The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 3: It’s Impossible to Satisfy God?

For Part 2, click here: The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 2: Original Sin?

Or start at the beginning: The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 1: God is a Trinity of Persons?

After stating (falsely) that we are born sinful and guilty, the doctrine of justification by faith alone goes on to say that it is impossible for us to become righteous enough to satisfy God’s justice.

The idea is that not only are we sinful and guilty from birth, but God’s standard for us is nothing short of perfection, and we must therefore become perfectly sinless in order to avoid God’s judgment. Unfortunately, as most of us realize, perfection is not possible for us ordinary mortals.

In other words, it’s impossible for us to satisfy God.

Really???

3. It is impossible for us to be righteous or to satisfy God’s justice?

The idea that we must become perfect is supported by passages such as this one, in which Jesus says:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

However, in reading this passage we should understand that the Greek word translated “perfect” does not mean so much flawless as it does complete. In other words, what Jesus is talking about here is that we must not stop halfway on our spiritual journey toward God and goodness, but must continue right through to our goal of becoming good, loving, thoughtful, and right-living people.

We can think of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:48 as a commandment never to stop growing, never to stop overcoming our personal faults, but continuing to move and grow toward the complete goodness and perfection of God as long as we live.

Clearly Jesus did not mean we must be absolutely perfect as that word is commonly understood today. Otherwise, he would not have said to a rich young man who told him that he had kept all of the commandments since his youth:

If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. (Matthew 19:21)

Would selling all of his possessions and giving to the poor really make this rich young man perfect? No. But it would show his complete devotion to Jesus and to walking a spiritual path. Jesus was saying to this young man: Don’t hold anything back. Go all in on your spiritual path, and then you will have treasure in heaven.

There are many, many passages in which Jesus teaches that we must leave behind our old wrong and sinful ways, and live a good life instead. That is the teaching of the entire Bible!

Now I ask you this:

If God’s standards are so impossibly high that we can never achieve them, why does the whole Bible teach us to repent from our sins and live a good life instead? If we’re going to go to hell anyway because we can never be perfectly sinless, what’s the point?

Yes, I know. Proponents of faith alone say it’s to prove that we can never meet God’s standards.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is a ridiculous idea.

And though Protestants quote various Bible passages that supposedly mean that God’s standard is 100% perfection, and we can’t possibly meet it, none of the passages they quote actually say that.

Why would God waste chapter after chapter and book after book of the Bible telling us to stop sinning and be righteous instead, only to say in the end, “Sorry! None of that matters. You’re damned anyway! So believe in Jesus or you’re going straight to hell!”

That sort of bait and switch tactic is unworthy of a God of justice, still less of a God of love.

No, the Bible is very clear that we are to do the hard work of stopping ourselves from engaging in wrong, destructive, and sinful behavior, and to instead live a life of loving and serving our fellow human beings just as much as we love ourselves. That is why Paul and Timothy said in their letter to the Christians in Philippi:

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)

And if we do that hard work, recognizing that it is God who is at work in us, then we are indeed on the pathway to heaven.

The idea that we cannot possibly satisfy God’s “perfect justice,” so that we are inevitably damned to hell no matter how hard we try to follow God’s commandments, is the third false and anti-Biblical foundation of faith alone. The whole Bible teaches us that God will save us and accept us into heaven if we do the work of repenting from our sins and living a good life instead.

For Part 4, click here: The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 4: God Condemns Us to Hell Because We’re Not Perfect?

For further reading:

About

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

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Posted in All About God, The Bible Re-Viewed
2 comments on “The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 3: It’s Impossible to Satisfy God?
  1. Hi Lee,

    As part of the concept of God requiring perfection, we are taught that Jesus had to be perfect because that is what following the Law demands. We are taught that because Jesus was perfect, he is able to die as our substitute and sacrifice. 1 Peter 1:18: “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” Here is an obvious reference to the Old Testament where the Israelites had to sacrifice a perfect lamb. In other words, we are taught that Jesus was perfect and we cannot be, so that is why Jesus had to die for us — God requires perfection. How does Jesus’s perfection fit into Swedenborg theology? Obviously it is not a requirement to fulfill God’s demands for justice.

    Have a great day!

    David

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      As it turns out, Part 4 of the current series, posted today, deals with this supposed requirement of God that we be perfect—albeit briefly. It’s not Biblical, and it’s completely out of character for a God who is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

      It is true that the animal sacrificed must be unblemished. But it is not true that the sacrifice was a substitute for the one doing the sacrifice. I’ve discussed this in other comments here. Sacrifice was not about substitution. It was about recognizing one’s sins, and dedicating oneself fully to God through offering God the best of what one had.

      Further, the ancient Jewish rituals and sacrifices are not the standard by which we judge Jesus Christ:

      These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:17)

      And:

      The law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities. (Hebrews 10:1)

      In other words, the ancient Jewish rituals and sacrifices only pre-figured and symbolized imperfectly the work of salvation that Jesus Christ would perform once and for all at the time of his coming. They don’t give Christ’s life meaning. Christ’s life gives them meaning.

      The perfection of Jesus Christ was not, as you seem to agree, “a requirement to fulfill God’s demands for justice.” Rather, his perfect, sinless life involved gaining complete victory over the power of evil.

      If he had sinned even once, he would have left an opening for evil to be victorious. But since he was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15), he gained a complete victory over the power of evil, so that he can and does keep it under control forever. This gives him the power to prevent the Devil and hell from overwhelming us, and to keep us in freedom to choose faith, God, and goodness, for all time.

      The perfection of Jesus was not some technical perfection of “judicial” sinlessness. Rather, it was a functional perfection of fully carrying out his mission, which was the complete conquering of, and victory over, evil, hell, and the Devil. He did this by never sinning, which means never succumbing to the Devil’s power, but always emerging victorious from every test, trial, and temptation that the Devil threw at him.

      It is like an army going out to war to defend against an attacking enemy who tries every trick and stratagem to overcome and overwhelm the defending army’s defenses, but the defending army is able to meet and counter every trick and stratagem, utterly defeat and disarm the enemy, and save the nation from destruction and slavery at the hands of the invading army. Any failure of the defending army would subject some or all of the population to attack and destruction. But if the defense is impregnable, all the people are safe.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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