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:


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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87 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.

    • Andrew J Patton says:

      Far be it from us to say that the thief had no good works. He defended Jesus when everyone else was mocking Him. He rebuked his partner in crime and told him to fear God. He publicly confessed Jesus as Lord, and that His suffering will give way to His glory.

  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.”


    • 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.

    • Megan Vincent says:

      You are completely ignoring an important concept that is shown throughout the Bible. To not rely on our own self righteousness but God’s righteousness! Faith is to be convinced that what God said is true. Hebrews calls it evidence of what is unseen. Abraham believed God so God declared him righteous. Abraham was not on his own a righteous man. When we believe on Christ, an exchange takes place; our sin for His righteousness. It is only by HIS righteousness we have eternal life, our self righteousness is worthless! Once we are saved, we can do those works he meant for us to do but even then it is HIS obedience and righteousness not ours! This is a major concept that most churches do not teach and it leaves people trusting in themselves(works) rather than what Christ had accomplished.

      For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
      Romans 10:3

      • Lee says:

        Hi Mary,

        Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

        I agree that we can never be saved by our own righteousness. When we think righteousness comes from ourselves, we are stealing from God, because all righteousness comes from God, and is God’s. That’s why 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. (John 15:5)

        When we think we can be saved by our own rightneousness, buying our way into heaven with self-serving “good works” we are merely “boasting,” to use Paul’s term. It is only when we recognize that apart from God we can do nothing, and that all of our good works are not ours, but God’s in us, that our good works contribute to our salvation.

  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.


  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 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.

  11. Ben Copeland says:


    I have enjoyed reading your articles! I had responded to your last response that we had been discussing but I notice that after I sent it, wordpress sent me an email saying it never posted because you deleted the original comment I made, which also removed your last response from the board as well.

    Remember that my primary concern has been not necessarily been your position that salvation cannot exist without works, but about the supremacy of and necessity to believe in the specific Gospel of Jesus Christ as opposed to the view that ‘all roads ultimately lead to the true God.’

    If you would like to hear some of my thoughts regarding the matter, please respond to this comment and I will get it in my email and respond to it there. Otherwise, feel free to delete this comment.

    As I said in the comment that never went through: I have very much enjoyed our conversations, Lee, in the respect that some of the deepest things to my experience of relationship with God have been called into question and I have needed to examine and defend them. Your ‘faithful’–as defined by your article above–commitment to fielding each comment is likely proving the same benefit for yourself!

    – Ben

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      I’m not sure what happened about the deleted posts. If I did delete anything of yours, it was just a typo fix comment. When I get one of those from a reader, I usually silently fix the typo and delete the comment that gave the correction (which I just did on the comment of yours that I’m now replying to). I looked in my trash and spam folders and didn’t find any messages from or to you there. I also don’t recall any comments of mine to you that aren’t now on the blog. If you have a record of such deleted posts, I would be interested to see them.

      On to the substance:

      I wouldn’t say that all roads ultimately lead to God. Some roads do lead to hell. But they are not roads of mere incorrect belief, but roads of false and destructive beliefs that are selfishly followed in a person’s life and actions. For example, if a cult leader believes he is Christ, and destroys the lives of his followers through mind control techniques designed to cause them to turn to him as their god, that belief, and the life and actions that flow from it, will lead such a cult leader to hell. But merely having innocently held incorrect beliefs about God, while living the life that Jesus taught—that of loving God and the neighbor—does not lead a person to hell. Such a person is being faithful to Christ even while not intellectually believing that Jesus Christ is God.

      Beyond that, the New Testament simply doesn’t say that everyone who doesn’t have a specific belief that Jesus Christ is God will not be saved. As is often the case with incorrect traditional Christian beliefs, there are some statements in the Bible that are interpreted that way, but the passages themselves don’t actually say that. Or if they do say something like it, the statements are aimed at a specific group of people (such as the Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus for reasons of reputation and power), but are shown by the wider context of the Bible not to be universal teachings applicable to all people, but specific teachings applicable to specific people—usually either the Jewish leaders of the time or the early Christians themselves.

  12. Ben Copeland says:

    Thank you, Lee, and I do see the posts previously so it must have been as you said, a deleted typo and the email server’s inability to find the original (updated) comment.

    I hear you that a person who is living their lives to the best of their ability does not show God in the most favorable light in terms justice. ‘How could a loving God send someone to hell’ is beyond what I’m willing to answer presently, but what I do wish to address are what I see as Biblical reasons for why the gospel must be preached as a means to salvation, specifically the recognition of the specific biblical account of the life death and resurrection of Jesus.

    Faithfulness, I believe, is what Jesus refers to as a ‘good heart’ in his parable of the sower. Those who receive the word and persevere will reap exponentially what was sown. You would be correct, I believe, that God is looking for and esteems faithfulness in people regardless of their religious context. CS Lewis even references this idea in the Narnia series, I believe, where an individual who in his life lived in the -way- of Aslan (Jesus) but had never met him, and upon his death finally met the one whom he was serving all along and was welcomed in by the Christ character. The idea is appealing and sets at rest the fear that God could send a ‘good person’ to hell for not having the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel story.

    However, I see a very strong emphasis on the hearing and believing in the specific Jesus of the Bible as the means necessary for salvation, apart from one’s good works and good heart.

    I mentioned earlier that Cornelius was one of those God fearing non-Jewish individuals who had to have the gospel ‘hand delivered’ to him by Peter, not even an angel, for his salvation to ‘take effect.’ Another would be Lydia, where Paul preached the gospel and the Lord ‘opened her heart’ to hear and receive the message, with her very next statement being ‘If you consider me to be a -believer- in the Lord…’ Also we see examples of Paul’s preaching to many other groups, including moral and philosophically-astute greeks (this may be an assumption, but considering Plato and Socrates were ‘contemporaries’ within the last 500 years…) who wanted to hear more about what Paul had to say, and yet only a few of them ended up receiving and believing their message.

    Paul laments throughout Romans and other letters about the state of Israel, how those whom were God’s chosen, refused to believe and ‘stoned the son of the vineyard’ when the landowner sent him to them. Again, when the people came to Jesus in the book of John, they ask ‘what must we do to do the works God requires?’ and Jesus responds ‘believe in the one whom He has sent.”

    Although all of the gospels make it completely plain that their mission is to witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, John in particular draws heavily on belief and it’s consequence.

    John 14:6, the classic ‘exclusive’ verse, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” To borrow from a well-known preacher, the ‘litmus test’ for every other religion is the idea that if you lay Jesus as presented in the gospels, that anyone who receives this Jesus also receives the Father. In verse 7, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” Jesus makes it plain throughout the gospels that he desire people to know Him as the Son of God. He commends Peter when he confesses this, recognizing that this knowledge, this belief, was revealed by God, and is what conditioned Peter’s place in the future church that Jesus was building.

    Again, whoever hears the gospel message and does not receive it dishonors God’s -method- of salvation, the sending of His Son to die and rise as objective historic proof of His authority.

    John 5:23: “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”

    Whoever who claims to have learned from God, Jesus says, -comes- to him.

    John 6:45 “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.”

    Everyone who claims to have a spiritual walk with God will be tested on whether or not they will receive the Jesus in the Bible. ‘All who are of the truth listen to him’. If a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim of the Islamic religion, or whoever claims they know God, read the scriptures, and then reject Jesus, they either have massive presuppositions that get in the way of their interpretation and understanding of the text, or the plainly do not know God, at least the God that we claim is the true God. Many people (especially of other religions) find the idea that God would enter into humanity and die on a cross for the sake of showing His love outright offensive because of their understanding of God and their conviction that God ought to be revered and respected (to the point where the caste system or other oppressive or demonic teachings are viewed as ‘legitimate’ reasons for not loving others).

    Throughout John, we see that judgment rests on those who -have not believed-:

    John 3:18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

    John 5:24: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

    John 5:35-37: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

    And consider how Jesus recognizes the role and purpose of the Holy Spirit in terms of sin:

    John 16:7-11: But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

    Jesus says that the Spirit will convict the world about sin because of peoples’ lack of belief in Him. This is principally what I was referring to with my own salvation story: through my non-Christian life, I felt my own conscience guiding my choices, but I felt the Holy Spirit very specifically when the Gospel was presented to me. The Holy Spirit needs -something- to work with, and He’s given the very specific Gospel by which God clearly knocks on the doors of peoples’ hearts, mine included. In no other religion that I participated in was I ever prompted by the Holy Spirit, regardless of the ‘good works’ I did or the evil I participated in. One cannot say that they were ‘saved’ by good works within another religion and ‘know God’ unless God Himself through the Holy Spirit takes up residence in their lives through the opportunity to hear and receive the Gospel.

    On the Holy Spirit, it appears that his residence requires specifically hearing and receiving the Gospel. In Acts 19, Paul found some disciples that hadn’t received the Holy Spirit because they had only ever heard the baptism of John, which was one of repentance from evil toward good works. Upon hearing the gospel, and Paul laying his hands on them, they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. This happened countless times throughout Acts, where people heard the specific message of Jesus (particularly Gentiles) and received the Holy Spirit through their acceptance and belief (or, ‘faith’) in Jesus.

    Paul makes a very plain logical argument for salvation in relationship to the gospel in Romans 10:

    “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

    I could go on a bit more but it is late for me. Let me know your thoughts!

    – Ben

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      There’s a lot here. It will take some time and multiple comments to respond to it all.

      First, about C.S. Lewis’s depiction of people who had never met Aslan accepting Aslan (Christ) after death, this is precisely what Swedenborg reports happens with many, if not most, non-Christians who have lived a good life according to the teachings of their religion, in faithfulness to God as they believe in God. After death such people, Swedenborg says, recognize the Lord as the God that they have been worshiping all along, and accept him with joy.

      I attribute much of the remaining rejection of Jesus Christ here on earth to the long, slow corruption of the institutional Christian Church, in which the original teachings of Jesus in the Gospels have been replaced by human teachings originating with Constantine’s crew, Anselm, Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin, among others. If the actual teachings of Jesus in the Bible were preached to the world, I believe that even more of the world would now be Christian.

      In fact, I believe that part (but not all) of the reason Islam arose and became dominant in the Middle East and surrounding areas is that by the time of Muhammad, Christianity, with its recently established doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, had already descended back into polytheism. God desired to establish monotheism, not polytheism, among the pagans in that region of the world. By the early seventh century, when Muhammad founded Islam, pagan polytheism had been firmly entrenched in mainstream Christianity, albeit limited to three gods rather than accepting an unlimited number of gods. This meant that Christianity could not accomplish God’s purpose of replacing pagan polytheism with monotheism in the Middle East. To this day Muslims continue to reject Christianity in part because they see its belief about the Son of God (Jesus) being a separate “Person” of God as a rejection of monotheism. And they are right to see it that way. See:
      Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Polytheistic?

      In short, the “Jesus Christ” and “Christianity” that are being preached to the nations today are not the Jesus Christ and Christianity that are taught in the Bible. I am not willing to hold non-Christians responsible for the fact that Christians have corrupted and falsified their own religion, their own scriptures, and their own God, and have promulgated this false “Christianity” all around the world.

      The amazing thing is that Christian missionaries have been as successful as they have been, so that now one third of the population of the earth is Christian. I attribute this to the power of the Gospels, which can cut through the thickets of false human theology and reach the hearts of millions of people who long for a direct and personal relationship with God.

      I look forward to the day when our present-day false Christianity is dead and gone so that true Christianity can be preached to the nations. When that day comes, I believe that the day will also come when Jesus Christ is accepted almost everywhere on earth, just as he is accepted almost everywhere in heaven.

      This blog is my humble attempt to hasten the arrival of that wonderful day when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      In response to your mention of Cornelius and Lydia, I reread their stories in Acts 10 and Acts 16:11–15. What strikes me about these stories is that both Cornelius and Lydia are presented as good, God-fearing, righteous people before they accepted Jesus Christ. Nowhere in either story does it say that they were unsaved prior to their conversion. Rather, it says that these good, God-fearing people were eager and ready to accept Jesus Christ. I simply don’t see the basis in these stories for believing that if they hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ, they would have gone to hell. And I find it fascinating that Cornelius and his family received the Holy Spirit before, not after, they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

      In short, I simply don’t see anything in these stories to support the “exclusive” idea of traditional Christians. What I see are stories of good people having their already existing faith and righteousness lifted up to a whole new level by accepting Jesus Christ into their lives.

      There is great power in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is salvation in Jesus Christ. But this doesn’t mean that everyone who doesn’t consciously accept Jesus Christ into their lives is damned to hell. Rather, it means that the gospel of Jesus Christ goes beyond any other religious teaching or practice. It doesn’t mean that all other religions and beliefs have to power whatsoever. It means that true Christianity, with its knowledge of the personal presence of God as Jesus Christ, has far greater power than any other religion or belief.

      In short, it is not a matter of exclusivity. It is a matter of raising religion, our spiritual life, and our relationship with God to a whole new level.

      Those who read the Bible with their mind stuck on the narrow human idea of exclusivity will see exclusivity everywhere in the Bible. But those whose minds have a broader view of God, religion, and the scriptures will see, instead, God raising humanity to a higher spiritual level than it had ever had before.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      Adding to my previous reply:

      You say:

      Also we see examples of Paul’s preaching to many other groups, including moral and philosophically-astute greeks . . . who wanted to hear more about what Paul had to say, and yet only a few of them ended up receiving and believing their message.

      The traditional Christian understanding of this is that everyone who received and believed was saved, whereas everyone who did not receive and believe was damned. However, that is not necessarily the message being conveyed. My sense is that Acts is not so much saying that only those who accepted Jesus were saved, but rather that the most pious and God-fearing gentiles (such as Cornelius and Lydia) gladly received the new message of salvation through believing in and following Jesus Christ.

      From a skeptical perspective, this could be read as the early Christians putting out propaganda whose import was that the best people accept Christ, while those who aren’t so good do not. A less skeptical way of seeing it is that the people who most yearned for further spiritual enlightenment were open to the message of Jesus Christ, whereas those who were content with their current beliefs were not.

      Having said that, there certainly is a theme in the New Testament that people who were focused on their own wealth, power, reputation, and position were highly resistant to the gospel, whereas those who were humble and who longed for light and salvation were very receptive to the message. So yes, there are statements in the New Testament that people who rejected the message were lost and condemned. But if those statements are read in context, they are generally aimed at specific groups of people—usually the elite Jewish leadership—who rejected the message because they already believed themselves to be the best and most enlightened people, even though they were actually greedy, dark-minded elitists. On that note, you say:

      Paul laments throughout Romans and other letters about the state of Israel, how those whom were God’s chosen, refused to believe and ‘stoned the son of the vineyard’ when the landowner sent him to them.

      Notice that this is aimed specifically at Judaism as it existed in New Testament times. It doesn’t say anything about non-Jews. A major message of the New Testament is that Judaism had become corrupt and worldly, and had therefore lost its place as the temple of God on earth, and as God’s means of spreading salvation to the gentiles. It was precisely because Judaism had ceased to fulfill these functions that it was necessary for God to come personally as Jesus Christ and begin a new religious dispensation that would do the work of spreading salvation to the gentiles—which Judaism had failed to do in violation of the divine message of its own prophets.

      It is a misunderstanding of the Gospel message to turn the New Testament’s excoriation of institutional Judaism’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah into a universal teaching that all people who do not accept Christ as their Savior will go to hell. That’s why, once again, Paul could state so clearly in Romans 2:1–16 how non-Christians, including both pagan polytheists and Jews, are saved (or not) by Jesus Christ on the Day of Judgment according to whether they have (or have not) avoided doing evil deeds and done good deeds instead based on their own conscience.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      Now to take up some of the specific verses you quote. I do also deal with some of them in other articles here, such as this one: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

      You say:

      John 14:6, the classic ‘exclusive’ verse, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

      I would agree with you that this is an “exclusive” verse. The question is, exclusive of what? Consider this clearly derivative statement:

      Oxygen is the way to life. No one remains alive except through oxygen.

      According to the traditional Christian interpretation of John 14:6, the meaning of this statement is that unless you believe in oxygen, you will surely die.

      That is obviously ridiculous.

      Human beings stayed alive by breathing oxygen long before the discovery of oxygen in the late 18th century. Even today, when the knowledge of oxygen has filled much the earth, there remain many people who have never heard of oxygen. And there are probably some who have heard of oxygen, but who don’t believe it because they can’t see it. Yet these “oxygen unbelievers” continue to live and breathe just as well as those who have been instructed about oxygen and believe that it exists and keeps them alive from moment to moment.

      We are not kept alive by believing in oxygen, but by breathing oxygen. John 14:6 simply doesn’t say that only people who believe in Jesus Christ can find their way to the Father—i.e., be saved. I cover this more fully in the relevant section of the above-linked article.

      John 5:23: “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”

      Who is Jesus talking to here?

      The full context of John 5 shows that he is talking to “the Jews” (see verses 10, 15–16, 18), who had started persecuting Jesus because he healed a man on the Sabbath and told the healed man to carry his mat on the Sabbath, both of which were considered prohibited “work.” Jesus’ speech to them concludes by saying that their (the Jews’) accuser will be Moses, because Moses wrote about him (Jesus).

