PROBLEM PASSAGES IN PAUL'S WRITINGS
Chapter 7 of The Gospel Under Siege
by Zane C. Hodges
Copyright 1992 by Redencion Viva
"Certain passages in the Pauline letters have been taken to prove that perseverance in good works is an inevitable outcome of genuine saving faith. As has already been pointed out, this kind of idea destroys the believer's ground of assurance. A man who must wait for works to verify his faith cannot know until life's end whether or not his faith was real.
This leads to the absurd conclusion that a man can believe in Christ without knowing whether he has believed in Christ!
Naturally the Pauline texts in question are all consistent with his fundamental doctrine of justification by faith apart from works. When the Apostle writes that it is "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Tit. 3:5), his true conviction comes through clearly. Paul could never have so expressed himself if he had regarded works as the real means by which we can know we are saved. To the contrary, he directs our focus away from the works we have done to the mercy of God.
How can anyone read Paul and still believe that we can only be sure of God's mercy by our works?
Similarly, Paul also writes, "But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Rom. 4:5; emphasis added). Can anyone imagine that Paul would then go on to add, "But you need to work or you will not know whether you have been justified or not"! Such a proposition is a monstrous distortion of Pauline truth. Any articulation of the Gospel which can affirm such a thing ought to be forcefully rejected by the Christian Church
In the next few pages some Pauline statements will be examined which are claimed to lead to the result we have just criticized. A few others will be considered in Chapter 9 in connection with the subject of heirship. The first text that claims attention here is Galatians 6:8.
In Galatians 6:7-9 Paul writes as follows:
"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."
It is important to see exactly what this text says. "Everlasting life," Paul states, is the direct consequence of sowing to the Spirit, of doing good. Corruption is what you reap if you do evil. It is all part of the law of the harvest. A man gets what he deserves to get.
It goes almost without saying that there is nothing said here about the "inevitable" results of saving faith. Indeed, the hortatory thrust of the passage shows the opposite. The Galatians must be careful about how they sow. They must never suppose that they can "mock" God or avoid the inexorable law of the harvest. The final reaping is not a foregone conclusion, but rather it is contingent on not "growing weary" while doing good.
But equally there is nothing here about justification by faith or the concept of a free gift.
Nothing is plainer than that the "everlasting life" of which Paul speaks is not free, but based on the moral merits of those who reap it. To deny this is to deny the most obvious aspect of the text.
All becomes clear, however, if we simply remember that the Apostle is addressing believers (see, for example, 3:2-5) who have already been justified by faith and who possess everlasting life as a free gift. Naturally Paul knew that eternal life was freely given (Rom. 6:23; see also Rom. 5:15-18), just as the Apostle John knew this. But Paul is not speaking about what the Galatians already have, but about what they may yet receive.
Herein lies the key to this text.
(1) The Nature of Eternal Life
It must not be forgotten that eternal life is nothing less than the very life of God Himself.
As such it cannot be thought of as a mere fixed and static entity. Rather, its potentialities are rich beyond the power of the mind to conceive them. Thus we find Jesus declaring, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). From this we learn that eternal life can be experienced in more than one measure or degree.
But it cannot be experienced at all unless first received as a free gift. Not surprisingly, the Creator of the universe has illustrated this with every human life that is born into the world.
No man or woman possesses physical life at all except by his parents imparting it to him.
Even physical life, therefore, is a free gift! But when a child is born into this present world, the capacities of human life (all present at birth) must be developed by himself under the guidance of his parents and subsequent teachers. How "abundantly" he will experience human life is determined by his response to instruction and to experience itself.
So it is in the spiritual realm too. In order to have life "more abundantly," one must meet the conditions for this. One must respond properly to his heavenly Parent.
Here it should be stated clearly that in the New Testament eternal life is presented both as a free gift and as a reward merited by those who earn it. But one important distinction always holds true. Wherever eternal life is viewed as a reward, it is obtained in the future.
But wherever eternal life is presented as a gift, it is obtained in the present.
Naturally, it goes without saying that no one can ever receive eternal life as a reward who does not first accept it as a free gift. This is the same as saying that a person must first have life before he can experience it richly.
(2) Harvesting Eternal Life
If Galatians 6:8 is understood as speaking only of a man's final salvation from hell, then it teaches clearly that this final salvation is by works. Not to admit this is not to be candid.
But no one excludes works from his doctrine of salvation more vigorously than Paul does, and he insists that to mix works and grace is to alter the character of both (see Rom. 11:6).
Galatians 6:8 is irreconcilable with fundamental Pauline truth so long as one holds the view that final salvation is under discussion.
But why hold this view? It is easy to understand how the measure and extent of one's experience of God's life must depend on the measure of his response to God. From that perspective the image of a harvest is exactly right. The nature and quantity of the seed we sow determines the nature and quantity of the harvest.
It is obviously wise for a Christian to be reminded that every act he performs is like a seed sown in a field. Its harvest will be either corruption or eternal life. And is there a Christian alive who has not sown much more often to his flesh than he ought to have done? Clearly the Church needs this reminder about the law of life. To make the issue here a man's final destiny in heaven or hell is to lose the whole point of the exhortation.
If the matters just discussed are kept in mind, other passages which offer eternal life as a future experience based on works can be understood in their proper bearing. One might think especially of Matthew 19:29 with its parallels in Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30. The eschatological "harvest" is in view in these places. Obedient men reap an experience of eternal life precisely because they are obedient. But this in no way conflicts with the reality that such obedience must be preceded by, and motivated through, a gift of life given freely and without any condition but faith alone.
Colossians 1:23 has sometimes been taken to teach that perseverance in the faith is a condition for final salvation. The passage reads as follow:
"And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight - if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you have heard . . . (1:21-23a)."
It is clear that "condition" is the only appropriate word here. There is nothing to support the view that perseverance in the faith is an "inevitable" outcome of true salvation. On the contrary, the text reads like a warning. Naturally, in the context of the Colossian heresy (Col. 2:8, 16-23) that is exactly what it is.
But once again the mistake is made of referring the statement of the text to a man's final salvation. Words like "holy," "blameless," and "above reproach" do not require the sense of "sinless" or "absolutely perfect." Men can be described in all these ways who are not completely sinless. The word translated as "above reproach" is actually found in the Pauline list of qualifications for deacons and elders in the sense of "blameless" (1 Tim. 3:10; Titus 1:6, 7).
A comparison of Colossians 1:22 with 1:28 is also helpful.
In 1:28 Paul writes:
"Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
This statement is connected with 1:22 by the presence of the special word "present." But here Paul employs the word "perfect" which is the normal Greek word for "mature" (and is so used in 1 Cor. 2:6; 14:20; Heb. 5:14). Obviously this word also does not have to suggest sinless perfection.
It is natural, therefore, to see 1:22 and 1:28 as slightly different forms of the same idea.
The aim of Christ's reconciling work at the cross is the aim Paul serves by his teaching ministry. He seeks to bring men to that matured experience of holiness which will enable them to be presented acceptably to God. When they stand on review before Him their lives ought to meet with His approval (see also Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10).
But this approval can only be achieved, he cautions his readers, if they hold firmly to their faith in the Gospel and do not allow new ideas and doctrines to move them away from fundamental truths (1:23).
As we have seen already, Paul knew perfectly well that Christians were not immune to the influences of heresy (2 Tim. 2:17-19; 1 Tim. 1:18-20). He is saying, then, that the Colossians will never reach maturity in holiness if they listen to the wrong voices. In that event, they could not be presented to God in a spiritual state which truly fulfilled the aims of the cross. Their lives would be open to His censure. They are, therefore, to hold firmly to the faith they had heard from the beginning.
But about perseverance in the faith as a condition for final salvation from hell, Paul here says nothing at all.
1 Corinthians 15:2
It might be thought, however, that such an idea does find expression in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2. There Paul writes:
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you - unless you believed in vain.
The problem in correctly understanding this verse is caused by the English translation. A very flexible Greek verb (katecho) is translated "hold fast" in the New King James Version (the AV has "keep in memory"). But the verb could equally well be rendered "take hold of" or "take possession of." In that case it would refer to the act of appropriating the truth of the Gospel by faith.
Closer examination of the Greek text suggests that this is indeed the correct understanding. The Greek word order can be represented as follows: "by which also you are saved, by that word I preached to you, if you take hold of it, unless you believed in vain." From this it appears that Paul is thinking of the saving effect of the preached word when it is duly appropriated, unless in fact that appropriation (by faith) has been in vain.
What he means by believing "in vain" is made clear in verses 14 and 17:
And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty [the AV has "vain" for "empty"].
And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins [the AV has "vain" for "futile"].
First Corinthians 15:2 must be read in the light of the subsequent discussion about resurrection. Paul is simply saying, in verse 2, that the Gospel he has preached to them is a saving Gospel when it is appropriated by faith, unless, after all, the resurrection is false.
In that case, no salvation has occurred at all and the faith his readers had exercised was futile. But naturally Paul absolutely insists on the reality of the resurrection of Christ. He therefore does not think that the Corinthians have believed "in vain."
