I have the respect of the academic community for my articles published in peer review magazines, translation of unpublished classical works into Portuguese and also the production of a book in the year 2019 with more than 2000 copies sold (with no marketing). In addition I have higher education in physical education from Piauí State University and theology from the Assemblies of God Biblical Institute, am currently working towards a Masters from Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, and did post-graduate work at Dom Bosco Catholic University. Also, I am a professor in the Reformed Scholasticism discipline at the Jonathan Edwards Seminary in the postgraduate course in Philosophical Theology. [edited slightly for more flowing English]
My previous replies:
This is an ongoing debate, which we plan to make into a book, both in Portugese and English. Francisco’s words will be in blue. Mine from my previous installment will be in green. I will try very hard to cite my own past words less, for two reasons: 1) the sake of relative brevity, and 2) because the back-and-forth will be preserved in a more convenient and accessible way in the book (probably with some sort of handy numerical and index system).
In instances where I agree with Francisco, there is no reason to repeat his words again, either. I’ll be responding to Francisco’s current argument and noting if and when he misunderstood or overlooked something I think is important: in which case I’ll sometimes have to cite my past words. I use RSV for all Bible passages (both mine and Francisco’s) unless otherwise indicated.
His current reply is entitled, Justificação pela fé: perspectiva protestante (contra Armstrong): Rodada 3. Parte 1. [Justification by Faith: Protestant Perspective (Contra Armstrong): Round 3. Part 1] (10-12-22). Note that he is replying only to Part I of my previous Round 2 reply. When he writes his replies to my Parts II and III and I counter-reply, the debate will be completed, by mutual agreement, except for brief closing statements. I get the (rather large) advantage of “having the last word” because Francisco chose the topic and wrote the first installment.
I would like the reader to pay attention to the fulcrum of my argument. Any reader is “authorized” to overlook any detail except this one: the perfect work of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross!
Yes, of course it’s perfect because we’re talking about God.
The foundation of Sola Fide (justification by faith alone) is the perfect work of Jesus on the cross. For only by faith can we receive Jesus Christ, and in receiving Jesus, we also receive his merits and his righteousness. How then are we not already perfectly justified the moment we receive it?
We are in initial justification, but then a process is involved whereby we continually appropriate the perfect work of Jesus on the cross. I have already demonstrated this with much Scripture.
A process of justification in which works also justify when accompanied by faith denies the perfection of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, as it would have as a logical consequence the teaching that Christ is not enough, since my works must conquer something that Christ did not give me. Only by his death. Jesus Christ, the Just, transfers his righteousness to us, while taking our sin upon himself. Read the text with this in mind, for I will repeat this point several times, not for the absence of others, but for its gigantic importance.
It’s fine to repeat an emphasis, as long as readers bear in mind that mere repetition adds nothing substantive to an existing argument. St. Paul is the one who clearly teaches some sort of process involved in justification and salvation. Yes, the work of Christ on the cross is perfect and sufficient for any person who accepts the grace to be saved. But the acceptance and application of it to persons (especially in Pauline theology) is not instant, and requires our vigilant effort:
Romans 8:17 (RSV) and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
1 Corinthians 9:27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
Philippians 3:11-14 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Colossians 1:22-24 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him,  provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.  Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
Hebrews 3:14 For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
Hebrews 10:39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.
Revelation 2:10 Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
If I have mentioned some of these before, they can be omitted in the book version. At this point, it’s too tedious to go back and check.
Contrary to what I have defined, Mr. Armstrong does not make a practical – or even theoretical – difference between justification and sanctification, although at times he claims to be different things, using the terms interchangeably in his exegesis of Biblical texts. As we will see later, he fails to demonstrate the difference between one and the other.
They are organically connected; two sides of the same coin: just as faith and works and Bible and tradition are. But distinctions can be made (I agree). In fact, I offered a meticulous definition of both in my previous reply (search “I’m glad to do so” to find it). I cited my first book, which is semi-catechetical; massively citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Trent. Here are brief definitions from that treatment, citing my own words in my book:
Justification . . . is a true eradication of sin, a supernatural infusion of grace, and a renewal of the inner man. [derived from: CCC #1987-1992; Trent, Decree on Justification, chapters 7-8]
Sanctification is the process of being made actually holy, not merely legally declared so. [CCC, #1987, 1990, 2000]
I fleshed it out much further. I fail to see how this is insufficient for our task of debating the definitions and concepts, or how I could be any clearer than I was.
I made it clear last time what the practical effect was when I said in my previous article: if justification is a forensic statement in which the merits of Christ are all imputed to me through faith, then I can have peace with God, as St. in Romans 5:1: “Justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Christ Jesus.” If Christ fulfilled the Law and also had perfect obedience, then his merits are perfect when imputed to me and I can therefore have peace with God – the just for the unjust. This peace will not be obtained if justification is a lifelong process, not without great difficulty.
This is mere repetition, thus adding nothing to the debate. I already addressed it, and I did again, above, with eight biblical passages. That’s my “problem.” I can’t figure out a way to ignore and dismiss so many scriptural passages that expressly contradict Protestant soteriology.
When will I be righteous before God if my justification also depends on my good works? How many good works will I have to do to be considered righteous before God?
We don’t need to know that. All we need to know and do is to “press on toward the goal” and “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast”: as the Apostle Paul did (Phil 3:14 and Col 3:23), because justification is not yet “obtained” (Phil 3:12). We have to “keep our eyes on Jesus”: as we used to say as evangelicals. And we have to do this “lest” we “should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27). We also have to “suffer with” Jesus in order to be God’s “children” and “heirs of God” (Rom 8:17).
Paul — as always — is very straightforward, matter-of-fact, and blunt about all this (one of the million things I love about him). None of this suggests (to put it mildly) instant, irrevocable justification.
