Membership Class - Week 3

We had a really great membership class on Monday.  We started with a review of last week's topics.  This quickly turned into an impromptu discussion of the reliability of the Bible.  Some quick facts about how the Bible stacks up amongst other historical documents can be found here.  We can trust God's Word. So, this week we started with doctrine #4:

We believe that in the person of Jesus Christ the Divine and human natures are united, so that He is truly and properly god and truly and properly man.

The fancy theological word for this is the "hypostatic union."  Similar to the trinity in it's weirdness, Jesus was, and is, both fully God (the second person of the trinity) and fully human.  We looked at evidence for Jesus' divinity (John 8:58 and John 10:30 among others) as well as evidence for his humanity: John 1:14, Hebrews 2:17 and Philippians 2:5-7.

The great thing about this truth is that it shows that 1) Jesus has the ability to pay for our sins as a human representative with the sinless deity worthy of such a huge sacrifice, and 2) Jesus understands us.  He's been there.  He probably lost his earthly father at a young age, he grew up poor and misunderstood, he worked hard with his hands, he was ridiculed by friends and family, betrayed and denied by his closest companions, and brutally murdered even though he committed no crimes.  If you can resonate with any of that, realize that Jesus gets what you're going through probably more than you do.

We briefly talked about the Chalcedonian Creed in 451ad that put to rest this issue.  It's important to understand the theological battles of the church in the past, because the Devil continues to use the same old tricks.  When the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and others deny the deity of Christ, we can understand that that issue was already dealt with fifteen hundred years ago and that just because it has come up again doesn't mean the argument has any more merit than it did then.

Doctrine #5 is a heavy one:

We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocency, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.

Total depravity is a foreign concept to our culture.  Voices from everywhere talk about how people are "basically good" and they go wrong because of their environment and the things that they are taught.  You'd think that anyone with children would laugh at that idea.  We are born in sin, wicked rebels, dedicated to our own selfishness at the expense of God's law.  The class was thoroughly depressed by Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 51:5 and Romans 3:10-11.

Total depravity doesn't mean that all that humanity does is totally evil, but that all of our good works can never meet God's holy standard.  We bear the image of God that Adam and Eve (real people btw) have passed down to us, but it is marred by sin.  We are unable to fix it and deserve to be destroyed for our wickedness.

This doctrine is incredibly important.  First, it tells us that something has gone terribly wrong.  Things are not the way that they are supposed to be.  God is not the author of evil.  Secondly, it helps us to understand sin.  In their book Doctrine, Mark Driscoll and Dr. Gerry Breshears quote Cornelius Plantinga:

The Bible presents sin by way of major concepts, principally lawlessness and faithlessness, expressed in an array of images: sin is the missing of a target, a wandering from the path, a straying from the fold.  Sin is a hard heart and a stiff neck.  Sin is blindness and deafness.  It is both the overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it - both transgression and shortcoming.  Sin is a beast crouching at the door.  In sin, people attack or evade or neglect their divine calling.  These and other images suggest deviance: even when it is familiar, sin is never normal.  Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony.  Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God.

Doctrine #5 further helps us understand our need for a savior.  Because we can't fix the sin problem, someone else needs to, and that brings us to doctrine #6.

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has by His suffering and death made atonement for the whole world so that whosoever will may be saved.

There is a lot of confusion about whether or not the Bible is true, whether we can trust it.  I think it's very important to understand that our faith is built on facts.  I gave 5 facts in class that support the resurrection.  Theses are not points of faith that Christians hold to; these are historical realities that secular historians have to explain away if they are to deny the Bible.

  1. Jesus was crucified.
  2. Jesus' disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.
  3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed into a Christian evangelist.
  4. The skeptic James, Jesus' brother, was suddenly changed and became a leader in the church.
  5. The tomb was empty.

Jesus really did die on the cross and the world was changed because of it.  The only reasonable explanation for this is that Jesus actually rose from the dead like the Bible says.  So what did his sacrifice do?

Jesus made atonement.  The word atonement holds two other words: propitiation and expiation.  To propitiate (1 John 2:2, Romans 3:25) means to "satisfy the anger of a deity."  The word expiate means "to remove guilt."  There is a great picture of this in Leviticus 16.  In it, Moses describes a procedure that is carried out once a year on what is called The Day of Atonement.  All the people of Israel gather and confess their sins.  The high priest places his hand on a goat and confesses the sins of the people, symbolically transferring them to the goat.  Then they kill the goat.  The death of the goat covers the sins of the people for a year.  Then they get a second goat and the high priest confesses the people's sins on that goat.  But this time, they drive the goat out into the wilderness so that it can't find its way back to the camp.  The sins of the people, symbolically transferred to that goat, are removed from the people for a year.

Jesus, whose sacrifice was better than that of goats, satisfies God's wrath against our sin and removes our sin from us.  He is the perfect sacrifice, and the benefits of his offering are available for anyone.

Doctrine #6 reminds us that we have a faith built on facts, that our sins can really be forgiven and that God is not angry with us, and that our sin has been removed from us forever and will never be brought up again.  Praise God!