      In other words, the whole speech is aimed at unbelieving Jews—primarily the educated Jewish leadership—who, Jesus is saying, are dishonoring their own God and their own Scriptures by dishonoring Jesus, who was sent by God and spoken of in the Jewish Scriptures. They heard him preaching from the Scriptures, and they saw him manifesting God’s power through miracles of healing, yet they dishonored and rejected him. They imperiled their own salvation not merely because they didn’t intellectually accept claims that Jesus was the Messiah, but because they saw his power with their own eyes, and heard with their own ears his preaching based on their own Scriptures, but they rejected him anyway because he threatened their positions of power and privilege, and, as they saw it, threatened their religion and their very existence as a nation (see John 11:45–48.)

      That is what John 5:23 is talking about, and not just some theoretical “dishonoring” of the Son by not accepting the idea that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

      John 6:45 “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.”

      Once again, if you read this in its context of John 6:22–59, you will see that these words are directed at “the Jews” (see verses 41, 52). Ditto everything I said about John 5:23.

      John 3:18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

      Since I have written an entire article about this verse, I will refer you to that article instead of commenting on it further here:
      Does John 3:18 Mean that All Non-Christians Go to Hell?

      John 5:24: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

      That is quite true. But this verse does not state the corollary that traditional Christians usually add to it, that whoever does not believe is spiritually dead. It is a positive statement, not a negative one.

      Even if it did make the negative statement, it still wouldn’t mean what traditional Christians think it means, as explained in the above-linked article on John 3:18. That’s because “belief” and “faith” in the Bible are not the intellectual things that we think of them as today, but involve living by the things one believes and has faith in. This is all fully explained in the “Faith Alone Is Not Faith” article above, on which we are currently commenting.

      John 5:35-37: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

      Everything I have said so far applies to these verses as well.

      John 16:7-11: But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

      There are many themes brought up in these verses, which I can’t do full justice to here. For now I will simply point out that the final verse is one piece of scriptural support for the Christus Victor view of atonement and salvation that reigned for the first 1,000 years of Christianity, and continues to reign in Eastern Christianity, even though it has been long since sidelined in Catholic and Protestant Christianity, having been replaced there by variations on the satisfaction theory of atonement that Anselm invented in the eleventh century.

      “The prince of this world now stands condemned” because Jesus has now defeated the prince of this world, otherwise known as the Devil and Satan. It was through Jesus’ defeat of the power of evil symbolized by the Devil and Satan that we were “ransomed” from the power of the Devil, and thereby saved. For a plain English version of how Jesus did this, please see my article “The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus,” starting with the section titled, “What would you do?”

      You then mention Acts 19 and other passages in which people receive the Holy Spirit through their acceptance and belief in Jesus. And though I could comment on these further, for now I will simply say that those passages don’t say that anyone who doesn’t consciously receive the Holy Spirit will go to hell. They are positive statements about one of the wonderful effects of believing in Jesus.

      Paul makes a very plain logical argument for salvation in relationship to the gospel in Romans 10:

      “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

      This, also, is a positive statement about the necessity, beauty, and power of preaching the good news of salvation. I see no warrant here for the traditional Christian belief that only those who accept Jesus as their Savior will go to heaven, and all others will go to hell. Once again, Romans 2:1–16. Paul simply did not believe, or preach, that only Christians are saved and go to heaven. Anyone who attributes such an idea to Paul is flatly contradicting Paul’s own crystal clear statement on the subject.

      Once again, I don’t at all question your conversion to Christianity and your experience of receiving the Holy Spirit. Once again, I believe that Jesus Christ is God With Us, and that true Christianity is the truest, deepest, and most powerful religion on earth. That’s why I am a Christian, not a Hindu, a Muslim, or a Jew.

      But this simply doesn’t mean that there is no salvation whatsoever in any other religion or belief on earth. Only that Christianity has greater power to save than any other religion on earth. Jesus Christ is the God of all the earth. And while he reaches out to us most powerfully in true Christianity (not the false and corrupt version that exists today), he also reaches out to us through all of the other religions of the earth, and saves us thereby, as Paul clearly believed, and as Jesus himself clearly believed based on his Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31–46.

      But I think I’ve already pounded this into the ground, so I’ll cease and desist for now.

      • Ben Copeland says:

        Lee, you certainly have pounded it into the ground. I used to play a competitive game where I posted a video of all my best clips and someone said in the comments ‘I’m citing you for 106 counts of unnecessary roughness’ and your comment reminded me of that.

        I am still on the fence about the lens you view scripture through, as I hear your arguments to the scriptures I reference, and can see how you you appropriate them and can appreciate your logic (which is why I’m still here!) But I cannot get around the conviction that Jesus coming and dying and rising was more than just a show of an ultimate victory that merely needs to be proclaimed as ‘good news’ without more consequence, like acceptance of it as an objective reality. I just don’t see the Gospel as an increasing of the fringe benefits of salvation for those in other religions who are content with their concepts of God or their ‘ways’ to God.

        “Paul simply did not believe, or preach, that only Christians are saved and go to heaven.”

        Why then did Paul preach, if his conviction was that the gospel is the power of salvation to all who believe (1:16?) Why would Paul even -go- to the Gentiles if it were merely just a generalized reality that needed a ‘hey, by the way, yay for God, he’s shown the way how he’s actually saved you, by the way, but you’re already on the path, so good job!’ Why would Paul go from town to town to town being beaten, stoned, mobbed, harassed by demons, confronted by false teachers, and sentenced to death if it was just a clarifying message to what was already known? Why would he be willing to be put to death, along with every other disciple, and for that matter, every missionary and the millions of believers worldwide, who stand up for believe (yes, cognitively, but more than that, a -trust-) that Jesus is Lord? What would be the point of Christ in revelations affirming those who do not shrink back as inheriting salvation, when their faith–their belief–is being confronted? I don’t think you can separate a way of life from ideological beliefs when they’re rooted in such a historic, objective reality as the existence, death and resurrection of Christ.

        The Gospels’ main function is to witness to the events so that we can -know- the truth. If someone refuses to accept the Gospels as truth, they are denying -reality-. If the Gospels were an addendum just to help people get to know God slightly better and assure them of God’s final universal salvation vs. a complete overhaul of the perception of God and his ways, then the power of sin sounds like it already had been defeated before the coming of Christ, and the knowledge of the power of God already known (even though angels themselves eagerly desired to look into the story of salvation).

        Paul did -not- believe that all the religions of the earth and their teachings salvific. Why would he preach? Why would he correct false teachings with such veracity?

        Gal 1:6-9

        I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

        Why is Paul so upset? I mean, come on, that ‘other’ gospel had all the right doctrines about Christ’s life, his death, resurrection, etc, but just had the added addendum of the tiny little teensy weensy desire to include some Jewish customs into the ‘faith’ as a means toward righteousness… Obviously, that’s not how Paul viewed it. He viewed the addition as a travesty and a heresy that was equal with losing one’s salvation.

        How could someone lose their salvation if they -just- added a tiny little bit of righteousness earning? I think Paul makes crystal clear that he believes that the Galatians ought to live by simple faith in what Christ has done.

        “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.””

        This verse again supports the perspective that the Holy Spirit comes by means of hearing and believing the Gospels. Paul clearly preached with the clarity and ambition that everyone would hear the good news because he believed that it was a necessity for salvation, that everyone was under the binding power of sin. Only God can forgive sins. Some people don’t know their sins are forgiven and are still bound by the power of the law. Hence the need to preach the Gospel. Hence the need for Paul’s own conversion and acceptance of Jesus being the Christ.

        As I read it, when Paul talks about the ‘power of the law’, he’s not referring to specifically Jewish law, but generally, the law of perfect righteousness, the law that is written on every human heart, the law that every human heart has -broken-. He makes such a clear case in the first half of Romans for this: That he’s talking about the Power of Sin: Paul was under the power of sin until he experienced the revelation of Jesus Christ. After Christ had died and rose, Paul was still under the power of sin. He makes this case for everyone: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All are under the power of sin. No matter what ‘law’ you follow, whether Jewish or Islam or whatever, ALL are under the power of sin, and NO law can set someone free into a Holy Spirit-inspired and empowered relationship with God.

        Romans 7:7-12:
        “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

        Those who are following after the law in whatever religion are actually dead because they’re in the race of self-based righteousness against their own conscience. Their relationship with God is tarnished and they are trying with all their might to appease ‘the gods’ or ‘god’ or ‘philosophical moral system’ of their own sin and NOTHING can take away the weight of sin apart of Jesus. You agree. But I’m saying that hearing and believing the Gospel -actually does that- for a person -in this life-. This is manifested over and over and over and over again with countless believers who -turn- from their sins and, what, do more righteousness? No, when they turn from their sins and -accept Jesus- into their hearts, the free gift of salvation given by an amazing God, Father to the fatherless, who alone in all the universe since ancient days has never been heard of as the one “who works on behalf of those who wait for (or trust in) him.” Isaiah 64:4.

        “For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”

        I see and hear Paul relating belief to the act of agreeing with and trusting in alone. Not faith ‘without’ as you claim protestants say. In reality, I never hear protestant preaching that claims faith alone precludes or excludes good works, but rather with Christ as the object of one’s righteousness one then receives the Spirit of adoption as son (or daughter) because they have been set free from sin through the glory of knowing the plan of salvation and God’s love. Christ alone reveals the Father to people, and I wonder why Christ would have to come at all if other religions were well and fine representations of God and ways toward a general salvation.

        I get much of my conviction from testimonies of faith where people in other religions are saved -out- of their religion and -to- relationship with Jesus. I don’t see it as just a positive statement, but a both negative and positive. People are rescued -from- darkness and -to- light through belief in Jesus, initiated -first- by their acceptance of the free gift of salvation (faith) and then expressed naturally through that faith, or as Paul says, the faith and love that ‘springs up from the hope stored in them’:

        “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.”

        Although possibly viewed as another response to be pounded, Lee, I do hope the Lord receives our dialogue for what it is, the sharpening of iron where we intellectually work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and by His grace, overflowing with good works that He’s prepared in advance for us to do.

        – Ben

        • Ben Copeland says:

          My bad, I just searched it and the comment was ‘I’m arresting you for 139 counts of unnecessary roughness’ 🙂

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ben,

          Thanks for sticking with the conversation.

          I wish I could run a cable from my brain to yours and upload not just the answers to your specific questions, but the grand picture in which those answers become clear. Without that big picture, the details make no sense. It’s like examining a newspaper photo with a magnifying glass. All you see are isolated blotches of light and dark. But when you pull back, a coherent picture emerges. All those little dots suddenly make sense, even while receding from specific notice.

          Alas, technology has not yet achieved brain dump functionality, and I lack Spock’s mind melding capabilities. I therefore must stick with these awkward and time-consuming words in communicating these things with you.

          In this conversation you have presented many grainy details of specific verses where Paul says this and that. And while not avoiding the graininess of particularity (hence the wordiness of my replies), I have also attempted to pull back and show you the picture as a whole, so that those dots of Scripture resolve into a coherent picture. That picture is not the one contemporary Christianity sees, because it is still using a magnifying glass and missing the big picture.

          In this reply I’ll pan out from the graininess to look at the big picture, without which the details of what I’m saying to you about particular Bible verses will make no sense.

          After our last round, I reread the letter to the Galatians, which was the subject of one of Luther’s most extended works of biblical exegesis and commentary. Reading it as a whole, it struck me yet again that Paul was speaking in a particular social, religious, and spiritual context, and that when this is understood, everything he says in that letter and in the rest of his letters resolves into a clear and coherent picture that is very different from the one presented by today’s mainstream Christianity.

          What was that context?

          You mention Islam, but Islam was still six centuries in the future. Its revival of an Old Testament style behavioral, law-based, monotheistic religion did not exist in Paul’s world.

          For all practical purposes, neither did the Eastern religions that have made such headway in the West during the last century or two. The Biblical world did not include the lands where those religions reigned.

          The Biblical world consisted of a relatively small tract of land (by modern global standards) that stretched about 1,400 miles from Egypt and Asia Minor on the west to Persia and Media on the east, and from the Arabian Peninsula on the south to the Black Sea on the north. (See: “How Big is the New Jerusalem?”) Yes, there was some awareness of lands beyond, but that was the “world” of which Paul had some level of awareness—though by his time it had stretched farther west around the Mediterranean due to Israel being subsumed into the Roman Empire.

          In that world, there was no Hinduism, no Buddhism, no Islam, no Native American spirituality. Paul’s religious world consisted of Jews and “Greeks”—meaning, not ethnic Greeks, but people whose religion was in the “Greek” mold, i.e., pagans. Another way of saying this is that there was monotheism, represented by Judaism, and polytheism, represented by everyone else: the “Greeks” or Gentiles. Yes, there was some vague awareness of other religious threads. But like the geographical compass of the biblical world, those were distant shadows, existing beyond the horizon of ordinary life. When Paul speaks of Jews and Greeks in his letters, he is encapsulating the entire religious world of his day.

          The existing options were to be a Jew or a pagan polytheist.

          Judaism had many advantages over paganism. Paul recognizes this in his letters. Of course, it was monotheistic, which is a great advance over polytheism. But beyond that, it was a highly moral religion—if not perfectly so by today’s standards.

          In pagan polytheism, the gods were an unruly lot. They fought each other, had sex rather indiscriminately with one another and with the occasional human, were jealous of one another, and had many imperious and conflicting desires and demands. Following them was complicated. It required a welter of rituals and sacrifices to appease the various gods and curry their favor in order to avoid disasters of various kinds and ensure health, wealth, fertility, and victory over enemies. Yes, there were some morals ingrained in the culture. But they were tenuous at best, and by our present-day standards, not especially moral or ethical. Temple prostitution was common, and the gods still occasionally required child sacrifice. That religion was more about appeasing the gods than about living a good life.

          That is why, in the opening verses of Romans 3, Paul could speak of being Jewish as having advantages “much in every way.” Judaism by this time had largely left behind its early henotheism in favor of monotheism. There was only one God to worship, and the centerpiece of God’s system was the Ten Commandments, which enjoined not only strict faithfulness to YHVH, but a strict and unified moral code that all people were to follow, from king to peasant. There was no confusing welter of deities to appease, and there were clear marching orders about how one was to treat one’s neighbor. It was a vast advance over the pagan polytheism from which it arose.

          Judaism started out well, gradually lifting its people out of the morass of paganism and replacing it with what might be called “monotheistic paganism.” It was still based on rituals of sacrifice, but those sacrifices were to be made to one God only, who was increasingly seen as the Creator and God of the entire world, not just a local god in competition with the other gods. Judaism was carrying its followers on an arc away from pagan superstitions and toward a right conception of one God who was the God of the entire earth.

          Unfortunately, over the centuries it floundered and lost its way. The later books of the Old Testament tell a story of the people falling away from faith in YHVH and being conquered and exiled by their enemies. The northern tribes of Israel, represented by “Ephraim” in the Prophets, were altogether lost. The southern tribes of Judah were decapitated, their educated elite being deported to Babylon, and the continuity of their worship of YHVH broken.

          Then came a period of about four centuries prior to Christ in which there was little or no prophecy, and the religion of Judaism became increasingly rigid and formulaic. It became a matter of strictly obeying every tiniest regulation in the Law of Moses, such that the most “righteous” people were the ones who carefully and precisely tithed their mint, dill, and cumin (Matthew 23:23).

          This was the Judaism into which Paul was born. And Paul was a Pharisee: a Jew’s Jew. If any Jew was righteous, Paul was! He belonged to the sect of the best and most elite Jews, who followed every letter of the law.

          And what was his character and situation?

          Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1–2)

          This was where his scrupulous observance of the Law had gotten him. He tithed his mint, dill, and cumin, while neglecting the more important matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness. Instead of being filled with justice, mercy, and faithfulness toward all people, he was filled with murderous hatred against people who dared to violate his precious Law, and who were therefore not anywhere near as righteous as he, Saul of Tarsus, was.

          It was in the very midst of breathing out these murderous threats that Paul, the ultra-faithful Jew, was waylaid on the road to Damascus by one Christ Jesus.

          Everything Paul writes must be read with this context and experience in mind. For Paul, this was not just some incremental improvement on the old ways. It was a whole new paradigm of spiritual reality. Under the Law of Moses, he had still been a miserable sinner, reeking of hatred and revenge against those who fell short of his own proud righteousness. Under Christ, he saw his own blindness and narrowness of mind and heart, and expanded his view of humanity into a universal love and concern for the spiritual welfare of all of humanity.

          This is what drove Paul to brave perils and death to bring the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

          It was not that there was no possibility of salvation anywhere else. That was the old Paul, who believed, in Jesus’ words, that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Under Christ, Paul recognized that his former careful dichotomy of Jew and Gentile had no meaning:

          Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)

          God, in Christ, was indeed the God of all the earth, and all the nations.

          The problem wasn’t that there was no salvation outside if his new little sect of followers of Christ. It was that paganism was such a welter of conflicting gods and practices that it provided no clear pathway to salvation, whereas Judaism, which could have provided such a path, had long since fallen into niggling, physical-minded, and uncomprehending adherence to the minutiae of the Law of Moses. It was getting to the point where even people of good heart and good conscience were faltering and falling into confusion and error. As he says in Romans 2, they still could be saved if they lived according to their conscience, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. The path to salvation had become very narrow, and the gate difficult to find.

