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Faith and Works Are Necessary for Salvation (Part 2)

Tim Staples

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In part two of this three-part series, Tim Staples and Cy Kellett continue their discussion about the relationship between faith and works in salvation, here with an emphasis on works as a response to God’s unmerited gift of grace.


Cy Kellett:
What role do works play in our salvation? Right now on Catholic Answers Focus. Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host. And last time we talked a bit about the grace that is needed to prompt us towards salvation. How does all that get started? Tim Staples, our guest for that, and our guest again today. Tim is the director of apologetics and evangelization here at Catholic Answers. The author of Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines. And today we talk about the ongoing process of salvation. We talk about initial justification in relation to works. And as everyone knows at Calvary Chapel, Catholics believe you that we are saved by our works.

Tim Staples:
That’s right. We are the works guys. In fact, we’re Pelagians and you name it. This is the issue, isn’t it?

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. Right.

Tim Staples:
For a lot, when we’re talking about Calvinists in particular, evangelicals, like you mentioned, Calvary Chapel folks, I know it was huge for me. And it’s really rooted in Luther who said that this doctrine of justification by faith alone is the doctrine upon which the church rises or falls. To him, this was the most important, of course it’s not, the Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith. We proceed to the incarnation and then all the doctrines involved with the working out of the Trinity and the incarnation into our lives are kind of down the totem pole, all crucial, of course, but justification obviously is not at the top of the totem pole.

Tim Staples:
But it is crucial for us to understand, especially in dealing with our Protestant friends, because they will look at verses like Ephesians two, eight and nine, “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, Cy Kellett.

Cy Kellett:
Amen.

Tim Staples:
Lest any man should boast.” Or my favorite was Romans 4:5, “To him that does not work but believes in him who justifies the unrighteous, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Done deal. Let’s go home and be Protestant because those verses on the surface look like as Luther wrongly concluded from these and famously, he was under the Bodhi tree, or however you pronounce that one [inaudible 00:02:33] got enlightened. Luther’s Bodhi or Bodhi tree was Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.” But Luther concluded from all of these, and in fact, he demonstrated it by adding the word alone to four verses in his famous German translation. He added the word alone in Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:16, Romans 3:28, and Romans 4:5, the four places where it says justification by faith.

He adds alone, sorry, it’s not in the Greek text. And his followers corrected that later. But the point is, this was everything to Luther because he concluded from those texts I just quoted that all works are gone whatsoever. He very famously in a book called The Bondage of the Will says, “When Saint Paul condemns works, he condemns all works whatsoever. There is no preparation,” which we talked about-

Cy Kellett:
Last time.

Tim Staples:
… last time. No works before, during, or after one is saved. He condemns all works. And that is absolutely false. The key here is understanding what the Council of Trent, those guys were pretty smart.

Cy Kellett:
They did a pretty good job. Yeah.

Tim Staples:
Because in response, I think, I was going to narrow down. One of the two most important things we need to hit in this brief time we have, because there’s so much stuff here in session six on justification folks. And I give everybody homework, read the cannons and decrees here of the Council of Trent, in particular session six. It’s amazing on justification. But the two keys for us, I think this week are one, the first canon after the decrees concerning justification says, “If anyone says that a person can be justified before God by his own works done either by the resources of human nature or by the teaching of the law apart from divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.”

Notice the Council of Trent responds and says, we are not saying we can be justified by our own works. That is false. We are not Pelagians. We still get accused of that. For those of you who don’t know, Pelagius was a British monk way back in the fourth century who denied original sin, therefore denied the necessity of infant baptism, and denied the necessity of grace for salvation. We can do works just by our own natures, that will get us to heaven. We’re often accused of that side because of our emphasis on good works. You guys are Pelagian, and that’s what Luther accused us of being. And that is absolutely false because this canon clearly says that we can’t be justified by our own works.

