The year was 1555, early morning, still dark. Two men were sitting on cold, hard stones awaiting the punishment for their crime. The two were Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, former bishops of the Catholic Church who had fully embraced the doctrines of Christ and his full atonement for sinful man. The officials of the Catholic church demanded that they recant and deny their Protestant doctrine. The outcome forseen was simple: the two would crumble under fear and would easily deny the teachings and return to their jobs. But it was not to be. The two men did not turn away, but boldly affirmed their protestant doctrine.
They were sentenced to be burned at the stake on the morning of October 15th, 1555. And here they were, crowd gathered round, the men being bound, the wood being stacked beneath them.
A friend weeped bitterly as the two were led towards their deaths, but Ridley comforted his friend by saying â€œquiet yourself, though my breakfast shall be somewhat sharp and painful, yet I am sure my supper will be more pleasant and sweet.â€
The men were tied to the stakes.
Nicholas Ridley cried out to his friend Latimer, encouraging him on, â€œBe of good heart, brother, for God will either assuage [lessen] the fury of the flame or else strengthen us to abide it.â€
The fires were lit.
Latimer looked at Ridley and exclaimed â€œWe shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as, I trust, shall never be put out!â€
The gospel continued to shine in that land, and the passion of those two men still inspires Christians like ourselves today. Yet can we say that we live lives that are so radical, so changed by the gospel that we are willing to go through the worst death imaginable? Are we consumed by the gospel and by the Holy Spirit?
It really brings us to our central understanding of the gospel. If our view of the gospel is cheap, it is worth nothing to us. It is not worth our lives, be it living like Christ today or dying for Christ in the end. Grace is no longer amazing to our souls, and we cannot say with certainty that we would â€œbe of good heartâ€ if we were being burned at the stake.
Karl Grausten describes this problem in his book Growing Up Christian:
â€œAs church kids, we can tend to view ourselves as being pretty good and not having sinned much — at least no really awful sins. Although we would never say it aloud, we are tempted to think that God got a pretty good person when he chose us to be a part of His kingdom. We tend to erroneously see ourselves as having little sin and as having been forgiven of little sin. This way of thinking leads to a…danger church kids face: a lack of appreciation for the saving and forgiving grace of God.â€
Sometimes we can wonder why we need any grace…as Jerry Bridges says in his book Transforming Grace:
â€œGod’s free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgement.â€
We deserve nothing but eternal punishment for every single sin that we have committed in our lives. All of the lying. All of the stealing. All those times we disobeyed. All the times we’ve lusted. All the times we’ve coveted. All the times we have disobeyed our parents. All the times we have made idols of this world. All the times we’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain — perhaps by not sharing his name when we are called to do so. All the times we have not kept the sabbath holy. All of those times our minds have wandered, have been filled with filth and dirt and depravity. Every time we have murdered others with our words and actions.
I have sinned. And I have sinned again. And again. And again. Dear God, we must pray, help me. Oh, save me from sin and wickedness. I know I am saved, but I continue to sin. Even when I feel guilty that I have broken Godâ€™s law, it hasn’t been much. Recently, I heard a sermon preached by Allistair Begg, preaching from Proverbs 7. And what he said struck me hard: the biggest issue with America today is the absence of a genuine fear of God. That was me. No fear. No trembling. Not caring.
There is not hate of paining a father who loves us, said Pastor Begg. The flood of true guilt and hate of sin rushed into my heart in an instant. There I was, just God and myself — and I knew that I had not broken one law, but so many at once. I dropped to my knees and prayed long and hard, repenting and asking God to give me a holy fear. And in that moment I realized that I had to do some of the work — I had to make a clear decision and have a clear conviction. I decided that I was going to battle the evil one with Godâ€™s help, and I was convinced that whenever I fell I was paining my heavenly and holy father. How could I continue in sin?
But it seemed that it continued, on and on. One sin after another — but at least I was noticing each time I was falling short of Godâ€™s commands clearly outlined in His Word. But how was I to overcome it? What was the key to â€œbecoming more like Christâ€ as so many have told me I am to become as a believer. Then I began to wonder about my salvation.
There is nothing more important than knowing that you are saved by grace through faith, knowing that you have repented of your sin, and have put your faith in Jesus Christ as your savior to save you from the righteous wrath of a holy God. Thereâ€™s no better gift than life itself, and there is no way that we are to live our lives correctly without first being spiritually regenerated by the Holy Spirit. It is so important that we know for sure that we truly are regenerate believers, and are not living a double life — a life of hypocrisy.
So there I was — wondering, like so many others, whether I was a true convert. It is a scary thought, if we fully understand the gospel, that we may still be children of wrath. So I knew I had to tackle the issue head on.
â€œAre you reading your Bible every day?â€ asked one source that I referred to in my search. â€œAre you growing in holiness?â€ In that moment I knew I was getting closer to the answer.
I knew I needed to get to the heart of the gospel, and to lay it out in front of myself. The gospel, I understood, begins with sin. I understood that, and everyone must understand that. We must understand that we have broken Godâ€™s law — weâ€™ve lied, stolen, lusted, and hated. Weâ€™ve dishonored parents and God. Weâ€™ve coveted, weâ€™ve worshipped things other than God. A close look at our hearts reveals that we are filthy and are guilty before God, unable to escape the obvious judgment that is waiting for us: Hell. But the gospel is so amazing — although we were unable to pay our fine, one man did just that by dying for us, and taking our place. And not only did he take our place, but three days after his death he rose and conquered death.
I needed to repent and put my faith in this man: Jesus Christ. And I believed I had done that, and was assured of it. The question is for all of us: have we truly repented and put our faith in Christ, or did we really or do we really understand the gospel? When we do, we must understand what happens after our â€œconversion.â€ What is faith and what is salvation?
James speaks of a correct definition of faith and understanding of what salvation is in the highly misunderstood passage in James 2:14-26. â€œFaith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action,â€ says James. â€œIs dead.â€ My works of holiness certainly do not save me, yet they are signs that proclaim â€œI am saved.â€
So, with that, I want to talk about a few things hopefully in the coming days about sacrificing our all in living for Christ. I want to talk about about how we should be living with a passion for Christ, living in obedience, remembering the gospel, and finally taking action.