Category Archives: Faith and Works

How Did People in the Old Testament Please God?

Moses states in verse 25 of Deuteronomy 6, “And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” A casual reading of this verse might lead you to believe that all the Israelites had to do was follow the rules laid out in the Law and God would consider them to be righteous before Him. Is this interpretation correct?

No. It is always dangerous to read any Bible verse out of context. At the beginning of chapter 6, Moses makes clear that the Israelites are to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Jesus later affirms this as the greatest command.) Moses also repeats the command to “fear God” three times in chapter 6 alone.

Loving and fearing God cannot only consist of following the commands in the Law. Loving and fearing God at least consist of 1) trusting God, 2) believing what God says about Himself, and 3) having faith in His promises. We already know from Gen 15:6 that Abraham believed God, and God counted his belief as righteousness. There was no Law when Abraham was alive.

Therefore, a person who ritualistically follows the Law without loving God, without fearing God, without believing God, is not in any way pleasing God. So how should we interpret Deut 6:25? Eugene Merrill, in Deuteronomy: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), offers this summary:

Then in strongly evangelical terms Moses equated faithful compliance with the covenant to righteousness (v. 25). The word used here is ṣĕdāqâ, the very one applied to Abraham as a result of his having believed in the Lord (Gen 15:6). Later Judaism wrongly concluded that covenant keeping was the basis for righteousness rather than an expression of faithful devotion. But true covenant keeping in the final analysis is a matter of faith, not merely of works and ritual. Thus the central feature of the covenant stipulations is their providing a vehicle by which genuine saving faith might be displayed (cf. Deut 24:13; Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; 4:1–5; Gal 3:6–7).

God provided the Law as a means for the Israelites to enact their love for and faith in God. Without love and faith, keeping the Law counted for nothing.

#6 Post of 2014 – Are Believers Judged After They Die?

Many Christians believe the answer to this question is “no.” Of course, they would be wrong. The New Testament clearly claims that all people, believers and unbelievers, are judged for their works after they die. Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, lays out the biblical evidence for this view. Alcorn describes the first judgment, after we die, as the judgment of faith:

When we die, we face judgment, what is called the judgment of faith. The outcome of this judgment determines whether we go to the present Heaven or the present Hell. This initial judgment depends not on our works but on our faith. It is not about what we’ve done during our lives but about what Christ has done for us. If we have accepted Christ’s atoning death for us, then when God judges us after we die, he sees his Son’s sacrifice for us, not our sin. Salvation is a free gift, to which we can contribute absolutely nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

Most Christians are aware of this first judgment, but forget about the second, or final, judgment.

This first judgment is not to be confused with the final judgment, or what is called the judgment of works . Both believers and unbelievers face a final judgment. The Bible indicates that all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of their lives (Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). It’s critical to understand that this judgment is a judgment of works, not of faith (1 Corinthians 3:13-14).

Alarm bells are going off in many Christian heads at this point. How can he say that Christians are judged for their works? After all, our faith in Christ is all that counts, not our works. Are we under the Law again? Why did Jesus die if our works matter? Read on….

Our works do not affect our salvation, but they do affect our reward. Rewards are about our work for God, empowered by his Spirit. Rewards are conditional, dependent on our faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2: 26-28; 3:21). Unbelievers face a final judgment of works as well. The Bible tells us it will come at the great white throne, at the end of the old Earth and just before the beginning of the New Earth (Revelation 20:11-13).

Believers, then, are judged on the works they performed for God after becoming believers. The greater the faithfulness, the greater the rewards in Heaven. The Bible doesn’t offer easy-believism, the idea that you trust Jesus one day, and then continue living as you did before. That concept is totally and completely contrary to everything the Bible teaches.

“Inherit the Kingdom”: What Does that Mean?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The phrases “inherit the kingdom,” “inherit the earth,” and “inherit the land” occur several times in the New Testament (NT). Many readers assume that these phrases are referring to entrance into heaven. Theologian Joseph Dillow, in his book The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Destiny of Man, argues that this is a mistake.

Speaking of the phrase “inherit the kingdom,” Dillow writes:

We find the phrase in Mt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; and Eph. 5:5. In addition, the phrase “inherit the land” is found in Mt. 5:5. In each instance we find that, in order to inherit the kingdom, there must be some work done or certain character traits, such as immorality, must be absent from our lives.

