Faith Alone Is Not Faith

My post two weeks ago titled “Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does” drew a strong reaction.

Most of the reaction was positive.

But since the article assailed a fundamental defining and distinguishing doctrine of Protestantism, it also drew some negative responses.

Some of the people who objected insisted that faith alone does save, and quoted various Bible passages in an effort to support their contention. However, none of those Bible passages actually says that faith alone saves.

That’s one of the big problems with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone: the Bible never says it. In fact, the Bible specifically denies it (see James 2:14–26).

There’s another big problem with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone:

Faith alone is not even faith.

What faith isn’t

There are some funny ideas floating around about faith. Here are some of them:

  • Faith is believing something we’re not really sure of.
  • Faith is believing something without proof.
  • Faith is believing something that we don’t understand.
  • Faith is believing something that doesn’t make sense because the church says it’s true.
  • Faith is believing something with our mind and saying it with our lips.

But none of these are faith.

At least, they’re not what the Bible means by faith.

It helps to look at the words that mean “faith” in the original languages of the Bible.

What faith is: “faith” in the Old Testament

The Old Testament is not big on abstract concepts. The Hebrew of the Old Testament is a very concrete language. And though it does occasionally use a word that means “faith,” more often it uses a form of the word that means “faithfulness.”

In Hebrew, the words for both “faith” and “faithfulness” come from the root verb ’aman. This is the ultimate source of our English word “amen,” which is used in religious speech to affirm the truth and sincerity of what has just been said.

The Hebrew verb ’aman has the basic meaning of supporting or sustaining something. To give you an idea of just how concrete this word is, a related word, ’omenah, means a pillar or column—a physical structure that holds up a building.

The verb ’aman has other related meanings, including to be firmly founded, to be continual and long-lasting, to be faithful, trustworthy, and sure. Based on these meanings, it can also mean to trust in and believe.

In other words, the Hebrew words for “faith” and “faithfulness” are about as far as you can get from believing something because you’re unsure of it, because there’s no proof, because you don’t understand it, and so on. Instead, the original Hebrew word for faith means something solid, substantial, well-supported, and trustworthy.

When we look at how this group of related words is actually used in the Old Testament, we find that it is talking about people (or things) that are honest and reliable, and can be counted on to do what they say they’ll do. For example, Habakkuk 2:4 says, “The righteous will live by their faith.” Faith is not just something that you believe. It is something that you live by.

And then there’s the famous passage about Abraham quoted by both Paul and James in the New Testament: “And he believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). In Romans 4, Paul uses this faith of Abraham as an illustration of how we can be saved without needing to do the works of the law represented by “circumcision”—meaning the ancient Jewish ritual and behavioral code. In James 2:14–26, James refers to the same passage to point out that Abraham’s belief was matched by his actions, which made his faith a real faith, and not a dead faith.

Throughout the Old Testament, faith and faithfulness are not about some abstract head-based belief. Rather, they are the quality of character possessed by people who show over and over again by their actions that they can be trusted to be honest, reliable, and trustworthy in living by the things they believe in, and to keep their word to God and to their fellow human beings.

What faith is: “faith” in the New Testament

Abstract ideas are much more at home in the New Testament than in the Old Testament. That’s probably due largely to the influence of Greek philosophy on the lands of the ancient Roman empire.

The common Greek word for “faith” is pistis. This word has a meaning very similar to our English word “faith”: belief, conviction.

And yet, it is also the word used to translate the Old Testament Hebrew words for “faith” based on ’aman. And it has attached to it the same sense of faithfulness and reliability of character. In the New Testament as in the Old Testament, faithful people are those who can be counted on to actually do what they say they’ll do, and to live by their beliefs.

In other words, “faith” in the New Testament combines the more abstract idea of an inner belief and conviction with a quality of character that lives by the things believed.

For example, Hebrews 11 starts with a definition of faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It then goes on to offer example after example of well-known figures from the Old Testament who actively lived by that assurance and conviction, showing their faith by their actions.

Yes, the New Testament does focus more than the Old Testament on the inner conviction of faith. Yet there is no support in the New Testament for the idea that faith is some sort of inner belief without outward action. Wherever faith is mentioned in the New Testament, it is talking about the kind of conviction that we live by.

