A Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

Catechism ClipsA Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

 James R. Aist

I was a Roman Catholic for 20 years of my adult life. There are a number of things about the Roman Catholic Church with which I agree, and admire and appreciate. And I know several Roman Catholics who, by all indications, are born-again Christians, as I am. But I do have one concern in particular that I feel compelled to share with you.

To the best of my knowledge, the most important single doctrine of the Christian church is the doctrine of salvation, for it is what you believe (or, more precisely, in whom you believe!) about salvation that will ultimately determine your eternal destiny, whether it be heaven or hell. I developed the case (click HERE) for the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), and not by either works alone or faith plus works. In the official Roman Catholic Catechism posted on the Vatican website, under the heading “Merit” (click HERE), the following paragraph speaks about the roles of “merit” (the particular term used in this Catechism to mean “good works” or “good deeds”) in the life and eternal destiny of the believer:

“2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” (italics mine).

Here is the (italicized) excerpt to which I want to draw your attention: “…we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces neededfor the attainment of eternal life.” Now, with the understanding that “merit” is taken to mean “good works” or “good deeds” in this Catechism, what this paragraph is saying is that, once we are saved, our good works will earn for us the grace needed for eternal life.  Thus, it appears that the Roman Catholic Church clearly teaches a salvation doctrine of faith (in Jesus Christ) plus good works (merit), rather than the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, and not by works.

Now, you may have the impression that this is probably a trivial and meaningless distinction, but let me bring to your attention the following words of the apostle Paul in this regard:

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.” (Romans 3:28);

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3);

and now, the clinchers…

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4). In other words, if you are trying to justify yourself by your good works, then you are alienated from Christ and have fallen away from the very grace that is necessary to attain eternal life, rather than having earned that grace by your good works!

AND

For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless…” (Romans 4:13-15). That is to say, if you depend on your good works to qualify you for heaven, then your faith (in Jesus) is nullified and the promise (of eternal life) through that faith is worthless.

AND

“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5). In other words, if your salvation is wages for your good works, then it is not by grace (a free gift) that you are saved. But if your salvation is a result of your faith in Jesus, then you are saved by grace, not by works.

AND, in Jesus’ own words…

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29). No “works” at all are required, in the usual sense of the word, for one to be saved; only faith is required (belief).

How, then can we understand James 2:14-26, which seems to imply that works play a necessary role in our salvation? When one takes this passage in its entirety, it becomes evident that James is talking about two kinds of “faith” here. One kind is the same as the demons have, is dead, does not lead to salvation and does not produce good works. It is merely “mental ascent” to certain facts about the things of God.  The other kind of faith is alive, leads to salvation (i.e., it is “saving faith”) and produces good works. The good works are a result of, and evidence of, the kind of faith that saves, but they are not what brings about salvation; only saving faith does that.

One might reasonably summarize the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James on faith and works as they relate to salvation with this paraphrase: “A special kind of faith is required for salvation. It is a faith that leads to good works. The good works are evidence that one has “saving faith”, but they do not help one earn a place in heaven. God requires only that we have saving faith in Jesus Christ to qualify for heaven; the good works will follow naturally after one is saved.”

It would seem to me that the distinction I am making here is neither trivial nor meaningless; rather, it is vital and necessary for the attainment of eternal life, according the Bible, that is. For this reason, I sincerely hope that you will weigh my concern carefully, and then make any necessary adjustments, if any, to your professed doctrinal belief regarding salvation. After all, this is the doctrinal belief upon which your very eternal destiny hinges!

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

A Date with “Fate” at Eight

Rural ChurchA Date with “Fate” at Eight

James R. Aist

“I was found by those who did not seek me;
    I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (Romans 10:20)

Introduction

I love to hear people tell the story of how God saved them. These stories all have some common ground, of course, but they are all different too, sometimes in interesting and amazing ways. Consider the range of salvation accounts recorded in the New Testament: an Ethiopian eunuch was saved through the one-on-one teaching of Philip (Acts 8:26-35); Simon the Sorcerer was saved through the public preaching of Philip (Acts 8:12); and Saul (later re-named Paul) was saved through the experience of a blinding light and piercing, convicting words from Jesus Himself while on the road to Damascus to persecute the Christians there (Acts 22:6-15). The details of the salvation experience in this day and age can also be far-ranging and fascinating. I know some who came to a gradual realization of the truth of the Gospel, which lead, ultimately, to an awareness that they believed in Jesus Christ, and others who had a sudden, miraculous experience that resulted in the immediate gift of saving faith. Now, regardless of how God brings you to the point of saving faith, you are just as saved as anyone else who gets to that point in life. My personal experience happens to be of the sudden, miraculous nature, and, if you will allow me to do so, I would like to share it with you now.

