I. Paul on Faith
Paul writes a lot on the neccesity of faith for salvation. Most famously, in Romans 3:28, he writes, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” That’s the NIV translation. The KJV translation says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
In Luther’s translation, he adds the word “alone”: “So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, allein durch den Glauben.” It’s a classic example of basing your Bible off of your theology, rather than your theology off of your Bible. There is no word in the original text which is translated “allein” or “alone.” Paul says we’re “justified by faith” (which Catholics and Lutherans both believe), not “by faith alone” (which is the heart of the controversy). Luther proves his case by adding a word to the Bible, and omitting books he found contrary to this conclusion. Perhaps most shockingly, his response to criticism of this insertion was, “It is my Testament and my translation, and it shall continue to be mine.” And in a way, he’s right. With that intentional insertion of “alone,” the Testament Luther produced went from being the New Testament to Luther’s own Testament.
II. Paul on Sowing the Seeds of Works
To Luther’s mind, the debate was St. Paul against St. James, since he recognized that James 2 undermined the doctrine of sola fide (this was one of the books he wanted removed from the Bible). But it’s instructive that St. Paul’s own understanding of faith doesn’t comport with sola fide. 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 says:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
I love this imagery. With our initial justification, we’ve got the seed of Christ planted into our hearts, and it is through loving and giving which God makes graces abound in us, to increase our “store of seed.” As we give, we find ourselves able to give more. People like Mother Teresa don’t just happen like that overnight. She’s a regular woman who gave so much of her time, talent, and treasure that God gave her abundant graces so she could continue to give. And this generosity was not to make herself look good, but to “result in thanksgiving to God.”
So God has “scattered abroad His gifts to the poor.” When we act with charity, we’re “paying forward” the gifts which God has given us. This alone doesn’t conflict with sola fide at all, since they would say that this is sanctification, not justification. But of course, there will be some who ignore the command of God, and refuse to give with the gifts He’s given us. In the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30, three men are given various amounts of talents. Two of them use their talents to provide increase for their Master; the other one buried his talents. The first two men are given more talents (just like 2 Cor. 9 says that they would), while the other man is thrown into outer darkness (which almost certainly represents hell in this parable). Given the identification of hell with the depths below the ground, it calls to mind Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The man buried his treasure into the depths, and followed it there.
So Jesus is giving the half of the equation which Paul leaves here unaddressed: what happens to those who ignore the Bible’s call to give. That the early Christians so clearly grasped this point is obvious from language: our word “talented” comes from the word Greek word talanton, the unit of money in the parable. They understood that Jesus didn’t mean simply “give money.”
James, in James 2, also notes the converse of Paul’s point. James 2:17, James 2:20, and James 2:26 thrice over make the point that faith, by itself, is dead. It’s not that the faith never existed. It’s that it died. James 2:26 even makes the comparison with a dead body, solidifying the point. A dead body was once alive. 2 Corinthians 9 makes the point that if you plant with the seeds you’ve been given, God will expand your capacity for seeds (and giving). James makes the point that if you don’t plant with the seeds you’ve been given, your seeds will rot and die, and you’ll be left with nothing. There’s no conflict there. What is interesting is that James 2:24 explicitly ties this to justification. But again, there’s no contradiction. Intial justification is brought about by faith, but to maintain the state of justification, works are necessary. Once planted, your faith will either increase or die, and works of the heart will make the difference there.
Here, I’ve got to make a distinction in terms. Protestants view justification as “getting saved,” and sanctification as growing in Christ. This is partially correct. Justification is “the state of being saved,” and sanctification as growing in Christ. But because your faith either increases or dies off, if you aren’t being sanctified, you’re losing your justification. Without being watered by love, your faith is nothing.
