Vol: 51 Issue: 30 Friday, December 30, 2005
It seems from some of the feedback from our discussions on grace and eternal security, I am not doing as good a job of articulating my positions as I thought I was.
The doctrines of eternal security and grace are both articulated in Reformist Martin Luther’s famous “Sola Fide” — or “justification by faith” upon which the Protestant Reformation was based.
“Sola fide” acknowledges that all people have come short of the glory of God and have disobeyed His commands. Therefore, God declares ‘obedient’ those who put their confidence and faith in what God has done through the Life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus.
“Sola fide” counts Christ’s obedience as one’s own, and is the only example of meritorious obedience in a sinnner’s life. Those who trust God do not trust what they themselves have done (which has no worth, because of sin) as playing a role in their salvation.
The doctrine holds that it is not through personal goodness that sinners are reconciled to God. Reconciliation is only through the mercy of God , who made reconciliation through His Son.
“Sola fide” holds that Christ was given in substitution for the disobedience of believers, Whose Resurrection is evidence that believers are heirs in eternal life.
Martin Luther made ‘sola fide’ the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation and identified it as the chief distinction between evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism.
Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic monk, fully dedicated to his calling. Desperate to please God, he devoted himself to fasting, flagellation (the practice of beating oneself with whips) prayers, pilgrimages, and confession.
Brother Martin was soon elevated to the priesthood, where he began teaching theology at the University of Wittenburg. Now ‘Father’ Martin, Luther despaired at the fact that the harder he tried to cleanse himself of sin, the more aware he became of his sinfulness.
Luther’s academic studies and teaching lectures drove him deep into the Scriptures, and from there into a deep study of the Bible and the early Church. Luther became convinced that the Vatican had lost sight of the most central doctrine of Christianity, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Luther began teaching salvation as a gift of grace through Christ received by faith at about the same time that a Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel , was enlisted to travel throughout Archbishop Albert of Mainz’s episcopal territories promoting and selling indulgences for the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Tetzel was good at his job. “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs,” tradition says.
A little background: An ‘indulgence’ is a dispensation from the Vatican; a kind of ‘get out of purgatory free’ card. I am not being flippant; that is what it was in Luther’s day, (and still is).
In Catholic theology, a person who dies with unconfessed minor (venial) sins doesn’t go to heaven until he spends time in ‘purgatory’ – a place of temporary punishment not unlike hell — in which the believer can be purged of his remaining sins. Depending on the number of venial sins, a stay in purgatory can be hundreds, if not thousands of years.
An ‘indulgence’ is a reduction in time for the sentence of a loved one suffering in purgatory. In modern Catholicism, indulgences for specific numbers of years can be obtained in exchange for prayers to certain saints or for certain acts of charity.
A ‘plenary’ indulgence — a ‘pardon’ from purgatory, can be obtained by going through the ritual of the ‘Stations of the Cross’ on All Saint’s Day, for example.
But in Luther’s day, one could buy indulgences for hard cash. Pay a little, get a little time shaved off in purgatory. Pay a lot, get a plenary indulgence.
Luther challenged this practice, preaching three different sermons condemning it, and drawing the attention of Pope Leo X, who initially dismissed Luther as “a drunken German who wrote the Theses” who “when sober will change his mind,” before realizing the full extent of Luther’s challenge and dispatching the Grand Inquisitor to Wittenberg to meet with Luther.
Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, but it was too late to stop the Protestant Reformation.
‘Sole fide’ is the bedrock doctrine of evangelical Christianity, not heretic rantings about libertine Christianity. It is rooted in the recognition that our salvation is by faith and not by our works, that it is an extension of unmerited grace from God, and that we play no other role in our salvation than to accept it as offered.
By definition, ‘sole fide’ implies eternal security. The logical principle known as ‘Occam’s Razor’ says that given two equally predictive theories, choose the simpler. If one is saved by faith and not works, then the applying the efficacy of works at some point later on is not logical.
If works can’t save you, then how can they ‘lose’ you? At the extreme ends of the theological spectrum one finds two opposing views. On one end is ‘legalism’ — a term to refer to a fixation on the law and codes of conduct for Christians.
Legalism in its extreme, is the belief that obedience to certain Christian conduct supercedes faith as the main principle to redemption.
On the other end of the spectrum is what is called ‘antimonianism’ — the belief that members of a particular religious group are under no obligation to obey the laws of ethics or morality as presented by religious authorities.
Taken to its extreme, antimonianism is every bit as heretical as legalism. If God forgives sins, what exactly is the disadvantage in sinning, or the reward of obedience?
Being called an ‘antimonianist’ means, by implication, someone whose chooses a libertine doctrine for the express purpose of justifying a lifestyle of sin.
The truth of Scripture lies somewhere in the middle between the two extremes.
Salvation is a gift of grace, not works. If it is to be earned by works,[or good conduct] it is not a gift, but wages.
If it can be rescinded by works, [or bad conduct] then it wasn’t a gift, but a conditional loan based on conduct.
That is neither legalistic nor antinomonial. The Bible is clear that there is no sin that goes unnoticed, and says, “every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12)
Eternal security doesn’t give license to sin, neither does it hold an habitually sinning believer unaccountable. All sinners will give an account for their sins before God.
The difference lies in the Court to which they are called upon to give testimony. Believers will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, where they will be judged according to their works.
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED; yet so as by fire.” (1st Corinthians 3:13-15)
The lost will give account of themselves before the Great White Throne, but, conversely, the lost will NOT be judged according to their works, but according to whether or not one’s name is recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Eternal security is NOT license to sin. Grace is NOT antimonianism. They are, as I’ve noted before, bandages and medicine that keep us from succumbing to our wounds and get us back into the fight. The battle with sin is a lifelong conflict.
Scripture promises; “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1st John 1:9)
There are those who do use eternal security as a license to sin, but they are kidding themselves. Sin takes its toll on a body. Drunks, drug addicts, smokers, gluttons, sex addicts, etc., all bear the marks of their sin on and in their bodies, saved or lost alike.
Sinners, saved or lost, will all die of their sins. What is of eternal consquence is whether or not one dies IN their sins.
“If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED; yet so as by fire.”