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.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Dialogue on Salvation and Justification, Part 6

My Response to Peter -- Part 3

Sorry that it has been so incredibly long since I've updated this blog. Things in my life have been insanely chaotic recently, to say the least. Anyway, I'm scrounging up some time to continue the ongoing dialogue on Salvation and Justification, located at the link in the title.

While in the past there were several participants in this discussion, it seems that they have dwindled down to just Peter and me, with "A Faithful Servant" offering his two cents every now and again. As such, my words will be in the default white, previous words of mine will be green, Peter's will be orange, and AFS' comments will be blue. This portion of the debate will be my response to Peter's reply to Part 3.

The first assumption [about the thief on the cross' circumstance] 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.

By providing exceptions to the rule, you provide loopholes in the Bible.

I'm not entirely sure how that follows, when the 'loopholes' I would appeal to are biblical (or at least logical extensions of what is in the Bible) in the first place.

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever!

Yes, but how that applies to this circumstance is beyond me.

How if God changes his standards can the gospel be a true gospel?!

God doesn't change His standards. His standards simply aren't yours or mine. God, being sovereign, good, and just, can save whomever He will in accordance with His sovereignty, goodness, and justice, whether or not that saving act lines up with our preconceived paradigm. To say otherwise is to put the All-Powerful God in a box.

If this is the case then I may do just as much as some people and not be saved at all! What an injustice!

(AFS added: ) Who said God changes His standards? Can God not, say, use a different colour on one bug than another? Or is it a grave injustice that butterflies do not look like cockroaches? Surely, bugs in different situations must be treated/created in the same way or God is being unfair.

(Sorry for the mild sarcasm, but it was the best way I could come up with to get across my point.)

I replied to Peter, Isn't that the self-same 'injustice' inherent in the Sola Fide system? Someone could work all their life for the good of others, and be condemned to Hell, while a mass murderer who trusts in Christ on his deathbed would go to heaven. Tell me, where is the justice in that system? And besides, I'm not at all sure how you draw that conclusion from what I've said. Where did I say one may do as much as another and not be saved? I really don't think you understood my point at all.

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.

When has the Bible ever had exceptions to a rule? A rule is a rule. God didn't have any other exceptions that are not noted in the Bible.

I'm a little confused here. First you say that the Bible doesn't have exceptions, and then you say that the only exceptions we can allow are the ones contained in the Bible. That's a little contradictory. That God makes exceptions to the general rule is plain from Scripture. God calling Abraham to leave Ur and follow Him wasn't a routine circumstance. Melchizedek's priesthood was a little out of the ordinary. Moses' burning bush encounter was rather remarkable, as was the fact that Michael and Satan argued over his body's burial! Elijah going to heaven in a chariot, and Enoch's translation into heaven, are certainly not common occurrences. John the Baptist being filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb; Mary's Immaculate Conception; Paul's on-the-road encounter with Christ; and the countless various individual miracles throughout Scripture demonstrate that God moves however He chooses. And yet clear statements about what must be done in the regular circumstances demonstrate that the above incidents are, in fact, the exception and not the norm.

The gospel that I am arguing does not need exceptions. It is based purely on the Word of God! Is that not far more reliable?! Exceptions are what are argued in modern day science and the like. But with God his word is truth.

I have a simpler way of dealing with the thief issue.

"Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal." So they said to him, "What can we do to accomplish the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." [John 6:27-29, NAB. Emphasis is AFS'.]

That explanation works even beyond the fact that the thief actually did do 'conventional' work: declared his faith, accepted his punishment, and rebuked the other thief.

Though I greatly appreciate AFS' response to this question, the issue of exceptions still remains, and so I attempt to deal with that below:

Exceptions do not make the rule false, they help us to recognize the existence of the rule. If there was no rule, we would never say, "Hey, the thief on the cross was an unusual circumstance." "Hey, Elijah's transportation up to heaven wasn't quite normal." "Hey, Jesus appearing to Paul on the road to Damascus is a bit out of the ordinary!"

And, what of your reference to the exceptions in modern science? Are the things we know scientifically less true than the things we know scripturally? If there are exceptions in God's created order, how do we rule out exceptions in His salvific order?

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."

A possible explanation of this is that Jesus is God (in the trinity) and so the thief would have been with God/Jesus in Heaven.

Possibly, but this interpretation seems to lead to a concept of the Trinity known as Modalism, or Sabellianism, which teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three distinct persons, but rather, three facets or images of the One God. It was deemed heretical by the Church, though it pops up from time to time (as in Oneness Pentecostalism, for example). Jesus is One in being with the Father and the Spirit, but He is not the same Person as either Father or Spirit. And it was Jesus, the Son, who came down from Heaven in the Incarnation, not the Father nor the Spirit. So while your interpretation is possible, it is dangerous without certain key qualifications.