The fact that such conditions are necessary suggests that the term is not to be equated with entering the kingdom which is available to all, freely, on the basis of faith alone but with something in addition to entering. Indeed, the very use of the word “inherit” instead of “enter” in these passages suggests that more than just entrance is meant.

Let’s take each of these passages and see what is being discussed in context with inheriting the kingdom.

Matthew 25:34-36 – The clear conditions for inheriting the kingdom are caring for others by feeding, clothing, and visiting them in prison.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – The clear conditions for not inheriting the kingdom of God is having the following character traits: immorality, idolatry, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkenness, or being a swindler.

1 Corinthians 15:50 – The kingdom is inherited by those with resurrection bodies.

Galatians 5:19-21 – The conditions for not inheriting the kingdom of God is engaging in the following acts: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

Ephesians 5:5 – The conditions for not inheriting the kingdom of God is being an “immoral, impure or greedy person.”

Matthew 5:5 – The meek will inherit the earth.

So, inheriting the kingdom and inheriting the land, at least in these verses, cannot refer to entrance into heaven. If that was the meaning, then we would have a massive conflict with the clear teaching that entrance into heaven is by faith alone. Dillow offers an alternative meaning which makes much better sense of all these verses we just examined.

In conclusion, “to inherit the kingdom” is a virtual synonym for rulership in the kingdom and not entrance into it. George N. H. Peters is correct when he says, “To inherit a Kingdom, if it has any propriety of meaning, undoubtedly denotes the reception of kingly authority or rulership in the Kingdom.” All saints will enter the kingdom through faith alone (Jn. 3:3), but only obedient saints who endure, who overcome, and who perform works of righteousness (e.g., ministering to Christ’s brethren) will inherit it, i.e., rule there.

“Inherit the kingdom” is referring to rewards in heaven, not entrance into heaven.

What Does the Old Testament Teach about the Inheritance of the Saints?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

As we’ve discussed before on the blog, there are two kinds of inheritance for Christians: 1) entrance into heaven and 2) reigning (rewards) in heaven. Many evangelicals mistakenly interpret all New Testament (NT) passages about the believer’s inheritance as referring to entrance into heaven, when this is clearly not the case (see this post and this post).

Theologian Joseph Dillow, in his magnificent book The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Destiny of Man, explains that the concept of two kinds of inheritance originates in the Old Testament (OT), in particular with the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and eventual entrance and possession of Canaan. The NT writers had ancient Israel in mind when they spoke of the inheritance of NT believers.

Dillow lays out several principles about inheritance that can be taken from the OT:

1. There is a difference between inheriting the land of Canaan and living there. The former refers to ownership and the latter to mere residence.

2. While Israel was promised the inheritance as a nation, the condition for maintaining their inheritance right to the land of Canaan was faith, obedience, and completion of one’s task. The promise, while national, was only applied to the believing remnant within the nation. Even though many within the nation were not born again, the New Testament writers use the nation as an example (1 Cor. 10:6, Gk. typos) of the experience of the born-again people of God in the New Testament.

3. The inheritance is not to be equated with heaven but with something additional to heaven, promised to those believers who faithfully obey the Lord.

4. Just as Old Testament believers forfeited their earthly inheritance through disobedience, we can also forfeit our future reward (inheritance) by a similar failure. Loss of inheritance, however, does not mean loss of salvation.

5. Two kinds of inheritance were enjoyed in the Old Testament. All Israelites who had believed and were therefore regenerate had God as their inheritance but not all inherited the land. This paves the way for the notion that the New Testament may also teach two inheritances. We are all heirs of God, but we are not all joint-heirs with Christ, unless we persevere to the end of life. The former refers to our salvation and the latter to our reward.

6. A child of Israel was both an heir of God and an heir of Canaan by virtue of belief in God and resulting regeneration. Yet only those believers in Israel who were faithful would maintain their status as firstborn sons who would actually receive what had been promised to them as an inheritance.

Dillow then connects these conclusions to the NT:

The relevance of these conclusions to the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance [in the NT] is obvious. First, if this is in fact the Old Testament view, it surely must have informed the thinking of the New Testament writers. If that is so, then many passages, which have been considered as descriptions of the elect, are in fact conditions of obtaining a reward in heaven.

