Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Gospel and Tradition

Recently in a discussion I had with a Roman Catholic, I was told that without the Roman Catholic Church, no one can understand the gospel. To be exact, I was told:

"You indicate that it all comes down to what the gospel is? I do not believe that anyone can answer that question from scripture alone. We need to study scripture within the Church who gave us the scripture. None of us can understand the Gospel on our own. It is not a matter of private interpretation. Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the Church in order that she may be kept from error in her teaching."

Yes, the interpretation of the Fathers and Councils of the Catholic Church are important. But the Fathers have contradicted themselves and Popes have been corrupt in the past. Alternately, the Holy Scriptures clearly present to us the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we can understand what the gospel is (i.e. how we are made righteous before God) through their writings. The Fathers and Councils simply are a confirmation that what they said was true. However, there are fathers who have erred, just in the same way the Jews of Old Testament erred. The Jews of the OT thought that their oral tradition was the only way for the Scriptures to be interpreted. But we learned from Jesus Christ Himself that this was not the case. My contention is that the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church (for that matter) today is making the same error.

Were the Apostles not clear concerning what the gospel is in the Scriptures? St. Paul wrote: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:6-9 - all quotes will be from the NKJV).

What Gospel was St. Paul talking about? The Galatians did not have years of "Tradition" but had the apostolic deposit. They also did not have a Pope. St. Peter who is not revealed in this letter to be greater than Paul was rebuked in the second chapter of Galatians for an error he made in Antioch. The Galatians had their church planter and Apostle, Paul. And he lays the gospel out clearly in the letter to the Galatians so that they would return to it!

Paul wrote: "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (Gal. 2:15-16).

The moral law shows us our sin, and was our tutor until the time of Jesus Christ. Now that he has come and has lived the perfect life in our place, died on the cross for our sin, and has risen from the dead, faith in His work and promises alone are what justify us. Trust in Christ alone, and not our works in our attempt to meet God's Law is what makes us righteous before God. Paul writes:

"I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain" (Gal. 2:21).

If we seek to establish our own righteousness and to do not submit to God's righteousness which comes by faith in Jesus Christ, we have lost the gospel and Christ has died for nothing!

Paul continues, "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain" (Gal. 3:1-4)?

Do you see the intensity in which St. Paul writes this letter? He does not even begin his letter with his usual thanksgiving for his church (compare Galatians 1 with Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4-5; Eph. 1:15-16; Phil. 1:3-5; 1 Thess. 1:2-3; 2 Thess. 1:3-4; Col. 1:3-4), and he may have even written this whole letter with his own hand or perhaps just the final 7 verses (compare Rom. 16:22, 1 Cor. 16:21, Col. 4:18, 2 Thess. 3:17 with Gal. 6:11-18). In the above quote Paul continues to point the Galatians back to the cross! The cross empties us of all control. On the cross Jesus takes up all of our sins. Our works are nothing since they are tainted and plagued by sin. Our works our futile in our attempt to satisfy God's Law. But rejoice, Christ has been crucified for me and you, and we are justified by faith in His Work alone, and not by our works! And this is not just a forgiveness of our past sins, but our future sins as well! If we would attempt to be made perfect by our flesh in the future then we would nullify the grace of God that was begun in us by the hearing of faith!

I will simply quote the rest of Galatains without my thoughts. See for yourself that the gospel was made clear through this letter to the Galatians and through the other Apostolic and Prophetic writings of the New Covenant.

"For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” [Deuteronomy 27:26] 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” [Habakkuk 2:4] 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” [Leviticus 18:5] 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” [Deuteronomy 21:23]), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:10-14).

"For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. 19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Gal. 3:18-25).

"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Gal. 4:4-7).

"You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4).

See with what long blog entries I write to you! The gospel was made clear in this letter so that the average Christian reader could understand it. Paul made it simple for us to understand. May we submit to this letter and not oral tradition that contradicts it!

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