A Close Look at “Sola Scriptura” (Part5)

September 18, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  We are looking at the important lessons the Lord has taught us for the past 9 years. Among those lessons are the gospel truths as found especially in the great Reformation doctrines of the 16th century namely: Scripture alone, Christ alone, Grace alone, Faith alone, Glory to God alone.   For several Sundays now, we have been taking a close look at sola Scriptura (i.e., by Scripture alone).  I focused on the aspect of the Bible’s absolute authority and sufficiency. This is to say that the Bible is an adequate guide for all matters of faith and conduct.   We have seen three areas already where we find Scripture to be sufficient. In evangelism, guidance, counseling and today I want us to see how God’s Word is sufficient in the area of social renewal and reform.   James Boice, in his book Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? writes:   “We live in a declining culture and want to see the lordship of Jesus Christ acknowledged, justice done, and virtue increased. We want to see the poor relieved of want and suffering. How can this happen? Not by more government programs or by increased emphasis on social work—though such things may have a supplementary place—but by the teaching and practice of the Word of God.”   What James Boice presents as the wrong solution is exactly the very thing that many Christians today take as the approach to bringing change in our society. Listen to the words of John Macarthur: There is today in Christianity, in its evangelical element, an emphasis on an effort to produce morality…. There is a call to Christians to get involved in calling our nation to a higher level of morality; in engaging ourselves, with all of our energy and all of our resources, all of our time and money, in an effort politically—through the media, through pressure groups—to change the moral character of our country. Many Christians are engaging themselves in this effort.   What MacArthur saw Evangelicals doing in the United States is no different from what we find evangelicals are doing here in our country. For example. Last year, 2004, we have witnessed the involvement of Evangelical pastors and churches in the political process, not just as private and individual citizens of our country, but as the local religious bodies and as spiritual shepherds.   A case in point is Bro. Eddie Villanueva, the head of the Jesus is Lord Christian organization, who ran for president in the presidential elections in 2004. He led a political organization called, Bangon Pilipinas National Renewal Movement. “Bangon Pilipinas” in English is, “Arise Philippines.” In several of his articles during the period of the campaign, Villanueva explained the fundament problem of the Philippines and how our country can be delivered from its collapse. For example he writes:   … I would like to point out two glaring facts that must enrage every self-respecting Filipino who loves his country and his family, and who has any hope left.   "The government lost about $48 billion to corruption over a 20-year period, according to a World Bank Study in 2000. Morgan Stanley Research placed the losses at $204 billion between 1965 and 2001. The amount of $204 billion translates roughly into P12 trillion. …   I can safely conclude that corruption has single-handedly brought us to the brink of collapse. If we do not slay this multi-headed dragon and tear it out of our national psyche, it will most certainly push us over the edge from which there may be no recovery.   What is his solution for our country’s problem? For Villanueva and the thousands of evangelicals Christians who supported him, salvation is primarily going to be through the setting up of a moral government. That is the reason why they established the Bangon Pilipinas National Renewal Movement. In his manifesto, Villanueva quotes the words from Edmund Burke who said, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."   And then he explained what the Bangon Pilipinas is all about:   We are individuals who have joined together to demand and work for the redemption of our beloved Philippines from further political, social, moral, and economic deterioration due to the cyclical evil of corruption that is deeply embedded in our institutions. We include all types of people from a variety of racial, economic, religious and cultural groups. We represent a variety of political persuasions. We have transcended our differences and joined together as vigilant advocates of positive change in our society and government. … We join together in this National Renewal Movement to express a moral voice, a voice of outrage, that calls all nation-loving Filipinos to reject corruption, in all its forms and faces, at all levels of our society. We will break the cycle of corruption by creating a circle of empowered people who can be strong and bold because we stand together. We say "NO!" to corruption in our homes and communities, and "YES!" to truth, justice and righteousness in our beloved nation! ...   In his article, "A Primer on my Program of Government," Eddie Villanueva lays down his specific plans as to how to bring about this moral transformation in government and society. He explains:   Bangon, Pilipinas! means, first of all, that the whole nation must arise from the morass of corruption that has been pulling it down for decades. Its call is for nothing less than NATIONAL MORAL TRANSFORMATION. But the nation cannot arise as one against corruption unless it is led by a moral president.   As long as the president carries with him, or her, any taint at all of immorality-whether in his/her personal life or as a result of nefarious activities, his/her own or anyone else's in his/her family-this president cannot be called moral; therefore this president cannot lead the nation out of corruption.   