Monday, May 14, 2018

Quickie Apologetics: Sola Fide & Losing Salvation

My "election/calling in the NT" article as a follow-up to my last post is taking longer than expected, so here's a brief post (on a different subject) for now.

One line of argument I use against Protestants is to ask them early on in the discussion if they believe salvation can be lost through (grave) sin. About 'half' of Protestant denominations do believe salvation can be lost if we turn to sin, fall away, lose faith, etc. But this raises an interesting dilemma: how can you say we are saved by faith alone if salvation can be lost? If faith is what saves you, then your works obviously cannot play a role. If your works do play a role in saving you (including keeping you saved), then obviously it's not faith alone saving you. You would be surprised how many Protestants get stumped by this question - and indeed they should, since it's a blatant contradiction. 

I've found this argument is especially useful against Lutherans, since they believe salvation can be lost through grave sin. In fact, Luther himself taught that salvation could be lost:
When holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them. (Smalcald Articles #43).
Luther wrote the Smalcald Articles and Lutherans formally accepted them in their Confessional Book of Concord, so this is official Lutheran teaching. It is interesting that Paul himself quotes this example of David having lost his salvation and having to repent to become re-justified in Romans 4:6-8 (quoting Psalm 32). 

Recognizing this contradiction, we get the other 'half' of Protestants who logically hold that salvation cannot be lost. These require a different line of approach, but can still easily be exposed as well. Those who do believe salvation can be lost typically (rightly) appeal to the clear passages of Scripture indicating salvation can be lost (see HERE and HERE for some examples), and in this case they sacrifice logical consistency for Scriptural testimony. On the flip side, those who believe salvation cannot be lost are forced to explain away those many texts of Scripture, and in doing so they sacrifice God's Word for logical consistency. In reality, you shouldn't have to sacrifice either one, and that's why the Catholic Church is obviously correct in rejecting salvation by faith alone.


Mark Thimesch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jack mills said...

Mark, I wanted to respond to your posts, but we had a power outage for the last 24 hours and I had no Internet. It just now has been restored.

I see that you removed your posts - not sure why. I see that my post has been removed also. If you would like to read my comments please send me your email or email me at

I would post my response here, but if Nick is censoring my posts I don't want upload my comments if they are not wanted.

Mark Thimesch said...


I believe your post was censored because it didn't even address the TOPIC of Nick's blog. You basically did the ole "shot gun" approach that many anti-Catholics do - attack the Church based on your preconceived ideologies and double standards.

It gets old, Jack, especially when a little bit of research from actual Catholic sources, public court documents and some non-religious based institutions would yield the answers to many "claims" against the Catholic Church.

I would suggest addressing Nick's TOPIC of this blog post before addressing me. That would be proper courtesy AND it would stay ON TOPIC.

jack mills said...

Thanks for your reply Mark. If I have mis-judged the Catholic Church, I am truly sorry.

Joe said...


I'm not so sure that Lutherans believe they can lose salvation as a result of serious sin, notwithstanding the Smalcald Articles. Seems that "apostasy" is the only cause of the loss of justification. I've been trying to research this and haven't been able to nail it down.

Your point is still valid for any Protestants who hold to JBFA but can be lost due to a behavior (regardless of how we categorize it).


ola said...

If Lutherans argued that apostasy is the only sin that causes one to lose their justification, an important passage to cite is Matthew 7:21.

Of course, a Lutheran could resort to the Calvinistic claim that such an individual never had "true faith" to begin with, but then this would resort to the Calvinistic fallacy of "No True Christian" (derived from the No True Scotsman fallacy).

If there are not other sins besides apostasy that can cause one to lose their justification, then what's stopping us from adopting the Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (i.e., one that has been justified in actuality, will never lose that justification).

The idea that anyone who does not persevere in faith, no matter how perfect their prior Christian conduct may have been, was never justified in the first place, is an example of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. If there is no criterion for identifying who is justified independently of whether they actually persevere to the end, then it is impossible to know if someone is justified before that person's death. Hence, it fails to give assurance of either salvation, defeating the very purpose of the doctrine. However, if there is such a criterion, then it should be clearly articulated so we can test the claim that the justified always persevere. Otherwise, the claim that one who does not persevere was never justified is just an empty tautology, grounded in the definition of "justification" as entailing perseverance (i.e., justification entails perseverance, and perseverance entails justification).

