grace

Catholicism.

 

I was raised Catholic. Being from an Italian/Irish lineage, I was given ample opportunity to be submerged into the culture and doctrine of The Roman Catholic Church. The traditions, the expectations, the habits, the components of religious duty, all surrounded me…but was never explained to me. I was about 17 or 18 when I begin thinking about god in some fashion. It would not be until I was twenty-one that I was seized by God with His truth being face to face with His Word, the Bible and what it teaches. I then heard about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I remember sitting in that church building, being invited by my neighbor from the dorm, listening, knowing, and affirming that I deserved Hell, I was a sinner, and that Jesus died. I absorbed all of that during my short years in cognitive interaction with The Roman Catholic Church. However, that day I visited that little Bible church in Bozeman, Montana was the day that the pastor mentioned the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The reality of that, and its significant implications, hit me deeply (to put it mildly), and immediately I was given faith to believe and submit to that Lord of Glory. I remember it well.

However, the years prior to that, I was struggling. In so many ways I was lost-angry, frustrated, hopeless. I remember thinking one particular question over and over again, “If Jesus was such a nice guy, then why did the people kill Him?” I could never get an answer to that nagging question from any Mass I attended, any discussion I heard, or any ritual I observed. There was never any sense in which you could really understand what Jesus did in my time attending the Roman Catholic Church, only that He did it. He died, gave His body, laid to rest in a tomb, held by his mother, conferred religion to mankind…all of which was enshrouded in absolute impregnable mystery. That is not for us to know, only accept. The life, death, and resurrection is not for people to understand only accept. The Jesus of the Catholic Church I attended in Kansas City, MO. and the variety of feasts as well was simply acts of response to our religion. Why? I didn’t know. It was never explained. I am convinced that if I were to ask the average Catholic “Why did Jesus die on a cross? Why was He raised from the dead? Who benefits from His death? What does the Bible say about all of these things?” they would not know either.

Pagan religions have one stick to beat people with-mystery. It is mystery that keeps you attending. It is mystery that keeps you giving. It is mystery that keeps you fearful about ever questioning, or simply understanding, the purposes behind the religion. I am convinced that The Roman Catholic Church is a Pagan religion, primarily for that fact. The leadership of Catholicism does not divulge the purposes for its decrees, nor is it compelled to. They cannot tell you why they do what they do. They cannot tell you where they can find Jesus’ words concerning the Mass, Indulgences, or the Rosary. They cannot demonstrate, exegetically, how Peter was the “Papa” and head of the church. They cannot explain how ex Cathedra can be supported in light of Scripture. Thus, like the life of the church itself, it is all a mystery. And that is the way they like it. Furthermore, this is the foundational component to its “unity.” The reality is that the Catholic church is a shell, a crust. The so-called unity found there, that they say Protestants don’t have because we have so many denominations as if proof of our erroneous doctrines, is only external unity because most Catholics cannot explain Jesus Christ or what He has accomplished. So, in order to keep order, they enshroud the Church with mystery and thereby maintain their idea of unity. It is not unity. It is utter chaos. The Apostle Paul taught that the means of unity is the knowledge of the Son of God (Ephesians 4:11-13). Those who do not believe, and thus teach against, what the Scriptures teach about Jesus Christ cannot remain in fellowship with God’s people (Romans 16:17-18). When a church says the same things about Christ, the kingdom, and all that Christ taught, it is unified. That demands extensive knowledge of those things, the very thing Rome despises.

I want to address a few typical considerations that I have heard over the years from Catholics concerning the differences between them and us, those who are termed “Protestants.” Martin Luther and his actions drove a wedge between us that needed to be driven. I praise God for his conscience that led him to stand alone that day in the face of the anger and tyranny of the leadership of the Catholic Church. What a man. But, just what were the teachings that made up that wedge? What was it that compelled this scholarly monk to renounce The Roman Catholic Church in such stark terms? I believe it comes down to a few teachings (although, admittedly, volumes could be, and have been, written):

  1. THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF JESUS CHRIST.
  2. THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
  3. THE DEPRAVITY OF MAN.

The Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Rome cannot understand the kingdom of Jesus Christ. If we can know a tree by its fruit, then we can surely see this in Rome. Rome seeks to introduce the kingdom to the world by means of subduing people to the Mother Church. Or, to say it another way, Rome wants everyone to “come home.” That is not the announcement of the kingdom. We, those truly born from above, may have to enter eternity by means of a sword. Jesus said,

Matthew 10:34–36

34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35  “For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

36  and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.

