In the most recent issue of Credo Magazine, “Justification: The Doctrine On Which the Church Stands or Falls,” we drew your attention to this central doctrine of the Christian faith. Occasionally we like to take the opportunity to listen to voices of the past in order to better understand Christian doctrine. And so we looked to the Heidelberg Catechism to see what this Reformed confession had to say about justification. Here is what we found:
What does the Heidelberg Catechism say about justification?
60. Q. How are you righteous before God?
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.
61. Q. Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?
Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God. I can receive this righteousness and make it mine my own by faith only.
62. Q. But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?
Because the righteousness which can stand before God’s judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God, whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
63. Q. But do our good works earn nothing, even though God promises to reward them in this life and the next?
This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.
64. Q. Does this teaching not make people careless and wicked?
No. It is impossible that those grafted into Christ by true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.
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Justification: The Doctrine on which the Church Stands or Falls
While we could point to many different factors that led the sixteenth century Protestant Reformers to break from Rome, perhaps one that would be at the very top of the list is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. For Luther and Calvin, this doctrine is the very hinge on which the Christian religion turns. In part this is because sola fide is what sets Protestants apart. While every other religion puts something of man into the equation, Protestantism removes man’s works from the justification formula altogether. Therefore, the “sola” in sola fide makes all the difference in the world.
With over 2,000 years of church history in our rear view mirror, it appears that sola fide is a doctrine that comes under discussion in every generation. Our generation is no exception. Much dialogue continues over the New Perspective on Paul, Protestant and Catholic statements of agreement, and the relationship between justification and the Christian life. In this issue I am proud to welcome some of the finest thinkers on the subject in order to better understand what Scripture says about how sinners can be made right with a holy God.
Contributors include Thomas Schreiner, Michael Allen, Michael Horton, Philip Ryken, J.V. Fesko, Matthew Barrett, Korey Maas, Guy Waters, Brian Vickers, Fred Zaspel, and many others.
“What is the Gospel?” This is the question Michael Horton addresses in this message. Horton begins by exposing the many false understandings of the gospel in the culture today before explaining the true gospel.
With Good Friday and Easter nearly upon us, here are a few new books related to the person of Christ to read this Easter season.
Bryan Chapell. Christ-Centered Sermons: Models of Redemptive Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.
If you found Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching a helpful tool in thinking through sermon preparation and how to approach preaching, you will be interested in this companion volume. Talk about method is always important, but few things trump actually getting your hands dirty. That is what Chapell does here. He gives you an array of example sermons of “Christ-Centered” preaching. Here is what Dennis E. Johnson says of the book,
“It is no easy task to preach sermons that exposit a biblical text faithfully, rightly connect it to Christ, and address hearers’ deep needs for God’s radical grace, all while communicating clearly and vividly. A good beginning is to grasp key principles and practices to be applied in crafting such rich and relevant messages. But watching a gifted preacher in action turns sound theory into transformative coaching. This is what Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Sermons offers to his fellow preachers. This collection is the next best thing to sitting across from Dr. Chapell in his pastoral study and hearing him talk through his process for composing sermons. If you have said to yourself, ‘Yes, I must preach Christ and his grace from every passage of Scripture, but how?’, these sermons and the strategic comments surrounding them point the way.”
Robert Letham. The Message of the Person of Christ. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2013.
Letham, who has made a significant contribution to the work of Christ, now has contributed a volume on the person of Christ as well. The book is organized into five parts:
Part 1: Christ promised
Part 2: Christ incarnate
Part 3: Christ crucified
Part 4: Christ risen
Part 5: Christ ascended
Each part looks at individual passages on the person of Christ. For example, part 4 examines:
The empty tomb (Matthew 28:1-15)
The resurrection appearances (Luke 24:13-49)
Paul on Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15)
Also, in light of the next book I am highlighting, you may be interested in Letham’s appendix: Did the church get it wrong? Who is Jesus Christ? From Nicaea (AD 325) to Constantinople II (AD 553).
Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.
