Growing Up Roman Catholic

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”
Philippians 3:8-9 ESV

You may have noticed that the last few articles I’ve written for this blog are primarily concerned with Roman Catholic theology. As a blogger, I’ve initially wanted to write for the purpose of sharing what I’ve learned in my reading and research, along with the promotion of Reformed doctrine. Writing about other worldviews was never on the agenda in my mind.

So writing about Roman Catholicism is very much contrary to my initial concept. I justify my choices in doing this because firstly, the Reformed faith was formed out from the darkness of Roman Catholicism. Since this is true, it is imperative that we understand what our theological fathers, like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli came out of.  So in understanding the darkness, we can gain a better appreciation of the light. But, there’s another aspect to my recent focus on Catholicism, and that is my upbringing within the Roman Catholic Church.

This article is going to be a little different because I don’t necessarily write a whole lot about my own personal life. But for the sake of edification, I bring a part of my testimony to you.

Zeal with no Knowledge

To my knowledge, I have never mentioned in writing, that I was raised Roman Catholic. Growing up, one of my fondest memories from my childhood was my desire to become a Roman Catholic priest when I became older. The thoughts of becoming the first priest in my family were instilled in me as a boy and it was what fuelled my love for the traditions of my fathers. Well, I’m 20 years old now and needless to say, any chances of me becoming a Roman Catholic priest is 0.00000000% due to my contrary convictions as a Protestant.

I’m Filipino and most Filipino families would identify as Roman Catholic. This is due to Spanish colonialism in the 16th century. I come from a deeply religious family from both my mother and father’s side. So, growing up, I never missed Mass, I went to a Catholic school and I went through the Sacramental system of Rome. The first Sacrament which I could cognitively remember was Penance and at that time, I was 8 years old. One year later I took the Sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time, and then finally three years later I received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

But not only that, I even served as an altar boy in my local parish. Unlike most of the other boys who served with me, I did this with much enthusiasm and love for the church and her Sacraments. I loved being so close to the altar with the Parish priest, as he went through the liturgy. I felt a sense of being close to God and knowing Him. But on the flipside, I will also say that I felt superiority as well. As he said the words of consecration, “This is my body”, I was usually the one who rang a small brass bell to make it known to the congregation that the miracle of transubstantiation occured. Whenever I was serving on the altar, I used to fantasise about the day when I would become a priest, and on the altar as an “alter-Christus”.

Since I went to a Catholic school, we would often have Mass on special occasions. One comical episode I remember is telling my friends on Ash Wednesday after Mass that I didn’t need to have lunch because I just took the body of Christ and I wouldn’t go hungry for the rest of the day. If you’re a Protestant, you might be thinking to yourself, this is the worst eisegesis of John 6:35 you’ve heard of so far, and you’re right. Looking back, I was basically Paul in a smaller package. I had a lot of zeal for the faith of my fathers. I participated in the church’s Sacraments with great enthusiasm. I served faithfully in my parish.  But I was also a very proud and arrogant boy who looked down upon other kids who didn’t share my zeal. So put simply I was a young boy with much zeal and zero knowledge of the truth.

As I grew older into my teen years, my religious fervour did subside and I grew distant and apathetic. I will not delve too much into this aspect of my life, only due to constraints. But there was a point, where I had a revival of interest in religion and it prompted me to get back in touch with it again.

It was at this point where I met God in the Bible and I was met by a God who justified freely by faith. And it was the reading of Scripture, along with early mentors that helped me understand it that ignited my scepticism of the Roman Catholic Church’s authority. Eventually, I found myself denying every foundational doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, to the point where, like a sore thumb, I stuck out of the crowd as the Protestant amongst the faithful. It was at a tipping point, towards the end of 2014, where I packed my bags and I left Rome, much like Christian who left the city of destruction and I ran to Zion to be with the true King.

Now in the same manner as Paul in Philippians, I say concerning my “religious credentials”; “I count them all as loss” because I have now gained Christ who is my perfect righteousness and I shall not need any other.

I pray that this part of my testimony has encouraged you and stirred you to love Christ more. Until next time…

Grace and Peace,

Chad

An Examination of a Roman Catholic Prayer to Mary

Christ is a perfect and sufficient advocate for us and there is no need for another advocate in His mother. Indeed we must entrust ourselves to Christ and His power to save, for He promises that he will keep us safe in his hands (John 10:27).

One aspect of Roman Catholic theology and practice that is foreign and even repugnant to Protestants is the adoration of Mary. Perhaps you’ve seen statues of Mary in Roman Catholic Churches, or even pictures on Google of Catholics bowing to statues of Mary. I would put a picture of this as an example, but I find such an image is distasteful and I wouldn’t want a brother to stumble. Roman Catholicism unashamedly promotes and teaches that Marian devotion. Pope John Paul II was known for his strong devotion to the Mary; and his motto was “Totus Tuus”, which translates to “I am altogether yours”, in reference to Mary. So when he was shot in 1981, he cried out to Mary, saying “Mary, my Mother! Mary my Mother!”. Clearly, the Catholic Church is rife with Marian devotion, even to the highest levels of its hierarchy. In this article, we will explore Marian devotion through an examination of a Roman Catholic prayer to Mary with the Scripture as the basis.

Some Clarifications

Now it must be stated outright, in order to dispell any confusion, that 1. lest there be the accusations that I deny church history, I affirm that Mary is the “Theotokos”, as the Eastern Orthodox refer to her or in the West, the “Mother of God”. I would stand with the Roman Catholics and Orthodox against the uninformed Protestant who would assert that Mary is not the Mother of God as the denial of this would be in the realm of heresy, but more on that later. 2. Mary is “blessed among women”, as Elizabeth has said concerning her in Luke 1:42. There was no other woman who has had the privilege to give birth to the foretold Messiah, other than Mary and therefore she is “blessed among women” and should not be disrespected. 3. We must take Roman Catholics at their word and never falsely accuse them of worshipping Mary because that would be dishonest and a clear misrepresentation. So I will refrain from making such false accusations, but I would point out that the claims of Roman Catholic Mariology are not only baseless in Scripture but go as far as stating that they are blasphemous.