Even Paul, the famous exponent of faith, continually salts his letters with exhortations to live by our faith. For example, Protestants commonly quote these two verses from Ephesians:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)

But listen to the very next verse:

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:10, italics added)

When Paul taught that we are saved by faith without the works of the Jewish Torah or Law that requires many external rituals and observances, he was in no way saying that we do not have to do good works in order to be saved. Paul, just like all of the other Bible writers, insisted that real faith is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).

Two simple definitions of faith

With all of this in mind, here are two simple, working definitions of “faith:”

  1. Faith is believing something because we see and know that it is true.
  2. Faith is the beliefs that we live by.

Let’s look at them one at a time.

1. Faith is believing something because we see and know that it is true

Hebrews 11:1 reads:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

John 20:29 reads:

Jesus said to him (Thomas), “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Based on these and some other similar passages, many Christians have gotten the idea that faith is believing something we don’t see or understand.

But as the story of Jesus and Thomas in John 20:24–29 makes clear, in these passages the Bible is talking about not seeing with our physical eyes. And these days, if we require physical evidence for God and spirit, we will never believe.

However, physical evidence is not the only way we can learn things that are true.

In fact, the greatest truths are about things that are not physical at all.

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God above all, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:34–40). Yet love is a non-physical reality. We can’t see it with our eyes or touch it with our fingers. But as anyone who has either found or lost love knows, love is the most powerful reality of human life.

When we talk about faith, even though we’re talking about things that we can’t see with our physical eyes, we’re also talking about things that we can see very clearly with our mind’s eye, otherwise known as our spiritual eyes.

When we see clearly in our mind and spirit that something is true, and accept it simply because it’s true, that is faith.

There are many reasons we could believe something other than because it is true:

  • We could believe something because it is financially advantageous to us. For example, we could believe that global warming is a myth because we work in the public relations department of a major oil company, and our salary depends on that belief.
  • We could believe something because it gives us pleasure. For example, we could convince ourselves that there’s nothing wrong with telling ethnic jokes because we think they’re hilariously funny.
  • We could believe something because it gives us power. For example, we could believe that we are better and smarter than others because in our mind that means we can impose our own will on them—even by force, if necessary.

There are many reasons to believe this or that idea. But if our belief is based on gaining some benefit for ourselves, that is not faith.

Instead, faith is believing something simply because we see and know that it is true, regardless of whether it benefits us. When we are dedicated to the truth itself, then we have faith.

That’s because truth comes from God, and is God.

When we believe in the truth for its own sake, we are believing in God. And believing in God wherever and however God appears is the truest meaning of faith.

2. Faith is the beliefs that we live by

It’s easiest to see by example that our faith is the beliefs we live by:

  • If we say that we believe in honesty, but we’re always lying to people, what do we really believe in, honesty or dishonesty?
  • If we say that we believe in being faithful to our partner, but we sleep around whenever we get the chance, what do we really believe in, faithfulness or adultery?
  • If we say that we believe in eating healthfully, but we regularly pig out on junk food, what do we really believe in, eating healthfully or eating unhealthfully?
  • And finally, if we say that we believe in Jesus, but we do not live the way Jesus taught us to live, but instead lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, and generally mistreat our neighbor instead of loving our neighbor, who do we really believe in, Jesus or the Devil?

In every case, what we really believe in is what we live by.

Faith is not merely thinking or saying that we believe something. Faith is being so convinced of something in our mind and heart that we live by it.

That’s why James said:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:14–17)

That’s why Paul is always exhorting the faithful to live good, honest, industrious, and holy lives—because, as he says, “the righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17, italics added).

And that’s why Jesus said:

Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)

The scribes and Pharisees believed that because they kept the external and ritual laws of Moses, they were more righteous than everyone else. But Jesus taught us to live by the deeper law of love to God and love to our neighbor. When we live by that law, our righteousness does exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees because the law of the Lord is written on our hearts and expressed by our hands in acts of love and service to our fellow human beings.

