Friday, May 24, 2013

Pope Francis, Atheists, and Salvation

Huffington Post writes that during his homily at Wednesday Mass in Rome:

  • Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists.
What did the Pope mean when he asserted that “everyone was redeemed through Jesus?” Simply that He had died for the sins of the world? Most Christians already believe that! But did the Pope mean that Jesus had actually saved the world from eternal condemnation through His redemption? HP quotes the Pope further:

  • “They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”
Pope Francis is certainly right that the disciples were intolerant and judgmental. They were always drawing the line in the wrong place. However, Pope Francis went further in his sermon to say:

  • "The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can... "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!".. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
While the Pope is correct that we all have the commandment to do good, it seems that the Pope is suggesting that Christ not only died for the sins of the world but that the world and has already received the benefits of this redemption, apart from faith, enabling everyone to live righteously.

Well, let’s put aside the question of what the Pope really meant and simply look at the question:

  • What did Christ teach about the necessity of faith in Him? Did He teach that salvation and redemption could only be accessed through faith?
Jesus taught a lot about the necessity of having faith in Him:

  • “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-16; also 5:24; 3:36)
Clearly, Jesus taught faith in Himself. However, did He teach that faith is necessary for salvation? After telling the crowds that were following Him that they needed to labor for eternal life:

  • Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
Jesus gave no hint that there were any other good deeds that would take the place of faith. Nor did He ever suggest, as many do today, that the Jews had their own covenant and therefore didn’t need to find salvation through Him:

  • “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:24; 12:44-48)
Even the Pharisees had to believe in Him to find salvation. There was no other means available (John 14:6)!

HP cites Reuters regarding other things that the Pope had stated:

  • Atheists should be seen as good people if they do good, Pope Francis said on Wednesday in his latest urging that people of all religions - or no religion - work together.
However, none are good. That’s why, according to all Scripture, we need the Savior:

  • As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one”…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:10-23) 
Can we ever be good enough to please God without faith – the acknowledgment that we need the mercy of God offered through the Savior? Scripture unequivocally tells us “no!”

  • And without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6)
Why is faith so critical to God? Without faith – the recognition of our utter spiritual poverty and need for His mercy – whatever good deeds we perform will simply make us arrogant and self-centered. A house can only be built on a solid foundation.

We do the atheist no favor by suggesting that they are good enough to obviate the need for faith in Christ. In fact, we simple enable them to continue to be hardened. In fact, one atheist Facebook group just wrote:

  • Christians are furious at the Pope for saying that atheists can enter heaven. And I’m just sitting here not caring.
Perhaps they need to learn a lesson from Jodi Arias. When confronted with death, our self-confidence often evaporates.

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