          That’s because while the other religions that then existed theoretically could provide salvation for a good-hearted and conscientious person, in reality, for the most part they were not actually doing so. They were only confusing and misleading people into physical-minded dead ends.

          Among other things, Christ came as “God With Us” in order to cut through that morass of conflicting, confusing, and materialistic religion and open up a clear pathway to God and salvation.

          And as hard as it may be for us to grasp two thousand years later in a changed world, Christ’s coming precipitated a paradigm shift that rippled throughout the ancient Biblical world, and that over the centuries changed the religion and spirituality of almost the entire world.

          The first major event in that shift was in the former focal point of religion on earth: Judaism. Judaism had introduced monotheism into a polytheistic world. But it had also clung to the old pagan practices of animal sacrifice, bodily mutilation (circumcision), and other ritualistic practices. Most of that system was smashed just four decades after Jesus’ ministry when in 70 AD, after one Jewish revolt too many, the Romans razed Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple.

          Since the Temple had become the sole place on the entire earth that Jews were allowed to offer sacrifices to YHVH, the destruction of the Temple meant the end of Judaism as it had existed up to that time.

          If you read Jewish accounts of the aftermath of that event, you will read of Judaism painfully reinventing itself into a different religion. Sacrifice was gone, the Priesthood had lost its function, and Rabbinic Judaism took over. In many ways, the Judaism that came into being after the destruction of the Temple and the diaspora of the Jews was more like Christianity than it was like the earlier version of Judaism. Yes, it still focused on the Law of Moses. But the whole sacrificial system was gone, and Judaism became a religion of learning and of adhering to a moral code, with a fringe of remaining non-sacrificial ritual practices, such as circumcision, thrown in. It also was no longer a religion of priests standing between the faithful and God. Like Christianity, Judaism became a religion in which people had a direct relationship with God, even if not a personal one as in Christianity. For a related article, see: “Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!

          The Judaism that we know today is not the Judaism that Paul knew. The Judaism that Paul knew and wrote about in his letters is gone, swept away a few years after Paul’s death.

          Neither does the “Greek” paganism that Paul knew exist anymore in that part of the world. Six centuries later, Islam swept it all away, replacing it with strict monotheism and an Old Testament Jewish-style adherence to a strict moral code, but without reviving the sacrificial system.

          Two thousand years later, while there are still vestiges of paganism and animism in various parts of the world, they are fading away as Christianity and Islam suffuse much of the world. Yes, Islam is rampant, and may become the largest religion in the world over the next century or so. But despite the radical fundamentalism fomented by so many wars in the Middle East, even Islam is being infiltrated by the Christian paradigm. For example, Islam, like ancient Judaism, allows for polygamy. And some wealthy Muslims still do have multiple wives. But in the popular mind monogamy and “true love” are fast taking over not only in the Islamic world, but in the Hindu world as well, where many Bollywood movies can hardly be distinguished from Western romance movies and romantic comedies—except for all the singing and dancing!

          Taking in this wider view, my understanding of the effects of the Incarnation are far broader than Christ introducing a particular belief by which we can be saved. What Christ did, among other things, was turn the tide of human history. Previously, human society, culture, and religion had been in a downward spiral toward materialism (“the flesh,” in biblical terms), oblivion, and death. Christ stopped that descent and started a long, slow climb from physical-mindedness and barbarism toward spiritual enlightenment and moral life founded on the two Great Commandments of loving God above all and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

          It’s easy to get lost in the dots and blotches of particular doctrines and “correct” and “incorrect” beliefs as we hold a magnifying glass to Paul’s letters. But Paul was preaching a much bigger message than that. And the effects of it were far bigger than founding a new religion, Christianity, which would bring humans closer to Truth and God than any other religion had done.

          The results of the Incarnation were profound. They rippled outward from Palestine to change the entire world. There is very little left today of the Judaism and Gentile (pagan) religion that existed in Paul’s day. For us today, it’s easy to miss that big picture, and read Paul as if he were preaching in today’s very different social, religious, and spiritual environment.

          But in fact, Paul’s preaching was one of the first effects of Christ’s work of flipping human history and putting humanity as a whole on an entirely new, and upward, path.

          (Note: This comment has now been edited and posted as an article: “Jesus Changed Paul’s World.”)

        • Ben Copeland says:

          Lee, there is so much that I agree with you on, and now glean even more, specifically your contextualization the world religions at the time of Paul’s writings.

          is a visual representation of a timeline of the spread of world religions that I thought was cool.

          The overall narrative arch of the Bible is one big story of God’s redemption of humanity through Jesus.

          These three videos in order show many places where we agree, as the team at The Bible Project has done a great job condensing the ‘big-picture’ ideas of scripture by using the rich medium of pictures (and words, too, but also enriched with them being spoken) to communicate such a vast topic. I picked these three because they seem to touch deeply into all the areas we’ve spoken on so far, with the last one being a launching ground for me to posit some thoughts:




          Their last video captures the tension that I find myself in. I see myself as resisting the cultural phenomena of ‘coexist’ because I do not see religions as equally compatible forms of true worship. Most religions make truth claims. Truth, much to the chagrin of post-modern thought, is not relative, it is objective. If another written record states that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then it is both historically and objectively inaccurate (or in non-PC terms, ‘wrong’). If another written text states that Jesus’ works were incomplete, and that there is more to the story in terms of salvation, it too, is wrong. Jesus plainly said, ‘it is finished.’

          I see most world religions as antithetical to the cross and the Gospel, and it seems that you see them as generally benign forms of acceptable worship to God provided they’re embodying the two greatest commandments, loving God and others. Where I doubt that someone can honestly ‘love God’ without knowing Him specifically as Jesus reveals him and having Him change their hearts through the empowering love and presence of the Holy Spirit–hence my necessity of hearing the Gospel–your perspective is that God allows them provided they are acting in accordance with his ways. We both align again on faith being a necessary component to God’s acceptance (without faith it is impossible to please God), but where I diverge is the particularities, and whether it matters.

          So on your end, I hear you saying that according to our belief and worship, ‘it doesn’t matter whether something is made in USA or China, as long as its a functional means to the end.’ On my end, what I hope you understand me to be saying is “although the two may look alike, ultimately one is edible and one is deadly”

          I have this perspective because of my own personal and others’ conversions from other religions and personal and others’ experiences with spiritual warfare (demons). I have experienced demonic oppression, and I have experienced deliverance. Only in the name of Jesus (yes, literal, but also with specificity as the object of one’s trusted power) do demons obey. I have also found that Christians alone wield the awareness and authority to dispense of this darkness (consider the 7 Sons of Sceva or Elymas), which also seems to corroborate the idea that Christians alone have -THE- Holy Spirit.

          There are hundreds of false doctrines. Where do you think they came from? The Bible says demons have the capacity to teach doctrine that is false. I just pulled up Islam because I knew it has some variance with whether Jesus actually died and actually rose, and it looks like the roots of this belief comes from Manichaeism. Per Wikipedia, the story of this individual that created this idea (or, claim on truth) is as follows:

          Mani believed that the teachings of Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus were incomplete, and that his revelations were for the entire world, calling his teachings the “Religion of Light”.[15] Manichaean writings indicate that Mani received revelations when he was 12 and again when he was 24, and over this time period he grew dissatisfied with the Elcesaite sect he was born into.[20] Mani began preaching at an early age and was possibly influenced by contemporary Babylonian-Aramaic movements such as Mandaeism, and Aramaic translations of Jewish apocalyptic writings similar to those found at Qumran (such as the book of Enoch literature), and by the Syriac dualist-gnostic writer Bardaisan (who lived a generation before Mani). With the discovery of the Mani-Codex, it also became clear that he was raised in a Jewish-Christian baptism sect, the Elcesaites, and was influenced by their writings, as well. According to biographies preserved by Ibn al-Nadim and the Persian polymath al-Biruni, he received a revelation as a youth from a spirit, whom he would later call his Twin (Aramaic: תאומא‎ tɑʔwmɑ, from which is also derived the name of the Thomas the Apostle, the “twin”), his Syzygos (Koine Greek: σύζυγος “spouse, partner”, in the Cologne Mani-Codex), his Double, his Protective Angel or Divine Self. It taught him truths that he developed into a religion. His divine Twin or true Self brought Mani to self-realization. He claimed to be the Paraclete of the Truth, as promised by Jesus in the New Testament. (

          Sounds to me like a demonic influence, does it not to you? The incredible thing is I didn’t even have to look very hard to find this!

          The idea of Christian universalism reaches so highly up the ladder of ideological logic with some profound implications upon salvation. If Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light, and there are plenty of false doctrines that demons wish to fill the minds of believers with (and keep unbelievers veiled and trapped with) so as to attempt to destroy them, this leads me to guard myself and my doctrine closely.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ben,

          Thanks for the video and video links. The first one (which I’ve made into a live video in your comment) made me realize that I’d gotten Buddha’s dates flipped around “backwards” in my mind: he was four centuries before Christ, not after. So I’ve nuked that part of my previous comment.

          The three Bible Project videos are well-done. I agree with most of what they say.

          One exception is their depiction in the first video of a continuing series of God giving laws and the people breaking them in a repeating cycle. That’s not how it actually happens in the Bible story. Rather, as God is giving the Ten Commandments and associated laws in the second half of Exodus, the people break the laws that they have just heard in God’s own voice from the mountain. They are duly punished. Then, after they’ve built the tabernacle, God gives Moses the rest of the laws, contained in the book of Leviticus. This becomes the settled body of law for the rest of the Israelites’ history (Deuteronomy is a later re-telling of the same events and is “backdated” to the time when the original laws were given.)

          The Old Testament is not a story of God continually giving new laws because the people kept breaking the old ones. It is a story of God giving the people a set of laws and the people sometimes keeping them and sometimes breaking them, with more and more of the latter until they are punished with captivity and exile.

          This is important because there is a narrative in Protestant Christianity based, once again, on a misreading of Paul, that God gave us the Law of Moses to prove that we are incapable of keeping the Law. That narrative simply isn’t borne out by the Bible story. There are several figures in the course of the Bible story who are said to have been wholly dedicated to the Law, and to have been righteous people based on this. Some of them were kings or other leaders who led the people to rededicate themselves to keeping the Law. This is true not only in the Old Testament, but even in the New Testament, where the parents of John the Baptist are described in this way:

          In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. (Luke 1:5–6)

          According to the Bible itself, “Christian” preachers who say that it is impossible for mere humans to keep the Law are mistaken. God doesn’t set us up for failure. The problem was not that it was impossible to keep the Law, but that as humanity progressed, the Law became insufficient to keep the people as a whole on a spiritual path toward salvation, and ancient Judaism itself had reached its point of spiritual death. A new religious dispensation was required, which we now know as Christianity.

          This follows a general pattern of religions, or religious eras. Religions follow a cycle of “seasons.” They have a “springtime” of being planted and growing strong, a “summer” of productivity, a “fall” of harvest and then decline, and a “winter” of dying away. This may be followed by a new spring, or it may be the end of the religion.

          Looking at religions other than Christianity, it’s easy to get either too romantic about them or too negative about them. Conservative Christians tend to get too negative, and paint a very black picture of every religion other than Christianity because it fits into their narrative and self-image of belonging to the only true and valid religion, and being the only people who are saved (which is quite self-righteous of them). Liberal types often get starry-eyed and think of other religions as being very cool and enlightened, and Christianity as being very backwards and a big downer, not to mention being patriarchal in a very uncool way.

          Neither of these pictures is accurate.

          Every legitimate religion has its cycle of ups and downs, and has its positive and its negative sides. Islam, for example, certainly has its harsh fundamentalist wing, which does all of the things that Westerners decry as barbaric. But it also has a moderate wing whose people aren’t all that different from moderate Christians, and it has its mystical wing that sees all of humanity as one under God. Focusing only on the negatives because all other religions are supposed to be “wrong” and “false” compared to Christianity gives a false caricature of those religions. It is an unrealistic and mistaken view.

          Does this mean that all religions are basically the same, and we can just flip a coin to decide which one to join?

          I don’t think so.

          Rather, I think that God has given various religions as needed for the various cultures here on earth. The religions are not the same because the cultures in which they thrive are not the same.

          Christianity, in my view, is the most advanced religion on earth, and is, I believe, destined to be the religion of the whole earth centuries hence, even if Islam might surpass Christianity for a while in raw numbers. However, the Christianity that spreads to the whole earth will not be today’s Christianity because today’s Christianity has largely abandoned the key teachings of the Bible and substituted human teachings for them.

          So yes, I would urge you to “guard yourself and your doctrine closely.” But I would also urge you to pay attention to what the Bible teaches, and abandon the teachings of present-day mainstream Christianity that are not taught in the Bible. Some of them are outlined in this piece:
          “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
          The bulk of Christians today are walking around thinking the Bible teaches various doctrines because their preachers say so. But if you actually read the Bible from an objective point of view, with an understanding of its historical and religious context, those teachings simply aren’t there.

          And just to be clear, I am not a Christian universalist. Christian universalism is not the belief that all religions provide a pathway to heaven, which I do believe. Rather, it is the belief that all people ultimately end out in heaven, which I do not believe. See:
          Response to a Christian Universalist: Is There an Eternal Hell? Wouldn’t an All-Powerful God Save All People?

        • Ben Copeland says:

          Again, I appreciate the space to process these things, Lee, and for your continued hospitality and gentleness in your responses. I’m in a counseling program and yesterday was reading some material on Tom Andersen (1997, 2007) about types of helpful dialogue. For individuals processing new information, they are often speaking not to another but to themselves, and need time to process what they hear themselves saying (hence my thanks for your hospitality!). He also spoke about therapeutic ‘monologues,’ and how in these circumstances each person (in the case of counseling, a client and a therapist) is trying to ‘sell their own idea’ in a duel of realities that can lead to an ‘impasse,’ at which the conversation no longer generates useful meanings or understandings. In light of this being a blog that you dedicate to discussing spiritual insights with other readers, I have enjoyed the opportunity to discuss!

          I have to be careful when I talk about the Holy Spirit, because I truly do not want to do what the Pharisees did in denying the works of God and so committing an unforgiveable sin by not recognizing what God is doing around the world. I also recognize that just because people do miracles and cast out demons in Jesus name does not necessitate their salvation (hence the sheep and goats parable you’ve referenced).

          I listened to Romans this morning (ESV), and attempted to listen with the ‘righteousness including works’ lens and the ‘faith alone’ lens while still recognizing that often when Paul talks about ‘the Law’ it can include Jewish ceremonial ritual law. I came from it fairly convinced that Paul speaks more to a universal moral sense of the ‘law’ that was insufficient to live by in order to obtain righteousness. But I believe I’ve been able to grasp the perspective enough to appreciate the scriptures you use in support the position of a universally-applied morality among all people of every religion that God looks upon for assessing a level of righteousness that merits salvation. Sorry about the wrong labeling of your view, is there a name for it?

          As a bit of a humorous token in light of our excellent discussion on faith / works righteousness, I would love to send you a copy of my favorite movie as an upcoming Christmas gift: if you haven’t seen Les Miserables, not sure if you (or your wife) is more of a Hugh Jackman musical fan or a non-musical Liam Neeson fan, but email me personally if this is something you’d enjoy 😉

          – Ben

          On Tue, Nov 13, 2018 at 7:06 PM Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life wrote:

          > Lee commented: “Hi Ben, Thanks for the video and video links. The first > one (which I’ve made into a live video in your comment) made me realize > that I’d gotten Buddha’s dates flipped around “backwards” in my mind: he > was four centuries before Christ, not after. So I’ve ” >

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ben,

          I’m glad you’re finding the conversation useful. I am willing to continue it as long as you continue to find it useful.

          Of course, I have my own point of view, and I put it forward not just because I believe it is true, but because I believe it will lead people to a better life, both here and hereafter. But I also believe that people must come to the truth in freedom. As the old saying goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

          A couple of thoughts in response to your recent audio journey through Romans:

          1. Ideas, once strongly inculcated in the mind, are very difficult to extirpate. My general impression of conversations with Protestants over many years is that unless they’ve recently gone through some personal crisis that has shaken their faith, they never seriously question salvation by faith alone apart from all works. It has become too deeply embedded in their thinking. It has become the glass through which they see everything, including everything in the Bible.
          2. If in Romans 3 and the following chapters Paul means to exclude good works from the means of salvation, then he not only (famously) contradicts James, and also John, Jesus, and the entire rest of the Bible, but he also contradicts his own statements in Romans 2. And though there are indeed things in Paul that are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:15–16), I do not believe that Paul is self-contradictory, nor do I believe that Paul contradicts the rest of the Bible.

          However, you put it somewhat differently:

          I listened to Romans this morning (ESV), and attempted to listen with the ‘righteousness including works’ lens and the ‘faith alone’ lens while still recognizing that often when Paul talks about ‘the Law’ it can include Jewish ceremonial ritual law. I came from it fairly convinced that Paul speaks more to a universal moral sense of the ‘law’ that was insufficient to live by in order to obtain righteousness.

