Continuing my comments from last Friday

As I return to last Friday’s blog, it is critical for me to reiterate my original disclaimer:


Next, as Walt suggested, I read Kenneth J. Powell’s article, “Is Salvation an Act or a Process“.  Powell’s article clarifies another great difference between Catholics and Protestants.

Powell writes:

CATHOLIC: We believe that salvation is a process by which we come closer to God throughout our whole life as we participate in the sacraments and the grace that comes through them. But it is not true that man plays as important a role as God. God the Father planned our salvation, not man. God the Son gained our salvation by his death and resurrection; no one else did these things. And God the Holy Spirit infused the very love of God into our hearts by his presence (cf. Rom. 5:5). This is beyond our human ability. Still, we must cooperate with God’s grace to find eternal happiness with God. If we don’t, we will be cut off from God forever. In contrast, Semi-Pelagianism is only a weakened form of Pelagianism, which taught that a person could save himself. To be a semi-Pelagian is to believe that we could save ourselves but God just helps us to make it easier.

That first sentence troubles me, especially with the phrase “as we participate in the sacraments and the grace that comes through them.”  Either salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ or it is not.

At CrossPoint we teach that salvation is through Jesus Christ, period.  I am not saved through Jesus plus my baptism.  I am not saved through Jesus plus church membership.  I am not saved through Jesus plus the sacraments.  I am not saved through Jesus Christ plus anything.  I am saved only and entirely through Jesus Christ.  Either I am saved completely and entirely by grace through faith in Jesus Christ or I am not saved.

Note, again, God’s Word:

1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Galatians 3:1-9

My point about Powell’s article is not to argue with the Catholic Church.  My point is to say Powell is correct in his assessment.  Protestants believe salvation is an act of faith, while Catholics believe it includes is a process of works.  If not, then why did he add this sentence?

Again, Powell states:

We believe that salvation is a process by which we come closer to God throughout our whole life as we participate in the sacraments and the grace that comes through them.

Where in the Bible does it state “that salvation is a process by which we come closer to God throughout our whole life as we participate in the sacraments and the grace that comes through them”?  I cannot think of a single time in Scripture where we are told we come closer to God as we participate in the sacraments.  I would be curious to see where this is taught.

For those who want to contend that the Bible speaks of works, I will agree.  Yes, the Bible speaks of works.  But when the Bible speaks of works, it does not speak of them as our process of being saved.  Works do not save us; works are the result of our salvation.

It was James who wrote,

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:14-17

So, the Bible does address the need for works.  But one most note the context in which James wrote these words.  In the larger context, the book of James is about faith.  But it must be noted, it is not about saving faith.  The book of James is speaking of the part of our faith that produces a lifestyle.  James is not concerned with saving faith; he is concerned with the behavior our faith produces.

Here is a good way to distinguish between Paul and James and their teaching on faith.  They are both speaking of the same salvation.  Paul is speaking of the belief side of our salvation, while James is speaking of the behavior side of our salvation.

I like what The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Zondervan) says about the aforementioned passage:

It is not beyond our efforts to resolve the apparent conflict between Romans and James. Consider the following: James does not teach that Abraham was pronounced righteous on the basis of his actions. James teaches that Scripture’s announcement that Abraham was righteous is vindicated on the basis of Abraham’s subsequent obedience. He did right because God’s action actually worked within him to make him righteous! James is speaking of two kinds of faith, only one of which is saving faith. He teaches that saving faith will be vindicated by the actions that flow from it and in this sense complete it.

What is particularly significant is that James joins Paul in suggesting that justification is something more than a judicial declaration.  True, in response to faith, God does declare sinners acquitted and righteous before Him; but He does more than that.  God acts within the believer to make righteousness a reality.  Thus the offer of salvation by faith includes more than a pardon: it also includes a transformation.  God will declare the sinner righteous, and then God will act to make the sinner what God has declared him to be.

The kind of faith which saves also transforms, and that transformation will show up in the lifestyle of the true believer.

Note what follows:

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James 2:18-26

James in these verses is not contradicting Paul.  As I noted yesterday, Paul, in Romans 4:1-5 and Gal 3:1-7, is explaining how the sinner is justified, given a right standing before God.  James, on the other hand, is writing about how the saved person proves that salvation before others.  The proof is in the works God produces within them.  People have no right to believe that we are saved if they do not see a change in our lives; a change that God produces within us.  A sinner is saved by faith, without works (again, see Ephesians 2:8-9), but true saving faith leads to works.

Verse 26 is the key: for as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.  My works are the result of my faith.  It is by grace through faith I am saved, and it is by works as a result of my faith people see that I am saved.

The problem I have with Catholic doctrine is the addition of works for salvation.  Both writers made it clear that man must do something to be sanctified by God.  They may purport to believe in salvation by faith, but soon thereafter Catholic doctrine turns from that point to teach a salvation and sanctification of works.

Note Powell’s sentence:

Still, we must cooperate with God’s grace to find eternal happiness with God.