But neither here nor anywhere else in the Pauline letters can the Apostle be correctly understood as teaching that perseverance in the faith is a condition of, or an indispensable sign of, final salvation from hell.
1 Corinthians 1:8
In the opening chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul speaks positively and hopefully about the church's spiritual prospects. The context shows clearly that he is speaking of the church corporately:
"I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:4-9)."
Here the Corinthian church is praised because it is so richly endowed with spiritual gifts, because the testimony of Christ has received confirmation in the church's life and experience, and because it waits eagerly for the coming of Christ. Paul fully expects God to bring the church to the place where it is blameless before Him (the letter shows the church has a long way to go!), and he bases this expectation on God's faithfulness. Paul is sure that the many problems at Corinth, which he is about to discuss, can be worked out.
It would be a mistake to read more into the text than that. There is not to be found here a guarantee that each and every Christian individual will necessarily be brought to the place where his Christian life is blameless" before God. (The word "blameless" is the same one we have met as "above reproach" in Colossians 1:22.) In Paul's mind no such guarantee existed.
(1) Paul's view in 1 Corinthians 3
This is made perfectly plain in this very letter. In chapter 3 the Apostle describes the evaluation of the Christian's life and work which will someday take place at the Judgment Seat of Christ (see again, Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10). His words are these:
"For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15).
It is clear from this text that Paul entertained the possibility that in the Day of divine evaluation, a Christian's work might be "burned up." The Greek verb employed in verse 15 (the one rendered "burned") is in fact an intensive word like our own verb "burned down." Should a Christian's works suffer such a fate Paul insists that his eternal destiny nevertheless will not be affected. "But he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."
This declaration is so straightforward that it is absolutely amazing how widely it has been ignored. Obviously, if a believer's works are "burned down" he will not stand "blameless" before God. So 1:8 does not claim that a "blameless" state will be true of every Christian at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul was speaking primarily about the spiritual status which he expected the Corinthian church to achieve corporately.
(2) A Further Caution
But even here caution must be exercised not to make the words of 1:8 say more than they actually do.
If a counselor says to a troubled counselee, "God will strengthen you and see you through," this claim ought not to be taken as a flat and unconditional prediction. Instead it is an expression of the counselor's conviction that God can be relied upon by the troubled individual who needs Him. Naturally he expects the counselee to appropriate God's help in the proper ways.
In 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 Paul begins his epistle on a positive note. He commends in the Corinthian church what there is to commend (there was a great deal to criticize!), and he expresses the expectation that "God will confirm you [that is, `give you strength'] to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." But it is implied in such a declaration that the Corinthians must want that strength and must appropriate it properly.
Paul's main point is that God will furnish the needed help, because He is faithful (verse 9). Those who have elevated the statement of 1:8 to the level of a theological claim about Christian perseverance have misunderstood meaning. They have also created false theology.
It has often been said that the Epistle to the Philippians is a "thank you note." The Philippians have sent a monetary gift to Paul for which he is deeply grateful (4:10-19).
Naturally at the very beginning of the epistle he refers to their material generosity. In 1:3-6 he writes:
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
It is natural to understand this passage in special reference to the Philippians' recent generosity. This is implied rather plainly by the Greek word "fellowship." This word very often refers to material "sharing" and can sometimes even mean "contribution" (see Rom. 15:26). Paul is assuring the Philippians that their "good work" of sharing in the spread of the Gospel will be carried to full fruitfulness by God. Its total effects (for example, in the winning of souls) will only be manifest in the day of Jesus Christ.
In fact, this very epistle can be seen as part of the fruit which that "good work" produced, since the Philippians' gift occasioned the letter. Whatever spiritual impact Paul's letter has had on the Church down through the centuries (who can calculate it?) is therefore part of the "interest" which has accumulated on this simple material investment in the cause of Christ.
It may also be suggested that every good work which we do has a potential for usefulness that lies far beyond its original intent. God alone can "perfect" our good works and give them their full impact - often far beyond the lifetime of the one "in" whom the good work begins. Only the day of Jesus Christ will disclose all that God does with what we do for Him.
Philippians 1:6 is a lovely and thought-provoking utterance by an appreciative Apostle. But about the issue of Christian perseverance it has nothing to say at all.
Philippians 2:12, 13
Philippians 2:12, 13 are more relevant to the issues under discussion. In these verses Paul writes:
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."
It is clear that if the "salvation" Paul speaks of here refers to escape from hell, then obedient works are a condition for that. Once again it would be unwarranted to read into the passage the idea that such obedience is merely the evidence of true faith. That idea has nothing whatsoever to support it in the text. It can only amount to an evasion of the plain declaration that this "salvation" must be "worked out."
Whatever is involved here, it is manifestly salvation by works!
It follows that Paul must be talking about something quite different from the salvation he speaks of in Ephesians 2:8, 9 and Titus 3:4-7. As a matter of fact he is.
(1) Salvation Equals "Deliverance"
In only two other places in the epistle [of Philippians] does Paul use the term "salvation." One of these is in 1:19, 20 where he writes:
'''For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance [AV, "salvation"] through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.'''
The first century reader was not likely to have any problem understanding this. The Greek word for "salvation" (soteria) simply meant "deliverance," as the NKJV now translates it here. Like the English word "deliverance" it could have wide application and was particularly applicable to life-threatening situations. Paul now confronts a life-threatening situation in which the outcome of his impending trial cannot be predicted with absolute certainty.
His readers knew this, of course. When Paul writes, "I know that this will turn out for my deliverance," their first impression would be that he anticipated release from his imprisonment. But the remainder of his words show them that this is not what he has in mind. "For me," says Paul, "real `deliverance' (or, "salvation") will consist of magnifying Christ whether I live or die. For this, I need your prayers and the help of God's Spirit."
In a very courageous way, therefore, Paul elevates his natural human concern with "deliverance" (or "salvation") from trouble to the level of a spiritual concern that he will be "delivered" (or "saved") from failing to honor God in whatever befalls him. In saying this, of course, he hopes to motivate his readers to a similar objective.
(2) The Parallel in 1:27-30
In fact, that is exactly what he tries to do directly a little later in this chapter. In 1:27-30 he writes:
"Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition [or, "ruin," as it could be translated] but to you of salvation [or, "deliverance"], and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me."
In this exhortation, the Apostle applies to the readers the idea he had earlier expressed concerning himself.
The Philippians also have sufferings just as he does. But they too can aspire to a "deliverance" (or "salvation") in which Christ is magnified in them as well. If they will stand unitedly for the Gospel and are not terrified by their adversaries, that will be proof that this "deliverance" (or "salvation") is being realized in their lives.
By contrast, their courage and fidelity foretell the ruin of their enemies, whether temporally or eternally.
Paul and his readers are aware that there is a "deliverance" (or "salvation") from hell which they have already obtained by faith in Christ. But the "deliverance" (or "salvation") he offers them here is over and above that which they already have. It is one that issues from sufferings.
Therefore, Paul can say, "For to you it has been granted . . . not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." In other words, just as there is a salvation through faith, so there is one through suffering. That too is being granted to the Philippians.
But this "salvation" (or "deliverance") must be worked out. It is the product of obedience even under the most trying of circumstances. When Philippians 2:12,13 is properly referred back to the Apostle's earlier references to "salvation," then its bearing becomes clear. Since this "salvation" consists essentially in honoring Christ by life or by death, it is necessarily inseparable from a life of obedience.
In the words that follow immediately in 2:14-16, the nature of this life is once more described. The Philippians are encouraged to be "children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (2:15). Clearly, such a result would be a magnificent triumph, a kind of spiritual "deliverance" or "salvation," in the midst of a hostile and dangerous earthly situation.
Interlude: Biblical Salvation
What we have just seen in Philippians is important for the Bible as a whole. The exact meaning of the term "salvation" must never be taken for granted.
(1) The Word for Salvation in the Greek Bible
When the Greek translation of the Old Testament is considered along with the Greek New Testament, it can safely be said that the most common meaning of the word "salvation" (soteria) in the Greek Bible is the one which refers to God's deliverance of His people from their trials and hardships. This meaning is widespread in Psalms especially. Among the references which can be cited are Psalm 3:8; 18:3, 35, 46, 50; 35:3; 37:39; 38:22; 44:4; etc. In all these places, and many more besides, the Greek Old Testament uses the word soteria ("salvation").
First century Christians, therefore, were every bit as likely to understand a reference to "salvation" in this sense as they were to understand it in the sense of "escaping from hell."
New Testament interpreters forget this fact very frequently. In place of careful consideration about the sense which the term "salvation" has in any given context, there is a kind of interpretive "reflex action" that automatically equates the word with final salvation from hell. This uncritical treatment of many New Testament passages has led to almost boundless confusion at both the expository and doctrinal levels.
Serious interpreters of the New Testament Scriptures must carefully avoid this kind of automatic response. They should seek to determine from the context the kind of "deliverance" in question. It may well be deliverance from death to life or from hell to heaven. But equally it may well be a deliverance from trial, danger, suffering or temptation. The context - sometimes the larger context of the book itself (as in Romans and Hebrews) - must determine the exact meaning.
