By Richard Bennett
From the time I was a young boy in Dublin, Ireland, I was taught to look within myself for holiness. In my years in a Jesuit elementary and secondary school, I was trained to look within myself for moral goodness through the sacraments and mental prayer. I was ordained as a Dominican priest in 1963, and after a year in Rome, I was sent to Trinidad, West Indies. In 1972, after a serious accident in which I nearly died, I began seriously reading the Scriptures to see how one is right before the All Holy God. Rather than outlining sanctification within me, I saw that the Scriptures declare the believer’s right standing is in Christ Jesus. Some days I would read the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians ten to twenty times. I saw there that a person being made acceptable to God is accomplished in Christ, “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”1 God’s unchanging plan was to choose the believer in Christ, showing that right standing is not of the believer or in him. Rectitude before God is not a recognition of anything that the believer deserves, but an acknowledgment of the believer because of Christ’s perfect life and His finished sacrifice. Nevertheless, the concepts of merit and of infused righteousness were still embedded in my mind. I struggled hard between the oft-repeated phrases of being “in Christ” in the New Testament, and the Catholic teaching that I knew so well. By God’s grace I began to see the truth, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”2
As I continued to study the Scriptures, my desire was to understand and to have all that it teaches. The Scripture teaches God’s saving justice is revealed, “but now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.”3 I began to consider that good news is Christ’s faithfulness being credited to believers, “even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.”4 Only Christ Jesus’ sacrifice actually is God’s saving justice. I desired to be found in that saving justice, and thus experience His grace. This is what in my own life, by the grace of God, I began to realize after nine years in the priesthood. I greatly desired to be touched by the grace of Christ Jesus; however, a wall between Christ and myself was the Catholic teaching that was dyed into the fabric of my being. I had to sort out all that I had learned over the many years in the light of the knowledge of the grace of Christ that I was beginning to comprehend from reading the Scriptures.
The Bible clearly shows that Jesus was substituted for us on the cross. I cannot express it better than Isaiah 53:5: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (This means that Christ took on himself what I ought to suffer for my sins. Before the Father, I trust in Jesus as my substitute.)
Isaiah 53:5 was written 750 years before the crucifixion of our Lord. A short time after His sacrifice on the cross, the Bible states in I Peter 2:24: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” Because we inherited our sin nature from Adam, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. How can we stand before a Holy God, except in Christ, and acknowledge that He died where we ought to have died? Only through faith we can see, understand, and grasp Christ as our substitute. It was Christ who paid the price for our sins: sinless, yet He was crucified. This is the true Gospel message. Is faith enough? Yes, born-again faith is enough. That true faith, engendered by God, will inevitably show good fruit, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). In repenting, we put aside, through God’s strength, our former way of life and our former sins. It does not mean that we cannot sin again, but it does mean that our position before God has changed. We are called children of God, for so indeed we are. If we do sin, it is a relationship problem with the Father, which can be resolved—not a problem of losing our position as a child of God in Christ, for this position is irrevocable. In Hebrews 10:10, the Bible says it so wonderfully, “…we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The finished work of Christ Jesus on the Cross is sufficient and complete. As you trust solely in His finished work, a new life, which is born of the Spirit, will be yours. You will be born again.
The Present Day and Giving the True Gospel
My present task: the good work that the Lord has prepared for me to do is as an evangelist situated near Austin in the central part of Texas. What Paul said about his fellow Jews, I say about my dearly loved Catholic brothers: my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Catholics is that they may be saved. I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based in God’s Word but in their church tradition. If you understood the devotion and agony that some of the men and women in the Philippines and South America have put into their religion, you may understand my heart’s cry: “Lord, give us a compassion to understand the pain and torment of the search that devout Catholics have made to please You.” In understanding their pain, we will have the desire to show them the Good News of Christ’s finished work on the Cross.
