Thoughts about faith

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What Christmas Means to Me

That’s What Christmas Means to Me

I don’t have decorations or a tree,
They’re not what Christmas means to me.

No stockings or cookies or gifts to see,
That’s not what Christmas means to me.

No holiday parties, no cards or carols.
You must think I’m the Grinch,
With no heart and no Christmas apparel.

It’s actually a birthday, I hope you can see.
A savior was born amid the debris,
Soon there were wise men, down on their knees.

He put aside His crown,
For the earth to come down.
He lived His life to die for you and me,
That’s what Christmas means to me.

Jesus is the reason I celebrate the day,
He was God’s gift as He lay in the hay.
So as you gaze upon the star atop your tree,
Remember that first Christmas and who was born for thee!
His love is a gift, no cost it’s free.
You just have to ask Him down on your knees.

Then next Christmas you will say indeed,
Jesus is the reason, that’s Christmas for me.

Problems with Darwinism

Darwin3

A key thing for me was their challenging the historic notion that given “enough time” an elaborate and lengthy set of conditions could come together by pure chance. Darwin’s analogy that given enough time a group of monkey’s sitting at type writers could eventually produce the collective works of Shakespeare. Just bang on those keys long enough and eventually the works of Shakespeare will appear.

Think about that analogy. Not all the keys on a type writer are letters that can begin a word. Some are not even found in words. So first the monkey has to randomly pick an appropriate key. Now that has to be followed by another random key strike that will produce the exact letter needed to follow that first letter. If that key strike is invalid, that page will never be part of the collective writings of Shakespeare. Ok, so the monkey tears that piece of paper away and tries again. Eventually he’ll get the second letter right but that assumes he first gets the first letter right. Since the monkey has no idea what he’s typing, he never knows when he’s right. It’s all “right” to him. He just types until he’s done with that sheet of paper then puts in the next. If he types a percent sign as the first letter on the page, everything he types after that is wasted because you can’t begin a sentence with a percent sign or have a standalone percent sign.

So we think it’s just a matter of time though until this group of monkeys gets it right. That analogy, though, is way too simplistic. It’s assuming they monkeys don’t break the typewriters before they write the collective works of Shakespeare. It assumes they don’t run out of paper or ribbon. It assumes they know how to load a sheet of paper into the typewriter and later take it out. It’s not just a matter of randomly hitting the correct keys. I assume his analogy included 100 monkeys because 100 could do it faster than 1. As soon as  you have more than 1 monkey though, you introduce the problem of collation. Somehow this group of monkeys all have to hit the exact right sequence of keys, change paper, and all produce the exact pages needed to create the collective works of Shakespeare. When do they start over? After how many hours of typing do you say, “those pages are no good”, throw them out, and start anew? Who decides when their done? How do they even know when to stop typing? What about the billions or trillions of bad pages they produced? What happened to all of them? Let’s assume the collective works of Shakespeare would take up 5000 typed pages. Just a guess but let’s assume that. For 100 monkeys, with infinite time, to randomly produce the exact 5000 typed pages needed they would likely have produced trillions of wasted pages. Let’s say they eventually produced the 5000 needed then died. This all took place in a giant cave. Some future humans discover the cave and we’ll assume the pages have not decayed. How are they going to discover the 5000 pages that make up the collective works of Shakespeare out of those trillions of pages? Imagine the time that would take?

Well if you have infinite time one could say you will eventually do all these things. If we were to make some reasonable estimates about how quickly a monkey can type, eject pages, load new paper, and so on then we can begin to put some framework of time around this. We can also calculate probabilities. If there are X keys on a typewriter but only Y of them are legal letters then we can calculate the probability of a monkey hitting a correct key each time (not necessarily the needed key but at least an allowable character). Oh but we need to add in some probability around how many times the monkey hits 2 or 3 keys at once and not just one. One could easily imagine that for a single monkey to correctly type one page of Shakespeare might take tens of thousands of years. Now consider you need 5000 correctly typed pages. You can start to put some time boundaries on this experiment. If the analogy is that the collective works of Shakespeare correlates to a single living organism then you need all that time just to get the first single celled organism. That is still a drop in the bucket compared to all the complex organism that make up our world. That is like moving on from producing the collective works of Shakespeare to all the works in the Library of Congress. It gets worse. Even that first organism needed those amino acids to exist, in the right temperature range, etc, etc. That presupposes a planet in the right proximity to a star with those amino acids and all of that is the product of random chance. If that is not enough to exhaust your mind, let’s ask two more questions.

If the letters on the page represent amino acids combining in an attempt to create a protein how did those amino acids know to combine and form something? How did the matter, from which the universe was formed, know to behave? How did matter learn to do anything useful? How did matter learn to form stars and planets? How did matter know when to stop forming one thing and not just keep going past the point where something useful then became useless?

