Is St. John the Key to Settling the Justification Debate?

Anonymous, The Last Supper (17th c.)

Are we saved by faith and works, or by faith alone? This question is, from a traditional Protestant perspective, the single biggest issue dividing Catholics and Protestants. R.C. Sproul has pointed out the historical importance of the question:

Luther made his famous comment that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the article upon which the church stands or falls. John Calvin added a different metaphor, saying that justification is the hinge upon which everything turns. In the twentieth century, J.I. Packer used a metaphor indicating that justification by faith alone is the “Atlas upon whose shoulder every other doctrine stands.”

In the intervening half-millenium, there’s been no shortage of debate on what precisely St. Paul means when he says “that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Romans 3:28), or what James means by saying “that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). There have been interminable terminological debates: over what Paul meant by “justification,” “sanctification,” and “works,” and what James means by “justified” and “faith.”

That’s not to deny the development that has occurred, even in recent history (for example, the Joint Declaration on Justification, and the New Perspective on Paul). Nevertheless, the justification debate often goes stale: Catholics and Protestants are reading the same verses, but bringing with them different understandings of what James and Paul mean by some of the theological terminology.

Given this, I thought it might be refreshing to try to approach the question from a different direction from the usual one. To understand what Paul and James are saying, let’s listen to what John has to say. I think it would be instructive to consider the following three questions (and ask them to your Protestant friends). In each case, I believe there’s a clear Biblical answer:

1) Can you go to Heaven without loving God and our neighbor?


No. As 1 John 3:14-15 says,

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death. Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

John says virtually the same thing a chapter earlier, as well (1 John 2:9-11).  We can see John’s continuity with Paul by asking the question in a slightly different way: is faith without love sufficient? St. Paul answers that in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3,

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

So spiritual gifts, theological brilliance, faith, good works, and even martyrdom: all these things are worthless, if you don’t have love. Love is necessary for salvation. If this weren’t the case, if faith without love were sufficient for justification and salvation, Paul couldn’t treat it as nothing, and James couldn’t say that such a man remains in death.

2) Can you love God without keeping His commandments?


No, as Jesus says several times n John 14-15:

  • John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

  • John 14:21: He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.

  • John 15:10, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” 
John continues these themes in his epistles. For example, in 2 John 1:5-6, he writes:

And now I beg you, lady, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love.

In 1 John 5:1-5, he discusses the connections between faith, love (for God and for neighbor), and obedience to the commands of God:

Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

So to be saved, we must love God. And to love God, we must obey His commandments.

3) Can you keep God’s commandments without doing good works?


No. One of the things that Jesus commands His Church to witness to the Gospel through good works (Matthew 7:14-16):

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

There’s no way to obey this without doing good works. This is also why Jesus can say things like “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12). Good works, understood in this way, flow from love, and from what Paul describes as “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; Rom. 16:26).

Here again, John’s epistles are illuminating (1 John 3:17-18):

But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.

Conclusion

We must love God to be saved. If we love God, we’ll obey Him. Obedience to God includes performing good works. If each of these three statements are true, then we must perform good works to be saved.

This leaves two possibilities for Protestants:

  • Disagree with one or more of the three points above: Argue that loving God isn’t necessary for salvation, or that obeying God isn’t necessary to love Him, or that good works aren’t needed to obey God. In each case, holding this position would require some serious Scriptural (and logical) contortions.

  • Agree with the above points: In the case, it seems to me that both sides of the debate agree on the core question. To be saved, you need faith and good works. Everything that we read in the writings of Paul or the epistle of James must be interpreted in a way consistent with this teaching. And any interpretation that says salvation is possible without good works must be dismissed as incompatible with Scripture.

This still leaves lingering questions about how faith, good works and justification operate in the salvation of the believer, and the precise relationship between them. But having agreed on the core question, these peripheral debates seem almost purely academic. More specifically peripheral questions don’t seem to have any impact on what we believe about God, or how we behave as Christians. If that’s true, how is this a doctrinal dispute worth dividing the Church over?

I don’t imagine that this change in approach will immediately resolve the justification debate, or all of the various lingering exegetical and theological questions. But hopefully, this helps to put things in a fresh light. It lets us arise at a clear understanding of why good works are necessary for salvation in a way that doesn’t diminish the centrality of grace, and which doesn’t require pages worth of definitions of theological jargon.

