October 23, 2015

Semper Reformanda: Christ Will Do Everything, or He Will Do Nothing

by Mike Riccardi

Semper ReformandaReformation Day is fast upon us. Next Saturday will be the 498th anniversary of Martin Luther famously nailing his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, and kick-starting the Protestant Reformation as a result. Because of that, there will likely be many posts in the Christian blogosphere celebrating the recovery of the biblical Gospel from the perversions of Roman Catholic theology. And because of that, there will likely be many Romanist sympathizers who chide us Protestants as divisive, overly-narrow, unity-destroying, and judgmental. They’ll say something like this (a comment we’ve received before at The Cripplegate):

This is what drives me nutty about Christianity. We all believe in the Bible, Jesus Christ, the road to salvation and the Resurrection. Do I believe exactly as you do? I’m sure I don’t, but I don’t believe you’re any less Christian than I am. We need to understand that there’s more that unites us than divides us.

The problem, of course, is that Protestants and Catholics don’t all believe the same things about the most foundational aspects of the Christian Gospel. That means that we’re not just other Christians from another “denomination.” When two people disagree on issues as fundamental as the basis and instrument of salvation (i.e., Christ’s righteousness alone imputed through faith alone, versus Christ’s righteousness imparted through faith and our works) and whether good works are part of the ground of our righteousness or merely the evidence——one of them is a Christian and the other isn’t.

We see that proven plainly by the way the Apostle Paul spoke about the Judaizers. The Judaizers were professing Christians who “began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1). In other words, they taught that the righteousness of Christ received by faith alone is not enough to secure your salvation. To be sure, you need to have faith in Jesus; they wouldn’t deny faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. They would just say it was insufficient; instead, you must “complete” your justification by performing certain good deeds. In other words, the Judaizers sought to add personal works of righteousness to the ground of their justification. They were the first-century counterpart to the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches, “If anyone says that the [justification] received is not preserved and . . . increased before God through good works but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 24). For the Judaizers, those works were circumcision and the other Mosaic ceremonies. For the Catholics, those works are baptism, participation in the Eucharist, and the other sacraments.

Severed from Christ

But notice how Paul speaks of these teachers in the New Testament. He does not count them to be merely “separated brethren” in Christ. The churches of Galatia hadn’t even become propagators of this doctrine yet; Paul wrote to them while they were simply being tempted to believe in it. And even then Paul writes to them and says, “I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Gal 4:11). That is to say, he fears they may not have ever been truly saved (cf. 1 John 2:19).

He goes on to say that if they receive circumcision—that is, if they allow even the smallest of religious rituals to become part of the ground of their confidence for salvation—“Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Gal 5:2). Notice, he does not say, “Christ will be of some benefit to you, just not as much as otherwise. You’ll differ a little doctrinally, but we can still rejoice in our unity.” No. Paul says that everyone who receives circumcision as a ground of their righteousness is obligated to keep the whole law (Gal 5:3). In other words, if you want your righteousness to be based even partly on works, you’re under obligation to earn the whole thing by works (cf. Jas 2:10). And in that case, since you would then be seeking to be justified by law, it would be right to speak of you as “severed from Christ, . . . fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4). You would be one of those whom the Apostle John said “went out from us, but . . . were not really of us” (1 John 2:19).

Finally, Paul speaks about those who preach such a soul-destroying false-gospel. His conclusion regarding such a teacher is: “he will bear his judgment” (Gal 5:10). Again, this is not merely an estranged brother. He is not one of Christ’s sheep, just from another fold. He will bear his judgment. He will face the condemnation of Almighty God that no true believer can ever face (cf. Rom 8:1).

Beware the Dogs

Moving from Galatia to Philippi, Paul warns with the greatest severity the Philippians who were vulnerable to this teaching. He does not say, “My Philippians, do be careful of our dear misguided brethren.” No, he says, “Beware of the dogs! Beware of the evil workers! Beware of the mutilators of the flesh!” (Phil 3:2). Paul wasn’t exactly helping the advance of ecumenical dialog, was he?

Beware of DogsThey are dogs. And the Jews especially hated dogs. Because they were willing to eat anything, including garbage and even their own vomit, dogs were regarded as ceremonially unclean animals (cf. Matt 7:6; Luke 16:21; Rev 22:15). In biting irony, Paul uses the very term that the Judaizers would have flung at Christians who didn’t submit to the Mosaic Law—the very derogatory term that signified viciousness, uncleanness, and impurity—and uses it of them!