          It is hard for non-Jews today to grasp how, for an observant Jew, there was no difference between the Jewish Law, including the ceremonial ritual part, and “law” in a universal moral sense. For an observant Jew, the Law of Moses was the universal moral law. And for many Jews today it still is, except that perforce they cannot observe the law of sacrifice, so that is cut out of the equation. However, for an observant Jew who can observe remaining parts of the Law and does not do so, there is an indelible sense of immorality and lawlessness attached to it.

          That’s why in Paul’s letters it is often difficult to distinguish between the Jewish Law and universal moral law. To an extent that is hard for Christians to realize today, Paul spoke from a Jewish background, based on a Jewish understanding of the world—an understanding that he was struggling mightily to leave behind. We see this struggle all through his letters as he goes back and forth between condemning the Law and saying what advantages there are in the Law. Without understanding this struggle within Paul’s own mind and heart, which reflected the same struggle in the hearts and minds of the early Jewish Christians, and engulfed the early Christian movement as it expanded to include Gentile converts, it is impossible to understand Paul’s letters.

          There was a massive shift going on at that time, from an old religious paradigm to a new one. Paul, as a former Jew who had become a follower of Christ, was standing on the pivot of that shift. It was not the shift that present-day Protestants think it was: from salvation by good works based on the law to salvation by faith alone. That shift is a broken reflection of the shift that was actually taking place.

          To understand that shift, it is necessary to understand that there are three levels to the path of salvation, from lowest to highest:

          1. Salvation through obedience
          2. Salvation through truth
          3. Salvation through love

          In more commonly used biblical language:

          1. Salvation through the law
          2. Salvation through faith
          3. Salvation through love

          The greatest, as Paul says, is love. However, at the time of the Incarnation, humanity was very far from that spiritual level.

          Ever since the giving of the Ten Commandments, humanity had been firmly ensconced in salvation through obedience. That means obedience to the law. Human culture in the world of the Bible, and probably around the rest of the world as well, was driven by empires and religions that promulgated laws that the people were to keep on pain of physical or spiritual death. It didn’t matter whether they understood the law or agreed with the law or anything like that. Those who were obedient to the law were saved, either politically or spiritually, and those who disobeyed the law faced death, whether physical or spiritual.

          However, by the time of the Incarnation, that paradigm had run its course. Instead of lifting the people up out of barbarism, law, and living in mere obedience to the law, had become an oppressive force that was trampling people down under its boot. That’s in part because those administering the law, both in the political and the spiritual realms, had become corrupt, and were using the people’s habit of obedience to oppress them rather than to lift them up.

          Paul wasn’t the first one to speak against this corruption of the law and the end of the old dispensation of obedience to law. That distinction belongs to Jesus Christ himself, who pronounced seven woes on the scribes and Pharisees because of their corruption in administering the Law of Moses. In recognizing that that old law of obedience had run its course, Paul was simply following his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

          The old paradigm of obedience to law did continue in much of human culture. But Christianity represented the beginning of a new paradigm planted within that old one, which was salvation by truth. This is called by various names in the New Testament, most notably “faith,” but also “belief,” and yes, “truth,” which Jesus said would make us free.

          The paradigm shift (in more traditional language, the “new dispensation”) was not that good works were no longer a key element of our salvation. Rather, it was that we would do good works, and be saved, not out of mere obedience to law, but out of “faith,” or an understanding of the truth. That is why Jesus said:

          I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:15)

          Here Jesus encapsulates in his usual concrete language the shift that was taking place.

          The job of a servant is to obey. If a master or mistress tells a servant to do something, it doesn’t matter at all whether the servant understands why she or he is being commanded to do this. The servant is simply expected to obey, doing what the master commands. Those who obey are commended and keep their position. Those who do obey not are physically punished (the “few or many stripes” of the Bible), and if their infraction is serious enough, they are punished with death. By extension, anyone who flagrantly disobeys the established religious law will be punished with spiritual death.

          This, Jesus says, is no longer how it will work. In his evocative language, he (representing God) will no longer call us servants but friends, because now he has told us what the Master is doing, and why. Now we are to do what is good, not out of blind obedience to a superior power, and out of fear of punishment at the hands of that power, but out of an understanding of what our Master (God) is doing. We will now act, not from mere obedience, but from truth.

          This is the bigger picture of what Paul was talking about in his rejection of salvation by the works of the Law, and his promulgation of salvation by faith. However we define faith, it is a function of truth.

          Although Paul expresses this transition in language that draws heavily on the old Jewish paradigm, if we see this bigger picture, we can see that yes, there is more to that transition than simply no longer following the law of circumcision, and the Jewish law generally. It is a fundamental change in our reasons for following the path of salvation. Whereas before we had followed it out of mere obedience, now we follow it out of understanding, known as “truth,” “belief,” or “faith.”

          It is a complete misunderstanding of this transition to think that it means good works are no longer an essential part of our salvation. That’s why Paul never says that we are not saved by good works. Paul believed no such thing. Rather, he believed that we would now do those good works based on “faith,” or an understanding of the truth, rather than based on mere obedience to law. For him that meant the Law of Moses. For Gentiles, it meant that their life was no longer to be driven by the law of empires nor the ritual requirements of their former pagan religions. Rather, it was to be driven by knowing and following the truth that Jesus Christ taught.

          In short, good works are still required for salvation (the Bible never says that they aren’t), but we will now do them, not based on mere obedience to law, but based on a knowledge and understanding of the truth.

          This is what Paul means when he speaks of “the law of faith” in Romans 3:27. And it is why Paul says in Romans 2 that we will be saved or damned according to what we have done. And it is why the bulk of his letters are spent instructing the people how to live: that they are not to do evil and sinful things, but are to do good things for their fellow human beings instead.

          Paul believed in salvation through good works just as much as every other apostle, prophet, and teacher in the Bible. But, he said, we will now approach the doing of good works from an entirely different basis. It will no longer be based on obedience to law, but on faith, which means a knowledge and understanding of the truth that the Lord teaches us, and a willingness to live according to that truth.

          This sets us free spiritually both from the laws of secular authority and from the laws of religious institutions. While we may still follow those laws, we will do so, not because our physical life and our spiritual salvation depends upon it, but because we have adopted certain principles for how we will live our life, and those principles include our approach to religious and secular authority. Our salvation will not be based on whether or not we have obeyed the law promulgated by our nation or our religion. It will be based on whether we have lived according to our conscience as shaped by the truth we have learned (as Christians) from Jesus Christ and from the Bible as a whole.

          Our salvation will therefore also not be mediated through human secular or religious authorities, but will be based on our own direct relationship with God, whom Christians know as Jesus Christ.

          So yes, Paul spoke of a transition from law to faith. But it wasn’t the transition Protestants think it was based on Luther’s error of justification by faith alone. Rather, it was a transition from salvation through blind obedience to the law to salvation by understanding and following the truth.

        • Ben Copeland says:

          Thanks for the invitation, Lee. I will continue the dialogue, then.

          The semantic ‘faith alone’ proclamation lumps me into a camp where the meaning I attribute to ‘faith alone’ gets skewed. I see and experience it the same way that you describe, that “we will now do [good works], not based on mere obedience to law, but based on a knowledge and understanding of the truth.” I just don’t see good works being part of the believer’s MO at all, as displayed throughout those who are commended for their good works in eternity: those who are ‘sheep’ aren’t even aware of when they were serving Jesus. Those who receive crowns of life in Revelation throw them before God.

          This ‘truth’ that any of my ‘good works’ is rooted in and based upon on, is a belief that my acceptance and love by God is contingent on -nothing- of myself, other than surrender and acceptance. The idea that my acceptance by God and His love for me is contingent upon my own ability -what so ever- puts me in a place of fearful unknowing at best, or at worst, a place of frantic compulsive thought or action from the existential anxiety of the reality of my eternal destiny. I will not deny that the tension in scripture regarding good works and growth is ever present, as you are very aware of, and have built quite a case for as a means to qualify the statement ‘our salvation is not by faith alone, but by good works in addition to.’ I believe ultimately you are right, but I believe to qualify that, to even say that, requires first a recognition of the love of Christ and his sufficiency to do all that is required in order for that to come to pass. Bring the people to the crushing reality of God’s perfect standard and requirement of righteousness. Expose the pride and failure just as Paul does in Romans 2. But then you must -preach the cross-, mainly, the love and power of Jesus for that person in particular to provide what is needed in order to overcome their battle.

          This is where ‘faith alone’ comes in: To attempt to ‘do’ God’s law apart from Christ will naturally create a sense of self-righteousness that almost cannot be avoided: one judges another (as Romans 2 points out) that the one who avoids sin -in and of themselves- then condemns sin in others because they have become the one possessing what is necessary, and elevating their own ability above another’s or calling another ‘up’ into what they themselves have done. “Just start doing righteous things, and God will accept you.” This does not work. At least it didn’t with Cain. And obviously it didn’t with Israel. That is why the Bible Project video highlights the breaking of the law over and over again–it is in fact a legitimate representation of history considering the whole book of Kings, Chronicles and Judges are repetitions of Israel’s failure to live righteously. There may have been a few individuals that ‘did right in God’s eyes’ but apart from the handful of Judah’s kings (5, or 2 if you’re more particular about exact non-sinning righteous leading).

          Those who are portrayed as righteous in the Bible still cannot escape the reality of what Paul states in Romans 3:23 or 5:12, that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” . For anyone who has sinned, (which, is everyone except for Jesus?) there is a fear regarding what God will do to you, and is usually infinitely magnified when someone approaches death. Jesus “deliver[s] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb 2:15) by becoming sin for us, so that we would have righteousness: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is no one sinless except Jesus. Therefore, all have sin and need forgiveness. David, by -faith- (or trust) in God’s ability alone to forgive his sin and change his heart, has his sin forgiven and his heart cleansed before Jesus even came, despite his unrighteous acts of adultery and murder and his failing and destructive parenting that led to incest and pride among his children. This love of and trust in God, I believe, enables him to pen the 51st (‘cleanse my heart, lead me…’) and the 31st psalm, which Paul picks up on in Romans 4:4-8:

          “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

          “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” David fell a giant, Abraham left for a new land, Rahab hid spies, and every other ‘Bible hero’ that Hebrews 11 references and more did commendable acts that were done ‘through faith,’ or by trusting in God. It is my ‘trust in God’ alone that enables me to be considered a child of God, and my trust in God alone that enables me to do the things that a child of God does. It’s a re-identification with these heavenly realities about myself (completely apart from myself) that enables me to do the very works that are required by God.

          2 Peter 1:3-5 is how we become like God: “through the -knowledge of Him- who called us by -his own- glory and goodness” (emphasis mine). 2 Peter 1:5-7 is a plain description of what we must be like, -beginning with- faith (trust) and culminating with love. 2 Peter 1:7-9 is a rationale for why we should grow in them (effectiveness) and why we may not be growing in them (forgetfulness of what God has already done for us, mainly, cleansing our sins). 2 Peter 1:10-11 is that we are just confirming our calling that we’ve already received, not earning salvation through works (not merely semantics, very different than the idea ‘then you’ll finally get into heaven’):

          “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

          I can only ‘do’ love when I know I am loved and have received it myself. Otherwise it’s out of fear. And God’s perfect love casts out all fear. 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” And the only perfect love that has ever been displayed is God (who IS love) coming in Christ to show this love. That is why I see hearing the story of Jesus as a necessity to really -know- God. But who knows! I really can’t say that someone else in another religion may not truly know Jesus and serve him with a whole heart and have this strong sense of being transformed by His grace love and forgiveness in order to extend mercy love and forgiveness to others.

          How do you experience the Good News in your own life?

          – Ben

          PS – The reason why I offered Les Miserables (which I’d still love to share, great Christmas movie!) is because I feel like it’s a perfect highlight of the difference between grace and works-based righteousness, part of why I love it so much. Also consider addiction

          in light of attachment bonds vs ‘stopping bad behavior.’

          On Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 11:14 AM Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life wrote:

          > Lee commented: “Hi Ben, I’m glad you’re finding the conversation useful. I > am willing to continue it as long as you continue to find it useful. Of > course, I have my own point of view, and I put it forward not just because > I believe it is true, but because I believe it ” >

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ben,

          Some brief responses:

          • If you experience undesirable associations from using the term “faith alone,” may I suggest that you drop it? After all, it is not a biblical term—except in James 2:24, where it is specifically rejected.
          • The error in the Bible Project video is not that the people broke the law repeatedly, but that God gave the law repeatedly in response to people’s breaking it. God gave the law once, at Mt. Sinai. The people broke it multiple times.
          • People whose good works are saving don’t do them in order to be saved, but because it’s the right thing to do, and because they love to do good for others. The power to do such good works comes not from themselves, but from God.
          • God’s love isn’t contingent on anything we do, or for that matter, on anything we believe. God’s love is a constant, for all of creation, and for all people, both good and bad. The issue is not whether God loves us, but whether we accept God’s love.
          • Christ has done, and does do, everything required to bring about our salvation. Once again, that’s not the issue. The issue is whether we accept what Christ does for us. That acceptance must be an active acceptance, not just passively hanging down our hands and waiting for it to flow in.
          • God does have a perfect standard of righteousness . . . for himself. As for the rest of us, God is very tolerant. God doesn’t keep an accounting of every little slip we make. God looks at the quality of our heart, and is very forgiving of our inevitable human shortcomings.
          • Yes, if we attempt to do God’s law apart from Christ (I would say apart from God), it will create a sense of self-righteousness. That’s why we should always recognize that apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
          • Yes, all have sinned. (Notice that Paul does not say that we are all sinful because of Adam.) But some have repented from their sins, and begun a righteous life. Such people are saved, not damned.
          • 2 Corinthians 5:21 has been mistranslated because the translators have not taken into account Paul’s source in the Septuagint. It should read, “For our sake he made him to be a sin offering who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” For one that got it right, see the Mounce version.
          • David was forgiven his sins of adultery and murder because instead of insisting upon his righteousness, he recognized that he had sinned against the Lord, which is another way of saying that he repented from his sin. See 2 Samuel 12:13.
          • Yes, David, Abraham, Rahab, and every other “Bible hero” didn’t simply have faith that God would save them. They took specific and vigorous action pursuant to that faith. “Faith” in the Old Testament should really be translated “faithfulness.” It has the same sense in the New Testament. It is not mere belief or even mere acceptance, but an active following of what one has faith in.
          • None of the other passages you quote say that we are saved by faith alone, but by faith together with repentance and good works. The power to do all of these things comes from God, not from ourselves.
          • Yes, God’s love was most powerfully expressed in Jesus Christ. But the Old Testament, too, has continual paeans to God’s love. See, for example, Psalm 136. Believing in Jesus is a very powerful way to know God’s love. But it is not the only way to know God’s love.

          As for how I experience the Good News, this blog isn’t about me. Suffice it to say that I have devoted my entire life to spreading the Good News to others. I wouldn’t do that if I hadn’t experienced it for myself. My greatest joy is when I am able to reach someone and help them climb out of darkness, confusion, and despair, and into the light and love of God.

          I do thank you for the offer of a copy of Les Mis. I expect I can find some version of it on Netflix. I must admit I haven’t had any particular desire to watch it. Perhaps I’ll give it a try upon your recommendation.

          Thanks for linking to the fantastic TED Talk on addiction. What I notice is that addiction is overcome by love and connection. That’s exactly what God offers us if we’re willing to accept it. I would also note that addiction is not a sin prohibited by the Ten Commandments. We are commanded to repent from our sins, not from our afflictions.

        • Ben Copeland says:

          Although not on Netflix, in light of your greatest joy I cannot recommend Les Mis more to you, the musical version now in particular because of the priest’s words to Val Jean. If you consider me a believer in the Lord, like Lydia, let me send you my copy I just watched and let me know what you think of it.

          I think I often fear the possibility of failure so much that I cannot accept that my own doing on any part (the ‘vigorous action’ you speak of the heroes of faith taking in order to receive their commendation) as playing a role in my own salvation, lest I fail to obtain it. I rely on Jesus to give me the strength to get out of bed sometimes, let alone deny myself and follow Him on the path toward radical self-sacrificial love. I read into scripture every time that someone has ‘faith’ in God as what I do personally: surrender, depend upon and trust in God’s mercy and provision to grant me the very strength, motivation and sometimes even desire to do what is right. For I desire God’s will, and even when I don’t, I desire to -desire- God’s will knowing that it is right and ultimately good. Much like an addict myself, I continually need to identify myself with my own state of need and dependence lest I forget and fall away from the only source that quiets this fear. I think ‘faith alone’ often lends itself to ‘grace alone’ in my mind, and possibly many others. Maybe the use of the words ‘faith alone’ in many believers’ minds is like Texas being the biggest state. In reality it is Alaska, but no one considers it because it’s not a part of the usual representation of the US. So what most people, protestants or otherwise, need is the brackets ‘Faith alone in Jesus [which must then naturally evidence itself by the fruit of that faith]’ much like ‘Texas is the biggest state in the [contiguous] US.’

          – Ben

          On Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 8:39 PM Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life wrote:

          > Lee commented: “Hi Ben, Some brief responses: If you experience > undesirable associations from using the term “faith alone,” may I suggest > that you drop it? After all, it is not a biblical term—except in James > 2:24, where it is specifically rejected. The error in the” >

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ben,

          The musical version of Les Mis with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway is available for purchase on YouTube. That would be easier than having you send me a copy. While I do have an extensive book collection, I don’t do CDs and other physical media much.

