Monday, August 24, 2009

Why I am a Protestant: Justification by Faith Alone

The reason why I am a Protestant and not an Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic is because of the Gospel. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches rejects the Gospel of Justification by faith alone. I have given many reasons in this blog why all Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics arguments are unsuccessful, but this blog post will be a positive reason for rejecting the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspective and for embracing the Protestant perspective. In this post I will argue that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox understanding of justification is incorrect according to our earliest Christian Testimony: The Bible. Thus, we should have a strong reason to doubt these two Churches and embrace the Protestant position.

The fundamental difference between the Protestant understanding of justification and the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspective is the role of works in justification. The Protestant position is that no type of work can contribute to ones justification, whereas in the Eastern and Roman view it affirms that certain works can contribute to your justification. Here are my four arguments for the Protestant position:


1) The Bible teaches that Grace is only compatible with faith and not works:

In order to have a clear understanding of justification we have to have a biblical conception of Grace. This is Grace as Paul defines it:

Romans 11:6 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Works here are generalized and there is no reason in the context at all to limit these works to types of works rather than all works in general. Thus, we see that grace is such that it is incompatible with works. Another reason for thinking that grace excludes all works is Romans 6:1-2 because Paul could not ask this rhetorical question if the concept of grace were such that works could be mixed in with it:

Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 4:16 tells us that the promise has to rest on faith because that is the only thing that is compatible with Grace. All this is really interesting, but how does it relate to the doctrine of justification? Well Paul makes it clear that we are justified by grace, which means not by works, but only faith:

Romans 3:23-24 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his *grace* as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

Thus, justification is by grace and by the definition of grace: by faith alone.

2) Justification by faith apart from works:

The Bible out rightly claims that justification is by faith apart from works of law:

Romans 3:27-31 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Now many objectors to justification by faith alone are quick to point out that they do not see the phrase “works of law” as all works in general and thus this cannot be an argument for sola fide so they say. But the problem is that Paul connects his thoughts in this context from the exclusion of boasting and if any works could contribute to our justification then we would have grounds for boasting, but clearly Paul here would rule out types of boasting and therefore we have good reason to think this is referring to all types of works.

An even stronger argument for “works of law” meaning all works in general is that it fits Paul's argument and context better than any non-Protestant interpretation. The part of Paul's argument that I am referring here to is 3:31 where Paul asks the rhetorical question about whether we even need to follow the law in the first place if Paul's understanding of justification were to be correct. Paul’s view of justification is such that it leads one to ask this rhetorical question: If we really are justified by faith alone then do we need to follow the law? Paul answers that just because we are justified by faith alone we still need to follow the law, but that the following the law does not justify us. The Sola Fide understanding of this text is the most preferable than the alternative for this reason. For if the Roman or Eastern understanding were being taught here then Paul would have no reason to anticipate this question because Paul could have always said “well you need to follow other works and other laws for justification”. And clearly this is lacking from his teaching on works and justification.

3) The Justification of the ungodly:

The Bible clearly teaches that God justifies the ungodly:

Romans 4:5 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Obviously someone who is ungodly is not actually righteous and has not done a sufficient amount of works to be right before God. But God legally counts him as righteous when he has faith. Now the East and Rome will be quick to point out that what justify here means is that God spiritually transforms the believer to make him pleasing to God, but the problem is that the Greek word for justify or “dikaioo” never means that. It either can mean to declare righteous someone that is actual righteous or not actually righteous, but legally so. It seems that given this passage that this is a declaration of righteousness on the ungodly thereby suggesting that the latter meaning (legal) is being used here rather than the former (actual). Thus, this word is being used here as a legal declaration in the context of a court room before God (Rom. 4:2).

4) Salvation is by Grace through Faith:

One of those most popular passages for proving sola fide has been Ephesians 2:8-9, it reads:

Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Christians have been saved, a past reality, by grace through faith and not by works. It could not be any clearer than this. The East and Rome have a hard time arguing that this is referring to only certain works here because salvation as a whole is by faith and grace which is not your own doing, but if we could achieve salvation by any works then it would be our own doing and therefore any works ought to be excluded. Paul in the end seals his argument with saying that because of all this no one can boast, but if this did not rule out all works then someone could boast, but Paul clearly would never intend for us to think that.


Concluding thoughts:

Therefore, since the earliest Christian testimony is clear that justification is by faith alone we should reject any works based systems like Mormonism, the Watch Tower, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, and Roman Catholicism. All of these views reject the Gospel of justification by faith alone. We have to remember that all false religions and Gospels are man centered and are not centered on the person and perfect work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the refutation of all the positive arguments that the East and Rome gives for believing their positions see the following blog posts:

Canon Argument:

http://reasonfromscripture.blogspot.com/2009/08/refutation-of-canon-argument.html

Perspicuity:

http://reasonfromscripture.blogspot.com/2009/08/refutation-of-roman-catholic-and.html

Infallible Interpretations:

http://reasonfromscripture.blogspot.com/2009/08/do-we-need-infallible-interpretation-of.html

Scripture Alone:

http://reasonfromscripture.blogspot.com/2009/02/sola-scriptura.html

16 comments:

BJ Buracker said...

Mr. Taylor,

Just a couple of questions.

1. What resource are you using for your understanding of the Catholic and Orthodox positions? You didn't cite any of their works.

2. What do you mean that grace is only compatible with faith and not works? Do you mean that faith, not works, causes grace? Do you mean that grace produces faith, not works? I really don't know what you mean by "compatible."

3. How you do understand Ephesians 2:10 in light of points #1 and #4? Eph 2:8-10 is part of one sentence. It looks like grace, faith, and works are linked in some way.

4. What is the definition, not description, of grace?

Thanks,

BJ
Stupid Scholar

Nathanael Taylor said...

Hello BJ,

1. What resource are you using for your understanding of the Catholic and Orthodox positions? You didn't cite any of their works.

Response: My readings in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and with respect to Orthodoxy my interaction with Eastern Orthodox thinkers like Perry Robinson and MG from well of questions. Do you know any official sources that would disagree with me? This was not meant to be a academic paper but just a simple blog post.

2. What do you mean that grace is only compatible with faith and not works? Do you mean that faith, not works, causes grace? Do you mean that grace produces faith, not works? I really don't know what you mean by "compatible."

Response: Good question. Anything that is grace cannot be works and anything that is works cannot be grace. Although I am sure that grace can produces some causal chain that allows one to produce works. When I say for example that grace is how I am justified that means not works only faith, but that does not exclude that my justification by the Spirit of God cannot produce works in a future causal chain.

3. How you do understand Ephesians 2:10 in light of points #1 and #4? Eph 2:8-10 is part of one sentence. It looks like grace, faith, and works are linked in some way.

Response: A lot sentences in Ephesians have long sentences in the Greek especially chapter 1 for example. I believe faith and grace are linked to works but as a result of salvation and not as a cause of salvation.

4. What is the definition, not description, of grace?

Response: Unmerited favor.

Thanks for your time and your interesting questions BJ.

God Bless you,

NPT

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, can you cite me one point where what you're calling the gospel is identified as such in the Scriptures. If what you're calling the gospel really is, then why doesn't it seem like the main thing preached by St. John the Baptist, Jesus, or the Apostles in the Gospels or Acts? What is a "gospel?"

PS: This is actually Krause but I'm publishing under anonymous because blogger is being difficult with me.

BJ Buracker said...

Mr. Taylor,

I appreciate your responses. Thank you. I'll go back through the enumeration again.

1. The original post just appears to oversimplify things a bit. Having read significant chunks of the Catholic Catechism, I have found it to be very nuanced. You seem to be setting up Catholicism as a works-based righteousness (earning salvation). As such, you can run the risk of a straw-man, since this is not what they believe.

2. I still don't understand what you're saying here. Let me ask 2 other questions:

a. Is it possible for someone to perform a good work?
b. If so, how is that possible?

3. You said, "I believe faith and grace are linked to works but as a result of salvation and not as a cause of salvation."

Again, I'm confused by how you phrased this. What is the result of salvation not the cause?

Plus, you contradicted yourself here, since in the original post you claimed that "grace is incompatible with works," yet here they are linked. I don't understand what you are saying.

