28 October 2014

The Veneration of Relics


A relic held by a bishop,
touched by devout Catholics.
An anomymous 'St Pacificus'
in a church in Gozo, Malta.
Wrist bone of St Paul, Malta.
Relic of St George
carried in procession.
The veneration of relics is not just a bizarre religious practice of Medieval Catholicism. It is still practiced today. The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges the veneration of relics as a form of piety and popular devotion among the faithful (para. 1674).

In my country one can find scores of relics exhibited in churches; they are also carried in solemn religious processions. They include bones and blood, or some object or piece of cloth that had touched a saint (though the authenticity of some of them is doubtful). Devout Catholics kiss and touch them, just as I used to do when I was a child, in the hope that through them and the intercession of the saint, God will grant them a grace, a healing or even a miracle.

Burying the Dead

It is not unnatural for us to keep mementos of our departed loved ones. But the veneration of relics goes far beyond that. The bones of the dead ought to be buried rather than displayed in public. 2 Kings 13:21 is often misused as evidence for relics. ‘Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man's body into Elisha's tomb. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.’ If anything, this scripture argues against the Catholic practice. The prophet’s remains were accidentally exposed because they were burying another man. Unlike the practice in the Catholic Church, Elisha’s bones were not enshrined on some altar but buried in the ground, where they ought to be.

Why don’t we rather leave the remains of the dead resting in their graves until the glorious day of the resurrection, and concentrate on building a love relationship with our living Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, animated by the Spirit of God and guided by his holy Word?

Miraculous Signs

God certainly performed miracles, signs and wonders though his prophets and apostles, and even sometimes through material objects (Acts 5:15; 19:11-12). They performed marvelous miracles for a very special purpose – the miracles served as signs that they were indeed God’s authentic messengers of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3,4). The physical connection (their touch, word, clothes and even their shadow) showed without any doubt that they were God’s chosen spokesmen and that their message was the revelation of God.

God’s people are fully convinced that the prophets and the apostles are God’s messengers, and that their teaching recorded in the Holy Scriptures by the Holy Spirit is the authentic message from God. Hence we do not ask for more signs and wonders. We have God’s Word and through it we have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we are blessed with all spiritual blessings.

Reaching God

The apostle Paul said nothing to Christians about preserving and exhibiting his bones and clothes in reliquaries. His burning desire was the proclamation and defence of the gospel message by which men and women may come to know the true and living God through Jesus Christ. It is the gospel that we must preserve and cherish! If we believe the gospel and trust in Christ for salvation, we would be as close to the Father as we could possibly be. A splinter from the cross, a piece of cloth from Mary’s veil, Paul’s wrist bone or the arm of Saint George cannot get us an inch closer, even if they were genuine.

These things are worse than useless for they engender superstition and bring scorn on the sufficiency of Christ. They undermine the child-like faith that Christains should have in their perfect Priest and Mediator. The point of contact between God and us are not clots of dried blood and bones of the saints, but the blood Christ shed on the cross for the redemption of his people. Christians can enter before the throne of grace through a new and living way. In Jesus we have free access to the Father and are fully confident that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