          About the substance of our conversation, it has become quite clear to me that in your case, as in the case of many good-hearted Protestants that I’ve had conversations with, the attachment to faith alone is based not on the Bible or on rational understanding of salvation, but on a deep emotional need a) to put full trust in Jesus for salvation and b) not to trust oneself due to a fear that this will lead to damnation.

          The reality is that the Bible specifically rejects justification by faith alone. And rationally it is . . . irrational. It makes no sense. But I have found that no amount of pointing this out makes a dent in the average Protestant’s attachment to justification by faith alone.

          This, I believe, is based primarily on fear, and specifically on fear of a wrathful God and on fear of damnation in the face of one’s own miserable failure to live up to what one believes is required to turn away the wrath of God and be saved instead of damned.

          The wrath of God is expressed in many places in the Bible. Though I believe it is a metaphor and a human appearance, not the real nature of God (see: “What is the Wrath of God? Why was the Old Testament God so Angry, yet Jesus was so Peaceful?”), that wrath of God feels very real to many people, especially since it has been preached to them from the pulpit for so long, in such vivid terms.

          And the sense of being a miserable human being incapable of doing anything good is also deep-seated in the hearts and minds of many people. David, the Psalmist, said:

          But I am a worm and not a man,
          scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
          All who see me mock me;
          they hurl insults, shaking their heads. (Psalm 22:6–7)

          And Paul said:

          So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:21–24)

          Both turn to God (Paul to Jesus Christ as the Son of God) for salvation from this miserable state.

          The feelings behind all of this are real and deep. That’s why no amount of quoting the Bible to the contrary will disabuse a Protestant of the fallacy of salvation by faith alone.

          Unfortunately, a literal reading of the wrath of God, and an overly zealous version human inadequacy, culminating in Calvin’s doctrine of the total depravity of man, plus many other false understandings of God and the Bible, has formed a toxic mix that, instead of lifting people out of fear of God and self-condemnation, keeps them mired in it, continually groveling miserably at God’s feet, when what God really wants is for us to stand up and shake off that fear and condemnation, filled with the power of God.

          Because of all this, there may be nothing I can say that will break you from the fallacy of faith alone. It is not a biblical or rational issue, but an emotional issue. These tend to be deep-seated and very difficult to overcome. Often they go back to childhood, and even to infancy before one’s conscious memory begins to coalesce. It becomes a feeling in the gut that requires great struggle and pain to overcome.

          What I would suggest is that if you’re going to be stuck in the Five Solas, that you move up the list from sola fide to Solo Christo. It is not by faith alone, but by Christ alone that we are saved. Unlike sola fide, Solo Christo does have a solid basis in the Bible. For just one example:

          I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5–8)

          Instead of putting your trust in faith alone, which the Bible rejects, put your trust in Christ alone, which the New Testament teaches very strongly in many places. In this way you can continue to recognize that without Jesus’ continual presence giving you strength to get out of bed in the morning and go about your day, you will be lost. That is true. But you can also recognize that Christ accomplishes this, not just by giving you faith, but also by giving you love for your fellow human beings, and strength to devote your life to loving and serving your neighbor. And though God, who loves us, gives us the feeling that these things become a part of ourselves, and ours, we must recognize that they are continually flowing into us from God through Christ, and that we are dependent upon Jesus Christ for them moment-to-moment, even when we forget that.

          Our salvation is from Christ alone (even for non-Christians). But it is not by faith alone. It is by love, faith (truth), and power continually flowing into us from God through Jesus Christ.

        • Ben Copeland says:

          There was a season of my life where I was becoming isolated from the church that I had been involved in due to some circumstances that I was not a part of but by association was pulled into. In the midst of this, I began to question why I had always struggled in my faith with feelings of worth and failure, despite having experiences of amazing God-ordained acts of service inspired by obedience to promptings from the Holy Spirit. In this season, I decided to distance myself from God and just ‘live life’ like other people did, free from the pressure to obey promptings from the Spirit or be ‘ready to share my faith’ and just engaging with people on my terms, which included a form of love that I felt fitting to me. Within 24 hours, God spoke to me very explicitly through a song that what I was doing was walking away from Him (I have written entries of what He used to speak to me, the dates and times, and so on of all of the following), and I heard him say ‘turn back.’ I felt so free and good about this new way of living that I responded ‘if this is just a mental trick, I don’t want it’ and I felt something leave me and like I was alone. Within 20 minutes, and the rest of the day, and for the remaining 3 months I had a sudden onset of panic attacks to the point of blacking out, burning sensations on my arms and head, persecutory thoughts/voices, with entire scriptural schemas of damnation entering my mind almost instantly. At one point I felt like I was being compelled toward self destruction, like someone was literally ‘pushing’ my body.

          Throughout this time, I obviously wrestled with whether I was going to be saved. Christian friends reminded me of theological truths, but in my immediate personal experience, those truths were being refuted almost immediately with ‘counter-truths’ that seemed just as plausible, keeping me in a prison of the most horrible terror one can imagine, driving to the point of psychosis, or a psychological detachment from reality, and I fought to hold on.

          During this time, I realized two things. One of which, was that my foundation of my faith since I was saved at 17 was based upon an understanding of my worth based upon my ability to do what was required, or what I could do for God. I found my worth in being useful, and the period of isolation began to bring out a discontentment because my perceived usefulness was waning, and I was burning out quickly. Second, I desperately needed something that would somehow counter the overwhelming ‘reality’ of what I was experiencing. My own mind had been hijacked and I was being fully convinced that it was absolutely hopeless with every ensuing voice, panic symptoms, burning sensation, and seeming inability to escape or do -anything- to alleviate the outright oppression (Please note, this is not where I am now.)

          The reason I’m sharing this is because it is a testimony of the specificity of trusting that Jesus was righteousness enough for me to combat the lies, and my worth and acceptance was based on what He already did for me, and all I had to do was -believe- it. This belief ran counter to what I had built my faith on from the start, mainly that I had to perform in order to be accepted. What I never got was that my acceptance was completely based upon what Jesus had already done, and that’s where the power came from. I began to refute the lies and command the oppression in the name of Jesus to leave me, not based on my own righteousness, but His, and it left. Slowly sanity returned to me, but with a new foundation as Jesus being my righteousness.

          It’s ironic that you say that it takes a protestant a crisis of faith to come to the perspective you have when my crisis of faith brought me the other way. I don’t know what I was before or what I am now, all I know is that Jesus is who saved me, and who saves me.

          Let me know what you think of Les Mis if you watch it! Understandable you don’t want physical media, books aside.

          – Ben

          On Mon, Nov 19, 2018 at 11:01 AM Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life wrote:

          > Lee commented: “Hi Ben, The musical version of Les Mis with Hugh Jackman, > Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway is available for purchase on YouTube. That > would be easier than having you send me a copy. While I do have an > extensive book collection, I don’t do CDs and other p” >

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ben,

          What you’re describing here sounds for all the world like drug withdrawal symptoms, only the withdrawal was from the psychological drug your religious indoctrination rather than from a physical drug. I can’t help but think that the fear of damnation that was inculcated into you from the time of your original conversion came roaring back as soon as you tried to break away.

          Specifically, the idea that you can never be good enough for God is a foundational fear in Protestantism, especially in its traditional and conservative wing. I hear it over and over again from Protestants who cling strongly to faith alone. There is a great fear that as soon as they let go of “the finished work of Christ” and the belief that it is solely faith in Christ that saves them, and that nothing they themselves do contributes anything at all, they will be plunged into the oblivion of never being able to be good enough for God, and will therefore inevitably slide down to eternal torture in hell, not to mention into a tormented mind here on earth.

          Quite frankly, I find this whole idea and indoctrination to be a scurrilous and blasphemous smear on the good name of God—on God’s tender love and compassion for all the creatures whom God has made.

          However, for those who have been inculcated with it—and it sounds like you were—its claws and tendrils go in deep. Rooting them out, for some people, becomes nearly impossible. This fear is what keeps people rooted to faith alone, despite the fact that the Bible explicitly rejects such a belief.

          Given that I suspect this is what is operating here, once again I doubt there is anything I can say that will make a dent in your belief. Considering the circumstances, perhaps it is best for you to remain where you are. Fighting your way out of it would require you to go back through all of those withdrawal symptoms, understand and reject the false, fear-based indoctrination you received from your first days as a Christian, and probably even before that, and come out the other side. And I understand that having dipped into it once, that is a very frightening prospect for you.

  13. Lee says:

    To a reader named Peter:

    Thank you for your comment. However, I have deleted it since it violates our comments policy. About your question, please see:
    Are We Saved in an Instant? How was the Thief on the Cross Saved?

  14. Ben Copeland says:

    Hi Lee,

    Forgive me if this duplicates, I respond often by email and wasn’t sure if it went through. I just read through some responses and interactions from visitors to your blog on your ‘about’ page, and I feel honored that you’ve entertained so much of our conversation considering that this page is one that is often referenced! At any point feel free to truncate our dialogue if you find it unappealing or diverging from the goals of this post (or your blog).

    Aside from living in the larger Western Judeo-Christian culture and hearing the gospel, I didn’t have much preaching or indoctrination before I was saved at 17. I have a very experiential conversion testimony, and because I came to God without a systematic understanding of theology, my understanding of Him was filled in after the fact as I read scripture, listened to teaching, and through my own personal experiences of His amazing love, power, provision, and involvement in my life. The problem, however, was that in spite of relatively good teaching and even God’s direct working in my life, I misinterpreted what I read, heard, felt and experienced based on my own flawed view of self worth that I walked into a relationship with God with from the beginning, like baggage I was carrying.

    This baggage was evident in even some of my very first thoughts -after- I felt God’s amazing love and his Spirit at my conversion. As I remember thinking about God’s purpose for saving me. I thought, ‘God saved me because I’m a hinge-pin for all of my unbelieving friends.’

    Immediately that should break any believer’s heart. As if God would save someone just in order to use them, apart from them knowing and then being empowered by and walking in His love. But, that’s what I learned from what I saw in life: you’re only worth something if you’re useful. I had a foundationally wrong view of God not because of indoctrination of false teaching but because of misinterpretations of lived experiences that dictated where one’s worth is derived from. For me, if I wasn’t useful, I was useless, and therefore worthless. Only part of that equation is logically true. The conclusion is horrendously false.

    It is all too easy to come to the conclusion that God is just merely looking for one to produce fruit with this mentality of worth based on usefulness (or, ability to work). From a plain reading of the Bible it is almost impossible to come away with any other view considering the nearly countless passages about usefulness, fields not producing fruit, dire consequences for disobedience and failure, and Jesus Himself even cursing a fig tree that didn’t bear fruit, etc–But, like you’ve referenced many times, Lee, Jesus never intended anyone to bear fruit -apart- from Him. “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” But again, where I understand you to take this universally–that anyone who is ‘in Christ’ is choosing to be like Him and therefore is abiding in Him regardless of their ‘faith’ affiliation–I take this very personally and very particularly: Apart from living, walking, breathing in God’s grace through Jesus Christ, apart from walking in His love and empowered by His Spirit, I can do -nothing-.

    The reason I like Les Mis so much is because it epitomizes the struggle and ultimate motivation of guilt avoidance and grace acceptance. One man accepted and was empowered by grace, and the other attempted to avoid and was empowered by guilt (or justice). Although I prefer the musical, in both movies, there is only freedom when the law dies. That’s kind of how I experience what Jesus does: He destroys the works of the devil, which primarily, is separation from God. Like Paul in Romans, the power of the law of sin and the shame of not living up to God’s standard, past present and future, is destroyed. “Who can deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to Jesus!” The only way to really experience this is to hear, understand and accept the gospel. Otherwise I don’t see how someone can withstand the psychological accusations from the devil. Judas is a great example of this: He didn’t believe in Jesus. His sin brought him to a place of repentance by attempting to throw the money back, but he found no respite from his religion or the hypocritical leaders who paid him to do it in the first place, and without any recourse in his own mind for repudiation of his act because of his unbelief, he committed suicide.

    In light of the experience I’ve shared above, I’m not in the balance groveling for salvific favor in light of an actively and pervasively realized sinful state of depravity, (and I don’t believe that many of the protestants I know are, either!) but now by God’s grace I’m rather learning to actively rest in trusting Christ, receiving what is already mine by what he’s done (Phil 3:16), and seeing the power of it. I is impossible for me to -not- be changed as I encounter the amazing love of God. God doesn’t make it perfectly causal–our free will is not completely eliminated by his kindness which draws us to repentance, but MAN does He do a good job ‘wooing’ us into a loving state of submission, trust and obedience!

    Like the sinful woman who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, they who are forgiven much love much. I cannot help but apply this to others, that they too must experience the grace and love and forgiveness of God through Jesus as presented in the good news. I’d argue that they must experience this in order to have the ability to love the way God wants them to love, but God just wants -them- in all honesty. He wants their hearts. He loves them, us, me, like a Father loves a son, and the more I walk in this the more I love Him. Anything else, whether philosophy, religion, or belief system, just falls so miserably and utterly short, in my experience. And, thankfully, God made it so that the greatest story and singular event in all of humanity is the best-preserved, best-documented, most-substantiated and most-replicated piece of literature in all of antiquity.

    John 10:1, 7-10, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber […] Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

    This is also why I referenced earlier the scriptures in Acts where the Holy Spirit fills believers who specifically believe in Jesus vs just the baptism of John, which is repentance from evil to good.

    John 10:10-13:
    Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again […] Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. […] You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.”

    I stumbled across a snippet from a commentary the other day that explains why the simple act of faith (or trust) in Jesus has such potency to absolve of the power and ultimate consequence of sin through the correlation of the story of the deadly scorpions and snakes in the wilderness with Moses. While the Israelites were literally dying, they were instructed to do one simple thing: Look, to the uplifted bronze serpent, and they would be miraculously healed. Note that they had to actually be close enough to -see- the bronze serpent–it had to be lifted high enough for everyone to see physically in order for their life to be saved. Such a simple intervention, and yet God used it to foreshadow exactly what Christ would do for all those who look to him to be saved.

    John 10:14
    “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

    If you haven’t read in the news about the young missionary who died, I thought of our conversation. What do you think about John Chau, and more specifically, his willingness to give his very life for the sake of the Gospel, in light of Acts 11:14?

    – Ben

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      As I said before, I am willing to continue the conversation as long as you find it useful. I should mention that during the next few weeks I will otherwise occupied much of the time, so there may be some delay in responding. For the same reason, I won’t likely get around to watching Les Mis until later next month.

      My only concern about our conversation is that it seems to have settled on your attempting to convince me a) that your salvation is genuine, and b) that the beliefs behind it are therefore genuine.

      As for the first point, that is unnecessary because I already believe that your salvation is genuine.

      As for the second, that is not going to happen, so if that’s your purpose here, you are wasting your breath.

      As I’ve said a number of times, unlike traditional Christianity, based on the Bible’s plain teachings, I believe that God, through Christ, saves people of all religions, beliefs, and faiths, whether or not their specific doctrines are correct.

      This includes traditional Christians!

      Most of what passes for doctrine in traditional Christianity is unbiblical and false. These doctrines simply aren’t taught anywhere in the Bible. Many of them, such as justification by faith alone, are explicitly rejected in the Bible. Despite this, I believe that God, through Christ, saves traditional Christians who faithfully adhere to and follow their faulty doctrines out of a desire to be faithful to Christ.

      Based on everything you’ve said here so far, I believe this applies to you personally. You don’t have to convince me that you’re saved. I already believe that. Aside from your testimony, it’s clear that your life works far better with Christ than without Christ. That’s not something I would want to deny or fight against.

      However, God (who for me is Jesus Christ) works with us as we are. Not everyone is able to do the deep soul-searching and hard work of personal repentance and reconstruction of character that is required for us to experience the full power of Christ, and to undergo a complete and thorough process of being born again.

      As you allude to in your comment above, simply living in Judaeo-Christian culture causes even people who are not brought up religious to imbibe certain views and attitudes about God, human life, and the meaning of religion in general and of Christianity in particular. When my children were still young I would sometimes hear Protestant ideas coming out of their mouths that I know they were never taught in Sunday School. They had picked them up somewhere along the way. This made it clear to me just how pervasive these faulty beliefs are in our culture, and just how much they affect even people who do not learn them at any church.

      At the same time, people pick up faulty ideas from their upbringing, parents, and teachers. And our natural inborn character traits commonly magnify those faulty ideas. The fact of the matter is that we are not born pure and good (although we are born entirely innocent). We come pre-equipped with a natural self-absorption that tends to soak up faulty ideas about ourselves, magnifying both our ego and a sense of guilt, shame, and inadequacy within us in a way that can be quite toxic to our spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

      Because these faulty attitudes get all tangled up with our ego (our sense of self, or self-image), and because they are so deep-seated, most people aren’t able to confront and overcome them. They do not have the will, the grounding, or the persistence to face and work through their underlying false programming and false sense of self. Such a process is necessary to radically root that falsity and evil (“sinfulness”) out of our mind and character, which is what happens in people who undergo the full course of spiritual rebirth about which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. And no, we can’t accomplish this by our own efforts apart from God. This, I think, is why so many people spend so many years in therapy without ever overcoming their complexes and phobias.

