Many debates over soteriological issues revolve around whether works have a role in salvation, and what that role is. While there are a lot of misunderstandings over the issue that we will not cover here, what we will explore is the significance of Eph 2:1-10 on the issue and how it cannot be used as justification to ax sacraments from the Church (which are in the Bible by the way).
In order to fully grasp the issue, it is important to read Eph 2:1-10 in full, keeping in mind that the “you” being mentioned are the Gentiles and the “we” is in reference to the Jews specifically (the term is only retroactively applied to Gentiles starting in verse 13):
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
In short the whole point of the passage is centered upon verse 6: “God…made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
What exactly does this mean? I must admit, much of it is beyond my comprehension. However, what I can say is that because Jesus Christ in His human body is alive, raised, and seated at the right hand of God the Father then in some sense this is true of all of those in union with Him. The literal sense is obviously not true, because all of us reading this article are here on Earth. But, in the spiritual sense those of us who are saved are part of His body, the Church, and His Church is one flesh with Himself (Eph 5:31-32). Therefore, everything that is true of Christ is also true of His Church.
Now, keeping the preceding paragraph in mind, let’s move onto verses eight through ten.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Obviously, we are not saved through works. In fact, we are not even saved by faith. We are saved by grace. Faith does not make you alive, raised, and heavenly seated. Neither can works. Only divine intervention, God’s grace invading this world, can take you as an individual and join yourself to Someone who is alive, raised, and heavenly seated.
Faith is the means that God has chosen to join ourselves to Him, and not works. Why? It is not because works play absolutely no role in salvation. Faith without works is dead. To be saved, you need a faith that works through love–saving faith normatively needs works!
So, what is the significance of this faith versus works if the faith through which we are saved by necessity has works?
Salvation by works requires salvation as remuneration, as a wage owed, and this gives man reason to boast. He earned salvation and God must pay him back. However, this is impossible for two reasons.:
First, “if it [salvation] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom 11:6). Grace is undeserved kindness, hence it cannot be remuneration, otherwise it would be deserved!
Second, your works did not raise Christ from the dead and seat Him at the right hand of God. Christ did that by His own authority (John 2:19, John 10:18).
So, what has faith have to do with it? It isn’t because faith is the antithesis of works, for we already maintain that faith has works.
Rather, faith is a childlike, dependence on God. In other words, it is our association with Him and following Him. Just like no true marriage can exist with two spouses that have no association with each other, we cannot be married to God without association with Him.
Faith is that association. It is that desire to say “yes” to God, to follow Him wherever He takes you, to trust Him, to love Him unconditionally not expecting anything in return. Faith is our proclamation of “I do” at the wedding ceremony. It begins in a moment in time when we are married in our baptism and it is lived out for a lifetime.
Faith connects us to what we cannot earn–the life, resurrection, and heavenly seat of Christ. This is why we are saved through faith, and not works.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
The word “for” requires our attention. Remember we are saved by grace through faith for we are His workmanship. Hence, the fact we are His workmanship is the very reason God saves us through faith.
Faith enters us into a relationship God where He transforms us into His own image (2 Cor 3:18) . Hence, God’s workmanship precisely is His making of us into trophies, literally gods in our own right–completely divinized. In the words of Saint Athanasisus, “The Son of God became man, that we might become god.”
This transformation is lived out in good works (Phil 2:12) and is the work of God (Phil 2:13), not our own. God is increasingly correcting our nature, redeeming His image that was lost in us through sin, and making us holy. Why? Because without holiness no one can see God (Heb 12:14). God does this through our works, but never apart from faith, for these works that God prepared beforehand for us play the role of perfecting our faith (James 2:22)!
Works not only perfect our faith, but they also literally affect the quality of our salvation. Paul writes in 2 Cor 5:10 the everyone will be “recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” We may be inclined to view the “good” simply as faith alone, but we have indications in the Scripture that individual good works merit rewards in heaven. For example, praying in secret (Matt 6:6) and the work of a slave (Col 3:24) are specifically given rewards. In Eph 6:8, Paul appears to definitively answer the question: “whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord.”
