Our Reasonable Faith 12 (RJS)

If the problem is Sin — and Sin is failure to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength — what is the solution?
The last four chapters of Tim Kellers’ The Reason for Goddeal with Christian doctrines – the solution – in the general sense of the term, from a protestant perspective. In Chapter 12 the issue is Religion versus Gospel but first he must define his terms.
According to Keller, Religion is salvation through moral effort while the Gospel is salvation through the grace of God. Don’t clobber me over his terms – we could just as well say that there are two conceivable solutions – (A) We do it or (B) God did it.
In (A) Jesus came as teacher with a message – do this and you will be saved. This is also the message of most (every) other major religion – Do this and you will find the divine. Do this and you will enter the kingdom of God.
In (B) Jesus came essentially as savior (although he was also teacher). Jesus says: “I am the divine come to you, to do what you could not do for yourselves.” (p. 185)
The Gospel (B) is that God through Jesus did for us what we could not and cannot do for ourselves so that we can rest in that assurance of reunion with God and participate in bringing about the Kingdom of God – the community of the people of God. Here and now – continuing forever. (Ok – not Keller’s exact expression, rather mine – but Keller has the same sense, more or less).
The Gospel is scary – if we are saved by our good works there are limits to what God can expect of us; if we are saved by grace there is nothing he cannot ask of us. Following Jesus — accepting the Gospel — is total surrender.
Keller illustrates his points in this chapter by reference to fiction – Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ; Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood; and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
In Keller’s view Religion (A) – even Christian Religion – is no better than irreligion as it does not, cannot, address the problem.
So — Does this tally with your understanding of the Gospel? How would you describe the Gospel?

  • http://www.graysonsinfrance.net Rob G

    I think my understanding of the gospel is quite close to Keller’s – grace and grace alone. The fact that we are saved by grace compels us to invest our own effort to spread the kingdom by acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. We don’t do it to earn salvation; we do it because we’re saved by grace.

  • Scott

    It’s very clear, from most Second Temple Jews,including Jesus and Paul, that grace and works both play a part in salvation. One is “saved” in the present by grace through faith but the final judgement is by works. What holds this calculus together is the Spirit,by which we actualize what we’ve been given by grace (Romans 8).
    If those in the Reformation have an issue with this it’s because of the distortion of reading the NT, including Paul, through the lens of the dogmatic schema of Reformation theology.Evidently, it didn’t pose a problem to Jesus, Paul or most their contemporaries.

  • Scott M

    Here is where the 16th century Reformation cultural lens gets seriously out of whack with both first century (and present-day for that matter) Jewish and pagan realities as well as that which the text we have actually says. I’m not sure where to even start, but let’s go ahead and start with “gospel”. Here, Wright and others are precisely right. The euvangelion proclamation has relatively little to directly say about how one is “justified” or “saved”. It is the announcement that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen, is the Jewish Messiah and the Lord of all. It is “good news” because he brings shalom, salvation, freedom, liberation from death and the powers, and all the rest. But that’s the gospel.
    Second, and at least as important, this distinction between “religion” and “gospel” (as a particularly protestant mechanism of “salvation”) is largely an exercising in redefining both words into things they are not. The key distinction between Christianity and other religions is not how you are saved, whether on your own merit or not. The central distinction between Christianity and other religions lies in what “salvation” actually means, in what it means to be a human being. The Christian framework in general and the Protestant one especially don’t fit on other religions at all.
    That distinction also perpetuates a profound 16th century Protestant misunderstanding of what it meant to be Jewish. Our text, written by Jews, cannot be read in such a way that it is reduced to Jews trying to be individually saved by good deeds and Christians relying on some truncated idea of “grace” as nothing more than unmerited favor. Jews don’t keep Torah (if they do) in order to become the people of God and earn God’s favor. By and large, they keep Torah because they are the rescued people of God. Of course, saying anything in a few sentences is really a caricature, but the point is that this reading and dichotomy is established on something that does not and has never aligned with reality.
    Finally, there is no tradition that I know anything about within Christianity which claims that we achieve salvation on our own merit. I’m familiar with the historical context for this dispute. And certainly the Roman Catholic Church was in a bad place at the time. I’m not sure I see any instances where the Reformers actually improved things, but that’s a different discussion. In its actual teaching and intended practice, no Christian tradition teaches that are saved by any means but through the grace of God in Jesus the Christ. The problem, of course, in present day Christianity is that its not clear that different schisms actually mean the same thing by “salvation”. It’s probably not as huge a difference as that between Christianity and pagan religions, but some of the gulf is masked by using similar terms while meaning different things.
    Everything in our text tells a story in which we are “saved”, that is we are made new in participation and union in the divine life of the Trinity through the gift of the grace (that is the energies) of God operating in synergy with our own efforts to join that dance. Salvation in this Christian sense is the work and free gift of God. And he provides the grace, that is the power, for us to become truly human, to accomplish good, to become a people who love God by loving others. (I actually first encountered a discussion of the weakness of most Protestant usage of the word “grace” in Dallas Willard long before I encountered anything in Orthodoxy.)

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Scott M,
    Let me sum up your four points:
    1. The “gospel” is a declaration about Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah; that gospel brings salvation and liberation.
    2. The distinction between “religion” and “Christianity” is semantic; the substantial difference is what salvation means not “how” we are saved. This distinction tends to caricaturize Judaism.
    3. No tradition within Christianity teaches anything other than salvation by grace through Christ.
    Now, for a comment …
    Keller’s framing of the gospel is accurate to the NT, but not to all of it — if RJS’s summary is accurate. I have long struggled with the need to be more circumspect in summarazing the gospel always through the lens of one writer. So, while Jesus teaches grace, his emphasis is not the same as Paul’s and discipleship comes to the surface as a demand to follow him. And James 2:14-26 simply can’t be wished away: here the “brother of Jesus” teaches that faith co-worked with works to lead to salvation and justification. And the book of Hebrews makes it pretty clear that a life of obedience is necessary. Now it is pretty easy to say, “saving faith leads to works,” so that the bottom-line becomes faith as trusting. But, it’s not quite that simple in the NT. James says Abraham’s faith was perfected by his works and that he was justified by his works — the binding of Isaac was the event he saw as the big one (and that might well sum up all of his life).
    Yes, I would say to Keller, but there’s more.