Secondly, where did matter come from? Where did the monkeys get the typewriters, paper, and ribbon from?

Back to our analogy again. We can imagine this would all take a very, very, very, very, very long time. How long is long enough? What are the odds that all this could take place in the 18.5 billion years we estimate the universe is old? We will assume there were failed attempts before the present working universe existed. We won’t count those against our 18.5 billion years. We’ll say the clock started ticking with the big bang that started the present universe. Then given all the trillions of things that had to happen after that moment in the exact right sequence (this is all by chance) that 18.5 billion years later we arrive at the universe we know today, is that even close to enough time? Back to our monkeys, if the monkey has say 40 keys on the typewriter (making a number up here) and only 30 of them are usable characters in English, his got a 3 out of 4 chance of hitting a legal character each time. Not bad odds. Now what are his odds of hitting the first letter of the first character in the first work of Shakespeare? He’s got a 1 out of 26 chance of picking the correct first letter but 1 out of 4 times he’s going to hit an illegal character so the odds are less than 1 out of 26. Now with each subsequent letter the odds get worse because not only does the monkey have to hit a key representing a legal character, but it has to be the exact character that comes next in that word in that sentence of that work. It’s one thing for a monkey to randomly strike keys and type “I” and “am.” He also has to get the order right. If the Shakespearean sentence is “I am” and the monkey types “am I” he has failed. Shakespeare had quite a command of the English language and many of his words were much longer than simple words like “I” and “am.” As the words get longer, the odds of randomly typing the right keys in order, get smaller and smaller. As the sentences get longer, the odds go down and down. Now multiply that times all the pages needed. Without calculating actual probabilities, one could imagine the odds of doing this with 100 monkeys is infinitesimally small. For all that to take place in 18.5 billion years, these monkeys are going to have to randomly do the right thing early on in each sequence of key strokes. In other words, to finish in 18.5 billion years, these monkey are going to have to be incredibly lucky. I mean so lucky that it defies credulity. Now you might say it’s possible to win the lottery on the very first ticket you ever buy even if the odds of winning are 1 in 1,000,000. So it’s possible someone could do it. What if I said a group of 100 people all had to win 10,000 lotteries one single ticket purchases in 1 week. We’ll assume there were that many lotteries to play. Now you would laugh at me. You would say that’s not possible. They would need more time than a week to each win 10,000 times! You can only physically walk into so many stores and buy tickets in a week. Beyond that you have to win! You would tell me it’s impossible. No human being could do that in a week.

That’s one of the problems with Darwinism. For pure chance to have produced this universe in 18.5 billion years is just not possible. The odds are so infinitesimally small as to  be impossible. like to hide behind that ridiculous notion that somehow it all could just be correct on the first try of every of the trillion things that have to happen. Sure mathematically it’s possible but math is not always reality. In real life it is completely unreasonable to think that could all happen in 18.5 billion years even though that sounds like an awfully long time. Not when you start to grasp the number of things that have to happen, in the exact correct order, all by chance. To grab on to that belief, and treat it as fact, is insane.

We could all exist in a Matrix-like existence and our Matrix could be a dream of one person in another Matrix who is the dream of one person in another Matrix and so on. Sounds like a good movie but do you really think that is the case? Would you put any money on that in a bet (assuming we had a way to settle the bet?) If after the bet is made, the truth will be reveled, and if you bet wrong you will be killed, would you bet on that explanation? I don’t think so. So why are so many betting on Darwinism and a universe created by chance? Why are so many people completely close-minded to even considering any other explanation? Yeah, it’s insane yet that is precisely the state of our world today. We have to move beyond the real of pure theory and probability, into the rational world of reality. Just because something is theoretically possible does not make it probable. If these odds are so low that a trillion years would not be enough time, would you bet on 18.5 billion years? At what point would you say, “ok, that’s just not enough time?” At what point would you say, “that can’t be right?”

If you believe we all got here by chance, then apparently you are willing to wait for eternity before concluding that is just not the answer.

At some point, the rational mind must say, “this is not rational” and reject it.

Justification

justificationWhole books have been written on justification and imputation. I am not going to attempt to replicate them or give as full of a treatment. My purpose here is only to give an overview.