And notice it says either done in accordance with the law or nature. And that was the two big issues. The works that justify us, and we did mention this last time a bit, Cy, our works that are done in him, with him, through him, as we say it, the mass rooted in Romans chapter 11, verse 36. Anything that we do that is meritorious must have as its first principle, we’re secondary causes in our own salvation and the salvation of others. It has to have any act that is meritorious before God, must have as its first principle the charity of Christ, the power of God working in and through us.

And so either works of law or works done by nature are excluded as possibilities when it comes to salvation. And by the way, that’s exactly what the two verses of scripture we were talking about were dealing with. In Ephesians two, verses eight and nine, if you remember all those few minutes ago, we mentioned it.

Cy Kellett:
I can recollect, yes, that we talked about that.

Tim Staples:
Ephesians two, eight and nine, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves as a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” The first eight verses that lead up to verse nine, if my math is correct, the first eight verses talk about, go back to verse one. “You who were dead in your trespasses and sins, you were by…” Look at verse three, “You were by nature children of wrath, for by grace you have been saved.” What’s he talking about there? You can’t do any works in accord with your nature. Why? Because your nature is fallen. And that’s what the Council of Trent’s picking up on here. That’s exactly what Paul is condemning.

But is he condemning works? Carte blanche, as Luther said, of course not because in the very next verse, that would be verse 10, right after he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves as a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” He then says, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” So after you get in Christ, that’s when you start working. But then the second part, Cy, real quick. Or by the teachings of the law, see, works done in accordance with the teachings of the law or nature cannot justify us. In Romans 3:28 and Romans 4:5, two of Luther’s favorites. That’s exactly what Paul is talking about.

And you know that because if you go back to verse 28, he says, “A man is justified by faith, apart from the works of law. For who…” Look at the next verse in verse 29. “For is Jesus the God of the Jews only? Is he not also the God of the Gentile?” So he’s clearly singling out the works of law, which is the very thing that the Judaizers that Paul was dealing with, we go back to the book of Acts chapter 15, the first few verses to see Paul had been called along with Barnabas to deal with this group of troublemakers. We mentioned last time there were certain, these were believers of the faithful of what Acts 15:1 calls of the sect of the Pharisees that believed that came down from Judea and taught the brethren, unless you be circumcised after the man of Moses, you cannot be saved.

Paul and Barnabas’ scripture says, had no small disputation with them. They couldn’t settle it. Hence comes the first church council where Peter declares the truth of the matter, we believe we will be saved by the grace of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ even as they are. So he puts to end this whole notion that we have to do the works of the law. Obviously that was in 49 A.D. Not everybody listened because the problem continued. And that’s why Paul’s writing Romans is to deal with these folks that were saying, it’s not enough to believe in Jesus and keep the new covenant law.

But you got to go back to the old law, go to the temple, circumcision and such, hence Paul says, we’re justified by faith, not faith alone, not faithful alone apart from anything else, but faith apart from the works of law. And so then when you get to verse five, to him that does not work… He’s not talking about to him who just commits adultery and murders and does whatever he wants, but believes he’s fine. That’s not what he’s saying. He is condemning the idea that was being taught by the Judaizers that the works of law are necessary for our justification.

Cy Kellett:
So even if you don’t follow the Jewish laws, faith in Christ is enough.

Tim Staples:
Amen.

Cy Kellett:
So his use of the word works is kind of technical then in a way.

Tim Staples:
It really is. And Jimmy Akin in his book on salvation with, I forgot the name of it. I hate it when that happens, but his, it was called the Drama of Sal…

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. The Drama of Salvation.

Tim Staples:
Okay. The Drama of Salvation.

Cy Kellett:
Sorry, I drew a blank too.

Tim Staples:
Yeah. But anyway, it’s an excellent book. I learned something when I read that book, Jimmy pointed out there that in the Dead Sea scrolls, we discovered an entire document that’s called Works of Law.

Cy Kellett:
Oh.

