Not Saved by Faith Alone
[ letter to a friend December 2010 ]
Thank you for taking the time to read my paper: Faith and Works: Luther's Distortion of Paul's Teaching.
Responding to your notes and commentary--
On your page 68 you present a list of three primary usages of SAVED:
1. saved as in justification--passing from spiritual death to life--born again.
2. being saved as in sanctified--being transformed into the character of Jesus.
3. Ultimately saved as in glorified--the state we must attain to in order to enter heaven. We will have bodies like his resurrected body.
Then you say: When I speak of saved by Faith and Faith alone I am (at least in this paper) referring only to # 1 in my list. . . .
then you go on to give a list of verses with accompanying comments
under this first head, followed by a similar but much briefer treatment
of 2. and 3.
The Basic Question
The basic question you are raising is What do the gospels and epistles teach about SAVED ? What does Jesus say ?
I made my own collection of saved verses so that I could compare them with yours. I took out my Concordance and made a list of the several dozen verses that are given there under saved . . . save . . . and salvation. As you point out re: saved by child-bearing, not all of them are relevant to the theological question, such as those about Paul and his companions being saved from a ship wreck. But there is a wide variety of verses running from Matthew through Revelation which shed light on the subject from different angles. After I made my collection, I turned to your list of verses.
The first problem I encounter with your list is that you did not collect the saved verses that I did. That surprised me and I don't understand why you wouldn't do that as a first step to showing that this is what the New Testament teaches about saved.
The second problem is that your verse collection skips over the first three gospels and begins with John. It also skips Acts and Romans. And a number of saved verses found elsewhere in Paul. You don't list and discuss any of the eleven saved and salvation verses found in Romans. You ignore 1st Corinthians 1.18 which is relevant to any argument about once saved, always saved. Depending how it is translated, we are on our way to salvation (rsv and new kj) or already there. (old kj) William Tyndale did his translation at Wittenberg and this verse arguably shows Luther's influence.
When you look at the first saved and save
verses in the gospel, they describe a challenge which does not have
much in common with the modern sports arena revival doctrine--Matthew
10.22: you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. ( cf. 24.13 ) and 16.24-27: If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. A modern saved Christian might very well ask: Why do I have to carry a cross ? Didn't Jesus do all that ? Didn't I sign the card: I accept Jesus Christ as My Personal Savior ? That takes care of it, doesn't it ?
A third problem is that your collection of verses from John's gospel neglects chapters 13 to 17, where, more than any other place in the gospels, the teaching of Jesus is presented clearly and completely. After
Judas leaves, Jesus is alone with his most trusted followers and, on
the eve of his Crucifixion, he is letting it all hang out, as much as he
ever did. Shouldn't these chapters be used as a primary source in answering the question: What Does Jesus Teach ?
the question of audience
You can't ignore the question of audience in reading what Jesus says in the gospels. Is he A. addressing a crowd B. arguing with the scribes and pharisees C. having a conversation with one person D. having a conversation with one person to which bystanders are listening E. explaining his teachings to his trusted inner circle. The context shapes his teaching. Jesus
speaks to the people in parables, and he often uses very worldly and
carnal illustrations--the unjust judge, the steward who squeezes his
debtor, the steward who gives them half off, the pearl merchant etc. Later, alone with his close followers, he explains the parable to them: The seed is the word of God . . . . When he is arguing with the scribes and Pharisees, as in John chapter 10, he is well aware that they are out to get him. 10.31 says they tried to stone him. 10.39 says they tried to arrest him. As I argued in Render, Not Sur-render, Unto Caesar, Jesus was guarded in what he said when they were trying to trap him. That
is why John chapters 13 to 17 has to be studied as primary and
normative in respect to what Jesus taught, because he is speaking to his
closest disciples in a private place and in the absence of the traitor
Judas, the day before his death on the cross. 16.29 now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure !
You do start off with one lonely quote from these chapters: "Jesus Himself taught that eternal life is to know Him,
not to do works, as John 17.3 This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. " Since "not to do works" isn't part of this text, I don't see what excuse you have for sticking it in here. You are begging the question. Jesus goes on to say in 17.4 having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do. When
you read that verse in the context of everything that Jesus is teaching
them in these chapters about what they should expect and what he
expects of them, after they receive the Holy Spirit, it is not
surprising that in John 20.21-22 he says to them: As the Father has sent me, even so I send you and he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. Which looks like an immediate and pressing commission to carry on the work which thou gavest me to do, does it not ?
You quote John 6.29 where Jesus says that the work of God is to believe in him whom he sent. But Jesus is speaking to a skeptical crowd which is bugging him. Whatever he means there is greatly amplified by what he teaches his trusted followers in John 14.8-14 . . . the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.
