Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dialogue on Salvation and Justification, Part 3

My Response to Peter--Part 2

In my last post, I attempted to demonstrate from contexts, the meaning behind Romans 3:28 and James 2:20. From the context, we see that when Paul says we are saved by faith, he is contrasting that with "works of the [Mosaic] Law," and not "good works" in general. Thus it is that Paul has a specific Law in mind that he is saying faith saves regardless of. Thus, it is not correct to insert "alone" into this text, as Martin Luther did. Paul, in saying "not by works of the law," did not thereby say, "not by any good works whatsoever," which truly would equate to faith alone. Rather, he said that faith works in us to save apart from that one particular God-given Law of Moses.

James, on the other hand, while appealing to the Law of Moses (since it is a God-given standard), does not therefore bind Christians to it in a legalistic sense when he tells us that faith without works is dead. Rather, he takes us beyond the Law of Moses to the Law of Liberty, where mercy (love) is the chief command and the chief reward. With this Law, he and Paul are in complete agreement, for elsewhere Paul writes: "Let everything you do be done in love" (1 Cor 16:14); or, in another place: "Since in Christ Jesus it is not being circumcised or being uncircumcised that can effect anything--only faith working through love" (Gal 5:6).

In particular, this last phrase ties Romans and James together perfectly, in an Epistle that is even more severe in its warnings against legalism and trying to fulfil the old Law. Paul says quite specifically that it is not our relation to that Law (being circumcised or being uncircumcised) that will save us, but rather our faith working through love. The Roman Catholic denial of Faith Alone, and assertion that faith must be accompanied by good works, is firmly rooted in this assertion of St. Paul, and in the understanding of Love being something that goes beyond emotional good feelings towards someone, but to a choice of the will and an action. Thus it is not strictly speaking the Mosaic Law which Catholicism holds up as what we must accompany faith with. Rather, it is any and every action of love that we can do to honour God. That Catholicism (and James) reference the Mosaic Law and the 10 Commandments specifically is because they then become great practical guides for the right exercise of love--no longer constraints, but truly the Law of Liberty. Thus Jesus Himself said to love God and neighbour fulfils every point of the Law.

From here, then, I shall move on to answer Peter's specific objections and questions from the first post.

The dying thief on the cross beside Jesus was told when he repented that "today you will be with me in paradise". I would be intrigued to find out how if works are needed that thief could get to Heaven that day? He couldn't do a single thing! All he could do was depend on the grace that was lavished unto him from Jesus!
There are many, many things assumed by Peter in this objection, that a careful exegesis will show to be rather misleading. The first assumption is that God always works the same way with every person, or, in other words, that God limits Himself as to how He can or will save people, without exception. In the case of the thief, the fact that he is an exception (provided the rest of Peter's assumptions are accurate) proves the rule rather than negates it.

The second assumption that Peter makes about the thief is that he would be in heaven on that day. But nowhere is this stated in the passage. Jesus does not say, "Today you will be with Me in Heaven, but rather, Paradise." One might argue that the terms are synonymous, except for one thing: Jesus said "You will be with Me." Yet, when Jesus died on the Cross, He did not go to Heaven. In fact, it was not until 40 days after His Resurrection that He finally ascended into Heaven. That's forty-three days between His Death and His Ascension! If Paradise referred to Heaven, then Jesus would need to say, "In forty-three days, I'll meet up with you in Heaven. I have to take a detour first." But of course, that's not what He said.

So Jesus did not go to Heaven, but said that the thief would be "with Him". Scripture tells us that when Jesus died, He went "to preach to the souls in prison." In the Parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 19:16-31), Jesus refers to this as "Abraham's Bosom". It was here, before Jesus' atoning sacrifice, that the souls of those who had died in God's Grace went, before Heaven was opened to them. And it is here that Jesus referred when He said, "Today, you will be with Me in Paradise."

The final assumption that Peter makes is that the thief on the cross did not do anything. However, this also is not quite true. The thief in fact did three distinct things that each showed his faith in Christ to be genuine.

First, he rebuked the other, unbelieving thief for his mockery of Jesus. Second, he confessed his faith directly to Jesus and asked for His grace, and third, he submitted to his punishment as justly deserved, rather than, with the other thief, asking to be saved from his cross. In these three things, the thief did in fact "show forth works befitting repentance" (as John the Baptist would say, cf. Luke 3:8). In his rebuke of the other thief, he proffered to the world the Word of Life, thus working out his own salvation in fear and trembling, as Philippians 2:12-16 instructs. In pleading for Christ's favour, he confessed Him as Lord, as Romans 10:9-10 teaches. And in submitting to his suffering and punishment as just, he (quite literally) took up his cross and followed Christ, as Christ said in Matthew 16:24.
Another example is spread throughout the Bible when people are being told how to be saved.
"What must I do to be saved?"
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved-you and your household" (Acts 16:31)
"Repent and Believe" was Jesus' message in Mark 1
To reply briefly to Acts 16, note that while Paul never made it explicit with his words, he did take time to baptise each member of the jailer's household.