Let’s start with the term impute or imputation. It comes from Latin and is an accounting term that means “to apply to one’s account.” In finances, expenses are debited and income is credited. So, if something is imputed to you, it is credited to you or your account. The Reformer’s chose this term to differentiate it from the term the Roman Catholic church used which is infuse or infusion. When something is infused it is added to and mixed in with what is already there.  Some people have health conditions that require them to receive infused medication. Instead of receiving a pill or a shot, they spend hours hooked up to an IV that drips and infuses the medication into their blood. An example of this is chemotherapy. Theologically, the term double imputation is used. Consider 2 Cor. 5:21:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This verse (though not only this verse) shows us double imputation. The first imputation is that of ours sins being imputed to Christ: “for our sake he made him to be sin.” Our sins were not infused into Christ’s as He “knew no sin.” No, our sins were imputed to Christ. Though He had never sinned he took upon Himself all our sins. God did this so that Christ’s death could atone for our sins. Jesus had no sins of His own to atone for but by imputation, he had our sins to atone for. The second imputation is that His righteousness was imputed to us: “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The righteousness of God is a righteousness that only God can have. We can never, on our own, posses such righteousness. We become “the righteousness of God” through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Infusion says Christ’s righteousness is added to ours and it is this mixed righteousness that becomes our righteousness before God. What can we add to the righteousness of God? Since God’s righteousness is perfect and complete there is nothing we can add to it. Can you add more time to eternity? Can you add more numbers past infinity? If you have the righteousness of God then you have perfect and complete righteousness. The very righteousness of God Himself! That is what this verse teaches us. Christ took on our sin and atoned for it so that we could take on His righteousness and be saved. One theologian said that two of the most beautiful words in the Bible are for us. Jesus lived, died, and resurrected for us. For us, He took our sins upon Himself and shed His blood to atone for them and gave us His righteousness.

Underlining has been added for emphasis:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Romans 1:17)

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13)

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith (Romans 9:30)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction (Romans 3:21-22)

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:30)

Note here we become “righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Sanctification is listed as separate from righteousness and after it.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4)

“In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 23:6)

“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

Note that righteousness is a gift. If it was something, even in part, we earned it would not be a gift.

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:5)

Here we see the world credited which is the same concept as imputation. This verse expressly says faith is “credited as righteousness” to “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly.” God justifies “the ungodly.” That does not sound like someone who has had Christ’s righteousness infused into his own. Were that the case, he would not be ungodly. What is credited to him as righteousness? His faith. It is his faith, not his works that are credited as righteousness.

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19)

for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26)

Who does God justify? The “one who has faith in Jesus.” Faith, not works.

and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil 3:9)

Again, our righteousness is not derived from the Law (works) but “through faith in Christ.” That righteousness “comes from God on the basis of faith.”

I hope these verses show that we are justified on the basis of having been imputed the righteousness of Christ on the basis of our faith in Him, itself a gift of God.

As I have previously written, sanctification necessarily follows justification. Sanctification is an ongoing and progressive work in our lives as we gradually become more and more like Jesus Christ:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6)

Sanctification is that ongoing work that God has begun and will one day perfect.

One misconception I find about salvation by faith alone, is that it becomes a license to sin. Since you are “saved by faith alone” then you can sin all you want once you express faith. Paul addressed this and wrote “May it never be!” Here is the fallacy in that. First, you can express faith but not possess faith. In other words, no expression of faith saves you unless you truly possess faith. You can say all the right words but if in your heart you don’t truly believe what you are saying then that is a counterfeit faith. Ever heard the term, “foxhole faith?” It’s been said “there are no atheists in foxholes.” In times of crisis men will sometimes cry out to God for protection or deliverance. Such faith may not be genuine. It may be just a “hail mary” (i.e. just in case God exists I will ask for his help). That’s not to say deathbed faith or foxhole faith is never genuine. God, who alone sees the heart, knows. True faith, while it can be born in a crisis, remains even when the crisis has passed. In His parable of the seed, Jesus talks about how some of the seed sown gets choked out by weeks or never grows. There are those who respond to an invitation of faith, but we see over time that their faith was not genuine. The thief on the cross, one might say, was a “foxhole believer” yet Jesus said he would be with Him that day in Paradise. While his faith might have been expressed under extreme crisis, He possessed true saving faith.

I wrote previously, that God saves us to “walk in good works He prepared beforehand for us.” If you truly possess saving faith it will produce fruit in your life. When God declares you just on the basis of Christ’s righteousness through your faith, He doesn’t just change your status from sinner to saint and then leave you alone. That is a misconception! That is not what salvation by faith alone teaches! When God saves you, He changes you. You are given a new nature. That new nature cannot help but produce faith. Thus, a changed man will not have an attitude of  “I can sin all I want because I am saved by faith alone.”

When we realize how sinful our sin is, and how Christ took our sin upon Him, how can we not want to please and obey Him? If someone saves your life, would you not be grateful to them? If we would be grateful to someone who saved our physical life, would we not be much more grateful to someone who saves our spiritual life and thus our eternal soul?