Why Marian Devotion is Repulsive to Protestants

You would find that an average, uninformed Protestant would refrain from referring to Mary as the “Mother of God” and even outright deny the title from her, and opt for the idea that she only gave birth to his human nature. The affirmation of this is to affirm Nestorianism, a heresy condemned in the early church, which denies the hypostatic union, which states that Christ is fully God and fully man. In order to uphold the hypostatic union, the council of Ephesus declared that Mary was the “Theotokos”, the God-bearer, as she gave birth to Christ who is fully God and fully man at the same time. The reason why some Protestants would ignorantly deny this is due in part to the Roman Catholic practices of Marian devotion, which is rightfully repugnant to the Protestant who believes in the Scriptures. One such example of this is this prayer; img_0052

Source: Mary another Redeemer, James R. White pp.1

Admittedly, I’ve quoted this prayer originally in a book titled, “Mary another Redeemer”, by Dr James White, a critic of Roman Catholic theology. This, however, is a Catholic prayer which Dr White found in a booklet titled “Devotions in Honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help”.

From the very beginning of the prayer, we can immediately see that Mary is addressed as “the Mother of Perpetual Help”, who sinners can look to find mercy and salvation. On a personal level, I am repulsed by this prayer. It is contrary to the teaching of Scripture, which teaches that my salvation rests only in the hands of my Saviour, Jesus Christ. To attribute a part of my salvation to Mary is offensive and dare I say blasphemous,  epitomising the difference of the Protestant and Catholic understanding of the gospel.

In this article, I want to point out certain objections I have with this prayer, with the Scriptures as the basis for my criticism.

Jesus is our Advocate

Firstly I want to address how the prayer distorts the character of our Saviour. “For if thou protect me, dear Mother, I fear nothing… even… Jesus, my Judge himself, because by one prayer from thee he will be appeased”.  This calls to mind, this Medieval image of Christ, seared in the minds of the people during Luther’s day, where Christ is sitting upon a rainbow judging the world, as seen in the image below. Since Christ is merciless judge, Mary in juxtaposition is the loving mother that is caring and pitiful towards the hopeless and lost sinner. She is their advocate, whilst Christ is their judge.

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Image of Christ upon the rainbow [Censored due to the 2nd commandment forbidding the depictions of the Trinity]

This sentiment is found in other Catholic literature. Alphonsus De Liguori, a doctor of the Church in his book titled, “The Glories of Mary”, recounted from the Franciscan chronicles, a vision from one brother Leo. In it, they saw two ladders, one red, with Christ standing upon it and another white one, with Mary on the top. He saw how people tried to ascend Christ’s ladder, but to no avail as they keep falling to the ground. Then they were told to try the other ladder, where Mary stands. In this ladder, they were able to climb successfully because Mary offered her hand and they were able to make it to heaven (SOURCE: The Glories of Mary, pp.178, Catholic Way publishing).

Clearly, what is seen here is that Christ is an angry judge that needs to be appeased by his mother in order to act on behalf of sinners. This is a clear distortion on the teaching of Scripture, as we can see in these Scriptures;

“For we have not a high priest who cannot have compassion on our infirmities: but one who has been tempted in all things like as we are, without sin. Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid”                                                                                                                         (Hebrews 4:15 Douay Rheims Bible)

“if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just”                                    (1 John 2:1 Douay Rheims Bible)

We can observe from these passages that 1. Jesus our advocate, as John tells us and Hebrews explains his work as our advocate, that being a Priest on our behalf.  2. The basis for Christ’s eligibility as the Priest for sinners is the hypostatic union. Christ is both God and man. Hebrews 4:15 accentuates the humanity of Christ, in that He was subjected to the same reality of temptation as sinners, but making it clear that He was “without sin”, relating to His deity. 3. Therefore, since Christ is also fully God, the Son (Hebrews 1:2-14), the second Person of the Trinity, He is perfectly adequate and sufficient to be the advocate for the sinner before the Father. 4. In experiencing the temptations that come with the human experience, He is moved to compassion and mercy towards the sinner.

The Puritan, Thomas Goodwin articulates it so aptly, writing that the;

“the heart of Christ… is affected and graciously disposed towards sinners on earth that do come to him… willing to receive them… ready to entertain them… tender to pity them in all their infirmities, both sins and miseries.”                                                                             (SOURCE: Heart of Christ, Banner of Truth pp. 1-2)

As we can see in the Scripture, Christ is not unapproachable to the penitent sinner who calls out for salvation, as the Catholic sources depict him. Neither does He need Mary to appease Him! The Bible paints the beautiful picture of a merciful saviour who stands as the perfect advocate for all those who believe in Him, before the presence of God. Where then does Mary come into the picture? As I’ve demonstrated, Mary’s role as an advocate is made redundant according to Scripture because we, along with Mary, have a perfect advocate in Christ.

Our Salvation is Secured in Christ Alone

The prayer places the sinner’s salvation in the hands of Mary. “Come then, to my help, dearest Mother, for I recommend myself to thee. In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul. Count me among thy most devoted servants; take me under thy protection, and it is enough for me.” In this prayer, the soul of the sinner is entrusted to Mary. Their salvation rests upon the mercy and goodness of the Virgin.

Roman Catholicism teaches Mary is the Mediatrix or the co-redeemer with Christ. Louis-Maria Grignion de Montfort explains; “Her Divine Son would have it that she should join with Him in His Sacrifice, and that by her consent He should be immolated to the Eternal Father” (SOURCE: Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin pp.11). Mary then is a co-redeemer with Christ because she consented to give up her Son for the salvation of sinners and therefore participated in redemption.

