How are we saved?
Analysis and response to Dr. Brant Pitre
Is Paul a proto-Protestant? Protestant is merely a label. Paul and Luther were both Christians, they were both part of God’s people throughout history from the very beginning. Thus, salvation by faith alone is also in the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4). It is also represented in the sacrificial system described in Leviticus 1-16, culminating in the day of atonement.
Also, I think that the term “initial justification” is incorrect. We are justified in a judicial sense, when God declares us not guilty for the merits of Christ, and regenerates us, and adopts us into His family. This is a one-time declaration, which is valid for our entire life.
This stems from our new birth, and our new nature. CCC 403 which you cite speaks of “the death of the soul”, and are “by nature children of wrath”, that we are “slaves of sin under the power of the devil”, and that the Jews, for example were unable to liberate themselves from the power of nature and the letter of the law.
If this is all true, then how is it possible for men to do good deeds, with the ultimate goal of glorifying God? That is because a deed in itself only has value if it glorifies God, and not ourselves. Hollywood celebrities may donate millions to different charities, but the main goal behind it is to look good, for self-glorification. God says that he rejects such deeds, He even tells people who cast out demons that they are evil-doers. Of course, only God knows your heart and your motives for doing anything.
Furthermore, the idea that we can “merit grace” is an oxymoron (pardon the use of this term), a contradiction. If something is given to us for free, we don’t have to pay for it. That would in fact, be a rejection of God’s love through His grace.
We are comparing Ephesians 2 and James 2. James 2 basically describes the idea that we are justified by faith alone, but faith does not stand alone. Of course, everything has to be done by faith. We are justified by faith, and our works only flow from this real and living faith. We have been justified to do good works. Many people have merely a false faith, which false works also flow out of (even if they seemingly look good on the outside).
Since the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, we must look at these and other passages, and describe individual passages in the light of the whole message of Scripture in general.
I have recently been reading the book of Galatians, which our pastor is preaching through the past couple months. This book really describes salvation by faith alone very well. Let me quote some verses from this book as well as other places:
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)
“Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Romans 11:5-6)
“knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Gal. 2:16)
“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Gal. 2:19-21)
“Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:5-7)
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”
Comment: if you say that keeping the law is essential in order to merit grace in order to attain salvation, then that means you must also be tried on judgement day based on how well you kept the law. But nobody has kept the law perfectly, which is God’s standard. We mat try to set a different standard, but God says you have to keep the law perfectly in order to be saved (see Luke 17:10). If you want to stand trial before God on Judgment day based on how well you have kept the law, you have no chance at all. You will be judged guilty and damned. So, if not by the law you are justified, then it is by faith that you are justified. According to Ephesians 2, God even prepares us good deeds, for us to walk in them.
This leads to Galatians 3:19-4:21, it would be good to read this in its entirety. This is why I did not copy paste the whole section, please open a Bible and read this section on your own.
Here this section of Galatians says that the law is only temporary, it is a tutor. It brings to mind our sins and judges us. The law cannot save. We must then come to faith and become adopted by God as His children. We then go from being slaves to sin by our rebellious nature, and become heirs. Our status changes. Our nature changes. We are born again, we pass from death to life. We are then characterized by love of God instead of hatred towards Him (see Romans 1). This is why then chapter 4, verses 21-31 describe the two covenants made at Mt. Sinai and in Jerusalem. The life of the people of God starting out from bondage in Egypt to entering the Promised land of Israel mirrors the life of the Christian. If we are the sons of Hagar, we are slaves and beholden to the judgment of our sins through the law. But if we are free, then we are sons of the free woman. We are free to do good deeds, not because it is required, but simply because we love God, because God first loved us, and sent His Son Jesus to die for us and take away all of our sins.