The Gospel According to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

“I wear the chain I forged in life…. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Jacob Marley

The quote cited above, of course, is from Charles Dickens’ beloved story, A Christmas Carol – a story reassuring us that, regardless of how much we’ve messed up here on planet earth, there is hope still.  Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner in life, now “dead these seven years,” returns to show the hateful, miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge the judgment that awaits him should he not change his ways.  The “chains” of bitterness Marley “forged in life” now imprison him for all eternity.

But, as the fates would have it, Scrooge was given a final chance to change his ways.  The opportunity given to Scrooge, offered via three benevolent spirits, to avoid altogether the judgment that had fallen upon his friend was completely unsolicited, unwanted and undeserved.

Yet it came.

We all know how the story ends.  Scrooge is changed.  The bitterness that filled his heart, like the heart of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, was transformed, filled with love, kindness and graciousness.

Through Jeremiah the prophet (not the bullfrog), God warns mankind, “The heart (of mankind) is deceitful, and desperately sick…”     In other words, we, like Scrooge, have a fatal flaw (sin), and are in desperate need of help and hope.

That help and hope has come through Christ Jesus. 

In his powerful hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the 16th century reformer, Martin Luther, wrote,

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.

Were the right man not on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.

You ask who that may be – Christ Jesus, it is he!

Like Scrooge, we have a chance for redemption.  Unlike Scrooge, that redemption is in no way dependent on our own human effort.  In short, the Bible says, regardless of how many “prize turkeys in the window we purchase for the Cratchit family,” we can never be “good enough” to merit redemption in Christ.  And this is why Christ came to earth to die by Roman execution and rise from the dead three days later.  It is faith in his life & death & resurrection that makes us “good/righteous enough” to stand blameless before a holy God.

Paul, author of most of the New Testament, knew a thing or two about feeling hopelessly lost.  “What a wretched man I am!” he wrote.  He continued,

Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Oh, the love of God in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere, Paul wrote,

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins... [but] even though we were dead because of our sins, [God] gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)

Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning a brand new man.  A man redeemed.  A man saved from eternal judgment.

According to God, we have that same opportunity.  Except for real…

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

For those who may mistakenly think they are beyond redemption, or for those who’ve already professed faith in Christ but, because of some life error(s), feel as though God could never again love, restore & use them:

No matter where you are in life – there is no mistake God can’t correct, no mess God can’t clean up, no knot God can’t untie, no sin God can’t forgive.  The power of our mistakes pale in comparison to the redemptive power of the Cross.

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself.  “I haven’t missed it.  The Spirits have done it all in one night.  They can do anything they like.  Of course they can.  Of course they can!”

Christ came the first time as a humble Servant.  He’ll come next time as a righteous Judge.  For now, if you’ve never honestly investigated the claims of Christ, you haven’t “missed it.”  Christ settled our account before a Holy God not “all in one night,” but all in a single moment.

This is what Christ meant when, on the cross – just before his final breath, he said, “It is finished.”

What Christ finished – is our new beginning.

Soli Deo Gloria & Merry Christmas, Nick

 

Where Are the Other Nine?

Rembrandt – Jesus Healing the Leper

Recorded only in Luke’s gospel is the story of Jesus’ encounter with ten lepers while on His way to Jerusalem.  When they saw Him, the ostracized, disenfranchised lepers all cried, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  Jesus did just that.  And then He instructed them to follow through with the Law by showing themselves to the priests.

It’s a wonderful story that could’ve ended there – but it didn’t. 

We pick it up in verse 15 –

“One of [the lepers], when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”

Every time I read that passage my heart is filled with conviction.  Because I know, as I am constantly distracted by the cares of everyday life, I am not nearly as grateful as I ought to be – as I am commanded to be.

Basing his comments on Psalm 100:4, one author stated that “thanksgiving is the gateway to worshiping God” – the very entrance into holy fellowship with the King.

Soon, we celebrate that North American holiday we call “Thanksgiving.” May thanksgiving be a daily characteristic of who we are – of Whose we are.

