As we celebrate the 500th year of the reformation this year, I’ve been very encouraged by the fact that there are so many in the church who understand that the reformation is not over.
Coming to America after growing up in Italy was very interesting. The world has a lot to learn from the American church, who, for so many years, has supplied the world with most of its Christian missionaries, and yet the American church has a lot to learn from the rest of the world when it comes to being able to condemn false religions.
This year is an opportunity for the American church to really explore what the Roman Catholic church actually is, and ask whether or not it teaches the truth. Secondly, each believer must ask himself whether, when speaking with the Catholic individual, they are asking the right questions.
Many Christians may accept the fact that the Roman Catholic church is a false church that teaches works-righteousness, but may have “the neighbor” who says he really loves Jesus, making it very difficult to figure out how to really know if they believe in grace or if they believe in works.
I understand the dilemma. I have had many conversations recently during which someone, either Mormon or Catholic, who had all the same words until we got to the heart of the Gospel, and then simply denied it. I think that, and perhaps this sentence will be controversial, when you are dealing with a Roman Catholic, you must begin from a skeptical position when it comes to whether they are saved or not.
The church, as we know, has made salvation very easy. Over the years, many evangelists and pastors have boiled it down to just saying a prayer; perhaps, out of a desire to see more decisions for Christ, they have lowered the bar. Over the years, this way of evangelism has trickled down to us. So many believers, out of a godly desire to be encouraging, have perhaps neglected questioning and embraced accepting people at face value.
As I was teaching Luke 9:18-22, I was overwhelmed with the fact that Jesus doesn’t accept the crowd’s response to His question. He is dissatisfied with their answers. He asks his disciples the question, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Peter’s answer is discouraging–a prophet! John the Baptist risen from the dead! Elijah! Jesus knows that these answers not only don’t justify but rather damn those who hold these positions. Not because doctrine saves, but because without doctrine you cannot be saved.
On the other hand, Jesus is very excited about Peter’s answer to the question. In the parallel passage of Matthew 16:16-18, Peter says to Jesus that he is “the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Jesus’ answer is telling. Not only does He tell Peter that he was incapable to come to this conclusion by himself, but had to have his eyes open by God, He also emphasized that the Church would be built on the foundation that Jesus is God, and that only those who have the right view of Jesus would be part of the Church and spend eternity in Heaven with Him. That means that even if you believe in Jesus but don’t believe in the correct Jesus, you will be accursed.
We must establish the fact that Jesus cares about what you think of Him. But He also cares about what your Roman Catholic friend thinks about Him. And so, it naturally follows that you should care, also. Asking someone whether they believe in Jesus simply doesn’t cut it. For the sake of Christ and our friends, we must get to the heart of which Jesus they worship, because, like it or not, the world is filled with anti-Christs (Matt 24:24, 1 John 2:18) who seek to deceive even the elect.
So, for the sake of your Roman Catholic friends’ souls, here are three follow-up questions you must ask to see which Jesus they believe in.
1) Do You believe that salvation is a process?
In the past few years, I have come to realize that I have wasted a lot of time discussing secondary issues with those who are part of false religions. Our goal must be to show them that they are in a works-based religion, and that they must trust solely in Christ. Of course, the devil is a master liar (John 8:44), and he has done a great job blinding the eyes of those caught up in these systems of this obvious truth. The Roman Catholic church may be the devil’s masterpiece because it has all of the Biblical lingo like grace, faith, church, Jesus, and even trinity. Ultimately, the problem is that the Roman Catholic church denies the Christian understanding of sanctification and really replaces it with salvation. In other words, most Roman Catholics reject the idea of instantaneous salvation, and therefore salvation is earned over an entire lifetime. This is the definition of a works-based system. The Bible says that one must repent and be saved (Acts 3:19). Jesus tells Nicodemus that salvation is being born again (John 3). Being born happens in the blink of an eye and therefore it is not something that takes months, years, or decades to happen. Whether your Roman Catholic friend understands or accepts it, this implies that he is trusting in works for salvation and reject the Gospel of Christ. It’s critical that you show him these truths from Scripture, and, if he is sensitive to what the Bible says, then it would be a good sign that he does have the Holy Spirit and that He is working in his heart.
2) Do you believe that Jesus must die every week?
Perhaps there is no greater blasphemy around today than what occurs each time a mass takes place. In the Roman Catholic mindset, Jesus must continue to die each week because, each week, you continue to sin and need to be “re-saved” or “re-justified.” That’s why most Roman crucifixes have Jesus still on the cross. The Roman Catholic system is dependent on the continual purification from sin, and the whole system would break down if confession became unnecessary and if the mass became null. The Christian knows, though, that Peter declared that Jesus died once and for all (1 Peter 3:18). The writer of Hebrews wrote in detail as well about the need for an offering, and declared that the Jewish priesthood is over when he said, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God… For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:11,12,14) The writer of Hebrews concludes this section with the final blow against the need for an offering for sins when he says, “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Heb. 10:18)
This should cause any Roman Catholic who possesses the Holy Spirit to be, at the very least, perplexed and bothered by this blasphemous sacrament the Catholic church does on a daily basis around the world. If he or she partakes in it and sees nothing wrong with it after being confronted with God’s Word, you can be concerned for them that they believe in a different Christ.
3) Do you have assurance of salvation?
This leads us to a final question, and that is, does your friend or family member have assurance of salvation? The Roman Catholic church clearly teaches that, not only is it impossible to have confidence in your salvation, but that it is a sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it best when it says,
The first commandment is also concerned with the sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption (C. of the C. C. 2091).
Presumption… hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit (C. of the C. C. 2092).
Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification (C. of the C. C. 2010).
It is a system that holds its people captive and blinds them to the truth of the Gospel. If you can convince your people that they can’t ever be sure of their salvation, then they become dependent on you for life, and not only you, but your children, grandchildren, and generations to come. But the fact that the devil is involved does not get the individual off the hook. If they trust in a works-based system, then they will be accountable before God one day, because they have denied the Christ of Scripture who is able to instantly wipe away sins once and for all, and they have replaced Him with a cheap, impotent Christ whose death on the cross was powerless to justify any sinner. When your friend answers this question in the negative, affirming the fact that salvation must be earned over an entire lifetime and therefore assurance of salvation is impossible, then you must know, whether you like it or not, that this friend needs to be born again for the first time and must hear the Gospel.
I understand that posts like these can be frustrating to read. I just pray that you will consider what the Bible says when it comes to salvation and the cross of Christ. Evangelism is the most difficult thing Jesus has called us to do in this life; in fact, it is impossible, because we are completely dependent on Him every step of the way. One of the saddest realities we face every day is the fact that we are surrounded by people who are headed toward an eternity in Hell, and sometimes they are our family members and friends. The worst thing we can do for our own hearts, for our friends’ souls, and for our Savior is to dumb down the Gospel and over-simplify it. This action does not change the reality that Jesus demands to be worshiped for who He truly is, and He will not accept anyone who denies his Divinity or adds to Scripture regarding what He has done. I pray that this year, as we celebrate the 500 years of the reformation, believers will be brought to a real examination of what the Bible says about salvation and Christ, and that it will cause them to see Roman Catholics’ desperate need to believe in the Jesus of the Bible.