For example, Paul warns the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?” If “inheriting the kingdom” means “going to heaven,” then Paul is saying no wicked person can go to heaven. Such an interpretation would be consistent with the [Calvinist] system which says that the permanently carnal Christian is a fiction.

If, on the other hand, “to inherit the kingdom” refers not to entering heaven but to possessing and ruling in the kingdom as it does in the Old Testament, then an entirely different interpretation of the passage emerges. Instead of warning merely professing Christians that they may not be Christians at all, he is telling true Christians that, if they do not change their behavior, they may be in the kingdom, but they will not rule there.

Were the NT writers concerned with people getting into heaven by expressing trust in Jesus Christ? Obviously. That is the gospel message in its simplest form. But, they were also extremely concerned about what a person who has placed his trust in Christ does with the rest of his life. How you, as a believer in Christ, conduct your life determines your rewards in heaven.

There is no point in winning the lottery if you do nothing with the money after you win. Likewise, the person who places their trust in Christ, but then fails to follow Christ for the rest of their life, is like the lottery winner who receives the check in the mail and then sticks it under the mattress.

Who Were the Original Readers of 1 John?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The letter of 1 John in the New Testament contains numerous tests for its readers. However, the tests cannot be interpreted correctly unless we know to whom the letter was originally addressed.

Advocates of the Reformed doctrine of perseverance argue that the writer of 1 John is addressing a group of professing Christians.  By their understanding, some professing Christians are false Christians who are not truly saved. The letter is therefore written to a mixed group, some who are truly going to heaven and some who are not.

Given this starting point, these Reformed thinkers then argue that the tests in 1 John are there so that professing Christians can know if they are truly born again or not. If a professing Christian passes these tests in 1 John, then she can have assurance of her salvation. Otherwise, she is a false Christian who is not going to heaven.

There are other possible interpretations of the intended audience of this letter. Joseph Dillow, in his book  The Reign of the Servant Kings, offers what I consider to be a far more plausible explanation of the audience of 1 John. Dillow believes that the text clearly indicates that the apostle John is writing to people who he considers to be true Christians, not just professing Christians.

[John] says of his readers that they are “little children” whose “sins are forgiven for His name’s sake” (1 Jn. 2:12). He calls them “fathers” who “have known Him from the beginning,” and he writes to the young men who “have overcome the evil one” and in whom “the word of God abides” (1 Jn. 2:13-14). They are specifically contrasted with the non-Christian Gnostic antichrists who departed from them.

Furthermore, these people have received an “anointing,” the Holy Spirit (1 Jn. 2:20). This anointing, he says, “abides in you and you have no need for anyone to teach you,” because His anointing teaches them (1 Jn. 2:27).

Dillow presents even more evidence that John considers his readers to be true believers in Christ.

In the clearest possible terms the apostle affirms the regenerate state of his readers when he says, “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it.” He is confident that the truth is presently “abiding” in them, and he wants it to continue to abide in them (1 Jn. 2:24). He specifically affirms of them “that we should be called children of God; and such we are” (1 Jn. 3:1).

Furthermore, they are now “children of God,” and when Christ returns, he affirms of his readers that they “shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). They are, he says, “from God” and have overcome antichrists, because “greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).

In contrast to his regenerate readers, the next verse refers to those who are “from the world.” His understanding of the saved state of his readers is further clarified when he says of them, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5:13). For John, when a person has believed on the name of the Son of God, he is born again (Jn. 3:15-16). In fact, one who has believed in the Son of God has “overcome the world” (1 Jn. 5:5).

Finally, while the world “lies in the power of the evil one,” we know that “we are of God” (1 Jn. 5:18). Throughout the epistle he uses the term “we” and includes himself in the same spiritual state and facing the same spiritual dangers as his readers.

Dillow concludes from this analysis that there is little doubt that the apostle John was writing to people whom he considered to be true Christians who were going to heaven because of their faith in Christ. For Dillow, “Any system of interpretation which ignores these plain statements in the interests of fitting into a theological scheme must ask, ‘How else could John say it?’ If he wanted to assert that his readers were in fact born again in contrast to the world, how could he make it clearer?”

If the intended readers of the letter are born again Christians, then the tests cannot be methods of assessing whether the readers are born again. The tests must be for assessing something else. More on that “something else” in the next blog post.