  • Scott M

    Thanks, Scot. I think you did manage to summarize the points I wanted to make pretty accurately. And I definitely agree with your comment, especially since James is the only text I can find in the NT that explicitly and directly talks about “faith alone” …

  • RJS

    Scot,
    The essence, I think, of what Keller is trying to say, and the essence, I know, of what I am trying to say, is that God acted – the atoning work of Christ is a one-off turning point in history that changed the picture. God did it. We – those of us who choose to follow Christ – must now obey and participate with total commitment. But we do not recreate the essential act of God in history.
    Total commitment requires total sacrifice of our agendas for his – our way of doing things for his. Follow through on this realization is harder than it sounds however.

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Thanks RJS. That helps.

  • Tom Hein

    RJS (#6)…
    Can you expand on the following statement: “But we do not recreate the essential act of God in history.”
    I don’t understand what you are saying. How do Christians try to “recreate” the essential act of God in history?

  • Glenn

    “if we are saved by grace there is nothing he cannot ask of us. Following Jesus — accepting the Gospel — is total surrender.” What a powerful statement! I’ve never thought of salvation by grace in quite that way.

  • http://robopa.blogspot.com Rob

    Scott #2 – One is “saved” in the present by grace through faith but the final judgement is by works.
    Two questions:
    1. saved in the present tense from what?
    2. what does it mean to be judged by works, and how do we know what or how many works to do to find favor?
    I really see what you are saying in the Scriptures, but I am still struggling to understand how that plays out. Help?

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Tom (#8),
    I am not RJS, but I think she means simply that salvation in its grace dimension is an act of God alone. God saves. We don’t recreate in any way God’s saving act through Jesus Christ. Having said that, RJS goes on to address our (human) responsibility: “We – those of us who choose to follow Christ – must now obey and participate with total commitment.” So, those who think that they save themselves (in a Pelagian sense) are recreating God’s act in history.

  • Scott M

    That’s what I understood RJS to mean as well, John. I do find it interesting the Pelagius still gets thrown around so much, though. To the best of my knowledge there are no surviving Pelagian sects and haven’t been for centuries and centuries and centuries. Most people don’t talk a lot these days about Marcion, for instance, or a lot of the other ancient heretic sects that have long since died off. Why does Pelagius continue to be constantly discussed?

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    I shouldn’t be surprised that this brought out the “new perspective” folks. I’m always a bit amused that they argue that the 16th century reformers misunderstood Paul but the 20th century re-reformers properly understood him. (I know it’s complicated, but you have to admit it looks funny on the surface.)
    Anyway, it’s important to focus on what Keller’s contrasting. Everyone think’s they can get into heaven (or whatever) by being good enough. Keller’s telling them that’s impossible and pointing them to God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
    I’m going to come down on the side of the traditional protestant understanding (surprise!) — the faith that saves produces works. And I think people misunderstand the point James is making.
    Abraham believed God that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars and it was counted to him as righteousness (Gen 15, Rom 4). Abraham was then asked to sacrifice Isaac, and he was willing because he believed God would keep his promise even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead (Heb 11).
    Abraham believed what God said, then acted like he believed what God said. This is not the same as being saved by giving money to the poor (or whatever).
    Ditto Rahab: She said she believed that God was giving Canaan to Israel, so she acted on that belief by helping the spies in return for safety when they conquered Jericho. She was committing treason and would have been killed if she was wrong. She was committed to what she believed.
    I’m still trying to figure out how this applies to faith in Jesus, but I don’t think it’s a simple saved by faith + a good life.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    I shouldn’t be surprised that this brought out the “new perspective” folks. I’m always a bit amused that they argue that the 16th century reformers misunderstood Paul but the 20th century re-reformers properly understood him. (I know it’s complicated, but you have to admit it looks funny on the surface.)
    Not that I have a dog in this fight, but I don’t suppose it sounds as funny as calling the 16th century reformation an infallible tradition that cannot be challenged in any way, shape or form in the light of scripture.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    I don’t suppose it sounds as funny as calling the 16th century reformation an infallible tradition…
    Who did that?

  • Scott M

    ChrisB, that’s actually not what “everyone” believes. Not does the concept of what it means to be human and the ultimate state (if any) differ radically among religions, but so does the path and means toward that state. Perhaps it is true that most people want to be “good” human beings, but the very definition of what it means to be human, much less a “good” human is culturally shaped. Perhaps it is true that many shaped by the secular deism which formed and shaped American culture for most of its history until relatively recent times have some concept of “being good enough” for whatever. And perhaps Keller is largely speaking to that specific limited audience. But it is hardly a universal. Nor do I find it even a particularly full or rich perspective into Christianity.
    In your review of Abraham, you skipped over James. Moreover, you have skipped over much of the Genesis story. Long after the Genesis 15 account, God instructs Abraham to circumcise himself and all males. He further tells him that anyone who is not circumcised will be cut off from the people of God. Whatever you might say about Abraham’s belief in Genesis 15, if he had not followed through with circumcision, the story tells us he would have been cut off from the people of God. The story is much deeper and more complex than a few isolated prooftexts can ever reveal.