Jesus never gave the illusion that somehow the world would be subdued by His church. He never indicated that the church is the vehicle by which the world is made peaceful. That was not His goal in coming to this earth. By His own words He came to this earth to divide the earth. Jesus purposefully initialized the animosity that would arise between family members because some would believe in Him and some would not. What is the good news in that? It is this: when division does happen, a person can be in the family of the One who will ultimately rule. Compared to the alternative, which is to be judged by Him, it is good news. To be reconciled to Jesus Christ, the Judge (John 5:25-27) is the announcement that true Christians have and Rome does not. The gospel that Jesus Christ preached is the announcement of the kingdom. Indeed, it is often referred to as “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Luke 16:16). It is the announcement that Jesus Christ has received a kingdom and He is inviting the world into it (see Matthew 22:1-14). That is not to say that everyone will, or can, enter into it. Jesus Himself said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The gospel demands the call to the world to repent from its sins (Matthew 4:17; Acts 17:30-31). The world, which loves darkness (John 3:19), is the recipient of this announcement and is obligated to obey (2 Thessalonians 1:5-8). The heart of the gospel, and the provision for men to enter into Christ’s kingdom is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This provision, and this alone, is what “merits” man’s entrance into the kingdom. Catholic theology teaches that our works also merit our entrance (Council of Trent, Session VI, Justification, Canons 4, 7, 32). They condemned those who teach that the requirement for entrance into the kingdom was met by Jesus Christ alone, without cooperation from manas heretical (Ibid, Canon 12). In doing so, they condemned Christ Himself because Jesus taught, in context, that man cannot even know how to justify himself nor accomplish it, even by the cooperation of Christ (John 3:1-8). If a man could birth himself physically, then sure, he could cooperate with Jesus Christ for good works that produce eternal life and more of it. But, no man ever cooperated in his physical birth, and no man can cooperate in his spiritual one either.

The Authority of the Scriptures.

The written Word of God has the same authority as the spoken Word of God from His throne (which is not in Rome, by the way). That is to say, God has spoken through His prophets and they recorded what was to be recorded into books and letters and those have been preserved and collected into a mini-library called the Scriptures. The writer of Hebrews wrote that God spoke in many portions and in many ways to His prophets, and ultimately in His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1). This speaking of the Father is what we are after. His speaking was recorded by “men moved by the Holy Spirit [who] spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The office of prophet is no longer in the church (1 Corinthians 13:8). Thus, for the Pope to speak a new form of doctrine or liturgy, and to ascribe the same level of authority upon it as Scripture is simply not possible. Thus, in the same vein of Deuteronomy 13:1ff. that person who says that they now speak on behalf of God as if God Himself is speaking in him, or recognizing his own words as His, then that person is to be rejected. God has closed the canon. Surely, if there was ongoing revelation through a prophet, of which the Pope would have to be labeled, then we have the right to test all that he writes and says against the Word of God (all 66 books-see 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; cf. Deuteronomy 13:1ff.). However, Catholicism admits that, in a very real sense, the canon is not closed. By that I mean that they believe that they have unbroken succession of traditions from the Apostles down to this very day (Trent, session IV, ‘Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures’). Not only do they accept the Apocrypha, which has been proven non-canonical internally, but they list them as authoritative and binding. So, the authority of Scripture, which is unique to the Scriptures alone, is now shared with spoken tradition and the Apocrypha (as well as the early church fathers, as they call them). Yet, the Apostle Paul wrote,

2 Timothy 3:16–17

16  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

17  so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

What is validated as Scripture, not by council but by the Scriptures themselves, is Scripture. Human tradition and extra-canonical writings cannot, and should never be, placed upon the same level as the written Word of God.

The Depravity of Man

Finally, Rome does not believe in the teaching of Scripture regarding the depravity of man. If they did, they would not anathematize those who teach the mercy of God (Justification, Canons 4, 9, 12). Rome says,

It is furthermore declared that in adults the beginning of that justification must proceed from the predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ, that is, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits on their part, they are called; that they who by sin had been cut off from God, may be disposed through His quickening and helping grace to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace; so that, while God touches the heart of man through the illumination of the Holy Ghost, man himself neither does absolutely nothing while receiving that inspiration, since he can also reject it, nor yet is he able by his own free will and without the grace of God to move himself to justice in His sight (Ibid, Chapter 5, emphasis mine).