Do Christians Work for Their Inheritance? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The New Testament (NT) writers often speak of believers gaining or losing a future inheritance from God. In many cases, the inheritance is gained or lost because of the works of the believer. Since we are clearly taught elsewhere in the NT that gaining entrance into heaven is only by faith, then what are we to make of acquiring or losing an inheritance from God by works of good or evil?

In part 1, we started looking at theologian Joseph Dillow’s answer to this question from his book The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Destiny of Man. How do we interpret the many passages in the NT that speak of Christian believers gaining or losing an inheritance from God based on meritorious works?

Dillow first reminds us of the existence of carnal Christians, Christians who have turned their back on Christ and his teachings.

It is plain that the New Testament not only teaches the existence of the carnal Christian but of true Christians who persisted in their carnality up to the point of physical death (see Acts 5:1-10; 1 Cor. 5:5; 3:15; 11:30; Heb. 10:29; 1 Jn. 5:16-17). They will, having been justified, be in the kingdom; however, they will not inherit it (see Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; 1 Cor. 6:9).

Inherit what?

Vine points out that the term [inherit] is often used of “that which is received on the condition of obedience to certain precepts (1 Pet. 3:9), and of faithfulness to God amidst opposition (Rev. 21:7).” Only the obedient and faithful inherit, not all who are saved. It is a “reward in the coming age” and “reward of the condition of soul which forbears retaliation and self-vindication, and expresses itself in gentleness of behaviour.” Vine points out that it is “the reward of those who have shown kindness to the ‘brethren’ of the Lord in their distress.”

The Sermon on the Mount illustrates the concept of merited rewards.

The Savior says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit [kleronomeo] the earth” (Mt. 5:5). The subject matter is our reward in heaven: “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward [misthos] in heaven” (Mt. 5:12). The idea of rewards is repeatedly emphasized in the Sermon, which is addressed primarily to the disciples (5:1).

The word misthos basically means a “payment for work done.” Jesus is speaking of the inheritance here as a reward for a humble, trusting life. There is no indication that all Christians have this quality of life. In fact, it is possible for a Christian to become “saltless” (Mt. 5:13) and be “thrown out.” True Christians can lose their saltiness, their testimony for the Lord. When they do, they forfeit their reward in heaven. Furthermore, He specifically says that the disobedient believer who annuls “one of the least of these commandments” will be in the kingdom (Mt. 5:19) but will be “least” in contrast to “great” in that kingdom.

It seems that there are two kinds of inheritance: entrance into heaven and rewards in heaven. The first inheritance cannot be forfeited, but the second can. Most of the time in the NT, when inheritance is mentioned, rewards in heaven are the subject. Dillow explains:

While entering the kingdom has often been equated with inheriting the kingdom, there is no semantic or exegetical basis for the equality. Even in English we acknowledge a distinction between entering and inheriting. A tenant, for example, may live on or enter a landowner’s great estate, but he does not own or inherit it. . . .

[T]here is no reason to assume that entering the kingdom and living there is the same thing as owning it and ruling in it. The heirs of the kingdom are its owners and rulers and not just its residents. Kendall agrees, “In other words, salvation is unchangeable but our inheritance in the kingdom of God is not unchangeable. Once saved, always saved, but our inheritance in God’s kingdom may change considerably.”

Here is the bottom line: whenever the writers of the NT are talking about a future inheritance to be gained or lost based on the works and character qualities of the Christian believer, the subject is rewards in heaven, not entrance into heaven. If you remember this simple rule, a number of difficult passages will become clear to you. As a born-again believer, your entrance into heaven is secure, but your rewards are not.

Do Christians Work for Their Inheritance? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The New Testament (NT) writers often speak of believers gaining or losing a future inheritance from God. In many cases, the inheritance is gained or lost because of the works of the believer. Since we are clearly taught elsewhere in the NT that gaining entrance into heaven is only by faith, then what are we to make of acquiring or losing an inheritance from God by works of good or evil?

