Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Gospel According to Jesus

Pope Benedict announced his resignation this past week. This is the first time a pope has resigned in nearly 600 years. The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. He stepped down to end the “Great Western Schism” during which there were rival claims to the papal throne. In 1294, Pope Celestine V resigned after only five months, preferring the simple life of a monk to the majesty of being pope.

Benedict resigned because he felt he was too frail to adequately exercise the duties of the Petrine ministry. There are many conspiracy theories circulating – everything from blackmail to pressure from an outside homosexual contingent.

No matter the reason, the church believes the pope is the successor of Saint Peter whom, according to Roman Catholic teaching, Jesus named as the “shepherd” and “rock” of the Catholic Church. Also, according to Catholic dogma, it is the one true Church founded by Christ. Peter never bore the title of “pope”, which came into use three centuries later, but Catholics traditionally recognize him as the first pope.

Many Catholics are shocked by this news and are trying to make sense of it through the lens of their faith. A trying time.

I was raised Catholic and many of my family and friends are Catholic. I have to admit that I struggle when news like this surfaces. It is always challenging trying to figure out exactly what to say that is loving but also firm regarding the purity of the gospel message of Christ. And His message is simple - forgiveness of ones sins is available to anyone who puts their faith and trust in Him and His atoning work on the cross, see Romans 10:1-13.

While the Catholic Church does not deny the atoning work of Christ on the cross, it also teaches that in addition to Christ's sacrifice, a person must perform certain works to earn salvation. The words of the Council of Trent – convened to affirm and codify the teaching of the Catholic Church in response to the Reformation – clearly spell out the Catholic version of justification that still stands today. “Hence, to those who work well unto the end and trust in God, eternal life is to be offered, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Christ Jesus, and as a reward promised by God himself, to be faithfully given to their good works and merits.” Salvation in the Catholic system is something you earn “by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life and to have truly merited eternal life.”

John MacArthur has been writing a series of blogs to inform readers of the teachings of the Cathlolic Church and how they differ in relation to the gospel message of Christ. He says the following in regards to the Catholic teaching on how one obtains salvation, “It’s a completely foreign gospel, manufactured by the Catholic Church and able only to condemn, not save. No amount of repetitious prayers, veneration of the saints and other church relics, or masses attended can redeem a sinner’s soul. No priest has the power to forgive sins, and no indulgence bought and paid for can hold back the due punishment of those sins.”

Coincidently, the pastor of my church has been preaching through the Book of Galatians. The Apostle Paul penned this letter to a number of early Christian communities in the Roman province of Galatia in central Anatolia around 200 AD. At the beginning of the letter, Paul is principally concerned with the controversy surrounding Gentile Christians and the Mosaic Law in early Christianity. The Judaizers wanted to mix Jewish traditions with the gospel message, thereby, perverting the purity of it. Paul eloquently and fiercely defends the gospel even confronting the Apostle Peter for allowing the heresy to perpetuate. This text clearly shows that the Apostle Peter was not infallible in church matters as Catholic dogma not only teaches, but also believes is passed down to all future popes. This is why it is so important to always examine what the Scripture says and not rely on the traditions of men.

I wish I could say that Paul’s letter ended this type of attack on the gospel, but sadly, it has only grown worse as the powers of the kingdom of darkness continue to distort it. The Catholic Church, along with any other religion that tells a person they have to do something to earn salvation is preaching a foreign gospel. And this really is the crux of the matter. I often tell my family and friends who are Catholic that in the end all that will matter is what you believe about the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. The Bible clearly states that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross at Calvary to pay for the sins of mankind. He rose on the third day and ascended into heaven and promises all those that trust in Him and His finished work on the cross that they too will also one day rise from the dead and be eternally present with God.

Ephesians 2:8-9 unequivocally states that man can do nothing to earn God's favor for it is “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” This is our message. We must hold fast to it, preach it to others as well as to ourselves, but most importantly, live it.

We inhabit a world that is very dark and only grows dimmer with every law that is passed that legalizes another sin. Christ told us that He is the Light of the world (John 8:12). As His followers, we carry that light to others. If you have people in your life that are Catholic this is the perfect time to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ in love. Right now they are searching for answers. Don’t let Rome be the ones feeding them more lies about how to get heaven. The most precious message we possess is the gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Share it today.
“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!” - Patrick Henry

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