  • Scott M

    I’m also not particularly a “New Perspective” sort. I wouldn’t even really claim to know what that is, though I do find a significant amount of the work of NT Wright (who I understand is one of the “NP” scholars) compelling. However, though in some instances we have recovered some better information about second temple Judaism than we’ve had in centuries, much of what Wright says is not particularly new at all. In fact, having read a lot of what the Church said through the early centuries, I find a great deal of what Wright says (and Willard and McKnight and others for that matter) shares a great deal more in common with the historic faith than with the 16th Reformation.
    I’m not particularly out to judge the Reformers. They were in a difficult situation. And I wouldn’t attribute evil motives or intentions to them. But that doesn’t mean I think they came to the right conclusions. In fact, the things I have the most problem with seem to be instances where they took bits of Roman Catholic thought which I do think were and are problematical and simply intensified those ideas. In other words, I think in some cases, instead of actually correcting an error and returning to a more correct perspective, they took that error and made it stronger. Roman Catholics and Protestants actually seem more similar, at least in my eyes, to each other than either “side” tends to credit.

  • Angie

    If the ultimate sin is not loving God, then who determines what loving God is and means? Does the Church as an institution decide what it means to love God, as the Catholic Church does? Or is it the local community that decides what loving God means? OR is it the individual and his journey of faith?
    Secondly, who is God? Is he distinctly defined by the Church? by a text? OR by a religion and culture? Who is God and how do we determine that the specified understanding is a universal one? How do we determine that, except based on faith/reason? And isn’t faith and reason individually specific? Or is faith determined by the Church “orthodox” position and reason is left to the individual? How, then, do the collective faith of the Church and the individual’s reason coalasce?
    I can’t believe that we are to determine what another’s faith must be, otherwise, we become the investigators of another’s faith journey. And we end up condemning others “in the name of God”. Faith must be a commitment of the individual first and foremost to whatever seems most reasonable to him/her at that moment.

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    ChrisB,
    I like your points for how Abraham’s trust of God produced the action(s) of obedience. As for how this applies to faith in Jesus, I think it can be accurately described several ways. The chief one, being, I think, that if we “trust” that Jesus forgave us at great cost to himself, saving us from eternal death, and promises to care for us in this life and even resurrect us when it’s done, we would naturally be people who practice his kind of sacrificial agape for others (forgiven much = loves much, or love Jesus = obeys Jesus, or love God = love brothers). We can afford to risk because of God’s love, and we discover the best way to please Jesus is to love people as he does. To not do so would reveal some kind of lack of “trust” in Jesus, or perhaps we just trust or love something or someone else more. Our actions really do reveal what we really love, trust, etc.

  • ken

    What is the gospel?
    I’m not alone anymore.
    God’s not mad at me anymore.
    My life has value now.
    My life has purpose now.
    I am loved – truly loved, and now I can truly love.
    I am forginen – truly forgiven, and now I can forgive.
    Although I may be afraid of how I die, I am no longer afraid to die.
    I couldn’t do it, but God could – and did.
    The gospel is awesome!

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Scott M said: that’s actually not what “everyone” believes…
    I’ll pass on debating Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism, Taoism, and Islam. That is what most Americans believe.
    In your review of Abraham, you skipped over James
    No, I was explaining what James says in light of what is said in Genesis and Hebrews.
    Is being “cut off” from the OT convenant people the same as going to hell? I’m not sure it is. James is talking about salvation vs non-salvation (i.e., hell).

  • Bill Crawford

    I like Rob’s questions in post #10. I have the same questions – especially the second. I’d like to hear Scott M (and Scot McK’s) take on them.

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Bill,
    Back those questions in #10: I can’t speak for Scott Morizot.
    First, “salvation” has three tenses in the NT: we were saved by Christ, we are being saved by Christ, and in the End we will be saved by Christ.
    Second, a simple text like Matt 16:27 or 2 Cor 5:10 clearly states that the judgment is based on works. Many like to say that (1) we are saved by faith (which is true) and (2) only faith (yes, if understood right) and (3) not by works (very Pauline) and (4) works demonstrate faith (true enough). This is a nice order, but the NT — like James 2:14-26 — isn’t so tidy.
    Third, the NT teaches that our salvation is rooted in what Christ did for us; what God has done for us; how the Spirit awakens us to faith and regeneration; etc. Our response is total — faith. But the kind of faith that is total is the kind of faith where works co-work with faith. So, saving faith is working faith. So, it is not so simple as “works show that we have saving faith” but more that saving faith is a working faith. Yes, we are saved by faith but it is a kind of faith, and it is more than just believing the right things. It is a kind of faith that loves God and loves others and works.

  • http://robopa.blogspot.com Rob

    Scot #23
    Understood, but a question around your third point then arises. Those works that are part of faith, which determine our judgment…how are we to know what (and how much) works will lead to continuing with eternal life in the new heaven/new earth vs. those which disqualify our life for further service after judgment? If we look at Matthew 25, it seems to be based on service to those in the margins…so, if we serve others in ways that don’t match Matthew 25, how are we to know whether the work we are doing is a work worthy of the Kingdom…and ultimately for the continuation of that work in the new heaven/new earth? FYI, I’m just getting to the part in “Surprised by Hope” where Wright talks about salvation, so maybe that will clear it up for me.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Scot (and others), I sure hope y’all are wrong about the works bit. If not, I’m fairly sure there’ll be about 20 people in heaven.
    Even people I know who strongly insist that we must have some kind of works basically live the same life as everyone else. Unless the works God requires is singing in the choir and reading your Bible a few days a week, most of us are screwed.

  • Angie

    Then, again, how is one to determine what “work” and how much is enough to justify? Is the Church the determinor of our life? And in what way is that determination made? What measurement does the Church use to measure enough faith? Do we have to “bleed” emotionally, physically, spiritually, showing how much we will take in “loving God”? Do we have to make money for the Church or give to the Church all our assests? Who determines how much is enough to balance the scales? Do we have to buy indulgences? Is this the “cross of discipleship”?

