1 John 1:1-10 "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life-- and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us--what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us."
Since the attempt at Roman Catholic reform resulted in the Protestant Reformation, reformers have had a tendency to make conditions of salvation difficult for people. To my understanding of what I heard, it was as if God really did not want to extend salvation to humans, but for some reason He had to. Therefore, God made being saved in Christ as difficult as possible. It was as though God said, "I extend you salvation, but I hope you do not accept because I really want to give you the justice of what you deserve rather than the mercy and grace of salvation." At least, for me, that was the view I was exposed to.
As I matured spiritually, I began to wonder this: If what God really wanted was to destroy us and not save us, to give us justice and not mercy, why bother sending Jesus to become the Christ? If God just withheld Jesus, we definitely would get justice and not mercy. Without Jesus, we gentiles have no form of hope.
There were many factors that resulted in the Protestant Reformation. One of those factors that figured prominently in Martin Luther's presenting the ninety-five thesis for debate was the sale of indulgences.
This is a very complex evolution in Roman Catholic theology. This evolution of theological view point involved three things: religious goals, secular politics, and money. That is a combination that commonly results in materialism and greed!
At first there was the practice of penance. When a person sinned, he or she had to do something to demonstrate physically he or she regretted the sin. Then there arose a debate about how far reaching the acts of penance were. Could the acts of penance cover the consequences to be endured in purgatory? Then there evolved the concept of indulgences. That concept evolved into the concept that a person could buy total escape from all consequences of sinful deeds.
The idea was this: saints and good people did more than enough good deeds to receive their salvation. From their excess good deeds, there existed a "treasury of merits." The pope had access to this "treasury of merits" and could authorize the sale of these excess good deeds in the form of indulgences.
A person who had not done enough good deeds to escape punishment could buy an indulgence an assure to himself or herself of an escape from the punishments of purgatory after death. Thus to the average person who did not know all the theological arguments, eternal salvation was for sale and could be bought. In this manner, the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church could collect fees to finance their projects, and the less than virtuous people could assure themselves there would be no suffering after they died.
This was the practice that motivated Martin Luther to attempt a reform of the Roman Catholic Church, and that suggestion resulted in the Protestant Reformation. (I realize this reduces many happenings into an attempt to provide a simple explanation. In no way is this intended to oversimplify a complex happening.)
What does all this have to do with us?
One of the complaints against the Roman Catholic Church in Martin Luther's lifetime was that (1) the system made salvation too easy by (2) making it primarily a matter of finances.
It seems to me (and I classify this as personal opinion) that for centuries the Protestant Reformation made salvation as terrifying and frightening as possible. I think that has stretched into and has been a part of our past more then we realize. For those of us who are older and have been part of the American Restoration Movement since at least the 1950s, how many gospel meetings have you attended? How many gospel meetings have you attended that had a least one night devoted to hell? How many times have you heard an invitation that had the purpose of scaring a person into being baptized instead of challenging a person to deepen faith in God?
If hell were taken out of our past religious emphasis, we would not have much of a message. Years ago, our message was much simpler than the message of scripture: "If you don't do what I declare, God is going to get you! Is that what you want?"
At least in my experience, this was the message: "God wants to give you justice, not salvation. When you surrender your life to Jesus Christ, you are on your own. If you are not perfect in the way you live, you will get God's justice, not God's mercy. If you think you are afraid of hell before you become a Christian, accept Jesus Christ, and we will spend the rest of your life trying to scare you to heaven."
That is a truly workable solution! It is individual! It meets every spiritual need for forgiveness!
However, it is only available to people who want God to remake them! It is not a game of pretense or hypocrisy! The Christian cannot live a double life! He or she cannot pretend to be one thing at one time and behave differently when it is convenient!
If you do not want the God of Light to remake you, the solution is not for you. However, if you want the God of Light to remake you as a person of Light, the solution is for you and will work!
We can live with that! We can live in hope, not in terror! It truly makes the gospel of Jesus Christ "good news."
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