Once again, Jesus said:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:21–23)

No matter how much of a show of piety and righteousness we may make through attention-getting “good deeds” when we are out in public, the true test of our faith in the Lord is whether we do good (or evil) both in public and in private to the people in our household, to the people at work, to the people we meet on the street, to everyone we see each day—whether or not anyone else is watching.

Only when our faith in Jesus is matched by our continual faithfulness to the commandments of Jesus do we truly have faith. That’s because our faith is the beliefs that we live by.

Faith alone is not faith

All of this is the exact opposite of faith alone.

Faith alone is defined as faith without anything else.

  • Faith alone is faith without works.
  • Faith alone is faith without love.
  • Faith alone is faith without action.
  • Faith alone is faith without mercy.
  • Faith alone is faith without compassion.
  • Faith alone is faith without good deeds.
  • Faith alone is faith without loving our neighbor.
  • Faith alone is faith without loving God.

Faith alone is merely thinking and saying something, without any need to do anything based on what we think and say.

This means that faith alone is not faith!

In reality, “faith alone” is a contradiction in terms. By adding the word “alone” to “faith,” we make it not to be faith, because faith is the beliefs that we live by.

Faith without works is not only dead, but nonexistent.

That’s because faith is an inner devotion to the truth that changes us from the inside out.

When we have faith, we can’t help living by it.

When we have faith, it shows every day in our love for God, in our love of following God’s commandments, and in our love and service to our fellow human beings.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in The Bible Re-Viewed
30 comments on “Faith Alone Is Not Faith
  1. Walt Childs says:

    Excellent article, Lee. You made it so easy to understand.

  2. Rob says:

    Why did Jesus give the thief on the cross a pass? Time was up for him; no chance to do good works. Or the prodigal son? He not only not do good works, he did bad. The laborers in the vineyard who worked only an hour got the same wages as those who worked all day. The tax-collector who cried out for forgiveness went home justified.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      Good questions all.

      Notice that in none of these cases was there merely a profession of faith accompanied by nothing else.

      • The thief in the cross admitted that he was guilty, and remonstrated with the other thief.
      • The prodigal son repented of his foolish actions, came to his senses, and offered to work as a menial laborer for his subsistence.
      • Yes, some of the laborers in the vineyard worked fewer hours than others. But all of them worked when the opportunity was given.
      • The tax collector admitted that he was a sinner and asked for mercy. This, if he followed up on it afterwards, is repentance, not mere faith.

      Only someone already steeped in the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone could read these stories and conclude that these people were saved by mere faith without repentance and action.

      Every one of the people in these stories and parables took steps beyond mere faith to set themselves right with God. The thief on the cross repented of his thievery. The prodigal son repented and returned to honest labor. The laborers in the vineyard went out to work as soon as they were called. The tax collector admitted his sin and guilt, and asked for mercy.

      All of these show an attitude of mind and heart that leads to salvation. And Jesus, who sees into the heart, saw that their repentance and willingness to live a changed life was genuine, and stated that they were saved and would receive their reward.

      We don’t see the follow-through on any of these. And of course, if any of these people slid back into their old ways, they would bring condemnation upon themselves. But the stories strongly suggest that these people had a sincere change of heart, and began a new life based on that change of heart.

      Just like all of Jesus’ other teachings and stories, these ones, too, state that we must repent and change our ways if we wish to be saved. We must actively live by the faith that we profess.

  3. Rob says:

    They weren’t saved by “mere faith”; they were saved by mercy. Did the tax-collector come back the following week with the pharisee’s prayer? Did he then list his good works and thank God that he wasn’t like some other sinner, perhaps praying like he himself did earlier?

    The father didn’t even allow the prodigal to finish his speech; He was wrong for thinking that his father wouldn’t react the way he did. The father did not “fall on his neck and kissed him” because his son promised to go to work for him; he forgave him before he even said a word.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      All salvation is from the pure mercy of God. We don’t deserve it by doing good works. We also don’t deserve it because we have faith. Nothing we can think, feel, say, or do will earn us salvation.

      God saves us because God loves us.

      So yes, we are all saved by the pure mercy of God.

      That’s not even the question.

      The question is whether we accept God’s love and mercy.

      Faith-alone Christians think that we can accept God’s love, mercy, and salvation merely by believing in our mind, and saying with our lips, that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sin.