As of John 20.21-22--three days later--he has passed these works on to them. And breathed himself in to them to enable them to do it. They don't have much of a warrant for sitting on their butts and relying upon Passive Righteousness: I don't have to do anything, I believe and I'm saved ! And in fact they immediately began preaching the gospel, healing the sick, sharing their property, getting put in jail etc. Arguably, none of them had a real faith in Jesus until they received the Spirit which will guide you into all truth. Three days before, they were still misunderstanding him, running away naked (Mark 14.52) and denying Jesus. They did not really know Jesus or the truth about Jesus until they received the Spirit of Truth. In regard to his first followers, the apostles, I don't see how saved 1 can be legitimately separated from saved 2. The first thing that happens to them as of Resurrection Sunday is that they are transformed into the character of Jesus and sanctified by having the Holy Spirit breathed into them. They become clones of Jesus and carry on his mission. And are soon joined by thousands more.
I do not believe that people can legitimately claim to be Christians if they do not have the Holy Spirit. Of
course there are millions of nominal Christians who obviously do not
have the Holy Spirit--who conspicuously lack Courage and Truth and Love. Are they nonetheless saved ? I think they are fooling themselves and being fooled by hireling shepherds. Since
the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Love and Truth and Courage, I do not
see how people can claim to have the Spirit if they do not love thy neighbor and love one another, as taught by Jesus; if they do not have the Courage to oppose the evil in this world. And, lacking that Spirit of Truth, they will never find the truth of the Christian faith in the bible or anywhere else. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, their search of the Scriptures will only lead them deeper into the darkness. They will be easily fooled by the false teachers who infest the modern pulpit, because they have no guide to lead them to the truth.
Second Class Salvation
Later on in your commentary, circa page 75, you make a distinction between a kind of minimal Saved and an optimum Saved. The
minimally saved will not get the same rewards up in heaven and may
suffer from "a decreased capacity for enjoying the Lord. " The
distinction you make between those who are merely saved versus those
who are sanctified has a suspicious resemblance to Catholic Church
doctrines by which only the few are called to be saints while the many still manage to avoid hell and slip into heaven by meeting minimal obligations. Whereas the saints fly first class into heaven, after all their torments and labors, the rest of us get there flying Economy Class. Even if you don't love God, the fear of hell and confessing your sins etc. may enable you to slip into heaven with the common crowd of non saints.
Does Jesus really want to spend all eternity living with people who do not Love Him ? A
lot of men and women get a divorce because they can no longer tolerate
sharing a house and a life with a person who does not really care about
them. Does God feel differently about it ? There
is more than one description of hell in the New Testament and I do not
quite believe that an eternal bonfire is prepared for those who do not
make the cut. They would have to have asbestos bodies for one thing. But
it seems quite reasonable that those who shun the light will be left in
the darkness they have chosen and that those who have no real love for
God will not have to spend eternity in his company--or He in theirs. Is
there really some Plan B salvation where, if you don't have a mansion,
you can at least have a prefab condo on the far side of the tracks ? Where you can duck out the back door when you see God coming, because you are not really comfortable talking to Him. Eternity is a long, long time to live like that. Wouldn't you be better off some where else ?
eternal life and good works
Apparently, you looked up eternal life verses. So why did you just ignore Romans 2.7 well doing leads to eternal life ? And you ignore it in your comment on your pages 6 and 7. ( my page 3 ) This is not honest, my friend ! I don't mean to say that you are being consciously dishonest and I don't think you are. But you are
doing what a lot of people do--arguing the way a lawyer makes his case
by picking up evidence he can use and shoving contrary evidence out of
sight. No doubt, you can explain away this verse. But you do have to do that, you can't just ignore it while adding not to do works to John 17.2 by way of proving that there is no connection between eternal life and doing good works. Taken as it stands, Romans 2.7 says there is a connection.
You are doing something which is typical of those who claim to approach the bible with an open mind to find truth there. In fact they approach carrying a pre-fabricated Doctrine Box which they picked up at some church they once attended. Then they carefully select verses which fit the box, while ignoring all those on the same subject which don't fit. And the box is already half filled with verses when they get it: This is our doctrine, and these are the bible verses which prove it. Go find some more.