      Just as being physically born means being completely formed as a person through a long process of formation in the womb, being spiritually reborn means being completely re-formed as a new person through a long process of reformation in the womb of this earthly life, before our birth into the spiritual world and eternal life. This process of spiritual rebirth involves rooting out and sidelining all of the ego, guilt, shame, and inadequacy at our core so that the fear and destructive living that flow from them no longer affect us—or if they do, it is only peripherally, because now we have the love, truth, and power of God at our core.

      The teaching of justification by faith alone fails to accomplish this full process of spiritual rebirth for very specific reasons flowing from the specific doctrines it includes. Key among those doctrines is the doctrine of imputed righteousness. This, in a nutshell, is the belief that even after we are saved, we are still miserable sinners deserving damnation, but Christ’s merit covers over that sinful, damnable character so that when God the Father looks at us he does not see our sinfulness, but instead sees Christ’s merit, and therefore does not damn us to hell even though that’s what we deserve.

      This doctrine explicitly does not address our fundamental sinfulness. Instead, it covers it over so that it doesn’t appear. This is the specific, doctrinal reason that Protestants who believe in and adhere to their church’s teachings don’t consider it necessary to deal with the reality of their inner sinfulness. They think Christ has covered it over, so that addressing it is unnecessary. And this, in turn, is why so many Protestants, especially evangelical and fundamentalist ones, are so badly deceived about their own character and about their effect upon the people around them.

      John Chau is a perfect example. Driven by false beliefs (such as the anti-biblical belief that only Christians are saved), and by a foolish disregard for the law and for the realities of the situation into which he was literally wading, he put himself, the Sentinelese islanders, the fishermen he paid to get him there, and the authorities who later attempted to retrieve his body, at great risk. He lost his life on a fool’s errand that could never work, based on false teachings and ignorance.

      Chau himself unnecessarily lost his life. The fishermen he paid to break the law have been arrested. The Indian authorities have had to deal with a very difficult situation that could easily have led to more deaths. Anthropologists and organizations that have some actual knowledge of the Sentinelese have had to intervene and plead for them in order to prevent more damage and death. All of this resulted from the foolish actions of one foolish, self-deceived young man blinded by a toxic mix of ego and false doctrine.

      We knew how the Sentinelese interact with outsiders. In previous decades anthropologists had in fact made contact with them, bringing them gifts and attempting to create a dialog. What they found was that the Sentinelese were willing to accept their gifts, but were entirely unwilling to have them set foot on their island. There are other recorded instances of the Sentinelese killing people who blundered onto their island. All of this was known. And all of this, together with the danger of infecting them with diseases for which they have no immunity and wiping them out, was why the Indian authorities had passed a law against approaching or going onto North Sentinel Island.

      Isolated tribes commonly fear outsiders and resist incursions into their territory with deadly force in order to protect themselves. Their fears our well-founded. One after another those tribes have been wiped out by outsiders who have encroached upon their land, killed them, and destroyed the forests in which they live, not to mention infecting them with diseases that decimated their populations.

      Chau ignored all of this. He made a foolish, ignorant, and ultimately deadly attempt to contact and convert the Sentinelese. Now we only have to hope that during his time in contact with them he didn’t pass on diseases that could easily wipe out their tribe, or reduce it to a very precarious position.

      In Chau’s own mind, and probably in the minds of his “Christian” sponsors, he was well-intentioned—a hero who willingly gave his life for the true faith. But in reality he was driven by ego, ignorance, and false teachings to embark upon a foolish, dangerous, and destructive “mission” that did not accomplish one speck of good, but that did seriously endanger the very people he meant to help. The Indian authorities have now wisely abandoned their efforts to recover his body lest they do even more damage, and put even more lives at risk.

      Though Chau’s story hit the news, there are millions of other instances both small and large in which well-intentioned Protestants and other traditional Christians do all sorts of spiritual, emotional, and physical damage to the people they are attempting to “help,” driven by an ego (“I’m going to save these people!!!”) that they have never confronted because of their false and unbiblical beliefs. They are the Christian version of a bull in a china shop.

      Despite all that, I believe Chau will go to heaven, not hell. In his own mind he was being faithful to God as he understood God. However, he’ll have to learn a thing or two in the spiritual world, and humble himself greatly, before he is ready to move on to his final home in heaven.

      Meanwhile, because his particular beliefs about salvation failed to change him as a person from the inside out, he remained a young fool who embarked upon a fool’s errand.

      So do I believe you are saved?


      Do I believe you have gone through the full course of being spiritually reborn?


      Your brief dip back into unbelief demonstrated that all of your underlying fear, guilt, and sense of personal inadequacy are still right there under the surface, not faced and overcome, but instead papered over by “the merit of Christ.” Whether or not you have actually been instructed in that doctrine, it is integral to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It operates in the minds of traditional Protestants even if they are not consciously aware of it.

      So yes, I am happy to continue the conversation as long as you find it useful. But you will never convince me that you are saved by faith alone. Christ is very merciful, and will save us at the level we are willing to be saved. For the average Protestant, this means papering over their deep, underlying issues of fear and guilt by covering it with an unbiblical “imputed righteousness” of Christ. Still, because most of them are sincere, God does accept them even though God knows that their healing is only superficial, and they are the same old sinner underneath.

      I could go over one by one the various other false teachings that keep you in your present faith. But I’ve already done that. It made no dent because your salvation is, in your words “experiential.” You experienced a salvation from the darkness and self-destruction that invaded your mind and heart when you receded from your current faith. You therefore rushed back into its arms. As long as those underlying issues of fear, guilt, and a sense of personal inadequacy remain unresolved—because based on your Protestant doctrine you believe that it is unnecessary to resolve them, and also because you fear encountering them—they will still be there under the surface, and will come roaring back the moment your faith falters.

      That is not the sign of a person who has gone through the full course of spiritual rebirth. Yes, we always need Christ in us. We never achieve salvation by our own efforts apart from Christ. We achieve salvation by working with Christ in us, and from Christ’s power in us. And for people who have gone through the full process of rebirth, those evils no longer lurk within, ready to pounce the moment their faith weakens. Rather, they have been rooted out of the core of their being, and have been pushed farther and farther to the side, so that there is no such underlying sense of fear, guilt, and inadequacy within them.

      If you are content with your current faith, then I celebrate that, and I am happy for you. In that case, there is no need to continue these conversations because you already have what you are looking for. Christ is with you, keeping you away from that inner angst, and giving you a miraculous and powerful sense of his presence. There is no sense in my arguing with that.

      However, if you wish to delve deeper, and disabuse yourself of the false teachings and attitudes that have led to that inner fear and angst in the first place, then our conversation could have a useful continuation. That’s entirely up to you.

      • Ben Copeland says:

        Hi Lee,

        Firstly I want to thank you for your consistency and depth of your replies. It takes time and energy to respond, and I grateful. Also, thank you for the forewarning of your upcoming busy-ness.

        Your response reminds me of what I experienced with a professor in undergrad. First, I do not wish to convince you of my salvation. The purpose of my sharing a testimony is not to draw affirmation from you for whether or not I’m saved, but to show how a very potent personal experience can show that Jesus is the object of one’s faith for salvation. I also do not expect that anyone form their theology based on my or anyone else’s experiences, as that’s a sure way to get into trouble (like how I stumbled upon the roots of Islam being in Manichaeism in responding to one of your earlier posts, the ‘prophet’ having an angel if light appearing to him and instructing him, which I wish you would address!)

        But back on point about my attempts to ‘convert’ you as ‘wasting my breath’: Like I’ve mentioned, I was experienced a fairly radical conversion after my dad died when I was 17, and because the reality of God’s suddenly apprehended existence, character and personally-felt presence, I carried that life-changing reality into whatever context I found myself in, including my education at a liberal university. Having such a profound experience, and the degree program I was enrolled in being reflective and philosophically-rooted in nature, I would often bring up Jesus in my writing assignments, and argue philosophically in them from the position of Jesus being Lord, especially in one class taught by a very liberal teacher whose bent seemed to be to destroy or at least humble the weakly-founded ideologies of students that were Christians. We had to read a book by entitled ‘The Cosmic Serpent’ by John Narby, and reflect upon how his acid-trip-like experiences using ayahuasca in the Amazon changes our perceptions of truth. In light of my recent conversion, I felt at liberty to express very plainly that Jesus Christ is the only author of truth that I accept, and integrating the psychedelic experiences into my schema of understanding meant that these ‘double serpents’ that spoke to him about things outside of his own perception were demonic, and possibly the whole tribe and the witch doctors that utilized this method of gaining insight (and even healing) were ensnared. I would then usually go on about God and more about the Bible and Jesus, much to my delight, and her annoyance.

        She pulled me aside one day, frustrated with my continued responses despite her marks on my paper ‘not to proselytize,’ and said, shaking, ‘you will never convert me.’ I am by no means a person of large or intimidating stature, but I could only imagine that she herself felt some sense of anxiety about the words that were coming from her mouth. My intention was not to convert her, but I was engaging with and responding to the relativistic truth claims that she was implicitly making through her reflection prompts and reading assignments, and young in my faith, I was chiding a bit against the idea that someone seemed to be targeting me for what I believed. However I would have certainly rejoiced if she was saved by my wrestling with her assignments!

        Anyway, in response to two things in your last post: I do not fully understand what your position is on spiritual rebirth is, but I don’t think I agree with it, and second, I disagree with your thoughts on the value of John Chau’s life and, more importantly, the purpose, function and method of the gospel.

        First, spiritual rebirth is not something that the Bible speaks to as a process by which we engage in this whole life and are then are finally ‘reborn’ into a spiritual world, which sounds a little gnostic. I believe that spiritual rebirth is primarily related to salvation or eternal life, which is knowing God here and now (John 17:3), and occurs through belief, or trust, in Jesus, and the reception of his indwelling Spirit. Rather than speaking to a process of ‘spiritual rebirth’ into a spiritual world, the epistles speak to believers as people already reborn by faith, and growing from ‘infants’ in the faith to greater levels of maturity, and ultimately becoming and embodying the full maturity and character of Christ by the Word of God and God’s Spirit at work in them (Eph 4:13-15, John 17:17, 1 Peter 2:2, Hebrews 5:12-14, Phi 3:15, Jas 1:2-4).

        Spiritual rebirth is akin to baptism–dying with Christ and being ‘raised with him,’ as Paul explains in Romans 6. In Matthew’s great commission, being baptized (which I believe is more of a public declaration of a and beautiful analogy to the identification with and effects of faith in Jesus, not a mystical salvific act in and of itself), was presented first, then teaching to obey, and then the assurance of God’s presence. I believe this order speaks to both spiritual rebirth being upon alignment with Jesus, and of the value of the gospel. Again, based on the order of belief/baptism, obedience, and presence, I cross the idea that one cannot ‘do’ the works of God apart from belief in Jesus first (hence again Jesus’ response to the crowd’s question in John 6:29). In Mark’s final chapter, which was written after the fact, Jesus is written as saying “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Baptism, again, is an act of aligning with in totality. One cannot ‘believe’ in Jesus and not be ‘fully in,’ saying “I believe in Jesus and choose to identify with Him and His body of believers” but then add on “But I also claim allegiance to (insert any other god, earthly king, philosophy, or group that implies or demands total allegiance).”

        Scripture says that the Holy Spirit is grieved by those who know Christ and act bitterly and are unforgiving toward others. I would think that God does not judge people outside the church the same way he does those inside–and that in and of itself is a statement about salvation. God disciplines his sons and daughters (Hebrews 12:4-12) and those whom have the Spirit are, by adoption, sons and daughters, (Romans 8:15). Who is a Son or Daughter of God? Those who have God as their Father, by grace, through revelation by the Son of God (Matthew 11:27). Consider Ananias and Sapphira, they withheld money (they wanted some kind of comfort, protection or status that money would buy within the church) and lied to the Holy Spirit, and died, but this did not occur throughout the roman world to all of the other individuals that lied or misrepresented their funds in other arenas or contexts.

        Regarding my ‘second’ testimony (where I chose to walk away from obedience to God and wanting ‘freedom’), I believe a better interpretation would be what I recently read in MacLaren’s commentary on John 14. I believe that, when I was saved originally, the presence of Christ in me staved off and protected me from what I would have naturally succumbed to apart from Him, primarily, acute mental illness, considering my biological parents. As I ‘walked away’ from the Father in frustration and confusion, it was like walking away from His personal protection and provision, or out of His house and into the darkness where there is, surely, weeping and gnashing of teeth, and ultimately, torment. The only cure for it for me was to realize and believe in the Love of God in Jesus, in order to then be obedient to the teachings of Jesus, which we can agree necessitate salvation. However were we seem to diverge, which may seem like splitting hairs (as I’ve said earlier) is the order and empowerment of this obedience:
        “If self-will, rising in the Christian heart from its torpor and apparent death, reasserts itself and shakes off Christ’s yoke, Christ’s presence vanishes. In the last hours of the Holy City there was heard by the trembling priests amidst the midnight darkness the motion of departing Deity, and a great voice said: ‘Let us depart hence’; and to-morrow the shrine was empty, and the day after it was in flames. Brethren, if you would keep the Christ in whom is God, remember that He cannot be kept but by the act of loving obedience. […] An unloving disobedience closes the eyes to the vision, and the heart against the entrance, of that dear Lord. Our Master lays down for us two principles, and leaves us to draw the conclusion for ourselves.

        The first is, ‘He that loveth Me not, keepeth not My sayings.’ No love, no obedience. That is plainly true, because the heart of all the commandments is love, and where that is not, disobedience to their very spirit is. It is plainly true, because there is no power that will lead men to true obedience to Christ’s yoke except the power of love. His commandments are too alien from our nature ever to be kept, unless by the might of love. […] And so the heavy, hard, stony bulk of our hearts lies torpid and immovable, until He lays His loving finger upon them, and then they rock at His will. There is no keeping of Christ’s commandments without love. That makes short work of a great deal that calls itself Christianity, does it not? Reluctant obedience is no obedience; self-interested obedience is no obedience; constrained obedience is no obedience; outward acts of service, if the heart be wanting, are rubbish and dung. Morality without religion is nought. The one thing that makes a good man is love to Jesus Christ; and where that is, there, and only there, is obedience.”

        Although a large chunk of text, I believe it eloquently communicates what I could not about my experience, and a perspective on grace and works that speaks to the necessity of knowing God’s love, or in other words, hearing and accepting the gospel.

        Finally, regarding Chau, I very much disagree, if you couldn’t guess. Although I haven’t done too much research into his story, what I do know is that he was vaccinated, quarantined, researched every anthropological document on the Sentinelese (which wasn’t much but influenced his decision to go alone and what gifts he brought) and was trained in sports medicine and EMT work in order to be of medical service to them. If anyone was to make contact, it was Chau, for he even wrote in his journal about his desire for them to be worshipping God in heaven. Sounds pretty loving to me, Lee, that someone would lay down his life for a people to receive the greatest gift ever, the good news of Jesus, even if it cost him not just a decision of whether or not he would be willing to die, but a willingness to give his ongoing efforts and time spent living among a people learning their language and customs in order to communicate the gospel as clearly as possible in a way that would bring them closer to the knowledge of God. Which is more unloving, to reach out to the islanders the wayChau did, or leave them alone in their sin (yes, sin, because surely killing Chau out of fear and protection is evidence of it and is oppositional to the teachings and love of Christ!)? I’m grateful that God did not do that with us and did not shake the dust off his feet when his chosen people still broke faith, and then through Christ even reached out to ‘gentile sinners’ in an act of amazing love that would bring all under His Lordship by faith. However, it would only be natural to view his act as ignorant and selfish if one believes the gospel as unnecessary for salvation. But then again, Paul himself, the messenger of the gospel, had something to say about the gospel and foolishness in Corinthians, which I will share the amplified version here:

        “For Christ did not send me [as an apostle] to baptize, but [commissioned and empowered me] to preach the good news [of salvation]—not with clever and eloquent speech [as an orator], so that the cross of Christ would not be made ineffective [deprived of its saving power]. For the message of the cross is foolishness [absurd and illogical] to those who are perishing and spiritually dead [because they reject it], but to us who are being saved [by God’s grace] it is [the manifestation of] the power of God. For it is written and forever remains written,

        “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise [the philosophy of the philosophers],
        And the cleverness of the clever [who do not know Me] I will nullify.” (1 Corinthians 1:17-19, amplified version)

        In light of Paul’s unashamed-ness of the gospel and his belief that it is the power unto salvation for all who believe (Rom 1:16), I was inspired to grab a theological book for once and try and understand a bit more about what brought Paul to this place, and learned a lot about the history of interpretations of Pauline thought, and I found in particular a book from the UK that is recent enough to provide some good discourse in light of some major positions and contributors in the past, and seemingly weighing theologians’ contributions as scholars and not based on their denominational affiliation. In the book, I was looking particularly for Paul’s view on the gospel. Here’s what I found:
        In light of Acts 20:24: ‘the gospel of the grace of God’

        “The word ‘grace’ is a shorthand way of speaking about God himself, the God who loves totally and unconditionally, whose love overflows in self-giving in creation, in redemption, in rooting out evil and sin and death from his world, in bringing to life that which was dead. Paul’s gospel reveals this God in all his grace, all his love. But it doesn’t just reveal all this so that people can admire it from a distance. It reveals it precisely by putting it into action. The royal proclamation is not simply the conveying of true information about the kingship of Jesus. It is the putting into effect of that kingship, the decisive and authoritative summoning to allegiance. Paul discovered, at the heart of his missionary practice, that when he announced the lordship of Jesus Christ, the sovereignty of King Jesus, this very announcement was the means by which the living God reached out with his love and changed the hearts and lives of men and women, forming them into a community of love across traditional barriers, liberating them from paganism which had held them captive, enabling them to become, for the first time, the truly human beings they were meant to be. The gospel, Paul would have said, is not just about God’s power saving people. It -is- God’s power at work to save people.”