This book is a serious and significant response to Bart Ehrman’s book, How Jesus Became God, which is an attack upon the historical, orthodox, Christian understanding of Jesus Christ is God. Ehrman argues that Jesus and his disciples did not teach this, but rather it was invented by the Church. This team of scholars argues that Ehrman gets it wrong.Here is the TOC:
The Story of Jesus as the Story of God, by Michael Bird
Of Gods, Angels, and Men, Michael Bird
Did Jesus Think He was God? Michael Bird
Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right, Craig A. Evans
What Did the First Christians Think about Jesus? Simon Gathercole
Problems with Ehrman’s Interpretive Categories, Chris Tilling
Misreading Paul’s Christology: Problems with Ehrman’s Exegesis, Christ Tilling
An Exclusive Religion: Orthodoxy and Heresy, Inclusion and Exclusion, Charles Hill
Paradox Pushers and Persecutors? Charles Hill
Concluding Thoughts, Michael Bird
Here is a video interview with Craig Evans that get to the heart of the matter.
Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at matthewmbarrett.com.
Zondervan continues to ask professors what their advice is to seminary students. Recently they asked Matthew Barrett as well. Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration and Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). You can read about Barrett’s other publications at matthewmbarrett.com.
Here is what Barrett had to say:
It seems that in today’s technological and fast-paced age, the church assembled is still a reality, but not the priority it was in previous days. The author Hebrews clearly instructs believers to exhort one another day after day, and not to forsake assembling as biblical communities, so that we will not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:12-13; 10:25-27). While going to a church service once a week to worship in song, to hear the Word preached, and to participate in the ordinances is better than nothing at all, it must also be admitted that this is not sufficient. God’s people were not made to be mere passive observers; instead we should be involved in the details of one another’s lives. There should be a rejoicing with rejoice, and a weeping with those who weep. There should be celebration of God’s grace, and exhortation regarding the manifestation of sin. There should be love and a mutual pursuit of holiness. There should be mutual mission and a desire to minister in specific and varied ways. These kinds of things are what should constitute the life of the church, and that may involve delving more deeply into the life of God’s people than one has previously. But it is worthwhile, knowing the church serves as an important means for the perseverance of our faith. Owen reminds us of this fact and encourages us to live in community and know His people well.
By God’s all-wise appointment, our assemblies are the food and the nourishment of our souls. It is the main way whereby we publicly identify with Christ and His Gospel. We evidence our love for Christ by our loyalty and support of one another in opposition to all false worship. Many things will rise up in competition to the diligent attendance of our assemblies. We must recognize and refuse to give into anything that is opposed to what Christ commands. The total falling away of a graceless professor always begins with this neglect, this disassociation with God’s people.
Jeremy Kimble (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Cedarville University. He is an editor for Credo Magazine as well as the author of That His Spirit May Be Saved: Church Discipline as a Means to Repentance and Perseverance and numerous book reviews. He is married to Rachel and has two children, Hannah and Jonathan.
Three of Credo Magazine’s main contributors include Thomas Schreiner, Fred Zaspel, and Matthew Barrett. Each of them are professors, but they are also pastors. So each Monday morning we will be highlighting their “Sunday’s Sermon” on the blog to provide you with encouragement throughout the week and an opportunity to study God’s Word.
Each week we will be highlighting important resources. Check back each Friday to see what we have dug up for you. From this week’s cache:
1. Husbands Love Your Wives: By The National Center For Family-Integrated Churches - Make sure to check out this online video webinar featuring Scott Brown, Joel Beeke, Sam Waldron, Jeff Pollard and Derek Thomas. This is going to be a great book discussion on husbands loving their wives.
2. The Future of Protestantism: By Torrey Honors Institute - Check out this conference either in person or online as different leaders continue the significant conversation on what the Reformation means for Protestants today. Is the Reformation over? How should American Protestantism relate to Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy?”