(2) "Saving the Life" in the Bible
Furthermore, in the teaching of Jesus a distinctive note is sounded which is not really found in the Old Testament passages about "salvation." Although the Old Covenant saint thought instinctively of the preservation of his physical life, the New Covenant person is taught to go beyond this consideration.
According to Jesus, a man can "save his life" even when he "loses" it (see Matt. 16:25 and parallels). This paradox suggests that even death itself cannot destroy the value and worth of a life lived in discipleship to Christ. Such a life survives every calamity and results in eternal reward and glory.
Paul is not far from such a thought in Philippians. To be truly "delivered" in suffering is not necessarily to survive it physically, but to glorify Christ through it.
The same idea is present in the Apostle Peter's famous passage on suffering found in 1 Peter 1:6-9. The expression in verse 9 which is translated "the salvation of your souls" would be much better translated according to its normal Greek sense: "the salvation of your lives." Peter is describing the messianic experience in which the believer partakes of Christ's sufferings first, in order that he might subsequently share the glory to which those sufferings lead (1 Peter 1:10, 11). In this way the "life" is saved, even when paradoxically it is lost, because it results in "praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:7).
In fact, it can be said that there is not a single place in the New Testament where the expression "to save the soul" ever means final salvation from hell. It cannot be shown that any native Greek speaker would have understood this expression in any other than the idiomatic way. That is, he would understand it as signifying "to save the life."
In modern use, of course, "to save the soul" is almost universally understood as a reference to eternal salvation. But this fixity in its meaning is not relevant to its New Testament use. In the New Testament we should always understand it as equal to our expression: "to save the life."
In Philippians Paul never uses the word "salvation" to refer to the question of heaven or hell. After all, both he and his readers knew where they were going. Their names were in the Book of Life (Phil. 4:3)!
Romans 2:7, 10, 13
It is a tragic feature of the modern debate over salvation, that certain statements made by Paul in his great epistle to the church at Rome have been turned upside down. These statements are found in Romans 2 and are intended by the Apostle to underline man's hopeless state before the bar of God's judgment. Instead, some modern theologians take them as proof-texts that good works, as the fruit of faith, will be the final test of a person's salvation.16
Let us look at the Pauline statements in question:
It is certainly astounding that these words could be taken in such a way as to nullify the doctrine Paul goes on to teach in this epistle, when he writes emphatically: Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20).
This tragic confusion could have been easily avoided. In Romans 2 Paul is discussing how God will deal with men in the final judgment (Rom. 2:5). One should remember that born-again believers do not come into that judgment (John 5:24). At the judgment bar of God, the day of grace will be past and men will stand before their Judge for His final assessment of their lives (see Rev. 20:12). His judgment will be impartial and based on their works. Those who have persevered in doing good may expect eternal life. Those who have not only heard, but kept, God's law, will receive God's justification.
But who are these? There are none. Romans 3:20 says so plainly. So does Romans 3:9-19 - very emphatically!
The standpoint in Romans 2 is analogous to a judge who has a line of defendants ranged before his tribunal. Speaking in the non-prejudicial language of the law-courts he might say to them: "In this courtroom everyone will get exactly what he deserves. The innocent will be cleared, but the guilty will be condemned to punishment." Does this statement imply that some of the defendants are innocent and will be cleared? Of course not. The judge is simply stating the principles which will obtain in his court. Justice and equity will be the hallmarks of this judicial proceeding.
Romans 2:7, 10, and 13 are not spoken as a prediction, as though there actually will be people whose works entitle them to eternal life and justification. Instead, these verses state the principles on which judgment will be based in God's final assessment of lost men. Each person will get what he deserves. But Paul's doctrine was that no one would gain eternal salvation on the basis of principles like these. In the very next chapter of this epistle (Rom. 3), Paul will demonstrate that very point.
Precisely, then, because men fail to persevere in good works or truly to do God's law, they are utterly shut up to "the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ" (Rom. 3:21-26).
Other Pauline Texts
Within the limited scope of this book it is not possible to touch every single passage which at one time or another has been used to prove that Paul treated good works as an "inevitable" outcome of true regeneration. Paul simply did not hold such a view of works, though no writer insists more strongly than he that Christians ought to do them.
Unfortunately, the Apostle has not always been credited with being truly consistent with his fundamental insistence that works have nothing to do with determining a Christian's basic relationship to God. That relationship, in Pauline thought, is founded on pure grace and nothing else.
Often Paul's statements are treated in a very one-dimensional way. Even though every epistle he wrote is addressed to those who have already come to saving faith, his teachings are frequently taken as though he was constantly concerned about the eternal destiny of his readers. But there was no reason why he should have been. His many direct declarations that his audiences have experienced God's grace show that he was not concerned about this.
Such declarations abound in the Pauline letters, and Ephesians 2 and Titus 3 are merely two of the most notable. Simple statements like, "For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor 6:20), show exactly what he thought about his readers' relationship to God. There is not even a single place in the Pauline letters where he clearly expresses doubt that his audience is composed of true Christians.
(1) Romans 8:14
So when the Apostle writes, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14), he is not offering a "test" by which his readers may decide if they are saved or not. His readers possess a faith which "is spoken of throughout the whole world" (Rom. 1:8). They enjoy "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" as well as "access by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Rom. 5:1,2; note the repeated use of "we"). That they could conceivably be unregenerate is the farthest thought from the Apostle's mind.
But for Paul the concept of being a "son of God" involved more than simply being regenerate. As he makes clear in Galatians 4:1-7, a "son" is one who has been granted "adult" status, in contrast to the "child" who is under "guardians and stewards" (Gal. 4:1, 2). This, of course, means that the Christian, as a "son," is free from the law. Thus the statement of Romans 8:14 is identical in force to that of Galatians 5:18: "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." The identity between the statements is confirmed also by the reference to "the spirit of bondage" in Romans 8:15.
Consequently, both in Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18, Paul is talking about the way in which our freedom from the law is experientially realized. When the Spirit leads the life, there is no more legal bondage. The believer enters into the freedom of real "sonship" to God and that sonship becomes a reality in his day-by-day experience.
(2) Titus 1:16
Nor should a "test" of regeneration be detected in a verse like Titus 1:16: "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work." It is superficial to take the word "deny" as though it meant nothing more than "is not a Christian."
A little reflection will show that there are various ways in which a believer may "deny" God. He may do it verbally, as Peter did on the night of our Lord's arrest. But he may also do it morally by a lifestyle that contradicts the implications of the truth he professes. How easily this can be done even by a single act that clashes with our Christian profession, every honest Christian ought to be able to know out of his own experience.
Besides, the people Paul has in mind in Titus 1:16 are evidently the same as those of whom he says in verse 13: "Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith."
The Greek word for "sound" means to be healthy. Hence, the persons he thinks of are not individuals who are completely outside the Christian faith. Rather, they are people whom he regards as spiritually "sick" and who need a rebuke designed to restore them to good health. So far from showing that Christians cannot drift disastrously from the path of good works, Titus 1:16 shows the reverse!
(3) Romans 1:5 and 16:26
Finally, an expression like "obedience to the faith" (Rom. 1:5; 16:26) has nothing to do with the works that follow salvation. The fact that it does not is widely recognized since the Greek expression is more literally rendered "the obedience of faith." In harmony with one well-known Greek usage of such expressions, the "obedience" in question is "faith" itself.
Naturally, God demands that men place faith in His Son and is angry with them when they do not (John 3:36). Faith is an obedient response to the summons of the Gospel. But the man who exercises faith is reaching out for the unconditional grace of God.
The Apostle Paul remains, therefore, the Apostle of divine grace. No doubt there were those who could twist his teachings into "antinomian" formulations (see Rom. 3:8).
Ironically, the charge of "antinomianism" has frequently been hurled at the book you are now reading. But this theological "swear word" is totally inapplicable here, just as was such a charge in Paul's case.
Paul never allowed such accusations to keep him from teaching the freeness of God's salvation nor did he neglect to call for a lifestyle that was truly responsive to this divine generosity. But the Apostle was also a realist and a pastor who knew only too well the failures to which Christians are prone. Yet he does not for that reason modify his concept of God's saving grace. He simply redoubles his efforts to stir up his fellow Christians to live so that they will honor their true calling (Eph. 4:1).
It may safely be said that no man in Christian history - with the exception of our Lord Himself - ever motivated believers more or threatened them less than did this great servant of Christ. Those who feel unable to inspire lives of obedience apart from questioning the salvation of those whom they seek to exhort have much to learn from Paul.
2 Corinthians 13:5
In the first edition of this book there was no discussion of 2 Corinthians 13:5. This proved to be a significant oversight. Critics of the book sometimes spoke as though the oversight was due to a reluctance on the author's part to confront this text.
This was not the case. But we did misjudge the role this verse would play in the debate that followed publication of the first edition. The inclusion of 2 Corinthians 13:5 in this second edition is therefore absolutely necessary.
