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Skip to comments.Faith and Works [Ecumenical]
Posted on 09/05/2010 3:10:57 PM PDT by Salvation
Faith and Works
By Jimmy Akin
One passage Fundamentalists often cite as a proof against the Catholic view of salvation is Ephesians 2:8-9: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast."
Though this passage can often stymie Catholics in conversation, it is nothing to be threatened by.
Even if we assume that Paul is speaking of "good works" when he says we have not been saved by works, this in no way conflicts with Catholic theology. Notice that the passage speaks of salvation in the past tense-"you have been saved." In Greek this is the perfect tense, which denotes a past, completed action.
We know from other passages in Paul that salvation also has present and future.aspects, so the kind of salvation Paul is discussing in Ephesians 2:8-9 is initial salvation. It is the kind which we received when we first came to God and were justified, not the kind of salvation we are now receiving (cf. 1 Peter 1:8-9, Phil. 2:12) or the kind we will one day receive (cf. Rom. 13:11, 1 Cor. 3:15, 5:5).
But the Catholic Church does not teach that we receive initial justification by good works. You do not have to do good works in order to come to God and be justified.
The Council of Trent states: "We are said to be justified by grace because nothing that precedes justification, whether faith or works, merits the grace of justification. For 'if it is by grace, it is no longer by works; otherwise,' as the apostle says, 'grace is no more grace' [Rom. 11:6]" (Decree on Justification 8).
So even if Paul were using "works" to mean "good works" in Ephesians 2:8-9, there is no conflict with Catholic theology. However, Paul probably does not mean "good works." Normally when he says "works," he means "works of the Law." His point is to stress that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the Mosaic Law. Jews have no ability to boast in front of Gentiles of having a privileged relationship with God because they keep the Mosaic Law and its requirement of circumcision (cf. Romans 2:6-11, 17-21, 25-29, 3:21-22, 27-30).
These same elements-works, boasting, circumcision, and the Jewish/Gentile distinction-are present in Ephesians 2. Paul discusses how Jew and Gentiles are united together in the body of Christ and mentions works in connection with boasting, before turning to the whole subject of circumcision and membership in Christ:
"Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision . . . remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel . . . But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the Law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two . . . and might reconcile us both to God in one body. . . . So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Eph. 2:11-19).
Because of the common themes of both passages, Paul is probably using "works" and "boasting" here as he does in Romans, i.e., of Jews boasting before Gentiles of having privilege with God due to their keeping the Mosaic Law.
The apostle then turns our attention away from works of the Mosaic Law and toward the kind of works a Christian should be interested in-good works: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).
The sense of what Paul is saying is: "God has raised up both of us-Jews and Gentiles-to sit in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, for we received initial salvation as a gift. We obtained it by faith in Christ (which itself is a gift from God), not by works of obedience to the Mosaic Law. So neither Jew or Gentile can boast over the other of having privilege with God. "Instead, we Christians are the result of God's work, for he created us anew in the body of Christ so that we might do good works-the kind of works we should be concerned about-for God intended ahead of time for us to do them" (paraphrase of Eph. 2:6-10).
If Protestants try to put Catholics on the defensive using Ephesians 2:8-9, they themselves are put on the defensive when Catholics cite James 2:24. Protestants are known their slogan stating that we are justified by "faith alone," but the expression "faith alone" only appears once in the Bible-in James 2:24-where it is rejected. This is a burr under the saddle of Protestants, for if they want to use terms the way the Bible does, they would have to give up their chief slogan.
When Catholics point this out, many Protestants attempt damage control by attacking the faith being discussed in James 2, saying it is an inferior or bad faith. Some do this by labeling it "dead faith." They treat "faith without works is dead" (vv. 17, 26) as if it were a definition and say, "If faith does not produce works then it is dead faith. It is this dead faith that James says won't save us."
But reading the context shows that James is not using the phrase as a definition. He is not defining the term "dead faith." That term does not appear in the text. He is stating a fact, not offering a definition. The interpretation flies apart at the seams when we test it by substituting "dead faith" wherever the text mentions faith.
On that reading, people would be boasting of having dead faith (vv. 14). James would be making the redundant statement that dead faith without works is dead (vv. 17, 26) and offering to prove that dead faith is barren (v. 20). He would be offering to show people hisdead faith by his works (v. 18) and commending people ("you do well") for having dead faith (v. 19).
Finally, he would be telling us that Abraham's dead faith was active with his works (v. 22) and that Abraham believed God with dead faith and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (v. 23).
Another attempt to impugn the faith in this passage uses the statement "Even the demons believe-and shudder" (v. 19). People ask, "What kind of faith do demons have? Only mere intellectual assent. They intellectually assent to the truths of theology, but this is as far as their faith goes."
