No good deed of ours atones for sin, even if the 'Bible' says it

chicken-bibleby J. Randal Matheny, editor

Last night, after the church’s meeting in Taubaté, we grabbed a bite with friends at the “Cooked Chicken” eatery found along main highways like the Via Dutra. Since the city isn’t far from the Catholic religious center of Aparecida, the establishment was selling books touting “Our Lady’s” virtues, as well as a new Bible version I’d been wanting, but for which I hated to part with my reais.

The paperback isn’t expensive at R$17,00 (about US$8), but when they released the whole Bible (I already had the New Testament), they reversed gears and made the whole version speak in antiquated language of the past. Something like the “thees” and “thous” of the KJV, but worse. And God is always referred to in the second person plural.

• While doing a bit of research, I came across a verse in Tobit, one of Catholicism’s “deuterocanonical” books. The translation is consistent in the several Portuguese versions I possess, including the new Aparecida version I bought at the eatery, as well as the online versions in English. Here is Tobit 12.9 in the New Jerusalem Bible: “Almsgiving saves from death and purges every kind of sin.”

That’s about as clear a statement of salvation by works of merit as I know of. We know that Catholicism teaches such, even though there are protests about saving grace, but they also have it in the Bibles that they publish. This statement in this Jewish story represents exactly the mentality that Paul rails against in Romans and Galatians.

• Man cannot save himself. If he could, there would have been no need for God to become man and for Christ to die. If almsgiving could “purge every kind of sin,” man could glory in his own salvation and demand that the Creator welcome him with open arms. But even his best efforts are tainted by sin. No good deed of ours atones for sin. We are helpless.

• Satan uses that reality against us. To make us forget the power of God to save and to remain faithful, he reminds us how weak we are. He wants us think that we have to do this on our own. People in their right minds know that humans, spiritually, are weak and helpless. Satan wants to drive home the first part of Romans 5.6 and sweep away the truth of the second part: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” He wants us to believe that we are still helpless. He wants us to despair.

• Our good brother Ron Jackson preached yesterday morning here in São José dos Campos about David and Goliath. A half a dozen people were in tears, because Ron reminded us all that God can deal with our problems and pain. One good sister, a recent widow, came up and gave Ron a big hug right after he sat down. (We don’t stand on ceremony here.)

• Ron has been here enough, and I’ve translated for him enough, that we work well together. He’s a dynamic speaker, so I try to match his energy. For me, translating is harder than doing the preaching myself, since it requires more intense concentration to listen, understand, choose the right translation, know when to pick up the cues. Or maybe I just need more practice.

• Ron encourages me. He’s a U.S. employee of Embraer, Brazil’s airplane manufacturer, the Senior Manager for North America Customer Support of Executive Jets. He comes from Florida to Brazil several times a year, usually staying for a week full of meetings. When he’s here on Sundays, he always makes it a point to be at church. Often, he travels early so he won’t miss being somewhere with the saints on the first day of the week. And when he’s in town during the week, he refuses offers by coworkers or Brazilian colleagues to eat out on the town in the evening, in order to be at our house for our weekly group Bible reading. This man has his priorities straight! Would to God every Christian were like him in this respect!

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J. Randal Matheny

Servant of the Lord at GoSpeak
Randal and his wife have lived and worked in Brazil since 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. Randal's a lefty, a chocolate lover, an author and a poet.

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