Out of the Fire
Are you a brand snatched out of the fire (Zech. 3:2)? To be rescued is the desperate need of every sinner. But many do not recognize the danger. It is my earnest plea that those deceived by Satan will escape Hell’s eternal punishment by fleeing to Christ. In this article, I will use stories from the 9/11 World Trade Center (WTC) timeline as metaphors. I do this with some trepidation, knowing that memories of the attack are still vivid and troubling for many people. Please do not read too much into the metaphors. I do not use them to question the intentions of WTC personnel or victims, nor to question the wisdom of any decisions made that day. The metaphors are to demonstrate the serious consequences of our decisions and compare them to the consequences of religious deception.
There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible, but God used one single chapter to snatch me out of the fire. I call it the “smoke detector” chapter of the Bible. It is Colossians 2. Paul gives specific warnings concerning Satan’s three powerful strategies. He tells us: “let no one delude you” (Col. 2:4); “let no one take you captive” (Col. 2:8); and “let no one defraud you, acting as your judge” (Col. 2:16). I will explain how these three warnings relate to Satan’s master plan, and how Satan’s plan impacts Catholics.
Paul’s Three Warnings
Warning #1: Let No One Delude You
Shortly after the first plane crashed into the North tower of the WTC, several P.A. announcements were made telling people it was safe; they should return to their offices. From 8:47 to 9:02 security officials at the base of the South Tower instructed people who had evacuated to head back up to their offices so as to avoid those evacuating the North Tower. Stanley Praimnath was persuaded and returned to his office on the 81st floor. He arrived at 9:01. At his desk, he watched as the second plane angled into the South Tower at 9:03. The wing of the aircraft tore through the 81st floor. The safety of the South Tower was an illusion. Many victims in both Towers had a false sense of security. No one thought a second plane would hit. No one thought the Towers would fall.
Having declared the abundant treasure found in the person and work of Christ, Paul warns us in Col. 2:4: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.” I am convinced that this warning is particularly applicable to four persuasive claims of the Catholic religion:
- Rome teaches that she is the One True Church outside of which there is no salvation. The Catholic is persuaded “not to leave the building” – the safety of the Roman Catholic Church.
- Rome claims to be the only Church that has the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, in the sacrifice of the Mass.
- Rome proclaims that the Pope is the only infallible interpreter of God’s word; he is Christ on earth (Catechism of the Catholic Church – CCC 882).
- Rome claims that only her priests (acting as alter christus) are able to absolve Catholics of their sins. Salvation is through the Church’s sacraments.
These are powerful and attractive claims. Who wouldn’t want to belong to Christ’s true Church? Who wouldn’t want to receive the physical Christ? Who wouldn’t want certainty of doctrine? Who wouldn’t want the forgiveness that leads to heaven? The trouble is these Catholic claims are false, unbiblical and dangerous, as we shall see.
Warning #2: See to it that No One Takes You Captive
Brian Clark was at his brokerage firm on the 84th floor of the South Tower when Flight 175 crashed several floors below his office. Given emergency training and supplied with a flashlight after the 1993 WTC bombing, Clark gathered seven colleagues and started down Stairway A. [This was the only staircase that remained intact from top to bottom]. Reaching the 81st floor, they encountered two people who were going up the stairwell to get to the roof to avoid the smoke and get fresh air. They claimed that the stairwell below them was impassable. While the group debated their next move, Clark heard a cry for help near the stairwell. Mr. Clark left the stairwell to free Stanley Praimnath who was trapped behind a wall under fallen debris. Returning to the stairwell, they were alone. The others had already ascended toward the roof. Clark and Praimnath chose to descend the stairs. They were two of only four people to survive who were at or above the impact zone. Those who went up to higher floors to escape the fire and smoke perished. Going up, they were trapped by the fire, with no means of escape.
In Col. 2:8, the Apostle Paul warns: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary spirits of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Rome teaches that Catholics are to seek other mediators beside Jesus. Supposedly these mediators provide spiritual assistance so that Catholics may achieve salvation. Foremost is the Catholic Mary, who is considered the Co-Mediatrix of salvation: “Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.” (CCC 969). Instead of fleeing to Christ alone for salvation, Catholics are instructed to “flee to the higher floors” where Mary, the Saints, the Pope, and the priests reside. They are taken captive (trapped) by these “elemental spirits.” Christ, the only way out, is hidden from them. They head in the wrong direction and fail to “exit the building,” and find salvation “outside the camp where Christ is” (Heb. 13:13). “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12).