Once again, the Roman Catholic source presents a concept that is foreign to Scripture. Take this passage from Ephesians;

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity (or love). Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will”                                                                                 (Ephesians 1:3-5 Douay Rheims Bible)

Firstly, notice the roles of each member of the Trinity in providing sinners with a perfect salvation. The Father who elected sinners to salvation, Christ is the cause of salvation, and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Adoption (Romans 8:14-17) causes sinners to be born again. I touch upon this succinctly only to demonstrate the Triune God completes the sinner’s salvation. I would explain how each member of the Trinity contributes to salvation, but this would make this article too long.

Take note of many times the passage employs the words “in Christ” and variations of it. In this text, they appear three times. The first instance, Paul tells us that “in Christ” we are the beneficiaries of all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. In the second, “in him” we are elected unto salvation to be holy and blameless in His sight. And in the third, we are adopted, children “through Jesus Christ”. This language is not unique to Ephesians. In Romans, Paul states that “in Christ Jesus”, there is justification and redemption (Romans 3:24). In Romans 8:1, there’s “no condemnation” for everyone who is “in Christ Jesus”. The language of “in Christ Jesus” evokes the image of the sinner being protected and sheltered by Christ HimselfThis language is found in the Psalms; “The lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge” (Psalm 18:2 ESV). “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me” (Psalm 31:1 ESV). These passages paint the picture that God is likened to a “mighty fortress” (to borrow from Luther), a refuge and protection for the sinner. Jesus calls the sinner, to run to Him for refuge, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV). Paul’s language corresponds with that of the Psalms, and now that we live in this present age after the first advent of Christ, we now know that the refuge which the Psalms speak of is none other than Christ Himself. Therefore sinners are told to run to Christ for protection, to entrust their very souls to Him and their eternal salvation.

The prayer petitions Mary; “In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul“. And yet Christ says; “I give them life everlasting: and they shall not perish for ever. And no man shall pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28 DRB). The Bible teaches that it is only Christ who is our sole refuge and in Him alone, we are secured.

Responding to Objections

Now a Roman Catholic may rebut and say: “Mary is inseparable from Jesus because they are in perfect union with each other” (see: Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 964). But how does one come to that conclusion through Scripture? The Scriptures know of only one Saviour, and that is Jesus Christ. Catholic: “Ahh but see that’s the problem with you Protestants, you are so steeped into your Bibles that you neglect tradition”. Which traditions? Traditions that contradict the teachings of Scripture and have developed over time?

The Roman Catholic faces a dilemma here. Either Christ is our sufficient advocate before the Father or He is not. Either a sinner is to wholly entrust themselves to Christ, or they shall entrust a part of themselves to Christ and the other to Mary. Both cannot be true, because they are diametrically opposed to each other. Either tradition is right and the Bible false.

Conclusion

Praise God that we have a Saviour who loves us and gave Himself up for us. Christ is a perfect and sufficient advocate for us and there is no need for another advocate in His mother. Indeed we must entrust ourselves to Christ and His power to save, for He promises that he will keep us safe in his hands (John 10:27). If you are a Roman Catholic and reading this article, then you know that the Church teaches that Mary is the mother of the church. If she is your mother, you should perhaps follow in her very footsteps and entrust yourself to Jesus as she did in the Magnificat saying; ““My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” (Luke 27:46-47 RSV).

Grace and Peace, 

Chad

Why I’m Not a Roman Catholic: Justification is by Faith Alone!

It is Reformation Day! For Roman Catholics, it is All Saints Day. Reformation day marks the day when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the church of Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517. The Reformation marks the time when the church returned to the Scriptures and away from the traditions of man which have so far away. Since it is Reformation day, it is only fitting that I address Roman Catholicism. In this particular article, I aim to address the material cause of the Reformation, that is the doctrine of sola fide.

Protestantism believes that a sinner is justified by faith alone. The Reformers used the Latin term; “Sola Fide”, which translates to “faith. It’s the belief that we are not saved by our works, but by putting faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. The Roman Catholic view, in summary, affirms that salvation requires faith in Christ and works in order to be justified. Any notion that salvation is by faith alone, without works has been dispelled and anathematised in the Council of Trent, which was the church council which sought to respond to the Protestant Reformation, defining key doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).

Trent states…

“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”[1].

This declaration permanently defined the RCC’s position on the issue of justification and caused a permanent rift between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. From here we will consider the two differing views of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

The Protestant View

The Protestant view on justification is explained by the Westminster Confession of Faith;

“Those whom God effectually called, He also freely justifies: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting the persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing or any other evangelical obedience to them as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God”[2]

Protestants believe that justification is founded upon the “imputed righteousness” of Christ. The act of imputing Christ’s righteousness is “accounting…the persons as righteous”. The righteousness which is accounted to the sinner does not belong to them, it belongs to Christ, it is put into their account. This action is done on God’s part, not on the basis of some prior righteousness which deemed the sinner worthy of justification. Rather it rests solely upon the mercy and grace of God who pitied sinners, moving Him to save them.

This “righteousness” is the “obedience and satisfaction of Christ”, or as the London Baptist Confession explains; “Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in His death” [3]. Protestant theologians have distinguished between “active” and “passive” obedience. The active obedience of Christ imputed to the sinner, makes him blameless to the law because Christ perfectly obeyed it, where the sinner has not. The passive obedience of Christ pardons the sinner because his sins were borne by Christ on the cross, with the Father expiating his wrath upon the Son so that the sinner would no longer be under his wrath. It is predicated on these two things that God considers the sinner to no longer be regarded as condemned before His sight. A sinner who has been justified by God then has this righteousness conferred to them by the means of faith in Christ. The Westminster Divines sought to distinguish themselves from Rome, by stating that faith is “the alone instrument of justification”[4], which is to say that the only way for a sinner to take hold of this righteousness is to have faith in Christ’s satisfaction and obedience, to rest upon it completely apart from the works of the law.

