Some years ago I was interacting with a younger man who had read the Bible a number of times but had never really absorbed it to make God’s Word part of his life. Michael had been in and out of prison and was, alternately, either a help or a hindrance to his older, feeble mother. Sometimes Michael blessed his mother through his actions; at other times, he grieved her by stealing what little money she had. Yes, he was a mess.
One time Michael spoke to me privately because he didn’t want to ask his question in his mom’s presence. He said, “Do you think I should get circumcised?” Of course, I told him there was no need. What God required of him was to obey His Word and live according to what Jesus said. First and foremost, he had to repent and trust in the Lord. During my time knowing and ministering to his mother, Michael continued to live far from God. He was one of those people who heard the Word of God but could never be a doer of the Word because he’d never come to intimately know the Giver of the Word.
Because of poor teaching and an unrepentant heart, far too many people never come into true intimacy with the God of the Bible through His Son, Jesus Christ. From this has sprung religion, but not the relationship that the Lord requires.
In writing to Roman Christians who were both Jew and Gentile, Paul addressed both groups in his epistle. He spoke about the faith of Abraham, how that came about, and the way that God viewed it. To the Jews Paul made a very important observation. Over the years Judaism had evolved into a legalistic system carefully dictated through extra-Biblical writings on the Law that outlined every do and don’t in the lives of Jewish believers in Yahweh.
Paul effectively said, “But wait! You’re missing the point.” In Romans 4:9-11 look at what Paul wrote:
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.
This was critical. The Jewish system demanded circumcision as a requirement of salvation because of how the scribes and Pharisees had interpreted the events of the past. But, Paul outlined that they had understood the Biblical situation incorrectly. It wasn’t circumcision that made Abraham righteous before God, it was his faith, i.e. the belief that he had in God prior to circumcision, and that God would do exactly what He said He would. It was faith that God credited as righteousness to Abraham, not the physical fact of circumcision.
Paul told the Roman Jews that by adhering only to the Law, they were actually bringing down God’s wrath upon themselves for missing the heart issue that He actually required. It’s why Paul said in Romans 4:16:
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,
Paul wrote in several of his letters of the necessity of faith over works; circumcision in this case being a work of the Law and useless in gaining righteousness in the eyes of God. This was effectively what I communicated to Michael in our discussion.
You would think that given such verses as Ephesians 2:8-9 that this idea would be well known and practiced among those who call themselves Christians:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The concept is eminently clear there, just as it is in other places where Paul writes about this.
Salvation by faith alone by grace alone is, sadly, not the norm throughout much of what passes for Christendom. The largest example of this is the Catholic church with its dictates that come down from the pope and the Vatican. If the Bible is so clear and provides so many passages that emphasize this point, how can the Roman Catholic Church miss the mark by so much?
That’s a mystery in itself other than the influence of Satan over the years and the imaginings of man in response. What we do know is that reading the Bible for oneself has never been promoted by the Vatican hierarchy. Those in the Catholic congregations, as a result, relied on the preaching of the priests, who themselves hadn’t done much true Bible study. It was a snowballing situation where up and down the ranks, no one had a real grasp on God’s Word and thus made it up as they went along.
As time went on in Catholicism, the emphasis became one of works and service rather than of faith and righteousness. In fact the Catholic church is well known and admired for its many good deeds. Unfortunately that’s not the ultimate that God desires. It’s why Jesus communicated to John the following in Revelation 2:19:
“‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.
“This is all well and good,” Jesus is saying, “but when you elevate works and idols before Me, then we have a problem.”
This is true for any person or group that purposes to serve God. It has to be through faith as the baseline. If there’s another foundation that isn’t built solely on Jesus Christ, God simply won’t accept it.
Let us return to the basics in these latter days. Let’s hold fast to what God really wants for us and from us. Let’s turn to Jesus alone and give our all to Him. Then, we can be assured that the Lord will say to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”