Although faith is not against works, they are exclusive with regard to the causes of justification, sanctification and salvation before God, for Saint Paul says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. , it is the gift of God; does not come through works, so that no one may boast on this account.” Eph 2.8,9
This is referring to initial justification, as I believe (without looking!), as indicated in context by 2:5 (“we were dead through our trespasses”), that I have noted before in this debate. The very next verse (which Protestants habitually omit) shows the organic connection:
Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
I had a dear late devout Baptist (and Marxist!) friend, who always would point out how Protestants leave out Ephesians 2:10. It doesn’t explicitly state here that these works are indirectly tied to salvation, in conjunction with grace and faith, but that idea occurs elsewhere, many times, as I have already shown.
Good works are not formal causes of salvation at any time, but only manifestations of the transformation that God makes in us, for the working follows the Being. Therefore even holy works must be the fruits of holiness, not the cause of it. To say that works are the cause of salvation, therefore, of holiness, is Pelagianism, since every good work of supernatural value presupposes grace, and the action of grace presupposes an enablement, therefore, a sanctification. Mr. Armstrong seems to forget this Biblical and metaphysical principle: the good fruit is the effect of the good tree and not the other way around; on the other hand, we know the good tree by its fruits.
The Bible teaches us (fifty times!) that works play a key role in whether one is saved and allowed to enter heaven or not. I’ve already gone through that reasoning in depth. What is most striking about the fifty passage is that faith alone is never mentioned as the cause for salvation. “Faith” by itself is mentioned but once: in Revelation 21:8, which includes the “faithless” among those who will be damned for eternity. Even there it is surrounded by many bad works that characterize the reprobate person. If Jesus had attended a good Protestant seminary and gotten up to speed on His soteriology, Matthew 25 would have read quite differently; something like the following:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to whether they had Faith Alone. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to whether they had Faith Alone.
Instead, we hear from our Lord Jesus all this useless talk about works, as if they had anything to do with salvation! Doesn’t Jesus know that works have no connection to salvation whatsoever, and that sanctification and justification are entirely separated in good, orthodox evangelical or Calvinist theology? Maybe our Lord Jesus attended a liberal synagogue. Why does Jesus keep talking about feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, inviting in strangers, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, and being judged “according to their deeds”? What in the world do all these “works” have to do with salvation? Why doesn’t Jesus talk about Faith Alone??!! Something is seriously wrong here.
We have a serious problem here, for from the beginning I accuse the theology of Rome of equating justification and sanctification.
We make a sharp differentiation between initial and subsequent justification; and at least some distinction between sanctification and justification.
Mr. Armstrong denies, according to his statements, that justification is the same as sanctification, but maintains that the two are so intertwined that one cannot exist without the other, something with which I need not disagree at all.
Nevertheless, I maintain that the issue is not exactly this, but that we do not see the difference between one and the other in their definitions or in their practical applications. When he says that justification is “a true eradication of sin . . . and a renewal of the inward man,” the concept used here does not differ from sanctification.
Yes, precisely because we believe in infused and intrinsic justification, whereas Protestants believe only in declarative, imparted, and extrinsic justification. Baptist theologian Augustus Strong explains Protestant justification very well:
. . . a declarative act, as distinguished from an efficient act; an act of God external to the sinner, as distinguished from an act within the sinner’s nature and changing that nature; a judicial act, as distinguished from a sovereign act; an act based upon and logically presupposing the sinner’s union with Christ, as distinguished from an act which causes and is followed by that union with Christ. (Systematic Theology, Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1967; originally 1907, 849)
So does Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge:
It does not produce any subjective change in the person justified. It does not effect a change of character, making those good who were bad, those holy who were unholy. That is done in regeneration and sanctification . . . It is a forensic or judicial act . . . It is a declarative act in which God pronounces the sinner just or righteous . . . (Systematic Theology, abridged one-volume edition by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988; originally 1873, 3 volumes; 454)
But Catholics believe that justification actually does something in souls, based on the Bible:
Romans 5:19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
1 Corinthians 6:11 But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. (cf. Gal 6:15)
Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
Titus 3:5-7 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,  which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
2 Peter 1:9 For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
Acts 22:16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.
I made an argument about the last verse in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (completed in 1996; published in 2003):
The Protestant has difficulty explaining this passage, for it is St. Paul’s own recounting of his odyssey as a newly “born-again” Christian. We have here the Catholic doctrine of (sacramental) sanctification/justification, in which sins are actually removed. The phraseology “wash away your sins“ is reminiscent of Psalm 51:2, 7; 1 John 1:7, 9 [“the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. . . . will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”] and other similar texts dealing with infused justification, . . .
According to the standard Evangelical soteriology, the Apostle Paul would have been instantly “justified” at the Damascus-road experience when he first converted (almost involuntarily!) to Christ (Acts 9:1-9). Thus, his sins would have been “covered over” and righteousness imputed to him at that point. If so, why would St. Paul use this terminology of washing away sins at Baptism in a merely symbolic sense (as they assert), since it would be superfluous? The reasonable alternative, especially given the evidence of other related scriptures, is that St. Paul was speaking literally, not symbolically. (p. 39)
Francisco cites my definition:
Sanctification is the process of being made actually holy, not merely legally declared so.  It begins at Baptism,  is facilitated by means of prayer, acts of charity and the aid of sacraments, and is consummated upon entrance to Heaven and union with God.  . . .
But what is the difference between this definition of sanctification and the definition of justification?
They’re very close, as I have said, since our infused justification is essentially how you define sanctification.
Worthy of special attention is the denial of legal declaration, i.e., the denial of the imputation of Christ’s merits to man, a point to which I will return shortly.
Trent didn’t preclude any imputation whatsoever. I have had an article about this topic since 1996 on my blog. It was written by Dr. Kenneth Howell, who obtained a Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Seminary, a doctorate in history, and was Associate Professor of Biblical Languages and Literature at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Illinois. He wrote:
Trent does not exclude the notion of imputation. It only denies that justification consists solely in imputation. The relevant canons are numbers 9-11. Canon 9 does not even deny sola fide completely but only a very minimal interpretation of that notion. I translate literally:
If anyone says that the impious are justified by faith alone so that he understands [by this] that nothing else is required in which [quo] he cooperates in working out the grace of justification and that it is not necessary at all that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his will, let him be anathema.
