Archive for Salvation

Overcoming the World: Part 9–The Armor of God

 

Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious].  Ephesians 6:13 (AMP)

 

 

First and foremost, remember that the devil is a created being.  Though he would much like to tell you that he is equal with God, or even superior to Him, he isn’t.  Nevertheless, being spirit, he is more powerful than we are in our flesh by ourselves.  This is why we need to call on the power of the Lord to defend us.

 

In Ephesians 6: 14-17,  Paul uses the imagery of a Roman soldier by telling us to “put on the full armor of God,” meaning that we need to make use of every resource that God makes available to us to win this struggle.  These are the examples that he lists:

 

  1. The Belt of Truth. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know this is my biggie.  The first four tenets of the Truth Mission Statement lay this out.  Acknowledge Truth, recognize it for what it is, give credit to the Source of Truth, and never stop seeking it.
  2. The Breastplate of Righteousness. True righteousness is a right standing with God that is given by His grace, not earned through our efforts.  Knowledge of this righteousness that is imputed to us helps us to do the right thing and to keep our word, among other things.
  3. Feet fitted with the Gospel of Peace. A good pair of running shoes provides you with stability and speed.  So it is with the Gospel.  It is the foundation upon which you stand to face the enemy, and the Good News you take out into the world to foil his plans.
  4. Shield of Faith. Faith is more than just belief.  Even Satan believes in God; he has seen Him face to face!  It is only when you firmly rely on God and His strength that you are able to deflect the devil’s attacks.
  5. Helmet of Salvation. It’s your head the devil tries to get into.  Cover it with the knowledge that God has already accepted you and has no intention of giving you back.
  6. Sword of the Spirit. This is referring to scripture itself.  Hebrews 4:12 says: “For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  This is the double-edged sword that Revelation depicts coming from the mouth of Jesus at the Second Coming, when Satan is defeated forever.  Guess what?  You have access to that very same Word.  It is the most powerful offensive weapon you have in fighting against the devil.

 

With all of these items in place, now you’re ready to pray like you mean it.  That is what vanquishes Satan.  A person who prays while knowing the One being prayed to, knowing that He’s listening and most of all, knowing that He will honor that prayer with His protection—such a person is unstoppable in spiritual warfare.

 

So what is it that actually goes on in the spiritual realm when we pray?  Hard to say, as most of us can’t see it.  Some people do have that gift, but I am not one of them.

 

Author Frank Peretti burst onto the Christian Fiction scene in 1986 with his book This Present Darkness, which vividly addressed this very issue.  In the book, angels are constantly engaged in battles with demons over the souls of people.  Prayer is like a caffeine rush to the angels.  When people put on the armor of God and pray, the angels drive back the demons.  But when prayer falters, the demons have the upper hand.

 

Now I don’t know if that’s how it actually goes down (many theologians argue that it isn’t), but it’s a neat picture (and a highly entertaining read as well).

 

The important thing to remember is, like the soldier, we must always be on our guard.  Satan and his minions do not sleep.  Ever.  They’ll keep coming back, no matter how many times you pray them away.  This doesn’t mean your prayers aren’t effective or that God isn’t listening.  This is just what demons do.  It’s their nature.

 

(For some final words of encouragement, come back for the conclusion in Part 10—Be Still and Know.)

 

Overcoming the World: Part 6–Internal to Eternal

 

 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18 NIV)

 

Life can really wear you out sometimes, can’t it?  We work so hard to try to better ourselves and to make the world a better place for our families, but some days, it just looks like we aren’t making a difference at all.  It’s enough to make you wonder if it’s really worth the effort.

 

What is it that wears us out when the problems of the world overwhelm us?  Everyone’s situation is different, of course.  It seems to me, though, that the things that often trouble us the most usually aren’t even happening to us directly.  The problems that are too much for us to bear weren’t even supposed to be our own personal burdens.  We barely have enough strength to get through the trials that life hands us, but we can’t seem to keep from taking on extra baggage as well.  Why do we do this?