(Referring to my typo in providing the Scriptural reference for the parable of Dives and Lazarus, Peter asked: And btw, I could not find in Luke 19:16-31 this parable. I think this splits a parable in half. Sure on the reference?

Sorry. Blame a freak case of dyslexia. That should have been Luke 16:19-31.

He went "to preach to the souls in prison."

Where please? Is this the same reference as above?

No. I'm surprised you don't know either of the references that I referred to! The above reference is 1 Peter 3:19ff (a text I've used to defend water baptism several times by now. You do read the Scriptures I refer to?).

he (quite literally) took up his cross and followed Christ

On a side note, this is not literal! By taking up our cross the Bible is using a metaphor, and therefore to draw the line for someone to follow literally is purely looking into things a little too deeply! The other thief took up his cross and followed Christ, but did not spiritually follow him.

Yes, Peter, I realise that Jesus' instruction to take up our crosses was not specifically literal. However, the thief's acceptance of his punishment as just reward for his sins, and his submission to Jesus' lordship (as opposed to the other thief, who, in the same predicament, mocked Jesus and demanded to be saved from his cross) has behind it the principle of carrying our crosses that Jesus calls each of us to. That the thief’s own circumstance actually involved a cross is why I glibly called it "literal". Carrying our crosses is nothing more than being willing to suffer for Christ--to follow Him no matter what pain or severity He leads us into. If it was not about suffering, then why did Jesus use the image of crucifixion? He was being figurative, but there was still meaning behind the figure. You seem, when you say things are figurative, to want to say they mean something wholly different from what the literal sense would be. But that's not how figurative language works. The figure used always directly pertains to whatever the message behind the figure is. So when Jesus says take up our cross, that means we need to be ready to suffer for Him. The thief, in being willing to suffer for his sins, shows that he is not turning to Jesus simply to be saved from his cross (unlike the other thief), but chooses instead to unite his suffering with Christ's, as a form of penance.

If you consider calling upon the Lord and thus naturally rebuking those of the world, a good deed, then it is purely by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we are saved. You are saying the same thing. If this is deeds, then what I believe is faith is exactly the same….A calling upon the Lord and submission of your life towards him (and thus rejecting those who are of the world).

AFS responds by pointing to the Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith, published by the Roman Catholic and Lutheran communions:

Hence the Lutheran-Catholic document on Salvation/Justification (linked) that was signed approaching ten years ago.

I go further, saying:
Of course calling on the Name of the Lord is a deed. It is something we have to choose, and then perform. That's the definition of "deed". And I have never said anything but that we are saved purely by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The submission that you speak of has to be lived out daily, however, in obedience to the things Christ commands. It involves action. If faith is defined simply as a mental assent to the truths of Christianity, or to a clinging to the promises of Christ, then no, this "faith" will not save. But if faith is understood as obedience to God (as the Bible would define it, cf. Romans 16:26: "But now (as the prophets wrote) is revealed, as the eternal God commanded, to be made known to all the nations, so that they may obey in faith.").

Had the thief not been dying on a cross, his conversion would have needed to be accompanied by a lifestyle of good works. As it was, however, those that he did on the cross were all he had the time and the ability to do.

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.

Nowhere does it say that this was necessary for salvation. It fits fine with an outward sign that one has been washed clean of sin by Christ in deciding to follow him.

Acts 2:37-38: "Hearing this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'What are we to do, brothers?' 'You must repent,' Peter answered, 'and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins...'" (emphasis mine). Just because it is not explicit in one passage, does not mean it is not therefore required. How many times does Luke need to say it in one book before it becomes necessary? That he says it once, and then throughout Acts, every other conversion account is accompanied by baptism, should suffice, I think. And when Jesus says "You must be born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5, which, up until the Reformation was considered by everyone to refer to baptism), and when Peter says that "Baptism now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21), and Jesus, again, says, "All who believe and are baptised will be saved" (Mark 16:16), it should seem pretty clear that baptism is a necessary requirement.

As to the "Repent and Believe," you defeat your own case of Sola Fide in this very citation! "Repent" implies action!

And here one takes it into the complex doctrines that God allows this repentance and it is not a work of ourselves to decide this but that God has predestined us to be his before time and thus works in our life and thus it is him working in our life.

