Friday, October 1, 2010

Justification by Faith Alone Debate - Opening Essay by Nick

Does the Bible teach Justification by Faith Alone?

Opening Essay

by Nick

I would like to begin by thanking Jeff for engaging in this debate with me; he will be affirming the resolution, I will be denying it.

1) The doctrine of Sola Fide is built from the premise that, starting with Adam, God had established a way for man to get to heaven, and this condition was perfect obedience to God’s law (which, conversely, demanded punishments for violating it). This is popularly termed in Protestant theology the “Covenant of Works” (cf London Baptist Confession 19.1-2), and is to be thought of as akin to scoring a 100% on a test to be worthy of an “A” in class. Adam failed this obligation, bringing corruption and sin upon the whole world. With fallen man not only failing to perfectly keep God’s law (and thus not worthy to enter Heaven), he also deserves punishment for breaking it. But what man could not do for himself, God graciously did for him, in Christ: Who through the Incarnation both took the punishment man deserved (aka “passive obedience”) and kept God’s law perfectly in man's place (aka “active obedience”) - and graciously “credited” this (dual) obedience to the account of those sinners who receive this (so called) “righteousness of Christ” by faith. This is popularly termed the “Covenant of Grace”. The moment the sinner receives “Christ’s Righteousness” by faith, they are said to be “Justified” - which is a once and for all time legal declaration by God acting as Judge declaring that this individual not only has been cleared of any wrongdoing (i.e. punishments are satisfied) but that this individual is also “righteous” (which is a legal status bestowed upon those who perfectly keep God’s laws) legally entitling them to enter Heaven (cf LBC 11.1).

2) For Jeff to win this debate, he must demonstrate the above concepts are clearly supported by Scripture.

3) While there is some truth to the Protestant understanding of justification, there are significant unbiblical concepts which Sola Fide rests upon. These erroneous concepts will now be addressed.

(3a) “Covenant of Works”. Many of the details behind this doctrine are presupposed and not derived from Scripture. Most significant to this debate is that the “law,” “covenant,” and “works of the Law” Paul was preaching against - in contradistinction to “faith” - was none other than the (works of the) Mosaic Law, not some eternal law of God given to Adam. The Mosaic Law never promised eternal life, even if kept perfectly (e.g. Galatians 2:21; 3:15-18; 4:21-31), and was inferior to the (new and perfect) “Law of Christ” (e.g. Mk 10:2-12). Clearly, the main problem Paul was dealing with was not Pelagianism, but rather a Racial and Covenental problem (i.e. Jews 'versus' Gentiles): Acts 13:39; 15:1,5; Rom 3:29; Gal 6:12-13; Phil 3:2-6. This is why Paul focused his attention in Romans and Galatians on identifying the proper relationship to Abraham (e.g. Rom 4:11-12; Gal 3:29), while exposing the improper relationship (Rom 2:28-29; 9:6-7; cf. Matt 3:7-9; John 8:39, etc).

(3b) Christ’s “active obedience”. The Bible nowhere teaches this concept. This is not to say Christ sinned, He did not - it is only to say this was not done as a specific component for our justification but rather as a condition in order to make Him a worthy sacrifice.

The chief proof-text is Romans 5:19. The Protestant reasoning here is that Adam’s disobedience is contrasted to Christ’s obedience, and thus it must be saying Christ kept the law in our place. But this is simply begging the question, since Christ's “passive obedience” certainly fits here, with no reason to assume more than that. In fact, the only other time “obedience” is said in reference to Christ is in Philippians 2:8 and Hebrews 5:8, which are both explicitly speaking of passive obedience only.

When the lack of any reasonable Biblical evidence for “active obedience” is compared to the abundant references to “passive obedience,” as the saying goes, “the silence is deafening”: in virtually every verse where Christ’s work is mentioned, the only component ever mentioned is Christ’s Suffering/Death (and Resurrection), never his “active obedience”. Consider: Rom 3:21-26; 4:23-25; 5:6-11; 6:1-11; 8:3, 31-34; 10:6-10; 1 Cor 1:22-23; 2:2; 5:7; 15:3-4; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 2:19-21; 3:13-14; 6:14; Eph 2:13-16; 5:2, 25; Phil 2:5-11; 3:8-11; Col 1:19-23; 2:11-15; 3:1-3; 1 Thes 4:13-14; 5:9-10; 1 Tim 2:5-6; Titus 2:13-14; Heb 1:3, 2:9-10, 14-17; 5:1, 7-9; 6:4-6, 7:20-27; 9:11-28; 10:8-22; 12:1-2, 24; 13:12, 20-21; 1 Peter 1:17-19; 2:18-25; 3:18-22; 1 Jn 2:1-2; 3:16; 4:10; etc.

It cannot be an accident that there are repeated reference to Christ’s Death (and Resurrection), without a single mention of “active obedience.”