4. Westminster Shorter Catechism #35 says that by God's grace we are enabled to die to sin and live to holiness. How does favor enable me to live a holy life (which, by the way, implies good works)? If grace is just preference or kindness (syn. for favor), the how is it even capable of producing anything? It would just be a disposition.

Again, thanks for your input, and I look forward to your response.

BJ
Stupid Scholar

Nathanael Taylor said...

Hello Mark,

Paul in his letter to the Church of Rome and to Galatia writes about the Gospel of justification by faith apart from any works:

Romans 1:16-17 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

Galatians 1:7-9 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

I believe what Paul sets up here in Romans 1 is his argument for justification by faith alone by condemning both gentiles and Jews in chapters 1 and 2 and then in chapter three he tells them the only way they can attain righteousness is by faith in Jesus Christ. As for Galatians Paul is arguing and defending against the heretics who reject justification by faith alone and hence reject the Gospel as Paul points out in chapter one. Their rejects results in the being accursed or as some translators simply put it “condemned to hell”.

Now this is an aspect of the Gospel because Paul defines other things as the good news of Christian message as Paul writes elsewhere:

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

As for your second question why is the Gospel of justification not in the Gospels and Acts? I would respond by saying that it is taught in the Gospels and Acts:

John 3:16 16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Acts 15:5-9 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses." 6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

Jesus taught it as well:

John 5:24 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

What about John the Baptist?

Well John the Baptist did not give the full Gospel message at all because he did not preach anything in 1 Corinthians 15 that Paul talks about. John the Baptist merely prepared the way for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

These are good questions Mark. Thank you for asking them. I hope you are well!

God Bless,

NPT

BJ Buracker said...

Mr. Taylor,

I just thought I'd drop a line to let you know that I appreciate greatly how you treat your guests here. I greatly appreciate your stance for the Truth coupled with a generous spirit towards those who disagree.

If you don't mind, I'd like to add you to my blogroll.

Thank you very much.

BJ
Stupid Scholar

Nathanael Taylor said...

Hello Bj,

Well thank you for your kind words. Some days are better than others believe me. I would love for you to add us to your blogroll. I look forward to any questions or critical remarks you have of things I have written. Feel free to do the same at my other blog:

http://reasonfromscripture.blogspot.com/

I hope you are well.

God Bless,

NPT

Josiah Nunziato said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathanael Taylor said...

Hello Josiah,

Great question Josiah. Paul's argument in Romans is addressing justification before God; that is to say how is one righteous before God. This is evident by phrases such "acountable to God" (Rom. 3:19), "in his sight" (Rom. 3:20) and "before God" (Rom. 4:2). Whereas James seems to discuss the issue of justification before men or how we know how someone is righteous. This is evident by phrases like "What good is it, my brothers" (Jm. 2:14), James 2:18 "someone will say" (Jm 2:18), and "you foolish person" (Jm. 2:20). The biblical context shows that James and Paul's are using justification in different ways and if they were not then there would be a contradiction in the word of God, even the Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory university agrees with my conclusions here on James. I hope you are well.

God Bless,

NPT

Lucian said...

If You were able to sift through the entire Gospel narrative without sensing any kind of difference between truly-good-and-spiritual things (on one side) and external-&-merely-formal obedience to the letter of the Law, then You deserve a Nobel prise.

By Grace, through Faith, in Deeds.

Nathanael Taylor said...

Hello Lucian

"If You were able to sift through the entire Gospel narrative without sensing any kind of difference between truly-good-and-spiritual things (on one side) and external-&-merely-formal obedience to the letter of the Law, then You deserve a Nobel prise.

By Grace, through Faith, in Deeds."

Response: I do recognize the difference in the Gospels that you mention, but I question the relevance of that to my blog post here. Lastly, I do believe that grace, through faith and works are aspects of any christian life, the difficulty is that only the grace God through faith justifies one before a Holy God (Romans 3-4).

God Bless,

NPT

Lucian said...

James 2:24 ? Galatians 5:6 ? (Pay attention to the last one).

Nathanael Taylor said...