        “The gospel is, for Paul, at its very heart, an announcement about the true God as opposed to the false gods […] But if the heralding of this gospel was the authoritative summons to allegiance, it could not but pose a challenge to all other ‘powers’ that claimed human loyalty. That is why to retain, or to embrace, symbols and praxis which spoke of other loyalties and other allegiances was to imply that other powers were still being invoked. And that, according to Paul, was to deny ‘the truth of the Gospel.’” (NT Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, p59, 61)

        Jesus himself says that “this [particular] gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14), and I would hope that what Jesus says will be preached to the whole world is both applicable and necessary, otherwise it would be quite a waste of human life considering the backlash the world has when confronted by missionaries with the good but exclusive news that King Jesus is the only true God and Lord. Stephen was the first Martyr attempting to witness to the Jews, and John Chau in his attempt to witness to the Sentinelese will not been the last, as I’m sure more missionaries have died for the sake of Christ since him to this very hour. Jesus considers the blood of the martyrs sacred, so depending on who you view as a martyr, John Chau may be standing right now in the presence of the Lord wearing a white robe waiting for the rest of his brothers and sisters to enter into eternity (Rev 6:11). In light of this I would hope that you consider Chau’s efforts, and for that matter the whole of missionary work, including Peter and Paul’s, to be not just a communication of doctrine but a little something more.

        I would surely desire to disabuse myself of any false teachings, and do believe that I’m opening up to God’s sovereignty and am being brought into alignment of the maturity of Christ and how I ought to love others, by God’s grace. I believe that this too is a part of the process, and pray our dialogue is for you also, Lee. I am grateful again for the space and opportunity to process.

        If I or you do not hear from each other until after Christmas, be blessed as you celebrate the gift of God with your family,

        – Ben

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ben,

          It is unlikely we will come to agreement on these things. You and I read and understand the Bible from very different perspectives, through the lens of very different doctrines.

          However, if you have any specific questions you would like to ask me, I would be happy to respond.

          About Muhammad, it would be better to ask a moderate Muslim cleric who is well-versed in Islam. Getting information about Islam from fundamentalist Christians isn’t any better than getting information about Christianity from fundamentalist Muslims. Each has a reason to look for the worst in the other religion, and to soak up and repeat any negative “information” that they hear about it without any perspective or context, and with definite prejudice. The belief, common in fundamentalists of every stripe, that only people who follow their religion and teachings are saved, while everyone else is damned, requires them to take a negative, damning, and unbalanced view of every other religion. That is why I do not pay any more attention to fundamentalist Christian diatribes against Muhammad and Islam than I do to fundamentalist Islamic diatribes against Christianity.

          About Chau, I am aware that he made various preparations. But he was still a fool on a fool’s errand. If he had simply consulted with the trained anthropologists who had previously spent years attempting to build a relationship with the Sentinelese, he would have known beforehand that his efforts were doomed. Good intentions do not make for effective action. He was determined to do his “evangelization” even though he knew, or should have known, that the Sentinelese did not want to be converted, or to have any contact with outsiders.

          Given the destruction that Europeans, especially, commonly wreak upon isolated tribes, those tribes have every reason to fear outsiders. The Sentinelese are generally peaceful people. Unlike many tribes and nations, they do not invade others’ territories to loot, steal, and kill. They keep to themselves, and only want to be left in peace to live their lives. In killing Chau, they were defending themselves from an invader that they had already warned away. Every decent nation on earth recognizes that people have a right to defend themselves from invaders, with deadly force if necessary.

          Chau had no respect for their clearly expressed wish to be left alone. He brought his death upon himself through his own arrogance and disrespect.

          Did Jesus, Peter, Paul, or any of Jesus’ other disciples attempt to push and force salvation upon people who didn’t want it? No, they did not. In fact, Jesus gave explicit instructions to his disciples before he sent them out to evangelize that if they came to a town where they were not welcome, they were to leave that town and shake its dust off their feet on the way out.

          Chau disobeyed the Lord’s clear and explicit instructions. He paid for that disobedience with his life.

          If he is now standing in in the presence of Jesus, I hope Jesus is giving him one of his famous Gospel-style tongue-lashings for his disobedience, arrogance, foolishness, and disrespect.

  15. Ben Copeland says:

    Some final thoughts, possibly, as our disagreements lead us apart: I pulled up a podcast this morning that fields peoples’ spiritual / theological questions and the first one I listened to spoke to some of the topics we were discussing, primarily being what ‘saving faith’ looks like: . I thought that you might appreciate his perspective, or at least knowing of the podcast / resource if you haven’t heard of it before, as I know for me during seasons it has ministered to me greatly.

    In a following podcast he also referenced a poem by John Bunyan that I thought was both timely to our conversation, which I’ll share here:

    Run, John, run, the law commands
    But gives us neither feet nor hands,
    Far better news the gospel brings:
    It bids us fly and gives us wings.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for the link and poem. I do see things a bit differently, but I appreciate the thoughts. In particular, I would say, rather, that the law gives us feet and hands, but the Gospel gives us wings. In other words, the law is an earthbound, behavioral thing, while the Gospel “bids us fly” in the sense of calling us to act from the spirit within rather than from external behavioral commands.

  16. reikster says:

    In Ephesians 2:8–9 didn’t Paul say that they “have been saved.” So it already happened. If it would be by works then it wouldnt have happened already because it depends on your works. Also in verse nine Paul says “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” So salvation is not by works.

    • Lee says:

      Hi reikster,

      In Ephesians, Paul is not speaking to new converts, but “to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1). In other words, he is speaking to all of the Christians in Ephesus, who have left behind their old sinful lives and are now living according to the teachings of (being “faithful in”) Jesus Christ. That is why they “have been saved.”

      But about the real meaning of Ephesians 2:8–9, please see my extensive article on that passage:

      Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 Teach Faith Alone?

      Without an understanding of the different ways Paul uses the word “works,” and an understanding of the big current issue and debate that was going on among the early Christians, which Paul was addressing in all of his letters, it is simply not possible to understand Ephesians 2:8–9, or much of anything else Paul says. The Protestant position on this is based on complete, if not willful, ignorance of these and many other matters.

      • reikster says:


        I read the article. And there’s a point that bothered me.

        “But if we don’t do good works, we have cut ourselves off from the vine of God’s presence and love working through us. We are then good only to be gathered up and thrown into the metaphorical “fire” of spiritual death, as Jesus goes on to say in John 15:”(sorry for the long quote.)

        I don’t understand because you wrote in the article that works don’t save us. But you are saying here that if we dont do them we will go to hell. So works don’t save us but if you don’t do them you wont be saved. Wait what?

        And also about the Ephesians who were already saved. What if they stopped doing good works after Paul said that? By your logic they now lost their salvation. Would that mean that Paul would have lied in that occasion?

        Can you please explain?

        Thank you!

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          Thanks for reading the article.

          About your second question, Paul says that the Christians in Ephesus have been saved. He doesn’t say that they will always be saved.

          The “once saved, always saved” view of many Evangelical Christians is unbiblical and false. It is specifically rejected by many passages in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. For just two examples, see Ezekiel 18:24; Revelation 2:1–7 (especially verse 5). Notice that the quotation from Revelation is about the church in Ephesus, which is the same one that Paul was addressing in Ephesians.

          There are many more passages in the Bible that say the same thing: if we are saved, but then turn back to evil, we will be damned—and our damnation will be even worse because we backslid from the light of the Lord back into the darkness of evil, Satan, and hell.

          Paul did not lie. The Christians in Ephesus were saved because of their Christian faith and life. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t fall back into their old ways, and therefore back into damnation. This, unfortunately, happens every day to people who had cleaned up their life, but then go back to their old destructive ways.

          About your first question, I also said that we are not saved by faith. Rather, we are saved by God’s love. But can God save a person who has neither faith nor good works? No, God cannot, because God will not force us to be saved. As he says in Revelation 3:20:

          Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

          It doesn’t say, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you don’t listen to me and open that door, I’ll bust it down and force you to eat with me at gunpoint!”

          God saves us only if we are willing to be saved. When we repent from our sins, have faith in the Lord, and do the good works that God created us to do, we are showing our willingness to be saved. In fact, that is God’s salvation flowing into us.

          Does opening the faucet cause the water to flow out of the tap and into our cupped hands? No. The water flows out of the tap because the pressure from the water tank causes it to. But if we don’t open the faucet, the water will not flow.

          In the very same way, it is God’s love that saves us; but unless we repent, have faith, and do good works, we are keeping our “faucet” closed so that God cannot flow in with God’s saving love, truth, and power.

        • reikster says:


          The problem with the work based salvation thing is that how much do you have to do? Is one good work enough? Or two? What if you do one good work then one bad work? It doesnt make any sense to me. What if someone in their death bed turns to christ but they die before doing good works. Are they saved or not?

          And about those passages. Ezekiel is a old testament passage in the old covenant once saved always saved wasnt a thing. And about the revelation one. Im not really sure if its even talking about salvation.

          There are passages that can prove eternal security. For example john 5:24. It says that the one who believes has eternal life. Eternal life is eternal it doesnt make sense to say that you can lose it. If someone has eternal life and he would lose his salvation then the life wouldnt be eternal. Makes sense, right?

          Thank you for answering my question/arguments again.

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          That question about “how many good works do you have to do” is just a standard Protestant talking point that you’ve been fed. I hear it all the time from Protestants, and it has nothing to do with anything in the Bible, Old Testament or New. The Bible never talks about any quantity of good works. It simply commands us to do good works if we wish to be saved.

          Read Romans 2:1–16. It is crystal clear on this point. And this is Paul speaking just before he speaks about being saved by faith apart from the works of the Law—by which he means being apart from being an observant Jew. Read Matthew 25:31–46. There the Lord himself states with crystal clarity that those who do good works for their fellow human beings in need will go to eternal life, while those who don’t will go to eternal punishment. He doesn’t say a word about faith in this passage, which is his clearest statement anywhere in the Gospels about who is saved and who is not.

          Paul also never says that we aren’t saved by good works. He says we are not saved by “the works of the Law,” or the shorthand version, “works.” You cannot find a single passage where he says we are not saved or justified by good works. That’s because Paul believed no such thing.

          Protestants are simply wrong about this, because they neither know nor pay attention to the Scriptures. They know a few verses, taken out of context, which they misunderstand because they are following the false teaching of their Masters, who are Martin Luther and John Calvin. Martin Luther tried to remove James from the Bible so that he (Martin Luther) wouldn’t have to follow the teachings of the entire Bible. John Calvin ignored vast swaths of the Bible in order to establish his horribly false and blasphemous doctrine of predestination. These are the people who invented the false, unbiblical faith alone doctrine that you have been taught.

          I urge you to leave their false doctrines behind, and pay attention to what the Bible actually does teach. Nowhere does the Bible ever say that we are saved or justified by faith alone. Once again, the Bible only mentions faith alone once. Here it is:

          You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

          No matter how many times Protestants try to ignore this verse and explain it away, it remains the Bible’s simple, clear, direct statement about justification by faith alone. Put simply, the Bible flatly rejects that doctrine. And so should you, if you want to be faithful to the Bible.

          About Ezekiel, are you telling me that we can now ignore everything that the Old Testament says? That well over half of God’s Holy Word is now null and void?

          About John 5:24, yes, one who believes (which involves not just intellectual belief, but acting upon that belief) has eternal life. But if someone stops believing, and no longer follows Jesus’ commandments, that person also stops having eternal life.

          Just a few verses earlier, Jesus said to a man whom he had healed on the Sabbath, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you” (John 5:14) A few verses later, he says, “The hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28–29). Within a few verses on either side of John 5:24, Jesus rejects “eternal security,” and he affirms that those who do good will be saved, while those who do evil will be damned.

          Since your Protestant teachers have taught you to ignore everything in the Old Testament that doesn’t confirm their false doctrine, here are just a few further passages in the New Testament that reject eternal security and justification by faith alone:

          When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation. (Matthew 12:43–45)

          Would you agree that when Jesus casts an unclean spirit out of someone, he has saved that person? And yet, this parable speaks of such a saved person backsliding and becoming even worse.

          Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)

          Why would Paul and Timothy tell us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” if the Lord has already saved us, and all we have to do is believe?

          For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4–6)

          This passage speaks explicitly of people who have experienced a state of salvation falling away.

          This is probably one of the passages that caused Luther to try to remove Hebrews from the Bible, along with James, Jude, and Revelation. Any book of the New Testament that he thought did not support his newly hatched doctrine of justification by faith alone, he attempted to remove from the Bible. He thought that the Bible should be judged by his doctrine, and not his doctrine judged (and condemned) by the Bible. Later Protestants tried to make these books of the Bible agree with Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. But Luther himself, who invented that doctrine, knew and understood that these books of the Bible rejected it.

          The simple fact of the matter is that no book of the Bible ever states or supports Luther’s new doctrine.

          You will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22)

          Why would Jesus say that it is necessary to endure to the end in order to be saved, if we are eternally and irrevocably saved the moment we accept Jesus into our life by faith?

          In passage after passage the Bible rejects eternal security, and affirms that those who do good works will be saved, while those who do not will be damned.

          The only way to support eternal security and justification by faith alone is to ignore the Old Testament entirely, and to ignore most of the New Testament as well. But Protestantism has set the doctrines of Martin Luther and John Calvin high above the Bible, and has rejected everything the Bible says that doesn’t support those false doctrines. Protestantism rejects most of the Bible’s plain teachings, while teaching doctrines that are never stated anywhere in the Bible, and that are clearly and explicitly rejected by the Bible.

          Here are several more articles that go into some of these points in more detail:

          I invite you to read these articles, and other related ones here, and learn what the Bible really teaches.

        • reikster says:

          Two final things. Consider john 6:28-29. You say somewhere that believing means that you do works but here they are different.

          Matthew 25:31-46. If a unbeliever does these good works why dont they get to heaven? There are many unbelievers who do a lot more good that you and I. And what if you do good works but not those that jesus speaks of in this passage?

          NOW im done.(lol)

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          I would suggest that you re-read the above article, and learn what the Bible means by “faith” and “belief.” Protestants reject what the Bible teaches about faith and belief, while substituting their own completely unbibilcal definitions for those words.

          And yes, Protestants love to quote John 6:28–29, while ignoring everything else Jesus says about what it means to believe in the Father. If you will read the whole chapter, instead of just two verses taken out of context, you will see that Jesus at that point was talking to a large crowd of people who were following him mainly because he had fed them. He is now leading them to take the first step toward salvation, which is to put their faith in him. Until they do that, they will not pay attention to his teachings and obey his commandments, but will only follow him in hopes of seeing more miracles and getting more food.

          About John chapter 6, please see:

          Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood

          For a so-called “theologian” or “believer” to read that chapter and come away with the idea that all we have to do is believe in Jesus and we’re saved is, if you’ll excuse my French, ludicrous. But that is what false doctrine does: it blinds the eyes and makes the heart dull so that those who are entrapped by that falsity cannot see the words of life even when they are right in front of their eyes.

          And you can argue with what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31-46 if you want to. But the fact remains, that’s what he says: people from all the nations (not just the Christian nations), who do good deeds for their fellow human beings will be saved, while those who do not will be damned. Argue against it as much as you like. But that’s what the Lord Jesus Christ himself teaches us in his own words. If you are a Christian, you will accept the teachings of Christ, and not argue against them.

          We can get more nuanced about it if you like. But until you reject the false doctrine of justification by faith alone, every nuanced thing I say about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:31–46 will turn into falsity in your mind because you will use it to support that false doctrine. The first step for you is to recognize that the Lord himself, and all of his Apostles, teach plainly and clearly that those who do good works will be saved, and those who do evil works, or who do not do good works, will be damned.

          Until you have accepted that, you are still rejecting the teaching of the Lord and the Apostles, and therefore you are not yet a Christian doctrinally—though if you actually live by Jesus’ commandments despite the false doctrine you have accepted from your Protestant teachers, you are a Christian in your life, and you will be saved based on that.

          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)

        • reikster says:


          Im sorry. I know I said I wanted to stop the debate but I just found a verse that relates to this debate. So I will just leave it here. Romans 4:1-5. You can think about it if you want to.

          Didnt even know this existed earlier.

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          I knew you’d be back. 😛

          To understand that passage, and what Paul means by “works” here, you need to keep reading through the whole of Romans 4, and not stop at verse 5. Once again, it is critical to read everything in the Bible in context, and not just read a few verses yanked out of their context.