Canon 9 then only anathematizes such a reduced form of faith that no outworking of that faith is necessary. This canon in no way says that imputation is not true but only that it is heretical to hold that justification consists solely in imputation.
I am puzzled why anyone would say that extrinsic righteousness might be excluded by Trent. The only righteousness that justifies is Christ’s. But Catholic theology teaches that what is Christ’s becomes ours by grace. In fact Canon 10 anathematizes anyone who denies that we can be justified without Christ’s righteousness or anyone who says that we are formally justified by that righteousness alone. Here’s the words:
If anyone says that men are justified without Christ’s righteousness which he merited for us or that they are formally justified by it itself [i.e. righteousness] [‘per eam ipsam‘], let him be anathema.
Canon 10 says that Christ’s righteousness is both necessary and not limited to imputation i.e. formally. So, imputation is not excluded but only said to be not sufficient.
With regard to imputation, if Trent indeed excludes it, I am ready to reject it. But the wording of the decrees does not seem to me to require this.
How could I become a Catholic if I still thought imputation was acceptable? Because I came to see that the rigid distinction between justification and sanctification so prominent in Reformation theologies was an artificial distinction that Scripture did not support. When one takes into account the whole of Scripture, especially James’ and Jesus’ teaching on the necessity of perfection for salvation (e.g. Matt 5;8), I realized that man cannot be “simul justus et peccator.” Transformational righteousness is absolutely essential for final salvation. . . .
The Protestant doctrine, it seems to me, has at least two sides. Imputation is the declaration of forgiveness on God’s part because of Christ’s work but it is also a legal fiction that has nothing immediately to do with real (subjective) state of the penitent. Now I think the declaration side of imputation is acceptable to Trent but not the legal fiction side. The difference between the Tridentine and the Reformation views, in addition to many other aspects, is that in the latter view God only sees us as righteous while in the former, Christ confers righteousness upon (and in) us.
There is another reason why I think imputation is not totally excluded but is acceptable in a modified form. Canon 9 rejects sola fide but, as we know, Trent does not reject faith as essential to justification. It only rejects the reductionism implied in the sola. So also, canon 11 rejects “sola imputatione justitiae Christi and sola peccatorum remissione.” Surely Trent includes remission of sins in justification. Why would we not say then that it also includes imputation of Christ’s righteousness? If faith (canon 9) and remission of sins (canon 11) are essential to justification, then should we not also say that imputation of Christ’s righteousness is also necessary? . . .
What is wrong with the Reformation view then? It is the sola part. Faith is essential but not sola fide. Remission of sins is essential but not sola remissione. Imputation via absolution is essential but not sola imputatione.
See my related articles:
I agree that the sacraments confer grace and that we feed on the body of Christ, but not without the help of faith and freedom. We Protestants reject the passivity of the human being in receiving grace through the sacraments and, although this is not the appropriate place for this debate, I take the opportunity to ask: when the Roman Catholic feeds on Christ, does he not believe that he feeds on Christ? if also of its merits? Or is the Christ of the Eucharist not the crucified, dead and risen Christ? Does the Christ of the Eucharist come without the merits earned by his obedient life and death on the cross? And if he comes with the merits of his obedience and death, how can anyone not be perfectly justified if Christ himself with his righteousness is in us?
We believe that the infinite merits of Christ were received upon initial justification, which is monergistic and includes imputation, as just explained.
Saint Paul says: “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit lives because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10
That sure sounds like infused, not imputed justification, to me.
To deny the present perfection of justification is to deny the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and this logical consequence is devastating for the Roman Catholic.
It’s not at all, per the reasoning and Bible passages I have already presented in this reply. Catholics have a moral assurance of salvation, which for all practical purposes, isn’t all that different from Protestants’ belief in a past justification. We simply acknowledge, with Paul, that we have to remain vigilant, so we don’t fall away from faith and grace. Calvinists have the insuperable burden of having to rationalize and explain away the many verses along those lines. I never accepted eternal security or perseverance of the saints (though I came close and thought that only deliberate rejection of Christ would cause apostasy), which is why I was an Arminian evangelical. I was making arguments against Calvinism in the early 1980s. But I’ve also been positively influenced by many great Reformed Protestant theologians.
The idea that there is merit to be rewarded (congruity or condignity) presupposes a self-originating work, . . .
I used the phrase “self-originated works” — in context — with the meaning of “without God’s prior enabling grace.” I was opposing (as the Catholic Church does) Pelagianism and works-salvation but not works altogether, which obviously involve human free will and choice.
To say that there is merit to be rewarded is against Christian ethics from every angle. To paraphrase Luther: there is no merit, either of congruity or of condignity; all merit belongs to Christ on the cross. But the Church of Rome teaches that the person has merit, contrary to what is said: “that God crowns his own merits”.
Yes, St. Augustine wrote that, and it perfectly harmonizes with our conception of merit. I’ve written many articles about merit, as taught in the Bible. Here are some of those:
The Bible Is Clear: Some Holy People Are Holier Than Others [National Catholic Register, 9-19-22]
God crowns his own merits, not the merit that man has earned; God crowns Christ, and the merits we have are all of Christ and received by faith, not works, which is why we have no merit.
I contend that that’s not what the Bible teaches. The Old Testament refers to “the righteous” 136 times and the New Testament uses the same sense 15 times. Every time that occurs, merit is present: someone has achieved a relatively better status under God, with regard to an attainment of greater grace and righteousness and less sin. They’ve done meritorious actions (all of which were necessarily preceded by the grace of God, to enable them) and have been rewarded for them. That’s merit (and God’s lovingkindness).
