Justification by Faith Alone Debate
(2) Jeff begins his Opening Essay by quoting Hebrews 11:6, but my main “complaint” with this move was that only the first half of the verse was quoted, and I believe this verse and Hebrews 11 as a whole goes against his thesis. He notes in his Essay that faith “has no inherent value,” which doesn't fit with the Scriptural claim (and passage he himself quoted) that faith pleases God, and that man's faithful obedience receives commendation by God.
(3) Jeff uses Ephesians 2:8-10 as a summary of the key components of Sola Fide.
- By grace: While there is a lot of truth in his comments, I believe the (con)text goes a bit further, defining this grace as God's transforming power (which Jeff's thesis denies).
- You have been saved: Jeff (rightly) says this is speaking on justification, but since he is speaking in terms of the Protestant understanding of it he also claims this includes “the assurance of eternal life” and that this is a “one time event” - two concepts which are yet to be proven (and in fact denied by me in my Essay). Further, I believe Jeff's understanding of justification does not mesh with the way Paul himself describes “by grace you have been saved,” which in verse 5 is explicitly said to be a spiritual renewal and inner transformation, not a legal declaration (cf Col 2:11-15).
- Through faith. Here Jeff says “in itself faith has no inherent value,” which I sternly denied a few times already. But he goes onto say faith “is merely the mechanism by which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us,” which while a critical concept for Sola Fide, is not something the Bible teaches. Jeff is reading quite a bit into two words here (and doesn't really even back this up later on).
- This is not your own doing. Catholics teach none of this saving grace or faith originated in us. While Jeff would agree with this, he would take it a step further, wrongly ruling out any human interaction (which would make believing itself a purely passive act – certainly not a Scriptural thought). But even if it were granted that the sinner was 100% passive, it would still not logically follow that salvation had to come via imputation of Christ's Righteousness – which still must be proven.
- It is the gift of God, not a result of works. This ties into the previous point, which Catholics would say is about God saving us without any pre-existing merits on our part. But, as with the above point, Jeff takes this further than what is Biblical. He assumes the “works” here are to be understood as something along the lines of “any and all works done at any time,” which is simply not proven. He goes on to say “nor can those who are justified fail to finally be found worthy to enter the kingdom of God,” which is another unproven (and in fact unbiblical) assumption. He says if it were otherwise, then “grace would no longer be grace,” quoting Romans 11:6. But Romans 11:6 doesn't say this, as the next point will highlight.
- So that no one may boast. Jeff begins by saying, “Salvation, from beginning to end, is wholly the gracious work of God.” While Catholics fully agree with this, the catch is that salvation and grace are not to be taken in the sense Jeff's Protestantism is taking them. Texts like Philippians 2:12-13 says “work out your salvation” through God's enabling power, which would be flatly contradicted according to Jeff's understanding. Jeff would most likely object and say Philippians 2:12f is not speaking on justification, but this is not something he can prove from the text itself. Jeff continues, “If our works played a role in our justification, it leaves room for us to boast before God. It matters not whether we claim our works were made possible through the grace of God, as the Catholics do.” This is only true under certain conditions, and fails to distinguish between strict merit and gracious merit. Strict merit means there is a payment due necessarily from the fact a work was done – but God can never be put in debt by the creature. Gracious merit, on the other hand, teaches that while God never owes anyone, much less a sinner, He is pleased to go ahead and reward obedience and good works. Indeed, the Council of Orange (basing it's teachings on Augustine's work) condemned Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, yet saw the notion of gracious merit as perfectly orthodox: “Recompense is due to good works if they are performed; but grace, to which we have no claim, precedes them, to enable them to be done” (Canon 18). This notion that it cannot be grace enabled is an invention by Jeff, not part of Scripture nor the actual definition of Semi-Pelagianism. Ironically, if any theology is built upon the notion of works salvation and boasting (and even Pelagianism), it is the Protestant notion of the “Covenant of Works,” where Adam and Jesus (!) were to effect salvation through their own purely human ability (no enabling grace)!