A Little Brown Church in the Vale…Well, Sort of

My family was Methodist, having moved from Maryland to Arkansas by way of Indiana. We lived on a working dairy farm in central Arkansas, and our house was located on a little dirt road off another dirt road, way “out in the sticks”. This very rural community was called “Cypress Valley”, because Cypress Creek ran through it. The houses were, generally speaking, at least a quarter-mile apart. Well, there was a little, wood-frame Methodist church located only about 75 yards from our front door, so that’s where we attended church, faithfully, every Sunday. Actually, the building itself was not really brown; it was more of a dull, gray color where the white paint was peeling off. Nor was it in a “wildwood”. But it was in a “vale” (which means “valley”). Well, that’s the venue, so on with the story!

An Old-timey Revival Is Coming to “Town”!

In the Summer of ‘53, the powers that be in the Cypress Valley Methodist Church decided it would be a good idea to invite an evangelist to come and preach a revival. Now, I was only eight years old at the time and had never heard of a “revival.” But I soon learned it meant that, during revival week, we would all be going to church not only on Sunday, but on the next three nights as well. That sounded to me like it would be the most excitement that we had seen in Cypress Valley since the dog came home from the creek bottom with swollen jowls from a snake bite! So, although I didn’t know what a “revival” was, I was looking forward to it, nonetheless.

A Date with “Fate”

Revival week came, and off to church we went. We would sing some hymns, have some prayer, listen to the evangelist preach, and then have an “altar call” for those who wanted to get saved. Up to that point, I knew nothing about being “saved” or that I even needed to be saved. Oh, I was aware that I had done some bad things – like lying and cussing and smarting off to my parents – but I was unaware that God would hold me responsible for my wrong doings, after my parents were done with me. I breezed through the first night of the revival, just taking it all in without thinking much about what was really going on. The second night, however, was different for some reason. When the evangelist began to preach, I found myself listening intently to what he was saying; it was as if he was talking to me, personally. He didn’t deliver a “hell fire and brimstone” message at all that night. Instead, he focused on how God loves me so much that he sent His only Son, Jesus, to sacrifice his life for my sins by dying on the cross for me. As he was explaining just how amazing such a love is, I had a “vision.” I first saw something like a dense fog or cloud that parted in the middle, then a soft and diffuse light appeared, and then I heard a voice say to me something like, “What he is saying is true. You can depend on it. Believe it and do not depart from it, no matter what.” Then the vision went away, and I was so excited that I could hardly wait for the invitation to come forward and confirm what had just happened: God had saved me through a glorious vision and a message from heaven that validated to me – beyond any doubt — the evangelist’s message of God’s love that night! So, when the time came for the altar call, I was quick to go forward and let everyone there know that I had just believed in Jesus. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but now I realize just how perfectly my conversion experience exemplifies what the Bible says: 1) John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”; 2) Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”; and 3) 1 John 5:8, “There are three that testify on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood…” I praise God that the word He sent out to me that night did not return to Him void, but accomplished His purpose (Isaiah 55:11).

We all rejoiced at the good news and went home. But I didn’t tell them the part about the vision and the voice; I was only eight years old.

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

Are Christians Bound by Old Testament Laws?

Ten Commandments

Are Christians Bound by Old Testament Laws?

 James   R. Aist

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:17)

Introduction

I don’t know about you, but, until recently, I have not had a well-informed response to unbelievers who say that Christians are hypocrites, because they do not obey all of the biblical laws, but selectively disobey many of the Old Testament laws while insisting that everyone should obey the others. How would you respond to such a charge? Are unbelievers correct in making this accusation, or are there biblically sound reasons why Christians are not bound by some of the laws prescribed in the Old Testament?

Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert on this topic, but I have studied it enough to be able to provide what I believe to be a valid and reliable overview and to point you to some additional resources (links) that will enable you to study this question to your personal satisfaction and draw your own conclusions, if you are so inclined. So, let’s jump right into it.

Categories of Old Testament Laws

While the Bible does not formally and explicitly list categories of Old Testament laws, it is possible for us to recognize and define, in retrospect, three categories of them. This exercise reminds me of the way in which we recognize the biblical doctrine of the trinity, even though the Bible does not directly and specifically name and list it as a defined doctrine. Therefore, I am reasonably certain that this is a valid, biblical approach to this topic.

