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The first premise of the Christian Gospel is that man is a sinful creature and guilty of sinning before his holy and righteous Creator. According to the Gospel of Jesus all of mankind is depraved : "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We all are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. When Adam sinned, sin entered the world and all fell in Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Without the premise of a sinful and corrupt world, there would be no Gospel.

The second premise of the Gospel of Jesus is that God has taken the initiative to reconcile mankind to Himself through the miraculous incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (I John 4:10). In times prior to the coming of Immanuel (God with us : Matthew 1.23), God spoke in various ways. He revealed Himself through the Patriarchs and Prophets of Israel (Hebrews 1:1, 2). He gave Israel His law and a sacrificial system through Moses until the long awaited Messiah would come. The Christian Gospel teaches that Jesus Christ was that long awaited Prophet; David's son yet David's Lord (Acts 2;29-35).

This God/Man Jesus came in a miraculous manner and announced that He was God Incarnate, having been sent from the Father to proclaim the Gospel of God (John 6:37, 38). After being recognized from on high, "Thou art My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased" (Mark 1:1), Jesus came into Galilee and preached His Father's Gospel (Mark 1:14).

On more than one occasion Jesus announced that He had come to do the will of His Heavenly Father. He did not come to do His own will but the will of Him who sent Him.

"For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me" (John 12:49, 50).
During His earthly ministry Jesus did a lot of things, not all of which were chronicled. John supposes that if everything Jesus did was carefully detailed, the world could not contain the books needed to record it all (John 21:25). We are to be content with what has been written and to strive to understand, faithfully interpreting and applying it to our lives.

This is precisely where the problem begins when it comes to witnessing the Gospel of Jesus to those outside of an understanding of God's revelation. There are many religions vying for the ear of an increasingly secular society. Many of these religions are using the Bible as a basis of their authority. They claim to have sorted out the meaning of the Bible and now come speaking and preaching their understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All manner of chaos has broken out since the ascension of the Lord into Heaven. Most every major religion and religious movement in the world has had something to say about the Gospel of Jesus.

In our debates with the Roman Catholic religion we have found it particularly frustrating to get them to see what we believe is the heart and soul of the gospel of Jesus. The problem stems from their understanding of Jesus' message preached during His incarnation. The life of Jesus is recorded in four testimonies of four different authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Each author presents Jesus in a unique way with particular emphasis on an aspect of Jesus. But the accounts are a harmonious blend of history and theology. It is God's unique way of presenting for us the multifaceted ministry of Jesus.

Like most religious organizations, the Roman Catholic religion relies heavily on the sayings of Jesus to formulate their version of the Gospel of Jesus. There is nothing wrong with this. We do the same. However the severe and insurmountable difference we have with Rome is in the interpretation of the data. This is where the frustration level reaches its zenith when witnessing to a Roman Catholic or debating one of their representatives. Rome finds in the words of Jesus a performance-based salvation. We find in the words of Jesus the impossibility of a performance-based salvation. Rome's position is stated clearly by the Council of Trent:

"If anyone says that a man who is justified [in Rome, this means Roman Catholic Baptism] and however perfect is not bound to observe the commandments of God and the Church, but only to believe, as if the Gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life without the condition of observing the commandments, let him be anathema" (Trent, 6th Session, Canon 20).
We read in Matthew that "From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). Luke expands on the initial stages of Jesus' public ministry. Upon entering the synagogue in Nazareth, He opened the scroll and read from Isaiah 61:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18, 19).
We realize that the ministry of Jesus Christ was to set people free from their spiritual bondage. We understand that Jesus came to proclaim the forgiveness of sin and the hope of eternal life. The question that separates us from the Roman Catholic religion is simply "How?" How is one set free? How is one delivered? How is someone made a child of God? How is one reconciled and justified? How is anyone saved?

Roman Catholicism insists that Jesus has set up a system of grace-dispensing sacraments, a system which calls down grace from heaven through the works of men. This grace is said to enable man toward moral improvement. Moral improvement, says Rome, is a condition man fulfills for entrance into heaven. Thus, salvation is conditioned upon obedience to the Gospel. Obedience to the Gospel, in turn, is conditioned upon receiving the grace of God. Receiving the grace of God, in turn, is conditioned upon obedience to the Roman system through which that grace is dispensed. This is why Roman Catholics assert that they are "saved by grace," which is a "grace" that produces enough moral improvement for them to eventually qualify for heaven.

In 1988 John MacArthur, noted evangelical pastor, wrote a book entitled, The Gospel According to Jesus. This book took the Christian community by storm. It attempted to answer the plague of modern evangelicals who were promoting a salvation so divorced from works that fruit was seen as optional in the Christian walk. The issues of MacArthur's book are analogous to our struggle in presenting the Gospel to Roman Catholics. John MacArthur was forced to showcase the ethical implications of Jesus' teaching in order to dislodge those who were intent on reducing the call of the Gospel to bare intellectual assent with no corresponding life change. MacArthur could have borrowed the 20th Canon of the Council of Trent (above) in his diatribe against what he calls "an insidious easy-believism that makes no moral demands on the lives of sinners." MacArthur says this separation of the Lordship of Christ and the morality demanded by Him in the Gospels of Christ is not the same message Jesus proclaimed.