Tim Staples:
Those were charged words in the first century. This was like the works of law, it was the identity for the Jewish people. This was, they stick their chest out, the works of law, far superior to the Egyptian book of the dead or any of these other, we have the works of law. And so those were charged words. So when Paul used those words, he was saying, that’s not what justifies you. The new Moses who brought a new law, Jesus Christ the Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords, we have to follow the law of Christ. And Paul will say that. In First Corinthians 9:21, he talks about that.

We are under the law of Christ, not the works of law any longer. But here, the next point I wanted to bring out real quick, Cy, is there’s another aspect to this Lutheran notion that’s crucial for us to understand that was condemned by the Council of Trent. And that is at kind of the root, the core of Luther’s faulty understanding was this idea. And you and I have talked about this before, Cy. That the will is entirely passive, right?

Cy Kellett:
Oh, yeah.

Tim Staples:
We are so absolutely degradated. It’s total depravity. One of the five points of John Calvin that Luther would agree with, he didn’t agree with everything that Calvin taught, but this one he certainly did. Total depravity, that we are so absolutely depraved that we can do absolutely nothing including cooperate with God’s grace. We talked about that last time in particular with the idea of preparation, but that continues even after justification. We have no power whatsoever. Our wills are absolutely passive. The Council of Trent responds to this in canon four, which will be the second and final canon that we’ll refer to this time. “If anyone says that a person’s free will…” Again, this is canon four, session six.

“If anyone says that a person’s free when moved and roused by God gives no cooperation by responding to God’s summons and invitation to dispose and prepare itself to obtain the grace of justification, and that it cannot if it so wishes descent, but like something inanimate can do nothing at all and remains merely passive, let him be anathema.” And so Luther taught, and by the way, not just in the preparation for, but even after justification, our wills are entirely passive dependent upon God to the extent that Luther would say in two different places and [inaudible 00:13:40] folks, he uses the metaphor of a beast. We’ve talked about this, Cy.

You and I are a beast. If God gets on our back and rides us, he arrives to heaven. If the devil gets on our back and rides us, he arrives to hell. But the beast has no choice as to who rides him. And let me tell you, that is a devastating as well as dangerous concept. Because think about the ramifications, and I’ve experienced this, Cy, in real time ministering to people when I was Protestant who believed this stuff. If our wills are entirely passive, we have nothing to do with it. What do you do with the guy who is, and I’m thinking of a particular man. Right now I can see his face. I could tell you his name, but I won’t. Who struggled with a sin that a lot of men struggle with. And he just could not.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, I see-

Tim Staples:
So guess what he concluded. I’m damned.

Cy Kellett:
I’m being ridden by the devil. I’m not being ridden by the Lord. Wow.

Tim Staples:
I’m done man.

Cy Kellett:
So despair.

Tim Staples:
He fell into despair. And I back then as a good Armenian Protestant believed in free will. So I was able to help him at least somewhat. I hope you’re Catholic there, buddy. You know who I’m talking to. But anyway, the ramifications of this, not just examples like that, but there are many, many more ramifications. But you know what, Cy, it’s so contrary to everything we say in sacred scripture of how Jesus from the beginning to the end of the gospels, in fact, we could go back from the, we’ve talked about this, Cy, the garden of Eden. Eat from everything but not this one. Freedom seems to come into play from Genesis three in the garden to Exodus 30.

Choose this day. I’ve set before you life and death, choose. To, we could go up through to the book of Revelation. And one of my favorites is Revelation 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door, knock, if any man hears my voice and open, I will come into him.” But how many times, in Matthew 23:37, Jesus weeps over, at least in Luke’s version he weeps, but in Matthew’s version, “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. You that kills the prophet. How often I would have gathered you as a hen does gather her chick. But you refused, you refused.” Luther was so, Cy, I don’t think I’ve ever shared this with you. But this is going to shock you.

Luther was so adamant with this understanding of the passivity of the will that he actually wrote that Jesus in his human nature got it wrong there.

