God Saves Whether We Cooperate Or Not

Hope in the LordLast Tuesday we saw that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that, even though Christ died to forgive our sins, we need to go through various sacraments in order to receive His grace. And yes, I understand that I’ve oversimplified the matter in one respect; the Catholic system for obtaining salvation is highly complex and confusing. Yet the primary message of the Protestant Reformation declares that Christians needn’t go through all the sacraments, penances, indulgences and rituals prescribed by Catholic tradition. Returning to Scripture, the Reformers brought us back to the Gospel message that Christ alone accomplished our redemption by His finished work on the cross.

The idea that God does all the work of justification caused Rome to proclaim, at the Council of Trent:

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

I can go to a variety of Scriptures which refute Rome’s assertion that justification requires human cooperation, but today I want to limit myself to Paul’s teaching in Romans 9 regarding election. (Please read the entire chapter before continuing.) I’ve chosen this chapter because it emphasizes that God chooses His elect on the basis of His sovereign will rather than because of any performance on our part.

Paul’s main argument in Romans 9 centers around God’s choice to save believers, whether Jew or Gentile, as opposed to saving physical descendants of Abraham. Within this framework, however, we can reasonably apply the embedded principles to individuals, concluding that He brings some to salvation while leaving others to die in their sins. Notice, in the passage below, that His determination of who receives His mercy has nothing to do with human performance.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. ~~Romans 9:6-16 (ESV)

Verse 12, in particular, holds the key to our discussion because God chose Jacob without considering Jacob’s works. Indeed, the Lord didn’t even take Jacob’s future works into account. Jacob was pretty much of a scoundrel, after all. Very little about him could have possibly warranted God’s favor!

Applying this passage to Catholicism, we see that the concept of cooperating with the Lord to achieve justification is absolutely foreign to how He dispenses mercy.  When a person, by the grace of God, trusts completely in Christ’s atoning work on the cross for his or her justification, salvation needs no augmentation. Sacraments and penance become unnecessary, as does Purgatory, because the Lord Jesus Christ has completely accomplished our salvation! He has mercy, not because we contribute to His grace with our obedience to Rome’s rituals, but because He is compassionate to those He chooses.

I’ve belabored this point because Pope Francis world have us believe that the Reformation is now over, and that Protestants can now consider the issues that divide us from Catholics as inconsequential. Next time, we’ll look at Galatians to see what the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, said about adding human works to Christ’s work, and we’ll apply the principles there to Catholicism’s sacramental system. I believe we’ll realize, from that study, that the Reformation continues.

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Letting Trent Lead The Discussion

Light In DarknessFor the past two weeks, I’ve dreaded writing today’s essay. I know the blogger called “vivator” will probably be reading, eagerly looking for holes in my argument. Upon finding these holes (real or imagined), vivator will seize on them and try to use them as evidence that I don’t understand my subject matter. While this person must realize that his or her rebuttals won’t change my position on Catholicism, perhaps he or she hopes to persuade my readers that I don’t have a grasp on Catholic theology, and therefore should be dismissed.

In thinking about writing this post, I’ve decided against trying to answer the objections vivator makes. Engaging in a detailed debate on the nuances of the Catholic view of justification (at least according to vivator) would take enormous time and energy, derailing me from my purpose of showing why evangelicals should celebrate this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

For those of you who would like to read and consider vivator’s point of view, please feel welcome to investigate Viva Catholic. There, my worthy opponent explains the Catholic perspective on the issues raised by the Reformers.

As for me, I believe it will be much more productive to continue writing from a distinctively Reformed Baptist perspective. Although I don’t want to misrepresent Roman Catholic doctrine, I also realize that, while extremely well-studied in both Catholic and Protestant apologetics, vivator isn’t necessarily the final authority on Rome’s views of justification.

The final authority, for Catholics, is the Council of Trent, which convened in Trento and    Bolonga  between the years 1545 and 1563. Trent happened as a response to the teachings of the Reformers, answering to them firmly. And even though 21st Century Catholics may or may not hold to its declarations, Trent has not been officially revoked by the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, the Protestant teaching of justification by faith alone still stands in opposition to Roman Catholicism.

Canon IX  of Trent includes a decisive condemnation of anyone who believes he or she is justified by faith alone.

