For Others

“Christ first takes possession of the conscience, and when it is right in faith toward God, then he also directs us to do work toward our neighbor…   God does not desire the Christian to live for himself.  Yea, cursed is the life that lives for self.  For all that one lives after he is a Christian, he lives for others.”

—Martin Luther,
Homily for Trinity 19, Church Postils.
Emphasis added.

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Blessed Labor Day

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True rest comes from the Lord.

On the seventh day, God rested from all his works.  (Genesis 2:2).  This is the Sabbath day of rest.

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”  (Hebrews 4:9-10, ESV).

May we rest from our works, and enter God’s rest.  “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works …  For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”  (Ephesians 2:8-10, HCSB).

Blessed Labor Day!

Luther Quotations on Faith

The following are five quotations from Martin Luther on the subject of faith.  They are taken from What Luther Says, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, Volume I, pages 477-479, paragraphs 1412-1415, and 1420.

Luther contended that salvation is the free gift of God, and therefore could be received only though faith, and that faith itself is a gift of God.  Says Plass regarding paragraph 1412: Faith is “a work performed in us rather than by us.”  Faith is a divine work that produces all the other works below it.

Paragraph 1412:

Faith is full of life and power.  It is not an idle thought.  It does not float on the surface of the heart, as a goose does on water; but it is as water that has been warmed by fire.  Although such water remains water, it is no longer cold but warm and, therefore, an entirely different sort of water.  So faith, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, makes the mind and the thinking of a person different and thereby makes an entirely new man of him.  Faith, then, is an active, independent (difficilis), and powerful thing; and if we want truly to evaluate it, we should call it an influence (passio) on us rather than an act (actio) performed by us.  For it changes our souls and our views.

Paragraph 1413:

Do not think lightly of faith.  It is a work that is of all works the most excellent and the most difficult.  Through it alone you will be saved, even though you were obliged to do without all other works.  For it is the work of God, not of man, as Paul teaches (Ephesians 1:19).  The other works He performs with our co-operation and through us; this alone He works within us and without our co-operation (sine nobis).

Paragraph 1414:

Faith is a divine work which God requires of us; but He Himself must give us the strength to do it.

Paragraph 1415:

It is a mistake to place faith and its work alongside other virtues and works.  Faith should be elevated above all and regarded, as it were, as a sort of constant and general influence above all works, through the movement and activity of which everything that is in man is sent into motion, works, is vigorous and pleasing.

Paragraph 1420:

A Christian modestly says to God: Dear Lord, although I am sure of my position, I am unable to sustain it without Thee.  Help Thou me, or I am lost. — He is indeed certain of his position, as Peter was on the water (Matthew 14:29).  Peter could not be more certain than he was.  The water was supporting him.  He saw no obstacle in his way.  But when the wind came rushing on, he saw what was lacking in him.  This must be taken well to heart.  For although we are sure of our position, have Scripture, and are covered and armed with clear passages in the very best way, yet our security depends on the power, the will, and the might of God, who protects us and defends us against the devil, our adversary and greatest enemy.

But this happens that God may make us determined and yet keep us fearful, so that we are always filled with concern and cry to Him: O Lord, help us, and increase our faith (Luke 17:5); for without Thee we are undone.  At heart we should always feel as if we were just beginning to believe today, and every day we should feel as if we had never heard the Gospel before.  We must believe anew every day.

“The Bondage of the Will” Quotation

We are free in matters that are below us.  For example, we can choose the color of our socks or to help our neighbor.  However, we are not free in matters that are above us because they are beyond our abilities.  For example, life and faith are above us, and can only be gifts from God.

Martin Luther considered his work “The Bondage of the Will” to be one of his best.  It was written in response to Erasmus who asserted the freedom of man’s will in spiritual matters.  Said Luther:

Before man is created and is a man, he neither does nor attempts to do anything toward becoming a creature, and after he is created he neither does nor attempts to do anything toward remaining a creature, but both of these things are done by the sole will of the omnipotent power and goodness of God, who creates and preserves us without our help; but he does not work in us without us, because it is for this he has created and preserved us, that he might work in us and we might cooperate with him, whether outside his Kingdom through his general omnipotence, or inside his Kingdom by the special virtue of his Spirit.

In just the same way … before man is changed into a new creature of the Kingdom of the Spirit, he does nothing and attempts nothing to prepare himself for this renewal and this Kingdom, and when he has been recreated he does nothing and attempts nothing toward remaining in this Kingdom, but the Spirit alone does both of these things in us, recreating us without us and preserving us without our help in our recreated state, as also James says:  “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of his power, that we might be a beginning of his creature” [James 1:18]—speaking of the renewed creature.

But he does not work without us, because it is for this very thing he has recreated and preserves us, that he might work in us and we might cooperate with him.  Thus it is through us he preaches, shows mercy to the poor, comforts the afflicted.  But what is attributed to free choice in all this?  Or rather, what is there left for it but nothing?  And really nothing!