Theologian Joseph Dillow has offered an answer to this question in his masterful volume The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Destiny of Man. Dillow first explains what the Greek word for “inheritance” (kleronomia) means:

Like its Old Testament counterpart a kleronomia is fundamentally a possession. How it is acquired or passed on to one’s descendants is not intrinsic to the word. The word does not always or even fundamentally mean an estate passed on to a son at the death of a parent, as it does in Gal. 4:7. To include those contextually derived notions within the semantic value of the word itself is . . . to commit an illegitimate totality transfer. Arndt and Gingrich define it as an “inheritance, possession, property.” Abbott-Smith concurs that it means “in general, a possession, inheritance.” Rarely, if ever, does it mean “property transmitted by will.” Vine observes that “only in a few cases in the Gospels has it the meaning ordinarily attached to that word in English, i.e., that into possession of which the heir enters only on the death of an ancestor.”

How is the concept of inheritance used in the NT? Dillow catalogs several different usages:

[T]he words for inheritance in the New Testament often involve spiritual obedience (i.e., faith plus works) as a condition of obtaining the inheritance. Becoming an heir (kleronomos) can occur through filial relationship, through faith, or through some kind of works of obedience. The acquisition of the inheritance (kleronomia) is often related to merit.

Dillow points out that when the verb “to inherit” is used in the NT, it is almost always contextually linked to “either the presence or absence of some work or character quality as a condition of obtaining or forfeiting the possession.” (emphasis added) The problem is, then, what the possession is.

Some biblical interpreters (i.e., hyper-Calvinists) have mistakenly argued that the possession that is inherited is entrance into heaven, but this interpretation creates serious problems because entrance into heaven is all about faith, not works. To solve this problem, hyper-Calvinists will argue that true Christians will necessarily persevere to the end and gain their inheritance. If a person thinks they are a Christian, but then fails to inherit entrance into heaven, then they were never a true Christian to begin with.

This interpretation, however, is deeply flawed and unsatisfying. The numerous “inheritance” passages in the NT are invariably written to Christian audiences. The passages which speak of a person gaining or losing an inheritance because of his works are written to believers. We need to take these passages at face value and deal with this fact. In part 2, we’ll continue Dillow’s analysis.

What Were the Reformers’ Views on Infant Baptism? – #6 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

According to church historian John Hannah, there were four major Protestant streams that developed during the Reformation in the 16th century: Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Anabaptism.  Each of these streams placed great stress on the idea of salvation by faith alone, yet they did not all agree on what infant baptism means or whether it should even be done.

To my knowledge, all the reformers rejected baptism as the cause of a believer’s salvation; again, salvation is by faith.  An infant obviously cannot believe on her own, so if baptism is only a sign of the faith a person possesses, then why are infants baptized?

First, let’s look briefly at Calvinism.  According to Hannah, “Calvin defended the baptism of infants, believing that children of the godly are born members of the church by virtue of the hereditary nature of the Abrahamic covenant, circumcision having been replaced in the New Covenant with baptism as a sign.”

For Calvin, since infants were circumcised under the Old Covenant, infants should be baptized under the New Covenant.  Infant baptism does not cause regeneration, but it ensures that the child will be taught what she needs to know about Christ when she gets older, so that she can then exercise her own faith.  If she dies before she can exercise her own faith, Calvin believed that God could still save her, as He is not limited to save only those who exercise faith (although that is the normal way).

The Anglicans closely followed Calvin on the issue of infant baptism.

Luther also held very similar views to Calvin.  He believed that infants, who cannot exercise faith, should be baptized because of the faith of their parents and church family.  The faith of the church family could not directly save the infant, but their faith would later help the child to grow in knowledge and receive her own faith from God.  Again, infant baptism signifies the entrance of the child into the church where she can be instructed.

The last group, the Anabaptists, differ greatly from the other three streams.  The Anabaptists believed that a sign should always follow the thing it signifies, not anticipate it.  Hannah explains further Anabaptist views: “People are born into the world lost and need to be regenerated.  One does not enter the church as a citizen as one enters the state.  In the latter one is naturally born into it; in the former one is spiritually born into it.  The state is not the church; the church is not the state.”

The earliest confession of the Anabaptists states: “Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with him in death. . . . This excludes all infant baptism . . . .”

So what do you think?  Should infants be baptized?  Please vote in the poll below.

Are All Sins Equal? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

So we’ve seen that the Bible does teach that some sins are more serious than others and that some virtues are greater than others.  There is a moral law hierarchy.  But what does this practically mean?