Reading your notes and comments, it becomes obvious that you approach the bible wearing dogma spectacles. You impose your dogma on verses which say something quite different. On page 69 you insist that those who have done good in John 5.29 must already have had faith. Because your dogma says that faith comes first and good works come second. But they are coming from the tombs ! As described in Matthew 27.52. These people are already dead and in their graves at the time Jesus is speaking. Their good deeds were done while they lived--before the advent of Jesus ! They have yet to meet Jesus ! How can they have had a faith in Jesus ? So how could their good works have been done as the result of a faith in Jesus ? You impose your dogma on verses which just don't fit it. You arrive at the same dogma whether the verse validates it or whether the verse states the opposite !
John 3.21 also describes those who come to the light so that their good deeds might be seen. Contra
the doctrine that it doesn't matter what sort of a person you are,
Jesus says that evil doers will shun the light while those who have done
good will seek it out. That is, their good deeds come before they approach Jesus, and their good character is what leads them to seek Jesus.
I do not have any particular theoretical objection to the idea that good works follow faith. But there are a number of bible verses which say something else--as in the story of the Good Samaritan who stops to help, regardless of the validity of his Samaritan faith. As if Jesus were to say: the Catholic priest walked on by, the Baptist preacher kept going, but the Mormon missionary stopped to help. And
it is the experience of my life, as in the Civil Rights Movement, that
people without a faith in God often make sacrifices and take risks while
the church people hang back. I think the real lesson of the Good Samaritan story is that your orthodox faith won't save you if you don't love your neighbor, because, if you don't love your neighbor, you don't love God. You are in violation of the First and Greatest Commandment. And, to be reasonable, why should God go on loving you if you don't love God ? Will God always love you even though you never love Him ?
In 2nd Thessalonians 2.13, Paul writes: God chose you from the beginning to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So here are your three terms put together in one verse. It seems to imply that being sanctifiedby the Spirit precedes being saved and that you arrive at belief in the truth by receiving the Spirit. Of Truth. How else ? I would concede that there is some difficulty in trying to understand how various teachings are supposed to mesh. Am I Saved by My Faith or God's Grace or the Blood of Jesus or the Holy Spirit or Hearing Paul Preach the Gospel ? Or by loving one another, as I have loved you ? Or all of them somehow working together ? As in Paul's phrase: Saved by Grace Through Faith. Paul also says Faith Working through Love and Luther didn't like it, as I point out in my paper. Because Love implies Works.
Sinners Welcome !
Look at all the verses where Paul stresses that his converts arrive at Faith by getting hold of the truth after hearing the gospel preached. And he is not talking about a two minute sermon followed by an altar call for those who want to get Saved. Paul spent months living with his new converts and teaching them. In
the early church, the instruction given to new converts went on for
months or even years before they were accepted into the church. instant salvation via altar call and pledge card was obviously not one of their doctrines. The
complete distortion of membership in the church came about after
Constantine herded the entire pagan population into his new State
Church. As I described in The Church of the Empire, Chapter XIIIEverybody's Church: wheat & tares. We still have this mass church on a minimal basis--Sinners Welcome ! So long as your credit card is still valid.
Acts talks about the baptism of John as different from the baptism of Jesus. When I was growing up in the Catholic Church, baptism took away your sins, especially original sin. Later, you received the sacrament of confirmation. The bishop anointed your forehead and gave you a little slap on the cheek. Which
supposedly meant that you had received the Holy Spirit and now had the
Courage to be a missionary--go out and argue with the Protestants. These different sacraments supposedly have some correspondence to what is found in the early church. They do seem to halfway correspond to your distinction between 1. getting rid of your sins and 2. receiving the Holy Spirit. You seem to be arguing that getting rid of your sins = justified = saved is good enough for most people. Stop Right There ! Let's not get carried away ! I didn't sign up for Deluxe Salvation ! I don't want to sit in the iron steer over the hot coals like those folks in Martyrs' Mirror.
This dogmatic schema raises all sorts of questions. The Catholics have infant baptism. Both Luther and Calvin sanctioned infant baptism. The so-called Anabaptists insisted that only mature persons who had arrived at a faith in Jesus Christ should be baptized. I tend to agree with that. But
I recognize that it would be very hard to resist the demand of a woman,
with a very sick baby, that the baby should be baptized to save her
from going to hell because of Original Sin. Whatever my theology, I would be inclined to at least look the other way while someone sprinkled a little water on the baby. Anyway, I have only begun to try and work through those questions.
I do not see how Luther's faith can mean what Paul meant by faith. Because Passive Righteousness and Bondage of the Will negate the active faith which Paul saw in Abraham, which was counted to him for righteousness. ( James 2.20-25 ) Luther really means that we are saved by grace--by what God does--without me doing anything. Then, when he and John Calvin insist upon irresistible grace, they negate the meaning of grace also. How can it be a gift if it is forced upon you ?
