A Meaningless Word :: By Jerry McDermott

Recently, I was discussing salvation issues with a non-Protestant friend. It progressed nicely until they interjected something that floored me. They asked, “What about restitution?” Since that is not a word I commonly use, I asked for an explanation.

The scenario they explained portrayed some kids playing softball until a ball crashed through a window of a nearby house. They explained that father and son had to apologize and that the father would compensate them for their deductible. However, the child had to save up his allowances to repay the father, thus learning responsibility.

I explained that it was a good story, but not applicable in the spiritual sense as Jesus died for our sins. We do not have to offer restitution for our sins like a wayward baseball. I remembered that Jesus addressed this with the sinful woman in the Pharisees’ house:

“Woman, your sins are forgiven. Your faith has been your salvation. Now go in peace” (see Luke 7:36-50).

This was a wonderful example of the immediacy of salvation by faith. However, I forgot about the meaningless word. They said, “Yes, God does forgive our sins. However, we have to make the slate pure. We must take some responsibility. Since we have broken the purity, we have to restore what we broke. When we sinned, we broke the goodness. We have to restore the goodness within us; that is restitution in action. Otherwise, God has to take care of it all.”

When I tried to explain the action of Jesus on the cross, nothing got through; and the explanation ended friendly, as it should. I did not pursue the contradiction: They are trying to attain forgiveness of sins by their own good works when Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b).

This “restitution or repayment” is another good works trap. How can we think we have the power to eliminate our sins by something we accomplish?

We have sinned against almighty God. Therefore, only God can forgive us; and His methodology was Jesus, His Son, as the God man, becoming sin in our stead. This is shown in the gospel of both Matthew and Mark. Throughout His life, Jesus referred to Almighty God as Father and Abba. At one point as He was dying on the cross, He became sin and cried out, “My God , My God why have you forsaken me?” As sin, He could not call or appear before Almighty God as He was not Holy as the Father was Holy. His death is our salvation if we accept what Jesus has done for us.

Paul summarized the truth of salvation as a gift from God by stating, “By grace you have been saved through Faith as this is not your doing. It is a gift of God, not the result of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

He also enlightened the Corinthians: “He made Him who had no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). This means that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17a).

Since this repayment was a doctrine that I was not familiar with, later I sought references for a better explanation. What I found was a world of total confusion instead of perfect biblical distinctions. Get ready! You may not have heard about real guilt.

Reading their spiritual exposition, it postulated that sin has a double consequence! This meant that serious sin makes us incapable of eternal life, but, every sin entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures which must be purified either here on earth or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment of sin.”

If you are confused, join me as I could never find an adequate explanation of this.

The research continued to explain that the forgiveness of sin restores communion with God and the remission of eternal punishment. The bad news is that the temporal punishment of sin remains. When facing death, the person is advised to accept this punishment as a grace.

(Comment: since grace is a gift from God, how can the already penitent sinner regard punishment as a gift?)

While the exact punishment is not listed, the general belief is an introduction to the fire of hell. However, the punishment is temporary, not eternal as is the case with unforgiven sinners. Thomas Aquinas thought the fire was near Hell and shared the common flame. However, to reduce the Purgatorial time, the church offers indulgences. There are two types of indulgences that remove all or part of the temporal punishment of sin. These can be obtained either personally or for the dead.

This was a contention of Martin Luther’s dissertation that salvation is not conditioned by our good works.

Pope John Paul II reconfirmed the purification issue in the BULL OF INDICTION OF THE GREAT JUBILEE OF THE YEAR 2000.” “Reconciliation with God does not mean that there are no enduring consequences of sin from which we must be purified. It is precisely in this context that the indulgence becomes important since it is an expression of the total gift of mercy of God. With the indulgence, the repentant sinner receives a remission of the temporal punishment due for the sins already forgiven as regards the fault.”

To fully receive any indulgence, several works must also be accomplished.

We now arrive at two doctrinal problems: Purgatory and indulgences, neither of which are in scriptures. We are familiar with Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18-19 which caution about adding or subtracting from the revealed words of scripture. We are going to examine what the early fathers of the Church said in regard to the supposed confusion about punishments and good works.

Clement of Alexandria- “Christians believe all sin is forgiven immediately upon repentance.”

Origen- “In all my years, I have not heard of such as a place for purification after death.”

Irenaeus- “The belief of an intermediate state to be purged is a Gnostic heresy.”

Justin Martyr- “At death, Christians go to heaven and non-Christians go to Hell. Scripture mentions no other place.”

Clement of Rome- “We too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works where we have wrought in holiness of heart, but by Faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men.” As an eyewitness of the apostles, he has confirmed that salvation is by faith alone.

Since Jesus totally completed the task His Father gave him, there should not be any confusion about salvation. The 1999 Lutheran/Catholic agreement should have ended the old Faith versus Works view of salvation. The agreement stated: “By grace alone, in Faith in Christ’s works and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit who renews our heart and calling us to good works.” The World Communion of Reformed churches also approved the agreement on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in the city of Wittenberg, the site where Martin Luther published his 95 theses.

In December, 2015, indulgences were offered for the start of the Jubilee year. Pope Francis also granted a plenary indulgence to those taking part in the World Meeting of Families. The byline stated that participants could be forgiven their sins or to help a relative speed through purgatory (BBC News June 3, 2018). The March for Life participants were also offered an indulgence in 2018. Under the byline, “For Catholics, a door to absolution is reopened,” American Catholic churches were offered an indulgence. (New York Times-2/9/2009).

Quid Est Veritas?