Adattf, Part 4
And he also went on, of course, in Philippians 2:12 to say, “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” Well, you don’t have to work out your salvation at all if you’re already saved.
I’ve been spending a lot of time questioning a Catholic answer regarding salvation, and I continue with that today. You can listen to Karl Keating’s defense of the Catholic position here, if you’re interested. Mr. Keating, who is a long time Catholic apologist, cites Philippians 2:12, among other verses, as supportive of the Church’s view that we participate in meriting our salvation by the works that we do. The evangelical position that I ascribe to holds that works don’t merit us salvation but instead are a natural outworking of our faith which saves us. And I believe that’s what this verse is talking about.
Outworking means, “The action or process by which something is brought to completion.” Oxforddictionaries.com gives this as an example of the correct use of the word: ‘the practical outworking of EU legislation.’ In the same way, the obedience to God that we demonstrate in good behavior is the practical outworking of our faith. The Greek word katergazomai translated “work out” means, “to work fully, that is, accomplish; by implication to finish, fashion:” If we take it to mean “accomplish” here it does seem to imply merit. But if it is more properly understood as “finish” then it reads as an exhortation to be diligent and intentional about living lives pleasing to God…”with fear and trembling” because he is the sovereign Lord of the universe with the power and right to do what he wants with us, and is deserving of our perfect obedience. It’s about finishing well.
If Paul was teaching salvation by faith plus works we would expect this verse to translate as “work for,” but even in the Catholic Bibles it says “work out.” Paul is teaching the Philippians, and us, to exercise our salvation by doing the works that God saved us for.
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. – Philippians 2:13
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10
Christ in Matthew 7:21 said, “It’s not anyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ who shall inherit the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.” So then, that brings us to Matthew 25. At the end of that chapter we’ve got the story of the sheep and the goats. The sheep go to heaven, the goats go to hell. What’s the difference between them? Well, we know the story. The sheep are those who did God’s will. The goats are those who didn’t…who not just did bad things but failed to do good things when they had the chance to do them.
Keating is interpreting all the verses he cites as teaching that God looks at our outward behavior this way in determining whether we get to “go to heaven”:
Feed the hungry? Check.
Clothe the naked? Check.
Visit the sick and those in prison? Check.
Okay, you’re in.
But in these verses in Matthew we see God looking at our outward behavior as the fruit that gives evidence to the observer of what kind of “tree” we are. Right before 7:21 Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” – Matthew 7:15-18
The determining factor is not the fruit produced but the kind of producer. What a tree is in its nature determines what shows up on the branch. A “sheep” who is actually a wolf, or a goat, will produce fruit in keeping with his nature, though he may have some success passing himself off as a sheep, saying “Lord, Lord.” We can be fooled by false prophets, by wolves and goats, because all we see is their fruit. God, on the other hand, can see from whence the fruit comes.
…man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. – 1 Samuel 16:7
That’s enough for today. But Karl Keating is not done with his defense, so neither am I.
But we recognize them by their fruit. We should not then be decieved. Right?
I believe we CAN be deceived, if we’re not careful.
And neither am I. 🙂
First, I’d like to take exception to your continued labeling of this series as “a doctrine according to the flesh.” I think it ought to be clear by now that our doctrinal difference stems not from one doctrine being “according to the flesh,” but by both camps using their brains and coming to quite different conclusions. If you suppose, with pride, that yours alone is the “doctrine according to the Spirit” — for how many centuries do you suppose that Christians were living under “false doctrine”? The Catholic understanding of justification stems primary from St. Augustine in the fourth century, as worked out by theologians over the next ten to twelve centuries. When do you suppose the doctrine “went off the rails”? This is not a trick question or a trap; I am curious what you think. And do you believe that Catholics can still be saved?