III. Paul on the Necessity of Love for Salvation
Paul makes the same point as James in 1 Corinthians 13:2, when he writes that “if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” So it’s faith animated by love, not faith alone, which matters. Of course, this harmonizes James 2:24 and Romans 3:28 perfectly. We’re still called (and obliged, even) to do good works, but we’re not called to slavish and unloving obedience to the law. We’re following the tug of conscience on our hearts, and giving lovingly. This, by the way, is much harder than following the law. But Christ already made that clear in the Gospels. Look at what Jesus says about the Law in Matthew 5:17-20 (and consider why St. Matthew felt it was important to include those details even after His Death and Resurrection), then look at His comparison between the letter and spirit of the Law in Matthew 5:21-43, and notice how much harder it is to keep the spirit of the Law than the letter. I mean, Jesus concludes the list with an instruction to “be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
This comes up frequently with Modernists. They’re often convinced that they’re going to Heaven because “I’m not a bad person.” The list they’ll usually give to prove this is a list of things that they don’t do: they don’t steal, don’t murder, etc. The expectation here is that they merit Heaven by not breaking any of the really serious Laws. Occassionally, they’ll even throw in some of the things which they do (recycle or whatnot), but works of the Law are of no avail. The Christian who truly gets what it is to be motivated by pursuit of God’s perfection will immediately realize how terrible a sinner he or she is. A friend of mine from high school has had a religious conversion of sorts from “cafeteria” to authentic Catholicism, and this was one of the first things she noticed about herself: she was much worse than she noticed. That’s love working.
A Calvinist friend of mine has suggested that Paul’s posing an impossible hypothetical in 1 Corinthians 13:2, since you cannot have faith and not love within the Calvinist schema. But in context, this conclusion is just untenable. The next example he gives (1 Cor 13:3) is, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” And we certainly can imagine a person giving money to the poor (even dying for the class warfare) without being motivated by authentic love: a Marxist, perhaps. So shrugging off Paul’s denial of sola fide because it contradicts sola fide is bad exegesis.
IV. St. Paul on Once Saved, Always Saved
A Baptist preacher explained it to me one day why he believed in OSAS using Romans 8:38-39, about how Paul was convinced that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But it seems an enormous jump to me to say that because no external factor can separate us from the Love of God that we can’t reject that love ourselves. The postman will deliver in rain, sleet, or snow, but if I cement my mailbox shut, I won’t be receiving mail anytime soon. If Paul meant to say that we cannot lose our salvation, one would think he’d find a less tortured way to say it.
In fact, where he’s clear on the issue, the evidence points the opposite direction anyways. The same Paul who wrote Romans 8:38-39 writes in 1 Corinthians 15:2, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” So he’s acknowledging that some who presently believe will not ultimately be saved. And the condition is whether or not the believer continues to hold firmly to the word: that is, living the Christian life. This is, so far as I can tell, another absolute refutation of OSAS.
An “if-then” statement is conditional. Sometimes, they’re rhetorical. Romans 8:31’s implicit if-then, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” isn’t really questioning whether or not God is for us. It’s saying that since the condition has been fulfilled, we know of the result. Not the case here. In fact, he’s not just hypothetically posing that they might lose the Faith: he’s dealing with people who have lost faith in the bodily resurrection, and telling them to “Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning” (1 Corinthians 15:34).
Perhaps even more striking than 1 Cor. 15:2 is 1 Corinthians 9:24-27,
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Here, Paul expresses talks of the possibility losing his own salvation (the eternal prize in question), and it’s again based on lifestyle choices, rather than faith alone. He talks about preparing insufficiently to “run the race,” not whether or not you believe that there is a race. He’s acknowledging the very thing that sola fide proponents deny: that some people who recognize that there is a “race” for eternal life will still not do what it takes to achieve the crown. Christ says in Matthew 22:14, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” suggesting that this isn’t a hypothetical, but a real danger for many people.
From all this, I think it’s safe to say that while Paul puts an enormous emphasis on the absolute necessity of Faith, this doesn’t eliminate the need for acts of charity; nor does it mean that those who have the Faith can never lose it.