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............."Oh, the gallant fisher's life, It is the best of any 'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And 'tis beloved of many." ..........[Piscator's Song, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton] "The fishers also shall mourn,and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish." [Isaiah XIX:8]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Of the Gospel, Repentance and Forgiveness

A recent inquirer wrote:

In the past, I have lived a gay lifestyle, including drinking, and smoking and taking prescription drugs. For a year now, I have given up all of these things, and am attempting to live more Christian lifestyle. I am reading my bible daily, praying and asking for God's forgiveness. It is very clear in the Bible that homosexuality as many other sins are punishable by death. Therefore are we forgiven if we repent and turn our back on this lifestyle? Or once we have lived this way are we beyond forgiveness? Any verses of scripture would be appreciated.I know that Christ died for our sins, and I have asked God into my heart. Could you give me some further direction on what I should be doing?

My answer follows:

Greetings to you in Christ.

We are grateful for your recent inquiry through the OPC website. Your question is a most important one for you and, no doubt, for many others.

The Scriptures are clear about sin. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). All sin, every sin is breaking God's law and therefore punishable by God. Not just some sins, but all sins are sins against God, the Holy Creator, Lawgiver and Judge of man, who has declared that all sin is worthy of His wrath.

From the beginning, man's first sin, the sin of Adam in eating the forbidden fruit was punishable by death. God said to the man, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat from it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). The Scriptures teach that as a consequence of Adam's original sin, death has come upon all mankind. Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned." This squares with the words in Romans 3:23 which tells us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23); thus, all men (all mankind) are worthy of death, and indeed all die.

But Romans 6:23 does not end there. It goes on to say, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

This free gift is offered to all believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31). The free gift of eternal life comes through Jesus Christ alone. The apostle Paul writes, "But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one [Adam] the many died, much more did the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many" (Romans 5:15).

Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and died an awful death in the place of sinners as a substitute for sinful men and women and children. He died that we might live. Indeed, He was cursed that we might be blessed. I trust you know the familiar verse, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This is the good news. Jesus, the very Son of God, the eternal Son of God, became man. He who was and is eternally God took on human nature in time and space. As a man, Jesus stood in the place of sinners and satisfied God's divine justice for them so that they might be spared that justice. Thus, as many as believe on Him will be saved.

The merits of His perfect life and His sacrificial death are counted toward all those who trust in Him for salvation. Their sins were counted against Him, and conversely His righteousness is counted toward those who trust in Him. This is the great teaching of Scripture, which we call 'justification by faith'. Sinners are justified before God, accepted as righteous, and forgiven, because of what Christ has done for them. He has paid the price for their sin. That gift is received by faith alone; we could never earn it or deserve it. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

You asked, "Therefore are we forgiven if we repent and turn our back on this lifestyle? Or once we have lived this way are we beyond forgiveness." Our answer is that 'we are forgiven, not because we repent, but we repent as a response to our having been forgiven'. What do I mean?

Our repenting, no matter how complete, will never be perfect in this life, no matter how long or how hard we try. In addition, our repenting does not do away with all our past sins. In other words, our repenting could never make us righteous before God; we all are sinners. The only remedy is the one that God gave (John 3:16): He gave His Son as our Substitute to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. Again, He lived a perfect life and then offered Himself as the perfect substitute to be cursed and to die on the cross, to accept the curse and death we deserved. Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree' [a quote from the Old Testament Law, cf. Deuteronomy 21:23]. Thus, Jesus took away our curse; our death has lost its sting (I Corinthians 15:55).

Thus, it is only through faith in Christ that we are COUNTED righteous and declared forgiven by God, justified by God Himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who died once for all for His people. His name is Jesus, because "He saves His people from their sins"--that is what His very name means (Matthew 1:21).

In keeping with that salvation, it is God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who enable us now to repent and to live the life He wants us to live. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (II Corinthians 5:17).

______, if you are trusting not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone, you are indeed a new creation. Once we all were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), and we walked according to the course of this sinful world (Ephesians 2:2). But God who is rich in mercy makes us alive by joining us to Christ (Ephesians 2:5). We are joined to Jesus, who is raised with resurrection power from the dead. Being joined to Him by faith, we too have been raised from death to life, from spiritual death to spiritual life. God is working in our hearts to repent and believe on Christ. "Apart from Christ, we can do nothing" (John 15:5); we cannot even repent and believe apart from Christ. But in Christ, now being joined together with Christ by faith, we "can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us]" (Philippians 4:13).

You also asked, "Could you give me some further direction on what I should be doing?