What does he mean by “cooperate with God’s grace to find eternal happiness”?  If he does not mean “work for” our salvation, then what does he mean?

There is so much more I could write.  I will stop here.  I trust my response is clear.  In summary, I firmly believe the Catholic writers have given a fair treatment in the differences between Catholics and Protestants.  In Olson and Powell’s own words, there is a stark difference between what Protestants and Catholics believe and confess.

Walt thank you for your response you provided two weeks ago.  As I wrote then, and I will write again today, we need you and your thoughts.  Look at what your response has produced this week.

Let the dialogue begin…or continue!


12 Responses to “Continuing my comments from last Friday”

  1. 1 Lee
    October 20, 2008 at 7:30 am

    I’m not convinced the greater difference is in what is believed as much as the difference in the way it is articulated. Forgive my juvenile reference, but when I recognize the influence of any conjunction, I think back to the Saturday morning cartoon shorts “School House Rocks” I watched as a child. In one episode, there was a feud going on between those who insisted peanut butter sandwiches were better and those who, to the contrary, insisted jelly sandwiches were better. In the fighting, a child approaches, takes one slice from one and another slice from the other and slaps them together stating, “peanut butter and jelly.” Spiritual matters require spiritual discernment to understand them because there is nothing in the temporal that can provide an adequate simile. That is why metaphors and allegories are used so often in Scripture.

    Concerning the matter of faith and works, too much emphasis on the word faith lends to a diminished importance of the role of works and could lead to a justification for apathy or lawlessness. Too much emphasis on works diminishes the role of faith and could lead to the sins of self-righteousness (pride) and legalism. James was answering those who went to the opposite contrast to legalism, using another very important conjunction – by:

    James 2:18 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

    Faith and works cannot be separated and we are challenged by the limits of language to grant spiritual enlightenment when trying to define their relationship. Without works, faith is not faith. Works without faith is legalism. Such is the danger of focusing too much on words and not enough on meaning. Therefore, those who have faith will have works.
    Just as there are different expressions of fruit on earth, spiritual fruit also has a variety of expression. Our point of agreement should be on the fact that fruit is fruit. If we are connected to the vine, there will be fruit:

    John 15:5 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

  2. 2 walt
    October 20, 2008 at 7:49 am

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to write. Family responsibilities, you know.

    The first difficulty in our dialogue is that we’re working from two different platforms. Protestants work from Scripture alone, sola scriptura, even though this doctrine is not taught in Scripture itself. Because of this, you entirely miss out on the lived experience of the Church of Jesus Christ, especially in the first couple hundred years. This is part of what Catholics refer to as “Sacred Tradition.” Note that the canon of Scripture was not completely defined by the bishops of the Church until about 400 AD. This first few hundred years of the Church contains many examples which would refute some of the things you are saying about the Sacraments, etc., but you give the Church Fathers and early saints no credibility by your insistence that it must be found in Scripture alone. The Church regards this time period as especially crucial: it shows us how the early Church both interpreted the Gospel and put it into practice. Perhaps you may want to address this.

    Additionally, given everything you’ve said thus far, why in the world would Paul tell the Philippians to “work out their own salvation in fear and trembling”??

  3. 3 Searching
    October 20, 2008 at 10:11 am

    There is one thing I have learned about people and organized religion as I have grown through the years. People tend to gravitate towards a denomination or relgious affiliation based on their personality and particular spiritual needs. People who are more comfortable with structure and liturgy tend to find more comfort in the Catholic Church and those like it. The less structure and formality one is comfortable with will determine which of the Protestant and Penticostal denominations will meet their needs. In the same way we have conservative and liberal factions within the Protestant denominations it is the same for all religions, Christian or not. In many of these situations and issues it is often necessary to ‘agree to disagree’ and love one another with the love of God the Father. This is a great dialog Ryan. God bless you for your spirit and desire for clarity and understanding. The best we can do is to pray for one another and speak the truth as it is given to us and try to seek THE Truth in all we do and leave the harvest for God.

  4. 4 Bill Walker
    October 21, 2008 at 6:50 am

    I never feel adequately knowledgeable to comment on these types of doctrinal discussions. I grew up a Methodist, spent some time in an Assemblys of God church, and am now a member of a Southern Baptist Church. I have always thought that one of the best parts of being a member of Christ’s family is that he has provided so many different methods of worshipping Him. If you prefer traditional hymns — there is a church for you. If you prefer a structured worship service with repetition — there is a church for you. If you prefer praise and worship styles — there is a church for you. No matter what your preference in worship style is, God has provided a means for you to spend time in corporate worhsip of Him. I have usually chosen a church based on the worship style and the church membership. I have always been more interested in the Sunday School/Bible Study hour and Stacy has always been more interested in the worship service. We have had to search as we have moved around the country to find a church home in each location, but our marriage has grown stronger and our understanding of Christianity has grown and changed as we have experienced different churches.