32 Comments

  1. Excellent post Joe! I often had long discussions with my Dad about this issue since I am now Catholic and he is still evangelical. Hopefully this may move that discussion forward sometime in the future!

  2. When talking to an evangelical/fundamentalist/”nondenominational” Christian about justification it is imperative that you emphasize that we as Catholics do not believe that one can “earn” his salvation outside the grace of God. It must be made clear that when Catholics speak of good works we are speaking of good works done under the auspices of God’s grace and not by one’s own power. The misconception that Catholics try to “earn” their salvation by doing their own works is so widespread in evangelical/fundamentalist circles that this has to be made clear in any discussion (I believe it should be the first thing out of your mouth as a Catholic). I left the Church for 8 years for a “nondenominational” (e.g. Baptist-lite) church because I failed to understand that the Church we are saved by God’s grace. Once I understood that I was able to revert (thanks be to God!). Great perspective here, Joe, as Romans and Galatians seem to be emphasized when discussing these topics and not St. John. Your blog is such a blessing!

  3. I would just add that my above comments are made clear in the Council of Trent’s Sixth Session, first article, which condemns anyone who thinks they can earn his own salvation.

  4. This is such good work! 😉

    I have heard a similar argument about love’s role given by Catholic apologist John Martignoni, and I think your discussion adds some extra layers to his without requiring, as you say, “pages worth of definitions of theologcal jargon.” I also appreciate your insight on how this line of thinking can help frame the “why” of the necessity of good works. I think that along with heatstreak’s emphasis on emphasizing the role of grace in salvation, your insights can be very helpful when speaking with our separated brethren.

    God bless you!

  5. I believe that Matthew 25:31-46 (The Judgment of the Nations) also makes it very clear that it is both faith and works that are necessary to attain eternal salvation. Thank you for an excellent article! Now I can add St John to Sts. Paul, James and Matthew as my scriptural basis for my insistence that it is but both faith and works that we are saved.

  6. I would say it goes even beyond John. It’s clear as day in Matthew, both in the Beatitudes and in chapter 25, the parable of sheep and goats. It is both!

    Blessed
    ….the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
    ….the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)
    ….the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)

    Being merciful, pure, and a peacemaker are clearly works. The parable of the sheep and goats speaks for itself.

  7. In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar, “Its a trap!” I have seen what you have done here with a very fine argument constructed based upon love rather faith or good works, but you then create a stark “all or nothing” conclusion. Well played! You try to hook us Pro-test-ants with the love and then get us with that conclusion. I am not going to fall for it.

    First, I extremely appreciate your new perspective. It is always refreshing to hear a new take on a classic debate. This line of reasoning sounds very promising, and I personally hope you will explore this more at length. Love is a very healthy hermeneutic. (pardon my jargon) St. Augustine would appreciate this perspective.

    Second, justification is a fine line to walk. On one end is the antinomian mistake (pardon more jargon) that relies so much on grace that even the 10 Commandments become little more than relativism speed bumps for people doing whatever they want to do. I believe that James is writing to a group of antinomian Christians. On the other end is the strict legalism that relies so much on the law that grace is dismissed. I believe that Paul was writing to a group of strict legalists known as the “Judaizers” in Romans and many other epistles. Paul and James are starting from the same perspective and looking outward to one end of these extremes each. I agree with the assertions about it being the doctrine that everything hinges upon. (this is not a shock given that I am a Lutheran pastor)

    Second, we need to acknowledge that our churches are closer together on this topic now than they have ever been in the last 500 years or so. Several of the comments above give hope for this.

    Third, to mandate love in some kind of system of obedience negates love. This is my major issue with your post. We cannot force or legislate love because it would cease to be love at that point. God loved us, even though God clearly did not need to love us and send us the Son. We can love God because of the love given to us. By loving God, we want to do good works and to obey the commands. (John 14:15) Love is freely given and freely wants to please. Love can never be under the confines of forced obedience. You may object here, but if Love is a linchpin for justification and salvation (your soteriology), then love is forced upon us for salvation. Love becomes a work. Again, love cannot still be love if it is forced, required, or boxed in by obedience. Domestic abusers confine love into a box of obedience, God clearly does not confine love.

