Thursday, May 19, 2011

Belief, Confession, Salvation - Revisited


Yesterday I talked about those who turn the act of being saved into something shallow.  Today, I want to address the other extreme.  Today I want to turn the act of being saved into an unscriptural series of ceremonies or works leaving one never actually sure they are saved.  This is the kind of salvation taught in not only the Catholic church but in many other churches and cults as well.  I will begin where I began yesterday.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  John 3:16 NKJV
And just to be fair, let me include the other verse from yesterday as well.
that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  Romans 10:9-10 NKJV
I must have missed something because there is nothing there about any kind of ceremony or rite or anything else for that matter.  I must have missed something because so many churches believe that more must be done.  Where is the pomp? Where is the hoopla?  Where is the great work that we can do to illicit favor with God in order to be saved?  The answer is that there is none and her is why.
For 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.  Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV
"Gift" is the key word.  The thing with a gift is that it can not come with any other string except that you accept it.  It can not be taken back, it can not be earned, and it can not be given with any kind of strings attached.  It is a gift.  Think about it, if you have to do works to get it, then it is not a gift but payment for works.  If you add anything other than just receiving it, then it is not a gift.  And that is a good thing.  The gift we receive is the grace of God through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  What in the world can we ever do that would be worthy to receive such a precious thing?  What ceremony can we imagine to commemorate the imparting of the blood of Jesus onto our sins?   And there lies the primary problem with salvation through ceremony or about works.  It makes it about us and it creates for us an impossible standard to meet.

First of all, let us address works.  What great thing could we possibly do to earn salvation?  And if we could even earn it, why do we need it to begin with?  Think about it.  Jesus died for our sins to pay a price that we could not pay.  Is sin superior to the blood of Christ?  Of course it is not.  The value of the blood of Christ is much more than the value of the debt created through our sin.  If then we can not earn enough to cover our sin debt, how can we ever earn that which is more valuable (the blood of Christ)?  Yet some churches teach that you can.  They teach that you can have "sacraments", live up to some holiness code, or completely repent of sin in your life in order to earn the grace of God (of course that is another logical fallacy as by its definition grace can not be earned).  What this really is, though, is a matter of pride.  What would you think if you gave a child a birthday present and instead of receiving it with gratitude, that child exclaimed that he was only getting what he earned.  You would think that child to be a spoiled brat.  You would think that child lacked any sense of gratitude.  And so is the man or woman who thinks that the grace bestowed upon them is somehow earned through their works.  From their perspective, it is not a gift from the goodness of God but payment for something they have done.  It is the height of prideful audacity to actually believe we can do anything to earn the blood of Jesus.  Those churches may teach it as a matter of humility, but it is anything but humble to think that we are deserving of the price that Jesus paid for our sins. 

Now let us turn our attention to rites and ceremonies.  This is an area that the Catholic church has cornered the market on.  The fact is that those ceremonies and absolutely useless and only serve to turn attention away from God.  The Bible asks us to remember Him whenever we have the bread and the wine, it never calls us to give children a pile of money for something called a "First Holy Communion."  The Bible tells us that if we confess our sins to God, He is faithful to forgive us our sins.  There is nothing about penance as though a repetitious idolatrous prayer to someone the Bible never says we are to pray to has any value.  That's right, praying to Mary (or any other "saint" for that matter) is idolatry, plain and simple.  Jesus tells us what when we pray, we are to pray to the Father.  The Bible tells us that we are to confess our sins to Him.  The Bible also says that our sins would be forgiven us, not that we would have to go through any kind of penance.  What about Confirmation?  Again, the confirmation is the Holy Spirit coming inside our hearts when we receive Jesus and is not some money-making pointless ritual.   It is God who confirms us as His through the giving of the Holy Spirit.  It is not for some earthly priest to approve of what God has done.  Furthermore, ceremonies take all of the focus away from God and place it on the one being honored.  The center of attention is not God and that turns this into a matter of pride.  To think we need some kind of pomp and show to tell the world we were good enough to have this ceremony to receive a gift?  Imagine that same child I spoke of before.  Imagine giving that child a gift only this time he throws a party in his own honor to commemorate himself receiving that gift.  How ridiculous that would be! But that is the same thing we do when we create some rite of passage to commemorate things God has done for us.  I am not saying we should not celebrate our salvation, but that celebration should celebrate God and what He has done and in a spirit to share that good news with others.  That is not what we have in the church today. 

And, finally, what about the special case of Baptism.  After all, it is a rite commanded in the Bible for all believers.  Are we saved through Baptism as some believe?  The answer, again, is no.  Baptism is a sign of what God has done for us and not a ritual to invoke God to do something to us.  It is symbolically dying to the world and rising again in Christ.  It is a sign of putting to death the old man and becoming a new creation in Christ.  It is something we should do, but it is not something our salvation is dependent upon.  If that were the case, grace would not be a gift but something earned through the sacrament of Baptism.  It would also create confusion as there are many different forms of baptism.  The slippery slope of a ritualistic requirement for salvation is the possibility that the ritual was performed incorrectly.  It also creates a problem for the thief on the cross despite the promise from Jesus that he would be with Jesus in paradise. 

The bottom line is that no work, ritual, ceremony, or sacrament is required for salvation.  It is a free gift given freely by God to anyone who believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Praise God for that because otherwise it would be hopeless.  There is nothing we can do to deserve the blood of Jesus.  There is nothing we can do to meet the righteous requirements of God.   The fact is that none of those things are required for salvation because none of those things can earn us the blood of Jesus.  I know we all would love to think that we somehow earned the blood of Jesus, but the very act of coming to Jesus is an admission that we can't.  I know we would all love some ceremony to commemorate our salvation, but those only distract from the real work going on inside your heart through the Holy Spirit.  Salvation is freely offered to anyone who asks and believes.  That is the great and glorious news of the Gospel.
For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." Romans 10:13 NKJV

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