Assurance of Salvation

In the previous post, Bonald raises, among other things, the question of whether we can have assurance of salvation.

The Bible contains many verses saying that one is saved, or made righteous, or justified, by faith in Christ (or by believing in Him) and by nothing else. See, for example:

Acts 16:30—31:  And [the jailer] brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  And [Paul and Silas] said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Note that Paul and Silas did not add any other conditions to salvation.

Romans 4:5:  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

“His faith is counted for righteousness” is the very definition of the concept called “imputed righteousness.”

Romans 3:28:  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

“Justified by faith without the deeds of the law” is the definition of the concept called “justification by faith alone.”

And note that it is not “justification by nothing.” It is justification by faith, and the Bible also teaches the need for repentance and baptism. [The exact role of baptism is a controversy that I ignore for the present.] So there are a few things that you must do in order to be saved. But you do not have to do the things that people instinctively think that you must do.  The natural man, before he is properly instructed and comes to have faith in Christ, instinctively thinks that you have to be enough of a do-gooder in order to be saved. But this is not the teaching of the Bible.

And this is not “easy-believe-ism.” Repentance and faith can be difficult, they are gifts of God, and they must be done anew each day. But the description of salvation is easy to give, and we must guard against the false teachings that are so prevalent in the church.

Continuing with the verses on salvation:

Ephesians 2:8—9:  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

1 John 5:12:  He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

*

To be sure, there are other verses that certainly appear to say that you have to be morally good in order to be saved.  But the Bible also addresses this apparent contradiction head on. For example, recall Romans 3:28:

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

And Romans 3:20 says:

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

That is, the purpose of God’s moral law is not to enable us to go to Heaven by obeying it perfectly, but instead to show us that we are sinners needing a Savior.

Further, the Bible also states that good deeds are properly the result of salvation, not its cause: First, good works cannot be the cause of salvation, since the Bible teaches that they are not (see, e.g., Romans 3:20 above.) Furthermore, as the above quoted verses show, the Bible also clearly identifies the cause of salvation as faith (trust, belief) in Jesus. Logically, therefore, there is either no necessarily relation between good works and salvation, or else good works are the result of salvation.  But consider:

1 John 4:19:  We love because he first loved us.

Titus 3:8:  This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.

These verses, and many others, show that salvation results in good works.

*

We must, of course, mention James 2:24:

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Is James contradicting Paul? That is, since the ultimate Author of Scripture is God, is God contradicting Himself?

No. God does not contradict Himself. The word “justified” has two meanings. When Paul speaks of justification by faith (and Moses also speaks of justification by faith in Genesis 15:6), he means that we are credited with righteousness because of our faith alone. When James 2:24 says “justified,” it means “proved.”  Works prove justification but are not their cause.  To say anything else is to say that Scripture contradicts itself.

In the linked post, Bonald says that the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (that’s what we Protestants call it) ought to frighten us with the suggestion that an otherwise good man can be damned for one sin. I agree. God’s law says that we are to obey it all of the time, and even one sin is warrant for eternal damnation. That is the curse of the law, because we know that we cannot obey it.

Now recall Romans 3:20 quoted above: “…by the law is knowledge of sin.”  Frightening you is God’s purpose for the law. But the Scriptures do not begin and end with law. In Christianity, and only in Christianity, there is also gospel, good news. That’s the good news that your sins can be forgiven if you repent and have faith in Christ. Law and gospel are a package deal, and to downplay either is to distort Christianity.

Finally, we can have assurance of our salvation. Consider 1 John 5:13:

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

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73 thoughts on “Assurance of Salvation

  1. One can never give the Christianity 101 talk too many times. Some people reading my post seem worried that I’m saying the struggle to earn one’s way into heaven is hopeless. And it is! If our own righteousness is the best thing we’ve got to put our hope in, we’re doomed.

    • Right. I think Catholics and Protestants talk past each other on this a lot. If I get sick and go to the doctor for treatment, it’s obviously the doctor’s positive works that heal me, not mine. This is what Protestants emphasize. Catholics emphasize the need to actually go the doctor and comply with his treatments. Healing comes ultimately from the doctor and his treatments and not from anything I do (here the Protestant is correct), but Catholics don’t believe it’s “anything I do” that heals me, rather it is the negative act of cessation, stillness, silence, and allowing the work of grace to be accomplished in the soul without the resistance of the will.

      • But it sure appears to this Protestant that the Catholic position is that one must also engage in the religious activities prescribed and administered by Roman Catholic officials. Rome seems to add additional requirements.

      • What I’m saying though, Alan, is that those “activities” (more specifically, my doing them) are not what conduce to my salvation. For instance, as a Catholic I would say that, when I go to confession it is not my act of confessing, my reciting the act of contrition, or the priest’s reciting the absolution that has any effect; all of these are things are purely natural symbols. It is the action of the Holy Spirit that scrubs me free of sin and restores the life of grace in my soul. Strictly speaking even the decision to go to confession is not wholly my own but is motivated by grace, i.e., contrition.

        So again there is nothing I “do” to be made worthy of salvation, but something I allow to be done to me.

