One argument I keep hearing against Protestantism is that there are so many Protestant denominations and surely God is not the God of confusion and would not let His church become so fractured. The implication is that Protestantism cannot be what God had in mind. This is in opposition to churches that feel they can trace their founding back to the first century as though having such a history is somehow a guarantee of orthodoxy.
This begs an important question. Should we expect, on earth, to find a perfect church that represents everything God had in mind when He started the church? If we look at the history of Israel, we see how even a near-theocratic nation, led by God, could get fractured. Israel had false prophets, false teachers, unbelieving Jews, legalistic Pharisees, doctrinally challenged Sadducees and a history of wandering from the faith. God always preserved a remnant, but the preaching of the Prophets shows God time and time again calling His people to repentance and more than once they were sent into captivity as a judgment on their sins.
What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?2 Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Romans 3:1-2)
Despite having the Prophets, the Temple, the Scriptures (OT), and a cultural history of walking with God, the Jews often strayed and divisions existed. Unlike Judaism, which resided almost exclusively in Israel for centuries, Christianity spread beyond Israel almost from the start. It spread to Greeks and Romans, Egyptians, and people from all over. It spanned many languages and cultures. While it completed the message of the OT, it still brought change such that everyone was a convert at first. Being a Jew before becoming a Christian was not always an advantage as we see personified in the Judaizers. Some Jewish Christians brought the Law with them and attempted to add it to the Gospel. Many were initially uncomfortable with a faith without a Temple and a ceremonial law. It was a cultural shock to see Gentiles, once among the lowest of the low, suddenly on equal footing in the worship of God. In some ways, it was easier to come to Christ from a pagan background.
Not only were the Judaizers an early thorn in the side of the church but so were the Gnostics who tried to marry Platonian philosophy with Christianity. There were also false teachers and those who thought the gifts of God could be purchased. These things plagued the church while the Apostles were still alive. How much more so would they attack once the Apostles were gone? God did not spare the early church from division and strife. Paul wrote extensively to combat the false teachers and to address the divisions in the very churches he had established. These things were happening while the Apostles still lived. If God planned to preserve His church in unity, we don’t see evidence of it. Divisions existed right from the start.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4)
To expect to find a church today that lacks division or false teachers is a failure to learn from history. Paul warned us that there would be false teachers. Men who would tickle our ears. The Apostles battled false teaching by writing down the real teaching of the Lord and having it circulated among the churches. Their written record not only served as a hedge against false teaching 2000 years ago but serves that same purpose today.
There was never an earthly church preserved from error. Not even while the Apostles were alive. Jesus described tares growing up among the wheat to be separated on judgment day. Israel never had perfect unanimity and neither did the church. God always keeps a remnant though and that remnant is not confined to any one church, people group, social, or cultural group. It is comprised of those who cling to the truth, who study and show themselves approved, and who search the Scriptures.
In Biblical times it was not as easy to start a church as it is today. Most people walked to get to church. Most cities had but one church. You attended that church or none at all. Under different conditions, other churches might have sprung up like we see today.
What started on the Day of Pentecost, was the CHURCH, not a church. It was the church universal not to be confused with any particular church or denomination. The only sure teaching we have are those of Scripture. Anything else, no matter how godly, is the opinion of men. Only the Scriptures are divinely inspired. The writings of the early church fathers, while important and illuminating, are not on par with Scripture. If there were false teachers and false doctrine while the Apostles still lived, there certainly were 50, 100, or 200 years later. Even among these early writers, we see differences.
Does this leave us with no trustworthy faith? No! We often confuse that which is essential with that which is non-essential. In criticizing the many Protestant churches, the focus is always on their differences while turning a blind eye to their overwhelming similarities. A church’s style of worship, choice of eschatology, practice of speaking in tongues or not, … are not serious disagreements on the Gospel. Does one church’s decision to only sing hymns and another’s use of contemporary worship music constitute wholly different churches? Must all churches fall under one organizational structure? Where does Scripture teach that? We must not confuse the NT’s teaching on the church universal with that of the church local. We all want to claim we are THE church as though God confined all truth and righteous worship to just one group forever preserved from error. He did not so preserve Israel. He did not prevent division and false teachers in the Apostolic church. Why do we claim so now?
I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
What did Jesus mean by “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it?” Prevailing means overcoming and defeating. That would be the case if the truth was silenced and God had no remnant. That verse does not teach his church would not be attacked, not have divisions, and be preserved from all error. The tares will still grow among the wheat. Satan will not prevail against God’s church (the church universal). Satan will never stamp out faith on earth.