Warning #3: No One is to Defraud You by Acting as Your Judge
Almost 2,000 years ago, another tower located in the south end of a great city collapsed. This occurred in the city of Jerusalem. The Tower of Siloam fell. Jesus spoke of this tragedy to drive home a critical issue concerning salvation. He said, “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5). The scribes and Pharisees, leaders of the Jews, committed two evils. They focused on externals, and they ignored internals. They added man-made traditions, and judged the people based on their obedience to these traditions. They subtracted the weightier issue, the condition of the heart. We use a common expression for repentance: a “change of heart.” Unless a person’s heart is changed, he or she will not see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3; Acts 11:18). Jesus confronted the Jewish leaders, saying: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also” (Mt. 23:25).
Paul’s third warning: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of angels [Veneration of Saints?], taking his stand on visions [Marian Apparitions?] he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head…Why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) – in accordance with the commandments and teaching of men?” (Col. 2:16-22).
Rome dilutes (actually, negates) the saving gospel of Jesus Christ by adding man-made traditions, such as mandatory fasts and Holy Days of Obligation. Catholics are promised that if they obey the Church’s five precepts, they will accomplish the “indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort” (CCC 2041-2043). By declaring salvation through meeting five external requirements, Rome defrauds Catholics by subtracting what is truly necessary to receive salvation. They omit the righteousness of Christ that is received through repentance and faith. They are told that salvation is through habitually “doing penance,” a form of self abasement.
Paul concludes Colossians 2 as follows: “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” (Col. 2:24). Self-discipline and adherence to rules and ceremonies (as a means of salvation) provide no refuge from the “flames of passion.” To the contrary, legalism tends to fan the flames of sin. For the law was given to accentuate sin, that we might recognize our need and flee to Christ (Gal. 3:19; Rom. 10:5-10). Through repentance and faith, we become “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17). The inside of our cup is cleaned, and we show our gratitude by following Christ.
Though we deserve an eternal fate no better than those who died in the collapse of Siloam, we receive mercy. Jesus told the legalistic Pharisees to “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt. 9:13).
The Strategies of Satan
Here are the strategies that Satan employs to keep people out of heaven and in the domain of eternal fire. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Therefore, Satan seeks to:
1) Replace the way (gospel), the truth (Scripture) and the life (church) through delusion,
2) Hide the way, the truth, and the life through deception, and
3) Dilute the way, the truth and the life through fraudulent addition and subtraction.
Satan has produced a masterpiece that does all nine (3×3) of these – the Roman Catholic religion.
1) Jesus (the Way) is replaced by a piece of bread; He is replaced by the priest (alter Christus); and He is replaced by the Pope (Vicar of Christ).
2) Jesus is hidden behind many mediators (Pope, priest, Mary, Saints, Church, Sacraments).
3) The gospel is diluted by the addition of works and ceremonies.
4) The truth (Jesus, the Word) is replaced by an infallible Magisterium, the teaching authority that subjugates the conscience of the Catholic.
5) The truth is hidden by convincing Catholics that only Rome can correctly interpret the meaning of Scripture. Historically, the Church placed the Bible on the “Index of Forbidden Books, withholding it from the laity.
6) The truth is diluted by a second source of revelation, known as “Holy Tradition.”
7) The life of Jesus (His body, the Church) is replaced by an institution claiming to be the One, True Church.
8) The church is hidden through deception. Rome claims a false apostolic authority, supported by forgeries (False Decretals) and improper interpretations based on the so-called “Church Fathers.” Historically, it was considered a “mortal sin” for a Catholic to even enter a Protestant church.
9) Rome dilutes the church by claiming that Jews, Muslims, Separated Brethren, Hindus, and even sincere atheists are mystically added to her saving barque (CCC 836-845). And she subtracts true Christians, former Catholics who have left her fold (CCC 846).
The Roman Catholic Church is truly a “Synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 3:9). Satan is the Antichrist (replacer), the Deceiver (hider of truth), the Father of Lies (adder), and the Thief (subtracter). Satan wants to fraudulently steal the deed to your eternity. He will accomplish this by keeping you from Jesus. I urge you to consider the question, “Where is Jesus?” Paul answers this question in Col. 3:1 – he is “seated at the right hand of God.” Jesus warns, “Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Mt. 7:13-14). Jesus is this gate. You must “flee the building,” the broad way of false religion, and enter through Him. Christians are warned to flee idolatry. Catholicism is a religion of idolatry.