So, being that works do not enter us into a saving relationship with God, do they save us to any degree? If we keep in mind what we are being saved from (sin and separation from God) and what the reward is (to be restored to God and transformed into His image), we must conclude that the role works play is in increasing that transformation in some qualitative way thereby increasing heavenly enjoyment. In short, works increase heavenly enjoyment–they increase our salvation.
This is hard to grasp among Protestants because they view salvation merely as an escape from divine recompense. Sure, we escape judgment for our sins, but there is more than that. A man who commits no sins whatsoever still needs to be saved, because he has still substantially lost the fullness of God that man ought to have because he is born in Adam and all men are born this way. So, if I were to tell you that works are instrumental and making man in heaven more like God, then the role of works does in a real sense becomes salvific–even if they do not enter us into a saving relationship with God nor earn salvation.
Lastly, we must keep in mind that the Scriptures say that God rewards those who do good in this life. Ps 18:20 states, “The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.” It would be ignorant to say that God simply gives us more stuff. Jesus declared, “He will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:30). We gain spiritual blessings (the houses, brothers, mothers, farms, persecutions). God rewards us with greater closeness and obedience to Him in the life as well. So, God rewards those who do good in this life with greater Godliness, which not only makes them holier in this life but grants them greater Theosis in the next life.
Conclusion. Now that we more rightly understand Eph 2:8-10 in light of verse six, what can we conclude? Clearly, salvation is not of works because it is accomplished entirely by what Jesus Christ has done, and not by what man does or even believes. Faith is the means we enjoy the grace of Christ, because it enters us in a union with Him where we share all that He has.
This being the case, we must also realize that the passage does not say that sacraments or works have nothing to do with salvation. This is true especially in light of the fact that the sacramental life of the Church and good works are part of a faithful life! One cannot be divorced from another.
So, when Eph 2 is cited by Protestants, myself included in the past, as a blunt instrument against historical Christianity it is only with the presupposition that faith by definition excludes works.
This presupposition is wrong.
By Calvin’s own admission, “we are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone!” Faith has works. And, if faith has works, then the grace we are saved by, and the faith we are saved through, cannot exclude works or sacraments.
Stellar work, Craig! Perhaps my favorite out of all the posts I’ve seen from you.
Just as food for thought, another additional way to understand the role of works in salvation: How often regularly does Paul emphasize that we shall have life if we mortify the passions and put the old works of sin behind us? (Romans 8:13, Colossians 3:5) If the possibility of grave sin endangers our relationship with God, and thus, our salvation and justification (Gal. 5:16-21), it’s naturally important that we keep ourselves as far from sin as possible?
How does one do this? Well obviously, we need replace our bad actions with good actions. How else do we weed out vice than by, through God’s grace, nurture the garden of our souls with virtue? We haven’t “earned” the free gift of salvation, but we possess it jealously by seeking to live out a life according to the Spirit, and not of the flesh.
Mystified by this article. Who among the Reformed excludes works or sacraments from the process of salvation (especially in terms of sanctification/theosis)?
Justification is by grace alone (not of works lest any man should boast) on account of Christ alone. It’s a gift. We don’t work for it in any sense. Thus, in terms of justification, works have no role.
In terms of sanctification/theosis/moral transformation–whatever you wish to call it–works are indispensable. Protestants don’t speak of salvation increasing because that would be like a woman’s saying she was “just a little pregnant” early on in the gestation process. Sorry, but she’s TOTALLY pregnant the whole way along! She does, however, get bigger (even as we conform more and more to the image of Christ).
Still, our salvation is indeed enhanced by our increase in righteousness. No Calvinist I have ever spoken to believes salvation to be merely about escape from divine recompense. You’re confusing terms or something. Justification makes salvation (especially our escape from divine recompense) a done deal. But that hardly disengages us from the upward goal of holy living!
