The Good News in the Bible


Sacramentalism, Ceremonialism, and Legalism
(The Spirit and the Letter of the Law)

William Diehl


Email response to an email from a Roman Catholic Priest, C. W. :

The Christian faith has ceremonies that our Lord instituted for His followers to observe, e.g., baptism and the Lord's Supper. This is not what is referred to by "ceremonialism". Ceremonialism or Sacramentalism means to ascribe saving merit to a ceremony.

Transubstantiation is an example of sacramentalism. Baptismal regeneration wherein the actual rite of baptism removes the guilt of original sin is an example of sacramentalism. To the early church and to the evangelical Christian church of today the ceremonies of the Lord's Supper and baptism are NOT saving rites in and of themselves but rather symbols that our Lord gave to the church to teach truth and proclaim the gospel of justification of repentant sinners by the unmerited grace of God through faith alone in the sinless life and atoning death of our Lord upon the cross of Calvary. The Lord's Supper for the early church was NOT a "re-sacrificing" of Christ and did not involve the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ.

To believe that the early Christian church taught the same doctrines that the Roman Catholic church teaches today is a total fabrication and a deception. The Apostles were NOT Roman Catholics in their doctrine. The Roman Catholic teaching of Purgatory, intercession of the Saints, the intercession and assumption of Mary as the "mother of God", Holy Days, sacramentalism, the doctrinal infallibility of the "pope" when speaking "ex-cathedra", celibacy of the "clergy", confession of sin to a "priest", prayers for the dead, the "Mass", the saying of the "Rosary", chanting, lighting of candles, and justification by infused grace through the partaking of the "seven sacraments" are abominations that were brought into the belief system of Romanism from the pagan teachings of the Babylonian cult of Nimrod and Semaramis worship. Roman Catholicism is the Mystery of Iniquity and the "falling away" that Paul warned the early believers would take place after his departing. It is the "lamb-like" false prophet of Revelation 13 which sits in the "Temple of God" and claims to speak for God while in fact the Roman Catholic church teaches salvation by works of inward holiness in the believers. It is a total fabrication to state that Roman Catholicism is the true Christian faith which the apostles established. The apostles taught justification by faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ which bears fruit in the life of the believer of growth in the fruits of the Holy Spirit and growth in sanctified obedience to the spirit and letter of the Ten Commandments of God.

The fact is that the sacramental "traditions" of Roman Catholicism do NOT come from the teachings of the apostles of the first century but rather from the apostate pseudo-Christians who came into the Church and caused a falling away from the true teachings of the gospel. These pagan influences mostly came in through the incorporation of Ebionite, Gnostic and Mithraic mystery religion traditions while the true doctrines of the early church were pushed aside.

There are NO good works done with or without the aide of the Holy Spirit which can save you because all of our good works (even those works motivated by the Holy Spirit) are never good enough to save you from the demands of God for holiness. All our good works are filthy rags and unable to save us from the wrath and justice of God. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the only Righteous One who answered all the demands of the Law of God for us for righteousness and perfection!! If you will believe and trust in Him alone without all of the religious works and sacraments and prayers of the "Saints", God will save you from your sins right NOW. You can have the full assurance and CERTAINTY that your sins are completely forgiven and that you have eternal life in Christ Jesus and for His sake!!

Perfectionism is the focus of the Roman Catholic system of salvation. No believer can enter heaven directly without his "soul" suffering in Purgatory to purge away his "venial sins" which were not overcome during his lifetime. Catholicism teaches that only the "Saints" who have reached perfection of holiness can enter heaven without passing through Purgatory. This blasphemous teaching denies the Apostolic gospel fact that a sinner who repents of his sins and puts his faith in the sinless life and atoning death of our Lord upon the cross of Calvary is FULLY pardoned and granted ETERNAL LIFE now and has FULL assurance that Christ has borne the FULL punishment for all of his sins and that he has eternal life in Christ. This is not as you claim in your email, "A FRIVOLOUS PRESUMPTION OF SALVATION". This is the apostolic gospel of Jesus Christ that all who are trusting in His shed blood have eternal life and have passed from death unto life through Christ. This is NOT "sin" as you term it. This is the glorious truth that those who have Christ have life and peace with God and rejoice in the coming of the Lord.

All the practice of the "Seven Sacraments" through your "priests" will never give you peace with God and the full assurance of eternal life in heaven. You can never be sure that you have done enough "penance" to avoid the sufferings of Purgatory or Hell.

I urge you to come out of this false system of useless sacramental works religion into the glorious assurance that the death of Christ on the cross has paid in full for all of your sins and that you can have peace with God, because Christ's perfect sinless life is accounted to you and imputed to you for justification at the judgment bar of God. All have sinned and all continually fall short of the glory of God but being justified by faith we have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord through whom we NOW have received the atonement for our sins. Praise the Lord we are free in Christ.

Bill

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Bill, I was following you right up until the end when you said growth in sanctified obedience to the spirit and "letter of the Ten Commandments" of God. You won't find anywhere in the apostles teaching a reference to obedience to the LETTER of the LAW (that is unless you are attempting to be sanctified by the Law!)

Rom 2:29 -- But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, NOT BY THE LETTER; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Rom 7:6 -- But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and NOT IN THE OLDNESS OF THE LETTER.

J.

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To J.
We must be very careful how we interpret Paul's use of the term "letter" in these verses:

"Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the LETTER, but of the spirit: for the LETTER killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious."

"Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the LETTER. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good."

"And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the LETTER and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the LETTER; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

The apostle Paul recognized two ways to be justified before God.

1.) By one's perfect obedience to the letter of the Ten Commandments. This is the covenant of "obey and LIVE", the ministry of death. For by the doing of the Law no flesh can be justified in His sight.

