Thursday, August 6, 2009

Participation Requested: Faith Alone vs. Faith and Works a Semantic Issue

Followup: Now that the poll is closed, I wanted to share with you the results.
There were 11 people who voted, and out of those 11, here is what was recorded:
6 Non Catholics Agree
2 Non Catholics Disagree
2 Catholics Agree
1 Catholic Disagrees

Thanks for participating
=================

On a recent post, Non-Catholic Question: Faith Alone and Lukewarm Christians, I received a very interesting response that has caused me to pause and reflect. Could the Sola Fide vs. Faith and Works be an issue, not of faith, but of semantics?

Below is that response. If you are willing, I would appreciate if you would at least participate in the poll that you will find on the right hand side of this webpage, titled Faith Alone vs. Faith and Works Semantic Issue. If you are willing to invest more time, please comment on this post, indicate your faith tradition and share your thoughts on why you agree or disagree with the following.

Here is that response:

In my opinion, The terms "faith alone" and "works" should be removed from our vocabulary or at least defined every time we use them. Catholics believe "works" are necessary for salvation. Protestants claim this is wrong and that you cannot earn your salvation, which is by achieved by "faith alone". Some protestants claim that Catholics are not really Christians because they are trying to earn their salvation. And Catholics think that protestants believe they can say a 2 line prayer, live however they want, change nothing, and still get into heaven. I am going to make the claim that the difference is merely semantics. Let me explain...

The word "works" can refer to effort exerted for a reward (such as a paycheck, favor, or even entry into heaven). But it can also refer to God's work in the life of a believer. I don't believe either a Catholic or a protestant would argue that God is at work in the life of every believer. God does not sit idle. If he is present, he is at work. If someone claimed to have faith but that God is not at work in their life, I would ask them for their definition of the word faith. To me, faith and works (again works as defined as God's work not mine are one and the same. Our faith is not simply that God exists, but also that he is actively working to accomplish what he wills... and that he does it through us.

Others may see what God is doing in our life and say "I can see evidence of your faith" or "I can see God at work in life". Is there a difference?

God bless....

28 comments:

born4battle said...

"To me, faith and works (again works as defined as God's work not mine are one and the same."
That statement betrays an elementary misunderstanding of the definition of faith (a gift of God) and the definition of a 'work' (something accomplished with human hands, regardless of who prompted the action).

It is faith and faith alone that saves any person (Eph 2:8-9). From the moment of genuine belief in Christ (not mental assent), the one who believes is freed from the penalty of sin - an eternity in hell.

We have been here before, so I'm not sure what your point is in the poll.

stilltrackin said...

In response to your response, born4battle, I have a question and a comment.

Question:
In your opinion, is it possible to have faith but not to love God? Does faith include love? Or is loving God a requirement in addition to faith? Or is it not a requirement at all? If loving God is part of faith, faith must be more than just "genuine belief" (see James 2:19). If that is the case, then does faith also include a desire to follow God at some point in one's life? Is faith something bigger than simple "genuine belief"?

Comment:
I think you misunderstood my definition of works. Most of God's work takes place in our heart - no human hands involved. 2 Cor 5:19 - "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." -- This is God's work. At times, others will catch a glimpse of what God is doing in our life. If God is present, he is at work. "Good deeds", regardless of who prompt them, are not required for salvation. But God's work, making us into "a new creature", is.

born4battle said...

stilltrackin,

Concerning your questions about my opinion - the text of scripture says it all, so my opinion about it all really doesn't matter a whole lot. What God has revealed in His inspired written word means EVERYTHING. So just read it for what it says and you might just find your answers.

Concerning your definition of 'works' I don't think I misinterpreted anything, just keyed on the human sort rather than God's work IN the believer by the Holy Spirit. That's usually the definition that Carlus on in discussing the relationship between faith and works.

If we are speaking about salvation, faith and works, scripture tells us that we are saved by faith alone apart from works, a stance Carlus does not agree with.

