In Christianity Today article, it is reported that Pope John Paul II would regularly whip himself in an effort to promote personal humility and self-mortification. The article also points out that Mother Teresa actually wore a cilice, a strap secured around the thigh that inflicts pain with inward-pointing spikes.
While the need for humility and self denial are true in the life of those who follow Jesus Christ, there is a strange disconnect with the Bible in the use of self-punishment as a method for growing close to God. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear when he says,
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:10
A practice like self-mutilation points out a deeper issue; on what basis does a person relate to God? Must I do something or aspire to be something in order to be accepted by God? How much pain is enough pain to satisfy God? If I have greater sins do I need more pain?
Or should an article like this give us an opportunity to examine what we believe regarding how a person can relate to God? The actions of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa don’t just speak to a desire for spirituality in their lives but testify to a firm belief that they believed that they could actually receive a level of merit due to their acts of self affliction.
I reject any belief that is not firmly rooted in what the Bible communicates. So, let’s consider on what basis we are to relate to God. Is it through self-denial and self-mutilation or another way?
The Bible is clear there is only one way to satisfy the standard (“Law”) of God and thereby establish a relationship with God.
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. Romans 3:19-27
I also know that we can have a secure hope now by knowing our salvation is secure here and now through what the Apostle John says:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. I John 5:13
So the next time you encounter someone who doesn’t have this hope take the time the share with them the glorious reality of the Gospel!
Our God is so good!