Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Friday, August 24, 2007

    Mother Theresa's Letters

    WOW! What an illustration? Mother Theresa, after all the works she did on earth, was left asking the question: “WHAT DID I LABOR FOR?”

    Not many stories are more powerful or telling than this one! Sure, you have those who have believed “money” was the answer but when they obtained great riches recognized the answer was not found in fortune; you have those who have believed “power” was the answer but when they reached the top realized the answer was not in position, power, influence, or control; the list could go on – “fame”, “possessions”, “honor”, even “love” itself; ... But here is one who not only participated in abundant works but was recognized by the entire world for those works but yet with all her "works" (/accomplishments) was left asking the question: “WHAT DID I LABOR FOR?”

    This question is one that all those who look to works (be they Catholic, Mormon, or on one level agnostic, atheist, etc.) should consider.
    If all the works Mother Theresa participated in ultimately left her feeling “repulsed” and “empty” and feeling a “darkness and coldness and emptiness” that was so great it was as if nothing touched her soul, … if in the privacy of her own heart she was still left not only feeling distant from God but feeling as if God didn’t want her, then what will works do for a person, regardless of who that person is? What will works do for you? If in relying on works, will you too either along the path or in the end be left asking the question: “WHAT DID I LABOR FOR?”

    The truth is that works, even the works of Mother Theresa, cannot save a person or enable one to draw close to God. Scripture states “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5) Again, Scripture states “For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through FAITH -- and this not of yourselves, it is the GIFT of God, NOT by WORKS, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8) Works, not even the works of Mother Theresa can save a person or draw one close to God. In fact, all the works in the world cannot save a person or provide fellowship with God; for God, who is the offended being in the relationship between God and man, has determined the only appeasement he can or will accept (the only appeasement by which man may be accepted, reconciled and received by God). This appeasement is expressed by the words of Jesus in Hebrews 9 when He stated in regard to God that “…Sacrifices and offerings you did not desire but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.” First he said “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them…” Then he said, “‘Here I am, I have come to do your will”… and by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Scripture testifies to this same truth elsewhere when in Gal 3 it states “You are all sons of God through FAITH in Christ Jesus”; in Rom 3 where it states “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been make known…This righteousness from God comes through FAITH in Jesus Christ to all who believe”; and in John 6 where Jesus answers the question “What must we do to do the works God requires by saying “The work of God is this, to BELIEVE in the one he has sent.” Concerning the salvation that came to the Gentiles, Paul writes “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.”

    That is not to say that even true believers may not at times have some doubts or experience some degree of separation from God – such as that experienced by David, John the Baptist, etc., - but there is a difference between those who are possessed by God on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice and the means of grace who at times in the face of crisis may temporally doubt or desire greater affirmation/consolation… and those who have never been reconciled to God and doubt or despair because they have never come to know him to begin with.
    Mother Theresa’s own struggles and words are both enlightening and ominous. While I do not intend to judge Mother Theresa or pretend to know her heart, her beliefs, or her position before God, I find deeply troubling if not telling the close relationship between her own words and the words Scripture itself uses to describe those who are apart from Christ. Mother Theresa has written “As for me, the silence and emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. The tongue moves but does not speak.” She also wrote “I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.” This combined with the particular manner and choice of words concerning both the being and existence of God certainly raises significant questions.

    Those who look to any form of works righteousness, unless blinded or deceived to a greater extent by this error, will be left empty, distant, and distraught in heart, and after participating in their works not only left to despair but left asking the question: “WHAT DID I LABOR FOR?” While some may ask the question: “Did I labor enough?”, the greater question is “WHAT DID I LABOR FOR?” The Only Solution to this quandary is to look outside of one’s own works and depend upon the merit, righteousness, accomplishments, and end of Christ’s own sacrifice! Only then, will reconciliation, fellowship and peace truly be found. For then and only then, can one rest not in their own works, but in the effectual, satisfying, sufficient provision offered and promised by God, afterwhich one may look to their own works, not as something meritorious (or something that keeps one from meeting the requirements of God), but when performed in and through Christ as the means in which one who is already accepted by God in gratitude and worship serves the Lord and brings glory to His name. As Scripture says "there is a way that SEEMS right to a man, but in the end leads to death." This way is works righteousness. The way to life, and peace, & fellowship comes only through grace and faith.

    Do your struggle with the question: WHAT DO I LABOR FOR? Or, Will you be left asking the question in the end “WHAT DID I LABOR FOR?” Perhaps, you need to examine whether you understand the difference and whether you are looking to God on the basis of works or grace.

    There’s no doubt this is one the Catholic church is going to struggle with in defending the steps they have taken. It’s also one that myriads of unbelievers will point to try to point fingers at believers. The greatest opportunity however lies in the lessons learned from one whose works have been recognized throughout the world, but was left privately asking herself “WHAT HAVE I LABORED FOR?"

    1 comment:

    Puritan Lad said...

    Works based salvation always leaves a person asking, "Have I done enough yet?"

    The answer is always, "no". Praise be to God that He has done enough.