Sticking to a liturgy or structure for centuries is not a guarantee of truth. There was error mixed with truth from the very start of the church. We must always test all things against Scripture and distinguish between that which is tradition and that which is Scripture. Between that which is prescribed and that which is preference. OT worship was highly prescribed, yet it still did not stop false teachers and those with false hearts. The Pharisees were experts on what was prescribed yet added to it and were more concerned with the form than the substance. Jesus rightly called them empty tombs filled with dead men’s bones. He told us that the Father seeks those who worship in spirit and in truth. Having a tightly prescribed form still produced the Pharisees. It was not a guard against error. Truth was found in the Scriptures. The Pharisees neglected them and created a legalistic, manmade religion. They did not worship “in spirit and in truth.”
Would the Father prefer we had just one church we all belonged to? Perhaps but He is more concerned with preserving the wheat and keeping a faithful remnant. We worship in different languages in different places. We follow different liturgies or lack of liturgies. We sing different songs and have different histories but if we hold to the Gospel and worship in spirit and truth, those differences don’t matter. They are not the substance. There is nothing in Scripture that should make us assume there will be one church, preserved from error, that will endure. Instead, we see THE CHURCH, the church universal, that will prevail. That Jesus promised.
Whole 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)
You never get a do over in life. You can start over but you can never do over.
God never promised us an easy life. He never promised we’d be free of pain, sadness, loss, or persecution. He did promise He’d be with us to the very end of the age.
God never said He would take away all the consequences of our sin or of those whose sin harmed us. He did say He would wash our sins away as white as snow.
Sometimes God’s greatest work is accomplished in our pain and suffering. How we handle suffering is sometimes our greatest witness to a world that suffers but sees suffering as something to be avoided.
We will not find justice in this life but before the throne of God justice will be handed out and by the grace of God so will mercy.
Happiness is not a feeling when all is well or we are having fun. Happiness is a by-product of a right relationship with God. It is learning to be content and give thanks no matter what our circumstances.
Trials are a part of live as a believer. God is preparing us for eternity and to make us more Christ like.
Nothing on this earth will satisfy the longing of our soul. Only God can fill that vacuum in our hearts. The only true soulmate we will ever have is Jesus Christ.
If we do find happiness and joy, friends and family, good health and good living we owe it all to God and His good grace and good pleasure.
The greatest words we can ever hope to hear are “Well done good and faithful servant. Come and enter into the rest I have prepared for you.”
The greatest act we will ever perform will be to take the Crown of Glory off our heads and cast it to the feet of Jesus on His throne.
What we have cannot be bought with all the money in the world and the richest man or woman will never have as much as us. Our treasure is in our hearts and bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
Therefore rejoice and give thanks to God Almighty. He loves you, cherishes you, died for you, and calls you His child.
There is no greater love and this truly is the greatest story ever told.
Look to Jesus and you will never lack for anything again.
I think the #1 reason people refuse to follow Christ is a failure to grasp the holiness of God and by contrast their sinfulness. We compare ourselves to an arbitrary standard, pick out the worst in society or history, and judge ourselves to be “pretty good.” Therefore, if there is a God (not that they need one), then surely he would not reject a “good person.” Yet our righteousness is like a dark cave compared to God’s which is like the blinding sun at noonday. Stare at the sun too long and you will blind yourself. Our eyes simply cannot handle that much pure light.
Imagine a man who lived his entire life from birth in a dark cave with seemingly no way out. A stream trickles through with some fish and the climate is warm enough that he does not die from exposure. His eyes have grown accustomed to the darkness of the cave. He can’t really see much but his eyes, accustomed to the extreme darkness, can make out a little. Then one day some cave explorers find a way into his cave and discover him. They have bright lights on their heads that blind him. He has to look away as he’s never seen such brightness. He can’t understand their language but they seem trusting and he allows them to lead him. Realizing his eyes aren’t ready for the full light they put a bag over his head as they approach the exit. At first he is frightened why they would do such a thing but suddenly he senses he is in more light than he thought possible even with a dark bag over his head. It takes months of gradual exposure to the light for him to get to where he can open his eyes fully outdoors. Finally he can see and a new world all around him. A world he could never have imagined. Yet compared to the brightness of the pure sun he is still limited in what he can see as are all the others there who never knew the darkness he did. He can though see more than he could have imagined.
We are spiritually born into utter darkness like the man in the cave. All we know is darkness yet are convinced we can see as our eyes have adjusted to the darkness and we can dimly make out a few things. We have no idea that such brightness as the sun exists! Indeed it is so foreign to all we’ve even known that we cannot even imagine such a thing. We have no idea what we are missing outside of that cave. We don’t even realize a world exists outside that cave. We don’t know we’re in a cave. The cave is our world, our universe. We have no idea how we got there or what awaits us.