 

Can we just call this what it is?  It’s fear.

 

It’s fear that gives birth to worry.  You worry when you seeing angry mobs rioting on the news, but is there an angry mob outside your house right now?  (Of course, if there actually IS one outside your house, you have an actual problem, and should stop reading this blog and go take care of yourself.)

 

My point is that we worry ourselves into exhaustion and despondency about things that aren’t even happening where we are.  Yes, they are happening in the world, and they are real, but if we’re not in a position to directly solve the problem, it’s not our problem.

 

Now please don’t misunderstand what I mean by “not our problem.”  I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about things in the world that are wrong and need fixing.  What I am saying is that 99.99% of the time, it’s not up to us to fix it, either because we lack the resources, the ability, or we are simply too far away to have a direct and immediate impact on the situation.

 

So what can we do?  We can give the situation over to the One who can do something about it.  And while we’re at it, we can give Him our anxieties as well.

 

Yes, the world is a mess.  It’s a mess because it has people in it, and people are a mess.  And yes, you and I are people, so guess what?  We’re a mess too!  But we can be less messy.

 

A good way to start that process is to examine what you expose your mind to.  How do you start your day?  If you’re turning on the TV or rushing to social media, that’s what’s going to set your tone for the rest of the day.  Is that the tone you want?  In the same amount of time, you could meditate on a Bible verse or an inspirational quote of some sort.  You can’t control what happens out in the world, but you can control what goes into your head, which is what feeds your attitude.

 

Once you have developed the habit of being intentional about this, it will become easier for you to shift your perspective from the now to the not yet.  When things are going badly, it is easy for fear to rob us of hope, but remember this.  EVERYTHING we fear, or could possibly fear, has an ending.  We may not be able to see it from where we’re sitting, but all the troublesome things of this world will pass.

 

Instead, what we can learn to do in ALL situations is to focus on the things that won’t pass away.  Truth.  Love.  The Word of God.  Best of all, the eternal life that is given as a free gift to all those who put aside their fears, worries and the troubles of this world and trust in Jesus, who by His death and resurrection, has overcome all of them.

 

Now of course, we can’t see any of this.  We can’t see our fear, the Lord’s Spirit, the actual physical Kingdom of Heaven.  We only see this world, its problems, and our own aging faces in the mirror.

 

But as the risen Christ told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

 

 

 

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 1–What We’re Up Against

Lord, save our children.

 

When did it become not OK for kids to be kids?  There is hardly a child now that by the age of 14 hasn’t either cut themselves, questioned their sexuality or rejected God.  Anyone that tries to lead them to Truth is labeled intolerant, hateful, an ignorant bigot, or worse.

 

We are even accused of trying to indoctrinate our own children, but only because our parenting gets in the way of the attempts at indoctrination by our accusers.  And they want to call US hypocrites!

 

How fortunate then, that God already has a plan for these people.  He will have the last word, as he told His prophet Isaiah:

 

  I stop the highbrow intellectuals in their tracks,
and I show the fault of their reasoning.
  But I stand behind the words of My servants,
and I accomplish what they predict.
  (Isaiah 44:25b-26a VOICE)

 

We must endure.  As righteous as our anger may be toward our antagonists, we must remember these things:

 

  1. In our anger, we must not sin.(Ephesians 4:26)
  2. Vengeance is the Lord’s not ours.  (Romans 12:19)
  3. We do have a real enemy, but it is not a human enemy (2 Thessalonians 3:15, 1 Peter 5:8)

 

Our job is to spread the Gospel.  We can’t praise the name of Jesus and sully it at the same time.  If we take our eyes off of Jesus and start worrying about what other people are doing, then we lose sight of our mission.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his book, Strength to Love:

 

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence, you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence, you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

 

Our job is to bring the light of Jesus to a darkened world that does not know it is in darkness.

