Thursday, December 23, 2010

Miscellaneous Posts Re Roman Catholicism: Merit versus Grace

Rome teaches that believers are accounted to have "truly merited eternal life" by those “very works which have been done in God.” And that eternal life is both a gift as well as reward to their good works and merits, (Trent, Chapter XVI; The Sixth Session Decree on justification, p. 43; cf. Canon 32, 1547) that believers merit graces needed for the attainment of eternal life. (Catechism of the Catholic church, Part 3, Life in Christ, Merit, 2010)

Thus while “works of the law” are disallowed as salvific, Rome attributes salvific merit to works of faith. This implies that the reason for the use of the term “works of the law” in such places as Romans 4 is to place such in contrast to “works of faith.” However, other texts do not specify works of the law, but broadly refers to works, which it sets in contrast to faith. And the law being holy just and good, (Rm. 7:12) “if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law,” (Gal. 3:21) while the “righteousness of the law” is never abrogated. (Rm. 8:4)

Thus the problem is not with the manner of righteousness which the law upholds, but the manner of attaining it, which is not by any manner of merit of law-keeping, but by recognizing yourself as a law breaker and trusting in the mercy of God in Christ to save you by his blood, and which faith is imputed for righteousness. To be sure, the only manner of faith which is salvific is that which is of a confessional quality, meaning it confesses Jesus as the Lord in word and deed, with baptism being the first official expression of that faith.

The key difference as I see it between this and what Catholicism teaches is that it is not by any “merit of works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us,” (Titus 3:5) not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. (2Tim. 1:9) And while Roman Catholicism seeks to make eternal life a gift as well as a merited reward, “rendered to their good works and merits,” it is either one or the other.

What do Protestants think a faith without works will save them, and they they do not need to become perfect?

While it is easy to broad brush evangelical faith, the reformers overall did not preach, easy believism, but held that a faith which is salvific is one which shows forth fruit fit for repentance and endures. Recently no less a figure then R.C. Sproul preached, “Since our righteousness proceeds from our justification, which is based upon the righteousness of Christ alone, we must never be deluded into thinking that our works of righteousness have any merit of their own. Yet as Protestants, zealously maintaining our doctrine of justification by faith alone, we must be ever mindful that the justification which is by faith alone is never by a faith that is alone. True faith is a faith that manifests itself in righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees and the scribes, for it is concerned with the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.”

The issue is what perfection means, and its attainment. What the Bible most clearly teaches is that true believers, for which faith is not a one-time deal, are declared righteous and thus practice righteousness. While they do not attain unto complete perfection, as Christ is perfect, they are not only positionally made “to sit together , and heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph. 2:6) but upon death they “shall ever be with the Lord,” (1Thes. 4:17; 1Cor. 15; 2Cor. 5:6-8) and will be made like Him when He appears, (1Jn. 3:2) but who show yet judge the quality of their works. (1Cor. 3:8-15; 2Cor. 5:9-11)

Seeking to justify salvation by the grace of God thru merit, it is taught that such statements as “a man is not justified by the works of the law” (Gal. 2:16a) is only excluding works of the law versus works of faith as gaining justification before God, as if two types of works were what are contrasted. However, that is manifestly not what is being distinguished, rather works versus faith is what is separated as regards what the actual basis for justification is, “that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.”

Other texts do not mention “works of the law,” but simply say “works,” (Eph. 2:8,9; 2Tim. 1:9) showing that it is not by “works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us,” (Titus 3:5)

To be sure, the only manner of faith which is true and thus salvific faith is that which orders one’s life, as one cannot truly believe in the Lord Jesus without being moved to obey Him, and repent when convicted of failure to do so.

But rather than making works of the law inferior to works of faith, Paul affirms that the law is good, and that “if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” (Gal. 3:21)

Moreover, the righteousness of the law is not abrogated, rather it is what those who live by faith are to fulfil. (Rm. 8:4)

And in making the distinction between vain belief and true faith, he further states, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified,” (Rm. 2:13) And thus when teaching on what actually justifies in cp. 4, he uses Abraham as the example.

And while the believer is not being “under the law, but under grace,” (Rm. 6:14) this does not refer to a life ungoverned by moral standards, as the basic moral laws of the O.T. are clearly upheld, along with teachings complementary to it being added, and a covenantal distinction made between that class and ceremonial law. But it refers to being saved by faith in the mercy of God in Christ, trusting Him for salvation by His blood and righteousness, rather than supposing one merits salvation it by full obedience to the law, as the inability to keep it perfectly actually shows man his need for mercy and the atonement. (Rm. 3,4)

It also means the moral life of the believer is governed not by looking at the letter of the law as his standard, or by seeking to justify himself thereby, but by a relationship with the law-giver, looking unto Jesus who kept the law in its full intent, and thru faith in whom the believer gains an acceptance which he could not achieve by confidence in his own righteousness, so that those who are led by His Spirit can grow towards the same.