  • Scott M

    Yes, I would echo much of what Scot said. We have been saved by a particular faith, we are being saved by that faith, and we will be saved because our confidence in Jesus is not misplaced. And with that in mind we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. It’s not that I find some of these thoughts precisely “wrong”, whatever “wrong” might mean in this context. Rather, I find the “salvation” which flows from these thoughts seriously truncated and largely uninteresting.
    I would emphasize Scot’s final sentence. The Christian answer to how we love God is by loving others. The Christian answer to the question “Which God?” is the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. 1 John is especially helpful here for me.
    I would also say for number one the primary scriptural answer (pull it from anywhere in the NT — especially Paul) is that we are saved from death into life. In the present and into a lasting and enduring life. I’ve never understood how people can read Paul and not pick up on that.
    As far as the second goes, I do try to remember that I will one day give an accounting to Jesus for all I have done with my life. I’m not sure how to give the sort of assurance people seem to be searching for when they ask “How do I know?” I don’t suppose I do “know” in that sort of way. In fact, I’m all too aware of the poverty of my love. But I’ve placed my confidence in Jesus of Nazareth. And I see nothing to indicate that confidence in misplaced. I know what it would look like to pursue and worship other gods. I know that from experience. I suppose I strive not to do that, to get to know and worship the actual God we find in Jesus, and to cooperate in synergy with the transforming power of his grace. I know that’s probably not the sort of answer you were looking for, but it’s the only one I can offer.
    ChrisB, you are introducing radical discontinuity in the story of the people of God while Paul, James, the author of Hebrews, and Jesus clearly have a great deal for continuity in mind. You weren’t explaining James. You were attempting to explain it away. The argument of Romans leads to a discussion of the way those of us who were not the people of God were grafted into the one people of God. There aren’t two peoples of God or an old people and a new people. It’s all one big, continuous story centered on Jesus.

  • ken

    ChrisB
    I think tithing counts too. And maybe leaving tracts on your local restaurant table before you leave (but that might not count if you left it in lieu of a tip). Or … how about that gift you gave to provide a Christmas meal for a homeless person last year? (Sorry, I don’t think your gifts to the 700 Club quite make it).
    Point? Just what good works do count – and how many do we need to do to qualify? The rich young ruler kept all of the commandments since he was a child and he still didn’t qualify (Mark 10). I think the only real qualification regarding good works is summed up at the end of that particular Jesus-encounter when Jesus said, “Follow me.”
    I think if we focused less on defining what makes a ‘good Christian” good, and more on what it means to follow Jesus we just might see a very healthy and robust church arise out of the dust of the dogma that seems to be choking the life out of it.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    To those who had questions about the New Persective on Paul, Scott #2 communicated the New Perspective answer to RJS’s question.
    As Scot mentioned in #23, judgment is by works. Thus, when Paul contrasts “justification by faith” and “justification by works of the law,” he is not contrasting “believing certain things about Jesus” with “doing good deeds,” but “faithfulness to Jesus” with “faithfulness to Judaism as expressed in circumcision and obedience to the law.”
    The New Perspective points out that Paul is not against good works, he just doesn’t think that ethnic markers like circumcision and the law are the means by which people can do good works (the power of sin keeps the flesh from doing what it wants to do). Instead, through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit allows the Christian to fulfill the law of Christ and thus be justified in the future.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Interesting — Scott M and Scot M. — is there a way to reconcile what Keller says about saving faith with the New Perspective? Or do we really have two very different versions of the gospel here?
    Keller’s Reformed soteriology will also include predestination and an understanding of election in which faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit. What does the New Perspective say about the role of the Holy Spirit in producing faith? Is the odro salutis entirely different?
    The New Perspective is a tough one for me as a Martin Luther-ish kind of person. When the thunderstorm is raging around me and I stare into the depths of my black heart, I only find comfort in the word “grace.”

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Well, I’m a bit surprised by the desire to turn this into “which” works and “how many” works. Why am I surprised? Because that converts the discussion about the quality of saving faith (a faith really does work) into quantity.
    What has to be explained by those asking such questions is this: How do you explain texts like Matt 16:27 and 2 Cor 6 5:10 or James 2:20-26? While we dare not detract from the saving work of Christ, that he does it all, we cannot simply wish away clear statements in the NT about what constitutes saving faith.
    This isn’t really a NPP debate either; nor is it Calvin vs. Arminius. Calvin said things like this on these kinds of texts. What bothers many of us is the simplistic theory if we “receive Jesus” we need do no more. The kind of receiving that is saving is the kind of receiving that works.

  • http://www.faithemergence.com Dan B.

    Thinking on #10 and #23, especially Scott’s comment that the NT “isn’t so tidy”. Obviously whenever we systematize teachings we’re going to have to reflect certain tensions in our teaching and it will often come out sounding tidier than it truly is. The key is for us to keep working on accepting tensions. The Bible is full of paradoxes and tensions all over the place. Our job is to hold them together.
    With salvation we can say a few things that are clearly in Scripture. We are saved by God’s work in Jesus Christ on the cross. We are not saved by our own good works. Good works are necessary.
    Is there tension in these statements. Yes! Are they all true. Yes! Notice though on the good works statements, that while good works are absolutely necessary, they aren’t what actually achieves salvation. That has to be all Jesus Christ. After all, if I put any part of myself into the salvation equation, then it’s tainted. You all know that by experience. Think about the nicest thing you ever did for someone else. Was there any sin or selfishness involved? Somewhere, even deep down? Of course there was. So if we have to offer those works up to God, it’s not going to help us much.
    Looking at the specific texts that are being debated can be helpful since they are some of the ones that are most often pointed to as involving works in the actual process of salvation.
    Take Matthew 25. Notice when judgment is made and salvation assigned- before Jesus ever mentions works. And also notice the term that’s used, “inheritance”. How much work have you ever done to earn an inheritance? Then go to James. What’s he railing on? What’s his point? That if our faith isn’t accompanied by deeds, then it’s no actual faith at all. It’s only intellectual assent and even the demons have that. What James is saying and the other places speaking of works as well is this- our works/sanctification is the other side of the justification coin. They’re inseparably connected, but still distinct.
    That’s why things aren’t neat and tidy. We have to hold them together and so often people don’t want to do this hard work.
    What a great conversation. I’m enjoying it and I’m also excited that thanks to both people being such active commentators here I finally realize that Scott M and Scot McKnight are different people.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Scot, I’m no more a proponent of an easy believism that lets you pray a prayer and live any old way than you. I believe that a saving faith will produce a life that tries to immitate Jesus.
    You said, “works demonstrate faith (true enough). This is a nice order, but the NT… isn’t so tidy.” and
    “But the kind of faith that is total is the kind of faith where works co-work with faith. So, saving faith is working faith. So, it is not so simple as “works show that we have saving faith” but more that saving faith is a working faith. Yes, we are saved by faith but it is a kind of faith, and it is more than just believing the right things. It is a kind of faith that loves God and loves others and works.”
    At this point, it seems like you’re saying something besides “a saving faith works,” and I’m trying to get out of you exactly what you mean and what you think a saved person looks like. Or, as you put it, what is the “quality” of saving faith?