Chris said...

Hi Nick,

I don't know if you will still see this comment since this post is several months old. I am a Lutheran who is trying to better understand the Catholic position on justification better, so I hope that you can help see if I am misunderstanding something here on the Catholic side of things or if I am making an error in logic.

I am not sure that I see the inherent contradiction that you seem to see between being justified by faith alone and having the ability to lose your faith.

I would see it as logically impossible to say someone has saving faith at the same time they are committing a grave (mortal) sin. It would be this loss of faith, then, that actually causes them to lose their righteousness before God, not the sin itself. In this sense, then, I too would distinguish between mortal and venial sins as those sins which must logically be accompanied with a complete loss of faith (mortal sins) and those that just chip away at your faith (venial sins).

Here is an example. Take for instance someone who is theoretically a saved Christian, but for some reason murders someone. I don't see how it would be logically possible to say that a person could have faith in God at the moment they are committing this grave sin. This just seems a logical necessity. As a Lutheran, then, I would still want to say that it is the loss of faith that causes someone to lose Christ's righteousness that was imputed to them through faith. This is to say that this person at the moment of a grave sin, then, has rejected their saving faith and therefore then stands before God solely on their own merits.

On the case of venial sins, I would say that while someone hasn't rejected their saving faith altogether, they are certainly chipping away at it. Though they have sinned in a lesser degree, they still have saving faith and therefore have not rejected Christ's righteousness that is imputed to them. At some point, if a person continues to willfully commit venial sins against God, they may just decide to reject their saving faith altogether. Here too would be the point when they would no longer be justified.

I'm new around here so I would like to make my intentions clear and state that I am not trying to argue. I actually have a great affinity for Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy and many things in Catholic teachings. I genuinely am someone who is just seeking truth and wants to especially understand the Catholic position on justification better.

God's peace,

Nick said...

Hi Chris,

There are a few reasons why I would say the "loss of faith" angle is still problematic:

(1) I don't think the Bible speaks of people sinning gravely as always having lost faith. In fact, the Council of Trent quotes Revelation 21:8 which lists "unbelief" as ONE of MULTIPLE sins that can lead to hell. This means that a person can have faith and still commit these other damnable sins. Also, I don't think David is said to have lost his faith when he sinned gravely. Even in our every day experience, we still believe Jesus is our Savior even when we sin. I'm sure when people get very tempted and fall into sin, it's not that they don't believe in Jesus, it's that the temptation has overcome them.

(2) Losing faith is a MUCH MORE serious matter than mortal sin, because while in mortal sin a Christian still believes in Jesus' mercy to forgive that sin. To lose faith means you no longer believe in God, the Gospel, etc. To recover faith is much more difficult than recovering the sanctifying grace lost by mortal sin. There is no straightforward way to recover faith, especially if you no longer see the need for it, and I don't see Scripture speak much in this regard. When someone loses faith in the Bible, it's akin to counting them as completely lost.

(3) You seem to be suggesting that losing faith takes place alongside mortal sins, almost as if the sin itself isn't what is causing the lost faith and as if they aren't even connected. As if faith is lost before the sin is committed or as if faith just so happens to get lost while the sin is being committed. Neither of those make any sense.

(4) To be able to lose salvation undermines the notion of JBFA regardless of whether it's lost faith or evil works. That's because it's still upon you, how you act, that determines whether you're saved in the end. You're not secure. You're not resting on Jesus' so called "finished work". There isn't substantial difference between the Catholic view of perseverance and the Lutheran view at that point, and so the Reformation makes little sense.

Chris said...

Thanks for these responses, Nick!

#1 is definitely a direct challenge to my position and one I will consider further. This being the idea that one could commit a damnable sin while still having faith in God. My initial reaction to this would be that "the unbelieving" in Revelation 21:8 could apply specifically to those who consciously do not believe God exists (atheists). I think this could be different than someone who believes God exists but does not have a saving faith in God's promises. I see how I could simply be wrong here, though, so I will definitely take your point into consideration.

I will try to make some more distinctions to see if I can make my position more clear too, as I don't think your other points really address my position.

