Oh, the contrasts
So if you look at all these verses taken together, Jake, what we see, I think, is the necessity for both faith and works.
Jake is the man with a question. Karl Keating, the man with the answer. Jake called in to Catholic Answers Live to ask if the teaching that “once saved, always saved” is biblical, and over the last few weeks I have been examining the Catholic apologist’s response from an evangelical point of view. Today I address the final proof text he cites as evidence for the Catholic doctrine of salvation by faith plus works.
Okay, so, lastly I’ll just mention one more, Romans 6:23. We all know this. “The wages of sin is death.” Who is Paul writing to saying this? To Roman Christians. He’s saying, the wages of YOUR sin will be death. You’re Christians already but if you sin grievously, you will die. Not just physically, that’s not what he’s talking about ‘cause everybody dies. No, he meant spiritual death. He meant going to Hell. We all understand that.
In my opinion, Mr. Keating has misread or misapplied every verse he presents in making his case for the Catholic position in response to Jake’s question. But this interpretation of the first half of Romans 6:23 seems an especially grievous misrepresentation. To pull it out of context to teach that a Christian who dies with an unconfessed mortal sin on his soul will go to Hell is to do serious injustice to Paul’s central argument that though every one of us stands condemned before God because of sin, the “gospel…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)
Any careful reading of chapters 3 to 6 of Romans reveals Paul repeatedly contrasting one thing with another:
our unrighteousness, God’s righteousness (3:5)
works of the law, righteousness of God (3:20-21)
law of works, law of faith (3:27)
justification by works, justification by faith (3:28, 4:2-3)
works get you wages, faith gets you righteousness (4:4-5)
death through sin, life through Christ (5:17)
by Adam’s disobedience many made sinners, by Jesus’ obedience many made righteous (5:19)
dead to sin, alive to God (6:8-11)
under law, under grace (6:14)
slaves of sin, slaves of righteousness/God (6:17-18, 22)
And then in 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The contrasts are between what WAS the Christian’s experience before Christ – unrighteous, trying to be justified by our works, slaves to sin, dead because of sin – and what IS our experience once we have put our faith and trust in him – we have God’s righteousness, God’s life, and are justified by faith as a result of receiving from the hand of a merciful, loving Father the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This new life makes us a new creation, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17. But just as babies don’t come out of the womb walking and talking and as they grow will need to be taught what is expected of them, so too do “baby” Christians need instruction and guidance. Paul has been telling his readers in Rome what the gospel is and what it means for their lives, and in particular here in Chapter 6 it means they are no longer under sin’s thumb. They can still choose to sin, however, but how antithetical to what they were saved for, and how offensive to the Son of God who saved them would be a life continuing to willfully submit to sin. And in an effort to hammer home the importance of submitting ourselves “to God as instruments for righteousness,” he reminds them of God’s attitude towards sin…it merits death.
Paul is not telling the Roman Christians they are “going to Hell” if they “sin grievously.” Karl Keating and other Catholic apologists grievously misrepresent the gospel (which is a sin) when they tell “the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” and those who “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” that they are not justified, their sin does count against them, and they are actually in danger of Hell.
Keating has no more verses to share with Jake but he does have more to say, and it’s telling in the saying. That’ll be for next time.