Urgent Action is Necessary
Neither Brian Clark nor Stanley Praimnath thought that the towers would collapse. They did not have a sense of urgency. Arriving on the 31st floor, they found some working telephones. They both made personal calls, and then Brian waited over three minutes on 911 to report a medical emergency on the 44th floor. When they finally exited the Tower, rescue workers advised them to run to avoid falling debris. When they had gotten about two blocks away, they found shelter near Trinity Church. Suddenly, Praimnath turned to Clark and said “I think the towers are going to collapse.” Clark started to argue otherwise when he turned and witnessed the horrific implosion of the South Tower.
My friend, your time may be running short. (1) You do not know the day of your death. You could be facing an eternity in hell much sooner than you think. (2) You may become hardened in your sin, and may lose any interest in seeking the Savior. My Catholic father, grieved by his sinful behaviors and his failure to measure up to his religion, gave in to hopelessness. (3) The Lord promises to return in judgment, on a day known only by the Father. A voice from Heaven shouts: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive her plagues…she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong” (Rev. 18:4, 8). The Roman Catholic religion is destined to fall. “Her smoke will rise up forever and ever” (Rev. 19:3). Please do not continue to let Satan and Catholicism hide Jesus from You! Flee to the Savior while there is still time!
The Heroes of 9/11 – A Type of Christ
We celebrate the heroism of the police and fireman who sacrificed their lives on 9/11. These heroes may be seen as a “type of Christ.” They gave their lives to save others. Similarly, Jesus willingly laid down his life for His sheep. The Port Authority police stayed at their posts and finished their work unto death. Jesus stayed attached to His post, and cried out “It is finished.”
We all have a sin problem. We all need to be rescued from the building. Unless we repent, we will all perish. We must be carried to safety in the arms of the Eternal Fireman. Jesus endured the fiery hell of God’s wrath on the cross as our substitute. Through faith in Him, we receive the flame-proof garments of his righteousness. Satan stands to accuse us – for our filthy clothing testifies against us. But Jesus rebukes Satan, and orders that our filthy garments be replaced by His festal robes (Zech. 3:1-5). Our iniquity is taken away, and replaced with Christ’s righteousness. What should be our response? As a nation, we are grateful for the courageous acts of the first responders. As Christians, much more should we display gratitude for the saving acts of Jesus. He grants forgiveness of sin by His sacrificial death. He grants righteousness through His sinless, resurrected life.
We need a hero, because no one is able to span the infinite distance from earth to heaven. Our sin separates us. I leave you with lyrics from the Point of Grace song The Great Divide:
There’s a bridge to cross the great divide A way was made to reach the other side The mercy of the Father, cost His son His life His love is deep, His love is wide There’s a cross to bridge the great divide
Postscript: A Word to My Fellow Evangelicals, Especially Former Catholics
Listening to the miraculous personal testimony of Brian Clark, I could not help seeing him as a “type of Christian.” Before proceeding, please watch Brian’s testimony here:
The Marks of the Christian Evangelist
- Brian, a volunteer fire marshal, was equipped to save people from disaster. As Christians, we are equipped with the gospel of salvation.
- Brian was guided to the correct stairway. As Christians, we receive the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- When Brian was stopped on the 81st floor, Stanley noticed his flashlight. This caused him to cry for help. As Christians, our light should so shine that we are noticed, that it “gives light to all who are in the house” (Mt. 5:15).
- Brian was compelled to seek out Stanley and rescue him. As Christians, we are compelled to represent Christ and rescue sinners with the gospel.
- Brian was miraculously protected when he went in to find Stanley. As Christians, we are protected during fiery trials by the helmet of salvation.
- When Brian pulled Stanley out of the rubble, Stanley was overcome with gratitude. He cried out, “Hallelujah, I’ve been saved!” As Christians, we share in the joy of the salvation of the lost.
- Stanley then cried out, “We’ll be brothers for life!” At this point, Brian noticed that both he and Stanley had wounds on the palm of their hands. He grabbed Stanley’s hand, pressed it to his, and said, “In fact, we’ll be blood brothers for life.” As Christians, those who receive the gospel truly become our blood brothers. “For henceforth let no one bother me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17).