Cy Kellett:
Oh man.

Tim Staples:
He got it wrong there.

Cy Kellett:
Oh man. So even Jesus is not a reliable teacher.

Tim Staples:
That’s right. He didn’t have the fullness of the revelation that Saint Paul later got.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, so you’ve put Saint Paul above Jesus, and then you don’t have to worry about things like the goats and the sheep and all that, because-

This is what strikes me when you talk about it. Jesus gives his followers and those who refuse to follow him a lot to do. He’s always assigning stuff to do, like praying and fasting, and caring for the poor, and all that stuff. So what do you make of that if you don’t believe that you’re supposed to do anything?

Tim Staples:
That is another of the profound dangers of this teaching of justification by faith alone. You’re absolutely right. I mean, think about, it takes away the radical nature of Christ called a discipleship, for example. In Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies. Do good to those and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute.” Why? “In order that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven.” In other words, Jesus, this isn’t an option. This is so that you can make it to heaven. Cy, it’s not optional for us to love our… Boy, I’d really like to love my enemies, but I just can’t do that. Well, you’re going to hell. All right. Because we have a choice to make when we’re confronted with an enemy. We can choose to hate. We can choose to respond any way we will, but Jesus gives us the radical command.

And then he promises, and this gets to the heart of the Council of Trent here session six when we’re talking about justification, is it’s the power of Christ, and this is the heart of the gospel. Isn’t it? That transforms us so that we can keep the law, the law of Christ. So that we can live like Jesus lived. So radical is that transforming power that Saint Paul would say in Romans chapter eight, verse four, that we who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit are able to fulfill the righteousness of the law in our very lives. Now when we fall, thank God for confession.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah.

Tim Staples:
Amen.

Cy Kellett:
But it’s a tremendous dignity that’s being given to us here.

Tim Staples:
It is.

Cy Kellett:
It’s very different than just, well, I’m going to look the other way. I’m going to cover over your sinfulness-

Tim Staples:
That’s right.

Cy Kellett:
… and you’re justified utterly passively.

Tim Staples:
What a difference, think about it this way. Let’s say you’re a guy, you’re traveling, you’re away from your wife and family. We never experience that, do we, Cy? We’re traveling, we’re out in the hotel or whomever. Some of you listening, you’re out on a business trip, you’re out in that hotel. There’s nobody there, but you, and there’s that TV. And you know full well all you got to do is flip that switch and you can have every kind of filth there is. You have a choice to make. And here’s what I ask folks all the time. Which theology do you think is going to help you in that situation? The one that says that, you know what, you’re just as saved and justified before, during, and after you flip that switch, or the one that says when you flip that switch, you’re cheating on your wife, you’re committing grave sin.

And if you die in that state, you’re going to split hell wide open. I don’t know about you, but the latter helps me.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. It keeps you [crosstalk 00:19:34], it’s very motivating.

Tim Staples:
We should love God and of course, do it purely out of the love of God. But thanks be to God there are consequences. See, the bottom line is once someone is sold on the fact that they are one of the elect, right?

Cy Kellett:
God’s right man.

Tim Staples:
Well, a little slip up here and there, come on. I’m just as justified as I was before. That is extremely dangerous. And let me tell you, my Catholic friends, you need to thank God every day for the truth that you possess, you have been gifted with. We have an incredible faith. It’s airtight. It makes sense as well as sets us free. And this is a great example of that.

Cy Kellett:
It is indeed. And so what if we… Like so much of what you read from the Council of Trent, it really does talk about like us as secondary and all the initiative is on God’s part.

Tim Staples:
Yes.

Cy Kellett:
So what if I, okay, so God does all that initiative. And I participate by responding, by doing what he said, like caring for the poor and all that kind of stuff. So am I more saved or… Do you see what I mean?

Tim Staples:
Right.

Cy Kellett:
Or what is actually happening?