 

We shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter opposition to the Truth.  This has been going on since day one.  Jesus was crucified, the apostles were persecuted and martyred, and on and on through the centuries.  There may soon come a day when preaching the word of God becomes illegal in this country, as it is in many communist and Muslim countries.

 

But here’s the thing.  Even if they put us in prison, God’s word can not be bound.  As Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy:

 

Remember always, as the centre of everything, Jesus Christ, a man of human ancestry, yet raised by God from the dead according to my Gospel.  For preaching this I am having to endure being chained in prison as if I were some sort of a criminal.  But they cannot chain the Word of God, and I can endure all these things for the sake of those whom God is calling, so that they too may receive the salvation of Jesus Christ, and its complement of glory after the world of time.  (2 Timothy 2: 8-10 PHILLIPS)

 

We are called to persevere under trial and not to give up.  Even if we get tired and weak, God won’t.  So if we trust Him to carry us when we can’t go on, He will be faithful to do it.

 

We must stand firm, not only for our children’s sake, but also for our own.  Will you join me in praying for our youth today to be Truthseekers and not herd followers?

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 1–Adoption

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came near to him, saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we will ask.” Mark 10:35 WEB

 

James and John have historically gotten kind of a bad rap for this quote. It sounds like they’re just boldly strolling up to Jesus and saying, “give us whatever we want.” When you consider that what they ask for next is to sit at the places of honor, at Jesus’ left and right hand, when He comes into His kingdom. . .well, that doesn’t do much to help this misunderstanding either.

 

The Greek word rendered “ask” in most English translations is aiteo. This does not signify asking as an equal or with the sense of entitlement. This word shows humility and respect. They are making a request of someone who is clearly above them, yet has given them permission to ask.

 

As bold as this question was, it definitely displays a comfort level that James and John have with Jesus at this point (even if their mother did put them up to it). They know Jesus well enough to know that He would not mind them asking for a favor, yet they ask with the reverence and respect that their master is due.

 

So what kind of a relationship do we need to have with God to ask Him for a favor? The one we already have, if we have put our trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

 

You see, you have not received a spirit that returns you to slavery, so you have nothing to fear. The Spirit you have received adopts you and welcomes you into God’s own family. That’s why we call out to Him, “Abba! Father!” as we would address a loving daddy. (Romans 8:15 VOICE)

 

Paul is the only writer in the Bible to use the Greek word hyiothesia for this concept of adoption. By God’s choice, we are given the rightful position of sons and heirs, though we do not come by this position naturally.

 

Because God has drawn us this near to Him, we are indeed in a position to ask Him for whatever we want.

 

(But does that mean that we will GET whatever we want? Come back for Part 2: Ask, Seek and Knock)

 

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DN=: Part 4–Holy

Another troublesome churchy word is “holy.”  Like “righteous,” the word “holy” also has some unnecessary baggage attached to it.  What I mean is that just as some people see the word “righteous” and think “self-righteous,” some people see the word “holy” and think “holier-than-thou.”

 

If you’re not familiar with the term, “holier-than-thou” is used to describe the attitude of a Christian condescending to non-Christians based solely on church affiliation or some other man-made construct (such as denominations) apart from the grace of God.

 

Naturally, this attitude is very off-putting.

 

HOLY DN= HOLIER-THAN-THOU

 

The word “holy” simply means “set apart for God’s purpose.”  It can refer to a day, a place, a nation or an individual.  Mostly, however, it refers to God Himself.  As Isaiah wrote:

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55: 8-9 NIV)

God is holy, or set apart, simply because He’s God, and we’re not.  When people put their faith in Jesus Christ, trust in His saving work on the cross to make them righteous, and make Him the Lord of their lives, then they also become holy.  They are still human beings, but now they have been set apart from the rest of the world to do God’s work.

 

It is critical to understand the progression here.  God makes us righteous through JESUS’ work, not ours.  In the same way, God makes us holy only when we realize that we AREN’T made righteous by the good that we do.