Sometimes, to try and question salvation by faith alone, people will put hypothetical questions to you like “Could you murder someone, feel no remorse, and still be saved?” My answer would be no! It’s possible a saved person could murder someone (though unlikely) but not without remorse. The Holy Spirit would convict their conscience of their sin. Usually these hypothetical questions presuppose situations that would never occur with a truly saved person. However, if you answer (even with qualification) that yes that person would still be saved, they say “Aha! See, you don’t think how someone lives matters at all. You can say you believe, live like the devil, but still be saved.” If someone is “living like the devil”, and never repents, then I would seriously question their possession of saving faith. I would suspect they never had saving faith and thus are not saved. It is exactly this time of “easy believism” that James and other NT authors write against. Their writings do not teach that we need works to be saved, but that without works we weren’t saved. God does not wait to see those works before He saves us. He saves us when we possess no good works, but transforms us such that good works necessarily follow.

I believe the key to all this, is to understand that saving faith is a gift. God choses who receives this gift. The possession and expression of saving faith is a work of God through us. Without that gift, we can express faith but it is an empty faith and not from God. We should not confuse the two. If you merely express faith without possessing it, you might “live like hell” or have an attitude that you can sin all you want because you are saved by grace, but you will be mistaken and find yourself on Judgment Day hearing “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)

James 2:24 – Faith vs Works

Hebrews111In examining the difference between the Catholic understanding of James 2:24, and the Protestant understanding, I am going to begin by asserting that the Scriptures contain no true contradictions. We may see apparent contradictions (which atheists love to point out without sharing how those apparent contradictions are resolved), but if God is the author of Scripture (which both Protestants and Catholics affirm), then God does not contradict himself. If we think there is a contradiction, then the error is with us, not God. We also must admit that all of Scripture must be considered and we cannot pull one verse out and have it stand on its own. We must consider not only the immediate context but the context of all of Scripture.

Some people think they see a contradiction between Paul’s teachings and James’. They say Paul teaches salvation by faith alone whereas James says saving faith requires works. Who’s right? If we begin with our earlier assumption, that Scripture contains no contradictions, then we must dig deeper if we are to resolve this apparent contraction.

In Ephesians, Paul writes:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as 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 so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB emphasis added)

Here, Paul clearly states that we are “saved through faith”, and to further clarify salvation is by faith alone, Paul adds “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” His words are very clear as is his meaning. Salvation is by faith alone. Yet, in verse 10, Paul concludes that we (those saved) are God’s workmanship “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Why does Paul add this right on the heels of saying salvation is by faith alone? Why mention works at all? Paul does so to show that good works are something God “prepared beforehand” so that we would “walk in them.” In other words, God has prepared good works for us to do once we are saved. God does not save us and then leave us as we were. He gives us a new heart, a new nature, no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness.

Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18)

As the saying goes, salvation is by faith alone but faith is never alone. In order for us to walk in those good works God prepared beforehand for us, we must first be saved and changed. God must swap our old heart dead in sin, for a new heart that is a slave to righteousness. Then, and only then, can we walk in those good works prepared beforehand for us.

In Romans, Paul spends a lot of time contrasting the Jewish understanding of salvation with true salvation. The Jews thought that works made them righteous. God gave them the law and they thought by keeping the law they would make themselves righteous. Yet none of them (or us) could perfectly keep the law. James writes:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

You don’t have to break every law. If you break even one, you are guilty of breaking all. It’s interesting that James (who some think is arguing for works salvation) would say this. If our works are necessary for salvation, what happens when we stumble on one point? We become guilty of breaking all the Law. Since none of us (save Christ) can keep the whole Law perfectly, how can we hope to be righteous on our own when even one failure makes us guilty of breaking the entire Law? Obviously, we can’t be righteous on our own.

Back in Romans, Paul anticipates the person who heard his words thinks that if salvation is by faith alone, by God’s grace, then why not go on sinning? After all, our sins are forgiven and covered by God’s grace! Paul answers that thought with an emphatic negative when he writes:

Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Romans 6:15)

So, we are saved by faith, not works, and we are now slaves to righteousness but if we stumble in even one point of the Law, we are guilty of breaking the whole Law. Thankfully, Paul adds that we are now under grace and no longer under the Law. Therefore, we do not have to keep the whole Law perfectly. Does that mean the Law was pointless and of no importance? Paul answers this:

So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12)

The problem, Paul writes, is not the Law but rather sin which dwells in us. The Law itself is holy and righteous and good. Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus perfectly kept the Law and thus fulfilled it. When we believe, we receive the righteousness of Christ. We are justified. It is “just as if” we never sinned.

We already saw that Paul says that once we are saved, we are no longer slaves to sin. We are slaves to righteousness instead. He goes on to say:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22)

After having been freed from sin (a result of salvation) we derive a benefit namely sanctification (that change and the walking in the good works God prepared beforehand). The ultimate outcome is eternal life.

Given that, how are we to understand Jame’s writing?