They are evil workers. In many instances in the New Testament, “workers” refers to servants of Christ who share in the Christian ministry (Rom 16:3; Phil 4:3; Phm 1:24). And the Judaizers were workers all right. Like the Pharisees, they traveled around on sea and land to make a proselyte (Matt 23:15). But when they made one, they’d make him twice as much a son of hell as themselves, because their doctrine of human achievement undermined the Gospel of the sufficient work of Christ and the free grace of God. They were workers, but they were evil workers. Perhaps even with good intentions, in seeking to help the Church, they do nothing but ruin and destroy it, because they draw attention away from Christ and the sufficiency of His accomplished redemption, and give His glory to a law that was never able to impart life (cf. Gal 3:21)—to man and his own dignity and willpower. And so all of their labors, are evil labors.

And that goes just the same for the Roman Catholic who would persuade you to trust even partly in your own merit for justification before God. It doesn’t matter how much of a practical benefit they might be. They may feed the hungry, they may shelter the homeless, they may care for the orphans, they may preserve the environment, and they may devote their entire lives to making this world a better place. But if they trust in their good works to satisfy the wrath of God against them—and if they teach others to rest on their own moral achievements to admit them into the presence of a holy God—they are evil workers. Because they dull men’s senses to their need for divine grace, and lead them to believe that they can be their own savior, when they can do no such thing.

Not only are they dogs. Not only are they evil workers. With the most serrated sarcasm, Paul calls them “the mutilation.” This is just an amazing play on words. The Greek word for “circumcision” is peritome, and the word for “mutilation” is katatome (the word used here). In effect, Paul is saying, “These false teachers think they are of the party of the circumcision. But because they undermine the grace of God in the Gospel by mingling human works with Christ’s righteousness, their sacramentalism is nothing more than katatome—than ritual pagan mutilation. They call themselves the circumcision. They’re no better than pagans.”

Because the Judaizers trusted in their circumcision and added that work to the work of Christ in the Gospel, that which would have been the surest sign they were God’s people became the surest sign that they were cut off from Him. “But Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. . . . For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 9:30–10:4).

Five Solas 4

“Be More Like Jesus!”

How many professing Christians would take Paul to task over his language. “Paul, good grief! Dogs? Evil workers? Mutilators? Take it easy! These people believe in the inerrancy of Scripture! Old and New Testaments! They believe in Christ, that He was God and man, that He was sinless, that He died for sins and rose from the grave, and that salvation is to be found in no other name! Now sure, they may have some doctrinal issues, but how can you be so divisive over such a minor point of doctrine?! Paul, we need to be more like the Lord Jesus!”

And in fact, that’s exactly what Paul was doing. He was following in the footsteps of His Lord, who called these legalists ravenous wolves (Matt 7:15), whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness (Matt 23:27), and blind guides of the blind (Matt 15:14). Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, called those who would lay upon men’s shoulders the burden of contributing even in part to their own justification “sons of hell” (Matt 23:15).

Christ Will Do Everything, or He Will Do Nothing

Why would our Lord speak so severely? Because the gospel of “Christ-plus”—the gospel of faith in Christ mingled with human effort and human merit—is a soul-destroying doctrine of demons (1 Tim 4:1). Like Paul’s disagreement with the Judaizers, the disagreement between Protestants and Catholics is not some minor doctrinal quibble; it is the difference between heaven and hell. Dear friends, ours is a Gospel-driven protest. We speak so severely because the very Gospel is at stake.

J. Gresham Machen said,

“It [is] the difference between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. . . . Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all” (Christianity and Liberalism, 21).

Christ will do everything, or He will do nothing. Why? Because if salvation “is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom 11:6). To introduce works as any part of the ground of our righteousness is to corrupt the Gospel of grace, which is the only Gospel that saves.

Repent and Trust in Christ Alone

Nothing LessSo, while I understand that we’re not saved merely by confessing the doctrine of sola fide, we are saved by trusting in Christ alone for righteousness. And that is incompatible with outright denying sola fide and insisting that salvation is grounded at least partly by works, as Rome does. Insisting that the Reformation is not over is not Catholic-bashing. It is simply seeking a biblical view of the divide between us, so that we might be properly informed about the necessity of taking the Gospel to our Roman Catholic friends and family. If we are wrongfully lulled into the notion that Catholics are merely misguided but nevertheless true Christians, then our focus will shift from our necessary mission, which is a full-scale rescue from the sin that still holds them in bondage.

