A doctrine according to the flesh, part 3


Now who, beyond Paul…Damascus Road experience…who could arguably claim a greater born again experience? But that’s what he said.

What did the apostle Paul say in support of the Catholic doctrine of salvation by faith plus works? A cursory threshing of the New Testament will reap a few passages which if plucked out individually seem to have Paul unsure of his own eternal destiny and depending on his own righteousness. But cursoriness when dealing with an inspired text which also happens to be ancient in origin is bound to leave important truths passed over.

I have been responding to a “Catholic answer” given by Catholic Answers founder Karl Keating to a question from a caller to Catholic Answers Live about whether one can be assured of salvation. Addressing Keating’s response point by point, I hope to demonstrate that the answers this Catholic and others give regarding their doctrine of salvation, when examined closely, are misleading, mistaken, and sometimes self-contradictory. I continue today with Keating attempting to buttress his argument that even Paul, the great apostle, evangelist, and author of inspired Scripture, did not have that assurance.

In Romans 5:2 Paul said we are confident in the hope of attaining glory as the sons of God. So we’re hoping to go to heaven. And then 1 Corinthians 9:27, he says, “I buffet my body and make it my slave lest I who have preached to others may myself be rejected as worthless.” So what this means is Paul himself could imagine a situation where he would not go to heaven. Now who, beyond Paul, Damascus Road experience, who could arguably claim a greater born again experience? But that’s what he said.

In 1 Corinthians Paul is exhorting his readers to live lives worthy of their calling in Christ, in light of reports of factions and sexual immorality among them. What better analogy to use than the Olympic-like Isthmian Games which were held on the Isthmus of Corinth, and so were very familiar to them. ”Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it,” he says in 9:24. He’s teaching them about discipline with an eye to a holy life, and the rewards that come with it.

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (9:25-27)

A runner was disqualified or rejected if he did not meet the qualifications or “had not behaved according to the prescribed regulations.” Paul is not talking about salvation here but instead the self-control a believer needs to develop in aiming towards a life that is pleasing to God. His own potential rejection in view is either that from other people when they observe that his behavior doesn’t line up with his profession, leading to a loss of influence, or from the heavenly rewards God bestows according to a believer’s conformity with Christ and efforts on earth in his service.

Consider how Paul has already addressed in Chapter 3 the Corinthians’ spiritual immaturity and lack of conformity, and the loss they might suffer as a result:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (3:1-15)

Note that it’s not salvation they lose, but a reward. Consider also how throughout the book he references their joint destiny as among the saved:

so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1:7-8

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? – 6:2-3 

As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. – 15:48-49

Finally, in his subsequent letter to them, he again addresses them as guaranteed a “heavenly dwelling,” along with himself, yet exhorting them to “aim to please” the Lord, for there will be a judgment even for the saved. But it is a judgment unto rewards, not to eternal destiny.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Well, I expected to have completed my evaluation of Karl Keating’s defense by now, but I’m only half through it. Next week I’ll continue with his interpretation of Philippians 2:12, Matthew 7, Romans 2:6, and Romans 6:23.