One day someone comes into our cave and through sign language communicates the idea that there is a whole wide world outside the cave and that there is light in that world. We have to choose though if we are willing to leave the safety and comfort of the cave (at least it feels safe and comfortable to us) or venture outside into the light. Scarcely believing such a world exists and feeling we already have all we need we decline to follow. Why go we reason? There is nothing more to life than what we have. This person is deluded. Logically they are either a liar, a lunatic, or highly unlikely are correct. We don’t trust them. Even if they are correct how do we know what the outside is like? What if they make us a prisoner or make us live a miserable life? Why risk so much for the unknown that really doesn’t make sense to us? So we stay (John 3:19).
Jesus Christ is the man coming into the cave to lead us out into the light. Yet we love the darkness more than the light. God the Father is the sun. His holiness is SO bright our eyes cannot look upon it. We will need new eyes if we ever hope to gaze upon such light. If we follow Christ out of the cave our eyes begin to adjust to the light slowly over time. We begin to see our sin but also the greatness and grace of God and the beauty of all He has created. No longer hidden away in darkness we now marvel in the light. Such beauty! So much to marvel at! We are aware though that compared to the brightness of the sun we are still in relative darkness but for the first time in our lives we understand that there is more than the pure darkness. There is a marvelous light. We cannot fully gaze upon it yet but we look forward to the day we can.
Praise God that He sends His Son (John 9:4) to us in the darkness of our sin and leads us into the light and into a life we never knew possible! Those in the darkness think they are the ones having all the fun with absolutely no idea how much they are missing out on. Non-Christians think Christians lead boring lives not allowed to have any fun. How little do they realize that true fun is not in license to do whatever we want (which in their case is controlled by their blindness) but in the freedom to be whom God created us to be. We are not slaves or handcuffed. We are living the life God designed us to live.
If you are wealthy enough you can buy a sports cars capable of hitting speeds of 260 mph. Yet if all you do is drive it around town in 25-45 mph zones you have no idea what the car is capable of and the feeling of opening it up wide and feeling the hum of the engine as the car rockets to its maximum speed. You will never know the thrill or riding a bike until you take the training wheels off. Those in Christ are living life to the full. Their engines are running full throttle. Those who reject Christ are driving that expensive sports car at 35 mph having no idea what more that car could do.
Too many are born, live, and die in the cave never knowing the light. When their eyes are finally opened it is on Judgement Day and it is too late. The passed up on their opportunity to leave the cave preferring the darkness. Given their choice God rightfully sentences them to eternal darkness. That is after all what they wanted. They had a chance to step out into the light and see but they preferred the darkness. Their lifetime passed without ever choosing to leave the cave so now they will dwell in eternal darkness. Yet now, for a time of judgment, their eyes are open and they are startled by what they see. Yet all too quickly they are taken back to the darkness from which they will never leave. The greatest suffering they will experience is having glimpsed the light and now with understanding realize their doom. Oh they will curse God and hate Him for not allowing them into His light! Yet for a lifetime they refused Him. He sent many to their cave to rescue them but they refused to leave. They were told about the marvels that awaited them outside the cave yet still would not leave. The rejected everyone who ever came to them. So now God has given them an eternity to live out their choice. They got what they spent a lifetime wanting. Yet somehow God is at fault!
No God is not at fault. We must take responsibility for our choices. Faith is when we do take responsibility for our sin and acknowledge it to God and ask for His forgiveness, His grace, and ask Him to lead us to the light promising to follow Him. The choice is ours. Do we stay in the cave of eternal darkness or do we step out in faith and embrace the light? Do we believe we are already living life to the full or do we trust God to show us how to really live life to the full? Do we accept our car can only do 55 mph or trust that it really can do 260 mph and even more?
That is the question. That is the choice. How will you choose?
I just finished watching (again) the excellent HBO mini series “John Adams.” It is a wonderful account of our Founding Fathers and the birth of our nation. Woven throughout the account is the story of the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They began as allies working together on the Declaration of Independence and being great friends. Politics though divided them as Adams was in favor of a strong Federal government whereas Jefferson stood for State’s rights with only a small Federal role. Jefferson stooped to low blows (all too common today) in order to defeat Adams in his bid for re-election after becoming our second President. Late in life for both men they reconciled though only through the pen never visiting each other again. The deep respect and friendship survived the years of politics and age brought wisdom and charity to both men and ironically and providentially both men died on July 4th on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Without doubt both were great men with great vision and passion. They had the courage to risk their lives to stand for rebellion and the dissolution with England. Both had great wisdom in formulating the government for this nation while flawed still stands as perhaps the greatest government of men ever created save God’s own governing of Israel. Their names are still known to us over 250 years later yet for all their great accomplishments it still comes down to one thing. Did they know Jesus Christ and follow him? No earthly accomplishment no matter how great and no matter how many are benefited can overcome a lack of faith. In the light of eternity what we build in this life, no matter how good and lasting, will not last. The Roman Empire stood for a thousand years yet eventually was conquered by Germanic hordes. The United States is still young compared to the Romans. If the Lord tarries it will one day be supplanted.