In another place he writes:   It is suggested that the new president be decisive and creative, and be a true leader, if he or she has to make a difference. Permit me to be more graphic. I believe that the new president must have a skin as tough as a crocodile's, wisdom like Solomon's, the heart of a lion, the patience of Job, and the courage of 10 Davids.   And what will he do if he becomes president?   I will declare a total war on corruption. I will wage a personal crusade to restore and bring back righteousness and morality in government.   I will lead and live by example. It is the only way that all will be convinced that they, too, must change. Then and only then can we begin to rebuild a country that is economically, socially, financially, and morally in ruins.   I will invite the best and the brightest to be part of my team. I will ask even those who did not support me, provided they have the integrity, competence, and political will to do battle with the dragon of corruption in their departments. In addition, they must turn their departments into an efficient, productive, and highly moral organization. Nothing less will do.   All government transactions will be transparent, and I will solicit the help of non-government organizations to ensure that all of these shall be above-board. No under-the-table deals.   The justice system shall be so strengthened to enable it to pursue without fear or favor anyone who violates the law. The Office of the Ombudsman shall likewise be strengthened so that it may actively work and prosecute without exception, whether police officials or private persons, who engage in graft and corruption. Both bribe giver and taker shall be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. No sacred cows.     As we look into the Scriptures what do we find God saying regarding this effort for bringing moral transformation in culture and society? Is the solution offered by the Eddie Villanueva the biblical solution? Is this what pastors are to do? Should they run for public office? Should the church exert every effort for cultural morality?   Here, once more is where the principle of sola Scriptura, is going to be extremely helpful. As we have seen in our past studies, the Bible is sufficient to address the issues pertaining to evangelism, guidance, and counseling. Today, we will see this principle again, in the area of social reformation. If we want to see change for good in society, we need to be guided by Scripture.  
  • 1Th 2:15b,16 They displease God and are hostile to all men 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.
  • Ro 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
  • 1Pe 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
  The solution is a change of heart through the gospel and not a change of behavior by moralizing.   At this point, let me share to you seven errors of moralism and the political solutions commonly upheld by evangelicals today. I am borrowing from MacArthur’s teaching on The Deadly Dangers of Moralism. MacArthur gives 16 reasons why moralism is deadly and doomed to fail. He ties it up also to his book, Why Government Can’t Save You. This purpose of the book is to show that in matters pertaining to salvation the government can’t help. And in his sermon, MacArthur shows that only the word of God, particularly, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, can bring true change in society that pleases God.  
  1. First of all, moralizing society is not our commission.
But the question has to be asked: Is this the solution? Is this the Christian mandate? ... 2Co 5:17-20 defines the Christians’ priorities and responsibilities, duties and mandate as believers. This passage lays out for us the responsibility that Christians have in the world.   Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. Without argument, it is clear that that passage says that newness is related to being in Christ; that God has sought to reconcile sinners to Himself through Christ, and in that reconciliation, to produce a new creature in which everything is new. That glorious reality is reconciliation to God. And God has given to us, according to verse 18, the "ministry of reconciliation." In Verse 19 He has given to us the “message of reconciliation.” We then are "Christ’s ambassadors" and no other. And God is appealing through us sinners to be reconciled to God through Christ, the very one that: "He made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Without any lack of clarity, without any argument, therein lies the mandate for the Christian in the world: The ministry of reconciliation to God through Christ, which brings about righteousness, transformation, and a new creation.   “But,” others always say, “we have to be salt and light, we have to be salt and light.” Well, the imagery of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount with regard to salt and light is the image of the shining forth of truth (that's the light), and the preservative of godly living. We are light when we proclaim the light, and manifest our good works. That's what He says. And glorify our Father who is in heaven. And we are salt when we are a preservative, because of the virtue and the godliness of our lives.
  1. This effort at moralizing society and culture sets up inevitable failure.
It sets up inevitable failure, because you can't do it. No one can be truly righteous and moral before God, apart from the transformation of his soul by the Holy Spirit through the gospel. The heart of man is "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." And if you don't change the heart, all you do is redirect the sin. If some sins become illegal, then people will do other sins, or they'll do the ones they want to do in secret. Efforts at cultural morality are programmed for failure…. It wastes immense amounts of precious resources, time, money, human energy. It wastes it. All this effort to clean up America. Can the "leopard change his spots"? Can the "Ethiopian change his skin"? So says the prophet. Are you able to become something other than you are? It's just a waste of resources.