    Given that we are still sinful, you argument above would only help to cast doubt on those who sincerely love and still fail. This is the situation that Luther grew up in, to love God means that we need to obey all the time and be perfect. It drove Luther to point of breaking because he knew that he could not live up to a perfect God and a perfect love we get from Christ. Love cannot be bound by the chains of obedience. We see love differently. I see love as the water that helps the heart grow and bloom so that we can freely and joyfully love without the worry of doing it properly. I see the above argument making love into a requirement into salvation along the lines of obedience. Power, obedience, and authority dressed up in love is still not love. The Roman church cannot seem to separate love, grace, and faith from obedience, power, and authority, and this is my ultimate issue with the Roman church.

    1. The Roman church cannot seem to separate love, grace, and faith from obedience, power, and authority, and this is my ultimate issue with the Roman church.

      Neither can our Founder.

      “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

      “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)

      “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

      “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)

      “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10)

      “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

      “This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:17)

      And St. Paul’s summary:

      “The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Romans 13:9).

      And St. John’s:

      “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)

      “And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” (1 John 4:21)

      “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” (1 John 5:2)

      “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)

      “And now I beg you, lady, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.” (2 John 1:5)

      “And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love.” (2 John 1:6)

      It seems to me that the New Testament repeatedly teaches that you can’t separate love and obedience. He commands us to love.
      There’s no way to obey God without loving Him, and no way to love God without obeying Him.

      Your opposition to this, if I’m understanding you correctly, is that “Love cannot be bound by the chains of obedience.” I disagree, and note that you’ve got no Scriptural support for this belief (which seems to reflect the modern view of love more than the Biblical one).

      I don’t know that I understand the internal logic of your argument, either. If we need faith to be saved, doesn’t that “bind” it with “the chains of obedience”? Why can we be “bound” to have faith, but not “bound” to love? Both are free responses to God’s initiative, in that they are tied to our will.

      Your brother in Christ,

      Joe

      P.S. I do agree with your second point (on our growing closer together), and of course, with your citation to the good Admiral Akbar. And don’t worry, I read your tone as challenging, not hostile. I hope that you read my response in the same manner.

  8. I wanted to make a note because it is impossible to read tone or the intended emotion by just reading the written word. I hope that no one hears anger or hostility in my comment above. You all bring me great joy and excitement by knowing that you are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I wanted to articulate the differences in our understanding of love as I understood them, though I am always open to correction if I have misunderstood how love was used or intended to be used in the original post. I hope that we may all be transfigured by the love, wisdom, and glory of God this week as we prepare for the transfiguration. Grace and Peace to you all from our Father in heaven!

    1. Excerpt from the conclusion in the article:

      “The question that I have examined here is whether there is Biblical evidence for the claim that we are justified by faith alone. When we unpack the distinction between the Protestant and Catholic positions on this subject, we find that this question rests on a deeper question, namely, whether there is any Biblical evidence that persons are justified prior to or apart from, love for God. My survey of the relevant passages in the New Testament has shown that there is no evidence that persons are justified prior to or apart from, love for God. Not only can all the passages teaching justification by faith be understood as referring to faith conjoined with agape, but as I have shown, there is a good evidence from Scripture that justifying faith should be understood as necessarily conjoined with agape in order to be justifying.

      “Even if the evidence were a 50-50 toss-up, not favoring one position over the other, the Catholic position would have the benefit of the doubt. That is because a schism cannot justifiably be created or maintained, on the basis of a hermeneutical coin-flip. The hermeneutical evidence would have to be strongly tilted in favor of the Protestant position, before one could (hypothetically) even begin to make a case for causing a schism from the Church or remaining in schism from the Church. But what I have shown here is that the evidence tilts in the direction of the Catholic position. And that has important implications for the reconciliation of Protestants with the Catholic Church.”

  9. It appears from the quotes above that ‘faith alone’ cannot ‘justify’ alone, but needs love. Maybe the three ‘theological virtues’ of ‘faith, hope and charity’ were derived from this fact? Hope is needed because we cannot know the future to any significant degree, but can do our best to protect the virtues of faith and love in our souls through the frequent practice of these virtues. This is why we need to renew our faith frequently with prayer, study and the Sacraments, and renew our charity by helping others as though we were helping the Lord Himself. By Loving God and our neighbor habitually, the virtue of hope might in this way be increased within us.

