Friday, September 02, 2011

A Wide-ness in God’s Mercy

In the video and the transcript posted immediately below in the post: Billy Graham & the Future of Christianity, Robert Schuller makes a statement to which Billy gives absolute assent: “There's a wideness in God's mercy.”

God’s mercy is even greater than what these men imagine. It has absolutely no limits. God’s mercy is from eternity. It reaches to every tribe and nation and tongue of humanity. God’s mercy extends unto the entire human race of all times and places. As the psalmist writes:

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 107:1)

However, this mercy is clearly defined as is the means by which this mercy is received. While God’s mercy extends to everyone, not everyone receives it. God’s mercy is received through specific means that He Himself has ordained.

These means are the preaching of the pure Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments. These are the means by which God declares that His mercy is made to be received.

The Scriptures are very clear regarding the fact that God’s mercy is for all, but that this “for all” is in Christ. Apart from Christ this mercy is not received.

A term that helps to explain this is the term Universal Objective Justification. Sadly, almost no one understands it rightly or teaches it rightly. Many Lutherans claim to teach it, but they only use the terminology while actually preaching universalism, like Schuller and Graham say in the interview. One very outspoken opponent of Universal Objective Justification, or UOJ as he likes to dub it, is Dr. Gregory Jackson who speaks venomously against UOJ on his blog. One example is his post: UOJ Fanatics Obscure Their Errors by Splitting Verses, Ignoring Context: Some Examples.

Sadly, both sides of this issue are misrepresenting the truth. The major proponents of Universal Objective Justification essentially downplay the Objective nature of Justification and highlight the universal aspect of it, like Schuller and Graham. Jackson completely denies the universal aspect focusing only upon the objective, but ending up with the subjective as the only real element.

But the truth is that the Scriptures plainly teach that God does declare the world to be justified in Christ. But the IN Christ cannot be ignored.

(Romans 3:24) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

(Romans 8:1) There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

(2 Corinthians 5:17) Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

(2 Corinthians 5:19) To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

In the Scriptures Justification = Declared Righteous. It is a juridical term, courtroom language. The judge makes a ruling and that ruling stands. In the highest court, God’s court, Jesus the Christ stands as the world’s mediator. Jesus paid the ransom or redemption price and the judge (God) declares that this is sufficient. Since Christ died for the sins of the entire world, this declaration leaves out no one. God’s declaration extends to all the world of all time, for Jesus’ sake.

However, this declaration must be received. It must be preached so that it is heard. This hearing is worked by the Holy Spirit to produce faith so that one begins to believe the declaration. In Baptism this declaration is applied to the person with the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. At this point, the declaration that is in Christ is now the actual possession of the individual for whom this declaration was made even from eternity. But now the person is actually In Christ, where this declaration is. The declaration is not made apart from Christ, but IN Christ. So, while it is made for all the world, it is made in Christ for all the world.

Thus it is truly a universal declaration. It has been made. It is for all. But not all will receive it. And so while God has declared all the world to be justified in Christ, so long as people remain outside of Christ, not baptized into His body, they do not receive this justification that God has declared to be for them.

It is only in Christ that this justification is appropriated.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:4-6)

The branches do not produce the fruit apart from the vine. The lifeblood flows to the branches from the vine. While the branches remain separated from the vine, they have no life in them and they produce nothing good.

As an example, I sometimes have used my seminary student loans to illustrate. I had some large student loans when I graduated the seminary. After a dozen years I still had more to pay. One day I received a notice that someone anonymously paid $1000.00 of one of my loans. The payment had been made at least a week or two earlier. $1000.00 of my debt had been declared to have been redeemed by someone else and then the declaration was received by me in this notification.

I was justified and set free from the debt the moment it was paid. But I did not receive the benefit of this justification until I received the notification. Having received the notification I called to verify it. Indeed, my debt was cancelled. I was justified. Now I could live in the knowledge of that justification. Eventually I received the notification from the bank as well. No more debt. I have been living in that freedom ever since.

But what if I did not believe it to be real? What if I refused to believe the good news? I would still be trying to find a way to pay a debt that I no longer owe. I would send my checks, which would be returned or discarded. Even though I was declared debt free, I would still be bound to it by my unbelief.

There are weaknesses in this illustration, but it does highlight the main issue. There are important differences however, for entrance into the kingdom of God, the body of Christ, is not merely a matter of my believing. Faith is more than believing. Faith is the gift of God worked by the Holy Spirit that produces my believing. When the Holy Spirit works this faith in me through the means of grace applied to me, then by this faith I also believe what God has declared to be for me. Then I actually begin to live in His grace, in Christ. This continues for as long as I remain in Christ so that at the Last Day, when Christ returns, those who have been baptized into Him are brought with Him into the everlasting blessedness reserved for them. Those who have refused to be baptized into Him, are not in Him, and have cut themselves off from His blessings. Even though God has declared them to be justified in Christ, because they refused to be baptized into Christ, they discarded the justification that God declared for them in Christ.

This does not nullify the justification. Justification is one-sided, from God to us, in Christ. God declares us to be justified in Christ. But if we remain outside of Christ, we remain separated from what has been declared to be ours in Christ.

One more little illustration:

A deserter flees from his country so as not to be arrested. After the war is over, amnesty is granted by the president for all deserters. But many of the deserters never return home for various reasons. Some believe the declaration to be too good to be true. Some believe the declaration to be a trick. Some have determined that they do not want to return home. Some simply do not care. But a few hear the declaration and gladly are brought back by the messengers to their homeland and are rejoined to their fellow countrymen.

It is a simple and straightforward message folks. Don’t change it from what the God of all mercy has declared.

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Gary Cepek said...

Pastor Siems,

We're appreciative that in your post you centered God's mercy and His declaration of righteousness where it should be, "in Christ." The redemption accomplished for all men is in Christ alone. This mercy is granted by the Holy Spirit alone as He uses the means of grace. It is received by the saving faith worked by the Spirit in penitent hearts by the means of grace.

As you wrote: "...this mercy is clearly defined as is the means by which this mercy is received. While God’s mercy extends to everyone, not everyone receives it. God’s mercy is received through specific means that He Himself has ordained."

The Augsburg Confession, Article IV, correctly summarizes this: 1] Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

We are reminded that as in prior time of doctrinal controversy, individuals would fall into erroneous statements that took them off the mark of the clear Scriptures. So is the case in this present controversy about justification. The dust raised by unclear and unscriptural statements, raised by reason and emotion, stirred up by the devil, have one goal: to obscure the Triune God's mercy in Christ through the means of grace to contrite sinners. We ask the Lord of the Church to wipe our faith clean with His pure Word. That He chooses to successfully use the mask of the frail voices of servants He raises up for His purposes, confounds all human pride, wisdom and power, because it appears so foolish. All this is to His glory alone.

Gary Cepek

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Hi Gary,

For some reason the spam filter held your comment as spam. I overrode it so that now it has posted. Thanks for the worthy comment.

It saddens me that someone as informed as Dr. Jackson quotes the Confessions and then interprets them contrary to their context. The quote that you have above is used very well. But he takes this same quote and insists on focusing upon the "when they believe" as though this were referring to a time sequence rather than as the context indicates, as what God has worked in the person, even so that the apostles speak of these things being predestined.

It seems that the right understanding of predestination, as being from eternity, which has no time reference or sequence as we perceive these things, is rejected outright by human reason.

The "when they believe" is stated in contrast to "by their own merits or works" so as to emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit, that is, Faith.

Justification by/through faith is God's work, not the believer's work. The justification is the result of what God has done in and for the person whom He has regenerated into the faith of Jesus.