In 2 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul is announcing his intention to visit the Corinthian church once more. He writes:
I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare - since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified (2 Cor. 13:2-6; emphasis added).
Just as with most of the verses already discussed in this chapter, 2 Corinthians 13:5 is often ripped out of its context. Failure to consider the context is almost always a formula for misunderstanding and doctrinal confusion.
(1) The Situation at Corinth
The situation at Corinth was somewhat different from that which existed when 1 Corinthians was written. Although the church as a whole still had warm regard for Paul (2 Cor. 7:6-16), Paul now had critics and enemies in Corinth. The believers there had listened to these people more than they should have (10:7-12; 11:12-15).
Apparently some of Paul's own converts wondered whether Paul could furnish "proof of Christ speaking" in him (13:3). Paul is now insisting that he will indeed revisit Corinth (see 13:1), though a previously planned trip had been canceled (see 2 Cor. 1:15-2:2).
Furthermore, he insists that when he comes his conduct toward them will be marked by the "power of God" (verse 4).
The tone of 2 Corinthians 13:2-4 is both humble and confident. Paul promises not to "spare" those Christians among them who had sinned and had remained unrepentant (see verse 4 and 12:20,21). This implies that Paul will either lead the church to discipline these people or that he himself, through prayer, will deliver them to Satan who will be an instrument for their chastisement. As we saw in the previous chapter, this is what Paul did at a later time with Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20).
Paul knows, of course, his own weakness (13:4), yet he has total confidence that his actions at Corinth will be effective because God's power will work through him. The sinning believers will be dealt with in such a way that the Corinthians will get "a proof of Christ speaking in me" (verse 2). In short, Paul says, "we will live with Him [Christ] by the power of God toward you" (verse 4, emphasis added).
(2) Paul's Challenge to the Corinthians
Yet Paul is not so arrogant as to suggest that such confidence was a special privilege belonging to him alone. True, he knew perfectly well that Christ lived dynamically in him and used him. But could not the Corinthians have the same confidence about themselves?
Of course they could. Provided of course, that their lives did not stand under God's disapproving censure.
So he writes:
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you are disqualified (2 Cor. 13:5; emphasis added). Unfortunately these forceful words are often read as though they challenged the Corinthians to find out whether or not they were saved.
This is unthinkable and absurd. After twelve chapters in which the Apostle takes his readers' Christianity for granted, can he only now be telling them to make sure they are born again? The question answers itself.
It is impossible to read the first twelve chapters of 2 Corinthians carefully without seeing how frequently the Apostle expresses confidence that his readership is truly Christian. Let us notice a few places where this is true:
"Paul . . . to the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia (1:1,2)."
"Now I trust you will understand to the end . . . that we are your boast as you also are ours in the day of Jesus Christ." (1:13, 14).
"Now He who establishes us with you in Christ . . ." (1:21)
"You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart." (3:2, 3)
"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers" [the Corinthians are believers!].
"For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? . . . Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God." (6:14-16)
"But as you abound in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us - see that you abound in this grace also." (8:7)
It is needless to extend this list further. How can anyone read 2 Corinthians and conclude that Paul thought his readership needed to find out whether they were really saved or not? To draw this conclusion from 2 Corinthians 13:5 is to impose on that verse an alien theology, about which Paul knew nothing at all.
No indeed! Paul is not saying, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are born again, or justified." But he is saying, "Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith." And this is a different matter.
(3) The Meaning of "in the Faith"
It is tragic how often a text like this can be read with preconceived notions about the meanings of certain words or phrases. Why should anyone assume that the expression "in the faith" equals "to be a Christian"? On what grounds is such an assumption based?
What about the same phrase in 1 Corinthians 16:13? There we read:
"Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong."
Or equally, what about this phrase in Titus 1:13?
"Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound [healthy] in the faith [see also Titus 2:2]."
There are other passages where an equivalent expression appears. These, too, are helpful:
". . . strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith" (Acts 14:22).
"Receive one who is weak in the faith" (Rom. 14:1).
"As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith" (Col. 2:6,7).
"Be sober, be vigilant; for your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith" (1 Pet. 5:8, 9).
In all of the passages we have mentioned, the phrase "in the faith" relates in some way to our Christian walk or warfare. The meaning "to be a Christian" is not relevant in any New Testament passage at all!
We must conclude that the expression "in the faith" refers instead to the proper sphere of our spiritual activity. It is the sphere in which we are to "remain," "stand fast," "stand," "resist the devil," and "be spiritually healthy." It is this type of meaning alone that fits the context of 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Paul is quite sure that he himself is "in the faith" in the sense that he is dynamically related to Christ. Christ speaks in him, God's power works through him. He is confident this will be evident when he returns to Corinth.
But the Corinthians can see this in themselves, too, if they will but examine their experience. They can see Jesus Christ living dynamically in themselves as well.
Thus the statement, "Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?" has no more to do with the question of salvation than do the words "in the faith." What Paul has described of his own experience shows that he is thinking of Jesus Christ being in himself, or in the Corinthians, in a dynamic, active and vital sense.
In the language of the Apostle John this could be expressed in terms of the abiding life, where the disciple is in Christ, and Christ is in the disciple, in a dynamic, fruit-bearing relationship (see John 15:1-8; 14:19-24). So Paul is saying, "Take a look at yourselves; test yourselves. Can you not see Jesus Christ actively living in you, just as I can see Him in me? Of course you can - unless, however, you are `disqualified.'"
(4) The Meaning of "Disqualified"
The word "disqualified" is a significant one for Paul. He used it in his first letter to the Corinthian church when he wrote:
"But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27).
In this passage, the Apostle has been talking about the Christian life as a race. He is careful to pursue God's approval in that race so that he will not be "disqualified" from winning the proper reward.
But the Greek word translated "disqualified" basically means "disapproved." In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul is telling his Christian readers that as long as they have God's approval on their lives (that is, as long as they are obedient to Him) they will be able to see in their own experience the dynamic reality of Christ living in them.
This could be observable in terms of answered prayer, spiritual blessing, and fruitfulness in the lives of others. Obedient Christians experience such things. Disobedient Christians do not. Obedient believers are living their lives "in the faith." Disobedient believers are cut off from this kind of vital fellowship with Christ. They may be described as living "according to the flesh" (Rom. 8:13) or as "walking in darkness" (1 John 1:7).
a) [Compare ''' “Castaway” and “Disqualified” Are Bad Translations (1 Corinthians 9:27)''']:
“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (NKJV)
The King James Version
translates the end of 1 Cor 9:27 in this way: “lest that by any means,
when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” ...
The word castaway in modern English means “a shipwrecked person, anything cast adrift or thrown away, an outcast” (dictionary.com). That translation could imply loss of everlasting life or at least a statement that the Apostle Paul feared he might not be born again. A website called av1611.com defines castaway as “That which is thrown away. A person abandoned by God, as unworthy of his favor; a reprobate. 1 Cor. 9:27.”
The New King James
Version, cited above, translates adokimos (the Greek word in question)
as disqualified. Many translations choose that word (NASB, NIV, HCSB,
NET, MEV, RSV, NRSV). [Note: YLT has "disapproved"] The word
disqualified means “1. to deprive of qualification or fitness; render
unfit; incapacitate. 2. to deprive of legal, official, or other rights
or privileges; declare ineligible or unqualified. 3. Sports. to deprive
of the right to participate in or win a contest because of a violation
of the rules” (dictionary.com). That word is more ambiguous concerning
eternal destiny than is castaway. Still there are many who understand
the “prize” in 1 Cor 9:24-27, for which Paul fears being disqualified,
to refer to everlasting life. In their 2001 book The Race Set Before
Us, Schreiner and Caneday say, “Warnings and admonitions call for faith
that endures to receive the prize. The prize is salvation, eternal
life…If one abandons the race one will not receive the prize” (p. 40).
b) [Compare Eph 2:8-9]:
(Eph 2:8 NASB) "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that [salvation is] not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."
Note that salvation CANNOT
be a prize that is earned as a reward through ones own efforts -
through ones works, for it is a free gift which requires no
contribution because it is by grace = unmerited favor .
Of course, Free Grace
people understand the prize to refer to ruling with Christ and thus the
disqualification is understood as missing out on ruling with Christ in
But both of those translations are bad translations. Those translations introduce needless, potential confusion.
The Greek word is
adokimos. The letter “a” in front of a Greek word will reverse its
meaning. The same is true in English. The opposite of typical is
atypical. The opposite of symmetrical is asymmetrical. The option of
theist is atheist.
The word dokimos means approved. Here are all seven of the NT occurrences of dokimos:
“He who serves Christ…is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Rom 14:18).
“Greet Apelles, approved in Christ…” (Rom 16:10).
“For there must be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1 Cor 11:19).
“For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor 10:18).
“…not that we should appear approved…” (2 Cor 13:7).
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God…” (2 Tim 2:15).
“…but when he has been approved he will receive the crown of life…” (Jas 1:12).