If we return to our assumption that Scripture does not contradict itself, then there is only one possible way to understand James. He is writing to warn us, that true saving faith will produce good works. This should not surprise us, as early we read that we were to walk in the good works prepared beforehand for us by God. So works are a necessary and guaranteed outcome of saving faith. Only God can see the heart. Anyone can claim to have been saved based on a confession of faith. Faith though is not just a matter of saying certain words. You have to mean what you say and truly put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savoir.

People have all kinds of mistaken ideas about salvation. They think if you were baptized or if you attend church or if you “lead a good life” you will go to heaven. Other ideas abound. Yet none of these things save you. In multiple places in the NT, we are told to test or examine ourselves to see if our faith is genuine. There could be nothing worse than thinking you are saved when in fact you are not. Scripture does not give a list of required characteristics of someone who is saved, but by studying Scripture you can arrive at a pretty good idea of the kinds of that ought to be true of a believer, and if you see these things in your life, and you’ve put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, you can know you are saved.

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. ” (2 Peter 1:10-11)

Much of what James writes is about those marks of a true believer. James contrasts for us the true believer from the false believer. To quote John MacArthur “The error James assails is faith without works; justification without sanctification; salvation without new life.” (https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA81/does-james-2-contradict-romans-4)

Someone who thinks they are saved because they prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, or did some other religious act, will have to examine themselves by James’ words. They say they are saved. James said, show me your salvation by your works. James point is that faith without works is a dead faith because true saving faith will always produce good works as we saw earlier. God has prepared “beforehand” good works for the believer to walk in. If we are not walking in good works, then we have a problem and better be questioning our faith to make sure we have not deluded ourselves into thinking we are saved when we aren’t.

The issue between Protestants and Catholics is that Catholics say salvation requires sanctification and thus is not by faith alone. Yet if we make sanctification a requirement for salvation then salvation requires works and Paul clearly wrote that salvation is a free gift of God based on faith alone (not on works that no man should boast…). At times I almost think Protestants and Catholics are saying the same thing but differently. Protestants affirm a saved person will show the fruit of sanctification by good works. If not, they presumably were not ever saved. The exception, of course, would be someone whose salvation happened immediately before death or some severe health crisis (a coma for example) and thus is not able to show the fruit of sanctification. Such a person is still saved. The thief on the cross is the classic example given. Thus, from the Protestant perspective, a saved person will be sanctified. It’s just that sanctification is a process that begins after salvation. Catholics say you have to have sanctification in order to be saved. They allow the exception of the thief on the cross saying he lacked the opportunity to become sanctified (sounds like he was saved by faith alone…). For them, sanctification must happen before salvation. So both say faith is required for salvation. Both say sanctification is a mark of a believer. The difference is when sanctification occurs. Does it come after salvation (Protestant view), or before (and a requirement for) salvation?

If Scripture contains no contradictions, then the answer must be after salvation or Paul’s statement that salvation is by faith alone, not by works, could not be true. To take the Catholic view, you must conclude Paul is wrong in saying salvation is by faith alone.

I don’t know why the Catholic church wants to add sanctification to faith (presumably their understanding of Scripture though to my mind it requires the belief in a contradiction in Scripture). I can see some human reasons why someone might want to add sanctification. One reason is that salvation by faith alone leaves man out of the equation. Since we are told that our faith is a gift of God, then man has nothing to boast about. He can’t say “I did my part.” He can’t say “my salvation is 99% God and 1% me.” No it’s 100% God. Human pride wants to believe we played some part in our salvation. In the Catholic view, you get this. Even though they say faith is from God and sanctification is from God, yet they believe that a single “mortal” sin is sufficient to completely kill all of the grace you possess and send you to hell. They believe you have free will to choose whether or not to commit a mortal sin so in the end, you could always say “I chose not to commit a mortal sin” and therefore I played a small part in my salvation.

I also think we like the idea because we want a way to measure ourselves. We want to make examining ourselves easier.  If we can say, I’ve done good works and never committed a mortal sin, then we can feel good about ourselves. From the church’s perspective, it is a good way to keep the faithful in line. If you feel like you better have good works and need to avoid mortal sins, then you’ll tend to do as you’re told. Fear can be a powerful motive. That’s one thing I found sad about my Catholic mother and other Catholics I have known. While they all felt they would go to heaven, they were never totally sure. There was that fear that after leading a good and faithful life they might lose it all with a mortal sin or get to heaven and find out they did not have enough good works. The Apostle John wrote:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:15-18)

Notice John says that “we may have confidence in the day of judgment.”  He also says that perfect love casts out fear. We don’t need to be fearful about our eternal state. Or, as Paul puts it:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

The word translated “know”, is in the perfect tense in Greek. That means it speaks of a permanent knowledge and the Greek word means to know with absolute certainty without a doubt. Therefore, if we can know with a permanent, absolute knowledge that we are saved, then there is no reason to fear and no chance we can lose that salvation which is an issue for the Catholic belief in a class of sins known as mortal sins.