  • Scott M

    I’m surprised that people confuse Scot McKnight and me. In addition to his ‘t’ deficiency, I’ve never thought we sound particularly the same. Among other things, I’m way too wordy. For the record, I’m not really hiding who I am. I’ve used my full name from time to time and Scot has as well. It’s a quirk. I’m old enough and still have enough of a libertarian streak of privacy concern running through me to have a hard time using my full and extremely uncommon name over and over and over again on every comment.

  • Bob

    These verses are a comfort for me when I go through episodes of scrupulosity.
    Mat 25:36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
    Mat 25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
    The righteous were not aware of the good works they were doing.
    Also
    Mat 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
    Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
    Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

  • Scott M

    ChrisB, I can’t speak for Scot, but the quality of faith is easy. It’s the faith which follows Jesus, which loves God by loving and serving others, by becoming least, which cares for the widows and orphans, and everything else the NT describes. While I do see a clear thread that we cannot “merit” life on our own strength, primarily because we’re dead without Jesus, our only source of life, the “works” about which Paul seems concerned are the works of Torah which mark the divide between Jew and Gentile. Those must not be insisted on. He has no problem insisting on other “works” such as avoidance of sexual immorality, unity as the people of God, giving generously, and such things.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com/ Peggy

    Great discussion … and while I have chimed in about this before, I’ll say it in this thread and then I’m off to a rare movie with my husband for our anniversary!
    When we remember that salvation is part of a covenant, we have to remember that covenants have parties and terms and conditions as well as benefits for faithful covenant keeping (hesed) as well as consequences for breaking covenant. Just because God “cut” this covenant through Jesus’ death on the cross does not mean that there are no terms and conditions!
    The New Testament spells out that those who are “in Christ” (parties to the covenant) are to be “like Christ” (summary of terms and conditions) in order to be “with Christ” (benefit for faithful hesed). Now this helps us understand that “how much works” is not even a valid questions, because we can never attain to the goal here in this life. The point is that we are to allow the Holy Spirit full rein in our lives so that we are continually being formed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. That means we are to be DOING stuff that Jesus did.
    And that comes down to Scot’s point here at Jesus Creed: Jesus loved God and he love others. We are to be about loving God and loving others. And if you need to remember what that looks like, I suggest a look at 1 Corinthians 13. Paul knew what it meant to be “like Christ” and that’s why he put his love chapter smack in the middle of his writing on the outworking of the Spirit’s gifts in the Body of Christ. The “work” of “faith” is to faithfully keep covenant (hesed) with our covenant partners (God and our brothers and sisters in Christ). It is to dedicate our live and energies to making sure that we do whatever is needful to ensure that our partners are supported in their endeavors to be faithful. Jesus has said that the baseline behavior is love.
    For me I have come to this question for each action and inaction, each word spoken or not spoken: will this cause me to break covenant with God and with others? Did someone need me to do something to help them do the right thing? Perhaps they needed me to do something to keep them from doing the wrong thing? Perhaps something I said discouraged them and they faltered. Or something that I didn’t say encouraged them to continue down a poor path.
    This looks like a pretty heavy load, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Carrying a cross is not a piece of cake. But when we truly love, Jesus helps us carry this load, and the “work” is, well, joy.
    And in the end, the price for covenant breaking has been paid by Christ…for those who will confess their failures and repent and reconcile and make it right. It is not a matter of perfect covenant-keeping. Jesus’ death took care of that. It is a matter of focus on always loving — always looking to be “Jesus with skin on” to those around us.
    Simple concept, this … the most difficult thing to embrace … but the most joyful of labors if we are yoked with Jesus.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Peggy, if Scott M is right, are we all part of God’s covenant with Abraham? If so, God was the sole “party” in that covenant. Abe had no terms to fulfill, if I understand correctly.
    Scott (and Scot), I guess I am going to go down that road — if a saving faith serves others, avoids sexual immorality and all that stuff, if you fail to serve someone, is your faith saving faith? How many orphans can you overlook and still go to heaven?
    The point is, we’re still going to sin. If you’re going to insist that our faith and our works work together in our salvation (as opposed to faith simply producing works), you have to concern yourself with how much work is necessary to supplement your faith.

  • Bill Crawford

    Scot,
    Thanks for the texts. I do not have an easy answer. As I thought about it, 1 Cor 3:10-15 came to mind. Here we have the elements of work(s) (vs. 13) and judgment revealing the quality of the works (vs.13-14). But even where the works are woefully deficient, the one judged suffers loss but is still saved (vs. 15).
    For me, an element of the discussion is where I have my focus. Sometimes the discussion makes me look at myself – the quality/quantity of my faith and/or works. But this seems to be a mis-focus (although where the verses to examine myself come in is another issue); I should be focusing on Jesus, the Beloved, and by focusing on him will experience the transformation which will lead to the works. As one of the contributors has said, those judged in Matt 25 were not aware of the good they had done – it happened naturally.
    May that be true of all of us.