  1. Morality and religion will not invite or secure the blessing of God.
A more moral America, a more moral and religious America, does not advance in divine favor one inch. A more moral and a more religious America will not escape divine judgment, any more than Pharisaic Judaism in Jesus' time escaped the devastating judgment of God in 70 A.D. when hundreds of thousands of Jews were slaughtered by godless Romans. Jesus warned about that on several occasions. There is only one thing God blesses, just one. And that is He blesses saving faith in and love for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That's the only thing He blesses. As Christians, of course, we are for morality. We're not for immorality. And we can do some topical, some superficial good. We can through political means, because we live in a republic and a democracy, we can mitigate public indecency in some ways; we can mitigate public scandal, can use our democratic privileges. But that does not advance us in divine favor, either individually or collectively. In fact, in 1Co 16:22 it is said unmistakably: "If anyone does not love the Lord, a curse be on him." Cursed, judged, damned, condemned. There's only one thing God will bless, and that's faith in and love for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  1. Morality damns just like immorality.
Moralism was never the message of the Old Testament prophets. It was never the message of the Messiah. It is never the message of the New Testament apostles and prophets. It has never been God's message to the world because, when all is said and done, listen to what Isaiah said: "All your righteousness is filthy rags." … The biblical message is not that humanity is divided between the moral and the immoral, or that humanity is divided between the good and the bad, or that humanity is divided between the virtuous and the wicked. The message of the Bible is that: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Ro 3:23). That there is no division; they're all immoral, bad and wicked. It's only a question of degree, or kind, or manifestation. Whatever somebody's external degree of morality might be, all are condemned sinners headed to hell. You might be the most moral Pharisee in Israel; you might be the most moral Rabbi; you might be the most moral cleric. You can take it from there; the most moral, self-righteous, clean-living Mormon. And you're going to hell with the prostitutes, unless you've been reconciled to God through His son Jesus Christ. And then if you have been reconciled to God through his Son Jesus Christ, you have become a new creation, and the old behaviors are replaced by new ones.   Phil 3:4-9 … If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.   Ro 10:1-4 Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. 4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
  1. Political efforts to moralize culture creates unholy unions in which the unbelieving and enemies of the gospel are welcomed.
You can find a lot of non-Christians to agree that we ought to have a more moral country, right? You could get the Muslims in on that one. You could certainly get the Mormons in; there's a lot of that. Get the Roman Catholics involved; you can get Jewish people involved, those who are Orthodox, committed to the Old Testament. So now what you've got, you've got an alliance for the purpose of creating cultural morality. You create these unholy unions. You do exactly what 2nd Corinthians 6 says not to do: "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship has light with darkness; what agreement has Christ with Satan? "Come out from among them and be separated." But what happens? You're trying to achieve something through the legal system or through the court system or through lobbying or through media intimidation. And in order to get your power up to a level where you can make a dent in the society, you embrace people who agree on the issue. You get with other people who are anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, anti-euthanasia, who are against pornography. And you get all together and you're going to accomplish this with these co-belligerents. And something immediately happens, and that is this: The gospel is eclipsed… If you've spent all your time working on this cultural morality, and you've dumped all your money in, and you've pulled all these people together to get the money and the power to pull off your enterprise, you can't introduce the gospel, because the gospel will undo everything you've done. As soon as you say to those people, “By the way, you're on your way to hell -- by the way, we really need your money and we want your energy and we want your power and your political clout and we want this and we want that -- but we also want you to know that you're not in the kingdom of God.” As soon as you say that, you've just blown your organization up. So, you don't say that.
  1. This effort at cultural morality becomes selective as to the sins it attacks.
I don't notice that they're really hard against pride, do you? I haven't seen a great effort in the religious right against materialism. I haven't seen a great effort even against divorce. In fact, they rarely say anything about adultery. They're really against homosexuality; that's so bizarre and abnormal. They're really against pedophilia; that's sick and abnormal. They're against killing babies; that's safe. Who can imagine doing that? They're against filth and pornography. And there's a certain satisfaction in their morality about that. But there are a lot of other things they don't talk about. [Some of the things Eddie Villanueva will address: Corruption in government, illegal gambling in all forms, incuding Jueweteng, all kinds of abortion, homosexuality and lesbianism.] And let me put it down where it really needs to be. It doesn't deal with the worst sin in the world, the worst sin in the world. What's the greatest commandment? What is the greatest commandment? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind" and strength. Therefore, what's the greatest sin? Break that commandment. How're you doing? You've committed the greatest sin. You want to talk about morality? Let's talk about that. You want to talk about sin? Let's not pick out five that we can easily assault because, you know, we don't do those five. Let's talk about the fact that you have broken the greatest commandment; therefore, you've committed the greatest sin that any human being can commit, and it is the sin that sends you to eternal hell. You have failed to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind" and strength…. If we're going to call America to morality, then let's indict them where they need to be indicted, and let's indict our own hearts where we need to be indicted, and say we've broken the first and great commandment, and we've broken the second one, and we do it all the time. And therefore, we are all condemned to hell, in desperate need of grace and forgiveness and salvation. That's the message.
