HOW CAN I KNOW?
Jesus described for us two ways, the broad one leading to destruction and the narrow one that leads to life. How can I know the way that leads to heaven and avoid the other?
The Gospel is the true way to life because it is God's message to humanity. People have invented several religions but all of them are false. The Bible warns us that 'the world through its wisdom did not know God' (1 Corinthians 1:21).
God's message is recorded in the Bible. It was written by chosen people who were guided by the Holy Spirit. We can trust the Bible because it is God's book. We can also be confident that it is a sure guide to Heaven. The Holy Scriptures 'are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus' (2 Timothy 3:15).
What about the church's tradition? Jesus warned us against tradition (Mark 7:1-13). He accused the Jews that they were 'making the word of God on no effect through your tradition.' They should have remained faithful to the Bible. Similarly, church tradition has changed the clear teaching of the Bible. For example, the church commends the use of statues even though the second commandment forbids the making of graven images and bowing down before them (Exodus 20:4).
What about religious teachers? We should listen to teachers as long as their teaching is faithful to the Bible. Be like the people of Berea who 'received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so' (Acts 17:11).
What about my personal insight and wisdom? You should eagerly seek God's way, not your own. 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding' (Proverbs 3:5).
The Bible is the only sure guide to heaven. The person who learns, believes and obeys its message can say: 'Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path' (Psalm 119:105).
SACRIFICE FOR SIN
We are responsible to obey and love our Creator. However, since the beginning we have rebelled against Him and, because of our sins, we are guilty and in danger of Hell.
There is only one way of escape, as the bible says, 'without the shedding of blood there is no remission (forgiveness)' (Hebrews 9:22). In the Old Testament God ordered his people to offer animal sacrifices on the altar. This was to teach them two basic truths: 1. sin must be punished; 2. the sinner may be freed if somebody else was punished in his place. This, of course, was a picture of what Jesus, 'the Lamb of God', would do on Calvary.
'Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God' (1 Peter 3:18)
Christ, the perfect and sinless one, took upon himself the sins of his people and suffered and died on the cross to pay the penalty demanded by the Law of God. Freed from their sin, his disciples can now come to God without fear. Christ saved his people from their sins by his sacrifice on the cross.
On the day before he suffered, Jesus instituted the 'Lord's Supper' so that his disciples would continue to remember him and his sacrifice until he returns. Sadly, tradition has changed its meaning. The Catholic church teaches that the bread and wine are changed into the real body and blood of Christ. It is true that Jesus said, 'This is my body...This is my blood.' However each time he added, 'Do this in remembrance of me.' The bread and the wine are a memorial of his sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.
A more serious error taught by the Catholic church is that the mass is a sacrifice for sin. Indeed it is claimed that the mass is the same sacrifice of Christ because it 'perpetuates' and 'makes present' the sacrifice of the cross. This teaching contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible:
Christ entered 'into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us, not that he should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another -- He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself...Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many' (Hebrews 9:24-28).
The daily sacrifice of the mass implies remaining sin and guilt. In Biblical Christianity there are no more sacrifices for sin because Christians are assured that all their sins are forgiven forever. The Lord proclaims: 'Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.' Now where there is remission (forgiveness) of these, there is no longer an offering for sin' (Hebrews 10:17,18).
I pray that you will not continue to trust in a man-made sacrifice, but to approach God on the merits of the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Since God is holy and we are sinners, it is impossible to approach Him alone. We need a mediator to cleanse us from sin and present us to God. The mediator is Jesus Christ: 'For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all' (1 Timothy 2:5). He only is the mediator because He alone shed his blood to secure the freedom of his people from the slavery of sin.
Sadly, tradition has obscured the clear teaching of the Bible. Unwilling to trust the Word of God, people have invented other 'mediators'.
Mary, the mother of the Lord
Mary is highly favored among women because she was chosen to be the mother of our Lord according to the flesh, and Christians rightly call her 'blessed' because of this unique privilege. However, Mary is not the Savior, nor the Mediator.