Tim Staples:
Yes. Well, exactly. In fact, in our next session, we’re going to focus on that even more, the idea of final justification and the idea that we grow, as Saint Peter describes it. I think it’s Second Peter three, verse 20, “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.” Or Revelation 22:11, where the last book of the Bible, it says, “Let he who is justified be justified still.” When we cooperate with God’s grace, we grow in grace and in righteousness or justice. We talked about this last time briefly, we increase our capacity to receive more of God. We become more holy. And if we die in that state, of course, we will reach a deeper level of beatitude in heaven.

So that’s rewards in heaven. But there’s something else to consider as well. And that is the, there’s a famous line from Saint Thomas Aquinas, where he says, “In the Christian life, you are either growing or you are dead. There’s no in between.” And I remember years ago reading that. And I can’t think of where it is right now, but it must’ve been 20 years ago thinking of course, that’s true, because think about plants and animals, right?

Cy Kellett:
Right. Yeah.

Tim Staples:
Either you’re growing or you’re dead, there’s not an in between. And so we must be nourishing ourselves constantly with word and sacrament day in and day out, loving people. Otherwise we’re going to die. And this really helps for me any way to make sense of texts like Matthew 25, the parable of the talents. One has five, one has two, one has one. The guy with five, he’s out there, he’s bargaining, he’s collecting interest. He gets five more. The guy with two does the same. He gets two more. The guy with one says, “I know you’re an austere man. I’m going to hold onto what I got. I’m going to hold on.”

Guess what? His was taken from him and given to the guy that had the 10. And why is that? This is Jesus’ way of saying to us that you can’t just hold onto what you have. The Christian life consists of faith, hope, and charity, which are all virtues. They’re theological because they’re gifts from God, but they’re virtues, which are acts of the will. So it’s all about act. Ain’t that cool?

Cy Kellett:
Yeah.

Tim Staples:
The Council of Trent, you mentioned, and this is correct, is all about the initiative is God’s, the first cause of our salvation is God. Without God, we can’t even think of attaining eternal life. However, in a secondarily causal way, it’s all about us too. It’s about us responding. And isn’t this… you see this about, 100,000 verses just came to mind. But think about this. First John chapter one, verse seven. “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another,” that is us with God. “And the blood of Jesus Christ his son continues to cleanse us of all sins.”

If we are doing something, if we walk… And then it says, if we say we have no sin, we’re liars and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he’s faithful and just to forgive us. So notice, if we walk, he cleanses. If we confess, he cleanses. He goes before us because without him, we can’t even think of coming to him. But at the same time, all of those ifs. First John chapter two, verse 24, “If you continue to abide in him, you will continue in the father and in the son.” There are so many examples like this. I like Second Corinthians chapter six, verse one, “Working together with him, I urge you, do not receive the grace of God in vain.

Cy Kellett:
That’s pretty clear.

Tim Staples:
That one. Working together, in fact, it’s [inaudible 00:25:07] there in Greek, literally, working with him, do not receive the grace of God in vain. In acts 13, verse 43, when Paul’s in Antioch, he urges the brethren to continue in the grace of God. So you hear in his words, continue in the grace of God. That it’s grace, it’s God’s power, but you have to continue to do it, to walk with and to cooperate with it.

Cy Kellett:
Tim Staples is our guest. So the next time we’re going to talk about how this whole process comes to its conclusion.

Tim Staples:
Amen, brother.

Cy Kellett:
Happy conclusion we pray.

Tim Staples:
Yes.

Cy Kellett:
Thanks, Tim.

Tim Staples:
All right, brother.

Cy Kellett:
We’ll see you next time on Catholic Answers Focus. If you like Catholic Answers Focus, share with other people. Let them know we’re here and what we do, and maybe direct them to catholicanswerslive.com where they can sign up for radio club and get an alert every time there’s a new focus available. We’ll see you next time on Catholic Answers Focus.

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