Friday, April 20, 2012

The Gospel of Grace

This post is a follow up to the previous one on mortal and venial sins.  If you read that one you know that I was addressing statements made by a Roman Catholic when he called into a podcast hosted by James White.  In the previous post I questioned the Roman idea of degrees of sins but today I want to address the main reason he called into the program.

His main point was that if salvation is by faith alone with no requirement for good works then how do we keep people from sinning all they want to.  It seemed to him that to say all one has to do is trust in Christ through faith and that you cannot lose your salvation encourages them to care less whether they do good or not.  Now let me say from the outset that such a line of reasoning fails immediately because it isn't concerned with what the Bible actually teaches but supposed results or logical deductions.  This is always a dangerous way to approach Bible study.  Our first duty is to believe God's Word whether it immediately makes sense to us or not.  All doctrine makes sense and flows together if we will take the time to study it thoroughly but trusting our sinful reason as the litmus test for biblical teaching is arrogant humanism.

Secondly one cannot help but be somewhat amused that his argument is the very one Paul addresses at least twice when he speaks of the gospel.  In Romans 6 and Galatians 2 after stressing that salvation comes only through faith and no works of the flesh can be added to grace and grace remain grace, Paul anticipates the very objection the man above uses.  The objection simply put is that if salvation is simply a gift God gives and we don't have to be good to get it and that we can not lose it then what stops us from just being as bad as we want to be?  Paul's answer in Gal. 2 and most clearly in Rom. 6 is that salvation is accompanied by a new nature in the indwelling Holy Spirit.  This new nature loves God and is no longer dominated by our sinfulness so that we now strive to serve and honor the Lord instead of rebelling at every turn.  We might say the gospel has a built in godliness factor.

Now think about it.  When the Bible clearly states the gospel as a free gift apart from works, the immediate anticipated reaction is that it seems to encourage sin.  So I find it amusing that this man sees the same thing as Paul's objector did.  But this should make it clear to him that this is the true gospel and his objection proves it.  But instead he doesn't read Paul's answer and so seeks to corrupt the gospel with his own built in way to keep people in line.  His solution is that you can fall from grace by sinning and so must try not to sin in order to stay out of Hell.  It is little different than groups such as the Church of Christ who also believe one can lose their salvation by sinning and must constantly confess and "get saved" over and over or face Hell.

A gospel that comes with conditions is no gospel.  But as stated above this will not lead to a more sinful lifestyle but a godly lifestyle because of what we get with the indwelling Holy Spirit.  The answer to holiness is not putting people in fear if they don't behave.  One cannot please God by being good out of fear.  Love is the fulfillment of the Law.  God is honored by those who obey because they want to because they hold him dear not because if they don't behave God is "going to get them" like an unfortunate 70s sitcom used to say.

But now let me quickly come to my main point which is that the Roman Catholic system that supposedly subdues sin actually works against godliness.  This man thought that by constantly holding the possibility of Hell over someone that it will keep them doing good works.  The idea is that if you sin the "Church" has a number of prayers, payoffs, penances that you can do so that your sins are forgiven and you are back in a "safe" state; at least until you sin again.  While there are those who try to take this seriously and outwardly maintain some semblance of a moral life, it doesn't take too long before the majority see that just the opposite works.  I have worked with several "good" Catholics through the years that lived like the Devil during the week because they knew that at Saturday Mass the slate would be wiped cleaned by their local priest.  In short the Roman system doesn't produce godliness, it only gives people who are religious but still sinners by nature a way to keep on sinning.

Godliness is not outward reformation; it comes by inward renewal.  Law keeping and doing good in order to find favor with God is "moral godlessness".  That might sound like a paradox but I think if you will think it through you will see that it is possible to be moral and yet far from the kingdom of God.

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