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Reaching the Catholic with the Gospel

Category Articles
Date November 10, 2003



I had great difficulties as a Catholic priest in listening to evangelists in my fourteen years of searching for the Gospel. Christian radio programmes continually told me the amount of things I had to do to accept Jesus into my heart. Christian tracts likewise told me the amount of dedication or commitment I needed in order to make a decision for Christ. After an agonizing search in the face of being told what I must do to be saved, I discovered that the first thing that must be understood biblically about the Gospel is that it is "concerning Jesus Christ our Lord", in the words of Paul in Romans 1:3. While the Gospel is proclaimed to all, it is not about Christ accepted into our hearts, it is centred on Jesus Christ the Lord, His faithfulness, His death and resurrection and our being found acceptable in Him by His grace.

I discovered also that the Gospel is an historic fact. Biblical faith is not concerned with recommending techniques, whether mystical or ethical, whereby salvation may be obtained – for that is the burden of all false religion. Rather the Bible proclaims the fact that God has in concrete historical fact saved all His people from destruction. The Gospel "by which ye are saved" (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) is the finished and complete work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

How not to evangelize

The greatest obstacle to the Gospel is silence. By remaining silent and hoping that our Christian life will testify for itself we fail to keep the Lord’s commandment. The commandment, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature", means to go and speak the Word to the Catholic! The majority of nuns and priests and former Catholics that I know who have been saved out of Catholicism all testify to the fact that no Bible believer ever approached them about their salvation. Christ’s commandment to give the good news is a commandment, not a request!

In evangelizing a Catholic, one must be absolutely aware not to give any process message. The Catholic has been continually told how to do things to be pleasing to God. The first Fridays, first Saturdays, the Blue Scapular, "The little way of St Teresa", etc., the apparitions, are full with messages of what to do; the Catholic’s life is full of what to do.

When one approaches a Catholic, it must be regarding what Christ has done, and the simple commandment to trust and believe. Using expressions such as, "Accept Jesus into your heart" and "Give your life to Christ", are quite similar to what the Roman Catholics hear inside Catholicism, sometimes those exact words. These messages must be completely left aside if one is to truly evangelize. It is necessary therefore that we discuss some of these wrong ways of evangelizing that are absolutely detrimental to the true Gospel.

"Accept Jesus into your heart," is one of the most used sentences in modern Evangelical circles. This humanistic concept is not biblical. The biblical concept of salvation is that by grace the believer is accepted in Christ The whole theme of Ephesians chapter 1 is summarized in verse 6: "To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved." The terminology, "accept Jesus into your heart" is backwards. It assumes wrongly that salvation is in the human heart. In Scripture salvation is shown to be in Christ and in Him alone.

It is unscriptural to think that salvation begins by Christ first coming into the sinful heart of a man. 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" (John 15:4). This is the whole process of sanctification in us that is not to be confused with initial salvation that is 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" (Revelation 3:14, 20-21). This misuse of Revelation 3:20, a sanctification message, to teach justification is inexcusable. Justification differs from sanctification. Sanctification is internal and experimental, while justification is objective and legal. Justification is instantaneous and immutable, whereas sanctification is gradual and progressive. 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 is 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 all holy Lord Jesus Christ stands not waiting to come into any sinful man’s heart, He commands all men everywhere to believe in Him. 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 misuse this text also endorse "Conversion as a process" in Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT ) and other similar false Ecumenical documents.) Many are deceived upon this vital matter, sincerely believing that they have received Christ as their personal Saviour while, in fact, they have believed in a ritual.

Catholics can be deceived upon this vital matter, sincerely believing that they have received Jesus into their hearts. They 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.

"Give Jesus control of your life to be saved" is another well known unbiblical approach. This teaching is in error because the sovereign God of the universe controls His creation. He is the One "Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Ephesians 1:11). Nothing any person might think of to give God in exchange for salvation is acceptable before God. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us . . . " (Titus 3:5). Jesus Christ Himself was the only sacrifice for sin acceptable to the holy God, and that sin offering was accomplished completely at the cross. The sacrifice for sin is finished. A person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by a promise of "controlled behaviour". Controlled behaviour is a process following on salvation rather than the initiating cause of salvation.

"Give your life to Jesus (to be saved)." This teaching is error for several reasons. First, eternal life is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 5:15-18, 6:23). A person does not "give" anything for a free gift. God gives this free gift to a person when He places that person in Christ Jesus. With the gift of salvation also comes the gift of faith to believe that this is what God has done (see also John 5:24-25.) Sin is what separates a man from God (Romans 3:23). Second, such phrases as "give your life to Jesus" wrongly presume that a person has something worthy of God to give. Spiritually dead people cannot give anything that will save them from their sins. Because man is dead in sin, Christ Jesus gave His life for the sins of His people (Galatians 1:4). There is no Bible verse that says or teaches that a lost, spiritually dead person "gives" anything, not even his life, in order to be saved.

If the Catholic is taught to "give his life to Jesus" to be saved, he may think that he has to give his service, time, works, money, etc., to be saved. This may lead the lost person into a works Gospel, which can never save. Getting saved is not a "trade-in" by which a person gives something to Jesus to be saved. A person is saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – and nothing else (see Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Gospel is not magnified nor God glorified by going to the worldly wise and telling them to "give their life to Jesus" or that they "may be saved by accepting Christ as their personal Saviour" while they are wedded to their rituals and traditions and their hearts are still in love with sin. Repentance is necessary. Repentance is so essential to saving faith that if repentance is neglected, a person does not have saving faith. Conviction of sin is the first work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the lost (John 16:8). Without conviction of sin, a person does not have salvation. "And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Repentance is always part of trusting on Christ because Christ came not to save a person in his sins but from his sins. "[God] now commandeth all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30).