I sometimes fear my life has not accomplished much and indeed I should desire it to do so providing I labor for the Lord’s glory. Yet one life, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is immeasurably more valuable than the greatest of secular giants if it is lived for the glory of God. We are stewards of what God has entrusted us with and so until He returns we are to strive to govern as best we can, cure diseases, and provide jobs yet all of that will one day be destroyed when God remakes the universe. What lives for eternity is our souls and our faith. That no fire will ever touch.
I applaud such great men as Adams and Jefferson. Truly their Creator endowed them with great gifts. Let us pray for such gifts but let us use our gifts and resources, whether great or small, to the glory of the one, true God. For indeed what profits a man to gain the whole world but lose his very soul?
Perhaps Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson are in heaven. I hope so. Let us never though fear our accomplishments too meager if the love of God is in our hearts. Such love triumphs over all accomplishments for it is not by works but by faith that given by the grace of God that saves us. Praise be to God!
Image: Statue of Pope Paul II falls and crushes a man to death just 2 days before John Paul II is declared a Saint. Where was his intercession on behalf of this man?
Yesterday Pope Francis honored John XXIII and John Paul II declaring them saints. Sainthood is a uniquely Roman Catholic practice that is not well understood by non-Catholics and perhaps even some Catholics. I’ve read where some Catholic commentators liken a saint to a hero of the faith. Someone to look up to and celebrate.The Roman Catholic Church teaches that saints are to be venerated which means to revere or hold in deep respect. Nothing wrong with having heroes or great examples of faith. However, in Roman Catholic theology a saint is more than a hero.
The Catholic Church has redefined the Biblical term “saint” or added a new class of saints. Biblically anyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ is a saint. Saints are not a special class of believers set apart by especially noteworthy lives or supposed miracles attributed to them nor subject to any earthy inquiry and ceremony. All who are in Christ are saints. So the Roman Catholic use of the term saint and declaring certain people saints is not using the term in its Biblical sense.
More than that though their belief about what sainthood means is also non-Biblical. Among other requirements, candidates for sainthood must have two miracles attributed to them. One while living and another after death.The purpose of there being a miracle after death is to prove the candidate is in heaven, receiving our prayers, and interceding before God on behalf. Yet nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to pray to anyone other than God! There is not one example of Jesus, the Apostles, or any of Christ’s followers praying to anyone but God alone. 1 Timothy 2:5 says there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The Catholic Church tries to side step this verse by claiming it does not preclude “lesser mediators.” Therefore Christ is our “one mediator” when it comes to salvation but other mediators are possible in lesser matters. They cite the Apostle Paul exhorting men to make intercessory prayers. Yet Paul was writing to living men. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest there is any possibility of someone in this life communicating with someone in heaven other than God Himself. In fact, prayer, but it’s very definition is communication with God! To use the word prayer to cover communication with someone who has died and believed to be in heaven is a misuse of the word. Christ is the one who intercedes on our behalf before the Father and it is to Him alone we pray.
Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:34 NIV)
If we have Christ interceding for us why would we need anyone else? Do we imagine a sovereign God is persuaded in His actions by the intercession of a “saint?” No! We pray not to persuade God but to be changed by our prayers into trusting God, His mercy, His goodness, and His will. Prayer changes us not God. God does not change His mind because of our prayers or anyone else’s. So why do we ask other people to pray for us? It gives us comfort, it reminds us that we are all one in Christ, it teaches us all to look to God, trust in Him, and accept His will. God though is sovereign. His will is not moved by our prayers nor swayed by the sheer volume of prayers. To suggest a “saint” or Mary “has God’s ear” and can intercede on our behalf is not only un-Biblical but robs Christ of His role as our sole mediator.
What about the miracles attributed to the intercession of these former Popes or other past saints? Certainly God has and can perform miracles but Biblical miracles are always done for the glory of God. In the Book of Acts we find in chapter 14 an account of Paul healing a lame man. After the healing the crowds became excited exclaiming “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” (Acts 14:11). What was Paul’s response?