- For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Jeff begins by warning us how Sola Fide is often misrepresented to mean works have no place in the Christian life, which is a good point to bring up. I trust that I have not misrepresented Sola Fide in this regard. That said, I believe the Protestant take on this issue is itself unbiblical in saying that works have no bearing on whether someone is legally entitled to enter heaven or even lose their salvation (See my Opening Essay). Also, Sola Fide teaches good works are guaranteed to flow from faith (as Jeff also admits), but this is not only unbiblical, it's down right false given the fact we see Christians sinning both in the New Testament and throughout history (which is impossible if good works are guaranteed). Lastly, it is important to note that Paul here distinguishes between “good works” in verse 10 with simply “works” in verse 9 – this is a good indication Paul was not speaking against 'any and all works' but rather a narrow understanding of them. Indeed, this is further confirmed when one examines Paul's continuation of his thought in the second half of Ephesians 2 (esp 11-13).
(4a) “The Insufficiency of Works of the Law.” Jeff's first sentence says, “Works are incapable of justifying anyone in the sight of God.” What Jeff has done is confuse/conflate “works of the Law” with 'works in general' – they are not the same. He continues by rightly saying “the purpose of the law is not to justify, but to condemn,” but it is unclear as to whether this is due to the fact the law never promised salvation or whether this is because nobody has kept the law. The contexts in which he is speaking suggest the latter, though the former is the true biblical answer. Jeff concludes by saying, “Thus, obedience to the commands of God has never made anyone appear righteous before God,” but it is unclear in which sense he is speaking, and has conflated and confused “commands of God” in general with “works of the Law” in particular. To prove the fallacy of equating the two, take the example of Baptism. Baptism is a “command of God” (in the NT) but it is not a “work of the Law” (it was never commanded by the Law of Moses).
(4b) “The Sufficiency of Faith.” Jeff says, “After Paul establishes the problem - that no one is righteous - he then turns to the solution God has given - salvation by faith alone.” I would say there is truth and error intermixed with this claim such that it's false overall. The problem was never about “faith in general versus works in general” or even “faith alone,” but rather “faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28-29). Jeff proceeds to speak (briefly) on the “righteousness of God,” but doesn't explain what exactly this means, which leaves a big hole in his thesis. I spoke on this very issue in my Opening Essay.
Jeff continues with, “faith is not righteousness in itself, but simply that through which righteousness is given.” This depends on how “righteousness” is being understood here, for example is this an infused or imputed alien righteousness? How does his claim square with Romans 4:3? I address this in my Opening Essay.
Jeff turns his focus onto Romans 10:9, "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Jeff's first thought is, “If you believe, you will be saved - no qualification is given, there is not even a hint given that anything further is necessary.” This is quite astonishing considering Paul explicitly distinguishes “confess” and “believe” and says both are necessary to be saved. In fact, this should even be taken in the future tense, “will be saved” at a future date. Also, the way Paul is describing the belief here, “believe in your heart God raised him from the dead,” does not sound like faith is a passive instrument. So the “plain reading” of this verse contradicts Jeff's whole thesis. This is further confirmed when verse 10 is considered, which says “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (KJV, since other versions have awkwardly translated the passage, e.g. using the term “justified” when the Greek term is “righteousness”). This not only contradicts Jeff's thesis, it confirms the Catholic point that justification comes in stages. What is also amazing to note is that one other place where both the same Greek terms “believe” and “confess” are used is in John 12:42, “many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it.” In other words, the necessary for two components is confirmed, and clearly someone can believe but not confess, and thus will not be saved in the end.
Jeff seems to notice this problem, or at least a variation of it, when he concludes his thought by saying, “Lest anyone should mistakenly think that some external requirement is required by the phrase "calls upon the name of the Lord [will be saved]"[v13], Paul makes calling upon the name of the Lord contingent upon faith.” But this is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if calling on the name of the Lord is “contingent on faith,” it's still something more than just believing, contradicting the debate thesis. This problem is actually highlighted by noting that the very same context Jeff appeals to Jesus' comment in Matthew 12:34, when Jesus says in the next breath: “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mat 12:36f) – a comment that both contradicts Jeff's claims and confirms the Catholic position.