      • > But it sure appears to this Protestant that the Catholic position is that one
        > must also engage in the religious activities prescribed and administered by
        > Roman Catholic officials. Rome seems to add additional requirements.

        On one side I would agree with you, that’s my perception of the Catholic position too. But on the other side, since Catholics can have sacrimonial marriage with Protestants in the Catholic Church (and I’m sure of what I am talking about since I am calvinist and my wife catholic), I guess this is an implicit recognition that other Cristians can be saved, since the Bible is against marrying Cristians to non-Cristians. We did have to sign a document that she would try to make the children Catholics and that I would not prevent her from doing this, however.

        I once saw a table from a brazilian official catholic website citing luterans and anglicans as the most similar to catholicism, calvinists in place 2, and jeová witness as a new-judaism in place 4, which would not be recognized as Christianism, but now I cannot find it anymore, maybe it is too politically incorrect to be online now.

      • “But it sure appears to this Protestant that the Catholic position is that one must also engage in the religious activities prescribed and administered by Roman Catholic officials. Rome seems to add additional requirements.”

        Alan, Lutherans and Anglicans do this too. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are generally necessary to salvation for them. I think you’re assuming that the reformed position is the protestant position.

      • Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are in a different category, because they are clearly commanded in Scripture.

        What I ultimately mean is this: Our salvation is ultimately based on God’s declaration that we are righteous, and therefore fit to receive all the many blessings of salvation. This declaration of righteousness is called “justification.” And Scripture teaches that justification is not by any work, but by faith.

      • Alan, what the Catholic Church is doing with requirements like fasting, observance of holy days, etc. is cultivating a deep, abiding faith of the type necessary to get us to heaven. It is the opposite of the easy-believism that so many protestant denominations seem to promote.

      • We agree that easy believism is wrong. The error is to say, or to imply, that these are somehow salvific in and of themselves.

      • “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are in a different category, because they are clearly commanded in Scripture.“
        I don’t know if the fact that they are commanded puts them in a different category. Sinlessness is commanded by scripture as well.

      • “The error is to say, or to imply, that these are somehow salvific in and of themselves.”
        Then I think we are in agreement because I don’t think the Catholic Church teaches that these things are salvific in themselves. Like Proph said, I think we tend to talk past one another.

      • As I said in another comment, the basic question is one of justification. Justification is God’s specific warrant for saving us: because we are righteous.

        Official Catholic theology holds that the righteousness that justifies us is “infused” via the sacraments. Righteousness is something like a substance that can be injected into the person. The Protestant position is that this righteousness is “imputed” (credited) as a result of faith. We say this because Scripture speaks directly of imputed (reckoned, credited) righteousness coming by faith alone.

        Protestants see the sacraments as “means of grace,” not causes of the infusion of righteousness. What exactly “means of grace” means varies somewhat from sect to sect. But righteousness is credited because of faith, not sacrament.

      • Right. We believe the Sacraments are the means by which God delivers sanctifying grace to the faithful. They are mediating variables in the model of salvation.

  2. Paul at least seemed to think that salvation could be lost by deeds.

    But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway. Cor 9:27

    Perhaps then deeds are inextricably linked to how one acts? Many of Christ’s sayings seem to indicate as much. Foremost in my mind is this rather clear statement on how one is to love God:

    Jesus answered, and said to him: If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him.

    John 14:23

    There are numerous other examples (consider the condition for salvation given to the rich young man) of how salvation comes to us other than by faith in the form of intellectual assent. Off the top of my head it sounds like we need something along the lines of faith, charity and an abiding hope until our death.

    • About salvation being lost by deeds, 1 John 2:19 reads:

      They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

      In other words, apostasy is proof that one was never saved, and deeds do not cause the loss of salvation. And since God it the ultimate author of Scripture, neither does 1 Corinthians 9:27 mean that deeds can damn.

      About the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17—23), while Jesus appears to make salvation contingent on an act of obedience, he elsewhere teaches that God demands belief more than acts. See, e.g., John 6:28—29:

      Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

      You referred to faith as intellectual assent, but the biblical testimony is that faith is primarily trust. It is based on knowledge and intellectual assent, but it involves much more.

      • To Alan:

        But isn’t that more less calling it in hindsight? Sure becoming irrevocably apostate, and thus losing all faith would mean one doesn’t have salvation, but that can only be determined at the after the fact.

        Peter would have been well on his way to being an apostate without his repentance and “recommissioning” by Christ (Simon Peter do you love me?… Then feed my lambs). Or maybe John Mark if he’d gone further than ditch Paul without correcting his course. One is either falling into apostasy or persevering in faith their whole life.

        I said intellectual assent because I can hardly see what else it would be if the cripple did not get up and walk, the blind man go down to Siloam, the leper return in joy, or Paul seek out Ananias?

      • From our perspective, the apostate appears to have been saved once, but to have lost his salvation. But according to the Scripture I quoted, God’s view is that he never had salvation to begin with. In a sense, both perspectives are valid, but God’s is more so.

        And yes, intellectual assent is necessary for faith. But not sufficient.

