Thursday, November 9, 2017
Most of our readers are probably familiar with the old adage, “He can’t see the forest for the trees.” This is generally understood as overlooking or missing what you’re searching for, while that very thing is staring you right in the face!
This seems to be the case with Catholic apologist Tim Staples in a particular article he wrote. Tim Staples is a mega-popular Catholic speaker and apologist who is very intelligent and articulate. He is also the Director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers.
Tim’s article that we refer to is titled “Are Good Works Necessary for Salvation?” and it is attempting to refute the Protestant idea of “Sola Fide,” or “Faith Alone.” The article can be found here:
On to the Article
In his article, Tim quotes three passages that Protestants normally use to support the “Faith Alone” doctrine:
Romans 3:28 – “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.”
Romans 4:5 – “And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteous.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.”
And then he says:
“On the surface, these texts may sound problematic, but once we examine their respective contexts, the problems go away rather quickly.”
No, sorry Tim, but the problems (for the Catholic) don’t just “go away.” In fact, with these verses, the problems for the “faith plus works” doctrine are here to stay. And yes, we absolutely agree that you should study the context; in fact, we insist! Context is the key to understanding this issue.
The First Passage – Romans 3:28
Ok, so Tim first tackles the context of Romans 3:28 and says:
“St. Paul had already made very clear in Romans 2:6-7 that good works are necessary for eternal life, at least in one sense. “For [God] will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life…”
But notice that Tim actually jumps out of the context of Romans 3:28 here when he refers to Romans 2:6-7. For starters, we must recognize that the context of Romans chapter 1 is about the guilt and sinfulness of the Gentiles, since they do not follow the dictates of their consciences, nor the laws that they know are right. The context of Romans chapter 2 (including v. 6-7 that Tim used) is about how even the Jews stand guilty and condemned because, although the Law was given to them, they did not keep the Law either; thus indicating a universal condemnation of man, where NONE have been able to keep the Law as he should. But starting at about Romans 3:19, the context changes, and Paul begins to give the solution, the antidote, to man’s sin problem. In this new context, Paul relates how a man is justified, or made right with God, and explains again and again, that this happens through faith and it is apart from the merit of any work other than that of Jesus Christ on the cross. And this continues through to the beginning of chapter 5. It is a new context, different than that of 2:6-7. Just because 2:6-7 happens to be nearby doesn’t mean that it is part of the same context. So, appealing to the context of Romans 3:28 does not help Tim Staples’ argument at all; in fact, it backfires on him.
The Second Passage – Romans 4:5
Farther down, Tim addresses Romans 4:5. He doesn’t get very far into the context, but admits that this passage is in the same context as the previous one (Romans 3:28). In this case, he is absolutely right, but this doesn’t help him at all, since the context works against his argument, as we demonstrated just above.
The Third Passage – Ephesians 2:8-9
And toward the end of the article, Tim tells us that the context of Ephesians 2:8-9 is talking about the “initial grace of salvation or justification,” which is “entirely and absolutely unmerited.”
We agree that it is speaking of justification and we agree that it is “entirely and absolutely unmerited.” What we don’t agree with is the Catholic belief that after this “initial” response, that one can then start meriting his salvation with works! We see Tim expressing this idea when he says:
“St. Paul is in no way eliminating works in any sense, to be necessary for salvation; he is simply pointing out what the Catholic Church has taught for 2,000 years: there is nothing anyone can do before they enter into Christ that can justify them. But once a person enters into Christ… it’s a whole new ballgame (see Phil. 4:13; Rom. 2:6-7; Gal. 6:7-9, etc.).”
First of all, none of the contexts of these verses he gives here at the end of this quote are about how to be justified. So, these passages don’t help him. Secondly, it is true that there is nothing (no works) one can do before he enters into Christ to be justified, but there is also nothing one can do to contribute to his salvation / justification AFTER he enters into Christ. There is no “whole new ballgame” with works that now save. From beginning to end, it is faith in Jesus’ work alone. Ironically, Tim even quoted the verse that totally disproves his argument:
“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh…” (Galatians 3:2-3)
According to this verse, it is clear that there is no point in the Christian life that works will save.
In other words, Paul is telling the Galatians that they entered into Christ by faith apart from works; and that is exactly how they will CONTINUE in, and keep, their salvation. They entered in through faith and they walk by faith. Good works will certainly be there in the true Christian’s life, but if good works are ever done with the intent to achieve salvation through them, this is walking “in the flesh.” (Galatians 3:3) Tim is missing what this verse is actually saying, and guilty of the proverbial “missing the forest for the trees.”
The Ultimate Justification Passage
It certainly seems that Catholics will always try to downplay Romans 3-5 when discussing justification, but we’re glad that Tim mentions Romans 3 in his article. It is important because Romans chapter 3 through 5 is the longest continuous passage in all of Scripture that specifically deals with the doctrine of justification, or how a man is made right with God. And over and over in this passage, Paul makes it obvious and presses the point that our salvation is apart from works. This is the go-to passage for justification. All other passages that mention justification or salvation revolve around this one. To try and say otherwise is to turn this passage on its head. One cannot use verses that simply mention justification, in passing, to override this main, clear, and dominant passage.
By the way, Catholics will often say that this passage is only dealing with works of the Mosaic Law. But if this is true, then why is Abraham even mentioned in this context (Romans 4:1-3)? Moses didn’t come along until about 430 years after Abraham (Galatians 3:16-17). Until then, there was no Mosaic Law. No, in the context of Romans 3-5, Paul was addressing the inadequacy of the works of those before the Mosaic Law (e.g., Abraham – Romans 4:1-3), those during the Mosaic Law (e.g., David – Romans 4:6), and those who came after the Mosaic Law (e.g., the Christians to whom he is writing the epistle of Romans). So, Paul was dealing with any and all works. None of them save.