3. The Church Needs Philosophers and Philosophers Need the Church: By Paul Gould - Gould says: “We are too easily tossed to and fro by the winds of popular culture, base appetites, and short memories. We need to take the long view, and now, because of the influence of prominent Christian philosophers such as Dallas Willard, Alvin Plantinga, and William Lane Craig it is a good time to remind the church of the usefulness, indeed the necessity, of philosophy in service to Christ.”
4. Predestination: Don’t Say a Word About It Until..: By Daniel Hyde - Hyde says: “So what does all this mean in terms of predestination? It means that before you speak a word about predestination, you need to emphasize the biblical teachings of humanity’s sin before God, God’s just punishment upon that sin, and the deep and high love of God. Then, and only then, does the biblical doctrine of predestination make any sense.”
5. Moralism is Not the Gospel (But Many Christians Think it is): By Albert Mohler - Mohler notes: “Hell will be highly populated with those who were ‘raised right.’ The citizens of heaven will be those who, by the sheer grace and mercy of God, are there solely because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.”
Matt Manry is the Director of Discipleship at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Religion at Reformed Theological Seminary and a Masters of Arts in Christian and Classical Studies from Knox Theological Seminary. He blogs regularly at gospelglory.net.
In light of the recent issue of Credo Magazine, “Justification: The Doctrine On Which the Church Stands or Falls,” we would like to highlight R. C. Sproul’s 2012 message: Standing Firm for the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone.
Here is an excerpt from the message from Ligonier, followed by the video of the entire message itself.
If an angel comes in here and says, “Wait a minute. You can’t get to heaven by trusting Christ and Christ alone, and having the imputation of His merit. And the angel came here and said, “For you to really be justified you have to have inherent righteousness. You have to add works to faith, merit to grace, you to Christ.” If an angel from heaven came in here and said that this afternoon, I would take him by the seat of his celestial pants and kick him out of here!
Paul said that if anybody teaches you any other gospel, even if it’s an angel from heaven, let him be anathema. Let him be anathema; let him be damned.
If the pope, the bishop, the priest, your preacher, teaches any other gospel than that which you have received, let him be anathema; because there is no other gospel.
And now I’m interested, because I can remember when I got involved in this debate back at the time of ECT and was loosing friends faster than I could shake a stick at them, and people say you’re dividing the church, and all that—same kind of thing they said to John MacArthur. And I was alone one night and I went in the church and I opened this passage in Galatians. And I had always stopped at verse 9, “As we said before so I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than that which you have received let him be accursed”—I would stop there. This time I went to verse 10. “For do I now persuade men, or God? Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a slave of Jesus Christ.”
Here’s where, when the gospel is at stake, as Luther said in His great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” in the last verse, Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. If we have to let go of our family, let go of our friends, let go of our church, let go of our lives, so be it. Otherwise, we seek to please men rather than to please God. And God has saved us with a gospel that is really a magnificent gospel, a marvelous gospel. And if I trade that in, or negotiate it, and say to people who affirm the council of Trent—this other gospel—that I have a unity of faith in the gospel with them, what have I done!
I’ll give up my relationship to any leader in Christendom over this doctrine; I’ll split my family over this doctrine; I’ll split the church over this doctrine. This is the gospel! If the Lord marks iniquity, who shall stand? Well, guess what? He does mark iniquity. And blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin.
From the Garden of Eden, the first way justification entered the world was how God saved Adam and Eve by covering their nakedness; by hiding their sin. The whole system of atonement in the Old Testament when the blood came into the holy of holies and was sprinkled on the mercy seat, it was to cover the sin of the people. That’s what the cloak of the righteousness of Christ does for all who put their trust in Him. His righteousness is my covering. And that’s how I can stand before a holy God.
Again, if I have to wait until, through the machinations of the church, and the sacraments, and all the rest, and purgatory, to make me pure before I can be justified, I’m going to sleep in tomorrow morning. Because without sola Fide, you’re without the gospel. And without the gospel, you’re without hope. But thanks be to God who gives us the glorious gospel of justification through trusting in the work of Jesus and the work of Jesus alone, who alone is not only able, but willing to save all who put their faith in Him.
