Mark Cares is a WELS pastor who also runs a blog outreach to Mormons called Markcares. Mark was recently chided that he would face eternal consequences for preaching that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.
It is true, the things we say do have eternal consequences. When all the authoritative Lutheran Confessions were assembled into the Book of Concord, the Lutheran Reformers declared:
By God’s grace, with intrepid hearts, we are willing to appear before the judgment seat of Christ with this Confession and give an account of it. We will not speak or write anything contrary to this Confession, either publicly or privately. [Solid Declaration XII, 40).
If only every nominal Lutheran would so speak. What we say is important. I submitted a number of comments for the Markcares post entitled “Stimulating Discussion or Eternal Consequences,” and they are re-posted below for a different readership. (The green numbers indicate the comment order, and clicking on the number will take one directly to the original comment on Markcares).
The righteousness of God “is by faith from first to last.” (Romans 1:17). If by faith from first to last, then by faith alone. Only after receiving the gift of faith, do we then produce the fruits of faith.
- The Mormon response to this was comment #23.
Who goes into court and says, “Yes, your honor I am guilty, but I shouldn’t be punished because I once helped an orphan”? I once saw someone do something like that in court, and the judge lost his temper. The fact is we don’t pay for our crimes by doing something good. (We are supposed to do good as a matter of living (Luke 17:9-10)). We pay for our crimes by being punished. When we go in front of the Judge, we need to ask for mercy. But if we act like we deserve mercy because of some alleged good that we did, then we will get all that we rightly deserve, because mercy is by definition undeserved.
- There was no response to this comment.
In order for works to be good, they have to be done out of a good motivation. In order for works to be done out of a good motivation, they have to be done freely, that is not compelled. If a person is compelled to do a good deed out of threat of punishment, then the motivation is corrupt and the work is not truly good.
Apart from faith, we live under the threat of hell, therefore, apart from faith we can do nothing good because we are not free. Do you commend people for doing good because they had to? Or do you commend people for doing good because even though they did not have to, they did good anyway because they wanted to do good?
Why do you think God will commend people for doing good while they were still under the curse of the law? Do we give awards to prisoners on chain gangs for picking up trash along the highway? God judges the heart, not the outward action.
That is why salvation cannot be by any good work whatsoever. The person doing the work must already be saved; they must already have heaven as a free gift. Only then are we free to do a true good work without thought of reward or punishment. Therefore, even though we are judged by what we do in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10), we can do no good unless we are already saved (unless we are already free).
It is true that “God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done,’” (Romans 2:6) therefore, it behooves us to live by faith. For the righteousness of God is by faith from first to last.
The moment that our salvation becomes conditional or dependent in any way upon our works, then the motivation for those works is corrupted, and the works are filth. As the prophet says: “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6).
Salvation “by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” is not a contradiction because faith is the only way we receive the one promise.
- The Mormon response to this was comment #32.
True Christianity is more like this: Teenager has no desire for a car because teenager is in fact dead. Teenager has no money and can’t get a job because Teenager is dead. Teenager can do nothing to change his situation or even ask for help because Teenager is dead. The Father goes out and purchases a car, comes home, raises his son from the dead, gives his son the desire for a car and also the desire to use the car correctly, and then tosses the keys to his son saying, “It’s all yours. Enjoy.” That’s not just grace, that’s grace alone.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins (Colossians 2:13).
- The Mormon response to this was comment #33.
“Grace alone” means works are excluded when God graciously gives us gifts. “Faith alone” means that works are excluded when believing we receive His gifts. Both phrases mean exactly the same thing: works are excluded. Therefore, they cannot contradict.
- The Mormon response to this was comment #44.
What strikes me most about all the Mormon responses on Markcares is the seeming inability to believe that Christians will do right simply because they want to and not because they have to. The Mormon chain gang is proud of how much trash they pick up along the highway, and how useful the chains are in getting people to pick up trash, and how they have grown to love their trash picking duties, but in the end they are still in chains. Actual real freedom is beyond their theology. Unfortunately, because they are dead and blind unbelievers, real freedom is beyond their comprehension. (1 Corinthians 1:17-31).
Those who do not believe in freedom, cannot understand freedom. May God bless the Markcares outreach. I pray that God will use His word to set at least a few free and save them from the Final Judgment; so that instead of chiding the heralds of grace, they may one day truly understand the meaning of this passage:
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
— Matthew 12:33-37.