So, in conclusion, if we can know now that we have eternal life, and have no reason to fear, then our salvation is sure. We cannot lose it. We are saved by faith alone, a faith that is a gift of God. That faith is followed by a lifetime of sanctification as we walk in the good works prepared beforehand for us. There is so much more than could be said, but I will stop here.

Why is this important? Paul said if anyone gives you another gospel, other than the one he delivered, such a person should be anathema (cursed or excommunicated). If we love the truth then we cannot tolerate a lie. A salvation that includes works as a requirement, is a lie. Some Catholics will say, they do not believe in works salvation but rather faith plus sanctification. They try to say sanctification is not a work. What is sanctification then? It is a process in which we live according to our new nature and walk in good works. What Catholics are saying, is that your faith must be accompanied by a sanctified life that produces righteousness. Not as a result of salvation but as a requirement of it. That is by works. If you read the anathemas of the Catholic Council of Trent, anyone believing salvation is by faith alone is to be anathema. According to the Catholic church, this is a grievous error. If so, then we must say their misunderstanding of salvation, and teaching others the same, is also most grievous. You cannot have it both ways. You are either saved by faith alone or faith plus works. Paul answered the question for us; salvation is by faith alone.

Differences: Catholicism vs the Bible

I grew up Roman Catholic. My Mom was a devout Catholic so I did it all from infant baptism to first communion and confirmation plus catechism classes every Sunday until I graduated from high school.

There was a kid at my high school who was in my class but I did not know him well. He approached me in the spring of my freshman year and asked if he could share the “Four Spiritual Laws” with me (Campus Crusade for Christ pamphlet). I said he could but would not have time after school until track season ended. With about 2 weeks left in the school year we met in a classroom after school. I can still picture the room. He went through the booklet and asked me if I wanted to pray to receive Christ into my heart.

Now after all those years of Catholic education you would think I would have told him I already had Christ in my heart. After all I had been baptized and confirmed. I had committed no mortal sins. Yet I wanted to pray that prayer. I felt no pressure. It was just him and me and God. I didn’t care what this kid thought of me. I knew, by the grace of God, that I needed to give my life to him.  Those things I had done as a Catholic were just a matter of following the plan. You did those things because it was time and expected. I don’t recall the nuns ever saying confirmation, for example, was optional and we shouldn’t participate if we weren’t sure. I imagine my mom would have been perplexed had I announced I didn’t want to get confirmed and the nuns would have been talking to me… It’s not that I didn’t want to get confirmed when that time came but I did it because it was expected. I didn’t really feel like I was making a commitment or a decision. It wasn’t being done on my initiative. Now I was deciding on my initiative that I wanted to give my life to Christ. No one knew what was happening that afternoon except me, this boy, and God. So I prayed.

The heavens didn’t open and I felt no different, though I felt at peace. Yet what a change started in me! We had an over sized, soft covered, gold edged, Catholic Bible sitting on our coffee table at home collecting dust. My Mom had filled out the section at the front with birth dates and such but otherwise that Bible was never opened. No one told me to read the Bible. Not the kid at school, not the nuns or priests, not my parents. The Holy Spirit led me to pick that Bible up and start reading. I started in Genesis and over several months read to the end of Revelation. I became the first person in my family to read the entire Bible. Over the remaining three years of high school I read that Bible completely three more times. Not normal reading for most high school kids especially kids who went to the Catholic Church and had no one encouraging them to read the Scriptures. I learned so much. I quickly learned far more than I ever learned at church or in those Catechism classes. As I read, I encountered truths that did not agree with doctrine taught by the Catholic Church. Once you read the Bible for yourself, you realize it’s not that complicated or difficult to understand. A few things are, but not the Gospel and many, many other things. I didn’t need a priest to tell me what those passages meant. No priest or Pope could be a better teacher than the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God.

My faith was now in Christ. He was my mediator. Not a church, not a priest or Pope. In time I left the Catholic Church after sharing the Gospel with a priest at the church. He believed that people were leaving the Catholic Church because they wanted something nicely laid out for them in black and white whereas in the Catholic faith you had to think for yourself and wrestle with the gray. I will grant there are some Protestant churches that overstep Scripture and try to run people’s lives, but most just teach the Word of God and let us pray and decide how to respond to it. Scripture is usually pretty clear. In the Catholic Church everything has to be approved and blessed. Priests read everything when saying the Mass. Other then their homily (mini sermon) the rest is all scripted. Altar boys and girls hold open books for them to read their prayers from. That seems a lot more black and white to me.