May i and we do so more, and recover any lost ground where applicable.

While generalizations are often valid, and Protestantism has its general characteristics as does Catholicism, yet the former is not one particular Church, in the above generalization is far from uniform and is actually more of a recent declension, which is part of taking on form of the world and which is exists, which Catholicism knows of itself. The reformers overall preached repentance and an enduring faith that would bear fruit as salvific*, and today there exists basically three camps within Protestantism.

The first camp is that of liberal, institutionalized churches in which there is little emphasis upon the authority of the Bible, with little strong preaching and heartfelt worship, and the need for salvation is not pressed upon the hearers, and perfunctory professions substituting for such. Catholicism also overall suffers from this type of religion.

The second camp is basically that of churches which may emphasize the Bible and the need for salvation, some fundamentalist types of which may have high standards for Christian conduct while others more appeal to the flesh, but they both preach a gospel in which salvation is not that of faith out of a broken heart and contrite spirit, which God promises to save (Ps. 34:18) and looks to, (Is. 66:2), but instead emphasizes faith in the promise of eternal life bt faith in Christ, largely divorcing faith in Christ as Savior from Jesus is Lord, the latter of which the sinner is to confess in receiving the former. (Rm. 10:9,10)

This does not mean a sinner stops sinning to come to Christ, but as those who do come to Christ are choosing light over darkness, (Jn. 3:19-21) so those who come to Christ to be saved from their sins are those which have a basic change of heart, from darkness the light, which shall be manifest in works which correspond to repentance, “things which accompany salvation,” (Heb. 6:9) according to the light they have.

The third camp are churches which largely preached this, which range from fundamentalist type churches to holiness Pentecostals, which recognize that repentance is implicit in leading on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Protesting against the current spiritual declension into easy believism, the popular fundamentalist preacher John MacArthur states,

The gospel in vogue today holds forth a false hope to sinners. It promises them that they can have eternal life yet continue to live in rebellion against God. Indeed, it encourages people to claim Jesus as Savior yet defer until later the commitment to obey Him as Lord. It promises salvation from hell but not necessarily freedom from iniquity. It offers false security to people who revel in the sins of the flesh and spurn the way of holiness. By separating faith from faithfulness, it teaches that intellectual assent is as valid as a wholehearted obedience to the truth.

Thus the good news of Christ has given way to the bad news of an insidious easy-believism that makes no moral demands on the lives of sinners. It is not the same message Jesus proclaimed.

One must be careful here, as it is possible to go to the other extreme of making conversion to Christ something that only persons who have sufficient character can be saved by, requiring them to be able to turn from all sins before they are saved, or not taking into account that growth in grace is related to the different degrees of grace of person has realized, and to whomsoever much is given much is required. (Lk. 16:48)

One must be careful here, as it is possible to go to the other extreme of making conversion to Christ something that only persons who have sufficient character can be saved by, requiring them to be able to turn from all sins before they are saved, or not taking into account that growth in grace is related to the different degrees of grace of person has realized, and to whomsoever much is given much is required. (Lk. 16:48)

The gospel preaching in the book of Acts called souls to repentance, but it was a basic repentance of faith, recognizing Jesus is Lord and trusting in Him for salvation, out of which transformed lives result.

But i the gospel of least resistance (and which is the least difficult to preach), does not work to convict men of sin, righteousness and judgment - and which [conviction] brings them to appreciate mercy - that marks the latter days we are in.

*Calvin, in his Institutes,,
states: "With good reason, the sum of the gospel is held to
consist in repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47; Acts
5:31)" (p. 592); and, "surely no one can embrace the grace
of the gospel without betaking himself from the errors of past life
into the right way, applying his whole effort to the practice of
repentance" (Book III, p. 593). "Repentance has its
foundation in the gospel, which faith embraces" ( Book III,
Chapter 3, p. 593)

To repent of sin and to
believe in Christ as a Savior from sin are really two aspects of one
and the same spiritual transaction...Some recognition of Christ and
some measure of appropriating faith must thus be involved in all true
repentance On the other hand such recognizing and appropriating faith
seems to require as its condition some deep consciousness of sin and
guilt and impending doom such as will impel the convicted soul to
look away unto Jesus for the deliverance it needs.

The practical fact is no one
repents worthily except in the sight and vision of as a possible
Savior from sin nor does any one truly attain sight and vision of
Christ without finding his wicked nature subdued within him and his
eyes filled with penitential tears. Whether therefore we place faith
first and repentance subsequent as the Symbols do or reverse the
order of the two elements should never forget that both are in
reality parts of the gracious experience logically set in a certain
procession chronologically and spiritually one and inseparable. So we
ever interpret the tender injunction so often repeated in the
Testament Repent and Believe.