      First, as I point out in the article “Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?not once does the Bible ever say that Jesus paid the price or penalty for our sins. It just isn’t in the Bible. It is a false, non-Biblical teaching invented by Luther, Calvin, and their fellow Protestant theologians 1,500 years after the Bible was written.

      But beyond that, having “faith” in Jesus as a mere matter of thought does nothing to change us from sinners into saints.

      In the Parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21:28-30 Jesus taught very clearly that mere belief and profession with the lips does not save us:

      “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

      “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

      “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

      “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

      “The first,” they answered.

      Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”

      Here “believing” does not mean merely saying that you believe, but actually doing the will of the Father by going into the vineyard and working. The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God because they repented and believed him–meaning they stopped living evil lives and began living good lives instead because they were willing to believe in Jesus and live by his commandments.

      Faith without works simply is not faith.

      If we do not accept God’s love and mercy with our whole self, head, heart, and hands, we do not accept God’s salvation.

      God still is ready, willing, and able to save us out of pure love and mercy for us. But if we do not do good works to make our faith real, we have rejected God’s love, mercy, and salvation by refusing to love the Lord, believe in the Lord, and live by the Lord’s commandments.

      And we can’t be saved if you reject God from our life.

  4. Rob says:

    Let me ask you this, Rev. Lee;
    Are you confident that you have done sufficient works to get to heaven?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      This question embodies a fundamental error that faith-alone Christians make about works and salvation:

      Good works do not earn us salvation.

      We don’t do good works to earn or merit or get into heaven. We do good works for three basic reasons:

      1. Obedience: Because God commands us to do them.
      2. Faith and understanding: Because we believe and understand that it’s the right thing to do, as Jesus taught.
      3. Love: Because we love our neighbor and want to give our fellow human beings help, comfort, and joy.

      Those who do not do good works don’t go to hell because they haven’t earned heaven. They go to hell because they have rejected God’s commandments, rejected the teachings of God, and failed to love their neighbor as Jesus taught.

      In other words, they go to hell because they have rejected God.

      You can’t reject God and go to heaven.

      When we do good works, it is not us doing the works, but God doing them through us.

      If we refuse or neglect to do good works, we are not allowing God to work through us. That is why those who do not do good works go to hell instead of heaven: because they have rejected God and prevented God from working in their lives.

      It has nothing to do with earning or meriting salvation. In fact, if we claim credit for our good works, we will still go to hell because we are stealing from God. Hell is where people who reject God go to live after they die. (I’m not talking about atheists, but about people who refuse to let the love and goodness of God work in their lives.)

      It is God doing the works through us, not us doing them ourselves. Thinking that we ourselves do the good works is breaking the commandments against stealing (from God) and against bearing false witness–because it is a lie that we can do anything on our own, from our own power. Without God, we can do nothing at all (see John 15:5).

      That’s why the final point in the article “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach” is:

      We must recognize that the power to do these things comes from God.

  5. David Gray says:

    Hi Lee,

    Does Swedenborgian theology have anything similar to the once saved, always saved (Perseverance of the Saints) concept that is taught in evangelical theology? Since you believe that one’s ultimate destination is a function of one’s choses, I’m guessing not?

    As I’ve been pondering your tradition, that is the part I’m having the most struggle with. We evangelicals place a huge emphasis on coming to Jesus for “the forgiveness of sins”, something which we take to happen in an instant. There is a verse where Paul says, “there is no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.”

    David

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Good questions. I’ve already responded in other comments about forgiveness of sins happening in an instant. Short version: God has already forgiven us for all our sins. What happens when we believe in Jesus and repent of our sins is that at that instant we accept God’s forgiveness of our sins.

      Now about “once saved, always saved”:

      As I understand it, this is controversial even among evangelicals and fundamentalists. Some believe it, some don’t. Apparently you come from one of the groups that does.

      As you suspect, Swedenborg would reject this idea in the form that it is usually articulated by those evangelicals who believe in it.

      It seems to me that the Bible rejects it as well. Read, for example, Ezekiel 18, in which it is made quite clear that someone who turns from a good life and begins living an evil life will die because of his sin.