  • Scott

    There have been questions about the particular calculus of what constitutes works that save us in the end. Is there a particular threshold, amount,etc? Second Temple Jews had all sorts of answers to this. At this point I’ll make some personal reflections.
    In one sense,esp. as it pertains to others,it’s none of our business. This is YHWH’s job–one that only YHWH can do with love,justice and equity.Thus, we are not to judge. Paul says that even though his conscious was clear,that didn’t make him innocent;YHWH is the final judge.
    YHWH is the one who sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts who cries out “Abba” in us, which gives us confidence that we are in Christ and are being “saved” and heading for final salvation. It’s that same God, YHWH, working through that same Spirit in Christ who convicts (not condemns, which is what the Evil One does to separate us from YHWH)us of sin and wrongdoing to get us back on the path when we stray,the path that would lead us to final separation from YHWH. I’ve experienced this personally! And it means forgiving others, not being censorious and judgmental (in the sense discussed above), as in the Lord’s Prayer. This is why the greatest prayer is the efche (Jesus Prayer),in essence the prayer of the Publican.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    ChrisB #38
    The point is, we’re still going to sin. If you’re going to insist that our faith and our works work together in our salvation (as opposed to faith simply producing works), you have to concern yourself with how much work is necessary to supplement your faith.
    That depends on the motivation of that question. Are we asking because: (1) We want to know what the bare minimum is so that we can shoot for that, or (2) We want to have assurance that we are “in the club”?
    Paul would obviously refuse to answer the question based on motivation (1)
    To motivation (2), Paul based his “assurance of salvation” on the work of the Holy Spirit in the community. Romans 8:9 NET: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.” If you have the Spirit, you are in Christ and therefore “in the club.” (You could then add Philippians 1:6 that the Spirit will carry your salvation on to completion.)
    Beyond that, to what extent is “assurance of salvation” a biblical concept?

  • Robert E. Mason

    I should like to offer a different cut on grace, salvation and works, judgment. Our ultimate destiny is determined by God’s grace alone. God judges our works to determine our Kingdom rewards; that is, our position and assignments in the New Heaven and World. A saving faith is a working faith, which prepares us for work in God’s new order. I have not worked out the scriptural warrant for this view, but I think Ephesians 2:10 will be key to such a warrant. We are saved not just to enjoy heavenly bliss, but to do the good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.

  • TomP

    What is salvation? What does it mean? Saved from, to, or for what? The word is tossed around a lot, but what IS the definition of “saved” or “salvation”? I think exploring what it means as used in scriptural contexts, both OT and NT, would be a great place to start to understand other terms like “faith, repentance, works, regeneration”, let alone understand the “grace” and “will” of God, and how, to me, they all kind of merge into the same thing. I found this very helpful…
    WHAT THE SALVATION OF CHRIST CONSISTS OF
    By William Law
    But you will say, do not all christians desire to have Christ as their savior? Yes, but here is the deceit: all want Christ to be their savior in the next world, and to help them into heaven when they die, by his power and merits with God. But this is not desiring Christ to be your Savior; for his salvation, if it is to be had, must be in this world. If he saves you, it must be done in this life by changing and altering all that is within you, by helping you to a new heart, as He helped the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dumb to speak.
    To have salvation from Christ is nothing else but to be made like Him. It is to have His humility and meekness; His mortification and self denial; His renunciation of the spirit, wisdom, and honors of this world; His love for God; and His desire to do God’s will and to seek only His honor. To have these qualities formed and begotten in your heart is to have salvation from Christ. But if you do not want to have these tempers brought forth in you, if your faith and desire do not seek and cry to Christ for them in the same way as the lame asked to walk and the blind to see, then you must be said to be unwilling to have Christ as your savior.
    Again, consider,how was it that the carnal jew, the the well read scribe, the learned rabbi, the religious pharisee, not only did not receive, but also crucified their savior? It was because they did not want and desire the savior that He was. They did not want the inward salvation that He offered to them. They did not desire any change of their own natures, and inward destruction of their own natural tempers, any deliverance from the love of themselves and the enjoyments of their passions.
    These jews liked their carnal states, the gratifications of the old man, their long robes, their large ornaments, their greetings in the markets. They did not want to have their pride and self love dethroned, their covetousness and sensuality subdued by a new nature from heaven derived into them. Their only desire was the success of judaism; they wanted to have an outward savior, a temporal prince, who would establish their laws and ceremonies over all the earth. And therefore they crucified their dear redeemer and would have none of His salvation, because it all consisted in a change of their natures, in a new birth from above, and a kingdom of heaven to be opened within them by the spirit of God.

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    The original question was “what’s the solution [to the problem of failing to love God and others and the death that results]?” God’s solution involves both he and us, granted with he playing the leading role, but clearly his plan is to make us his cooperative co-laborers in the solution. ChrisB, I don’t think it’s a matter of “how much work is necessary”, but rather, what kind or even degree of trusting someone results in following their ideas and example? Yes, we all will sin–mess up, fall short–but the NT says repeatedly that no one who trusts Jesus will make a habit of it–such folks don’t trust or love Jesus as much as something else. I think you may be right, though, I think the trust God requires leads to more than “singing in the choir and reading your Bible a few days a week”. I don’t think we’ve taught a biblical idea of “trust.”