Lastly, the concept of Christ's “active obedience” contradicts the plain Scriptural teaching that God grants a believer “eternal life” not when they first believe, but at the judgment at end of their life (Lk 18:18-30; Rom 2:6-8, 6:22, Gal 6:7-9, etc) - and deems them worthy (or not) on the basis of the Christian's own good works, not on the basis of Christ's good works done in their place (e.g Mat 25:31-46; 2 Cor 5:10). The doctrine of Sola Fide has (mistakenly) conflated conversion with final salvation (e.g. Mat 24:12-13; Rom 8:24; 10:9-10; 13:11b; 1 Cor 10:1-6; 15:2; 1 Tim 2:15; 2 Tim 4:7-8). (NB: the Final Judgment texts, with God acting as Judge, are the only passages in which salvation is stated in a principally forensic framework.)

(3c) Christ’s “passive obedience”. While numerous passages speak of Christ suffering and dying for our sins, the Protestant understanding of passive obedience is an unbiblical concoction called “Penal Substitution” - teaching that Christ received the very punishment the sinner deserved, which is nothing short of suffering the Father’s full Wrath (which the damned in hell must end up suffering for themself). John Calvin (as do most other Protestant theologians) taught that:

"Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God's anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. ... Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God." (Institutes 3:16:10)

Needless to say, the Bible never teaches Jesus endured anything more than a physical death, a murder in fact, and certainly not the Father's Wrath. Further, the OT never teaches Penal Substitution, thus it's incongruent that it would foreshadow such for Christ. The use of the Old Testament term “atonement” (Strong's #H3722) never involves transferring punishment but rather turning away wrath by doing good deeds (e.g. Gen 32:20; Ex 30:16; Ex32:30//Psalm106:19-23//Deut 9:13-29; Num 16:46-48; Num 25:1-13//Pslam106:30-31; Num 31:50; Prov 16:6, 14). And the Levitical Sacrifices didn't operate in terms of Penal Substitution either. For example: (i) the Sin Offering was only for minor/unintentional sins, never for grave sin (Num 35:30-33), and could be made without killing (Lev 5:11-13); (ii) the Peace Offering was not about atoning for sin, but involved virtually the same instructions of laying on hands on the animal's head and killing it (e.g. Lev 3:1-2).

Lastly, Penal Substitution entails that all of the believers sins he has committed and will ever commit are forgiven at once, which is not only never taught in Scripture, it is contradicted by the fact Scripture only speaks of past sins forgiven (e.g. 2 Pt 1:9; 1 Jn 1:9) and the regular need for repentance (e.g. Mat 6:12), else the believer will lose his salvation and even be damned (e.g. Mk 9:43-47; Mat 18:23-35). David is a prime example of this, as Lutherans (rightly) teach in the Book of Concord (Smalcald Articles 3:3:43), quoting Martin Luther: “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.” In other words, David lost his salvation (justification) and had to repent to recover it, as Romans 4 describes his repentance in Psalm 32.

(3d) “Christ’s Righteousness”. Despite the fact the two components which 'comprise' Christ’s Righteousness (i.e. His passive and active obedience) are not actually biblical, since there is frequent mention of “Christ’s Righteousness” (also called the “righteousness of Christ”) by Protestant sources, some points are in order: 

  • Nowhere does the term “Christ’s Righteousness” nor any equivalent concept appear in Scripture.

  • Luther originally got the idea by mistakenly thinking it was the “Righteousness of God,” but Paul is speaking of the Righteousness of God the Father, not Jesus particularly. (The Father never had to earn this righteousness by perfect law keeping; it’s a quality of God’s Nature, not a legal status.)

  • When the Bible speaks of righteousness in reference to Christ or the “Righteousness of God,” it is speaking primarily of God’s faithfulness to fulfilling His Promises, despite the fact sinners seem to have foiled His Plans (Jeremiah 33:14-18; Rom 3:3-5).

(3e) Imputation. The Greek term for “impute” (also translated into English as “credited,” “reckoned,” “counted,” etc, all with the same general meaning) is logizomai (Strong’s #G3049), and most Bible dictionaries readily admit the primary meaning is to take a literal account of something. Though the term is used about 40 times in the New Testament, it's never used in the sense Protestants suggest. The sense in which the Protestant is using logizomai is along the lines of “transfer,” such that the phrase “faith is credited [logizomai] as righteousness(Romans 4:3) is taken to mean “faith transfers [Christ's] Righteousness to the believer's account.” But again, the Bible never uses logizomai in this manner.

Consider how the New Testament itself points away from the Protestant definition of the term. Here are some examples: 

  • Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. 

  • Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted [logizomai] as a gift but as his due.

  • Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  • Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

In each of the above situations, the term logizomai is being used to reckon what is actually true about the object itself. In other words, in these examples Paul reckons that:

(i) a man is saved by faith not by works of the law, which is a fact about the nature of works of the law, since they don’t save.

(ii) a working man’s wages are reckoned not as a gift but rather (reckoned) as debt, which is likewise a fact about the nature of paid-wages. (This context is where “reckoned” [logizomai] also occurs in Rom 4:3,5!)

(iii) the Christian is to be reckoned as dead to sin since they’ve died in a very real way to sin (as Romans 6 as a whole teaches), which again is a fact about the nature of a saved person.

(iv) the present sufferings are not comparable to Heavenly glory, which goes without saying, a fact about the nature of the current situation.