      What Swedenborg does speak of is a process of “regeneration,” or spiritual birth (the equivalent of being “born again”) in which the farther along we go in the process, the less likely it is that we’ll turn back from our good life toward an evil life.

      Specifically, Swedenborg outlines three basic stages of rebirth using the traditional Christian terms, “repentance, reformation, and regeneration.”

      1. In our first stage, the stage of repentance, we recognize that we have been living a life of evil and sin, and are truly sorry for it, not for pragmatic reasons, but because we realize that the way we have been living is contrary to the will of God. We accept God (and Christians accept Christ) into our lives, and make our initial efforts to leave behind our old, sinful life–some of which efforts are successful, and others of which aren’t.
      2. In our second stage, the stage of reformation, we successfully and victoriously battle against our various evils and sins, both inner and outer, recognizing that it is not by our own power, but by God’s power in us that we are victorious. This is the long haul of Christian life and growth, in which we are transformed from a “sinner” into a “saint.” It’s still a struggle, and we are still tempted by our old ways, but it is a victorious struggle.
      3. In our third stage, the stage of regeneration, we (or really, God’s power in us) have defeated our evil and sinful desires such that they are no longer attractive or tempting to us. In fact, the very idea of doing the sorts of evil and sinful things we used to enjoy doing feels horrible and excruciatingly painful to us. We no longer sin because sin no longer has any allure for us. We have fully accepted God’s (for Christians, Christ’s) presence in our soul and in our life. We joyfully, willingly, and single-mindedly live a life of love and truth.

      For those who have passed through these three stages of spiritual rebirth, or regeneration, the likelihood of turning back to our old, sinful ways is very remote.

      Yes, as long as we’re still living on this earth, it could happen. But why would we do such a thing? We have no desire for it, and we look back upon our old life with sadness and horror. Our life is so much better now, both inside and out, that the old, sinful life no longer holds any attraction or fascination for us.

      That would be Swedenborg’s much modified version of “once saved, always saved.”

      However, to be completely accurate, it does not become permanent until we die and move on to the spiritual world. At that point, our final choice between good and evil has been made, and we will never turn back from it.

  6. David Gray says:

    Hi Lee,

    This really just kind of blew my mind as I’m thinking about it more. With faith defined as “the inner conviction that something is true that results in a changed life.” I am finding it easier to understand how faith can save you from sin. Knowing the truth about God and about your sin and the need to change results in a changed life, with God’s help of course. Sort of like saying “Your faith in exercise will help you lose weight.” If you have a string inner conviction that exercise will help you lose weight, then you will exercise. It makes much more sense than seeing faith as performing some single mental act that acquires something.

    David

  7. Kal El says:

    David thank you for your thoughts on Faith. The word Faith [pistis in Greek- 4102] within the anchient middle eastern world encompassed the very inner spiritual being of those that actualy lived “The Faith” which = Allegience/Commitment/Confidence/Devotion/Discipleship/Faithfulness/Fidelity/Loyalty/Obedience/Trust and in the scriptural context it was Given to our Lord of Life/Lord/Redeemer/Savior/God/King/Master Christ Jesus. It is a Covenant word like a marriage contract. I hope and pray that you and those you Love are blessed by True Grace that is accepted/accessed/activated by way of True Faith.

    In His Eternal Debt/Grace
    Kal El

  8. Kal El says:

    Lee the above post was meant for you sorry I typed the wrong name, but I share it with David as well and any others.

    In His Eternal Debt/Grace
    Kal El

    • Lee says:

      Hi Kal El,

      Thanks for your good thoughts, no matter who they’re addressed to. 🙂

      Yes, faith is not just in our head. It is an inner conviction that changes the way we live.

      • Kal El says:

        Lee I Hope and Pray that you and those you Love are Blessed by True Grace recieved by True Faith. I shared your link above regarding Faith with a Lutheran individual on a messge board who replied back and stated to me that You and those of this site follow the Heretical Teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg and that he and you misrepresent what Faith Alone actualy means in explaining Biblical Justification/Sanctification. However he gave no reasons why or how he/you/ are misrepresenting Biblical Justification by Grace Alone through Faith Alone. I have been communicating with him for some time now. Have a Blesed Day.