11 October 2014

Right with God - free e-Book

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1 October 2014

Right with God

Gospel e-Letter - September 2014
  1. The biblical doctrine of justification teaches us how guilty sinners can be declared righteous by God through faith in Christ and be acquitted of all condemnation. 
  2. We are created moral beings and are accountable to God for our deeds. We ought to obey God’s law whether written in our conscience or in the Holy Scriptures. 
  3. All people, Jews and Gentiles, have disobeyed God – first, in our representative head, our father Adam, who disobeyed God’s command and brought condemnation and death on himself and all humanity. We are also responsible for our many personal sins which pile guilt upon guilt upon our heads. 
  4. God’s ruling on humanity is fearful and true: all have sinned, all are in peril of eternal condemnation and eternal perdition. For our sins we merit death and the fire of hell. 
  5. We cannot be justified by the works of the law. The law demands perfection, and evidently we have missed the mark. The law condemns us, exposes our sins, and if rightly used, it brings us to a point where we despair of ourselves and turn to Christ for justification. 
  6. Justification is an act of God the Father. Negatively he does not count the sins of his people against them; positively he imputes to them a righteousness which they did not work for. 
  7. God can be just and yet justify sinners because of Christ, the incarnate eternal Son of God, who became the representative head and Saviour of his people. Jesus perfectly obeyed the divine Law throughout his life, and ultimately gave himself as a sacrifice to pay the full penalty for their sins. God puts their sins on Christ, for which he died on the cross; God puts Christ’s righteousness to their account that they may share eternal life with their Saviour. 
  8. Justification is given freely by grace, God’s unmerited favour, not for any merit of our own works. The payment, or redemption, for our justification was made by Christ on the cross. Justification is free for us; for God the cost was the life of his Son. 
  9. Justification is received by faith alone in Christ, that is, by faith apart from the merit of our works. Faith implies the complete rejection of any personal merit, confidence in the promise of God, a sure belief in the sufficiency of his death and resurrection, and complete trust and reliance on Christ for justification. 
  10. An idle, barren ‘faith’ cannot save because it is dead. The faith that justifies is living, working and fruitful. The works that follow justification are the indispensible evidence and necessary fruit of faith, for which God also rewards his children. Yet these works are not the basis for our justification; believers are justified on account of Christ’s work, not their own. 
  11. Justification is the legal aspect of salvation – an act of God who declares believers righteous for Christ’s sake. There is another aspect, called sanctification. It is the life-long process of making believers righteous in their thoughts, words and deeds. God changes the heart, teaches, enables and disciplines his children to shun sin and pursue holiness and righteousness. The two aspects are distinct, but inseparable; if one is absent, the other is absent too. 
  12. Every individual Christian is fully justified from the moment of faith, throughout his life and in all eternity, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, and will therefore never be condemned in judgement. 
  13. The church is duty bound to guard and proclaim the Gospel of justification by faith in Christ alone. It is God’s good news and only hope to a lost and guilty world; the same blessed truth gives liberty, life and joy to God’s people. 
  14. Every individual should earnestly apply the doctrine to himself. Humble yourself and come before God with a broken heart, admitting your guilt and shame. Plead with God for mercy and grace, that for Christ’s sake, he will take away your sins and count you righteous in his Beloved Son. 
  15. May God be eternally praised and glorified for his wisdom, justice and grace in the justification of his people, the church, through Christ Jesus his Son. Amen! 

1 September 2014

O God, be merciful to me, a sinner

Two men went to the temple to pray. When they returned home one of them was ‘justified’ – right with God – while the other remained as guilty as he was before (even though he thought he was just). We must also ask ourselves, ‘Am I justified? Am I right with God? Or am I deceiving myself?’

Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and publican (Luke 18:9-14) for two reasons; firstly that we may avoid the trap that many religious people fall into, and secondly that we may find the way that leads to life.

So what was the problem with the Pharisee? He was a religious person, well respected by everyone, he observed the law, he shunned sin, fasted and gave charity. Needless to say all these things are good. Why then did he remain unjustified before God?

Pride was his problem. He came up front in God’s presence bragging about himself while belittling other people. He supposedly went up to pray but in fact  he did not ask God for anything. He did not ask for forgiveness. He did not pray for mercy. He did not need them – or so he thought. He considered himself a good person. He trusted in himself that he was just. But God, who searches the very depth of the heart, knew that he was a guilty sinner. Religion and pride had blinded this man’s eyes to his spiritual plight and kept him from seeking God for justification.

The other man, the tax collector, had a different attitude. He humbled himself. He did not try to hide his sin from God. He stayed at the back and did not even lift up his eyes, but looked downwards in shame, beating on his chest in great remorse.

He prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ This man did not look to himself, or anything he had done, but looked away from himself; he looked upward to heaven, to the God he had offended. He appealed to him who alone could forgive his sins. He confessed that he was a sinner, that he broke God’s law, and therefore he deserved punishment. Yet he appealed to God for mercy and asked him to free him for the guilt and punishment he deserved. God, who is rich in mercy, answered his plea and justified him! God freed him from guilt and received him in his loving arms.

Sin keeps us away from God. But it does not have to be that way. Grief and shame should not prevent us from coming to God with a sorrowful heart. God will forgive us. But there is something else apart from sin that keeps us apart from God. Righteousness! Our personal righteousness can also keep us away from heaven. It is proper to do what is good, but it would be a fatal error to trust in ourselves or our works for justification. Our trust must be wholly in God alone who for Christ’s sake justifies all those who come in repentance and faith in him.