 

If a person claims to have faith in Jesus, but still lives as he did before being saved, then how has that person been set apart?

 

He hasn’t.

 

Christians are SUPPOSED to stand out.  We are SUPPOSED to be different from everybody else.  Otherwise, what would be the point of being one?

 

The irony of holiness is that just as we were set free in order to become servants, we were also set apart to become unified—not to the world, but to each other.  As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus about Jesus:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4: 11-16 NRSV)

 

When Paul refers to “saints” in this context, he is referring to all believers, not people (such as himself) who are referred to with a St. in front of their name.  The “work of ministry” for which said saints are being equipped is the service to which we are called upon having been made free.  Still with me so far?

 

In addition to the teaching, preaching and shepherding gifts Paul mentions above, there are many other spiritual gifts that believers receive when they are made holy.  I’m not going to go into all of them here, but in light of the sudden aggressive turn our culture is taking lately, I feel it necessary to expound upon one of them—discernment.

 

(And I will do that in Part 5–Discrimination)

 

DN=: Part 3–Righteousness

One of the pitfalls of using churchy jargon is the proclivity for misunderstanding of these terms by those outside the church.  (For more on this topic, check out the Saved series.)  One of those commonly misunderstood words is “righteous.”

 

To be “righteous” is to have “right standing” with God.  This is not a status that can be achieved through human effort.  As Solomon pointed out, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV).”

 

This concept is explained further in Romans 3:

 

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.  As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:9-12, 19-26 NIV)

The passage above contains the word “justify” a couple of times.  Justificiation is the act of being made righteous by one who has the authority to do so.

 

In other words, since there is nothing we can do to make ourselves righteous, God makes us righteous through faith in Jesus.

 

When we were slaves to sin, we were lawbreakers and were therefore under the penalty of the law.  That penalty is death.  Jesus paid that penalty for us in order to pay our debt to God.  This is the “redemption” spoken of in the passage above.

 

The danger for Christians, having been made righteous by faith, is to forget that we had nothing to do with being forgiven.  Sure, we made the choice to follow Christ, but we are forgiven because HE says so, not because WE say so.

 

If we become too accustomed to our view from the mountaintop, and forget how we got there (by God throwing us down a rope, not by our climbing), it is all too tempting for us to look down on the people still “down in the valley.”

 

Basically, if you ever find yourself looking down on someone else from a position that you have not earned, you have crossed the line to self-righteousness.

 

RIGHTEOUSNESS DN= SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

 

For Christians, self-righteousness comes from the mistaken idea that we are somehow better than other human beings are because of our relationship with Jesus.  For a non-Christian, self-righteousness occurs when one must put another down in order to elevate oneself.

 

Since true righteousness comes from faith in Jesus alone, a person without that faith would have no means of being made righteous.  Since no one can earn the favor of God by good deeds, anyone who boasts in those deeds would be self-righteous as well.

 

Simply put, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.

 

(For more clarification of church jargon, come back for Part 4–Holy)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 9–Spirit and Truth

 

God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth.  (John 4:24 CEV)

I distinctly remember the occasion when a lady joining the Catholic church met our bishop for the first time.  This particular bishop was one of the most down-to earth bishops I had ever met, yet this lady still said after meeting him, “I have never felt so holy.”  Just because he was a bishop, she regarded him as being above regular humans.

 

But what example does this set?  Even if a bishop, when addressing God, calls himself “your lowly servant” (as this particular bishop was known to do), he still has the fancy robe, wears a mitre (the tall pointy crown-thing) and sits on the big fancy chair, which looks rather like a throne.  He is royalty because he is perceived as royalty, regardless of what comes out of his mouth.

 

By contrast, consider Jesus, the King of Kings, God in human flesh.