Your soteriology and Eucharistic theology are identical to Orthodoxy. If you can get past prayers to the saints and their emphasis on freedom of the will, I recommend your conversion. I say this moreso out of love for unity and devotion to God’s command that there be no schism in the body than even a love for Orthodoxy per se. The preceding have thrust me to Orthodoxy.
I have fewer problems with Catholic soteriology than Orthodox. They haven’t gone bonkers in their rejection of Augustine (and Aquinas, for that matter) though they do seem to have effectively thrown him/them overboard. (Not all. Most.)
Most are obsessed with the libertarian freedom of mankind. It’s the Spirit of the Age.
But for me it’s not an issue of the freedom of the will. It’s an issue of God’s sovereignty. Both the RC and the EO have a tiny little God whose efforts must be supplemented.
He justifies us. He regenerates us. He gifts us with faith and goads us to repentance. He unites us to himself. He infuses us with his love. He empowers us, guides us, strengthens us, maintains us, and completes us. Sure we work. But it is like a drop of honey dissolved into the ocean surf (or whatever that Buddhist/Hindu analogy at the back of my brain actually entails).
You doubt your interpretive abilities and then declare your need for autonomy and the recognition of your efforts before the Supreme Majesty. It makes less than no sense to me.
I don’t have huge intellectual misgivings about the EO/RC Eucharist, but my intuitive misgivings are off the charts. I cannot go to Mass any more. The more I study it. The more I pray. The more my misgivings grow.
I have little difficulty with the modest veneration of departed saints, nor with participation in prayer and worship together with them. This, of course, is not what happens in the Great Traditions. It may have started out innocently enough but has morphed into full-fledged idolatry. Again, the more I study, the clearer this becomes. Don’t even get me started on hyperdulia (even though somewhat ameliorated/softened in Orthodoxy).
The organizational unity of the church is meaningless without purity of doctrine. I think this was quite evident in the Early Church. Heresy begets schism and schism begets heresy. We might as well say that heresy IS schism (and vice versa). The two lungs of the Catholic Church, east and west, has edged slowly away, millimeter by micro millimeter, breath by halting breath, until I can see little if anything that ties them to the Early Church.
Not only that, but in many senses they PUSHED the Protestants out. Invalid ostracism is a type of schism, as well. The Orthodox and the Catholics are schismatics in my book. To be fair, I come nowhere near to absolving Wittenberg and Geneva and Canterbury of responsibility. Plus, neither side has made enough of a good faith effort toward reunification. In some ways, one could say that no effort at all has been made. It has been found difficult and left untried.
I think you mistake my love for the Early Church with an affinity towards Rome/Constantinople. For whatever reason, I have undertaken a serious evaluation of Rome, specifically. My studies have only driven me farther and farther away. I have had pleasant enough experiences with Orthodoxy, especially during Holy Week. They seem less combative. Less headstrong.
But JBFA is the Gospel to me. The highest thought my mind contemplates. (Besides, if it’s good enough for St. Clement, it’s good enough for me!)
You are most welcome to pray for my conversion. For my part, I will be praying for your reversion to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church…Geneva/Hippo/Monte Cassino.
Hans my heart goes out to you
“The organizational unity of the church is meaningless without purity of doctrine.”
Which church has pure doctrine in Protestantism? Which one anoints the sick and has confession to Elders? Which one teaches head covering? It seems to me in Protestantism, people claim doctrinal purity as justification for schism and maybe we even would begin considering this if there was any truth to it, but it is silly how unbliblical every Protestant church is.
” I can see little if anything that ties them to the Early Church.”
I used to think that but the more I study its the opposite. Early Church taught the Mass was a sacrifice in the 1st century, it had penance and confession, it had fasting twice a week like Orthodoxy, it had no fasting after Pentecost (hence it had a liturgical calendar) I am surprised how much on the surface it looks like modern Orthodoxy.
” Invalid ostracism is a type of schism, as well.”
Not really, but its not nice and I think it should change.
“JBFA is the Gospel to me.”