But why must we bring all of this into it? If God judges us according to these things, then we are somehow responsible for them whether or not God causes our response (or, rather, I would say prompts and enables our response, since I deny the notion of Irresistible Grace), then we must somehow be at liberty to choose that response. Since we agree that we cannot do anything of ourselves in order to merit justification, but it is only through God's grace towards us that we can be saved, I don't see how a discussion of predestination changes all that much on this point. Paul, after all, settles it in Philippians 2:12-13: "Work out your own salvation...for it is God who is at work in you..." See my quotation of C.S. Lewis in my reply to Ryesin, below.

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.

Works befitting repentance again goes exactly as we believe…I believe that a true faith will be one that shows works but the works do not make the faith. As explained above, it hits into views of predestination, free will etc. Complicated stuff, but worth taking note.

But your interpretation of this goes against the plain reading of James 2. Works don't "prove" faith. They enliven faith. They are the life-giving aspect of faith, and as such are inseparable from faith. And again, I don't see how this hits into views of Predestination. I already showed God's role in this discussion clearly to TOM. When it comes to "faith alone" vs. "faith and works", we are discussing our role in our salvation. If you want to know where I see God's role in all of this, and of the necessity of Grace to make us able to respond at all, then read through my reply to TOM. If you have any further comments along this line, then ask. But you're replying to me as though I'm espousing some sort of Pelagianism or extreme Arminianism, and I'm doing nothing of the sort.

Eph 2:8
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Can I ask how you respond to this?

AFS again interjects: On a personal note, like this: My Thorough-ish Reconciliation of Ephesians 2:8-9 and James 2 With Various Doctrines on Salvation (linked).

I reply by saying that I agree with it 100%, and as citing it as further proof that you didn't bother to read my reply to TOM, since I quote it myself. Let me emphasise again, until God justifies us by His grace, we can do nothing of ourselves to be saved. But once we are justified and made spiritually alive by Grace, then our works done in and for Him, merit an increase in justification (sanctification), and work toward our ultimate justification (salvation).

The good we do without grace still is good.

Agreed the no works can give us Salvation as you said but what do you think of this...doesn’t change anything much in context of argument but it is a thought I wondered what your opinion was just out of curiosity?
Romans tells us that no-one is good, not one. Strange, but when you think about it, God uses the word good in Genesis to describe his perfect creation. Thus for us to do good works, they need to be perfect which cannot be true. I’ve a feeling Ryesin may be referring to “good” by God’s standards whereas it may be treated as “good” by our standards. Think it’s quite open.

My thoughts are as I expressed them to Ryesin. Paul is quoting hyperbolic poetry. Nowhere do I state anything that would create a dichotomy between our standard of "good", and God's standard of "good." We are inherently Good, having been created in God's image, and are therefore capable of doing objectively good things. But since we are slaves to sin, we do not do the Good that we should with proper motives or intentions or freedom. Thus, while it is not sin (and therefore would not be good), it is not enough to save us. Once our spirits are enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we are free to do Good for the right motives (though often we still choose not to). We are new creatures, and are Good, and yet we are still not perfect. But the good that we do is now meritorious since it is done in and through Christ. Any other interpretation, it seems to me, leads to the three difficulties that I outlined to Ryesin.

Protestants (an extreme generalisation following your categorization – more appropriate to probably say "I") believe that Christ's death on the cross and rising again defeated sin and justified sins once for all. That means that any sins in the future committed by me will be forgiven and any in the past have been forgiven. It is only when we die that this takes any effect though as we technically have not needed this forgiveness until then. When we are judged by God standing in Heaven, Jesus will take the punishment for our sin (already taken in the past) and thus allow us to enter the presence of God no longer under the title of sinners. Didn't quite follow all your "cloak of righteousness" stuff so thought I'd explain what I believed to clarify.

Catholics also believe that Christ's sacrificial death on the Cross justifies sins once for all. But that sacrifice needs to be appropriated to our lives. We need to accept His sacrifice through our faith and obedience (beginning as we unite ourselves to Him in baptism). As to the rest of what you say, specifically about this justification taking effect only when we die, that is a new spin to me. It is the justification that brings us into right relationship with God in the here and now. Yes, it prepares us for heaven, but it is not solely relegated to then. We need forgiveness now in order to remain in a right place with God.

The "cloak of righteousness stuff" is from, I think, Luther's description of justification. Basically, we do not become inherently righteous, but only "put on" Christ's righteousness. It is imputed to us, and God "considers us as righteous" because of Christ's righteousness being applied to us. But that righteousness is never our own. In Catholic thought, Christ's righteousness is not simply imputed to us. God doesn't simply "consider" us righteous, but the righteousness of Christ, when we accept it, is infused into us. It actually becomes ours, while remaining His. God looks at us and "considers" us righteous not simply because He sees us through a "cloak" of Christ's righteousness, but because, in Christ, we have actually become righteous. If that's your belief, then I won't belabour a point on which we agree.