Carlus Henry said...

born4battle,

Concerning your definition of 'works' I don't think I misinterpreted anything, just keyed on the human sort rather than God's work IN the believer by the Holy Spirit. That's usually the definition that Carlus on in discussing the relationship between faith and works.

I think that this is the crux of stilltrackin's response. You and I are operating off of a presumption that has existed for over 500 years. Namely, that Catholics believe that Protestants believe all they need is a mental assenting sort of faith to be saved (faith alone)....and Protestants believe that Catholics believe that we can earn our salvation (faith and works).

If we are speaking about salvation, faith and works, scripture tells us that we are saved by faith alone apart from works, a stance Carlus does not agree with.

It really depends on what you mean by works. Which is once again, the whole subject of the conversation. If you think that I believe that one can earn their salvation with works, then you have not understood anything that I have said. If instead you believe that salvation is not only contingent upon a mental assenting faith, but one that is alive....living, saving faith, then we may be closer in agreement that I originally thought.

God bless...

born4battle said...

I really don't care what Catholics and Protestants believe each other believes. I care about the inspired, writtten, revealed Word of God - that justification is by faith alone - one of those (annoying to some)little truths that is crystal clear on the very pages of scripture.

Weston said...

Ok, so this discussion made me do some thinking and it ended up being longer than a simple comment, so I posted it on my own blog.

You can check it out here: 4 Bums and a Rich Man

born4battle,
It is really easy to state that truth is "crystal clear on the very pages of scripture", but any serious study will tell you that while the truth is definitely there, it is not always crystal clear and can be subject to interpretation. This is where the discussion of Catholic and Protestant thought comes into play because these two groups of people are interpreting the same "crystal clear" scriptures in different ways.

stilltrackin said...

born4battle,

You dodged my question...

Can you have faith and not love God? Can you have faith without ever having had a desire to follow God?

Some people want nothing to do with God, but they want their "Get out of Hell free card". Can one have faith and have no desire to be with God, but rather to keep out of hell?

2 Cor 5:19 - "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

Is it possible to be in Christ and not be a new creature? Does being a new creature require a work of God?

Is this truth crystal clear?

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Ephesians 2:8
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.

You said, "It is faith and faith alone that saves any person". Are you sure about that? This verse does not support that claim. I contend it is by grace and grace alone. Perhaps, faith is merely our belief and trust that God will perform his work and transform your life into the image of his son.

Back up to Ephesians 2:4-5...

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Notice again... "it is by grace you have been saved."

stilltrackin said...

Given that truth in scripture is so crystal clear... Why do we have so many denominations?

born4battle said...

Weston,

I did not say that all truths are crystal clear on the pages of scripture, I am well aware of, and have spent hours upon hours reseearching both scripture and the arguments fo Protestants and Catholics.

Concerning justification by faith alone, it just happens to be one fo the things that is very clear in scripture, and was taught by Christ and the apostles. The few verses used to 'prove' justification by works are taken out of context in order to support a position that was NOT held by Christ or the Apostles, but was a moving away from Apostolic teaching (and thus apostate).

The reformers merely wanted to restore scriptural truth to the church.

Stilltrackin,

I did NOT 'dodge' your question, I inteltionally did not answer it. We are saved by grace, through faith. Did you miss the 'through' part? It IS rather significant.

stilltrackin said...

born4battle,

I did not miss the faith part. I agree with you that it is rather significant. Did you miss the grace part? If not, perhaps we can agree that faith and grace are requirements for salvation. I may have misunderstood, "It is faith and faith alone that saves any person". I failed to find any mention of grace, which I must point out is also a significant part.

If anyone else cares to answer my previous question, I'd still like a response. It is precisely discussions like the one were having right now that lead me to wrestle with these tough questions. I do not intend this to be a trap. I do not claim to know the answers myself. Feel free to point out when you feel that I've taken a verse out of context, but please explain the correct context so that we both can know.