The biblical conception of
acceptable repentance is well in the language 87 of the [Westminster]
Shorter Catechism a saving whereby a sinner out of a true sense of
his sin and of the mercy of God in Christ doth with grief and hatred
of sin turn from it unto God with full purpose of and endeavor new
obedience. The Larger Catechism 76 expands the in terms but adds
nothing except that this saving grace is to be wrought in the heart
of a sinner by the Spirit and Word God. The [Westminster] Confession
emphasizes the sense of the filthiness odiousness of sin as contrary
to the holy nature and righteous of God and defines the scope of
repentance in the declaration the penitent soul is henceforth
resolved to walk with God in the ways of his commandments. Other
descriptive phrases in the Minutes 279 and elsewhere Such an
experience is course to be radically differentiated from all
experiences might seem to be in any way related to it from natural
arising from some perception of the loss or other harmful consequence
providential or retributive that may be following indulgence in
transgression from moral remorse the sting outraged conscience in
view not so much of evil results from a sinful course but rather of
the intrinsic wrong the of wickedness in the sight of the personal
reason and judgment that must rise up occasionally in every soul not
seared and deadened by personal sin also from what may be termed

Calvin has comprehensively
defined acceptable repentance as a true conversion of our life to God
proceeding from a sincere and serious fear of God and consisting in
the mortification of our flesh and of the old man and in the
vivification of the Spirit.

The Augsburg Confession Art
XII says Repentance consisteth properly of two parts one is
contrition or terrors stricken into the conscience through the
acknowledgment or recognition of sin the other is faith which is
conceived by the Gospel and doth believe that for the sake of Christ
sins be forgiven and comforteth the conscience and freeth it from

The Catechism of Heidelberg
defines repentance as twofold the dying of the old man and the
quickening of the new heartfelt sorrow for sin on the one side
causing us to hate it and turn from it always more and more heartfelt
joy in God on the other side causing us to take delight in living
according to the will of God in all good works.

The Second Helvetic Conf
teaches that repentance is a change of heart produced in a sinner by
the word of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit and includes a knowledge
of native and actual depravity a godly sorrow and hatred of sin and a
determination to live hereafter in virtue and holiness.

Repentance say the Irish
Articles 40 is a gift of God whereby godly sorrow is wrought in the
heart of the faithful for offending God their merciful Father through
their former transgressions together with a constant resolution for
the time to come to cleave unto God and to lead a new life One of the
Confessions embodies the whole in the simple declaration that true
repentance is turning to God and all good and turning away from the
devil and all evil Nearly all of the Protestant creeds contain
similar definitions though with some confusion in many cases between
repentance and faith on one hand and repentance and conversion as a
consequence of faith on the other.” — THE WESTMINSTER
, pp. 482-83 by Edward D Morris D D LL D Emeritus
Professor of Systematic Theology In Lane Theological Seminary, 1900

Thomas Watson, an old Puritan,
said in The
Doctrine of Repentance
, "Two great graces essential to a
saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings
by which he flies to heaven." “Christians, do you have a
sad resentment of other things and not of sin? Worldly tears fall to
the earth, but godly tears are kept in a bottle (Ps. 56.8). Judge not
holy weeping superfluous. Tertullian thought he was born for no other
end but to repent.” “It is a bad sign when a man on his
death­bed bequeaths his soul to God and his ill­gotten goods
to his friends. I can hardly think God will receive his soul.
Augustine said, 'Without restitution, no remission'. And it was a
speech of old Latimer, If ye restore not goods unjustly gotten, ye
shall cough in hell.”

When God begins to draw me to
Himself, the problem of my will comes in immediately. Will I react
positively to the truth that God has revealed? Will I come to Him? To
discuss or deliberate over spiritual matters when God calls is
inappropriate and disrespectful to Him. When God speaks, never
discuss it with anyone as if to decide what your response may be (see
Galatians 1:15-16). Belief is not the result of an intellectual act,
but the result of an act of my will whereby I deliberately commit
myself. But will I commit, placing myself completely and absolutely
on God, and be willing to act solely on what He says? If I will, I
will find that I am grounded on reality as certain as God’s

In preaching the gospel,
always focus on the matter of the will. Belief must come from the
will to believe. There must be a surrender of the will, not a
surrender to a persuasive or powerful argument. I must deliberately
step out, placing my faith in God and in His truth. And I must place
no confidence in my own works, but only in God. Trusting in my own
mental understanding becomes a hindrance to complete trust in God. I
must be willing to ignore and leave my feelings behind. I must will
to believe. But this can never be accomplished without my forceful,
determined effort to separate myself from my old ways of looking at
things. I must surrender myself completely to God. — My Utmost
for His Highest (The Golden Book of Oswald Chambers;1992, “The
Drawing of the Father”)