I’ve also written about the biblical teaching on differential grace offered by God. Lastly, I would note that Protestants themselves believe in differential rewards received in heaven (see, e.g., Lk 14:13-14; 2 Cor 5:10), which is no different — except for the place it occurs — from our notion of merit. Here are many passages proving that merit is biblical teaching:
Psalm 18:20-21 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.  For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
2 Samuel 22:21 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
Jeremiah 32:19 . . . whose eyes are open to all the ways of men, rewarding every man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings;
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 6:3-4 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 19:29 And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.
1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.
Ephesians 6:6-8 . . . as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,  rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men,  knowing that whatever good any one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, . . .
Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;  for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
2 Timothy 2:15, 21 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. . . .  If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.
What differentiates one man from another is grace, not the works that each one does, and therefore the one to whom God has bestowed more grace is holier, more just, and more pure, for doing good is an effect of being already transformed by grace, not the cause of grace’s transformation.
We agree on differential grace. We Catholics don’t believe that good works cause grace, but that it’s the other way around. We disagree on whether man can get credit or merit for good works. I think it’s perfectly clear in the Bible that we do obtain such merit and reward (see above). We work together with God and He rewards us for so doing. It’s “both/and”: not the false dichotomy of “either/or.”
Works, therefore, cannot be the cause of justification or sanctification, whence we conclude that it is only by faith in Christ that one is justified, and by grace alone are we sanctified, there being no merit on our part.
I’ve shown with 50 Bible passages that works play a central role in determining who will be eschatologically saved. But they are in conjunction with grace and faith. I’m providing tons of Holy Scripture. My proofs are inspired. :-)
I agree that the doctrine of works as the cause of salvation is Pelagianism, but is it not Mr. Armstrong who teaches that faith alone is insufficient to justify man? Is it not Mr. Armstrong who maintains that works are also causes of salvation?
Voluntary grace-originated works in regenerated, initially justified Christians are perfectly biblical, and required in the overall mix to be saved. I’ve shown that, and it hasn’t been overthrown by contrary Scripture (precisely because the Bible doesn’t contradict itself). Pelagianism is completely different. It falsely claims that man can start the process of doing good; but only God can start that process. It’s works without grace, lifting ourselves up by our own bootstraps: nothing that anyone should depend on. We simply don’t teach works without grace. We believe in Grace Alone (as the ultimate cause of salvation and all good things), as Protestants do.
[I]n spite of having already demonstrated it before, I will quote again some verses that prove the existence of a justification before men . . .
If it was done “before,” then I’m sure I answered before, in which case, 1) I need not answer again, and 2) Francisco needs to answer my counter-replies, rather than simply repeat his arguments, and 3) we ought not bore our readers by repeating “old news.” Repetition does not make any argument stronger. It works for propaganda, political campaigns, and television commercials, but not in reasoned debate about Christian theology. It suggests the weakness of one’s case.
I do not question the legitimacy of anyone objecting that justification before God is not acquired by faith alone, but to deny the necessity of a good testimony for men also to consider us righteous is indeed a surprise to me. Does Mr. Armstrong believe that our witness to the world is irrelevant? Does he deny that men also consider us fair when they see our behavior change?
No to both questions (being such a witness myself, as my vocation and occupation); I just don’t think that’s what the Bible is referring to when it refers to justification. When I replied to these arguments that are now being repeated, as I recall, usually context proved my point.
The debate must revolve around our justification before God, whether it is by faith alone, which I claim, or whether it is by faith and works, which Mr. Armstrong claims, but to deny that there is a justification before men is an extreme that cause astonishment. Ask “where is this distinction found in Holy Scripture?” It is the same as saying: there is no teaching in Scripture of the need for a good witness before men, when Scripture says: “You are the light of the world; a city built on a hill cannot be hidden; Nor do you light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and give light to everyone in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
The witness is all well and good and quite necessary. I would use the same proof texts for that. But I don’t see that this is justification in any sense. The phrases “justification before men” and “justified before men” never occur in the New Testament (RSV), and it seems to me that they would if this was supposed to be a biblical teaching. Francisco cites another passage:
1 Peter 2:12 Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Once again, this is simply successful evangelistic strategy. If anything, it would fit under the Protestant category of sanctification: supposedly completely distinct from justification.
My goal [by citing Calvin] was to bring a definition in line with Reformed theology, so that no one accuses me of inventing concepts or making any inaccuracy about what I am advocating. This is not against the rules of debate. . . . I quote Scripture and I also quote John Calvin in support, not as a foundation of what I believe. I quote John Calvin because I believe what he stands for agrees with Scripture, . . .
I agree. I just cited Strong and Hodges (and Louis Bouyer and Kenneth Howell), so Calvin can also certainly be cited for the purpose of definitions. We have to give each other a little leeway. My rules were designed so that things didn’t get out of hand and go off in all directions.
The same words can have different meanings, and I believe that’s the case here.
I agree again. And we both need to work hard to accurately understand the definitions of the other side.
I claim that there is a deviation of focus here, as my objection has not been answered. My contention is that there is a practical difference whether we believe otherwise, to which Mr. Armstrong responds by making a defense of justification as a process and not by imputation. Mr. Armstrong, to answer my question, should show why there are no practical differences even though there are theoretical differences. Instead, he only ratified the theoretical differences and did not show how these differences do not impose practical differences.
Fair enough. I would answer that the “peace” that Catholics have, within a paradigm of justification and salvation as lifelong processes, is our moral assurance of salvation. I linked to an article about that before, but for the sake of our book I’ll actually cite its words now:
The Catholic faith, or Christian faith is about faith, hope, and love; about a relationship with God and with our fellow man, and faith that God has provided His children with an authoritative teaching Church, so that they don’t have to spend their entire lives in an abstract search for all theological truth, never achieving it (because who has that amount of time or knowledge to figure everything out, anyway?). The true apostolic tradition has been received and delivered to each generation, through the Church, by the guidance of God the Holy Spirit.