In evangelizing a Catholic, one must be absolutely aware not to give any “process message.” This means telling him “what he must do.” “Accept Jesus into your heart (to be saved)” is one of the most used sentences in modern Evangelical circles. The biblical concept of salvation is that by grace the believer is accepted in Christ by God. The whole theme of Ephesians Chapter 1 is summarized in verse 6, “To the praise of the glory of His [God’s] grace, wherein He [God] hath made us accepted in the Beloved [Christ].” He is active; He is the One who saves us. The terminology, “accept Jesus into your heart” is backwards and dishonest. It assumes wrongly that salvation originates in the human heart with the human will. The Scripture teaches, “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”5 Consistently in Scripture, salvation is shown to be in Christ and in Him alone. It is not about man and what he should do, it is about Christ and what He has already done. “Accepting Jesus” places emphasis on something that man needs to do. When properly reasoned out, one sees that this is work’s salvation; but believing or trusting Him for what He has done is “through faith salvation.” In Him alone is that perfect righteousness that is sufficient before the Holy God to justify unholy sinners.6
It is unscriptural to think that salvation begins by Christ first coming into the sinful heart of a man. It is essential to understand that natural man is totally deficient in and of himself. It is not that he is merely weak and needs stimulation; spiritually he is dead. In the words of the Apostle, “And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.”7 The spiritually dead and ungodly person can be made acceptable to God only as he is “in Christ,” as all the teachings of the Apostles Paul, John, and Peter testify. Then, and only then, does Christ come into the human heart to sanctify the one already saved. Christ does come into our hearts as believers, thus, His Word says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”8 This is the whole process of sanctification in us that is not to be confused with initial salvation that is to be found in Him.
The verses below are often wrongly used to evangelize. Rather, these words are addressed to believers in the Church of the Laodiceans, “and unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write… ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne….’”9 This misuse of Revelation 3:20-21, a sanctification message, not meant to teach justification, is inexcusable. Sanctification differs from justification. Sanctification is internal and experimental (progressive), while justification is objective and legal (a ruling to clear one’s guilt). Sanctification is gradual and progressive whereas justification is instantaneous and immutable. Many who misuse this passage know better, yet for the sake of what they call success in witnessing, they persist. Since this abuse of Scripture is so serious and soul damning its important to give examples. Very often one hears the following,
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”(Revelation 3:20) Jesus Christ wants to have a personal relationship with you. Picture, if you will, Jesus Christ standing at the door of your heart (the door of your emotions, intellect and will). Invite Him in; He is waiting for you to receive Him into your heart and life.”
The Lord Christ Jesus does not stand waiting to come into any sinful man’s heart, He commands all men everywhere to believe in Him. God waits on no man to express his own will to accept or reject salvation. Faith in Christ alone saves, not faith in some inner process that has been subtly given in its place. The sanctification text, Revelation 3:20, spoken by the Lord to those in the Church, is totally misused. It is no wonder that some ministries that use this message also endorse “Conversion as a process” as in Evangelicals and Catholics Together:10 and other similar false Ecumenical documents. Many are deceived upon this vital matter, sincerely believing that they have received Christ as their personal Savior while, in fact, they have believed in a ritual. Catholics can be deceived upon this vital matter, i.e., sincerely believing that they have received Jesus into their hearts. These people still remain in the Roman Catholic Church believing themselves now to have done the Evangelical thing to add to their many rituals in Catholicism. It is unspeakably serious to give a deceiving salvation message.
Difficulties and the Biblical Method
For religious and devout Catholics, the most difficult sin to repent of is that of trusting that their religion gives salvation.11 The Lord’s strong word to the Pharisees, who likewise trusted in their religion, is most appropriate in this regard, “if you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sins.”12 Since Catholics believe their Church has all the resources of salvation, they likewise, in practice, are denying His Person. To such religious Catholics, the effective word of repentance can be, “If you remain in your traditions you will die in your sins. Trust on Christ and Him alone, not in any Church, and know eternal life that He alone gives.” Biblical methodology is an important part of the Lord’s truth. The Lord’s own method of evangelizing was essentially by asking questions, and by proclaiming the need to repent and believe as we have seen. The biblical method is to ask questions, as did the Lord Himself.
The following are some sample questions useful for witnessing.
1. How can we sinners stand before the All Holy God?
2. How can you and I have eternal life?
3. Why did the sinless Christ die on the cross?
4. God is all holy; we are all sinners. How can anyone have a relationship with Him?
5. Why did Christ say to Pharisees, “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”? (John 8:24)
8. Have you read your Bible today?
Discussion with the Group
1 Ephesians 1:6
2 I Corinthians 1:30
3 Romans 3:21
4 Romans 3:22
5 John 1:13
6 Romans 4:5-8, II Corinthians 5:19-21, Romans 3:22-28, Titus 3:5-7, Ephesians 1:7, Jeremiah 23:6,
I Corinthians 1:30-31, Romans 5:17-19
7 Ephesians 2:1
8 John. 15:4
9 Revelation 3:14, 20-21
It is a continuing process so that the whole life of a Christian should be a passage from death to life,
from error to truth, from sin to grace. Our life in Christ demands continual growth in God’s grace.”
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium (ECT) 1994
11 This mindset is officially taught in the RC Church, “‘Believing’ is an ecclesial act. The Church’s faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. The Church is the mother of all believers. ‘No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother’” Catechism, Para. 181.
12 John 8:24