The Christian life is a life of repenting and believing in Christ, believing and repenting. These are not one-time things. We are to keep on believing and keep on repenting. Knowing that we need the power of God through the Holy Spirit we are to keep on praying for wisdom and strength to know and to do God's will. Ask the Lord to help you understand His word. But know, too, that you are not alone. The Lord promises not to forsake His people (Hebrews 13:5-6); He will be with you. Further, as Christians joined to Christ, we are also to be joined to Christ's body, which is the church. Christ gives gifts to men for the building up of the body (Ephesians 4:11-12). We have the words of the apostles and prophets in the Scriptures. We have pastors and teachers and evangelists in the church to help us in our understanding of the word and will of God. The body of Christ has many members, each with his or her own gift for the good of the body, and we are to help and encourage one another. That includes pastors and elders who are to lead and govern in the churches. Therefore, Hebrews 13:17 says, "Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account."

This means you need to make sure that you find a good church that faithfully believes and teaches the Scriptures to guide and help you in your Christian life. We would be happy to help you find such a church if you do not already have one. May God be with as you make progress in your Christian life.

I hope these words are helpful. Please let us know if we can be of further help.

Yours in Christ,

R. Daniel Knox, Pastor
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Sewickley, PA

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Of the Ones That Got Away and of the Perseverance of the Saints

OF TROUT: It dawned on me today that some of my most memorable trout are the ones that got away. Specifically, three fish hooked on three different streams come to mind. The first may well be the most memorable of all.

It all began back in the 1950s when I was a toddler and my dad, unbeknownst to me, had taken a fly tying course at the local YMCA from George Harvey, the premiere Penn State fly fishing authority. But Dad quickly thereafter abandoned the craft for other kinds of fishing. For some reason, however, he kept his fly tying vice and thread and hooks, mostly unused, and a copy of Harvey's A Simplified Course in Fly Tying, stashed away in an old black suitcase. Years later as a child I discovered that case and would from time to time pull it out and ponder someday taking up fly tying and fly fishing. And I can still remember at about the age of ten the absolute excitement of picking out and buying with my own money my first fly rod, a seven-foot Eagle Claw, at the old Ace Auto store in downtown Washington, PA.

Well, finally that day came when I tackled my first clumsy attempts at tying a fly--a cork bass popper. At least it stuck to the hook and with a little green paint and deer hair legs it kind of looked like a frog. I can't recall ever catching anything on it, but I was hooked.

Number 1: The first memorable trout that got away came some years later on a tiny cork bug that I had duplicated on Dad's vice from an issue of Outdoor Life. Perhaps it wasn't fly tying in the classic sense with feathers and all, but it was fairly simple and the pictures of the fellow having a field day on the trout of Pennsylvania was good enough for me. I tied up a handful and waited eagerly for the day when I could actually try them out. I shall never forget the day that Dad took me to Dunbar Creek, and standing on the shore and flipping that cork bug into the middle of a deep still pool, and having the most extraordinary sensation of watching that trout, well over a foot long, come out of nowhere to rise and suck in that bug. And then to feverishly raise my rod tip and know it was hooked--the fight was on. After several minutes I had worked the trout to the edge of the stream, ready to lift him out, and swoosh....he was gone.

Number 2: Fishing for the first time in Colorado on a family vacation, wading in the Arkansas River upstream from Salida. My son-in-law for several days had been having a terrific time with his spinning rod catching and releasing brown trout of immense proportions, in my humble estimation. Did I tell you that I have never really been a very good fisherman? Well, let's just say I had not caught a one in the Arkansas. This was fly fishing a major trout river, a first for me, and I was obviously having trouble picking the right fly and fishing it in the right way. I was at least a little disappointed. I decided to tie on a Mickey Finn, a brightly colored streamer, casted it upstream and drifted it down in the edge of a deep current. And bam, a take! After several breathless minutes of the fight I finally saw this enormous brown trout ripping through the water with my fly in its mouth. Upstream, downstream, upstream! Around my feet, then gone again. Time and again I sought to get the net in just the right position. So close, then, with a final tug, the line went limp and the trout disappeared into the deep.

Number 3: Again fishing with my son-in-law--this time we were fishing in southwest North Carolina on Big Snowbird Creek, a nice size stream, but the water was running high and murky from recent rains. Neither of us were having much success, but I was glued to a particular deep hole that had several pockets, runs, submerged logs and boulders. Surely there had to be a trout lurking somewhere. Cast after cast--nothing, not even the slightest strike. I had to have been there nearly a couple of hours but who is counting time when you're fishing. This angle and that--nothing.

Finally, I cast across the current to the far bank where the exposed roots of a tree jutted out into a swirl that paused only a second or two before swept away in a rush. The current would pull the line away quickly, so it was only possible to drop the fly in the swirl in the hopes of enticing a trout that might have been taking refuge under the bank under the roots. It worked. The Black-nosed Dace hit the water, sunk a few inches, and swoosh--out rushed the trout, grabbed the fly, and immediately sought to retreat to his lair. Somehow I was able to bring him out into the current where the combination of the force of the water and the strength of a nice-sized fish again made the landing difficult. It went on for several minutes. But once again, alas, he was gone and so was the flex of the fly rod. It was over. I could only lean back against a larger boulder and sigh. Unbeknownst to me my son-in-law from behind had witnessed most of the ordeal.