      • This would seem to make any subjective assurance of salvation impossible–unless it just means that *God* is sure that a given person is either saved or damned (which no one would dispute). How would one of these future apostates who only seems to have salvation have a different subjective experience of what he takes to be his faith than one who is actually saved? If it’s no different, then one’s belief in one’s own faith can provide no certainty; one can be wrong about it.

      • I would say that assurance of salvation can only come from looking outside yourself. We must look to Jesus, especially through his Word (the entire Bible, since Jesus is God and God is the Author of Scripture) and the sacraments. To the extent that we look to ourselves, it should be as Proph has said, to see whether we cling to the true faith. And the primary part of faith is trusting God, in Jesus, to save us from our sins.

        As to the subjective experience of a future apostate, I cannot say. The Reformed have a concept called the judgment of charity. It means that since some apparent Christians apostatize, one who appears to you to be a Christian might one day apostatize, which would prove that he was not a Christian in the first place. And since we are not God, and most of those who exhibit the marks of true faith really are Christians, and since you can always drive yourself crazy with too much doubt, we ought to regard them as Christians.

        So why not apply the judgment of charity to yourself?

        [N.b. I always thought it was spelled "apostasize." But the spell checkers and the Web say "apostatize." Oh well.]

      • I thought it was “apostasize” too.

        Anyway, I guess I misunderstood what you wrote before. I mistook “assurance” to mean “absolute certainty”. If it just means “chances are good, and it’s not fruitful to worry about it”, that’s more reasonable (although I’m not sure that a little bit of “fear and trembling” isn’t sometimes good). At least, the observed occurrence of apostasy–I hope that’s correct–is not a theoretical difficulty on this understanding.

    • Can you tell us here, in summary form, why your linked page is confident that justification is not by faith alone when Scripture says so explicitly?

      Romans 3:28: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

      • Being a busy guy, I was hoping you could summarize for me the basic Catholic argument on this topic.

        And no, Paul is not a higher authority than James. God is the ultimate author of Scripture, so it is always an error to set one Scriptural passage or author against one another.

      • Mr. Roebuck, for Romans 3:28 to be an explicit example of the Protestant doctrine of sola fide, you would have to show that St. Paul excludes love from his understanding of faith—i.e. St. Paul, by “faith,” means “faith and not love.” But St. Paul elsewhere seems to teach that faith is conjoined with love, e.g. in Galatians 5:6; “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Or in Ephesians 6:23; “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Or Ephesians 3:17; “and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” Or 1 Thessalonians 5:8; “But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” Or 1 Timothy 1:14; “and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.” Or 2 Timothy 1:13; “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”

        There is no place in St. Paul’s epistles where he teaches that we are justified by a faith-without-love; instead, he teaches in 2 Timothy 4:8 that the eternal reward is given to those who have loved Christ’s appearing; “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.” This conjoining of faith and love (and hope for that matter) is evident throughout the New Testament, and not just in the Pauline corpus. For example, Our Lord teaches in Luke 7 that the sinful woman who anointed His feet with ointment was saved by a faith conjoined with love. “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much … And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”

        I suspect you will assert that true justifying faith necessarily results in love, but that love is not a requisite for justification. That is the classic Protestant position after all. However, in 2 Thessalonians 2:10 St. Paul teaches that love is necessary for salvation; “and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” To die in a justified state is to obtain salvation; love is necessary for salvation; therefore love is necessary for justification.

        For all these reasons, the Catholic understands St. Paul’s use of “faith” in the singular to be shorthand for the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. True faith will be a faith formed by hope and love.

      • Yes, true faith in Christ results in, among other things, love.

        But the problem with your analysis is that it ignores the many places in Scripture (e.g., the Epistle to the Galatians) which say explicitly that justification, or salvation, or however it is put, is not by works. Paul, and other scriptural authors take pains to tell us that justification is not by works. And love is a work.

        “Justification” means God’s declaration that we are righteous in his sight. And if God declares it, then we are righteous, and all the blessings of salvation follow. It is this justification, properly speaking, that is by faith alone.

        And recall that “faith” is not just bare intellectual assent. It is a very rich concept, based most fundamentally on trust in God.

      • Mr. Roebuck,

        But the problem with your analysis is that it ignores the many places in Scripture (e.g., the Epistle to the Galatians) which say explicitly that justification, or salvation, or however it is put, is not by works. Paul, and other scriptural authors take pains to tell us that justification is not by works. And love is a work.

        Does St. Paul contradict himself when he teaches that love is necessary for salvation in 2 Thessalonians 2:10? Or does Our Lord contradict St. Paul when He teaches that the sinful woman in Luke 7 was forgiven much (i.e. saved) because she loved much? No, of course not. The Catholic understands the “faith working through love,” the faith which justifies, to be distinct from the “works of the law” condemned by the Apostle. The latter obligate God to repay us, they make God our debtor. But of course, this is absurd. No works that we do can make God our debtor. This is Catholic dogma, as per the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent:

        “And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification—whether faith or works—merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.”

        The living faith which justifies, the faith formed by hope and love, does not make God our debtor. If you think it does, if you think a faith formed by hope and love is somehow a work which obligates God, then that undercuts Protestant theology as well, for I could assert that a faith devoid of hope and love, a faith alone, could also be construed as a work—one’s faith obligates God to save them. But that’s silly.