- The meeting of Brian and Stanley was providential. As Christians sharing the gospel, we are to be on the lookout for “divine appointments.”
- Brian still needed to lead Stanley out of the burning building. As Christians, we are to lead immature believers out of false religion and into the pure air of true worship.
- Brian eventually led Stanley to the shelter of a church. As Christians, it is our responsibility to help establish those we evangelize by discipling them and baptizing them into the local church.
- Throughout the trial, Brian was protected by a strange peace. When enduring trials, Christians receive the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which guides our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).
- Looking back on his experience, Brian realized that he should not ask unanswerable questions, such as “Why me?” As Christians, we do one thing: we press on, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead (Phil. 3:13).
As “found sinners” we are responsible for reaching out to those who are in bondage to false religion. We must be ready to warn the deceived and to overcome their objections. On the 81st floor, Brian encountered a large woman who blocked the stairwell. She claimed the way out was blocked, and urged Brian to join her by going up to the roof. Hearing this part of Brian’s testimony made me consider how difficult it is for Catholics to overcome the persuasive pull of their religion. Besides theological issues, there are the cultural and family connections which keep Catholics in bondage. And there are false ecumenical teachers who seek communion with Catholicism, thereby leading astray both Catholics and unwary evangelicals.
We live in treacherous times. It appears that we are in the midst of apostasy. But God has His elect who will be saved from Satan’s darkness and brought into the light of Christ. May we be bold in seeking them out and leading them to the Savior!
Sola Fide? Sola Scriptura?
Sinclair Ferguson answers this question here.
Commenter Nick asks several important questions regarding the faith of Abraham in his comment on when Abraham was justified. He writes:
“You had said: “This obedient act (Gen. 22) occurred many years after Abraham’s gospel justification (Gen. 15).”
Seeing that Abraham was a believer long before Genesis 15, starting as early as Genesis 12 (see Hebrews 11:8 and Galatians 3:8), how do you know the Genesis 15 event was not simply a “shown to be righteous” event as well? It seems like it would be Pelagianism to suggest Abraham was not saved until Genesis 15.”
In Genesis 12, the LORD tells Abram to “go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you…and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Abram, in obedience, proceeded to the land of Canaan. He trusted God. Was Abram justified (credited with righteousness) in Genesis 12 based on his response of faith? Several issues need to be addressed.
The first issue relates to the content of faith. In Genesis 15, Abram believed God’s promise of a child that would be miraculously born, and through whom the promise would be fulfilled. This promise of a future child was initially made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, and would come through the line of Seth, her third-born son. All the Old Testament saints believed in the promise of the one who would remove the curse that resulted from the fall. The promise of Isaac to Abram, via his barren wife Sarai, foreshadowed the coming Messiah, Jesus. It is by faith in Jesus alone that one is justified. The OT saints looked forward to Jesus. We NT saints look backward.
Another issue raised by Nick: Since Abram trusted God by leaving for Canaan, was he not saved then? I think this question touches on what is known as the ordo salutis, or “order of salvation.” Protestants believe that justification is by faith alone. But how does this work out? I believe that salvation is a gift of God from first to last. Ephesians 2:8-9 states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But some may say, ”but don’t we have to receive the gift of faith? Doesn’t our wise choice present some merit on our part?” This touches on the question of free will, and the resulting question raised by Nick about Pelagianism.
Getting back to the ordo salutis, some teach that it is the Word that regenerates the soul, resulting in justification. Thus, we are called to share the “good news” of the gospel. Those who believe are justified. But who will believe? Don’t some reject the word? How then can it be the gospel/word that is the initial cause? I believe that before the Word can do its work, there must be a gift given that is passively received, so that there is a positive response to the message. This is the gift of life imparted directly by the Holy Spirit – the soul is quickened. I highly recommend a chapter from A. W. Pink that discusses quickening. Here is a link to this discussion.
Getting back to Abram, he obeyed God in Genesis 12. Perhaps Abram was already quickened (but not yet justified) and began hungering for spiritual things at this point. Like many of us, his spiritual journey included many rabbit trails. For example, he did not obey God fully when he brought Lot along with him to Canaan. He was told to leave his relatives. Also, he sojourned to Egypt, and deceived Pharaoh about his wife being his sister.