Further, there are clear examples of logizomai where someone reckons incorrectly and is thus sinning or in error since they failed to reckon something as it truly was. Consider: 

  • Mark 15:28 - Christ was (falsely) reckoned as a criminal by the Jews

  • Romans 2:3 - the hypocrite (falsely) reckons he will not be judged for committing the same sins he judges others for committing   

  • Romans 8:36 - persecutors (falsely) reckoning Christians as “sheep for the slaughter”

  • Romans 14:14 - a spiritually weak Christian (wrongly) reckons certain food to be “unclean”    

  • 2 Corinthians 10:2 - troublemakers (falsely) reckoning Paul as an unbeliever

Thus, to reckon something other than what it really is (except by similitude), especially opposite of what it is, ranges from a mistake to a grave sin - something which God could never do.

(3f) Justification. Protestants insist the Greek word for “justify” (dikaioo) means to legallydeclare righteous” (based strictly on Christ's Imputed Righteousness), while Catholics hold the term can be used a variety of ways, including “to make righteous”. Catholics contend the argument doesn’t hang on this distinction as must as Protestants have (historically) claimed, since “declare righteous” can be a sort of ‘capstone’ to a transformation that just took place within the believer. Indeed, the Council of Trent dogmatically defined Justification as an umbrella term carrying under it: forgiveness of sins (Rom 4:6; Acts 13:38f), sanctification (1 Cor 6:11), spiritual renewal (Titus 3:4-7), and adoption (Gal 3:2,7,14; 4:5; Rom 4:11-13). These components are so closely related that one cannot happen without the rest. And dikaioo is clearly expressing more than simply “declare righteous” in other texts as well, such as: (i) Luke 18:13-14 “he who humbles himself will be exalted,” which is a combination of forgiveness and inner renewal; (ii) Romans 5:9 parallels “justified by his blood” to “reconciled by his death”; (iii) Romans 6:7 defines “justify” as “freed from sin”; (iv) Romans 8:29-30 explains “called, justified, glorified” as “conformed to the image of Christ”; (v) 1 Timothy 3:16 says Jesus was “justified by the Spirit,” speaking of His Resurrection (cf Rom 1:4).

And the term dikaioo need not appear when equivalent terms such as “saved” are used. For example: (i) Acts 15:9,11 parallels “cleansed their heart by faithto “saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.” (ii) Ephesians 2:5,8 says “when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christand defines this as “by grace you have been saved(iii) Philippians 3:3, 9-11 says the “the righteousness from God that depends on faithis to be understood as “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his deathThese passages frame “saved” (i.e. “justified”) in terms of an inner transformation of the soul – yet this not what Sola Fide teaches.

(3g) Faith. Sola Fide teaches that faith is a passive element in justification, acting as an “empty hand,” receiving Christ’s Righteousness. Protestants claim that for faith to have any inherent value would contradict Romans 4:4-5, reasoning that faith as an act pleasing to God would be equivalent to doing any work and getting paid for it. But this is simply misguided and not how Scripture defines faith. When it comes to the Bible defining faith Hebrews 11:1,2 & 6 says this: “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. ... And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.And to buttress this point, “faith” means “faithful obedience” in virtually every Old Testament saint referenced in Hebrews 11. Clearly, faith is an act of man (given as a gift by God), in which man is able to render belief and obedience unto God, and that faith does “please God” and receives God's commendation. This also fits the Biblical notion that faith can grow, which makes no sense if faith is a passive ‘instrument’ (since it would have to be uniform for everyone). Further, there are references Christians being of “little faith,” requests to “increase our faith,” and holy men being of “great faith” (e.g. Mt 8:10). This can only mean faith itself is a good thing, and the more you have of it, the more pleasing to God you are.

Abraham is Paul's star witness to his thesis “the righteous will live by faith[fulness](Rom 1:18, quoting Habakuk 2:4; also quoted and explained in detail in Hebrews 10:36ff). In Romans 4, Paul says Abraham was justified in Genesis 15, and describes his impressive act of faith as follows: “In hope he believed against hope... He did not weaken in faith... No distrust made him waver... but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." (4:18-22). So, contrary to Sola Fide, faith itself was credited as a righteous act - just as Phinehas' good work was credited as a righteous act (as recorded in Psalm 106:30-31, using the same Hebrew/Greek phrase “credited as righteousness” as Genesis 15:6). And this was not the first time Abraham was justified, since he faithfully followed God years before this Genesis 15 event, as Hebrews 11:8 and Galatians 3:8 show when hearkening back to Genesis 12:1-4. (Nor was Genesis 15 the last time he was justified, as James 2:14,21-24 and Genesis 22:1,9-12 teach, when God tested Abraham and Blessed his faithfulness.) And this fits other similar examples, such as when by faithful obedience Abel was “commended as righteous(Heb 11:4) and Noah's faithfulness made him “an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith(Heb 11:4; as with Abraham, Romans 4:13).

4) Having refuted, from Scripture, the tenets holding up the doctrine of Sola Fide, we would not expect any Scriptural references to “salvation by faith” to be teaching the specific doctrine of Sola Fide as the Reformers understood it.