These Reformation dogmas still taint your doctrine of saved by faith. Luther used this phrase, found in Paul's epistles, to mean something quite different from what Paul meant by it.
treatment of the Good Samaritan story and the story of the rich young
man on your pages 6 and 7 ( and later ) is so atrocious as to constitute
bible abuse. Miss Interpretation by Gratuitous Dogmatic Assumption. You looked up these two gospel stories in which Jesus responds to questioners who ask him: what shall I do to inherit eternal life ? Luke 10.25 and 18.18. According to your dogma, Jesus should have answered: No one keeps the law and there is nothing you can do--except believe in me. But that isn't what Jesus replies. So you set aside his reply and assume he meant something quite different from what he said. You know what he was thinking even if he did not say it and said something else instead.
This is not bible reading, it is bible writing ! Bible re-writing. You in effect cross out the story you find there and replace it with your rewritten version. Since Jesus regularly teaches Love God and Love your Neighbor as the two great commandments which fulfill The Law,
there is no good reason to assume that he meant something else in Luke
chapter 10 or that he really intended to convey the message: you can't keep the law, which he does not say! So you volunteer to say it for him ! Look at Matthew 22.37-40 and Mark 12.28-33 where Jesus teaches the same lesson. How can you justify your assertion that he doesn't mean it here ? In Mark, Jesus states the same doctrine and praises the scribe who agrees with it as being not far from the kingdom of God.
In the Luke 10 account Jesus says to the questioner: You have answered right; do this and you will live. ( 10.28 ) What right do you have to say that Jesus does not mean what he says and means something else which he does not say ? What prevented Jesus from saying: never mind doing things--have faith in me ! if that is what he wanted to say ? You assume that 1. Jesus mis-taught this man 2. and whoever else was listening 3. in order to convey a subliminal message--which Jesus was unwilling to say straight out--that he should forget about doing things and just have faith.
justified by his question
You want to make something out of the man's follow up question: and who is my neighbor ? because it is said that the man asked this question in order to justify himself. Which obviously means that he found himself in a somewhat awkward position after Jesus made him answer his own question. It cannot mean that he expected to get saved by asking a follow up question. You had sense enough to notice that saved has a variety of meanings. So take time to notice that the same is true of justify: wisdom is justified by her children etc. And, if he did somehow believe that he could get justified--saved from his sins--as a reward for asking a follow up question, Jesus let him get away with it.
In response, Jesus told a wonderful story, the story of the Good Samaritan. And finally said to this man: [ Luke 10.36-37 ] Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers. He said, the one who showed mercy on him. And Jesus said to him, go and do likewise. End of encounter. End of lesson. [ But your Bible adds Luke 10.37 & 1/2: Jesus said this but he was really thinking: (( I didn't mean what I just said; he is deceived; nothing he can do will get him into heaven )). ] What possible justification [ = excuse ] can you have for making these gratuitous and nonbiblical assumptions ? ! You
cross out a major gospel story and replace it with a story of your own
which is dictated by a dogma which is stuck in your head ! People who simply put the gospel in the trash will have less to answer for than you for doing this kind of replacement interpretation.
You are so blinded by your No One Keeps the Law dogma that you can't see what is there ! In my paper, I spent 13 pages disproving that dogma. Which you ignore. Then you impose that dogma on your reading of verses, where it makes no sense at all. Let me give you two verses from those pages: Luke 1.6 Zacharias and Elisabeth were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. Philippians 3.6 touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless. And
if that isn't good enough for you, you can go back and carefully read
that section--your pages 34-50, my pages numbered 23-36--which shows
where this No One Keeps the Law dogma came from and why it is false. Obviously that dogma is stuck in your head. And prevents you from seeing what is actually written in the bible. I didn't write those verses, Luke and Paul did. And, if they were fooled, so was Jesus. And those who heard Jesus tell the Story of the Good Samaritan went away fooled. And the questioner went away fooled. And they were fooled some more because Jesus teaches Love Thy Neighbor throughout the gospels as the Second Greatest Commandment of the Law and the test of whether you are keeping the First and Greatest Commandment. Is that not the lesson of Matthew 25.31-46 ? And Paul teaches it. And John teaches it. And James teaches it. Who is really the fool ? Any one who neglects that teaching and imagines that he can call himself a Christian.
Your treatment of the story of the rich young man is just as atrocious as your treatment of the Good Samaritan story. Your peculiar attack on this story shows that you are allergic to it. And I think I see why. Every morning you look at a fellow in the mirror who owns a substantial amount of property. And he is a devout Christian who regularly reads his bible. Where
he encounters this story in which Jesus tells a man that, if he wishes
to be a Real Christian, a Real Follower of Jesus Christ, he cannot hang on to all his property.