And here is the message itself:
Westminster Bookstore is now selling the second edition of Richard Gaffin Jr.’s By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation at 50% off! Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (ThM and ThD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Emeritus, at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
About the book:
Proponents of the “New Perspective” on Paul generally reject or minimize the concept of an ordo salutis (“order of salvation”) in his writings. Building on the biblical-theological groundwork of the Reformed tradition, Richard B. Gaffin Jr. explores Paul’s understanding of how individuals receive salvation. Gaffin clearly explains the central elements of Paul’s teaching by exploring Paul’s focus on Christ’s death and resurrection and the essence of his ordo salutis.
Also, check out John Piper’s message delivered for the Gaffin Lecture for Theology, Culture, and Mission at Westminster Theological Seminary where he explains the significance of By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation.
In James 3 the tongue is compared to a bit in a horse’s mouth. Charles Bridges once said, “The tongue is the unbridled horse that brings his rider into jeopardy.” If anyone claims to be sinless, ask them about their speech, for James 3:1 says, “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man.” However we all stumble in what we say. In fact, right before this James says, “we all stumble in many ways.” The word stumble here means “sin,” and so James teaches that we all sin in many ways. He especially has in mind our sins with the tongue.
Our words aren’t trivial either, for Jesus says in Matthew 12:36-37, “I tell you on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Jesus isn’t saying that our words are the basis of our salvation, but he is saying that godly speech is necessary for salvation, that our speech provides evidence as to whether we are truly saved. In the same way, Proverbs often reminds us of the importance of our words, teaching us that those who are wise speak in ways that are pleasing to God.
In this post we will look at three contrasts regarding speech found in the book of Proverbs, and ask three questions.
First, are our words rash or are they restrained?
Second, do our words hurt or do they heal?
Third, do our words lead to fighting or do they feed others?
Are our words rash or are they restrained?
Let’s first look at words that are rash. We read in Proverbs 12:18, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Perhaps we pride ourselves in speaking our mind and not holding back. We feel we are being authentic and real. But such a stance can lead us to speak thoughtlessly and rashly, cutting and wounding others deeply. We see the same problem with rashness and thoughtlessness in Proverbs 29:11, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” A fool says, “I just had to say what was on my heart.” A fool brags about telling other people off, about letting it all hang out. But once words are spoken, they can never be withdrawn.
I can think of things I have said in my life that I deeply regret, and I can remember incidents from the time I was young.
I still remember saying something mean to my younger brother so that he collapsed in tears. How I regretted saying those words the moment they escaped my lips. The words of Proverbs 29:20 strike home. “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Fools rush to speak, but those who are wise are restrained.
The same is true of what we write as well. Save the hot and angry email or blog post for 2-3 days before sending or posting it. Wait until you have had time to cool down. You might find after several days it is better not to send it at all. We already read in Proverbs 29:11 that a wise person “quietly holds it back.” The Holy Spirit nudges us and makes it clear when we shouldn’t speak. Often silence is golden. Many other proverbs say the same thing. Proverbs 21:23 says, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Or we read in Proverbs 13:3, “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” And Proverbs 17:27 declares, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” The wise aren’t rash but are restrained in their speech.
Keeping, guarding, and restraining; having self-control in speech. How easy to understand, but oh how hard to practice. Truly, we all sin in many ways, but let’s ask God to keep changing us, so that we become more self-controlled and restrained in our speech. We pray with David who says in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” That’s a good prayer to pray regularly.
Proverbs 10:19 is instructive and interesting, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” One danger in talking with people for a long time is that we run out of things to talk about and so we can easily turn to talking about what is sinful and wrong. John Wesley said we should limit our conversations to an hour because after that we are likely to start sinning in our speech. That’s not the word of the Lord or a command of Scripture, but we understand what he means. How easy it is to lose restraint when we talk to friends for long periods of time. We may want to spice up the boredom of conversation by criticizing others. Or sometimes, curiously enough, being in a larger group may provoke us to say what we shouldn’t say, because we may want to say something startling and interesting to others. Even with one or two people we may want to be scintillating or provocative. So, we may sin with our mouths just to be funny.
Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips he is deemed intelligent.” Proverbs call us to thoughtfulness. We read in Proverbs15:28, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Do you ponder or pour? The wicked just let their bad attitudes flow into words without thought, but the righteous contemplate and cogitate about what they should say. The righteous may end up rebuking or correcting others, but it should be preceded by pondering, by careful thought about what we are about to say. How often I have spoken before I have truly pondered how to answer! May the Holy Spirit give us restraint in our speech. This brings us to our second truth.
First, let’s consider words that hurt. We read in Proverbs 11:12-13, “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.” How about you? Do you remain silent about the faults of others and cover them? Or, do you reveal the faults of others? Sometimes we need to share negative things for various reasons, but too often our motive is actually destructive of another’s reputation.
Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” How wonderfully delicious and delightful it can be to hear about the faults of others. Often it can lift our spirits when we feel a bit down or depressed about ourselves. We feel better about ourselves when we hear the faults of others, thinking, “At least I am not that bad.” We quickly forget the admonition in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” We must ask ourselves whether our words are beneficial, whether they will bring a blessing to others. God calls upon us to speak words that are gracious, that pour out grace on others. Words that hurt have a very different effect.
We read in Proverbs 11:9, “With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.” Godless people can destroy the reputation of their neighbors with their mouths. Remember how Jezebel persuaded friends and neighbors to lie about what Naboth said, so Ahab could take Naboth’s vineyard? Those lying words led to Naboth being executed. A person can be wrongly executed in the court of public opinion because of the wagging of many tongues. And everything that is said may be lies and untruths, but they are believed because they have been repeated so many times.
We see the same thing in Proverbs 16:28, “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” Many of you have seen or read the Shakespearean play Othello. How agonizing it is to see Iago convince Othello that his wife Desdemona is unfaithful. By whispering and lying Iago destroys the relationship between husband and wife. How Satan wants to disrupt our friendships and spread strife, and the tool he uses are words.
We read in Proverbs 17:9, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Isn’t this a remarkable verse? We learn here that it is often loving to cover an offense. The word used here for “offense” is the typical term for transgression. We can’t simply excuse our words by claiming that what we say about others is true. Love covers the offenses and transgressions of those whom we are close to. Repeating the faults of others can destroy a friendship. Yes, we believe in confronting sin and in speaking frankly to others. But most offenses don’t warrant church discipline, and so repeating the evil others have done is unloving. The loving path is to cover over and to hide the sin of others. This is not excusing sin. Perhaps the sin warrants a one on one conversation, but it doesn’t warrant spreading to others the sin committed. Gossip can be justified by saying we need to get it off our chest, when really we are just undermining someone else’s reputation.
The tongue can hurt, but it can also heal
Proverbs 15:4 says, “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” Think of Job’s friends. They spoke words that almost broke his spirit instead of encouraging him. What is in our hearts? Are we gentle, humble and meek? Such gentleness manifests itself in speech that is gentle and kind and isn’t rude. We don’t say to others, “Shut up.” Or, “Get out of my way.” Or, “Stop it.”
Proverbs 15:1 teaches us something very similar, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Charles Bridges says, “We indulge in sarcasm as if we would rather lose a friend than miss scoring a point in the argument.” When someone else is angry with us, we are tempted to hurl darts back at them. We are ready to bring in the heavy artillery to make them see their wrong. And then it gets the fire going. How often I have responded to a harsh word with a harsh word. I remember one time in Croatia where the Lord gave me grace. We were at the airport and the woman serving us at the counter was crabby, angry, and short with us. She was spitting fire and lashing out at any request. I just said to her something like, “I bet it is stressful to work here.” Immediately, her whole countenance changed, and she said she had worked long hours without much sleep. Instead of snapping at us she became kind and helpful. It doesn’t always work that way of course, but harsh words stoke anger and often gentle words quench it.