 

The Greatest became the least, born in a manger in the home of a carpenter, living as a peasant instead of as a king, and suffering the most horrible and humiliating death imaginable—execution by crucifixion:

 

The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun.  They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga.  They plaited a crown from branches of a thorn bush and set it on his head.  They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter.  Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said.  “Bravo!”  Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick.  When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him.  Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.  (Matthew 27:27-31 The Message)

The soldiers brought Jesus to Golgotha, meaning “Skull Hill.”  They offered him a mild painkiller (wine mixed with myrrh), but he wouldn’t take it.  And they nailed him to the cross.  They divided up his clothes and threw dice to see who would get them.  (Mark 15:22-24 The Message)

 

 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:44-46 NIV)

 

So the soldiers went and broke the legs of the first man and then of the other man who had been crucified with Jesus.  But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they did not break his legs.  One of the soldiers, however, plunged his spear into Jesus’ side, and at once blood and water poured out. (John 19:32-34 GNT)

 

To save our souls from sin, the Creator of the universe sent his One and Only son to be flogged, beaten, publicly humiliated and finally killed, naked, on a cross.

 

The Catholic church, on the other hand, claims that “the work of our redemption is accomplished”[1] only when we attend their masses, go through their rituals, receive their sacraments and submit to their man-made laws and traditions, else we be excommunicated, as the Jews in Jesus’ day were put out of the synagogue for not conforming to the legalism of the Pharisees.

 

Nevertheless, Paul was clear when he wrote to the early church at Ephesus:

 

For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith.  And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God;

 Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast.  [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.] (Ephesians 2:8-9 Amplified)

 

Although the Scriptures were written thousands of years ago, they are still fresh today in the lives of every believer.  Through the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit, God’s Truth leaps off the page to convict us individually of our sin and lead us on the straight and narrow path of our sanctification, that is, our journey of being gradually transformed into the image of Christ.

 

Indeed, many people in the Catholic church are on this journey.  However, if they are, it is likely in spite of the Catholic church’s teachings, not because of them.

 

Again, as I said at the beginning, nothing in this series was meant to offend.  I have simply told my own story and presented a few facts to explain it.  Everyone’s story and perspective are different.

 

But Truth, as well as being eternal, is universal.  This means that the Truth behind what I say will apply to anyone who reads these words regardless of their background.  Be you Catholic, Protestant, atheist or any other ideology, I pray that you have found something here that has led you back toward the Father.

 

Amen.



[1] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html#_ftnref1

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 8–Good Works

So, how good IS “good enough?”

 

Well, the answer is “never,” since. . .

All have sinned and are not good enough to share God’s divine greatness.  They are made right with God by his grace. This is a free gift. They are made right with God by being made free from sin through Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23-24 ERV)

 

NONE of us can earn sainthood.  The only way we could achieve righteousness, or having a good standing before God, would be by obeying every letter of the law.

 

Here’s the problem with that concept:

 

 Suppose you keep the whole law but trip over just one part of it. Then you are guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10 NiRV)

 

Think about it.  Would you drink out of a glass that was chipped on the edge?  No, you’d cut your lip.  It’s just a tiny little chip, but it renders the glass unworthy to be used, so you throw it away.

 

So it is with your soul.  One tiny little chip in your lawkeeping, and all of your good works are like filthy rags.  Break the law one time, and you are officially “not good enough.”

 

For this reason, the Catholic church invented the sacrament (another word for gift or sign) of penance.  When I was growing up, we called it “confession.”  Today, it is known by the more accurate and helpful term of “reconciliation.”

 

The way it works is that you confess your sins to a priest, who then grants you absolution, a breaking down of the barriers of sin, which is supposed to make it possible for you to receive Christ’s forgiveness.

 

As with everything else, the Catholic Church has rules about this sacrament.  Here are a few from the Code of Canon Law, Book IV, Part I, Title IV, Chapter III:

 

Can. 987 In order that the faithful may receive the saving remedy of the sacrament of penance, they must be so disposed that, repudiating the sins they have committed and having the purpose of amending their lives, they turn back to God.