We bring this up because MacArthur had to walk a fine line between the moral commandments of Jesus on the one hand, and the Gospel of salvation through faith alone on the other. We mention this to point out how easy it would be to slip into a works salvation while trying to protect the integrity of the Gospel and its life-changing force. We do not believe that in his zeal he crossed the line. However Rome has long decided that all moral commands of Jesus are part of a performance based platform that man builds for his own eternal life. But in Rome, precious few ever become good enough to actually go straight to heaven, and few are considered so bad as to deserve hell. This is why the erroneous doctrine of Purgatory is so essential to Rome and is viewed by her as God's graceful provision. Rome clings to its system of a grace-aided, performance-based salvation, relying upon the many ethical commands of Jesus, holding out Purgatory as a safety net for those who cannot meet them, and heaven as a reward for those who do.

Rome, thinking this is the true "good news," perceives a failure in the professing evangelical community to take the moral commands and ethics of Jesus seriously. Rome sees what MacArthur saw:

"The gospel in vogue today holds forth a false hope to sinners. It promises them they can have eternal life yet continue to live in rebellion against God. Indeed, it encourages people to claim Jesus as Savior yet defer until later the commitment to obey Him as Lord. It offers false security to people who revel in the sins of the flesh and spurn the way of holiness." (MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, pp. 15, 16).
Rome could have borrowed from MacArthur in its formulation of the 20th Canon of the Council of Trent.

The remedy to this, for Rome, is the insistence that we are going to be judged eternally on the basis of how good we can become through the help of God's grace dispensed through the sacraments. MacArthur, on the other hand, understands the tensions which exist between salvation by faith apart from personal righteousness and the call for personal righteousness inherent in the preaching of Jesus and His apostles. This tension can be highlighted by focusing on one chapter of Scripture. Notice how closely the two concepts are aligned:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come unto judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24, emphasis mine).

"Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil to a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28,29, emphasis mine).
How is eternal life to be determined? Is it on the basis of believing or on the basis of doing the good? MacArthur has a severe problem with professing evangelicals who so stress faith alone that works could not even be considered a necessary evidence of regeneration! For these, the individual's bare faith (as prompted by the Spirit of God and not resisted, thus making it a self-generated faith) is sufficient for salvation regardless of any consequent obedience to the Lordship of Christ. With MacArthur, we view this as truly an error of great proportion. One must believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior. Only self-generated faith wishes to separate the Saviorship of Christ from His Lordship. We believe this is the real issue. Any faith originating with man will attempt this unscriptural segregation.

The Roman Catholic answer is that salvation is conditioned on individual faith (prompted by the Spirit and not resisted plus the works produced by God's grace (again, not resisted) as dispensed from the sacramental system. However this is nothing more than self-salvation. The Roman Catholic is constantly warned to maintain his own salvation through his non-resistance to alleged grace offered through a positive adherence to a system, and to a rigorous cult of religious obediences completely foreign to the Bible.

The answer we believe to be the most biblical, which does justice to the Gospel and its life-changing effect, is that salvation is by faith alone. However this faith is not of man, but of God. Furthermore this faith does not come to man without simultaneously testifying to Christ and His moral commands. To protect the integrity of the Gospel, which demands faithfulness to the Lord, is not to summon men to their own self-generated faith. Rather it is to admit once for all that faith is given by God and it therefore produces a fruit of righteousness which cannot be divorced from ethical and moral transformation (Luke 8:15). Faith given by God produces the man who "does the good." Faith self-generated by man is only filthy rags. Such as these will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Faith given by God is not intellectual assent. It is a full confidence in the finished work of God for salvation accompanied by a true desire to please God. The miracle of regeneration is that it produces faith in man that desires to obey after having clutched onto the righteousness of Christ alone as his only hope for deliverance (Titus 2:14).

The Gospel of Jesus is to believe on Him. This entails confidence that what He says is true. The heart regenerated by God will produce the good fruit. The evil heart will not (Luke 8:12-14). He whom God gives to Christ comes to Him by the faith given (John 6:37, 65). He will be raised on the last day (John 6:39). He will have done the good by the same faith that was given for his salvation. For if one has faith without works he is lost. It is a faith of his own. And if one has works without believing the Gospel, then he too is lost for they are works of his pride and arrogance. When, not if, one shows forth God's gift of faith to him, then he gives evidence of being saved to the uttermost. His confidence is all in Christ and his works are a result of the faith He has been given by God.

We say to the professing evangelical who wishes to divorce himself from serious attention to the moral commands of the Gospel of Christ that "no fruit equals no root!" We say to the Roman Catholic who wishes to place confidence in his ability to live rightly through a sacramental system that "no root equals no fruit!" Between these two thieves (licentiousness and legalism) hangs the Prince of Glory!

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