Proverbs 25:15 says something very similar, “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” If you want to convince your boss of something, the best way to go about is with speech that is kind and patient. Leaders don’t respond well (no one responds well) to those who angrily confront them. But reasonable and gentle speech may move a leader to change his position. As Proverbs 16:23-24 says, “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Is your speech judicious, persuasive, and gracious?
If our words as human beings heal, they heal in a derivative sense, for we are mere mortals. But God’s Word is inherently powerful since it is the Word of God. Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” And Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” It is God’s Word that heals us from our sin and gives us life. We all enter the world as those who have rebelled against our creator and gone our own way. We all deserve God’s judgment and separation from him forever because of our sin. And thus, we all need forgiveness because of the evil we have done and the words we have spoken against others. But God, being rich in mercy and love, sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to take the wrath we deserve. He suffered so we might have life. Jesus rose from the dead to show that he had conquered sin and death. The message I just summed up is the Word of the gospel. This message is the ultimate healing word. These are the words of life. These are words that have power. Just as God spoke the universe into existence by his word, so too he gives us new life through the word of the gospel.
1 Peter 1:23 says we have been born again through the living and enduring Word of God. The power of God’s Word is evident in Isaiah 55:10-11, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Words matter. Words aren’t insignificant. It is God’s Word that gives us life, and amazingly enough God has ordained that through our words we can share this good news with others.
It isn’t always fitting in conversation to speak the whole message at once, but if our speech is seasoned with salt, we can speak naturally about the gospel and God in our daily life. You can say, “God convicted me about being a better mom or dad, or about being kinder to my husband or wife, or about spending more time with the kids, or about my bad attitude, or about how I speak with my tongue” and on and on it goes. Or, you can say, “Would you ever like to come to church some time?” Or, “No pressure at all, but would you ever like to come to a class on exploring Christianity?” They may say no, and that’s fine. Or, you can say, “Has anyone ever shared the good news of Jesus with you? Would you mind if I explained it to you in 5 minutes?”
We want, as Paul says in Colossians 4:3-4 our speech to be seasoned with salt, so we know how to respond wisely and graciously to those who don’t know Jesus. Maybe you know someone at work who is willing to talk about things, but you need to find a way listen to them as well. You could say, “I would love to read an article about why you believe in atheistic evolution, and here is an article on why I believe God is the creator.” Ultimately, life through the Word of God is a miracle. Let’s pray that God will use us to spread his saving message.
Do we use fighting words or feeding words?
Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” Fighting words lead to strife and quarrels with others, but feeding words build up and strengthen others. We read in Proverbs 18:6, “A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.” I love that vivid picture of a fool’s mouth walking him into a fight. Words that sneer, mock, and ridicule invite a fight. We are asking for a quarrel if we say, “Why do you always ….?” Or, “Why don’t you ever ….?”A fight can also begin when we use the right words but the tone is wrong. We can be very self-righteous when our words are right but the tone is wrong. We can protest during the whole conversation that what we said was exactly right and there was nothing wrong with what we said. But the spirit with which we said those right words was harsh, impatient, and unloving.
The righteous, on the other hand, don’t start fights but feed and nurture others. For instance Proverbs 10:21 says, “The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” I don’t want my mouth to start quarrels, but I do want to feed many. Certainly, we feed others by sharing the word of God, and by encouraging and strengthening others with the promises in God’s word. Along the same lines we read in Proverbs 10:31, “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off.” What feeds and strengthens others are words of wisdom. And again such wisdom comes fundamentally from God’s word. Those who are nurtured in God’s word are men and women of wisdom. So, we aren’t surprised to read in Proverbs 15:7, “The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.”
We all fail in many ways with our tongues. May our hearts be softened to acknowledge where we fall short, and may we be quick to confess our sins. May we ask God to strengthen us so that we speak words of life to others, words of encouragement, and words of grace. And may God fill our hearts with love and wisdom in knowing him better, so that our words may reflect him as we speak the truth in love, encourage the downcast, and boldly share Christ with those he brings across our path. For without him, we are noisy gongs and clashing symbols.
Thomas Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his many books are Romans, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, and Galatians.