— Luther’s Works, Vol. 33, page 243.
(Emphasis added).

Faith is above us, therefore, faith “is the gift of God.”  No one can boast because faith is not by works, choices, or cooperation.  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, and this (faith & grace) is the gift of God.  (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Through His Word of promise, God alone gives faith and God alone preserves faith.

On the other hand, the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do are below us.  (Ephesians 2:10).  That is where we cooperate with God.  As Luther says, God “preaches, shows mercy to the poor,” and “comforts the afflicted” through us.  Because of God we do these works willingly.  (Philippians 2:13).

God works through us to do His work here in this world.  His Word from above creates in us new life and new impulses so that we willingly do His good will.  It is God alone who gives us life and faith and makes us clean and holy so that according to his will we willingly do the good works that are below us.  (Philippians 2:13).  And in heaven we will be rewarded for those good works.  (Ephesians 6:8).

But the good that comes from above is a pure gift.  (James 1:17-18).  Faith, from beginning to end, is a miracle from God: a working of His divine power to raise the dead to spiritual life.  Faith is not partly God’s work and then partly our work any more than life itself is partly God’s work and partly our work.  Yes, we live, but the life we live is the life God gives.

Likewise, we believe, but faith is God’s gift of trust and spiritual life.  The Word of promise creates faith.  “When we believe, our hearts are brought to life by the Holy Spirit through Christ’s Word.”  (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XIIA (V). Repentance, 44-46).

A living tree produces fruit.  Life comes from God, and the life in the tree gives life to the fruit.  The fruit does not give life to the tree.  Those who resist the Holy Spirit and refuse to produce fruit, may lose life.  (Luke 13:7).  But God alone makes alive and preserves life, and it is because of His life in us (faith) that we produce the fruit of life (good works and choices).  Even though we can willingly do the good works below us that God has prepared for us to do, the life and faith that comes from above is God’s work alone.  (John 6:29, 15:16).

After conversion, can a Christian perfect faith by choosing to believe?  No.  True faith by definition is founded on only Christ, and not at all on our will, choices, or decisions.  (Matthew 16:17 and 1 Corinthians 3:11).  Christ alone is “the author and perfecter of our faith,” therefore, we must “fix our eyes on Jesus” and not on our choices.  (Hebrews 2:12).  Christ makes faith secure.  “On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.”  (CW, 382).  Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  (John 14:6).  Like life itself, faith, from beginning to end, is a gift that comes from above.  (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Therefore, we should diligently pray, “Increase our faith!”  (Luke 17:5).

“Rome Sweet Home” vs. Sola Fide

Scott Hahn is a popular apologist who converted to Roman Catholicism from Presbyterianism.  He is very popular on the speaking circuit and has numerous books in print and CDs in circulation.  One of his more popular books has been Rome Sweet Home, a recounting of his family’s journey home to the Roman Catholic Church.  Mr. Hahn writes in a folksy disarming way, and is often hailed as a leader in the Protestant return to Rome.

A number of years ago, I was invited to read Rome Sweet Home, and I did.  About three months ago, I decided to read it again, but the waiting list at the library was quite long.  It finally arrived at the tail end of July, and I wanted to review Mr. Hahn’s writing on justification and sola fide.

Reflecting on his time in a Presbyterian seminary, Mr. Hahn writes:

Saint Paul (whom I had thought of as the first Luther) taught in Romans, Galatians and elsewhere that justification was more than a legal decree; it established us in Christ as God’s children by grace alone.  In fact, I discovered that nowhere did Saint Paul ever teach that we were justified by faith aloneSola fide was unscriptural!

I was so excited about this discovery.  I shared it with some friends, who were amazed at how much sense it made…

I remembered how one of my favorite theologians, Dr. Gerstner, once said in class that if Protestants were wrong on sola fide — and the Catholic Church was right that justification is by faith and works — “I’d be on my knees tomorrow morning outside of the Vatican doing penance.”  We all knew, of course, that he said that for rhetorical effect, but it made a real impact.  In fact, the whole Reformation flowed from this one difference.

[Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, Ignatius Press, 1993, page 31].

First an observation: before he became Roman Catholic and while he was in a Presbyterian seminary, Hahn thought of St. Paul as “the first Luther”?  That’s a strange thing to say.  In fact, Mr. Hahn has strange statements about his Protestant experience interspersed throughout his book.  For example, just one page later Hahn writes that Luther was his “main source of inspiration and powerful proclamation of the Word.”

I grew up Lutheran.  Luther is revered, and I could imagine a zealous nine-year-old claiming that Luther was the second Paul, but not Paul the first Luther.

Anyway, even though Hahn claims Luther as his “main source of inspiration,” Hahn wasn’t Lutheran, he was a Presbyterian.  Here is a very mild example of what Luther said about people like the Presbyterians:

We earnestly believe that … all … who deny that the body and blood of Christ are taken with the bodily mouth in the venerable Eucharist are heretics and estranged from the church of God.