The ones that got away. Did I really catch them? Well, yes and no. In the end, they got away. So near and yet so far....Well, enough about trout. What about men?

OF MEN: An inquirer recently asked: Does the OPC believe that one can lose his salvation once he has accepted Christ as his savior?

My answer follows:

Your question relates to the doctrine of "the perseverance of the saints." The OPC believes in the perseverance of the saints, which teaches that true saving faith perseveres unto eternal life. A person who has received eternal life does not lose it. In this regard, the OPC accepts the Westminster Confession of Faith (http://opc.org/wcf.html) as a faithful summary of what the Scripture teach on this important doctrine. Indeed an entire chapter is devoted to this very matter as follows:


Of the Perseverance of the Saints

1. They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God's displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.

In scriptural terms, we can think of the prayer that Jesus says He prayed for Peter, when Satan sought to ‘sift him like wheat’ (Luke 22:31). Jesus says, however, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Jesus obviously knows that Peter’s faith will not fail, for He knows that Peter shall turn again, even after his sorrowful three-fold denial, to prove himself as a faithful apostle. Yes, true Christians sometimes stumble, even fall into grievous sins; but they shall not finally and eternally fall away.

True faith, saving faith, is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). The Westminster Shorter Catechism (http://opc.org/sc.html) says, “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel” (Answer to Question 86). He who believes in Christ has eternal life (John 6:47). Jesus will lose none of those whom the Father has given to Him (compare John 6:37 with John 6:39). No one can snatch the true sheep of the Good Shepherd out of His hand (John 10:28). “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish” (John 10:27-28). True believers “are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:5).

Still, we must recognize that not all who profess faith necessarily have true saving faith. The true, God-given faith perseveres to the end. But in the gospel of John, we read of folks who ‘believed’ in Christ, who eventually turned away from Him. That is, they believed He was a good teacher. They believed He could do miracles. They even believed to the extent that they wanted to make Him their earthly king John 6:15). But we read of some of those very followers of Christ (‘disciples’) who “withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66). They withdrew because they could not accept Jesus as the ‘true food’…‘the bread that came down out of heaven’ (John 6:53-58). Amazingly, this was just a short time after they had witnessed the feeding of the 5000 that they stopped following Him. And it is in that same context that Jesus speaks to the twelve, saying that He had chosen them, yet He knew that one of them was a devil (John 6:70).

Jesus knew whom He had chosen; He knew one would betray Him. We do not know God’s secret decrees, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him” (John 6:64). We cannot look into men’s hearts as Jesus the Son of God could. So it is that wolves sometimes disguise themselves as sheep and make their way into the church. Members are received into the church on their testimony and the credibility of their walk in keeping with those words. Elders should exercise great care in receiving members, but even so, they cannot be infallibly sure that true saving faith is at work in a person’s heart. Sometimes, those who seem to have faith, fall away and are lost, proving that their ‘faith’ was not real saving faith after all and that they were never really saved.

This is a most sobering and humbling truth. May God’s grace comfort and encourage you according to that true faith that looks to Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin and Satan and death.

To God be the glory,

In Christ,

R. Daniel Knox, Pastor
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Sewickley, PA

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Of Health Care Reform

I am all for reform; after all, I am a son of the Protestant Reformation. Reformation in the 1500s was a return in the church to the Scriptures as the Word of God; and in large measure the culture was reformed also as an indirect result.

Would that the church of our day would experience reformation anew. After all, how is it that as a society we have reached the place where abortion is commonplace? How have we arrived at a place in our thinking where the murder of an unborn child is acceptable for convenience sake or as a way of dealing with promiscuity or with poverty? Why is it that Planned Parenthood's founder Margaret Sanger saw abortion as a way of population control to purge society of undesirables [See the film Maafa 21.]? What has been the church's witness while this was happening?

We have heard of the furor in the House and Senate over health care reform, especially touching on the issue of abortion. I am all for health care reform, especially if it would mean the reformation of the way we think about human life and the society's obligation to preserve it. Let the church of Jesus Christ lead the way.

No, I am not suggesting that the church as church become politically activistic. What I am saying is that the church should preach the whole counsel of God, faithfully demonstrating all three marks of the church: faithful preaching of the Word, faithful administration of the sacraments, and the faithful exercise of church discipline. How can we expect society to exercise wise self-discipline if the church cannot discipline herself? Again I say, let the church of Jesus Christ lead the way.