Hello Lucian,

I have already responded to James above:

"Paul's argument in Romans is addressing justification before God; that is to say how is one righteous before God. This is evident by phrases such "acountable to God" (Rom. 3:19), "in his sight" (Rom. 3:20) and "before God" (Rom. 4:2). Whereas James seems to discuss the issue of justification before men or how we know how someone is righteous. This is evident by phrases like "What good is it, my brothers" (Jm. 2:14), James 2:18 "someone will say" (Jm 2:18), and "you foolish person" (Jm. 2:20). The biblical context shows that James and Paul's are using justification in different ways and if they were not then there would be a contradiction in the word of God, even the Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory university agrees with my conclusions here on James. I hope you are well."

Galatians 5:6 just simply states that faith that acts or works through love is of more importance than circumcision, which I would agree. The problem is it never says that the faith that believers have that works through love is what justifies a person before God. Rather as I have argued here and on the blog post Romans 3-4 teaches that a man is justified by faith apart from any type of works, which would include love. So I am not sure how this passage is relevant to the theological concept of justification by faith alone and it does not negate the clear passages in Romans 3-4.

God Bless,

NPT

Lucian said...

James can't be discussing justification before men, because that would run counter to almost anything Christ ever taught us. (Matthew 6:1-6, among others).

Paul was speaking of circumcision when saying that we're justified not by works, but by faith. And James was speaking of the sacrifice of Isaac when saying that we're justified by works also, and not by faith alone. The sacrifice of Isaac was Abraham's test of his faith and love of God. The circumcision was a only a sign thereof. (I can circumcise myself also, and so can You, but that doesn't mean that we have the same dedication towards God as Abraham had). -- So, for Paul, justifying faith is working faith; and for James the same holds true.

I'ld suggest to You that You take into account (along with Galatians 5:6) the following passages also, and see if You can detect a pattern forming there:

1 Corinthians 7:19;
Titus 1:13-16;
Titus 3:8-9.

Nathanael Taylor said...

Hello Lucian,

James can't be discussing justification before men, because that would run counter to almost anything Christ ever taught us. (Matthew 6:1-6, among others).

Response: In Matthew 6 Paul is condemning those who only do works for sake of looking Holy in front of others like Pharisees. This is evident by what is spoken about it in context and by Matthew 5:16 which exhorts us to have our good works before men but not in the way the pharisees did it. Surely James 2 is not discussing works to be done before men in the way the hypocritical pharisees did.

Paul was speaking of circumcision when saying that we're justified not by works, but by faith.

Response: It does not seem like he is only speaking of circumcision because he says the one who is justified by faith is ungodly so obviously no good works have existed prior in their life (Rom. 4:5). In the context of Romans 1-3 the issue has been the sinful human condition not circumcision (Rom.3:9-22). I have other arguments above in my blog post so you should probably address those as well.

And James was speaking of the sacrifice of Isaac when saying that we're justified by works also, and not by faith alone. The sacrifice of Isaac was Abraham's test of his faith and love of God. The circumcision was a only a sign thereof. (I can circumcise myself also, and so can You, but that doesn't mean that we have the same dedication towards God as Abraham had). -- So, for Paul, justifying faith is working faith; and for James the same holds true.

Response: You are right Abraham was testing his faith and love for Him, but he was also showing to Issac and future generations that he was truly saved. How is any of that inconsistent with justification by faith apart from works before a Holy God?

I'ld suggest to You that You take into account (along with Galatians 5:6) the following passages also, and see if You can detect a pattern forming there:

1 Corinthians 7:19;
Titus 1:13-16;
Titus 3:8-9.

Response: I have already responded to Galatians 5:6 it does not prove anything and you have no addressed that as of yet. As for 1 Corinthians 7:19, Titus 1 and 3 none of this has anything to do with justification apart from works, how are these incompatible with justification by faith a part from any works?

God Bless,

NPT

Jack Cack said...

Nate:

I wanted to thank you on your erroneous post. I feel spiritually validated, like I've grown a third hand and can simultaneously rub my bulbousy belly, comb my thinning hair and pluck out my thicket of nose hairs. I wonder if I have complete control of my third hand, but hopefully your post will guide the way. Please don't think of this as hero worship, I just view you as a God amongst insects. Like Buddha. Or Benny Hinn.

Your brother in the Lord,

-Jack Cack