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

Yes, other parts of Trent affirm that Christ justifies by His merits, and yet penitents must cooperate with His grace. This line of reasoning, however, essentially gives us (not God) the ultimate authority in whether or not we attain salvation. Catholics would naturally word it more delicately than I just did, but they have to admit at some point that they are responsible for appropriating God’s grace.

The Reformers denied that humans play a part in justification. I’ve written extensively on that matter throughout this blog, and I’ll go over it again next Tuesday. This question must remain front and center as we talk about why the Reformation still matters.

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A Prayer We All Should Pray

Recently I read that someone, in a critical tone, asked why so many Christian songs and hymns focus on the cross. I’m not quite sure what the point of the question was, so I’ll resist the temptation to speculate on the motives behind the question. But it saddens me that the person didn’t know how Christ’s atoning sacrifice has purchased God’s pardon, allowing wretched sinners like me to enter heaven to live eternally with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hymn writer Fanny Crosby certainly understood the value of the cross, as well as the necessity of constantly reminding ourselves that Christ’s work on it is the only basis for our salvation. In the hymn featured below, she prayed that Jesus would keep His cross always before her. Perhaps more  of us should pray that sort of prayer. And then sing hymns that remind us that we mustn’t glory in anything other than the cross.

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Think You’re Not A Sinner?

SanctimonyIt’s terribly easy, don’t you think, to look at people in the LBGTQ community and sanctimoniously sniff as we read Leviticus 19 and Romans 1. Obviously, their sin far exceeds anything that we do!

I definitely trust Scripture’s verdict that God condemns the sin of homosexuality. I believe that someone with same sex attractions must repent of all homosexual behavior and fantasies, trusting Christ to forgive her. Perhaps in future posts I can write about the wonderful hope He extends to those who are trapped in this sin.

But today I want to address those of us who are guilty of heterosexual sin. That would be every heterosexual on the planet, by the way. Jesus made that fact painfully evident in Matthew 5:27-28. We dare not pretend that we’ve avoided impure fantasies, even if we’ve never physically acted on them.

Yesterday, I quoted 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, a common passage used to demonstrate that homosexuality is one of several very serious sins that requires Christ’s atoning blood. But I want you to notice the passage that immediately follows it.

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.   ~~1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (ESV)

Verses 12 and 13 refer to common sayings in First Century Corinth used to justify sexual immorality. Those sayings mirror our modern rationalization that sex is merely a biological function on the same level as eating, so lust should be satisfied the same way we satisfy hunger. If we go outside the boundaries of heterosexual marriage, the argument continues, that’s permissible.

Beginning with verse 17, however, Paul puts the brakes on such thinking. Sexual immorality has no place in the life of a Christian, particularly since the Holy Spirit resides in each of us. This passage clearly addresses heterosexual immorality. Therefore, the reference to homosexuality in the previous passage is a minor point, introducing Paul’s primary point that sex must not go beyond God’s parameters. Chapter 7 continues the discussion by giving guidelines on marriage, divorce and singleness, clarifying the Lord’s position that sex belongs exclusively between husband and wife.

When you factor in Matthew 5:27-28, where Christ says that even sexual fantasies constitute sexual immorality, you see that everyone stands condemned unless they find shelter in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

As I said yesterday, Christians must love those in the LBGTQ community enough to call their fantasies and behaviors sin. By doing so, we offer them the same hope of grace that liberates us from sexual immorality. But the key to offering this hope is in remembering our own sexual sin and our consequent dependence on God’s grace. Sanctimony is not an attitude that Christians can afford.

 

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How Self-Esteem Undermines The Gospel

dark-bibleThe concept of self-esteem dominates psychology and psychotherapy. Even a cursory Google search on self-esteem will reveal the strong relationship between the two. Psychotherapy aims at helping boost a client’s self-esteem, showing them their supposed inherent value and importance. Ultimately, it teaches the client to love herself, frequently adding that self-love is absolutely foundational to good mental health and healthy relationships.

This emphasis on self-esteem, however, directly contradicts the basic Gospel message. John MacArthur, in his sermon, The Gospel: Self-love or Self-hate?, demonstrates from Scripture that the person clinging to self-esteem can never benefit from the Gospel because she can’t truly face the truth of her sinful condition and utter dependence on Christ as her only source of righteousness.