 

The Roman Catholic View

Rome teaches the concept of infused righteousness“, which is where God infuses righteousness into the sinner through the means of sacraments. It must be clarified that this is not a matter of disagreements over semantics. “Infused” is not the same as “imputed”. When Rome states that God infuses righteousness in to the soul of the sinner, they mean that they “pour” the righteousness of Christ into the sinner. Christ’s righteousness is actually transferred to the sinner and becomes theirs.

According to Roman Catholic theology, “Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy[5].  Trent refers to the sacrament of baptism as the “instrumental cause”[6] of justification. What Trent means by “instrumental” is that Baptism is the instrument by which justification is infused into the person. The person is justified because the sacrament removes the stain of original sin [6]. At the very moment of baptism, the person is absolutely pure and innocent, without guilt. The sacrament of baptism removes the stain of original sin, but it does not free the person from the effects of sin, as they are still inclined towards it [8]. What’s more is that Trent even states that “the grace of justification” can be lost either 1. due to the loss of faith or 2. the committing of mortal sin, in which case faith is retained, but justification is lost [9]. Since baptism doesn’t erase the struggle with sin, a Catholic then inevitably becomes defiled by sinful acts and loses their innocence. In order to enter into heaven, a person must remain and die in the “state of grace” through the participation of the sacraments, particularly  through the specific sacraments of the Eucharist and penance as the RCC believes all the sacraments “confer grace”[10] on the sinner every time they are received (and also anathematises anyone who disagrees with them). So in Roman Catholicism, the way to salvation is one that is paved by adherence to Rome’s sacramental system and not by faith alone. We can conclude then that according to Rome, faith is a necessary component to justification and salvation. However, faith is, as Dr R.C. Sproul observes, “…remains the necessary foundation and root of justification”, but Rome does not hold to faith as the “instrumental cause”.

Here The Church Stands

Now one might say, “doesn’t this debate about justification seem trivial and unnecessary, this reformation is irrelevant now and you’re just clutching at straws”. To this, I would passionately and wholeheartedly disagree. Whilst Rome does affirm doctrines that would put them in the realm of orthodoxy (i.e. the Trinity, virgin birth etc.), the doctrine of justification by faith alone is one that cannot be overlooked for the sake of unity. The reason for this is that justification by faith alone is an issue that touches upon the gospel itself! The very same thing which Paul refers to as the “the power of God for salvation”, which is why getting it right is absolutely crucial. Martin Luther said that sola fide is “the article with and by which the church stands, without which it falls”[11]. Luther is saying this doctrine determines whether or not the church is able to stand the judgement of God, because “the doctrine of justification has to do with our status before the just judgement of God” [12].

How Can God Be Just, and Pardon Sinners?

The Psalmist asked the question “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities… who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). The question is rhetorical and highlights the guilt of mankind because every person is naturally born in the state of original sin [13]. In the Bible, we read things like “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist… I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22) and yet at the same time “the LORD loves righteousness and justice” (Psalm 33:5) and that nothing impure can ever enter into heaven in the presence of God (Revelation 21:27).

So how does this work? How can God be just and forgive sinners? Imagine if a judge lets someone who is clearly guilty of rape go without any charges. Is that justice? But it appears that God lets the sinner go, how can God overlook it like that? Does he simply sweep it under the rug and pretend like it never happened? This is exactly the same questions that Martin Luther had.

Luther’s Struggle with God’s Justice

In order to understand why Luther so cherished the doctrine of sola fide, we need to understand Luther himself. Luther’s decision to become a monk arose when he found himself in a storm in which he thought he was going to die. Luther was so greatly afraid that he called out to St Anne to save him, and in return, he would become a monk.  Luther survived this ordeal and did just that, he left the university from studying law and joined the Augustinian order.

Luther was no ordinary monk, Luther himself said: “I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I” [14]. One episode which highlighted this when his confessor was so tired of hearing him confess insignificant sins, that he was told to come back to confess something worth confessing. So morbid was Luther’s guilt complex that there are many who believe he was insane. But Dr Sproul believed otherwise because Luther’s background as a law student is often overlooked. He observes that Luther had a “grasp of subtle and difficult points of the law… some heralded him as a legal genius… he (Luther) had a superior understanding of the law. Once he applied his astute legal mind to the law of God, he saw things that many people miss”[15].

Luther knew that in any human court, there ought to be a just punishment when someone commits a crime. So for Luther, he knew that there ought to be a punishment when one breaks God’s law? As we’ve seen, Luther was acutely aware of his own sinfulness and it caused him turmoil because he knows he can’t stand before God. Instead of seeing God as a saviour, to Luther, “Christ seems… nothing more than an angry judge who comes to me with a sword in His hand” [16]. But this all changed for Luther when he studied the Scripture in Wittenburg in 1512. It was there where Luther met Christ, the redeemer of sinners.

The Law In Relation to Sinners

The book that changed it all for Luther was the book of Romans. Particularly in Romans 1:16-17, where Luther realised that it was the righteousness of God that saved him, not his own. Knowing this, the tremors inside Luther’s soul ceased and for the first time, he had known true peace. This then leads us to a passage I want to bring your attention, for your consideration in the debate concerning justification. This passage is Romans 3:19-26 and in this section, I will examine the first two passages, as they are foundational;

“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

(Romans 3:19-20)

If a sinner were to be saved by obedience to the law, salvation is impossible because the law demands perfect obedience (James 2:10). In the immediate context, Paul took great lengths to demonstrate the guiltiness of man. In the first and second chapter, he demonstrated sinfulness of Jews and Gentiles. In the preceding verses (v. 10-18), Paul quotes from Old Testament scriptures to show that “none is righteous” (v.10). So in v. 19-20, Paul is drawing out what the implications of the passages he was quoting by making it clear that in God’s divine courtroom, they have no excuse because his law holds them accountable to Him.