There appears to be widespread – albeit not at all unanimous – consensus on the following categories of Old Testament laws:

1) Civil Laws – Ancient Israel was a theocracy, in which God himself, through the Jewish religious establishment, provided the civil laws and their enforcement that were necessary for justice and order to prevail in that culture. This represents the legal system of the Jewish theocracy. Therefore, these were the laws comprising the criminal code, and they prescribed the punishment for various crimes, such as murder, adultery and theft. Because there is no longer a biblical theocracy in existence anywhere, these laws do not apply to anyone, including Christians. That is not to say, of course, that Christians are allowed to murder, commit adultery and steal. It just means that those particular laws were established as part of a theocracy that no longer exists, and that one has to look elsewhere in the Bible to find laws that are binding in today’s world;

2) Ceremonial Laws – Often referred to as the “Mosaic Law”, these laws provided the Jews of ancient Israel a temporary process by which their sins could be covered and they could be made, or kept, “clean”. They were a representation, or type, of something better and permanent that was to come at the appointed time. These laws included such things as animal sacrifices to cover sins, mandatory observance of religious festivals, various restrictions on food and washing of the hands before eating. When the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, appeared, He become the perfect, sufficient, final and effective sacrifice for all of the sins of mankind. By dying on the cross to pay the price for our sins, Jesus replaced the ceremonial laws, rendering them obsolete, unnecessary and ineffectual. Therefore, Christians are not bound by these Old Testament laws, and, in fact, are instructed in the Bible to not practice them; and finally…

3) Moral Laws – These laws are distinct from the “Mosaic Law” and are the biblical laws that establish and define how we are to behave toward God and toward each other. They are most notably embodied in the Ten Commandments, but are to be found also in other biblical instructions and commandments, especially as laid out in the New Testament. Examples include laws against idolatry, murder, adultery, fornication, the practice of homosexuality, stealing, lying, gossip, slander, drunkenness etc. In considering the extent of the moral laws, it is important to keep in mind that the Bible does not mention, specifically, many of the sins that people are capable of, such as child sexual abuse and wife beating, but it is not difficult to recognize that such things violate Jesus’ new commandment to “love one another” and are, therefore, sinful. The Bible presents these laws as permanent and applicable to everyone, including Christians. They have not been replaced nor have they expired. Rather, they are universally valid and binding forever. One notable exception is that the Fourth of the Ten Commandments – to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy – expired at the first coming of Jesus (click HERE)

Concluding Remarks

I hope that this brief discussion of Old Testament laws and the Christian will be informative and useful to you. If you would like to read a more comprehensive treatment of this subject, please select an article listed below and click on the link provided. I particularly recommend the series by Morrison (1997) for detailed study.

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

 

Recommended Resources for Bible References and Further Study:

A) More-or-less brief articles

Wright, C.J.H. 2013. Learning to love Leviticus. (click HERE)

Kretzmann, P.E. 1924. The Difference Between the Moral and the Ceremonial Law.  (click HERE)

Phillips, R.D. 2000. Which Old Testament Laws Must I Obey? (click HERE)

B) More in-depth, comprehensive resources

Anonymous. 2007. The Ten Commandments and the Ceremonial Law (Mosaic Law). (click HERE)

Morrison, M. 1997. Which Old Testament Laws Apply to Christians Today? (click HERE)

What Does “Born Again” Mean?

born againWhat Does “Born Again” Mean?

by James R. Aist

Introduction

Many in the Christian church today have, at best, a rudimentary understanding of what Jesus was talking about when he said “You must be born again (from above).” False teachers are often quick to invent their own concept of “born again” apart from sound biblical information, so be careful to compare what they teach to the Word of God. A good grasp of the biblical teaching on this subject is important to the understanding of how God saves people and transforms their lives – the very essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — so let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about “born again.”

Our Original Condition

When God first created Adam, his human spirit was in harmony with God and they were in close, intimate fellowship. Sin had not yet entered the world, and Adam was living in obedience to God’s commands. But when Adam sinned, there was a profound effect on the nature of the spirit of man: the human spirit was changed from one of harmony and obedience to a spirit of rebellion and enmity toward God, and this “sin nature” of the human spirit was inherited by all generations following Adam (that’s us). As a result, everyone is born into this world with a heart of stone (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26) and deaf ears (Deuteronomy 29:3-4). The only ones who can listen to the word of God and believe it are those to whom God has given a “heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26) and “ears to hear” (Isaiah 32:1-4). Only God can remedy this problem. (For a more complete treatment of “Ears to Hear”, Click HERE.)

