Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Which gospel to believe?

I had the honor of responding to a recent email entirely about the gospel. I hope this is encouraging for you =)


I am not out to start a fight. I just want both sides to the story. I am not a fan of tit for tat ridicule I see on both Protestant and catholic blogs. I just want to make an informed decision based on fact and reason. I am a fallen away christian, but I have decided religion should be the most important thing in my life, so I am searching for answers. 1.)evn though the 7 books in the catholic bible(Judith, Tobit, etc. are not in prot. ones, are they the work of God? I must add I found comfort and felt closer after i read them. Is that wrong. I met a priest who was a nice guy, and he told me he didn't care what denomination I was, he just wanted me to be closer to God. He was not anti-prot. as I thought they all were, and he told me to keep going to my Baptist church. The guys I read on the cath. apoli. on the internet were down right mean, as were alot of the prot. Are we not all followers of Jesus? Very confused. Even alot of the prot. guys were ripping each other. Mt head is spinning. I don't know who to believe?


My response:


First of all, let me just say that I am honored to be able to respond to your email because you touch on the most important issue in life: true religion.

I’ll respond to your email as best I can but the more I know about what specific questions you have and what issues you are struggling with the better I’ll be able to interact with you.

Contrary to liberals who are ever ready to share their opinions, conservatives on both sides of the Protestant and Catholic isles would argue that the differences between the two perspectives are of the utmost importance. We are not talking about peripheral issues that have no meaningful impact, but rather issues that focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Roman Catholics would say that the Protestant gospel is false, just as Protestants would say that the Roman Catholic gospel is false.

Now to the main thrust of your email: Which of these two religions is true, and which possesses the true gospel of God?

Paul the Apostle began his letter to the saints at Rome by describing the gospel as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, NASB). If we are to believe that Paul was here correct in his assertion that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, then having a right view of the gospel must be our foremost concern. All other issues pale in comparison because it is only through the gospel that God has chosen to save sinners from a life and the consequences of our sins. Were it not for the Lord’s intervention, we would be hopelessly left to bear the guilt and punishment for our sins.

While there are many important issues dividing Protestants and Roman Catholics, I’ll spend most of my time in this email focusing on the differences between the two gospels. I will also offer a Biblical defense of the Protestant view of the gospel from the Bible.

The great divide that exists between the Protestant and Roman Catholic gospel is centered around the doctrine of justification. So I ask the question: how is a sinner justified, or declared not guilty of his sins, before God?

The Catholic catechism defines justification this way: “The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" and through Baptism.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1987). We see here a summarized statement that sinful man is justified through faith and through baptism. It is important to remember that justification and sanctification are considered one and the same by Rome, therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that justification is considered an ongoing process, completed only after death and Purgatory. Ludwig Ott has this to say on the subject: “Without a special revelation nobody can with certainty of faith know whether or not he has fulfilled all the conditions that are necessary for achieving justification" (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma Rockford Ill.: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974, p.262). A sinner may never fulfill all the requirements to be justified; it may increase, decrease and even be lost. The Catholic Catechism also teaches that we may increase in our sanctification through our merits. The Holy Spirit gives prevenient grace that enables all of mankind to respond and cooperate with God’s grace. Justification is then a cooperative effort between God’s grace, which makes a way of salvation possible, but in the end it is up to man’s will and personal merits that earn salvation for him.

By contrast, the Protestant view of justification is solely a work of God’s grace and not a cooperative effort between God and man. Because of Adam all of mankind is spiritually dead to the things of God, unable even to respond to the gospel. Man is so affected by sin that he cannot repent or believe in the Savior. The Holy Spirit must give grace for believers to respond, though a key difference here with Rome is that when the Holy Spirit gives grace to a sinner it accomplishes the task to its fullness. I could say it another way: God never fails to save a sinner whom He has decided to save. Through the hearing of the gospel (the message of Christ) the Holy Spirit raises the dead sinner to spiritual life, who then believes in Jesus Christ and is justified of his sins. Because of our complete inability to save ourselves, or to do anything pleasing in God’s sight (even repentance and faith), Protestants emphasize that salvation is by grace alone. Justification is a legal declaration made by God in His law court at a point in time, and not a process. We are not justified by works of any kind, be that works of Law or personal merits, but solely by faith. Therefore, the basis for our right-standing before God is not because of our own merits but because of the merits of Jesus Christ, imputed to us (considered to be ours) through faith. Justification can not be increased or lost because one‘s right-standing before the Lord is not based on man‘s work. This is a completely different idea compared to Rome’s view of an infused righteousness within man as an ongoing process.

Where in the Bible do we see this view of justification by faith alone, and not by works at all? Firstly, I would strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with the epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians because they are on the subject of justification.

In Romans, Paul spends the first few chapters demonstrating that all men are deserving of the wrath of God because of sin. Both Jews and Gentiles are addressed in these chapters, and Paul makes sure to point out that both works of the Law and personal merits cannot make up for the consequences of sin. We are completely lost, unable to have a right position before our Creator. Then finally, in Romans 3:21-31 we have one of the most beautiful sections in all of Scripture explaining how God saves dead sinners through faith. In verse 28, Paul writes, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (NASB). Or again, Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NASB).If Paul was going to add anything necessary to ensure our justification he would have mentioned in here.

Next, Paul continues on his argument in chapter 4:1-8: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 "BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. 8 "BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.””

Abraham, the Father of our faith, was not justified by works but through faith. The righteousness of God was made known to Abraham through faith. Paul makes the contrast between the one who works and the one who does not work, and it is to the one who does not work that is justified of his sins. God justifies the ungodly, not the godly. He credits righteousness to those not working but having faith in Christ. The contrast between faith and works must be noted because they are given as though polar opposites.

To the Galatians, Paul wrote this: “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16, NASB).

The distinction between the Protestant - and I believe, Biblical - gospel with the gospel taught by Roman Catholicism is immense. The Counter-Reformation led by the Roman Church completely reject this Biblical understanding of the gospel in their Council of Trent and gives us a good idea of how Rome views the Evangelical perspective; Canon IX: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

In conclusion, Protestants agree with the Scriptures that say sinners are justified through faith alone, and not by works. Rome says that we are justified through faith and works.

Obviously, I’ve given you a lot to think about so I’ll leave it here and eagerly await your response.

Because of the finished work of Christ,
Casey (Rusty) Ryan

No comments:

Post a Comment