2.) By repentance towards God and faith (see Acts 20:21) in the perfect sinless life and atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. This is the New Covenant that declares, "He who is justified by faith (in Christ) will LIVE".

The children of Israel at Mt. Sinai after the giving and reading of the Law pledged that "all that Thou hast said we will do". God replied that they had answered well but oh that there were a heart in them to obey. This covenant of justification by obedience to the "letter" of the Law is what Paul refers to as the ministration (covenant) of death. It is with this in mind that Paul states that the true Jew is not the person who only obeys the "letter" outwardly but who is one who is of the "Spirit", that is, he who is justified by faith in Christ's imputed righteousness has the true "circumcision" of the heart. His "praise" (acceptance, justification) is not of men through mere outward obedience to the "letter" of the Law but through the "praise" that is of God by being justified by faith. Thus Paul is saying that to seek to be justified by one's conformity to the Ten Commandments is to come "under the Law" and to enter into a ministration of death. This "ministration" leads only to "condemnation" but the ministration of the new covenant leads to "praise" and eternal life.

Thus Paul could say, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;" That is to say, the righteousness ("sufficiency") by which we are righteous before God is "not of ourselves" (not in us) but rather the righteousness ("sufficiency") by which we are righteous before God is found only in the person of Jesus Christ and is imputed unto us by faith.

We who are married to Christ by faith in His sinless life and atoning death on the cross are to consider ourselves "divorced" from the "old husband", the carnal nature with its desire to be justified by our works. It is false religion, the religion of the flesh, which follows the "covenant of works" which is seeking to be justified by the "letter" of the Law. We are of the "Spirit" in that we are justified by faith in Christ's perfect "doing" (sinless obedience) to the Law of God for us and His "dying" (propitiatory death) upon the cross of Calvary to put away and blot out the "hand-writing of the ordinances that was against us" by blotting out our sins and our shameful record of misdeeds (Greek:chirographon- a legal indictment of crimes or document of indebtedness ).

So in summary Paul uses the term "letter" of the Law to refer to the old covenant of "obey (the letter) and live".

Paul clearly saw "Three Uses" for the Law which the Protestant Reformers termed the First, Second, and Third Uses of the Law. In our discussion here we will discuss only the second and third use of the Law. We will ignore the "first use" of the Law for now.

In Romans 2 Paul is using the Law in its Second Use, namely to convict of sin.

"For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin." and "I had not known sin, but by the Law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet."

It is not until Romans 8 and Romans 13 where Paul uses the Law in its Third Use, that is, as a moral guide for the repentant believer in Christ. We must not make the mistake that because Paul uses the term "letter of the Law" to describe the old covenant of "Obey and Live", he is inferring that there is no longer a written law for us to follow as a guide in our Christian life. Paul himself frequently quotes from the Ten Commandments as he urges the believers to sanctified living and good works. Thus Paul could say:

"Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended (summarized) in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

And also Paul could say,

"But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God."

And also Paul could say,

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth."

And John the apostle, applying the Third Use of the Law could say,

"And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil."

And there is the testimony of James the brother of Christ who makes strong application of the Third Use of the Law:

"If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment."

And finally our Lord Jesus Christ Himself frequently applied the Law in its Tertiary use:

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say unto you......."

So in summary, Jodi, Paul's use of the term "letter of the Law" is in the context of the old covenant in seeking to be righteous (justified) before God by obeying the Law. This is the works covenant that Israel and later the Pharisees in Christ's day and later still the Ebionites in the apostolic era who ignorantly sought to make with God. They sought to obey the "letter" of the Law to be justified by saying that they would "obey and live".

If only they had rather responded as did Isaiah did by saying "Woe is me !! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." Then like Issaiah, they would have been JUSTIFIED by FAITH. Even as our Lord said of the poor Publican who stood afar off in the temple and who would not even look up to heaven but smote his breast and said, "Lord be merciful unto me a sinner." He went down unto his house JUSTIFIED. This is what it is to be of the "Spirit" and NOT of the "letter".

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Jodi,

As David the psalmist said,

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish." Psalm 1:1ff

The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ does not cover willful high-handed disregard for the Law of God. There is not a single Protestant Reformer who taught that the Ten Commandments as a moral guide were done away with.

The various Protestant denominations have very serious eschatological and soteriological problems which need to be faced. There is great danger that many who see the many doctrinal faults within the Reformation groups will discard the Third Use of the Law simply because some do not understand the Second Use of God's holy Law. It may be that our Lord will ultimately pass by the present Protestant denominations as part of the movement to restore all that Antichrist has cast down, but however He moves in the future, the restoration of ALL of God's commandments will be part of that restoration. The fourth commandment deals a death blow to the humanist evolutionists who deny God's creation of the universe in six literal days and His resting on the seventh day. There is no doubt that the Lord's Day even as quoted by the Didache is the seventh day of the week. The "preparation day", also mentioned in the Didache, has always been the sixth day of the week in preparation of the Sabbath rest of the fourth commandment.

God will have a people who rest WITH Christ and IN Christ on the seventh day of the week. Will the Holy Spirit desert those who refuse to acknowledge Him as the Creator of the world in six literal days and rest upon the seventh day as His fourth commandment calls us to REMEMBER? Absolutely. There is no salvation for a "legalist" and at the same time and on the other hand, there is no salvation for those who willfully disregard any of the commandments of God's holy Law. Both groups, religious legalists and humanistic antinomians, even though they hate each other, will unite to crucify our Lord afresh in the final hours of earth's history. Both groups will unite to oppose the final gospel restoration message of God which will go to all the world.

God bless you,
Bill



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