“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you…” (Acts 14:15)
Paul was desperate to open their eyes that this man was healed by God and not be some “god” as they supposed he was. The focus of all the Biblical miracles was God never the servant through who attended over the miracle. The disciples of Paul did not venerate him because he healed people nor any of the other Apostles. They attributed the miracle to God and God alone. If someone would have tried to honor Paul because it was his intercession that brought about the miracle I can imagine Paul tearing his shirt and demanding that he was nothing and it was by the hand of God the man was healed and not due to Paul in any way. Yet the Roman Catholic Church goes to great lengths to attribute these miracles to the intercession of some saint and the focus quickly becomes the saint and not the Lord.Suddenly everyone is praying to that Saint. One woman was said to have been cured by holding a picture of the late Pope to the tumor on her neck and leaving it there overnight while praying to him. I have a very hard time with that. Biblical miracles never drew attention to the hands through which God worked but to God Himself. While Jesus once used spit and mud He never gave someone a piece of his clothing and told them to wrap their lame leg in it or sleep with it on their eyes. The whole focus is wrong in the case of the Catholic sainthood “miracles.”
I would even suggest it’s possible these were not true miracles. While only God knows it would not be unlike Satan to cure someone if it put the focus on a man and not on God. Now we have a billion Catholics world wide praying to “saints” and venerating them rather than focusing all their attention on the Lord.
Many have also suggested that the choice of these two Popes is to politically be inclusive by making saints of two different styles of Pope. While I cannot read the mind of Pope Francis the mere suggestion makes the whole thing more laughable. Should “saints” be chosen for political considerations?
Sadly sainthood, like so many other uniquely Catholic traditions, is not Biblical. The Catholic faithful don’t seem to mind though. They have bought into the authority of the church and its traditions and do not test by Scripture what they are taught. The Book of Acts highlights the Berean Christians:
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
The examined the Scriptures to test what Paul was teaching them! Even the great Apostle Paul with all the miraculous things God did through him was checked up on by the very people he was teaching. This is mentioned to their credit. That meant opening, reading, and knowing their Scripture. It was not enough that Paul said it. Yet in my 24 years as a Catholic and in the lives of almost every Catholic I know no one questions the priest, the bishop, the cardinal, or the Pope. No one learns their Bible and checks for themselves. If pressed they run to Catholic Answers or some Catholic site to look up a response incapable of searching the Scriptures for themselves.
I hope these two past Popes are in heaven but if they are I guarantee they are not hearing our prayers. Do I question their salvation? Possibly as the Catholic Church does not preach the Gospel as they add works to faith thus preaching a false Gospel and Paul sternly said that if anyone preaches a false Gospel they shall be damned to hell. I will let God decide that though as He is judge.
Let us celebrate all who follow Jesus Christ. They are the saints. They don’t need a ceremony, the blessing of a living Pope, or any man made process. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and not on men.
An interesting thing has happened in to the church in the last few decades. America is becoming an increasingly unchurched nation. We have the tradition of church attendance largely due to our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our parents and grandparents largely attended church. Increasingly though Americans are eschewing church while “spirituality” is on the rise. Personally this became apparent to me while viewing profiles on mainstream dating sites of all places. More and more people are listing their faith as “spiritual but not religious.” I’ve exchanged messages with several and what they mean by that is all over the map. So we are more “spiritual” than ever but traditional “religion” is on the decline.
So the modern Christian church has tried to adapt to the changing population. Increasingly churches are catering to the unchurched. They feature contemporary style music, light-weight sermons, sermon series focused on “real issues”, and offer attractions like coffee bars and a plethora of children’s programs. Those things are not bad or wrong. However my concern is that in many of these churches their “preachers”, “tickle men’s ears.”
In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul wrote about this very thing:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
I call this the Tony Robbins Church. I am not knocking Tony Robbins. So far as I know he does not represent himself as a pastor, preacher, or theologian. He is a motivational speaker and I don’t think most people feel like they are attending church when going to a Tony Robbins seminar. Yet the church has seen men like Norman Vicent Peale, Robert Schuller, and now Joel Osteen and Jesse Duplantis (to name but a few) who do not preach the Gospel. In their zeal to be every positive they fail to preach the whole Word of God. They purposely skip those verses that deal with sin, damnation, punishment, etc. They preach a “health and wealth” Gospel. After all if they were to preach the whole Gospel of God they would not be able to afford their extensive TV networks! No one wants to hear about their sin! How negative. We would all love to believe that God wants us to be health, wealthy, and wise. He wants us to have that fancy house and luxury car and of course perfect health to go along with it.