Eph. 2:10 A regenerated sinner
becomes a living soul; he lives a life of holiness, being born of
God: he lives, being delivered from the guilt of sin, by pardoning
and justifying grace. All is the free gift of God, and the effect of
being quickened by his power. It was his purpose, to which he
prepared us, by blessing us with the knowledge of his will, and his
Holy Spirit producing such a change in us, that we should glorify God
by our good conversation, and perseverance in holiness. None can from
Scripture abuse this doctrine, or accuse it of any tendency to evil.
All who do so, are without excuse. — Matthew Henry's Concise
Commentary on the Whole Bible

James 2:14 In order to a
proper interpretation of this passage, it should be observed that the
stand-point from which the apostle views this subject is not before a
man is converted, inquiring in what way he may be justified before
God, or on what ground his sins may be forgiven; but it is after a
man is converted, showing that that faith can have no value which is
not followed by good works; that is, that it is not real faith, and
that good works are necessary if a man would have evidence that he is
justified. Thus understood, all that James says is in entire
accordance with what is taught elsewhere in the New Testament. —
Albert Barnes (1798-1870), Notes on the Bible

Jas 2:14 From Jam_1:22, the
apostle has been enforcing Christian practice. He now applies to
those who neglect this, under the pretence of faith. St. Paul had
taught that "a man is justified by faith without the works of
the law." This some began already to wrest to their own
destruction. Wherefore St. James, purposely repeating (Jam_2:21,
Jam_2:23, Jam_2:25) the same phrases, testimonies, and examples,
which St. Paul had used, Rom_4:3, Heb_11:17, Heb_11:31, refutes not
the doctrine of St. Paul, but the error of those who abused it. There
is, therefore, no contradiction between the apostles: they both
delivered the truth of God, but in a different manner, as having to
do with different kinds of men. — John Wesley

2:14-26 6. We are taught that a justifying faith cannot be without
works, from two examples, Abraham and Rahab. Those who would have
Abraham's blessings must be careful to copy after his faith: to boast
of being Abraham's seed will not avail any, if they do not believe as
he did... [2.] Those works which evidence true faith must to works of
self-denial, and such as God himself commands (as Abraham's offering
up his son, his only son, was), and not such works as are pleasing to
flesh and blood and may serve our interest, or are the mere fruits of
our own imagination and devising. — Matthew Henry (1662 –
1714), Commentary on the Whole Bible

2:14-26 Those are wrong who put a mere notional belief of the gospel
for the whole of evangelical religion, as many now do. No doubt, true
faith alone, whereby men have part in Christ's righteousness,
atonement, and grace, saves their souls; but it produces holy fruits,
and is shown to be real by its effect on their works; while mere
assent to any form of doctrine, or mere historical belief of any
facts, wholly differs from this saving faith. A bare profession may
gain the good opinion of pious people; and it may procure, in some
cases, worldly good things; but what profit will it be, for any to
gain the whole world, and to lose their souls?...True believing is
not an act of the understanding only, but a work of the whole heart.
— Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible

2:17 If it hath not works, is dead - The faith that does not produce
works of charity and mercy is without the living principle which
animates all true faith, that is, love to God and love to man. —
Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., (1715-1832), Commentary on the Bible

Jas 2:14-18 Even so faith.
Faith that has no power to bring one to obedience and to sway the
life is as worthless as good wishes which end in words. — The
People's New Testament (1891) by B. W. Johnson

Jas 2:17 Even so faith, if it
hath not works, is dead, being alone. It is like a lifeless carcass,
a body without a soul, Jam_2:26 for as works, without faith, are dead
works, so faith, without works, is a dead faith, and not like the
lively hope and faith of regenerated persons: — Dr. John Gill
(1690-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible

If the works which
living faith produces have no existence, it is a proof that faith
itself (literally, ‘in respect to itself’) has no
existence; that is, that what one boasts of as faith, is dead.”
“Faith” is said to be “dead in itself,”
because when it has works it is alive, and it is discerned to be so,
not in respect to its works, but in respect to itself. —
Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary on the Old
and New Testaments

Jas 2:17 So likewise that
faith which hath not works is a mere dead, empty notion; of no more
profit to him that hath it, than the bidding the naked be clothed is
to him. — John Wesley

Even so faith; that which
they boasted of, and called faith. Is dead; void of that life, in
which the very essence of faith consists, and which always discovers
itself in vital actings and good fruits, where it is not hindered by
some forcible impediment; in allusion to a corpse, which plainly
appears to have no vital principle in it, all vital operations being
ceased. It resembles a man’s body, and is called so, but in
reality is not so, but a dead carcass. — Matthew Poole (1624

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Please try to be reasonable, willing to examine things prayerfully and objectively, and refrain from "rants" and profane language, especially regarding God and the Christan faith. The latter type are subject to removal on this Christian blog, but I do try to help people no matter who they are. May all know the grace of God in truth.