I ask you: Can we regard these things so lightly when it is so plain that the Apostle Paul took them so seriously? Can we relegate the difference between (a) good works as the evidence of salvation and (b) good works as the ground of salvation to a petty doctrinal quibble among people who are overly-narrow and academic, when the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could write so severely? Friends: words, ideas, and doctrines are the difference between an eternity in heaven—with fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at the right hand of God (Ps 16:11)—and an eternity in hell, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thess 1:9).

If you’re reading this and you’re not absolutely sure which eternity you’re headed for, I want to you to be sure today. And so I would point you away from yourself and the filthy rags of your own righteousness (cf. Isa 64:6). Put the filth of your own good works away. Turn to a perfectly sufficient Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who accomplished all the good works necessary for your acceptance with the Father, who counts you to be righteous—just as if you had lived the perfect sinless life of Jesus—when you trust in His righteousness and His righteousness alone for salvation. Turn from the sinking sand and perennial uncertainty of your own moral accomplishments, and set your feet upon the rock of the perfect righteousness of Christ that is yours through faith alone.

Christ will do everything, or He will do nothing. Your only hope is to throw yourself at His mercy and trust Him for all.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Rachel

    Great post. I have recieved almost identical remarks from Catholics. I’m looking fwrd to all the articles and sermons to be preached as we approach RefDay!

  • kevin2184

    Thank you, Mike, for writing this. I “liked” it on my facebook page and pray that my Catholic family and friends will read it.

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  • “And that goes just the same for the Roman Catholic who would persuade you to trust even partly in your own merit for justification before God. It doesn’t matter how much of a practical benefit they might be. They may feed the hungry, they may shelter the homeless, they may care for the orphans, they may preserve the environment, and they may devote their entire lives to making this world a better place. But if they trust in their good works to satisfy the wrath of God against them—and if they teach others to rest on their own moral achievements to admit them into the presence of a holy God—they are evil workers.”

    Well then it’s a good thing that no Catholic does the above. The author would know that he he read fully Trent cannons on justification instead of assuming what we teach.

    • Did you read the quote from Trent that I included at the outset of this post, Matthew?

      “If anyone says that the [justification] received is not preserved and . . . increased before God through good works but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 24).

      If someone teaches that you must “preserve and increase” your justification through good works, and that those good works are not merely the evidence of your justification but are really the cause of the increase of it, then that person teaches you to trust at least partly in your own merit for justification before God. I get that Roman Catholic teachers rarely come out and say it so bluntly. But if you connect the dots, that is in fact what they teach.

      • According to your interpretation Jesus himself is heretic. How do you deal with Matthew 16 when Jesus talked to rich young man? Telling him specifically to do something.

        Canon 24 states a very biblical reality Romans 2:6-8

        • In Matthew 16, the very error that the rich, young ruler has made is that he trusts in his commandment-keeping to get him to heaven. Jesus holds up the perfect standard of the law in order to demonstrate that, in reality, he has failed to uphold the standard that he believes he has kept. After all, if one keeps the whole law, yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (Jas 2:10).

          In Romans 2:6-8, Paul is doing the very same thing to the self-righteous Jew who believes that his lawkeeping will admit him into God’s presence. He’s demonstrating that they who judge pagans for failing to keep the law do themselves violate the law (cf. 2:1-3, 22-23).

          The judgment that will be rendered according to works is a judgment that sees works as the fruit or evidence of true faith. Similar to what Jesus says in Matthew 25. The doing of good works is the evidence of a true, living, saving faith by which we are counted righteous. Those works are not the ground of our righteousness.

          • Your interpretation of Rom 2:6-8 completely does not mach the text itself.

            God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

            How do you get your interpretation out of that????

      • Plus you ignore the fact that the church teaches that any “work” we do while we are in a state of Grace is actually God working through us. We add nothing to the work of God.

        • If we ourselves perform the works that we trust in for our righteousness, even if we say that God is the source, that means the righteousness we trust in is still, at least partly, ours. Yet the Scriptures teach us to trust entirely in the alien righteousness of Christ. Paul does not want a righteousness of his own, derived from the law, but that righteousness which comes through faith in Christ (Phil 3:9). See this post for more on that.