First, let’s look at debates over public policy.  When determining where to focus your efforts on a particular law, you must consider its seriousness.  A great example is abortion.  Many Christians focus on the abortion issue because it is such a serious moral failure in our country.  Abortion kills over a million lives every year.  Taking innocent human life is pretty high up the moral law measuring stick.

Some people ask why Christians aren’t more outspoken about global warming.  My answer to that question is, “The death of millions of innocent babies today is far more serious a moral issue than the possible rise in temperature of the earth over the next 100 years.”  The consequences of global warming are surely speculative and uncertain, as any future prediction of ultra-complex climate activity must be, whereas we have a definite problem, abortion, staring us in the face today.

We have to make these kinds of decisions all the time.  What are the most serious moral issues of the day for our nation?  If we just say that all moral issues are equal, we are unable to focus our efforts on what matters more.

Second, what about the Christian life in particular?  In this life, the worse we sin, the more out of touch with God we are.  As my wife likes to say, “God keeps us from sin, and sin keeps us from God.”  If you, as a Christian, are engaging in adultery, then clearly this sin will have greater effect on your walk with God than if you once neglect to call your mother to wish her “Happy Birthday.”

Paul taught that a particular kind of sexual immorality (a man having sexual relations with his father’s wife)  should cause the expulsion of the man committing this sin (1 Cor. 5), but he didn’t write a letter demanding expulsion for someone scrawling graffiti in the streets of Corinth.  Graffiti may be a sin, but it is less serious than sleeping with your father’s wife.  Different sins demand different punishments.

There are also rewards in heaven for the Christian, based on her moral behavior in this life.  In 1 Cor. 3 Paul teaches that the good works we bring to God after we die determine our rewards in heaven.  Some of our works will be so worthless that they will be “burned up.”  Those works of high quality will survive the flames.  The kinds of moral actions we pursue in this life matter for eternity.  The Bible seems to teach that the quality of our good works on earth will determine our ability to enjoy heaven.  Again, our sins and our virtues matter for eternity.

So, how can we summarize?  All sins are equal in that they condemn us before a perfect God.  This is an important point to make when we are evangelizing the lost.  But all sins are not equal when it comes to public legislation, temporal punishment and praise, sanctification (our walk with God where we become more like Christ), and eternal rewards.  When we talk about sin, let’s make sure we consider the situation and apply the correct teaching.

Do Catholics Affirm Justification by Faith Alone?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most remarkable lectures I ever heard at an apologetics conference was a Friday morning session with Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College.  Kreeft is a highly respected Catholic scholar who has taught at BC for many years and written more than 60 books.

Kreeft’s lecture focused on his desire to see Roman Catholics and Evangelicals move toward unity, certainly a worthy goal as long as we’re not compromising any essential doctrines.  But what I wasn’t expecting to hear was his statement that Catholics now agree that justification is by faith alone.  Yes, you read that right.

Kreeft explained that in 1999 the Catholic Church and Lutheran World Federation jointly issued a declaration on the doctrine of justification, the central issue of the Reformation.  In 2006, the World Methodist Council also voted to affirm this declaration.

In this declaration, the Catholic Church agreed that justification is by faith alone and it withdrew the condemnations of the Council of Trent toward those Protestants that affirmed justification by faith alone.  Kreeft explained that the Council of Trent was condemning the idea that works are not part of the totality of salvation, which is composed of justification, sanctification, and glorification.  Luther, on the other hand, was specifically speaking of justification, not sanctification and glorification, when he said works were not involved in salvation.  So the Council of Trent misunderstood Luther, according to Kreeft.  It took 400 years to figure this out, but better late than never.

During Q&A, Kreeft was quick to add that there are many other areas of disagreement that need to be discussed among Catholics and Protestants, but he believed that if Catholics and Protestants can come to agreement on the doctrine of justification, which was the defining controversy of the Reformation, then there is hope to come to agreement on other issues as well.

I have read the declaration and I believe Kreeft’s interpretation of it is indeed correct.  I invite all who are interested in this issue to read the declaration.  It is not that long and can be read by someone who is moderately familiar with theological terminology.  Also, to preempt fruitless discussion, I would ask that folks not comment or jump to any conclusions about this issue until you have read the declaration yourself.  I am very curious to hear reactions from both Catholics and Protestants alike.