        Washing My Robes In The Blood Of The Lamb

        In His Eternal Debt/Grace

        Kal El

        • Lee says:

          Hi Kal El,

          Thank you! I likewise pray that God’s love and wisdom fills you and yours with true grace!

          Naturally, Lutherans will defend Lutheran doctrine against any who question or deny it. But their own doctrine is not in the Bible. It was originated by Martin Luther himself.

          The Bible specifically says that we are not justified by faith alone. Luther tried to get the book of James removed from the Bible because it did not support his newly invented doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone.

          Fortunately, though Luther could disagree with the Bible, and mislead his followers into misreading the Bible, he didn’t have the power to change the Bible. The Bible still stands in its clear rejection of salvation by faith alone.

          Having said that, Luther did say many good things. But he was badly mistaken about salvation by faith alone.

        • Kal El says:

          Lee thank you for your thoughtful post, I appriciate you effort and time. Question for you, do you consider yourself a Christian universalist in things spiritual/Temporal ?. Thanks.

          In His Eternal Debt/Grace
          Kal El

        • Lee says:

          Hi Kal El,

          You’re welcome. What do you mean by “a Christian universalist in things spiritual/Temporal”?

        • Kal El says:

          Lee I am just a lay member of my Faith/Church so I am not to theologicaly literate but I suppose I mean do you believe and adhere to all real christian’s and other good non christian’s of other faith’s going to a portion of a heavenly abode or a paradise here on Earth someday ?. Sorry if that is vague. I Hope and Pray that you and those you Love are Blessed by True Grace.

          In His Eternal Debt/Grace
          Kal El

        • Lee says:

          Hi Kal El,

          Thanks for the clarification. I do believe that people of all religions go to heaven if they believe in God and live a good life as taught by their own religion. See my article, If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

          However, “universalism” also means a belief that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God, meaning that there is no eternal hell. That I don’t believe. I do believe, though, that everyone in hell is there by choice, and not because God sends them there or requires them to be there. See my article, Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

          I wasn’t sure which kind of universalism you meant.

        • Kal El says:

          Thank you Lee for your reply. I am a Member of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints. I go by the idiom Titles of Believer/Christian/Disciple/Seeker/Latter Day Saint/Saint/Mormon.

          May True Grace be with you and those you Love.

          In His Eternal Debt/Grace
          Kal El

  9. Doug Webber says:

    Hello Lee, part of the problem is that in the letters of Paul, Paul uses the word “works” in about three different contexts: (1) works of the rituals of the Mosaic law (2) self meritorious works, and (3) works of charity or faith. And this caused confusion even in Paul’s day, which probably initiated the epistle of James. The problem with the epistles of Paul is that Paul shifts contexts for the word “works” without telling the reader, and Eph. 2:9-10 is one example. See http://dream-prophecy.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-fallacy-of-salvation-and.html where I discuss some of the other “theological logic” used by Protestants to support their doctrine (a “passive will” is another argument that is used). It drew either comments of support, or outright extreme hostility, or censorship in certain forums.

    • Kal - El says:

      Most Evangelicals tell me that James is talking about being “Justified before men” while Paul is talking about being “Justified before God” in there statements penned in The Holy Bible.

      In His Eternal Debt/Grace
      Kal El

      • Lee says:

        Hi Kal – El,

        There are always arguments to support fallacies. In fact, the greater the fallacy, the greater the flood of arguments spewed out in its defense by its supporters.

        I’ve read many very fancy Protestant arguments attempting to nullify what James said so very clearly in James 2:14-26. The common denominator in all of them is that the Bible doesn’t actually say what they claim it says. Nowhere does James say that he is talking about being “justified before men.”

        The stubborn fact is that in the one and only place that “faith alone” appears in the Bible, it is specifically rejected as justifying, or saving us.

        That’s why Martin Luther tried to get the letter of James, along with a few other books, removed from the Bible. He was well aware that James flatly contradicted his newly invented doctrine of justification by faith alone. Protestants ever since have become conceptual contortionists in their ingenious but ultimately fallacious attempts to explain away the one and only clear and explicit statement about faith alone in the entire Bible.