          Besides this, the Pharisee of Luke 18 trusted in the works that he acknowledges God has worked through him. He says, “God, I thank You that I am not a swindler, or an unjust man, or an adulterer” (Luke 18:11). He believes that his good works have been accomplished by the grace of God working through him, otherwise he wouldn’t have thanked God for them! Yet the Scripture says that such a man trusted in himself that he was righteous (Luke 18:9), and that this man did not go to his house justified (Luke 18:14). See this post for more on that.

          • Thank you for your reply. Once I’m home I’ll be able to interact with it more fully. However you again assume that Catholics trust in themselves apart from Christ. That’s not a Catholic teaching.

          • No, I don’t assume that. My argument is that Catholics trust in themselves in addition to Christ, not apart from Christ. No one could be so foolish as to claim that the Roman Catholic church teaches, “Don’t trust Christ; trust yourself!” But the Scriptures call us to trust Christ alone, and, as I demonstrated in my previous reply, Trent teaches that we must trust our own works in addition to what Christ has accomplished.

            The Judaizers taught the same. No Judaizer tempted the early church to not believe in Jesus. No local church would have given them the time of day if that was their teaching. No, they taught, “You must trust Jesus, of course! But in addition to trusting Jesus, you must also be circumcised and keep the ceremonies of the Mosaic Covenant.

            The Judaizers were teaching what Catholics teach: that the righteousness of Christ received by faith alone is not enough to secure your salvation. Again, to be sure, they wouldn’t deny faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. They would just say it was insufficient — that you must “complete” your justification by performing certain good deeds. Personal works of righteousness contribute, in part, to the ground of justification. And the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, still spoke of them as he did: as severed from Christ, under obligation to keep the whole law, ones for whom Christ will be no benefit, dogs, evil workers, and no better than pagan mutilators of the flesh.

            Your church, Matthew, which is not the Church of Jesus Christ, teaches the very same thing as the Judaizers did; you just commend different works and ceremonies. And therefore, the Holy Spirit’s evaluation of Romanist teaching is the same as it was of the Judaizers’. You are mutilators, not of the flesh, but of the souls of men whom you deceive by a close counterfeit of the truth. You need to repent of that, of conceiving of God as less holy than He is, of conceiving yourself as more righteous than you are, you need to repudiate all confidence in your works, and trust entirely upon Christ alone for your righteousness for salvation. For His righteousness — unmixed with our own filthy rags — is the only righteousness that will avail in the courtroom of heaven. Turn to the true Christ and live.

          • You are still misrepresenting Catholic teaching.

            Canon 1.
            If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law,[110] without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.

            Chapter VIII on Justification: “[N]one of those things which precede justification —whether faith or works —merit the grace itself of justification. For if it be a grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.”

            You are consistently ignoring facts and yelling at a straw man that doesn’t exist.

            We are saved by grace ALONE through Christ ALONE by faith working through love as St Paul says. There is no saving faith without charity.
            The Holy Spirit did not make a mistake when he inspired Paul and James. He inspired James to write we are not saved by faith alone. Faith without works is dead. Works without faith are dead. Only faith working through love saves.

          • You are still misrepresenting Catholic teaching. . . . You are consistently ignoring facts and yelling at a straw man that doesn’t exist.

            No sir, I am not. It is you who continue to misrepresent me, insisting that I am saying something that I have repeatedly said I am not saying, and failing to adequately capture what I am saying. It is you who is consistently ignoring facts and yelling at a straw man that doesn’t exist, and I trust that’s plain to those reading without bias. If you continue in this manner, I’m going to delete your comments and stop responding.

            If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law,[110] without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.

            I have never accused the RCC of teaching that man can be justified before God by his own works done by his natural powers or through the teaching of the law. My point is that the RCC does teach that man can be justified before God by his own works as aided by divine grace through Jesus Christ. This teaching destroys the Gospel of grace, as I mentioned above. Be sure to read the post that I linked to on the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. This answers your objection.

            “[N]one of those things which precede justification —whether faith or works —merit the grace itself of justification. For if it be a grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.”

            This says, “things which precede justification.” But canon 24 — again, as I quoted above, which you seem to want to ignore — says that after initial justification, we are to “preserve and increase” our justification on the ground of our good works. Again, this undermines the very verse that this canon claims to uphold, Romans 11:6.

