We have another news story concerning something that pope Francis has written. This time, he affirms works righteousness by stating that atheist can get into heaven if they follow their conscience.
First of all, you ask me if the God of Christians forgives one who doesn’t believe and doesn’t seek the faith. Premise that – and it’s the fundamental thing – the mercy of God has no limits if one turns to him with a sincere and contrite heart; the question for one who doesn’t believe in God lies in obeying one’s conscience. Sin, also for those who don’t have faith, exists when one goes against one’s conscience. To listen to and to obey it means, in fact, to decide in face of what is perceived as good or evil. And on this decision pivots the goodness or malice of our action.
This statement has several glaring problems. First of all, the Bible condemns the atheist. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good. So for the pope to declare there is hope for the atheist outside of the gospel of Jesus Christ is contrary to Scripture. I’m not sure how obeying his conscience will clear up this problem for the atheist. The atheist has said that God doesn’t exist. How is this not sin? How is declaring to the almighty that has given life to these fools, “You are not there! You don’t exist!” not a sin. It doesn’t matter what the fool does concerning his conscience, just his declaration that there is no God, shows us his corrupt nature.
Secondly, the pope has declared that if you seek God with a sincere and contrite heart, then God will show you mercy. This smacks of works righteousness. What the pope seems to be saying is that he has discerned that by seeking, we will earn God’s mercy. Problem is, the moment you believe you have earned God’s mercy is the moment it’s no longer mercy. And you certainly cannot demand of God that He show you mercy. As it is written: “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy (Romans 9:15-16). Meaning that those who are saved, are saved because of God’s actions, not our own actions. God has shown those who believe mercy before they asked for it, before they even knew they needed it. It is only after the Spirit has moved in us, regenerating our dead spirit into an alive spirit, that we desire God’s mercy at all. The atheist has no desire for God’s mercy, our mercy, the pope’s condescending remarks, the gospel or the heaven found in Christ.
Thirdly, scripture seems to indicate that no one seeks after God. The Triune God has to seek them, find them, save them, etc. There is none who seeks after God (Romans 3:11). The lost are dead in their sins and want nothing to do with God. Which, is exactly what the atheist of our day is saying. He wants nothing to do with God or the people who believe in Him. In fact, I wonder if the pope’s statement isn’t offensive to atheists. Not that I think that is important, but just a thought.
Fourth, the pope seeks to define sin as someone disobeying their conscience. Really? That puts an awful lot of power into the hands of sinful, fallen humanity. For instance, are we to condemn the dictator who slaughters his own people to hell, when he was following his own conscience? What about the rapist who follows his own conscience? This is a horrible definition for sin. I think that Westminster Catechism has a much better definition of sin because it is not man centered, as the pope’s definition is, and actually takes into account what the word of God actually says.
Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.
Notice where the focus is when it comes to sin. It has nothing to do with a person’s heart, conscience, will, etc., but everything to do with the law of God. God’s Law is His definition of sin and it would do us well to actually read it instead of trying to redefine sin to meet our own needs. You would think the pope would at least appeal to his church’s own catechism. But he seems content on redefining it on the fly. I think defenders of the RCC would be hard pressed to defend the pope’s new definition.
This idea that we can determine what sin is apart from God’s Law is really our biggest problem in culture today. I read of a sodomite pastor who has now declared that if you are opposed to gay marriage, that this is sin. This is why we must return to God’s word for the definition of sin, not the pope’s or the sodomite pastor.
Finally, the Bible even condemns those who don’t have the law and live by their conscience. So there is some precedent for the pope to say this. He is still wrong in saying such, because what the Bible does say about those who have their own consciences as their guide is that they are guilty of not following even their own conscience. Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same thing (Romans 2:1).
All of this is the reason there was a Protestant Reformation, and still a need today. When men begin to appeal to logic and reason, instead of Scripture for their understanding of things, then they drift off into apostasy as the RCC has done. We don’t need a pope, we don’t need his declarations of hope for the atheist, we need men who will declare the truth gospel, that only those who come to faith in Christ alone, will be saved. No amount of appeals to contrite hearts, etc., will save a person. It is faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone that a man or woman is justified before God. And that is not of ourselves, so that cannot boast, but is a gift from God to us by His rich mercy (Ephesians 2).