        “Justification” means God’s declaration that we are righteous in his sight. And if God declares it, then we are righteous, and all the blessings of salvation follow. It is this justification, properly speaking, that is by faith alone.

        The lexical nature of δικαιόω is complicated, and it’s not exactly clear that it can only mean to declare to be righteous in opposition to an actual making righteous. In any case, the historical tradition of exegesis on the matter doesn’t really help the Protestant cause, as the doctrine of imputation is a sixteenth century novelty, as (the Reformed) Alister McGrath showed in his book Iustitia Dei. It strains credulity to believe that after the apostles died nobody rightly understood the biblical teaching on justification and salvation until Martin Luther came along.

        And recall that “faith” is not just bare intellectual assent. It is a very rich concept, based most fundamentally on trust in God.

        Sure, and this actually strengthens the Catholic teaching that justifying faith is a faith formed by hope and love. The act of trusting involves an implicit friendship. When you trust someone you believe in his goodness, you give yourself to him, and you open up to him. This trust, this self-offering, this opening up is inextricably bound up with love. So to trust God is to love God. Furthermore, to trust God and His divine promises is to hope in God, for God, who is good and faithful, will surely bring about what He has promised. Hence why in James 2:23, St. James calls Abraham—who believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness—a “friend of God.”

      • About love being necessary for salvation: Love is a work of the law, because it is commanded by God. Therefore love is covered in Paul’s formulation that we are justified apart from works.

        And no, faith does not make God our debtor. But God promises to save those who have faith, and we can rely on his promise.

        About declaring someone to be righteous as opposed to them actually being righteous: Well, if God declares that we are righteous, then we are. But Scripture also says that we continue to sin. We are simul justus et peccator: simultaneously righteous and sinners.

        About the doctrine of imputation allegedly being a sixteenth-century innovation: I am referring to what Scripture says: that we have (or are credited with) a righteousness that comes from God. That is not an innovation.

        About your claim that justifying faith is formed by hope and love: Scripture says that faith comes as a result of hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:7 says it explicitly, and many other verses show it happening without explicitly saying it.) Faith is not automatic, but hearing the Word of God is a necessary condition.

      • Mr. Roebuck,

        About love being necessary for salvation: Love is a work of the law, because it is commanded by God. Therefore love is covered in Paul’s formulation that we are justified apart from works.

        I notice that you ignore the verses I brought up which teach that love is necessary for salvation.

        And no, faith does not make God our debtor. But God promises to save those who have faith, and we can rely on his promise.

        God promises to save those who have a “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6) and formed by hope, which relies on his promises. Nowhere does the Bible teach that faith alone, a faith unformed by love and hope, will save. Everywhere the Bible militates against it, with James 2 being the most explicit example.

        About declaring someone to be righteous as opposed to them actually being righteous: Well, if God declares that we are righteous, then we are. But Scripture also says that we continue to sin. We are simul justus et peccator: simultaneously righteous and sinners.

        Simul iustus et peccator needs to be qualified, but it can be true if understood correctly. We continue to sin venially, not mortally.

        About the doctrine of imputation allegedly being a sixteenth-century innovation: I am referring to what Scripture says: that we have (or are credited with) a righteousness that comes from God. That is not an innovation.

        You missed my point. If the doctrine of imputation is so clearly biblical, why did no one understand it (not even the doctor of grace himself, St. Augustine) until Martin Luther came along? Think on this. This point is precisely that which began my journey from Reformed Protestantism to Catholicism. Did the Church really lose the heartbeat of the gospel so quickly after the apostles died? And for 1500 years or so? It really is an incredibly implausible claim, and one that flies in the face of Our Lord’s promise regarding the indefectibility of the Church (Matthew 16:18).

        About your claim that justifying faith is formed by hope and love: Scripture says that faith comes as a result of hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:7 says it explicitly, and many other verses show it happening without explicitly saying it.) Faith is not automatic, but hearing the Word of God is a necessary condition.

        How does faith’s coming as a result of hearing the Word of God challenge the Catholic conception of a faith formed by love and hope? I’m not following. One hears the proclamation of the Gospel, one believes that it is true, and this faith justifies if it’s the fiducia you mentioned above—a fiducia that implies a faith coinhering with love and hope.

      • As I said in my latest post on the subject, “The Basis of Our Salvation,” when Scripture speaks specifically on the subject of exactly what causes our salvation, it always says that faith alone justifies. See, e.g., Romans 3:28. I am therefore not ignoring those verses, but rather interpreting them correctly. You are the one who is deliberately ignoring something important.

        It is false to say, as you do, that no one understood the doctrine of imputation until Luther. All of the doctrines emphasized by the Reformation are contained in both Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers. The problem was that inaccurate views of Christianity were slowly solidified into place as official dogma, but there have always been Christians who believed Scripture, including Scripture’s clear teaching that we have righteousness imputed to us. See, e.g., Romans 4:20–25.