Douglas Moo’s observation is helpful, as he explains that the terminology that Paul uses in this text evokes a courtroom imagery[17]. The Greek word translated “accountable” appears only in this verse in the New Testament. Other ancient documents use this to mean; “answerable to” or “liable to prosecution”. So in this picture, God is both the offended party and the judge. After consideration of the evidence, He pronounces the verdict[18]. God has concluded in his divine court that man is sinful and deserving of wrath, therefore “no human being will be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). This is because The law is the perfect reflection of God’s moral character, and so it is righteous because of its source. Therefore it is not unjust for God to judge sinners according to it. Thus, Christ taught against the breaking of God’s law (Matthew 5:19). The Psalms praised the law because that it instructs them in the ways of righteousness (Psalm 119:9-16). Reformed theology historically taught and upheld that the moral law (i.e. the ten commandments) is still binding on Christians. It’s obeyed not to earn justification, but because it pleases God.

God’s Righteousness Revealed in the Gospel and Received by Faith 

After finishing pronouncing God’s judgement, Paul then proceeds with the words;

“21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 23 For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. It was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”” (Romans 3:20-26).

“But now…”. Martyn Lloyd Jones said; “there are no more wonderful words in the whole of Scripture than these two words”. This righteousness of God, or “the righteousness which belongs to God” is now revealed or manifested by the means of faith, apart from the law.

I want to consider the phrase “righteousness of God” and what is meant here by Paul, as this is the main theme in the book of Romans. Paul states that this “righteousness of God”, has been spoken about by the “Law and the Prophets” (v.21). When Paul uses the words “righteousness of God”, he is referring to God’s saving righteousness of God which was prophesied about in the Old Testament. In Isaiah, God says: “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory” (Isaiah 46:12-13). We can see in this text that there’s a connection between God’s righteousness and salvation. This righteousness which God will “bring near”, doesn’t condemn sinners, it is one that saves. Similarly, David writes; “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me!” (Psalm 31:1-2). God becomes a refuge to the sinner who runs to him for refuge, and it is in His righteousness that sinners are delivered.  We can see that the righteousness which Paul is talking about in the book of Romans is not God’s righteous judgement of sinners. Rather it refers to the means by which he will save sinners. But then this passage begs the question; how does the righteousness of God save sinners? The law is a perfect reflection of God’s personal righteousness. How does that righteousness save? It is revealed apart from the law.

In a word, this righteousness is “imputed” to sinners. In order to understand what Paul means in v.21, we have to go back to the first chapter, wherein he writes; “I’m not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “the just shall live by faith”” (Romans 1:16-17). The gospel itself reveals the righteousness of God. Christ lived a perfect life, fulfilling the laws and its demands, and then became our substitute to atone for our sins. So then, this righteousness of God is founded upon the merit of Christ, received by faith. The phrase, “from faith for faith”, stresses the promises of it – that it is faith and only faith that can justify a sinner [19]. Paul supports this from Habakkuk 2:4, that the “just shall live by faith”,  which means that sinners who have been declared righteous will live fully dependant upon the saving work of Christ in the gospel and nothing else.

The rest of our passage in Romans 3 only accentuates the argument. Take note that every time “faith” and “believe” is used in the text, it is always in connection to salvation, justification or the “righteousness of God”. For example; “The righteousness of God through faith…for all who believe” (3:22); “justified by his grace as a gift” (3:24). Concerning the propitiatory work of Christ upon the cross, it is to be “recieved by faith” (v.24) and that God is the “justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26). In other passages within the epistle, the same is found. In 4:5, “to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). In chapter 5, “we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

The words “through” and “by” communicate the same thing here, which is to mean “means” or “instrument” and Paul makes it clear here that it is only faith is the instrument and the only means by which God justifies the ungodly sinner. Therefore 3:22, can be read “the righteousness of God through the instrument/means of faith”. Hence what can be gleaned from this text is that the righteousness of Christ is imputed completely into the sinner because the law, as we’ve established cannot and will not save a sinner – just as God counted the faith of Abraham as righteousness to his account. And how was Abraham justified? And where did this righteousness come from, that is imputed to Abraham, indeed all those who believe? The righteousness of Christ Himself.

Rome and Justification

The case I have made above suffices to demonstrate that the Roman Catholic Church, as defined by the Council of Trent has justification wrong according to Scripture. Trent teaches that the Sacrament of Baptism is the “instrumental cause” of justification, but this concept is foreign to Scripture. Indeed the Scriptures contradict that, as the Bible teaches that “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 3:17), “we have been justified by faith” (Romans 5:1) and “obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2). This grace in which we stand is the solid rock of Christ –  which Peter, who according to Rome is the first Pope, “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6). If the words of the “Vicar of Christ” is true, then why does Rome so clearly reject their own Pope’s words? Whoever trusts in Christ can be sure that they’ll never be put to shame before the presence of Almighty God, that they will be vindicated, and therefore can have the bold assurance that they are justified, contrary to Trent’s condemnation of it [20].

As I’ve stated earlier this is a gospel issue, as it defines the very heart of the gospel itself. Indeed I would boldly state that there are two radically different gospels being purported here. On the one hand, Rome tells us that faith does not suffice to “justify the ungodly” (Romans 5:8), and a lifelong obedience to her sacraments are required, and even then there’s no assurance. On the other, there is the Biblical gospel, where God in his kindness and mercy, imputes his own righteousness, founded upon the all-sufficient merits of Christ to the sinner. And it is this gospel that the Protestant Reformation has brought back to the church. Hence why it is said of the Reformation “post tenebras lux”, which is Latin for “after darkness, light”.