Although the Council of Trent affirms what seems to be a sound understanding of human depravity, by definition of other doctrines, namely sanctification, they deny it. That is, as Paul said, the righteousness that makes one holy is only by faith in Jesus Christ, worked out in us by God who generates obedience in us by His power alone, not with our cooperation (Philippians 3:7-11; 2:12-13; See Romans 1:5 & 16:26). God certainly works in us for righteousness, not to aid our flesh, but to live out the regeneration which comes by His Holy Spirit through His Word by faith (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The depravity of man is not that his innocence is lost by Adam. It is that he hates God, is His enemy and despises righteousness with his whole heart (John 3:19-20; cf. Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:6-8). This is why millions run to the Catholic churches, as well as a multitude of other cults, because of their refusal to submit to the righteousness of God which is by faith (Romans 10:1-4). They build their own set of righteousness, all by the imitation of the righteousness of God, which is in the Scripture, and they do what they think Scripture says (John 5:39-40), but they do it by means of their own depravity. The righteousness to which they attain is not from heaven, but earth, and is therefore condemning, not meritorious.

The most righteous act imaginable is to believe God. The Bible teaches that this act is not possible, either by man, nor in a mixture of his will and God’s (John 1:12-13), nor in any other fashion. The faith that must be in man as proof of eternal life (John 3:15) must be given to man, as a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9), and is not earned. If it were earned, the death of Jesus Christ would not have been necessary. Besides, the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant, which has come to the Gentiles, is only by faith, and not by the fruit of faith which is righteous behavior (Galatians 3; esp. vv. 8-9). Catholic doctrine demands that the sinner must cooperate with God in the regeneration that is required to enter the Kingdom of Christ. However, if that were the case, then the Apostle Paul was wrong when he taught that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor the perishable the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). That is why the Lord taught that a man must die in order to follow Him (Matthew 10:37-39) and then must be born from above, from God (John 3:3-8; cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27). What could possibly make a Catholic think that he could assist God in this endeavor? God does not remodel a sinner-the sinner must die and be reborn. He must be a “new creation” in order to be acceptable to God and enter God’s kingdom (see Matthew 5:48).

For any person who believes Catholic doctrine, and has believed in the teaching of the Priests, Bishops, Cardinals, and Popes, of centuries past or today, read and re-read what I have written. I am not asking you to become a Protestant. I, as a pastor of Christ’s flock, am instructing you to submit to Jesus Christ by means of repentance from erroneous doctrine and dead works and believing in what He actually did teach-you must be born from God, not man, in order to enter His kingdom.

How Do They Do It?

When a person reads the epistle of Jude, or Second Peter, you begin to wonder, “How is it that a person can be so contrary to what the Bible says in their teaching and their lives, and yet “creep in unnoticed”?” How is it that the church does not spot them immediately? Consider the description of apostate teachers:

· They are deceptive-v.3
· They resist greater authorities, including church leadership-vv.4, 8, 11, 16.
· They are fleshly-vv. 4, 8,
· They prey on the saints-vv.12,16.
· They don’t care for doctrine-vv. 4,10, 16.
· They complain and criticize-v.16.
· They are a law unto themselves-v.18.

Peter has even more to say concerning their lifestyle, including fleshly indulgence, adultery, and slavery to corruption. The question then becomes, “How can they be ‘unnoticed’?” Jude, along with Peter, tell us how they do it and this modus operandi is very important for the church to consider if it is going to be successful in contending for the truth.

Jude wrote,

         3      Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.
         4      For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

The brother of the Lord, Jude, had the desire to write to the the churches of the dispersion concerning the glories of their salvation. But, he had learned that apostates had entered the fellowship of the saints and with that reality, he was compelled to write to the church to appeal to them to fight hard against the error that would emanate from these men. How he had heard about them, who they were, how he identified them, and were they known in other churches as leading them astray, is impossible to tell. However, Jude is not writing to name the imposters, but to describe them. This is far better so that they, and their kind, can be identified and removed. Further, it serves us better because we can also identify their kind and take steps to deal with it.

The Lord Jesus Christ taught about this. In the Old Testament, if a false prophet would arise, according to Deuteronomy 13:1-11, and counseled rebellion within the context of signs and wonders (which came true or actually happened, by the way) he would be killed. The death penalty was the result for the man who would come in and define God in a way that was not according to the Law of Moses. The death penalty would have the affect of curbing others from following suit.

Yet, we are not under those regulations. So, what are we to do with those who counsel rebellion? The big picture is found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. This parable, told by the Lord Himself, teaches us how to handle the “sons of the evil one.”