First, I should be clear that the Lutheran position of saving faith is not just intellectual assent or head knowledge (as I am sure you are well aware). Faith is much more; it is a living faith that includes knowledge, trust, and complete confidence in God's promises to save us.

My contention would be that it is logically impossible for someone to say they have this type of saving faith while they are committing a mortal sin. This saving faith and the acts they produce are so intertwined that I would say they are concurrent or simultaneous. Faith influences the intellect and will. The will and intellect produce actions. These actions are either in accord with our telos and God's will (good works) or they are not (sin). They either work with faith or against faith. In a sense, all sin is a rejection of God's gift of faith, but only mortal sin would be a complete rejection of it. This is because mortal sin is any sin that we do not repent of.

Here is how the Apology of the Augsburg Confession addresses faith and mortal sin:

"Ap IV:115 115 Nor, indeed, is this faith an idle knowledge, neither can it coexist with mortal sin."

Here is how Martin Chemnitz describes a mortal sin:

"But what if we indulge and delight in evil lusts and seek occasions to give them free reign? Then they become mortal sins (Rom 8:13; Ja 1:15), because there surely is no room for true repentance and faith where the lusts of the flesh are served and given reign, so that they break out into action."

I would say it makes sense to say that one could simply lose faith in its own right - apostasy.
This would, of course, be the worst of sins.

I can also see how one could commit a mortal sin, and immediately after, become convicted of this sin and come back to faith. Part of a living faith would be to repent for the sin that they just committed. If one does not repent, then they still do not have saving faith - a living faith as opposed to a dead faith (mere head knowledge). Luther said all of the Christian life is repentance. I believe this is why. Because to have saving faith is to constantly be aware of the battle we have against the flesh and sin. It is to repent whenever we do so.

Chris said...


I realize #2 could be true if there is such a thing as a mortal sin that is acted upon while still having saving faith. I still don't see how this possible yet. This could also be due to if we differ in the definition of what faith is or a definition of mortal sin.

I don't really feel the weight of #3, then, as they are extremely connected and are often simultaneous. I probably did a poor job of explaining this part before, though.

If I am correct on my view of what saving faith is, then #4 doesn't seem to affect the Lutheran position either. Good works must accompany saving faith, but they cannot merit salvation in their own right. Only faith, every step along the life of a Christian merits salvation.

Anyways, this is just how I understand things right now and I admit I could be wrong. Again, I appreciate your response and I will think on your responses more as I continue to study this topic of justification.

I am glad to have found your blog as you seem to give very in-depth looks into Catholic theology. I think your writings will prove another good resource for me as I continue to investigate the differences between Lutheran and Catholic theology more and especially surrounding justification.

God's peace,

Nick said...

Hi Chris,

What you are describing as "saving faith" is more along the lines of the virtue of Hope, which is where the trust/confidence are.

A mortal sin, in traditional Catholicism, is about Agape/Charity Love being lost, not about losing faith.

Faith in its basic sense is recognizing (at least implicitly) and assenting-believing everything God has divinely revealed.

You can see how these are distinct but also are all needed to work together. You can also see how the Bible and throughout Salvation History, the term "faith" is often used to suggest all three features are present. Hence, when you qualify "faith" by calling it "saving faith" it, you are affirming this 'package deal' to some extent.

As for "intellectual assent or head knowledge," that's simply human reason. It isn't faith in the strict theological sense. This is why heretics do not have faith properly speaking, because in willfully rejecting a divinely revealed truth, you lose/forfeit the gift of faith. You aren't able to believe divine revelation, even if you 'know' what the catechism says.

If I have the gift of glasses that let me see in the dark, that gift enables me to see everything in the dark room. If I see a chair and yet refuse to acknowledge it, that's a sin against that gift. That is distinct from me vandalizing the chair, which would be a sin against Agape/Charity Love. That is also distinct from failing to accept that the things in that dark room are there for my own good in this life, which is a sin against Hope.

When you combine all these things and then speak of faith being lost "while" committing a mortal sin, you are seemingly getting at what Catholics have always understood as mortal sin, except your terminology is not accurate/precise. I recall the Book of Concord speaks of BOTH faith AND the Holy Spirit being lost during mortal sin, so that would also add another detail you're leaving out.