The Bible, in stark contrast to psychology’s emphasis on self-esteem, teaches that salvation comes only as we recognize our depravity and consequently come to hate ourselves. Jesus said, in no uncertain terms, that feeling good about ourselves would automatically prevent us from receiving God’s mercy.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” ~~Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

I know some of you are objecting that this parable talks about pride, not self-esteem. But if you think about it, isn’t self-esteem simply a socially acceptable description of  pride? Look at the Pharisee and the tax collector again. Wouldn’t you agree that the Pharisee had pretty high self-esteem and the tax collector suffered from low self-esteem? And yet Jesus said that the tax collector was justified by God, Who looked on the man’s humility with favor.

The Gospel asserts that every human being, with the exception of the Lord Jesus Christ, is a sinner by nature and by choice. As sinners who habitually violate God’s Law, we rightfully deserve eternal punishment in hell. Because of our helpless condition, Jesus came to earth as a Man (without ceasing to be God) to live a sinless life. He suffered a criminal’s execution on a Roman cross, shedding His innocent blood in payment for the sin of all those who would believe in Him. On the third day He rose again, proving that God the Father accepted His sacrifice and will therefore raise believers to eternal life.

The first component of the Gospel, you’ll notice, focuses on our sinfulness, which in turn verifies our desperate need for a Savior. Self-esteem, however, denies the gravity of our sinfulness, falsely assuring us what we have something to contribute to our salvation. As a result, we skew the Gospel, diminishing Christ’s work while subtly claiming some of the glory for ourselves.

Psychology, precisely because of its relentless promotion of self-esteem, rips away the very foundation of the Gospel. As Bible-believing Christians, we must categorically reject psychology because of its integral ties with the self-esteem movement. By recognizing psychology’s unbiblical underpinnings, we embrace the biblical teachings on sin which prepare us for the Good News of Jesus Christ.

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His Blood Availed For Me!

Even as a new Christian, I yearned for everyone to know the wonderful Savior Who had graciously granted me forgiveness by shedding His innocent blood in payment for my sins. So Charles Wesley’s powerful hymn, “O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing” became one of my favorites early on.

In particular, I love its reminder that no sin, no matter how vile and polluted, can resist the cleansing power of Christ’s blood. All too often, I let the enormity of my sin obscure my vision of His great grace in taking the punishment on my behalf. The name of Jesus certainly does charm my fears and bid my sorrows cease! How can I not both praise Him and long for others to praise Him with me?

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Saturday Sampler: April 30 — May 6

Sping LaceI’ve been angry at God. I admit that terrible fact with shame, grateful that He has forgiven my arrogance toward Him. So I wholeheartedly agree with Denny Burk’s blog post, It’s never right to be angry at God. Ever. His Biblical approach to this issue leads to practical counsel on dealing with suffering.

Rachel Miller, who authors Daughter of the Reformation, writes Policing the Blogosphere? We’ve Been Here Before as an intriguing response to the idea that women bloggers need more church oversight. I’m still weighing her assertions, but I found her parallels to the Reformation absolutely fascinating! Invest some time in this essay; you won’t regret it.

In her hard-hitting essay, “Sorry I Never Knew You” – Should we sing about God’s judgments?, Elizabeth Prata of The End Time challenges the prevailing reticence to preach and sing about eschatology. She includes the song, “Sorry I Never Knew You” by The Sego Brothers & Naomi. Even if Southern Gospel Music isn’t ordinarily your preference, please listen to this important song and consider the points Elizabeth makes.

Writing for The Cripplegate, Eric Davis enumerates Reasons to Avoid Churches Who Will Not Practice Church Discipline. He raises issues I’d never consciously considered, but that make perfect sense.  His article again assures me that I’m in a healthy, Biblical church with leadership that shepherds me well.

Like most Christians, I fight the temptation to take credit for my salvation. Tim Challies provides a wonderful antidote to that temptation. If Only I Had Been Saved By Merit! demonstrates how our corrupt natures would pervert God’s grace if we actually had a hand  in saving ourselves. I think I’m glad the Lord did all the work!

It’s fashionable to speak about social media with a hint of disdain in your voice. But Michelle Lesley, in 9 Ways Social Media Is a Blessing to Believers, reminds us that the Lord uses the Internet to do some pretty amazing things. Of course, I may be a tad biased regarding this topic — I met my husband online!

 

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