I have Catholic friends and it always strikes me how they talk a lot in terms of their church. It’s the church this and the church that. When they have questions, they don’t turn to Scripture, they go ask a priest. I was talking to a Catholic lady friend the other night, and she shared how she went to her priest to ask him about sex before marriage because a friend had asked her and she wanted to know for her and her friend. At first I was shocked she didn’t know the answer. She’s in her 50’s and been a lifelong Catholic. How could she not know? Then I was sad because she’s probably never read the Bible because if she had she’d know the answer. I asked her what answer the priest gave her. This was an 89 yr old man who had been a priest since his 20’s. Not someone you would expect to hesitate to answer such a question. His answer was not an answer at all but merely an irrelevant observation. He said that people today have a lot more sex than they used to. I asked her if he said anything else and she said no. She then added that “he didn’t say it was wrong.” True, but really he didn’t say anything. Perhaps she made that remark because that’s the answer she was looking for? I can understand her thinking that he is an ordained priest charged with shepherding the faithful so he would be obligated to tell her if something was sin even if he knew that wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear. Therefore, it was (in her mind) reasonable to assume his lack of prohibition against premarital sex was implied permission. Sad that a supposed minister of God could not give a straight answer or quote a single Scripture. Maybe that is what my old priest meant when he said people liked these Protestant churches because they made everything so black and white. What he should have said, is that they use the Bible to answer questions, and if the Bible clearly addresses the issue then there’s the answer. My friend’s priest left her with a non-answer, total murky gray.

When we stand before God, the question won’t be “did you believe in the church and put your faith and trust in her?” No! It will be “did you believe in Jesus Christ and put your faith and trust in Him?” Yet millions of Catholics are trusting in their church for their salvation. They don’t know the Gospel. I never heard it in the Catholic Church. Yes there are some Catholics who have come to know the Gospel and accepted it. Praise God! Some say they have stayed in the church hoping to reform it. How did that workout for Martin Luther? They will never grow if they stay in a church that won’t teach the Word. If I were to ask my friend why she didn’t just open a Bible and find the answer I am sure she would say it was quicker to ask her priest as after-all he has already studied these things. If she is depending on her church to teach her all she needs to know for life and salvation then her faith is in her church and not in

the Lord. Church teaching is all well and good but we are called to be like the believers in Berea who did not just take the Apostle Paul’s word but searched the Scriptures to see if he was teaching the truth. Do Catholics think their priests or even the Pope is greater than the Apostles? If Paul commended them to search and check the Scriptures for themselves would he not say the same to us today?

I am so thankful, God is His grace, gave me faith and led me to read His Word. What a treasure so many miss out on. How can we hope to obey and serve God if we don’t even read His words to us?

The Church

Hallgrímskirkja

Here in the first world, we live in an interesting time in church history. I can’t drive a few miles without passing a number of churches. Even if I narrow the list to Christian churches, there are still dozens and dozens of Christian churches within a 30 minute drive of my home. These include both denominational and non-denominational churches.

Many of these churches only differ in superficial ways. Perhaps its their style of music, their informal atmosphere, or allegiance to a denomination. Some sing traditional worship music while others prefer contemporary. Yet we all preach from the same Bible and share the same fundamentals of the faith.

Having many churches is not bad. It does help keep the body sizes smaller and more intimate than having fewer larger churches. It also makes gathering together easier with less time spent driving. You might actually go to church with neighbors. Yet there are downsides to all these choices.

For one thing, there is a lot of money tied up in the many facilities of all these churches. Facilities that often sit empty and lightly used six days of the week. How many churches are in debt paying off building loans while other churches meet in school gymnasiums waiting to have enough money to buy land and build? How many pastors hold back in their preaching for fear of offending someone and seeing donations decline where the budget will no longer support the payments on the debt? One thing I will say for the Mormons (who I do not consider Christian), is their sharing of facilities. Often 3 wards, what we might call a church, share a single facility. Of course some churches have multiple services and use their facility quite a bit, but there are many small churches that have but one service per Sunday and could easily share with another church. Think of the money that could be saved and spent helping those in need or supporting missionaries?

Another downside, is the fracturing of the body. When we keep starting new churches around some non-essential doctrine or preference, it can lead to a judgmental attitude and a lack of unity among Christians. I know of churches, for example, who are opposed to age segregated classes. Parents keep their children with them in the service. After awhile it is tempting for families in such a church to think that their way is THE way and age segregation is anti-family and anti-Biblical. I’ve seen churches that will only sing Psalms and Hymns and only allow a piano or organ. I’ve heard comments like “That church sings contemporary music!” as though that marks them as a carnal church. Our distinctives start to become essentials of the faith. We become fractured and often look down upon Christians who worship in a different way than ourselves.

One thing that concerns me about the modern church is what I consider a confusion about it’s mission. A saying I heard many years ago sums up my feelings nicely:

The purpose of the church gathered, is to worship God and edify the saints.
The purpose of the church scattered, is to seek and save the lost.