This understanding of the faith in James 2 is closer to the truth, but it still creates problems-in fact, many of the same problems. People would be boasting of having mere intellectual assent (v. 14). James would be offering to show others his mere intellectual assent by his works (v. 18). He would be commending people for having mere intellectual assent (v. 19) and saying that Abraham's mere intellectual assent was active along with his works (v. 22)-in which case it wouldn't be "mere" any more.
Finally, he would be saying that Abraham's mere intellectual assent was reckoned to him as righteousness, contradicting verse 23, which would state that mere intellectual assent is barren.
The "mere intellectual assent" solution fails just as the "dead faith" one did. In fact, any solution that impugns the faith James is talking about as a bad or inferior faith will fail. This can be seen by going through the passage and substituting "bad faith" and "inferior faith" wherever faith is mentioned.
Such solutions fail because James does not see anything wrong with the faith he is talking about. The faith isn't the problem; the fact it is alone is the problem.
To understand what kind of faith James has in mind, one must avoid the temptation to read something bad into it. This is where the "mere intellectual assent" solution went wrong. Its advocates correctly identified verse 19 as the key to understanding the faith being discussed, which is intellectual assent. Adding the term "mere" to make it sound bad created the problems.
Leave "mere" off, and the problems vanish. Someone can go around boasting that he intellectually assents to God's truth (v. 14), prompting James's need to show that intellectual assent without works is dead and barren (vv. 17, 20, 26). He could offer to show his intellectual assent by his works (v. 18). And he could commend a person for having intellectual assent (v. 19a), while saying that even the demons have it but it doesn't stop them from shuddering at the prospect of God's wrath (v. 19b).
Finally, he can speak of how Abraham's intellectual assent was active with and completed by his works (v. 22) and can conclusion that man is not justified by intellectual assent alone (v. 24).
James views intellectual assent as good thing ("you do well," v. 19a), but not as a thing that will save us by itself (vv. 14, 17, 20, 24, 26).
Thus if one uses the language of the Bible, one would say that "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law . . . not by faith alone . . . for faith apart from works is dead . . . but faith working through love" (Rom. 3:28, Jas. 2:24, 26, Gal. 5:6).
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It is obvious, then, that there is a difference between the two constructs, at least in this author's mind and also in the many comments and posts through the years whenever we discuss it. This post, even, is in response to an earlier one from the non-Catholic viewpoint.
What is most ironical to me is that "boiled down" to the basics, both essentially say the same thing and that is that we are saved by the merits of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross when he gave himself as a propitiation for our sins. All who accept his sacrifice by grace through faith have been given eternal life as a free gift. THAT is the faith that saves, that is the faith that bears fruit and that is the faith that endures to the end.
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So are you saying that you as a human don’t have to help others (not to earn heaven) but to lead a life patterned after Christ?
Christ continually exhorts us in the Gospels to carry our own cross and follow him. It’s in today’s Gospel!
I’ll go by what the Bible says — not what Luther added to the Bible.
Did I say that I can live a life of selfishness and debauchery and it's cool with Jesus??? That is the real issue, isn't it?
We are created unto good works - God has foreordained that we are to walk in them. So why would I or Luther or any sane Christian insist otherwise?
It seems that through the years since Christ came that religious leaders have felt that the Holy Spirit was "untrustworthy" and believers needed to be goaded to overcome their selfish human natures and do good deeds. They felt that, left to himself, a man would not choose good so the threat of eternal damnation was placed over his head to "keep him in line". This is what led to all the lists of good deeds and penances and works of mercy. It is what led to selling of indulgences and all the other corrupt practices of the spiritually elite - the "haves" over the "want to haves". This is why the Reformation happened and God DID allow it to happen.
Your church says: The Catholic Church has never taught we "earn" our salvation. It is an inheritance (Galatians 5:21), freely given to anyone who becomes a child of God (1 John 3:1), so long as they remain that way (John 15:1-11). You can't earn it but you can lose the free gift given from the Father (James 1:17). You say the words "free gift" but then you contradict the whole concept by saying you can "lose" it by not doing something. What is GRACE then?
If you have to DO something to keep a gift, it's the same thing as saying you do something to EARN the gift. In either case, it is NOT then a GIFT!!!
Sorry ... it is much more than that, you have watered down the Scriptures to suit your own abbortant theological position.
Not only does the perfect tense denote completed action, but it also has continuing results. We HAVE been saved in the past, it was a perfect salvation that occurred once and it has ongoing results. If Paul wanted to merely denote completed action ... he would have used the aorist tense. You have also ignored the passive voice of the verb, which means that WE are not the active agent of that saving faith; God is!
Your understanding of the Greek is minimal and with your explanation you are deceiving Catholics with your words. Your distinction between initial salvation and ongoing salvation is more theological musings so you can hold your false position.