            We are saved by grace ALONE through Christ ALONE by faith working through love as St Paul says.

            No, that is not what he says. He says, “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:28). Gal 5:6 is speaking of the one who has already been counted righteous through faith alone; Paul is saying that true saving faith works itself out in acts of love. But those works of love are the evidence of saving righteousness, not the cause or the ground of it or its increase.

            There is no saving faith without charity.

            Of course not. But there’s a difference between saying that (a) we receive the righteousness of Christ through faith alone, which faith then evidences itself in good works; and (b) we receive the righteousness of God through faith plus our works, and are thus declared righteous on that twofold basis. The former is the Gospel of Christ. The latter is the false gospel of Roman Catholicism.

            The Holy Spirit did not make a mistake when he inspired Paul and James. He inspired James to write we are not saved by faith alone.

            It’s amazing that you continue to trot out this oft-refuted argument.

            James 2:24 uses the root word dikaioo, which is often translated “justified.” But another sense of the term is “vindicated.” See 1 Timothy 3:16 (or was Christ in need of justification because of His sin?). James is speaking about the good works that are evidence of saving faith. Abraham’s faith (which was credited to him as righteousness, apart from anything he had done; cf. Rom 4:3-6) was vindicated by his works; his works showed his faith was real. But the cause for God’s declaration of Abraham as righteous was the imputation of that righteousness through faith alone before he did works by which he was vindicated (again, see Romans 4:3-6 and the rest of the chapter). The good works that James speaks about are not the ground of our justification, but are the necessary evidence of our justification. James is speaking about the reality that while we’re saved by faith alone, we are not saved by faith that is alone, for that is not true faith. True faith is vindicated by its works. But those works are the evidence and result of our justification, not the ground of our justification.

            For Scripture to say that we are saved by faith, not of ourselves, and not by works (Eph 2:8-9), apart from works (Rom 3:28), and not on the basis of works otherwise grace is no longer grace (Rom 11:6), and by faith so that it may be in accordance with grace (Rom 4:16), and that righteousness is not inherent but comes from God by faith (Phil 3:9) — all of that doesn’t leave room for any other conclusion than that we are justified by faith alone.

            So yes, I agree that “faith without works is dead,” and that “works without faith are dead.” But you err when you say, “Only faith working through love saves.” No, only Christ’s work saves. Only His righteousness saves. And His righteousness is received through faith alone.

          • Is removing my comments going to be a normal thing with you when you can’t answer my objections?

          • I’ve answered every single one of your objections. But I’m not going to be goaded into going around in circles with someone who has no desire to understand, and who continues to misrepresent both what I have and have not said.

          • “My point is that the RCC does teach that man can be justified before God by his own works as aided by divine grace through Jesus Christ. This teaching destroys the Gospel of grace, as I mentioned above.”

            I don’t know how much clearer can one be. This is NOT what the Church teaches.

            As Augustine says:

            What merit of man is there before grace by which he can achieve grace, as only grace works every one of our good merits in us, and as God, when He crowns our merits, crowns nothing else but His own gifts

            We are saved by GRACE ALONE. < Catholic teaching. Plain and simple.

            I am not here to argue in circles either, or to convince you of the Catholic teaching. We are both are set in our traditions. I just would like for you to stop misrepresenting the Catholic Church teaching. Don't assume you understand what we teach.

            We disagree on so many other things why invent new untrue things.

          • Manny Reyes

            Hi Matthew!

            I think you would be able to get a good grasp of Mike’s point by understanding the first point of the Reformation’s TULIP. They call it Total Inability, righteous incapability, radical corruption, total depravity, or moral inability.

            Having clear thought on this matter and subjecting yourself to the teachings of the Scripture with regards to this fundamental doctrine (about the true nature of man), by God’s grace through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, there is a good chance that you would get enlightened on what the reformed Christians are trying to point out all along. I hope that you would check it out.

            May God bless you Mat!

          • Karl Heitman

            Amen, and amen, brother! After my nearly year-long study of Galatians, I am more convinced than ever that Roman Catholicism is nothing more or less that first century Judaism.