      • Mr. Roebuck,

        As I said in my latest post on the subject, “The Basis of Our Salvation,” when Scripture speaks specifically on the subject of exactly what causes our salvation, it always says that faith alone justifies. See, e.g., Romans 3:28. I am therefore not ignoring those verses, but rather interpreting them correctly. You are the one who is deliberately ignoring something important.

        The phrase “justified by faith alone” does not mean the same thing as “justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” On a purely grammatical level, the phrase “faith alone” denotes that faith is the only cause in justification, while the phrase “faith apart from works of the law” denotes that “works of the law”—whatever they may be—are that which cannot be coupled with faith as a cause in justification. Put another way, the phrase “faith alone” excludes anything from being added to faith, whereas the phrase “faith apart from works of the law” excludes only “works of the law” from being added to faith. This distinction is important, for from the phrase “faith apart from works of the law” one can implicitly understand faith as being inseparably conjoined with other virtues—e.g. love or hope. Nowhere does St. Paul teach that we are justified by faith apart from love, or faith apart from hope. On the contrary, St. Paul, in reference to justification in Galatians 5:6 speaks of the inseparable bond between faith and love. In the same vein, St. Paul never uses the phrase “faith working through works of the law.” This understanding of Romans 3:28, as I see it, is the only way to make sense of the verses mentioned above which speak of love being necessary for salvation, or of love being the cause of forgiveness and salvation. And I don’t know how you’ve supposedly interpreted those verses correctly, as you haven’t even provided an interpretation of them.

        It is false to say, as you do, that no one understood the doctrine of imputation until Luther. All of the doctrines emphasized by the Reformation are contained in both Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers.

        Alister McGrath’s Iustitia Dei calls the doctrine of imputation a sixteenth century theological novelty, unknown in the prior tradition. As I understand it, this work is considered amongst historical theologians to be the definitive study on the history of the doctrine of justication. And if you’ll recall, Luther said the same himself—that he was the only one who understood the Bible on justification and salvation. McGrath (who’s Reformed, by the way) and Luther may be wrong in their historical analysis, but you’d have to show where they are—i.e. provide counter-examples of pre-Reformation theologians who taught the doctrine of imputation.

      • We Protestants do not say that faith is isolated from other virtues such as love. We only say that Scripture identifies it as the sole cause of justification. Faith can be conceptually separated from other Christian virtues, but they all occur together as a package deal.

        And it is not just isolated verses that teach that faith is the sole cause of justification. Almost the entire Epistle to the Galatians is a meditation on the sufficiency of faith. Paul’s immediate concern is to refute those who taught that Christian men have to submit to circumcision and that all have to obey the dietary laws, but his scope is obviously larger than just these points. He even pronounces an anathema on his opponents for teaching a false gospel that cannot save.

        As for your challenge to find specific citations of the pre-Reformation but post-Scriptural teaching of the doctrine of imputed righteousness, I’ll investigate it and get back to you.

        in the meantime, can you provide me with a pre-Reformation church authority teaching that although Scripture, e.g. Romans 4, appears to teach the imputation of righteousness, it actually does not?

      • Mr. Roebuck,

        We only say that Scripture identifies it as the sole cause of justification.

        Where does the Bible identify faith as the sole cause of justification? Nowhere. Do not say Romans 3:28, for I already explained above why that verse does not necessarily teach that faith is the sole cause of justification. If you say that love and hope are excluded in Romans 3:28 because love and hope are works of the law insofar as they are commanded by God (and thus excluded under St. Paul’s use of the phrase “apart from the works of the law”), then faith must be excluded as well because it is commanded by God (e.g. Jesus’ command to “believe in the Gospel” in Mark 1:15, or when St. Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5 or the “law of faith” in Romans 3:27). Faith then becomes a work of the law—insofar as it is commanded by God—excluded under St. Paul’s phrase “apart from the works of the law.” St. Paul would then be teaching “for we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from faith” which is clearly absurd.

        Faith can be conceptually separated from other Christian virtues, but they all occur together as a package deal.

        Sure, faith can be conceptually separated from other Christians virtues, but you have yet to show that the faith which justifies is a faith unformed by love and hope. You also have not yet provided an interpretation of the verses mentioned above which speak of love being necessary for salvation or of love being the cause of forgiveness and salvation.

        And it is not just isolated verses that teach that faith is the sole cause of justification. Almost the entire Epistle to the Galatians is a meditation on the sufficiency of faith.

        The sufficiency of a “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6), not a faith alone, a faith unformed by love and hope.

        In the meantime, can you provide me with a pre-Reformation church authority teaching that although Scripture, e.g. Romans 4, appears to teach the imputation of righteousness, it actually does not?

        See St. Augustine’s “On the Spirit and the Letter,” “On Nature and Grace,” “On the Grace of Christ and on Original Sin,” and “Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.” In these works—which address all the relevant passages—you will find that for St. Augustine, justification is not by an extra nos imputation of the active obedience of Christ to him who has faith (as in Reformed theology). Rather, justification is by the infusion of grace and (principally) love into our hearts, whereby our hearts our transformed, made righteous, and we become capable of fulfilling the law (Rom 13:8-10), because love is the spirit of the law. It should be obvious, but the Catholic teaching on justification (as expressed dogmatically at the Council of Trent) is in perfect alignment with St. Augustine and, as I have tried to argue, with the biblical data.