In other words, the local body meets to worship and equip. It is our time to gather as a community of believers for worship, equipping, and to love and serve each other. The rest of the week, when the church is scattered, we are to be evangelists to our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. We still worship privately and we still seek edification but we are no longer surrounded by our church family. We are being living witnesses in our jobs, our schooling, in our neighborhoods, at soccer games and Little League. We are all called to be evangelists in both word and deed.

Yet we live in a post-Christian society with declining church attendance. To combat this, many churches have tried to be more “seeker sensitive” and break away from what they see as traditional church to something more contemporary and relevant. The thought is that most people today don’t want that traditional, stuffy, boring, old time Christianity. They want something contemporary, alive, relevant, exciting… So we serve coffee, inject our services with drama, video clips, and large worship teams. We try to keep the preaching upbeat and practical. We want the unchurched (be they non-believers or those who gave up on church) to come.

I have one problem with that. While I agree the church should strive to be “all things to all men”, and adapt to the culture where Biblically permissible, it should not lose sight of it’s mission which when gathered is to “worship God and edify the saints.” Too often such churches serve only milk (i.e. elementary teaching) and never serve meat. The body never grows beyond adolescence. In seeking to keep the teaching upbeat and relevant, the pastor(s) pick and choose topics and never preach the “whole counsel of God.” Topics that might be taken negatively are passed over. Nothing potentially controversial or convicting is spoken of. Yet is not “all scripture” valuable for edification and reproof (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? Some such churches will explain that they have small weekday groups where more meaty topics can be discussed yet Sunday is the one day most people can attend and the number one teaching opportunity of the church. If we gear our messages to the unbelievers attending, we fail to equip the saints.

Everyone should be welcome and made to feel welcome yet the goal is to worship and edify from the whole counsel of God. That is why I personally prefer teaching that is verse-by-verse, and book-by-book. It is the only way to ensure you preach the whole counsel of God. It also has the added benefit of teaching everything in context as God’s Word was given to us as books and letters and not topically arranged. Such teaching helps you to understand the author, his audience, and the context of the passages. Such teaching though is difficult to find anymore. Topical teaching has all but taken over and having catchy titles for topical series is all the rage now. I’ve even seen churches advertise a series with a title like “How to have great sex!” The series was actually about how to have a good and loving marriage which in turn is the best recipe for great sex, but the title was chosen to be eye grabbing and elicit curiosity. Whose eyes are they trying to catch? I would think the saints would not need such eye glitter which is clearly aimed at those outside the church.

This also leads to the abdication of evangelism to the “professionals.” Many modern Christians think evangelism is inviting someone to church where the professionals can take over. Granted, it’s a lot easier to invite someone to church than share the gospel with them. Yet many will not come to church with you until and unless they see something different in your life that attracts them. Your actions and your words might be the greatest chance for them to believe. There is nothing wrong with altar calls or other forms of invitation at church services, but the primary purpose of our services should be corporate worship and edification, not evangelism. If we get to the point where everything about our church is catering to non-believers, we have missed the mark.

We’ve become too preoccupied with church growth as the measure of success. I would suggest that the true measure of success is the maturing of the body and that growth will be a natural outcome of such maturing. As the saints deepen in their faith, holiness, and are fully equipped, they will be busy seeking and saving the lost and we will see growth. Even if we don’t, that does not mean we are doing something wrong. If we are truly living in the End Times, as some believe, we may not see growth. We live in a post-Christian society that is growing increasingly secular. Our job is to find those whom the Lord has gifted with faith to bring into the fold knowing that the number may be dwindling. If we measure success by the maturing of the body, the numbers will not matter. If there is no turnover and the body just keeps aging, then we should re-examine that maturity and make sure the body is sharing it’s faith.

For me there is rest in the sovereignty of God. If we are doing our jobs and sharing our faith, and watering it with our prayers, then God will bring the harvest but according to His plan and will. We cannot make anyone believe. We can only share the Good News and pray. If growth comes, praise God! If growth is small, praise God! As long as we are being faithful we need not worry over numbers.

My fear is that many of these seek-sensitive churches are full of baby believers and non-believers. There is little maturing going on. We’ve made it so comfortable to be there and not change that there is little reason to change and little opportunity to do so. I appreciate those times I walk away from a sermon deeply convicted, even remorseful. I know the Holy Spirit is working on me. Churches that try to keep everything upbeat and positive and fail to teach the convicting things, are not doing their jobs.

We live in an age where opportunities to share the Gospel are like never before in human history. We have churches on every street corner, the Internet, TV, radio, books, magazines, … Yet I see a weakening church with members with little grounding. Christianity has become too easy, too comfortable at least here. There are places in the world where being a Christian costs a lot. Just to be able to gather to worship is huge in some places. Worrying about the style of music or age segregated classes are not even concerns. Perhaps we could learn from them.