Sunday, April 20, 2008

Salvation by Faith or Works or Both?

This is my comment on George Weis' blog. I wanted to re-post here because.. well... I have a big head:

I think it's significant that the Scripture almost always (not sometimes) uses language incompatible with the "if you're saved you'll do good" way of getting around this problem ("this problem" is the mystery of justification). As mentioned before, it says "he who stands firm until the end will be saved" not "he who is saved will stand firm to the end". Though it's much more natural to say the first, it wouldn't be difficult for the Holy Spirit to inspire the second if that is what He intended us to read.We are left with a puzzle, a mystery of salvation.

My friend once remarked that he was glad he didn't need to know how the eye worked to appreciate the beauty of a sunset and likewise was glad that he didnt need to know how salvation worked to be saved. But if we wanted to gain insight on it, the Church does have some.

Works don't save us - we all agree on that. We can't earn our way to heaven lets just get that out of the way.Salvation is God's business not ours. It is His grace that first calls us (that's where predestination fits in) and it's we who respond (again by His grace). This free will of ours is not the unbiased ability in full liberty to choose between Heaven or Hell on our own - instead it is the God-given ability to cooperate with or reject His grace (hence the comment I made which we were discussing). I think this is fairly agreeable by both Roman Catholics and Protestants so far.

Now here's the issue where the debate comes in.The Protestants say "sola fide" where the Catholic Church says "de fide". I'm sure you're already aware that the only time the Scriptures ever mention the phrase "faith alone" is James 2:24 where it says we are not saved by faith alone but by faith and works.James clearly isn't saying we have to believe and work our way into heaven.

Yet in the way which Protestants condemn "works" as if by this we intend to say we ourselves contributed something substantial to our salvation "faith" could also rightly be categorized in that group. Is faith of ourselves? No, not even that. Faith is a gift from God. We don't earn our salvation by works OR faith. We don't earn it period.

We're back to square one - God saves us by His grace - completely unmerited on our part. Protestans would say by grace (revealed)through faith alone (and then that faith is reveald by good works which necessarily follow). Catholics would skip the middle man and say salvation by grace (revealed) through faith and works.

So you can see how close our beliefs really are. I sincerely think that most of this is in the phrasing of the doctrine. If you take away all the fluff, we may have only slight variations. No one, Catholic or Protestant, believes that we earn our way into Heaven.

The word "works" is also used in various ways so this adds to the confusion. At some points in Scripture it is abundantly clear that Paul is speaking of Works according to the Law - do not do such and such on the Sabbath, you shall only eat these meats, this is what you shall do if you find a bird's nest on the side of the road etc... In this way he echoes John the Baptist's scoff "I tell you God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones". In other words, thinking you may earn your way to heaven by any means is ridiculous but thinking that following the strictures and rituals of the Hebrew Law will literally put God in debt to you (owing you paradise) is beyond ridicule.

Salvation is revealed first through faith. Good works follow (chronologically). We do not believe because we have good works but (and this is key) we also do not do good works simply because we believe. James 2 makes this clear as he brings up the point that even the demons believe (and they have not good works). Both our faith and our good works (and in this context we're not talking about works according to the law but good works according to the gospel of Christ) come directly from God's grace.

Finally, as we have looked at the word 'works' we must also look at the word 'faith'. In Latin, the word is 'fide' from which we derive 'fidelity'. This etymology is helpful. In fact in English, we base the word "faithfulness" on the word "faith". We must also remember that Jesus beckoned people around Him to faith while He was standing in front of them.

From this evidence we can safely conclude that the word 'faith', in a biblical sense, means a great deal more than mere intellectual assent. We do not simply believe that Jesus exists or even that He rose from the dead or even that He is Lord of the universe. True faith, saving faith, makes Him Lord of our lives by our faithfulness to Him and our fidelity to the gospel.Thereby we can fully comprehend what He said, "You are my friends if you do what I command you".

15 comments:

George Weis said...

HAHA! You have a big head :D

Pride my dear Tim, will come before a fall. Watch out :D

I need not Put my thoughts down here since I just responded on my own blog... or should I? Maybe I will... yet to be decided!

Much love to ya!
-george-

George Weis said...

Hey Tim,
Did you get my e-mail?

-george-

Tim A. Troutman said...

Yea I got it. I just can't find where I wrote my dream down. I have one more place to look tomorrow or else I'll just write it again.

Kim said...

Excellent points made! Very insightful post, Tim.

One thing. You said:

No one, Catholic or Protestant, believes that we earn our way into Heaven.

That's not entirely true. There are many misinformed believers in both camps. I've seen a lot of it just online. :-P

George, you and your sweet little family are adorable. God bless you all!

George Weis said...

Thanks Kim!

Bless you and yours too!

-george-

Tim A. Troutman said...

Kim, thanks for the comments and the link. You're absolutely right - I should have worded that better. There are both Catholics and Protestants who grossly misrepresent the respective viewpoints of their traditions.

What I meant to say is that neither Catholicism nor Protestantism teaches this doctrine (although some Protestant denominations do).

Formally, this doctrine is know of course as Pelagianism.

Kim said...

Thanks for clarifying, Tim. You're welcome on the link. Forgive my laziness in looking, but I can't remember if you've ever posted a link to Robert Koons' A Lutheran's Case for Catholicism (found here - a pdf file) or discussed it. Have you?

I printed it out (95 pages!) and am finding it very enlightening. I'd be curious to hear your and George's thoughts. George, work on Tim. He needs some softening around the edges. ;)

I love the way you guys always make me think.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Rough around the edges? Me? Are you sure we're talking about the same Tim Troutman? (Sarcasm here).

Ok, Ok I admit it. I can be rather direct at times. I need to go to ecumenical sensitivity training.

Tim A. Troutman said...

BTW thanks for the link I will check it out as soon as I get a chance.

Kim said...

Ok, Ok I admit it. I can be rather direct at times. I need to go to ecumenical sensitivity training.

lol Just hang around George.

George Weis said...

Oh, a little rough around the edges never bothers me :D

I come from rough folk :D I just somehow got a little softer somewhere in life :)

I love ya Tim, and no level of harsh words willscare me. I may disagree, but who cares? If people can't disagree and still love, they have issues! I have a feeling we would be good friends... we are on par with our classic rock too :D

Kim, I won't go anywhere I promise haha! I would love to read that paper... I'll have to check it out.
You seem like a very kindhearted sister in Christ. I pray your day is blessed!

Many Blessings!
-george-

Randy said...

So you can see how close our beliefs really are. I sincerely think that most of this is in the phrasing of the doctrine. If you take away all the fluff, we may have only slight variations. No one, Catholic or Protestant, believes that we earn our way into Heaven.

The trouble is not so much in the doctrine of salvation. The problem comes when we use Sola Fide to destroy the doctrines of penance, purgatory, etc. So those differences that sound very minor do have bigger consequences. Heresy has been defined as using one Catholic truth to destroy many other Catholic truths. Sola Fide and Sola Scriptora are used that way.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Randy - those are good points. I had never thought about it like that.

George Weis said...

Yeah, well those are issues are a whole different story.

One step at a time :D

-george-

Tim A. Troutman said...

BTW Kim, I havent read that entire link but the introduction was really good. I am looking forward to finishing it.