As to the "Repent and Believe," you defeat your own case of Sola Fide in this very citation! "Repent" implies action! Again, as John the Baptist proclaimed, "show forth works befitting repentance" (Luke 3:8, again). Every time Scripture calls us to "repent" it is calling us to act. Repentance is not simply a mental action, but a turning away from sin to follow Christ. Just as sinning is an act (at least of the will, if not of the body), so is repentance, and the works that show it, an act.
and when the Jews were saying circumcision was needed Paul said in Acts 15 "No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
Absolutely! No one (except perhaps our beloved Mormon friend) would deny this! But again, Acts 15 does not propagate or promulgate Sola Fide, but Sola Gratia, which is something that Catholics and Protestants agree on 100%. Paul does not actually speak of faith here (don't be confused by his statement, "We believe..." He is not claiming to believe that it is by believing, but is simply stating his belief).

Here is the thing: without the Saving Grace of God, none of the good things we can do are worth anything towards our salvation. Contrary to what Ryesin said in the first post, the good we do without grace still is good. However, unless that good is energised by God's Grace, it cannot save, and might as well be filthy rags, as the Prophet said. Note that Isaiah did not say our works are filthy rags, though (the error of total depravity). Rather, he says, they are as filthy rags. Compared to God's supreme goodness, our goodness is nothing at all. But objectively, good is still good. It just might not be "good enough".

But when grace enters our lives, it enables us to have faith and do works that do indeed merit greater justification. Our works do not merit grace, ever. But through God's grace, we are initially justified, and thus come to life. And our response of faith and good works appropriates that justification, and clings to it. But the thing of it is this: the faith and good works that further our justification, while it is our response (we must choose to make it, and can choose not to), is really God's performance! "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" "So work out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who, for His own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the ability to act." (Philippians 4:13; 2:12-13).

Thus, we are saved by grace, and without grace can do nothing. But through the grace of God which saves us, we both can and must respond to that grace through our faith and our works.
None of these examples say you must believe and do good works or that we must repent believe and do good works.
To the contrary, the opposite is true, as I have demonstrated above.
Yes I fully believe that faith without works is dead. But how can one become a Christian straight away like many characters in the Bible if one has to have works?
Works do not save us, or merit our salvation. We are saved by Grace alone, through Christ alone, for the glory of God alone. However, that grace, once lavished upon us, must be accepted by us (it can be resisted and rejected), and that acceptance takes the form of faith, and of works, or, perhaps more accurately, it is the form of faith-works.
Paul did not do good works so he could become a Christian and be justified.
Indeed not! I believe he was on his way to commit murder! However, after that he certainly did live a life of good works! And the notion that he must always strive in those works in order to maintain (not originate) his salvation, he outlines in Philippians 3, "Brothers, I do not reckon myself as having taken hold of it; I can only say that forgetting all that lies behind me, and straining forward to what lies in front, I am racing towards the finishing-point to win the prize of God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus" (vv.13-14).
And if one is justified over a time period, then how can the dying thief be assured of Heaven?
Normatively, justification happens initially, over time, and finally (eschatologically): when we first come to faith, as we live our faith, and finally, as we die in our faith and are ultimately saved in Heaven. Typically, Protestants refer to ongoing justification as "sanctification", divorcing it from initial justification. This flows, in their theological structure, from a notion of imparted rather than infused righteousness. That is, Protestants believe that when we are saved, we "put on" Christ's righteousness like a cloak, though we ourselves are not righteous. Sanctification, for the Protestant, is much like "growing into" the cloak of righteousness.

Catholics, on the other hand, believe that at the moment of initial justification, Christ infuses us with righteousness. In other words, we are actually made righteous. It is only after that, that we continue to live a sometimes sinful life, and tarnish that initial justification, and therefore need the ongoing justification or sanctification. And depending on how well we persevere in that (always through God's grace and our response to it), we will be finally justified and go to Heaven (and of course, for Catholics, that sanctification can take a little longer than our lifetime, if we haven't outright rejected it, but nevertheless, haven't wholly participated in it. This is Purgatory).

Thus the thief, who was justified and made righteous while he suffered on the Cross, had no opportunity to need ongoing justification, since he had no opportunity to sin, and so his infused righteousness was still intact when he died, and as such was able to be received into Heaven (once Christ's mission to "paradise" was fulfilled, and His Resurrection opened the door to heaven--on the third day).

The mystery, for me, is how a system that denies infused righteousness can claim salvation for a man who dies not truly sanctified, but only hidden by a cloak of righteousness. After all, nothing impure can enter God's presence (cf. Revelation 12:27), and a person who is not sanctified is still impure, no matter what "clothes" he is wearing. For God to accept such a one into His presence is for Him to invent a "legal fiction" whereby through the cloak of Christ's righteousness, which is not truly the Christian's, God calls the Christian nevertheless righteous. God, in a nutshell, would be lying to Himself. Protestants, then, are more in need of the doctrine of Purgatory than Catholics are.

In my next post, I'll address Ryesin and deal more in specific with the notion of Total Depravity, as defined in the Calvinist system.

God bless

(Category: Soteriology: Justification.
The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)

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