    On the other hand, the doctrine of ‘Justification by faith alone’ can be very dangerous to a soul if it in any way leads to the presumption that one’s salvation is absolute and a ‘done deal’, so to say. In this case, one would not even need to pray “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil”, as the Lord instructed. We also would not need to follow these other scriptural admonishments, which would beg the question why indeed they were taught to us if they weren’t useful for our justification/salvation:

    Mark 14:38
    Watch ye, and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

    Matthew 24:43
    But know this ye, that if the goodman of the house knew at what hour the thief would come, he would certainly watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open.

    Luke 12:38
    And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.

    Luke 12:39
    But this know ye, that if the householder did know at what hour the thief would come, he would surely watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open.

    1 Thessalonians 5:6
    Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do; but let us watch, and be sober.

  10. ” (which seems to reflect the modern view of love more than the Biblical one.)”
    This is interesting. Joe, in a future post could you address the ‘Biblical one”?? The meaning of love means so much today it almost means nothing. On another note, I was attending a TLM not too long ago and the gospel reading re the ‘greatest commandment’ was read. As I followed along it appeared that the latin word for love was: diligentae. This puzzled me up (as my granny use to say). It looked a lot like diligent. I couldn’t make out the latin word for love. Anyway, I never thought about it again untill I read your response to the good Rev. Hans.
    Thanks Joe for your vocation. God Bless….mmt

  11. We must love God to be saved. If we love God, we’ll obey Him. Obedience to God includes performing good works. If each of these three statements are true, then we must perform good works to be saved.

    “We must love to be saved.” If you mean we must love God as a result and fruit of being converted and justified by faith, then that is true. There must be evidence of the love poured out in our heart first, then our ability to love God and others is given. If someone says, “I am saved by faith alone”, but does not have love for God or love for others, then they don’t have true faith. That is what James 2:14-26 is all about.

    All of those texts about loving God should be seen as results and fruits of true justification, not conditions in order to fulfill first, in order to earn or get God’s love or grace or peace or forgiveness.

    Love has to first be poured out within our hearts (Romans 5:5) – God loves us first by sending the Son and He dying for us – John 3:16; I Cor. 15:1-9 – the gospel of grace is that we as sinners cannot love God first; He has to love us first – I John 4:10

    “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

    and 1 John 4:19

    We love, because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19

    You left out those important verses from “St. John”. (unless I didn’t see them)

    Good works and obedience are the results of true faith; not conditions of merit of earning in order to be saved.

  12. Good works come as a result of faith. The thief on the cross had no time to perform good works yet Jesus assured him of salvation. So good works can’t be a must, although every saved person who seeks to follow Jesus will perform good works because they want to serve Jesus

  13. “There must be evidence of the love poured out in our heart first, then our ability to love God and others is given.”

    Determining which virtue, ‘Love’ or ‘Faith’, comes first is like trying to answer ‘which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” It is certain that God has loved first, as “God is Love”. But how a person encounters this Love can come through many ways. A verbal explanation of the Christian faith, or the reading of the Holy Bible, might actually be the very last way for many people. The living of the faith by others, their virtuous acts, loving concern, joyful countenance, modest speech and mannerisms, patience under adversity, etc… might be the first way that many initially come into contact with the Christian faith. And Jesus also noted that it is not by ‘doctrine’ that you will recognize his disciples, but rather:

    “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35.)

    So, “all men” will be attracted to this love that Christians have for one another, and will thereby recognize through that love exhibited, that they are ‘the true disciples’ of Christ, who Himself poured out His eternal love for us on the Cross: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”(John 15:13).

    Referring to K BUCHAN….The Good thief apparently recognized this love of Christ, and subsequently defended justice and truth by being an advocate for Christ against the other robber who was mocking the Lord, so he indeed DID do a good work at that time:

    “And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. [40] But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation?
    [41]And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil. [42] And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom. [43] And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise. “(Luke 23:39)

    So, the good thief actually did ‘perform’ a good work, as he defended Christ against unjust blasphemy and mockery. We don’t know that Jesus taught him anything except by His good example, or maybe His great exhibition of mercy when He said shortly before this event: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

    So ‘how’ faith actually comes to a soul is a mystery I think is only known to God. But certainly, the above quotes show that the virtue and example of Love, whether by Christ Himself, or His disciples, is spiritually very attractive, and can effectively lead many people closer to faith in Christ.

