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Chapter 13

False Principles of Salvation

 

AT first glance, the Catholic faith appears to be a complete gospel. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, demonstrated that the gospel of the cross of Jesus embraced not only the justification that was so beautifully presented by the sixteenth-century Reformers, but also sanctification. The gospel of Jesus is a complete gospel, encompassing justification (pardon and forgiveness) and sanctification (holiness, cleansing, and purification). The Bible is rich in verses emphasizing this understanding. We are justified by faith, and that same faith also sanctifies us.

To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:18, emphasis added)

The same sacrifice of Jesus that justifies, also sanctifies.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25Ė27)

Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. (Hebrews 13:12)

By which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

The Council of Trent (1545Ė1563) was convened by the Roman Catholic Church in a desperate effort to counter the Protestant Reformation. Over the eighteen-year period of the council, the bishops discussed many issues, but few more vigorously than the issue of whether the gospel consisted of justification alone. This principle had been presented by the sixteenth-century Reformers. Eventually, by majority vote, the bishops upheld the concept that the gospel consisted of both justification and sanctification.

Some have subsequently asserted that those who believe that the gospel embraces sanctification along with justification are rejecting the Protestant Reformation and embracing a Catholic concept of the gospel. No conclusion could be farther from the truth. It is essential to recognize that what was voted by the Council of Trent was not a true concept of either justification or sanctification. True justification and forgiveness take place only in those who invite Christ to take control of their wills. He alone can transform the life, and turn us from wickedness unto holiness. Without that power, we are impotent to truly live the life of a Christian.

The sanctification espoused by the Council of Trent and the Roman Catholic Church is not based upon faith in Jesus; instead, it is works-oriented sacramentalism. Like the Jews of Christís day who put their trust in ceremonialism (the doing of the sacrificial services and ordinances), the bishops of Rome voted that the keeping of the seven sacred sacraments (Mass, holy orders, matrimony, baptism, penance, confirmation, and extreme unction) were meritorious for salvation. The statement of the bishops was the ultimate statement of a works gospel, a sanctification built upon sacramentalism.

This doctrine was exactly the legalism of the Jews condemned by Christ. It is a belief that works can merit salvation.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Matthew 23:23)

Many will say to me in that day, 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? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:22, 23)

Authentic Christianity, while disavowing any hint of legalistic salvation, nevertheless accepts by faith Christís merit and death to empower each one to live the life of victory. The sanctification that is understood by faithful Christians does not contain one whit of legalism or merit of human works. It is established upon a sanctification that is a gift of God through the merits of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; thus genuine Christians constantly accept the clearest testimony of Scripture that links justification and sanctification together in the gospel. In so doing, they deny the ceremonialism of the Jews and the sacramentalism of the Roman Catholic Church. An example of works-oriented concepts in the salvation of the Catholics can be seen in the following statement:

Faith alone will not save man, but good morals, or good works, are necessary. (The Convertís Catechism of Catholic Doctrine, Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1977)

The concept that salvation is merited by faith plus human works is a pillar of the Roman Catholic apostasy. While it is fully understood that no one can be saved without good works because these are the inevitable fruitage of salvation, it must be adamantly stated that there is no basis or merit in good works unto salvation. Our salvation is only the result of the infinite grace of God, through the merits of His Son, Jesus Christ; thus personal holiness is in no measure a basis of our salvation, but God has declared it to be a condition upon which He bestows His full salvation. As shown in the parable of the pearl of great price, salvation is a free gift costing our all. Only a true Christian can comprehend this paradox.

It must be acknowledged that many Protestants have been imprisoned by legalism, but the Word of God is explicit that the righteous live a life of faith. Some have so strongly preached the law that they have almost ignored the One who alone gives power to keep the law. God presents the law and faith together, and both are to be given equal weight because we cannot keep the commandments of God unless we have the faith of Jesus.

Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. (Revelation 14:12)

The gospel of Jesus does not allow the barrenness of legalism or the powerlessness of antinomianism (the false doctrine that the observance of the law of God is irrelevant to salvation). The law and the gospel are inseparable "Siamese twins." To ignore one is to destroy them both.

The emphasis upon works in the Roman Catholic Church arises from the influence of paganism. The pagans, with their good gods and bad gods, focused upon ingratiating themselves with the good gods in a self-centered attempt to obtain all their benefits. They further attempted to appease the bad gods in order to avoid receiving their curses; thus pagans build their worship upon a ceaseless round of activities, ceremonies, and sacraments in a futile effort to achieve their goal. In many Buddhist temples, both good gods and devil gods are worshiped. In the famous Burmah Road Buddhist Temple, in Penang, Malaysia, there are in addition to good gods, two gods with opium streaming from their mouths. These idols, which are designated as devil gods, are earnestly entreated by their worshipers.