I’ll tell you what I think: I think, for all our quibbling over these points, it ultimately matters very little in the larger scheme of soteriology. If the doctrine you espouse is true, then many Catholics will be saved nonetheless, who surely have a true and saving faith inå Christ and in the grace of His salvation. If the Catholic doctrine is true, then many Protestants will be saved nonetheless, who surely live out their faith in the fruit of good works. The differences are more nuanced than most proponents of either view admit, since Catholics certainly teach that a true faith in Christ is the necessary foundation of any walk with Him, and most Protestants acknowledge (as you do) that good works borne as the fruit of abiding in the Lord are in some sense necessary (since per James, faith without works is dead, and he who has no works, in the Protestant understanding, probably isn’t saved at all). We are arguing over the nature of the animal called salvation, while one of us is standing at the head and the other is standing at the tail, and in truth we are both right: it is the same elephant.
Both views have their strengths as correctives: it’s certainly true that many Catholics, historically and even today, have tended to focus on “works” as if they think works alone can save them. (In fact, many Protestants have suffered the same misunderstanding, some denominations being more prone to it than others.) The Protestant emphasis on faith and grace certainly reminds us that there’s nothing at all we can do in ourselves to deserve salvation. Having grown up with that view, though, and become complacent to it, I think it leaves a dangerous door open: there may not be anything we can do to deserve salvation, but there are certainly things we can do to walk away from it. The Catholic view, on the other hand, holds us accountable for our actions both good and bad, and gives a fuller understanding of “working out one’s salvation” from start to finish: salvation as a journey, as an ongoing outpouring of God’s grace, rather than a one-time and final event at the moment of conversion. I find the Catholic view much more secure and comforting in terms of struggling with sin: rather than dismissing a Christian’s continued struggle with sin with the dictum that “Jesus has already forgiven all the sins you will ever commit” (in which case a sinner, easily but incorrectly, can assume that “if Jesus already has it covered, then I don’t really need to worry about repentance or striving for holiness”) — as is the attitude of many Evangelicals, though not all. In contrast to this, Catholics offer a font of grace that pours out constantly in the Sacraments, offering continued renewal, forgiveness, and comfort.
Neither view is incorrect if it holds as its focus the overpowering grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God, given through faith in the Christ and His death and Resurrection. I have many dear Protestant friends and family members who are just as firmly on the journey of salvation as I am and my Catholic brethren are. I count you among that number.
To address the current post: You present the problem: Is the chicken first, or the egg? Is salvation offered as a reward for works done in grace, or do the works follow necessarily from that grace? I would argue that it’s a false dichotomy. Catholic doctrine fully affirms the statement that good works “are a natural outworking of our faith which saves us.” Catholics, by the other token, would reject the suggestion that “works before our coming to Christ or apart from Him merit us salvation” — since we believe, as Scripture says, that “apart from [Him] [we] can do nothing” (John 15:5). The deeper problem, then, is in our conception of salvation. Is salvation a single moment, a declaration by grace through faith that happens only once, when we first believe? Or is it a process, a journey, an ongoing and progressive outpouring of grace through faith? This difference has real implications, and it plays out especially in our terminology.
When Protestant doctrine refers to “justification,” it means — following Luther — a single, one-time, forensic declaration that a sinner is righteous, not to be judged for his sins. It makes a distinction between the concepts of “justification” and “sanctification,” the process, after justification, of being made holy by the grace of the Spirit — a process that most Protestants acknowledge involves working out our faith through good works. By contrast, when Catholic doctrine refers to “justification,” it refers to an ongoing process, and it includes in this process sanctification. There are two grounds here for misunderstanding: first, The Catholic idea of a progressive justification does not deny the uniqueness of the initial moment of justification, our regeneration, nor the fact that it is entirely by underserved grace through faith. There is a real sense, in referring to our initial justification, in which the Catholic can affirm “salvation by faith alone.” Second, when Catholics speak of the necessity of works in salvation, they first mean works in sanctification — in your terms, ”works as a natural [and necessary] outworking of our faith which saves us”. In fact, most Protestants acknowledge that the process of sanctification is ongoing, so ultimately we are quibbling over terms and delineations.
