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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Not by Works!


“What right do mortals have to decide of their own accord in a matter that is far above the world?”  
                        
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion

One thing that all man-made religions have in common is their insistence that man’s own works are what makes them acceptable in the sight of God. Islam demands that man do good works if he expects to gain God’s favor. Unless a man’s good works outweigh the bad, he is not likely to be saved. And even then, God can decide at the last minute that he does not want to accept the man and he will be eternally lost. Thus, a Muslim is never sure whether he has been accepted by God or not. The Eastern religions are no less work-centered. Since an individual needs to work out his karma from one existence to the next, what he does becomes the center of whether he will progress or digress in the various stages of enlightenment. All the same, if you cannot remember what you did in a previous life, how can you know whether you’re progressing or not? Not only that, you can never know just how far along the path you’ve gone since there’s no objective standard that guides your actions.
As the quote at the beginning of this article attests, man is always seeking to determine for himself what God will accept. Paul tells his readers in the first chapter of Romans that man became darkened in his understanding and went after a myriad of false gods even though God had clearly manifested himself in creation. Today, the pursuit of eternity continues apace, and although the methods that man has devised in his pursuit of eternity may have changed, they all have one thing in common: man is the final arbiter of what is good and what is not. But an immediate problem raises its head in this model. If man is the final determiner of what God is to accept, then man becomes God. If he can dictate to God what God must accept and what he must approve, then God is at the mercy of man and not the other way around. Thus, humanity places itself at the center of creation and shouts to God orders he expects God to follow!
The Bible clearly tells us that God is sovereign and that we are his creation. The psalmist declared it in words that cannot be improved upon “Know that the Lord he is God. It is He who has made us and not we ourselves. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalms 100:3). But instead of acknowledging that fact, man has decided that he knows better. Witness the ascent of secular humanism with its belief that man can attain great heights of morality and goodness without an objective standard outside himself. Try as they might, they are unable to ground their beliefs simply because, without God, there cannot be any such thing as objective morality. What is good and proper today, will not be so tomorrow. And even today, what is good in one society will not be in another.
Everyone who is even slightly acquainted with the Bible (and anyone who has watched more than a couple of minutes of a football game) no doubt has read John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Imagine how foolish that scripture would be if the rest of the gospel of John gave the impression that anything will get you to heaven. Paul told the Galatians in chapter two of his book that “if righteousness comes by the law (i.e. doing good works), then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21). Again, the point that the apostle is making is that, without Christ, no salvation can be attained. If we leave it up to today’s crowd, what Paul really should have said was “pick something that appeals to you and sounds good and run with it.” People just do not want to contemplate the foolishness of their “whatever works for you” philosophy. In no other realm of life is that attitude usually entertained, but when it comes to spiritual matters, that’s exactly how many feel.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Since anything goes, how about Islam? The primary tenet of Islam is Tawhid, the oneness of God. It further explains that God is one and that he is supreme and sovereign. No one can come into his presence and He alone determines whom He will accept. Thus, Islam is an exclusive religion that demands the worship and service of Allah for his own sake. Okay, so Islam is too restrictive. How about Buddhism? Buddhism does not accept the existence of a personal, living God. Rather, it speaks of the divine spark that resides within each of us and in the end seeks to be absorb into the great spark in the sky, so to speak! Well, Islam and Buddhism are contradictory and are not compatible. How about Judaism? With Judaism, you’re still awaiting your Messiah. Not only that, but the Jews consider themselves the exclusive people of God. If you want to be accepted by Yahweh, you will have to be circumcised, if you’re a male, and become a proselyte. Nothing else will do.
In our pluralistic society we’re so used to seeing Muslims, Buddhists and Jews, among many others, who are only nominally such that we have come to believe that that is what those religions are all about. Since the majority of what passes for Muslims, Buddhists or Jews in America are of the “anything goes” variety (and I hasten to add, many so-called Christian also fall into this category), we believe that it must be okay to have that mindset. Unfortunately for those who so think, the truth of the matter is that those religions are just as exclusive as Christianity when followed to their logical end.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of those who build idols to themselves to worship. In chapter 44 he spoke of idols built out of wood and stone which can neither see nor hear. The great Greek Writer Homer wrote of the foolishness of those who make a chair out of wood in the morning, and then in the afternoon build a god out of whatever material is left. When we seek to build a “religion” in our own image, we are no less idolatrous than those Isaiah and Homer spoke about. We may not build the image, but in our souls we have decided that the gods we build to our own liking are superior to the only true and living God. On the day of judgment, it is not those “tolerant” gods you will have to face. It will be the great and terrible God you have been avoiding!
 


Friday, September 2, 2016

Does Rome Have the Gospel?

I heard a Christian apologist recently say that, as our freedom of religion becomes more and more restricted, that which is called Christendom will become more and more expansive. What he meant by that is that the restrictions on religion will cause those who call themselves Christians to be lumped together into an ever expanding lump. Thus, you will have all kinds of so-called Christians becoming the victims of persecution for their beliefs. Some will go underground and stop proclaiming the message of the cross openly. Others will become more and more accommodating and will seek to be “all things to all people” not discerning where to draw the line and not compromise with sin. And then there will be those who will stand on the truth of the gospel because they know that standing for it, regardless of the cost, is worth any price. John F. Kennedy said during his inaugural address in 1961 that the United States should “pay any price, oppose any foe, support any friend” in the pursuit of liberty and democracy. I wonder how many of us will be willing to have that mindset as we face opposition to our faith.