Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Man, by nature, is not a humble creature. All of us like to think highly of ourselves and we like others to think highly of us, as well. Here in America, we spend billions of dollars every year on cosmetics, beauty aids, gym memberships, fine clothing and fancy cars. We are very concerned about our image. We want to look good and we want our friends, neighbors and co-workers to think we look good.
And that spills over into our morality. Not only do we want to look good, but we want to believe that we are good persons. Many, if not most, consider themselves to be moral people. They just can’t imagine that they would be in the “bad person” category. After all, they are better than Adolf Hitler, or Joseph Stalin, or Jeffrey Dahmer, or Saddam Hussein, aren’t they? It’s hard to convince most people that they are not as good as they think they are. For one example, see this short video:
So, what about Judgment Day? Will God consider most people to be good enough to get into Heaven? Do any of them think that there’s a possibility that they might be shocked on that critical day? It seems that many will expect God to react in their favor. For example, let’s look at “George” (a fictional character). George thinks that God will most likely say, “George, why should I let you into Heaven?” And then George pulls out his lengthy resume, unrolls it like a scroll, and begins to show God, one by one, how many good things he did for the church, his family and for other people, causing “oohs” and “ahhhs” of approval from the angelic hosts. God responds, “Wow, George, I am very impressed! You’ve certainly earned your way into Heaven. Come on in!”
Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but this is, I believe, pretty much what many people will be expecting on Judgment Day. They’re trusting in their goodness, hoping that the good things they’ve done will outweigh the bad.
Is Anybody Good?
But the Bible sheds some light on Judgment Day. In Matthew 7:21-23 we see that there are many who will be utterly shocked that God finds them to be “workers of iniquity,” instead of “good people.” The people in this Bible passage did many “good” deeds, and they even did them “in Jesus’ name.” And they definitely expected this to work in their favor, i.e., to merit entrance into Heaven. Yet, to their horror, they were rejected, they were sent to Hell. What did they do wrong? Well, for one thing, they were trusting in their works to get them in: “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?” But the Bible is clear that we are saved only by the grace of God, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), and not by works (Romans 4:4-5). Remember, Jesus said that no one is good but God (Mark 10:18).
An Apostle’s Resume
Consider the apostle Paul. Now this guy had an impressive resume! He was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, a zealous Pharisee, a Hebrew of Hebrews and was considered faultless under the Law by his peers (Philippians 3:3-6)! Yet, he counted all these things as dung that he may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-9)! Not only that, but Paul also suffered often in hard labor, imprisonment, beatings, scourgings, stoning, shipwreck, hunger, thirst, cold, lack of sleep and in frequent danger of death. Not to mention his constant and deep concern for the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). But even this resume would not be sufficient to merit Heaven, and Paul would be the first to admit this. No one’s resume is good enough, except for the one provided by Jesus Christ through His work on the cross (1 John 2:2; 4:10). THAT is the resume we should boast in when we stand before God!
What About Catholics?
So what about those who teach faith plus works to be saved, like the Catholic Church? Doesn’t this type of mindset leave room for boasting? Indeed it does (Romans 3:27; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Many Catholics will deny that theirs is a works-based gospel. They will often quote the Council of Trent and say that they do not believe in salvation by works. Trent says:
“None of those things which precede justification – whether faith or works – merit the grace itself of justification.” (Session 6, Chapter 8)
Ok, this may sound good on the surface, but it is misleading for at least two reasons: 1) Scripture tells us that faith does indeed come before and produce justification according to the plan of God (Romans 4:1-3; 9-10), and 2) Trent is saying that works don’t come before justification, yet in other places they tell us that baptism (which is a work) is indeed the cause of salvation! So they’ve got it all twisted.
On the one hand, they will say that it’s not a works-based salvation, yet, when discussing salvation with them, they will quickly turn to James chapter 2 and insist that salvation is by works, without realizing their flip flop. I have seen this many times.
But let’s dispel this myth that Catholicism is not a works-based religion. This is what they teach…
Official Catholic Teaching
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance… is necessary for salvation.” (CCC #2036) [Emphasis added]
“…the Second Vatican Council confirms: ‘the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments.’” (CCC #2068) [Emphasis added]
“The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant [which are works] are necessary for salvation.” (CCC #1129) [Emphasis in original]
“…The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude…” (CCC 1257)
According to the Council of Trent:
“If anyone saith that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation… let him be anathema.” (Session 7, Canon 4)
“If anyone saith that the justice [justification] received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.” (Session 6, Canon 24)
According to the Second Vatican Council’s Apostolic Constitution on the Revision of Indulgences, Chapter 3:
“From the most ancient times in the Church good works were also offered to God for the salvation of sinners… indeed the prayers and good works of holy people were regarded as of such great value that it could be asserted that the penitent was washed, cleansed and redeemed with the help of the entire Christian people.”
This is ample evidence that the Catholic Church teaches salvation by works. And there are many more examples we could provide.
So, no informed Catholic can honestly deny that the Catholic Church officially teaches that salvation is (at least to some extent) based upon one’s own works. But according to Scripture, salvation is not of works (Ephesians 2:9), not even by works of righteousness (Titus 3:5), but rather, it is for the one who does not work, but believes (Romans 4:5).
This doesn’t mean that we Christians are never to do any good works, because God certainly wants us to walk in these (Ephesians 2:10). But our mindset should be that it is only through God’s grace and the cross of Jesus Christ that we are saved, apart from the merits of any of our good works. To say that your works contribute in any way toward your salvation is to say that Jesus’ work on the cross was not sufficient to pay for the sins of the world. Does anyone really want to say this?
Once again, salvation is not about how great you are, and neither is it about the good things you did for God. Rather, it is a surrender to God, an admission of helplessness and unworthiness, a humble confession of spiritual bankruptcy on your part.
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). Accept and believe this simple gospel (the good news) of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, trust in HIS work and suffering and you will not regret it.
I pray that this article is both humbling and encouraging to all. But I want everyone to know that if you think that your resume will pull you through Heaven’s gates, you don’t stand a chance.