Moving on...

Here is another not so easy question about Ephesians 2:8-9

"8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast."

What is "and this not from yourselves" referring too? Is it works? Are you sure? It seems to be attached to the word faith. After all isn't faith at we think of it from ourselves as well?

How about "the gift of God"? Is this referring to faith or grace? It seems to me that this whole verse is saying that it is by grace (and yes through faith but not by faith) that we are saved.

One last question... and this is a good one...

Is salvation even about avoiding hell? I would propose that it has little if anything to do with it. Instead, it is about a personal relationship with Christ. This relationship starts here on earth and continues into eternity. Relationships are never free from work, nor are they easy. The thief on the cross without a doubt entered into a relationship with Christ. It is my relationship with Christ, as flawed as it is, that I base my salvation on, not a prayer that I said when I was 5. Only a God of unimaginable grace could ever desire to spend eternity with me. This relationship, is God work.

stilltrackin said...

Weston,

I really like your story. Thanks for putting the thought and effort into sharing this.

Two questions...

#1
Is this parable about faith or about grace? I see clearly the rich man's grace. I'm less clear about which homeless person (if any) demonstrated faith. One of the homeless persons didn't believe the rich man but thought, I have nothing to risk. The next did everything wrong and nothing right. And the third tried to earn and pay for his room himself. All 3 got in. Which of these men demonstrated faith?

#2
In this story, the rich man is offering a room in his house. Is that what Christ has offered us? This story seems to miss the offer of a personal relationship. This lead me to this thought... Do we want to go to heaven because it is a nice place and we'll get our own mansion (which sounds much better than burning in hell for eternity)? Or, do we want to go to heaven, simply because that is where Christ is?

Chad and Tammy said...

I agree with Wes that trying to redefine the word "works" just confuses the argument. I also liked his story. The summary statement afterward was especially good: "The whole point is that there are only two key ingredients to salvation. A) God's amazing gift to us, and B) our sincere acceptance of it. Anything else is a nice gesture, but has nothing to do with our salvation."

This morning I read through Galatians. I was reminded of how upset Paul was that the Galatians were going to the law for justification after originally receiving the free gift of salvation by faith.

Regarding the law, this causes some people to disregard this book when it comes to the faith vs. faith and works discussion. They might argue that the context is the Mosaic Law and, therefore, it does not apply to works. IMO, we would not even know what good works are without the law. The ten commandments certainly are in the works camp. Also, Jesus' summary of the law in "Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" also falls under the works category. The point here is that adding any works to faith is no different than the Galatians adding circumcision, observance of special days, etc. to their faith.

The whole book of Galatians is great, but here are two parts that I would like to highlight. First, 3:2-3 says, "This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" Second, 5:4 says, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace".

Weston said...

#1
Is this parable about faith or about grace? I see clearly the rich man's grace. I'm less clear about which homeless person (if any) demonstrated faith. One of the homeless persons didn't believe the rich man but thought, I have nothing to risk. The next did everything wrong and nothing right. And the third tried to earn and pay for his room himself. All 3 got in. Which of these men demonstrated faith?


The short answer is that the 3 that showed up did, although they did not demonstrate "great faith". The longer response starts with another question: What does it mean to "demonstrate faith"? The dictionary defines the word faith as a belief or trust in a person or thing. So, let's say you make a statement to me like "I will not lie to you" and I say, "Ok, I believe you." Am I required to do anything more than a simple statement, like that, to demonstrate my faith in you? Assuming I'm being sincere, then I would think that should be sufficient.

Of course, you can look at that and say that's not an example of "great" faith. Why? Because "faith" seems to be measured by the amount you stand to lose if the faith is broken. Think about that for a moment. If I borrowed 15 bucks from you and told you I would pay you back, then only a small amount of faith would be required on your part, because, if I broke my promise, you probably wouldn't suffer any major hardship if you didn't get your 15 bucks back. However, if I borrowed $150,000 from you, you had better have some serious faith in me to pay you back.