  • Adam

    To anyone who contends that good works contribute to our justification, my question would be: Just how exactly does this work? What are the mechanics of this type of logic? If the blood of Christ cleanses sin and provides forgiveness and redemption from sin – Ephesians 1:7 – how can good works provide anything more? In other words, I can point to the cross and say, “See! Look at what Christ has done FOR ME. I am forgiven and redeemed without question by His sacrifice.” How then can we employ the same logic to good works? Where do the Scriptures tell us that we are forgiven and redeemed because WE have done something IN CONJUNCTION with the work of Christ? The answer is of course – nowhere! Yet I can conclusively show where they do point SOLELY to the work of Christ. The challenge is: WHERE IS THERE A DIFICIENCY IN THE REDEMPTIVE WORK OF CHRIST? If there is no deficiency, then our redemption is complete in Him alone. For anyone to argue that we somehow add to the work of Christ or that “it is God’s grace working through us,” is to employ a faulty logic because it inherently implies some form of lack or shortcoming in Christ’s atoning work. Why would God “work through us” if we have been provided the means for our forgiveness and redemption in the sacrifice of Christ? How do our good works work in cooperation with this? What is it in good works that provides some form of redemptive merit? If the argument is that they provide none, then the conclusion must be that the work of Christ is sufficient alone to redeem. If the argument is that they provide a means for God to work His grace through us, then that naturally raises the following questions: 1) Why is the sacrifice of Christ insufficient? 2) If the sacrifice of Christ is insufficient, then why not spare Jesus the agony of the cross altogether and let man have full and sovereign control over his redemption?
    Regardless, what we cannot do is employ a logic that says there is no deficiency in the redemptive work of Christ yet God still works His grace through us via good works in order to complete or add to our redemption.

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  • tovlogos

    Mike, this essay is a standard on the subject.

  • Great post. This is a great read for everyone. Thanks for your ministry!

  • I removed a number of comments, and since they revolved a lot around my comment policy, I figured I’d explain why.

    In general, I remove comments for two reasons: (1) the comment doesn’t substantially advance the discussion; (2) the comment was off topic, and so by definition doesn’t advance the discussion. The comments I just removed fit into category #2.

    “Not substantially advancing the discussion” can include a number of things. Rants, tirades, and insults fit into this category. But repeating oneself, or raising the same objection after it has been answered, is also not advancing the discussion. We’re all commanded not to give what is holy to dogs, or throw pearls to swine (Matt 7:6). We’re commanded not to answer a fool according to his folly lest we be like him (Prov 26:4). Yet we are also commanded to answer a fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes (Prov 26:5). When answers are given so as to labor against a fool becoming wise in his own eyes, but that fool “takes no delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind” (Prov 18:2), I feel absolutely no obligation to allow a comment thread to be a platform for error or evil behavior.

    On-topic comments of substance that advance the discussion of the original post are, and have always been, heartily welcome, as I believe is quite plain. But if you’re off-topic, or failing to advance the discussion in any helpful way (e.g., by repeating refuted objections), your comment may not be posted. If you have problems with that comment policy, let your waiter know and we’ll be sure to get you a full refund.

  • Dwight

    Mike, I was fascinated by the interchange between you and Matthew over the words each of you uses to describe your doctrine. I’m completely aligned with your doctrine, but I am somewhat concerned about all the “wrangling over words” as Paul talks about in 2 Timothy. Certainly it’s important to express our doctrine correctly, but I think many Protestants and Evangelicals may be just as guilty in our hearts as a Roman Catholic. But in Protestantism, we call it legalism. We allow some groups of believers to pile on required works to “prove” one is saved or to “merit” fellowship, but we don’t relegate them to the “unbeliever pool” because of it, as we so quickly do with Roman Catholics. We simply call them legalists and warn against their doctrine, but we still allow them to be considered true believers.

    The central, pragmatic and overarching issue is not how we express in words what our doctrine is, but rather how we live in our hearts. Until we’ve completely understood and been brought to our knees and the end of our means by the realization that we are utterly depraved and “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV), until we realize that we can never in any way please God outside of Jesus Christ before or after our salvation, we’ll never get that Biblical doctrine past our head and words. But when we do come to that full realization of our utter helplessness and depravity (even now as believers), then we can fully understand how “the righteous shall [must?] live by faith”. And that living by faith happens throughout our entire lifetime, not just at the moment of salvation, but every moment thereafter – ONLY by faith. Why? So that God will get ALL the glory, forever.

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