Then read this: https://orthodoxchristiantheology.com/2017/03/22/popular-orthodox-observations-on-the-doctrine-of-justification/
Orthodoxy defends JBFA rightfully understood.
I will be praying for you. Pray for me.
I have often wondered why churches which stress the literal truth of Scripture retain beliefs that cannot possibly be biblical (like Baptist teetotalism).
I think these inaccuracies ought to be swept away rather than culturally contextualized (short for “I don’t feel like believing this. It’s too weird.”)
That said, there ARE Protestant churches which embrace head coverings and anoint the sick and wash each other’s feet and confess their sins to one another (and some are assigned an elder for this purpose)
I do not consider fasting or confession or Eucharistic sacrifice or baptismal regeneration or veneration of the saints to be distinctively EO/RC. Many Protestant denominations include such things.
But I do consider the major Marian dogmas to be unhistorical and unbiblical. They are almost all late, late, late.
From what I know, the EO can only support an “Arminian” version of JBFA: Salvation is a process. We can fall from grace.
That’s inconsistent, illogical, inadequate. If we are not protected from ourselves, we might as well not be protected.
Concerning JBFO, is a fight over verbiage and emphasis really worth it? Believing salvation cannot be earned is total capitulation to the JBFO position.
You said: “That said, there ARE Protestant churches which embrace head coverings and anoint the sick and wash each other’s feet and confess their sins to one another (and some are assigned an elder for this purpose)”
Head coverings sure, but how do you know that confessing your sins to one another is an instrument through which God forgives sins? Does He automatically work through any person you confess sins to? And how do you know that anointing the sick will do anything either? Can just anyone do this? Or are the elders given some special sacerdotal powers that not everyone has?
You said: “I do not consider fasting or confession or Eucharistic sacrifice or baptismal regeneration or veneration of the saints to be distinctively EO/RC. Many Protestant denominations include such things.”
But a lot of them don’t. And there is no way within the protestant framework to achieve unity out of the chaos.
You said: “But I do consider the major Marian dogmas to be unhistorical and unbiblical. They are almost all late, late, late.
From what I know, the EO can only support an “Arminian” version of JBFA: Salvation is a process. We can fall from grace.
That’s inconsistent, illogical, inadequate. If we are not protected from ourselves, we might as well not be protected.”
The Marian dogmas deserve their own thread but there is good historical evidence that keeps getting earlier. As to “We can all fall from grace,” well that exact thing happened to the Galatians in Galatians 5:4. You praised St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas up thread. I’m sure you are aware that they both affirmed it is indeed possible to be in a state of grace, and then fall out of that state of grace.
May God be with you.
Perhaps not, for the “esse” of the Church. Evangelical Protestants are fairly unified and collegial despite the Arminian-Calvinist split.
But for the “bene esse” of the Church, it needs to be acknowledged that salvation as a process will always devolve into an earning mentality. The possibility of falling from grace means that it is up to us to maintain our salvation. That flies in the face of Sola Gratia…makes it a sham.
Think about it. If someone is totally committed to something, what can drag them away? Temptations? The cares of this world? The wiles of the devil? Certainly Christ can protect his sheep from these outside forces, or he is a lousy shepherd. (And shepherds are not “gentlemen” with their flocks. A rod and a staff are a cudgel and a hook. Bam, right over the head! There, gotcha!)
A devotee to a cause will not willy-nilly abandon his or her passion. We simply will not up and walk away of our own accord for no reason. It would take an outside force. And David’s slingshot could take care of every bear or wolf or lion that encroached on his precious wooly ones.
Sheep that get lost. He tracks down some of them, slings them over his shoulder, and brings them back to the herd…and just leaves others bleating pitifully in the wilderness?
He knows his own. He cares for his own. He abandons none.
I have often argued with Catholics just what you said: believing that salvation is not earned is a total capitulation to JBFA. (Sola Fide is there in the first place mostly as a protective hedge around Sola Gratia, making sure that works do not intrude.)