As the early Christian church more and more imbibed the pagan philosophy of the former Roman Empire and embraced its principles, it began to institute rounds of works-oriented practices which were taught to be essential to human salvation. The unconverted have always preferred such works-oriented practices over a dependent faith in Jesus. Such a belief appeals to the checklist mentality which lulls into carnal security. A simple compliance with the minimum requirements for salvation will not save even one soul. Such does not require a transformation of heart. The natural human heart may meet all the checklist items, as did the rich young ruler. It may feel secure in conforming to all these requirements; however, the person may be moving headlong toward eternal oblivion while his priest assures him that he has secured eternal life.

The medieval Roman Catholic Church had developed this works-based brand of salvation into a refined art. Through confession to the priest, penance, the payment of monies, pilgrimages, attendance at ritual services, and other acts, the person was made to feel a deep sense of security when his heart was still carnal. The Jews of Christís day had, in the same way, learned to depend upon human effort for salvation. They had based their hope of salvation upon fulfilling the most detailed obligations of both the Torah (Godís Word) and the Mishnah (manís word). Both the Jews and the Roman Catholics have forgotten the divine principles of salvation in their consideration of the acts of obedience to merit their salvation.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. . . . Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. . . . For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 16, 17)

The great message of righteousness by faith in Jesus must be proclaimed at the end of the world. Satan has used the Roman Catholic concept of sanctification to discredit the truth of true sanctification by faith. Colin well remembers that a prominent Protestant theologian, in a dialogue, said, "Sanctification is a good principle, but it is not part of the gospel."

The Bible is rich with statements linking justification with sanctification in the gospel. But before sharing these with the reader, let us once more make clear what these terms really mean. Justification is simply divine forgiveness and pardon, which restores penitents to a position before God as if they had never sinned. Sanctification refers to the cleansing and purification of the soul. In the New Testament, justification is synonymous with the term righteousness; and sanctification is synonymous with the term holiness.

When we confess our sins (which crucified our Saviour) with deep repentance, we are forgiven and justified. In the sight of God, our sins are no more. We stand righteous before God as we accept, through faith, the perfect merits and grace of the One who has had victory over sin and died for us.

Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) . . . For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:5, 8, 9)

God is unfailingly good. He not only provides, through Christ, the divine power to forgive but also restores. It is not His purpose that we should continue to live a life of sin which engenders guilt, condemnation, and low self-esteem. He desires to keep His people from falling back into sin. His love provides the forgiveness of our sins, through Christ. He also provides the power to keep His faithful children from returning to their sin. Now, it has to be acknowledged that many faithful Christians have fallen back into sin. The moment we take our eyes off Jesus, we certainly become vulnerable to the assaults of Satan. The wonderful thing is that we are not rejected because we failed our Lord.

My little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)

It is in Godís plan for His children that they should, relying upon His power moment by moment, life a life free from the bondage of sin.

Let us examine a selection of the many texts uniting justification and sanctification as inseparable aspects of our salvation.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [justification], and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [sanctification]. (1 John 1:9)

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus [justification], who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [sanctification]. (Romans 8:1)

To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins [justification], and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:18)

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water [justification] and of the Spirit [sanctification], he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin [justification]; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him [sanctification]. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

It is most important that those whom God will redeem be both justified and sanctified.

He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous [justified], let him be righteous still: and he that is holy [sanctified], let him be holy still. (Revelation 22:11)

There are Protestants who have stated that the linking of sanctification together with justification in the gospel is spiritual adultery. They believe this error because they have accepted the works concept of sanctification espoused by the Roman Catholic Church instead of the biblical concept of sanctification by faith; thus they have concluded that it is unthinkable to ascribe any merit for salvation to human effort. In this belief they are correct because there cannot be one shred of merit in human effort, even that motivated by the Holy Spirit. Important as the strongest efforts of the human will are, they are no basis whatsoever for our salvation. Our salvation is assured, as we have said earlier, on the basis of Christís grace alone; thus the Bible teaches that we are both justified and sanctified by God through the life, death, and high priestly ministry of the Son of God. When this fact is properly understood, we need not fear the works-oriented sanctification espoused by the Roman Catholic Church. It is a crude counterfeit of true sanctification.

In the loving power of the Saviour, God will have a people who truly reflect His character.

And to her [Godís church] was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. (Revelation 19:8)

And I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Fatherís name written in their foreheads. . . . These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault before the throne of God. (Revelation 14:1, 4, 5)

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25Ė27)

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy . . . (Jude 24)

The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. (Zephaniah 3:13)

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:11Ė14)

Sadly, neither the Roman Catholic Church nor many of the Protestant churches teach the biblical principle of salvation through faith; as a consequence, they are denying their members the knowledge of the principles, only by which Godís people will be prepared for Christís return. It takes a day-by-day commitment of our lives to Jesus, allowing him to work in us to make such a preparation.

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12, 13)

 


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