Really what it is down to that I have seen, is that one is depending on faith (which includes works as part of the faith) and one on faith with works coming as an outward sign that one has faith.

In the practical application, it becomes a distinction without a difference. We both believe in the necessity of works, at some level. I just don't see how a faith that requires works as evidence of itself, can be considered "faith alone", or, for that matter, how Catholics could be considered to teach "works-salvation".

Isn't it true that the Roman Catholic Church would be more hardline on works with the gracious influence being lessened?

I would certainly disagree with that assessment. The Catholic Church is built around the Sacraments, and it is in the Sacraments, primarily, that we believe God freely bestows His Grace. These gifts to us are the central mystery (after the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, but proceeding directly from those central mysteries). They are what energise us to perform the works we are called to do, and where we obtain the grace to have the faith we need to be obedient. If we don't spend as much time emphasizing it, it's because, I fear, we simply assume it to be obvious.

I was talking to a Roman Catholic Priest in the Republic of Ireland recently who gave an interview on radio saying:

I believe myself that good deeds are very important. But I think we need a bit more as well. Anybody can go around doing good deeds but you have to ask yourself why am I doing this? Is it for myself to make me feel good or is it for others that I'm reaching out? And I'm reaching out to others and then I think I'm linking it to what's beyond me and then we're on a good road. I think we need mediators because I think if we're trying to do it on our own it's very difficult I would find."
I would suggest (and, not knowing this priest, I could be wrong, but if his statements are anything like my own, I would suggest) that his emphasis on the works are not opposed to the action of Grace (since, as I mentioned, Grace is often the assumed factor), but reactive to a notion of "Sola Fide". Catholics often interpret Sola Fide to mean that works aren't important whatsoever--that they play no part in our salvation. The Catholic Church denies this teaching, but with the prevalence of Protestantism (and the tensions specifically in Northern Ireland), confusion on these issues is widespread. So the Church takes special care to emphasise the teachings perceived to be under attack, and assuming the teachings on which we agree. Often, it's more effective to begin with the agreements and work our way to the differences, but it's sadly easier to jump right into the disagreements.

Now I'm aware that this may not represent what you believe, but it seems to be they put more emphasis on works as being the main part, but having something to do them for so it is not self-centred.

This, I would suggest, again, going along with what I said above, would be the meaning behind Galatians 5:1-6, that what matters for our justification is faith working itself out in love.

Where I think it ultimately may lie is in the definition of faith. Personally I use the one in Hebrews 11:1,
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see".

Good verse, but I'm not entirely clear how this particular definition of faith pertains to justification. It seems more a description of faith than strictly speaking a definition. It doesn't specifically point us to God, but is a description of faith that could be applied to any situation. I have "faith" that the sun will rise tomorrow, in this sense. But that faith won't save, obviously. Now, if the being certain of what we do not see is taken to mean certainty in God's existence, we perhaps move closer. But as James reminds us, even the demons have that level of "faith." Being sure of what we hope for, if taken to mean "salvation" or "heaven", gets us closer still.

But then we must ask, to whom is that promise given? And I would reply, to the one who actively pursues it through obedience to Christ. As biblical evidence for that, I would again set before you, Hebrews 11:6, "For without faith it is impossible to please God, for anyone who comes to Him must first believe that He exists, and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (emphasis mine, quotation from memory, not a specific translation). We see then that the faith that believes in His existence and hopes for His reward must belong to a person who is diligent in his seeking for God. This calls to mind Paul's words in Romans 2:6-7, that God repays everyone according to their deeds. To those who seek for glory, honour, and immortality through good works, He gives eternal life. Thus Paul also tells us that we must work out our own salvation in fear and trembling, but reminds us that God is the one who makes us able to do so (Phil 2:12-13). This is what Paul would refer to as "the obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26).

I would also suggest that one of the problems in this discussion is in our definition of "Grace". For the Protestant, Grace typically means the good and generous attitude or disposition of God toward sinners. He looks on us with favour, and therefore chooses to forgive us. Catholics, on the other hand, have a rather different notion of Grace. For us, Grace is the Life of God within us. Therefore, God saving us "by His grace" means that He is infusing us with Himself (through the Holy Spirit), dealing with our sin and making us holy. The life of Grace within us is what makes us able to have the faith and do the works necessary to be saved. Before grace, we cannot have faith, and any good work that we do is meaningless and unable to save us. After we are given God's grace, we respond with faith (which initially justifies us), and then must continue in faith and in good works in order to grow in justification, becoming more holy, until we die and enter into God's glory. However, this process is again a result of God's life in us--His Grace. And through our wilful disobedience, we can kill that life of Grace in us, and therefore abandon our salvation. This is why we must continue in God's grace, doing the works He gave us to do.