[“Against the Thirty-Two Articles of the Louvain Theologists,” Luther’s Works, vol. 34].

Second, Hahn has a propensity to say that Protestant doctrine doesn’t encompass even the most basic tenets of Christianity, such as the concept of God as Father.  Hahn claims that the concept of God as Father was foreign to Luther and Calvin.  In his journey to Rome, says Hahn, “I was beginning to see that … God was our Father.”  (Page 30).  However, every Christian who prays the Lord’s Prayer knows that God is our Father.  This is not unique to Rome.

Hahn ties the concept of God as Father into the doctrine of justification “by faith and works,” after all, children are expected to behave.  According to Hahn, we are saved “by faith and works.”  (Page 31).  Fine.  He is bound by his conscience here.  However, he also claims that justification through faith alone is unscriptural, and “that nowhere did Saint Paul ever teach that we were justified by faith alone!”  (Page 31).

Nonetheless in Romans 1:17, Paul declares that the righteousness of God “is by faith from first to last.”  And again he declares that those who do not “know the righteousness that comes from God,” and instead seek to establish their own, do not attain righteousness.  They stumble.  (Romans 9:30-10:3).

One very bothersome aspect of Rome Sweet Home is the almost complete lack of serious theological discussion.  Hahn takes a difficult issue like justification, and flippantly declares that Paul never taught that we are saved by faith and not by works.  Case closed, according to Hahn, and he moves on to the next topic.  Justification is not an easy issue, but in Rome Sweet Home the conclusion that “justification is by faith and works” comes across as all too easy.  (Page 31).

I believe that God wants us to struggle to reconcile James with Paul.  Only by struggling through this difficult issue can we even begin to properly understand it.  Only by wrestling with the Word of God do we show that we are Israel, the man who struggles with God, and not Jacob, the deceiver.  (Genesis 32:22-30).

Here is a small excerpt of what I consider to be a serious wrestling with the issue of faith and works taken from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (one of the authoritative Lutheran Confessions):

[True] faith is not an easy thing, as our opponents imagine; nor is it a human power, but a divine power that makes us alive and enables us to overcome death and the devil…  Since this faith is a new life, it necessarily produces new impulses and new works.  Accordingly, James is correct in denying that we are justified by a faith without works.   When he says we are justified by faith and works, he certainly does not mean that we are regenerated by works.  Nor does he say that our propitiation is due in part to Christ and in part to our works.  Nor does he describe the manner of justification, but only the nature of the just who have already been justified and reborn.

“To be justified” here does not mean that a wicked man is made righteous but that he is pronounced righteous in a forensic way, just as in the passage (Romans 2:13), “the doers of the law will be justified.”

[The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church, Tappert (143).  Philadelphia: Fortress Press].

Here is another example of good theology from Saint Augustine:

But the statement that “the doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13) must be so understood, as that we may know that they are not otherwise doers of the law, unless they be justified, so that justification does not subsequently accrue to them as doers of the law, but justification precedes them as doers of the law.

[St. Augustine; On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 45].

Rome Sweet Home is about a family’s journey into the Roman Catholic Church, but on the most important issue of justification, it stumbles.  It stumbles badly.  Dr. Hahn believes that we are saved “by faith and works,” and that is why he made his journey.  Everyone should join the denomination that they believe confesses the most truth.

Jesus builds his Church on the Rock of Truth, and that Truth is the confession of Jesus as Christ.  (Matthew 16:16-18).  Where we find the truth, there we find the Church.  (John 4:23).  However, the difference between salvation through faith alone and salvation “by faith and works” is the difference between salvation with Jesus as Christ and salvation with Jesus as Helper.

The Church can be seen where She makes a clear pure profession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  (Matthew 16:16-18).  Those titles “Christ” and “Son of the living God” have eternal significance.  They do not mean mere “helper for those seeking to establish their own righteousness,” but rather they do mean “Savior,” and they encompass every possible meaning of that word “Savior.”  Jesus is Savior.  Jesus alone is Savior.

Works are the evidence of our salvation, not the cause.  We are saved by Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, and not by works.

Clement of Rome Quote – Justification

“And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever.”

Clement of Rome (also known as Pope St. Clement I);
First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 32.

St. Augustine Quote – Justification

“The righteousness of the law is proposed in these terms—that whosoever shall do it shall live in it; and the purpose is, that when each has discovered his own weakness, he may not by his own strength, nor by the letter of the law (which cannot be done), but by faith, conciliating the Justifier, attain, and do, and live in it.  For the work in which he who does it shall live, is not done except by one who is justified.  His justification, however, is obtained by faith;”

— St. Augustine; On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 51.

St. Augustine Quote – Justification

“But the statement that ‘the doers of the law shall be justified’ (Romans 2:13) must be so understood, as that we may know that they are not otherwise doers of the law, unless they be justified, so that justification does not subsequently accrue to them as doers of the law, but justification precedes them as doers of the law.”

— St. Augustine; On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 45.