In general, they simply will not buy it. (Perhaps the Orthodox will. I haven’t interacted with them as much.) For Catholics, works are uppermost in their minds. They cannot abandon them in terms of the exclusivity of grace. So I push them on the totality of grace in accomplishing their works. I ask them, “Are both cooperative grace AND our cooperation with that grace totally of grace? Does the Spirit assist our works…or accomplish our works?” They have never thought it through, and they hem and haw. I seldom get an answer.
The experienced apologist will tell me it’s both-and. (When they get painted into a corner, it’s always both-and.) They’re God’s works AND they’re our works.
I guess they’re going to go back and amend Augustine: “He crowns his own gifts (that we packaged and bowed).”
Now, in a certain sense, they indeed ARE our works. Calvinists aren’t opposed to free will. But they have nothing to do with justification (meaning the Protestant systematics term). If they did, JBFA (and Sola Gratia with it) would be shattered! They must be kept separate in the abstract. And there is no Scripture that mitigates against such a move. Give me a break.
The fact that sheep do indeed go astray is proof that well, sheep can be led astray by the things you mentioned (temptations, cares of the world, the wiles of the devil). Obviously, Jesus is the good shepherd and is fully capable of bringing them back. And if they are elect, He will. But Jesus is not required to bring them back anymore than He was required to make them part of the flock in the first place. It’s still a gift of grace to return to the flock after a period of error. Second of all, God is allowed to bring a non-elect person into a relationship with Himself for a time and then allow that person to fall away. God is sovereign, He can do that. In the meantime, consider 2 Peter 2:20-22. The Catholic position is simply that what is described in that passage actually does happen and God permits it to happen. The Calvinist position is forced to say that what takes place there is impossible.
You said: “The experienced apologist will tell me it’s both-and. (When they get painted into a corner, it’s always both-and.) They’re God’s works AND they’re our works.”
Whining about the argument doesn’t refute it ;). Philippians 2:12-13 perfectly describe the (gasp!!!) synergistic relationship between God and man in salvation. We actually DO work out our salvation in fear and trembling and our working it out IS God working it out in us. It’s not a 50/50 split or even a 99/1 split. It’s 100/100. This is the case for all the virtues and it’s especially evident in the virtue of faith. Faith is most certainly something we do, AND it’s a gift from God. God is not just believing in Himself lol.
As for salvation being a process, there are several scriptures that put salvation into past, present, and future contexts. First I would need you to tell me two things. What exactly is salvation? And how exactly do you interpret Romans 13:11?
May God be with you.
Very good to meet you. (Now, I see why you shorten things to Matthew P.!! Good Italian name, I take it. You related to Sal?)
It will take me awhile to answer everything. I have four kids under 4.
1. James 5:16 says for us to confess our sins to one another, so I’m guessing that “one another” can mean anyone because that’s what “one another” means. ☺ We have elders anoint the sick. The passage says nothing about its having to be “a duly ordained elder in the Roman Catholic Church.” At least not in my translation….
How do you know that the church which Scripture speaks of is visible, continuous, institutional, and monolithic? It sure doesn’t sound like it within those sacred pages.
2. There is no way to achieve unity out of chaos because of the concept of religious freedom…NOT the Protestant Reformation. There’s no way to put that genie back in the bottle. (Gone are the days when one could virtually starve to death from being excommunicated…since the whole socioeconomic structure of a community revolved around the church.) Now that neither the popes nor John-Calvin wannabe’s get to be thugs any more, we’ll have to get used to the fact that any nut case who wants to can start a church of his own…or elevate himself to Maximus XII, antipope extraordinaire.
Hans, if you like you can start reviewing my rough draft. If you would like to see more or dialogue with me about it, I enclosed my email in the document; https://docs.google.com/document/d/11YNa7grCwB6ZiuhCGWAApW9MIZ9zgUBPIgBA57R4I9Q/edit?usp=sharing
3. What is this evidence “that keeps getting earlier”? Are you just speaking of variant datings (as with the Sub Tuum)?
4. The question is ” Who is this WE who can fall away from grace?” The Catholics will say it is genuine Christians who are baptized and thus regenerate, those who are in a “state of grace.” For them, both regeneration and being in a “state of grace” can be temporary. In other words, they are speaking of something entirely different than the Reformed, for whom regeneration and salvation are so very, very permanent. For the Catholic, only election is permanent.