The parable doesn't demonstrate this kind of powerful faith because the bums don't have much to lose; if the wealthy man turned out to be lying, they wouldn't be any worse off than they were before. For a Christian, however, I would argue that even the simplest declaration that they believe in Jesus' message is great faith. Why? Think of what you stand to lose if you are wrong. You're putting your eternity in His hands. If you put your faith in Jesus and it turns out you were wrong, when you die you could be standing in front of a very displeased Allah, Xenu, or someone we've never even heard of.

In reality, the story is primarily meant to demonstrate the various incorrect responses we might have to an undeserved gift of salvation. But secondarily, it is meant to illustrate just how great God's grace is and how very small the part is that we play in that process. The homeless men were not required to do anything more than to accept the wealthy man's grace. The only one who missed out was the one who rejected the offer.

#2
In this story, the rich man is offering a room in his house. Is that what Christ has offered us? This story seems to miss the offer of a personal relationship. This lead me to this thought... Do we want to go to heaven because it is a nice place and we'll get our own mansion (which sounds much better than burning in hell for eternity)? Or, do we want to go to heaven, simply because that is where Christ is?


You're right; it doesn't describe a personal relationship. I chose the 'room in a mansion' metaphor because it is easier to relate to and understand when thinking about receiving an undeserved gift and, as a bonus, it echoes the words of Jesus in John 14:2. It's harder for most people to think of a relationship as a gift because most of the time it costs nothing.

born4battle said...

"One last question... and this is a good one...

Is salvation even about avoiding hell? I would propose that it has little if anything to do with it. Instead, it is about a personal relationship with Christ."

That betrays a certain level of Biblical ignorance/illiteracy. One cannot have read much of the NT, much less the entire Bible, to make that ridiculous assertion.

Weston said...

B4B,

You keep those kinds of responses up and people will be disinclined to continue a discussion with you. By calling Stilltrackin illiterate, ignorant, and ridiculous you just resorted to an Ad Hominem attack, yet you produced absolutely no evidence to support your own statements. At least for me, it comes off as ugly arrogance. If you disagree with Stilltrackin, at least come up with a decent reason.

Carlus Henry said...

B4B,

You are more than welcome to continue in the conversation if you so desire...

I agree with Weston, and you have heard me say it before, let's keep things civil and respectful. It is fine to disagree, but let's do it in a Christian fashion - with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15,16)

God bless...

triednotfried said...

Weston,

Salvation has very little to do with Hell and does in fact demonstrate Biblical ignorance. That is not calling you ignorant, just you don't understand. Born4 didn't call anyone anything...just said that what they were speaking demonstrated it.

Carlus Henry said...

triednotfried,

Born4 didn't call anyone anything...just said that what they were speaking demonstrated it.

I completely disagree. The fact of the matter is the statement from B4B was insulting and hurtful, and in Weston's words:

people will be disinclined to continue a discussion with you.

For those of us who are willing to continue a conversation, I think that we all agree that we can do without the insults and present evidence for the reasons of your belief. To resort to insults lacks charity, and no one will take you seriously....even when some people agree with you.

stilltrackin said...

I think my comment was intentionally misunderstood, but let me clarify anyway. If anyone else thinks I'm completely off with this, please let me know. This is important stuff that I think we should all be able to agree on.

All I was trying to say was God is not in the business of selling fire insurance or passing out "get out of hell free" cards. Heaven is a real place and it will be wonderful. However, choosing Christ to avoid hell misses everything. The gift we are offered, a personal relationship with the creator of the universe, is so much bigger than avoiding hell. I've heard some people (who mean well) present the gospel to unbelievers as a means to avoid hell and nothing more. I think they missed nearly the whole point for which Christ died. When God created Adam and Eve, their relationship with him was perfect. Sin destroyed that. God wants that relationship back. He desires it so strongly that he gave his life for us to make it possible.