We’re not out to sea without any hope or joy, because we’re not absolutely certain of our salvation. God wants us to be vigilant and to persevere. This is a good thing, not a bad thing, because human beings tend to take things for granted and to become complacent. Unfortunately, much of the Protestant theology of salvation (soteriology) caters to this human weakness, and is too simplistic (and too unbiblical).
The degree of moral assurance we can have is very high. The point is to examine ourselves to see if we are mired in serious sin, and to repent of it. If we do that, and know that we are not subjectively guilty of mortal sin, and relatively free from venial sin, then we can have a joyful assurance that we are on the right road.
I always use my own example, by noting that when I was an evangelical, I felt very assured of salvation, though I also believed (as an Arminian) that one could fall away if one rejected Jesus outright. Now as a Catholic I feel hardly any different than I did as an evangelical. I don’t worry about salvation. I assume that I will go to heaven one day, if I keep serving God. I trust in God’s mercy, and know that if I fall into deep sin, His grace will cause me to repent of it (and I will go along in my own free will) so that I can be restored to a relationship with Him.
We observe St. Paul being very confident and not prone to lack of trust in God at all. He had a robust faith and confidence, yet he still had a sense of the need to persevere and to be vigilant. He didn’t write as if it were a done deal: that he got “saved” one night in Damascus and signed on the dotted line, made an altar call and gave his life to Jesus, saying the sinner’s prayer or reciting John 3:16.
The biblical record gives us what is precisely the Catholic position: neither the supposed “absolute assurance” of the evangelical Protestant, the “perseverance” of the Calvinist, nor the manic, legalistic, Pharisaical, mechanical caricature of what outsider, non-experienced critics of Catholicism think Catholicism is, where a person lives a “righteous” life for 70 years, then falls into lust for three seconds, gets hit by a car, and goes to hell (as if either Catholic teaching or God operate in that infantile fashion).
The truth of the matter is that one can have a very high degree of moral assurance, and trust in God’s mercy. St. Paul shows this. He doesn’t appear worried at all about his salvation, but on the other hand, he doesn’t make out that he is absolutely assured of it and has no need of persevering. He can’t “coast.” The only thing a Catholic must absolutely avoid in order to not be damned is a subjective commission of mortal sin that is unrepented of. The mortal / venial sin distinction is itself explicitly biblical. All this stuff is eminently biblical. That’s where we got it!
Moreover, the reason we are so concerned about falling into mortal sin and being damned, is because St. Paul in particular states again and again (1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:3-6; 1 Tim 1:9-10; cf. Rev 21:8; 22:15) that those who are characterized by and wholly given over to certain sinful behaviors will not be saved in the end.
So we have to be vigilant to avoid falling into these serious sins, but on the other hand, Paul still has a great assurance and hope. All the teaching of Catholic moral assurance can be found right in Paul. Vigilance and perseverance are not antithetical to hope and a high degree of assurance and joy in Christ (Rom 5:1-5; 8:16-17; 12:12; 15:4, 13; Gal 5:5-6; Eph 1:9-14, 18; Col 1:11-14, 21-24; 3:24; cf. non-Pauline passages: Heb 6:10-12; 10:22-24; 1 Pet 1:3-7).
We observe, then, as always, that Holy Scripture backs up Catholic claims at every turn. We have assurance and faith and hope, yet this is understood within a paradigm of perseverance and constant vigilance in avoiding sin, that has the potential (remote if we don’t allow it) to lead us to damnation.
Bottom line: in a practical, day-to-day “walk with Christ as a disciple” sense, Catholics (broadly speaking) are — or can be — every bit as much at peace and joyful and “secure” in Christ, with an expectation of salvation and heaven in the end, as any Protestant. I’ve experienced it myself in my own life. I don’t sit around worrying whether I’ll wind up in hell. I simply do my best by God’s grace and the guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit to love and follow and worship God and love my fellow man, and share the Good News with as many as I can through my writing. I trust that God is merciful, and I know how good He has always been to me (and now my family): true to His promises and filled with blessings for us that we can’t even imagine: both in this life and the next. All praise and honor and glory to our wonderful God!
Francisco responded to a number of Bible passages that I brought up. He complained that I went off-topic. I did, a little (as I can see now), but I was replying directly to his comment, “This peace will not be obtained if justification is a lifelong process” with a list of passages showing that it is exactly that. If that point is established, then Francisco has to grapple with what he sees as a disconnect between the process of justification and spiritual peace. The first passage he examined was Romans 8:13-17.
What Mr. Armstrong calls justification, I call sanctification. Incidentally, there is no mention of the word justification in this verse.
One doesn’t need the exact word for the concept to be present. The passage refers to “sons of God,” “children of God,” “heirs of God,” and “fellow heirs with Christ”: all of which are perfectly compatible with being justified in the Protestant definition (and much more so than to their category of sanctification). None of those titles would apply to a non-justified person in that schema. So this is a moot point.
This initial grace, which already transforms because it is monergistic (to use the author’s own term), can be rejected. Here, however, we have a logical problem. Pay attention: if it is grace that grants faith, and this initial justification is monergistic, how can man not believe if faith is already in grace? Can a man have faith and not believe? And if man needs not to resist grace so that he can have faith, then this grace needs the concurrence of freedom, not being monergistic, but synergistic.
We agree, which is why Catholics agree with Protestants (particularly Calvinists) with regard to the predestination of the elect. God has to do this initial work. That’s what I’ve been saying over and over. It’s a great area of agreement.
Luke 6:43-45 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit;  for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.  The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
Luke 3:9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (cf. Mt 3:10; 7:19)
Jesus never stated that He could fall into sin, as Paul does, so this doesn’t fly. There’s no valid comparison. Paul is a fallen creature (who even once killed Christians). He wrote: “I am the foremost of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15) even after His regeneration. Jesus is God and did not and could not ever sin. Quite a contrast, isn’t it? Yet Francisco compares them and acts as if Paul could never fall, even though he repeatedly says that he (or anyone) conceivably or possibly or potentially could.