Ephesians 2:8-9 should give Catholics all over the world pause to examine what the Bible teaches about salvation. That it is a gift from God that is not earned or deserved, and there is nothing you can do to merit it. Mass doesnt increase it, baptism doesnt cause it, good works doesnt sustain it; it is obtained by shedding the notion that you can do ANYTHING to make your life more worthy in Gods eyes ... and trust totally in the person and work of Jesus Christ; who paid the penalty in full ... there is nothing you can add to it.
Previous translations of the word alone in Romans 3:28 Luther offers another line of reasoning in his Open Letter on Translating that many Catholics ignore, and most Protestants are not aware of:
Furthermore, I am not the only one, nor the first, to say that faith alone makes one righteous. There was Ambrose, Augustine and many others who said it before me.
The Roman Catholic writer Joseph A. Fitzmyer points out that Luther was not the only one to translate Romans 3:28 with the word alone.
At 3:28 Luther introduced the adv. only into his translation of Romans (1522), alleyn durch den Glauben (WAusg 7.38); cf. Aus der Bibel 1546, alleine durch den Glauben (WAusg, DB 7.39); also 7.3-27 (Pref. to the Epistle). See further his Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, of 8 Sept. 1530 (WAusg 30.2 , 627-49; On Translating: An Open Letter [LuthW 35.175-202]). Although alleyn/alleine finds no corresponding adverb in the Greek text, two of the points that Luther made in his defense of the added adverb were that it was demanded by the context and that sola was used in the theological tradition before him.
Robert Bellarmine listed eight earlier authors who used sola (Disputatio de controversiis: De justificatione 1.25 [Naples: G. Giuliano, 1856], 4.501-3):
Origen, Commentarius in Ep. ad Romanos, cap. 3 (PG 14.952).
Hilary, Commentarius in Matthaeum 8:6 (PL 9.961).
Basil, Hom. de humilitate 20.3 (PG 31.529C).
Ambrosiaster, In Ep. ad Romanos 3.24 (CSEL 81.1.119): sola fide justificati sunt dono Dei, through faith alone they have been justified by a gift of God; 4.5 (CSEL 81.1.130).
John Chrysostom, Hom. in Ep. ad Titum 3.3 (PG 62.679 [not in Greek text]).
Cyril of Alexandria, In Joannis Evangelium 10.15.7 (PG 74.368 [but alludes to Jas 2:19]).
Bernard, In Canticum serm. 22.8 (PL 183.881): solam justificatur per fidem, is justified by faith alone.
Theophylact, Expositio in ep. ad Galatas 3.12-13 (PG 124.988).
To these eight Lyonnet added two others (Quaestiones, 114-18):
Theodoret, Affectionum curatio 7 (PG 93.100; ed. J. Raeder [Teubner], 189.20-24).
Thomas Aquinas, Expositio in Ep. I ad Timotheum cap. 1, lect. 3 (Parma ed., 13.588): Non est ergo in eis [moralibus et caeremonialibus legis] spes iustificationis, sed in sola fide, Rom. 3:28: Arbitramur justificari hominem per fidem, sine operibus legis (Therefore the hope of justification is not found in them [the moral and ceremonial requirements of the law], but in faith alone, Rom 3:28: We consider a human being to be justified by faith, without the works of the law). Cf. In ep. ad Romanos 4.1 (Parma ed., 13.42a): reputabitur fides eius, scilicet sola sine operibus exterioribus, ad iustitiam; In ep. ad Galatas 2.4 (Parma ed., 13.397b): solum ex fide Christi [Opera 20.437, b41]).
Live source not given. Please provide rather than your own opinion.
But you don’t mention James. Is that because Luther removed it?
(By Faith and through Faith..)
More...”Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, (through Adam), so also the result of one act of righteousness (through Christ) was ‘Justification’ that brings life for all men. For just as through disobedience of the one man (Adam) many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Christ) many will be made righteous. Romans 5:18,19
The Just shall live by faith seems to be very much supported by the scripture.
Additionally....”the word of FAITH we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,...you shall be saved....For it is with your heart that you believe and are JUSTIFIED and it is with your mouth that you confess and are SAVED. Romans10:9,10
The passage was Ephesians 2:8-9 and its relevance in the original language ... please try to keep up with the rest of the class.
Some Christians are admonished for having what is called a "presumption" of eternal life - like it is a BAD thing????!!! We say we know we have eternal life because it is a hope and assurance given to us by God himself through his own words. We are saved not because we presume we are worthy, but because we KNOW we are unworthy and it is only through the grace of God by faith alone that we have this blessed hope.
On the other hand, those who rely on their own merits and deeds can never know that blessed assurance because they know their own sinful leanings. They need to constantly be reassured through works and deeds and penances and external signs of grace and, even then, not really having it for sure. The motivation for good works is based on fear and not to the glory of God out of a grateful heart. How much that must grieve our Savior!