Conclusion

With everything said, the reason why I’m not a Roman Catholic is that Rome offers no gospel at all. I am convinced by the Sacred Scriptures that my justification doesn’t rest upon my own merit, but in Christ in whom I put all my trust in. I have no merit to show for, no righteousness in me to render me guiltless before the presence of God. Therefore I say with Toplady;

“Not the labour of my hands                                                                                                           can fulfil thy laws demands,                                                                                                         could my zeal no respite know,                                                                                                          all for sin could not atone,                                                                                                             thou must save and thou alone”

(Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me)

Grace and Peace,

Chad

References

  1. Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 9
  2. The Westminster Confession of Faith 11.1
  3. London Baptist Confession of Faith 11.1
  4. Westminster Confession of Faith 11.2
  5. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1213
  6. Council of Trent, Session 6 Chapter VII
  7. Catechism of the Catholic Church 977
  8. Catechism of the Catholic Church 978
  9. Trent, Session 6, Chapter XV
  10. Council of Trent Session 7, Canon 6
  11. Quoted from Faith Alone, Sproul, pg 83
  12. Sproul Faith alone, p.87
  13. For the RCC definition see Catechism of the Catholic Church 417. For the Protestant view, see Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 6
  14. Bainton, pg. 26
  15. Sproul, Holiness of God, pg. 86
  16. Quoted from Sproul, Holiness of God pg. **
  17. Moo, Romans pg.205
  18. ibid pg.205
  19. Douglas Moo, Romans,76
  20. See Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter IX

Trusting in God’s Sovereignty

“God’s sovereignty is never divorced from His steadfast love and infinite wisdom.”

God isn’t a cosmic spectator watching the universe from afar. Instead, the Bible tells us that He is intimately and pro-actively involved in the affairs of His creation. “…I am God, and there is none like Me. Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done…” (Isa 46:9-10 NKJV) and “… he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3 ESV). We can conclude from these passages that (1) God has an omniscient knowledge of all events within the entire created sphere i.e. foreknowledge. And (2) God has unfettered dominion over the universe as He is the one who sustains it. Put simply, God is Sovereign.

 

A Controversial Topic

The topic of God’s sovereignty is a controversial one among Christians due to distinctions between those who are Calvinistic/Reformed and Arminians. The sovereignty of God can also have implications in regards to man’s culpability and the problem of evil. My beliefs are not a secret, as my blog’s name suggests.

But to clarify exactly where I stand; I believe that God has decreed all of human history from the fall to the end of time. Nothing has caught God by surprise.

As we explore this subject we must understand that our knowledge of God’s sovereignty isn’t comprehensive. There are aspects it that is shrouded in mystery to the human mind, which I believe is what makes God transcendent to us. But concerning His sovereignty, there is no doubt that Scripture reveals;

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3)

“He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him “What have you done”” (Daniel 4:35)

“My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10)

God’s Sovereignty Must Be Understood Properly

Clearly, there is weighty Scriptural evidence supporting the Reformed view on God’s sovereignty. And yet Christians shy away from the doctrine of predestination because it would seem to infer that God is responsible for all suffering in the world.

What do we say to the widow who lost their spouse, or the victims of war, poverty or famine? For the sake of honesty are we forced to say that God caused these injustices? In order to acquit God of the accusation of being a tyrannical cosmic deity, Arminians would rather sacrifice God’s unfettered freedom to do as he pleases in order to preserve man’s absolute autonomy. I find that perhaps maybe if those who oppose this doctrine would come to realise that God’s sovereignty is never divorced from His steadfast love and infinite wisdom, then the sovereignty of God wouldn’t cause so much confusion and perhaps even cause them to embrace this doctrine.

From my own personal experience, the sovereignty of God has given me great comfort in times of suffering and doubts. I know that the God who “does all that he pleases” is also our Heavenly Father who has loved us with an everlasting love as he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1: 4). Therefore Christians, find hope in knowing God is sovereign.

With that laid out,  I want to look closer into how God’s steadfast love and infinite wisdom in the context of His sovereignty.

God’s Steadfast Love

The book of Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah to express his anguish at the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. In it, he vividly recounts how he saw “infants and babies faint in the streets. They cry to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint like a wounded man in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out on their mother’s bosom.” (Lam 2:11-12 ESV). Truly it is a distressing scene, not much different from people who suffer today in the world. Now you would think why would God cause such horrible things to happen? At this time the Jews “despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until His wrath… rose against his people…” (2 Chr 36:15 Modified). God was angry with them and “The LORD has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word” (Lam 2:17 ESV).

It appears that the God who spoke so intimately of Israel, as his son (Hos 11:1) has forgotten His love for his people and yet Jeremiah says something so astounding;

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:21-23

Despite seeing the hand of God cause the destruction, Jeremiah is sure that God’s love hasn’t changed and hasn’t run out. He’s convinced that “his mercies never come to an end” and “they are new every morning”.

Christians, we are in Christ, and we can cling to this same hope along with Jeremiah. The Father’s love for us is boundless because we are covered by the righteousness of His Son (2 Cor 5:21) in whom he greatly delights in (Matt 3:17; John 5:20, 10:17, 17:25-26). The Father loves us as if we were Christ because he laid upon His Son the full extent of His wrath so that we can be forgiven.

If you are a Christian you are lavished with the love of the Father! What reason did the Father have for doing so? Absolutely none, except His unconditional and free choice to adopt us before the foundation of the world (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-15), making us His children. So when there are suffering and calamity, we can be assured that His love is immovable and unchanging towards us.

 

God’s Infinite Wisdom

As Displayed in the plan of redemption:

“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways” (Rom 11:33 ESV).

On this text, John Gill writes;

“These words are the epilogue, or conclusion of the doctrinal part of this epistle, and relate to what is said throughout the whole of it hitherto; particularly to the doctrines of salvation by Christ, justification by his righteousness, predestination, the calling of the Gentiles, the rejection of the Jews, and their restoration in the latter day; upon the whole of which, the apostle breaks forth into this pathetic exclamation…”

In responding to the objection that the doctrine of election excuses the culpability of man for their sin; he doesn’t even make a case as to how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are compatible. Rather Paul simply says “who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Rom 9:20 ESV). In other words, “God is God and He can do whatever he wants”.