Here’s what Paul wrote shortly before his martyrdom:
2 Timothy 4:6-8 For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
If he was a good proto-Protestant, he would have, I submit, written something along the lines of: “I was justified by faith alone on the road to Damascus. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, . . .” That’s Protestant theology: devised in the 16th century, but it’s not Pauline theology.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Romans 2:6, 13-16 For he will render to every man according to his works: . . .  For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.  When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them  on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Personally, I think it follows from this that even an atheist may possibly be saved (I’m not saying it would be easy), based on what they know and what they do with that knowledge, following their conscience, which “bears witness” and may “excuse” them on judgment day. The good thief was saved; why not an atheist, too?
A bad Christian may have fewer good works than an atheist, but the bad Christian is the one who goes to heaven, not the atheist, because it is Christ’s merits that conquer heaven, not what I do.
That’s not what the Bible teaches; as I have massively shown, and will continue to in Parts 2 and 3 of this Round 3. The lax, antinomian-type Christian may very well lose his or her salvation, seeing that even the great St. Paul stated that he had to be vigilant in his own case.
2 Kings 22:13 is dismissed with more mere philosophical fine points of theology proper, which isn’t exegesis. It’s simply application of a prior Calvinist presuppositionalism to every single passage. In the final analysis, we’re not discussing Calvinism’s well-known view of God, but how one is justified and what it means. This passage shows that God was angered because certain of His people disobeyed Him (which entails the absence of good works, which would please God): the same theme as always in the Bible.
Psalm 7:8-10 is dismissed by relegating it to “man’s . . . perspective”: which in Calvinism always seems to amount to very little significance. But it can’t be so easily dismissed. The same Psalms played a role in the messianic prophecies. Jesus quoted one (Ps 22) from the cross. They can’t be ignored simply because a man wrote them. These men (David, mostly: the man “after God’s own heart”) were inspired by God when they wrote. We learn the same thing again. God “judges . . . according to my righteousness” (not proclamations of faith). God “saves the upright in heart.” All of this can’t be squared with “faith alone.” It fits in with it about as good as a truck tire fits a compact car.
The text is a prayer; thus, it deals with the human drama, it does not deal with soteriological metaphysical relationships.
Sure it does. By God’s providence, it became part of inspired, infallible revelation. It teaches how a man is saved, and as usual, it’s harmonious with Catholic, not Protestant teaching.
He asks about my text Psalm 58:11: “How does this prove that justification is by faith and works?” It does because it states: “Surely there is a reward for the righteous”. It’s not one of the most compelling texts in my collection, but nevertheless it shows yet again, even at this early stage of salvation history, that rewards from God come as a result of a person doing good works and being righteous (and yes, having faith too: implied), but not by faith alone.
Francisco then dismissed and ignored nine of my texts, by saying, “All warning texts, which prove nothing against the doctrine of justification by faith.” In so doing, he has violated our agreed-to third rule of this debate:
Both of us should try to actually interact point-by-point rather than picking and choosing; a serious debate where all the opponent’s arguments are grappled with.
[H]ow would we properly, biblically answer the unbiblical, sloganistic question of certain evangelical Protestants?: “If you were to die tonight and God asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you tell Him?” Our answer to his question could incorporate any one or all of the following 50 responses: all drawn from the Bible, all about works and righteousness, . . .
34) I’ve been wholly sanctified.
This point is important, for it signifies a total absence of sin, something that, according to Mr. Armstrong, not even the apostles achieved, as they were always admonishing and placing themselves as those who might fall.
As I noted at the beginning of this list, they were “all drawn from the Bible”: from my list of fifty passages having to do with the final judgment. So that is the case here. This isn’t me pulling arguments out of a hat. They came right from express statements of Scripture; in this case the following:
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 . . . may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
John 15:12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (cf. 13:34)
2 Thessalonians 1:8 inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
The unequivocal conclusion follows: justification before God is by faith alone, and sanctification is by faith and works, faith being its formal cause and work the result of that sanctification.
Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.*Proverbs 20:9 Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?
Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”*Luke 1:15 for he will be great before the Lord, . . . and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
Job 1:8 And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (cf. 1:1; 2:3)
Moses wrote that Noah was “a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9). The Bible states that “the heart of [King] Asa was blameless all his days” (2 Chr 15:17). The word “blameless” appears forty times in the Old Testament in the RSV and twelve more times in the New. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, are described in inspired revelation as “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Lk 1:5-6).
Children under the age of reason are basically sinless, as are those without the mental or intellectual capacity to make moral judgments. All of us are sinless every night when we sleep (excepting a wicked dream, which is only half-willing at best). After receiving absolution in sacramental confession, a person is sinless: at least until such time as he or she decides to sin again. All who make it to heaven will be sinless for all eternity.
“Highly favoured” (kecharitomene). Perfect passive participle of charitoo and means endowed with grace (charis), enriched with grace as in Ephesians. 1:6, . . . The Vulgate gratiae plena “is right, if it means ‘full of grace which thou hast received‘; wrong, if it means ‘full of grace which thou hast to bestow‘” (Plummer). (Word Pictures in the New Testament, II, 13)
Kecharitomene has to do with God’s grace, as it is derived from the Greek root, charis (literally, “grace”). Thus, in the KJV, charis is translated “grace” 129 out of the 150 times that it appears. Greek scholar Marvin Vincent noted that even Wycliffe and Tyndale (no enthusiastic supporters of the Catholic Church) both rendered kecharitomene in Luke 1:28 as “full of grace” and that the literal meaning was “endued with grace” (Word Studies in the New Testament, I, 259).
Likewise, well-known Protestant linguist W. E. Vine, defines it as “to endue with Divine favour or grace” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, II, 171). All these men (except Wycliffe, who probably would have been, had he lived in the 16th century or after it) are Protestants, and so cannot be accused of Catholic translation bias.
