Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Is the Pope already in heaven? (Grace and Salvation)

After one week of collective sorrow, especially among Roman Catholics, many evangelical Christians ask the question, Is the Pope already in heaven? Answers to this question do not come easily. Why? Because only God knows the heart of Pope John Paul 2. Often, the heart of the question is the question of the heart.

Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. The verse conveys that man's way of salvation is very much different from God's way of redeeming the world. I am worried about the so-called confessing Christians who are ignorant of the real meaning of following Christ. Many people call themselves Christians, but fail to meet the Biblical requirement for God's sonship and daughtership. Majority are nominal rather than practicing ones. For them, doing good works is enough to earn heaven. But Biblically-speaking, it is not the case.

The verse above simply tells that YOU CANNOT EARN HEAVEN THROUGH GOOD WORKS but only through FAITH IN CHRIST who always gives His grace to all. Sounds mind-boggling, but it is the truth. Nonetheless, the passage does not claim that everyone should stop doing good. The main issue is that man, with his sinful nature, has been falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). His works are like filthy rags in front of a glorious and holy God (Isaiah 62). This is the reason why everyone must be "born-again" or "born from above" (John 3:3). Only God can transform a habitual sinner into a holy and righteous person. It is only through Christ that a person can do good works that are acceptable to God (Phil 2:13).

Let's go back to the question, Is the Pope already in heaven? The answer can be both Yes and No (yes, it could be no...). Although the more plausible answer is the former, the latter can be possible if the Pope failed to recognize the Lordship of Christ in his life (which, I think, is a remote possibility given his 26-year ministry). If he served as if he was adding and subtracting the good works he had done with the notion that if he dies, God will let him enter heaven because of his human works, the Pope surely missed the amazing truth between grace and salvation. But if he indeed lived for Christ, dying will surely be a gain.

On a positive note, the Pope's death brought many lessons both for Catholics and evangelicals. It evoked serious re-examination of various faiths. His legacy as an initiator of religious dialogue toward peace inspired many evangelists and evangelical ministers like Billy Graham and Benny Hinn to reach out more the lost. Second, the pain of his earthly departure among the Catholics, is a manifestation of the people's hunger for God. Pope John Paul 2 became the epitome of a holy disciple of the Lord who stood up for his conservative convictions and as a one who never grew weary of travelling to feel the spread of Catholic faith around the world.

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