The Catholic church teaches that Mary was conceived without sin, that by her suffering she contributed to our salvation, that she ascended into Heaven and was appointed our mediatrix. She is also called our life and the gate of Heaven. None of this is taught in the Bible. On the contrary the Word of God teaches that Jesus was conceived without sin, that he died for our sins, ascended into heaven and that he is the only mediator. He alone is our life and he is the gate to Heaven. We should therefore look to Jesus Christ.
Mary said: 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my saviour' (Luke 1:46). Mary desires to magnify the Lord and not to take his glory for herself. Moreover she plainly teaches us to look upon God for salvation and not to herself or anyone else. God is 'my saviour,' she confesses. We should call upon the name of Jesus, and not upon the name of Mary, because the apostle Peter says about the Lord Jesus, 'Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved' (Acts 4:12).
The Catholic priest
There were leaders in the New Testament church, called pastors, elders and overseers. But they are never called priests, and for good reason. The Old Testament priests were replaced by Jesus Christ, who is called the 'High Priest of our confession' (Hebrews 3:1).
The Old Testament priests were sinners, offered only the blood of animals, and entered only in a man-made Temple. Jesus is much better because he is sinless, offered his own blood and entered into Heaven itself. 'Such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when he offered up Himself' (Hebrews 7:26,27).
What need is there for a Roman Catholic priest to offers sacrifices for sin if you have Jesus Christ? 'He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them' (Hebrews 7:25).
Do you want to know the way the Heaven? The Lord Jesus gives us a plain answer: 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me' (John 14:6). Come to the Father, though Jesus Christ, the only Mediator.
Since sin is the breaking of the God's Law, God alone can forgive sin. After David had committed a serious sin he found peace after he confessed to God. 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and You forgave my sin' (Psalm 32:5).
Human tradition has distorted the teaching of the Bible. The catholic priests claim the power to judge sinners and give or withhold absolution (a judicial sentence of forgiveness). Most Catholics have been taught that Jesus himself instituted the sacrament of penance, when he told the apostles: 'If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained' (John 20:23).
It is clear that Jesus gave them power to forgive. But we must ask this question: what kind of power did Jesus give them? Did he make them judges? Or did he commission them to forgive sins by another method? The answer is clear if we read the Acts of the Apostles and the rest of the New Testament. There is no evidence in the Bible that the apostles heard confessions or gave absolution. Rather they preached the Gospel and urged people to repent and believe in Jesus to obtain forgiveness. The apostle Peter preached, 'To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins' (Acts 10:43); and the apostle Paul preached, 'Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins, and by Him everyone who believes is justified' (Acts 13:38,39).
If you desire God's forgiveness for your sin, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.
Christians should confess their sins. However they should not confess to a Catholic priest. Confession to a priest is a human invention that was unknown for hundred of years after Christ. Jesus taught us plainly that we should pray to the Father, 'Our Father in heaven...forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors' (Matthew 6:9,12).
There is another critical mistake in Catholic religion about forgiveness. The Church teaches that God's forgiveness is not perfect. After a person is forgiven he should still perform acts of penance to make satisfaction for his sins. Even after death, most Catholics expect to undergo purification in the fire of Purgatory.
The Bible assures the believers that 'your sins are forgiven for His name's sake' and 'the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us form all sin' (1 John 2:12; 1:7). They need not make satisfaction for the sins that Christ took upon himself, and they need not go to purgatory whose sins were cleansed by his blood.
Christians trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness. Knowing that they are forgiven, they live gratefully to the glory of the One who showed them such mercy.
When Jesus asked his disciples their opinion about himself, the apostle Peter answered: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus commended Peter, saying, 'Blessed are you Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it' (Matthew 16:16-18).
What is the 'rock' upon which the Church is built? Some say it is Peter; others think it is Peter's confession, 'Your are the Christ.'
The church is build on Peter, the other apostles and the prophets (as Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:20) because the church is founded on their teaching about Christ. However the Roman Catholic claim that the church is build on Peter because he was made the universal bishop of the church is simply false. Even though he was a prominent apostle, in the New Testament Peter was not considered the head of the whole church. The Vatican teaches that Peter is 'the Church's supreme pastor (shepherd)' (Catechism paragraph 857); but Peter himself would disagree because he calls Jesus Christ 'the Chief Shepherd' (1 Peter 5:4).