          In verses 9–12, Paul launches into a whole discussion of whether Abraham had this faith before or after he was circumcised. If the Protestant interpretation of the first five verses were correct, and Paul was talking about being saved by faith without good works, this whole riff on circumcision would be irrelevant. But the fact is, Paul was not talking about being saved by faith without good works. He was talking about being saved by faith without the works of the Law, meaning without being an observant Jew, obeying the ritual Law of Moses. “Circumcision” is shorthand for “being an observant Jew.” Hence the discussion of whether Abraham was or was not circumcised when he was saved through faith.

          To confirm this, in verses 13–16 Paul mentions “the law” (it should be capitalized) and “adherents of the law” no less than five times. This is a dead give-away that Paul is talking, not about good works, but about “the works of the Law,” meaning, once again, being an observant Jew. To put it plainly, Paul is saying that we can be saved by faith without being an observant Jew. Read Acts 15 for the debate that was going on about this among the early followers of Jesus.

          Further, Romans 4:1–5 couldn’t possibly mean what Protestants believe. Protestants believe that we are saved only by faith in Jesus, such that non-Christians cannot be saved. But at the time of Abraham, Jesus hadn’t been born yet. So the kind of “faith” that Protestants say saves us wasn’t even possible for him.

          But we don’t even have to argue about this, because James makes it crystal clear that Abraham was not saved by faith alone:

          Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:20–24)

          Now, either James is here contradicting Paul, and the Bible flatly contradicts itself, or Protestants are wrong in believing that Romans 4:1–5 means that Paul is saying that Abraham was saved by faith alone.

          Which do you think? Do you think the Bible contradicts itself on the critical subject of how we are saved?

          The reality is, in Romans 4, as in all of the other places where Paul speaks of being saved by faith without works, by “works” Paul means “the works of the Law,” or being an observant Jew. That’s why if you read all of these passages in context, instead of ripping them out of context as Protestantism does, you will see that Paul always talks about “circumcision vs. uncircumcision,” and about Jews vs. Gentiles, within a few verses. This shows what he means by “works” in those passages.

          Meanwhile, James is using the term “works” in the sense of “good works,” as is clear from the context in James 2.

          And so we can know without a doubt that Protestants are wrong, and that Paul is not saying that Abraham was saved by faith without doing good works.

          Besides, Paul himself says in Romans 2:1–16 that people who do good deeds (or good works) will be saved, whereas those who do evil will be damned. Not only does Paul not contradict James, Jesus, and the rest of Jesus’ Apostles by saying that we are saved without doing good works, but he does not contradict himself by saying this. In short, Paul does not say that we are saved without doing good works.

          Please, reikster, abandon the false teaching you have been fed by your Protestant teachers. Abandon the false teaching of justification by faith alone that Martin Luther invented, even though he knew that it was contrary to the plain teachings of the Bible. Learn the truth of what the Bible teaches, and the truth will set you free.

        • reikster says:

          Have you by the way done all(or any) of those things that Jesus says in that passage.

          I probably havent done all of those. (Maybe any) not really sure.

          And what about those people who have done these things but then stops doing them. If you interpet it literally then will they get saved or not? Obviously you think not. But still I think its a good question. What is your explanation?

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          I have done almost all of them at one time or another. However, the point isn’t to do those specific things. The point is to give help and comfort to our fellow human beings in need, and to serve their needs in whatever way we can. This includes doing a good job for people in our paid employment, as well as in volunteer work, community service, and just helping people out when we see that they need a helping hand.

          If we do not do this, we do not have the Lord in us, which means we are not saved. And yes, if we stop doing good deeds for others, and live only for ourselves, and especially if we do evil and destructive things, then even if we were saved before, we have lost our salvation because we are no longer living from the Lord, but from the Devil. The Bible says this in so many places that we shouldn’t even be having this conversation.

        • reikster says:


          You havent by the way answered the question about can unbelievers be saved.

          You said if we stop doing them(good works) we are not saved but thats not what the verse says. It just talks about doing them nothing else. So if you are going to interpet it this way then go all the way and be consistent. Unbelivers can be saved and if you do some of these works(or all) you are saved and you cant lose it, right?

          You also said that it also speaks about good deeds in general but that is not what the verse says. If you are going to interpet it this way I dont think you are being consistent.

          You said we shouldnt be having this discussion because bible is clear about this. But there are many things I dont understand so its not that straightforward.
          So think about it and have a nice day(again)!

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          That depends what you mean by “unbelievers.” If you think that non-Christians (people who don’t intellectually believe in Jesus Christ) cannot be saved, then you are denying Paul’s clear teaching Romans 2:1–16 about how non-Christians are saved. In that case, your belief is contrary to the Bible’s clear teaching, and is therefore a non-Christian and anti-Christian teaching.

          Here are some of my articles that go into the larger question in more detail:

          Short version:

          • People who do not believe there is anything higher than themselves, and who therefore live for their own benefit only, cannot be saved.
          • People who believe in and are faithful to a higher standard, ideally but not necessarily one that they see as promulgated by God, and who therefore live for the benefit of others as well as for their own benefit, are saved through the combination of their “faith” and “good works.”

          But please read the above articles, especially the first one, for a fuller explanation.

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          Do you really think Jesus was so narrow-minded that he meant that people have to do those specific good deeds to be saved, and no other good deeds count? That’s just plain silly.

          You might as well say that only people who are literally “good soil” are saved. People who aren’t soil, but consist of a body and a spirit, can’t possibly be saved because they’re humans, not dirt, and therefore seeds can’t be planted and grow in them.

          Meanwhile, since you won’t listen to the Bible, which says as plain as can be in Ezekiel 18:26–28 that people who are good but then turn to evil will die, meaning they will be condemned and not saved, here are a couple of examples:

          1. A young man accepts Jesus, is baptized, and becomes a full-on believer. He preaches salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and makes many converts through his inspired speaking. But then, when he’s in his thirties, he has a personal crisis and comes to the conclusion that everything he has believed and preached for the past decade is completely wrong. He becomes an atheist, and devotes the rest of his life to attacking and ridiculing Jesus, Christianity, God, and religion, seeking to turn as many people as he can away from an irrational and superstitious belief in God, Jesus, and an afterlife.
          2. A teenage girl who was lured into prostitution is “saved” at a local evangelical church, swears off prostitution, gets a regular job, and before long gets married and starts a family. But things aren’t as halcyon as she expected. Her husband isn’t nice to her. He calls her “slut” and “whore,” reminding her of her old life. Her job requires long hours of physical labor. Then, when she gets home, she has more work to do cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children while her husband sits around watching TV. She remembers her old life, when she made a lot of easy money just by taking off her clothes and opening her legs for men. So she abandons her husband and children and goes back to prostitution, continuing in that life until she dies in drunk driving accident in her mid-fifties.

          Now you tell me: Are these two people saved?

          Both of them were full-on believers. According to “once saved, always saved,” even though they spent the rest of their lives in atheism and sin, they are still saved because they were “once saved.”

          This is not only contrary to the plain teachings of the Bible, but once again, it’s just plain ridiculous.

        • reikster says:

          About the romans 2:1-16 part. Read verse 8. I think it describes unbelievers. This can be proved with verse 5. It talks about hard hearts(like the pharisees). And who dont repent (maybe they arent transformed by God)

          I dont think its a super obvious verse to support your argument. It not obvious atleast or anything in my opinion.

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          False doctrine has the effect of blinding the eyes of those who hold to it so that they can’t see what’s obvious.

          Read Romans 2. There is not a word in it about faith or belief. It is all about whether people do good deeds or evil deeds. It speaks explicitly of how Jews and Greeks (pagan polytheists) or Gentiles are saved or damned based on whether they do good or evil according to their own conscience.

          Yes, people who do evil are unbelievers, even if they intellectually “believe” that Jesus paid the penalty for their sins (something the Bible never says). In fact, they do not believe, because if they believed, they would live according to their beliefs. So their “beliefs” are just window dressing to cover over and excuse a life immersed in evil that comes from the Devil. Such people who falsely call themselves “Christians” will only receive the greater condemnation when they stand before the judgment seat of God.

        • reikster says:

          I think we might actually agree on that one on some degree. Its what james said. Works without faith is dead. But I dont think those who believe in the faith alone doctrine say those who arent transformed by their faith (by God) are saved.

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          It’s always good to find something to agree on. 🙂

  17. Caio says:

    Hi, Lee

    What do you think about this video from Inspiring Philosophy?


    • Lee says:

      Hi Caio,

      I think it is fine as a refutation, from a traditional Christian and biblical perspective, of the common atheist/skeptic view of faith. I also think that because it is so focused on the “evidence” objection, and because fundamentalist Christians tend to be just as materialistic as the atheists and skeptics they debate, it misses the true nature of faith. It also misses the mark if it is meant to reach non-believers. (But I don’t think the video is meant to reach non-believers. I think it is meant to reassure believers.)

      I do take issue with its assertion, repeated two or three times in the video, that atheists and skeptics are being “dishonest” in their arguments. This, is unnecessarily and inaccurately impugning the motives and character of atheists and skeptics. The idea seems to be that because atheists and skeptics have rejected God, they must be bad people, and the things they say must be lies. They know that what they are saying is not true, but they say it anyway.

      Perhaps that is true of some atheists and skeptics. There are bad apples in every barrel. But in my experience, most atheists and skeptics are sincere. They are saying what they truly believe. They are not being dishonest. Their problem is not moral turpitude. Rather, their problem is a limited and materialistic view of reality, which does not allow for the existence of anything beyond the material realm.

      Something the video entirely misses is that skeptics/atheists and Christians as represented in the video are using two different definitions for “evidence.” For skeptics/atheists, “evidence” means scientific evidence. But for the Christians represented in the video, “evidence” means the evidence of personal experience and the instruction and assurance of people they trust to know and tell the truth.

      Because of this mismatch of definitions, the video, while it will be convincing for people who already believe what the makers of the video believe—i.e., Christians—it will not only be entirely unconvincing to skeptics/atheists, but it talks right past them, just as skeptics/atheists are talking past Christians when they demand “evidence” for God, Christ, etc., but are willing to accept only scientific evidence, which is not the sort of evidence that spiritual things are subject to.

      For more on the “evidence” issue, please see:

      Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

      I’ll continue in another comment.

    • Lee says:

      The discussion of the Bible passages that say that faith is believing what we have not seen is fine, but limited. What it misses is the distinction between the physical and the spiritual. What those passages are really saying is that faith is believing what we have not seen with our physical eyes. It does not mean believing what we have not seen with our mind’s eye, which is our understanding, or our spiritual sight. I.e., it does not mean believing things we don’t see and understand mentally.

      Traditional Christians, especially the ones on the literalist and fundamentalist end of the spectrum, don’t have a very clear sense or understanding of the difference between material and spiritual things. They therefore tend to lump them together as if they were the same thing. Some even believe that our eternal life will be in the physical world, on a new version of the very same physical planet that we currently live on.

      However, as Swedenborg teaches, material and spiritual things are distinctly different from one another. They are on two entirely different levels. They do not intermix with one another. They do not obey the same laws. Spiritual things do not obey physical laws, neither do physical things obey spiritual laws. In traditional Swedenborgian terminology, they are distinguished from one another by “discrete degrees,” not by “continuous degrees.” To treat them as if they are basically the same, so that the evidence for one is essentially the same as the evidence for the other, is to completely miss their nature. Usually, it is to think of spiritual things as being just a rarefied version of physical things.

      Though the definition of faith given in the video is not wrong, it is also quite limited. Faith, as used in the New Testament especially, generally refers to an internal sight and acknowledgment of spiritual truth, as compared to an external sight and acknowledgment of physical things—which is what scientists focus on, and skeptics/atheists limit reality to.

      It is somewhat unfortunate that the New Testament uses the word “faith” for this. It makes it sound less certain than knowledge of physical things. But the reality is that for most people when the Bible was written, and even for most people today, spiritual things do seem less solid, real, and definite than material things, even though the opposite is actually the case. The word “faith” was used to speak to that mindset that included a lack of clear vision of spiritual things.

      Fundamentally, faith is simply believing the truth because it is true. That is as compared to believing it because it suits our interests or because that’s what everyone else believes or for some other reason. Faith is an attitude of seeking out the truth itself, regardless of whether we perceive it as as good or bad for our current position, wealth, ego, and so on, and accepting and following the truth when we find it.

      For more on what “faith” is biblically speaking, please see:

      Faith Alone Is Not Faith

      One of the reasons Protestants, especially, have so badly misunderstood Paul is that due to their own general materialism, they have not seen and grasped the significance of Paul’s disquisitions about faith. Paul is not saying that all we have to do is believe to be saved, as Protestants blindly think. Rather, he is saying that Christians operate on an entirely different basis than Jews do. Jews operate on the basis of externally imposed law regulating their behavior, enforced by punishments and rewards. Christians operate on the basis of an internally accepted sight and understanding of spiritual truth, which they then live out in their lives.

      In other words, the greater message of Paul’s writings is that Christianity represents an entirely new paradigm compared to Judaism. Judaism is an outward, behavioral, obedience-based paradigm, similar to Islam. Christianity is an inward, mental, understanding-based paradigm. “Faith” is the New Testament’s short-hand term for that focus on internal understanding, rather than obedience to externally imposed law, as the guide and motivator of our actions.

      (There is also a third level and paradigm of spiritual life, which the New Testament also refers to, but which people weren’t ready for. That is a life based on love. But that’s a whole different discussion. I believe that as compared to the previous Christian church based on “faith,” the new church is meant to be a church based on love.)

      There is plenty more that could be said about this. It’s a huge topic! But that’s enough for now. I hope you find this, and the linked articles, helpful and enlightening.

      • Caio says:

        Hi Lee,

        I had an little discussion with my cousin, he is biologist and an atheist!
        While he is a good person, almost an brother to me since my childhood, sometimes unfortunately he is also very, very selfish and tough when it come to the neighborhood, specially when it comes to religion.

        Being an homosexual, he always heard everywhere that his final destination is Hell with other sinners so i understand a little bit his hate comes. According to him, Christianity and every other related doctrine should not exist because it’s pure manipulation and corruption to make people “not think”.

        He always make those generic questions about where God is, where is the proof of him, evil should not exist. Basically everything you already addressed in your series of articles “Is God Unconvincing to Smart Folks? and Where is the Proof of Afterlife?
        So i had a good background to my answers.

        Then he made a question regarding faith and beliefs, he said that if you use that argument that we can’t proof anything exists after all, aside from our own consciousnesses, then he can fully believe in that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is God and is in front of him (to make fun of religion again) and i replied with a few arguments about why it’s absurd to believe in such thing:

        1. – There isn’t any verse of mention in the Bible that states that God ever assumed a form of an pile of spaghetti and meat balls. 🍝
        2. – It was explicitly created by non-believers to make fun of Christianity in general.
        3. – I cannot mention one single serious person that actually reported to saw such thing in an NDE and his entire life changed since.
        4. – Such believe doesn’t help him and others to grow as a better person spiritually.

        Obviously he almost ignored everything i replied, but at least i was secure to friendly defend why i believe in God and afterlife, at the same time explaining that faith and belief are not just believing in something without any evidence, background and action. I also explained that he is correct in a certain point, that most of those conservative christian religions are generally frequented by corrupt and manipulative leaders and by people that not even know if they believe in God with sure, they just follow what their leaders taught to them with false promises and wrong interpretations of the Bible, most of them are most good persons with the false doctrine!

        Do you think I did well?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Caio,

          Sounds like you held your own quite well. You’re not likely to change his mind, especially not in the short term. But you planted some seeds that could lie fallow in his mind for years before sprouting and growing if and when he’s ready.

  18. Caio says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thank you! 🙂
    Yes, that is a hope!
    Sometimes feels like he is rooted in materialism / naturalism and others feels like he is more open minded.
    That is why I think that he is not an atheist by personal choice but as a response of rejecting those evil views of God.

    Our family is very religious, but almost all my cousins ​​are atheists or agnostics and most of them think that I’m too since I never talk or say anything about this subject with them but now with my regeneration in progress i think that is important to explain them that some of their views are just wrong when those discussions pop up.
    The purpose of religion is and should be a good thing.
    They may not agree with me but i will at least show them what a learned with Swedenborg.


    • Lee says:

      Hi Caio,

      I have long thought that for many people, atheism is a necessary step on the path toward spiritual life. Present-day “Christianity” cannot be fixed. It must be jettisoned. For many people, spending a shorter or longer time as an atheist is the only way to purge from their minds so many false ideas that have been inculcated into them by today’s “Christian Church.” Unfortunately, many never do entirely get those ideas out of their minds, and must remain atheists for the rest of their lives to prevent further damage to their heart and life.

      Most atheists today are not atheists by the biblical definition of atheism. On this, please see:

      Do Atheists Go to Heaven?

      Really, they have rejected false Christianity, and the false gods that it preaches and teaches. For some, it may be possible to bring them into the fold of true Christianity by means of the type of discussions you are having with your extended family members. Others will have to wait until the afterlife to discover that God is not the god they were taught, nor is the afterlife the afterlife they were taught. Then, being people of good heart and thoughtful mind, they will accept the true God, and will make their eternal home in heaven.

      Meanwhile, good luck in your efforts to reach past the indoctrination and shine some light into their minds.

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