The False Comfort Of Pope Francis

Thoughtful BoyIf you haven’t yet seen the video of Pope Francis assuring a grieving child that his atheist father went to heaven (because said dad allowed all four of his children to be baptized), I suggest that you Google it. Not because it should soften your stance on either the Roman Catholic Church or on Christ’s claim to be the only means of salvation (John 14:6), but because it puts forth a question that Bible-believing Christians absolutely must face as we console the bereaved.

Obviously, the pope failed to give the little boy either a Catholic answer or a Biblical one. I’d guess that many bloggers (both Christian and Catholic) are burning up their keyboards explaining why this pope erred in his response to the boy. As well they ought! But I want to explore an angle of this situation that probably hasn’t received the attention it requires.

As I watched the video, I cried. Since my dad died when I was 10 and my sister was 7, I understand some of that little boy’s heartache and confusion. He loved his daddy, and he desperately needs some way of coping with a loss that he can’t understand. Although I care passionately about sound theology, I also passionately believe that heartbroken children must be treated with compassion, and in age-appropriate ways. So despite my manifold disagreements with the Catholic Church in general and Pope Francis in particular, I appreciate the man’s tenderness toward a hurting child.

Alas, compassion never excuses perverting truth. And the truth is that good works don’t admit anyone into heaven. Pope Francis offered that poor little boy a false assurance about his father’s eternal state. Far worse, he reinforced the erroneous notion that salvation rewards human goodness. As a result, he inoculated the child (as well as everyone else in the audience) against the truth that salvation comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis should have allowed for the slight possibility of a deathbed conversion, but then he should have moved the focus to God’s perfect justice. As a just Judge, the Lord deals with each person justly, and according to His eternal purposes. Although we lack the prerogative to make a definitive declaration about anyone’s eternal destiny,  we can encourage those who grieve to trust God’s authority to make the right decision.

At that point, it would have been best to acknowledge the pain of the very real likelihood that the loved one won’t be in heaven. When my mom died, many people suggested a deathbed conversion, and I admit that possibility. But the most comforting comment I received came from a man at church who said, “I’m so sorry. That must be hard.” Rather than offering a comfort that may or may not be true, this man acknowledged that I faced Mom’s death Biblically, despite the sadness involved. His words affirmed that my pain over her probable rejection of the Gospel is legitimate. Pope Francis should have given the little boy that sort of validation.

From there, we should gently remind the grieving person of his or her own responsibility to repent of sin and believe that Jesus died to bear the punishment for the sins of all who believe in Him. We can’t do anything about our departed loved ones other that trust that God will glorify Himself in how He judges them, but we certainly can make our own election sure by believing in Him.

In situations such as the one with this sweet little boy, of course we must extend compassion. But true compassion never sugarcoats truth with a false gospel. That little boy deserved so much better.

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Worthiness: Ours Or His?

Rich In Mercy

The logic goes that Jesus died for us because He saw something in us worth saving.  That perspective certainly sounds reasonable, and I’d venture to say that every one of us would love to believe it. Doesn’t it thrill you to think that the Lord saw something special and valuable in you? That you were worth saving?

Once again,  however, this interpretation of Christ’s death subtly shifts attention from Christ’s mercy and grace to us. It neglects the wretched condition of our souls by insinuating that we actually deserved God’s notice.  In fact, it pretty much implies that He had an obligation to save us. Could we even say that He is lucky to have such magnificent people in His kingdom?

As much as the idea that we possess something of intrinsic value appeals to us, nothing in the Bible supports it. On the contrary, God’s Word repeatedly emphasizes our unworthiness as a backdrop to His wondrous grace.Let me take you back to Ephesians 2:1-10 for a moment.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

Verses 1-3 paint a particularly nasty picture of us, don’t  they? By  nature, it says, we were children of wrath. What value could a child of wrath, dead in sin and ruled by fleshly passions, possibly have? Why would a holy God have any compelling reason for shedding His innocent blood for any of us?