The 'rock' could refer to Peter's confession about Christ, the Son of God, as St. Augustine taught. Even the Catholic catechism admits that this meaning is correct. 'Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' On the rock of this faith confessed by St Peter, Christ build his Church.' (paragraph 424).
We need not be in any doubt about the basic questions about the Church because the Bible gives us clear answers.
The church of Jesus Christ is the whole assembly of his people which he purchased with his own blood from every nation of the world. It is holy because its members are sanctified by the blood of Christ and have the same Holy Spirit. It is apostolic because it follows the teaching of the apostles as recorded in the Bible.
Every local assembly of Christians who believe and obey the teaching of the Bible form part of the one catholic church of Jesus Christ.
Jesus informed Nicodemus, a respected Jewish leader and teacher, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God' (John 3:1-21). The issue is not whether you are religious, attend church, read the Bible or try to live a good life. The important question is, 'Are you born again?' For unless you are born again, you will never see or enter Heaven.
Why should a person be 'born again'? The Bible describes the desperate condition of the natural man. He is not only ill or weak, the natural man is 'dead in trespasses and sins.' His mind is not subject to the Law, and though he may be religious, he does not seek after the true God. He has no living relationship with the Lord and he can't do anything about it.
Therefore it is not a matter of turning a new leaf or resolving to live better. Religious rites (like circumcision or baptism) cannot help either - Nicodemus was circumcised but he still needed to be born anew. Being spiritually dead it's impossible to give life to yourself by anything you do. More than anything else, you need God to give you life!
There is no 'how to' formula to be born again. It is neither a human work nor is it initiated by the human will. Infants do not induce, or cooperate in, their own procreation and birth; no more can those who are 'dead in trespasses and sins' prompt the life-giving operation of God. His children are born 'not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God' (John 1:13).
The new birth is the work of God the Holy Spirit. 'The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone born of the Spirit.' The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to create new life in the human heart. Once a person is born again, he instinctively cries out to God for now he is a child of the Father. Repentance, faith and a godly life are the signs that the Christian is 'alive and well.'
Whereas the new birth is not produced by man, its effects are clearly seen in man. The apostle John gives several tests as evidence that a person is born again.
Dear friend, when you examine yourself by the Word of God, can you honestly say, 'Yes, I am born again?'
RIGHT WITH GOD
How can a person, burdened down with the guilt of his sin, obtain peace with his Creator? According to Scripture there is only remedy: justification by faith in Christ. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).
'Justification' is a legal term; it is the opposite of 'condemnation.' The person who obeys the law is just or righteous, whereas the person who disobeys the law is unjust and guilty. The judge should justify the righteous and condemn the unjust. Thus justification is the judge's favourable pronouncement, declaring the accused to be 'just, not guilty,' and thus frees him from all punishment.
God, the Judge of the world, would certainly justify us if we were righteous. But the sad truth is that we are far from being righteous. On the contrary, we must all plead guilty because we have acted contrary to his Law. And since we are sinners and unjust, God's sentence must be our condemnation. How then can a man be just before God?
Should the sinner make up for his failures and lead a life altogether righteous, God would be obliged to justify him (since then he would be truly righteous). Roman Catholics are taught that in justification God "makes us inwardly just" (Catechism, 1992). That means that God justifies a person when the sinner, by the sacraments and good works, becomes just in himself.
Admittedly, God works in the life of his children, changing them to become more and more like his Son. Still, as long as they are on earth Christians remain sinners (1 John 1:8). The Catholic teaching -- God justifies the righteous -- is bad news for the sinner! But may God be praised for his unspeakable mercy: the Bible presents a different message!
"But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Romans 4:4,5).
God declares the believing sinner 'not guilty!' God does not justify him because he is righteous (he is not!). In fact God justifies the ungodly. Neither does God acquit him because of any credit that the sinner gains by his good works. God justifies 'him who does not work'! This is the true gospel, comforting balm for the poor sinner's soul!
How can God justify the believer, seeing that he is still a sinner? The answer to this vital question lies at the core of the Gospel. God is perfectly just when he justifies those who believe in his Son. Christ, the Lamb of God, accepted full responsibility for the sins of his people, and paid the penalty due to them by shedding his own blood. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity (sins) of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).