The biblical method

Biblical methodology is an important part of the Lord’s truth. The Lord’s own method of evangelising was essentially by asking questions, and by proclaiming the need to repent and believe. Likewise, the Apostles proclaimed the Lord’s commandment to believe. The biblical method is to ask questions, as did the Lord Himself. Using the actual words of the Bible, one presents the holiness of God, and God’s holiness and goodness in declaring the righteousness of Christ alone to be the covering of each person He saves. One shows that the Lord Jesus Christ’s saving work is factual and complete. Clearly one must make it known that all are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. To do this, one must repent of all his or her own efforts to establish his or her own righteousness and trust on the faithfulness of Christ’s life and death. The central point of God saving the ungodly is that He does so by imputing the righteousness of Christ to the one who believes. This is the theme of Romans chapter 4 and is summarized wonderfully in verse 5:
"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." The reason why God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the believer is to show who He is. "To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).

Some sample questions in witnessing

1. "How can we sinners stand before the all holy God?"
2. "Before God, what is your purpose in life?"
3. "What is the central message of the Bible?"
4. "How can you and I have eternal life?"
5. "Why did the sinless Christ die on the cross?"
6. "God is all holy. We are all sinners. How, then, can anyone have a relationship with Him?"
7. "Why did Christ say to the Jews, ‘If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins’ (John 8:24)?"

Salvation is in Christ

In the Scripture, salvation is seen clearly to be in Christ. For example, in Ephesians 1 and 2, "in Christ", "in whom", "in him", "in the Beloved" is spoken of 18 times. This is the same in all of the letters of Paul the Apostle. Salvation is in Christ. For example the Apostle Paul’s own testimony in Philippians 3.9. "And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." In a similar way in the Apostle John’s writing, eternal life is in Christ and it is in believing on Him. "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life" (1 John 5:20).

At the time of the Reformation where literally millions of Catholics came to the Lord, it was precisely on this fourth principle of the Reformation upholding the truth of Scripture that salvation is in Christ. All the commandments are "to believe on" or "to look unto" "to come unto Christ", "believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved", or in the words of Jesus Himself, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved" or His words in John 6:29, "This is the work of God that you believe on Him whom He has sent". Salvation being in Christ and not in the believer is of utmost importance when witnessing to a Catholic. When we have the word "receive" as in 1 John 1:12, the word is explained as those who believe on Him, so that the receiving is the knowledge of Him, whereby we believe on Him. "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." Any terminology in witnessing that focuses on the human heart rather than on Christ is not effective because it is not in line with the Word. The biblical principle of looking unto Christ to be accepted in Him is of utmost importance.

Coming to Christ is initiated by the Father who draws each individual to Christ (John 6:37, 44). Salvation is accomplished by God’s grace alone. It is His free gift through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Coming to Christ is having eternal life now, which life will be fully glorified in heaven. In witnessing, to talk about "getting to heaven" not only changes the focus from who God is to man’s fulfillment, but it also fails to make clear that through the precious faith that is ours now as believers, we already have eternal life. Rather than talking about getting to heaven, those who have been saved are to proclaim to the lost, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). The actual words of Scripture must likewise be proclaimed to Catholics, whether in the supermarket or on the telephone. "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." When full credit is given to God and His grace, when His Word, which is powerful, is used, He saves the sinner; and the one through whom the Word has been given is humbled by a demonstration of the might and mercy of holy God. Both people benefit, to the glory of God. All is as stated in Ephesians 1:6: "To the praise of the glory of His grace."

Christ Jesus’ faithfulness presented

The Scriptures declare that the righteousness of God without the law is manifested; it is the purpose of the Gospel. What is declared is not human works righteousness of any kind, but rather it is God’s righteousness in the Lord Jesus Christ that is revealed. The Gospel is the demonstration, in concrete historical fact, of the perfect satisfaction which Christ rendered to all the demands of the law, and which God places to the credit of every true believer in Him. Before God’s all holy nature, sin had to be punished and true righteousness established. This has been accomplished in the faithful obedience of the Lord Christ Jesus and His propitiatory sacrifice. Thus Christ’s faithfulness is proclaimed in verse 22: "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ" When the Bible declares that justification is God’s gift to the believer, it also shows in few words what this justification is. Justification is found in and of Christ. It is the demonstration of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, even unto death. Such perfect rectitude is of God, and from God, "even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ" (verse 22). The great news is that this absolute righteousness is "unto all and upon all them that believe". This is the type of biblical witnessing that upholds the precious and glorious Person of Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus in His faithfulness and perfect finished work, tears asunder the idea of works righteousness and the whole sacramental system that Rome champions. The Lord alone is exalted and gloriously held on high, and souls are saved to the glory of His grace.

Richard Bennett is the joint author of Far From Rome, Near to God, (Banner of Truth), the moving testimonies of fifty priests who found their way, by the grace of God, out of the labyrinth of the Roman Catholic system into the light of the gospel of Christ.

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