This demonstrates that Paul is keenly aware that God is bound by no limitation and that man is bound to them. God is infinite, man is finite, and as Calvin said “finitum non capax infinitum”, (“the finite cannot grasp the infinite”). God is uncreated and clothed in glory, man is a creature. Instead of questioning God’s wisdom and sovereignty, Paul praises it. Should we not follow in the example of the Apostle Paul?

As Displayed in Creation:

A word we commonly use to refer to the universe is “cosmos”. It comes from Greek and it translates to “world”. “Cosmos” means “order” and “harmony”. Even in this, we see that the pagans understood that the universe is kept in perfect order, despite failing to attribute it to God (Rom 1:21). For example; the sun doesn’t consume the earth with its rays because it is on an orbit that ensures that it’s not too far, neither too close. These “laws” do not operate independently from God; it is His power sustains it and keeps it in perfect order (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3). Without being consistently aware of it, we trust that God is wise enough to keep the universe is in perfect order. If this is so, then do we not have more reason to trust that He is wise in decreeing both the good and the bad things that happen?

Trust In the Lord!                                                                   

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5 ESV

God is beyond time and sees the tapestry of history unravelled, whereas we only see in hindsight and our current horizon. In His infinite wisdom and steadfast love, He decreed it because He knows it’s what will bring Him the most glory, and the maximisation of His glory and our good is never mutually exclusive.

A child doesn’t always know why a good parent would discipline, but a parent does it for the good of their child. Likewise, there are certain things that the Father does, that we don’t understand, but we must learn to trust that He does it for our good (Rom 8:28) and to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29).

I want to finish with a quote from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, who summarises everything I’ve been trying to communicate in this post;

“There is no attribute of God more comforting to His children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.”

Grace and Peace, 

Chad

 

“I will question you…”

“Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.”

Job 38:4 ESV

I was reading through Job 38, and as I read through the chapter, my thoughts were captivated by the wisdom and the power of God. The book of Job in its entirety goes against conventional wisdom and by that I mean, the book of Proverbs says; “No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble” (Proverbs 12:21 ESV). But the book of Job turns that logic on its head. At the beginning of the book, it was established that Job was ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.’ (Job 1:1 ESV). Like Solomon wrote in Proverbs, ‘no ill’ befell him. Life was great for Job, he had much livestock, had many children and served God faithfully and joyfully. What more could a man ask for from God?

But God took all that away from him, leaving him with sores from his head to toe. And the Scriptures tell of this picture of Job sitting in ashes, taking broken pottery pieces and scraping himself. Job’s story is a tragedy of tragedies. The book of Job begs the question, why would evil befall the righteous? And I think that the book of Job gives the most beautiful and terrifying answer at the same time… but it can only be understood through faith.

In chapter 38, after a long-winded debate over why Job’s life turned sour, God suddenly appears and speaks in a whirlwind;

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said; Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you and you make it known to me.”

Job 38:1-3 ESV

As I read this, I tried to imagine the awe-inspiring sight that is God’s glory being manifested so clearly before these men’s eyes. What kind of fear gripped Job and his friends as they heard God reply back? The fear must’ve been overwhelming to see that whirlwind and to hear the voice of God.

What I love about God’s response is that He doesn’t actually answer the question of why He took everything away from Job. Instead, he says, “I will question you”. In other words, God was telling them, “hey you don’t have a right to question me, I’m God and you’re not! If I choose to give, I have every right to, and if I choose to take, I have every right to do that also”. From there God just asks them some very loaded questions, like ‘where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?’ (Job 38:4 ESV), or ‘have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?’ (Job 38:12 ESV). After a plethora of questions asking Job, he answers ‘Behold I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth’ (Job 40:4 ESV). We don’t put God on the stand and question Him as if He were in a courtroom. It is God who is the judge, and it is us who has to answer to him. But yet when calamity strikes, the very first thing that men are so prone to do is to lay it upon God and question him, asking him a cascade of questions. God doesn’t have to answer us, and we don’t deserve an answer from him, other than “I’m God and you’re not, deal with it”. We should know our place, as we’re the creatures and He’s the creator. And because He’s the creator He has every right to do whatever He wishes, as the Psalmist wrote, ‘Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases’ (Psa 115:3).

Now to the humanist, this is not the response that would satisfy. The reason for this is because for the humanist, man is the final arbiter of his fate, not God. For the humanist, religion exists to serve man, fulfilling his needs and desires. But the humanist forgets that from dust he came and to dust he will return. But God on the otherhand, He is self-sufficient, creator and everlasting, having created all things for the glory of His name. And whether the humanist likes it or not, he is within the domain of God’s creation, leaving him forever beneath His sovereign rule and therefore He must never dare question God, nor accuse him.

But for us Christians, we must trust our God’s sovereign hand, never questioning Him. Because we know, that “all things work together for (our) good” (Rom 8:28 ESV). We as Christians must always remember that our God is a wise and benevolent Father. He’s not a cruel and seeking our destruction. In the same way a human father loves his child, how much more greater is the love of our Father who is in heaven?

“Lord remind us always that you are a benevolent and wise Father. Though we may never question your goodness in seasons and storms that may seem bad on the outset; may we see that these afflictions are but light and momentary, having eyes to see the things that are unseen. All praise and glory and honour be to your name.”

Amen

Coram Deo,

Chad

Calvinists Shouldn’t Be Jerks!

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer”

Psalm 19:14 (ESV)

We Reformed folks are known for many things, and one thing we’re known for is our immense love for learning theology. We love to read books, lots of books! We love talking about theology and talking about old dead guys who most often times have beards… long, flowing and majestic beards.

Now whilst I wholeheartedly believe that learning theology should be encouraged, as it is the duty of all Christians to diligently understand it. I must say that there are certain pitfalls, we Reformed folks fall into. By this, I mean that we can be arrogant jerks at times if not a lot of times and I think the meme below, speaks for itself to explain what I mean.

