When will you have certainty?
On our journey through life we face many challenges. Challenges to health, work, relationships, even challenges to our faith.
Life is a difficult journey. No matter what path you choose, danger and hardship are at every turn. And for many, the destination is uncertain.
We'd all like to be certain. Certain of who we are... that we're loved. Most of all, certain of where we're heading.
Who am I? Does God love me? Will I go to heaven?
Amidst uncertainty, people often turn to different religions for answers. It can be comforting to 'do' something. To participate in some religious activity to reassure us.
True Christianity, however, is very different from religion. Jesus offers himself as the only way into heaven describing himself as "the door" (The Bible - John chapter 10, verse 9). He says that anyone who listens to his voice and follows him will be saved. We need to respond to Jesus with a life that is changed, but we don't need to 'do' good works or perform rituals to earn salvation. This is because Jesus has already done all that is necessary.
Jesus loves us and is always there for us. As our great high priest, who sympathises with our weaknesses, He is able to help us in our time of need (The Bible - Hebrews chapter 4, verses 14-16).
On the cross Jesus died to pay for the things we've done wrong. Three days later he rose again from the dead. If we trust in Jesus' work at the cross we can be friends with God and be saved.
Trusting in Jesus means certainty of salvation.
Unfortunately the Catholic Church doesn't teach us certainty. Instead it offers 'religious' things to 'do'. It tells its followers to go to Confession, to Mass and to do Penance. These are offered as signposts on the path. The Pope, Mary and the Saints are also presented as those who can help on the journey.
But none of these give the certainty we all need in life. They don't give us certainty that we will make it to heaven. Why?
The Pope & the Papacy
According to Catholic tradition, the current Pope stands in a line of succession from the very first bishop of Rome, the Apostle Peter. Jesus promised to give Peter the keys of the kingdom after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ (The Bible - Matthew 16:18). The Catholic Church teaches that these keys symbolize Peter's sole authority over the church as "the rock" on which Jesus would build his church. The authority given to Peter is understood to pass to each successive Pope down through the ages.
Church tradition records that Peter died in Rome during the great persecution of 64 AD, but nowhere in Rome's history or of the early church is Peter ever referred to as being the bishop of Rome.
Centuries later in 1870 the Catholic church declared that, because the Pope follows in direct succession to the apostle Peter, Popes now have infallible authority on all matters of Christian faith and morals.
However, the Bible and history do not support these ideas. The most influential of the early church fathers and other more recent scholars haven't understood Jesus' promise to Peter in this way. Rather they've understood Peter's confession itself (that Jesus is the Christ) to be "the rock" on which Jesus was building his church - never Peter himself. It is also important to note that it is impossible to establish a clear line of unbroken succession from Peter to the present Pope.
After his confession in Matthew 16, the Bible shows Peter to be a fallible man and part of a collective church leadership. He is deceived by Satan (later in chapter 16, verse 23) and denies Jesus at the crucifixion (chapter 26, verse 75).
Most significantly, after Jesus resurrection, Peter is rebuked by the Apostle Paul for acting improperly towards new Christians who weren't Jews. Peter submits to Paul's rebuke (The Bible - Galatians chapter 2, verse 14).
What is most damaging about the Papacy is that Popes throughout history have made declarations and laws that contradict the Bible and undermine it's message.
The Pope can never give you certainty.
Mary & the Saints
It is true that the Bible describes Mary as blessed because she gave birth to Jesus. But the Catholic Church makes Mary into something she never was. It teaches that Mary and the Saints can help us in times of need. For example, there is a saint to help us when we're sick and when we're lost. But can Mary and the Saints really help us? Can they give us the certainty we need?
Catholic teaching about Mary has developed over the centuries. In the 5th Century A.D. she was declared to be the "Mother of God" and then in 649 A.D. a perpetual virgin. More recently she's been declared to be without sin (1854), to have ascended bodily into heaven as Queen (1950) and to be the Mother of the Church (1964). Mary is also believed to be a mediator, a Co-redeemer with Jesus and an advocate for the faithful to pray to.
But these teachings about Mary aren't found in the pages of the Bible. As for the saints, in the Bible, 'the saints' are simply those who are Christian.
It is Jesus the Son of God who is without sin, who is king in Heaven and the head of the church. Jesus is the one mediator between God and man and our advocate to the Father.
God doesn't tell us in the Bible to look to Mary or Saints for help in our time of need because neither can help us. Instead God tells us to look only to Jesus.
Only Jesus was tempted like us and yet resisted all sin. He understands our struggle. To see Mary or any of the Saints as mediators denies the power and effectiveness of the one true mediator that God sent for us, Jesus (see 1Timothy 2:5 in the Bible or the letter to the Hebrews).
Mary and the Saints can never give you certainty.
Confession & the Mass
It is taught that attendance at Mass wipes away venial (smaller) sins and preserves us from future mortal sins (those sins that prevent us from getting to heaven). But, how often do I need to go to Mass to have certainty?
The Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession to a priest is another way the Catholic Church seeks to help people get to heaven. This teaching insists that a person must confess any mortal sin to a priest in order to receive forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Once again, this is not in the Bible and it is impractical. So what if we don't make it to confession before we die? Surely our relationship with God is based on something stronger!
God's word on the matter is this: "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (The Bible - Romans chapter 8, verse 1). Our relationship to God is not through the church but through Christ. Being "in Christ Jesus" means trusting that Jesus has died to pay for your sins, past, present and future. We needn't trust in Confession to any man to be certain of salvation.
Going to confession and the Mass can never give you certainty.
Purgatory & the Giving of Indulgences
The Catholic Church teaches that Purgatory is a place where people are purified for sins committed on earth. Purgatory is an 'in-between' place en route to heaven. The more we sin, the longer we stay there. However, time in Purgatory can be reduced by the receiving of an indulgence from the Pope. This can be earned by good works or participation in a pilgrimage.
Again, teaching about purgatory and indulgences is found nowhere in the pages of the Bible. In fact the Bible says we're not saved by good works at all but only by trusting in Jesus.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus; "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (The Bible - Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8 and 9).
The Bible shows us that when a person puts their trust in Jesus, God declares that person righteous before Him. This righteousness comes entirely from Jesus. Nothing we do can achieve it. This is good news to sinners!
Anyone hoping to be saved partly on the basis of their own good works can never be sure if they've done enough. There is only false hope or fear.
But if your salvation depends on trusting in Jesus' death alone and not your own good works then you can be certain of going to heaven, today.
Indulgences can never give you certainty.
It's time to be certain
The Bible never provides a religious activity as a means to be certain of our salvation. It doesn't encourage us to 'feel' saved or suggest that belonging to one church or religion will give us salvation. No, the one and only sign the bible gives for certainty is Jesus (The Bible - John 3:15, Romans 10:8-9).
The Bible says certainty is found only in a relationship with Jesus. Only by being in a relationship with Jesus can we be freed from our shame and guilt forever.
One of the thieves crucified with Jesus knew he was guilty before God and deserving of death. But that thief recognized who Jesus was and turned to Him for help. He was clearly not a good person. He asked Jesus in simple words to remember him when he entered his kingdom. This thief went to heaven to be with Jesus that very day (The Bible - Luke chapter 23, verse 43).
If you put your trust in Jesus alone, then you can be certain of going to heaven...Today! But you must turn away from signposts that provide false hope. Don't linger on the wrong path just because others do. A path is never right because many walk it. Neither is it wrong because few are on it. Jesus warned that many will walk a path that leads to destruction (The Bible - Matthew chapter 7, verse 13).
So trust only in Jesus and have certainty today.