(4c) “Imputed versus Infused righteousness.” Jeff begins by quoting Romans 5:1-2 and comments on it. He claims justification as “once and for all” is the only way to make sense of the fact the text speaks of justification in the past tense and having peace with God – but that's simply begging the question. If Paul is only talking about conversion, of course he is speaking in the past tense, and of course the sinner would have peace with God – but nothing of that demands this only be a once and for all event, especially given Paul's appeal to David a chapter earlier, where David fell into sin, lost his justification, and had to recover it. (David certainly didn't have peace with God as he was repenting in Psalm 32!) This is confirmed elsewhere in Paul's writings as well, and a notable example is Galatians 5:4 where Paul speaks to (justified) Christians and says if they turn to works of the Law for justification they will be “severed from Christ, fallen from grace.” Jeff would likely counter by saying these folks were never saved to begin with, but it betrays the fact Paul is yelling at Gentile Christians who have turned to sin and Judaizing and the fact one cannot be “severed from Christ” or “fall from grace” if they were never attached to Christ or in grace in the first place. (Note: Jeff never really addressed the issue of imputation or infusion.)
(5) Jeff concludes by speaking on “The Rightful Place of Works,” and makes a pretty bold claim: “Works are simply the outworking of true, saving faith. While salvation is effected by faith alone, saving faith infallibly results in works.”
I would consider this extremely unbiblical. It not only is never taught in Scripture, there are numerous passages that contradict it. One great example is 2 Peter 1:9, where after instructing Christians to strive to do various good works concludes with, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” Someone cleansed of their sins is certainly saved, yet they “lack” those good works! And Peter only speaks of “past sins” forgiven (contradicting the notion present and future sins are also forgiven at the same time). The only 'escape' in a situation like this is to claim the sinner here 'was never really saved in the first place' – but anyone who argues like that is simply begging the question for the sake of damage control.
Jeff appeals to Ephesians 2:10, but all that is saying is God saved us so that we could do good works, which in no way indicates good works are guaranteed. This is confirmed when in Eph 4:17-5:21, where Paul says as New Creations we are called and enabled to do these various good works, but we should take extreme care not to turn to sin (which would be nonsense if such were impossible and good works guaranteed). Interestingly, Jeff appeals to Romans 14:23, yet the context is of those Christians who struggle with sin and are subject to being scandalized to fall into sin – and in no way does Paul indicate they were never really saved – yet Paul says “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats,” again contradicting the debate thesis that works don't affect one's standing before God.
If Jeff were to claim good works were guaranteed, even infallibly, he'd have a lot of explaining to do in terms of (1) knowing just how many works are needed to “prove” to oneself and others that you have true faith and are thus saved, and (2) explain how the Christian can still fail to do good works, even for a time, including sin. If a Protestant is going to claim Sola Fide puts one's heart at peace and security, I don't see how that's possible given these 2 factors.
Jeff goes onto quote 2 Corinthians 5:21, yet as everyone knows, this is the Second Epistle to the Corinthians – the first of which was a stern rebuke by Paul since the Corinthian Christians had scandalously turned to various sins and schisms (no good works guaranteed there). In this passage, Paul plainly says to these Corinthians “we implore you...be reconciled to God,” which would make no sense if they were living upright lives. Astonishingly, Jeff says a bit later, “Paul, after he has rebuked the Galatian church for departing from sola fide and beginning to trust in the work of circumcision for their justification,” which self-refutes his very claim good works are guaranteed. But he continues by saying Paul “warns [in Gal 5:19-21] that those who do such things [evil works] will not inherit the kingdom of God. Why not - because they must earn their righteous standing before God? No, for that would flatly contradict what Paul had spent almost 4 chapters laying out.” What I find problematic here is that Jeff recognizes the 'plain reading' of that text, that good works are not only not guaranteed for the Christian but that they lead to damnation, yet he falls back on his assumptions that this must not be talking about justification or at least genuine Christians so as to salvage Sola Fide. But this is simply begging the question (if not blatantly ignoring Scripture) which is only made worse in light of the fact his other concepts he's assuming and falling back on are likewise not actually true.
(6) Conclusion: Here is why Jeff failed to prove his thesis: He made claims that (a) were flatly unbiblical, (b) failed to address key details such as where the Bible ever taught active obedience, imputation, Christ's Righteousness, etc, etc, (all points which I sufficiently addressed in my Opening Essay) and (c) were dogmatic claims that were not founded on actual Scriptural passages but rather assumptions. This is not to say Jeff in any way acted dishonestly or with ill intent, only to say the doctrine he is defending contains serious errors and assumptions.