Verses 4-7 answer that question. The Lord lavished His salvation on us in order to display the riches of His grace and kindness. Our salvation points, not to any imaginary worth on our part, but to His generosity in saving such undeserving sinners.

The purpose of our salvation, then, is to showcase the Lord’s character. What a wonderful God He is to extend that degree of compassion on worthless sinners who merit nothing but His wrath. Although nothing about us commends us to Him, Jesus willingly went to the cross to accept the Father’s wrath — wrath that we deserved! His atoning sacrifice highlights His graciousness and compassion, revealing what a loving God He is!

He is the worthy one, not any of us. Worship (which means the ascribing of worth) goes totally to Him. How utterly magnificent that He would choose to love vile creatures like us! The more we understand that we had no value in and of ourselves, the more we want to worship Him for His inexplicable mercy and grace.

Verse 10 completes the beautiful picture of God’s grace in saving us, declaring that He regenerates us into His workmanship. Though we have no worth of our own, Christ gives us His worth, graciously using us as His agents of good works. At this mercy, we can only praise Him.

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At The Cross

What makes you valuable? Is it your skilled understanding of the Bible? Perhaps the number of followers you have on social media? How about your connections with well-known Christian personalities?

The hymn I’ve chosen to present today humbles me. As much as I feel tempted to boast in all the things listed in the paragraph above, I must realize that only Christ gives me worth. Nothing I do either enhances or diminishes my worth precisely because I derive my worth exclusively from Him. And He assigned that worth to me at the cross.

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The Back Story To Good Friday

At The CrossPeople naturally recoil at any mention of God’s wrath or His judgment. None of us particularly relishes the thought of His righteous anger, and we certainly balk at the suggestion that we personally deserve eternal punishment for our sins. I know I’d prefer to focus on His love.

But in order to really understand the wonder of God’s grace in Christ’s atoning death on the cross, we first must come to terms with the horrifying reality that, as sinners, we deserve eternal damnation. The apostle Paul, as a matter of fact, spent the first two-and-a-half chapters of Romans demonstrating the universal corruption of the human race. He makes it abundantly clear that not one of us can justify ourselves before God.

From there, however, Paul introduces the glorious good news that Christ Jesus took God’s wrath on Himself, actually bearing the punishment that rightfully belongs to you and me.

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ~~Romans 3:9-26 (ESV)

Verse 25 states that God put His Son forward as a propitiation. Because we rarely use the word “propitiation” in our highly secularized culture, we miss the connection between God’s wrath and Christ’s work on the cross. So let’s define this almost forgotten word.

A propitiation is, simply put, an atoning sacrifice. It carries the connotation of appeasing an offended party. This sacrifice absorbs the punishment that otherwise would fall on the person who caused the offense. For example, the slaughtered animals used in Old Testament offerings propitiated for the sins of the Jews. These Old Testament sacrifices, we now understand, looked forward to the Lamb of God, Who would bear the wrath that actually belongs to us.

Today, Good Friday, we remember Jesus dying on the cross as our substitute. But do we fully understand that the Father’s wrath was poured out on Him at that moment? I believe that’s difficult for us to accept.

Aside from occasional moments of clarity when the horror of our sin absolutely won’t escape our notice, we really don’t see ourselves as deserving of God’s righteous indignation. Sure, we acknowledge that we’ve sinned, but we struggle to realize just how odious our sin is to a holy God. Our inability to comprehend the overwhelming enormity of our sinfulness makes it equally hard to comprehend the overwhelming enormity of God’s wrath toward our sin.

As a result, we can miss the profound beauty of Jesus’  death as our propitiation.

Thankfully, our dullness to the depth of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf in no way minimizes its effect. Praise God, He has taken the wrath that our sin incurred precisely so that no one who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will ever have to experience the full impact of God’s wrath. How glorious that our loving Heavenly Father, desiring to shield us from His justified anger, mercifully provided His own propitiation! What a wonderful God we serve!