Unknown

If you’re in the know, then you know that we call this the ‘cage stage’ and if you’re not familiar with the ‘cage stage’, then chances are you’re probably right in the middle of it.

Listen! Especially those of us who are in the ‘cage stage’, Reformed theology should not cause us to be arrogant and proud! Cause if it is, then you need to get yourself checked, because you only understand it on an intellectual level. If anything, our doctrines should cause us to be the most humble people on the planet. Think about it, the God who we claim to have a better understanding of than our Arminian brothers decided to illuminate to us these doctrines which we love and cherish now. Our Arminian brothers can’t see what we see, although they may understand it at an intellectual level, we, on the other hand, can dwell and relish upon the fact that our God is in the heavens and does whatever he pleases (Psa 115:3), and that none can stay His hand or say to Him what have you done (Dan 4:35). Whenever trials and suffering come our way, we know that God holds all of history at His fingertips, nothing surprises Him. And because of that, we need not fret, knowing that He is a benevolent and loving Father who works all things for our good (Rom 8:28). We must praise God that we see these things! Not sin against Him by being arrogant towards our brothers and sisters who don’t see eye to eye with us.

Is it because you’re better than them, or that you have a slightly higher intellectual capability, that you’ve come to believe these things? No! It is God who hides ‘these things from the wise and understanding and reveals them to little children’ (Matt 11:25 ESV). The very fact that you’ve come to understand Reformed theology is simply because God allowed it, ‘according to the purpose of (His) will, to the praise of (His) glorious grace…’ (Eph 1:4 ESV modified) so that you may not boast (Eph 2:9).

So instead of toting the fact that we know and believe certain things that other Christians (and yes there are Christians outside the Reformed tradition) don’t know and parading it around by starting foolish arguments. Let’s instead remember that we too didn’t have this understanding at one point in our lives. We should dwell on God’s grace to humble ourselves before Him and others around us.

Brethren, I’m not writing this because I’m perfect in doing this, but because I too am very prone to this and I pray that God would give us all the grace to do what Paul instructed young Timothy; that is to correct opponents with gentleness (2 Tim 2:25). This way our hearers will know that we love them, and we’re not just showing off our theological prowess. But more than that God is glorified and we’re able to say with David, ‘May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight” (Psa 19:14)

“O Lord give me patience and wisdom in discussing my disagreements with my brothers who disagree with me. May you keep my heart from pride and arrogance, so that the meditations of my mouth and mind may be pleasing in your sight. Amen”

Coram Deo,

Chad

I Surrender All? Huh Really?

One song which has been on my radar lately is ‘I surrender all’. You know that old song where it’s talking about surrendering all to Jesus. If you’re not familiar here are the lyrics of the first few stanzas;

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

Refrain:
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

To give some historical background to this famous hymn, it was written by a man by the name of Judson W. Van DeVenter. DeVenter was a professional musician and school teacher, who served in the music ministry of a Methodist Episcopal church. The hymn, ‘I surrender all’, arose after a struggle with a call on his life to become an evangelist or to develop his teaching career. When he finally ‘surrendered’ to this call, he describes his experience in the song.

I have felt very uneasy about singing this song, especially after the question was brought up by a brother to me, in regards to this song; “Do we really surrender all to Jesus?”.

It got me thinking; ‘hmm we don’t really surrender all, because if we did, then we love God with every fibre of our being. But we know that’s not true because we sin’. Jesus said, ‘if you love me, you will keep my commandments’ (John 14:15). But the very fact that we don’t always obey God, certainly means we don’t truly surrender all.

To quote, A.W. Tozer,

“Christians don’t tell lies, they just go to church and sing them”

Talk about a convicting and hard-hitting quote. Sure we Christians are known for not being liars by the world, but the reality is when we sing at church about how much we love Jesus, do we not exaggerate with our tongues about the degree of our love for Christ?

Now there were only two people in the Scriptures, that I could think of who said “I surrender all” (well not quite exactly verbatim) to God… and they died because they lied!

Those two people were Ananias and Saphira. Acts 5 tells us they were a couple who sold a piece of property and laid it at the Apostles’ feet. They claimed that they were giving all the proceeds of the selling of the property, but they actually kept back some for themselves. This is basically the same as when we sing ‘I surrender all, all to thee my blessed Saviour, I surrender all’. Now what Peter said to Ananias was terrifying,

‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.’

(Acts 5:2 ESV).

After these words were spoken, Ananias fell dead to the ground! His wife suffered the same fate three hours later.

This story should cause us to tremble neath the holiness of God, especially in light of certain people saying that God has lessened in his ‘harshness’  in the New Testament. To sing, ‘I surrender all’ when we really don’t, is to lie to God and that should not be overlooked as a small matter. Our tongues sing ‘I surrender all’, but our hearts don’t ring with the tune of surrender.

But is God not merciful? Praise be to God, that church congregations don’t fall to the ground like Ananias and Saphira. If God treated the church today, the way he treated this couple, we would be seeing a lot of dead corpses in the church.

With this being said, I don’t intend to make it be an attack on churches who choose to sing this song, it’s a matter of Christian liberty as to whether a congregation should sing it or not.

And to end on a good note, this song has greatly encouraged my soul, reading lyrics like; ‘worldly pleasures all forsaken…’. I love this line, but I don’t think I can sing this knowing that I still have worldly pleasures that I cling to. And when I think I’ve already forsaken all, that’s when I realise that I still have a sea of wicked pleasures I did not see.  Indeed John Owen is right in saying ‘be killing sin, or it will be killing you’ because in this world sin will always afflict us. But when we see Him in glory, we can then truly say “I surrender all”. So till then, I make it a prayer to God. “Lord give me the grace to forsake all wicked pleasures in the world, and to walk in your light because I can’t do it, but you can”.

Coram Deo,

Chad