    1. The problem with depending on works is that you never have certainty you have ‘done enough’
      That’s why salvation is a free gift. But no one forces us to accept salvation, it’s our free will whether we accept. Good works come from knowing Christ, it’s not done as a chore. The Thief was ‘born anew’ that’s why he starting witnessing for Christ in his last hours. That is the change that accepting Christ makes to a person. It’s a work of God but he had no time to tally up many good works

    2. No one should be so ignorant of the Christian faith as to ‘DEPEND on works’ in anyway. This is in no way Catholic teaching. And a degree of Faith and love are always included in any holy and virtuous activity. This is why the Lord taught that we should consider ourselves always as ‘unprofitable servants’. However, this humble ‘unprofitableness’ does not mean that we are not indeed ‘servants’; we are mean’t to do something, which is obviously, to serve God and our neighbor.

      Anyone who demands certainty of ones level of holiness, or justification, is one who thinks that he can certainly judge the value of his own actions and virtue. Jesus warns against this type of presumption when He says:

      “When thou art invited to a wedding, sit not down in the first place, lest perhaps one more honourable than thou be invited by him: And he that invited thee and him, come and say to thee, Give this man place: and then thou begin with shame to take the lowest place.” (Luke 14:8)

      A Christian should consider himself as “the least and the servant of all” this is the correct place to be if we are to follow Christ’s teachings. There is too much mystery and uncertainty in judging ourselves, and others, due to the fact that God does not reveal to us clearly the ‘talents’ that we have been provided, and are accountable for using, as ‘wise servants’. If we presume we are doing great, and others poorly, we might become like the Pharisee in the temple, who was judging the sinner in front of Him, but the sinner went away justified and the Pharisee did not. Maybe the sinner was given only one talent, but doubled that talent to two, and the Pharisee was given 100, but lost 50 of them through waste and abuse.

      So it is very presumptuous to think ‘certainly’ that you have done enough. God only knows that. But you can rejoice that you are a baptized Christian, and that you love Jesus Christ, and that you try to do everything that He teaches us in the Gospel. Then we can experience the virtue of hope growing in us, to compliment faith and love. This hope relates to the prize that St. Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 9:24:

      “Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain.”

      We see here that the end of the race is not certain. We need to run, and run well! This is faith and hope. And we trust and pray to God to help us in the race. Then St. Paul continues:

      “And every one that striveth for the mastery, refraineth himself from all things: and they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible one.[26] I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air: [27] But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.”

      The certainty that St. Paul talks about is his experience of being in the grace of Christ at the time he is writing. But the future is ‘uncertain’ because it is always possible to be ‘cast away’ due to our future temptations and sins. That is to say we might indeed ‘lose the race’. This is why we also must pray frequently the prayer that Jesus taught us in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, and especially the part that says: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.

      In all of this we realize that only God is the Judge, and not ourselves. But the ‘Good News’ is that we have the teachings and graces given by Christ, and through his Holy Church, to guide us and strengthen us for all of the trials, challenges and temptations that we might face in life. So we should be grateful for everything that the Lord has provided to us in these regards, and then try our best to ‘run the race well’, even as St. Paul did.

    3. Romans 4:5 “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him (Jesus) that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

      Titus 3:5 – “NOT BY WORKS of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost”

      Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast.”

      Galatians 2:16 “Knowing that a man is NOT JUSTIFIED BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and NOT BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW: for BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW SHALL NO FLESH BE JUSTIFIED”

      Romans 11:6 “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But IF IT BE OF WORKS, THEN IT IS NO MORE GRACE: otherwise work is no more work”

      Galatians 2:21 – “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, THEN CHRIST IS DEAD IN VAIN”

      John 6:29 “Then they said to Him, “What shall we DO, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”

    4. Catholics accept all of these scriptures, but also question the Protestant interpretation. The context is essential, and we all know that Paul was primarily addressing the Jewish law, and ‘works’, as he knew it personally being taught and practiced at his time. For Christians, much of this dilemma was settled at the Council of Jerusalem, described in the Acts of the Apostles, wherein Jewish circumcision, dietary and purification laws were adapted according to Christian teaching.