To see an example of how
translators sometimes get the wrong idea about the meaning of adokimos,
look at how they translate dokimos and adokimos in 2 Cor 13:7:
“Now I pray that you do no
evil, not that we should appear approved [dokimos], but that you should
do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified [adokimos]” (2
That is the translation
used in the NKJV, LEB, and MEV. Some even have approved and reprobates
there (KJV, GNV). I only found two translations, the NASB and Young’s
Literal Translation, which render these words as approved and
unapproved (or disapproved) in 2 Cor 13:7. (The Wycliffe translation is
similar with approved and reprovable. Several translations have passed
the test and failed the test.)
Paul was not concerned
about his eternal destiny. He knew he was secure in Christ (1 Tim 1:16;
2 Tim 1:12). His concern was whether he would have the Lord’s approval
at the Judgment Seat of Christ. He wanted to hear those blessed words,
“Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17). In order to gain that approval,
He had to endure in the faith (2 Tim 2:12; 4:6-8).
We who believe in Jesus for everlasting life know that we have that life. Now we should discipline our bodies and endure in the faith so that one day soon we would be approved by our Lord."
(5) Paul's Concluding Comment
Paul knows he is in fellowship with Christ. "I intend to prove that when I come to Corinth," he says. "But such confidence is not mine alone. It's for you Corinthians too! You can see its reality in yourselves, if you take the trouble to look - unless, after all, God disapproves of your way of life."
Then he adds:
But I trust that you will know that we [the Greek pronoun is emphatic] are not disqualified (13:6).
"When I come to Corinth," says Paul, "I hope to convince you that God's approval rests on me. You can know this about yourselves, and I expect you to know it about me as well!"
Such then was the confident spirit with which the Apostle prepared to go back to Corinth.
No doubt he would be horrified to hear his words to his brethren twisted into a call to test their justification by examining their own good works.
[(6) A FINAL FLAW: NEITHER UNBELIEVERS NOR CARNAL BELIEVERS CAN RELIABLY EXAMINE THEMSELVES TO SEE IF THEY ARE IN THE FAITH, OR SAVED]
A final flaw in this point to check one's works to see if one is saved:
Can an unbeliever objectively view his lifestyle without a godlyviewpoint to discern whether or not he is faithful? The godly viewpoint can only be obtained when one has become a born again believer who has a biblical perspective of divine good works and can now be led by the Holy Spirit. So the test to see if one is saved by ones actions is flawed. The carnal mind of the unbeliever is not equipped to make such a judgment, neither is the mind of a carnal minded believer.
Nothing highlights the tragedy of today's evangelical church like the degree to which Paul's teachings are distorted into anti-Pauline thought. After all, it was Paul who wrote:
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness (Rom. 4:5; emphasis added).
But today, many theologians respond to this with a "yes, but . . . " "Yes, but if you don't do works you are not justified all." In this way, the Pauline declaration is annulled in favor of a faith/works synthesis which is contrary to both the Scriptures and to the doctrine of faith expounded in the Reformation by Calvin and Luther.
It is nothing less than a retreat into the theological darkness that made the Reformation necessary in the first place. Although those who advocate such doctrine describe it as "orthodox" and "reformational," in reality it is neither. The evangelical church will have no message for the world if it allows this false doctrine to prevail.
1 Dabney states the Reformed view with bold (and tragic) candor. He writes:
"A second objection [to the Plymouth Brethren view of assurance] is: Consciousness reveals to me precisely my own subjective mental states if it is clear in its revelations. Is not that correct? But the question I have to settle, in order to entitle myself to the assurance of hope, is this, viz.: Whether this my subjective mental state is the faith which saves; for notoriously there is a temporary faith simulating the real. That act of self-consciousness does not decide this question; it only presents the thing to be compared, namely, my subjective state. The standard of comparison is the Word. When I think I believe, I am but conscious of exercising what I think is faith. That is all which this immediate act of self-consciousness contains. Whether I think right, in thinking that to be true faith of which I am conscious, is a question of comparison to be settled by the Word, which describes the true exercise."
See Discussions by Robert L. Dabney, vol. 1: Theological and Evangelical, ed. C. R. Vaughn (Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1890), p. 225 (italics in Dabney).
In the statements just quoted Dabney means, of course, that what he thinks may be saving faith must be tested by his conformity to the moral and ethical demands of God's Word.
The tragic result of this process is that a man must look elsewhere than at Christ and the cross to find personal assurance of salvation.
Dabney states this clearly (p. 226): "The necessary object of faith is a gracious Saviour; while my soul looks at him, faith may be in exercise. I wish to inspect my consciousness of the faith exercise. Then the affection of which I was conscious becomes the object; the gracious Saviour ceases to be, for the time, the object of attention [italics added], and the affection, as the present exercise, vanishes under inspection. How clear is it, hence, that the thing whose nature I really judge is the remembrance [italics his] of my consciousness? If then the consciousness was to any degree indistinct or its remembrance dim, trustworthy inspection cannot take place. But I proved in the previous paragraph the necessity of this inspection or self-acquaintance in order to the assurance of hope. What follows? I infer, with Chalmers, that imperfect but genuine believers may often have actings of faith of such kind that their self-consciousness of them does not ground an assurance of hope; and thence that it is useful and important for their peace to compare with scripture their remembered consciousness of other gracious actings [italics added], which, the word tells them, are also marks of a saved state. 'In the mouth of two or three witnesses' they gain the solid advantage of concurrent evidences."
These words reveal starkly how fully Dabney has surrendered the Reformers' view of assurance as being of the essence of (inseparable from) saving faith itself.
Indeed, Dabney even admits that this is the case. He says (p. 173): "The source of this [Plymouth Brethren] error is no doubt that doctrine concerning faith which the first Reformers, as Luther and Calvin, were led to adopt from their opposition to the hateful and tyrannical teachings of Rome. This mother of abominations denies to Christians all true assurance of hope, teaching that it is neither edifying nor attainable . . . These noble Reformers, seeing the bondage and misery imposed by this teaching upon sincere souls, flew to the opposite extreme [italics added], and (to use the language of theology) asserted that the assurance of hope is of the essence of saving faith."
Subsequently, in the second of two treatises called "Theology of the Plymouth Brethren," he responds to a correspondent (identified as M.N.) who had objected to Calvin being charged with the "error" Dabney had ascribed to him. So Dabney writes (p. 216): "Now, I assert that Calvin. . . was incautious enough to fall into the erroneous statement, that no faith was a living faith which did not include essentially both the assurance of faith and the assurance of hope. He is not satisfied that even the weak, new believer shall say, 'I believe, with head and heart both, that Christ saves all who truly come to him [italics his], and I accordingly try to trust him alone for my salvation, and so far as I have any hope, rest it on him alone'. He requires every one to say, in substance, I believe fully that Christ has saved me [italics his]. Amidst all Calvin's verbal variations, this is always his meaning; for he is consistent in his error [italics added]. What else is the meaning of that definition which M.N. himself quotes from the Institutes: 'Our steady and certain knowledge of the divine benevolence toward us' [italics his]. But I will show, beyond all dispute, that the theological 'Homer nodded', not once, but all the time, on this point.
See then Institutes Book III., Chap. II., Sec. 16. 'In short, no man is truly a believer, unless he be firmly persuaded that God is a propitious and benevolent Father to him, . . . [italics and ellipsis his] and feel an undoubted expectation of salvation.'"
We may conclude our quotation of Dabney with this telltale observation made by him (p. 215):
". . . I assert:
1. That Calvin and Dr. Malan, and the Plymouth Brethren, hold a definition of the nature or essence of saving faith which is, in one respect, contrary to the Westminster Confession and to the Scriptures, as well as to the great body of the confessions of the Presbyterian Churches, and of their divines since Calvin's day. I said, by way of apology for the earliest Reformers, and most notably, Luther and Calvin, that they were betrayed into this partial error by a praiseworthy zeal against the opposite and mischievous error of Rome, who seeks to hold believers always in doubt of their salvation. . . Now I give this explanation of Calvin's partial error to save his credit. M.N. will not have it so; then he will needs have his admired leader discredited, for as sure as truth is history, Luther and Calvin did fall into this error, which the Reformed churches, led by the Westminster Confession, have since corrected."
Dabney"s articles, from which we have cited, are well worth reading in their entirety. But we have quoted enough to show the following:
(1) On the subject of faith and assurance, Calvin is at odds with Reformed theology and with the Westminster Confession;
(2) since, for Dabney, Calvin's error was an overreaction against Roman Catholicism, the correction of this error by the Reformed churches amounts to a retreat in the direction of Catholic theology.
More recent historical studies have strongly reaffirmed the difference between Calvin and post-Calvin "Calvinism" in the area of faith and assurance.
See A. N. S. Lane, "Calvin's Doctrine of Assurance," Vox Evangelica 11(1979):32-54; R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: University Press, 1979); and M. Charles Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance (Edinburgh: The Handsel Press, 1985).
To the best of this writer's knowledge, none of today's leading Reformed theologians, who are critical of The Gospel Under Siege, have yet admitted in print the facts reviewed In this footnote. Why not?
