I'm glad to say this blog is not dead. I did take a break, but mostly because I was busy with life and didn't have anything new/original to share. I never wanted this blog to be about posting for the sake of posting, so I deliberately limited my number of posts and only would post when I felt I had something worthwhile to share that wasn't the same old apologetics you read anywhere else.
For this post I want to discuss an interesting twist on the "not saved by works" discussions a Catholic will typically get into with a Protestant. First, the Catholic must understand that, in the Protestant mind, man is absolutely saved by his own works apart from faith and God's grace, but because of sin man is now unable to save himself and must have Jesus do those works for man in man's place. Human works alone (apart from faith and grace) are still what save us in the Protestant mind, the only thing that changes is that now Jesus does that work in man's place. This is completely contrary to the Catholic understanding of salvation, in which man can only be saved by faith and grace, never by his own works no matter how good those works are. I discuss this more HERE.
This leads me to the main focus of this post: Did Paul say that the reason why "works" cannot save us is because those works are 'tainted by sin'? That's certainly the typical Protestant answer, but as you will see, that's not the 'plain teaching' of Paul at all. For this post I will look at some of Paul's key salvation 'apart from works' texts.
- Romans 4: 1What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
- Galatians 3: 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”
- Ephesians 2: 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.
- Philippians 3: 4 If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I [Paul] have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
- Titus 3: 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit
Without going into detail on each of these passages, notice that in the 'plain reading' of these texts, there is no mention of the works in question being 'tainted by sin'. In fact, such a reading would make these texts nonsensical. The only reason given for why works don't save is to prevent boasting. That's it.
A Protestant reading this has to mentally insert 'tainted by sin' into these passages, but this is not only putting words into Paul's mouth, it actually contradicts Paul's statements. Why should we read "works done by us in righteousness" (Titus 3:5) as actually being 'not really righteous' works? Why should we read Paul's blameless "righteousness under the law" (Phil 3:6) as 'not really righteous' under the law?
In reality, all Paul is saying is that works don't save...because works never did save. Works aren't bad, works aren't sinful, works aren't even in competition with faith. Works simply aren't what save because they were never intended to save, no matter how pure or good they were done. If you read Paul with that in mind, you don't have to do any mental gymnastics while reading him.
Now it is true that the "works" Paul has in mind are "Works of the [Mosaic] Law," which are the 613 individual Commandments found in the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), centered around the Ten Commandments. But even this doesn't change anything, because keeping the Law never did save. Keeping the Law did grant a Jew many earthly blessings, such as health, wealth, long life, and big family. But none of these are the reward of Heaven. Faith grants the reward of Heaven, while Works of the Law grant the reward of earthly blessings. The Jews confused those two blessings, Paul did not. Protestants confuse those two blessings, Catholics do not.
And it is true that all men come into this world dead in sin and separated from God, but even that's not the point behind Paul's repeated 'works don't save' statements. The reason why Paul brings up us being dead in sin is because we need reconciliation (see the point of 2 Cor 5:21 in this link) in order to start living a life for Christ. And once you are living a life for Christ, then you can be judged worthy to inherit Eternal Life, not before. Protestants think you are worthy of Eternal Life upon being Justified, but that's not what Paul teaches. In reality, Justification and being Judged worthy of Eternal Life happen at two different times in a person's life - and to confuse the two events and turn them into one event the way Protestants do is a huge mistake.