In a guest editorial in The Baptist Standard, Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher and President of The Gathering, a faith-based philanthropic endeavor, Fred Smith penned a post entitled, What Can Wash Away My Sin?
His article proceeds to promote nothing less than a case for charitable giving as a means of earning the forgiveness of sins. I had to check twice to make certain I hadn’t wandered on to some doctrine-twisting, diocesan site of the apostate Roman Catholic Church. But no, this article was posted in a Baptist newspaper. (How does that happen?)
Smith begins by explaining why he has such a Scripturally-unfounded view of atonement and forgiveness. (Here’s a clue: He was never taught about it.)
“I am not exactly a product of diversity. As a Southern Baptist, I grew up sure of our traditions and practices, but not our doctrine. I had a clear picture of who we were but had no idea what it was—other than hymns, potlucks, full-immersion and architecture—that distinguished us from the imposters to the true faith around me.”
Herein lies the problem. Smith’s woeful misunderstanding of Christ’s grace in atoning for us, permanently, is evidence of the very problem in the “church” today, especially the Baptist church. So eager to engage the godless culture to come occupy its nearest available pews, the church has not only stripped essential truth from its Gospel proclamation, it’s also egregiously failed to do the essential job of edifying actual sheep that may be scattered among those goat-laden pews. The church does not teach “sound doctrine.” (2 Timothy 4:3)
Smith’s editorial continues as he provides a brief “historical” ecclesiastic analysis of the contrast between philanthropy and charity, stating that “while philanthropy begins with the motivation of doing good out of love for mankind, charity rightly understood begins with the recognition of the necessity of forgiveness of every day sin.”
The article cites “church fathers” as acknowledging the value of acts of charity as penance for sin. However, just because a church father believed, taught, or wrote a thing does not make that thing “Gospel.” We always, always, always turn to Scripture as the final source of truth. We must be Berean.
Smith goes on to suggest that the need for absolution of sin is the reason Christians should be charitable. This, though, is a fundamental Roman Catholic teaching of works for forgiveness.
Consider these words from Smith’s article:
“I give because I recognize I have sinned and am in need of cleansing and atoning for my behavior.”
“The purpose of giving to the poor was not to eliminate poverty but to atone for sin. It was the recognition of the need for confession, forgiveness and atonement that motivated charitable gifts.”
“…as I have thought about this for the last several days, I have come to recognize there is something genuine—not soul-saving—in the recognition that I sin and there is something tangible I can do in repentance for my sin.”
“Giving does not spring from altruism but from our own need. Giving is not a sign of our love of mankind but of our recognition of our own sin and need for absolution.”
If Smith had not identified himself as a Southern Baptist, reading these lines one would logically presume a theological persuasion of decidedly non-protestant, non-grace, and non-Scriptural flavor. But the author’s biographic tagline identifies him. “Fred also teaches Sunday School at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas.”
Closing his article, Smith writes, “Instead of hoping the poor will recognize my help and be grateful, I can say: “Thank you. This is not out of the goodness of my heart but out of my need for forgiveness.”
Folks, this is not Southern Baptist doctrine. It is not even Scriptural truth. Yet it is prevalent in a culture where so many believe that, if on that final judgment day their “good works” outweigh their “bad” works, salvation will be theirs. A doctrine of penance may be appropriate to the apostate Roman church who prefers their deceived members exclude Scripture and embrace tradition. But such a teaching is deceptively erroneous for anyone actually saved by “amazing grace.”
Just a few quick citations of Scripture make clear that the atonement secured by Christ is full and final for the believer. In fact, nearly the entire book of Hebrews explains the implications of Christ as the new high priest for a new covenant that “makes the first one obsolete,” including the old covenant’s incessant need for sin offerings. (Hebrews 8:13)
“When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:8)
“And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:15-18)
It is precisely because of that single “work” of Christ’s, that Paul could write in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The atonement required, not only for my past sins but also those sins I will regrettably yet commit, has been made IN FULL. If Christ’s work was insufficient for our complete atonement and forgiveness, then, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, I’d suggest that “we are of all people most to be pitied.”
But the author of Hebrews would go on to write, because of the ultimate act of gracious, and complete, atonement by Jesus, that we should now “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Though the editorial claims that charity is, and ought to be, driven by our “need for absolution,” James, like the author of Hebrews, make clear that such works are not atoning in value, but rather serve as evidence, “fruit,” of a vibrant faith in Jesus as we seek to be “doers of the word.”
Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) You may recall, our Lord summarized those commandments, “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
It is the miraculous gift of grace in God saving me and giving me a new heart that drives me to love my neighbor. Acts of charity are borne out of that love because true believers are borne of His love. (And, oh, when you are charitable to someone because of His love, be sure to share the Gospel. We’re not simply trying to make the world a better place from which to go to hell.)
Please, don’t be deluded by false teachings that suggest there is anything we can do to either earn salvation or to ensure forgiveness. Christ has done that. We have, indeed, been “bought with a price.”
Let’s return to teaching sound doctrine, instead of scratching itching ears. But let us always be Berean because, as Paul said, “there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you,let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:7-8)
Contributed by Bud Ahlheim
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