      • So Augustine actually says that even though Scripture contains the wording that righteousness is imputed to us, that’s not actually what it means? I’d like to see the exact quote.

        If you say that love and hope are excluded in Romans 3:28 because love and hope are works of the law insofar as they are commanded by God (and thus excluded under St. Paul’s use of the phrase “apart from the works of the law”), then faith must be excluded as well because it is commanded by God…

        Nice try, but when Paul contrasts faith with works of the law, he is obviously not including faith as a work of the law. Faith is the only “work of the law,” so to speak, that is explicitly identified as the mechanism of justification.

        And the doctrine of justification by faith alone is not “justification by nothing.” There is something you must do: repent and believe.

        This is not rocket science. Faith is the cause (so to speak) of justification, and the other virtues are results.

        The sufficiency of a “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6), not a faith alone, a faith unformed by love and hope.

        But of course true faith is never uninformed by the other theological virtues. Faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone.

        It’s a simple system, clearly taught by Scripture.

    • I’ve heard of that group before. They’re the excommunicated sedevacantists, right?

      Justification by faith is obviously Scriptural; where Catholics and Protestants diverge is what it means to say that one is justified.

      • I’m sorry,but that’s not true Justification by faith alone was condemned by Council of Trent.

        Canon 9 of the Council of Trent states categorically,

        “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining [of] the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

        Canon 14 states:

        “If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.”

        source:http://christiananswers.net/q-aiia/james2-24.html

  3. Well put Mr. Roebuck. As far as the possibility of assurance of salvation goes, the verse you conclude with is the clincher. If assurance of our salvation were beyond our grasp, St. John’s words would be meaningless and nonsensical. One of the follies of the modern age has been to erect a wall of separation between faith and certainty. That of which we can have no certainty, it declares to be the province of faith and hope, whereas that of which we can be certain is the realm of knowledge and fact. This is completely foreign to the way the New Testament treats faith and hope. Our hope as Christians is said to be sure and the author of Hebrews makes certainty a part of the definition of faith. We are told to put our faith in Christ as our Saviour. To suggest that we must be perpetually in doubt and uncertainty as to our salvation is therefore to call the reliability of Christ into question. To say you trust someone but to express doubt as to the certainty of your possession of that for which you are trusting him is to call into question the honour, character, and trustworthiness of the person you say you trust. It is an impiety that wears the mask of humility. I also say a loud amen to where you say “‘Justified by faith without the deeds of the law’ is the definition of the concept called ‘justification by faith alone.’” Of course it is. Neither Luther, Calvin, nor anyone else who taught “sola fide” ever meant that a person was justified by faith apart from the grace of God, the Incarnation, Sacrificial Death and Resurrection of Christ, or the work of the Holy Spirit. They menat that a person was justified by faith apart from works – which is exactly what St. Paul teaches. To say, therefore, that St. Paul never uses the word “alone” to qualify justification by faith but that St. James does in a denial is an evasion of the fact that St. Paul repeatedly says that we are justified by faith without works. Nor is it valid to say that St. Paul was talking about one kind of works, works of the law, while another kind of works, works of love or charity, are required of us for our salvation. The distinction between the works of the law and the works of love is precisely that the former are done out of obligation to meet a requirement whereas the latter are done with the sole motivation of pleasing the object of love. This distinction is obliterated and robbed of all meaning if the works of love are made into requirements for salvation, although it is fair and legitimate to expect they will be manifest to some degree in one who trusts in Christ for his redemption.

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  5. I think that much of this age old controversy can be resolved if we see it in the light of second birth (John 3.7). I say this as a convert to the Roman Catholic Church who spent many years as a practical atheist because of a misunderstanding of the “born again” doctrine. The cause of salvation is neither faith nor works, it is grace; however grace is certainly evident in both faith and works. And it does seem, as a matter of experience rather than clear scripture teaching, that a man can make himself more receptive to grace by acting as if he already had faith, hope and charity. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle: you start out pretending to balance the bike with the aid of training wheels, and then the day comes when you don’t need the training wheels anymore.

    I think we should also be careful not to confuse the theology of salvation with the phenomenology of salvation. This goes both ways. We should not derive our ideas about what salvation means from what it feels like, but even more importantly, we should not make assumptions about what it (ought to) feel like from what it means. Some people happen to experience grace intellectually, which is to say as faith or growing confidence in the truth of certain propositions. Others experience it more practically, as a change in behavior. Needless to say, the second group is not “intellectual” and would not recognize a proposition if you handed it to them on a platter, but Martha had as good a hope of heaven as Mary.

    • There is not going to be any resolution of this age old controversy, until God resolves it.

      In the meantime, I’m going to trust God to save me even if I might be wrong about this matter.

      • Continental Op@ I agree. I shouldn’t have used the word “resolved.” I meant something closer to “kept from inciting an acrimonious quarrel.”

      • Kept from an acrimonious quarrel? Everyone here (I mean those who make posts) knows exactly how to incite one.

