Last night, David Letterman was getting ready to read the top ten list as he does every night. The topic last night was “Top Ten Things Never Said Before by a Pope.” It was satire based on this statement by the Pope earlier this week, “The question for those who do not believe in God is to abide by their own conscience. There is sin, also for those who have no faith, in going against one’s conscience. Listening to it and abiding by it means making up one’s mind about what is good and evil."
Before even getting to the list, Letterman said, “This is automatic because God don’t care. That is nature of having an all knowing, all loving being. God doesn’t care. He don’t need your vote. Everything’s fine.” After a brief pause he continued, “A lot of people pretend if you don’t believe exactly the way I believe in things, then God will hate you. Well, that’s not true. God’s not capable of hate, incapable of hate. He created everything. Why would he hate something he created? It just can’t happen. It does not work that way.”
Seconds later he tested his theory by asking for some more water saying, “Can I get some more G-d D-mned water?” Why care what God says when he is incapable of hate? Letterman’s conscience did not compel him not to take God’s name in vain, so it is fine.
Letterman obviously assumed this before and having the pope back him up sure did not hurt. What is scary is how rampant these ideas are among believers and non-believers alike. So many people think as long as you trust what you feel is right (what they hear when you say conscience), you will be saved. Even if you don’t, you might make it is just since you are a creation of God.
I am not sure that the press has accurately portrayed what the Pope said, but no doubt it was his words that allowed for such confusion. And it is his theological understanding that allowed those words. Once works play any role in salvation, it is only logical that anyone has a chance so long as they seek to do good things. For many years Rome has acknowledged this possibility in what they refer to as “anonymous Christianity.” This is the idea that someone may be a Christian even though they do not know it because they do good things anyways.
So let’s meet error with truth. First, let us consider the Pope’s error. His main error is his misunderstanding of the nature of salvation.
Ephesians 2:8-9 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.
One is saved only by grace and that grace given solely for Christ’s sake. Christians are not saved by following their own conscience in good works and therefore neither are unbelievers. There is no way to the Father except through the Son.
The Pope’s words are the fruit of the spiritual poison that has run throughout Roman Catholicism for many centuries. It is what Luther sought to purge from the Church. He sought to return to the Church the pure gospel which teaches us that Christ and his work alone provides the merit necessary unto salvation. Good works have nothing to do with earning salvation.
Galatians 2:16 “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
Now to Letterman’s errors: Does God’s loving nature mean that he cannot hate and will not punish? Listen to God speaking through the Apostle Paul:
Romans 2:4-5 Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”
God’s love is not a love that excuses error and unbelief. He is a jealous God in this regard. However, His love is shown in his sending of his Son in order that all might turn and live. His love is meant to cause repentance and the faith which receives his grace. God does not want to hate or punish anyone but he does and he will.
Psalm 5:4-6 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
And does God’s creation of all things assure that he will not destroy them? Far from it. His creation is not what he created it to be. It has been corrupted through and through. He shall destroy all things he has created. The same goes for people with this great exception. All who believe on Jesus will be raised up as part of that new creation. They will die and rise but not be destroyed like the rest of fallen creation.
2 Peter 3:11-13 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Both Letterman and the Pope’s words stand against Christ. This we must condemn. In Christ alone are we saved. Thanks be to the One who created us and has redeemed as as well. Thanks be to God that it works that way. Amen.