Can. 988 §1 The faithful are bound to confess, in kind and in number, all grave sins committed after baptism, of which after careful examination of conscience they are aware, which have not yet been directly pardoned by the keys of the Church, and which have not been confessed in an individual confession.

 

“Directly pardoned by the keys of the Church” signifies the Catholic church’s official stance that forgiveness can only be achieved if they say so.  They base this authority on Matthew 16:19, where Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock upon which He will build His church (i.e. the first Pope) and says to him:

 

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (NRSV)

Only here’s the problem.  Jesus repeats those words just two chapters later, addressing them to ALL his disciples:

 

Yes! I tell you people that whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. To repeat, I tell you that if two of you here on earth agree about anything people ask, it will be for them from my Father in heaven.  For wherever two or three are assembled in my name, I am there with them.” (Matthew 18:18-20 CJB)

In other words, the authority of “binding and loosing” is from Jesus for all believers, not from the Magisterium and for the Magisterium.

 

So if the Catholic leadership has assumed God’s role of deciding who is forgiven and when, then what part is left for God to play?  Here is St. Augustine’s take on the situation:

 

A man who confesses his sins acts already with God.  God accuses you of your sins; if you accuse yourself, then you join yourself with God. . .When you begin to detest that which you have done, it is then that your good works commence, because you accuse these bad deeds. . . You do the truth and you come to the light.  (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 12.13)

 

Back up the truck, Augie.  God ACCUSES?  Isn’t that somebody else’s job?

 

The huge dragon was thrown out—that ancient serpent, named the Devil, or Satan, that deceived the whole world. He was thrown down to earth, and all his angels with him.  Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now God’s salvation has come! Now God has shown his power as King! Now his Messiah has shown his authority! For the one who stood before our God and accused believers day and night has been thrown out of heaven.  They won the victory over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the truth which they proclaimed; and they were willing to give up their lives and die. (Revelation 12:9-11 GNT)

Indeed, the name “Satan” literally means “accuser” in Hebrew.  On the other hand:

 

 If, however, any believer does sin, we have a high-powered defense lawyer—Jesus the Anointed, the righteous—arguing on our behalf before the Father. (1 John 2:1b VOICE)

So if we’re going to use courtroom analogies, then God the Father is the Judge, God the Son is our lawyer, and God the Holy Spirit is the witness for the defense.  BY NO MEANS is God the prosecutor.

 

Confession is where we enter a plea of guilty, but remember what Father Carlos said, “God has already forgiven you.”  In other words, the Judge had already found you Not Guilty before you ever entered the courtroom.

 

There is only one reason that you would receive mercy instead of justice for your sin.

 

It is because Jesus had already adopted the guilty plea on your behalf, and along with it, the death sentence.

 

And because you made the conscious decision to hire Him as your defense attorney.  After all:

 

Those who belong to Christ Jesus are no longer under God’s sentence.  I am now controlled by the law of the Holy Spirit. That law gives me life because of what Christ Jesus has done. It has set me free from the law of sin that brings death. (Romans 8: 1-2 NiRV)

You don’t come to the light by “doing” the truth.  You don’t reach the Father by your good works.  You can’t earn a spot on the team.  The work has already been done— by Jesus on the cross.

 

If you don’t believe that, then you’re basically saying that Jesus and all that He has done isn’t good enough.

 

So why does the Catholic church not teach this?

 

Because if Catholics knew that they didn’t actually have to be “good enough” to make the cut, that their guilt over their sins is unwarranted because Christ has already paid the penalty for their sinful nature, and that their citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven begins RIGHT NOW if they believe that Jesus is who He said He was and did what the Bible says He did. . .

 

Well,  then the Church would lose control over their lives.

 

After all, if a person is bowing down directly to the King of Kings, then he or she has no use for an earthly kingdom.

 

And that is exactly what the Catholic Church is.  The Pope is the King, the Vatican is his court, and the archbishops, bishops and priests are the royalty.