With the glasses analogy I gave, you can hopefully see why losing the glasses (apostasy) is more tragic than only sinning against charity (mortal sin).

Some Bible verses that support the traditional Catholic distinction/precision:

--Saints in the Bible have sinned all the time, even gravely, yet they are not said to have lost faith. In fact, it often suggests they still have faith but are on bad terms with God.

--1 Cor 13 has the famous three-fold distinction, calling out faith, hope, and love. Paul even speaks of "if I have faith so as to understand all mysteries and move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing". Here, it is strongly implied faith/hope can exist without love. Otherwise Paul's lesson wouldn't make much sense.

--1 Cor 15:34 says: "Wake up from your drunken stupor, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame." This again suggests you can be living in sin and still have faith.

Also, largely important, Protestants do not distinguish between mortal and venial sin, so this means every sin is mortal. This is one main reason why Imputation was invented, because a person sins mortally so often (even every moment), that they cannot stand before God on good terms without being hidden by the Robe of Jesus. It was Protestants who were insistent that the concupiscence that remained after baptism was a non-stop fountain of mortal sin.

I don't see how Luther's conscience or any Assurance can be had under a Lutheran paradigm where a person could lose faith along with way by a mortal sin and be damned. How is your position any more 'comforting' than the Catholic position?

Furthermore, I don't see how you've explained the actual connection between losing faith and mortal sin. It seems as if your position would require either faith to be lost just prior to the mortal sin, or for it to be lost during but not directly due to the mortal sin.

Chris said...

I must admit that I have much to learn about the Catholic positions on things and I am definitely interested in doing so. I want to know only what is true, not what I want to be true. Thank you for helping me to better understand these Catholic ideas and work towards truth!

I realize now that we have different definitions of faith. It sounds to me like Trent (VI, canon 12) rejected the Lutheran teaching that justifying faith was trust in the grace and mercy of God for Christ’s sake. “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy, or that it is this trust alone by which we are justified, let him be anathema.”

Also, you said that we may be equivocating on faith with the Catholic idea of Hope:

"What you are describing as "saving faith" is more along the lines of the virtue of Hope, which is where the trust/confidence are. A mortal sin, in traditional Catholicism, is about Agape/Charity Love being lost, not about losing faith. "

Equivocations aside, I think the Lutheran position would agree with these same effects (loss of agape/charity/love) but Lutherans would say it would be impossible to lose these without also losing saving faith.

From the Solid Declaration of Formula of Concord:
SD III. 27] Love is also a fruit which surely and necessarily follows true faith. For the fact that one does not love is a sure indication that he is not justified, but is still in death, or has lost the righteousness of faith again, as John says, 1 John 3:14. But when Paul says, Rom. 3:28: We are justified by faith without works, he indicates thereby that neither the contrition that precedes, nor the works that follow, belong in the article or transaction of justification by faith. For good works do not precede justification, but follow it, and the person must first be justified before he can do good works.

If we look at this from the Lutheran perspective of what faith is, though, I still don't see the inherent contradiction between sola fide and the ability to lose our salvation.

Again, the definition of faith that I am working with is that faith is knowledge, trust, and confidence in God. Faith influences our actions. Our actions can either work with faith (good works) or against faith (sin). The definition of mortal sin that I am working with is any sin that is committed willfully and in full knowledge of its illicitness.

It appears that our definitions of mortal sin may not be that far off from each other. I am just starting to learn more about how Catholics distinguish by types of sin. This is proving very useful!
CCC Q. 282. {56} How many things are necessary to make a sin mortal? 
A. To make a sin mortal, three things are necessary: a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will.

CCC Q. 284. What does "sufficient reflection and full consent of the will" mean? 
A. "Sufficient reflection" means that we must know the thought, word or deed to be sinful at the time we are guilty of it; and "full consent of the will" means that we must fully and wilfully yield to it. 

I would still argue that a mortal sin by the Catholic definition - sin that we commit when we know it is wrong and fully consent to it - is still impossible to do while still having saving faith (in the Lutheran sense of the word faith). I would agree that it is possible to believe in God while committing a mortal sin. This is to say that one could have intellectual assent only to God's existence and the promise of the Gospel. I don't see how it is logically possible to have saving faith if someone consciously and purposefully acts against God's will, though.