To answer the question, ‘Am I right with God?’ – we need to ask another question: ‘Where am I looking - to myself and my deeds, or away from me, towards God and the work of Christ on the cross?

1 August 2014

The Purose of Life

(Gospel e-Letter August 2014)

In the midst of our busy schedules, it is good to stop for a while and ask some really important questions about our life.

1. What is the purpose of my life? 

To love. To be loved. Physical health, wealth and prosperity are fine but dispensable. Better still is the love of my family and friends. But that is not enough. My heart yearns for more. There is an infinite space in my soul that can never be filled except by the love of my Creator. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps 42:1).

2. What keeps me from experiencing God’s love?

Sin. I know what’s good and bad, yet often I do not follow my conscience. I know God’s law and that I should be obedient to him. Yet many a time I have said ‘no’ to the God who has created me and who keeps me alive. I have challenged him. I have offended him. I am guilty. Sin has separated me from God. (Is 59:2).

3. How can I experience the love of the Father?

Through Jesus Christ, God's Son, who came to the world to reconcile sinners to God. Just as he himself declared: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). He who committed no sin bore my sins in his body on the tree. He freed me from sin, reconciled me to the Father, and made me a child of God.

4. How do I know that my sins are forgiven?

My sins are forgiven because I trust in Jesus Christ with all my heart. I place no confidence in anything that I do or in anyone else. I am confident that God keeps his promise to his people: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is 43:25). Moreover he has given me a new heart that hates evil and loves righteousness. He is teaching me to love other people, and above all, to love him, my Lord and Saviour. God is not afar anymore; his love to me is sweeter than honey.

This is how I answer these key questions; what about you dear friend, how do you answer them on your knees before God?

1 July 2014

Justification: Errors to Avoid

(Gospel e-Letter - July 2014)

While most Christians would say that faith is necessary for salvation, there is significant disagreement about the place of works.

Some would add works to faith as the means of justification. They would not say that they are saved by works alone; they still believe in Christ, and in his death on the cross and resurrection. They would also affirm the necessity of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to perform good works so that, ultimately, they will be judged to have fulfilled the law of God and that they merit eternal life. This is basically the position of faithful Catholics.

Others will exclude works completely. Justification is by faith alone, and by that they mean that works have nothing to do with salvation whatsoever. They may encourage and desire believers to live a godly life and do good works, but if such works are absent, they still say that such a person is justified. Indeed if someone has ‘received Christ by faith’ and his life remained unchanged or even dominated by sin, even so he will spend eternity in heaven. This view, sometimes called ‘easy believism’, is not uncommon among evangelicals.

Both views are in error. The Bible teaches that salvation is ‘by grace through faith’ – and it specifically excludes our works as the basis for salvation – ‘not of yourselves, it is a gift of God’. The Bible is even more emphatic, ‘not of works lest any man should boast’. A child can understand that simple statement, but then, it can also be easily twisted. So the Scripture immediately guards against the exclusion of works by telling us that the saved are ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works.’ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Works are not the means but the fruit of salvation.

Those who professes to believe in Christ but continues to live in sexual immorality, drunkenness, resentment, dishonesty or any form of unrighteousness, will not enter the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:6,10). It does not take some gross sin to keep one out of heaven. It is enough to do nothing. Christ calls such a person slothful, and these will be the last words he will ever hear from the mouth of Christ: "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:14-30).

On the other hand, it is dangerous to rest on our works, even in part, as the basis for our justification. The Pharisee who went to the Temple to pray was a devout Jew who believed in the true and living God. He thanked God and acknowledged that his righteousness was wrought in him by God. He was basing his justification on faith and works which he performed by the grace of God. However, in Jesus’ estimation, he was trusting in himself that he was righteous. In truth he was not. Pride had blinded him to his sin and guilt; he looked to himself instead of turning his eyes to God where he could find mercy.

May God help us avoid both deadly errors – I will not depend at all on my works for justification, not now, not ever; I entrust myself solely to Christ by faith for I am convinced that God justifies me on the basis of his Son’s righteousness and the sacrifice on the cross. And since I am accepted by God and given a new heart, I dedicate myself to good works for his glory, thus showing that my faith is alive and that his saving work in me is real.