The point I want to make is this: salvation is indeed a process, that begins with quickening, proceeds to justification, and sanctification, and finally glorification. So, Abram trusted God back in Genesis 12, and perhaps he was even justified back then. He may have been trusting in the promised seed. But Genesis 15 clearly shows that our justification is the result of a specific kind of faith, saving faith in Messiah. It is not as important to nail down ”when” Abram was justified. What is very important is the ground of his justification: faith in the coming promised One. Abram believed, and as a result was “reckoned” righteous. I am an accountant by trade, and “reckoned” is “accounted.” We Protestants believe that the righteousness of Jesus is credited to us, at the time of belief in the gospel. And that works of obedience are the fruit of our justification.
Nick, I hope this helps to clarify the Protestant understanding of justification. We believe that there is an unbreakable chain of salvation. All who are quickened will be glorified. And no one is able to receive the gift of salvation unless they are made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit’s quickening (Jn. 3:8).
Thanks again for your comment.
Mathematicians and Numerologists Together: The Gift of Numbers
We, Mathematicians and Numerologists, have noticed that there is a growing cooperation between “one” and “two.” There are many activities where “one” and “two” are found working together. Of course, there are equations. Lately, however, we have noticed that both “one” and “two” have been seen in many lists. We have been greatly encouraged by this ongoing development. Through reflection on Algebra and Number Theory, and aided by the great mathematical minds of history, we can bear witness to the importance of both “one” and “two.”
In 1994, we released “Mathematicians and Numerologists Together.” At the time, there was much controversy concerning our claim that “one” is as good as “two” and that “two” is as good as “one.” It was determined that future conversations would be helpful to address outstanding questions related to the equivalence of “one” and “two.” Thus, in the Fall of 1996, it was determined that further progress depended upon firm agreement on the nature of numbers. As a result of many meetings, we have prepared a second document “The Gift of Numbers.” We express our gratitude to the President of the Council for Promoting Numerical Unity for his active support in this process.
In this second document, we hope to show that “one” in fact equals “two.” Both sides agree that, because of our finite minds, we have difficulty understanding how “one” equals “two.” And, we may not fully understand it this side of infinity. Still, we are called to promote this great truth together. We must not let our witness as lovers of numbers to be compromised by needlessly divisive disputes about numerical differences. The effectiveness of our witness to Science depends upon the work of promoting the equivalence of “one” and “two.”
There is much upon which we already agree:
- We affirm together the binding authority of the laws of Mathematics
- We affirm that “two” is made up of “one” twice
- We affirm that if “one” is taken away from “two,” the resulting number is “one”
Further, we have noted these other areas of convergeance:
- Both are integers
- Both are whole numbers
- Both are prime numbers
- In fact, “one” and “two” are even consecutive numbers
A recent discovery even shows that both “one” and “two” consist of three letters. We hope to build upon this unity.
While rejoicing in the amazing similarities between “one” and “two,” and confident of the fundamental truths of these cardinal numbers, we recognize that there are necessarily interrelated questions that require urgent exploration. For example:
One – How can numbers have different values while at the same time have the same value?
One – How can “one” be alone, but “two” be together?
One – Diverse understandings of equivalence, identity, ratios, addition and subtraction, and what it means to be a “whole number.”
Also, some hold that “two” has gone beyond “one,” or that “two” denies the oneness of “one.” Others believe that “one” denies the fullness of “two” and leads to a truncated and reduced understanding of numbers.
This list of differences is by no means complete; there is a second list. This list of differences is complete; there is only one list.
Nevertheless, and neverthemore, mathematicians and numerologists who believe that “one” and “two” are important numbers must not let any differences, however important, undermine the great truth “one” equals “two.” We must be especially careful to avoid division, such as dividing “two” in half. Only oneness in the truth is important; unless you think twoness is also important.
Finally, in humility we realize that there are also some mathematicians and numerologists who hold allegiance to “three.” They even hold that “three” is the answer to the problem of unity between “one” and “two.” We admire their sincerity, and notice that “three” is also found in many lists, and is in fact another prime number. In the future, our discussion may include mathematicians for the “three” crowd.
We are excited about what the future holds, and we look forward to a day when all numbers may be “one.”
For a link to the wordsmithing, logic-defying, another-gospel-preaching, compromising, untruthful ECT II: The Gift of Salvation, click Here.