God’s Remedy: A New Human Spirit

Those to whom God gives a “heart of flesh” and “ears to hear” will, at some point in their conversion process, become “born again.” To be “born again” is not an option for salvation; it is an absolute requirement (John 3:1-8). When one is “born again”, God the Father draws them to Jesus (John 6:44), reveals to them that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16-17), replaces their sinful heart of stone with an obedient heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26); that is, He removes the old, rebellious human spirit they were born with, which is at enmity with God, and replaces it with a new, obedient human spirit (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26), which is from God (John 3:1-8) and in harmony with God. Here is how the Apostle Paul described this harmony with God, in 1 Corinthians 6:17, “But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”  Jesus, the Second Adam, has undone the spiritual damage caused by the “original sin” of the First Adam; our “sin nature” has been undone! Moreover, God puts the Holy Spirit into the born-again person (Exekiel 36:27) to sanctify him, help him to understand spiritual truths and to be an internal witness to the veracity of biblical truth. A “born again” person loves the word of God and eagerly receives and believes it (1 John 4:6). But to those who are not “born again”, it is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18 and 2:13). And we should not expect them to believe it, because in their fallen, dead, spiritual condition, they cannot (1 Corinthians 2:13 and 1 John 4:6).

Are There Other Bible References to “Born Again”?

Where else in the Bible can we find teachings about being “born again?” As it turns out, Peter used the same phrase that Jesus had coined in referring to Christian believers: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23). What does Peter mean by “perishable” and “imperishable” seed, and what is the significance, if any, for us? Well, we can understand this reference to the two kinds of seed if we consider what happens to unbelievers vs. believers in the judgment: “To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.But the…unbelieving—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:14-15). The believers will not experience the second death because they are born again of imperishable seed (a new human spirit), whereas the unbelievers are still of their original, perishable seed (old human spirit) and will die a second death (i.e., “perish”).

One can also recognize a reference to being “born again” in Paul’s description of what happens when an unbeliever is converted into a believer: “Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, the Amplified Bible). Now, we know, of course, that the salvation experience does not immediately change everything about the “old” person (e.g., his body is still the same age and his ability to resist temptation is not yet perfect), so how, then, can Paul say that this experience makes one “a new creature altogether?” It’s because Paul is referring here to just the “spirit man” (the man’s human spirit) which is changed from the original, fallen spiritual condition in which he was born into this world, to a new, regenerated and undefiled spiritual condition when he is born again. In other words, his original human spirit (“previous moral and spiritual condition”) has been replaced with a new human spirit (thus, “a new creature altogether”).

And, finally, the Apostle John also refers to this experience as being “born of God”: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the Devil’s work.  No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.  This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the Devil are:  Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:10). Note that here, John is giving us a litmus test that separates the true believers (those who are “born of God” or “born again”) from the unbelievers (the “children of the Devil”): the “born-again Christians” will not continue to sin.

Am I born again?

Since one must be born again in order to spend their eternity in heaven, it is natural to wonder, “Am I born again?!” Of course, I cannot answer that question for you, but I can show you some very important things that the Bible has to say about it, and that may help you answer it for yourself. First, the Bible says that we can know, here and now, that we possess eternal life (1 John 5:13). Therefore, it is possible for you to find the answer to this question as it pertains to your own spiritual condition. Second, a born-again person will testify that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9-10; 1 Timothy 6:12). Third, the genuineness of their verbal testimony will be confirmed by a changed life: they will repent and turn away from their sins (Galatians 5:24; 2 Timothy 2:19) and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22) —  in ways and with a consistency that was not evident before. And fourth, a born-again person will begin to live their life more for Jesus and less for themselves (1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 2:19-20). This new outlook on life will create a whole new purpose and meaning for the life of the believer and will have a profound effect on their approach to life in general. Finally, here are some key Scripture verses that may help you answer this very important question for yourself (John 1:12; John 3:18-21; Romans 8:16-17; Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 4:12-15; and 1 John 5:6-12). If, after pondering the points and verses presented here, you are still unsure that you are born again, you may want to take a moment to pray and ask God to give you saving faith in Jesus Christ and an unshakable assurance that He has saved you. Then go back through this section of the study again and meditate intently on each point and verse, because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Finally, one can understand and follow these steps to become born again, if you are being genuine and sincere:

  • Repent (turn away from your sins): “The Lord … is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
  • Believe and Trust in Jesus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • Accept His Forgiveness: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
  • Receive the Peace of Christ: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)