  • Scott M

    ChrisB, I suppose I don’t understand what you mean by ‘faith’. It seems like you have some sort of transaction in mind which provides you a contractual level of assurance that ‘God’ is now obligated to accept you, so you can be certain of ‘salvation’. (I don’t find that ‘going to heaven’ is a particularly Christian ultimate goal, though of course it is an idea with a kernel of truth within it. It’s certainly not something I find a compelling motivation or driving force. Such an idea has virtually nothing to do with why I’m now a Christian, so I don’t find I think about it a great deal. Now, if you want to talk life, resurrection, true purpose, and new creation those are all themes I find greatly compelling.)
    I’m not sure that I think we can somehow bind, manage, or control God’s judgment. Yet I trust that the God who speaks in Scripture, is present in the Spirit, and embodied in the Son (and through *his* body, the church) is truly a God of mercy, a God who is love, and a God who so wants to give us life and sustain us in communion with him and with each other, that he assumed all of human nature and experience all the way to death on the cross in order to break the bonds of death and evil, and in the process made himself the least of all and servant of all. A God like that is not looking for a reason to condemn me. He is looking for a way to make me into a human being who can live and thrive within his uncreated light. But he only works in cooperation with, in synergy with, my own weak will.
    How do I “know” I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved? I suppose I don’t “know” any such thing at all with the sort of contractual certainty you seem to crave. What would it mean, anyway, to (as you put it) “go to heaven” as someone who has not practiced yielding my will to God? How could I endure it? I think here of Isaiah’s vision and immediate thought, “I am undone.” The only thing I know to say is that I have placed my confidence in Jesus of Nazareth. If that confidence is misplaced, so be it. I don’t believe it is.
    Personally, I find that 1 John is the text on faith I best understand. I suppose that’s the sort of faith I’m trying to express. I don’t find John to be saying anything which conflicts with anything else. I simply find that, for me, he has the most delightful and most easily understood way of expressing it.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Matt said: Beyond that, to what extent is “assurance of salvation” a biblical concept?
    A pretty good extent. Jesus had a few things to say about, as do Paul and John.
    As for being in “the club,” remember that the club is the people not in hell. So the works question becomes very important.
    T: the NT says repeatedly that no one who trusts Jesus will make a habit of it
    The most useful comment offered on the topic so far; thanks. Most answers have focused on how it’s the “wrong question.”
    I think the question is important: If our works contribute to our salvation, then we need to know what’s expected of us, otherwise we’ll be like the Muslim who lives by all the rules, does everything required of him, and on his deathbed just hopes Allah decides to let him into heaven. Now that is abundant life.

  • http://authenticmission.blogspot.com/ Andrew Kenny

    Instead of crying that we can not love God properly Charles Wesley in this fairly unknown hymn ( except to Methodists) reverses it and declares that because of His goodness, his love etc WHO WOULD NOT LOVE GOD WITH HIS HEART SOUL AND MIND.
    It is His grace working in us. We can not, as the Wesleys and all those trying to please God in the flesh know, do it in our own. This was WEsley’s revelation on the 24th May 1738 ‘I felt that Christ died for me,EVEN ME.’ This was it- God’s touch of love that sent Wesley round theBritish Isles praying:’the arms of love that compas me would all mankind embrace’.
    1 GOD, of good the unfathomed sea!
    Who would not give his heart to thee?
    Who would not love thee with his might?
    O Jesu, lover of mankind,
    Who would not his whole soul and mind,
    With all his strength, to thee unite?
    2 Thou shin’st with everlasting rays;
    Before the insufferable blaze
    Angels with both Wings veil their eyes;
    Yet free as air thy bounty streams
    On all thy works; thy mercy’s beams
    Diffusive as thy sun’s arise.
    3 Astonished at thy frowning brow,
    Earth, hell, and heaven’s strong pillars bow;
    Terrible majesty is thine!
    Who then can that vast love express
    Which bows thee down to me, who less
    Than nothing am, till thou art mine?
    4 High throned on heaven’s eternal hill,
    In number, weight, and measure still
    Thou sweetly orderest all that is:
    And yet thou deign’st to come to me,
    And guide my steps, that I, with thee
    Enthroned, may reign in endless bliss.
    5 Fountain of good! all blessing flows
    From thee; no want thy fulness knows;
    What but thyself canst thou desire?
    Yes; self-sufficient as thou art,
    Thou dost desire my worthless heart;
    This, only this, dost thou require.
    6 Primeval Beauty! in thy sight
    The first-born, fairest sons of light
    See all their brightest glories fade:
    What then to me thine eyes could turn,
    In sin conceived, of woman born,
    A worm, a leaf, a blast, a shade?
    7 Hell’s armies tremble at thy nod,
    And trembling own the Almighty God,
    Sovereign of earth, hell, air, and sky:
    But who is this that comes from far,
    Whose garments rolled in blood appear?
    ‘Tis God made man, for man to die!
    8 O God, of good the unfathomed sea!
    Who would not give his heart to thee?
    Who would not love thee with his might?
    O Jesu, lover of mankind,
    Who would not his whole soul and mind,
    With all his strength, to thee unite?

  • Scott M

    ChrisB, I’m not primarily trying to say that it’s the wrong question. It’s hard for me to say if it’s the wrong question or not. Rather, I’m saying that I’m having a hard time understanding a ‘faith’ which can be distinguished or separated from the things I do — body, mind, and spirit. I may be wrong, but you also seem to imply that the Christian idea of ‘salvation’ and the Islamic idea of ‘salvation’ are similar. I don’t find them to be particularly similar at all.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Scott, the way you describe it, you make Christian salvation sound a lot like the Muslim version.

  • RJS

    I must admit that some of the conversation here surprises me. Maybe I just don’t really understand where some of the comments are coming from. I cannot get beyond the conviction that born into new being, aligned to God’s plan, we must commit totally. Total commitment results in following Jesus and his commands, his ethic. Works earning anything, salvation or anything else, doesn’t figure in – there is no “how much” in the equation. If we don’t commit – how can we even begin to claim to be Christian? It is a travesty. Think Lk 9:23-26, Mt 7:13-27 and others…
    Isn’t it foolishness to talk about salvation without commitment? Following Jesus as Lord without commitment? If there is no commitment, there is no new being, there is no faith, there is no alignment to God’s plan.