Though God wants us to trust in him alone, we are too proud to accept his gracious pardon. We feel we can do something to merit forgiveness and instead of trusting in Him, we end up trusting in ourselves. The Lord Jesus once told a parable in the hearing of some "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous."
"Two men went up to the temple to pray; one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank you, that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other" (Luke 18:9-14).
The first man presented his own righteousness and good works to God. The second approached God empty-handed. The Pharisee considered himself righteous and came confidently forward. The publican was painfully aware of his poverty and was ashamed of himself. Both went up to the temple to pray; the self-righteous man asked for nothing while the publican pleaded for mercy. Both returned home. One was trusting in himself to be spiritually acceptable, but in God's sight he was not. The other one depended solely upon God's mercy. And it was this believing sinner that went home justified, declared righteous by the Judge of heaven and earth.
Everyone must make a choice between these two alternatives. Either you are trusting in God's mercy alone, or else you are relying on your co-operation and best efforts. On one hand, the Roman Catholic church pronounces a curse on all those who say that "justifying faith is nothing more than confidence in the divine mercy, which forgives sins because of Christ." On the other hand, evangelical Christians, like the publican, have nothing but "confidence in the divine mercy," and according to the Lord Jesus, that is what is required to be right with God.
In whom are your trusting for your acquittal (freedom from punishment), in your own attainments or in the mercy of God as revealed upon Calvary's cross? Are you seeking to be accepted of God because of your deeds, or are you leaning by faith upon the all-merciful God? Would you stop trusting in yourself and believe in Jesus Christ alone?
I was brought up in a Catholic home. I heard the Evangelical message for the first time when I was 14 years old. To the question, 'What must I do to be saved?' the reply came, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.' Evangelicals actually teach that a person is saved through faith in Christ alone, and not on account of their good works.
To my mind this teaching was clearly wrong and dangerous. Wrong, because St James says that faith without works is dead. And dangerous because it encourages careless living since a person is not saved by works.
I became interested in studying the Bible for myself. To my surprise I found that James' concern is to distinguish between true faith and its counterfeit. 'What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?' (James 2:14). Such 'faith' is worthless; it cannot save anyone. True faith is recognized by the fruit it produces.
The central question was this: 'Is a person saved by true faith alone? Or is he saved by faith plus the merit of his own good works?' The answer of the Bible was clear and surprising:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Saved through faith...not of works! It's amazing: the same Bible that emphasize holy living and good works, also states that salvation is not dependent of personal works. The Christian does not depend on his 'goodness' or his efforts, but trusts completely in another person, in the Lord Jesus Christ.
When the Bible says that we are saved 'not of works', it is referring to our efforts. Certainly it does not imply that salvation is an easy task. In fact the work of salvation is so great that no-one could perform it except God himself by his Son. It was necessary for the eternal Son of God to humble himself, become a human being and die on the cross. 'Christ redeemed (freed) us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"' (Galatians 3:13). I began to understand that the payment for my sin was the precious blood he shed and not my work and penance. Certainly that's why God wants me to believe in him.
One question remained: Why should I perform good works at all? Immediately after stating that we are saved 'not by works', the apostle Paul writes that we are saved 'for good works.' Good works are the result, not the cause, of salvation.
Today I'm an Evangelical Christian and I'm sure of heaven. This is not presumption for I'm not depending on myself and my deeds anymore; I trust in Jesus Christ, knowing that his death on the cross is the sufficient payment for the penalty of all my sins. My sole desire is to live worthy of the One who loved me and gave himself for me.
I am concerned for Catholics (and others) whose life is overrun by sin and yet feel that it would be fine at the end. However the Bible warns them that their faith is dead and useless to save them from Hell. On the other hand, I'm also concerned about those devout Catholics who are afraid of God's judgment, and do their best to merit his forgiveness and grace. They claim to believe in Jesus, but they really don't because they are relying on their own goodness and righteousness.
I want to share the same Good News I heard in my youth because it is the message of the Bible. If you want to be saved, believe on the Lord Jesus and stop trusting in yourself. Stop clinging to your religion and with empty hands receive the free gift of salvation. And then, for the rest of your life, do good works out of gratitude to our gracious and loving Father.
