaction Theory.  Building upon some of those very principles, the Penal Substitution Theory, proposed by John Calvin (1509-1564), rightly aligned the missing theological puzzle pieces to present an accurate depiction of the work Christ completed on the cross. 

Primarily, atonement theories are intended to illustrate how atonement was produced from Christ’s death on the cross.  As such, a sound theory must not only make some valid assertions concerning the nature of Christ’s work, but must illustrate the entire historical revelation of the atonement as defined in scripture.  Calvin’s Penal Substitution Theory does that with great skill.

A proper understanding of the Penal Substitution Theory requires a holistic approach to God’s revelation of atonement throughout scripture.  Jesus did not merely show up on the playing field and create something new.  Rather, he realized and fulfilled what God had already established; a substitutionary system of atonement.  As Jesus noted,

Matthew 5:17-18 (NIV)
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Clearly, Jesus himself understood his work to be complimentary to what had already been established.  His work was to be that which would fulfill the law and the prophets rather something entirely new and unrelated.  No system examined in this series thus far has expressed atonement in terms that related it as a fulfillment of the Law and the prophets.  The Recapitulation Theory disregards the Law almost entirely.  The Ransom Theory has God paying off Satan, which is dramatically opposed to the Old Testament Law in which God himself receives (or rejects) man’s sin offering(s).  The Moral Example Theory completely disregards the punitive nature of the Law; attempting to implement a works oriented salvation which disregards the penalty of former sins.  The Mystical Theory, in addition to being just plain weird, offers absolutely no hint of vicarious atonement as outlined in the Law.  And, the Necessary-Satisfaction Theory, while working off of good principles, still misappropriates certain legal aspects of atonement as depicted in the Law. 

A good atonement theory must adequately illustrate how God’s program of redemption in the Law was systematically fulfilled and completed by the work of Christ!  Otherwise, Christ cannot be understood as having fulfilled the Law. 

Calvin’s theory connected the proper dots.

Details of Christ’s fulfillment of the Law will be examined over the next several posts, yet at this point it should at least be noted that what Jesus “fulfilled” was a substitutionary system of atonement: the sacrificial system of the Old Testament Law.  

Overall, the Penal Substitution Theory can be understood as a more comprehensive fleshing-out of Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory.  Anselm had the basic idea, but missed key points which Calvin properly illuminated.

The Essence of the Penal Substitution Theory

The Satisfaction Theory rightly articulated that a debt was owed to God by mankind.  This debt required that satisfaction be attained by God.  Yet, it incorrectly defined man’s offense as the defilement of God’s honor.  While surely God’s honor became diminished in man’s eyes because of sin, it is not God’s honor which is in need of satisfaction according to the scriptures.  Rather, it is God’s wrath for sin which is in need of satisfaction, as has already been illustrated.  Jesus noted,

John 3:36 (NIV)
36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

And Paul exclaimed,

Ephesians 2:3 (NIV)
3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

Understanding the problem of sin properly- that it invokes God’s wrath- is key to understanding the nature of the satisfaction Jesus secured in the atonement.  It was God’s wrath over sin which was in need of satisfaction.  The atonement is oriented toward the securing of justice rather than honor.  God’s law had been broken, invoking his wrath.  And, being a just God, he demanded that payment be rendered for the broken Law.  Such payment is not a mystery in the biblical narrative.  God prescribed his punitive decision prior to the offense, clearly noting in the Garden of Eden that,

Genesis 2:17 (NIV)
17 … you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

With justice as a defining attribute of His nature, God cannot simply overlook one’s sin.  Sin is an offense to his Law; an illegal (penal) action requiring a just sentence, which God prescribed to be death to the offender.  What Jesus did on the cross was to quite literally apply the payment to God for the crimes of humanity.

Romans 6:23 (NIV)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God had always upheld the wages of sin.  They have never – nor will they ever change.  And, God’s sense of justice demands that wrongdoing be punished and that the offended party (himself) be compensated.  Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished both.  The sins of man were paid vicariously (more on that in coming posts) and God’s justice was upheld.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

 The atonement was penal in nature, because it provided the means of payment for the breaking of God’s Law which man had engaged.  It was substitutionary in nature, because the payment was obtained vicariously by another: Christ.

Romans 3:22-26 (NIV)
22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

The substitutionary nature of Christ’s death will be examined in more detail in the following weeks.  One cannot truly understand how Jesus fulfilled the Law without first understanding the nature of the Law itself.  Suffice it to say at this point, however, that the Law provided a means of restitution for man’s sin through vicarious (substitutionary) means.  God, in his graciousness, offered a system of atonement by which an acceptable animal could be sacrificed on man’s behalf, thus paying the required death sentence.  Such is the nature of the Law; as it details the processes and requirements of such penal substitutions to be made.  When Christ fulfilled the Law, he became the final perfect sacrifice for sin; rendering the Law utterly completed.  Thus, “not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

The Penal Substitution Theory of atonement rightly identifies the critical components of redemption by faith in Christ Jesus.  God’s wrath was invoked by man’s sin.  His justice demanded restitution.  In grace, he provided a substitutionary system of atonement, which Christ completed – once and for all.

Isaiah 53:5-6 (NIV)
5 … he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The Necessary-Satisfaction Theory of Atonement

This entry is part 7 of 13 in the series Pastoral Soteriology

Continuing our examination of numerous atonement theories which have circulated the church throughout history, it must be observed that thus far in this series there has not been revealed a tremendous amount of success in the packaging of such systems into understandable, yet valid theological thought.

The Recapitulation Theory misses the vicarious nature of Jesus’ death altogether.  The Ransom Theory essentially glorifies Satan as the one who was to be appeased for the wages of sin.  The Moral Example Theory is little more than a warmed over “good ol’ boys get in” mentality and the Mystical Theory relegates God to one of the plethora of pagan gods of yore; being reached via essential practices rather than his own initiative which is accomplished by grace through faith.  Furthermore, most of these theories place robust emphasis on man’s role in salvation; asserting that Christ’s work on the cross provided a means for man to complete the work of redemption rather than Christ completing the work himself. Continue reading

More False Atonement Doctrine: The Moral-Example Theory

This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series Pastoral Soteriology

(A continuation of the series, A Pastoral Soteriology.)

Jesus noted, “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it (Mat 7:13).  To that end, it should be no surprise that there are so many erroneous theological theories in relation to each properly determined and biblical one.  Continuing the pursuit of a good and valid atonement theory, today’s post once again yields only a failed attempt which resembles nothing more than man recasting God in his own image.

The Moral-Example Theory

The moral example theory was proposed by Pelagius (354-420 AD), himself an opponent of the concept of original sin, believing that sin was a matter of choice rather than an ingrained and universal affliction.  Pelagius further believed that it was possible for man to live a sinless life within himself.  His atonement “theory” certainly did not fall far from the tree. Continue reading

Unsound Theories of Atonement

This entry is part 4 of 13 in the series Pastoral Soteriology

(A continuation of the series, A Pastoral Soteriology.)

Understanding that sin carries the penalty of death, separation and God’s extended wrath toward the sinner brings one to the natural yearning to understand the nature of the provision God has made for the restoration of man from this condition.  Obviously, this series is concerned with such illumination; God has made atonement available.  The details concerning God’s provision of atonement is both something so simple that a child can grasp it, yet so complicated than a man can spend his entire life attempting to systematize it fully.  The child can understand that “Jesus died for my sins,” yet the theologian may spend years trying to fully understand how exactly the provision of Christ was applied to the account of the sinner. Continue reading

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