Is the regeneration of the elect qualitatively different? Augustine seems to think so. Those who are elect have something extra. They are the chosen ones; they are “called according to God’s purpose.”
In the Parable of the Sower, there are plants who are not of the elect who are ostensibly alive. It doesn’t last long (for the seeds cast on the path, it never begins), and it doesn’t produce fruit. You can push the analogy and come up with a non-elect sort of “regeneration.”
But is it really? Those who spring up along the wayside or in with the thorns are never going to grow up. They SOUND fickle, hypocritical, weak, and lazy. They sound self-centered and cowardly. They DO NOT sound like genuine Christians. They sound like those who have blended in with us but were never wholly part of us. They sound like tares to our wheat (who as seedlings look nearly identical: but time will reveal them for what they have always been…false believers).
In the end, I think it more reasonable to place them in the category of the “only apparently regenerate” who will eventually show off their true colors. They walk among us, but they are not of us. They can and do walk away from the faith…but they never truly believed.
You Catholics say something similar about marriage: many can and do walk away from their commitment, but they were never truly sacramentally bound. And when you find this out, you grant them an annulment. To all the world they appeared married: they were in love, they had a legal ceremony, they had kids…but they fell away. They had never intended not to use birth control. They had never intended to raise the kids Catholic. They had never intended for the marriage to last forever, but just for as long as they still felt in love (like Rhoda and Joe, whose infamous wedding vows ended: “for as long as we both shall love.”)
5. Point out a single time in the New Testament where a single sheep is lost and left. It simply isn’t there. The sheep represent the elect, and none are ever left behind. When the NT wants to represent those who claim to be of the flock but really are not, it uses goats. Again, goats look a lot like sheep, especially certain breeds. But they are a different animal altogether!
6. Read 2 Peter 2:22 again. (“A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”) It sounds very much like someone who got baptized without being a true believer. And when times got tough, that stinking sow reverted to its authentic, filthy self. (Imagine that!)
7. You need to read Philippians 2:12-13 more closely:
“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, FOR it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
This verse, by the way is beloved in Reformed circles. It emphatically shows the dependence we have on the actions of God: FOR it is he who works within us to accomplish these things. It’s not that we don’t work incredibly hard. It’s simply that when it comes to JUSTIFICATION, his work counts for everything, and our work counts for nothing. We cannot even begin to save ourselves. There’s no shame in it.
I don’t know what you’re calling “synergism.” Our efforts aren’t worthy of being compared to his. What percentage do we contribute in this synergistic collaboration? Approximately .00000000000001% ? (That’s kind of high, don’t you think?) Maybe .00000000000000000000000000000001% ? (Still way too high!)
The only way your 100%-100% works is if we’re placing the percentages in entirely different categories. In that case, we can indeed logically discuss a both-and scenario, but we can also strike a firm dividing line between justification (God’s monergistic part) and sanctification (God’s and our synergistic part…though still almost totally God. In fact, some Calvinists will say this is monergistic, too, and that our efforts are in yet another category. Or, like Kevin DeYoung, they won’t categorize them at all. They’re totally different.)
8. Salvation is the combination of justification and sanctification, resulting in glorification. In terms of justification, it is a thoroughly done deal, but in terms of sanctification it is ongoing. And, of course, it has future aspects, as well.
Romans 13:11 is about the present unfolding. We are to persevere in our faithfulness to Christ, in our becoming conformed to his image.
Well, what d’ya know? I got through everything! (The kiddos fell asleep quickly.)
God’s richest blessings on you. Good night.
Don’t you just hate it when you take the time to meticulously answer somebody’s every question, and they just blow you off?