Dear Friend, the Bible says that it is appointed for men to die once, and after this the judgment. Soon your brief life will be over. Yet death is not the end, for you must stand before the judgment seat of God. One of two destinies awaits you: either everlasting punishment in Hell or everlasting life and joy in Heaven.
Many people ignore this truth because they are preoccupied with their business and entertainments. Others think they are 'good enough' and therefore have nothing to worry about, while others feel that God will not send anyone to Hell because he is a loving God.
All these futile excuses will be useless when you stand before the Judge of the world. Are you prepared for that day? Are you ready? It all depends on whether you believe or reject the true Gospel of Christ.
The true Gospel and the counterfeit.
The apostle Paul was evidently in great distress and anguish when he penned his letter to the Galatians. The glory of God and the salvation of man were at stake. False teachers had followed him and distorted the gospel he had preached. They did not directly deny faith in Christ or the grace of God. They simply added the rite of circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic Law as the basis for their acceptance with God. However, the apostle Paul considered their teaching 'another gospel.' He writes:
'I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel; which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed' (Galatians 1:6-8).
If the apostle Paul considered that the addition of God's Law and circumcision to faith invalidates the gospel, what is the biblical judgment on the gospel of the Roman Catholic church? The 'gospel' of Rome is faith plus works, grace plus merit, Christ plus the church, baptismal regeneration, penance, masses, the rosary, indulgences, Mary, the pains of Purgatory, and so on. The apostle warns those who, in addition to faith in the Lord, seek to be justified by ritual or works, that they are alienated from Christ, and that He could be of no avail to them (cf. Galatians 5:2-4).
Repent and Believe the Gospel
We appeal to you, our dear Catholic friends, and implore you on Christ's behalf to be reconciled to God. Reckon yourself an unworthy sinner and a rebel against the Sovereign God. Plead guilty before the Judge of the Earth, admit that you deserve the everlasting fire of Hell and that nothing you can do can ever pay for your sins.
Yet do not despair, look to the God of all grace and mercy. Stop trusting in yourself, your works and your merit. Salvation is of the Lord; redemption is His work; and all the glory belongs to Him alone. Do not rely on a church, Mary, the saints, a human priest, the sacrifice of the mass, or in an imaginary purgatory.
Rather, trust wholly in Christ alone, the Son of God, who is the only mediator, the only high priest, who gave himself as an all-sufficient sacrifice for the payment of the sins of his own people. To those who believe in Christ, the Bible says: 'In Him we have redemption (freedom from sin) through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace' (Ephesians 1:7).
May the Lord be merciful and grant you the grace of repentance to turn away from the distorted 'gospel' of Roman Catholicism. May God grant you the gift of faith, to rest in Christ, his Son, and serve him all the days of your life while we anticipate His return to take us home.
After reading the above, you may still have many doubts and questions about the way of salvation. Keep seeking the Scriptures, keep praying to God. I am willing to help you the best way I can. So please don't hesitate to discuss any questions with me.
Perhaps, you understand the Gospel and the Lord has granted you repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. Now you don't depend on anything you do, your own goodness, any saint or religion. Now you rely by faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is your one and only Saviour. I rejoice with you and praise God for his grace.
This is the beginning of an exciting journey. Your desire is to follow the Lord and to glorify him. The Christian life is not a bed of roses. Yes, he gives joy unspeakable, but his wise providence will also lead you through much sorrow and pain. That is the way we mature.
May I encourage you to daily read the Bible with an attitude of reverence. God is speaking to you! Listen well!
And pray to our heavenly Father. Go to a private place, and open your heart to God. Thank and praise him. Confess your sins and pray for yourself and others.
Also, you want to join with a Bible-believing local assembly of Christians. We are members of a body, the church, and we need each other. The Lord wants you to be baptized in the name the Triune God, and thereafter to partake of the bread and wine to remember his sacrifice for us. The teaching and preaching of the Word is invaluable for every Christian to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord makes his face shine upon you and give you peace.
Copyright © Joe Mizzi 2002