      • If you want a Catholic-Protestant alliance you will have to give up some subjects, plain and simple.

      • If by resolution you mean universal (or near-universal) agreement, then it will not come until the Lord returns. But in the meantime each individual must make up his own mind. I think that if we go by Scripture, a resolution is possible. Where the Bible speaks, we should believe. If it says we are justified by faith alone, then we are justified by faith alone.

        By the way, the complete Protestant formulation is justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

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  7. Mr. Roebuck, I don’t think anyone, barring a private revelation, and whether Catholic or Reformed Protestant, has access to an *infallible* assurance of salvation. A well-founded hope, sure. But infallible assurance, no. Catholics of course admit this, whereas Reformed Protestants cling to infallible assurance as a salutary doctrine over and against Catholics. Chapter XVIII of the Westminster Confession of Faith admits that there can be “hypocrites and other unregenerate men [who] vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God,” and I fail to see how one can have epistemic access to the experiential difference between these carnal presumptions and the infallible assurance of faith. I understand that this is a philosophical rather than a biblical objection to the Reformed doctrine of assurance, but I think it’s worth considering nonetheless.

    By the way, to you or anyone else interested, there is no greater Catholic apologetic site geared toward Reformed Protestants than Called to Communion. All of the contributors are former Reformed Protestants, and I believe all of them have received formal theological education in Reformed seminaries (prior to becoming Catholic, of course). Bryan Cross’ posts are particularly precise and well-argued. Be advised: you may end up becoming Catholic as a result.

      • This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope*; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. — WCF, XVIII, II

        *This opening clause is polemical in nature, and it has the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent in mind.

      • I think it only makes sense in its full context:

        CHAPTER 18
        OF THE ASSURANCE OF GRACE AND SALVATION
        1. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of salvation (which hope of theirs shall perish): yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.

        2. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.

        3. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

        4. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.

        I think part of the purpose of this chapter is to give us assurance that the saved are, in fact, saved, and to keep us from straying into the perverse pride of the hyper-humble who imagine themselves to be such unregenerable sinners that no matter how their hearts and deeds have been changed, that they themselves cannot possibly be saved. This sort of mindset can stem, for example, from the error of the works-based misunderstanding of salvation.

      • Mr. Lewis,

        The context, of which I was aware before, doesn’t help your case. The WCF does say that Christians can have access to an infallible assurance, that they can know with infallible certitude that they are in a state of grace. So once again, how does one make the epistemic distinction between this infallible assurance available to the elect and the vain hopes and carnal presumptions of the reprobate? To make this more personal, how do you know you are in fact among the elect and not in fact exercising the vain hopes and carnal presumptions found among the reprobate?

        I stand by my original claim that Catholics and non-Catholic Christians are in the same epistemic boat. This stuff about how Catholics live in constant fear of damnation while Protestants go along their merry way in full assurance of salvation isn’t helpful. We both hope we shall be saved, and this hope can be a well-grounded hope depending on what kind of lives we live and if we avail ourselves of the means of grace, but none of us have infallible certainty that we shall be saved. Catholics speak of having a moral certainty, as distinct from an absolute or infallible certainty, of being in a state of grace. This seems to me to be the most proper way to speak.

        I think part of the purpose of this chapter is to give us assurance that the saved are, in fact, saved, and to keep us from straying into the perverse pride of the hyper-humble who imagine themselves to be such unregenerable sinners that no matter how their hearts and deeds have been changed, that they themselves cannot possibly be saved. This sort of mindset can stem, for example, from the error of the works-based misunderstanding of salvation.

        Ever heard of William Cowper? An evangelical Calvinist of evangelical Calvinists, and yet he was convinced to his dying day—based, ostensibly, on private revelation—that he was reprobate, damned by God’s eternal and immutable decree. He even tried to commit suicide several times. A sad, poetic soul, and one not helped by the Calvinist doctrines. His life represents the darker side of Calvinism that few are willing to intellectually engage. Most of the Calvinists that I’ve known have always been confident that they are among the elect—and many of them, it seems to me, are living lives which should make them less confident.

        I say all this as one who was raised in an evangelical Calvinist home, and whose family still largely identifies as evangelical Calvinist.

      • …how do you know you are in fact among the elect and not in fact exercising the vain hopes and carnal presumptions found among the reprobate?

        By knowing that I trust in Christ alone to forgive my sins. That’s the biblical answer.

        I stand by my original claim that Catholics and non-Catholic Christians are in the same epistemic boat.

        I would say that this is not correct. Protestants base their assurance of salvation upon what Scripture says about faith alone justifying them, while Catholics are officially prohibited from having this assurance, but must hope in a more general belief that keeping the faith will secure their salvation.

      • Andrew raises the example of William Cowper.

        So a famous Calvinist succumbed to self-doubt. So he was unable to accept, to internalize, some of what the Bible teaches. So what? All of us, being imperfect sinners, will fail in some part or another of our religious lives. The best we can do is trust in Christ alone. He alone has the strength and the power.

        I think the reason many Calvinists think that they are among the elect is that they see how they have become better people since their conversion, or, if raised in the faith, that they have become better Christians than they were. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” applies here.