Sorry for the delay. How did the interview go? May I ask what you’re applying for?
I also find it hard to keep things short!!

with prayers,

It's been so long, I forget which interview I asked you to pray for! As I mentioned above, though, now I'm trying to get a youth ministry position. I need prayer mainly to discern whether it is, in fact, God's will that I relocate my wife and myself 4 hours north, and also prayer that, if it is His will, it would be performed in a prompt and decisive way, so that I would be sure of it.

Once again, sorry about the 10+ pages.

God bless,

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


Hidden One said...

There's a couple formatting errors in text colour at the end of the post.

-AFS. :P

Gregory said...

I don't see them. Perhaps you could specify where? It's a lengthy post to go back through...

Hidden One said...

"Now I'm aware that this may not represent what you believe, but it seems to be they put more emphasis on works as being the main part, but having something to do them for so it is not self-centred."

And a couple bits after it.

Gregory said...

Nope, those are all coloured correctly. "Now I'm aware..." should be orange, since it's Peter. "This, I would suggest..." is mine. Peter starts again at "Where I think it ultimately...", and "Good verse,..." on for the next three paragraphs are all me, so they're black. If you're not seeing it that way, I don't know what the problem is.

Hidden One said...

Everythign after and including the part about the Roman Catholic priest from Ireland appears orange to me.

Gregory said...

I'm sorry, but I'm not sure what the problem is, H1. It's formatted correctly and appears properly in my browser. I don't know that I can help you out here.

Craig said...

I think that the rule, if there is a rule, is that God works with people in a way that goes against everything that they would logically believe to be true.
God calls Abraham who believes that taking a human life is a sin to sacrifice his son. God calls Noah to build a giant boat. God calls Moses who is shy with the public speaking to lead people to freedom.

It's like in anything, if you talk to the people at the front desk, they give you the rules and the party line. If you talk to the person who actually has power they aren't all rigid about the rules and things and can change policies quite quickly within the boundaries of their mission statement. We try to do theology like the people working at the front desk. The first thing God usually does in any bible story is turn the persons entire world upside down.

Craig said...

Therefore, the story of the thief is no exception to the types of biblical interactions we generally see.

Gregory said...

In a sense, that was my point. God works in each of us on an individual basis. He's set up a system of sorts, but even those who follow the system perfectly as it is set out, nonetheless go through it uniquely.

But the fact remains, that the Bible outlines the "rules and the party line" in the first place. Pointing out the 'exception' of the thief on the cross doesn't nullify the "policy", but serves simply to demonstrate that God doesn't limit Himself.

The "party line" is the Gospel message, in its fulness, that we preach. And we preach it as it's laid out, not to limit God, but because it's the surest method, since He gave it to us. But God can still choose to step outside of it, and has often done so, as He has seen fit in His infinite wisdom. We, not having that wisdom, nevertheless must stick to the Gospel that He has given to us.

Craig said...

I think that God always steps outside of it. Whenever people encounter the living God, he shakes their entire world and challenges everything that they believe.
The thief on the cross is no exception to this.
We hold on to traditions and try to wait silently and in stillness, but we really only do that because it's the best that we can do. When God shows up, he'll knock it all down like a row of bowling pins.

Gregory said...

Craig, I'm not sure I'm following your line of thought entirely, and that, I think, is because I'm not sure whether you've followed the line of thought of the 6 parts of this conversation--or particularly the three parts addressed to Peter.

Nevertheless, I don't think I'm inclined to agree with your statements. You presuppose that our "Traditions" are necessarily of our own making in our attempt to suss out the whole question of God and of Salvation. But to turn that line of thinking on its head, I would ask you, from whence did we get the Bible (the epitome of Christian Tradition, but of course by no means the whole extent of it)? Did human beings simply write the Bible as best as they could, according to their philosophies and theologies, based on a mix of whim and reason?

Or did God choose to divinely reveal Himself to the authors, making things known, and infallibly recording those things?

If our Traditions actually stem from God Himself, and were given to us by God Himself (which I assert), then in what sense is God able to "knock it all down like a row of bowling pins"? Can God contradict Himself?