 

(To find out what I mean by “royalty,” come back for the conclusion: Part 9–Spirit and Truth)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 5–Confession

 

 

Once, at about age 30 (after I had rejoined the Catholic church), I went to confession.  The visiting priest hearing confession that day was Father Carlos from Colombia.  (His joke was that he would say in a thick Latino accent, “I am from Columbia . . . Missouri.”)

 

This was a face-to-face confession.  I grew up with the old school, priest-behind-a-semi-translucent-sliding wall-so-they-can’t-see-you kind of a deal (as if they didn’t know you by your voice).

 

But I went face-to-face this time, because I actually had something that I needed to confess—adulterous thoughts.  They were just thoughts—no actions—but by this time I had read the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus warned, “You have heard it said ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you, whoever has looked at another woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

 

At this point in my life, though I would not have called myself “born again,” my heart had been softened enough for me to feel true remorse and conviction for this sin.  So I felt like I needed to truly confess it, not just go through the motions of “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” Hail Mary conversion chart, yadda, yadda, yadda.

 

So for the first time ever, I’m pouring out my heart to a priest because I feel like I need to.  I feel like I actually have a slate that needs cleaning.  So I finish, and I wait for the absolution and penance, but then Father Carlos hits me with something I hadn’t expected.

 

“God has already forgiven you.”

 

What?  How is that possible?  I don’t remember exactly what Father Carlos said after that, but the gist of it was that God was actually loving and merciful, not condemning and judgmental.  He painted a word picture of a God that WANTS to forgive me, not punish me.  Totally New Concept!

 

But isn’t that how the one true God is?  We even sang a hymn in church called “Loving and Forgiving,” taken from Psalm 103, so all the evidence was there.  Yet it never clicked for me until this day.

 

This experience was the first time I ever felt the weight of sin being lifted from my shoulders.  By the time this confession ended, I was actually laughing with Father Carlos because of the freedom I felt.  (One problem there—if you laugh in a Catholic Church, even a small one, it echoes a LOT!  Many dirty looks ensuing from the LONG line still waiting.)

 

(So why was this so unusual?  For a couple of theories, come back for Part 6–Repetition and Tradition)

 

Doubt: Part 11–The Death of Doubt

 

Finally, THIS is the happy ending.

 

God called my bluff, and decided it was time for me to make the move to close the gap between us.  I announced my impending divorce to the church choir and tendered my resignation from the music ministry.

 

That night, as the church emptied, I hit my knees in the back of the church and finally acknowledged my need, my complete and utter dependence on the Daddy who was always there, even when I tried to run away to hide from Him.  He was with me even through the years when I publicly called his children weak-minded fools, when I lashed back at Him in anger for everything I assumed was His fault.

 

He waited, and watched.  When I finally turned around to face Him, he was right there where he had been all along.

 

Doubt died that day, once and for all.

 

There are still days when I doubt myself, but I never doubt my Abba, my Lord and my God.  What I have found is that every time I acknowledge my weakness and my dependence, God asserts His might and power by reminding me what He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV).

 

I have still never seen God, just as I have never seen the wind.  However, just as I have seen the effects of the wind, I have seen the effects of God.  I don’t have to try to wrap my brain around the intricacies of DNA or photosynthesis or the size of the universe to try to logically point to an Intelligent Designer.  I just have to look in the mirror and around at my home and my family.

 

I am married again, and the two of us really are of one mind and spirit.  All of my children respond to God, because they have a spiritual leader in their house that is just as much, if not more, concerned with their spiritual growth as their physical and intellectual growth.  The peace and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reign in our house.  Now to be sure, there are times that are not peaceful, challenging, and even infuriating.  All families have these.

 

However, as a family, we are now in a place where the solid rock and firm foundation we come back to is our personal relationship with the God of the Universe, the salvation made possible by the sacrifice of His Son, and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit.  I see the evidence of this every day.

 

And that is all I need to send doubt packing.