4 March 2017

Satisfaction for sin

Fasting, prayer and almsgiving are three major forms of penance in the Catholic religion (Catechism 1434).

But what is penance? The Catechism explains that, "raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin; he must 'make satisfaction for' or 'expiate' his sins. This satisfaction is also called 'penance'" (Catechism 1459).

Penance is a matter of justice. It is a punishment for sin. "[Satisfaction] is meant not merely as a safeguard for the new life and as a remedy to weakness, but also as a vindicatory punishment for former sins" (Council of Trent, Session 14, Chapter 8). In a word, the Roman Catholic religion prescribes prayer, fasting and almsgiving as means to ‘made satisfaction’ and a ‘punishment’ for sins.

I am deeply troubled by such teaching. It twists the very purpose for doing good works; it also misleads people from the way of salvation.

The Bible declares that Jesus "by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." Since Christ’s offering on the cross perfects his people and God forgives their sins, any human attempt to offer something more is both superfluous and offensive to the blood of Christ. "Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin" (Hebrews 10:14-18). Friend, if you are burdened by guilt, stop attempting to make satisfaction by your efforts. Go to Calvary. There is the one and only offering for sins that God accepts. Jesus is the full and complete satisfaction for the sins of his people.

As Christians we fast and pray to humble ourselves before God and to seek his face, but we wouldn't dream of relying on these works to make satisfaction for our sins. We also give alms to help the poor and needy, but we do not consider this privilege as a punishment! We joyfully give charity because God gave us the greatest Gift of all! God gave us his Son to die in our place that we may be freed from all our sins.

Which way will you go? Will you attempt to make satisfaction for your sins by prayer, fasting and almsgiving? Or will you look to Christ and say, He took my punishment; he made full satisfaction for all my sins!

(Gospel e-Letter - March 2017).

29 January 2017

Mary, a testimony to God’s mercy

Why is it that some people prefer to pray to Mary and the Saints in heaven rather than to God the Father? Maybe they imagine God to be distant, indifferent or even hard-hearted?

Mary shatters this grotesque and idolatrous image of God. She joyfully declares that “his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50). God is merciful. His mercy reaches even to us today.

Mary tells us that God exalts the humble. They fear God because they know that they are unworthy and that he is just and holy. 

Even so, they take courage and approach the throne of grace. They humbly come to him with reverence and awe. Their confidence is based on the conviction that God is merciful. God has never turned away anyone who pleaded for his mercy.

Mary is a witness to God’s goodness. She testifies that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. She herself carried him in her womb, gave birth and took care of him as a child. Mary also testifies that Jesus suffered and died, the just for the unjust, to bring them to God. She was present under the cross seeing her Son offering his life as a ransom for many.

If you ever had any doubt about God’s goodness and love, look to the cross of Jesus. It was God the Father who sent and offered him for our salvation. Jesus is the measure of God’s mercy! Let us therefore take heart and approach God the Father with reverence and faith. He will embrace us in his mercy if we come to him through his Son.

(Gospel e-Letter - February 2017).

31 December 2016

Here I am Lord

Amidst the uncertainties and vicissitudes of life, the word of God is the solid rock upon which we can build our future.

How then should we respond to God’s word? Mary is our perfect model in this respect. When she received the message from God, Mary answered the angel: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Mary believed and submitted herself to the command and promise of God. ‘I am the servant of the Lord,’ she declared. In other words, I recognise your authority over me and my duty to obey you; I am ready and willing to do whatever you tell me.

Mary did not object to the danger of spoiling her marriage or ruining her reputation. All fears were calmed by her solid belief in God’s wisdom and goodness. Moreover, she was convinced that God would fulfil his promise even though she did not understand how she could conceive a child without knowing a man. It was enough for Mary to trust in the power of Almighty God.

Finally Mary expressed her desire and longing to receive God’s promise. She prayed, ‘Let it be according to your word.’ That was her ‘amen’ to the promise of God. Her hope for the future was based on the faithfulness of God: the Lord will certainly perform what he has promised.

May we also adopt a humble and reverent attitude. When we hear God’s word, let us set aside every doubt and objection, and embrace it with all our heart. God will certainly keep his promises and bless us beyond our imagination in our faith and obedience.

(Gospel e-Letter - January 2017).