What say you? Am I completely off base? Is God really just in the business of selling fire insurance and punishing the people who don't buy it?

Carlus Henry said...

Chad and Tammy,

You said:
The point here is that adding any works to faith is no different than the Galatians adding circumcision, observance of special days, etc. to their faith.

And you also said:
Also, Jesus' summary of the law in "Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" also falls under the works category.

So if I understand your position correctly, you are saying that all we need is faith to be saved. We do not have to Love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and we do not have to love our neighbor because this is a work, and it is just like the Gentiles trying to observe special days and circumcision. Is this correct?

I am a huge fan of Galatians as well, and I completely agree with the verses that you mentioned, (especially the verse you chose that shows how one can fall away from grace Gal 5:4). One verse that is actually right after a verse that you mentioned I find is right on point with this whole discussion.

Gal 5:6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

And also...

Gal 6:8-9The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature[a]will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up

God bless...

born4battle said...

Q: “Given that truth in scripture is so crystal clear... Why do we have so many denominations?”
A: Some differences focus around non-essentials where scripture allows flexibility in some ‘practices’. On the essentials of the faith, most denominations (Protestant) are in full agreement. There is also the sin that still plagues believers. The same can be said for Catholicism with its three major segments. There aren’t a lot of ‘denominations’ as in Protestantism though, probably because the three major segments agree on some of the same ‘traditions’ (read non-scriptural apostasy).

Weston: I did not ‘name a name’, only pointed out that a certain comment betrayed ignorance of scripture, which the statement does, regardless of who said it. That would mean me, if I had spoken it. Therefore, your cute little invective holds no ground, but does tell me something about you and your young spirituality (I’ve been studying scripture as long as you have been living – just a fact).
You are the one who accused me of attacking a specific person, which I did not do. Checks the semantics and grammar of my comment again. I am not attacking you either – in your invective, you display a trait common among young believers who have been sucked into calling any sort of criticism, no matter how justified, as mean-spirited. Carlus assumes the same thing.

Stilltrackin: You are right on, God isn’t selling ‘fire-insurance’. I took your words as they were written. If that is not what you meant, it is not what you really meant, and I’m really glad for that. I was commenting on what was written, that’s all.

born4battle said...

""Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" also falls under the works category."

I don't think so......love is an emotion that might produce works, but an emotion or feeling is not in itself a work.

Faith alone woulf be the scriptural position. Of course 'saving' faith WILL produce works of some sort, but faith in itself is not a work.

Weston said...

B4B,

Wow, you jumped to so many incorrect conclusions. Let me clear a few up.

First off, I was never personally offended at anything you said. I merely decided to play referee and came to the defense of Stilltrackin. "Flag on the play; Unnecessary roughness." In retrospect, my use of the word "attack" probably led you to believe that I was offended. Let me amend that to "ad hominem argument". Which I still believe to be true. An "ad hominem argument" is a debate tactic where you try to discredit your opponent's stance by discrediting the person themselves. Any time you claim that someone "cannot have read much of the NT, much less the entire Bible," you are implying that whatever argument they are trying to make, cannot be taken seriously because that person is ignorant or uninformed. The same goes for making statements about someone's "young spirituality"; it's an attempt to discredit your opponent by implying that they are not qualified to be making the statements they are. Win your arguments on the strength of your reason, not by belittling your opponents.

Second, I would have been perfectly fine with your strong statements if you had backed it up with some real reason and logic. If you had said, "Your assertion is ridiculous because...." and then went on to list reasons, that would have been fine; but it stopped there. I read your comment several times trying to figure out where your point was, and when I realized that you had none, I decided to call you out on it.