A third point of misunderstanding, proceeding from this difference in conception, attaches to the Catholic notion of a “progressive justification” as it plays out in grace. Because Protestants conceive of justification as a one-time forensic declaration that fundamentally changes God’s aspect to the sinner — no longer seeing a sinner but a righteous person — they misunderstand the Catholic idea of a progressive justification. No, this does not mean that “Christ’s cross is not enough” to forgive all our sins; it does not mean that “we must add our works” in order to be forgiven. Certainly it is Christ’s grace alone, proceeding solely from the cross, that forgives our every sin: but because we are still living in time, our falling into sin in the future requires that we again repent — in which case Christ’s grace is ever and limitlessly there to forgive us — as Scripture itself teaches (e.g. 1 John 1:8-9).
I have rambled far afield of your post; sorry about that. I applaud you for going to the Greek of Philippians 2:12-13; but I think you miss the mark in a couple of respects. First, your focus and exposition on the English “outworking” is a red herring: for that phrase is not there in the Greek, but is an artifact interpolated by William Tyndale and preserved in nearly every English translation since (including Catholic ones) because it sounds so iconic and sonorous. See my own exposition of this verse, Work out your own salvation: The Apostle Paul, William Tyndale, and the leaven of a phrase. Second, your reliance on Strong’s concordance may be leading you astray. Strong is generally pretty good, but he was a compiler and a Protestant partisan and not a scholar. You admit the problematic implication of the statement, but because your conclusion is already foregone, you seize upon a contrary interpretation of the word not supported by most scholars of Greek simply to justify your position. None of the scholarly lexica I consulted (about half a dozen) support the sense of “finishing” a work: they all give the sense as bring about, effect, produce, achieve. In the end — even if your interpretation of “finish” were correct — then Paul necessarily teaches that our own efforts play some role in completing our salvation — and you have a problem.
In your exposition of Matthew 25:
Yes, I would agree completely. But nonetheless Jesus says those works — that evidence — is essential. And you completely ignore what He says will happen if those works are lacking. Sure, this also reveals “what kind of tree”: but Jesus says you will recognize a tree by its fruits — the fact that it has actually borne fruit — not “the kind of tree.” For all fig trees are by their nature fruit-bearing — but that didn’t save the poor tree in Matthew 21. I would say that leaving out the other half of Jesus’s parable in its entirety is a pretty glaring hole in your argument.
(A necessary caveat: Catholics don’t actually teach that a certain threshold of tangible good works is necessary for salvation. No Christian should ever worry “have I done enough” to be saved? It is Christ’s grace that saves us, not our works. At the judgment, we will be judged according to what we’ve done with the grace that was given us in the opportunity that we had — just as in the Parable of the Talents. ”In some cases — such as the woeful sinner who accepts Christ on his deathbed — the “fruit” of his repentance, of accepting Christ’s grace, is sufficient for his salvation; no other “work” is required.)
The peace of the Lord be with you.
I titled this “series” as such in reference to the doctrine that says our works merit salvation as being according to the flesh because it involves what we do. I changed it up today because I hadn’t anticipated my argument requiring so many “parts” and it was getting boring to title them all that way.
I have no opinion as to when “the doctrine ‘went off the rails.’” And yes, I believe Catholics who believe and trust in Jesus, though they may not have assurance because they believe the Catholic doctrine that they still must die “in a state of grace,” will be saved. And though I agree that the Catholic and Protestant views on the role of works in salvation seem so similar as to be different only semantically, the contrast is perhaps seen most clearly in this matter of assurance. I do believe that justification is “a single, one-time, forensic declaration that a sinner is righteous,” and it is in this one-time transaction that we are given the Holy Spirit. “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1:13-14) Those who have the Spirit belong to God, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:9), are adopted into his family (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5), and are assured of eternity with him. To lose that security would have to mean that God must “unadopt” us, and his Spirit would repeatedly leave us and return as we move in and out of his “sanctifying grace” and besides having no support in Scripture that I’ve ever seen, seems unacceptable and even ludicrous.
If by “leaving out the other half of Jesus’s parable” you’re referring to Matthew 7:19, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire,” I don’t believe Jesus is talking about fruit that a believer can do or refrain from doing. He’s saying that thornbushes, thistles, and diseased trees are not good for anything but to be burned, because of what they are.