For St. Paul, grace (charis) is the antithesis and “conqueror” of sin (emphases added in the following verses):
Romans 6:14: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (cf. Rom 5:17, 20-21, 2 Cor 1:12, 2 Timothy 1:9)
We are saved by grace, and grace alone:
Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (cf. Acts 15:11, Rom 3:24, 11:5, Eph 2:5, Titus 2:11, 3:7, 1 Pet 1:10)
Thus, the biblical argument outlined above proceeds as follows:
1. Grace saves us.
2. Grace gives us the power to be holy and righteous and without sin.
Therefore, for a person to be full of grace is both to be saved and to be completely, exceptionally holy. It’s a “zero-sum game”: the more grace one has, the less sin. One might look at grace as water, and sin as the air in an empty glass (us). When you pour in the water (grace), the sin (air) is displaced. A full glass of water, therefore, contains no air (see also, similar zero-sum game concepts in 1 John 1:7, 9; 3:6, 9; 5:18). To be full of grace is to be devoid of sin.
1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Yeah, people sin. They do so all the time. This is some huge revelation? The Protestant problem is that the above verse is trotted out, while ignoring the previous and following verses (context): “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1:7); “he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). So the sinner is back to a state of holiness / righteousness / sinlessness again, by God’s grace and faithfulness. The words mean what they say: “all sin” and “all unrighteousness” are “cleansed” and they are cleansed by “the blood of Jesus.” All Francisco can do with that is claim that the words don’t “really” mean what they state (which he has already done several times: not an impressive “argument” at all).
1 John is entirely, thoroughly Catholic in perspective and in its spirit. It recognizes that people sin, but offers the total remedy for it (actually removing sin, not just declaring it’s removed when it isn’t in fact), and casually assumes that human beings are capable of going beyond sin (at least at times). And it states the high ideal of the Christian life that we should all be striving to achieve by means of God’s grace and our free will cooperation with it:
1 John 1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth;*1 John 2:1, 3-6 My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; . . .  And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments.  He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him;  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him:  he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.*1 John 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that every one who does right is born of him.*1 John 3:3-10 And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.  Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous.  He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.  By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.*1 John 3:17-19, 22-24 But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.  By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him . . .  and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.*1 John 4:8 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.*1 John 4:20 If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.*1 John 5:16-18 If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.  We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.
James 2:10 deals with man’s inability to keep the entire Law of God: a common theme in Scripture. James accepts differences in degrees of sin and righteousness elsewhere in the same letter: “we who teach shall be judged with a greater strictness” (3:1). In 1:12, the man who endures trial will receive a “crown of life.” In James 1:15 he states that “sin when it is full-grown brings forth death”.
First I would like to point out that I have never claimed that all sins are equal, and classical Calvinist theologians are willing to agree that sins are not equal,
Great! Many Protestants do assuredly believe that, but I’m delighted that Calvinists do not. I’m still defending the Catholic view of justification against all Protestants, and as always, they disagree with and contradict each other all over the place.
There is an angle in which we consider sins equal, for we believe that Christ dies equally for all sins, not just for a group of sins; therefore, all sins are damning and all sins are mortal, for they need the blood of Christ’s death to be atoned for.
That’s not true at all, because the Bible also refers to (mortal) sins which – if not repented of – will exclude one from heaven (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Rev 21:27; 22:15), and 1 John 5:16-18 (not far above) expressly contradicts this assertion. If all sins were equally “damning” then such lists would be meaningless and absurd and utterly unnecessary, because it would make no sense to distinguish more serious sins that exclude one from heaven when in fact all do so, according to Protestantism.
A child stealing a cookie from the cookie jar will go to hell alongside Hitler and Stalin, if “all sins are damning and all sins are mortal.” That’s the logical reduction of Francisco’s claim! Thus, once again, as so often throughout this debate, we have the Bible on one side of the debate, and Protestantism on the other. Go with the inspired Bible, folks. It’ll never let you down!
It remains standing that St. James says that if we stumble over one commandment, we become unclean, although it is not denied that there are more and less serious sins. It is also certain that all sin is an impurity, therefore it injures holiness.
I think my overall analysis of James 2:10 refuted this understanding.
If holiness and justification are the same thing, as the Roman Catholics think, then only he is just who does not stumble at the law at any point, and here lies the force of my argument. . . . When will we have peace with God?
We also state in no uncertain terms that the whole thing is a process, with fits and starts. We have peace with God when we are baptized, and when we profess a resolve to be a serious disciple, and with the sacrament of confirmation, and the Eucharist every Sunday; in sacramental absolution after confession, in sacramental marriage. We experience it in prayer and due to God being in us, in the indwelling. We have it in all kinds of ways, and it’s not dependent on being absolutely perfect to receive it. And this is the same dynamic we see in the Apostle Paul himself, as I have shown.
[I]t follows that it is impossible for man to keep the whole law, and therefore it is it is also impossible for man to be justified before God and to have peace.
No, because he fundamentally misunderstands how the Catholic system works. I’ve already explained it several times, so I need not do so again now. But the summary is that we are saved by grace, just as Protestants believe. We’re not seeking to be saved by the law, which can save no one, according to Paul and the New Testament. In fact, even the OT Jews (or at least the more theologically informed and spiritual, pious ones) ultimately believed in salvation by grace, not by law. Their views have been caricatured by Christians, just as Catholic views have been stereotyped as mere slavish legalism rather than a system and soteriology of grace, including faith, which necessarily includes works.
We reject the Roman Catholic distinction between venial sins and mortal sins, for Christ dies for all sins; therefore all are mortal and must be atoned for by the death of Christ.
Correction: they reject the clear biblical teaching on this matter. We’re merely following that; we didn’t invent it.
[W]hat commandment could God give to Adam that, if he were disobeyed, Adam would remain in paradise? Is there some kind of sin that Adam could commit that God would not drive him out of the garden? If there is, then the distinction between venial and mortal sin is valid, if there is not, then all sins are mortal, for any sin committed by Adam would lead to his death.