Third, I'm amused that you've labeled me as a "young believer". You have no idea what my spiritual background is and how long I've been a Christian. Point of fact, I'm not a "young believer". That aside, why should it matter how many years you've been studying the Scripture? Are you somehow more intelligent because you are older? People can study the Scriptures their entire lives and still be incredibly wrong; just pick any cult for a good example.

Carlus Henry said...

...to make a long story short...

Let's all stick to the topic and support our positions based on reason and logic; refraining from ad hominem debate tactics.

This blog is and never was an attempt to serve as a platform for attacks, instead it is a safe zone for discussion...

God bless...

Chad and Tammy said...

Regarding my earlier statement:
"'Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself' also falls under the works category."

Carlus said:
So if I understand your position correctly, you are saying that all we need is faith to be saved. We do not have to Love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and we do not have to love our neighbor because this is a work, and it is just like the Gentiles trying to observe special days and circumcision. Is this correct?

B4B said:
I don't think so......love is an emotion that might produce works, but an emotion or feeling is not in itself a work. Faith alone would be the scriptural position. Of course 'saving' faith WILL produce works of some sort, but faith in itself is not a work.

My response:
I don't want to muddy this discussion, and I'm not comfortable calling love itself a work. So please scratch that from my earlier comment. It is probably better said that love is a response to the free gift of salvation. In any case, the point I was trying to make is that Galatians illustrates the error in adding works to faith. Also, I was trying to keep folks from dismissing Galatians on the grounds that the context was all about Mosaic law. I believe the book is very applicable to this discussion.

So with that said, yes I am saying that all we need is faith to be saved. Regarding Galatians 6:8-9 that Carlus quoted, the only way that anyone can "sow to the Spirit" is if they have received the Spirit--again, see Galatians 3:2-3. Also, Romans 8:14 says, "for all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." How does one become a child of God? Through faith: John 1:12-13.

- Chad

stilltrackin said...

I came up with an analogy this weekend that help me clarify our discussion about faith alone vs faith and works in my own mind...

Accepting Christ is like jumping into the water. The work of the Holy Spirit is like getting wet. One can argue that it is only necessary to jump in and getting wet just happens... However, if your not wet, you weren't in the water. It is also very possible to get your feet wet, without having jumped in.

In the same way, it is impossible to to truly experience Christ, to submit your will to Him, and to ask Him to be your master with Him changing your life. Many people experience Christ on some level and like the experience. However, they fall short of making the life changing commitment to pick up their cross and follow Christ.

The argument of whether getting wet is required or just happens by nature of jumping in is in my mind a semantic issue. If you claim to have jumped in the water without getting wet, you have very good reason to question if it really happened.

I've had many discussions with Carlus about this issue. I am protestant. He is Catholic. When I stopped arguing and starting really trying to understand where he was coming from, I discovered there was little difference in what we believed on this issue. I claim "Faith Alone" and found my definition of Faith included more than belief. Carlus claims "Faith and Works" and I discovered "Works", in his case, included only the life-changing work of the Holy Spirt.

I can't claim to represent all protestants, nor Carlus all Catholics, but this "Faith Alone" protestant is very close to agreeing on this issue with this "Faith and Works" Catholic.

Any thoughts? Is my analogy unfair to either side?

stilltrackin said...

I notice I made a typo... I don't want to make it too easy to intentionally misinterpret my comment. :)

In the same way, it is impossible to to truly experience Christ, to submit your will to Him, and to ask Him to be your master *with* (Should be *without*) Him changing your life.

born4battle said...

"I can't claim to represent all protestants, nor Carlus all Catholics, but this "Faith Alone" protestant is very close to agreeing on this issue with this "Faith and Works" Catholic."

Stilltrakin, Your analogy has merit from the perspective that faith placed in Christ for salvation my its very nature produces works in the life of a believer.

When we consider the role of faith and works in the 'justification' of sinners before God, it is faith alone that justifies. When a person is justified by faith, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer and works result.