Chris said...


Here, again, I am now realizing that it was known at the time of the Reformation that there is a difference in the definition of faith.

Ap IV. 48] The adversaries feign that faith is only a knowledge of the history, and therefore teach that it can coexist with mortal sin. Hence they say nothing concerning faith, by which Paul so frequently says that men are justified, because those who are accounted righteous before God do not live in mortal sin. But that faith which justifies is not merely a knowledge of history, [not merely this, that I know the stories of Christ's birth, suffering, etc. (that even the devils know,)] but it is to assent to the promise of God, in which, for Christ's sake, the remission of sins and justification are freely offered. [It is the certainty or the certain trust in the heart, when, with my whole heart, I regard the promises of God as certain and true, through which there are offered me, without my merit, the forgiveness of sins, grace, and all salvation, through Christ the Mediator.] And that no one may suppose that it is mere knowledge, we will add further: it is to wish and to receive the offered promise of the remission of sins and of justification. [Faith is that my whole heart takes to itself this treasure. It is not my doing, not my presenting or giving, not my work or preparation, but that a heart comforts itself, and is perfectly confident with respect to this, namely, that God makes a present and gift to us, and not we to Him, that He sheds upon us every treasure of grace in Christ.]

Maybe we disagree on this because of different definitions of faith, then?

You said:
"Furthermore, I don't see how you've explained the actual connection between losing faith and mortal sin. It seems as if your position would require either faith to be lost just prior to the mortal sin, or for it to be lost during but not directly due to the mortal sin."

This is exactly what I am saying. Faith would need to be lost either just before sinning or concurrently with the sin. This is because to sin mortally is to know what you are willing to do is a sin and then to still do it. To do this, one cannot have saving faith at the same time (trust fully in the gospel). I believe you logically need to be rejecting the gospel at the same time you are sinning in the Lutheran sense of a mortal sin.

I still hesitate to say that one would sin mortally as an effect of the loss of faith (the cause). I don't think this is true. Rather, the sin is the effect of the will choosing to act against God's eternal will and at the same time this act of the will results in a loss of faith too. Here is where I would claim is a logical necessity and hence no contradiction between sola fide and the ability to lose your salvation due to mortal sin.

As I mentioned, I by no means think I am an expert or know for certain that I am correct. I just didn't see the inherent contradiction you did and was looking to see if I was misunderstanding something on the Catholic side or if I am unaware of the failings of the Lutheran position. I am realizing more that the former is definitely true (as I have been learning more here!) and I by no means am certain that latter is not true too.

I think you bring up an excellent point here that I will need to research further. This certainly seems a biblical challenge to my basic contention that faith cannot exist without love. Thank you for pointing this out!

--1 Cor 13 has the famous three-fold distinction, calling out faith, hope, and love. Paul even speaks of "if I have faith so as to understand all mysteries and move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing". Here, it is strongly implied faith/hope can exist without love. Otherwise Paul's lesson wouldn't make much sense. 

God's peace!

Nick said...

Hi Chris,

In response to your first post, I guess the thing that (still) shocks me the most is how catastrophic the Lutheran view of 'mortal sin' is, wherein it includes the loss of faith. In the Catholic view, the Sacrament of Confession is to restore lost Charity. But there is no method of recovering lost faith.

If someone no longer has faith, how do they get it back? How do they 'start to believe' again or even desire repentance without this divine gift? It sounds more like the "unforgivable sin" than just mortal sin.

The Lutheran position has a much more 'grim' view of man's fallen nature, including after baptism, than Catholicism does. The Lutheran view holds that concupiscence carries actual guilt, hence why Imputation is the only 'solution'.

As for your second post:

I don't think the issue with sinning, especially with sins resulting from unexpected temptations, is that a person stops believing in God or that they 'reject the Gospel'. Man is always drawn to what they perceive as good, so they wouldn't typically become atheist or apostate under normal daily trials. When it comes to sin/temptations, the whole point is that we are *deceived* by an apparent good. We think X is going to bring us happiness, and we have a 'brain fart' about about the full effects of that act. David's intention was not to deny God when he sinned, and in fact we would put 'denial of God' as it's own distinct sin that must be distinctly intended.