  • Dana Ames

    There is something missing from this discussion, ISTM, and that is Forgiveness. Forgiveness is mercy visible. The deepest depth of it was manifest on the cross (telestetai). It is now the air of trust/faith all the redeemed breathe, the ground of love proved on which we stand, the solidity into which we place, and from which we receive, our hope. I’m not trying to be theologically fuzzy here, but: Why do we skip over forgiveness so lightly? Is it because we think we all know what we mean by it? (Perhaps the way we sometimes think we all know what we mean by the word “salvation”?)
    So. The center of our ultimate healing (salvation) and the restoration of our humanity is Jesus having defeated death, the Spirit having given us life as we respond in trust (even commitment, which is the outworking of intention), the Father having forgiven us. That’s the abolition of the effects of death and of sin, little by little, as we live in Forgiveness. Death and sin don’t feed off one another any more because of the working of the Trinitarian Godhead, into whose life we enter and to which life we become conformed as we cooperate/work with/exhibit a working faith.
    We don’t have to worry so much about who’s in, or how to avoid hell. As Jesus’ followers, we are forgiven, we forgive others, we seek forgiveness from God and others. Living in forgiveness is what puts out the fire of sin and is a huge manifestation of the Kingdom of God in this still-wounded world, until we encounter the “full strength” fire/light of the Presence when Jesus returns. Saying and living “I’m sorry; please forgive me!” and “I forgive you!” are just as important as saying and living “I love you!”
    I think this is a major way we become more Human. I think this is a major way we “complete the sufferings of Jesus”, because living this way means we absorb sin/pain/evil and their effects, just as Jesus did on the cross. (This is not about people who commit evil acts “getting off Scot-free”; there is a place for civil law. But that’s not what I’m talking about.)
    Dana

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    ChrisB,
    I think if you read some of Dallas Willard, particularly the first few chapters of Divine Conspiracy, you might better understand what ScottM (and maybe Scot M) is saying. To think we can trust Jesus for our afterlife, while simultaneously trusting, following, preferring other gods, even ourselves, in this life, is completely foreign to the NT. You can’t trust Jesus without decreasing your trust in something else (that’s been guiding your actions already). Wherever trust goes, actions go, by definition. We’re not earning anything. We’re either trusting Jesus more than anything else or we’re not. We’re his followers or someone else’s.
    One problem I think we have within Christian circles is that the word “faith” has left the practical, down-to-earth idea of “trust” and become it’s own term of art, which in conversations like this about “salvation” (another term that’s lost much of its NT, and common-sense meaning), has come to mean saying yes to a list of facts and asking for forgiveness/heaven, usually facts about Jesus and our own sin, like the four spiritual laws. Ironically, despite Jesus’ own words on the subject, only in Christianity do lots of people think there’s a big space between trusting someone and following what they say. Scripture and common understandings make trust and action two sides of the same coin. Every action expresses trust and preference. You’ll know them by their fruit. Why call me “lord”? No one who practices these things will inherit the K o G. He who hears my words and obeys . . . Make your election sure . . . It’s thematic. God insists we become part of the solution of agape (perfectly taught and embodied by the Man), right now, today, right along with his demonstrations and promises of agape to us. That He’s even made the offer is grace beyond measure. He came to beat sin and death, not just death.
    If James was writing today, I think he’d say “you believe that Jesus died and rose again, giving heaven to those that trust him? Great! The demons believe it too–and shudder.”

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com/ Peggy

    ChrisB #38, and everyone still here….
    Long day….
    I do not believe that the New Covenant in Jesus Christ IS the Old Covenant with Abraham. I believe it fulfills it, but is something altogether different.
    I do not believe that works is a Faith-Plus Something that equals salvation. It is a receiving of Salvation as adoption by God as joint heirs with Jesus by Faith in the New Covenant forged by Jesus Christ on the cross. Once we are adopted, as I used to say in my new member classes, we are part of the family and there are chores and responsibilities to each other in the Family of God. Each person does chores according to their ability to contribute. And when someone needs help, we need to help them.
    This is not a “works” that leads TO salvation/adoption, but rather a “working” that comes from being saved/adopted. Some of my children are better at chores than others. But I am remiss as a parent if I do not help them see that they have responsibilities to love each other and share in the “chores”. Way too many folks who have received adoption by faith but are not connecting to the family in such a way as to help out around the house, as it were….

  • Scott

    The bottom line for me is that in practical terms,in agreement with the complex construal of this issue in the NT,as a strand of Second Temple Judaic faith, we have to emphasize several things:a)the absolute prevenience of grace, b)that final salvation is by works, c)the gift of the Holy Spirit is the means by which we this salvation is actualized in our lives,with our cooperation, on our way to final salvation d)YHWH’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ is beyond reckoning,but it should lead us to continual repentence and transformation, and e)this “gospel” of salvation is cosmic, social and personal–they are inextricably bound together(cf. Rom. 8).
    The truncated appropriation of generic, sub-biblical Reformation theology sets up all kinds of unhelpful, false dualities which can lead to all manner of bad spiritual theology,evangelism and pastoral practice.

  • http://www.faithemergence.com/2008/06/thoughts-on-what-god-truly-desires/ Anonymous

    Thoughts on What God Truly Desires | Faith Emergence

    [...] There was an interesting little discussion about salvation on the Jesus Creed blog the other day. I don’t know if you want to take the time to read it, but it was so compelling to me that I did post somewhere in the middle of things, comment #32. The discussion centered around what salvation truly means to God. Obviously this is the big question of big questions. [...]

  • http://jonathanbrink.com/2008/06/07/interesting-stuff-16-2/ Anonymous

    Interesting Stuff 16 « Missio Dei

    [...] Do you agree with Scot McKnight’s definition of sin: “Sin is failure to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. [...]


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