And, like the one leper in Luke 17, may we never, ever forget to simply stop and tell the Lord “thank you.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Purging Purgatory from “Biblical” Teaching

In his outstanding book, The Unquenchable Flame, Michael Reeves writes in detail about the medieval (and, sadly, modern) unbiblical belief that salvation could/can be earned by human effort.  He writes,

“In 1215, the fourth Lateran Council came up with what it hoped would be a useful aid for all those seeking to be ‘justified’ (to be in right standing before a holy God):  it required all Christians (on pain of eternal damnation) to confess their sins regularly to a priest. [This introduced the idea of “human effort” being required for salvation.]… Of course, the [medieval] Church’s official teaching was quite clear that nobody would die righteous enough to have merited salvation fully. But that was no cause for great alarm, for there was always purgatory.”

These are satanic lies used to imprison people in earthly religious legalism.  Paul wrote, “He made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God [that is, we would be made acceptable to Him and placed in a right relationship with Him by His gracious lovingkindness].”  (2 Corinthians 5:21, Amplified)   Translation:  we are righteous before God not because of what we have done, but rather because of what Christ has done.

Additionally, as I have shown recently in our Biblical studies on the afterlife, there is no scriptural evidence whatsoever for an “intermediate state” – this would include purgatory – between life on planet earth and life in what the Bible calls heaven and hell.

Whether it’s Jesus’ story of the rich man & Lazarus or Paul’s encouraging words to the Corinthian believers or the warning from the writer of Hebrews or Jesus’ own words to the repentant thief on the cross, the overwhelming and consistent testimony of God’s Word is that the afterlife is both immediate and eternal.

Purgatory…

One of the schools of thought regarding the afterlife was introduced into religious life during medieval times.  This idea known as purgatory still endures today in some religious circles.

The idea of purgatory was the diametric-opposite-teaching-of-the-gospel idea that taught we must spend time in an intermediate place of suffering in order to have our sins “purged” from our souls, finally being liberated to the true heaven.  This was a man-made doctrine used to deceive the biblically illiterate into believing that if they performed enough via human effort or, even better, gave enough money to the church, they could magically spend less time (thousand – or millions – of years) in Purgatory, or bypass it altogether.

Reeves offers further insight…

Unless Christians died unrepentant of a mortal sin such as murder (in which case they would go to hell; this, by the way is where the purely unbiblical lie originated that those who commit suicide go to hell), they would have the chance after death to have all their sins slowly purged from them in purgatory before entering heaven, fully cleansed. Around the end of the fifteenth century, Catherine of Genoa wrote a Treatise on Purgatory in which she described it in glowing terms. There, she explained, the souls relish and embrace their chastisements because of their desire to be purged and purified for God.

As this corrupt doctrine became more successful in filling church coffers (why merely ask people to give out of the goodness of their hearts when scaring them to death with heretical teaching is far more effective?) the idea was eventually  introduced that, if you give enough money (called an “idulgence”) you could fast-track your dead loved ones presently suffering in Purgatory out of that painful place into heaven.

One of the Church’s official “traveling televangelists of indulgences” of the day, Johann Tetzel, made famous the marketing slogan, “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

Eric Metaxas, in his recently published best-selling biography on Martin Luther comments,

This tremendous problem (of heretical teaching) and temptation (to profit from these lies) got much worse in 1476, when Pope Sixtus IV realized that the market for indulgences needn’t be confined to those millions who were alive and sinning but could extend to those multiplied millions who had already left the land of the living and were languishing in purgatory. We can only imagine the moment when Sixtus realized that as pope he was able to decree that the infinite treasury of merits could be sold not just for sins committed by people living but to people who wanted to use them to alleviate the sufferings of their relatives in purgatory.

Reeves writes that, due to the overwhelming fear-induced success of the teaching of a fictional place called Purgatory, “an entire purgatory industry evolved.”

Two truths here.  According to the Bible:

  1. There is no “intermediate state” between life on earth and the afterlife.
  2. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  To teach otherwise lessens and negates altogether the all-sufficient work of Christ on the cross at Calvary.

Jesus has been, and always will be, enough.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick