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October 01, 2009

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In pre-history, people groups grew cohesive. The perils of the natural world and, especially, the frequent hostility of other groups demanded that.

Part of dealing with hostile outgroup is to make a clear distinction. You are either ingroup or outgroup. Being unclear about who the enemy is will lose you the war.

The Passover and the ideas of a Chosen People or narrow salvation - are perfect example of this ingroup/outgroup distinction.

When will we ever learn.

RonH

Matthew 7:13 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.

It's funny. Those who advocate for a more "open" mindset are themselves narrow-minded. They disagree with those who say God's way of salvation is narrow. Thus, making a distinction with what is right thinking.

I wonder why it doesn't make sense to them that "God's offer would be so narrow." Why doesn't it make sense? Are they concerned that 2+2 only equals 4? Does that narrowness make sense to them? I wonder why they think Jesus chose to die on the cross when all these other options for salvation are available.

@Pro Life - That's one of my favourite verses, and I think it's very appropriate for this topic.

I understand the sense of the statement that God's plan of salvation is narrow, but, perhaps the word "narrow" doesn't quite give the fullest and most precise understanding. I tend to use the words "specific" and "particular."

Here is what I mean: The term "narrow" can mislead us to believe that Jesus Christ's death and resurrection were not for the whole world, but rather just for a narrow slot of people, i.e, the salvation and forgiveness of sin accomplished on the cross was for a subset of the whole world. The terms "specific" and "particular," I believe, tell us that God's plan of salvation was and is accomplished through Christ's death and resurrection for the whole world. This is certainly not narrow, but it is the specific and particular means by which God enacts his plan.

The scandal of specificity and particularity, or perhaps the narrowness of this plan, is that salvation is to be found by no other means. So, those who do not by faith cling to the merits of Christ do not receive the benefit of his death and resurrection.

All of this is to say that I understand the statement "God's plan of salvation is narrow" but think that it could be articulated better by the words "specific" and "particular."

Did Jesus Himself ask ...is there any other way??

Mat 26:39,41

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

...

He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."


Thank You Jesus that you were narrow minded to go to the Cross.

Calling God's plan for salvation narrow indicates that the person doesn't understand it well. For Christians who make such a claim I would just ask them to picture themselves going up to Jesus on the cross and saying, "Uh, thanks, but isn't this solution kinda narrow?"

To add to the verses already quoted:

"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
-Acts 17:30-31

If you don't have "Jesus - the Only Way - 100 verses" by Greg I encourage you to get it. Rarely does a week go by when I don't point out to theological liberals that if you claim to be a Christian then you must hold the view that Jesus is the only way to salvation. We're not just talking about John 14:6, which I've seen them try to rationalize away. We're talking about 100 passages that make the point (not to mention the countless OT passages emphasizing that we must only worship the one true God).

It seems to me that "narrowness" is part of God's very nature. In viewing the DVD "The Privileged Planet", we learn of the myriad of extremely tight tolerances regarding the earth's physcal position in the solar sytem along with many other examples like atmospheric conditios which only lend creedence to God's incredible providence. It's no fluke people!

There have been so many excellent comments on this thread: Pro-Life, Ken, Neil…but I also want to add that our initial assumption that “narrow” = bad and “broad” = good is often mistaken. We’re constantly told that this is the case. It’s not the case when it comes to the blood of Christ.

Doesn’t it seem like such an egregious offense to proclaim that the Son of God’s death alone is narrow view of salvation?

From Melinda's Post:

“It just didn't make sense, they said, that God's offer would be so narrow. “

I’d ask them: “what additional sacrifice would you like to have?”

>>The Jewish and Roman Catholic participants took issue with the sense of Greg's argument from the Bible that God's plan of salvation is narrow - through the Messiah's sacrifice. >>

What exactly did the Catholic participants 'take issue' with? Catholic Christians do believe that there is one way to salvation, Jesus Christ.

As usual, only RonH has provided any real insight here.

Joe...to have any kind of sight, insight included, the ole peepers just gotta be open, sorry.

Ryan,

I realize this is not the view of all Catholics and to be fair some Protestant groups believe it too. However, since the 2nd Vatican Council, Catholicism (compared with Protestants) more uniformly supports inclusivism. Look up "Baptism of desire" and "2nd Vatican Council" for more information.

I think it's incredibly narrow and exclusivist that only insulin treats diabetes.

Why not novacain? What's wrong with penecillin? Should sugar water be an effective treatment as well?

I call on the medical establishment to end their narrow minded teaching!

Vic,

Oh, the peepers are open, alright. That's the problem. I haven't found a way to shut them again.

>>”As usual, only RonH has provided any real insight here.”

What insight would that be Joe? That people have disagreed with each other throughout history?

The insight is that Christianity follows a pattern common with many religions and/or cultures. There is nothing unique about the "narrowness" of Christianity. I expect relgions to have a specific, narrow set of mandatory rituals and beliefs, in part, for the reasons that RonH already stated. I expect religions to declare that you must believe specific things or follow narrow rituals, and I expect that religions will say that if you fail to follow, you will face horrific consquences.

So, I don't think that it's difficult to understand why Christianity is so narrow. The more interesting question is "why are human religions and cultures, in general, so often so narrow?".

Salavation comes by faith in Jesus?

31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Verses from MATT 25. The sheep are saved on account of their good works.

RonH

I also want to echo a discussion going on at the blog slactivist http://slacktivist.typepad.com/
about the openness of the book of Jonah. It seems that the narrowness of God's vision was a topic debated even in the Bible itself. And the book of Jonah seems to challenge the narrowness of other parts of the OT.

I tend to agree with Joe, RonH, and the people that asked 'why does God's offer have to be so narrow?'.

Some people are just missing it on here - it's not that Jesus' actions 'were narrow'...It's the scope of the plan of salvation these people are questioning.

Why would a God, who knows everything and loves everyone, create a plan for salvation that only accepted portions of humanity (as some have called 'elect' in another blog)? Not strange to anyone else?

I am pretty sure if most of us had the power to wipe-out 3rd world poverty (for example) with the scope and reach to do so in a very effective way - we would likely do it...correct? I am asking every Christian here - would you wipe out 3rd world poverty if you could?

Now I am going to guess, since you all have hearts, you will say yes. Doesn't that seem like the most loving thing to do...all the people in the 3rd world country helped and nourished? Or should our plan for wiping out 3rd world poverty include 1/3 of the people and let the rest wilt away? Remember, we have all the authority and power to make the change for 'all' - not just 1/3rds.

And this brings me back to the original question 'why is God's salvation plan so narrow?'. Well, why is that exactly? God has all the 'power' and 'resources' to change pretty much anything and yet He still decided salvation was going to be a 'limited' endeavor? Now were not talking about 'povery and hunger' here - were talking about 'eternal death' here - much more important in some ways (eternally anyways).

The reason people can hang on to the idea of the 'narrowness' is a few reasons:

(a) You're special now - you are 'in' - you know things most don't - feels good psychologically

(b) Because to us eternal death is actually less important than severe hunger in 3rd world countries - because no one has come back from after death (on this site I Mean) but we have seen World Vision commercials and maybe even starved a little ourselves. The reality of the situations is different...we hate to admit it - but hunger touches us in some 'realistic way' eternal death never can.

(c) We actually don't care about others - and maybe we only care about ourselves. So who cares how narrow salvation is - we are in and that's the most important thing for everyone to know.

There are strong reasons liberals cannot buy the facade salvation is 'limited'...because it's cruel of God to accept on such a limited basis with that much insight and power) namely when His most noble characteristic is supposedly 'love'? Things don;t add up people - and to not question is to just not care (which would be 3 on my list - at least you made it).

I also tend to think the scriptural argument is not as strong as people want to tend to think - define what Jesus means when he says 'only way'? How is this 'way' accessed and traversed? If I have to admit it I will, I think churches have this explained so as to hold onto control of it (the kingdom of heaven)...and in some sense are closing the gates on many more people with their 'rigid' definition of 'who is saved and what that means'.

RonH,

Remember Christ still dies in Matthew. Why does die if all that people need to do are good works?

Matthew 1:21:

"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. "

With all this talk of God being loving (and he is), we forget that God is also holy.
That is why Christ dies in all four Gospels. The cross is the greatest display of his holiness and his love and it is the last act of Christ's work on Earth (the work of redemption). The denial of Jesus being the only way denies that Christ's death and resurrection means anything which in turn makes Christianity meaningless.

As for the good works in Matthew 23, consider this passage:

John 15:5

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

True, good, Christ exalting works are done through faith in Christ and cannot be done through anything (or anyone) else.

Sorry for the mistype that's Matthew 25.

Well said Nathaniel!

Nathaniel,

Jesus says he divided the sheep from the goats based upon works; he doesn't mention any connection between himself and those works.

The sheep themselves disavow any knowledge of a connection between the works and Jesus. (37-39)

As for John, indeed, he conflicts with Matthew on this.

RonH

Ron H,

You take a passage out of a highly figurative and classicly difficult book like Revelation and try to form a doctrine of inclusiveness from it?

Okay ... please reconcile that with other scriptures like:

Ephesians 2:8-10
8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Romans 10:6-11
6But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: "DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, 'WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?' (that is, to bring Christ down), 7or 'WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)."
8But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART"--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."

John 3:16-18
16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

There is a relationship between faith, salvation, and good works and it is as follows:
Faith (in Christ to give eternal life) is the one and only means of salvation. Salvation brings with it a partnership with God to DO what God has prepared one to do.
Good works/deeds are not the CAUSE of salvation ... they are the RESULT of salvation.

But I would be interested to see how you reconcile the above scriptures with an inclusive doctrine of salvation.

Allow me to correct myself. I know that the verses RonH refereced are from Matt 25. But they are in the figurative language that is repeated in Revelation.

RonH,

>>As for John, indeed, he conflicts with Matthew on this.

This statement is layered with presuppositions, so I make another statement layered with presuppositions: That's not convincing to me seeing as no attempt has been made to harmonize the accounts.

Let's just stay within the book:

Matthew 7:22-23 says,

"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 mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"

So even though they did a lot of works, they were denied eternal life. Why? Jesus told them that he never knew them.

Furthermore, I maintain that the Gospel according to Matthew is Jesus lives, dies, and is raised to "save his people from their sins."

Joe H,

You take a passage out of a highly figurative and classicly difficult book like Revelation and try to form a doctrine of inclusiveness from it?

Me? Never. My point is the NT has no consistent message about salvation: faith/works.

I've heard the harmonizations - like yours - but not read them in the Bible.

RonH

Melinda is quite right that "God's provision for help [being] narrow" is "not a strange idea to Scripture." Nothing could be more clear. But many people do not want to admit it. I think this is why people cling to Arminian and related ideas. They are then in great tension between their sense of human decency and a straightforward reading of the Bible. I've personally experienced this cognitive dissonance and found it quite unpleasant and I'd really rather avoid it.

RonH provides a reasonable explanation for the narrowness: basic ingroup/outgroup behavior. It reminds me of something I saw in a video the other day. A proselytizing character says "Join our religion of PEACE and LOVE or BURN IN HELL!" Basically, "Join our group [so we can control you], or we'll demonize you." Of course, no one is that blunt, but you can sure boil things down to that point pretty easily.

This topic is near and dear to my heart because it's one of the reasons that Christianity appears more and more to be man-made or a curious accident of history. It just strikes me as odd that the One True Religion would have so much in common with your typical man-made religions, and this narrow ingroup/outgroup stuff is an excellent example.

I increasingly admire the Reformed folk that tackle this straight on, and don't hide from it. Yet, I also admire the more liberal religious believers, as they may be helping to evolve the concept of God to something better and more useful.

RonH,

Thanks for the response. You say you have not read them (harmonizations) in the bible but then completely ignore the 3 out of so many that are so clear on faith being the key to salvation.

If your position has merit, then surely it can directly address how such verses support rather than deny your position?

I asked for YOUR harmonization ... not mine or others.

Please help me see what these verses mean if they do not mean what I claim they do.

>>And the book of Jonah seems to challenge the narrowness of other parts of the OT.

I think people find Jonah surprising and perhaps even contradictory because they've missed what the rest of the OT was about. As Ron talked about before, he views the narrowness of God towards Israel as a tribalism thing--in-group, out-group. But this has never been the focus of the OT. The people accepted by God were never accepted merely because of their tribe, and outsiders weren't rejected merely because they were outside the tribe. This wasn't about groups, but about God. And punishment was always based on behavior, whether it was the Israelites or any other nation. God is careful to explain this to the Israelites, telling them that if they engage in the same behavior as the other nations, they'll receive the same punishments. He also tells Israel that He intends for Israel to be a blessing to the whole world. God intended to reveal Himself to all the nations through Israel, and ultimately specifically through Jesus. So this was never supposed to be a tribal thing based on blood.

Here's the point: the difference between those accepted and those not accepted is not their nationality, but their attitude towards God and their subsequent behavior. There are a few places in the OT where God calls other nations or rulers to repent, and when they do, God forgives them. Nineveh (in the story of Jonah) is just one of these cases. This is perfectly in keeping with the OT where submission to God, acknowledgement of sin and the need for forgiveness are what's important, not nationality.

But even in the case of Nineveh, that God refrained from punishing the nation as a nation because of their change in behavior is a separate question from whether any particular individual was included in the covenant with God. That would depend on whether or not they had placed their trust and love in the true God. But it's important to keep in mind that the exact same thing was true with Israel. Romans 9:6 says that "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." Again, it's not about blood, it's about trust in God.

As God is governing nations on Earth, it's their behavior that counts, not their nationality. As He covenants with individuals, it's based on their trust in Him, not in their nationality.

The tendency for the secular to parallel man's construction of religious dogma... with the divine simplicity and elegant genius of God becoming one of us - to demonstrate His character - and thereby providing an option to say "yes" to Grace...will always confuse and cloud the understanding of the latter.

“Matthew 7:22-23 says, "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 mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"

So even though they did a lot of works, they were denied eternal life. Why? Jesus told them that he never knew them.” (Nathaniel)

Nathan, you have to read the fine print in that verse you pointed out ‘depart from me, you workers of………’. What term does Jesus use right there? Lawlessness. Lawlessness would be of people having no concern for good works whatsoever – or for what those works were based on (their premise)…the law.

The problem seems to be with these wonder-workers of great and magnificent things they did not practice a form of ethics/morality that Jesus could recognize. They placed all their hopes on things they were blessed with by God (these abilities to prophesy, cast out demons, and mighty works) and not enough emphasis on their personal character in their surrounding society. Look at faith preachers and the many financial scandals they have been in. Now we can deny their healings or legit or whatever – but maybe they are not? However, their character is in serious question at this point. I fine them similar to the point being made here.

Ron, Matthew spends a great deal of time on the Sermon on the Mount wherein Jesus makes it abundantly clear that even if we were to follow the letter of the Law, we do not avoid breaking the spirit of the Law. He reveals just how sinful we are but then says that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees (who followed the letter of the Law) we are in trouble. In other words, we're not good enough to make it on our own. Jesus was pointing to our need for His forgiveness and righteousness, hence the importance of coming to Him:

"Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven" (Matt 10:32-33).

"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me…and he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (Matt 10:37-38).

He explains that good fruit comes from a good tree, and bad fruit from a bad tree, and He says "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad" (Matt 12:33-37). He says that the good and bad come out of our hearts based on who we are. That is, "by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" because those words reveal the sin and rebellion against God in our own hearts.

The passage about the sheep and the goats comes after Matthew has already laid the groundwork for making us despair of our own righteousness. Trying to follow the Law will not save us, as Nathaniel again pointed out from Matthew. We need Jesus if we're to be changed and have actions that reflect that change. We need Him to make us a good tree.

“Faith (in Christ to give eternal life) is the one and only means of salvation. Salvation brings with it a partnership with God to DO what God has prepared one to do.Good works/deeds are not the CAUSE of salvation ... they are the RESULT of salvation.” (Joe)

So it goes ‘faith’ unto ‘works’ not ‘works’ unto ‘faith’? I generally agree with that assertion. How can one produce the works of the teachings if they do not ‘hear’ or ‘read’ them…issuing their adherence to what is learned/taught. True faith will produce good works – I don’t disagree there.

However, can an atheist produce good works – thus showing some inner working of faith – even if it is just in the moral teachings?

Also how do you define ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ in God through Jesus? Just ‘believe’ it is true and you are being ‘faithful’? Or is faith/belief more about what one does proving they mean what they speak? You know hypocrisy was a big thing to Jesus – which is that disconnect between spoken word and action – so I am thinking Jesus is very concerned with one’s actions backing up their words. Wouldn’t the more true term for ‘faith’ be ‘faithful’…as in committed to God’s teachings thus showing your faith? Seems to me the 2 are inseparable to Jesus in some regards (one does not exist without the other).


Societyvs,

So casting out demons, and prophesying, and healing the sick, etc. are not ethical? You have a good point though, he is still condemning people for not conforming to his standard. As you read Matthew all the way through you start to wonder if anyone really measures up to what Jesus commanded (and should conclude that no one does). You really do recognize your need for a savior, and the words in the beginning of the book ring true: He will save his people from their sins...and we have a lot from which we need to be saved.

To paint another picture of narrowness in Matthew, check out chapter 10:

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Jesus demands that everything else become secondary to himself, that's quite a high standard. It is impossible for us, only possible for God.

“Ron, Matthew spends a great deal of time on the Sermon on the Mount wherein Jesus makes it abundantly clear that even if we were to follow the letter of the Law, we do not avoid breaking the spirit of the Law” (Amy)

So what changes after we come to Jesus – our confession (words)? Are we given the ability to do the law after coming to Jesus – or doomed for repeat failure if try? Which begs the question, why should we care about ‘good works’ at all if this is the case…all things being equal…our works mean nothing anyways – good or bad. We are not ‘saved’ by those actions of ours so can we do whatever we want with them?

If someone is not sure they can keep not have sex with other partners outside their wife – should they just throw their hands in the air – give in – and then say ‘I just couldn’t keep that commandment and it wasn’t that important anyways?’

If someone is angry with their former boss and just feels they cannot follow the idea ‘love your neighbor’ so they decide to take violent actions against that person…should they just thrown their hands up in the air and be like ‘I could not control my temper, like Jesus pointed out, so I gave in and gave it to him…it’s okay – I wasn’t expected to keep it’?

I juts don’t get this line of reasoning – it makes it seem like Jesus taught some ‘impossible’ ideals – yet these are the same ideals we want to all have ideally happen to us (loving marriages, non-violent relationships, and honesty). You act as if these are ideals are too hard to do so lets not bother try to do them with the best of our ability. Yet you are aware of an idea like ‘being born a sinner with inclinations for evil’ and cannot understand that coming from that type of background being moral would be some sort of challenge? It’s a challenge to be moral – you heard it here first…well wait…you saw in the sermon on the Mount first.

"Jesus demands that everything else become secondary to himself, that's quite a high standard. It is impossible for us, only possible for God." (Nathan)

So you reason God gives us this ability and nothing more? But even after this ability (salvation) - can we fulfill that idea? So Jesus is a failure as a teacher more or less? He gives teachings we cannot even follow...anyone here have a teacher like that in school?

I think it can be followed. The idea behind it is one must be willing to committ their life to the things Jesus is teaching and exemplified by his life. Now Jesus took a tough road, no doubt, and face execution for it. But what did he do prior? He helped, he healed, he gave, he cared, he taught...he was someone that helped others and taught this.

The point is - your life should not change because the society you are living in his changing (and getting worse). Example could be Nazi Germany. If you heard about Jewish people being killed - would you hide and help them? It means your life is on the line if you do...what to do? What would Jesus do? What did Jesus teach? Your goodness is your bearing of the cross in this case...and I think this is his point in that teaching.

If there was but one cure for cancer, would these same folks complain about there being only one or would they gratefully take it when they were afflicted with the disease?

Does it even make sense to gripe about the singular nature of salvation when we see it this way?

Jim T.

"I increasingly admire the Reformed folk that tackle this straight on, and don't hide from it. Yet, I also admire the more liberal religious believers, as they may be helping to evolve the concept of God to something better and more useful."

Are we creating God in our own image here? Oh..yeah...that's creationism, not evolution. Is evolving God any better than creating God in our own image?

Societyvs,
What changed?
Nothing.
We are not saved by our works. We are saved by our faith, as has been expressed multiple times above. However, to quote James 2:18, "You have faith, I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." Basically, if there is no action, then there really is no faith.
This can borne out by referencing other areas, for example you could tell your wife how much you love her every day, but if you never do anything (help with the dishes, bring her flowers, etc), will she believe what you say? No.
Our deeds cannot save us, in fact their worth to save us is that of soiled rags (Isaiah 64:6). However we are commanded to strive towards holiness: "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" (1 Peter 1:15-16) and "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:1-2)
Take these two passages along with Paul's confession in Philippians 3:12, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."
Looking at all three of these passages shows that we are to strive for perfection, we should do everything in our power to become perfect. We will never make it to perfection in this life, but the two facts that we claim to be Christians and try to be perfect are evidence for our salvation, they serve as witnesses for our hearts, whom only God can see (1 Samuel 16:7).

Hi Societyvs,

Good questions. I understand you to be asking:

1a) Which comes first, faith (faith unto works) or works (works unto faith)?
1b) Can an atheist produce "good works"?

2) How do I define "faith" or "belief" in God?

For 1a) and 1b) - it is VERY important that we have an understanding of what "good works" even means. To this we have at least two options:
a) Good works = that which God DECLARES to be good
or
b) Good works = that which some population of humans generally declare as "good"

For (hopefully) obvious reasons, I will take up definition "a": Good works = that which God DECLARES to be good ... so can we elaborate on this? What does God declare to be good works? Here we can refer back to Ephesians 2:8-10:

8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Good works are those works God prepared BEFORE HAND to be accomplished.

(Continued on next post)

So ... to questions 1a) Which comes first, faith (faith unto works) or works (works unto faith)?

Again ... back to Ephs 2:8-10, one is prepared to do good works by being "created in Christ" by God. And this does not take place unless "you have been saved through faith".

Question 1b): Can an atheist produce "good works"?

By definition of being an atheist, one cannot have faith (see #2) and therefore cannot have been created in Christ and therefore, by God's standard, can do no "good works" ... this does not mean that they works are not beneficial ... only that God does not see them as "good".

Hebrews 11:
6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

(Continued on next post)

Consider this ... what are the motives of the atheist who does "beneficial works"? Clearly they are not out of a love of God. So what are they out of a love of? Status? Publicity? Self satisfaction?

2) How do I define "faith" or "belief" in God?

Answer: My answer is meaningless. Only God's definition matters. So how does God define it?

Faith ...
Acts 20:21 => must be in Jesus
Romans 3:28 => is separate from observing the law
Romans 10:17 => comes from hearing the message (about Jesus' death and atonement)
1 Cor 2:5 => is founded on God's word and not on men's wisdom
1 Cor 15:17 => includes belief in Christ's resurrection

1 Cor 15:1-4 summarizes this faith:

1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, ...

This is why in my previous post, I tried to clarify faith with the words "Faith (in Christ to give eternal life)". Faith in Christ's deity, death for atonement of our sins, and resurrection as proof of His authority over death is the source of eternal life as described in John 3:16-17 and Romans ... and pretty much every NT book.

Hebrews 11:
1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for.

What are hopeful for? Eternal life with God in His final kingdom

What do we not see? God's final kingdom

Hi Societyvs,

I saw your post to Nathan with the comment "I juts don’t get this line of reasoning – it makes it seem like Jesus taught some ‘impossible’ ideals – yet these are the same ideals we want to all have ideally happen to us (loving marriages, non-violent relationships, and honesty). You act as if these are ideals are too hard to do so lets not bother try to do them with the best of our ability."

Your struggle here is a classic one and one that Paul deals with very explicitly in Romans. It might take a little focused attention, but the answer is there and builds to include all of the topics touched on so far in this stream.

In John 10, Jesus tells certain unbelievers that he was not atoning for their sins, and that this is the reason they don't believe, and that his sacrifice is intended only for his sheep.

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

We know that Christ's sacrificial death on the cross atoned for a limited number of sinners who would become identified by their faith in Him. Whosoever believes will be saved.

We also know that proof of this atonement and faith in a person's life is the good works produced because of it. Faith without works is dead.

"Basically, if there is no action, then there really is no faith." (Joe)

Then the equation should logically be:

Faith + Works/Actions = Salvation

and not

Faith = Salvation

Because in your premise you are stating one without the other leaves either meaningless (for the believer and for the atheist).

Here is what you say about the atheist: "By definition of being an atheist, one cannot have faith and therefore cannot have been created in Christ and therefore, by God's standard, can do no "good works"".

Your answer, as well done as it all was (thanks), answers nothing in the end.

For the believer that has faith you require they go on to 'good works' to 'prove' they are Christian...meaning they need good works dude (it's not an option).

For the atheist you say since they cannot have 'faith' their good works are meaningless. In this scenario everything hinges on their having 'faith' regardless of works. Faith is the end all be all according to this scenario.

In essence you play faith down for the believer and up-play works - whereas for the atheist you up-play faith and downplay works.

This system is unjust and weighs on the basis of what one claims to be - and changes the weight of each focus in each scenario. In fact, it is illogical.

I think you have come up with some interesting math but it doesn't add up.

Faith + good works = saved
Faith - good works = not saved
No Faith + good works = not saved
No Faith - no good works = not saved

4 scenarios - but faith alone is not equal to salvation...how can one make that claim since faith alone proves nothing. If this was so - the equations below have to both be correct:

Faith + good works = salvation
Faith - good works = salvation

I am yet to meet the sane person that lives the second one out. It seems to me once we remove good works from the equation - there isn't much anchoring faith anymore.

Thus faith has to be termed 'faithfulness to something' - linked to a set of ideals to make any lick of sense. Then we can say 'someone is not a hypocrite' based on such and such set of ideal. The exact thing I see Jesus doing in Matthew 6.

"Faith without works is dead." (Pro life)

Need I really say more about the close proximity of faith and works in the believers life. That about sums every single thing I ever need to say in 5 words.

Faith - works = dead (not alive)


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