Jesse Deplantis put it this way:
“I’ve never had the Lord say, ‘Jesse, I think that car is a little bit too nice.’ I’ve had vehicles and the Lord said, ‘Would you please go park that at your house. Don’t put that in front of my house. I don’t want people to think that I’m a poor God.'” (Jesse Duplantis, “When Will We Yield To The Anointing of Wealth II,” April 10, 2005)
Really Jesse? Where do you find that in Scripture? Did not Jesus and his disciples live often sleep outdoors with little more than the clothes on their back? Which of the apostles was rich? How many died of old age? History is full of the greatest pillars of the faith being martyred for their faith. Was their faith deficient and that is why they suffered thus? No most of the pillars of the faith died terrible deaths and lived very modest lives. Richness is not a sin. Neither though is poverty or poor health. God desires us to be spiritually rich and spiritually healthy. Guess what? We are all going to die and we can’t take anything with us. Do you still think God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy? No God does not want us to be poor or in bad health but He cares more for our spiritual well-being than He does for our material well-being. Those who teach otherwise are NOT teaching the true Gospel.
In Acts 20:24 Luke wrote:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Yes these men do not proclaim the whole counsel of God. They only preach what they feel are the positive verses. As I wrote in my previous blog article, the Good News is understandable only by knowing the “bad news.”
In a way they are lazy and concerned only with tickling ears and filling seats (oh and raking in donations). You see the truth is when we understand why God allows poverty, poor health, and suffering we see them through wholly new eyes. My dear sister died nearly a year ago from a nine month battle with pancreatic cancer. In the midst of dying her comment was not why God chose to inflict her but “why not” her. She understood that God was good and her cancer, thought fatal, was not a punishment. Her cancer drew her closer to God than anything else in her life ever had. She died in the arms of Jesus. At peace. Did her faith fail her because her health failed or did her faith triumph over her failed health?
Joel Osteen may pack the house and draw millions more via television but are they hearing the whole Gospel? Or are the only hearing those things that make them feel good about themselves?
God does not want us to feel good about ourselves. He wants us to glory in Him. When our will aligns with His will we will have all the desires of our hearts. Someone once wrote that “The purpose of the church gathered is to edify the saints. The purpose of the church scattered is to seek and save the lost.” I believe we have lost our vision. The church is the gathering of God’s people to worship Him and edify one another. It is outside of church, in our everyday lives, that we “seek and save the lost.” In other words, the primary mode of evangelism happens in everyday life. Inviting people to church and entertain or motivating them is not evangelism although God can and does use churches to save people. We must remember that when the church gathers our purpose is to worship God and edify each other. As such we would expect no less than the whole Gospel.
In an interview with Christianity Today, published on Oct. 5, 1984, Robert Schuller was quoted as saying:
“I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”
My oh my! What Bible was Robert Schuller reading? Let’s contrast this to the very first sermon given by a follower of Jesus. The preacher was the Apostle Peter and the occasion the Day of Pentecost right after the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Here is the last sentence of Peter’s sermon:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ. (emphasis mine)
Not the way to win friends and influence people! No Peter accuses the Jews of crucifying the Lord! Their Messiah. To be guilty of the death of God’s Holy Messiah is about the worst sin imaginable to a Jew. Yet Robert Schuller would say such a thing is “unchristian.”
Once again Romans 3:23 (written by Paul) says:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
First Peter now Paul! How can Robert Schuller say such a thing when the very followers of Jesus made clear to men their sinful state?
Joel Osteen was once interviewed by Katie Couric.
Host Katie Couric suggested that the popular minister does not “spend a lot of time in (his) sermons talking about good and evil, sin and redemption. It is a very overall positive message.” She asked, “Why don’t you give people more of a moral template?”
Osteen insisted that he does, but “in a positive way.”
“There’s enough pushing people down in life already,” he added. “When they come to my church, or our meetings, I want them to be lifted up. I want them to know that God’s good, that they can move forward, that they can break an addiction, that they can become who God’s created them to be.”
That sounds good and I don’t doubt Joel’s desire but at the same time what is it he wants them lifted up from? By far the #1 thing God wants them to be lifted up from is their sin! Sure God wants you to overcome your addictions, love your spouse better, etc, but without forgiveness from your sin those things are meaningless. If God is good then even the “negative” things He has to say are for our good.
I know it would seem I am picking on Joel. I am using him as an example just like Robert Schuller though I like Joel far better. Joel considers himself a pastor and the leader of a church. Yet Joel does not preach the whole Bible! He only focuses on those things he believes are uplifting and positive. Yet in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 wrote:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Not Paul said all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for training. He did not say “some Scripture” or “only the positive verses.” No he said it was all useful. So why doesn’t Joel, or Rober Schuller, or a host of others preach all of Scripture? One simple reason. Because if they preached all of Scripture they would not fill all those seats and raise all the money. They would not have worldwide TV audiences.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul wrote:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
If someone is offended by the message of the cross then that is not our concern so long as we are faithfully preaching the Gospel. For such it is foolishness. That is not our problem. We are to preach the Good News (which includes the Bad News) and leave the rest to God. Whether our church is big or small is up to God. Our job is to faithfully preach the truth.