2. We share John Calvin's view of Galatians 6:8 as dealing with the subject of rewards, and does not treat this verse as any kind of "test" of salvation!
Let us hear Calvin on this verse, (Gal 6:8), as he comments on the phrase:
"But he that soweth unto the spirit: By 'the spirit' I understand the spiritual life, to which they are said to sow who look to heaven rather than to earth and who so direct their lives as to aspire to the kingdom of God. Therefore they will reap in heaven the incorruptible fruit of their endeavours. He calls them spiritual endeavours on account of their end, although in some cases they are external and relate to the body. This is so here, where he is dealing with the support of pastors. If the Papists try, in their usual way, to build on these words the righteousness of works, we have shown elsewhere how easily their absurdities can be refuted. Although eternal life is a reward, [of course the Bible teaches that it is not a reward, but a gift] it does not follow that we are justified by works or that works merit salvation.
The fact that God so honours the works which He grants us freely as to promise them an undeserved reward is itself of grace. [Note: there is no such thing as an undeserved reward]
"If a more complete solution is required, then first I deny that in us there are any good works which God rewards except those which we have from His grace.
Secondly, I say that the good works which we perform by the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit are the freely granted fruits of adoption.
Third, I say that they are not only unworthy of the smallest and meanest reward but deserve to be wholly condemned, because they are always spattered and stained with many blemishes; and what agreement have pollutions with the presence of God?
Fourthly, I say that even if reward had been promised to works a thousand time, it is due only to the perfect fulfillment of the whole law. And we are all far from that perfection. Now let the Papists go and try to break their way into heaven by the merit of works! We gladly agree with Paul and the whole of Scripture in acknowledging that we can do nothing but by the free gift of God, and yet the requital made to our works receives the name of reward." Calvin, Comm. Galatians 6:8 (italics added).
Clearly Calvin's comments are evangelical to the core. We find nothing here of the Reformed doctrine that works test the genuineness of our faith. Indeed, Calvin was insistent that assurance should not be sought in our post-conversion works.
Bell nicely summarizes this fact of Calvin's theology: "As a general principle, Calvin emphatically warns against looking to ourselves, that is, to our works or the fruit of the Spirit, for certainty of our salvation. We must turn from ourselves to rest solely on the mercy of God [Institutes 3.19.2].
The Scholastics taught that the Christian should look to works and to the virtues of righteousness as proof of salvation [as does Reformed theology today!]. However, Calvin rejects this exhortation to self-examination as a dangerous dogma [Institutes 3.2.38], and argues that we can never rely on such a subjective basis for assurance, for our sinfulness insures that we shall not find peace in this way. Forgetting the judgment of God, we may think ourselves safe, when, in fact, we are not [Comm. Rom. 5:1]. By placing our trust in works, rather than in God's freely given grace, we detract from his salvific work in Jesus Christ [Institutes 3.14.21; cf. 3.11.11].
If we look to ourselves, we encounter doubt, which leads to despair, and finally our faith is battered down and blotted out [Institutes 3.13.3].
Arguing that our assurance rests in our union with Christ, Calvin stresses that contemplation of Christ brings assurance of salvation, but self-contemplation is `sure damnation.' For this reason, then, our safest course is to look to Christ and distrust ourselves [Institutes 3.2.23-4]." See Bell, p. 28
(The bracketed references are those of Bell's endnotes, p. 38).
Every one of these complaints drawn from Calvin can be laid at the door of Reformed theology today, which in so many ways is the modern counterpart to the Scholasticism which Calvin rejected.
3. Bruce stresses the eschatological bearing of Galatians 6:8. He writes: "The eternal life is the resurrection life of Christ, mediated to believers by 'the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead' (Rom. 8:11) . . . But its future aspect, with their appearance before the tribunal of Christ, to 'receive good or evil, according to the deeds done in the body' (2 Cor. 5:10), is specially implied here. Any one who did not seriously believe in such a coming assessment, or thought that the law of sowing and reaping could be safely ignored, would indeed be treating God with contempt." F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, NIGNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), p. 265.
4. Concerning the conditional clause in Colossians 1:23, Lightfoot remarks that the Greek particles (ei ge) "express a pure hypothesis in themselves, but the indicative mood following converts the hypothesis into a hope." J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (London: MacMillan, 1979; [reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959]), p. 163. Lightfoot's words are as far as the grammar can lead us and those who read more into the clause are misunderstanding the text. Equally plain is the statement of A. Lukyn Williams that, in the phrase ei ge, "the addition of [ge] lays emphasis on the importance of observing the condition, but determines nothing as to whether or not they will do so." See his The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon, CGNT (Cambridge: University Press, 1907), p. 60.
5. MacLaren's treatment of Colossians 1:22, 23 is edifying. He writes: "No matter how mighty be the renewing powers of the Gospel wielded by the Divine Spirit, they can only work on the nature that is brought into contact with and continues in contact with them by faith. The measure in which we trust Jesus Christ will be the measure in which He helps us. 'He could do no mighty works because of their unbelief.' He cannot do what He can do, if we thwart Him by our want of faith. God will present us holy before Him if [italics his] we continue in the faith." Later, connecting vv. 28, 29 with 22, 23 (as we also do), MacLaren has this to say: "We found this same word 'present' in verse 22. The remarks made there will apply here. There the Divine purpose of Christ's great work, and here Paul's purpose in his, are expressed alike. God's aim is Paul's aim too. The Apostle's thoughts travel on to the great coming day, when we shall all be manifested at the judgment seat of Christ, and preacher and hearer, Apostle and convert, shall be gathered there. That solemn period will test the teacher's work, and should ever be in view as he works. There is a real and indissoluble connection between the teacher and his hearers, so that in some sense he is to blame if they do not stand perfect then, and he in some sense has to present them as in his work - the gold, silver, and precious stones which he has built on the foundation." See Alexander MacLaren, The Epistles of St. Paul to the Colossians and Philemon (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1897), pp. 107, 144.
6. Meanings like "to take," "to take into possession," are found in Matthew 21:38 (NKJV), Luke 14:9, and (according to BGD, p. 423) in secular sources.
7. Commentators long ago noticed a word-order problem in 1 Corinthians 15:2, when the verse is taken in the sense of "if you hold fast to the word which l preached to you." The problem is that, in Greek, the phrase "(to) the word which I preached to you" precedes "if you hold fast." (A minor problem is the sense of the Greek word tini which precedes "word" and is rendered as "that" by the NKJV and not at all by the NIV.)
One solution offered has been to connect the phrase "the word which I preached to you" with the expression "I declare to you the gospel" in verse 1. This yields the sense: "I declare (or, 'make known') to you the gospel . . . with what (=<tini) word which I preached to you." But this connection requires a long leap backward in the text and is quite improbable.
The usual solution has been to make the phrase "with what (=that) word which I preached to you" the object of "if you hold fast" which follows it. This is not impossible by any means, but neither is it entirely natural.
It would be preferable to connect the phrase "with what word which I preached to you" with something immediately preceding it. In fact this can easily be done with the interpretation we offer in our text. The troublesome tini might be taken as an ellipsis for "what word it was which I preached to you" and may be shortened to, "the very word which I preached to you."
Thus the text can be read: " . . . the gospel . . . by which also you are saved, by the very word which I preached to you, if you take hold of (it) - unless you believed in vain." This is a clean-cut treatment of the Greek grammar and lexicography which avoids the puzzling word-order inversion required by the standard renderings of this passage. But obviously such an interpretation eliminates any reference to perseverance in 1 Corinthians 15:2.
For discussions of the problem covered in this note, see: Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians, trans. D. Douglas Bannerman, translation rev. and ed. William P. Dickson (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1884), pp. 341-342; and G. G. Findlay, "St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians," in vol. 2 of The Expositor's Greek Testament, gen. ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 918-919.
8. The Greek words are different in each verse (15:2, eike; 15:14, kene; 15:17, mataia) but they are all functionally synonymous here.
9. Interestingly, Barrett refers 1 Corinthians 1:8 to the doctrine of justification by faith. The term "irreproachable" (= "blameless," NKJV) is referred to the imputed "righteousness of Christ himself." Paul is thus "stating the doctrine of justification by faith without the use of the technical words he employs elsewhere"! See C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, HNTC (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), pp. 39-40.
10. Very appropriately does Barrett translate "he will suffer loss" as "he will be mulcted of his pay." He subsequently remarks: "The servant of God who uses improper or unworthy materials, though himself saved, will miss the reward he might have had. We have thus already noted the next words, which are clear enough and need little comment: he himself will be saved (it is underlined that salvation is to be distinguished from reward, or pay; it cannot be earned)." One could hardly improve on this. See Barrett, p. 89.
11. The hermeneutical issue here is about the "illocutionary force" of Paul's words. The significance of "illocutionary force" is aptly summarized by Hirsch: "Such an attempt at compromise [between intuitionists and positivists] can be discovered in the recent discussions of speech-act theory, based on the posthumous writings of J. L. Austin, who introduced into verbal meaning the concept of illocutionary force . . . Austin discusses how the very same word-sequence can have a different meaning by virtue of having a different illocutionary force. Thus, 'You are going to London,' could have the illocutionary force of an assertion, a command, a request, a question, a complaint, or an ironic comment on the fact that you are headed towards Bristol." Interpreters ignore this issue at their peril. See E. D. Hirsch, The Aims of Interpretation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), pp. 25-26.