      Obviously, we have some seemingly contradictory teachings in the Scriptures that you cite above, with similar Scriptures that I have sited before that. But All of these scriptures are still true. They just need to be interpreted in their correct context.

      The link that Joe provided above for the “JOINT DECLARATION
      ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION” by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, can shed some light on the context that both Lutherans and Catholics agree on. It is well worth reading. Here is a sample:

      “4.4 The Justified as Sinner

      28.We confess together that in baptism the Holy Spirit unites one with Christ, justifies, and truly renews the person. But the justified must all through life constantly look to God’s unconditional justifying grace. They also are continuously exposed to the power of sin still pressing its attacks (cf. Rom 6:12-14) and are not exempt from a lifelong struggle against the contradiction to God within the selfish desires of the old Adam (cf. Gal 5:16; Rom 7:7-10). The justified also must ask God daily for forgiveness as in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:12; 1 Jn 1:9), are ever again called to conversion and penance, and are ever again granted forgiveness.”

    5. Christ did it all. His sacrifice did not need supplements like works to accompany it.
      It was complete – complete atonement. The works come from us being born anew, we want to do them because of what Christ has done for us, as we are a new creation. That’s completely different from the concept of doing works because it contributes in some shape or form to eternal salvation.

    6. K BUCHAN,

      Again, the above mentioned “Joint Declaration” provides some detail to your simplistic, and incomplete, explanations and scriptural references. You need to account for all of the teachings that Christ gave to us in the Gospels. Just one of these, for instance:

      John 6:54

      “Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. [55] He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.[56] For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. [57] He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. [58] As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. [59] This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.”

      The ‘Joint Declaration’ tries to clarify the Catholic and Lutheran understanding of ‘Justification’, with a mind for all that Christ taught to His disciples, with passages such as this one:

      4.1 Human Powerlessness and Sin in Relation to Justification

      “19.We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God’s judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God’s grace. Because Catholics and Lutherans confess this together, it is true to say:

      20.When Catholics say that persons “cooperate” in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God’s justifying action, they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities.

      21.According to Lutheran teaching, human beings are incapable of cooperating in their salvation, because as sinners they actively oppose God and his saving action. Lutherans do not deny that a person can reject the working of grace. When they emphasize that a person can only receive (mere passive) justification, they mean thereby to exclude any possibility of contributing to one’s own justification, but do not deny that believers are fully involved personally in their faith, which is effected by God’s Word. [cf. Sources for 4.1].”

    7. The Gospel is simple. People have varying intellectual abilities and analytical skills. It does not need rocket science to be saved. The language of Jesus in the bible was simple. The plan of salvation was not something only the intelligentsia could comprehend. His message is simple. His explanation of salvation is simple.

    8. If it is so simple and easy to understand, then what does this mean?:

      “Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.” (John 6:54)

      Maybe it’s not as simplistic as you think. Most of the Protestants that I’ve come across, have no idea what this means. And if you pay attention to the Lord’s words here, and remember also His words at the Last Supper, you will realize that these teachings are of the highest importance and priority. If you don’t understand what the Lord means concerning His ‘Body and Blood’, you really know very little about the Gospel message….simple as it is (as you say).

      However, the Catholic Church fully understands what Jesus taught on eating His Body and Drinking His blood (The Holy Eucharist). But I’ll spare you volumes of quotes on the subject.

    9. You have mentioned previously that some scriptures seem contradictory. I also agree that scripture does not contradict. It was the Spirit of God that inspired scripture so it is the truth. That same Spirit of God is still available to each of us when studying the word. Ask God humbly to reveal to you through His Spirit what the truth of these passages is.
      As far as the passage you mention is concerned I have read many Protestants explanations of that topic. I can recommend some excellent reading, one of the Authors that comes to mind used to be a Catholic too. Thanks for the exchanges.

    10. Yes, ‘apparently’ contradictory scripture needs to be pondered on deeply, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit. But we must also listen to other teachers of Christ, as you mention can be done by reading good books. I guess that’s one of the reasons why we are on this blog: to gain some insight and inspiration from other Christians.