I had the pleasure once to attend a series of lectures by Paul Matzat author of the book “Christ Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends.” Our generation is obsessed with self-esteem. We are told we have to learn to love ourselves, esteem ourselves. Only allow the positive in our lives so nothing can drag us down. Yet listen to what Paul Matzat wrote:
“The call of the gospel is away from self and unto Jesus, because self is the problem and Jesus is the solution.”
His book is aptly titled “Christ Esteem.” We don’t need self-esteem. Most of us already think to highly of ourselves. What we need is “Christ Esteem.” You see when you lose your life in Jesus Christ and realize who you are in Him then you have something far more valuable than self-esteem. When you realize the God of the Universe took on flesh and blood and died a terrible death on the cross to pay the price for your sin you will realize you are of infinite value to Him! Now what could be more positive than that?
God allows suffering to mold us into the image of His Son Jesus Chirst. Poor health, poverty, lost job, … are sometimes the way God gets our attention and increases our faith. Those things might be our fault but God uses them for good (Romans 8:28).
We don’t need our self-esteem built-up. We need our Christ-esteem built-up. We don’t need to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel good about God! Once we know who we are in Christ we will feel good about ourselves.
The church and many of her leaders are losing their vision, losing their way. The message of the cross and our need for forgiveness from our sin is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. If pastors will not preach on sin who will?
 As an aside I somewhat dislike the term “religion.” Religion is man’s attempt to explain God or some other higher deity. Christianity is God’s revelation to man. For some it may be a religion but what it really is at the core is God sending His Son to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. Christianity is a relationship not a religion. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ. If it is not that at the core then it is not Christianity. We attend church because we want to be in the company of fellow disciples of Jesus (iron sharpens iron). It is not our church attendance though that makes us Christians. It is our faith.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
These are the lyrics to John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine.” It voices a sentiment shared by many in today’s spiritual climate. It suggests a “brotherhood of man” is possible if we can just imagine a better world free from the things that divide us:
- No heaven
- No countries
- No religion
- No possessions
- No greed or hunger
The premise is that if we remove these things that historically have caused conflict, division, or even wars then we will achieve a brotherhood of man. Before I address this from a Biblical perspective I want to first make a few comments.
To some extent these things were tenants of Communism. Communism downplayed or forbid religion. In the State approved churches in China, for example, pastors were not allowed to preach on heaven or hell. The government did not want to give people anything to “live or die for.” Lenin’s motto was “From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.” There were still possessions but in theory class distinction was eliminated. Your job or education did not determine your income. Just your needs. There were still possessions but in theory no one had considerably more than others since income was distributed by need. A larger family would need more income than a small family but not to give it a higher standard of living. The collective farms run by the State would provide for the sustenance of everyone. So did it work?
History would say NO! The Soviet Union fell apart and China has had to resort to free market reforms. While China still represses religion house churches thrive. I know those who espouse John Lennon’s ideals would say the problem was these things were forced and enforced as opposed to voluntary. They must believe that slowly over a long period of time mankind will see the wisdom of abandoning the things that divide us.
I would ask the question though if these things are the root of the problem. Jesus was confronting the Pharisees who were complaining that His disciples were eating with unclean/unwashed hands. Jesus addressed their concerns saying:
“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ (Matthew 15:17-20)
Jesus’ point was that sin begins in the heart, in the mind. A pure heart can look upon the same scene an impure heart can look on and have a very different reaction. The stimulus is the same but the way the heart responds is what is different. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” That is the natural state of man’s heart: desperately wicked. So we have a desperately wicked heart and it is out of our hearts evil comes. So how will removing all outside sources of division cure the heart of man?
If you go back far enough in time there were no countries, few possessions, and few religions yet somehow we got to where we are today. What began the downward spiral? The problem is the heart of man. The wicked and desperate heart brought about wars and greed and division. Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. Human history was not very old yet Cain murdered his brother out of jealousy and anger. They were not affected by all the things John Lenon would have us eliminate save religion. They believed in but one God and had no quarrel over land or standard of living. Yet Cain killed his brother. So we see sin already at work so soon after the fall of man.
An analogy might be putting a criminal in prison. We isolate criminals from society and take away their freedom. For the sake of argument let’s assume the prisoner is in solitary confinement. There he cannot commit any crimes. Has his criminal nature (i.e. his heart) changed? Not necessarily. He may be completely unchanged but lacking the opportunity to pursue criminal acts the inmate cannot commit further crime. For Lenon’s vision to work hearts would have to change. Merely eliminating countries, and religion, and possessions would not work. Men would still hate, still lie, still cheat, still steal.