12. The view that Philippians 1:6 has reference to the church's material support of the Gospel is a view with a long history, as Kennedy's comment on "a good work" shows:
"De W. [De Wette, 1847!], Lft. [Lightfoot] and others refer this to [koinonia, 'fellowship'] of ver. 5." H. A. A. Kennedy, "The Epistle to the Philippians," in vol. 3 of The Expositor's Greek Testament, gen. ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 419.
Lightfoot on this verse writes: "By this 'good work' is meant their cooperation with and affection for the Apostle. By the workers of this work St. Paul doubtless means the Philippians themselves. Nevertheless it is God's doing from beginning to end: He inaugurates and He completes." J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, 4th ed. with additions and alterations (London: MacMillan, 1913), p. 84. Similarly, C. J. Ellicott, A Critical and Grammatical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistles to the Philippians, Colossians and to Philemon (London: Parker, Son, and Bourn, 1861), p. 7.
Martin, citing Lightfoot, writes: "It is possible to take a good work as an allusion to the Philippians' participation in the apostolic ministry by their gifts . . . " Ralph P. Martin, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians, TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p.
13. A truly commendable treatment of the concept of working out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12) is offered by Joseph S. Exell (b. 1849) when he writes:
The working out of salvation: - I. A CHRISTIAN MAN HAS HIS WHOLE SALVATION ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED FOR HIM IN CHRIST AND YET HE HAS TO WORK IT OUT.
1. The persons to whom these words are addressed. Through applying them to non-Christians they have been perverted to mean:
"You co-operate with Christ in the great work of salvation, and you will get grace and pardon." But none save Christians have anything to do with them. They are addressed to those who are already resting on the finished salvation of Jesus Christ. If you have not done so, and are applying them to yourselves, remember that when the Jews came to Christ in a similar spirit, asking Him, "What shall we do?" He said, "This is the work of God that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." The first lesson is not work but faith, and unless there be faith no work.
2. But if salvation be this, How can we work it out? Salvation has four aspects. It means - (1) The whole process by which we are delivered from sin, and set safe on the right hand of God. (2) Deliverance from the guilt, punishment, and condemnation of sin, in which it is a thing past. (3) The gradual process of deliverance from its power in our own hearts, in which it is a thing present. (4) The final and perfect deliverance, in which it is a thing future. These all come equally from Christ, and depend upon His work and power, and are all given in the first act of faith. But the attitude in which the Christian stands to the accomplished salvation, and that in which He stands to the progressive salvation are different. He has to take the finished blessing. Yet the salvation which means our being delivered from evil in our hearts is ours on the condition of continuous faithful reception and daily effort.
3. The two things, then, are not inconsistent. Work as well as believe, and in the daily subjugation of your spirits to His Divine power; in the daily crucifixion of your flesh; in the daily straining after loftier heights of godliness and purer atmospheres of devotion and love, make more thoroughly your own what you possess, work into the substance of your souls what you have.
See Exell, The Biblical Illustrator: Philippians (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1952), pp. 121-122. Exell's view is clearly compatible with our own.
14. For a fuller exposition of this kind of teaching found in the words of our Lord, see chapter 4 in my book, Grace in Eclipse: A Study on Eternal Rewards, 2nd ed. (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1987). For a definition of saving the life which follows the lines we are suggesting, see R. E. Neighbour, If They Shall Fall Away (reprint ed., Miami Springs, FL: Conley and Schoettle, 1984), pp. 29-30.
15. It is legitimate to wonder exactly what Hort means in his discussion of "salvation of souls" (1 Pet. 1:9), but the present writer may be forgiven for thinking that Hort's ship might be "listing" in our direction, when he writes: . . . salvation of souls] In complete generality. Here, again, as I had occasion to say on v. 5, we have to be on our guard against interpreting the language of Scripture by the sharp limitations of modern usage. Salvation is deliverance from dangers and enemies and above all from death and destruction. The soul is not a particular element or faculty of our nature, but its very life (cf. Westcott on John xii. 25). The bodily life or soul is an image of the diviner life or soul which equally needs to be saved, and the salvation of which is compatible with the death and seeming destruction of the bodily life and soul. Here St. Peter means to say that, when the true mature faith possible to a Christian has done its work, a salvation of soul is found to have been thereby brought to pass, the passage from death into life has been accomplished.
See F. J. A. Hort, The First Epistle of St. Peter, I. 1 - II. 17: The Greek Text with Introductory Lecture, Commentary, and Additional Notes (London: MacMillan. 1898), p. 48.
16. Cranfield, for example, prefers the view that the phrase "doing good" (literally = "good work") in Romans 2:7 refers to "goodness of life, not however as meriting God's favour but as the expression of faith." But this is wholly gratuitous. The text says nothing at all about faith, much less about works as the "expression" of faith. The context in no way supports this view, and Cranfield is guilty of reading his own theology (which is not Paul's) into the passage. See C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Vol. I: Introduction and Commentary on Romans I-VIII, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1975), p 147.
17. Correctly, Charles Hodge writes: "When Paul says the doers of the law shall be justified, he is of course not to be understood as teaching, contrary to his own repeated declarations and arguments, that men are actually to be justified by obedience to the law.
This is the very thing which he is labouring to prove impossible. The context renders his meaning plain. He is speaking not of the method of justification available for sinners, but of the principles on which all who are out of Christ are to be judged. They shall be judged impartially, according to their works, and agreeably to their knowledge of duty. On these principles no flesh living can be justified in the sight of God. The only way, as he afterwards teaches, to escape their application, is to confide in Christ, in virtue of whose death God can be just and yet justify the ungodly who believe in him" (italics his). This is precisely the view I take of this text! But I also extend it to verses 7 and 10 as Hodge (inconsistently) does not (pp. 46-48). For Paul, eternal life - no less than justification - is God's free gift (Rom. 5:18; 6:23). One can no more earn eternal life by "patient continuance" (that is, "perseverance") in doing good works than one can be justified by keeping the law. The reason? Because "there is none who does good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:12).
For the quotation above, see Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 19th ed. (Philadelphia: James S. Claxton. c1836), p. 49.
18. Although his volume bears a nihil obstat and an imprimatur, the Catholic writer Karl Kertelge is on the right track when he writes on 3:9: "Here in verse 9 Paul is dealing in the first place simply with the general guilt of both Jews and Greeks. He now draws the conclusions of his previous argument: Jews as well as Greeks are guilty. In the preceding discussion, in 1:18-3:10, Paul has accused all, which means that all are under sin. This statement is the conclusion of Paul's whole exposition of human wickedness. That mankind as a whole is under sin, which men have helped to power by their own actions, is a final and conclusive argument for their need of salvation." Precisely! Those who interpret Romans 2:7, 10, and 13 as somehow validating the need for good works for final salvation, have left the stream of Pauline thought entirely and are shipwrecked on the shoals of a modern "scholasticism"! For the quote, see Karl Kertelge, The Epistle to the Romans (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972), p. 44.
19. John Calvin himself took Romans 2:13 precisely as we have taken it. He writes: "The sense of this verse, therefore, is that if righteousness is sought by the law, the law must be fulfilled, for the righteousness of the law consists in the perfection of works. Those who misinterpret this passage for the purpose of building up justification by works deserve universal contempt. It is, therefore, improper and irrelevant to introduce here lengthy discussions on justification to solve so futile an argument. The apostle urges here on the Jews only the judgement of the law which he had mentioned, which is that they cannot be justified by the law unless they fulfill it, and that if they transgress it, a curse is instantly pronounced upon them. We do not deny that absolute righteousness is prescribed in the law, but since all men are convicted of offense, we assert the necessity for seeking another righteousness" (Comm. Romans 2:13).
To argue otherwise in Romans 2 is to seek to reverse the Reformation.
20. John MacArthur criticizes me for making these statements. He writes: "As a pastor. I take issue with Hodges' assertion that Paul was unconcerned about the destiny of members of the flocks he pastored." MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 190.
But MacArthur's phraseology employs a rhetorical "trick" by making it sound as if I had painted Paul as a detached and "unconcerned" pastor. The reader may consult the paragraph to which this note is attached to see, on the contrary, that my point is that Paul had "no reason" for such a concern.
Dr. MacArthur appears to be reading the modern church situation back into the first century. First, we must remember that none of the Pauline churches were mega-churches on the order of Dr. MacArthur's own. C. R. Gregory once calculated that the church at Rome, to which Romans was written, was probably about 50 people, taking into account the names mentioned in the greetings of Romans 16. In such churches the elders undoubtedly knew each individual and could easily ascertain whether he or she believed the Gospel or not.