        The stubborn fact is that justification by faith alone was a doctrine invented by Martin Luther fifteen centuries after the New Testament was written. It has no support whatsoever in the Bible itself, but is everywhere rejected in the Bible, which makes it abundantly clear that if we wish to be saved and go to eternal life, we must keep the commandments. Jesus says it, James says it, and even Paul says it. And of course, the entire Old Testament says it.

        There is simply no justification in the Bible for Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. One day Protestantism will recognize this, and then it may finally become a truly Christian church.

        For an account of some Protestants who are belatedly realizing that Luther was simply mistaken in his reading of Paul, and what Paul meant by “the works of the Law,” see the Wikipedia article on New Perspective on Paul. The overall viewpoint on Paul of this group of Protestant theologians will ultimately prevail, because it has the virtue of being true.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Doug,

      Agreed. And good article at the link. I left a comment there also, similar to this reply.

      The fact that Paul uses the word “works” with different meanings in different contexts is not at all surprising. This is very common in all languages, and we do it all the time in English without even realizing it. Just look in any standard dictionary at almost any word, and you’ll see multiple definitions, depending on the context in which it is used.

      So it’s not really a “problem” that Paul shifts meanings when using the word “works” in different contexts. The problem is with those who don’t understand that this is simply how language works. Language is always contextual. And words will always vary in their meaning, either subtly or radically, depending on the context in which they are used. The word “pool,” for example, can mean a swimming pool, the game of pool, a betting pool, or a pooling of resources, all very different meanings, depending on the context in which it is used.

      Also, your first and second definitions of “works” as used by Paul often overlap. Observant Jews in New Testament times commonly thought of themselves as especially righteous and worthy (“meritorious”) if they scrupulously followed the ritual observances prescribed by the Mosaic Law. See, for example, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.

      Paul is so clear in so many places that we must do good works if we wish to be saved that any objective reading of his letters simply cannot support the idea that he taught salvation or justification by faith alone. In fact, Paul never even uses the term “faith alone” anywhere in his letters. If that’s what he had meant, he certainly could have said it, as James did in rejecting faith alone (James 2:24). The fact that Paul never even said “faith alone” speaks volumes.

      • Doug Webber says:

        Hello Lee,
        It needs to be clarified as otherwise people are constantly quoting a verse at each other in debates without knowing the context. Although the first and second definitions often overlap, it is important to point it out, as the difference between the second and third definition is one of intent. Also, this is the reason why Protestants ignore what Catholics say on this matter, they think all works done from the will are self meritorious and this is what keeps them in faith alone. Even Swedenborg speaks against works of self-merit or self gain, but the difference is one’s end or purpose. This point is what kept me in ignorance for several years.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Doug,

          Agreed. I don’t mean to take anything away from what you said, but to add to it.

          About good works, as I’ve mentioned here and there in articles and comments, there are three reasons to do good works that have nothing to do with “merit,” or earning heaven for ourselves:

          1. Because God commands us to do them
          2. Because we know it is the right thing to do
          3. Because we love people and want to serve them

          In other words, we can do them out of obedience, understanding, or love, corresponding to hands, head, and heart. And if we do them for all three reasons, that means doing them with our whole being, and yet not for any merit, reward, or benefit for ourselves.

          If we further recognize that every good thing we do comes from God, and not from ourselves, as Jesus taught in John 15:1-5, then there is simply no room for “boasting” or taking credit for our good works or thinking that we somehow merit or earn heaven by them. This is plain both in the Bible and in Swedenborg’s writings. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (Matthew 15:5). And Swedenborg affirms that no good thing we do is ours, but is instead is God’s, because it is God’s power working through us. We can’t take any credit for it at all, nor can we (rightfully) pat ourselves on the back for it.

          That is what Jesus meant by this parable:

          “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10)

  10. Matthew says:

    Hi Lee, I’m inspired by your writings. Protestants often say that we are under the law of sin. Every one of us. They say that we can never satisfy God through our works because our efforts will ultimately fail or wouldn’t meet God’s standard which is perfect. Therefore we can never get justified through our works but only by faith because faith unlike works it has nothing to do with perfection and that if we glorified God through our faith we fulfilled our duty as in the bible. I don’t believe in this but I want to know your view on this.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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