   24      Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
         25      “But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.
         26      “But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.
         27      “The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’
         28      “And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’
         29      “But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them.
         30      ‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”

This is a parable meant to teach of the character and economy of the kingdom of heaven. The difficulty of understanding these things demands that Jesus teach in a parable. This parable covers a lot of ground in teaching us how the kingdom of heaven will exist and does now exist. The entire parable is the comparison. In summary, a man sowed good seed in his field, another man, an enemy, came along undercover (unnoticed), and sowed bad seed in the man’s good field. This is a very evil and malicious thing to do. As the crop bore grain, the workers of the field saw the tares alongside of it and went and told the owner that the field has both weeds and wheat. The loyal workers were willing to enter the field and begin pulling up the tares amidst the wheat. The owner, concerned for his wheat, said, “No. You can’t do that without affecting the wheat also. When harvest comes, we will gather the tares and burn them at that time.”

Later, in private, Jesus explains the parable:

         36      Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”
         37      And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man,
         38      and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one;
         39      and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.
         40      “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.
         41      “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness,
         42      and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
         43      “Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

The Son of Man sows the seed of the sons of the kingdom of heaven in the field of the world. The tares, planted by the devil, are the sons of the evil one. The enemy has placed evil alongside righteousness. Both are allowed to co-exist for a time in the kingdom of heaven. However, at the end of this age, the reapers (the angels of God) will be called to separate the wheat from the tares. The evil ones will the judged by eternal fire, and the righteous children of God will enter into the “kingdom of their Father” and will reign in brilliance forever.

Those evil workers are allowed to exist alongside the righteous. We are not called to kill them or anything of the sort. We are only called to wait until harvest and let the Lord separate them out and fulfill that instruction. In the church, we are to identify them, call attention to their teaching, and warn the saints. Pastors are tasked with the burden of protecting the flock of God from these deceptive workers and their leavenous teaching. The saints are to build themselves up on the their holy faith and not spend their days identifying error. There is much more to learning of Christ than there is to learning of Satan. The influence will be felt in the world, and that can, and does, bleed into the church.

But, the question remains, “How?” The brilliance of Satan becomes clear at this point. Notice Jude 4,

…ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Here is their tactic. They are ungodly persons. They are immoral, irreverent, and opposing to God. Their craft is found in the skills of deception. Jude says that these ungodly persons creep in unnoticed by the church because they change the meaning of grace into its antithesis. That is, apostates are skilled at changing definitions of key truths.

The word that Jude uses for “turn” is the Greek word, μετατιθέντες . This word is a very descriptive and clear word. It means, in the temporal or spatial sense, to place and object from one location to another location. In the ideological sense, it means to change, pervert, or transfer meaning from one thing to another. It is the idea of transformation of ideas or truth into something other than its actual meaning. Putting this into the verse, we see that these teachers come in and change/alter the meaning of ‘grace’ from the accomplished righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15-21) given to those who believe in Jesus Christ which leads to righteous living (Titus 2:11-14), to then mean the freedom to indulge in licentiousness and pleasure. You see, if they can convince the church that true Christian living is self-indulgence and pleasure-seeking, then their sensual lives will blend right in with the things they assert. If a person can call grace “freedom,” then their so-called freedoms will define grace and thus they sneak in unnoticed. Brilliant!

Consider this, grace reigns in righteousness and leads to eternal life in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:21). Grace is given by God and is necessary for justification (Ephesians 2:8-10). Grace is from the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15:11). Grace allows God to forgive trespasses (Ephesians 1:7). Grace defines the very throne of God (Hebrews 4:16). Finally, grace, the provision of the righteousness that satisfies the holiness of God which sinners have offended (Matthew 5:48), instructs us

…to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, –Titus 2:12

Nowhere do we find that grace provides for our indulgences, desires, and dreams. Grace, in fact, does not allow for that. Rather, it comes at the expense of denying ourselves. The Lord Jesus told the crowd of disciples on a number of occasions that if they want to have life, they must deny themselves, take their cross, and follow Him (Matthew 10:37-39; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23; 14:27f.). To follow Jesus Christ is a life of the denial of the flesh, not an exercise of the flesh. The cost is more than most want to consider, but that does not change the demand. Grace is grace precisely because it is the provision of the righteousness that we could never generate, but is required in order to approach God. Thus, true grace leads to the practice of this righteousness…through Christ.

So, the next time someone wants to come to you and redefine grace as freedom from rules, laws, and the burden of righteous living, consider the possibility that they might be attempting to redefine grace to provide for their own licentiousness.

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