But, secondly, Paul preached a Gospel in which assurance of salvation was of the essence of saving faith. As I point out in the text, Paul everywhere takes for granted that his readers are Christians and know it. Since MacArthur does not preach a Gospel that offers real assurance at the moment of faith, it is understandable that he should be constantly concerned about the eternal destiny of his membership. With such a theology, both pastors and their flocks must always be beset by uncertainty on this crucial matter.
21. Romans 8:14 is best read against the background of 8:12-13. This writer has not found a better discussion of Romans 8:12-13 than the one presented by Anders Nygren in his Commentary on Romans (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1949), pp. 325-326. There he writes:
The Christian has escaped from that ruler, death. But the intention is that he is actually to live. If death has been deposed, we are to let it be deposed in our lives, and no longer shape our lives according to its demand.
We here call to mind again the dualism in the Christian life, to which Paul has referred again and again in the foregoing. In the sixth chapter, for example, he declared that the Christian is "free from sin"; and from that he immediately drew the conclusion that the Christian must battle against sin and all that would bind us to it.
Out of the indicative, Paul educes an imperative. Through Christ we are free from sin; and for that very reason we are to fight against it . . . The same dualism emerges here, where Paul speaks of the Christian's freedom form death. Through Christ the Christian has actually been freed from death; but that does not mean that there is no longer any possibility for death to threaten him . . . The life of the Christian is still lived all the time in the scope of the first creation. He still lives "in the flesh," and there death has its chance to lay hold, when it strives to regain its power over him.
Out of the flesh come all sorts of claims on him; and if he were to follow these, the result would be that he would be carried straight back along the way to bondage under death. It is therefore imperative to resist these claims and reject them as unjustified.
Just as, in chapter 6, Paul was concerned to show that the Christian is truly free from sin, so that it can no longer come with any warranted claim on him . . . so he is now concerned to show that, in like manner, the Christian's freedom from death means that the flesh can no longer come with any justifiable claim. "So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh - for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live" (vss. 12-13).
So there are two different way to live. Man can "live according to the flesh" or "live according to the Spirit." As to the former manner of life, it must be said that it is not really life. On the contrary, in its basic nature it is quite the opposite. Therefore Paul says, "If you live according to the flesh you will die." In that case one does not speak of what is properly life. When we hear Paul speaking here about a life that is really death, our thoughts turn automatically to the famous words of Augustine: "Such was my life - was that life?" (italics in the original).
Obviously, this splendid exposition enables us to understand what it means truly to live as God's adult sons, who are led in this experience by God's Spirit. Christians who live at the level of the flesh and of death, are operating experientially far below their standing in Christ.
22. Despite other grammatical possibilities, the view we have given in the text is precisely the view of the phrase taken by both Cranfield and Murray ("The obedience which consists in faith"). Yet both writers proceed to read their theology into the expression so as to extract from it a call to works. But in doing this, they are no longer exegeting the text at all. The phrase means no more than what it says: "the obedience which is faith."
When one believes the Gospel, he has obeyed the Gospel, since the Gospel calls for a response of faith. See Cranfield, pp. 66-67; and John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. in one (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959, 1965 [one vol. ed., 1968]), pp. 13-14.
23. MacArthur wrote of 2 Corinthians 13:5 that this "admonition is largely ignored - and often explained away3 - in the contemporary church." The footnote number (3) refers to an extended comment about a statement I made on p. 95 of the first edition of this book.
In his comment MacArthur notes: "Hodges does not mention 2 Corinthians 13:5 or attempt to explain [italics added] what possible second dimension it might have" (MacArthur, p. 190). But this is fair enough. My silence might raise the suspicion that the text was too difficult for me to address. But the fact is, I simply underrated its importance to the discussion. I repair this error by considering the verse in this second edition.
24. Although Ironside's view of the text is not quite our own, in its essentials it is extremely similar. Thus he can write: "In replying again to the suggestion that Paul was not a real apostle, he says, `If you seek a proof of Christ living in me, examine yourselves.' Now if you take this fifth verse out of its connection you lose the meaning of it. Many people take it, as though he meant that we are to examine ourselves to see if we are real Christians, but this is not what Paul is saying." For his full view of the verse, see H. A. Ironside, Addresses on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1939), pp. 282-283.
25. Baird's treatment of 2 Corinthians 13:5 closely approximates our own when he writes:
"In the intense light of the cross, the Corinthians ought to examine themselves (v. 5; see 1 Cor. 11:28). They have been putting Paul to the test when they ought to be testing themselves. The crucial question is, Are you `in the faith'; is Jesus Christ `in you'? (NASB). Faith is the original response to the Christian message (Rom 1:16; 3:22), and the believer continues to stand in faith (1:24; 1 Cor. 16:13) and to 'walk by faith' (5:7). This life of faith is characterized as life in Christ or Christ in you - a life conditioned by the redemptive power of God (see Rom. 8:9-11; Gal. 2:20). Though the Corinthians may fail the test, they ought to be able to recognize that Paul has passed; the credentials of his service (11:23-29) are the suffering marks of Christ" (italics added). William Baird, 1 Corinthians; 2 Corinthians, Knox Preaching Guides, ed. John H. Hayes (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1980). p. 109.
26. It should be a major embarrassment to Reformed theologians to discover that their treatment of 2 Corinthians 13:5 was completely unknown to Calvin himself. As we have pointed out elsewhere in these notes (see footnote 2 in this chapter), Calvin did not believe in testing the reality of our salvation by examining our works. Moreover, he regarded such an idea as a dangerous dogma [Institutes 3.2.38]. Naturally he did not find this "dangerous dogma" in 2 Corinthians 13:5! Let us hear his own words:
5. Try your own selves. He confirms what he has just said, that Christ's power has appeared openly in his ministry. He calls them to judge of this by looking into themselves and acknowledging what they have received from Him. Firstly, since there is but one Christ, it is necessary that He should dwell both in minister and people, and if he dwell in the people, how shall He deny Himself in the minister? Further, He had shown His power in Paul's preaching so clearly and unambiguously that the Corinthians could not doubt it, unless they were completely foolish. For how had faith come to them, and Christ and everything else besides? It is with good reason that they are called to look into themselves, that they may discover there what they despise as a thing unknown. The only true and well founded confidence a minister has is that he should be able to appeal to the consciences of those he has taught for approval of his teaching, so that if they have anything of Christ and of sincere godliness, they may be obliged to acknowledge his faithfulness. This, as we can now see, is Paul's purpose here. But there are two reasons that make this passage worthy of special attention.
First, it shows the relationship between the people's faith and the minister's preaching:
For the preacher is the mother who conceives and brings forth, and faith is the daughter who ought to be mindful of her origin. Second, this passage serves to prove the assurance of faith [italics added], a doctrine which the sophists of the Sorbonne have so corrupted for us that it is now almost uprooted from the minds of men. They hold that it is rash temerity to be persuaded that we are members of Christ and have Him dwelling in us, and they bid us rest content with a moral conjecture, which is a mere opinion, so that our consciences remain perpetually undecided and perplexed.
But what does Paul say here? He declares that those who doubt their possession of Christ are reprobates [italics added]. Let us therefore understand that the only true faith is that which allows us to rest in God's grace, not with a dubious opinion butwith firm and steadfast assurance" [italics added]. See Comm. 2 Corinthians 13:5.
It would be hard for Calvin to make any clearer his fundamental theological stance that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. The distortion of Paul's text into an appeal to confirm one's faith because true faith cannot be verified apart from works, makes a mockery of one of Calvin's most settled convictions. The Reformed treatment of 2 Corinthians 13:5 subverts Biblical assurance no less than did "the sophists of the Sorbonne" against whom Calvin so vigorously protested.
27W. Nicol's statements are commendable for their frankness, if not for their theology, when he writes: "Logically, then, good works must be a condition of justification . . . " and, "From this it is clear that Paul might say: you must do good works, otherwise in the end God will not justify you." see "Faith and Works in the Letter of James," in Essays in the General Epistles of the New Testament, Neotestamentica 9 (Pretoria:The New Testament Society of South Africa, c1975), p. 22.
28. What we allege here is to be carefully noted. The faith/works synthesis which makes `works' an inherent or implicit part of `faith' so that 'works' are indeed a "condition" for salvation (e.g., Gerstner, p. 210), does NOT represent the Reformers' view of faith and works. Even when the Reformers insisted on good works as an outgrowth of faith, they did not make 'works' a part of faith or a "condition" for salvation. It might indeed be argued that the Reformers left a measure of tension between their doctrines of faith and works. But Reformed theology's solution to this tension is neither Biblical nor reformational. The Reformers themselves would have been horrified by the resulting theology. For them, good works were never the test of true faith, but rather, good works flowed out of the assurance of salvation which was inseparable from true saving faith.
This is precisely the position of this book.
A strong case can be made that Reformed soteriology and "lordship salvation" are nothing more than a return to the Medieval Roman Catholic concept of "formed faith" (fides formata), in which faith is not effective for justification apart from works. See Paul Holloway, "A Return to Rome: Lordship Salvation's Doctrine of Faith," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 4 (2, 1991):13-21.