  1. This effort at cultural morality fails to understand the wrath of God.
In Romans 1 it tells us that when God is angry with a nation that has turned against Him: "When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God." Remember that? When God is angry at a nation that has had the truth and spurned the truth, it says three times: "He gave them up. He gave them up. He gave them up." That's a form of God's judgment. He gave them up to sexual immorality first. He gave them up to homosexuality second. Romans 1: "Then He gave them up to a" twisted, "reprobate," useless "mind." We look at our nation. We see sexual immorality rampant. We see homosexuality rampant. And we see the reprobate mind everywhere. This is evidence of the wrath of God. Can I, by my political effort, overturn the wrath of God? I don't know what God is doing in the world. But I know what my mandate is. My mandate has to do with the gospel and the gospel alone. Here are MacArthur’s closing words Well, in summary, moralism confuses and misses the priority for Christians in the world. It misrepresents the divine message that man, moral or immoral, is damned, and must be saved and can be saved only by believing the gospel. And remember this: It was the highly moral, highly religious Jews, fastidious about righteous standards, who joined with the immoral, idolatrous Romans… and together, they killed Christ… The moral and the immoral combined to kill Jesus. And in His dying, He provided the salvation that they both desperately needed. So to what are we called? Well, Paul said this, Romans 1: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." "I am not ashamed of the gospel." That's the "power of God" unto "salvation." In conclusion, I say it is admirable to advocate virtue. It is admirable to advocate moral behavior and ethical conduct. It is even admirable to advocate free market economics. I think that's biblical. It is even good advocate to advocate limited government; strong sentences on criminals. And when all of those things are in place in a nation, life is more comfortable and superficially more enjoyable and easy. But that has nothing to do with salvation. Nothing to do with soul transformation. And, therefore, nothing to do with divine blessing. And so our calling is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. And the transforming power of the gospel will make new creatures. And for those new creatures, as we have already experienced: "All things become new." That's the way God has designed it to work. Let me close with these words from James Montgomery Boice in Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (pp. 81-82)   In 1535 a council of Two Hundred, which governed by the city of Geneva, Switzerland, decided to break with Catholicism and align the city with the Protestant Reformation. They had very little idea what that meant. Up to this point the city had been notorious for its riots, gambling, indecent dancing, drunkenness, adultery, and other vices. The citizens of Geneva would literally run around the streets naked, singing indecent songs and blaspheming God. They expected this state of affairs to continue even after they had become Protestants, and the council did not know what to do. It had passed regulation after regulation designed to restrain vice and to remedy the situation. They thought becoming Protestant would solve the problem. But that did not do any good either. Genuine moral change never comes from top down by law, but from the bottom up through a transformed bottom up through a transformed people. Geneva’s morals continued to decline. But the council did one thing right. They invited John Calvin to become Geneva’s chief pastor and preacher. He arrived in August of 1536, a year after the change. He was ignored at first, even by the Council. He was not even paid for the first year. Besides, his first preaching proved so unpopular that he was dismissed in early 1538 and went to Strasbourg, where he was very happy. He had no desire to go back to Geneva. Yet, when the situation in Geneva continued to deteriorate, public opinion turned to him again and, driven by a sense of duty, Calvin returned. It was September 13, 1541. Calvin had no weapon but the Bible. From the very first, his emphasis had been on the Bible teaching, and he returned to it now, picking up precisely where he had left three and a half years earlier. Calvin preached from the Bible everyday, and under the power of that preaching the city began to be transformed. As the people of Geneva acquired knowledge of God’s Word and were changed by it, the city became, as John Knox called it later, a New Jerusalem from which the gospel spread to the rest of Europe, England and the New World… There probably has never been a clearer example of extensive moral and social reform than the transformation of Geneva under the ministry of John Calvin, and it was accomplished almost entirely by the preaching of God’s Word.