That’s an interesting argument and question to ponder. But I think we can arrive at the answer by analogy: it’s those sins that the Bible say will prohibit one from entering heaven (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Rev 21:27; 22:15): the paradise of the future: just as Eden was the initial paradise. If God communicated this distinction of sins with regard to heaven (leading to spiritual death), then it stands to reason that the same sorts of sins could have conceivably excluded Adam and Eve from Eden: had they committed them, rather than Lucifer-like and Lucifer-induced wholesale rebellion against God’s authority.
Therefore, as Francisco conceded (if I am correct), there is a valid distinction between mortal and venial sin. But that knowledge didn’t come about by speculation about Eden; it came from explicit biblical teaching. The Bible, in fact, has much more material concerning different sins and differential punishments (and indeed, even purgatory) than it does about original sin.
The charge that Protestants isolate texts from their context deserves no response.
When I make this charge, I am primarily speaking in general sense. Protestants have a strong tendency to only use selected “pet” prooftexts and ignoring not only context but many other passages that are also relevant. I go through this all the time in my debates with Protestants. The proof of that is in my website articles and debates. I hasten to add that there are certainly plenty of Protestants who can also bring a lot of Scripture to a debate, and ably wrangle verse-by-verse about exegesis (my own great love for the Bible developed in completely Protestant environments, and I thank God for that all the time) — and I think my esteemed debate opponent Francisco is among those.
But there are also many who just trot out the usual pet verses on any given topic. We’re accused of the same thing, of course, the other way around. It’s said, for example, that we ignore scores of passages about grace and faith, in our supposed obsession with legalistic works. It can be a vigorous discussion back-and-forth, but it need not be personal or acrimonious.
Therefore, there must be sins that are not full-grown and do not bring about spiritual death. James also teaches that the “prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (5:16), which implies that there are relatively more righteous people, whom God honors more, by making their prayers more effective (he used the prophet Elijah as an example). If there is a lesser and greater righteousness, then there are lesser and greater sins also, because to be less righteous is to be more sinful, and vice versa.
The text of James 5.16 must be evaluated not only by the consequent, but also by the antecedent. The preceding verses point to the reality of the power of prayer even in the face of sinful condition, for they say: “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
Of course we pray for each other. This has no bearing on my point: that prayers of more righteous people have much more effect. Both things are true and do not contradict. But the previous context also expresses sacramentalism and the more powerful prayer of the “elders”. Paul (as I stated above) taught that deacons (1 Tim 3:10) and bishops (Titus 1:7) were the be “blameless.” It stands to reason that Paul would also think the same about the required qualifications of elders. So what we see here is James exhorting Christians to go to these holier people in authority in the Church (precisely in harmony with 5:16), who can also bring the saving and healing power of the sacraments:
James 5:14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;
I have supported the notion and fact of the prayers of holier people having more effect from many other Bible passages (39, to be exact) as well: Biblical Evidence for Prayers of the Righteous Having More Power [3-23-11]. I can’t quote more of those here because my reply is already more than 18,000 words.
Isn’t unity great?
but what has just been said contradicts what Mr. Armstrong has been advocating.
Obviously, the concept of death here is a spiritual death. It is a question of the loss of the true life or ‘eternal life’, which for John is knowledge of the Father and the Son (cf. Jn 17:3), and communion and intimacy with them. In that passage the sin that leads to death seems to be the denial of the Son (cf. 1 Jn 2:22), or the worship of false gods (cf. 1 Jn 5:21). At any rate, by this distinction of concepts John seems to wish to emphasize the incalculable seriousness of what constitutes the very essence of sin, namely the rejection of God. This is manifested above all in apostasy and idolatry: repudiating faith in revealed truth and making certain created realities equal to God, raising them to the status of idols and false gods (cf. 1 Jn 5:16–21). (Reconciliation and Penance, 2 December 1984, 17)
“neither . . . [list] will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10)
“those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21)
“no . . . [list] has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God . . . because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph 5:5-6)
“shall [not] enter [heaven]” (Rev 21:27)
“Outside are . . . [list]” (Rev 22:15)
immoral / idolaters (4) / adulterers / sexual perverts / thieves / the greedy / drunkards or drunkenness (2) / revilers / robbers / fornication (3) / impurity (2) / licentiousness / sorcery (2) / enmity / strife / jealousy / anger / selfishness / dissension / party spirit / envy / carousing / covetous / unclean / one who practices abomination / one who practices falsehood (2) / dogs / murderers
Conclusion: sins not on this list or not of this high degree of seriousness, are venial sins and will not exclude one from heaven: contrary to Francisco’s claims.
Mr. Armstrong continues his argument by trying to prove the distinction between mortal and venial sin. The point is that this doctrine cannot be deduced from Scripture.
I just did that! Let the reader judge.
Scripture teaches that there are sins more grievous than others, but it never says that there are sins that do not lead to hell, that is, to eternal death, all sins, therefore, being mortal.
To the contrary: it does in 1 John 5:16-17 and (even more explicitly and undeniably) in James 1:15.
As I have already shown, St. Paul in Romans 2 teaches otherwise.
Matthew 12:34 You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (cf. Lk 6:45)*Luke 12:48 But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. . . .
1) Stick solely to biblical arguments; exegesis, commentaries, systematic theology. Citing others is fine as long as it is on the biblical text or the doctrine being discussed.*2) Don’t mention Church history . . .
And so we are done with this round! It’s been a long haul. I again thank Francisco for being willing to debate and hanging in there for the long haul. I know he’s very busy in his life with other important responsibilities, so I appreciate the time and effort he has put into this. I thank him for the challenges and the wonderful opportunity to delve into and discuss God’s magnificent Word (which we both equally revere). I became frustrated at times in this installment (and certainly he did too, at times, which is expected in such a “meaty” exchange), but I assure him and everyone else that it’s nothing “personal” or any lack of respect for Francisco as a person or Christian. I wish him all the best and all God’s blessings.
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Summary: Continuing installment of my debate on justification with Brazilian Calvinist apologist Francisco Tourinho. This is Round 3, part 1. I get the “last word” in each part.