19 November 2016

Crushing the serpent's head

The depiction of Mary with the serpent’s head under her feet is taken from Genesis 3:15 in the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Scriptures. In the New American Bible this verse reads: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

According to this translation it is not the woman, but “He” – that is, the woman’s offspring – who crushes the serpent’s head. This agrees with other Bible translations, including the new version of the the Vulgate on the Vatican’s website, and more importantly, with the original Hebrew text.

This passage is known as the protoevangelium, the first proclamation of the gospel, and it a great encouragement to God’s people.

The War

The serpent deceived Eve and our first parents fell in sin. Maybe the devil thought that he had permanently ruined God’s good creation and that he had sealed humanity’s doom.

God quickly intervened and declared war on him. The devil and his seed would be engaged in a conflict with the woman and her seed. The seed of the woman is Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, who came to earth to destroy the works of the devil.

The decisive battle was fought at Calvary. The devil bruised Christ’s heel. In that dark hour Christ was betrayed, oppressed and crucified. But the inflicted wound did not take long to heal. On the third day the Lord Jesus rose victoriously over sin, death and the devil.

In the same battle the devil received the mortal blow. He had one destructive weapon against us, namely his accusation before God that we are guilty and therefore we should perish with him. As long as humanity was burdened with guilt, all people were slaves of Satan. But by his sacrifice on the cross Christ made reparation for the sins of his people and obtained their freedom. Their enemy was disarmed and he cannot accuse them any longer. Christ has crushed the serpent’s head.

The Victory

God’s people will be buffeted for some time by their defeated enemy, but not for long: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). Christ’s triumph is their victory too! Satan will be cast into the lake of fire forever.

The first woman, Eve, listened to the serpent’s lie. God’s children do not. The Lord gives them a new heart so that they respond obediently to God’s Word, just as Mary did: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Moreover, they understand that God had eternally planned their redemption through the suffering of his Son, “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). The serpent’s vicious attack on the woman’s seed resulted in their liberation.

Glory to God for this wonderful picture that the Scriptures portrays of Christ crushing the serpent’s head under his feet. Let us give thanks and praise God for the hope and victory we have in him.

(Gospel e-Letter - December 2016)

28 October 2016

Where do good people go?

A poster on Facebook read: “Good people don't go to heaven – forgiven sinners do.” There were many likes, shares and amen's to this remarkable and thought-provoking statement. The only problem is that it is false!

The people who shared it may have thought they were proclaiming the gospel of grace. But it is not the true gospel. It is another ‘gospel’. It is a horrible perversion that guarantees damnation to all who follow this demonic heresy.

Where, may I ask, should good people go? Why should God condemn them to hell? Surely not because they are good! That would make the Judge of the earth unjust!

Good and faithful

But that is not what we read in the Bible. The apostle who most forcefully preached justification to him “who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5), also declared that God gives eternal life “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality” and again, he gives “glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good” (Romans 2:6-11). In a word, good people go to heaven.

The Judge himself, Jesus, tells us plainly that “those who have done good” will come out to the resurrection of life (John 5:28-29). The lazy and indifferent will go to eternal punishment, while “the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). The poster says that good people do not go to heaven, but the Bible says that Lord himself will call them “good” and welcome them, “Well done, good and faithful servant ... Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).

Jesus calls sinners

But someone may object: does not the Bible say that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners? (Luke 5:32)

Yes, Jesus came and called sinners to himself. He continues to call sinners and freely grants them forgiveness and reconciliation with God. But that is not all. He calls sinners to repentance, to a change of mind, and hence, a change in attitude and behaviour. Jesus calls them to forsake sin. He calls them to deny themselves and follow him. To them who hear his call the Saviour grants forgiveness and leads them in the path of righteousness.

More than forgiveness

Let us never forget this biblical truth. God’s salvation is not only forgiveness. God also sanctifies the people he forgives. He gives sinners a new and obedient heart, freedom from the bondage of sin, and the Holy Spirit to change them into the image of Christ.

I do not nullify the work of Christ on the cross by pretending to merit salvation by my good works; nor do I not nullify the work of Christ by his Spirit who transforms sinners to saints. The potter takes a piece of clay in his hands and transforms it into a glorious masterpiece.

Forgiven sinners go to heaven; good people go to heaven. They are the same people; they are saved – forgiven and transformed – by the grace of God.

(Gospel e-letter - November 2016)