      As for what the Eucharist means, I both have studied it and receive the Lord frequently, and find great strength and union with God by doing so. By reading the abundant quotes from the pre and post Nicaean Church Fathers, some of which can also be found on this blog, it is easy to understand the truth and history of this most holy sacrament. Thanks also to you for your charitable exchanges on such important spiritual topics.

      1. Hi Awlms and K,

        Interesting discussion you’re having.

        I’d like to address two points that K made. The first is this,

        The Thief was ‘born anew’ that’s why he starting witnessing for Christ in his last hours. That is the change that accepting Christ makes to a person. It’s a work of God but he had no time to tally up many good works

        a. Wrong. He tallied up many and they were all, works of gold. Works of gold is a reference to 1 Cor 3:10-15.

        1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

        His works of gold, passed the test of fire.

        b. Above you seem to acknowledge one of his works. You said, he was witnessing for Christ. But, then you attributed the work to God, as though that disavowed St. Dismas’ participation in the work. However, that is precisely the way we view all our good works. When we do anything good it is God working through us. Nothing good comes from us, alone. We must do everything in union with Christ in order for any good to come of it. (John 15).

        c. When thinking of good works, Protestants seem to limit that definition merely to physical (i.e. corporeal) works of mercy. Perhaps you haven’t heard of “spiritual” works of mercy? One of which, you mentioned.

        d. Note that St. Dismas didn’t die immediately upon Christ’s word. But continued to suffer even after Christ died. What does Scripture say about suffering?

        1 Peter 4:1
        Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;

        Therefore, St. Dismas had to expiate his sin before he went to heaven. Jesus knew this, therefore He did not permit St. Dismas to die before he suffered sufficiently upon his cross (John 19:31-33).

        e. Scripture also says:
        Romans 8:17
        And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

        Note that St. Dismas died in union with Christ. Compare him to the other thief who died in enmity with Christ.

        f. Scripture also says:
        Matthew 10:32
        Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

        Note that St. Dismas also confessed Jesus before men (Luke 23:39-41).

        I believe, this is the one you called, “witnessing”.

        g. There is more to his “witnessing” however, St. Dismas did a work of gold (1 Cor 3:10-15). His confession is memorialized in Scripture for eternity and has converted many men to the Faith of our Lord, Jesus Christ (James 5:19-20).

        St. Dismas did more in his few hours on the Cross than most men do in a lifetime.

        I can recommend some excellent reading, one of the Authors that comes to mind used to be a Catholic too. Thanks for the exchanges.

        Is your author recommended by Scripture with these words:
        Ephesians 3:10King James Version (KJV)

        10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,

        If not, then we will stick with our author, thank you very much.

        Finally, kudos on a great discussion you guys!

  14. I don’t know what could be clearer than this: (From Matthew 25 – “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45“Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

  15. The Scripture is clear:

    For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:9-10).

    Who fulfilled the Law?

    Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill (Matt 5:17).

    For Christ is the end (or “culmination”) of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom 10:4).

    Have you loved your neighbor as yourself? Have you loved God with your whole heart? Have you done any of these without fail? You must be blameless before the Lord your God (Deut 18:13).

    Indeed, love fulfills the Law: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Yet, we do not love GOd for we do not keep His commandments without fail.

    Yet Christ did, and He showed us what love is by laying down His life for us (1 John 3:16). He fulfilled the Law of Love, for He loved His neighbor as Himself, He love His Father in heaven with all His heart, He has done everything that we cannot do.

    The Law of love is not of works, but of the grace made available to us by faith in Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled the Law in our place.

  16. Thank you for writing, I like reading your site. It has a lot of good information. I found your site by searching, ‘why bread and wine’

    Rev 2:2 “I know your works”
    Rev 2:19 “I know your works”
    Rev 3:8 “I know your works”
    Rev 3:15 “I know your works”

    Looks like Jesus knows our works. And, our works matter to Him.

    btw: Work first appears in Gn2:2 “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.”

    It last appears:
    Rev 22:12 “Behold, I come quickly: and my reward is with me, to render to every, man according to his works”

    Fear Him, do not sin.
    Psalm 4

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