Besides you can never eliminate everything that could divide. What about looks, intelligence, talents, and so forth? Those things have longed caused jealousy. They are things we are born with to some extent and so you will never eliminate everything that could cause division. Unless our hearts change it won’t matter what we eliminate.
If religion is one source of division it is interesting to note the attitude of the early Christians as recorded in the Book of Acts chapter 4:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Here we have a group of highly religious people sharing everything! Some had much to give, some had little, some had only need. There were divisions yet their changed hearts moved them to give for the benefit of others. Christian missionaries have for centuries taught people to read and write, help them become self-sufficient, brought much needed medical attention, and so forth. Yes in time organizations like the Peace Corp did the same as a secular organization but missionaries were doing these things for centuries before any secular groups were and continue to today. Christians run homeless shelters, homes for abused women, orphanages, and so much more.
Religion is often blamed for wars and at times rightly so although often those religious wars are as much about racial and cultural differences as they are about religion. As a Christian I will only defend Biblical Christianity. I do not approve of the Islamic teachings (held by some) that infidels are to convert or die. Yet how many people died under Stalin and Mao? While Hitler claimed a Christian background there was absolutely no evidence of it in his life and his views of racial purity and eliminating the weak were nowhere found in Christianity. Japan’s many atrocities in China, Korea, and in WWII in general was not religiously motivated. The deaths from these sources far exceed deaths from so-called religious wars.
Tim Tebow’s faith has been a hot topic for several years now. Not so much his faith but rather his expression of his faith in public. I don’t follow American Idol but one of the 11 finalists, Colton Dixon, has been warned by the producers of the show that his overt Christianity might cost him votes and ultimately lead to his exit from the show. People seem divided by the likes of Tim Tebow and Colton Dixon. On one hand they appreciate their talent but on the other hand they don’t want to hear about their faith. For some their expression of faith overrides their talent and they are simply not a fan.
My first reaction is that no one is forcing them to listen to or read the interviews nor is anyone forcing the media to interview these talented Christians. If you don’t like who they are or their expression of their faith then simply don’t interview them or watch the interviews. Pretty simple really. Why listen then complain? Did anyone put a gun to your head and force you to listen? Last I checked we still have freedom of speech in this country so if Tim Tebow or Colton Dixon want to give thanks to their Lord for their talent and success than that is their right.
Apparently what people want is a vanilla society in which no one ever offends our beliefs or bores us with their faith. Sorry but short of some scifi film-like society where we are all controlled by Big Brother we all stand for something. In the same news today I read about George Clooney saying the US must do something in Somalia. The same George Clooney recently spoke out in favor of gay marriage. Now I could complain and say George Clooney should restrict his public comments to acting and film. Why is an actor using his celebrity status to promote gay marriage or US involvement in Somalia? Agree or disagree with George Clooney he has a right to express his beliefs and use any avenue he wants to put out the message. He is certainly not the first or only celebrity to speak out in support of causes.
Athletes and other celebrities often thank their parents, agents, promoters, friends, and others for their success in interviews or at award ceremonies. Why is it ok to thank Mom and Dad and not Jesus? Maybe it’s because you believe Mom and Dad did help but you don’t believe in Jesus so you don’t want to hear about him. Or maybe you think there is a Jesus but people create their own success. Irrelevant. Tim Tebow and Colton Dixon believe Jesus made a difference in their life and are going to give credit where they believe credit is due. This is another case of “Your God is too Big.” See giving God credit implies a God who is active in our lives and capable of having an impact on our lives. For those who don’t believe in God or want a distant, disinterested God that is offensive.
Well get over it! There are some of us who believe every good gift, every talent, every success comes from the providence of God. Our faith defines us and makes us who we are. Tim Tebow without his savior is no longer Tim Tebow. Love him or hate him Tim Tebow is one of the most sincere and transparent people around. He is not trying to hide who he is. Some people suggest he is trying to shove his faith down their throats. I don’t think being honest about who you are is shoving your faith down people’s throats. Apparently any public expression of faith is viewed as “shoving” by some people. If so there is a lot of shoving going on in our society and those who get on Tim Tebow’s case or Colton Dixon’s better start going after celebrities like George Clooney too.
The thing is you’re not going to silence Tim Tebow or Colton Dixon. They believe in something bigger than awards, material success, and popularity. Colton Dixon’s response to all this was: “Just because it can turn off voters or whatever. But, you know, being a Christian is who I am. It is a part of me musically. It is what I want to do after the show — go into Christian music.” Amen Colton! Be who you are, stand up for what you believe in, and if someone else does not like it then too bad. As Christians we have been commanded to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19). Tebow and Dixon are just living out their faith. Should you expect anything less?