    With that as a background, there are definitely strong doctrinal differences between Southern Baptist and Catholic. We have been referring to Protestant in these comments, but I think that this is a general reference and Ryan has been referring to Southern Baptist Doctrine specifically. The only thing I know is that if our salvation is dependant on our works, then what works do I need to perform? If I take communion every week, then am I saved? If I become a missionary, then am I saved? If I go to church every week, then am I saved? If I don’t cuss or cheat on my wife, then am I saved? What exactly is it that I have to do to be saved? We are on a dangerous slope that the Jews of Jesus’ time were on with too many rules to be followed.

    I think I prefer the Protestant/Southern Baptist Doctrine of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. I can never be good enough, or work enough to guarantee my salvation. God is good. God is pure. God is Holy. God can not accept anything less than 100% purity and goodness. I cannot supply that, therefore, I am condemned to Hell. Fortunately, I can be purified — or justified — through Jesus’ death and resurrection. If I only place my faith in Him, then by trasposition, I become pure and good and can enter the presence of God. Once I am there, I cannot help but do good works — what else could a 100% pure and good person do? Therefore, in my feeble mind, I believe in salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and let the good works flow from there.

    By the way, if I have somehow stumbled around and mistated any doctrinal statements, keep in mind my first sentence. Keep moving forward Ryan — I am praying for you every day. And Walt, I don’t see how the original church founded on Peter’s shoulders and the largest assembly of Christians in the world can be completely wrong — I think God is providing one more method to reach him and worship Him.

  5. October 21, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Was the thief on the cross saved? Jesus promised him heaven, right then and there. The problem is… he didn’t do anything. Was he still saved?

    My children were born to me. They did not do anything to become my children. It was not their decision. They didn’t and still don’t work to become my children. They just are.

    We don’t do anything to be saved. We do things because we are saved.

  6. 6 Lee
    October 21, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    There is no “first” in eternity. He was saved because he believed and he believed because he was saved.

  7. 7 walt
    October 21, 2008 at 1:58 pm


    With all due love and respect:

    “But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

    This falls in the category of ‘instructing the ignorant,’ which we Catholics know this as one of the “spiritual works of mercy.” So, you see, the thief did indeed perform a work.

    Corporal Works of Mercy:
    Feeding the hungry
    Sheltering the homeless
    Clothing the naked
    Visiting the sick
    Visiting the imprisoned
    Giving drink to the thirsty
    burying the dead

    Spiritual Works of Mercy:
    Converting sinners
    Instructing the ignorant
    Advising the doubtful
    Comforting the sorrowful
    Bearing wrongs patiently
    Forgiving injuries
    Praying for the living and dead

  8. 8 Lee
    October 21, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Correction. With God, who was and is and always will be, there is not a “first.” For all things temporal, including our flesh, there is a beginning, in between, and end. Time itself is but a drop in the ocean of eternity.

    God creates from nothing (ex nihilo), able to produce “something” from “nothing,” something only he can do. Apart from him, we can do nothing. He created our spirits from nothing, which will live eternally despite whether or not that eternity is lived with him or apart from him.

    “Doing” is a reference to an action in a moment. A moment is a unit of time. Infinity cannot be measured by units of anything.

    When considering “what” Jesus did on the cross, that Jesus was and is and will be God, that the theif was merely a thread in the grand design of the tapestry that is as inconsiderably small as a drop of water is to an ocean, created with the free will to choose between good and evil (choice is an action), and that the theif’s thread was woven according to the choice he would make, the temporal measurement of “when” becomes irrelevant in light of the eternal answers of “why?” and especially, “how?” that secured his eternal destiny decided by the temporal choice he was predestined to make.

  9. October 21, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Walt – that’s interesting. I need to read up more on the Catholic faith… Thank you for sharing.

  10. 10 Lee
    October 21, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Good point, Walt. I didn’t think to include his act of mercy.

  11. 11 kimberly Bingham
    October 25, 2008 at 11:11 am

    If one could do enough, work enough, Why would there be a need for Jesus Christ to die on the cross? The answer:He died for sinners that could not ever be good enoough or work enough to go to Heaven. Now, having said that ~ I do believe that Christ Followers should have the desire to help others, to visit the sick, to feed the hungry,etc…. they should have this desire because as a Christ Follower in their acceptance of Jesus Christ, they now posess the fruits of the Spirit ,they now have a heart of compassion for others, they now desire to be more like Jesus and yes, Jesus worked, He fed the hungry, visited the sick, etc…. but without doubt JESUS CHRIST IS THE ONLY WAY! The thought that we contain enough within ourselves to work enough or to be good enough,THIS IS MY THOUGHT ONLY~ SO DON’T GET RUFFLED~ BUT IN MY MIND~ to think one could work enough or be good enough takes some of the importance out of Christ’s death on that cross that saved me from my sins. As Christ Followers, we should continue to work, not to get to Heaven, but that others may come to know and accept Jesus Christ.

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