And of course, like any good Catholic, Tim mentions James 2:24:
“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
But by this time, Tim seems to have forgotten his emphasis on context, since he ignores the context in James 2 in order to promote his works-based salvation. As we’ve said many times, the context in James 2 is NOT “How is a man made right with God?” but rather, “How do we really know that one is a Christian?” It is about the demonstration of one’s true faith by his works. It is not faith apart from the presence of works, but faith apart from the merit of works.
One more insurmountable problem for those who believe in a works-based salvation is the fact that if works do determine a person’s salvation, then he would have to do those works and the whole Law perfectly in order to be saved (Galatians 3:10-11; 5:3; James 2:10). But that’s just not possible (Acts 15:10).
As stated earlier, Tim mentions Romans 2:6-7, and tries to imply here that Paul is speaking of a salvation by works. But the apostle Paul is simply referring to the Judgment scene. In biblical Judgment scenes (for example, Matthew 7:21-23; 16:24-27; 25:31-46; Romans 2:5-10; 2 Corinthians 5:10, etc.) these scenes are speaking in general concerning those judged. They are not specifically giving a list of things that would have caused a person to be saved. Again, these scenarios are DE-scriptive, not PRE-scriptive – they are describing the type of people who are saved. They are not prescribing a list of works for salvation.
Yes, in the Judgment, God will give to every Christian according to his works. But if salvation is by faith, then why is he judged according to his works? Because his works are the demonstration and proof to everyone of the state of his soul. No one will be able to say, “But God, I really DID have faith! Why are you sending me to Hell?” Because the person’s works will be the proof; his works are the evidence of what was already in his heart. So, in the Judgment, the saved will be proven and exposed as true believers by their works, but they will not be saved by them. The Judgment scene is never used as a “how to get saved” guide in Scripture.
In the article, Tim also mentioned the “Judaizer” heresy and says:
“Those attached to this sect taught belief in Christ and obedience to the New Covenant was not enough to be saved. One had to keep the Law of Moses, especially circumcision, in order to merit heaven.”
Yes, this was the basic belief of the Judaizers, but Paul’s anger toward the Judaizer heresy was not just because they were accepting Old Testament laws that were “passed away,” but because they were adding to the finished work of his Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross by accepting this “faith plus works” concept! In essence, they were minimizing Christ’s suffering and work on the cross and saying that it was “just not enough”! They must add something. This is what provoked Paul to call this heresy “another gospel” and say that those preaching it were accursed (Galatians 1:8-9)!
Amazingly, Tim alludes to this same idea when he later says:
“When the ‘Judaizers’ were insisting a return to the Old Covenant was necessary for salvation, they were, in essence, saying Christ and the New Covenant are not enough. And in so doing, they were ipso facto rejecting Jesus Christ and the New Covenant.”
Tim doesn’t realize that he is guilty of the same error as the Judaizers! This is the “forest” that he cannot see staring him in the face! The error of the Judaizers (and many today) is that they are guilty of adding ANY kind of work to the cross! See this article on the Judaizers:
What About Works of the New Law?
Tim thinks that works done “in Christ,” or under the “new law,” can save, but works done “in Christ” are still… works… whether done “under grace” or not. We should indeed strive to do good works with the right attitude, but the Bible never says that works mixed with the right attitude can save.
The apostle Paul, who also wrote the epistle to Titus, tells us that salvation is “Not by works of righteousness which we have done…” (Titus 3:5). Let us ask some questions: Is baptism a work of righteousness? Indeed it is. Is helping your neighbor a work of righteouness? Giving to the poor? Abstaining from greed, theft or sexual sin? Following the Ten Commandments? Absolutely. These are all works of righteousness, but Titus 3:5 says these are NOT how we are saved. And this lines up perfectly with Romans 3-5.
To prove the point, let’s look at Abraham. Romans 4:9-11 clearly says that Abraham’s circumcision did NOT save or justify him. But why? Does anyone doubt that Abraham did his circumcision with the right attitude? Was not his circumcision also a God-ordained work of obedience? Of course it was. Then why did his circumcision, his work of godly obedience, NOT save him? Simply because it was a WORK, and Paul’s whole emphasis in Romans 3-5 is salvation by faith, apart from works. Again, even works of righteousness cannot save, as we just saw in Titus 3:5.
We want to make it absolutely clear that “Faith Alone” does not mean that Christians can or should avoid good works, since we are called to do them (Ephesians 2:10). But we do them because we are already saved, and because we want to please God – we never do them to gain justification / salvation. They will not bring us to Heaven, but they will bring us rewards once we are in Heaven.
In the Catholic view of salvation, there is room for boasting, but God will not allow it (Romans 3:27; 4:2; Ephesians 2:8-9). That’s why the “faith plus works” doctrine is dangerous – it allows for pride. It allows for one’s works to somehow contribute to his salvation. It says, “Lord, You did Your 99%, and I did my 1%. I earned my way (at least partially) through my works.” But this is blasphemy.
The “Faith Alone” doctrine strips man of his own accomplishments and will not allow him to boast in his righteous works. It demands that he surrender to God and come to Him with empty hands. It tells the Savior, “You, Lord, are the only one who gets credit for my salvation!”
So, we see in several places in his article that Tim actually walks directly over, stumbles upon, and crashes into, verses (and their contexts) that scream “Faith Alone” (i.e., salvation by faith apart from works). But he just doesn’t see the forest for the trees. But you see, Tim is a faithful Catholic, and “Mother Church” will not allow him to recognize the truths with which he is colliding.