        This article by Loraine Boettner, called The Reformed Faith, explains it better than I can. The summary:

        Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

      • Mr. Roebuck,

        By knowing that I trust in Christ alone to forgive my sins. That’s the biblical answer.

        My best friend from the private evangelical Christian college I attended “knew” at one time that he trusted in Christ alone to forgive his sins. And he too was once an zealous defender of Calvinism (“biblical Christianity,” by his lights) against the “errors” of Catholicism. He is now an apostate and he hates God. According to the WCF, he was that person which exercised said vain hopes and carnal presumptions. And yet at the time he “knew” he was one of the elect. Because of this, saying that you know that you trust in Christ alone to forgive your sins is a non-answer, as such knowledge doesn’t rise to the level of infallible certitude that you are among the elect.

        And we’re back, once again, to Catholics and non-Catholic Christians being in the same epistemic boat.

        Mr. Lewis,

        I brought up William Cowper—who suffered more than self-doubt, but from what we might call the infallible certitude that he was in fact damned—as a counter-example to your claim that the mindset that one cannot possibly be saved stems “from the error of the works-based misunderstanding of salvation.” Cowper was surrounded by evangelical Calvinists (including John Newton of “Amazing Grace” fame), that was the theology he was immersed in, and yet he thought that he could not possibly be saved.

      • Anyone can doubt anything, if he chooses to. Therefore your observation is pointless. We must look to the external facts, given in Scripture, to know if we are saved.

      • Andrew,

        To be clear, what I wrote was “This sort of mindset can stem, for example, from the error of the works-based misunderstanding of salvation.” (emphasis added)

        I hoped this would be understood as one possible source for such doubt, not the source. My apologies if this was not clear.

  8. I believe you can “lose your salvation,” and I’m not as concerned as most Protestants are about the “justification by works” concern. However, I _am_ bothered by the notion that we should all be sitting around all the time shaking in our boots because, for all we know, we might be damned at this very moment without knowing it. _That_ continual fear of present damnation, unbeknownst to oneself, _does_ seem contradicted by many of the Scripture verses that Protestants use to argue for “once saved, always saved.”

    It is not even that I am opposed to the idea that we should “fear for our souls” *in some sense*, because I subscribe to the Lewisian view that we, in a sense, make our souls by our choices, so we should in some sense be worried if we see tendencies in ourselves that we might be gradually turning ourselves into monsters or rejecters of God’s grace.

    But it’s an entirely different matter to imagine Dives (or some lifelong Christian) lying on his deathbed, speaking lovingly to his family, even praying, confessing his known and recognized sins, making, as far as he can tell, a good death, and SURPRISE! waking up in torment because unbeknownst to himself he screwed up and didn’t care enough about the poor.

    That seems entirely contrary to many Scripture verses about knowing that we have eternal life, “no man is able to pluck them out of my father’s hand,” and so forth.

  9. Mr. Roebuck,

    How do we know that “justified” has two meanings in Scripture, and that in the James passage, it means “proved”? Are there two different Greek words being used?

    • Although Ian’s question was addressed to Alan Roebuck I am going to offer an answer. It is more or less the consensus of scholarship that St. James’ epistle was the first of the New Testament books to be written and that it was written within a very short time, perhaps no more than a year or two, of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. It was written long before the epistle to the Romans therefore providing St. Paul with plenty of opportunity to be familiar with it. The parallels between Romans, particularly the fourth chapter, and James, suggest such a familiarity. There is the similar terminology – justificiation, faith, works – for example, Abraham’s example is called upon by both writers, and indeed, the same verse from Genesis about Abraham’s faith being credited to him for righteousness is quoted in both. This is where the problem lies. St. Paul asserts that we are justified by faith and not works, even putting it so strongly as to say “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness”. St. James however, asserts that “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” If St. Paul and St. James mean the same thing by “justify” then they contradict each other. St. Paul, however, tells us that no such contradiction need be assumed. Note how St. James says that “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” which is a question framed in such a way as to indicate that the correct answer is yes. St. Paul in the second verse of the fourth chapter of Romans does not deny this assertion of St. James. He says of it, however, that “if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” Justification by works is something a man can boast of. Man can never boast of his justification before God, because it is entirely a gift of God’s grace. Therefore, the justification St. James is speaking of, is by St. Paul’s own words, different from the justification in the eyes of God, by grace through faith and not by works of which St. Paul writes.

    • They are basically the same word, differently inflected. But we know that they are not meant in the same sense for several reasons. For one thing, if the same meaning were in mind in these two passages, then Scripture would contradict itself, which is impossible. For another, the context of the passage in James shows that the meaning of “justified” there is to give evidence.

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  11. To a Catholic you commit a mortal sin (and lose salvation) when you know the act is objectively sinful and give full consent of your will when comitting it. How can a Protestant object to this understanding? If I know something is sinful and choose to do it anyway can I really have a deep and abiding saving faith?

      • I believe we recently had a contributor here aptly describe all sins as stemming from a lack in faith. Perhaps we are closer in our understanding than we thought.

  12. Pingback: The Basis of Our Salvation | The Orthosphere

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