The fellow in the mirror is not at all comfortable with this story. He realizes at once that Jesus Could Not Have Said That ! Or, if Jesus did say it, he did not mean it! He meant something else with which he is already familiar and comfortable. Put your faith in Jesus and you will be Saved. Anything beyond that is more or less optional. You don't need to worry about it.
Mark's version of this story [ 10.21 ] says that Jesus beholding him loved him. How does that fit with your assumption that Jesus did not approve of this fellow ? In Matthew 19.29, at the conclusion of this story, Jesus answers Peter's question by saying: And everyone who has left houses . . . or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundred-fold, and inherit eternal life.
Which is what He said to the young man, who went away sad because he could not bring himself to part with his property: Luke 18.22 Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven;
Note: inherit eternal life in connection with the sacrifice of property. Jesus didn't say this ? Jesus didn't mean this ? You are in serious spiritual trouble, my friend, if you can't honestly deal with what is written here.
Is this teaching of Jesus in respect to property peculiar to this story ? If
you read the gospels and the epistles attentively, there are many
teachings about money, wealth and riches which are in harmony with what
Jesus says here. The seed is choked by thorns = the word of God does not grow because of riches. You cannot serve God and Mammon [ = money ]. The rich man goes to hell while Lazarus goes to heaven. And the same teaching is found in Paul, in James, in John. Look at James 5.1-3 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 1 Timothy 6.10 The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil. 1 John 3.17 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 ? But you assume Jesus didn't really mean it when he told the rich young man to sell his property ?
The Number One Sign of Real Christians
John 13.34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. 1 John 3.23 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 4.20 he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. .
In practice, what does it mean ? You don't have to read much further to find out: Acts 2.44 And
all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they
sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had
need. Acts 4.34 There
was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of
lands and houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold
and laid it at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as
any had need.
Does it not make sense that those who were commanded to love one another; even as I have loved you--how much was that ?--felt obligated to share with one another ? Since
that describes the early Christian community, what problem is there
with a literal reading of the story in which the rich young man was told
that he has to give up his wealth if he wants to be a real Christian ? Something else is conspicuous about these early Christians. Loving one another as I have loved you meant that they were willing to lay down their lives for their fellow Christians, as well as give up their possessions. There was very little room for that spirituality of Saving My Own Butt the Cheapest Way Possible which is such a conspicuous characteristic of modern so-called Christians.
The second major sign of real Christians that Jesus describes in those final chapters of the gospel of John is persecution by the world. John 15.18-19 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If
you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you
are not of the world, because I chose you out of the world, therefore
the world hates you. If you are comfortable and at ease with the world you live in, how does that square with the faith that you are one of the chosenones who belong to Jesus ? Another relevant passage is: Matthew 16.26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul ? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?
Are all teachers ?
My friend, your bible commentary only proves that you are not qualified to teach the bible--even to yourself. Especially to yourself. I
know it is the common doctrine of post Reformation Christianity that
each person should read the bible for himself and find his Christian
faith there and teach it to others. Luther is not to blame for this doctrine. He said that those who presumed to teach the bible without a call should be put in jail. He was right ! Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 12.29 Are all teachers ? And James 3.1 says Let not many of you become teachers.
The Holy Spirit--not the bible--is the source of Christian truth. As is taught by the bible itself: John 16.13 the Spirit of truth . . . will guide you into all truth. 1 John 2.20-21 ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it. Without that unction, without that Spirit of Truth, people search the scriptures in vain. And do worse than just deceive themselves. False teachers and bible abusers are legion in the modern church. What faith can you have without the Spirit of Truth ? Who is also the Spirit of Love and the Spirit of Courage. They all work together ! That is, if you lack one, it constitutes a proof that you lack the others.
James 1.22 says Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 2.14 says What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith and have not works ? Can faith save him ? [ Answer: No ! ] 17 Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Luther added alone to Romans 3.28 and put the epistle of James in the trash because it contradicted his dogma of Saved by Faith alone. That
dogma is still embedded in the Protestant and Evangelical tradition,
where it has become a poisoned well of false faith and foolishness. It is the label on that Cheap and Easy Salvation that the huckster evangelists sell on TV. They are selling a quack remedy for the real spiritual cancer from which people suffer. The lowest level of hell is reserved for these money grubbing false preachers. The out houses of all the higher levels dump on that one. It is only justice for what they dumped on others.
Titus 1.16 says They
profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being
abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. When you ignore or discard or explain away the lesson of the Good Samaritan, you take a wrong turn. If you are derelict in loving your neighbor, you don't love God either. So what faith can you have ? How can it Save you ?