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Our Wretchedness, His Grace

2e38e-cross2bof2bpeaceHow frustrating! That besetting sin you thought you’d conquered has reared its ugly head yet again, and you’ve allowed it to take control. Of course you know that Christ forgives, but you also know that He saved you in order that you would walk in holiness and obedience.

You feel the same frustration that all true Christians feel. Our love for the Lord naturally causes us to hate sin. Even the apostle Paul felt disgusted with himself when he disobeyed God’s commandments (see Romans 7:13-24).

We understand — intellectually, at least — that Jesus forgives our sin at the point of our conversion. That’s a joyous realization for the sinner who correctly sees his or her wretched state and consequently appreciates the Lord’s mercy and grace to take those sins on Himself in order to extend pardon. We rightly praise Him for declaring us to be righteous before a holy Judge, all because of His blood shed on our behalf.

But will His precious blood also cover sins we commit as Christians? Many people genuinely struggle with fear that they’ve presumed on His grace once too often, or that their ongoing battle with sin gives evidence that they never experienced true salvation in the first place.

Certainly, many people who sincerely believe themselves to be Christians aren’t. I often write about false converts, convinced that evangelical churches overflow with them. And if your sin causes you to examine yourself to determine whether or not you’ve really been born again, praise the Lord!

But let’s add some balance to our self-examination, shall we? Yes, we’ve once again dishonored our Savior, and that awareness by all means should break our hearts. However, the very fact that we grieve over having offended Christ indicates that He has given us hearts like His that hate sin and love righteousness. False converts excuse sin, grieving only that someone caught them or that they have unpleasant consequences, but true Christians regard sin as the vile reason that our precious Lord suffered and bled and died.

The very fact that we experience frustration over our sin assures us that the Holy Spirit has transformed us so that we now resemble our heavenly Father. Only those who are born again have that heavenly trait. Though we rightly bemoan our wretched sin nature, we also rejoice that the Holy Spirit has regenerated our hearts so that we no longer celebrate our sin.

Finally, we don’t need to despair that our sins, as grievous as they truly are, will always cripple us or cause God to reject us. Rather than focusing on our wretched condition, we can concentrate on the Lord as our Savior, remembering Paul’s glorious conclusion in Romans 7:

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:24-25 (ESV)

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False Converts Who Embrace Worldliness: Part 2

Narrow Gate

Yesterday I asked you to read Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) in preparation for today’s blog post. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can do so here. In this sermon, Christ lays out the high moral demands of a holy God, thereby demonstrating our abject need for a Savior.  None of us, apart from His grace, has the capacity to live in such holiness.

Notice, then, His command in Chapter 7:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~~Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)

As we learn in John 10:7-9, Jesus Himself is the door (or gate). That reality carries several implications that frankly go against fleshly inclinations. Obviously, the primary stumbling block is the implication that only Christians will inherit God’s Kingdom. Such exclusivity flies in the face of our 21st Century value of inclusion. How dare the Lord limit salvation to those who would believe in Him!

Even more repulsive to postmodern sensibilities is the implication that Jesus would impose His morality on anyone. False converts may be okay with the idea of Jesus dying for their sins, but they then want to conclude that His grace gives them permission to continue in sin. Or they use incredible semantics to to explain why the apostles listed certain behaviors as sinful that we now understand to be perfectly acceptable.

In short, false converts reject Matthew 7:13-14 in favor of having a Jesus Who accepts them on their terms rather than His. If He must be the only Savior, at least He should save everyone (regardless of whether or not they believe in Him) and He shouldn’t tell anyone how to conduct their lives.

False converts miss the fact that, because He is Lord, Jesus has every right to determine both the criteria for salvation and the way His redeemed people ought to live. Thankfully, true believers accept His exclusivity and depend on His Spirit for the power to live in obedience to Him.

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