Our pastor for preaching, Ryan Fullerton, is preaching a series through Galatians right now. Today's message was particularly good-- or maybe my heart was particularly prepared for it. I've been thinking a lot about "the Gospel" and clear presentations of it, between my middle school girls Bible Study, my pre-school class, disciplining the children in my choirs when I need to, keeping it central in my own heart, and perhaps especially in the "Christianity Explained" study I'm leading two friends through-- one is Sherry, whom you've met before, and who is a wonderful encouragement to me in it, but the other friend is an unbeliever from an unchurched background. All these have tuned my ear to clear, simple, powerful presentations of how a person is reconciled to God. Praise the Lord, they are ALL OVER Scripture!!! (I will bring this back to today's sermon, I promise. Just bear with me in the meantime. =D)
As any of you who've read my blog before know, I love stories. One which came to my attention as a WONDERFUL picture of the Gospel is the story of the bronze serpent in Numbers 21. The Israelites sinned horribly against the Lord by AGAIN grumbling and complaining against Him, doubting His goodness and promises. God sent "fiery serpents" to chastize them; He is just and holy and does not let sin go unpunished. It's so clear that we are just like the Isrealites, deserving exactly the same sort of judgement they got. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved them, made a way out: He instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and nail it to a pole, and lift it high so all the people could see it. Anyone who looked at the bronze serpent, the very symbol of their suffering, as Michael Card points out, would be healed. Jesus himself viewed this as critical to understanding His own mission on earth: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3:14-15) What a clear, concrete picture of saving faith: simply, and only looking away from yourself because you know you are dying, justly and mortally wounded, and looking towards Someone else to save you. That's all. And that's everything. (Elyse Fitzpatrick really presses this home in chapter 6 of Because He Loves Me, which I HIGHLY recommend.) This story has been so sweet to me, and I hope it is to you, too. But two things have come out of my meditations and musings, which I hope to pass on to you:
1. Saving faith has obvious results. The Israelites who looked at the Bronze Snake in faith were HEALED! It was that obvious. Have faith, be healed. Don't, die. So it is with us. Our faith must be proven by radical obedience, by a leaving of sin because we hate it now! Those who are raised to life by faith in Christ will not live like dead men anymore! Faith=Fruits. This is the point I want to press to my friend, who as of now still is loving her sin (as far as I can tell), though she claims to be looking in faith to Jesus Christ. There's no visible healing of her soul. Please pray for me as I tell her this, and for her, that the Lord would open her eyes and allow her to judge herself, before He does!! "Faithful are the wounds of a friend..." Wouldn't I rather have a friend judge me by my fruits, and tell me in time to truly repent, than to be judged by the Judge on the Last Day, and too late hear "depart from Me, I never knew you!"? (Read Matt. 7 for more on "Judging", espec. vv 15-23)
2. Only Christ is to be lifted up to be looked to for salvation. There was nothing in the actual symbol of the Serpent to be adored- later Israel made this very symbol of the Messiah an object of worship, an idol, and they were again chastized by the One True God, the Jealous God (2 Kings 8:14). God the Son (Jesus the Christ) is the only One Whose lifting-up is able to draw men to Himself (Jn. 12:32). This relates to the previous point, and to the sermon this morning, in this way: every person's faith will be shown by his or her works, and sometimes, we will all stumble and need to be rebuked. Even believers, whose lives are clearly characterized by fruit of the Spirit will at times bear bad fruit; the old man dies hard. We heard this morning about how the Apostle Paul had to confront the Apostle Peter to his face on a very serious issue (listen to the sermon!!! It is so encouraging! and helpful!, from Gal. 2:11-14). The Apostle PETER!!!! The guy who spent years walking, talking and eating with Jesus Himself! The guy who was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, the one who was so bold before the Sanhedrin and the rulers of Jerusalem!! The guy who preached at Pentecost (Acts 2) and saw 3000 saved at once! Yeah, THAT guy. If HE can fall and need public rebuking (which he did, oh so clearly)... so can I. So can anyone. We all stumble in various ways, James wrote, and we all need friends to "wound" us at times, holding us the standard to which Christ has called us. Dude, the whole book of Galatians is to a church that was living quite out of line with the Gospel. A whole church needed a sound rebuking! Hear me, my friends: NO man-- not a bishop, cardinal, or pope-- is infallible. Nowhere in Scripture is that stated. (Come on, Peter, supposedly the first pope, an inspired author of Scripture!!, needed to be rebuked. He was not infallible!)* Do not follow anyone completely, unquestioningly, except Christ. He is the Only One whose lifting up brings salvation. NO author, no preacher, no president, no speaker, no church-planter, is infallible. We ALL stumble in various ways. We all need prayer, need rebuking, need encouraging, need "checking up on." We all need to be weighing each other's counsel against Scripture, constantly. Do it!
And the good news? When we are all singing our praises to Jesus, and tuning to His Word, we all will sing in wonderful, united harmony. Amen? Amen!
*If you want extra-Scriptural proof that Papal Infallibility is a false doctrine, you need look no further than Church History! Read more here. I don't jump on board with the author's every view, but this paper is very helpful on this issue.